I knew in my heart it was something I HAD to do. I had to prove to myself that of which I did not know yet as I set out.
But, I knew that I had to travel.
That I had to go.
As we neared the airport, my heart was racing and I felt sick to my stomach.
I was terrified.
And yet, I was ready.
I had prepped myself mentally a thousand times over for this moment . . .
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu
It was time.
We pulled up to the departures gate. My husband had asked me if I wanted him to walk in with me to help me get checked in and to say goodbye to me inside the airport instead of at the curb.
At the last minute, I said, “Let’s say goodbye here.”
He understood. He knows me. And he knew why I had to take this solo journey. I wanted to do it all on my own, from that very first step.
We embraced. There was this urge to beg him to come with me. Or, to change my mind, and not go at all.
But, it set in.
The grit I had learned that I did have, after facing a battle that required me to find strength within me a couple years prior. A battle of the mind.
And so, after hugging my husband, I felt bravery overtake me. I knew, at this point, I could not and would not be stopped.
As I flew over the Atlantic Ocean, by myself on that plane, my first ever solo journey, I could not help but tremble with fear. I’m not a fan of flying, and I felt on edge the entire nine hours to the first stopping point.
As the plane landed in Madrid, Spain for my three hour layover, I breathed a small sigh of relief.
But, I wasn’t there yet. At my destination.
I remember walking through the Madrid airport, and honestly feeling like I was going to pass out because I was so anxious.
“Just one foot in front of the other. Don’t stop,” I said to myself.
I also kept telling myself, “This is crazy! This is crazy what YOU’RE doing, of all people.”
The negative self-talk had been constant since my battle with postpartum depression, even after being healed from the illness. Going through that and still experiencing elevated anxiety, I had become my own worst critic. I didn’t believe in myself anymore. I saw myself as weak. As a failure. As incapable. I did not view myself as the same as the person standing next to me. I saw myself as “different”. One who couldn’t handle life as easily as those around me . . . or as I had used to handle life . . . “Before”. Before PPD.
That is why. That is why I was traveling across the globe to a foreign place I’d never been. Where I did not know anyone. I was not going to meet up with family or friends, or join a guided tour group. No, I was going alone. To one of the most beautiful and romantic places on earth.
To Italy. To see the red duomo, eat real authentic pizza, to be immersed in all that was foreign, including the language of which I did not speak.
To see. To see the world. And perhaps to see . . . if I was capable.
So, one foot in front of the other. That’s what we’ve all gotta do sometimes. It’s the only thing we can do, in our hardest, most challenging moments.
That last two and a half hour flight from Madrid to Florence, Italy went by quickly. The relief that washed over me when the wheels hit the tarmac was a moment I’ll never forget.
Then, the excitement finally set in.
All the worries, fears, and anxious thoughts left me.
For, I had arrived.
I was in Italy!
I’d always dreamed of and romanticized Italy.
The adrenaline, the indescribable rush that takes over your very being that only those who love travel can understand . . . it coursed through my veins.
I stepped off the plane and walked down the steps and looked in awe around me. I was in Italy. I was breathing the air of a foreign country. I looked at the hillsides and couldn’t believe I was there. I laughed out loud. A huge smile crossed my face as an airline attendant greeted me with a “Ciao!” and I said “Ciao” back (hello and goodbye were basically the only words I knew!)
After getting my suitcase, I felt so giddy as I looked out the window from the back seat of my taxi. It was all so surreal. Where you really feel like you have to pinch yourself to believe it’s real.
I finally arrived at my hotel. It was filled with old world charm, renaissance-like paintings, wood-beamed ceilings and a dark interior, but elegant and filled with cozy charm at the Grand Hotel Baglioni. I was assisted with my luggage by a porter, and I felt like a Queen. My room was small, but cozy and the stained glass window added beauty and character.
I soon went down to explore the hotel to see the lobby and the elegant bar/sitting room. I sat in that stately room with paintings surrounding me and amongst other travelers, wondering where they were from. I knew them not, and we exchanged no words, but I found comfort to be in their company nonetheless.
After sitting there awhile, I went back to my room. The adrenaline was still stirring strong, but then it started to creep in. The “push and pull” feeling . . . the resistance. The knowing what you want to do, but the anxiety pulling you away from it.
When looking out the window of my comfortable hotel room, I saw the people on the streets below carrying umbrellas.
“I don’t want to get out in the rain,” I told myself. I opened the window and heard all the noise. It was busy. Crowded. So many people. The anxiety began to rise.
I had just gotten to Florence! And when you first arrive to any destination, at least for me, all I can do is go out and explore!
But, in that moment, fear and doubt were taking over, and I wanted to stay in my safe hotel room and order room service. “And never get out!” I was thinking, irrationally, to myself.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Thankfully, after a brief phone chat with my husband, a pep talk that I needed and that he’s so good at giving to me whenever I’ve needed it the most . . . I stepped outside the door.
The rain pitter-pattered gently upon my umbrella as I walked on the cobble stones of the ancient city. I was here. I was among the people. Walking amongst these strangers, I was one of them. I was not an outsider looking in. And it was intoxicatingly refreshing.
I felt alive.
There was a contagious energy that ignited again my passion for travel. For being surrounded with NEW. I grow weary if I see the same sights every day. To be where you’ve never been before, there’s nothing like it. The world is yours. At your feet. So much beauty to behold. Too much to take in. I love it!
I did not feel like a foreigner, but I felt one with the people walking next to me. One with the city.
I’ll never forget the moment when I turned the corner, and saw what I had set out to see. I gasped out loud and my jaw dropped, when the maroon-colored Duomo stood majestically in front of me. Its grandeur and great height at which it rose above me literally took my breath away.
It was one of the happiest moments of the entire trip, a picture in my mind that when I close my eyes to this day, I can still see it. And I can feel it.
My next three days in Florence were spent wandering and exploring. Also, meeting up with an old friend and eating gelato together and having fun walking the city. It was refreshing to spend time with her and hear about her and her family’s life living in Italy as ex-pats. I envied her life, living in Bologna, Italy, and just imagined our family moving to Italy one day, too.
But, there were other moments, along the way, where I felt the need to stay stuck inside my hotel room. Where I wanted to be safe. And when I even wanted to come home early, and a phone call where I asked my husband to come meet me in Florence.
Those moments, though, were trumped. By bravery. Courage. Determination. Grit.
If I had stayed in my hotel room, my comfort zone . . .
I would never have walked into the solemn, hauntingly beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Or tasted the best pizza I’d ever had as I sat at a table with a red and white checker board table cloth, people watching from the piazza. Eaten risotto overlooking the Arno River. Walked across the Ponte Vecchio.
Getting lost, then finding my way.
Encountering mishaps, and getting through them, on my own.
Trying to communicate with people where language was indeed a barrier.
It’s a dangerous business going out your door, sometimes, yes. But it’s even more dangerous staying inside.
Getting lost in your books, dreaming, but never living.
A sedentary life.
A comfortable, safe, boring existence.
Staying inside and never having adventures.
Never expanding your horizons, or your mind. But instead getting lost in your head. I’d rather get lost wandering the cobblestone streets of a city that I can’t even pronounce the name of, than be lost in my own head all day.
We have to push ourselves.
And that’s what this solo journey made me have to do.
At a time when I needed it the most.
For, after all was said and done, this journey forever changed my life.
When the plane landed back at the airport in the States, when I was finally home, the tears streamed down my face. I sat on that plane, not caring if others could see or hear me cry.
I said to myself as the tears fell and I exhaled the biggest sigh of relief, “I did it.”
That was THE moment I’d been waiting for and what I had set out for by traveling to Italy by myself.
I needed that.
My wounded heart, soul, mind, and spirit needed it.
For, I knew, AGAIN, that which I’d forgotten. That which the enemy had been trying to blind my vision . . .
I am strong.
I am not weak.
And, I am . . . quite capable.
“One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” -The Polar Express