15 March 2012

Home

" 'Well there is only one piece of advice I can give you,' said the wisest of the wise men. 'The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon.' "
-- Paulo Celho  [The Alchemist]

About 90 minutes away from Roma, the national train gradually accumulated more people. As it approached the outskirts of the capital there was not even standing room. Disembarking was incredibly difficult and we were happy to be in the open, fresh air.

Ironically, on our last night in Europe, Mom and I ate at a Japanese restaurant partially because we craved some other genre of food and partially because we had not eaten since the slice of pizza on the ferry from Elba. It was hard to believe that hours earlier I was conversing with hunka hunka burnin’ love Giacomo. Now, Mom & I were cramming everything into our suitcases one last time.

Despite no airport shuttle (as falsified on Priceline.com) Domus Lina in Fiumicino was still cheaper than staying anywhere near Roma. Our hotel room was surprisingly modern. Mom & I dined on our last continental breakfast & rode to FCO.

I learned my lesson the hard way while flying to Europe, so on the way home I was taking no chances with motion sickness/jetlag/no sleep for 10 hours (it’s longer on the return flight due to headwind). As I strapped in, I downed a Dramamine. Around the time we reached cruising altitude I could barely keep my eyelids open. The medicine was a blessing because I got stuck with an aisle seat the row before the restrooms!
I awoke wishing we were on our descent and that I’d be asked to return my seat to its upright position. We were still 2.5 hours from the North American continent. After being comatose for 7 hours straight everything ached and I was getting irritable. I never really want to return home from a vacation, but once I’m en route, all I can focus on is how desperately I want to be home.
Eventually we deplaned in New York, New York, United States of America. Mom was in line for food as – very suddenly – our flight to Cleveland, Ohio, went from not even boarding to pre-boarding to "final boarding call." There was no way in heaven or hell I was #1) leaving my mother or #2) missing the flight that would ultimately take us home, to the airport where my grandmother awaited. The gate employee for Delta argued that they couldn’t hold the plane for one person despite the fact we still had more than 10 minutes. So this is how it was going to be. One final trial; one final fight. I decided I would stand with one leg on the plane & one on the walkway – straddling the 20 foot drop – if that’s what it took to stall the plane long enough so that we could both get home together...

Then I saw Mom round the corner.

As we snacked on the much smaller airplane we swapped mental notes and tried to remember the whole trip.  Although the vacation was just shy of three weeks, we had been on the move so much.  There were so many videos, postcards, meals, and memories.  In reminiscing together, we each remembered little details we might have forgotten.  Here are my top three:

MOST MEMORABLE PEOPLE 
* "Streganona", the kind older lady who shooed away birds in vain at Hotel Della Signoria & sweetly said "bonjourno" every morning
* Giacomo, my hot surfer (and not just because he was easy on the eyes but) because he genuinely tried to help us & seemed curious to learn about my life/culture too
* The older, hunched over Santa Maria Novella recycler who dropped everything to aid us and when he couldn't, attempted to point us in the right direction
The bottom line: an ounce of kindness goes a long way with foreign travelers

MOST FORGETTABLE PEOPLE
* Well, they were rude so I'm not wasting my time showcasing them

FAVORITE SITES
* Altare Della Patria
* Mt. Vesuvius
* Acropolis

DELICIOUS MEALS
* The Italian meal my team personally cooked in Florence
* Pork loin wrapped in bacon, white pizza with pecorino and pear & fruit plate at Il Campo
* 3 course meal in Florence (free since it was included in our Palazzo Vechio tour)

GROSSEST FOODS
* Ironically, the pizza we ate in Naples
* The wafers from the gelateria in Florence
* Also in Florence, the prosciutto panini with spicy pecorino

BREATH-TAKING MOMENTS
* Walking atop the Acropolis
* Unexpectedly seeing the caldera on Santorini
* Rounding a random street corner to a sunset view of the Colisseum

BIGGEST LET-DOWNS
* The bread... stale, dry, flavorless, just yuck!
* Lack of communication/help with: various train stations, Alitalia, rail tickets & hotel shuttles
* Campo Di Fiori markets

FAVORITE ACTIVITIES
* Eating!
* Returning for my mom & knowing she got to see the rim of Mt. Vesuvius
* Gallavanting around Santorini like it was our backyard

WORST ACTIVITIES
* Navigating Termini Station
* Getting on the bus to Siena
* Being sick as a dog in Athens

HOTTEST GUYS
* As if you didn't know... GIACOMO!
* Some random Greek guy on the train to Athens in his workout clothes
* Tour guide at Uffizi

WEIRDEST MOMENTS
* The waiter taking half of mom's pizza when he boxed it up for us
* A guy at the fireworks in Firenze who -- I'm 90% sure -- was trying to pickpocket (or sexually assault) me
* Observing  locals on (what Mom & I deduced to be) a first date at the Acropolis

NEW FOODS
* Gelato, gelato, gelato
* Arancia rossa a.k.a. red orange juice
* Brie + peppers + eggplant + balsamic vinegar panini

THINGS TO REDO
* Definitely spend more time on Elba. I looked at postcards of other bays on the island and there were equally beautiful!
* Stroll Boboli Gardens in Florence
* Give money to the scruffy man in a wheelchair in Florence.  I never wrote about this in my blog, but even today I feel guilty about not helping this older gentleman.  The first day Mom & I arrived in Florence we passed the hotel probably a dozen times as we learned the city & decided what to do.  At least four times I walked right by the begging man who was wheelchair-bound.  I had been approached by so many peddlers that I was becoming immune to their gimmicks, but I assume since he had no legs he was in even more need of help.  After the fourth pass I remembered it's not okay to turn a blind eye to the less fortunate.  What separates humans from the majority of animals is our ability to sympathize & sadly, that part of me had been numbed by all the previous requests from healthy, young, clean beggars for money.  I decided that I would give the guy dollars next time, but when I walked back he was gone and I never saw him again.
The bottom line: with all matters of importance do it now!

FUNNIEST MOMENTS
* Mom botching the pronunciation of the word "museo" then offering to translate everything from Italian to English for me since she was so good at it
* Mom headbutting me in the butt at Siena's bus station
* Mom & I highlighting our flaws (I could go into details but I'll spare you the bad images)

PLACES TO EXPLORE NEXT
* Puerto Rico
* Australasia: Fiji + New Zealand + Australia
* Spain

In closing, I think it's important to emphasize the act of going home.  Maybe you're a traveling salesman, nomad or physically homeless so "home" isn't a permanent place.  For three weeks & through numeous hotels, home to me simply meant a bed.  Maybe you do not have a family to go home to.  I think home is not a place or bed at all though.  Home is a feeling.  Home is what you take comfort in.  Home can be a completely foreign place but still have a familial feeling.  Home can be discovered and rediscovered in hindsight or in the moment.  Home can be something you never really knew existed or never thought you'd find... but when you've found it you just know.

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