Thanks for joining me as I navigate the most exciting and slightly terrifying year of my life!
In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. — Lewis Carroll
Made it! Can’t believe that it’s finally here.
About 6 months ago, I decided to take a leap, quite a leap, when I think of it – retire and spend a year in Italy! Some of things I learned while planning for this trip is why I decided to write this blog (besides trying to convince my family that it’s not really that crazy to spend a year abroad).
After many hours of research and a crazy trip to the Italian Consulate in Chicago, I found out that, NO, you cannot just spend a year in Italy… But I am getting ahead of myself…how did this journey begin?
My sister, Elaine, and I went on a cruise in March of 2018 to the southern Carribean and had a blast so we immediately booked another cruise for May, 2019. My other sister, Diane (DD, to the sibs), had more than a year of feeling crappy due to health issues so all I could think about was a fun sisters trip. Neither sis had been to Europe so I thought a cruise there would be a great way to see some sites, eat good food and just hang out together.
A digression: my Dad’s parents came over “on the boat” way back in the early 1900’s. My strongest memory of growing up with my Grandpa was that he would always be saying to my Dad “Dan, how you say fill-in-the-Italian-word?”. We knew that Grandpa had very little schooling (3rd grade, as I recall) and that he was a shepherd as a boy and when he was 17, he began the biggest adventure of his life. He traveled to America with just a sibling, not even a parent. He taught himself English by reading the newspaper. Back in those days, Rochester, NY, not NYC mind you, had two newspapers a day (!). He never learned to drive, always walking or taking the bus, and he never complained, oh, yeah, except about the government. He could talk about politics all day. He had many different types of jobs – a tailor, shoe salesman, elevator operator (!), he went back to fight for Italy during WWI for which he received a pension to the tune of $28/month, was injured in the war losing most of the use of his arm due to shrapnel damage, spent a year in a hospital ward due to a case of TB, and later lost his wife when she was relatively young. My favorite story of Grandpa Joe was that he went back to Italy to visit family in the mid-70’s and married and divorced in the space of about 8 weeks. The quip that made every family member crack a smile in rememberance was when he returned to assure us that it was not a good idea to get married again “because she only wanted me for my money.” As you can imagine, he did not have two nickels to his name. He was born in a small town in Southern Italy where Rudolph Valentino was born and raised before he became famous. Grandpa ate two eggs and drank prune juice every day for his entire adult life. He lived until he was 99 years old.
I have stronger memories than my sibs since I’m the oldest, but reminiscing about Grandpa was part of the motivation to spend a year in Italy/Europe.
So, when I started researching cruises for my sisters and me, the idea started forming. What if I could rent a place in Italy for, say a month and invite my sisters and friends to come visit? Who hasn’t read Eat, Pray, Love by one of my favorite humans, Elizabeth Gilbert (and not because of the book)? Liz Gilbert puts out the most insightful and beautiful writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Her Facebook posts are always a fascinating, deep dive into the human condition and her personal story is stunning and has moved me deeply. Always a fan, Liz.
As I contemplated renting a place in Tuscany, another thought was formulating. Who said the trip should only be a month? That’s when it happened – I remembered what I wrote about 10 years ago or so. I was doing one of those “If time and money were no object, what would you do?” exercises. It’s such an important question as we all tend to get caught up in the traditional path of our parents or our friends/peers/colleagues. At the time, I thought I was really going out on a limb by writing “Live in Italy for a year.” That was it – the thunderbolt when I realized that there was NOTHING stopping me.