I felt so scared and alone.
Before I went to Italy for the very first time, I cried for a week.
It wasn’t because I was going on a trip. It was because I was going ALONE.
Dread. Panic. Uncertainty. That was me.
At that point, I had never been that far from home, all on my own. I was in my mid-20s and I just couldn’t get all the nasty things that could happen to me off my mind.
It’s not like it was my first time away from the nest.
Previously, while stretching out my college years, I really only had one mission — to save my money for traveling. Student loans and odd jobs floated me through school.
I hitchhiked around Mexico (hope my mom isn’t reading this), worked in Ireland for a summer, spent a year sleeping in the crappiest hostels in South East Asia and Australia, and right out of high school, drove my mom’s 1979 VW van down to California (we broke down and drove that puppy back to Vancouver in second gear, with no reverse!).
We had to grab a Jiffy Marker and write “PLEASE PASS!” in caps on a piece of cardboard we taped to the back windshield, because “pedal to the medal” meant 30MPH. You can imagine that scene.
But I always did that stuff with a friend. Or many friends. (Four people really can sleep in a VW bus for a month pretty comfy.) On all my past trips, I was never alone.
On THIS first trip to Italy, I was totally alone.
Of course, that feeling was magnified because my boyfriend and I had just split.
He dumped me and I was a mess. My best friend said it was the nicest thing he had ever done for me, and OMG she was right. But I was suuuper bummed out.
Wait, bummed out wasn’t the word.
How about DEVASTATED.
I thought I would never love again. Ahh, the twenties! So full of intense relationships that screw you up for years. So don’t miss that BS. (I do miss being able to wear these really weird-looking army-green wool clogs with miniskirts, old t-shirts and unbrushed hair, and somehow really pull that look off. Very Kate Moss circa 1995.)
Anyway, back to the part about me being a total mess over my breakup. In the midst of that fiasco, just before my last year of college, I was awarded a study scholarship. The school was in Florence, and I had to make up my mind if I was going to accept the offer or not.
I was broke.
I was brokenhearted.
I was living in an apartment with an awesome view of a parking lot and a dumpster. I needed to say “yes.” So I did.
I took a chance and said yes. I was scared sh**less but I went to Florence that summer.
Then, everything changed
It took five minutes of being in Florence for me to be like, “Ex-boyfriend who?” Ha ha!
The week before I was “supposed” to be leaving Italy, my pretty Irish friend suggested we spend the weekend in the Cinque Terre. She told me it was “the most romantic place on earth.”
That was a dangerous truth.
I met Alessandro within hours of arrival. He was with his friend and I was with mine. We met on the patio of the local hangout. It was a rickety wooden affair that looked over the tiny harbor dotted with boats and people who gather for the summer ritual of chatting and stargazing. Oh, and chain smoking, ’cause of course we’re in Italy.
The odds were stacked against us. I mean, something was gonna happen. It was just too pretty not to.
As first meetings go, it was comical. His English was bad. My Italian was worse. But we didn’t care. We just went with it.
That night, Alessandro suggested the four us go swimming. It was dark but the sky was a snowglobe of stars. We agreed.
The next day he suggested we go boating. We said yes. Then it was dinner. Can you see a pattern here?
I was only planning to be in the Cinque Terre for the weekend.
My flight was scheduled to leave Rome the next day, so I packed my bags, returned my room key and went out for the final hurrah: a dinner with Alessandro near the train station. I was taking the midnight train to Rome to catch my flight the next morning. My backpack was packed and leaning against the wall but it stared at me the entire meal.
I never took that midnight train. I just couldn’t.
So I stayed longer — just another week.
When I eventually took that train to catch my flight home, it was one of those “it’s been amazing… but have a nice life” type conversations. I mean, I was Canadian, he was Italian, and it was just too complicated.
When I said goodbye I thought I’d never see him again. But I guess life had better plans.
When I got home the phone started ringing. It was an Italian number. It was Alessandro. “Bianca, I think you should come back to Italy.” Me: “No, I really can’t. I’m a student. I’m broke. I can’t pull it off.” This went on for weeks. One day I got a call that said, “I’m sending you a ticket. Come to Italy to see me over Christmas.”
Of course I said yes. And I thought a man who knew what he wanted was kinda totally sexy.
A semester later, after I graduated with my BFA, I ended up moving to Italy to live with Alessandro (our Christmastime meeting was obviously very successful). I stuffed my most precious belongings — my thrift-store clothes, my sewing machine, and a stack of fabric — into two green 1970s tweed suitcases.
I went to Italy. I immediately freaked out ’cause I had to get a job and learn the language. But I managed both.
I married Alessandro that year — we ran off to city hall to seal the deal and followed it up with dinner at mamma’s house. It was the most un-fancy wedding in Italy. No photographer. No dress. No new shoes. My wedding budget consisted of one euro, the price of a sprig of baby’s breath that I poked behind my ear. There we were at city hall for an Italian civil service like two kids. Two kids running into their life without the brakes on. (Photo snapped on wedding day.)
I lived on his home turf for two years in a city called La Spezia, bordering the Cinque Terre and just a skip from the Tuscan line.
It was kinda hard. And kinda really awesome. People who’ve lived abroad know what that means.
A few years later we eventually moved to Vancouver Island in Canada (which is my turf). We wanted to buy a home and have a baby. So we did. In that order. It’s been an adventure in a totally different way. Our daughter is named Flora and she is sunshine bursting from a halo of red curls and laughter.
The best damn thing about my time in Italy was the opportunity to learn the language, make amazing friends and see beautiful places that I would’ve never seen on my own.
Living in Italy with an Italian husband and Italian friends was really different than being on my own in Florence.
I learned things. Nuanced things. Like how to eat like an Italian (it’s leisurely), work like an Italian (three-hour breaks), the daily rhythm of an Italian (complain about the government), drive like an Italian (pedal to the metal), and live like an Italian (which means too many things to list here).
Italy isn’t a postcard even if it looks like a postcard. It’s so much more. I think it’s the absolute best place to visit in the world.
I think Italy is a place to fall in love — with yourself.
It’s a place of big inspiration and big fun. And we don’t make enough time in our lives for those two things.
The Backstory of Italian Fix
I built a travel company when my daughter was still in diapers, during naptimes.
I started because people liked to ask me questions when they heard I lived in Italy and spoke the language. They were trying to fill in the blanks and create a better vacation for themselves.
I realized I loved giving advice and I could sticth together a great itinerary in my sleep, connecting them to my connections.
Things have changed in these last seven years because we’re always growing. I don’t take for granted that each year we get the opportunity to serve more clients by adding more trips and dates.
I LOVE that I employ a team of other moms and we work between packing lunches, kissing boo boos, and reading bedtime stories.
We know what goes into caring for others, and we pour that “we’ve got your back” love into creating useful products to enhance the quality of life for our clients. One busy woman at a time.
Traveling to Italy is more magical when you’re with the right people. People who truly care because their happiness reflects your hard work.
Our mission: To deliver you the most epic week of your life. Like wedding-epic and the birth-of-your-baby-epic, but without the stress and the stretch marks.
It’s not a science. It’s an art, because making others feel good is nuanced and layered.
Italy’s the perfect place to recharge, and that’s what we help busy women do every year.
Speaking of those nuances, I have a question for you.
How would you imagine your perfect Italian escape? What does that look like and feel like for you? Any “must do” highlights? I would love to hear in the comments below. (Don’t be shy, I really love to hear your thoughts.)
With love + lemon gelato,
Image credits: Caroline White (header), A. Palermo (wedding), Sheri Jackson (family), Zio + Sons (group)