Jamila Pecou

EARTHCANDY TRAVELS: CIAO, FIRENZE

I barely blinked as we drove from the airport to our apartment. I couldn't believe my eyes-- I was in ITALY!!! The streets seemed almost too narrow to pass and I was secretly a bit worried about our safety. Once we got close enough to the apartment, which was in the center of the city, the taxi driver told us we would have to walk the rest of the way as cars were not permitted to drive there. It wasn't a problem though, we were literally less than a block away.

The door to our AirBNB   

The door to our AirBNB

 

Alas, our largest bag which contained most of my husband's things didn't make the flight. He didn't seem too bothered, but it became more of an inconvenience when we were told the airport wouldn't deliver the bag. We would have to return to the airport to claim it, but there wasn't much time to worry about it. Due to the delays, we had just enough time to put our things down in the apartment and make our way to the conference!

Villa La Pietra, Firenze, Italia

Villa La Pietra, Firenze, Italia

Our Air BnB host gave us the number for a taxi and we took a quick ride to one of the most beautiful and historic sites in Florence; La Villa Pietra. The grounds of this beautiful castle were like something out of a fairytale! It was made more beautiful by the site of dozens of Black artists and scholars wandering about dressed to the nines. I thought I'd stepped into a photoshoot for Essence magazine! I saw a few familiar faces and met some new folks from other countries. While waiting for my husband's lecture to start, we explored the grounds, "oooh-ing" and "ahh-ing" at every turn...and trust me,  there were LOTS of 'turns'. The villa covered a few gorgeously manicured acres.

Though we had some challenges traveling to the conference, it ended up being quite an amazing and enlightening experience. My husband's panel was one of the last events for the conference. Everyone was brilliant with amazing ideas. I felt so energized. 

After the closing, several of the conference participants got together to sight-see in downtown Florence. Being that we arrived so late, we didn't get to do as much as we'd planned, but we did get to see the stunning Il Duomo, the main cathedral in Firenze (Florence). 

As we chatted with our friends, we learned that like us, several of the conference participants were planning to travel to Venice the next day to attend the Venice Biennale. We made plans to meet up once in Venice and keep the party going! By this time, all of the emotion, anxiety, and physical toll of traveling started to bear down on us. So my husband and I found a cool little restaurant to have dinner. (You have NOT tasted authentic pasta and marinara until you've had it in Italy! There's DEFINITELY a difference in taste. Plus, I had no problem dining vegan --there are plenty of grilled vegetables (verdure alla griglia) and dairy-free sauces to choose from.)

We dined al fresco as we watched the sunset and then took a easy stroll back to our apartment. 

Sadly, the 3 days we planned to have in Florence was cut to less than 36 hours, but I still managed to have a good time. My anxiety about traveling was rapidly slipping away.Though I didn't get the full Firenze experience this time, I don't feel too bad, because I will be back. It's a city that I'd definitely wanna revisit and FULLY explore!

EARTHCANDY TRAVELS: FLORENCE OR BUST

I hadn't travelled internationally since I was a child when I visited the Dominican Republic with my parents. Oh, and there was that one time I spent about 24 hours in the Bahamas to do some a voiceover work (but given my fears, I don't think I need to tell you how THAT went!)

But here it was, the moment of truth, my first real international travel experience. Florence, Italy was the destination. I was all packed the evening before, but I clearly remember trying to pump myself up by reciting over and over, "You better go towards your dreams or die trying- this is IT!"

I tried to put on my 'big-girl-face' when my daughter dropped my husband and me off at the airport. We were flying to Florence for the Black Portraitures II conference, hosted by NYU, where my husband was a featured panelist. I was shook walking into the airport, knowing that each step I took was one step closer to boarding a flight... to Italy. But somehow, I made it through security, to the concourse and ultimately to the flight gate without turning back. Whew!

But my victory was short-lived. I guess I should mention an important part to this story; we were flying standby. 

If you've ever flown as a stand-by passenger, you know that a seat is not necessarily a guarantee. It's something of a gamble. Sometimes it's no problem to board a flight. Sometimes your seat can be upgraded. But in the event a flight is full, you will most likely get 'bumped' and you'll have to wait for the flight and hope they have seats available. 

For some reason, it seemed EVERYONE in Atlanta was headed to Italy that day.  We got bumped. Not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES!

Watching our names appear on screen at the end of a very long stand-by list, my anxiety grew exponentially. On the outside I played it cool, but internally I was ready to break for the door! Maybe this was a sign NOT to go?

Time was of the essence. We had already secured an AirBNB in Florence and as a result of the delays, we would end up losing a night's stay. But more importantly, my hubby was scheduled to speak during the conference, so not making it wasn't really an option.

Ultimately we were able to re-route our flight. Instead of traveling direct from Atlanta to Rome, we decided to take the last flight available to London. Once inside the EU, it's significantly less expensive to travel between countries. This was good news because our new flight plan required that we buy tickets from London to Rome and then from Rome to Florence.

Boom.

So after spending all afternoon waiting for and rearranging flights, we finally boarded the flight to London's Heathrow Airport that evening. It was an overnight flight, 7+ hours. Once I settled into my seat on the plane and the door shut, I felt like life as I knew it had ended. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew this was the beginning of my transformation. Thank goodness I was exhausted from all the waiting and negotiating with airline representatives, so I slept the whole way!

I awoke in London. Disembarking the plane, I found myself in awe of Heathrow's hustle and bustle. But perhaps even more, listening to the British accents!

While waiting to board our flight to Rome, we decided to eat at a quaint Mediterranean spot in the airport and let our family know we made it safe. I even took a step outdoors just to see what London air smelled like! Crazy, I know, but this was a completely new experience for me. A birthing of a sort. I simply wanted to be in the moment. Once I took a whiff, I realized I was being ridiculous because there was no difference in "American" air and "British" air! 

The flight to Rome was short and smooth. But I can't say the same for the line at customs!!! It appeared that every tourist in the world arrived in Rome at the same time. Both my husband and I became extremely anxious because we only had a brief window of time in which to catch our connecting flight to Florence. We waited in line for over an hour and a half. After being cleared we made a mad dash to find our connecting flight only to discover it had JUST taken off. Not only that, we were told there would not be another flight until the next morning. The cherry on top; we would have to buy more tickets for the next flight because the ones we purchased were non-transferrable!

I simply broke down. I don't think I ever cried so hard in my adult life! I'm talking about that UGLY cry, WITH snot! (I'm laughing hard as I type this, but it was no laughing matter at the time).

Here I was-- THOUSANDS of miles away from my children and I can't do anything for them if they needed me. I never felt so helpless in my life. I was certain that I'd made the biggest mistake ever. My husband (bless his heart) comforted me and said, "Let's just get some dinner and a room for the night and be ready to go to Florence in the morning." 

And that's what we did.

Next morning we were at the airport bright and early, ready to keep it moving.

We boarded our flight to Florence and before you know it... WE MADE IT! *cue Drake song*

Our taxi driver spoke very little English (and our Italian was pitiful), so we basically just showed him the address of our AirBNB and trusted that he'd get us there.

The ride from the airport to our lodging was fascinating! Almost all the cars there are Volkswagen Bug-sized, and all signs were in Italian (duh!). The radio stations had Italian songs playing! I know I'm being Captain Obvious right now, but it was these little nuances that affirmed to me that I MADE IT! And I was still breathing and shit!

I kept saying to myself, "Am I in Florence? Am I in FLORENCE???"

I was.

In FLORENCE, ITALY.

Come back so I can tell you about my time there!

 

EARTHCANDY TRAVELS

Remember when I briefly mentioned in my first post about my deathly fear of traveling abroad? Well, thank goodness I took that leap of faith. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had the most life-changing experiences to share with you.

Heathrow Airport (London)

Heathrow Airport (London)

Why was I afraid? Initially I thought because I was afraid to leave my (then) younger children behind for an extended period of time. Then they became 20 & 17 years old. Young adults. I couldn't use that excuse anymore-- and an EXCUSE is just what it was. Clearly, I had to do some self-evaluating and unveil why I felt the way I did!

Here I was-- presented with an opportunity of a LIFETIME to travel abroad for a MONTH! May to June 2015--Italy to France to Morocco to Spain-- incredible, right? My mouth was certainly saying so, but my head was in total opposition. Anxiety immediately set in. The mere thought of leaving everything and everyone I've known would shut all my senses down. Am I control-freak? Too much of a home-body?

I mean, everything about my lifestyle (from home decor to fashion sense) SCREAMS "global/international/worldly", yet my fear prevented me from reaching my dreams--that is, until I had to put my life into perspective.

There were four main reasons I made the leap of faith: my hubby, my children, my best friend, and death. Yes, death.

HUBBY: My newlywed hubby and I hadn't gone on our honeymoon immediately after the wedding (Oct 2014) because he and I both had busy schedules to tend to--until his Paris art show in June 2015! He decided to turn our "skip over the pond" into a world tour! With my heart thumping out of my chest, I totally agreed, all the while thinking, "I have 8 months to snap out of this ridiculous anxiety!" I mean, this is basically my HONEYMOON-- I couldn't bail out on that! 

CHILDREN: My children knew how much I wanted to travel, and have been steadfast cheerleaders for me to 'just GO, Mom!' I wanted them to see me conquer my fears and be proud of me, so failure wasn't an option.

((I think part of their declaration had something to do with the fact they'd have the house and car at their full disposal with NO parental supervision!))

BEST FRIEND: My bestie of nearly 25 years said to me (and I quote):

"Its natural to feel nervous and anxious. As much traveling as I have done, it still happens to me very often. Don't stress it. As a matter of fact, every time I would travel I'd get that "this is not a good idea" feeling and literally wanna back out... And 100% of traveling somewhere for the first time. Perfectly normal. And guess what? After I went, I was always happy 100% of the time that I went--despite all of my reservations. So if u are feeling worrisome, just put one foot in front of the other and move FORWARD. You'll be glad u did. The only thing that would be waiting for you in Atlanta is a world of regret. Ahead of you? The world!!"

DEATH: Days before my departure, and still spazing about my upcoming trip abroad, a great friend of mine's life was tragically cut short. Shook me to my core. She was an avid arts activist who was young and vibrant and I simply adored her. All I can think to myself was, "Tomorrow is not promised to me, so I GOTTA pursue my dreams and live life to the fullest right NOW...PERIOD."

 

So, there you have it.

Full disclosure.

No holds barred.

Complete vulnerability here. I'm sharing this with you because if I can overcome my greatest fear, YOU CAN TOO. Whatever has you fearful can be conquerable. I promise. 

 

Now, for the good part- the TRAVELS!

Stay tuned and join me as I go down Memory Lane and recap the most exhilarating time of my life...'cuz my passport is LIT :)