Tag Archives: Italy

Living inside a Bucket List

Paul was reviewing his bucket list recently – I wonder what he’ll be up for next? – and wanted to share some of his observations.

Film poster for The Bucket List – Copyright 2007, Warner Bros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Film poster for The Bucket List – Copyright 2007, Warner Bros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Bucket list: a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.”  From the phrase “kick the bucket”, slang for “die”.  The origin of this term is obscure, but I’m sure it was around before it was popularized by the 2007 film The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Despite the end-of-life reference, you don’t have to be at death’s door to benefit from a bucket list.  For this reason, some refer to the concept as a “Life List”.

I started mine three years ago, after some inner wisdom and a wise coach pointed me in that direction.  I’ve been reviewing it lately as Cheryl and I prioritize some upcoming travel goals.  Should we climb to Machu Picchu, explore the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, go on a safari in the African savannah of Botswana, visit Lithuania and meet with someone bearing my old family name, or take tango lessons in Argentina?  Next, that is.

Creating a life list has had a big impact on my life, on too many levels to relate.  This blog is one result, both direct & indirect.  Others are more elemental.

Venice is the place to be if learning Italian's on your list

Venice is the place to be if learning Italian’s on your list

At the time I created the list, I wrote the following:

My list grew slowly at first.  I didn’t want to clutter my list with things I thought I should want to do, but didn’t yearn for.  No “nice ideas”;  no “everyone should want this.”  I was careful to make sure everything I added met the requirement:  was this honestly something I would regret not doing?  A final indicator was a certain feeling of “Yes!” when something passed the test:  it had been on my unspoken list all along.  After a couple of weeks, my list had six items on it.  Two weeks later, it had grown almost sevenfold.

Of course, using the list has led to some adventures.  I finally flew in a fixed-wing glider, after watching yearningly from below for over 50 years.  It was a great experience, and I’m keeping it on the list for at least one more ride over the mountains on thermals.  (Once Cheryl’s forgotten about that fatal glider accident last summer.)  Climbing the Mayan pyramid at Cobá led to an interesting episode, which I chronicled in another post.

Committed now and waiting for the tow plane

Committed now and waiting for the tow plane

My list also enabled me to take action on some health items I’d been putting off for years.  Losing over 40 pounds in 2010 gave me a great sense of achievement and inspired several friends to achieve their own weight-loss goals.  I’m sure it also contributed to my overall health as nothing else has.

Creating a bucket list also gave me much clearer insight about where I wanted my life to go in general.  Although it wasn’t foreordained, more than half of the item on my list ended up travel related.  The name of this blog is no accident!

But the outcome both memorable and unexpected is the quality of experience that a “bucket day” brings me.  On several days when I’ve ticked off an item, the ticking itself took only an hour or two, but the whole day was infused with a kind of magic.  Three years later, I remember vividly the sense I had walking to the bus stop to my appointment with Item Number One.  The whole sky was electric, the trees alive, my own steps a mix of excitement and trepidation.  In some ways, the event itself was anticlimactic.  While bungee-jumping is not on my bucket list – never say never – I can imagine that the split-second of commitment, the instant between starting to step forward and actually becoming airborne may be the moment one remembers best.

Item Number 5 - San Miniato al Monte, near Florence

Item Number 5 – San Miniato al Monte, near Florence

On a recent trip to Florence, Italy, I had a chance to tick off another item.  I had always wanted to visit the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte and ask for the keys to the church.  The reasons were somewhat obscure, and Cheryl would often rib me about my obsession.  Still, on a fine September day, we set out to make the ascent to the hilltop site overlooking Florence – Firenze in Italian.  As seemed befitting, I suggested we make the entire trip by foot, which had it take all day.  I remember that day like yesterday: walking along the banks of the River Arno on a Sunday morning while scores of fishermen relaxed on the grassy banks, encountering a colorful fund-raising run near the Piazzale Michelangelo, catching ever more breathtaking views of Firenze as we climbed the hill towards the Basilica.  The whole day was lit up, and remains my favourite day of our whole trip to Italy.  Even Cheryl thinks it was one of the best.

Once again, the moment of completion faded into relative obscurity.  Upon reaching the church, I located the first official I could find – the Olivetan friar who was manning the gift store – went up to him, showed him my ID, and asked in my best Italian, “Per favore, le chiavi?”  May I have the keys, please?  I earned nothing more than a bemused look from the friar, but what cared I?  My mission was complete!  Item Number Five:  Tick!

By that time, I had learned that ticking off the item on your bucket list isn’t the real juice.  It’s how life shifts the moment you add to the list, with the intention to make real, something you’ve only been dreaming about.

View over Florence from San Miniato al Monte

View over Florence from San Miniato al Monte

Ready to create your own bucket list?  Here are some resources to get you started:

  • One inspiring list-maker was John Goddard, who died this year at the age of 89.  Known as the “real Indiana Jones”, at age 15, he created a list of 127 far-reaching goals, and spent the rest of his life achieving a great many of them.
  • The end of another day of magic

    The end of another day of magic

    There are now several sites devote to publishing and sharing your life list – please let us know what you think if you try any of them:

And some contrary positions that may help you avoid some of the pitfalls.  I think it’s all in how you hold your list:

 

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Couchsurfing on a Feather Duvet

When we told our senior friends we were going Couchsurfing in Provence, many of them had never even heard of Couchsurfing.  Most of the rest expressed strong reservations about crashing on someone’s uncomfortable couch.  By the time we headed for the airport, we were confident we’d find more comfortable sleeping arrangements.

Couchsurfing.org is one of the more popular “hospitality exchanges”.  These sites and organizations offer travelers around the world short-stay accommodation with local hosts, with no expectation other than the pleasure of each other’s company…  and maybe some help with dinner.  The fundamental premise is that the cultural exchange is a two-way street, and the hosts should enjoy the experience as much as the travelers.

There are a number of hospitality exchanges, and some might be more suitable for the older traveler.  If you “surf” with a 20-something host, there’s a good chance you will be sleeping on a couch.  The average age of a Couchsurfer is 28, and only about 3% of users are over 50.  Still with about 5 million members, that’s 150,000 “golden age” surfers and hosts.

The view from our balcony in Provence

The view from our balcony in Provence

We decided to search hosts who were couples over 50, something fairly easy to do on the site.  We also restricted our searches to “verified” profiles with pictures, and read all the references carefully.  The listings generally indicated that their offer of accommodation was at least a private bedroom.  Still, to be on the safe side, we decided to try it out nearby before heading to France.  (We’d done the same thing with AirBnB.)  Our first Couchsurfing experience was in the seaside town of Sequim, Washington.  Our host, Teresa, was both interesting and gracious, and the accommodation offered us by our new friend was as good as any an old friend might provide.  After one more local test run, we were ready to try Europe.

Our chosen hosts in Avignon included facility with English on their profile, so we figured we could revert to our native tongue if our fractured French was found wanting.  In our message exchange before our arrival, we were careful always to include a Google Translate French translation of every message we sent.  It turned out to be unnecessary as our hosts were fluent in English.

Roussillon, the "Colorado of Provence", was one of the many local sites we visited with our hosts in Avignon

Roussillon, the “Colorado of Provence”, was one of the many local sites we visited with our hosts in Avignon

We were pleasantly surprised with the responses we got from our query.  Another host who couldn’t accommodate us went out of her way to recommend nearby B&Bs and restaurants:  “Tell them Pauline sent you.”  We received an unsolicited offer of accommodation from a retired judge who’d spent six months in our hometown years earlier.  By then we were already “booked” with the couple we’d selected.

Our hosts, Monique and Jean-Paul, had offered to meet us at the boat docks – later switched to the train station due to flooding on the Rhône.  We easily spotted each other, and much to our delight, they proceeded to drive us – with a few sightseeing stops en route – to a 400-year old Provençal six-bedroom farmhouse, hidden away on a quiet country lane, and surrounded by vinyards and fruit trees.  Our “couch” turned out to be a very comfortable bed in a second-story bedroom with ensuite, balcony overlooking the gardens, and kitchen facilities.  The kitchen was

This farmhouse in Tuscany was a wonderful oasis

This farmhouse in Tuscany was a wonderful oasis

hardly needed as our hosts fed us delicious healthy home-cooked French cuisine three meals a day for our entire stay.  In addition, they drove us to many area attractions – including some we’d never heard of, and certainly would never have visited but for their hospitality.  What’s more, given their patience with our halting efforts, our French improved dramatically over just two days – although it never got anywhere near as good as their English.

Our visit to Avignon was a perfect example of the objectives of hospitality exchanges.  We talked about many subjects over our two days, comparing French ways of doing things to those back home – not to mention all the other countries that each of us had visited.  Like many Couchsurfers, our hosts were globetrotters, so we had the chance to live their adventures vicariously – as did they with ours..  And pick up some tips for the road.  It was the most memorable two days of our entire trip.  Couchsurfing will be high on our list for our next trip.  We’d recommend it for yours.

Maddalena shows Paul around the cheese operation

Maddalena shows Paul around the cheese operation

If you still feel uncomfortable and are looking for ways to start gradually, there are some alternatives you might try.  One is a much older hospitality exchange called Servas.

Servas has been around since just after World War II.  In many ways, it’s similar to Couchsurfing, but “older”.  Servas chapters operate independently in each country, and maintain paper lists of hosts.  Only gradually and tentatively are they experimenting with Internet directories.  Travelers must supply two letters of reference and be interviewed by a local Servas volunteer before receiving their official “letter of introduction” and the directory of hosts for their target countries.  In our experience, the average age of Servas hosts is older, perhaps even in the 50+ range.  The Servas accommodation we’ve seen has generally been at least a spare bedroom, if not more.

We were Servas members before we joined Couchsurfing, our second membership because the latter offered more convenient access via the Internet.  We still love Servas and have had great adventures with them as well, including a stay in a remote organic sheep-cheese farm in Tuscany, and a cozy family apartment on the Italian Riviera.  In both these stays, we had lots of

Barbara showed us the local shopping on the Riviera

Barbara showed us the local shopping on the Riviera

time for local sightseeing.  (One memorable experience at the last place was witnessing a typical argument between the mother and her teenaged daughter.  Out of deference to their guests, they switched from Italian to making points in English, leaving the father scratching his head … since he only spoke Italian and Genoese!)

Another way to ease in to the hospitality exchange concept is to arrange for a “day host” as it’s known in Servas.  (Couchsurfing has a similar concept.)  A day host meets a traveler during the day for a few hours to show them around, or engage in some joint activity.  For instance, while in Florence, we arranged to meet for capuccinos with a Servas day host who turned out to be a professional tour guide.  Surprisingly, we didn’t end up picking his brains for tips on the Uffizi Gallery, but instead learned of his excitement about the family’s impending trip to Colombia to adopt a young girl.

Cinque Terre was a day-trip from their place

Cinque Terre was a day-trip from their place

Is there an obligation to host in return for being hosted?  Not in Couchsurfing nor in Servas.  It’s more of a “karma” thing;  I’m sure there’s a special hell reserved for travelers who never host.  Perhaps it’s an endless stay in a characterless chain hotel.  But most travelers enjoy hosting as much as visiting.  After all, most of us can’t travel all the time, and hosting is inexpensive way to experience the world from the comfort of your own home.  In the year and a half we’ve belonged to Couchsurfing, and the longer time we’ve been Servas members, we’ve hosted more often than we’ve traveled.  And enjoyed every one.  We’ll share a few recent hosting adventures in a future post.

Maybe the next one will be you?