I’d only been to Europe once before, in 2007. I’d been given a trip to Ireland by a friend who ended up having to move the same week as the tour she’d booked. She couldn’t get a refund and called me up out of the blue, saying, “If you can get yourself to New York and back, you can have this trip to Ireland. I want someone to have it who would really appreciate it.”
I said yes, of course. I had the time, and managed to pull together enough money for a round trip ticket to New York in very short order. I wouldn’t be lying if I told you it took magic.
Last year, I went back to Ireland, this time to lead a pilgrimage to sacred sites. Since I would already be in Europe, and since the pilgrimage organizers were paying for my flight to Dublin and back to Seattle, I asked if it mattered where I flew home from. “No,” they said. “We don’t mind, we’ll book your round trip ticket.”
“How does Venice sound? Then I can visit my brother.”
They were agreeable, so I spent a couple of months planning my couch-surf across Europe as we planned our pilgrimage and our writing exercises.
My second trip to Europe was as much a gift as my first. In July and August of 2012, I traveled around Ireland with the pilgrimage for ten days, then took a ferry to the Isle of Man, where I spent the better part of a week in a backpacking tent, with gales blowing every night. I sailed to Liverpool and took a train north to visit some friends in England — Pendle Hill and the Lake District and Penrith. I flew from Manchester to Brittany and stayed with friends there, in a village whose population consisted of ten people and eight dogs. A few days later, I was on a plane again, visiting friends who teach English in Prague.
My brother lives in Italy. He’s been stationed at the Air Force base at Aviano off and on for the better part of twenty years. He drove up to Prague to pick me up and we road tripped south through Austria, spent the night in Salzburg during the Mozart festival, and the next day ended up at his place in Montereale Valcellina, a small town at the foot of the Dolomites, not far outside the base.
I spent four days in Italy. We went to Venice, and out to Aquileia, had a snack in the walled city of Palmanova, and visited the small mountain town of Poffabro, where I took the photo that heads the blog here. I walked the shores of Lake Barcis. I saw an entire river emerging from the side of a mountain, and walked along a stream rising from the deep underwater cave of Gorgazzo.
I had wonderful food and met some delightful and very friendly people. The mountains were gorgeous, the scenery was beautiful, and I was enchanted by Italy, though after Prague I will admit I was a bit cathedraled out. We visited Murano instead of St Mark’s, and I don’t regret it. I think I would not have appreciated St Mark’s half as much after St Vitus’s cathedral at Prague Castle. I needed a rest before I dealt with that much artistic intensity again.
I wanted to spend more time in Venice, and thought that perhaps in a year or so I might be able to spend a couple of months there to see all the things I didn’t have time for in our one day lightning visit. I talked with my brother about the idea after I got home to Everett and he said, “If you really mean it, I’ll help you find a way to do it. Just let me know.”
I never imagined that I would actually be moving to Italy a little over a year later.
I get on a plane in six weeks. I’ve been selling nearly everything. I’ve packed my library for shipping — you can’t expect a poet to live without her books, after all. They are the bulk of what I’ll be taking with me.
When I arrive, I’ll be living with my brother until I get my own apartment. He’s in a small town and I need to be in a city, where I can walk to things, and where I can get public transit for the things I can’t walk to. But I love cities, and the thought excites me and sets my heart alight.
I’ll need to come back for my dog once I’ve settled in my own place, as I can’t bring him with me initially. I’m already dealing with paperwork and looking at my options for transporting him. Even after having been in the military many years ago, the process of getting my residence visa and dealing with everything that needs doing before I get on that plane has been a huge project; it’s one I’ll talk about in other posts. The work of it won’t be over when I arrive in Italy. There’s so much still to do.
I hope you’ll join me for the journey.