I mean, literally. The closest I had ever been to Italy came in the form of a deeply troubling obsession with lasagne. This country was alien to me. The culture, the people, the language. Everything.
I can’t say I remember being scared. Because it just felt like it was meant to happen. As if everything that had happened in the 6 months prior to it had led me there. Standing in Gatwick armed with a ridiculous amount of luggage (damn I regret those beasts now) hugging my Dad goodbye… it just felt as if I was popping on a train back to Cardiff. Natural, I guess.
Looking back, part of me was probably running away from my troubles. I’m sure, deep down, I believed that travelling over 1,150 miles from the source of my unhappiness would launch me headfirst into a carefree existence. Sure, if you go far enough you’re bound to just forget it all, right?
And whilst I now know that you can never just “run away” from your problems, I also know that in leaving my comfort zone (despite it becoming anything but comfortable), I found more than I could ever have imagined.
They say “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us“. And it’s so true. Life isn’t automatically easy just because you move somewhere that’s on most people’s bucket list. It’s still life. You still have to deal with daily struggles… bills, work, tricky relationships and general stress. It doesn’t just disappear (contrary to popular belief).
I have days (okay, hours) when I’m ready to jack it all in. Those times when your fridge is totally empty and you go five days without eating dinner (true story). Or when you know you’re missing out on a big family get together and suddenly feel so very alone.
It happens. It’s normal.
But the thing is, it’s worth it. It’s worth it for the “is this my life?” moments. For the times when you’re filled with so much happiness you think you might just burst. Or when you wake up and the sun is beating down on your terrace and the world just feels so calm. The sunsets over the arno. The prosecco so light you feel as if you’re floating. The food that tells you nothing you eat will ever taste so good.
In these 6 months, I have seen things I have only ever dreamt of. And I’ve barely scratched the surface. The overwhelming opulence of Rome, the sweet serenity of Siena. The romance of Verona (where my inner bookworm felt perfectly at home). Lucca and its rich history. The mind-blowing food of Bologna. The crystal blue waves of Viareggio. Breathtaking skylines. Architecture so intricate and powerful you can do nothing but stare in awe. Standing in the presence of some of the most important pieces of art in the entire world… the ones that just happen to be on your doorstep.
Since being in Florence, I have met people I know will be in my life until I am old and decrepit. I’ve made friends who inspire me and make me want to be a better person. A best friend who I adore with every fibre of my being. A sweet, beautiful, loving girl who has become like a sister to me. Housemates who have been there through the toughest of times, and always provided a shoulder to cry on (and a giant glass of vino to sink).
I’ve discovered that “can’t” is no longer in my vocabulary. Because no adventure is too big. I now know I can do anything if I set my mind to it and will never again put a limit on my dreams.
Starting a new life from scratch, totally alone, taught me that I don’t need to gain my happiness from another person. At a time when it felt as if my love for life had been drained from me at the hands of another, this was the most beautiful discovery of all. I could finally take my happiness from within.
Most of all? I understand what truly matters to me. And it’s not money or material goods. It isn’t associating myself with the cut throat world of climbing the career ladder. It’s not the world knowing my name (although that would be pretty sweet).
Living out my passion… even if it never brings me the big bucks of the corporate world. Writing, writing and writing some more.
Being proud of the person I am and never losing my self-belief again.
These are the things that count now.
It’s been a crazy 6 months. A scary, unforgettable, hilarious, intense and joyous 6 months. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.