In three weeks I will have approached the one year mark for my journey abroad. In the scheme of things, a year is a relatively brief period of time. However, a lot can happen in a year – relationships can change, lessons will be learned, and experiences had.
I was just mentioning the other day how 2012 and the beginning of 2013 seemed to stubbornly drag on. That period of my life was certainly the peak of my restlessness. I was neither happy nor sad; I was simply numb to the world, wanting to fill a void.
Now that I have decided to put my heart and goals first, life has been a whirlwind. For someone never leaving the United States before, I have been to eleven new countries within eleven months. I have evolved from who I once was, and have stripped my layers to reveal who I truly am.
Before I left the states, we – along with a few other close friends – were living in Farmington together, so meeting for happy hour, girl’s night, or a shopping trip never had to be thought twice about. I have never taken those days for granted and I absolutely love my life abroad, but there have been times where I wish I could meet them at Grants for a cocktail or to cozy up on one of their couches for TV and girl talk. Thankfully technology today has eased the sting of these long distance friendships – we are only a Skype call, iMessage, or Facebook Chat away from each other. More importantly, our friendships are strong enough where time and distance hold no influence.
So Allie and Lauren arrived in Italy for their third time to share their vacation with me and fill it with incredible sights, rich gelato, and delicious wine. Our trip began in Rome where we reunited in the lovely Fiumicino airport. Hearing my name called out and hugging them both brought me immediately to reality yet I couldn’t shake the surreal feeling that they were actually here. My friends and family from home have adopted the ‘phantom limb’ syndrome – I always feel their presence, yet am unable to physically see them.
We immediately jetted off to Sicily to spend a long weekend with Lauren’s relatives. I was not surprised to find that Lauren’s family is as generous, lighthearted, and loveable as she is. We were welcomed as family and treated as royalty. I fell in love with Sicily, the village of Sortino, and my gracious hosts.
We returned to my home in Florence, eager to run off the pounds we gained, shop the local markets, and enjoy true Tuscan delicacies. Midweek we headed to Verrazzano Vineyard in Chianti Region for a wine tasting and to spend a night in a small villa. This was my second time at Verrazzano Vineyards, and although the tour is excellent, the best part of this small trip was sitting on lawn chairs outside our villa overlooking the rolling hills of Tuscany and later in a small hole-in-the wall restaurant in Greve. Here, we were finally on our own and able to truly catch each other up on our lives.
The strength of our friendship and our history together catapulted us into our own world. Time no longer existed and we simply reveled in one another’s company. We are comfortable in silence and animated in conversation. The three of us all come from very different backgrounds and have lived very different lives. We are on separate paths with separate goals. Yet this diversity fuels our bond. We share insight other friends may not know. We encourage one another when others may dismiss. Our friendship is honest, supportive, and loyal. Sitting in those lawn chairs we shared our new hopes, fears, and desires. Around the table in that local trattoria, I bared parts of my past that I have kept locked away for quite some time. There was no judgment or pitying; only understanding and love. We do not belittle one another or urge each other to follow a specific path; we simply offer advice and accept each other’s journey.
Their visit concluded with a trip to Cinque Terre. Even though this was my second time there, the towns and views were no less spectacular. I met them in Riomaggiore after my work day and we immediately went up to the cliff that overlooks the crashing waves and faces the falling sun. We toasted to our friendship with local wine and watched in silence the sun gracefully bow behind the clouds. I have experienced quite a few memorable sunsets in my life and this was one of them. The sky’s colors were continually changing and the clouds glowed around the sun as if they were a halo. Whenever I see something naturally beautiful and untouched by man’s harsh hand, I immediately feel aware of the fact that I am part of something greater. That my life is connected to the souls around me and to the energy in the beauty I see. A sunset forgives the day of its wrongs and erases any worries with its promise to rise again. So in that short period of time while I watched the sun conclude another day, I felt such extremes of serenity and thanks - and there were no better people to have at my side.
We left Cinque Terre the following day, after hopping from village to village and digesting the panoramic views and charming shops. All of a sudden, our vacation was over and it was time to return to our regular lives. Their departure snuck up on us and felt too abrupt. Where did the past ten days go?
Yet as we said farewell with tear sodden eyes, we knew this goodbye will not be forever – as they never are. Our hugs communicated and reinforced the words our voices tried to say.
I am forever thankful for these strong, intelligent, and kind women in my life. They inspire me daily and I admire them for who they have become and the lives they lead. Their love and support encouraged me to leave the states, start a life in Italy, return to Croatia, and will carry me to the next chapter of my tale – where I will truly chase the summer and see the other side of the world.