Updated: Jan 21
I realized many moons ago that my mom will always love me no matter what, that she is the most important person in my life, and that I owe her everything, because she has given me everything. But only in the last year did I realize that she is one of the only people in the world who I can spend days and days with and not feel like I need to take a nap.
I first realized this when we took a two-week trip to France this past April. We cooked in Julia Child's kitchen, explored sunny seaside cities in Provence, and drove from little town to little town in Normandy, traversing funny French roundabouts and freeways in a rental car. For 14 days, we woke up together, spent all day together, and went to bed together (she snores). And I still love her! I don't think we even bickered. Or if we did, I don't remember it.
Of course I had spent lots of time with the woman before — I lived in her womb for nine months and in her house for 18 years — but never so many consecutive hours.
It was a great realization to have: not only had I found another compatible travel buddy in this life, but one with extra appeal because she is willing to give me unlimited hugs, occasionally buy me earrings, and even cut my toenails (it's just so much better when someone else does it!).
So when she booked her flight to visit me in Florence in August, I was as excited as could be.
I could write all about our idyllic meals and moments, but I'd rather document the good stuff. And by the good stuff I mean the silly, imperfect, mostly sweaty memories that you can only remember fondly if you shared them with someone you love.
One of the good-est memories is from our three-night stint in Bologna.
Mom and I had two goals and two goals only for this vacation: eat hard, walk harder (or maybe the other way around). So on our first day in Bologna, we resolved to get our steps in by hiking up the Portico di San Luca, known as the longest portico in the world. Since it has a roof, the path is mostly shaded, and the walls between its 666 arches are decorated with frescoes. The real selling point: The 2.5-mile pathway itself, some parts flat and some parts with stairs, leads to an 18th-century hilltop church called Santuario Madonna di San Luca.
This all sounded very nice, and I'd heard from a friend that the views from the top were incredible. Having never been to Bologna, Mom and I thought the walk would be a good way to get oriented and get some exercise while we were at it.
It took all of 10 minutes for us to realize that this would be no quaint stroll, but a series of physical battles against 2 p.m. sunshine and too much lunch.
Mom dueled with the searing 90-degree heat as I warred against my still-digesting pasta alla Bolognese, which felt like volcanic lava in my chest. It had been cream-spiked, flecked with the most tender beef, and extremely delicious, but every stair was pushing it closer to violent explosion.
We took breaks every five minutes, taking refuge under the shaded arches. Mom dabbed at her sweat and I breathed deeply to soothe my churning innards as elderly Italian men and children soared past us effortlessly. A few people we'd seen on the way up were now breezing back down, looking like they could happily make the climb again any minute.
Finally, we made one last push up the final staircase, whipping around excitedly to take in the view from the top.
"...This is it?" I asked a little too loudly, looking at a sprawl of rectangular buildings, a soccer stadium and a few ho-hum trees. We knew we weren't in Tuscany anymore, but still. Spoiled by views of domed churches, grand bridges, and cypress trees in Florence, we expected a little bit more from the Emilia-Romagna region.
"Well, at least we got our step count up," we thought, pulling up my Fitbit app to see what was sure to be a soaring figure.
We weren't even close to the 20,000 steps we'd taken easily the previous couple of days.
Laughing at ourselves, we looked at the view from other angles (it didn't improve much), checked out the church, and heaved back down the pathway, sweating and trying to remember, "Why did we come here again?"
As it turned out, we ended up loving the Fat, Red, and Learned City. After a post-hike shower and a quick nap in the hotel, Mom and I re-emerged at feeding time and were delighted to discover that you don't need to see Bologna from a hilltop church to enjoy its beauty; it's all right there on the ground! (Mostly in the form of tortellini, tagliatelle, and ravioli, but with other non-edible advantages too.)
Discovering countless lively places to drink spritzes and eat shiny cured meats, we settled on... none other than Signorvino Bologna, irresistibly situated right in front of the Cathedral of San Pietro. (It's funny because this is a chain wine bar that we frequent in Florence.) Polishing off a plate of charred octopus and a bottle of Lambrusco as the sky changed colors, we felt new again — and just maybe even ready to take another hike.
Other top moments involve almost slightly less walking but just as much sweating. There was the day we spontaneously took a trip to Rome solely to eat our favorite strozzapreti pasta with guanciale, zucchini flowers, and pecorino cheese from Osteria da Fortunata. We cleaned our plates of every last nugget of salty pork cheek, then spent the rest of the afternoon taking selfies in front of the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, and Spanish Steps. This post-lunch tour de Rome lasted only a couple of hours because we were too full to move. Regretting nothing, we took the train back to Florence feeling fat and happy.
Of all the towers we climbed (two) and grand inclines we scaled (maybe three) during our herculean 10-day vacation, Giotto's bell tower in Florence rewarded with the best view. We'd climbed it years ago but were able to appreciate it so much more now that we can gleefully point to and name almost every major building in sight. Scanning the city from afar, we reminisced about every place we'd explored, from Santa Croce and San Miniato al Monte to Forte di Belvedere and even Signorvino peeking out from the other side of the Arno River. I couldn't think of a better way to end our time together.
Through every instance of unexpected rainfall, delayed trains, and indigestion, our spirits remained high. We shared meals in bliss even as Mom made unsettling moaning noises and I hoarded all of the sparkling water. I put up with her snoring, and she put up with my random bouts of moodiness. Our days flew by, each more fun than the last, until the 10th arrived and it was time for her to fly home.
Luckily, we can still share meals and moments together over FaceTime.
But now I have to cut my own toenails.