In just a few weeks, I will be in Italia, land of lovers and linguine. The first week, I will hike the Dolomite mountains with my friend, Debbie, then will meander on my own for a few days (location TBD at this point), then spend a week at a yoga retreat. I’ll round the trip out by connecting again with Debbie (and a friend of hers) as well as Cordula, my long-time friend from Germany in Venice for a few days.

Whew! What a trip.

And so as the clock ticks, I make packing lists of what essentials to fit in my backpack, read guide books trying to find the quintessential tiny Italian town I absolutely can’t miss, and soak up photos of Italy on Instagram. Here’s what I’m looking forward to most.

1. The Challenge of Hiking for 7 Days

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I have to confess: hiking with a backpack for days on end was never my goal in life. I picked up Cheryl Strayed’s Wild reluctantly, figuring I wouldn’t really connect with a story of a woman who set out a goal of hiking long-term. Turns out it became an instant favorite. And here I am, about to do something similar (albeit for far, far less time than she did), with a divorce of my own to work through as I trudge up the trail in the gorgeous Italian mountains.

I blame my friend Debbie. Last year, she asked me to go with her on this trip whe another friend had to cancel. It didn’t work out then, but we decided to plan it for this year. It felt a game of chicken: would one of us back down? But then I glommed onto the idea. If I could survive hiking at 10,000 feet elevation for a week and not need an airlift out of there, I would feel pretty accomplished. And so for the past several months, I’ve been training and working out like crazy, in an effort not to disappoint Debbie and force her to leave me in a hospital in the mountains.

Add to all this the recent upheaval of my marriage, and this trip just feels right, like it’ll provide me the clarity to see a wonderful future of travel and experiences ahead of me. And yes, before you ask, I will be writing a book about my trip!

2. Speaking Italian

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I grew up a die-hard Francophile. I sequestered my mother’s high school Berlitz French lesson book and struggled to teach myself a few rudimentary phrases. By college, I was much more confident, having studied throughout high school and then majored in the language. I’ve been to France several times. Studied in Belgium. But recently, I’ve questioned: is that all there is? Am I limited to speaking one language fairly well (and Spanish asi-asi)?

Something made me start studying Italian about three years ago. It was a whim; I didn’t see myself traveling there. But then it became fun, and not as hard as I anticipated. I began dedicating more time to it. I took a course at our local Italian Cultural Center this year. Now I’m self-studying and watching Italian movies in an effort to feel confident in the language.

Last year on the family trip to Provence, I spent four days in Italy. It wasn’t enough. But my language skills, sub-par to my French that they were, got me surprisingly far. I felt competent, being able to negotiate with the pharmacist or interact with the gelato guy. So I’m ready! Sono presta di parlare!

3. Eating

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What trip to Italy would be complete without its legendary cuisine? I’ve heard the food in the Dolomites is more meat-and-potato than pasta, given its proximity to Austria. Bring it. I can only imagine the hearty fare I will be shoveling in my face after hiking for 5+ hours a day. Hopefully I’ll be able to savor it as well…

I don’t have anything on my “must eat” list, other than plenty of caffelatte. I’d be curious to try pesto somewhere other than Liguria, since that’s where I developed my taste for it, and Italians swear it’s different elsewhere. Vino, sure, even though I’m a beer girl these days (and Italians don’t make good strong dark beer like I love).

It doesn’t really matter what I eat. In Italy, it’s all good.

4. Lots of Yoga

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I’ve taken 1- or 2-day yoga retreats, but never one as long as a week. I’m looking forward to stretching my body with the Tuscan countryside as my backdrop. After a physically challenging week hiking, yoga and meditation should do me good. There are tons of extracurricular activities at the retreat that I’m excited about, like seeing an Opera in Lucca (where composer Puccini was from), visiting Cinque Terre, taking cooking classes, and more. Hopefully I’ll make time for some reflection and journaling.

5. Being Out of Space and Time

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I don’t know if it’s like this for you, but when I travel, I feel removed from the world. I’m a million miles away from my business (as well as several time zones), and even daily concerns like walking the dog or making sure my son doesn’t have too much screen time melt away. I’m somewhere between worlds and time. Facebook, surprisingly, keeps me connected to what’s happening in that “other” world. It’s always a shock to read about some major news story when I’m traveling, because it feels like nothing significant can happen while I’m in this magical bubble of discovery.

And so I’m counting the days until this legendary trip becomes reality. Stay tuned for plenty of reflections, photos, and stories!