Travel Memory – Europe

There are three basic attitudes towards travel:

1) “What is there to see?” (Bill Bryson, start with Neither Here nor There)

2) “I hate it here, I also hate it over there” (the Paul Theroux/ Grata grumpy POV)

3) “What can the world do for me?” (Eat, Pray, Love/ the heaps of people who bought cute French/ Spanish/ Italian houses and wrote books about it)

I first went to Europe when I was 16 years old. My father decided to take me to Italy for a graduation present; he chose Italy because my sister was spending her junior college year in Florence. Seeing the men with large, black machine guns in Rome airport convinced me that this was a very bad idea. Why were huge weapons in full view? This country was NOT a safe place.

The fun increased as my father elected that I buy the train tickets. This meant approaching a huge row of grumpy foreigners and I politely refused, explaining that he, as the elder, should do the honors. But my father shot a bear when he was 14. Arguing anything with him is difficult and bringing up fear does not help. His faultless logic was that since I had studied a European language (not Italian!) I could handle the situation, besides (irrefutable logic) it would be a learning experience. Terror coursing through me, I went up and bought tickets (I’m sure I asked for 8 round trip passes from Venice to Milan but the ticket goddess had mercy on me).

We were on the train, then off the train into a taxi to my sister’s residence, a huge Renaissance estate with elaborate iron gates, a long winding drive and beautiful gardens that a university had bought for their study-abroad students. We found the place at 3am and threw rocks up at her window to wake her. After a few hours sleep on her floor, she gave us instructions to the “hotel” where my dad and I were staying. Blearily we trudged out the door and plodded up the hill.

Gradually I opened my eyes enough to notice that I was walking along a low grey stone wall, a light mist covered what was on the other side but I could hear faint bells. As we walked on, the mist lightened to show a hillside of olive trees with sheep scattered underneath. The warm green of the grass was not a color I had never seen. The scene looked like a fairy tale come to life, I just needed a few singing shepherdesses and a unicorn.

From that moment, I was spoiled, spoiled, spoiled. Then it turned out that our “hotel” was actually an ancient monastery with stone walls two feet thick. When we came back after curfew one night, we had to climb over the garden gate and go sneaking through the corridors, much more impressive to my 17 year-old sense of fun than the Uffizi. I fell in love with Italy so deeply that even ordering “pizza a la maison” and receiving a pizza with a raw egg on top did not squelch my happiness.

That was my first real experience in travel and even though I have suffered from a hotel curse for years [ How to Survive a Hotel Curse ] I am still at it.

parish - villa

Maxfield Parrish, Villa Pliniana