As I wrote in last week’s Act Your Age, I am very goal oriented when being a tourist on vacation. I have a check-list of the things I want to see in each city. As I see each site I often get more enjoyment from crossing the item off my list than from actually experiencing it. It was a running joke throughout my recent Europe trip that I spent more time looking at my lists than at any of the wonders we saw. And we certainly saw some incredible things: the Coliseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower and Catacombs in Paris, the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City to name a few.
But it’s one thing to put something on a list and another to experience it. At the beginning of the trip, I don’t think I realized that. There is a church in Barcelona called the Sagrada Familia. We went to the very peak of the church tower and looked across the city from its highest point. The city sprawled out in front of us, but I was hungry and looked forward to our next stop, Spanish McDonalds. Days later, we went to the top of Mount Tibidabo. At the peak of this small mountain is an amusement part with swings that seem to almost throw you off the edge of the mountain. It was an incredible view, but I was distracted by the next stop on our list; the roller coaster. I hate roller coasters and I was thoroughly distracted.
This sort of distraction continued throughout the trip. That weekend, we took an hour train ride out of Barcelona to Montserrat, a monastery at the top of a mountain. Our group took a ten-minute cable car to the monastery, a funicular (basically a train that goes diagonally up a mountain), and then hiked for an hour to reach the very peak of St. Jerome, which is 1,236 m above sea level. The view was breath-taking, without a doubt, but at the time I didn’t really know what breath-taking meant. Certainly staring out across the world, the winds billowing around us, I was moved by the view. But I also knew if we didn’t leave within five minutes we’d likely miss the last cable car down the mountain and be stuck at Montserrat overnight. So I took my pictures and rushed down.
My girlfriend had already seen Rome, so during our week in the city I had purposefully looked into doing some side trips so she could see something new. During my research I found Capri, which is a resort island known for its lemon flavoured liquor and so-called breath-taking views.
We arrived at the ferry terminal early after leaving our hostel. I was coming down with a cold and admittedly wasn’t in the best of moods. Sprawled out across three seats, I slept for most of the ferry ride and before I knew it we had arrived at the Marina Piccola on the island of Capri. Departing the ferry, we were met with postcard views of mountains, greenery, and a sandy beach. We dipped our feet in the Mediterranean before taking another funicular to the town of Capri. After having a quick lunch of over-priced cheeseburgers, we decided to take a bus further up the steep island. I had read that the bus ride to Anacapri, the island’s other town, was filled with sharp turns and narrow roads, which made the experience quite harrowing.
The four of us crammed into a bus and were forced to stand, holding tightly onto both the hand-railings and each other. My girlfriend stood in front of me facing the window, while my friends stood to either side. The bus’s engine roared to life and started to zoom along the narrow streets, swerving up the mountain and regularly making 180o turns.
Being the smartass I am, I joked, “Are you guys harroweded yet?” They weren’t impressed.
At one point, the bus made yet another sharp turn and suddenly we seemed to be at the very edge of a cliff looking down to the marine port we had just left. From my girlfriend, I heard an audible gasp. I chuckled and asked her if she was scared.
She didn’t turn her head; her eyes stared across the mountains and ocean. My jaded girlfriend then said the one thing I did not expect. She whispered, “It’s just so beautiful.”
I looked over her shoulder and out the window and indeed it was beautiful. But my breathing remained consistent. She had had her breath literally taken away by this incredible view, but for the life of me I could not feel that same wonder. It was just one more view in a string of incredible views. Trying to understand it all, I looked down at her.
She was staring out the window. Her mouth, open because of her dropped jaw, was surrounded by her red pouty lips and her blue eyes, which often looked green or grey depending on the light, darted back and fourth across the scene before her. Her sun-freckled shoulders held up her black summer dress with pink polka dots, which was tied tight across her slender stomach. And as I looked at her in all her stunned appreciation and stunning beauty, I felt my heart skip a beat.
That’s when I learned to enjoy the view and it’s a lesson that we can all appreciate. Sometimes the view you have to take time to enjoy is from the top of a mountain. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, the only view you need is the view of the face of the person you wake up across from every morning.