In 2009 I posted part 1 and part 2 of my log of a family vacation in Italy. While looking for something else (Ben Folds concert location — long story), I discovered that I had composed but never published some additional entries. Part 3 (Florence) is barebones, part 4 (Cinque Terra) needs some revisions, but this final entry is basically complete. So here it is, better late than never. In keeping with my posting style of that time, it includes some Deep Thoughts at the end about Life, the Universe, and our place in it all.
There is nothing much to do at Lake Como in April. The lake, situated at the top of Italy, kisses Switzerland, and the region seems to be a popular vacation spot for the Swiss. This area is home to Bellagio and a gaggle of other small towns that are accessible by car or ferry boat.
One can visit the various towns, eat in them, shop a bit, maybe visit an old church or garden, wander along the waterfront, that sort of thing. I assume the big thing to do around here is use the lake, but now is not the season for that. No one is water skiing, para-sailing, swimming, or fishing. I know there is some climbing to be had around here, and perhaps some cliff jumping. At some point seaplane trips are on offer. And I am sure this area can be quite romantic for a young couple in love, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Our hotel was nice, the views were great, and…that’s it. I’ve got nothing. I’m not sure what to do with Lake Como. Bad planning on our part. Oh well. Here is a picture.
Anyway, Lake Como was the subdued end of our Italian vacation. We covered a good portion of the center and north of the country, and it was an amazing experience. I’ve learned some things about travel, and continue to be utterly ill at ease in places where I don’t speak the language. My natural inclination is to try and figure things out on my own, and this is hard enough in foreign environments without the language barrier. I always feel uncomfortable verging on foolish when I have to try and impose my English on locals and play the clueless tourist. Having a local guide or at least fluent speaker in my traveling party is a great help.
It is a hassle to plan foreign travel, but important to do so well in advance of arrival. I kept thinking that we’d get somewhere and it would be obvious where to go and what to do, but that is rarely the case. I guess I understand the market for travel books now. I also think it is important to spend three days in each major area, enough time so as to not feel rushed but not so long as to feel antsy.
I packed a backpack and a carry-on duffel for two weeks, and have decided that next time I will try to pack even lighter. Arriving in each new city, luggage is the biggest impediment to doing anything, and it always means finding a place to store it, or stopping at the local hotel or hostel to check-in before getting out and about. I haven’t paid enough attention to backpackers to see how they manage this particular problem.
My new little laptop, an MSI Wind, performed brilliantly, far better than the disastrous Asus Eee PC I took on my last trip. This little marvel has a good-sized and easy to use keyboard, a nice responsive trackpad, and a bright 10″ screen. The speakers and microphone suck, but you can’t have everything.
For this trip I activated the international roaming on my cell phone, and while the $1.29/minute was painful, it was darn convenient and super useful. In contrast, roaming wifi plans are pretty unreliable, since every hotspot has different policies and prices and roaming partners. Hopefully that stupidity will work itself out with time.
I’m sitting in the hotel on Lake Como, listening to American pop music on the PA and looking out at the lake. Mom, Dad, and Jessica took a taxi a couple of hours ago to the main train station in the town of Como to make their way home. As soon as I finish this entry I will catch a ferry to a different station in Como, then a couple of trains to the airport outside Milan, followed by a short-hop flight to Rome. A night wasted at a Rome airport hotel and then my international flight to Boston in the morning. Passport control, the T, and a bit of walking, and I will be home. I am looking forward to getting back, to settling into my routine, seeing my friends, playing with the cat, eating some familiar foods. I wish I could just snap my fingers and be there, but I guess the long journey home is what reminds you how far you have gone.
I’m not sure whether I’m looking forward to going back to work. I have blogged here occasionally and obliquely about problems at my job; they can be succinctly summarized as “small town vs. big city.” I like the people and the place, but I’m not sure I fit where I am. One night in Perugia I woke up suddenly at 3am with a fully-formed resumé in my head. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I went out into the hallway and banged it out. I have no idea what I am going to do with it.
I’m not sure what this is that I am feeling, now, at the end of this trip. Spending two weeks and seeing only a tiny fraction of Italy reiterates to me just how vastly massive the world is. I still have no idea of my place in it. The ancient emperors of Rome built tributes to themselves that have lasted through the millennia, but what about all of the other people who lived in their empire? We don’t even know how or why Rome fell, much less how the “commoners” lived. We know none of their stories, have no idea their impact. Are we all little insignificant specks in the universe? A universe made infinitely more vast when space is multiplied by time. Start with millennia, and work your way up to cosmic timescales. Even the stars don’t matter.
So what do we do with our lives? Do we try to make things better, in the context of our morals and cultural beliefs? Do we strive for greatness, to be remembered in tiny snippets of history, or through our works? Do we work to pass on our legacy through our children? Or should we just look for happiness and enjoyment in the now? I haven’t any idea. All I know is, I’ve got to go outside and catch that boat pointed towards home. That is step one. After that, everything is fuzzy.