La Dolce Vita

No words are truer than the phrase that you should take the time to stop and smell the roses, or as was the case of the last two weeks, the jasmine. A two week honeymoon in Italy, the Mediterranean, and Côte d’Azur allowed us the time to decompress while exploring, traveling, and enjoying the amazing food, café, vino and people. Away from work and “reality”, we felt refreshed and relaxed for the first time in almost two years.  I laugh a bit about the phrase “refreshed and relaxed” as our motto for this trip was “Full Gas” in honor of our stop in Monaco for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, yet despite our full speed efforts we felt rejuvenated.  Our new state of being could have been attributed to the beautiful, sunshine-filled days; however, as we reflect we feel our refreshed attitude came from being in the present every moment of each day.  Additionally, we found that when you take the time to stop and smell the roses unexpected joys find you.I mentioned in The Struggle is Real that I have been working my way out of a post race running slump and promised myself to reconnect with the joy of running.  As I recently discovered, there is no better way to refuel the body, mind, heart and soul than to travel to new and beautiful locales. In addition to wanting to jump out of bed to see the sights of ancient Rome, drive through the rolling hills of Tuscany to eat in their hilltop towns, or roam the elegant streets of places like Portofino, St. Tropez and Monte-Carlo, I ached to lace up my running shoes to find adventure on the fly.  I found my senses opened throughout our trip, absorbing the bountiful sights, sounds, smells and flavors. For the first time, we set off without overly planning the majority of our days.  Yes, we made sure we had tickets to the Vatican (we recommend their Evening Tours) and all four levels of the Colosseum by Guide (Fabio from Italy with Us), and our Windstar Cruise ensured we had a loose schedule based on our port itinerary; however, we decided against planned excursions to explore based on what we felt at the moment.  Our #HoneymoonintheMed because a series of lessons in finding joy and beauty in unexpected ways.

Lesson 1: Stop and Smell the Jasmine

Jasmine appears to grow on at least one wall in every city and town we visited. It became second nature for us to be walking, get a hint of the distinctive and beautiful fragrance, and for me to stop and bury my face in the intoxicating blooms.

Lesson 2: Let go of the Reins

As most anyone that knows me can attest, I love plans and schedules.  Talk to me about a five year plan and I can lay out a dozen scenarios dependent on different end goals and desires.  On a typical day, I have my day scheduled to a “T” based on my training requirements, work load and other life events.  To escape from schedules, we made the decision that our honeymoon would not be overly structured. We wanted to feel free…free from schedules, free from cell phones, free to pick things to do at random, and free to make changes on the fly.

A great example of our new found freedom was in Portoferraio, Elba Island, our first port stop of our cruise. None of the planned excursions were really pulling our strings so we found out the ship had some bikes and decided to give them a whirl.  We rode up and up (and sometimes up again) the cobblestone streets of town to see, and ride around in, Forte Falcone, where we had awe-inspiring views of the entire island and the sea.

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Later we rode to the white pebbled beaches, beautiful vineyards, and well-ordered olive groves. We were hot, sweaty, and having a blast.  I needed to talk myself into some of the routes as we had no planned destination and no map.  I could feel my anxiety rise at times, but I knew I could release the reins to Austin and could focus on just enjoying the time and the island.

Lesson 3: Adventure Will Find You or Find Your Own Adventure

I once read that if you are patient enough, interesting things (or entertaining events) will find you.  While we were not necessarily waiting around for anything and made sure we were out and about, there were two truly memorable moments of unexpected entertainment and joy.

  • Cantina Contucci: While in Italy before our Mediterranean cruise, we rented a car and set out to explore Tuscany.  With some loose plans to drive out to the town of Pienza and visit some vineyards in Montepulciano, we navigated out of Rome (entertaining in itself) and headed to the countryside. The rolling hills, clean lines of grape vines and olive trees, hilltop towns seeming to defy gravity were sights to behold, and the food tasted as wonderful as the aromas promised.  On a snap decision we detoured to visit a random hilltop town in Montepulciano on our way back from Pienza, and to our surprise, stumbled upon on of our favorite memories of the entire trip.  As we walked the narrow roads in this scenic town, we found ourselves in front of Palazzo Contucci and the seat of their famous wine cellars. As we walked into the doors beneath the Cantina sign, we found ourselves tasting their phenomenal Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in the vibrant company of their valued and trusted cellarman/winemaker, Adamo Pallecchi, who retired 20 years ago but still comes to work every day.  Following exuberant descriptions of the wines, the terroir, and their natural winemaking and storing process, Adamo spoke to us about our trip, his ties to the travel author Rick Steves, all the while petting my face and telling Austin “su esposa que bellisima” and that he (Austin) was “que forza” while gripping onto his bicep.  We adored every aspect of the unexpected moment.

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  • Portovenere: On the Liguria Sea, Austin and I set out to explore Portovenere and the neighboring towns on a long, coastal run before heading back to the ship to clean up to return and sight see the town, the Doria Castle, and the Church of San Pietro more thoroughly. As we hopped off the tender and looked around the port area before our run, we stumbled upon a hiking path up a steep incline next to the castle. Unbeknownst to us, we found Trail 1A which leads from Portovenere to Telegrafia and onwards to Riomaggiore. Our initial intent just to hike to the top of the castle and then head out for our planned run was quickly revised once we caught our first heady and fantastic view of the church and sea. The trail led up the mountain and we choose to follow, and as we did, we discovered scenic overlooks, hidden caves, and emerged at the top near the Muzzerone Fortress.  Although we had no map, we decided to pop off the trail and jump on the switchback roads we “thought” might bring us back to the coast.  We later learned we ran the Via Pezzino Alto to the neighboring town of Snam-panigaglia where we followed signs to the Via Portovenere and Via Olivio to Palazzata (Fortress Houses) at our tender location. Our intended meandering and sight-seeing run became a 3 x hour heart pounding hike and long downhill run with amazing views.  Unforgettable.

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A quote from Joseph Campbell says “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls,” and in opening myself up to new adventures I found myself content and renewed.

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