I am not a good traveler. I would love to frolick through the airport to my gate, stopping for friendly chatter with the locals, Starbucks, and a selfie. But instead I get to the airport a few hours extra-early “just in case” — and am in line to check my bags before the airline agents are there yet. I don’t mean to, but travel is chaos. And I do not handle it well. I try my best to stay on schedule and organized, but that means I have to work very hard to relax enough to actually enjoy my trip…
Going to Italy this last month for my first international adventure was a gift. My husband had been numerous times before, so he took care of all of the planning. My only request was to see the Spanish Steps, until I realized that wasn’t the Appian Way, and that in fact I didn’t want to worry about it this visit anyway.
Instead, we got to see so many amazing museums and churches and ruins. We ate so much pasta and gelato and more gelato and more gelato. Like, seriously, they started recognizing us at the gelateria next to our hotel. We were regulars within a week. (I’ve never been treated like a regular at the restaurant at home that I’ve been going to for nearly a decade now!)
I had kept my expectations grounded, considering every rave review I’d heard of Rome and Italy to be influenced by equal portions nostalgia and romanticism. But I have to admit, I was amazing. I really enjoyed the two weeks, and never tired of the art and architecture of that beautiful country. And gelato.
I did quickly tire of Italian television. Hours of The Amazing World of Gumball re-runs in Italian that still somehow cracked us up despite the language barrier.
I know what you’re thinking — “you didn’t learn Italian?” No. I really really tried, thanks to months of Duolingo. But forgot it instantly (thanks jetlag, maybe?) and what I remembered I was barely confident enough to use. “Grazie!” and “Il conto, per favore” and “l’acqua naturale” were my staples. (“Thanks” “check please” and “still water” (instead of the much more popular fizzy water)).
Oh, wait… is that not what you were wondering? Are you surprised to find that we watched television? Hours of it, no less? That’s fair. I didn’t expect it. And judging by the size of the TVs in our rooms, the hotels didn’t guess it either.
But the reason we were watching so much television is also the reason I think we managed to enjoy our trip so much.
I had really only heard about “siesta” as a Spanish cultural norm. But apparently it can be pretty common in Italy too. And we adopted it wholeheartedly. I really think it kept us sane. Every day we would enjoy a small breakfast and cappuccino, venture out to a museum, have a relaxing lunch, and then head back to the hotel for a few hours. Then, go to another museum or sight, before a late and long dinner somewhere.
That seista was the perfect break in our day. We went nearly everywhere on foot, and even if we took the subway, we still spent a while in lines or hours walking through the museums. Add a late-summer heatwave and crowds of likeminded tourists and we were exhausted every day by two o’clock. We used the break to rest our poor feet, enjoy some air conditioning, re-hydrate, and research what we wanted to do in the afternoon (and more importantly where we would eat dinner!).
It felt very weird to spend hours hiding away in our hotel. Almost wrong. Like we were wasting precious time in our limited stay. There is so much to do on vacation, especially in places like Rome and Florence… But what might have been lost in adventure, we made up for in appreciation. By remembering to rest every day, we stayed consistently in good spirits and excited about what we were doing. I think if we hadn’t stopped now and then to rest and recover, we very likely would have gotten so fatigued that we easily could have lost an entire day or two to exhaustion. And that would have been worse, in my book. After all it was still vacation, and the point was equally to escape from the busy-ness of our daily life as much as it was to explore another country.
Travel is still chaos. International, even more so, I’ve learned. But I’m so glad we were still able to rest and enjoy time off as we experienced the extravagant and lush vistas of Italy.
Do you have ways to stay rested during a busy vacation? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!