Look at your bucket list.
What do you see? Destinations, journeys, experiences, some personal challenge that makes sense only to you? Travel is a big part of my life list – to cross every Parisian bridge over the Seine, to walk the walls of Carcassonne, to have time to “be” in a place, to gain the knowledge to move through a place.
Acqua Alta. After the loss of a friend in 2009, I took a long look at my list. In that very moment, I stopped and bought tickets for a winter journey to Venice in hopes of experiencing something that had always fascinated me – the high water phenomenon in Venice. If not now, when?
Setting off on a trip with a clear focus is the best kind of selfish. I would not put anyone else through the reality that Venetian majesty might well be dimmed with fog, rain and chill. And 2 feet of water. That we’d be substituting a cozy dark bar with port for the sunny Lido. The trip circled around what intrigues me and me alone.
It was a singular type of adventure – everything from the date (full moon, winter) to the hotel (great public spaces) and to the space in my luggage for my new Wellington boots – was structured around a behind the scenes look at Venice and the winter high water.
So, I left the week of my birthday and arrived on a cloudy Sunday, with a certainty of why I was here in a city stringing its Christmas lights, buttoning its jacket, turning inward.
It was a trip built on chance but it all happened. On my first morning, I awoke to the high water alarms and through my window watched the water overtake the hotel pier. (It was worth every cubic inch of suitcase space those boots required.)
It was everything I hoped, seeing behind the tourist veil to how Venetians live in a city on stilts, walking with grandmothers across temporary plywood risers to cross the square, standing in a foot of water waiting for my morning coffee with office workers, and seeing the dignified staff of the Europa & Regina clearing the marble hall of water before other guests descended! I saw and learned so much but after that morning, after the flood, I was off the clock. The rest of the glorious week had earned its spontaneity and ease. I had seen what I came to see and now each day was an open ticket.
For 2014, it was Iceland and the Aurora Borealis. It was a long shot – in deep winter, in Iceland, in 5 hours of daylight. Putting myself in the path of possibility.
What is still on the list? What must I do on my own? What would a partner never understand? What will I regret if I wake up one morning unable to go on such a trip?
What are we hoping for – in our travel, our hobbies, our loves? For me, it may be completeness. What will I resolve, put to rest, fulfill? What will add up to a life well-lived when I face the unexpected end?
I hope that by the end of my time on the planet I become wise, whole, kind and loving with a sense of humour and surprise. And I want to have reached out for all the planet wanted to show me.
Where are you going?
What I Learned
- Having a single goal, something you feel passion around, gives a sense of purpose, priority and structure to a trip on your own.
- Picking a hotel with great public spaces is a valuable investment. You need a place around people where you can read, email and watch the parade of life.
- The hotel staff is your home team. Let them know why you’ve come and what you hope to experience. A clear and passionate purpose can be irresistible and you may find unexpected help.