Could it really be that Al and I were in Pisa, Italy, on Sunday? And in Venice, Florence and the Isle of Elba over the preceding two-and-a-half weeks? Air travel makes it possible to be halfway around the world in the morning and back home late the same night (depending on which direction you’re traveling). But my mind is somewhere in-between. And I want to hold onto the memories of our journey for as long as I can.
Venice has been a lifelong dream—ever since my father showed me a series of small, black-and-white photos of the canals from his military service in Italy during World War II. Those images made a big impression on me as a little girl. So much so that in first grade, when I had to answer a test question, “True or False, All cities have streets,” I marked it false. My teacher, Miss Kelly, called me up to her desk and asked me why. I explained that Venice has canals. She laughed, and she didn’t mark my answer wrong.
Whatever I imagined as a child, however, could not compare to the wonder of Venice—a magic puzzle box of winding pedestrian passageways, bridges and canals. Around each corner is yet another stunning, surprising view. We heard jazz and Vivaldi, saw fireworks and Kandinsky, ate delicious meals, drank wonderful wines, and continually got lost and found. We stayed six days, and it wasn’t enough.
For four days in Florence, we marveled at art, ancient to modern. I could have stared at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus for hours, were it not for the crowds in the Uffizi—for all the images I’ve seen, and the memes, there is nothing like witnessing a major art work in person. Michelangelo’s David, too, is breathtaking. So is the view of the city and Tuscan hills from Forte di Belevedere, across the Arno, and so much more.
Our final stop, Pisa, has also been a source of intrigue since childhood. My sister and I had a wall map of the ancient world when we were young, which included a small drawing of the Leaning Tower to indicate where Pisa is located in Italy. How could a building lean like that and still stand? I wondered.
Well, now I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It does lean and stay standing (thanks to some extraordinary feats of engineering), and the architecture is exquisite. There is much more to the city, of course, which is full of surprises—from the serene Botanical Garden of the University of Pisa to an exhibition of book illustrations by Roberto Innocenti at the Palazzo Blu.
But our favorite adventure was our four days on Elba, an island off the west coast of Italy, part of the Tuscan Archipelago. Truly, one of the most, if not the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Panoramic mountain views overlooking azure seas, crystal clear water, beautiful hiking trails, salmon sunsets. It was a vacation in the midst of our vacation—calming, quiet, a time to get away from the crowds and contemplate.
And, best of all, I went swimming in the Mediterranean—the first time I have been able to swim in at least a decade. The water was warm and so clear and clean that, for once, I was not worried about risking an infection in my fingers. Indeed, the salt water seemed actually to help my ulcers to heal.
All of this, plus the fact that I was able to tolerate the long plane rides, walk and walk in intense heat (high 90s most of the trip), eat new foods, get enough sleep most nights, and avoid any scleroderma complications—all of this, on top of being able to swing the trip in the first place, was a great gift.
I’m glad to be back home, where the scenery is familiar. I know where to find just about everything in our house. Family and friends are close by. It was very good to sleep in our own bed once again. But there is so much more of the world to see. As long as we both are healthy enough and able, we hope to keep on traveling. My “Next Trip” list is already in the works.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.