Our next vacation, I want to sit on a sidewalk café in Europe!

In 2010, KC and I spent a month in Venezuela, one of the best trips of my life.  Eleven of the days we spent in Venezuela were in dugout canoes, traveling up and down 5 different rivers deep in the jungle, leaving canoes tied to a tree for someone to retrieve months later when the river rose, portaging to the next village and borrowing more canoes for the next river… and so on.  I love rivers.  Jungle rivers?  I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Watching the guys take turns chopping through logs on the Cusimi River, Venezuela

But it was exhausting.  One river was so low that it took two days of dragging the canoes across fallen trees (or chopping through them with an ax) and we hung our hammocks in the jungle because we couldn’t make it to the intended village.  We were infested with some sort of jungle flea that burrowed in, laid eggs, and for the next month we dug them out of our hands and feet. Those that we missed, hatched.

On a 6-day climb of Roraima earlier in the month, somehow most of our food for the climb ended up in the hands of small children who apparently didn’t understand the park ranger’s instructions to deliver it to our guide’s house and we each climbed Roraima on 900 calories per day.  Oh, and I came down from that climb with 13 blisters on my feet.

KC and our guide Rifel Campo, on the top of Roraima (a tepui, or flat-topped mountain in Venezuela) with Tepui Kukenan in the background

Once we were back in Ciudad Bolivar recovering with a beer on the banks of the Rio Orinoco, one of us made the European sidewalk café crack and it’s been a running joke ever since.

So here we are.

I know I keep reminding you that we’re not on vacation – this is our life for the time being.  But I admit: yesterday was a pretty sweet day-in-the-life.  We’ve been in Italy for 9 weeks but perhaps it was the first time I’d felt like it was real, that I could relax in it.  The weather was beautiful, warm enough to sit outside for lunch but cool enough for a jacket in the shade.  The breeze smelled like falling leaves but felt balmy like springtime.  Trees are changing to yellow.  We didn’t finish work until 6:30 but with a 2.5-hour lunch break to enjoy the day, it didn’t feel inordinately long.  Dinner was fresh pasta, a sauce of local pecorino cheese, and olive focaccia, bought at the market during the lunch break.

Sidewalk cafe in the amphitheater of Lucca, Italy

After dinner we walked the city for more than an hour; it’s quiet now, less tourists than a month ago.  I like looking into the tiny restaurants with big, happy groups of Italians surrounded by food and jugs of wine.  On a large shopping street with stores like Ferragamo, Prada and Gucci, workers had finished installing a new paving-stone street a few hours earlier.  After being blocked off since we arrived, we were some of the first to walk down this spotless, wide avenue, serenely silent, between rows of 400-year-old buildings.  On Monday morning the honking traffic and city buses will discover it’s been reopened.

The layers of American “gotta-get-it-done” rushing may be peeling back.  I watch others in restaurants linger – their meals finished before we arrived and they still sit reading or chatting when we leave.  KC and I eat and leave, conscious of monopolizing a paying table in a busy restaurant and conscious of work that awaits back at the computer.  But there’s less rushing, and that’s a start.


  1. You need to pick up so of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries – just for the lessons on living in Italy. I love the lunch descriptions. Relax, enjoy – there’s always tomorrow!

    1. Ok, I’ve added to my Goodreads account under “I want to read.” But I dunno, Linda… “portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity”? I usually read more along the lines of The Lady’s A-1 Detective Agency! :o)

  2. What a life! Eating lunch while sitting in the sun in Italy! And, wandering the newly paved street with historic buildings without buses or scooters. Quite different from the Venezuelan jungle!

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