It’s 4:15 am; Mark and I woke at 2:30 after a very fitful night (for me, anyway) so that we can pack, clean up the house, finish some work, and be on the road to the airport by 10. We want to be really tired when we get on the plane so that we can sleep as much as possible on this trip. The last time I went to Italy I could not sleep at all, and I was miserable. This time I am taking a sleep aid and hopefully will sleep most of the way to Paris.

Ah yes, Paris. We fly in and land there around 8:30 in the morning (11:30 tonight for all of you). We have about an hour and a half to get through customs and on the connection to Florence. I WILL be having a croissant or a crepe at the airport! I mean come on, it IS Paris! It will be the same general drill on the return flight, which means that we are going to Paris twice this year! Unfortunately we won’t get out of the airport.

My rest was extremely fitful all night as my mind played out every possible and impossible reason that I should not be leaving for 2 weeks. It is that part of my mind that is loud and critical and likes to point out every single thing I do wrong, or at least that I could have done better. It is not my favorite part of my mind. I tried reminding my mind that after all, this was YOUR bright idea! It didn’t work. My mind is a bit stubborn and ridiculous at times. So I tossed and turned and tried to reason with the encroaching anxiety. Luckily, I am not worried at all about the restaurant. I know our team will take fabulous care of it and they will make us proud. It’s more about really big stuff that I could not affect change for in the next 2 weeks, anyway! Which is why it is ridiculous… also I will really miss my kitties. Yes, I AM one of THOSE people. This is all fairly normal for me before a major event in my life and let me tell you, this trip is MAJOR. I am realizing dreams with this trip, and I am hosting 19 other people (including Mark) and I picked the itinerary so I hope they like it! No, I hope they LOVE it!

I was 17 when I graduated high school and turned 18 just before heading off to a college dorm. It was what I wanted to do and what I thought I was supposed to do. Others I knew traveled and I dreamed of the day that I would have my very own passport and my very own Eurail pass and I would backpack through Europe. Life moved on and I went with it, always envious of those I knew who did that, and never realizing that it was something that I could choose to do. It was something others did; that I would do some day. I had an amazing art history teacher in high school (thank you Helen Bedtelyen) who took me, and several others, to NYC for a week long lesson. We hit the streets with our notebooks early every morning and did assignments on the architecture, art, culture, history and life of the city. I had my first drink in a bar there. I went to a Broadway play by myself, dressed to the nines, and had a blast. We saw shows almost every night, some off-off Broadway, and really experienced the city to it’s fullest. New York City remains in my heart to this day.

I had been to Mexico and Canada and a couple of other states, and that was it. Then 3 and half years ago I started a new life with the cafe and I met Doumina Whyman. I came to learn that she owned a business calledThe Enthusiastic Traveler and she guided tours in Italy. Ah yes, my old dream. She was astounded at how well I knew Italy and that I had never been. Everything I knew was based on books, movies, and other peoples’ experiences. One day as we talked of Italy and my dream of going she exclaimed “Why have you never been?!?” and I told her that it was just something that I always thought I would get to and never really thought I could go right now. Doumina scoffed and told me that enough was enough, I was going to Italy. With her. In October. I laughed… I just started this business! I couldn’t possibly leave for Italy! She somehow convinced me that a woman who could quit her job and start a whole new career could find a way to go to Italy for 2 weeks. So I did. It was actually good timing, since I was so new at the business I didn’t yet know the extent of the work that was involved with it. My naivety made it easier to go. The caveat: Mark could not go with me. This was to be a research trip, making contacts for the cafe and learning about running the business. I was successful in that, for sure.

I wept tears of joy nearly every day I was there. Doumina took me to Siena the second day I was there and I came out of the basilica with tears streaming down my face. She asked me what happened and I told her that I just couldn’t believe I was finally here! I was seeing art by artists I had known for 20 years and it was the real stuff not books! She still teases me today, admonishing ‘don’t cry!’ every time we talk about something we will do in Italy. Even with all that joy I knew that I could not enjoy it to the fullest without Mark to share it with. I had to go back and I wanted it to be with him.

Here we are 2 years and 11 months after that trip, and we are going back. I will cry again I am sure, for I will be seeing things AGAIN that I dreamed of for so long! And I will see new things as well. This is a working trip, as we are hosting 18 people on a week long tour. My parents are 2 of those people who signed up for this and are relying on us to provide an amazing experience for them. I have no doubt that it will be wonderful, as I have seen Doumina’s work in person. She has made contacts with locals who tell us about what we are seeing in a magical way. They live there, work there, and love there! And they are sharing that all with us for a little while. We will be an intimate group and I can’t wait for everyone to taste Italy the way the locals there do.

You can see our itinerary here and follow us on the tour. Mark, my parents and I are all hitting Florence for 4 days and then on Tuesday we will take the train to Terontola, just outside of Cortona, and Doumina will pick us up to take us to our agriturismo, so that we can be there first to greet all the others. The tour officially begins on Wednesday. As soon as we are settled in Florence I will head out to the little store that sells phone cards and, as I understand it, mobile internet connections. That way we will be able to keep in touch with the cafe every day, and I will still be able to do the administrative stuff that runs the cafe. So yes, scoff if you want to, but I WILL be working each day.

Keep us company on this trip and check back for our updates. If you want to post comments or email questions we will respond to them. Please keep visiting the cafe while we are gone, the team is going to need your company! When we get back we have an event at the cafe on the 24th w/Italian chef and cookbook author Roberto Russo, who is always entertaining and charming. I am also busy planning next year’s trip and I hope that 18 of you want to join us for it! It will be a little the same and a little different, and no matter what it will be FABULOUS! The focus will still be local food, wine, art and culture, and we are adding the Piedmont region to the adventure. We will visit the Slow Food University and the Wine Vault, among other things.

So until tomorrow…