Going the other way

The nav said turn right. It was a dirt road. It went straight down and disappeared into trees. I checked around. There’s no other road. It had to be that one.

I was taking a quick morning drive to an out of the way small town on the Amalfi Coast before a meeting in a small town an hour inland later in the day. I wanted to avoid the highways. I’ve seen highways in plenty of countries. I live in the land of highways.

The drive started up a mountain. I stopped at a small town shop to have an espresso. The lovely older woman refused to let me pay.

The road to the top of the mountain was as winding as they come. My little rental Audi took them like a champ. I was driving in Le Mans. O can’t think of a time I’ve had more fun driving.

Then the nav told me to turn right. It seemed straight down. And leading to nothing. I thought of the scene in The Office when Michael drives into the lake because the nav told him to.

Back on the dirt road the car is barely making it through the brush. I stopped a few minutes in and got out. I had a feeling I was driving on someone’s farm.

According to the nav I was on Via Casa Falcone. Am I in the Falcone’s driveway? Aren’t movies made about people with that name? I’m in a small town in Southern Italy driving on the Falcone’s property.

It was getting smoky. In a clearing I come across the man who must be the farmer. He’s burning some trash. I’m definitely on his land. I waved. He waved, cigarette in his hand, with the baffled look only a 70 year old farmer in the middle of nowhere who sees a black Audi driving through his farm can.

I kept going. There was no use stopping. I speak the kind of Italian that gets you a coffee without sugar. Not the kind that explains why I’m trespassing on his farm. My best hope was that the road didn’t dead end at his house forcing us to meet again. A few minutes later I was back on pavement.

I followed the nav again. Take a right at the fork. There’s no way the car will fit through that passage. It did. Another. It’s smaller. It fit. All the while I’m passing parked cars. They made it. Surely I will.

Just in front of a shop the road forked again. But one way went up and the other down. A three dimensional fork. Shit. I have to turn around. How?

And there’s a dog that keeps getting right behind me. Now I have to do a 45 point turn while trying not to kill a dog.

A lady just came out of the shop to watch me. That must be her car I have to avoid. It’s more fun to watch me suffer than to move her car.

I just need to get back to the fork. This time I’m going left.

For the next 20 kilometers it was back to the same kind of erratic, winding wildness of the first part of the drive.

I come to the base of the mountain. I see water. I don’t know where I am but there’s water. And a restaurant.

And now I’m sitting at a cafe on the Amalfi Coast having a salad.

Then I’m getting in the car and making the two hour drive to my meeting in a small inland town that Anthony Soprano claimed his family was from.

It’s noon.

Exploring

I’m en route to spend a week with startups in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia (the country not the state). I was invited to join a group from Silicon Valley by friend I’ve wanted to collaborate with for a while.

Through the week I’ll be working with Tbilisi entrepreneurs. I’ll also be getting to know Georgia, a country rich in history (and wine). At some point we’ll also be meeting the Prime Minister.

On the way back I’ll be jumping through London for 18 hours and hanging out with the badass guys behind Butterfly Twists.

The journey to a not-often-visited place is always interesting. I travel about 25% of the time and am overseas several times a year. Each time I leave the US I wonder why I don’t do it more frequently.

Traveling helps me reform my world views. I am a better, more grounded person because of these experiences.

When I travel I do weird things. I take weird flight routes. I try to stay in neighborhoods instead of hotels. I buy my weird food in local grocery stores. I workout at local gyms.

When I travel to a new city I usually take a full day and explore, mostly walking. In the growing number of cities with bike share, I do that too.

I don’t buy guidebooks. I don’t hire tour guides. I did this before one could travel with a data-enabled cell phone. Google Maps and T-Mobile have radically transformed this experience.

I think as a result of just getting lost and finding my way I’ve been able to discover things I wouldn’t otherwise find. Today on a six hour layover in Athens, Greece, a city I’ve spent time in before, I grabbed a cab to a neighborhood I enjoyed on my last visit. It’s not a neighborhood the guide books care to include.

While en route I found a restaurant with a lot of great local reviews. Then it was back to the airport for the next leg of the journey to Tbilisi through Kiev.

All of this might sound exhausting to some. It’s not. But to be able to flow naturally in unfamiliar countries you have to suspend the need for complete clarity. I do not do unsafe things. I am as vigilant about safety internationally as I am walking through Las Vegas or New York. You can be in danger anywhere…if you do dumb things.

To enjoy unplanned travel you must resist what I call life seizures. This is the mindset of a person who walks into an airport and immediately is anxious.

You’ve seen those people. They are the ones looking frantically for their gate without looking at the departure signs and looking around to figure out how the gates are numbered.

They are the ones who immediately walk to the boarding door the moment anyone starts talking on the PA system.

They often speak loudly, move nervously. They exhaust you just looking at them.

They would never take a taxi to an unfamiliar part of town because how would they, I mean, getting back, what if, oh god. WHERE ARE THE…WHERE IS MY BAG? I’M JUST…WHERE’S MCDONALD’S?

Life seizures are equally possible no matter a person’s age. They happen at home and abroad. People have them in grocery stores. And old people don’t have them any more frequently than young.

For these people everything is hard. I have never been one of those people even though I have definitely been lost in lots of places, usually while trying to find a bathroom.

It’s generally true that if you assume something is going to be hard, it will be. Remember Henry Ford’s perspective: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

 

Onwards.

I spotted this little gem during lunch in Athens and sent it to a friend at TOMS. It is a small world.

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