Starting the Year off with a Better Story (Part 1)

There I was the morning of my birthday standing at the airport both nervous and excited.

Awhile back, in lieu of a New Year’s resolution, I started a birthday tradition of creating a theme that I made a conscious effort to live by for the year.  The past 8 years had been filled with themes, like Say “Yes! I would love to” and Debt Free Me. This year I was turning 30. A milestone that deserved a grand theme. I wanted something that pushed me to see what I was truly capable of. I decided on “A Better Story.” When faced with 2 options I would be required to take the option that would give me the better story.

So there I was, the morning of my birthday, standing at the airport with a ticket to Italy, the number one place on my bucket list. Weeks earlier, the question had been posed to me why I never actually did anything on my bucket list. I didn’t have a good answer. (My bucket list is full of places I want to travel. It’s basically a Pinterest board of travel I have never taken.) I certainly could not have the story of my life filled with the act of making a bucket list and never crossing anything off. I certainly couldn’t have that story with my upcoming theme.

Now there I was on a plane headed to Italy, where I planned to spend the next month in the country I always wanted to visit, but always made some excuse – money, time, etc. – as to why I could never go. My goal was to eat my way through the country. I asked a few people if they would be up for going on all or part of my trip, but people had the same excuses I had given myself. So I would do this trip solo.

My first couple of hours on Italian soil were spent in Rome’s airport. I wouldn’t see much of this boot-shaped country until week 2 of my trip. My first stop would be Sicily. After a week in Sicily, I would fly to Venice and spend 3 weeks working my way from the top to the bottom. But first, I needed to finish my trip with one last flight to Sicily. Once in Sicily’s Catania airport, my driver greeted me with a big BONJOURNO! that included a huge hand gesture like I was being shown into a chariot. I nodded returned a more subdued bonjourno and got into the van. (note: my life is not so fancy to have drivers, but I find a driver from the airport to where I’m staying is one of the best uses of money. Trying to figure out the taxi situation especially in a language I don’t speak causes more frustration than I care for, even if I’ve been told it’s “easy”. Plus drivers tend to talk to you and give tips on what you should do. Also, note this was pre-uber). I had about an hour drive to where I would be staying. My driver filled the time with stories of the towns were driving through and things I just had to know about Sicily. I only understood parts since his English heavily punctuated with Italian. I tried responding in English, lighted punctuated with random Italian words I knew and some broken Spanish when it was clear we weren’t understanding each other. All of which made for very interesting conversation.

Before I left I had a vague idea of what I was doing and where I would be staying. Since my main consideration was good, I had done a quick google search for food vacations (culinary holidays for those of you who are fancier). I had 3 criteria for choosing a place: 1)  I could afford it, 2) the first 3 pictures looked decent, and 3) they had space for me on short notice. The first to meet that criteria was Love Sicily. If it turned out I didn’t, in fact, love Sicily I would choose a different option in the moment. I realized in the car, I never read the details about this place or the week that was planned. I would find out soon though. When we pulled up to where I would be staying, I was told I was the last to arrive, which was surprise number one. I thought I booked a hotel room only to realize it was a villa nestled into the rocky hillside of Modica. The villa was home to Italian Magazine’s culinary editor and had been in her family for generations. I would be sharing it with others also on a culinary adventure. And instantly I was no longer alone.

As I got out of the car, I was repeatedly asked if I could climb 78 steps. My driver was very specific about 78. I guess rounding up scared people.  Now while I have never counted my actual stair climbing capacity I was fairly certain I could climb 78 and I told my driver that was no problem. He pointed out the landing where we were headed grabbed my bag and we started the climb. It turns out 78 stairs (about 6.5 flights) is not an insignificant number of stairs, and I was coming from an elevator building. About ½ way up the climb, a lady, who looked about 75, gave me a friendly hello and a you-are-almost-there-smile, as she passed me carrying her groceries to up to her villa. I wasn’t going to have an old lady carrying a 2 arm-loads full of groceries make it up the stairs before me. I’m not going to say I raced her, but I did beat her to the landing. I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes when she made it to the landing, but I didn’t care. Then I looked down at the street, slightly winded, I said goodbye because there was no way I was going to be going up and down those stairs to explore the neighborhood. Who put this house ½ way up a mountain anyway?!

Then all of a sudden I heard, “You made it!” I looked back at the door to the house to see a slender woman with shoulder-length black hair and olive skin standing with her arms open for an embrace. Normally the only person I enjoy hugging is my grandmother, everyone else, family and close friends included, will get a hello and 3 ft of personal space or at most the one shoulder lean-in hug. I don’t like touching and I very much don’t like being engulfed in touching.  I don’t know if it was the lack of oxygen from my small sprint up the stairs, but I could think of nothing better than to be embraced by the woman in the long flowing red skirt and billowing white shirt welcoming me into her home. I stepped into her arms and the start of my Italian adventure.

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Love Sicily is a culinary school located in Modcia Sicily run by chef Katia Amore (yes, her name really is that cool). It’s amazing you should check it out http://www.lovesicily.com/