Buongiorno! Ciao! Grazie! Gelato!
This concludes my study of the Italian language, undertaken during our recent 10-day foray to the land of pasta, wine, and really expensive leather shoes.
I've got a lot to say about the trip. While any trip to Italy is of course fabulous, this trip was also fraught with landmines - tour buses almost overturning on hairpin turns in Tuscan hills, being trapped on a ferry during a storm with passengers tossing their cookies right and left, lost luggage, misplaced passports, fevers, sickness, and much more. But for all of that, I'd do the trip again in a minute. I fell in love with Italy and the people we traveled there with.
But all that is for a later blog. Today I want to write about the "random" encounters of the trip. (And yes, photos are coming. We just haven't had a chance to go through them yet. Soon, I promise.)
For me, the most chance encounter occurred in Positano, a small village on the Amalfi Coast that is built into the hills leading down to the coast. We boarded a ferry there for Capri, a resort island 35 minutes away. I started chatting with the people next to us and asked where they were from. Winston-Salem. Not only that, their next door neighbor is a close colleague of Blair's at Hanesbrands. C'mon! What are the odds? We're halfway around the world, in a small Italian town, on a ferry that holds maybe 60 people, and we're sitting next to people who are all but our neighbors back home? WILD.
Other people I met include an Italian news anchor/journalist who had been in the states covering the presidential conventions. Sandro sat across the aisle from me on our flight from NY to Rome and we chatted about politics, writing, and food.
On the way home from Rome, I saw a guy walking down the aisle in a TOUGH MUDDER t-shirt. "Love your shirt," I said.
"Have you run one?" he asked.
"No, but I want to run the Carolina one this October."
That's when he introduced himself as Will Dean, founder and CEO of Tough Mudder. For a runner like me, that's like a U2 fan bumping into Bono on the plane. I did the crazy fan thing and insisted on having my picture taken with him. He was very nice about the whole thing. Said he actually gets it a lot.
But possibly the best encounter occurred one stormy night at a Pizzeria in Positano. I was there with four women from the trip, feasting on mussel soup and pasta and sipping limoncello. We were discussing how we wanted to come back and rent a villa or apartment in the area for an extended visit.
"When do you think you'd want to come back?" asked a voice at the table behind us. The voice belonged to a travel agent from Virginia who owned property in Positano that she rents out. (I got her card and have already e-mailed her about pricing and potential dates.) Then, after she left, our waiter Alberto (yes, that is his actual picture) gave us his card for Positano Global Services, a company he runs that helps people find lodging, etc. in the town.
At breakfast in Rome, we met a man from Pittsburgh, who enlightened us to the fact that there is a Steelers bar in Rome. He and his wife had been there the night before to watch the game and he showed us photos of walls in this ancient Italian restaurant just covered in Steelers memorabilia. His wife (who was still upstairs asleep) is a county coroner and runs a funeral home -- fascinating to me as one of my middle grade books centers around a family run funeral home.
Finally, there were the people in our tour group. Words can't describe the affection and bond I feel for these people. Tour groups are always a bit of a crapshoot, and we hit the lotto here. There's not one person from the tour that I don't hold in my heart and cherish. Amazing people who gave me amazing insights into myself and my life.
Seeing new places and sights is wonderful but the more I travel, the more I come to realize it's the people we meet on our journeys that make up the true experience of our trips.