48 hours in Italy.
It’s a blog/article/travel feature that has probably been written and rewritten and reimagined and reformulated and re-pitched with a new spin countless times. Thus far, I have steered clear of that formulaic blog style. I could tell you The Top 10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Travel. I have some good insights into the 5 Hardest Things About Leaving Your Life in the Rearview Mirror. I can tell you the 30 Essentials to Remember When Packing One Bag for a Year, and more importantly, I have some ideas of the 15 Things You Think You’ll Need but Really Won’t.
But guys, life isn’t just witty lists distilling moments of beauty and heartbreak into 10 bullet points. It happens though. It’s easy. And in today’s world of short cuts, it is the norm. I confess to scanning many articles for the bold, numbered list and only really reading those statements that cause me to pause and pull me in with creativity, thoughtfulness, and a poetic spin.
But, here I am telling you about my instant in Italy.
It begins with awkwardness and honesty, as I imagine most trips to Italy do. My host in Switzerland, star of the Baggy Red Trouser fame, had a roommate. Her roommate needed a bit of space. She had a big exam coming up, needed quiet, houseguests unwelcome, you know the story. So for two whole days, I was excommunicated to…anywhere else.
In traveling, we know I learned a lot. I learned about time zones and coral reefs and creature comforts and the power of a haunting melody. And so too, I learned about thickness of skin and how to take a hint. Which is how I found myself with a hankering for pizza, a red ford fiesta, and roughly 150 miles to the Italian border. As they say, “when in Rome” or rather “when in Switzerland, go to Italy.” Getting kicked out of a house never felt so good!
I had never had one of those flash in the pan overnight layover trips. Typically those happen in glamorous cities with TV crews and the hottest new restaurant. My 48 hours in Italy involved a huge lake, limited English, and a lot of eating.
Layovers are tricky things in the world of travel. They are this no-mans land between here and there. Between there and here. Between where you are going and where you have been. They are a world floating somewhere through all of space and time, bumping through a dreamland with a shiny blue TARDIS. They are free time in a new place that is neither here nor there and just is. What does one possibly DO with such a place?
Pick a map.
Find a point.
Everything else will follow.
That is how this fantastical thing called the “layover” should go.
Anthony Bourdain may tell you to try X, Y, or Z restaurant. Rick Steves may send you towards the newest tourist highlight. Zane Lamprey may tell you just what watering hole is most popular with the locals. All of which is probably helpful information at some level.
But I say, go and see and do.
Find what you want to see and see it. Find what you want to do and do it. And for the love of all that is sacred, find what you want to eat and eat it.
For if you don’t, you will just see and do and taste what has been seen and done and tasted before you, time and time again.
Don’t trudge down that well worn path of tourism. Make your layover your own.
Remember what John Steinbeck tells us, “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
So go with it. Let the trip take you on your journey. Let it grab you and pull you down winding alleys and through crowded food stalls and away from the footsteps of others before you. Let it speak to you with the lilting tongue of the local language. Let if feed you spicy foreign foods that light your mouth and your soul on fire. Let it transport you away, if only for 48 hours. Search not for the familiar sites but for the beauties around you that will awaken inside you adventure and independence. See what is there, not what you have gone to see.
So what should you do with 48 hours in Italy?
Drive through the Alps. Risk the mountain overpass without snow tires. Howl out the window and feel the October alpine snow whip across your pink cheeks. Shout like a maniac and throw snowballs.
Press your face against the cool window and watch snow flurry through the villages flying by. Watch the brilliant blue of Lake Como rushing up to meet you as you descend wild winding roads.
Find a little farmhouse. Eat local meats. Eat local cheese. Eat local jams and breads and eggs. Ditch the car and wander the streets. Look for movie stars in every lakeside mansion.
Watch snow peaks retreat under a beating sun. Order the perfect pizza simply by pointing. Drink house wine out of a carafe. And then drive all the way home to your friend waiting in Switzerland and marvel at your 48 hours in Italy.
Or, you know, don’t. This is your layover. Make it yours.