My travel experiences are most enhanced when I open up, let down my guard, step out of my comfort zone and just say YES. This may seem simple but I know there are people that either struggle with this or have never considered it. For me, this starts by allowing that still small voice to guide my interactions (let’s be honest, some folks are crazy so you have to follow your gut on who to engage vs. not).
I heard that voice in the Atlanta airport where I met Kelsey from South Carolina in the security screening line (we all know how long that process can take, why not pass time by getting to know someone and besides dope people tend to meet other dope people) and learned that we were both headed to Italy (me Milan and her Rome, both through Toronto, what are the odds!). I next saw her in Toronto, both flights to Italy were delayed, and so I had another opportunity to say yes, let’s eat and have drinks (why fret about things beyond our control, live in the here and now). Most of the next 4 hours were spent drinking wine and getting to know each other’s stories, passions and on some level fears as well. Now I have to back up here and share that I promised myself that thus year would be about cultivating true authentic relationships with like minded individuals, so saying yes in that regard aligns with my goal (yay me!! Eat, Sleep and LIVE the goal!!!). I learned that I had SO MUCH in common with Kelsey and it all started with a simple yes!
Let’s fast forward another 12ish hours, I make my way to Venice, Italy (yes, I know I said I was flying to Milan but that was just my entry point to the country on a cheap flight – – I must share those tips in another post – – coming soon!!). Since I’m a foodie, I immediately look for the best nearby restaurant, Nevodi (this place was INCREDIBLE!!! HANDS DOWN!!!!). After a great meal, I arrived back to the apartment and realized that I forgot the umbrella, my girl Dethra had to teach a class so I decided to head back for it. Before I originally left the restaurant, I met Karen from Toronto who has traveled to Italy several times a year for the past 10 years (Wow! Just WOW!). Karen was still there and she asked me to stay, so as you’ve likely guessed, another opportunity for yes. I spent the evening getting to know Karen and her boyfriend Silvio who just so happened to be the owner of the restaurant (yep, that happened in REAL LIFE). They were so much fun, we ate and drank, ate some more and danced, yes, we danced when all other patrons were gone (what did we dance to? Come on, I know that you are dying to know my most memorable moment . . . Lionel Richie All Night Long, just the facts folks, I couldn’t script this any better!). So just when you think it couldn’t get any better, upon the clock striking midnight it was Karen’s birthday, she was so dope that she invited us to dinner the next night to celebrate with her (in case you’ve forgotten this all started with a yes, when you lead with yes, you are more open, more welcoming, more inviting. Good energy draws in good energy.). The next night, we arrived to Nevodi and the air had shifted, we were all old friends greeting each other with hugs and kisses (double kiss is a must in Italy!!!). Thanks to Silvio and Chef Andrea, we had a PHENOMENAL meal (I am a bonafide foodie, if I say it’s good you can cash that check any day of the week and twice on Sunday!) and another great experience born by just saying yes!!
Now I’m off to Florence, but really how do I top my experience in Venice?? The key was to allow the chips to fall where they may, (we all know that the best laid plans fail so I have a fighting chance regardless) after all, I didn’t make Venice happen, Venice happened to me. So around 2am, I booked a 10:45am wine tour; I’m shocked there were open slots since all other tours were sold out, it was clearly meant to be. At the tour office, I continued on the path of yes (I could very easily enter a room and chose not to speak but it’s an 8 person tour so that choice would have been a poor one), so I engaged with Alexis and Dave from Philly who were on their honeymoon (I just celebrated 12 years of marriage the week prior so it was so endearing to get to know the newlyweds). Meetal from England by way of Kenya (I have a favorite restaurant there and she knew all about so an instant foodie bond was formed!!!) and her boyfriend David from Ireland arrive and I could tell this was going to be a fun day! Friendships were truly born when we all decided to go to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset from the steps. Friendships were solidified when we each opened a bottle of wine from our winery tour and had many evenings worth of laughs! I plan to visit Alexis and Dave (they are such a great couple, sweet with just the right amount of spice) in Philly and they will return the favor. I’m crashing Meetal’s wedding (she is not engaged but I’ve always wanted to attend an Indian wedding so THIS IS HAPPENING because she is also now a member of the bad girls club since 1) she scarfed down a croissant in 30 seconds flat to get on the mini bus for the tour – my type of girl – 2) refused to toss any of the wines we tasted – who does that anyway????? – and 3) abandoned the delicious table spread to take selfies with our 21 year old glass of wine, yep that happened too!). Ireland with David (when I tell you that this guy is hilarious it really doesn’t do him justice), that’s happening too!!
I’ve gotten ahead of myself here, before the steps, there was Podere Dell’Anselmo in the Chianti region of Tuscany. This was NOT a wine tasting, it was so very much more than that. It was a Wine 101 course – the history, the landscape (fresh herbs – bay leaves, rosemary, sage -, peaches, olive trees, blackberries, oh and Tarzan was there too – a super cute and highly energetic dog that loves to play with wine corks –). We had 2 visits from the Winery Owner and Wine Maker, Fabrizio Forconi (I thought that pleasure was reserved for the super rich and/or famous but at that winery everyone matters), the first to welcome us and tell us about the tradition of viticulture and the second to share a 21 year old bottle of wine. Anthony Freveletti led our tour and his passion for wine is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Experience is the best teacher and Anthony and Fabrizio both spoke about the importance of knowing where your wine comes from, understanding the process by which it is made and allowing the wine to age so it can be at its best (well they clearly didn’t just talk, they shared a 21yr old bottle of wine with us!!). THAT HAPPENED because they said yes, when we asked to try the aged wine.
Post Podere Dell’Anselmo (another experience for the record books), we traveled to Rome. So remember Kelsey, well of course we had to see each other again so Saturday dinner presented another opportunity to say yes. I wanted to dress up and I decided to wear heels which is fine when your Uber drops you off at the door, well the ladies wanted to bar crawl and after many attempts to get an Uber I said yes to “strutting across the cobblestone with my 4 inch heels.” Well it wasn’t that bad, well that’s until the rain started (I suppose the rain said yes too lol). Either way, one spot led to another spot and somewhere between a battle to be the first to tie a cherry stem into a knot by tongue (not me, I don’t have that degree of talent) and Sir Mix Alot’s Baby Got Back, more friendships were formed and solidified.
After a few days and tours in Rome, we decided to rent a car and drive (driving in Italian is interesting, the road lines and speed limits are merely suggestions based on my experience). I set off with my girl without a real plan in mind other than driving South. So we ended up on the Amalfi Coast “for the day” but it simply was too beautiful to leave so we said yes to staying for the night (we still had an Airbnb in Rome but we are clearly co-captains of team doing the most). We woke up in paradise and spent the day shopping and exploring Positano (breathtaking city, however, the stairs are KILLER, it is legs day everyday there). While heading back to Rome, we realized how close we were to Naples and saying yes meant that we drove to the birthplace of Pizza to get a takeaway pizza from the world renowned L’ Pizzeria Antico da Michele (I knew I was in the right place when I saw the crowd waiting for their number to be called).
On the drive back to Rome, we opted to shorten the time in our next destination, Milan, without a plan on where we would go next (same co-captains, same team). Our hearts and the best wine we experienced were at that lovely winery in Montespertoli so we reached out to the owner to determine if there was room at the inn and guess what, he said yes!! We head back to Tuscany for 1 night, within 1 hour of our arrival, we were very easily convinced to say yes to staying for 2 nights. Because we said yes, we spent the next day learning how to make wine with Fabrizio (yes WINE, wine that will be bottled and sold; if you are not yet convinced that there is power in just saying yes, I will apologize right here because I have no magic wand or tricks up my sleeve, just the facts). So I say yes to new experiences, I say yes to new friends, I say yes to things that stretch the boundaries of my comfort zone . . . Else, what’s the point of traveling? What could be better than embracing different cultures through the eyes of locals, other world travellers or other like minded individuals.