I have been in Europe for nearly six weeks now. I have spent most of my time in Italy but have also traveled to Switzerland and Slovenia. I never thought I would have an opportunity to do this again. In college, I studied abroad in Australia for a semester, but as an adult I have always been “too busy” and “too responsible” to take this much time off of work. Then, life happened. My health faltered, and my husband’s company gives its employees sabbaticals. It was the perfect combination that caused us to drop everything and explore the world.
This trip has been an incredible experience for my family. There have been so many amazing moments. It has given us a chance to slow down and reflect on our lives, spend quality time with each other and experience the world together.
During all of our travels, I have noticed a theme.
It is abundant. It is everywhere, just waiting to slow down.
In America, everything is about productivity: climbing the ladder, doing more and being more. We are all overcommitted and over stimulated. No wonder our country is full of anxiety, depression, anger, hate, perfectionism and obesity.
Life is different here. No one here is in a rush. Time has slowed down.
This is a place where people still take time to enjoy their coffee. I first noticed this when we were traveling from Venice to Ljubljana. I wanted to stop and get coffee and then keeping driving to our destination. When we stopped at a rest stop, I noticed people sitting outside drinking their coffee in mugs. It took me a long time to understand what they were doing. They were taking a break while traveling – they weren’t trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. They were enjoying the journey. Since then, I have learned that taking your coffee “to go” is the exception, not the rule. In fact, many of the cafes I went to didn’t have coffee “to go” at all. And when I asked, the person behind the counter shook his or her head at me in disappointment.
In the major cities, like Rome, Milan, Florence, Ljubljana, Lucerne and Interlaken, I rarely saw someone with his or her head down, looking at a cell phone. I was shocked. I didn’t realize that I was so used to seeing people interact on their devices that I nearly forgot what it was like without them. People smile at each other. Not the quick, fake smiles but genuine, thoughtful smiles. In the car, drivers stay in their lane, and there is less honking and anger.
In some places throughout Italy, like Lake Como, stores (even major grocery stores) close for two to three hours in the middle of the day for lunchtime. Yes, they have several hours for lunch: to relax, nap and enjoy life. This is unheard of at home. So, like any good American, I was initially frustrated by this. Prior to realizing this was the norm, we arrived at the grocery store five minutes after it closed. This would be no big deal, except to get to a grocery store from where we were staying was an adventure. We could take the train (after walking three miles straight downhill, and if we missed it, we would have to wait an hour), hike for two hours across the mountain or take a 20-minute cab ride. Eventually, we learned to plan our trips. We learned to slow down and enjoy the time in between. Rather than be angry, we played at the beach or in the park for a few hours, laughed as we ate gelato or walked around town, holding hands and exploring.
When deadlines, technology and things that honestly don’t matter do not distract us, time slows down. I never would have imagined it was this simple until I experienced it myself. This is what being present means: giving yourself more time. I have spent many years of my life rushing around, working myself up because I thought I was running out of time. The truth is: time is what we make it. We can choose to pause and enjoy what is around us or keep wishing for more as it passes us by.
If you want to read more about my six-week journey in Europe, check out my blog at www.katemihevcedwards.com. The website is still under construction, but the blog is readable!