how to surf

“surf is where you find it”

 gerry lopez

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I think the last time I surfed was at Old Man’s in Canggu, Bali, just over one year ago. 

There was an active volcano spewing smoke and threatening to close the airport everyday. I was was far from home as I’d ever been, on borrowed paid vacation time, and feeling the tug of stretching an already very long distance relationship (BSAS<>NYC) by just one more time zone. 

I wanted to live in the green sunny jasmine flower moment before me as my head and heart were exploding. I woke up at 3am and waited silently for the sun to rise so I could scoot myself to the beach. 

That was surfing. Then in the following weeks, lots of things fell apart and fell together and my legs stayed underneath me before I knew how to feel or make a plan, and that was surfing too.

I didn’t call it that.

But pretty soon after learn how to snowboard, and started skateboarding from my new apartment in the east village to everywhere. When I didn’t know what to do with myself, I would just skate around until something happened and it always did. 

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I felt like that for sure was surfing by a different name!

Practically, I always felt the biggest difference between surfing in the ocean and surfing on the street or in the mountains was learning to read waves. The mountain or street can seem fixed in front of you - green, blue, black or double black. The waves you are always looking for and can miss by a second or a few strokes of paddling.

Yesterday I snowboarded just gently enough for a few hours to think about this more. The mountain was steeper and icier than I had encountered. Part of me wanted to give up but I saw people around me were still surfing.   I realized that it didn’t matter if it was an icy, northeastern delight. All I needed to find, by sight, by feeling, in the snow, was that thin edge to balance on with either side of my board. That tiny line to take me down the mountain. 

It’s an art just as subtle as squinting into the distance to find the nascent forms of a wave.  

I thought about how on a skateboard, I had become so attuned to every manhole cover, slope, asphalt variation, and gravelly bit of the street I had never seen before.

I thought about the times the city was brilliant with people, opportunities, and new things, versus when it was icy or flat. 

You can’t control the conditions, just learn how to surf better! 

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💫 o r b i t i n g 💫

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Today I am sitting on a crowded train, that is one car short this morning, and I am very grateful to have a seat. More than that, it was a very graceful process to get to this little place by the window, I saw an empty seat from the platform, the train just so happened to stop so that the door opened where I was standing, and no one else expresssd they needed to sit for the 50 minutes into Grand Central. 

So I humbly accepted the the seat.

The conductor took everyone’s tickets and announced to the car if anyone had Snapchat  or something, they should take a picture and bring the overcrowded train to the MTA’s attention. I don’t think the conductor has Snapchat, but it was a funny announcement and it got my attention.

I’m not going to take a picture of the crowd though, because I feel the other passengers at least deserve the dignity of being discreetly sketched from a corner. They might object to the eyes of my iPhone in this space, a strangely intimate place where you would hestitate to make small talk with your neighbor but be privy to details about  their life like, if they snore. Well, mostly if they snore, that’s the major personal information you learn about your neighbors on the morning train. 

So here are the pictures I took instead. The best part of sitting is getting a window seat, and the sun rising over the city is not lost on me. 

Except when it is, and I look back at the mindless photos I took in iMessage to cooberate the autotext “I’m on the train”, and think, where’s that? 

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w h a t • i • l e a r n e d

a reader submitted a formidable writing prompt a few weeks ago that inspired this post. “maybe you can write a post like top 10 lessons of the francigena” I held off on a response, because my immediate thought was really - in the words of John Lennon - the more I see the less I know for sure. and yet, I want to try. if anything, I hope what I can say will inspire you to see more. so here’s what I’m offering - my (8) life-altering lessons of the Francigena-

freedom is something you give yourself

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I think it’s easy for people to look at my life from the outside and say, it makes perfect sense that I would make a long walk right now. I’m pretty young, unencumbered, have a passport, and save. yet, I was in this situation for a while before I decided to leave. I was just waiting for a more favorable situation - more money, more future, more youth- to travel. I often looked back and wished I studied abroad as  a 20- year old student. I looked at how other people made things happen and thought I needed that exact situation. The day I looked at what I actually had and saw possibility was the day I decided to act. I realized no perfect situation would exist for me in the future, I must always work with what I have. I changed my idea of what I needed to start, decided to worry about the rest as it came. nothing about my situation changed but my attitude, but that was enough to set off.

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it all flows from you

have you ever read inspirational accounts of people who start with nothing or overcome great adversity, and become huge successes in the eyes of the world? have you ever thought about your greatest accomplishments in life, the things you hold most precious, and realize that you literally got to that point from when you once were a helpless baby, crawling on the floor? Every person in the world has an amazing and unlimited capacity to grow, change, create and connect. Instead of looking at the good things I had found in life so far- friends, a place to live, work- as reasons to stay where I was, I realized, that once, I had none of these things, but everything within myself to make it happen. I trusted would not lose this by venturing into something new.

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there are infinite possibilities, you only need one

once I actually started walking the francigena, my life and thoughts became drastically simple. where was I going to sleep tonight? what was I going to eat? walk, walk walk. I used to be overwhelmed by choice in my normal life - what’s the best place to eat? the optimal place to make a booking? Is my hair conditioner doing the most? Am I tired of boring salads for lunch? When I was walking, I stopped running these little analysises and learned to make the most of what life gave me. I stopped comparing all the possibilities, and just appreciated the many choices. When things were uncertain, I reminded myself that there were a lot of good options out there - I only needed 1 place to sleep and - 2-3 things to eat, and I was grateful for the ones that life gave me. Everyday day I woke up healthy and rested to continue, I figured whatever I found had worked out great.

barking dogs ≠ biting dogs

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from the reaction of the people around me when I decided to of walk, to the last days of my actual walk, I encountered a lot of barking dogs. Naturally, I felt scared! But I learned literally and figuratively, a dog that barks in not necessarily a dog that bites. There was a golden retriever I met in a lonely town in northern France that I took a few pictures of from behind a fence. He literally started barking when I walked away, because he liked the attention. There were dogs that weren’t confined by fences in Italy, that ran at my heels while I walked, and barked so close I could feel the sound and breath of them on my ankles. They were trained just to defend the house they lived around by barking, and weren’t going to bite me or follow me past their territory.  It’s scary to learn this in the moment, but you have no choice, and the next time it’s certainly much easier to stay calm.

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stay calm

the first day I was walking, I met a tiny rabbit that was stuck in a wire fence. Rabbits are terrified of people. But I like animals and feel empathy towards them. I was horrified to see it panicking when it got stuck; trying to push its tiny body against the strong wire of the fence to the point it could barely breath. When I found the eventual solution, to carefully use a nail clipper in my backpack to carefully cut the fence and set the rabbit free, my looming presence terrified the rabbit to more suffocating pushing, but eventually worked. It reminded me of something I learned surfing. When you are held under by waves, the only way you can help yourself is to stay calm. The official term is “rag doll”. You can’t try and fight your way to the surface or you will use all your oxygen quicker and drown. you must stay calm to survive.

higher consciousness is perceptible

Another thing I learned from my encounter with the tiny trapped rabbit; was a very plain and non-mystical way of thinking of “higher consciousness”. I have a different consciousness than the rabbit, I understand how the fence is made and know that nailclippers are strong enough to solve his problems. I have a higher, or different consciousness than the rabbit that actually helps him. In another scenario, I am helpless when I arrive in a foreign place and begin to look for a place to stay or eat, but someone local who has a higher or different consciousness can help me with what is beyond what I know. 

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people are kind*

yes, “ faith in humanity” and the “goodness of people”. this was something I believed in from the start of my walking. I never felt like my “faith in humanity was being restored”, because people and life have showed me a lot of good things before my walk. but the asterisk is really important. People did not help me 100% of the time when I needed help. I needed to also help myself. I also needed help from above. The asterisk* represents one the most important things that I’ve learned, and constantly remind myself navigating the world of people and personal relationships. PEOPLE CAN ONLY GIVE YOU WHAT THEY HAVE TO GIVE. And actually, they almost always will give you - what they have to give. But sometimes we need or ask for things of people, that they simply DON’T HAVE, and then feel discouraged or betrayed when they do not give them to us. For example, if you ask someone for directions in English, and they don’t understand English, they might not help you. Not because they aren’t good - they simply don’t have the words. On the other side, many people were incredibly kind and gave me things that helped me greatly - a place to stay, a home-cooked meal, friendship, a telephone to make a call - because they could. This principle seems to apply to long-time friends as well as new acquiantances. I learned years ago that just because someone cares about me, does not mean they will run marathons with me. It would be silly for me to feel personally hurt by someone declining an invitation like that. of course creativity and energy is limitless- it’s not always impossible for someone to train for a marathon to run alongside me- or to find a translator app to help me - but it’s much easier for me commit to be the kind of person that stretches themselves to help other people when they ask for something I can’t easily give them - than it is to demand that exceptional reaction from others. does that makes sense?

little steps add up

and now for something completely obvious; walking from Canterbury to Rome taught me little steps add up. You can cross four countries and mountains in no time at all if you are willing to take millions of little steps in the right direction.

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t r e k k i n g • t r a c k s

music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything

- plato

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asked to make a playlist of what I listened to on the francigena, I have two ideas. the first is to share playlists I made when I left new york, very simply, the titles of these songs are "anywhere", "runaway", "no roots", "free as a bird", and "my way". but there is another list of songs discovered along the way. they are not as thematically clear, but became they became the soundtrack to some of my favorite moments. this is a list of those.

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phase: northern france I terrain: rural, flat, sunny, wheat fields

sign of the times - harry styles

riptide - vance joy

lyrics to belt out: JUST STOP YOUR CRYING IT WILL BE ALRIGHT - when you want to stop at 25km but lack of accomodations forced you another 4 hours of walking to next town- ALL MY FRIENDS ARE TURNING GREEN - when you hardly spoken to a soul all day and are surrounded everywhere by shimmering jade stalks of wheat


phase: juras I terrain: forests, fields of cows with bells, tall grass

neighbors - j.cole

stupid girl - the rolling stones

lyrics to belt out: THAT’S WHY I MOVED AWAY I NEED PRIVACY SURROUNDED BY THE TREES - this sounded about right - I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE CLOTHES SHE WEARS, LOOK AT THAT STUPID GIRL - when i took a wrong turn to road walking on winding mountain highway with no shoulder and resorted to tiptoeing on the concrete barrier just alongside, I didn’t feel very smart.

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phase : lac leman I phase: cool city, lake beaches, roads, rain

yes i’m changing - tame impala

sunset lover - petit biscuit

lyrics to belt out: ARISE AND WALK, COME THROUGH…THERE’S A WORLD OUT THERE IT’S CALLING MY NAME, IT’S CALLING YOURS TOO - in Orbe, I woke up in the middle of a dream with this stuck and my head and I was coming to terms with an injury, this motivated me to start again - petit biscuit was introduced to me on the road; no lyrics, just a vibe


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phase : alps I terrain: climbing, forest, snow-capped mountains, sound of music hills

higher - don diablo

reckless - corey asbury

lyrics to belt out: I START TO HESITATE, RIGHT WHERE THE LIGHT ESCAPES, BUT YOU KEEP TAKING ME HIGHER - from martigny to GSB, it’s all climbing, and between these words and the beat drop, I liked to pretend I was being pulled up by a higher force - THERE’S NO MOUNTAIN YOU WON’T CLIMB UP, COMING AFTER ME - this is an intentionally spiritual song about the love and presence of God, when I hardly saw a single soul in the woods hiking for hours, it comforted me


phase : pavia hospital I terrain: uncertainty, off-trail, cities, rice fields

you’ll never walk alone - roger and hammerstein

lyrics to belt out: WALK ON, WALK ON WITH HOPE IN YOUR HEART, AND YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE - this took me through some tough times, when I wasn’t sure if back pain would force me to stop



phase: tuscany I terrain: surreal treeless fields and rolling hills
fearless - pink floyd

lyrics to belt out: YOU SAY THE HILL’S TOO STEEP TO CLIMB, WELL CLIMB IT - pretty self explanatory. my friend shared this with me on an uphill, and it instantly resonated. bonus is the sample of the Liverpool stadium singing “WALK ON” at the end.


phase: viterbo to rome I terrain: cities, fig trees, road walking

 how? - john lennon

lyrics to belt out: HOW CAN WE GO FORWARD INTO SOMETHING, WE’RE NOT SURE OF - each time I passed into a new country I felt some trepidation and uncertainty, but on the last days of the francigena I started feeling this as I looked forward to reaching Rome.

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w h e r e • I • s l e p t

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.”

Freya Stark

Over the 89 days I was traveling, I stayed in almost 89 different places. These ranged from the hayloft of a goat farm (the best) to a Tibetan monastery overlooking Lac Leman and the Swiss Alps (really the best), to the occasional three-star hotel and many, many, ostellos, BnBs, and hostels. Most bookings were made upon arrival or at most, one day in advance. As the countries and regions changed, so did the system of hotels and accommodation. I encourage using the tourist offices in France/Switzerland and a guidebook or the Via Francigena app (from GSB) Dormi-Topo Francigena III app in Italy (from San Gimignano), with the caveat you may need to ask an Italian speaker to help you book over the phone.

Of course, if none of these solid options work out,  I found there would usually be at least one hotel in town, and if the hotel is booked-  the goat farm.

Sometimes the worst planning is the best adventure.

 b o o k i n g • l i n k s 

London (Stansted Airport) AIRBNB • Canterbury  KIPPS HOSTEL • Calais AIRBNB • Wissant HOTEL DE LA PLAGE • Licques POMMIERS DES TROIS PAYS CAMPGROUND • Wisque ABBAYE SAINT-PAUL • Arras ROYAL VARIETIES HOTEL • Bapaume DORMITORY • Trefcon VAL D’OMIGNON BNB • San Quentin AUBERGE DE JEUNESSE • Laon HOTEL DU TRAMWAY • Corbeny HOTEL DU CHEMIN DES DAMES • Reims CIS DE CHAMPAGNE HOSTEL • Verzy ALAIN LALLEMENT BNB • Chalons en Champagne HOTEL DU POT D’ETAIN • La Chaussee sur Marne LA FERME GOURMANDE BARN • Vitry Le Francois CASTOR HOTEL • St Remy en Bouzement AU BROCHET DU LAC BNB • Outines GITE LE COURLIS • Brienne Le Chateau PILGRIM GITE • Bar Sur Aube HOTEL LE ST NICOLAS • Chateauvillian PILGRIM APARTMENT • Langres L’ABRI DU PELERIN • La Liez HOTEL LES VOILIERS • Leffond MOULIN DE LA PAPETERIE BNB • Dampierre Sur Salon HOTEL DE LA TOUR • Gy LA CHARMOTTE BNB • Besancon HOTEL DU NORD • Vuillafans ACCUEIL FAMILIAL CHEZ BERNARD ET SOLANGE Pontarlier AUBERGE DE JEUNESSE • Jounge MIREILLE GODART BNB  • Orbe HOTEL DU CHASSEUR • Monte-sur-Lausaunne PAROISSE DE ST AMEDEE • Mt Pelerin RABTEN CHOELING BUDDHIST MONASTERY • Villeneuve RITA MARZIO BNBAigle HOTEL DU NORD • Martingny HOTEL FORCLAZ-TOURING • Orsieres CLOCHER DE SIECLE  • Bourg St. Pierre PRIVATE HOME  • Gran San Bernardo HOSPICE AT GSB  • Aoste MAIZON DE SARA BNB  • Chatillon LOCANDA IL CERVINO  • St. Vincente HOTEL ELENA  • Verres CASA DEL PELLEGRINO COLLEGIATA DI SAINT GILLES  • Pavia HOTEL AURORA  • Belgiogioso HOTEL CAVALIERE  • Santa Christina PARROCCHIA DI SANTA CRISTINA E BISSONE  • Pontremoli AZURRA ART NOUVEAU BNB  • Villafranca ALBERGO MANGANELLI  • Aulla ABBAZIA SAN CAPRASIO  • Caniparola OSPITALITA CANIPAROLA  • Massa OSTELLO PALAZZO NIZZA  • Camaiore OSTELLO DEL PELLEGRINO DI CAMAIORE  • Lucca ACCOGLIENZA CANONICI REGOLARI LATERANENSI DI LUCCA   • Altopascio L’OSPITALITA DEI PELLEGRINI  • San Miniato L’HOSPITALE DEL PELLEGRINO SAN MINIATO  • Gambassi Terme OSTELLO SIGERICO  • San Gimignano OSPITALE DEI SS. AGOSTINO GIACOMO  • Monteriggioni CASTELLO PER FERIE SANTA MARIA ASSUNTA  • Siena AIRBNB  • Ponte D’Arbia CENTRO CRESTISan Quirico IL PALAZZO DEI PELLEGRINORadicofini OSPITALE DEI SAN PIETRO E GIACOMO • Acquapendante ALBERGO TOSCANA • Lake Bolsena HOTEL LIDO • Montefiascone HOTEL URBANO V • Viterbo HOTEL VITERBO INN • Vetralla LOCANDA DAL SOR FRANCESCO • Sutri PRIVATE HOME • Campagno di Roma HOTEL BENIGNI •  Roma VILLA TASSONI

 

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d a y d r e a m e r

"karma is experience, and experience creates memory, and memory creates imagination and desire, and desire creates karma again" - deepak chopra

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today I went to the beach. It was hot and sunny and I took a koing aman and a sparkling water for breakfast. I drove approximately 5 miles per hour to shorefront road, and then the parking attendant let me go through without the proper documentation to get to the water. thankfully.

I was happy and excited this morning to go. I felt inspired and knew there was nothing else in the world to do on a day like today but sit on a quietly at the beach. but somehow the stillness of the activity let my mind drift. 

I found myself daydreaming on the New England coast, the clapboard houses, the happy families, the sailboats. It was a perfectly serene afternoon, I felt my mind reaching to make anything more. I daydreamed. What if I was in Nantucket? What if I took a helicopter from the East River there instead of driving? What if I owned one of these houses with a private beach? What if I had a more perfect body to lie here in? What if I had 1 million followers, or 1 billion dollars?

I let these kinds of thoughts wash up in my mind. I realized what I was dreaming was awfully close to what I was living now - if I had all of these things, I would be still sitting on a beach on a beautiful day. I thought about all the other times that I dreamed like this -

Finishing a marathon, consumed with the dream of if I had finished 5 minutes faster.

Sitting by a pool in Montauk with my friends for the weekend, talking about how nice it would be to stay the whole week.

Being at a beautiful party, and wishing I was a different girl in a different dress so I could enjoy it.

Working in an office, and dreaming that I was someone more important working in the same office. 

I realized the difference between my dreams, and the reality - reality defined as what I could hear, smell, touch, see, taste - in all of these cases, was pretty small. In fact, it was as big or as small as I made it.

I let my phone die. It was hard to see the little screen anyway in the bright sunlight.

I touched the sand with my hands. I made little sand stones to fit together into walls like the ones I saw marking the houses in the distance. I discovered some sand was a better consistency for building. I put too heavy a stone on the top and watched the whole structure topple to one side. 

 

 

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l a k e • c o m o


Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.

- Leo Tolstoy

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A wonderful reunion with friends led to a peaceful day spent with family, when we chose to board a ferry boat around Lake Como for our last day of vacation together.

Collecting our tickets, we admired the beautiful town of Como, “the rationalist city” once again in the daylight.

When we climbed aboard, the breeze moving along the lake tossed out hair, chilled out skin, and emptied our minds.

I saw smiles returning to faces.

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Although all kinds of differences of opinion and disagreements seemed to come up over the last week spent in close quarters, everyone was lulled into a wondeful feeling for the 7 hours spent on the lake. 

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The ferry stops rattled by.

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We explored the three levels of the boat, from front to back. We tried out different places for taking photos, cooling off, warming up, standing or lounging, and everywhere enjoyed panoramic views of the lake and mountains.

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I resigned myself to the fact that there were thousands more beautiful views and pictures around me than I could possibly capture. I  was content when my phone battery faded and I could repurpose it as a paperweight in my skirt pocket; perfect for holding my light clothes down on the windy deck.

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We stopped in Bellagio for lunch.

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The restaurants looked fairly crowded, so we had made to order sandwiches from a speciality grocery store and made a small picnic.

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We saw many fine shops, but we didn’t need anything but maybe another taste of gelato.

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It was a beautiful voyage of discovery to share. 

c o m o

 “Sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts”

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What a difference a day makes! After seeing the major cities of Italy, it seems we ran out road or at least names we recognized on the train departures board. 

But soon after we arrived in Milan, I heard from my cherished friends from the Via Francigena in Tuscany. 

“Why don’t you and your parents come to Como and visit us?” 

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So we did! 

The train from Milan to Como is only about 1 hour, so there was plenty of time to travel and still explore the city.

Arriving was a breath of fresh air, coming from the mountains and rising over the shores of Lake Como.

It was cooler. Summer tourism was in full swing and it made for a light and lively atmosphere, not quite as intesnse as the crowds we had been a part of in Italy’s biggest cities. 

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We saw the city center all together- my parents, my friends and one of their children. Just like on the Via Francigena, it was a lot of walking and a mission for gelato.

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Then we retreated back to the agriturismo they operate as a family, L’Arcissa - just above the city. It is a wonderful property where we met friendly dogs, an affectionate outdoor cat, a horse, and maybe my favorite of all, a baby donkey. 

We shared meals prepared with what was grown on the land - fresh tomatoes, zucchini, kiwis, figs, stevia, blueberries, olives and pears. We chatted late over the dinner table, and at night, slept like rocks.

 

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v e n e z i a

“There are two kinds of stones, as everyone knows, one of which rolls” - Amelia Earheart   

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We took the train from Florence to Venice. When the automatic doors of the station slid open into the city, I was shocked. 

It was hot and sunny, and people from every corner of the world trotted by with sunglasses and luggage. I couldn’t help but see what the NYTimes article on Venice I skimmed on the train lamented-  high energy, commercial tourism playing out at thousand decibels through old city streets.

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I squinted in the sun, and we found a hotel; clean and cold. 

I worked with a few South American tourists to get this a postcard picture on the first big bridge outstide the train.

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We took public transportation to another one of the small islands to eat lunch. After, I found welcome shade and solitude in a nearby church, like I had made the habit of doing walking the Via Francigena. It was a huge gift to walk into someplace big, empty and beautiful as my senses felt overloaded by the streets.

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I remembered a thoughtful disagreement I had with another pilgrim on the way about the difference between pilgrims and tourists. We had experienced being among crowds of other travelers in cities like San Gimignano, Lucca and Siena, and I didn’t feel our journey was so far removed from the others wearing souvenir shop hats and eating ice cream

cones. I took the bold stance that the difference between “Pilgrim” and “Tourist” was mere semantics.  

 Everyone is searching in their own way.

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The next day, we found the bright coincidence that our family was following the same stops as a retired American couple from New York- an overpriced drink to sit in the lovely air conditioned cafe outside the boat terminal, then a 12PM organized tour to Murano island. 

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They told us their youngest child was almost twice my age, but I laughed so hard my little pilgrim back spasmed when they said about their tour of Venice - “the best part is sitting down!”

100% relatable.

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f l o r e n c • e

 Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are. 

Niccolò Machiavelli

 

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Traveling with my parents through Italy has taken on a rhythm of its own after four days; a continuation of my pilgrimage where each day sees a different city, but adapted to their preferred mode of transportation- the high speed train! 

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Standing in front of a red ticket kiosk at Roma - Termini, luggage in hand, we took a decision.

“Firenze- That’s Florence, Dad!”

I have really been showing off my expert knowledge of Italy to my family these past few days... 

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It is my second one-day visit to Florence. The first came at a moment when I was still very much in the middle of my pilgrimage to Rome, a rebellious detour. I remember the feeling of seeing the Duomo for the first time and thinking that Florence must be the grandest, biggest city of Italy. 

Visiting Florence after Rome, the size perspective is wildly different, but I still find Florence beautiful. 

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Instead of walking this time, I decided to take a bike.

I remember meeting cyclists on the Via Francigena that said they envied walkers for having a pace conducive to thinking. I don’t why this is, but I found the opposite! The pace of the bike seems to flood my brain with happy feelings and revelations. 

Like the place my pilgrim friends had showed me to find an excellent gelato in Florence, behind the Ponte Vecchio. 

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This combination of flavors is banana, a rich Nutella sold under a different name, and whipped cream. 

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Afterwards, in the quiet shop, I learned about gelato from an artisan. The first lesson is that a good gelato is one that makes you happy. But it can be like a fine wine too, where different elements of taste and color show the work of the gelato maker.

Things are always more than what they appear.  

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