Ten years ago I went backpacking throughout Italy with my cousin and best friend. I was a Starbucks barista living in Las Vegas at the time. I laugh now when looking back, wondering how I managed to save enough money from my latte making days for a month long trip to Europe. I remember my bank account dropping to $100 when I returned home to New York. I didn't care though, and I love that about my former self. I lived in the moment and always trusted that things would work themselves out.
Every time June rolls around and I smell summer in the wind, I'm taken back to that trip as a young twenty year old. I remember my friend Suzie calling me one night in February and asking, "Flights to Italy are really cheap right now. Would you want to backpack for the month of July?" Right away, without a second thought, I replied, "Yes!"
Even when I was broke, unsure of when I'd be back in New York, with zero idea of what I wanted to do with my life, and doubtful I'd feel financially ready for a trip of that length, I went for it.
I loved spontaneous adventures and understood the value of traveling. It's not just the escape from the ordinary that enticed me, it was the different versions of myself I'd meet when roaming new countries, talking with fascinating strangers, falling in love with foreign cities and the occasional Italian taxi driver (more on that later), and discovering beauty in the smallest encounters, that made my heart say yes when logic urged no.
That girl is still within me, the one who took risks because she knew how they'd make her feel, how they'd change her, how it didn't matter if her decisions made sense to others or herself, it was her instincts that always proved to be the wisest.
And they were, again, when boarding the plane after a few too many pre-flight cocktails, laughing and stumbling with Suzie, and my cousin, Katie, where I realized that this was going to be a life changing trip.
A little back story to this: I was in desperate need of a new life at the time. I was living in Las Vegas with my first serious boyfriend. I fell in love with him during our senior year photography class when he photoshopped all of my projects and got me an A for the semester. That summer, he moved to Vegas with his family and we decided to try a long distance relationship while I was in my first year of college. He applied to my school for our sophomore year and was accepted, moving back to New York to begin his studies in photography. Within the first two weeks of him being on campus, I realized that this was a big mistake. Within the first two months of seeing each other every day, he proved to me that this was a huge mistake.
We broke up, got back together, broke up again, I gave him "one last chance!" about ten times and well, I think you know how this goes. When things really hit rock bottom, I thought it would be a good idea to move back to Las Vegas with him. I couldn't bare the idea of being separated, even though he treated me so badly. I didn't know that love was supposed to feel different than the constant struggle I was accustomed to. Most days I waded into deep waters of self-consciousness, jealousy and inadequacy.
Aggression was fiery passion, harsh criticism retracted by theatrical apologies was sincerity, and the occasional push or shove showed just how much he cared about me. This was love, right?
I'll write more about this part of my life in another Sunday Session email, but as you can see, I needed a direct exit far away from an abusive boyfriend who I couldn't see at the time was dangerous.
But, let's go back to Italy...
We landed in Naples and stayed with high school friends who were recent newlyweds, living in a gorgeous home overlooking Lago D'averno. Mornings were spent sipping espresso and eating freshly baked croissants outside on the veranda. In the afternoon, we'd pack cheese, bread, strawberries, sandwiches, and wine and drive to the beach. Evenings were enjoyed lounging at restaurants for three hours, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, and being. Late nights were spent dancing, smoking cigarettes, opening more bottles of wine, and gazing up to the moon to reflect on another gorgeous day.
Every morning that I woke up, I couldn't believe that this was my life. I was living and breathing gratitude. We were only just beginning our trip; we still had so much time to go about our days in this way.
From Naples we went to charming Capri and walked around the seaport wearing matching fedoras we'd just purchased. This made us laugh all day, so we finished the film of a disposable camera with photos of ourselves smiling with wine stained lips and the clear blue of the ocean behind us. Pure bliss and freedom were lit across our faces. Even though our happiest moments tend to go by in the blink of an eye, that day things moved slowly, as though we were still riding the inhale of a breath, not yet exhaling and letting go.
After Capri, we took a bus to Positano - the most magical place I've ever visited. The bus followed a narrow road circling a large mountain. The higher we went, the more beautiful the scenery was. I had never seen any place like it in my life. Fuchsia florals and vivid greenery were scattered about colorful houses, appearing as though they were on top of one another, embedded into the cliffside. Couples walked together hand in hand, stealing kisses from one another, laughing and bemused, under the spell of love and obsession. Restaurant owners stood outside their establishments smiling and proud, engaging in conversation with their customers and looking genuinely thrilled to host tourists. The sky was clear, stars effulgent, and the moon casted light onto the ocean, where waves could be heard crashing against the shore.
We arrived at night and were dropped off at a bus stop. Suzie and Katie had their backpacking gear on their backs, standing up straight and eager to get to the hotel. I, for some odd reason, chose to take rolling luggage with me for this backpacking adventure. Imagine trying to pull a large trunk across cobblestone streets, where every turn was either up steps or down hill.
We attempted to walk to the hotel for about five minutes until we decided to get a taxi because I was slowing everyone down with my failed attempts of keeping up the pace. We were tired, hungry and ready to rest after the last few hours of traveling. All we wanted to do was sit at one of the restaurants we had passed on our way to town, order a large pizza, a few bottles of wine, and settle into our new home for the next four days. We asked a nearby store owner how to get a taxi, and he graciously called us one, telling us to wait a few minutes for Antonio to arrive.
We stood outside the store, sweaty and tired, but in awe of our surroundings. It felt like we stepped inside a portal into another world. Within just a half hour of being in Positano, we already couldn't imagine returning to New York. New York's appeal didn't even come close to the charm of the Amalfi Coast. We thought Naples and Capri were beautiful, but this breached a whole new level of allure.
As we sunk deeper into shared amazement, a black Infiniti pulled up with tinted windows. We waited a few moments to see if this was our taxi, but couldn't see any movement behind the windows. The driver finally rolled down his window and revealed to us the most gorgeous Italian man we'd come across in our travels so far. He looked like he just stepped out of a magazine ad for Giorgio Armani cologne - his dark hair was slicked back, he had perfectly groomed facial hair, captivating green eyes, and a seductive smile.
"Hello girls...I'm Antonio. Did you call a taxi?"
Suzie, Katie and myself looked at each other smiling, holding in our laughter, and whispering under our breaths, I call dibs.