Off Balance in Pisa
I’ve been struggling to write blog posts over the past few weeks. I had some scheduled to go up while we were traveling with my parents, and I’ve been doing a decent amount of paid writing, but with my two sites, I’m blocked. So I thought maybe if I got all of this out of my head and dismissed my normal attempt at being chronological, it might help. Andy and I are a little more than halfway through our month in Pisa, and it’s not going so well.
I’m sure Pisa is a wonderful city. From the little I’ve seen of the center, it looks like an interesting Tuscan city with plenty of shops and restaurants. I can tell there’s more to it than just the famous leaning tower.
But we’re not in the center.
The apartment we rented is cute and functional, and despite the uncomfortable, firm bed, there’s nothing really bad about it. Before we committed to it, we noted that there was a bus stop just around the corner, and it’s just a 10 minute ride to the train station and the center of the city.
But living and working remotely in Italy also means dealing with not-so-reliable Italian public transportation. I am not a fan of buses in Italy. For the most part, the bus should come every 10 minutes, but sometimes it doesn’t show up for 20 minutes, and sometimes there are two back-to-back. And in a country where most people don’t eat dinner until 9pm, why do the buses in Pisa stop running around 8:30? So we often end up walking, which takes 25-30 minutes and doesn’t encourage us to go into town much.
We feel a bit trapped.
Neither of us realized just how quickly Pisa would go from a bustling city to suburban-feeling. We’re in a big, generic apartment complex, and across the street are several more big, generic apartment complexes. Also, the apartment is directly underneath the flight path. With the airport being just a few miles away, this means from the early hours of the morning until about the time we go to bed, there are loud planes close enough to feel like they could be landing on top of us. It’s more disturbing than I ever would’ve imagined.
The closest grocery store is tiny, doesn’t carry much, and seems to only get the beat up produce that’s a day away from going bad. So we often take the bus a couple miles down the road to the big store, which is at least as big as grocery stores in the US. It’s a huge, crowded, chaotic place and we get stressed out just going in. Ironically, the only aisle that ever feels calm and empty is the pasta aisle.
On the weekends, we’ve been exploring. We went to Lucca our first Saturday here. Andy went back two days the following weekend for the comic festival while I went to Cinque Terre. This weekend we’re going to Siena, and as a bonus, Andy found a steam train that runs through Tuscany only a handful of times per year, and it’s going this Sunday from Siena. Next weekend we’ll pick another town for a day trip. Then when we leave our rental in mid November, we’re going to Cortona for a couple days.
While that all sounds great, the balance is off. We spend most of our days working because we need to earn money to pay for our lives. So it feels like we’ve given up our comfy home to work and live in a less comfortable apartment, in a neighborhood devoid of character, just to see a few glimpses of Italy one or two days a week. It doesn’t feel like a good trade-off to be here and not get to spend much time seeing the place. During our 33 days in Tuscany, we’ll get about eight or nine days of exploring. I want either the comfort of my own home or the enjoyment of traveling, and right now both are lacking.
Something’s gotta change.
We’ve tried working and traveling at the same time, always coming to the conclusion that we were traveling too fast. This time we’ve slowed things down, but it’s still not working right. Maybe living in a city for a month or two while we still have to work only fits with cities we’ve already been to. Or maybe it only fits with bigger cities where we can do plenty of exploring in small chunks throughout the week in addition to the weekends. Maybe working and traveling at the same time isn’t our thing.
For now, we’re looking forward to our upcoming two and a half week, laptop-free trip to Morocco. And hopefully Sevilla will work out better for us for mid December to mid February.
Certain ideas we had for next year have flown out the window. New ideas are marinating in our minds. It’s all scary and confusing and frustrating. Basically, we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.
But we’ll keep trying.
You might also enjoy:
- How Much We Spent Living in Pisa for One Month and Traveling in Tuscany
- Scenes From Lucca, Italy
- Scenes From Siena, Italy and a Steam Train Through Tuscany
- My Solo Weekend in Cinque Terre
November 7, 2014 @ 8:35 AM
I totally relate to this post. My partner and I have been trying this, balancing fast traveling and month-long stays to do more work. When we travel too fast, we’re exhausted and don’t do anything. But sometimes we wind up in cities that we don’t fit with, but we’ve already paid for a month apartment. We stayed in a suburb of Edinburgh for a month and I felt so trapped! However, we finally found an excellent place in Morocco. We’ve spent last three weeks in a coastal town called Essaouira. We intended to stay one week and we’re only just leaving today. Our new strategy is we’ll show up somewhere we think we want to stay, but only rent a place for 3 nights to test it out. Then, if we want to stay longer, we’ll just extend the reservation by one more week, and so on. But this probably works much better during in low season in less expensive countries. We plan on trying it in Istanbul and I’m not sure if it will work out! Good luck!
November 7, 2014 @ 1:15 PM
Thanks Emiko! It’s nice to know others can relate, though I’m also sorry that you can relate! Travel is tough sometimes, definitely not as glamorous as it looks from the outside. I like your idea of booking just a few nights and then deciding once you get there if you want to stay longer. That wouldn’t always work for us while we’re working because we need more stability, but I could definitely do that on trips when we were just traveling. We did that a few times in SE Asia this past winter, might have to try it again. Istanbul is a great city, at least we loved it when we were there for 5 days a few years ago. I hope you enjoy your time there and eat lots of delicious food!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
November 7, 2014 @ 2:20 PM
Oh Ali, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been struggling to find your groove in Pisa. We visited for 2 days this summer and really enjoyed the city, but it’s a university town that is small and pretty quiet. I’m not sure that you would feel all that different about it if you were right in the center (though I’m sure that would help a little bit).
Thank you for airing your struggles with finding the sweet spot in the work-travel conundrum. As we start trying to figure out our next trip (with dogs in tow!), one of my biggest worries is how we’ll manage to see what we want while also maintaining our routines that allow us to get work done. Because we’re considering Mexico, a country neither of us has ever been to, I suspect it’s going to be a challenge because we have no idea what we should expect and there will be SO MUCH we want to see and do. If we were just heading back to Vietnam or Thailand or somewhere in Asia that was really familiar, I think I’d be a lot less nervous.
Anyway, I’m sorry to hear this month hasn’t been panning out as you hoped, but I’m glad to hear you’re not throwing in the towel. If this isn’t working for you, try something else! Eventually you’ll find your right balance.
November 7, 2014 @ 10:45 PM
Thanks Steph! It really is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I do think a lot of it is our location, and if we were in the center, even though Pisa is small, it’s still a city and we would be closer to a grocery store, restaurants, etc. That wouldn’t help the fact that I feel like our work/travel balance is off.
I am so interested in going to Mexico! We were so close to going last winter, but the timing felt wrong, so we put it off and went to SE Asia instead. I totally understand what you mean about wanting to see everything but having to work too. You might have to just pick your top choices and start there and see how it goes. I really hope it works out for you!
Throwing in the towel isn’t even an option. I want to travel too much for that! But I do think there will be some big changes with the way we travel.
November 7, 2014 @ 8:50 PM
Thanks for sharing this. I’m sorry you aren’t loving being there, but I am glad you’re sharing – I think we hear so many people who talk about how much they love life on the road (myself included – and I do), but it’s important for people to see the other side of that. It’s so important that people understand that full-time travel doesn’t work for everyone and people who do travel long-term have different styles that make it work for them.
November 7, 2014 @ 10:47 PM
Thanks Gigi! Traveling definitely has its wonderful moments, and I love the idea of being able to travel and work at the same time, but I’m not sure it’s working out for us. We still have 3 months left until we go home (which still sounds crazy to me) so we’ll see how it all goes, but we’re already making plans and setting goals for life once we get back. I think we’re going to change things up yet again and try a different angle.
Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren
November 9, 2014 @ 6:45 AM
Buses stop at 8:30?! In Italy?! Crazy! Your weekend trips sound amazing but I’m sorry about everything else 🙁 I hope you have an amazing (and relaxing!) time in Morocco!
I’ll be in and around Madrid towards the end of February. Let me know if you’re around!
November 10, 2014 @ 1:44 PM
Thanks Lauren! I think Pisa might just be too small to justify running the buses past 8:30. Maybe they’re mostly used by people going to and from work? And it does seem like a lot of people here have cars. If you live in the center, you don’t need a car, but you also don’t need the bus because everything is walkable. Out where we’re staying, everyone has a car. Not a good situation for us!
I think we’re going to just barely miss you in Spain! We have to be back in Freiburg by February 14 🙁
November 30, 2014 @ 6:22 AM
Ali, I’m sorry to read that things weren’t going so well for the two of you as you might had hoped. I can understand your frustration at being located away from the center of Pisa. I did the same back in late 2003/04 when I went to Sydney for New Years Eve and based myself out of a hotel at the third last train stop and a 20 minute walk from the CBD where the action was. It was frustrating to say the least and it was an impulse thing and absolutely at the last moment. I’m a different person now and wouldn’t do such a thing nowadays but you only live once.
Getting back to your situation though. Don’t feel that you have to have it all worked out yet. You and Andy I remember kinda looked at this with an open mind, almost like an experiment. When we get bogged down in must, if-onlys and shoulds, we miss what could otherwise be the beauty of the present moment.
Chalk all of this up as experience. One day you’ll look back at this whole thing and think that it was a valuable learning lesson, not that you probably don’t already.
In the meantime, I wish you the best and most pleasant of travels and work possible 🙂
December 1, 2014 @ 6:17 PM
Thanks Matthew! We definitely do NOT have it all figured out! The Pisa experience at least showed us more things we need to look for and be aware of when we search for apartments. We’ll keep making adjustments to our lives and hopefully find something that fits better one of these days. I like your line about the if-onlys and shoulds. We find ourselves doing that a lot but also trying hard not to. You’re right, it’s not worth it.
December 1, 2014 @ 7:11 PM
Just reading your response to my comment, there is one common saying amongst us Buddhist meditators that could be helpful. It is called “beginners mind”. I’m not too sure how helpful this is but I am going to give it a go anyway and try to explain the concept to you and how I think it applies to travel as well.
We have this concept called beginners mind in meditation whereby we try and maintain an open awareness of our experience as if we were doing it for the very first time. So in the context of the sort of travel that you and Andy do, I was thinking that it would be trying to recreate that sense of wonder in what you do, not that you’ve really lost that but I would also go one step further. That would be to decide in advance that whatever happens whenever you are travelling, that is okay, regardless of whether that happens to be good or bad or how inconvenient it is at the time. You could even take this further still and decide in advance that all experiences are your teacher in that they help you through a process of trial and error and learning (in other ways), as that seems to be happening anyway as I read more and more of your blog. You seem to learn from experience and apply that experience straight away to your travel and your life.
So I guess is that what I am trying to communicate here that it would be helpful to try and reduce or drop the concepts of what things are meant to be at a certain time or at least stop ruminating or brooding over them as it’s these these ideas of what things ought to be that causes us suffering. It’s not what happens but how we think, feel and towards that experience that decides whether we suffer from it or not.
There are times though that even with the best of intentions and best laid out plans that things will go awry and we will get upset by them. It happens to be more often than I would care to admit. At those times I take a step back and remembers the words of Deepak Chopra. He says “you are a human being, not a human doing”. Things will go wrong, we will get upset about those things, we may even take it out on ourselves or others but at the end of the day, we are just human and are trying to do our best as are other people (regardless of how hard this may be to believe on the worst of days). At those times we need to go easy on ourselves.
December 6, 2014 @ 4:55 PM
I love this Matthew, thank you so much! We actually have lost some of that sense of wonder (almost the exact same wording Andy uses) and we’ve been talking a lot lately about how to get that back. We’re good about looking at our mistakes and trying to avoid repeating them, but there’s a lot going on, mentally, with this trip, and I think we have some big changes coming. Thank you for your kind words, as always. Sorry it took me awhile to get to your comment, but I needed to read this today.