After taking a long COVID-induced hiatus from my adventures abroad, I'm finally back to travelling overseas. The question is: How do I return to my "regular" life now that I've opened this can of worms yet again?
Hi! It's been a while, hasn't it? A long, long while.
Things got pretty quiet (in terms of travel, at least) in the World of Emily when the pandemic hit, and in that first year, I found myself becoming comfortable with the idea of staying home in Toronto and not travelling ever again. I know, it's crazy, but it's true! As wild of a thought as it seems, I really had convinced myself that I was content with staying put in one place forever.
But then, thankfully, my plans got shaken up. Pieces started to move, gears began to turn, and I found myself experiencing a travel withdrawal unlike anything I had felt before. Unfortunately, it started with my nana's death; within 24 hours of her surprising passing, I decided that it was time I went to her motherland of Malta. Of course, it only made sense that my mom (her daughter) would come along with me and, with that, my stepdad Jason. So, I booked our flights and hotel, handed the confirmation to them last Christmas morning, and excitedly looked forward to our trip at the end of September.
Until I found myself wondering, Does it make sense for me to fly all the way to Malta without stopping to see my family in Calabria? It didn't make sense at all—I had to go. So, I called my cousin Vittoria and told her my plan to come for a week or two, on my own, to visit before flying to Malta to meet my mom and Jason.
But then I remembered the Festa di San Francesco di Paola that happens at the end of August every year in the town my nonna grew up in, and how I've wanted to go my whole life. Plus, it occurs over my birthday, so maybe I could come for the last week of August too, as a little birthday gift to myself.
And then, a week or so later, Vittoria let me know that she would be going to Egypt at the beginning of August and, if I wanted, I could meet them there and we could return to Italy all together. Oh, you mean Egypt, the country I have dreamed about visiting my entire life because I have an unexplainable and mildly unreasonable obsession with ancient Egyptian civilizations, deities, and overall culture? That Egypt?
Obviously, I'm in.
I booked it all—trip after trip after trip. And while I was planning on working while abroad in between my three weeks of vacation days, I had a little breakdown that led to me taking a leave of absence from work for a month. Which turned into two months.
It's okay, I guess. Shit happens.
As it happens, as the departure day drew closer and closer, I started to panic. Partly because I already knew that this trip would change my life and partly because—in all honesty—I had anxiety about taking a break from working. What would I do with all of this time, if not juggling work and boards and a dwindling social life that I found myself happily giving up in order to sleep more?
But, of course, I got on my flight bound for Egypt on the afternoon of Saturday, August 5th, and the moment I sank into the airplane seat, and the plane lifted off from the runway, I felt excitement wash over me in the same way it feels to dunk your entire body into the sea at the same moment a giant wave rolls toward the shore and over your head. Cathartic.
When Vittoria and I were finally reunited in Egypt (we last saw each other exactly one day before the world shut down due to COVID-19, when she returned to Italy from her three-month stay with my nonna and me in Canada), I felt like I was reunited with a sister. In an instant, I was reminded of the true reason I wanted to take this big trip in the first place, and that was to spend time with my family. For me, there really is no better cure for whatever stresses or doubts you might have about your life, than to spend time with people that make you feel at home. Who feel like home to you.
And so, along with my cousin and her amazing friends, I began the first leg of my trip.
Egypt consisted of me finally completing my travel bucket list that I had created at the age of eight or nine, which was essentially just Egypt, Italy, and (very specifically) Versailles; since I had already done Italy and Versailles in previous years, Egypt was the last that I needed to visit to satiate my little self's lust for travel. This trip needed to entail five things:
Swimming in the Red Sea
Climbing Mount Sinai
Visiting The Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Seeing the Great Pyramids of Giza...
...and going inside of one
There's something so satisfying about doing this all, too, because when I think about my life and all that I've been able to do in 29 years, I wish I could go and talk to my younger self and tell her about all the things 'we' will get to do... and how amazing life really can be. How it's better than I imagined. For example, while I could envision what it would be like climbing Mount Sinai from stories my grade four teacher told about her trip (which is what inspired me to add it to my bucket list), or by looking at photos, I never imagined how the crisp air would cool my skin as I climbed the mountain in the middle of the night, or the heaviness of my breath in my lungs as I took each step, or crying the happiest of tears when I saw a literal meteor shower throughout the night, soaring over my head.
Not to mention how I found myself doing things I never thought about before, because I never knew these places existed. Things like swimming to White Island from the back of a yacht, floating in an oasis in the middle of Ras Mohamed National Park, or zipping through the desert on an ATV to have a Coca-Cola under a tent in a Bedouin camp while watching little kids play and run circles around their camel.
While I loved Egypt, when it was time to leave the country and go to Italy, I wasn't sad like the rest of the group was (who, to be fair, had come to the end of their holidays). For me, Egypt was the amuse-bouche of my adventures, and I practically danced my way on to the plane bound from Cairo to Italy, excited about everything that was waiting for me in Europe.
(Spoiler: It was a lot of pizza and beaches and sunsets and dancing and cocktails and ancient ruins. The dream!)
In truth, I don't really know how to sum up my time in Italy. There are the "travel blogger-y" things I can easily write about—and will write about, later!—like attractions, the best times to visit, and things you should see while visiting X, Y, or Z. But when I think about my time in the country this summer, my senses are what tell the story to me.
The sight of entire cities constructed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, of the fuschia sun sinking below the water amidst a cotton candy sky, or marble sculptures so realistic that I swear I saw their chests rise and fall taking a breath.
The scent of the pizza I ordered being placed on the table right in front of me, of the shots of Amaro I took between songs as Amakorà played on stage during the sagra, or the musty but familiar smell of the countless medieval castles I was able to wander throughout.
The taste of homemade pasta that reminds me of my great-grandmother with every bite, of fresh cheese and bread and steaming hot french fries and deep fried zucchini and eggplant, or even of the salt water when I'm floating in the sea, and a wave washes over my face and kisses my lips.
The feeling of the curves and intricate details carved into ancient columns as I run my fingers over them, of my heart fluttering in my chest as I climb the side of a small mountain to return to the car after exploring a new town, or even that sudden calm that followed the realization that everything is going to be okay, everything in life is going as planned.
The sounds of waves crashing as I nap on the beach while the sun warms my face, of people having a hundred conversations all around me while I sit in the middle of a busy piazza, or of church bells ringing in the hour, every hour.
For me, this is Italy. It's a million sensations, a million different feelings.
This past weekend, I went on my last big adventure in Italy for Summer 2023 to Bergamo, where we took a day trip to Venezia and a day trip to Milano. (I may or may not have been scoping these out as a place to live for a little while.) I was reminded yet again of how lucky I am to have been born into the family that I was, and how, in the grand scheme of things, distance doesn't really matter.
When my great-grandparents immigrated to Canada with their children—one of whom was my nonna—family remained important to them. Our family living in Canada, of course, but also our family living abroad. Not just in Italy, but France, Brazil, and wherever else we've all landed over the decades. Even when it was difficult and expensive, somehow, one or two people managed to save up enough for a flight, and the family waiting at the airport would welcome them in, feed them, and show them the beauty of their home.
And now, in 2023, I get to do that, too. How cool is that?
As a (relevant) side note, last night, a group of us went out for sushi; at the end of the evening, I received a fortune cookie that read: Nuove prospettive vi daranno forze e fiducia ("new perspectives will give you strength and confidence"). I think this has so beautifully summed up the past seven weeks, as well as what I hope to be a continuous evolution as I move through the remainder of 2023 and beyond. What's most exciting is that I know this is just the beginning. Yes, I'll be back in Canada soon (after a brief stint in Malta in the coming week), but I won't be away from Europe for long.
That said, there are more stories of adventure to come here, in my resurrected Wanderous Affair, both from Egypt and Italy (and, soon, Malta).
Ci vediamo presto. We'll see each other soon. ☺