I didn’t want to go home.
Overseas travel is not something I can often afford. But when Kris from Zephyr contacted me saying that there was space remaining on the upcoming Tuscany/Umbria cycling trip, I had 24 hours to decide.
I had just received my tax refund, so it was a no-brainer. I jumped at the chance.
I was headed to a country whose scenery I’d watched roll by in many televised professional cycling races; a country with a beautiful language, a passion for food and culture, and a rich history. Wanting to immerse myself in all things Italian, I listened to Italian language CDs, and re-visited “Under the Tuscan Sun” plus other books by Frances Mayes. I was well prepared; or so I thought.
What I hadn’t prepared for was falling in love. Tuscany captured my heart the very moment I arrived. Everything was jaw-droppingly beautiful to me: the architecture, the smell of the countryside, and the gorgeous small towns with their maze-like cobblestone streets. Large piazzas, the neat rows of cypress trees lining paths to picturesque red-tile-roofed hilltop villas, art, museums, and shops offering leather, fabrics, ceramics, and the finest shoes. The simply magical musical sound of locals engaged in animated conversation Ahhh, Italia.
And then there was the fantastic food and drink. Perfect pasta, the freshest breads, and that amazingly tasty wild boar ragu- accompanied by the most delightful vino. Even a café’s house red was the best wine I’d ever tasted. I had one incredible “close-your-eyes- and-enjoy-every-bite” meal after another. It was total sensory overload.
I was tempted to stay and transform into a local- enjoying daily life to its fullest.
I noticed every small town and village we rode through seemed to exist at a different pace. Most homes had large gardens with olive trees, vineyards, and plots for growing tomatoes and vegetables. Many had large, well-cared for terraces with tables and chairs, perfect for big outdoor gatherings with family and friends.
I had to pinch myself several times while riding on the beautiful white gravel (strade bianche) roads with amazing views, or on the bike path in Umbria lined with fields of poppies. I’m riding a bike in Italy! I’d say out loud. ITALY! I’d breathe deeply and couldn’t stop smiling.
One morning in Pienza, I awoke early and watched the sunrise over the valley. I recall exactly how I felt at that precise moment: listening to the birds, looking out at the rolling green countryside, knowing that all I had to do that day was pedal a bicycle. This was heaven, and I wished for time to freeze. I wanted to remember every impact Italy had imprinted upon my senses: the magnificent food, the glorious scenery, the smells, the views of the lush green countryside, the sounds of sheep bells ringing as they grazed, oblivious to my bicycle tires humming on the road.
When I returned home, I recognized the vast contrast between life in Italy and life in the United States. It seems that we don’t take the time to SAVOR anything. We eat meals in front of the television, in our cars, at our desks at work. We shop while talking on our cell phones. We are masters at multi-tasking; and in doing so we fail to enjoy anything fully.
Undoubtedly, experiencing Italy from the seat of a bike was an amazing way to fully capture the country, but it also inspired me to try to live more fully in the moment in all aspects of my life. I truly believe the trip changed me. Thank you Italia and thank you Zephyr!
The next time an opportunity to travel to Italy arises, you can bet I won’t hesitate in saying “andiamo!” Let’s GO!
This guest post was contributed by Linda, a Zephyr Alum who has been on trips to Glacier, Yellowstone and Italy. She lives in Portland with her cat, Levi, and is always looking forward to more adventure. @lindajellison
Cover Photo via http://foodnouveau.com/ & Kris Thomas