On July 19, 2012, I boarded a plane for Rome, Italy, my first adult, intercontinental trip (I had gone to Europe with my parents and sister in 1985, when I was 14, but this promised to be much, much different). Having been to all 50 of the United States, I thought I was ready for this new adventure. I was wrong. There was so much I hadn't dealt with before. The combination of jet-lag, fatigue, a new country, new customs, a different language, plus all the normal challenges of traveling were overwhelming. Part of me wanted to run home and never travel again. But I remembered something my mother had once said to me...and to paraphrase, I had to start somewhere.
I lasted the whole trip. And, as someone once said to me, I didn't survive, I thrived, at times. By the time the trip was over, I had traveled to Rome, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Venice, Murano, and Burano. Once I learned how to order, and learned enough of the language to get the best suggestions, my diet was in order. But it wasn't just the food that was a success. Indeed, I didn't have any of the stereotypical, traditional Italian foods we hear so much of in the United States -- no pizza, no pasta, and no gelato for me. Meat or fish, plus a mixed salad at every meal. I focused on seeing the sights, and meeting the people -- locals and fellow travelers. My top 10 moments may have involved meal times, but no actual foods. And the number 10 moment involved something that might have been an embarassment to me, but of which I feel quite proud.
When I arrived in Florence, there was a woman curled up on the ground, with her hand out. I thought she was a beggar of sorts -- and although I didn't get a clear answer on this, this intuition was supported when I saw the same woman at different spots, all over Florence, and in Venice as well! :) But on the surface, I saw someone possibly in pain, and when I approached her, and she recoiled, I didn't know if she needed help or not. I asked someone, who told me she was fine, and I figured she was the beggar I had assumed she was.
Again, no one has told me for sure that this is the game of a beggar, so I won't accuse this woman. Whatever she was, I did my piece of service -- I tried to find help. I've learned that helping people and doing service is more important than anything I might see or eat. And if it cost me a little embarassment and a few mintues of time on my vacation, then I say it was a cost I'm willing to pay for the knowledge that I tried to do something helpful, as well as the the learning experience of another culture.