Mid-September in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Morning dawns with a chill, while Daylight still strokes rosy tendrils along its rocky coast well into the night.
This is my favorite season to run along the river. Winding along the banks under the evergreen canopy of Douglas fir and hemlock, the last blackberries bake in the sun, their heady perfume wafting through the air. The last vestiges high off the ground are still good for cobbler, if you can brave their thorny concertina wire.
In the spring, tiny bunnies wait on the path for my approach. When I’m close enough, they spring across to the other side and disappear into the undergrowth.
In the fall the bunnies are off-duty, but the path is carpeted with fuzzy orange and black Woollybear caterpillars moseying along to find a new sheltering piece of bark. It’s nearly impossible to run without stepping on one, so my stride shortens tentatively.
Gnats swarm in thick clouds without regard for those of us who are breathing. Frog sentries screech warnings just before plopping into water. Stagnant pools thickly braid earthy ropes of rotting leaves, scaly creatures, hidden secrets, and nature unbroken.
People don’t enter the teaching profession to make money. Obviously, we want a pay check, but with the level of education required in many states (Master’s degree) and the number of hours we contribute, we’d be making far more in the private sector putting our skills and passion to work. And let me just squelch right now the oft-claimed, “at least you get summers off.” True, kinda. If we aren’t going to training or working second jobs. But we also don’t get paid for the summer. Our paychecks are divided into twelve payments so that we receive summer paychecks, but we are only paid for the school year. Also, we don’t get paid overtime. I usually put in between 50-55 hours per week.
Anyway, it isn’t lucrative. So when I decided to celebrate my youngest’s university graduation this summer with a trip to Italy, it was a decision I didn’t take lightly. It was expensive. I came up with all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t. Briefly. And then the most important reason blazed: if not now, when? Soon my baby will start a career that will possibly take her far away and keep her busy. Then marriage and babies and I’m not getting any younger, so yes, now.
I lived in Vicenza, Italy for about three years, 24 years ago. It’s where my son learned to walk, and where I carried my daughter until a few weeks before her birthday. So this trip was a sort of an emotional homecoming for me, too.
We spent 18 glorious days luxuriating in the Ligurian Sea, steeping in ancient art, feasting on local cuisine, and hiking urban streets and rural trails.
We started in Rome.
Obviously, the layout of the city isn’t different from when I was there before. What has changed is the commercialization and focus on tourism. I remember walking right into all the sites without waiting in line – except the Vatican. But even that line has grown exponentially. It really just blew my mind. As a stay at home mom on a soldier’s salary long ago, I got to look at sites from the outside, but rarely could we afford to go in. So I decided that this time we were going to go in and see everything. I sprung for good tours that skipped the general admission lines. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is absolutely worth it.
The Bocca della Verita used to be very open and easy to access. Now it’s all closed in with scaffolding and an attendant, and the line was just wicked in the hot July sun. We stood there wilting for about an hour with temps in the mid-90s.
When touring, I found the best way to stay sane is to be flexible. Set a few non-negotiable tours and visits (plan far ahead because many sites require reservations, even with general admission), but then relax and simply enjoy whatever circumstance arises.
Clearly, I could write several posts about the food alone. We agreed before we left that there would be no discussing diet or calories at any point in our trip, and that eating local cuisine was as much a part of travel as getting there. We fully indulged. The best new thing we discovered is the afternoon apertif. Most restaurants serve free little nibbles when you buy a drink around five or so. We fell in love with Aperol spritz, a lovely concoction of orange bitters, prosecco, and bubble water. My favorite memories will be finally sitting down after a full day of walking, climbing, standing, and sweating, (we averaged ten miles per day) and reveling in the sweet refreshment. Usually we got chips or olives and crackers.
I do not regret anything I spent money on for this trip. Sure, there are things I learned later that could have saved money, and prior planning and communication that should have occurred, and travel arrangements that had to be changed and dollars forfeited. But I got to experience moments of my daughter’s cultural awakening and understanding. We shared laughter, silliness, camaraderie, (stress and patience, too) as women, that we may never have otherwise known. Worth it? Absolutely priceless.