‘I wanted to do something special for my birthday and travelling to beautiful places came to mind. After considering several destinations I settled on a road trip in Northern Italy. The lakes, the forests, cuisines, wine and breathtaking Alpines beckoned discovery.
I’d been to this part of Italy in the past and it held special memories. However, this trip was to be more intentional and turned out to be a self-reflective journey as I took in all that the trip had to offer, coming home with lessons that changed my outlook on life.’
Here are some of the things that I learned along the way.
1. Walk more
I spent two days in Modena, a small town in Emilia-Romagna, and noticed that the locals love to walk their winding streets. They were never in a rush or walking for a form of exercise, they were just strolling arm-in-arm with friends and lovers, talking, and simply savouring the surroundings. Given the current pandemic, driving from my city in southeast France proved to be the best option for me, the drive taking me through breathtaking scenery. But when I got to Modena city, the walking bug fast bit me. I would leave the car parked in the hotel and just take a walk wherever I needed to be, realising that driving often denies us the opportunity to appreciate our surroundings. Nowadays I walk more, not to move from point A to B, or to exercise, but to just enjoy the environment and to bond with people I love.
2. Appreciate people around you
The people in Northern Italy are kind and gracious. Their second nature is to greet everyone they meet with a smile and enthusiasm, stranger or not. I remember receiving many greetings from people I had met seconds prior. In a store in Bergamo where I was shopping for souvenirs, one elderly man even insisted on offering me coffee even though I didn’t buy anything from his store. Or the time I wasn’t feeling well and an Italian nurse offered me her professional advice for free. She had just finished her NCLEX RN exam, and tired as she was, she still found time for me.
There’s such a natural warmth in the people of Northern Italy and while most of us are so caught up in the hustles of life that we don’t always consider the people around us, here they do. I remember walking away with a smile every time someone said ciao or Buongiorno. I now can’t stop thinking how a simple hello can be enriching to the people I come across. I’ve learned to add passion to my greetings to brighten up the spirits of the people around me, and in turn, increase my own level of happiness.
3. Slow down
I spent a night in Venice where everything was beautiful, including the food. But what stood out for me was the amount of time people took over dinner. Often served after 8 pm, it could easily go on for a couple of hours. The restaurants served several small portion courses that were rich in flavour. Each bite meant slowing down, taking in the pleasure, and accompanying it with a glass of wine.
I can’t remember the last time dinner took that long. We are always in a hurry to get it done and move to the next thing on the list. Yet Italian dining taught me the importance of slowing down and engaging all my senses in everything I do. While enjoying the wine, I visited some good music sites to add to the pleasure. While it can at times be a problem accessing certain websites while in a foreign country, with the help of residential proxies, I had no issues and could enjoy anything that I wanted.
4. There is beauty in history
Historic buildings that depict the rich heritage of the country characterise the cities in Northern Italy. Though many have been restored, some elements allow guests to relive and feel their past. Italians incorporate these traditions into decorating their homes, hotels, and churches, which shows much pride and appreciation of their origins.
Most of us have let the modern way of living dilute the beauty of our pasts. The simple foods, beautiful decorations, and the humbleness that we once had are much diminished. My trip to Northern Italy reminded me of that beauty and the need to preserve our traditions for the sake of future generations.
5. Indulge a little to live well
Once in Orta San Giulio, I decided to ask the Italians for affordable places to stay. Most of them told me to get the best place I could since I was there for a short time. I ended up staying at Hotel Leon D’Oro which overlooks San Giulio Island and Lake Orta. The hotel offered the perfect living conditions, it even had the HVAC system installed for the ideal room temperature. Their idea of little indulgence is to get the best in terms of dressing, food, wine, and views, but not to overindulge. That’s why Italians drink wine to enjoy, but not to get drunk. We will always have so much going on in life. However, regardless of the situation, we can eat and drink what we want and have fun as long as it is moderate. I learned I don’t have to deny myself the best no matter the circumstances. I can indulge a little to add flavour to life.
The trip to Northern Italy was life-changing as I allowed myself to enjoy the moments, the people, and the places I visited. I learned the importance of slowing down, appreciating the people around me, and taking purposeful walks. Thanks to the trip, I’m now more eager to preserve my traditions and culture in the modern world and indulge in the simple good things often.
** Guest post by Desa Rome.