I’ve just returned from two months in Europe. That’s right: two months. What was it like, you wonder? How did you do it, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It was great. It was exhausting. It was illuminating. And it was invigorating. Europe is magical. I retired from my ‘day job’ in August. This trip was my reward for working as an attorney for 30 years. It was planned – in my mind – forever. But the execution of the plan changed over time. It changed while I was planning and re-planning it. It changed while I was there. Travel involves flexibility. You must be able to re-boot if you have to. You must be prepared to abort one plan and contrive another. Things happen, places aren’t what you expect – or are better than you expect. It’s all about the journey, they say; not the destination. I couldn’t agree more.
My original plan – for 5 or 6 years before retirement, was to live for three months in Italy; to get to know one place inside and out. To experience daily life and live like a local. I knew that I couldn’t afford to do this during ‘high season’ (summer and fall), so I chose winter. I also chose Sorrento, because Sorrento had the climate most similar to Southern California, where I live. I knew that it would be wetter and colder than home, but I was prepared. I rented an apartment. I used Airbnb. I started making plans.
Then things changed. I decided that I didn’t want to stay in one place the entire time. I wanted to see more than one way to live in Italy. I wanted to see Rome and Florence. I tried to get a refund from Airbnb many months before leaving on my journey. That didn’t work. I lost money. Uggh. Lesson learned. Airbnb is NOT like a hotel. Each owner has his/her own cancellation policy. It’s not fun. And the apartment owners – when you meet them, may or may not be fair, honest and legitimate. You take risks. Always.
I settled on the following plan: 3 weeks in Rome, 2 weeks in Florence, 2 weeks in Sorrento and 2 weeks in Paris.
I arrived in Rome on November 29th. The apartment I rented was adorable. The landlord delivered on his promises. It was in a perfect location, had all of the promised amenities and was immaculate. I was in heaven. The weather was a dream. Mid 60’s during the day and mid 40’s at night. I settled in. I had a routine. I felt like a Roman. Almost. I adjusted to local times and customs. Mealtimes are quite late in Italy (Europe in general, actually). I woke up at 9:00 a.m.. I checked email, showered and was out of the apartment by 10:30 or 11:00 each day – MUCH later than I would ever leave the house at home. I went to the corner bar for my morning cappuccino. No one eats breakfast in Italy. I’ve never been a fan of breakfast, so that was fine with me. I took long walks, with no particular destination in mind. I had been to Rome so many times in the past, that I had no agenda. No sights to see. No appointments to make. I could just enjoy. I could live like a local. And I did. I meandered. I met artists along cobbled streets. I had long lunches. I took photographs. I lingered. I pondered and I experienced. I was in love. In love with Rome. In love with not rushing around. In love with the beauty of the city. I took naps. Every. Single. Day. I love naps. Afternoons in Rome are lazy. Restaurants close down after 2:30 or so. Some shops close. But most of all, people take a break. So did I.
At 6:00 or so, Romans enjoy an aperitivo. My aperitivo of choice is a Negroni. A bitter concoction of Campari, Gin & Vermouth. I’ve enjoyed them for years – but they always taste better in Italy. All of the cafes and restaurants re-open for aperitivo hour. Some do it better than others. Some serve nuts and olives along with your drink. And some serve lovely trays of canapes. Aperitivo time can stretch into dinner. And often it did. But dinner does not really get going until between 8:30 and 9:00 – and that is the ‘early-bird’ hour. Real dining isn’t in full force until 9:30 -10:00; and those are the most difficult reservations to get.
Follow along for more of my European adventures in my next post…