Amy and I had just spent an amazing day in the seaside town of Porto Venere, goofing around as we do. But for the last 40 minutes of our day there we walked up and down the pier trying to find the perfect place for dinner. We were hungry, shoeless (Amy’s sandal broke), and increasingly stressed because our last night in Italy HAD to be good.
But nothing looked good. Our train back to our home base in Cinque Terre didn’t leave for another couple hours, and we needed food. With tension rising between us over making a decision, we stopped in front of a completely empty seafood restaurant to gather our thoughts.
Our soon-to-be waiter saw us lingering and barged into the fray, practically pushing us toward a table. Both of us were tired and beyond resistance. We sat down, silent.
Down for the count?
I’m a laid back guy. As it pertains to life abroad, Amy and I are more and more comfortable rolling with the punches.
You know, taking it in stride. When you don’t know what the hell is going on, just keep moving forward and eventually it will fall together. When you know exactly what’s going on, keep moving forward until you realize you don’t actually know what’s going on, and keep moving forward again. Don’t sweat it. Just stay calm, be open, have faith, etc.
This way of life has its merits, but it’s also deceptive to say ‘things will just work out.’ I don’t think that’s totally right. And actually, it’s not even in the spirit of what we set out to do by moving to Prague.
Deciding to move was anything but laid back. We didn’t react to external circumstances to end up here. Quite the opposite. We kicked the idea around for eight months before Amy sat us down at a Starbucks and forced a decision. In her wisdom she realized that some things require action. Make a move, or you ain’t gonna be moving.
Sometimes you’ve got to be the one delivering the punches.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bread basket
That greasy waiter reinforced this insight. As he went off to get us a basket of bread, we looked over the menu. It was expensive. We looked around. The staff outnumbered us 5 to 1. We were both tired and grumpy. I envisioned the last night of our trip to be a celebration – a culmination of the week’s victories. This felt like a let down.
After what seemed a very short amount of time, the waiter marched up, dropped the bread on our table, and demanded an order. It wasn’t friendly, or accommodating, or nice. This wasn’t nice. As he looked down on me waiting for us to choose a wine, I could only think one thing: I wanted to punch him.
Maybe it was his smug look. Maybe it was just the sinking feeling that I was settling for second best. Whatever it was, something in me snapped. Why were we here? Didn’t we have complete control over this situation? No one was forcing us to dine here, but here we were, unhappy. We were done in this village. Why did we have to wait for a train to take us back? We had only paid a couple bucks for the train tickets, not some huge loss. We could take buses, taxis, water taxis – any number of ways – to get back to Cinque Terre.
Defying all of my programmed rules of engagement, I clenched my fists, stood up, and announced that we had to leave (you thought I was gonna punch the guy?). We told the waiter thanks but no thanks, gathered our stuff, and left.
Would you believe that leaving a restaurant prematurely without ordering didn’t cause the building to implode on itself? Sure, it felt a little rude at first, but seriously, everyone survived it just fine. Except maybe the basket of bread. They may have thrown that away.
Adventure! Romance! Thrilling conclusion!
Luckily we caught the last water taxi to Manarola. It cost 500% more than our train tickets, but that was the last thing on our minds. We traded our train for the sea. With the wind in our hair and Amy squealing that she was cold, it became one of the best moments of our trip.
Back in Manarola we found a bustling restaurant overlooking the marina, ate and drank the evening through, and later walked Lovers Lane back to our room in Riomaggiore. The sun had long since set, so we strolled along the walkway by moonlight. We stopped to star gaze (make out) and listen to the roaring surf below us (more making out). Better best moment of our trip.
Our traveling adventures have challenged me. Trying to be in control all the time isn’t good, but neither is letting go of the wheel. Be proactive; make something happen. Then take in stride what life throws at you as a result.
And be sure to enjoy the cool stuff you’ll experience because you threw a punch or two. You wouldn’t want a good bread basket to go waste for nothing.