Tomorrow I leave this beautiful country I have come to love. It is a country that never ceases to offer breathtaking vistas, diverse landscapes, and warm hospitality. Wherever I go, I see and feel the history of this culturally rich country seeping from the walls of ancient churches, old stone houses, worn steps (usually leading upward), uneven stone walkways, museums, Roman ruins, narrow country roads. I feel a connection to the past that cannot be experienced in my own country, and I have been awed by it.
With all its beauty, Italy suffers greatly. It is in an economic crisis with no apparent end in sight, along with several other southern European countries—Greece, Spain, Portugal—and now it is said here that France begins the same decline. Some of the financial crisis has been created from within—corrupt government, overpaid politicians, Mafia in various forms, industrial malaise, resistance to change, corruption in the Vatican, all these have been mentioned to me by Italians as contributors to Italy’s demise. But there is also blame put on the European Union and Germany’s dominant influence of its policies. History repeats itself, at least in the eyes of many Italians. As one Italian put it, “Germany is winning this war”. Italians are taxed to the gills, and I haven’t met one who thinks that the transition to a common currency was a good idea. Since I talk mostly to people of my generation, I’m not sure if this opinion is shared across generational lines.
I worry that this country’s historical treasures will gradually deteriorate because there are insufficient funds for maintenance. I worry that Italy will lose its talented young people, their hope for the future, to other countries, because they can’t find employment here. The unemployment rate for young people is about 40%, according to one of my Italian friends. Mostly, I worry that the Italian people will sink into permanent apathy, because they have little hope that anything will change. Their hearts are heavy with sadness for their country which they deeply love. That is something that has impressed me greatly, how proud Italians are of the richness of their heritage and the diversity of their culture. I can only pray that there is some ray of hope for the future that will help this country find a road to recovery.
I spent six of my 10 months of travel here, and I leave with a treasure of warm memories. Many of these memories are connected to the friends I made through the penpal website I found several months before I began this journey.
Tina and Donato
By inviting me into their homes, showing me the wonderful sites in their provinces, introducing me to unique regional cuisine, helping me with my struggling Italian, and opening their hearts to a continuing friendship, they proved to be shining examples of Italy’s reputation for warm hospitality.
Antonio and Antoinetta
I am deeply grateful to call them friends.
Riccardo and Marina
In Sorrento, at the language school, I made two wonderful friends from New Zealand and another from Switzerland.
Kathy and Michele from New Zealand and Isabelle from Switzerland
I know I will see Kathy and Michele again, hopefully on a visit to their country in the coming year, and maybe Isabelle, too, when I am in back in Europe.
There are also two fabulous expatriate American women in Thailand who I now call friends that are attached to some equally warm memories of my four months of travel in Southeast Asia.
Dolly with her husband Donald
Connie and I in Halong Bay, Vietnam
And I had a wonderful reunion with my young American friend and met his lovely Thai girlfriend.
Scott and Gun with "Condon Man"
I’m certain that all these friendships will endure, and I’m a richer person for them. I’ve been very fortunate to tour some wonderful places, many of them World Heritage sites, but it’s these people that will anchor my most treasured memories of this journey.
And I'll not forget the time in Sorrento when my very good friend Grace from the U.S. came to visit me and arranged a surprise birthday dinner with new friends from Verona.
Grace and I with Donna and Blanche
And then there are the countless other people I’ve met on this journey who have either helped me in some way or shared some experience with me. Four couples I met along the way come immediately to mind.
Paul and Diana from Australia, who I met in Sorrento
Canadian couple Ray and Kelly who I met in Ko Samui, Thailand
Jack and Janice from Pennsylvania, who I met in Spello, Italy
Colin and Margie from South Africa, who I joined for a tour of Cortona, Italy
I’ve also had some very nice landlords/landladies who were especially gracious to me. Most amazing were these two women in Hanoi who nursed me back to health when I was suffering from a bad case of influenza.
Narelle and Dong from Hanoi, VietNam
During my second round of studying the Italian language in Florence, I made another friend.
Bernadette from Israel and I on a rainy day in Cinque Terre, Italy
I’ve learned a great deal about the cultures of the countries I’ve visited, and my command of the Italian language is “enough”, as my Ligurian friend describes it. It’s been an enriching journey in many ways. People often ask me, "What place have you enjoyed most?" I've seen so many extraordinary and beautiful sights that it's a hard question to answer. But if you ask me, "What are your fondest memories?", you see them here. I return home with my heart full of gratitude for meeting these wonderful people who were so kind and generous to me and broadened my world perspective.
Thanks, also, to Ruth Golden Gelman, the original Female Nomad, who inspired me to venture into the world alone.
I'm looking forward to returning to the U.S.A. to reunite with my family and friends. It seems like forever since I’ve seen them. I have plans to visit friends and family in Michigan, California, Virginia, and Canada over the summer and early fall. I won’t be posting very often on this blog in the next few months; but, if fortune continues to shine upon me, as it so generously has, I will resume my travels abroad in mid-October. I have a return ticket to Genoa and will spend a few more weeks in Italy, visiting my friends and touring some additional provinces, and then who knows? I’m thinking of southern Spain and Portugal, a return visit to Thailand to see friends there, and a first trip to New Zealand. Somewhere in South America would be nice, too (suggestions welcome), and then I have plans to meet my friend Dolly from Bangkok in Provence, France in May. So, I will likely be a nomad for another year!
My blog has had over 5,600 page views since last September, from people in over a dozen countries. What surprises me most is that I get more page views now from Italy than I do from the U.S.! To all my family and friends who read it, I hope you have enjoyed vicariously sharing this journey with me. To readers who are strangers to me, thank you for your interest in my travels.
Arrivederci, bella Italia! A presto, U.S.A.