Since returning from the Camino this summer I’ve been struggling to find the same kind of energy that I had while on my walk through Spain. I’ve found it in small moments: a hike in a park with my Camino pack on my back; an inspiring conversation with an old friend; in live, loud music in a crowded amphitheater; when editing an essay and finding the perfect expression.
But these small moments have been a contrast to entire days full of movement and newness, and I’ve missed all of the life I was living on the Camino.
One way to get it back is to travel. I always suspected this, and it’s been confirmed in the tiny ‘trips’ I’ve taken since the Camino. Driving down to Virginia, out to Cleveland. I’ve soaked up the movement and the company of good friends and family, and I wish I could get more of it.
And this week I am getting more of it. Two days ago I sat in my window seat on a plane that was about to fly me to Copenhagen, and along with a tiny shiver of nervousness, I felt great waves of excitement. I texted a friend in the moments before the plane took off: “Unlike my flight to Iceland, this time I’m going to get a meal!” and “I hope there’s free wine!” (for the record, there wasn’t) and “There’s a tiny mirror next to the food tray!”
It was the excitement of travel, of flying off to a new place, of wondering which movie I would choose to watch, of what food would be served in an aluminum tray, of what I would see when I’d land in a new country.
Copenhagen wasn’t even my destination, but as I waited for an hour in the airport before boarding the connecting flight to Bologna, I was so happy that I would have a longer layover on the way home. It was the most beautiful airport I’d ever been in, with so many wonderful examples of Danish design. And it was thrilling to be somewhere new again. The old Camino excitement was back.
I’ve been in Italy for two days now, but spending time with a friend is a completely different kind of travel experience than going off on my own. I’m being driven around in a car, the language is being spoken for me, menu items translated, free coffee from the local cafe because I’m a visitor from America. And right now I’m lying on a couch with a heavy blanket across my legs, Christmas lights blinking on a tiny tree, music playing from small speakers, the peel of a clementine on the coffee table at my side. This could be a scene from my own life, so it feels a bit surreal that I’m in Italy, in someone’s home. I’m not a pilgrim, I’m not quite a tourist… I suppose I’m a visitor. I don’t think I’ve ever had this type of travel experience before.
But so far, I like it. There was a five minute exchange at lunch today of whether the pasta dish I wanted to try had any nuts in it. Our server talked to the chef who reported that he shaves something into the filling of the pasta that may or may not be a nut, but to be on the safe side he didn’t want me to risk my life, so thought I should order something else. The pasta I DID order was incredible, of course, and assuredly nut-free. I don’t have to worry about trying to explain my allergy in Italian, or that something will be lost in translation. I have someone to show me how to weigh vegetables in the grocery store, I have someone to take me to the best places for coffee, to explain how to order a ‘double’ shot of espresso when one doesn’t quite seem to be enough.
There’s a beauty in doing this all on my own, of figuring it out and learning from the mistakes, and I’m sure I’ll have that in my short time in Copenhagen. But for now, I’ll take this fairly stress-free and more intimate style of traveling: of experiencing Italy as a visitor.