About three years ago, dreams of travel to lands far away began to flood my mind as I listened to my future wife talk of her time abroad. I had a few ideas in mind, namely a visit to the land(s) of my heritage – I am a standard American-European mutt afterall. As dreams from the depths of my mind came to surface during long night’s sleep, other visions slowly became more clear. Eventually, the persistence of planning and the saving of money paid off and we were in fact able to set in stone an itinerary which would see us travel the world.
The beautiful game, A.K.A. soccer, is something that holds a special place in my heart. I played my first game as a youngster with my Dad as Coach. Since the age of five, the game has been a continued interest of mine. While continuing to dream of our travel, I felt as though I could not miss an opportunity to see the game played on the biggest stage so that I might experience the passion shared by the world over. Luckily enough, I was able to find a competition in the famed Champions League, an annually held tournament of the top teams throughout Europe, occuring during the calendar months we had planned to travel.
Of nearly equal passion to the sport of soccer, anything with wheels and an engine have always stirred my soul. In fact, some years ago a good friend of mine and I went so far as to purchase and begin making modifications to a late model Japanese car we had planned to race in the Hertz Hornets league near Marysville, Washington state. Our vision failed utterly and sadly we never competed. Thankfully, we are still good friends to this day as this pie-in-the-sky plan didn’t quite pan out and we ended up junking the car. I digress.
Naturally, very near the top of my list of desired destinations was Italy given their passion for both automobili and futbol. Morever, Tarin had never stopped talking about her love of the country – the food, wine, and people, not to mention the beauty of the architecture and land. Perfect, let’s add this destination to our list, I thought. The day-to-day itinerary would most certainly consist of food, wine and the typical sightseeing. The Vatican, the myriad museums and hopefully some of the countryside were to be included. An absolute for me was a visit to the land of Enzo Ferrari, the creator of the artistic and engineering magnificence bearing his last name. The sight and sound of these creations evoked such curiosity that I actually wrote a paper on Enzo in my very short lived college life. Surely I would have to visit the museum and perhaps I might have the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of one of these simply sublime creations.
Enter Rome, a massive city wrought with history, filled with people and the everpresent stench of cigarettes. We had planned a fairly typical trip including the aforementioned Vatican but I was most excited for an opportunity to see a Champions League game played between Serie A (top professional soccer league in Italy) team Roma and Bundesliga (Germany’s top professional soccer league) giant Bayer Leverkusen. The game was to be played at the famed Stadio Olimpico, home to the world’s first Olympiad. We arrived early to find a stadium of rather modern appearance, which was a bit surprising. True, these were the same grounds once used to showcase the very first Olympic games, but I had expected a much, much older building. My initial disappointment at the grounds quickly faded as the fans filtered in and the Roma team song began. None of the seats were used as every single Roma fan stood and proudly held their team’s scarf high whilst belting out the lyrics. The passion was palpable and I was instantly glued to the pitch and the players. The game’s first goal came at the two minute mark from a breakneck Roma counterattack via a throughball to the dynamic midfielder Mohammed Salah – he slotted the ball past the outstretched appendages of the Leverkusen keeper and the stadium simply erupted. Mind you, I’ve not been a lifelong fan of Roma but I, along with the true fans, exploded in a fit of cheers, so much so that I nearly lost my voice for the remainder of the match. The game ended with a Roma win as a result of a penalty kick awarded in the closing minutes of the match.
I was happy the team walked away with the win as I don’t think the Roma fans would be terribly happy, or civil, without!
Fast forward to our final day in Italy, spent in the northern regions of Modena and Maranello, land of the automobile for Italy. Of particular importance for me was a visit to the two Ferrari museums. The first museum we visited detailed the life of Enzo and his love of the automobile. I am certainly no expert of museums, but Tarin and I both agreed that this was a very well executed exhibit which included physical representations of his life’s work in the form of some of the most infamous models of Ferraris as well as an immersive audio/video presentation completed by a total of 19 video projectors and a surround sound system. The visuals of Enzo’s childhood and his prolific racing career were accompanied by the operatic sounds of Luciano Pavarotti, the world famous Modena-born tenor; Enzo and Luciano shared a friendship and admiration for one another in their adulthood as they were both hailed as the best of their craft and also grew up in the same region. This production playing out amongst the presence of the most beautiful cars to grace this earth moved me immensely, and left a feeling as though I had visited a world-class museum.
We then made our way to Maranello, home of the Ferrari factory and the official F1 Ferrari museum where I was delighted to find several third-party companies offering the chance to drive one of these works of art. I snapped up the chance and hopped behind the wheel of a 2009 Ferrari California, the “Family Car” produced by the Maranello-based design house. The experience didn’t disappoint and I had a couple of opportunities to open up the engine, even passing a slow-going sedan in the vineyard covered hills of Northern Italy. All the while, I had my best friend and wife in the back seat to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.
Throughout my time in Italy, I often thought of my Uncle Joe who had recently been battling cancer. He underwent a significant surgery to remove the cancer earlier this year and was healthy enough to attend my wedding, which was very special for me as he was one of two uncles who was always present in my life. Unfortunately, after the intense surgery and recovery to remove the cancer, he fell out of remission and passed away just a few days ago. He had recently retired from a physically demanding and long tenured career and I can only imagine that he had plans to live out some dreams of his own. On two occasions in as many weeks, I had a chance to live out dreams of mine. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do so and if not for my own personal enjoyment, I also lived these moments in remembrance and in honor of my family and my Uncle Joe. These experiences only solidified the need to truly live in the moment and take the opportunities life affords oneself.