Any kind of journey creates a variety of unexpected feelings, experiences and sights, and this is the reason I love to travel. It is wonderful to see certain sights and enjoy the things different places are known for, but what gives me the greatest pleasure - and most memorable moments - are all the things I did not plan for or could not have forseen. These are the things that stay with me no matter how much time passes after the journey is over.
My recent honeymoon was an absolutely divine two weeks in Italy. We started at a lovely villa on Lake Garda, which I will write more about later, but spent most of our time in Florence. My husband and I had both been there before, but my last visit there was many years ago, and my husband's visit was nothing more than a two day whirlwind during the crowded summer season. So despite the fact that we had been there before, in many ways this was still a new experience for us.
I had been to Florence twice before, and both times Florence was one of many places I visited on two different backpacking journeys. The drill with backpacking is as follows: your diet consists of whatever is cheapest, which means sitting down at actual restaurants with cloth napkins is out of the question. To get from city to city and country to country, you travel on the train, and a great way to save money on hostels & hotels is to travel overnight. An overnight train ride from Germany to Italy would accomplish two very important tasks - one, it gave a free night's sleep and two, it got you to a new city early in the morning, which meant the chances for scoring rooms in the best & cheapest hostels were that much greater. Having showers in your room is a luxury and even having your own room felt indulgent. Taxis aren't taken, you walk or you take the subway. If you want to go to a museum, you try to go on the day admission is free. Backpacking in Europe as a student is an exercise in doing and seeing as much as possible on as little as possible, and it is one of the best things I have ever done.
On this trip to Florence, my experience was quite different, and one of the lovely surprises that was in store for me when we arrived was the profound appreciation for my earlier visits when I had hardly any money and nothing more than a huge pack on my back and kick ass hiking boots. I saw a lot of backpackers around the city and kept having an overwhelming urge to go up and hug all of them and say, "You were so smart to do this!" It was a wonderfully relaxing, fun, inspiring week that gave me a feeling of coming full circle in my life. I got to travel there when I was just out of college and about to embark on a life that I hadn't figured out yet, and I got to return many years later from a place where I felt much more established and comfortable with what I have done and who I have become. And I got to eat at nice restaurants and stay in an actual hotel. We even took a taxi a few times. This felt wildly luxurious, almost rebellious.
I got to show my husband the hostel where Melissa and I stayed. I walked through the open air markets where she and I bought brand new leather jackets within an hour of arriving in Florence, as this was our one splurgy shopping goal. I took him to see David, which he never saw before, and I took photos that look almost exactly like the photos I took on my first visit. I not only enjoyed seeing Florence again with all of its magnificent art and architecture, I also spent the entire week soaked in a delicious blend of nostalgia, pride, warm memories, laughter and many reminders of where I've been and how far I've come. Florence has now become one of those places that feels a bit like home, where I experienced some kind of significant shift or awareness, and this is what I will remember most of all when, many years down the road, someone asks me what my honeymoon was like. Yes, it was about my husband and I celebrating our marriage and taking all that time just to be together, and that was delightful, but it also threw wide open a window to my past, and that view stayed in my peripheral vision everywhere I went. And what a view it was.