Trains, hikes, and death by pasta

Well, where do I start? Italy day 2 has been a doozy.

It began lovely enough. This morning I took a long hike, took a wrong turn, and discovered a little town I’ve never been to before. So many things that are completely reasonable on Cinque Terre trails would never fly in the states. Yes, the trails are marked, but it’s easy to take a scenic detour into someone’s olive grove (or wind up on another trail altogether as they are marked identically). You’re lucky if you have any sort of railing separating your narrow path from a nasty-looking drop, or if whoever is in charge of the trails bothered to patch over the rubble from a minor landslide. That being said, sometimes the mistakes that happen when you’re hiking are ultimately happy accidents, especially when your wrong turn leads you somewhere interesting and new.

There’s something incredibly empowering about hiking, especially on challenging trails. This is partly because, like way too many women, I have the tendency to be critical of my body. It’s hard not to be in 2016; the vast majority of people my age share similar insecurities no matter what they actually look like. However, when you’re off climbing mountains in the Italian riviera, things get put in perspective. How could I be angry at a body that carries me up steep trails, over mountains, and keeps me afloat in the Ligurian sea? On days where I am feeling less than secure, I remind myself of these things.

I got into Manarola just in time for lunch, and after winding down on a rock in the harbor, I decided to find some pasta. This is when the adventure went from the good kind of exciting to the kind of exciting that makes for a great story later but is awful in the moment. For those who aren’t aware, I have a handful of annoying food allergies. They’re not of the trendy, vague-gluten-intolerance variety; if I eat something on my personal blacklist, I can go into anaphylactic shock. The list is a little longer than I’d like: eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, and shellfish all make me very sick even in trace amounts, and I carry an Epi-Pen with me everywhere I go. Yes, I am aware that the girl who just moved to Italy is horribly allergic to tomato. Yes, I’m also aware that this means I can’t eat normal pizza. Yes, it sucks a lot. You don’t have to remind me.

Anyways, I find a cafe and confirm with the chef that their pesto trofie dish doesn’t contain egg, but I don’t mention potato, tomato, or shellfish. I’m self-conscious enough about bringing up even one allergy because I don’t want to sound like a picky, entitled American. I’m also aware that, even as far as allergies go, my personal list is pretty out there. Also, I wasn’t as concerned as I should have been considering that I’ve eaten trofie con pesto many times in the Cinque Terre before. I get my pasta, it’s wonderful, and about 10 minutes later I notice I have a very strange sensation in my throat. Uh-oh.

I’m not sure how or why, but I’m pretty sure the pasta dish contained potato. Thankfully, that allergy is by far the least severe of the four. There’s no emergency hospitalization or breathing issues. Instead, I just get pain in my throat and back (what does that even mean?!) and look like Kylie Jenner’s genetically short-changed cousin for the rest of the day.

Of course at first I thought I’d eaten egg, which my most severe allergy and also unfortunately the most commonly used. I was able to get to a pharmacy, tell the pharmacist what the problem was, and buy anti-histamines only speaking Italian. When the reaction didn’t worsen, I realized that potato had to be the culprit, and things went from scary to just plain annoying. I swallowed the antihistamines, took my swollen and itchy self back to Vernazza, and tried to avoid eye contact on the train so as not to inspire concerned looks/fear in small children.

The ordeal was ultimately another lesson that, even if things seem overwhelming or scary, I am capable of taking care of myself in sticky situations (even if I’m in those situations thanks to my own stupidity). It was also strangely humbling; my body can carry me up steep trails, but it can also be poisoned by a simple bowl of pasta. Seriously, the danger in this situation wasn’t the mountains I climbed, it was the meal I ate when I was done. This entire day could be a missing verse from that Alanis Morissette song about irony. My body can do some pretty impressive things, but all hell can break loose over a perfectly normal ingredient. Admittedly, that lunch may or may not have been worth it as it was the best trofie I’ve ever eaten. It’s probably because of the potato, though. You win some, you lose some?

Please don’t take this as a complaint; despite one bad day, I know how good I have it. However, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that things got even weirder from there. I hurt my hip of all things in the overcrowded chaos that is the high season Cinque Terre at lunch (any other time of the day is lovely!). Even as I type this, I still look like I had really bad botox from the lingering effects of the allergic reaction. Thanks to a train that decided to show up half an hour late (welcome to Italy), I missed my connection to Rome and had to sit in the McDonald’s of the teeny La Spezia station for two and a half hours, which is going to put me at my hotel around 11PM (I am still on a train as I write this). Finally, while sitting in that McDonald’s, a song came on that reminded me of something upsetting that happened when I left for Europe. It was then that the sadness and fears about leaving came rushing back, all of the day’s frustration boiled over, and I broke down in tears. In public. For the second time in two days. In a McDonald’s. My life is nothing if not glamorous.

But then something else happened. A man came over to use the outlet behind my table, and when he saw that I was upset, he sat down with me and asked if I wanted to talk. Honestly I didn’t; it’s rare that I want to talk about feelings when I’m that unhappy, much less to a stranger. However, considering that I was in tears in an Italian McDonald’s with eyes still partially swollen shut, I figured I didn’t have any dignity left anyways and told him left yes. I’m glad that I did. I briefed him on my day, he listened, and we began a conversation that lasted until I finally got on the train. It turns out that we are both recent art school graduates from the South who are staying in European cities for a while; I am in Florence, he is in Prague. We had similar taste in music and an abundance of wacky travel stories to exchange.

Just like in the pasta situation, it demonstrates the potentially huge effects of life's random happenings. An act of kindness from a stranger can make a bad day seem a whole lot more bearable. These little events are what I love most about traveling; at the end of the day, my faith in human compassion always grows stronger. Now I’m finally in Fiumicino for one night before an early flight tomorrow. I couldn’t find a taxi queue so the airport hotel called me one, and a charismatic older man from London shared his beer with me while I waited for it. I was able to speak in only (admittedly mangled) Italian with the driver and the owner of my bed and breakfast. I’m not letting myself get caught up in the insignificant problems. Ultimately the things that matter are that I am safe, I am healthy, and perfect days are boring anyways.

There are no real-camera pictures from today, but since I was rocking Kylie Jenner lips for the afternoon, I thought it was appropriate to take a Snapchat selfie. This photo embodies my generation at its worst. You’re welcome, internet.

And with that, I bid you buonanotte.