Bella Italia 2015: Letting Go!
by Melodee "Sunshine" Sims
After watching this tour since its inception, I'd longed to take the trip to Italy with BlackGirlTravel.com. However, it always fell during my busy week at work. When the email went out in November 2014 for the 2015 tour, I almost dismissed it. However, I looked at the dates, and to my surprise, it had been pushed back a week! I was so excited! I asked my travel buddy if she wanted to go. She wasn't able to make it. So now what was I to do? I'd never been on such a huge trip solo. I was admittedly scared. But I decided to sign up. I got a call from Fleace for my initial interview. She made me feel so at ease and assured me that many of the other ladies were also traveling solo and that she had a very good track record with assigning roommates. (And yes I had the perfect roommate) After this conversation, I took the plunge and paid for the trip. Now I just had to wait 10 months for it to happen.
Fast forward to September 2015. Fleace coonects the group on-line. I can now finally see who I will be traveling with for close to 2 weeks. A sense of anxiety that I hadn't felt before took hold of me. But then the ladies "no" Bellas started to post and I quickly saw that this was going to be a great group of women. Women from all over the country, different careers, mothers, daughters, wives, single, you name it, it were represented. The main thing many of us had in common was the single desire to take Italy by storm!!! LOL!
Fleace sent tips, hints, and comments on how we could make the best of our trip. Everything was advised from what shoes to wear due the INSANE amount of walking, to how much to tip at various locations throughout the tour. It was really up to us to decide if we wanted to take heed all the informtaion, but we were warned!
Now the departure day. I had already met 2 of the Bellas leaving from Los Angeles because Fleace had contacted us prior to the departure date. We were able to coordinate and get on the same flight out of LA. We had a layover in New York at JFK. At the airport, Bellas were everywhere! We ran into them at different gates and I found myself going on the internet to match names with faces. LOL!! Two Bellas in particular caught my eye at JFK because they were both taller than me which is a rarity, I am 5'11. One of the Bellas from LA and I, chatted with them as we waited. Little did I know how this early meeting would end. (it's a very happy ending) After our 9 hour flight, finally we arrived in Rome.
After we got our luggage, we went to the designated meeting spot. There stood Fleace in splendor with her blazer, jeans and HIGH heels. I first thought, is she going to change those once we get going? LOL!! But nope, as a former fashion model, she is a proat walking in heels. She worked those shoes as we pounded the uneven Roman cobblestone. I was taking notes! We went to lunch at a great outdoor restaurant owned by her friends. There we had a "Taste of Italy" plate. This was just the start of the delicious foods we would enjoy. She went over the itinerary (our bible) and told us of any changes since sending it to us. It was nice to sit and talk to the other Bellas while starting the "get to know you" process. I ended up at a table for four. The women at my table were just fabulous! Two were from NY and ironically, the same two women from the airport. Our bond was just beginning!
After such a long travel day, many of us just wanted to sleep. Fleace had already warned us (a few times) not to sleep until bedtime in Rome. It was a struggle. We were falling asleep at the lunch tables, dinner tables, standing on the bus ...you name it, we tried to sleep. Sleep when and where you can would turn out to be a running theme on the tour! LOL! But, on day one, the ever watchful Fleace saw everything, even closed eyes behind sungalsses. If you were caught trying catch a wink, she ask someone to wake us up then say, "You just need to get through today. Trust me, you will thank me later!". She was right. After I pushed through that first day, I was fine in regards to no jet-lag. Hmmmm.... Maybe this Fleace knows what she's talking about. LOL!
The next 4 days were nonstop movement. While based in Rome we probably got an average of MAYBE of 3 hours of sleep each night. One night, I am sure it was only 2! However, I can't imagine seeing Rome any other way! We slept while talking to each other, while waiting for a food, on trains, but still kept an ear alert to the "Bellas we are on the move" call. When the Bella flag went up, it was time to move! There was no wating! Trust me when I say "Fleace WILL LEAVE YOU", if you are not at the designated place at the designated time. She does not play. By day 3, I was running on pure adrenaline and strong Italian coffee. I kept going simply because I didn't want to miss ANYTHING and out being fear of being left behind!
I had heard that Fleace always had a surprise or two up her sleeve. The Vespa tour, which arguably was the best part of the tour (even in the rain), even had a wonderful surprise at the end! But let me take a moment to try and recreate the moments from the Vespa tour. It started after we visited the Vatican. We met up after lunch and we kept looking at the sky, willing it not to rain. But those clouds had other plans. Many of us simply bought umbrellas from the street vendors and got ready to roll. It would just be a "little" water from the sky right? Fleace look unworried, so we followed her lead. She leads us to a dead end street. But that end was anything but dead, it was raining men on bikes. Vespas were everywhere. Our Italian drivers were at the ready to wisk us away. I found myself scanning the crowd to see which would be MINE.
Fleace had some last minute instrustion with the head driver, then released us to find a driver. It was like a flood gate opening as the Bellas started running to find the hottest drivers. Many of the drivers were also doing a bit of choosing. I learned later that the drivers look forward to group's arrival every year. While many of the Bellas went to the cuties right in front of us, I chose to venture off to the side to have a bit more time to chose. Then I saw who would be MY driver. he had a BIG bike. (wink) I walked up to him and shyly asked, "Can I ride with you?" He smiled and said, of course! He introduced himself as Leonardo and fitted me with my helmet. This was a funny moment because my hair is so huge, he really had to figure it out. We laughed about it and then we were ready to go. He got on the bike and then politely leaned it toward me to make it easier to get on.
Of course he'd have the bike with the high passenger seat! Once the group was ready, we took off zooming around Rome! The drivers were beeping their horns as we rode through the tiny streets. People waved from the sidewalks. You could feel the energy pulsing through the group. I looked around and could not find one Bella that wasn't smiling from ear to ear! Even the ones that were a bit nervous about the ride. My driver didn't speak much English but he seemed to have a great time slamming on the brakes to cause me to fly into him, and then taking off quickly so I'd fly backwards and have to hold on tighter to him. I screamed each time, which made him laugh and say with a strong Italian accent "don't worry! I'm a very good driver!" I didn't care, he could done it as many times as he wanted. I was in heaven! Speaking of heaven, all our joy we did not stop Mother Nature. She opened up her clouds and the rain came down... I'm being kind, it poured for about 15 minutes. Think of it as liquid sunshine because nothing stops BGT, not even rain. The drivers gave us rain ponchos and we kept it moving.
We made stops at a large fountain, the Pantheon, Colosseum and a really nice neighborhood. While at the Colosseum, the rain stopped. It warmed up quickly and we started ripping off our colorful rain ponchos mid ride! It was a sight to see. Then after some time, the tour came to an end. How sad! We hugged our drivers and said thank you and gave a few kisses.
After the Vespa tour we took in a few more sights. Fleace then delivered us back to our hotel to get ready for the Ladies in Red night. Oh what a night this would be! As the Bella's descended on the hotel lobby for the initial mixer, all I could say was WOW!! These women looked amazing! And what was even better was, THEY KNEW IT!! There is nothing like seeing the confidence in a Black woman that KNOWS she looks amazing! We took pictures at the hotel, had some bubbly, and then headed out to dinner. As we rode in our taxis but we no idea where we were going. All of the sudden the cars stopped and everyone got quiet while looking out the window. "Is THAT where we're going?" one bella asked. Fleace smiled and said, "Yep"! It was a mansion on a hill. It was beautiful! We got out, mouths open taking it all in. Then we walked up the hill by way of some scary wooden steps. LOL! I was so afraid my foot would fall through, but we all made it to the top safely.
Once up top, we saw there was an outdoor party going on. I thought, that was where we would stop. I was wrong, there was more! Fleace lead us inside, and up grand staircase into a private room. This was another WOW moment. The room had a full wall of windows overlooking Rome with a highlight of the Vatican beautiful lite in the skyline. Simply amazing! A view like this called for pictures. My goodness did we! It was like speical photo shoot with an unbelievable background. I chose to jump in the open window for my part of the ... ahhh ... photo shoot. lol Everyonethought, what a "great idea!" and this birthed a series the open window pictures. Afterwards we ate our meals, laughed and just enjoyed each other.
Everyone looked and felt GREAT!
After dinner, Fleace had another trick up her sleeve. Again I won't spoil it for others, but let me just say, it we felt like celebrity status. We got to a night club and got ready to dance! We were escorted (imagine 51 beautiful black women in red) to our private section where we had bottle(s) service. Us Bellas could drink! LOL! The party goers at the club kept looking at us, like who are they? I even saw two guys trying to pay security so they could be in our area with us. Security wasn't having it though. LOL! We truly had celebrity status that night. All eyes were on us. And then we gave them the Swirl Dance. Look for me in the polka dot dress. It was amazing, 50 plus Black women in Italy dancing in unison, to "Swirling around the world, with my girls". It was simply a night that will live in infamy for me.
As we continued our time in Rome, we walked, we ate, we drank, we danced and then we got on a bus to walk some more! (Side note, beware of butt rubbers on the buses! LOL!) We were warned that it would be a non-stop tour, but some didn’t believe it until it was happening. We laughed at our swollen ankles, but still got up the next morning for the next days adventure.
Then after Rome/Florence/Venice, we headed south to the Amalfi coast. We made a stop at the beach and had time to relax as a group and rest of feet. This was an admittedly nice change of pace from the craziness that is Rome with Fleace. I again took the opportunity for another photo shoot this time on the rocks and the other Bellas joined in the fun. It was a great time. And best of all, NO BODY SHAMING! Women of all sizes, feeling beautiful in their swim wear, splashing around in the water, or soaking up the sun. Again, it was a great moment! We then moved on to check into our BEAUTIFUL hotel on the cliffs of Sorrento. My goodness the views were breathtaking! Fleace timed our arrival perfectly to watched the stunning sunset over the sea from the hotel. Tt was a sight to be seen as the sun melted into water.
The time spent while based in Sorrento was at a much slower pace. We spent time at the beach, took a boat to Capri, and some of us got to experience tasting wine on Mt. Vesuvius. And then comes the shopping and pizza in Naples. MY GOODNESS!! I've never had anything that amazing! It had me doing the happy dance!!
So we ate, we drank, we danced, we laughed, and even some cried tears of happiness. We were family, sharing in the incredible journey. For me, it was a way to step out of my comfort zone; step out on faith and do what I'd always dreamed of doing... step foot in Italy! Had I waited for others to come with me, I'd have never met the wonderful women I did, especially my new sisters. I wouldn't have seen the Colosseum or rode with a hot Italian on a Vespa through the tiny streets of Rome. I wouldn't have heard the small voice in my head that had been telling me I could do this, finally say "Good job girl"!
Okay, did everyone get along swimmingly the entire trip? Of course not. Were there women that you could catch the tail end of them rolling their eyes at something or someone? Yep! You know the old saying "no matter where you go, there you are". I figured that everyone wouldn't get along with everyone when I signed up. After all, you can not please 100% of the people 100% of the time but I promise those few moments were MAYBE 2% and it didn't affect the tour at all. Fleace seems to have gift for neutralizing negativity dead in its tracks. Everyone loves her. I for one, now have at least 20 new travel buddies! I still text daily with my NY sisters and the one from LA. It's like we've known each other for years!!
The only small dark cloud in the the whole journey, is the few women that seemed to not want to embrace a new country and its cultures. They compared everything to the United States. Saying things like the pasta was under cooked. Well, in Italy pasta is served al dente (firmer), which is actually healthier. Trying new things or old things a new way is part of experience.
Part of travel is letting go of what you know, so that you can learn something new. Sometimes, it is about people, places and things. If we are luck, it might be learning something new about ourselves. The world is like an oyster, we must be willing to crack the shell (open our minds) in order the get the goodness inside.
Would I recommend this tour to a friend or family member? Absolutely! Would I sign up for another BGT tour? In a heartbeat! Did this tour change my life for the better? A million times YES! Thank you BGT for giving me a new perspective on the world and most importantly myself. I have found a new sisterhood that I am so excited to grow with for years to come. To the moon and back, THANK YOU Fleace Weaver and the BlackGirlTravel team.
About Melodee "Sunshine" Sims
Melodee is a resident and native of Los Angeles, CA. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Management with dual minors in Psychology and Education. She has also earned her Master's Degree in Business Administration. She is an avid traveler and loves anything related to food, wine and animals. She has a hardy laugh, a huge smile, and just enjoys the little moments in life. She currently works as a Corporate Accountant and writes as a hobby. After she worked as a secret shopper, she found writing to just come natural. She is considering blogging about all her travel, wine and pet adventures but would ultimately like to write as a restaurant critic. Visit her on Facebook