I wanted an adventure. Not a James Bond thrill ride adventure, but an experience that would knock me loose from my everyday routine. After years of researching risk takers like Frederick Douglass, Louis Armstrong and Helen Keller, I was inspired to take some risks of my own. As a woman whose idea of risk taking was venturing outside on an overcast day without an umbrella, I vowed my time had come. I confided my wish to no one, hoping to find some way in the new year to do more things out of the ordinary. To lead with an open, fun loving spirit and a carefree attitude. I couldn’t quite picture just what this adventurous existence would look like, but I trusted that the universe would provide. And then Christmas came. Literally, December 25th. I wasn’t expecting a bonanza of gifts, but I hoped someone in my family noticed I needed jeans, excercise gear and the newest Barefoot Contessa cookbook. My husband James handed me his present in an oversized, carefully wrapped box. In our household we know that when it comes to gift giving, James believes in the element of surprise–huge boxes holding eensy weensy baubles, leftover shoe boxes containing electronic toys, a camera box housing socks. So when he placed the big box on my lap, I figured it must be the earrings I asked for. But it wasn’t. Mountains of paper filled the inside and then a plain, red envelope. Hmmmm….I was nervous. I cracked the seal to find an itinerary. A flight itinerary. A flight itinerary to Florence, Italy! James had been asked to escort students over to his university’s abroad program in January and he thought I’d like to fly separately and meet him there. Here it was, my adventure handed to me in a gift wrapped box.
Was I excited? Chomping at the bit to board the plane? Nope–just terrified. Apparently this adventure quest requires a little more nerve than I possessed. I hemmed and hawed. What about the kids? My sister volunteered to come and stay. Could we afford it? Got a cheapo flight. The only thing I could do was shut up and find my passport.
I rarely travel alone. I rarely eat alone. I am rarely quiet for more than one hour at a stretch. And now I was being asked to do all three for my nearly three days travel time. Apparently the cheapo flight James booked involved a seven hour layover at Heathrow airport in London, and on the return trip, an eighteen hour layover in Germany. I would travel for longer than I was visiting Italy. The internet was my saving grace. I could rent a pod at the Yotel in London by the hour to sleep and relax. I contacted the wonderful German host family my son visited who lived not too far from the airport and they agreed to pick me up to spend the night at their home during my very long layover.
I took a car to the train to the bus to the airport–four hous. Waited two hours. Flew six. Booked a Yotel pod to sleep for six hours. Flew for two more. No luggage at Amerigo Vespucci airport in Florence, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. I had two glorious days to soak in Florence. I did as much as I could–the Duomo, Mercato Centrale, the statue of David at the Academia, the Ufizzi, Ponte Vecchio, a magical dinner with colleagues, cappucino, wine, pasta, leather shopping, more wine, every single second I was thinking, Now this is an adventure!
In Germany, my exchange son’s family were every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped. Even more so. We walked the streets of Rheinbach, shared stories, laughed, ate a lovingly prepared German meal, played a game of Biberbande. After a shower and a restful night’s sleep in a comfy bed and a bountiful breakfast, I again boarded the plane.
When I returned home, I snuggled in my dog’s fur, kissed the kids and handed out souvenirs. But it wasn’t long before I blended back into the household routine. I had bills to pay, meals to cook, research for a new project to begin, mountains of laundry, a presentation to prepare. Somewhere around the twentieth email I was replying to, I realized that Italy, London and Germany were the easy parts, free from life’s harshest realities. My everyday life is an adventure filled with a theme park of emotional highs and lows and the obstacles and challenges I face each and every day. The adventure for me isn’t in the strolling through the narrow cobblestoned streets of Florence or navigating an extended travel itineary. It is the deadlines, parenting woes, health concerns, financial worries, ailing parents, long overdue home repairs. Sure Frederick Douglass, Louis Armstrong, and Helen Keller knew a thing or two about adventure. It is the fear of the unknown that makes our hearts race, and the pushing past our limitations that causes our blood pressure to rise. Whether it is staying up at night waiting for a newly licensed driver to return home, sitting in an emergency room awaiting results, holding the hand of a sobbing, heartbroken teenager or recieving unwelcome news from a late night phone call, adventure comes in boxes large and small, giftwrapped or not.
I guess it wasn’t so much an adventure I needed–I wanted a retreat.