Finding Italy

A big thank you to Melissa Muldoon for featuring this post on the blog

Fate, love, passion, obsession, hopes, dreams, accidents - I don't know if any one of these words alone or all of them put together pushed me to go to Italy the first time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or that I would be forever changed. There are people that travel to Italy and have beautiful vacations and experiences and come home fulfilled and there are people that travel to Italy and find the other half of their soul they never knew was missing. I am one of the latter. This story is about me finding my dream. My soul. My completeness and the road to getting there....which I'm still on.

My wanderlust started in my teens and was fueled mostly by movies and my mother's desire to be anywhere else but where we were. The small town in Montana where I grew up was always worlds away from where I saw myself and my life. I never felt like I fit in and I never really wanted to. I always wanted something different....I always wanted more. With an interesting and different childhood under my belt, and no real direction in life, I was lost. Lost, but with the knowledge that anything in life was possible and that you should go for what you want. It can be and was a confusing place to be. I had always dreamed of going (somewhere), but it wasn't until I was 20 that I finally decided it was time do something about it. I was ready. I was ready to start searching for that thing that I had been thinking of for so long. I was ready to go to Italy. That dream. That thing that had been calling me to come for so long.

With no one committing to travel with me I decided to go to Italy alone. It was my first time traveling alone, my first time traveling over seas, in Italy and in Europe, my first first real adventure. Sometimes looking back I can't believe that I went. No one I knew had done anything like it and most of the people I knew couldn't believe I was doing it. It doesn't seem quite as impressive now with so much social media and being able to see a million people hopping all over the world and telling about it, but it was a big deal for me at the time. Being that it was so many firsts, I wanted everything to be well planned out. I didn't want to find myself  in an undesirable place in a county I was not familiar with. I went for 5 weeks, I booked all my hostels through and hotels from home and had my route completely planned out. I even paid extra to fly into Venice and fly out of Rome because I wanted to be able to fly in and out of the cities I was staying in. Since I was going, I thought it might be a good idea to learn a little bit of the Italian language. At that point I don't think I had ever even picked up an Italian language book before and my vocabulary probably extended as far out as Ciao and Buongiorno. I took a continuing education class at the community college. This was it....part of what I had been searching for and just a hint of what was to come. There was something in the language. A sound so familiar and yet so foreign that it stirred my soul and sent my mind swirling with excitement. I don't remember how much I learned in that first set of classes but it was enough to give me a little bit of confidence in communicating if I needed to and how to say HELP! So, with that done and my parents trust that I could do it, I was off. It was May 2002.

The Beginning - Venezia/Venice - I stayed on the island of Giudecca because that was the only place I could find a hostel. I got a week long boat pass because I would need to travel everyday by boat to the main island and surrounding areas. In the end it was a bit of a pain so I wouldn't recommend it but at the time I didn't know any better. When I first arrived I was exhausted, lonely and feeling unimpressed from the ride from the airport, the boat to Giudecca and then Giudecca itself. It didn't help that this little island was mostly residential and so it was very quiet and almost deserted feeling. The few stores and restaurants that were there were closed. I probably arrived on a Sunday!! I don't remember now. I do remember crying on my first evening there though and thinking that I had made a terrible mistake. I was all alone and I didn't even like Venice so far! I remember looking out at the lights from my window that night hoping that what was on the other side of the canal would change my mind. The next morning as I took my first steps in Venice every fear and doubt about what I was doing and why I had come faded away. As I made may way into Piazza San Marco I felt as though everything that I had known about life and who I was faded away with my fears. There I was, standing in that 'worlds away place' that I had always seen myself. I may have cried...I don't remember. It was a very real moment in my life and one that can and will never be forgotten. It was the moment when I was forever changed and taken over with a yearning and desire for something that was very far away. It was that overwhelming moment that I had found it. I found me. I found where I belonged. And I started wondering if past lives were really real, because I obviously had to be Italian :) I was home.

That first trip to Italy took me to Venice, Modena (where they make balsamic vinegar), Pisa, Florence, San Gimingiano, Siena, Cortona, Rome, Naples, The Amalfi Coast and Capri. It was such an eye opening experience for me and I was in heaven the entire time. I loved being free. I loved seeing new places and trying new things. I loved discovering that every little thing I saw, learned and tasted made me feel more and more like the person I was always supposed to be and with that I fell deeper and deeper in love with Italy. I almost didn't come home....but I did (kicking fit.) Before I left Italy, or maybe even before I left Venice, I was already starting to plan my return. You can't find yourself only to say goodbye again and then not plan on returning. It had to be soon!

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Italy again  -  In September 2004, I convinced my mom and sister (didn't take much) that we must all three go to Italy together. My mom had always wanted to see it and my sister had the same Italian wanderlust from watching all those movies with me.  We had never taken a trip together like it....just the three of us in another world. It was a wonderful month of adventure that took us through most of the same towns that I had seen solo on my first trip, plus a lovely new addition....Puglia :) We met our Italian friend from Manduria, Puglia and who happened to be back visiting during the same time we were there. As he came buzzing up in a little white car to pick us up from a deserted train station, that still functions for picking people up and dropping them off but has a boarded up building, I knew it was going to be a good time. I wish I had a picture of the moment we saw him coming. We must have had the biggest smiles as my sister and I looked at each other and said "that must be him". He showed us his Italy...his Puglia....his home. We spent time with his friends, his family, in his town and on his beaches. We ate amazing food and made amazing memories. It was life changing. All of these new memories along with the hostels, hotels, train rides, bus rides, over night trains (wouldn't recommend...hahah), museums, fountains, piazzas, people watching, and lots of lovely food, only made my love grow! As the trip was coming to a close we spent some of the last days in The Cinque Terra. It was there that we came up with the idea to open up and Italian cafe when we returned home. A decision to try to bring Italy to us. A decision that I have both been thankful for and hated myself for at different times.

Caffe Di Lusso - In November 2005 we opened up our Italian cafe. It was just 13 months after our return from Italy. It was perfect! Warm Italian colors and decorations, delicious coffee.....AND gelato that actually tasted just like you were in Italy! Every little detail was unique and elegantly done and at the beginning it was all so dreamy. Now...the whole reason behind opening the cafe was so that we could bring Italy closer to us and that (now this is the funny part) it would give us more financial freedom to travel to Italy and more often. I really have no idea why we thought this, but as we learned the hard way.....our beautifully decorated - espresso filled - gelato filled - music filled Italian world took us farther from Italy then we could have imagined. Too bad too because it was such a wonderful dream! Unfortunately when you have a business like that, you eat, breath and drink it. We barely left the place and even though we did many amazing things and made amazing memories, it really wasn't the life we had expected. During this cafe time Italy was kind of on the back burner. I was so overwhelmed and broke I couldn't even think about travel. It was a time of changes in my life and many of them were stressful and difficult to say the least. Thankfully there are always happy highlights though even during a difficult time. Mine was falling in love. I would have married my husband on our first date but instead we waited 5 months and married in August of 2007. It was a new beginning after a time when nothing felt right. A new start. A new life. Change. This new change brought about other changes too and soon after we were married I really needed to make some money. Since we had never earned anything from the cafe other than tips (it's amazing when $15 feels like a successful work day.) I returned to my work in bakeries as the head wedding cake decorator at a bakery in Portland and I only worked at the cafe 1-2 days a week.  The cafe continued for a while but finally we decided to close our lovely Italian work of art. It was fall 2009. We were exhausted mentally, physically and financially. Sad but relieved, we said goodbye.

Italy, just one more time. After a few years of marriage and as the cafe was coming to a close, my husband and I decided that we wanted to have a baby. I just felt as though there was one thing I wanted to do first. I wanted to travel to Italy again by myself and go to a language school. I thought that just one more time in Italy before I had kids would give me my fill and I would be able to continue life. I told myself I would be satisfied with that, and so I went to Italy by myself....again. I spent 5 weeks in Florence going to the Koine language school. I loved my experience at the school and I loved being alone in Italy again, this time at such a different place in life then before. The school was Monday through Friday so that left the weekends open to do what I pleased. I traveled to  Cortona (one of my favs) and I saw some new places like Lucca, Arezzo and Fiesole, the little town on the hill that overlooks breathtaking Florence. I was in heaven, this had definitely been the right choice to make, but as my time was coming to a close, there was a problem developing....I had to leave. This trip hadn't put out the fire at all....but had only fueled it! Should I tell my husband? What now? It was April 2010

My Baby - My son, the most perfect little human being in the world, was born in May of 2011. Not only was this the beginning of a completely different life as I took on motherhood but it was also the beginning of taking up Italian again. I had studied on my own, taken classes off and on, gone to the school in Florence, and I knew that I wanted to know the language but I didn't have much direction or anyone to talk to for that matter! When my son was born I felt a serge of "I must do this" because I wanted so badly for him to grow up with a second language. I was most definitely not fluent at that point so I was trying to figure out the best approach to making him so. can I make it so my son hears the Italian language, spoken by native speakers, everyday? YOUTUBE :) I don't really think I had spent time on Youtube before but the idea popped into my head so I decided to check it out. I came across Pocoyo Italiano in my search and it may have been one of the happiest days of my life. I could talk with my son as much as I was able and then we could watch this everyday. We could hear Italian everyday! And in real life situations AND it was free! Ahhhh! My son wouldn't watch anything else but Pocoyo until he was almost 3! I will definitely have more to say about this another time but for now I will leave it at - guess who knows and can speak better Italian than me? That's right!!

The Move and The Cakery - When my son was nearing 1 in May 2012 nothing seemed to be heading in the right direction for us in the Portland area so we decided to move to California, to a place we had never been before but my sister told us we would love. Quite the leap of faith but we had to do something and it just felt right. We found a job, we took a chance and we left everything we had known for a new start and a great big dose of sunshine on the beautiful central coast. Our first year in California was a struggle. Settling in, trying to make ends meet and figuring out what direction we were going to take in our new adventure wasn't easy. A few weeks after we arrived I started working a few days a week at a little bakery. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea but it helped bring in some extra money.  After about a year I decided to see if I could find a job decorating cakes at the level I was used to. I just wanted to make things beautiful again and maybe earn a slightly better wage :) When I looked around at bakeries here, there was only one that stood out to me and so that was the one I approached. The response I received back was more then I was looking for and at first I wanted nothing to do with it. The owners were actually going to be closing down the bakery because they wanted to move on to other things. They had seen all of my pictures and information from my resume and they were confident I could take over the business at their level. When I first recieved this offer all I could think was "no no no no" I have owned a business and I never want to do it again. I just want to make a paycheck and go home at the end of the day with none of the worries of a business owner. I thanked them and no thanked them and then I got a little discouraged. What do I do? I sat on my options and did some more looking around. After about a week and a few pep talks from husband, family, and friends, my husband and I decided to take them up on their offer. After all, this was a successful business and all of it's equipment being sold at a very reasonable price,  and even though I really didn't want all the responsibility again, I knew that I would be crazy to not go for it. It was full steam ahead after that and I bit off a little more than I could chew but at least we were heading somewhere.

The Cakery and Italy - My husband and bought The Cakery in April 2013. The first couple wedding seasons for me were a mixed bag. We were paying down debt and making headway in life but I was working myself into the ground often and not spending as much time being a mom and a wife as I would have loved. I had so many breakdowns from exhaustion it made me question many times whether it was worth it. I needed a break! I was ready for an Italian holiday and when I turned 33 at the end of 2013 I told myself I wanted to end my 33 year in Italy. We had been working so hard and we deserved it! Besides, my husband and I had been married for 7 years and had never been to Italy favorite place in the world! It just couldn't go on. So the two of us left our son with my Mom and Dad and took a plane to Italy the day after my 34th birthday. It was November 16th 2014. What a wonderful birthday it was!

Italy Together -  Italy in a whole different way then my other trips. I wanted to show my husband every inch of it but we had to choose (sigh, yell, fit throw) so in the end we chose to see Rome because it is my favorite and it was one of the must see cities for my husband. We spent the rest of our time in Puglia. Partly we chose this because of the time of year (November) and I hadn't been to Puglia since that first time with my mom and sister, and partly because our good friend is from there and had recently started his travel experience company, and because of the wine and food and because of it's landscape...and.....oh you get it! This trip was unforgettable in so many ways but one of the big ones was that I knew how to speak so much more Italian...something that made my heart so happy. In every way this trip blew me away! We were finally having this adventure together after so much talk of it and so much struggle in our lives. I had missed my sweet Italy so much. It had been way too long. I soaked in every word, sound, smell and taste that came my way. It was perfect.....except for the fact it had to end....just like the other trips. I had to say goodbye again and I'm not going to or two tears were shed. Away we went.

When we returned home this time there was something different about me. My hopes and dreams for Italy had changed over the years but now I was more determined than ever to have it in my life. It told me that I needed to do things differently. That I needed Italy in a real way and not just a vacation. I couldn't live without it.

That Time In Between -  It's a good thing that we don't know the future or I would have never been able to stand the wait because it wouldn't be until March 2017 that we would travel to Italy again. There were a few little things we needed to do in life that took up our have another baby and buy a house :) 2015 went by in a work filled, nausea filled nightmare. I was sick for my entire pregnancy....and I mean sick sick! 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. I couldn't believe it! Well, actually I could since I was sick for almost all of my first pregnancy as well (oh yes, it's possible!) This one was so much worse than my first pregnancy though and I really thought it would be better....although I have no idea why. On top of everything I had a busy wedding season and some days I just didn't know if I was going to make it. Thank goodness I did and thank goodness there was a lovely, perfect beyond words, gift at the end of it all. In January 2016 my daughter was born. She is pure joy and I am so thankful for her! Unfortunately there wasn't much time to stop and relax after she was born. I was back at work in a few weeks with consultations and a few weddings. We were also shopping for a new home and getting ready for my sister's wedding in April (yes I made the cakes.) After the wedding it was time to start packing and get moved. We had a short amount of time to get our personal things and a business completely moved and set up before the next wedding season really took off. It was so much! And now I had cakes, two kids and a million other things. The summer and life in general was seriously crazy!  My birthday in the fall finally brought some relief, good times and plans for a spring trip to Italy:) Thank the lord above! A break and I get to plan Italy!! I was so so excited, but I have to be honest, I felt a deep ache in my heart the moment we decided to book the trip because I knew I would have to say goodbye to Italy again. Sometime it is almost better to live without something than to have to say goodbye again. At that moment I knew I was either truly truly in love or a little sick in the head (it's love I think.)

Italy with the Family - In early March 2017 we took off on a family vacation to Italy...yay!!!. Just getting to Italy proved to be quite challenging (not just because of the kids) but once we finally made it, it was amazing. Italy...again....and this time with my babes....and one that could speak Italian to boot. We felt so welcomed and loved everywhere we went. It was wonderful to see Italians chatting with my son and him understanding what they were saying. I was so proud of him. It really wasn't until about 6 months before the trip that I even asked my son to speak Italian back to me. I had always just talked with him and he listened to it and I knew that he understood a lot. I loved hearing him speak it and it truly showed me just how far we had come. 

On this trip we flew into Rome and spent a few days there. I couldn't wait to show the kids the fountains, the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica. It was extra exciting to see the Trevi fountain as well because it was under construction when we were in Rome before. We walked and walked and walked and loved every second of it. We enjoyed large amounts of mozzarella and gelato :) My son's favorites and the things he is most excited to go back to Italy for again. After Rome we traveled to northern Lazio and southern Tuscany. Some of the places we visited were Viterbo, Civita di Bagnoreggio, the thermal bathes at Saturnia and Montepulciano. Everything was pretty perfect! Or maybe it wasn't and I just love Italy so much that is seems perfect to me....even with all of it's quirks and inconveniences! After all that we made our way to Florence and spent a few days there. We had a great little air b&b with a little outside courtyard. It was right at the base of Piazza Michelangelo....the best place in Florence to catch the sunset! Museums were not at the top of the list this trip because we didn't want to try and drag the kids through them, but we did see the Academia Gallery in Florence because my husband really wanted to see Michelangelo's David and since the Academia is a small museum we figured the kids would enjoy it along with us....and they did :) This trip we really just wanted to be in Italy with them. To experience the people and piazzas, the language and the food.  To just be a family together.....walking around.....eating as much gelato and mozzarella as we could get our hands on!  After Florence we headed back to Rome for a few days before heading home. Home.....wait! No!! I am home.....I don't want to leave! (sad face, tears, pouts.) 

Changes and The Blog - As with each new time I have traveled to Italy I have changed a little bit as a person. I have become a little more obsessed with dreams and passions and coffee. I have become a little bit more the person I feel I am supposed to be. I love her so dearly for showing me ME. After the last time in Italy with the family I finally decided to start a blog about my love for my dream. Some way to express my passion. Some way to make Italy more apart of my daily life (not like the cafe...hahah.) Some way to share all her beauty. It had been in the back of my mind for awhile (it wasn't exactly like I had time to kill in my life) but I just hadn't taken the leap. Finally it was time! It was April 2017.

The Blog - The blog - something I have loved more than I ever thought I could. The blog - my first time writing ever ever ever in my life for other people to see (this includes all those school years and it includes a long story) which was a big step for me in many ways. The blog - my Italian creation. The blog - my creative happiness. The blog - my future......maybe!?!  :)

The Ending / The Beginning of the Story - This last year since I starting my blog has been a crazy one. It has been full of  kids and cakes. Home schooling and home remodels. And one very big loss. I'd love to be writing that I have made it all the way to the end of my dream. That I live in Italy or that I work on my blog full time and travel to Italy as much as I want. I would love more than anything to be writing these things.....but I'm not quite there yet. I'm still on my journey although every day brings me a little bit closer to where I plan to be. As I look and think back to how my love and dream for Italy has evolved, it has really been amazing and it really has needed time. Finding Italy has truly been a life adventure for me. A learning, growing, maddening and incredibly beautiful adventure. It is clear now. Italy....I'm coming!

I hope if anyone takes anything from this story is that you should have the courage to go for what makes you happy! I have felt like a fool so many times for having dreams bigger than me. You can't matter what they are. So, take that first step. Make that hard decision. Start that cafe or that business. Have those babies and buy that house. Make that wrong decision/s that led you to the next step...and above all....take your time....because sometimes time is just what we need so that it all becomes clear. And now I am going to try and have some patients and take my own advice....ha ha.....sometimes it's so hard to wait! 




This post - this day - this life - and these dreams will be a tribute to my wonderful Daddy. The sweetest man in the world. The sweetest man that I had to say goodbye to in March. The sweetest man that bought me that first plane ticket to Italy as a birthday gift that started all of this. The sweetest man that told me to "be happy" every time we talked. Just the sweetest man in the world. I love you Daddy an I promise I will always try my hardest to "be happy"! Your daughter, Lonielle