Turin/Torino

Torino, or Turin, is not like any other city I’ve been to in Italy, and honestly, it didn’t quite feel like I was in “Italy” anymore. (Truthfully, now that I’ve been all over Italy, Italian is such a misleading adjective; there are not many constants.) The city, like Trieste, clearly had some glorious periods in the days of yesteryear and yore, but Turin wears its age better. It, unlike Trieste, does not have the shipping component, so it makes it feel a little less seedy — read: not at all seedy. However, unlike Florence, Siena, Rome, Venice, or Naples, Turin doesn’t seem to get its share of [American] tourists (this is my subjective understanding).

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The view from my airbnb’s window. The city was completely charming architecturally, even if it was rainy.

I was only in Turin for a little while, mainly to visit another town that was super small, so I do not know a lot about its history. The main points of historical interest are that the Turin was the seat of the Dukes of Savoy, later the royal house of Italy, and the first capital of unified Italy. The seeds of unification were first sewn in Turin. If you have been to any town in Italy, chances are you have seen some street, square, or other landmark with the name “Cavour” (literally at least one in every town); this refers to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was from Turin and instrumental in Italy’s unification.

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The Piazzetta Reale, in front of the Royal Palaces of Turin, where the city’s museums are housed. You can see the main train station, Porta Nuova, if you follow the main street to the end.

In Torino, a few unhappy trends began for my trip — if I had to say I had a “bad leg” of my trip it would start here (even though I didn’t have a bad time). Turin began what I refer to as the “week of Rain.” It wasn’t actually a week where it rained on my trip, but it felt like it. However, there were a ton of covered sidewalks and storefronts that permitted folks to walk around without getting (very) soaked. The Great Curse of No Internet also began in Torino; my airbnb tried to get it working but they couldn’t verify what was wrong. Now, I’m a little ashamed to admit how much this stressed me out. The internet was my lifeline. I had settled into a really comfortable routine on this trip where I did all of my stuff out and about during the day, had a late dinner, then settled in for the evening with a few eps of whatever show was available to me on Netflix in Italy or France. Just the *noise* of someone speaking English to me helped with the loneliness factor A LOT. Losing that stressed me out. A lot.

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My breakfast one morning…bicerin (it sounds like you’re calling someone the b-word), a cornetto con crema and some biscuits. Bicerin is a Piemontese drink that was invented in Turin that has espresso, chocolate, heavy cream or milk, and whipped cream. It was divine.

I only had one day to explore Turin and a I had a lot I wanted to do. The Museo Egizio had come highly recommended and as the only museum dedicated solely to Egyptian antiquity outside of Egypt, I had to go. It is a fantastic museum. Now I do have to be honest, for someone who had been used to quiet Croatia, relatively quiet Rimini and Ancona, the Museo Egizio was a little overwhelming. It was field trip central and I swear every Italian aged 6-9 was squeezed into the Museo Egizio the day I was there. I remember my field trips as a kid, and ones I’ve run myself as a camp counselor in college. You were in a line, there were many many rules and failure to follow the rules meant you could lose field trip privileges! Not the case here…I was overwhelmed and overstimulated by the noise. And the clerk said it was quiet that day.

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One of the statues from the Gallery of Kings — don’t remember who, and it doesn’t matter, they all look the same (that’s on purpose) — The internet says Seti II

The collection was frankly fantastic. Turin houses some of the most precious Egyptian artefacts in Europe; much of it gained through archaeological exploits in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection was organized chronologically, with ample and informative labelling and wall text, and audio guides that you could tailor to your level of interest. One of the things I enjoyed, but am still not sure how I feel about it, is how the museum consciously engaged with more controversial parts of its history. Collecting practices of the 18th and 19th century were often thinly-veiled pillage; while not necessarily coming down in judgement upon the folks who did the pillaging, the Museo Egizio definitely didn’t shy away from at least talking about it in great depth. And that is super important. Honestly, I won’t say you should go to Turin just for the Museo Egizio, but if you’re there, you really should go. Give yourself the entire morning.

Snaps of the Savoy Palace: Ballrooms, entryways, hallways, and armories

The Savoy Palace was the next stop on my list. In Italy, several “museums” are often grouped together and form one big museum, and that was the case here. I came to the Savoy Palace not to see the royal residence, but to the visit the archaeological museum. Fortunately, they give you no choice, you have to go through most of the museum to get to the archaeological bits. It was a great museum, though I wish I were more up on my House of Savoy trivia as it would have been more enjoyable to know the historical figures who were associated with the palace.

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Silver bust of the second-century CE emperor Lucius Verus 

The highlight of the Savoy Palace was this guy right here. This ancient silver bust is extremely rare. While busts of precious metals certainly existed in antiquity, many were quickly melted down and reused. This, like most ancient objects in precious metal, was found in treasure hoard in 1928. The objects were buried, likely in late antiquity, for safekeeping and never reclaimed. It was so much larger than I expected, not quite life size, but close.

Since Torino was my last stop in Italy, I wanted to make sure I did all of the eating. AND I did. I didn’t eat one bad thing. Mmm. I miss Italy.

Ancona: A Day in Marche

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View of Ancona from the Ferretti Palace, it was a gorgeous day

My brief day trip to Ancona was another thing I was not very excited about. It’s a prominent harbor/seaport on the Adriatic, and for whatever reason I had an impression that the city could be a little rough and gritty. It’s not entirely untrue, a large part of the city, especially on the outskirts, is unrelentingly industrial and it doesn’t have…the polish, of other cities in Italy, but it was by no means a place where I felt unsafe even for a moment.

It was however very hilly, and for the first time, the train station was much farther away from where I needed to go, not crazy far, but just not close. It is in many ways super liberating as an American to train into a city and use your feet to get everywhere you need to go. Ancona was this trip’s exception. Between the hills and the distance, I decided to take a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, which was at the apex of the hill, in the 16th-century Ferretti Palace. English was not a thing here in Ancona, at least not to the folks I interacted with, and again that’s fine– there was a brief hang up because I only had a 50 euro bill, and I misunderstood the price of admission, but it all got worked out. (SideNote/ProTip — in Europe, always go to BNP Paribas ATMs …they give you a choice on you’d like your bills distributed. I know there are others that do it, but BNP Paribas ATMs are everywhere. NOBODY in Europe likes a 50 euro bill unless your purchase is 50 euro even.)

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The Ferretti Palace and the harbor at Ancona — The Ferretti Palace is blocking the view of my arch, which is in the harbor below. You can see a reconstruction of a group of equestrian statues on the roof…more on that momentarily. 

This museum was technically the archaeological museum of the Marche, the region to which Ancona belongs. It focused super strongly on the proto and pre-historic eras of history, with a nice glimpse into the Greek and Roman history of the city as well. I had the museum entirely to myself. So I took my time exploring, and taking care of business. There was a lot to see that was interesting, and lots of sherds and things that (sorry sherd nerds) I glossed over. It was nice to take my time and have so much to wade through.

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The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola, c. 1st century BCE/CE  (a copy of the original currently in Pergola)

On my way out, the woman working the front desk stopped me and told me to follow her! It was in this moment that I learned I can a) understand Italian a lot better than I give myself credit for and b) I do very well when the subject matter is something I’m super familiar with– like ancient Roman sculpture and art. She told me that a lot of people missed seeing these guys, and they were important and no one goes to Pergola so I needed to check them out. The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola were found in Pergola in the 1940s and they were housed in the museum in Ancona until the 1970s when they were moved back to Pergola in a specially built museum. This is apparently a sore subject, based upon the guide’s tone and description. A copy was made however, which is what you see above. The Gilt Bronzes are SUPER important because they’re the largest surviving gilded bronze equestrian group from Roman antiquity. It comprises two equestrian figures (2 men, and 2 horses), and two women — the second rider doesn’t survive, and all of the other figures are fragmentary. Even in modern copy, it was impressive.

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Isn’t this picture just so stereotypical Europe? At least in the minds of Americans? 

After finishing up on the museum, I made the descent down the GIANT HILL OF ANCONA (after the flatness of Venice and Rimini, I was spoiled) to find my way to the Arch of Trajan, the major reason for my visit. Along the way I saw many scenic vistas and buildings, continuing to erase the negative conception I had previously had about Ancona. It wasn’t like any other Italian city I had been to (there are SO many wonderful little cities and towns that are each unique in their own way), but it was charming in its own right.

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You can see the more picturesque Ancona (foreground) juxtaposed with the kinda-gross-Ancona (background) 

I eventually wound myself down the switchbacks of the hill, and started upon the track to the arch. It was like immediately being in a different town because in order to get to the arch, you had to walk past a good mile of harbor stuff — a lot of it passenger ships. There were a few restaurants (most closed it was Sunday) and a nice walking path with the nice soft squishy material (what is that stuff called?) A good number of folks were out and about enjoying the pleasantly warm day.

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The Arch of Trajan at Ancona 

Eventually, there it was. The Arch of Trajan at Ancona in perhaps one of the most confusing juxtapositions of old and new that I’ve seen yet. The picture above captures some of it, but from all sides you had visible evidence of at least two millennia of cultural activity. It’s an impressive structure, one that was surprisingly difficult to photograph, thanks to the steps on the approach. It was a great spot for taking cheesy pictures of me in front of my arch thanks thanks to the architectural assemblage in the surrounding area.

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Me and my arcchhhh 

The rest of my time in Ancona was fairly brief and I had my only experience with the trains being messed up in Italy. The train was 45 minutes late. Luckily I didn’t have to be anywhere, but I was currently in a difficult spot because I *really* had to pee and the bathrooms only took 50 cent pieces and I didn’t have any (things were also closed because Sunday). The train FINALLY arrived, and I go to get on my car 3. Car three is closed down and other Italian speaking individuals spoke to the conductor who told them in very rapid Italian SOMETHING and gestured toward the rear of the train (and here’s where I learn how bad my Italian is)…I just follow them as they walk down the cars. Eventually we are stopped by another conductor, he examines each of their tickets and tells them something and I think he just assumed I was with them because I was just standing there like “uh…..Inglese?” and he’s like “Oh yeah! Car three is at the end. After car 8.” So to sum up, 45 minutes late, and two “Car 3″s! Ah the fun of travel!

Rimini: A Pleasant Surprise

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The unfinished Tempio Malatestiano, designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the mid-15th century — the construction of this church’s history and its patron is scintillating. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta wanted the church to serve as a mausoleum for himself and his lover (later his wife). Eventually, Malatesta was excommunicated, ran out of money, and the church was never completed as planned. Alberti was super influenced by ancient Roman monumental arches — here he has divided the facade into thirds (like the Arch of Constantine) and the rondels in the spandrels are a clear reference to the Arch of Rimini, which is a short walk away. 

Rimini is a beach town on the east coast of Italy, a popular vacation destination for many Europeans. I admit, that I was not looking forward to visiting this small town and was not very excited about it.

Don’t you just love when you have to eat your own words?

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View of the historic side of Rimini and the 1st-century BCE bridge the Ponte di TiberioIt was a delightfully spooky day and very “unbeachlike” weather, which is probably why I loved it! 

Turns out that the train tracks split the town down the middle. On one side, you’ve got the beachy bits of the town and on the other, the older more historic area. All of my activities avoided the beach side and were firmly located in the historic center. Of all of the towns I visited in Italy, I felt the most comfortable here and I can’t really say why. It may have been my AirBNB which was a family home run by a woman whose children were grown. I felt like I was in a home, and not a hotel. She was so kind; I had a giant breakfast waiting for me every morning and a kind smile when I came home. We could not converse very well…her English was like 25x better than my Italian, but my Italian is *really* bad, but we tried! This was probably one of my favorite places I stayed.

When I rolled into town after a short train ride from Ravenna, I had very little time to get settled before having to jet to the city’s archaeological museum. I dropped my stuff and walked the short walk to the museum. Long story short, I arrived in Rimini on a Saturday, Sunday I was planning on visiting Ancona because the museum I needed to visit was closed on Monday. I THOUGHT that Rimini’s museum was open on Monday, but it was NOT. I was only in Rimini until early Tuesday morning, so I had to go RIGHT THEN.

The museum was probably one of the best local museums dedicated to archaeology that I visited (in Italy). There are TONS of regional/city-based archaeological museums all of various degrees of qualities. This one was pretty spectacular. It was right next to an archaeological site that was covered over, the so-called House of the Surgeon, and then the museum itself was spread over 4 floors. It was a lot of fun, and exactly the kind of museum I was into, super focused on the city’s development over time from literally the beginning of time to the modern era.

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One of the in-situ mosaics from the House of the Surgeon in Rimini; super cool preserved archaeological site! 

The rest of my time in Rimini was spent exploring the arch and the ancient bits of the city itself. The arch in Rimini was also way more impressive than I was expecting. First, it is HUGE. Second, the sculptural components on the arch are so much smaller than on later arches that are intricately decorated (like Septimius Severus or Constantine’s) that scholars have often described them as being diminutive. I didn’t find that to be the case, AND I think it’s a problem. For more, see my dissertation 😉

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The Arch of Augustus at Rimini (27 BCE) facing the entry to the city — on the opposite end of the main road through town you come to the Ponte di Tiberio. The arch was encorporated into the city walls during the medieval periodwhich explains the nice little crenellations.

The city has great medieval- and renaissance-era remains that I definitely did not explore as much as  I could. I explored exteriors and that was about it. I definitely want to head back to Rimini some day, and I’ll just have to do the new bits then.

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The Piazza Cavour in Rimini

Ravenna, The Glittering Jewel in Italy’s Crown

“O lone Ravenna! many a tale is told
Of thy great glories in the days of old:
Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see
Caesar ride forth to royal victory.”

“O fallen! fallen! from thy high estate,
O city trammelled in the toils of Fate,
Doth nought remain of all thy glorious days,
But a dull shield, a crown of withered bays!”

-Oscar Wilde, in his poem “Ravenna

The title of this blog should be preposterously bombastic, but Ravenna is nothing short of a miracle. The town itself did not stun; each town in Italy has its own character and so too does Ravenna, but it was a special kind of northern Italy ritziness that I did not love (or hate…it just didn’t speak to me or enthrall).

Yet, Ravenna was worth the three train rides and bus ride and thirty-one year wait. I started the day with my Italian preference a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino. I purchased my ticket that was good for San Vitale, Galla Placidia’s Mausoleum, the Orthodox Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.

San Vitale (left) and Galla Placidia (right) are neighbors. Galla Placidia predates San Vitale by about a century and a half (give or take), but I visited San Vitale first. Galla Placidia has always been my favorite and I wanted to save it for last (of the two). It was so strange to see the interior of this church that I knew so well from pictures in person. Strange because it was so very familiar but in three dimensions AND the emotional response was legit.

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Looking into the apse with the sixth-century mosaics.

I won’t go into huge amounts of art-historian detail, but I spent a lot of time looking at the mosaics. I also spent a lot of time eavesdropping on people as they were talking about the mosaics. Fortunately, most of the tourists that day were French, so I could follow along…especially because my French art historical vocab was “on fleek.” (That’s what the young kids are saying these days, right?) There was no source of light besides sunlight from the windows, and the greens and golds of the mosaics sparkled. The purple worn by the most important figures (Jesus, Justinian, and Theodora) highlighted them even more emphatically in person (because of the LIGHT) than is possible in photographs, even good ones.

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One of the mosaics from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, with the Chi Rho and Alpha Omega, and grapevines all Christian iconography/symbols. 

The Mausoleum itself is very small, though the ground level has risen over the centuries so that it is even smaller. The interior of this small building was magical. It was kept dark so that you can really see the mosaics. I was in there for about 10 minutes before it all went to hell (when about 40 French high schoolers tried to cram themselves into the small building that was already pretty occupied. I left Galla Placidia much faster than I had hoped.

After the super crowded Galla Placidia, the Orthodox Baptistery was a welcome respite. I had the structure nearly all to myself, except a few older ladies and couples. The structure was smaller than I expected and that made the mosaics all the more evocative and impressive.

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After the Orthodox Baptistery, I headed over to the neighboring Archiepiscopal Museum, which was probably the most deserted of all of the sites I visited (I found out that the few friends who have been to Ravenna, none of them actually went to the museum, haha) and that is just too bad. The museum houses the material collection of Ravenna’s cathedral and lord, is it impressive. It includes a lapidarium (stones! usually inscriptions), episcopal regalia and ornaments. BUT the icing on the proverbial cake is the Chapel of San’Andrea and its mosaics (built during the time of Theodoric) and the Ivory Throne of Maximian, pictured above. The bishop’s cathedra is made of so many pieces of ivory (:( poor elephants and rhinossss) that are so intricately carved it took my breath away. Literally no one else came in the room while I was there. A few folks stuck their head in and looked at the chair like “why does this old chair have its own room?”

After lunch and getting a little lost, I went to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the last of the churches included on my ticket. By this point, I was SUPER tired and the cobblestones had done a number on my ankle. So few people came to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (there was one group there while I was) and I was the only person under 50. I definitely was starting to get a little saturated. It’s a term I came up with to refer to what happens after my brain has gotten overstimulated by what I’m seeing. It’s not that I’m not excited or entranced by what I’m seeing, but that sponge that is my brain has reached maximum saturation. It had been dipped into much art-historical liquid to fully retain anything else very well. I took a break for a while at a coffeeshop that was SUPER modeled after an American coffeeshop (I chose it for location) and wrote postcards.

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The last stop was the Arian Baptistery, which I got to see for free. I had it all to myself (besides the very uninterested guard who was playing on her iPad). I didn’t stay super long, just looked my fill at the dome and then headed on my way.

My brief, one full day in Ravenna was just long enough to see nearly everything I wanted to see. I did not get out to see Sant’Apollinare in Classe (it’s a few miles out from downtown), not technically in Ravenna, but in the town of Classe. I walked past, but did not stop at Dante’s tomb (bad girl); I was on a mission that had nothing to do with 13th-century poets. I ate a lot of good food and gelato, and saw nearly all of the requisite late-antique sites, and checked a giant item off my bucket list.

Take my word for it. If you have even a small appreciation for art and history and you’re in north-ish Italy, take a few days and a few extra train trips and say hello to this city that holds so many critical art historical masterpieces that are not visited nearly enough.

Belated Blog: Charlotte and the Internet Curse

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Me doing a silly selfie in the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy — March 17, 2017 my last day with internet. 

My last blog came to you live, from Ravenna right after my glorious trip to Croatia, but then radio silence fell hard and fast. Most of you I’m sure gathered that I was alive and well, but blogging did not happen. It was not from a lack of desire, rather, from a lack of internet. In Rimini, I was so busy (some bad scheduling on my part), that I did not do my Ravenna blog. When I arrived in Torino, I discovered that my internet did not work. This happened again in Avignon, and again in Paris. Three days before I returned to the US, my internet *finally* started working.

I led a cursed life, a half life, wandering western Europe without connection. When I first encountered my internet troubles in Torino, it FREAKED me out. I had settled into a good routine, one that ended with a few eps of Parks and Rec before bed, brought to me live from the Netflix and my VPN. The loss of my only semblance of routine, my connection to the States, and my ability to upload my oh-so-precious research photographs to my cloud-based storage had a rough effect on my happiness. I fortunately had VERY SLOW internet on my phone that was unlimited so I could maintain the basics, but it made blogging not possible.

I still want to do all of the blogs I had planned and the ones I thought of while I was there (I wrote them down) however, because there are memories of each place I’d like to preserve and the blog is a great way to do so. Funny stories I’d like to hold on to. Some of the coolest parts of my trip have so far gone unblogged! There *is* a benefit to this belated blogging, especially for you reader — there will be no whining about the internet being bad 😉

Croatia

Last night was my last night in Croatia — I awoke early this morning to catch a bus and several trains to reach my next destination. I loved it there, and felt way more comfortable than I expected. I was also probably the most nervous about this leg of the trip. I’m woefully ignorant of Croatian culture, history, and of course, the language that it just seemed like a lot. Thankfully, everyone speaks English, and speaks it well, and the city I am visiting is used to welcoming many tourists in the summer time.

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I spent my time here mainly with the Arch of the Sergii, this beauty here. I walked around the old city getting to know its ins and outs while appreciating its ancient, medieval and the kind of modern. I ate a lot of good, cheap food (though I’m not sure I would call it ‘traditional Croatian’– okay, I wouldn’t) and generally had a very fine time. I drank a lot of macchiatos  (I’ve decided that’s my beverage — une noisette en France) and did a lot of cafe sitting and looking at old shit.

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As I was leaving this morning at the crack o’ dawn (literally) I finally got the Arch of the Sergii all to myself. I am not going to lie…it was SUPER hard to walk away from this arch and to the bus station.

The trip back into Italy was uneventful…except for the fact that this time my bus driver did NOT speak English very well (NOT judging him for that…he was clearly multilingual and fluent in at least two other languages that I heard), and he insisted on speaking to me in Italian…which I fortunately at least understood, even if I couldn’t reply.

One bus ride, three countries, and three train rides later, I find myself in Ravenna, Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region for one of my “for fun” visits. Ravenna is the home of several churches/buildings from the late-Antique/Byzantine era that preserve incredible mosaics. Tomorrow I will be doing tons of churches, eating lots of noms, and walking around Italy when it is a sunny 63 degrees outside. I know. I’m jealous of myself. 😉

Tonight, I treated myself to PRIMI and SECUNDI PIATTI (first and second courses…I almost always only get the first course, typically pasta) and if I had even a tiny bit of space in my tummy, I was going to get dolce too, but alas. I didn’t. I’ll get gelato three or four times tomorrow ;). The first course was tagliatelle al ragu; the second was beef with aromatic herbs (don’t remember the Italian) and omg…IT MELTED IN MY MOUTH. And as always, I had to end dinner with a caffè.

Real Talk: Emotions and Travel

I LOVE traveling. I do. I really do. I love seeing new things, hearing languages I can’t understand. Nervously perusing the menu hoping they’re not going to try and trick me into eating something fishy (as in fish, literally, I can’t stand seafood). But sometimes, it just plain stresses me out. And I know it can be super stress inducing, even for *~normal~* non-anxious people.

Travel can be a jarring experience. I remember my first time abroad in 2004, I was more overwhelmed than I expected by my visit to France, and fortunately my professor at the time (it was a school trip) recognized it for what it was. I wasn’t unhappy, scared, or freaked out, just off balance and I didn’t feel quite like myself. In her sage and French way, she told me (I can’t for the life of me remember how it came up, but I’m sure I said something that must have prompted it) how there really can be a travel shock, even for someone who knows the language, respects the culture, and wants to learn; especially when it’s your first time abroad. All of the sudden all of the little cues that you recognize inherently are gone. I believed she used the example of a mailbox– in the US, a box with a curved top colored blue, white and red is clearly a mailbox, but once you get into France BOOM, even that is different. Typically, French post office boxes are yellow with blue letters. You multiply that by all of the little inherent things and it can become overwhelming. You’re not culturally fluent.

I still get that fish out of water feeling from time to time. Oddly, the most fish out of water feeling for me lately has been restaurant etiquette. For the most part, France is similar to the US. Walk in, they seat you, you order, eat, you ask for the check/they bring it to you, you pay (sometimes at the table, or at a cashier).  In Italy, it varies slightly, but just *not knowing* what to do kind of weirds me out. The super touristy areas have kind of glommed on to the US way of doing things, but in more authentic restaurants, you kind of walk in, seat yourself, depending on the restaurant you order at the counter and they bring it to you, other times there’s table service (that you pay for), you frequently pay for your stuff at the counter, after your meal, and the check (conto) never comes to your table. This stuff can vary in the US too, but you instrincily know. Croatia so far seems to be whatever you prefer. They’re willing to do whatever, because this is such a touristy area…in fact, I saw them kind of adapt their service for each patron in the restaurant tonight. More hands-on for us Americans and a little more standoffish for some Germans. Not drastic differences, but enough to tell that it was a thing, and that they were practiced at it.

This trip is helping with what I like to call “Charlotte’s lack of chill.” I have zero chill. None whatsoever. Given my general anxiety and the fact I’m dealing with a heavy load of grief, my goal for this trip was to try and stay present in the moment. Not to get too far ahead of myself, constantly worrying about missing one connection or the next. Not to spend all my time sad about not being at home, in my bed, with my cat. (My greatest wish is that Apparition like in Harry Potter was a thing so that I could travel the world and then still sleep in my own bed at night.) I’m doing so much and much of it in quick succession I don’t have as much time to work myself up over a thing.

I was especially worried about this trip because during past travel trips when things got to be too much, it was one easy phone call to the person who could calm me down. Who would listen to every silly story and unimportant concern, down to what I had for breakfast and what I would be doing that day. The one person who could calm me down when I call at 3 am (my time) because I SWEAR my hotel had bedbugs (I told you I have no chill…and a HUGE fear of bedbugs). Lord, my momma was a patient person. But that rock of her always being there to listen to me is gone– but I’m trying to go and DO because that’s what she would have wanted me to do. Knowing that has been a kick in the seat of the pants from time to time.

I feel much more emotional this trip, but not always in a bad way. Walking in and around architectural masterpieces, caused a much stronger emotional response this time. And lately, even the happy feelings recall my Mom’s death. Because grief isn’t just one emotion but every single gotdamned emotion squeezed into an all-encompassing one that you feel all at once and that’s why it’s so hard, so persistent, and so powerful.

I had a really big “knock-me-on-my-ass” moment in Venice. In Venice, they make a special kind of glass called Murano glass…and in one of the shops, they had a set of salt and pepper shakers. Now, my mom has more S&P shakers than a person could need. She loved them. When I went to Rome, I brought her back the most awful, kitschy salt and pepper shakers I could find. We both knew they were bad, but that’s what made them fun. When I saw this set of Murano glass S&P shakers, my mind jumped to “oh I should get those for Mom” for .02 seconds before reality caught up with me. Now, like I said before, my emotions are already really close to the surface from walking around Venice, which was phenomenally beautiful and incredible, so the wave of grief hit me hard since I was already so happy emotional. I spent the next 15 minutes walking around trying to hold back the tears because I didn’t want to be that girl walking around Venice alone, sobbing like loon.

So, in some ways, the grief emotions have kind of distracted me from the the travel anxiety ones. The worries about restaurants, missed connections and the like all seem lame in comparison. I lost my mom and it’s hard to think of anything that is worse than that. Sometimes they work together to make me a blubbering mess; that happened in Besançon. After being there for 3 days, with non-stop rain and no potential to do WHAT I NEEDED to do, combined with a very powerful I miss my mom moment, I was a wreck.

This trip was bound to be connected to my mom’s death, beyond just the fact that I’m mourning her loss. On the 29th of this month, it will be six months since my momma died, when I was starting this trip for the first time. I miss her more and more each day. I should have bought those salt and pepper shakers.