Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Moment of Change

Ever since I was a young boy, I've always dreamed of traveling around the world. Far away places like Europe, Australia, the Far East, Egypt, India, and even the American west, especially California, have always intrigued me. I come from a lower middle class socio-economic background, so I never really had the opportunity to travel much as a child. The only family vacation I ever went on was to Lake George in upstate New York.

As a young adult, I had my first opportunity to take a first excursion to an exotic place. After deciding to take a trip, a friend and I visited a local travel agency. We were excited at the prospect of travelling, yet not really sure where we wanted to go. We just knew we wanted to go somewhere fascinating and different than Long Island. Upon entering the agency, we immediately noticed an advertisement for Aruba, an island off the coast of Venezuela. The picture in the advertisement was your typical 'tropical paradise' advertisement, featuring white sandy beaches, crystal bluish-green water, palm trees, and of course, beautiful bikini-laden models sunning themselves with bright smiles on their faces and frosty margaritas in their hands. It was inviting, to say the least.

As the travel agent invited us to have a seat at her desk, we were immediately taken in by the alluring poster. She asked us where we wanted to visit, and we both simultaneously pointed to the picture. So, it was decided. We were going to Aruba. I've been hooked on travelling ever since.

Since that first marvelous trip in 1985, I visited Aruba twice more, both times with my ex-"other half." But overall, travelling has always been difficult, as I inherited poor money management skills from my parents and could never really afford to take the exotic vacations I always dreamed of taking. I have however managed to take small trips to places I could visit by car. This mode of travel is less expensive than flying, but the destinations were not as exotic.

There was a weeklong rainy holiday in Virginia Beach, a couple of weekend trips to Boston and Vermont, and a pilgrimage to the roller coaster capital of the world, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio. (Roller coasters are my second love.) I've taken many trips to Florida, to visit old friends who became some of the many a transplanted New Yorkers living in the state. Finally, in 2000, we took a spectacular cruise to Bermuda. That has been the extent of my travels, until 2002

Life Change: Dare to Reach for Your Dreams

The year 2000 was a spiritual awakening, of sorts, for me. In January, I left a stable, yet unsatisfying job after fifteen years, to escape what was a miserable vocation. Unfortunately, I went from a job in the financial field to one in the insurance field. In other words, I jumped from the frying pan into the proverbial fire.

Five months into my new 'career' in insurance, I was still unhappy. My partner and I drove down to Virginia to meet up with some old friends and a relaxing weekend away from our jobs. It was during this weekend that I had a revelation. One of our friends had graduated from law school about a year earlier, and he had just left his position at a Washington DC law firm because he was unhappy with being a lawyer. He was returning to school to learn the library sciences, something he had been interested in for a long time.

On the ride home, I began to think about our friend's perennial quest for happiness in life. I envied him. I wished I had the know-how and the chutzpah to take such daring risks to find my own happiness. I was sick and tired of unsatisfying jobs which didn't even provide me with a comfortable life, financially. I decided to quit the very next day.

I cashed in my pension fund and my 401K to go back to college. I delved back into the past twenty years of my life to try and figure out what I needed to do with my life. After much soul-searching and introspection, I decided to pursue a career in teaching English to speakers of other languages. This would be the perfect vocation for me, as I have the patience, intelligence and personality to be a good teacher. As an added bonus, a teaching career would give forth a lot of time to travel.

This decision was a turning point in my life. As of the time of this writing, I am closer than ever to realizing that dream of becoming a teacher. During that momentous summer, I gained a new outlook on life. I began to believe that life is wasted if you don't try to reach for your dreams. Also, the time is never too late to start. I've seen far too many people giving up on their dreams without ever trying to reach for them, and I think that's sad.

Go to Italy, Are You Crazy?

With this new attitude, I decided that I wanted to pursue the ultimate vacation: Italy. My father was born in Italy some sixty-one years ago, and my mother's grand-parents came from there at the turn of the century. As such, to me, Italy was not just a land of beauty and splendor, but the place from which I have descended.

My true inspiration for this voyage was my Aunt Vi. Aunt Vi is now ninety-nine years of age. She is the sister of my mother's mother. She's a widow, surviving Uncle Tony for over twenty years now. About seven years ago, Uncle Tony's grand nephew was getting married in Florence. His mother, Uncle Tony's niece, was financially well-off at the time, and invited aunt Vi to the wedding and to spend two weeks with her and her husband travelling around Italy. Aunt Vi was then eighty eight years old.

During her lifetime, Aunt Vi had never traveled outside of the country. This trip was to be her first foray to Europe. And she was going to Italy, the place both of her parents came from. I was very excited for her.

Needless to say, her trip was fabulous. I couldn't wait for her to come home so hear all of the tales of wonderment of the things she saw. She began her trip in Florence, (for the wedding), then wandered southward towards Rome and Naples, and finally the Amalfi coast and Capri. The Amalfi coast intrigued me the most, for the pictures she brought back were spectacular in nature.

During her journey, she chronicled her adventures in a journal, which became the source of inspiration for this book. She not only saw the best Italy had to offer, but she did it first class all the way. I was happy for her, and it gave me the initial hunger to want to visit this ancient land of beauty and splendor.
My parent's families hail from various parts of Italy. Dad is from Trieste, a seaside city nestling the Italy's northeastern border with Slovenia, not too far from Venice. On my mother's side, southern Italy is represented. Her father's families, the Randazzos, hail from Sicily, while her mom's family, both the Piccarellis and Caratus called the region of Campania Salerno home. So naturally, I wanted first and foremost to see these places.

When I first brought the idea up to Joe, he thought I was crazy. I just quit my job to return to school full-time and his salary was meager, at best. But, I felt determined. I planned the trip to take place two years later, giving us plenty of time to plan and save. We fought about it a couple of times, and he finally told me, "Fine, you save and make the arrangements and I'll go."

I knew he didn't believe I would do it, but for two years, I scrimped and saved a dollar here, a dollar there. I broke bills to make change for rolling coin. I worked extra deejay jobs for whatever money I could make. I stole singles from my partner's pockets each morning. Within a year, I had saved over three thousand dollars. By the first day of our trip, we had enough saved to enjoy it comfortably.

And so, we went to Italy. All because I believed! Dreams can be turned into reality with a little faith and a little perseverance. The trip was the most spectacular of both of our lives, and I hope to return in the next couple of years.

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