It's been said that the beginning of a relationship is the best part because there's always something to be discovered. I relate that concept to travel.
When I get to a new city I need to find a place to drop my things and start exploring in order to feel connected to the land. I need to have conversations with strangers in order to feel connected with the people. I need to have a meal & visit local shops to get to know the culture. I wouldn't arrive in a new place and expect it to expose all of its secrets to me. That would ruin half the fun! If the locals are only pointing me toward the major tourist attractions (which quite frankly I tend to find disappointing) I know I need to work harder at it.
In my opinion, the most incredible part of travel is the people I meet and the lessons they teach me, whether intentional or unintentional. This can be locals, fellow travelers or tourists (which I do not classify as one in the same). It never ceases to amaze me how much you can bond with people you've only just met.
The first day I met my Italian group in Rome Termini was my first encounter with my solo female traveling soul mates. Hattie (a New York City girl who speaks Italian remarkably well after a few short weeks in the country) approached me and started speaking in Italian. To her great surprise, the girl with olive skin was her American neighbor and soon-to-be roommate. Tram (a happy-go-lucky Canadian spitfire) thought my name was Karen and proceeded to address me that way until we boarded our train to Chiusi.
After settling down in the countryside, it quickly became clear to me that no matter where the winding roads of Tuscany would lead, Hattie and Tram would have me laughing all the way. The 3 of us travel so well together because we a) treat plans as outlines and b) appreciate food as much as water, but not as much as wine. There's no better way to explain this than to breakdown my most ridiculous Italian Experiences
Ridiculous Day 1 - "Is this the Duomo?"
On a day trip to Siena we saw some historical sights but we knew from experience that there was probably going to be a man with a fanny pack standing in front of a statue or an unknowing tourist eating a sandwich shielding the perfect view of a cathedral. Because we don't always consider tourist attractions high priority, we veered away from the crowds and ate lunch at a tiny restaurant called "Nonnas" which felt more like your grandparents kitchen than a Trip Advisor hotspot. Our attractive young waiter brought us free amaretto and grappa after we had already polished off a bottle of vino. Should amaretto be sipped? Yes. Did Tram make us take it down in shots? Double yes. This was the moment we forgot the phrase "man up" and replaced it with "Tram up". The 2pm buzz led us to Duomo di Siena (a beautiful medieval church) where Tram joined a religious group in their dance to praise Jesus. Things to note - 1) The dance was not like the YMCA where you can jump in and learn the moves. 2) Tram is a Buddhist.
Ridiculous Day 2: "Did you see the way he swirled?"
Southern Tuscany takes you away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We wake up with the roosters and fall asleep with wine. Why would we travel miles uphill to a bar when the craziest party in town is probably the one in our kitchen? The downfall for 20-somethings in Tuscany is that the town is full of elderly men and the tall dark and handsome ones you envision are nowhere to be found. Hattie is starting to suffer from something I like to call - the young man mirage. In a normal setting she wouldn't give the old Tuscan men a second glance, but as the days pass on the countryside they're all starting to look more like George Clooney. Such was the case with Ricardo, the wine connoisseur who gave us our first wine tasting in Tuscany. Hattie can no longer look out our patio and admire the rolling hills & farms, she only sees Ricardo's house and remembers "the way he swirled" his wine.
Ridiculous Day 3: "Carry, Athi & Dean"
When I think of a spa, I think 60 minute massage, sauna and possibly a quick swim in the pool. We booked an Italian spa day for about 35 Euro each and were THRILLED about the prospect of some pampering. Upon arrival we were offered several packages of treatments and chose the relaxing option. The woman at at the desk wrote us all name-tags. In the spa we were no longer Kerri, Hattie and Tram, but Carry, Athi & Dean. We walked into the spa like we had finally been transported back to our mothership and to our complete surprise the entire facility was full of elderly men in speedos. (I realize this shouldn't have been a surprise but a girl can dream.) The concept of the "spa" was to go from station to station without any guidance or signs written in English. This led to freezing cold water spraying in our faces, stuffing ice in our bikinis, covering ourselves in clay & lounging in a room (looking like a group of baby seals) and having two structures that resemble testicles spray lavender scented "aroma therapy" at us while we sat in a room that looked like something Austin Powers would have designed. My favorite part of the entire day was the 'quiet room' where we had to go curl in a ball in a tiny egg-shaped chair to re-experience the feeling of being in the womb.
The "relaxing" package should have been advertised as the "entertaining" package because I've never laughed so hard in my entire life.
Saying goodbye to these 2 was the worst but we're already planning the next charade.
Today, I'm back to Rome!