Fly Me To The Moon

I’m on the top bunk. The girl below is on the phone with her boyfriend, and I must say, any phone call that includes this many I love yous starts to sound a little “No really, I do…”

My roommate, a Canadian girl, is very sweet. She fist pumps every bit of good she shares. Over dinner, she told me she and her boyfriend just met.

“Yeah, we’ve actually just been dating six months…”

Aw, when did you guys meet?

“We met on July 3rd back home.”

Everyone pause and do math.

I didn’t burst that bubble.

“It’s been really hard to be away from him.”

She’s been traveling for three and a half weeks, and he met her in Paris.

Green is not a good color on me, I realize.

The girls in my Florence dorm room like to wake up at what Frank Sinatra refers to as in the wee small hours of the morning. I can’t fathom where you need to be at 7:15a.m. in Florence that doesn’t require bringing your luggage with you, but two days in a row, the girls have been headed wherever that is.

The hostel offers free tours – really, really free tours. The tour guide doesn’t mention tips, doesn’t wait to collect them at the end… free. Today’s tour crossed the river.

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Our tour guide asked us if we’d had gelato in Florence yet and told us she’d brought us to a place where it’s made in house, fresh, daily. Don’t mind that it was just 11a.m… Who doesn’t start their day with coffee, cream and sugar?

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After the tour, Melinda, my tour friend from yesterday, and I wandered a market at the end of the bridge. Yesterday, I’d walked through a long pedestrian street, narrowed by vendors on both sides selling genuine leather jackets, purses, wallets… And the scent was amazing. I spent a good chunk of time today smelling leather wallets – I won’t pay to see real David but I will buy myself my first (and last) real souvenir, especially when it involves haggling with a sweet old man. “Excuse me, is this wallet for men or women?”

“Yes, it’s a wallet!”

Good enough.

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Melinda and I split up so she could go to a museum and I could go climb things again. The Piazza Michelangelo today. Many, many, many steps up a long hill, but as good as the view from the very top of the Duomo dome was yesterday, I wanted a better view of the Duomo itself.

Got it.

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By 2:30p.m. I’d climbed, I’d gelato’d, I’d free walking toured, I’d haggled for leather goods. I sat for an hour across from a gorgeous fountain listening to Sinatra, because I found out last night I had two greatest hits collections in my iTunes, and wondered what the passersby with headphones were using as their days’ soundtracks. I’d share today’s view but my camera was charging at the hostel. I was here last night, on my 5:30p.m. pitch-dark evening stroll.

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I sat. I thought.

I love when local tour guides refer to everything as “our palace” and “we built this in the fourteenth century,” etc. as if they were there or have ownership in it. I love the pride they have in their homes and wonder from what perspective I’d tell my hometown’s story.

I hate listening to other travelers give travel advice. I heard one girl tell another Amsterdam is bizarre because everyone, even the locals, are stoned (not true). A woman in my dorm last night told another girl to absolutely not go to Turkey because it is very dangerous there. Well, in the “I got groped on public transit twice in one week” sense, yeah, I guess, but the woman was saying she’d never go to Istanbul because of all the Al Queda influences there.

That said, I got introduced to one girl by another today with “This is Janae, she’s been everywhere.” I shot that down – no, no… Ten minutes later, when the newest girl told of her five fabulous days spent in Brussels followed by how she wouldn’t have time to go to Prague, not-know-it-all me let out a big “oh you’ve got to be kidding me.”

I told a girl today I don’t go to many museums. She said she doesn’t either – she just tries to hit the top two or three in every city. Really, I rarely go to museums at all. I just don’t appreciate paintings the way I do seeing what’s real. What’s now. I’d rather climb stairs to find the view, or walk the streets.

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I have seen countless beggars on this trip. Old women, crooked noses, warts, missing teeth, just as you’d picture them in storybooks… Except today one was wearing Crocs. I’ve seen missing limbs, deformed limbs, every kind of limb except extra ones.

On a street in the old center of Salzburg, a man with a severe facial disfigurement played a haunting, slow version of Amazing Grace. I listened for a minute before starting a figure eight around town. Returning to him, I listened for what he was playing. Amazing Grace. I continued my figure eight.

Forty minutes later. Amazing Grace. As haunting as ever, and now chilling.

This was it. This was all he knew, all he had. As far as I knew, this was, is and will be his life for countless years past and present.

It makes all recent worry about future, crossroads, those coming “real life” decisions seem entirely ridiculous. The future decisions and the risks are just like this trip… Worst case scenario, you don’t like this route as much as you thought you would. But was it still a brand new situation for you? Did it still thrill you? Scare you? Challenge you? Educate you? Did you get to choose between two potentially great options?

Today, in this month of thanks, I’m grateful for where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going, because even if the 2012 geographical where is not nailed down, the stress is going to end today because I’m going to feel fine going wherever my leaping of faith gut tells me.

In Switzerland, a man on the train told me I speak English very well. I said thank you and told him I practice everyday.

He told me Turkish women are the most beautiful women in the world, and that is just a fact.

There is a line in the movie Cyrus where John C. Reilly and Melissa Tomei tell her adult, living-at-home son Jonah Hill their intentions to be together. His response is simply “I accept that information.”

The man then asked if I’d been to Asia yet. I’ve slept in 22 countries and I’m 22, but his response to my answer was “Oh, forget it, you haven’t even started to explore yet. Haven’t seen a thing yet.”

On this magical day that is November 11, 2011, my hope (I know you’re not supposed to share your wishes but sharing is what I do best) is pretty simple.

No matter what I’ve done, no matter what I’m doing, I hope that, forever, the best is yet to come.

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Climbing.

When I got to Florence last night, I hadn’t downloaded the e-mail with my hostel’s directions to my mail app. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the hostel I was staying at. I just knew it was in Florence and breakfast and dinner was included.

You know what isn’t outside Italian train stations? Starbucks. You know who has wifi for people with Italian cell numbers only? Italian McDonald’s.

I spent my first half hour in Florence walking a main street with my iPad out, stopping every twenty feet to see what unlocked wifi signals I picked up. I found one! Such a victory. Such an unnecessary little process.

Today was free walking tour day. It was a rather quick tour around the city’s classic landmarks. Duomo. Statues. Old churches. Dante’s house. Beautiful Europe, as always.

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Melinda and I met on the tour and ended up grabbing lunch together, trading stories about backpacking, travel, laundry woes, cares you stop caring about. Today my outfit was black thermo leggings under my black Banana Republic Outlet shorts – not an outfit I ever thought I’d put together. I am so, so sick of my jeans. I bought one secondhand pair too large, the other too small, shrunk them both (shortened one pair) in a laundry mishap, then wore them so much they’re huge. I can’t wait to see where we’re at after tomorrow’s laundry. In other news, it was 67 degrees Fahrenheit today and I wore my Greek sandals. The strap broke in a new spot today. I badly need a tube of super glue.

Lunch: Spaghetti carbonara and iced coffee

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Melinda and I went to the Duomo and paid the 8€ to get to the top of the dome. It’s 463 narrow, often spiraling steps up to the top. It’s dizzying. The physical act wasn’t terrible but the spinning would make anyone woozy.

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Exhausting. Dizzying. Oh, and absolutely worth it.

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Somewhere, immediately, the theme of the trip became “get higher.” Climb. Park Guell with Dad, the platform in Cappadocia with Andrea, two fortresses in Bulgaria, the tower in Brasov, my view of Cinderella’s Castle in Füssen, the wall in Salzburg. I know there were others I’m forgetting. Every time I’m not quite enchanted with a city, I climb something and everything is suddenly better. Florence was already great, but this was something else. Melinda and I were up there for well over an hour. You don’t climb 463 steps for just a photo.

Florence is wonderful. Everything is a-okay here.

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