30. July 2017 · Comments Off on Wandering through Italy – Grado · Categories: Blog Post, History & Culture

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

I spent a significant amount of time trying to decide where I should start on this blogging journey. Italy was not the first place I ever traveled to but it was my first overseas location, the top of my bucket list at the time and where I was given a true awakening to what real travel was all about. I feel like I have truly grown, or matured even, in how I travel and I thought I should take you to where it all started so that maybe I can encourage you to take those first steps into the unknown with courage. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip and I had some incredible experiences but looking back now I am amazed at how much my travel style has changed.

This was my first exposure to another language, to jet lag, and a completely different culture and way of life than I was used to. Grado is a tiny little resort town in the Northeastern part of Italy and a common vacation spot for Italians. We ended up in Grado because my boyfriend was attending a conference there and we decided to go early and make a trip out of it. Our flights were separate, he flew through London and I flew through Paris and we met up in Venice. My biggest fear at the time was that he would miss his flight in London, as his connection was only 45 minutes and that airport is one of the most insane airports I have ever seen, and then I would be alone in this foreign country with nowhere to go. But he arrived and I let out a big sigh of relief. We made it to the hotel and quickly discovered that there was hardly anyone in the entire town that could speak English, except the lady behind the hotel desk.

Our thoughts turned to food so we went out in search of something…anything really and stumbled onto a small pizza joint. It was late and we were tired so we just ordered a couple slices each, most notably my boyfriend ordered a slice of pizza with hotdogs and french fries on it. That right there just goes to show you how naive we were to traveling.

When you have never been outside of North America or the farthest you have been is the Caribbean it’s hard to be travel savvy right off the bat. If I were to travel there now I would have spent some time wandering the town, taking in what it has to offer and then looking for a nice restaurant that offered local cuisine rather than some shady pizza joint that sells the not so authentic pizza with hotdogs and french fries.

The biggest wake up call came the next morning. In our sleep induced comas we heard someone knocking on our door. By this time the jet lag had set in and it was intense! I had no idea where I was or what was happening. I felt like I had been drugged. I had not prepared for this at all. Full disclosure I hate flying and therefore I never sleep on planes, which does not bode well for jet lag. Now when I travel I am prepared for it and have found ways to make it completely manageable, you just have to know what you are getting yourself into. But I am getting ahead of myself. So there is this incessant knocking on the door and eventually my boyfriend gets up and answers it. It is a lady repeatedly saying something to him in Italian, which he of course does not understand, but it sounds like she is saying “Polizia” and “Camera” and we think that for some reason the police are here with cameras and we are involved in something. There was a lot of confusion, on both sides, and the lady just kept repeating herself and then eventually shook her cleaning supplies at my boyfriend and we came to realize she just wanted to clean our room. We told her we were OK but she kind of insisted and we ended up dragging ourselves to the balcony attached to the room while she cleaned up. After that we adjusted to the time change pretty quickly.

The town was quite beautiful though, there was a nice quiet beach (it was September), the weather was warm and the food was great. We also found a great coffee shop by the bus station where every morning we would get cappuccinos and croissants for breakfast before departing to explore what Italy had to offer. There weren’t a lot of sites to see in the town nor a significant historical aspect but it made a great “home base” where we would hop on a bus to the train station that would connect us to the rest of Italy. Though I have to say if you need to use the toilet at said train station, don’t. Just don’t. It was a hole in the ground and nothing more, where people had obviously used it with very poor aim, and I don’t mean to urinate. Needless to say I was a little alarmed and more than slightly disgusted by the whole experience.

I learned a lot from these experiences, I know I am not going to sleep on planes, as I said before so now I try for immediate adjustment. As soon as I reach my intended destination, based on the time of day, I head out to check out the scene and get my barrings on a place, try to find a good cappuccino (if in Europe) and a place with local cuisine and then head in for an early night. This does the trick every time.

This was a jarring lesson in overseas travel but I was hooked. Italy had so much to offer and I was in love immediately. I look back at this and I have a sense that I was so immature in my travel style and I can see how far I have come and am amazed. I never realized just how much your travel style could change as you go along. This was a true lesson in stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing something I would never experience otherwise. It was new and it was scary but it was also so exciting and instantly life changing. If you are afraid I encourage you to take that first step because it will change your whole perspective on life. It will be scary but if you arm yourself with the right tools you will be guaranteed to have the experience of a lifetime.

My recommendations, start small. Go somewhere that’s just a short plane ride away. Get your feet wet but do your research. Ask the people at your hotel or some of the locals where to find the best food, where the best hiking is, the best wine, whatever your fancy and prepare for the jet lag. I also recommend trying to learn a few useful sentences in the native tongue, people really appreciate it when you at least try (generally speaking but that’s a whole other story) and it opens up a lot of other experiences. I also recommend walking wherever you go. My personal feeling is that the best way to really feel and see a new place is on foot. Those hop on hop off buses are great for seeing a lot of things in a short period of time but you don’t truly, in my opinion, get to know a place or become a part of a place, even if it’s just for a short while.

What about you? How has your travel style changed as you have visited more and more places? How do you cope with the ever evolving situations that travel in other countries tends to bring? It can be such a wonderful experience, one that will help you grow and will change your perspective on life. I know it has significantly impacted my life and has given me a deep appreciation for new places, culture, and the beauty that this world offers. It always leaves me hungry for more, wanting to experience it all at a deeper level and be one with the culture, or nature, or whatever the destination has to offer. Let me know what you think, I want to hear your stories of first time travel.