Paris is a special place for me, so this trip was somewhat a homecoming. It had been years since I had visited family and friends, and more importantly tasted real French fries and croissants. It really is a lifestyle, I must say. Wake up: eat a delicious pastry, drink coffee, walk around, and appreciate your surroundings. Mid-day: eat some more! This is when drinking is socially acceptable, maybe even necessary. People will definitely know you're foreign if you don't down a glass of wine (or two) with lunch. I honestly couldn't keep up that early. After lunch, have a tea or coffee before getting back to your day. No one is in a hurry, which is very refreshing. Then finally at dinner, you get together with loved ones to eat another 4-5 course meal (in addition to a couple bottles of more wine). Dinner takes the entire night, from 8 all the way until the early hours of the next morning. You talk about everything that would be taboo in the good ol' USA: sex, politics, etc. You get loud, you laugh, you may disagree, but that's ok too.
The French are so passionate. They aren't overly friendly, especially to strangers, but once you're in, you're family. You kiss each other, and you crack jokes--everyone is sarcastic. You really get the sense that people enjoy their life, and those they share it with. Its embedded in their DNA to love their culture and what they do.
Leaving Paris was bittersweet, but I was excited to venture into something new. It is always exhilarating, and a bit scary to go somewhere completely different. As for the Italians, they’re absolutely the warmest and most hospitable culture I have ever encountered. Justin and I had quite a trip ahead of us from Paris to Bormio. It started with a train from Paris to Milan, another train from Milan to Tirano, a bus from Tirano to Bormio, and finally a taxi from Bormio up to the hotel in Valdidentro. It was about 15 hours of travel, and we honestly winged the whole thing, which was probably not intelligent/definitely nerve-wracking. We had left my French comfort-zone, meaning I could no longer translate. We also had no cell-service, which was even more terrifying. In true Italian-fashion signs make no sense. They point in nonsensical directions: diagonally, in roundabouts--seriously crazy stuff. Luckily, as I mentioned before, Italians are pretty much the nicest people on the planet. Everyone was rooting for the two confused American kids. We even had our bus driver in Bormio stop his bus route for 15 minutes to call us a taxi and chain-smoke cigarettes while we try to communicate between broken-English and broken-Italian. The kindness was overwhelming, but very much appreciated.
However, once we arrived at our destination, all the craziness was worth it. Everything felt like we were staying at the Grand Budapest Hotel, except in Italy. The architecture and the landscape are dramatic, to say the least, and I felt like I had to pinch myself every-so-often to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I was still on a carb-binge, but I had replaced French fries with P-A-S-T-A. I might lose my right to be French by saying this, but I have never eaten anything more delicious than Italian pasta. Since I was on vacation I indulged about twice a day, and have no regrets. When I wasn’t bingeing on carbohydrates, I was freezing my nipples off by hopping from bath to bath. The natural springs put Calistoga to shame, and I would lay around in my thong bathing suit until I looked like a literal prune.
Finally, we finished things off in Milan. We stayed in the trendy Navigli district, which reminds me of an Italian version of SF’s mission. The neighborhood was young, vivacious, and ultra-hip. Unlike the US, you can drink in the streets, so people went hard on Saturday night. There is no need to spend $$$ bar hopping all night when the solid second-half can be had in the streets with cheap liquor from a corner store. The Italians might not know who Little Jon is (or maybe they do), but under no circumstances do they turn down before 6 am. When we weren’t attempting to blend-in with the hipsters, we were walking to the Duomo, shopping at Zara, and tasting our first real-Italian gelato. Milan was so youthful, fashionable, and dynamic.
Overall this trip was one-part a return to familiarity, a chance to immerse myself in a culture I’ve been raised with, and one-part a complete exploration. I’ll never forget the people who opened my eyes, and taught me to stay curious. I’ll also always remember those who fed me delicious carbs--after all it is 100% the way to my heart.