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ITALY: The Creation of New Memories

ITALY: The Creation of New Memories | After the Heartbreak
ITALY: The Creation of New Memories
Me standing on a balcony

Warm, tropical rain was coming down when I left home, but the sun was already shining by the time I got to the airport. This trip began like all other trips in the past…standing in queues and sitting around in an airport. I’ve done this plenty of times before, so why was my heart palpitating a little faster than usual? Why was I experiencing just a little bit of trepidation? It was because this was my very first solo trip overseas.

Before my husband Norbert died, we were experienced travellers and were looking forward to years of travelling the globe however now it is up to me to continue on alone so that when it is my turn to die, that original bucket-list we made together will be well and truly ticked off. I’ll be taking Norbert with me as I have his wedding ring around my neck.

Me holding ring

I also remind myself that women have been travelling alone for centuries! Many, many years before the movie Eat Pray Love, 19th-century explorer Isabelle Eberhardt traversed the Sahara desert disguised as a man… and Victorian scientist Mary Henrietta Kingsley made her way across West Africa in a whale-bone corset – meticulously chronicling her experiences in her journal. I’ll be chronicling my experiences too, but I decided to leave the whale-bone corsets at home.

I don’t think some people understand my driving need to travel, but it has always been there, and it hasn’t become lessened since I became a widow. In fact, there is a new desperation to see and experience everything as I know just how quickly time can run out.

We travel to learn about history, culture, and different perspectives. We journey to learn about others and, just as importantly, about ourselves. We travel to discover our differences and our similarities, and to develop an understanding of our place in the world.”

Why Do You Travel? (Solo Traveller)

Getting through some hard bits…

Collage of two photos. One with both of us and one with just me.
Same place…different life

Brisbane airport isn’t an easy place for me because it was where I gave Norbert a hug and a kiss for what turned out to be the very last time.

Again I resolutely walked past the exact spot where we had been standing, refusing to look back and give in to tears. It didn’t get any easier though as I was hanging out before my flight in the Plaza Premium Lounge…and the last time I was there was when we were leaving for our last trip together to Russia. I even took a photo of myself in that exact same spot. I made myself do that. I have found that (for me), grief is easier if I just meet the hard stuff head on. Sort of stand up to it and fiercely say in my head “I can do this! Grief…you aren’t going to beat me down!”

Alone in Dubai

I had decided to break my long-haul trip into two parts, opting for a short stay in Dubai so I could catch up on sleep as I don’t sleep well on planes.

Me in Dubai

My biggest fears about solo-travel are getting lost and dealing with public transport so with a level of trepidation I set my bags down in my hotel room and headed out to explore. Because of previous local travel I already knew that I enjoy the independence of walking alone and being inside my own head…I don’t need chit-chat along the way.

Read: Hiking the Australian Goldfields

My main mission was to get to the Burge Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world, and with luck it stood out clearly so was a fabulous landmark. I had also downloaded the Dubai Google map so despite the fact that I didn’t have wifi at this stage, I managed to find my way around. The highlight was having high tea on the 152nd floor of the Burge Khalifa! I felt so proud of myself for giving myself this new memory.

Gaining Confidence in Milan

The next morning I was back on the plane for the second leg of the trip to Milan and settled into the NYX Hotel which is right across from the Central Railway Station…very convenient!

My positive experience in Dubai gave me confidence to set out on a mission to find a small bakery that sells all gluten-free products (I have Coeliac). I was so pleased with my new-found navigation skills when I turned a corner and there it was! I was so chuffed with myself that after buying up big, I put the maps away and just followed my nose down streets that looked interesting. And I found my way back to the hotel! Woohoo!

Me in front of the Duomo
Me in front of the Duomo…woohoo…..I’m doing this!

I had booked a tour with a boutique travel company because I wasn’t quite ready for the full-on solo experience as yet and wanted some guidance. Also, it was specifically an ‘art tour’ with the opportunity to extend my watercolour skills, so was particularly appealing.

That evening I met the group who were all female and seemed nice. I still find it very difficult to engage in ‘chit chat’ though and socialising is very tiring so after our ‘welcome dinner’ at a restaurant by the Duomo, I left everyone to enjoy themselves and got myself back to the hotel on the train. (Proudly pats herself on the back). 🙂

Exploring the Italian Riviera

The town of Rapallo is on the coastline of the Italian Riviera, and was our first destination. On the first day I experienced one of those ‘pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here’ moments. The last time I had one of these was when my husband Norbert and I were riding horses across the Mongolian Steppe, on the last holiday we had together. This time I was sipping wine in the sunshine at Portofino.

Sipping wine in Portofino

I know from past experience that these moments happen mostly when travelling and are often few and far between. I appreciate and remember every one of them…but the thought flew through my mind that this time I can’t share the memory with him.

The following day we visited the Cinque Terra. The views were gorgeous, the gaily painted houses were pretty and the narrow, cobbled streets quaintly quirky…but it was disappointingly touristy.

As a large group of Chinese tourists went by led by the inevitable leader holding a flag, I experienced a sudden memory flash of Norbert in Russia, photo-bombing the official group photo of a large number of Chinese tourists by standing in line with them. We laughed hysterically about what everyone would have said about the ‘intruder’ when they got their copy of the photo. It’s strange how a benign moment can suddenly bring on a wave of grief for times now lost in the past.

Norbert photo-bombing an official group photo of a Chinese tour group.
Which one in this tour group doesn’t seem to belong? LOL

Falling in Love with Lake Como

I fell in love with this area as soon as we arrived. The lake is a large, serene waterscape dotted with small boats and surrounded by numerous picturesque little villages. The backdrop is the soaring, snow-capped Italian Alps. Just stunning….and I was ready for the peace.

I was travelling with a group and so was making an effort to be sociable and keep up with all the group activities. As a natural introvert I’ve never found socialising to be an easy task however in my ‘new life’ it has become even harder and I find I crave mental and emotional space.

I had reached that point and it was serendipitous that my growing need to be alone coincided with a visit to one of the most beautiful places on earth…Villa del Balbianello.

Me sitting on steps

The bees buzzed in the purple Wisteria flowers that draped themselves over centuries old stone walls. I had discovered some quiet spaces just to sit and let my mind rest and rejuvenate, and feeling part of nature and the aged patina of the old buildings went a long way to restoring my emotional health. I took a deep breath….and relaxed.

I rejoined the group for some wine tasting in the town of Bellagio across the other side of the lake (well…wine tasting is not too stressful) but then I left everyone shopping and caught the ferry back to the hotel.

I even opted to skip the art class as hanging out in the hotel room by myself and having some ‘me time’ was something I felt I needed. My concern was that others would feel that I was being anti-social…or wasn’t enjoying myself….or needed to be ‘looked after’. The truth was that I was having a fabulous time, but the grieving process leaves me fragile at times and needing some self-care.

Do you ever feel like this? Let me know your thoughts in the Comment box below…..and then go on to read how it all turned out. (Spoiler alert: I came home happy. 😉 )


Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

The gardens of Villa del Balbianello
The gardens of Villa del Balbianello

  • Janice says:

    Hello Marlene, This is the first piece I’ve read of yours. I can relate. As a widow I started to travel solo and that’s what, eventually, produced Solo Traveler, my blog. Grief is, indeed, a journey. And it starts in a very dark place. But there is a way past it. I’m glad you’re sharing your journey here. It will be so valued by many.

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Janice, thanks so much for your response. The main reason I am writing and sharing my feelings and experiences is to help others, so it means a lot to me that you feel it will be valued. Grief is an unending journey however I have learned that (for me) it helps to acknowledge the pain and then work hard to make sense of it by creating/doing something that feels worthwhile. We all want to leave some kind of legacy so that the loss has meaning.

  • Dalene Williams says:

    Hi Marlene
    I can relate to a lot of what you going through. The emotions of missing them when you do certain things and listen to much or even visit places where you were together. It’s been 6 months and it is not getting easier. The hole just gets bigger. Reading your emails really inspire me. Thank you thinking about you ❤️

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Dalene, thanks so much for your comment. At 6 months into my ‘grief journey’ I was still trying to make some sense of a life without my husband…and wasn’t doing it very successfully. Just one foot in front of the other at that stage. What helped me at that time was to realise that I had a choice. Not about what happened….I had no choice in that at all. But I DID have a choice in how I would deal with it and I decided that I did not want to be the widow who sits at home, stares at a wall and continuously lives in the past. It’s still such early days for you (18 months for me) so practice the self-care and just do what makes you feel good. That’s the best thing you can do to help you survive. Thanks for following me. 🙂

  • Hello, Marlene, that is the best thing in your situation to travel. I would like to give you a LIKE, but I cannot find the LIKE-Button.

  • Hello, Marlene, I would like to give you a LIKE, but I cannot find the LIKE-Button.

  • Brigitte says:

    And I wanted to say also: It is painful to be confronted with the places where you were with the deceased, you have loved, I know it from my own experience. But it is good for handling with grief.

    • Marlene says:

      Thanks for your comment Brigitte. Yes….you know exactly what it is like so you understand. Travelling is good for me as it is helping to give me some new memories, and not just the old ones. I am looking forward to seeing you and Wolfgang in September. 🙂 Oh, and I haven’t installed the plugin that would give the Like button…maybe I should do that.

  • Ron says:

    Hi Marlene, I like your feeling that the grief comes at you in waves. As an old surfer and sailor, the analogy is quite apt, and I used it myself in earlier times.
    I learned that at the height of the storm, every wave seemed to be massive and determined to break me and pound me down to the bottom of the ocean and hold me there forever. I also learned that if I consciously tried to float, and not just let the grief control me completely, I could go along with the pressure and let it push me but not overwhelm. Slowly I noticed that the big waves were only about one in three. By learning to bend, I managed not to break.
    I think that by accepting that the grief was and is still real, I was able to come to terms with taking real actions to stop it from controlling me completely.
    Your travelling shows me that you are a survivor. Not concrete hard and inflexible, but supple and resilient. You are prepared to not deny the feelings, but to let them wash over and through you, so that you can learn and grow with each memory.
    Well done.

    • Marlene says:

      Thanks Ron. You are right about ‘riding the waves’ as when I feel one coming on I literally take a deep breath like I’m about to go underwater. I always come out the other side though. I also agree that coming to terms with the fact that grief won’t just ‘go away’ someday is an important part of coming to terms with what happened. It’s not about waiting for the time when everything is easier…it’s about learning to ride the waves. 🙂

  • Linda Booker says:

    Hi Marlene, I’m a little behind on reading your posts, finally took a few minutes to sit down to read about your incredible journey. I’m so glad to see you are moving forward,as difficult as it is sometimes, and making new memories. You are an awesome lady and I would hope I could be the same, if I were in your shoes. Have great fun!

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Linda, thanks for the kind words. I’m not awesome though…just doing the best I can and hoping that it inspires others that they can do it too. Cheers, Marlene

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