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When Travel and Fairytales Collide

Travel really can change a life - it changed mine!

Thanks to Caitlin Smith for contributing this post to GoGirlfriend. We're a community-based travel blog and we welcome submissions from everyone. Whether you're a budget-baller or a first class only kinda traveler, we'd love to hear from you. Visit our Writer's Guidelines and learn how you can share your travel advice, stories and adventures!

Just over two years ago I embarked on a two-week journey of Italy that would test my independence, give way to a cultural awakening and introduce me to my now husband and father of soon-to-be baby boy.

Caitlin under the Tuscan sunCaitlin under the Tuscan sunAs a lover of history, food and wine, Italy seemed like the logical choice for a celebratory trip to commemorate the completion of my three-year MBA at Wilfrid Laurier University. I had persevered through night-classes, group-work, accounting and economics, while maintaining a full-time job, volunteering for WLUAA, Clair Hills and Sustainable Waterloo Region, buying a house, and somehow maintaining a semblance of a social life. It was the busiest time of my life.

With some advice from co-workers, I booked a ticket and then slowly sought out four destinations and accommodations: Venice, Florence, Sorrento and Rome. I was advised by my good friend and manager at the time that Sorrento or Positano were both ideal costal stops. I chose Sorrento. Who would have known that decision to select Sorrento over Positano would change the course of my trip and consequently, my life?

Step 1 - Let go of expectations

Destination ItalyDestination ItalyAside from a plane ticket, and hastily printed out Gmail hotel confirmations, that was all I had planned. I didn't book any tours or museums in advance. This was how travel changed me. My to-do-list, always-plan-ahead approach, worrying about where I would be next - I left all at home. I arrived in Rome with a massive bag, half full of clothes, ready to be filled with mementos of an adventure and the most relaxed attitude I had ever had. It wouldn't matter that my first hotel was not ready for me, or that I got lost in the streets of Venice in the pouring rain trying to find it. I was at ease with myself and it impressed my biggest critic, me.

I hadn't travelled much, but I had started blogging while on small trips as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, but also because I simply love to write. This trip to Italy became the birth of the Italy Chow Chow blog. My new BlackBerry Torch (a proud RIM employee) meant I could update posts on the Wordpress app, BBM with friends and perform on the spot research (I ate tripe and then Googled what it was... surprise, surprise!).

What you won't find in the blog, is a detailed account of what some might call fate, destiny, coincidence or just plain luck. I engaged in a conversation with a young British man at a bar called the The English Inn, a quintessential English pub in the heart of Sorrento. We sat side-by-side for an hour before he mustered up the courage to speak to me.

The scene plays out quite humorously, with a Canadian-tourist aptly donned in an Olympic-t-shirt generously given to her by her friend (WhatCSays), and visibly de-shelved and rattled from a day at the Island of Capri that consisted of torrential rains, intermittent sunshine, a broken umbrella and a sea-sickening ferry ride back to land. I felt so "touristy" that I couldn't bear the thought of going into the bar, but I was thirsting for a pint of beer, and my Rick Steve's Guide Book said this was a pub not to miss.

Step two - Welcome serendipity

The English InnThe English InnAs I slid on to a stool, I felt the presence of a person beside me, but again, being so conscious of how I looked, I simply ordered a beer and turned to the TV to pretend to watch football (soccer). Occasionally a crowd of young Brits would saunter back into the pub for a refill (there was an open patio leading on to the street), usually cavorting near the person beside me. A second pint later, I realized the bartender was dolling out some corn snacks (somewhat like bugles), he offered me a bowl and I took it. That bowl would be the ice breaker for Craig Smith to strike up a conversation.

Craig was taking in a bit of hair of the dog that day, as he was in Sorrento for his brother's wedding, held the night before. His distinctive trilby hat pulled low to disguise a small wound (incurred by running into a TV - a celebratory move during the wedding apparently), he was hesitant to engage in conversation... it took him two pints and a bowl of imitation bugles to nerve up.

"What flavor do you suppose these are?" he asked me.

"I think it's called artificial," I said.

Craig and CaitlinCraig and CaitlinCraig and I talked for hours in the pub, agreeing to meet up later. The following night, we would meet coincidentally in the street and spend another evening learning about each other's pasts, present and futures. It was the point in a trip where I felt proud that I had been able to talk so openly with a stranger and feel even more proud that I hadn't spent a trip simply alone (although to be fair, I happily spent most of my trip with myself and my thoughts). Saying goodbye to Craig was difficult, but at the same time, I never looked back (literally and figuratively) because it had been such a great experience, that I simply didn't see a reason to be upset.

The next day I was on route to Naples to head back to Rome. The toll of travelling-long days, long nights and an excessive amount of carbohydrates-had finally caught up with me, and I was hit with the flu.

I was determined not to let a cold stand in the way of a trip the Colosseum the next day. I persevered through a blazing head cold, runny nose and a wandering mind that couldn't stop thinking about that Craig Smith. Nah... he'll have already forgotten about me. So I carried on, albeit with a few romantic fantasies that Craig would suddenly appear around the corner.

Like all Rome visitors must do, I made a trip to the Trevi Fountain to make a wish. This is one of the most famous fountains in the world. Its beauty is as enthralling as its legend. Those who throw coins into the fountain are ensured a return trip to Rome. I also heard that if you throw a coin, you're guaranteed romance (maybe that means a romance with Rome again), because you really do fall in love with the city.

Step three - Make a wish

Villa Borghese gardensVilla Borghese gardensSo I did what any tourist does, and I threw a euro into the fountain. It wasn't just any Euro though. It was a Euro coin that I found on the cobblestone streets. And as I turned from the fountain after making a splash, I turned on my BlackBerry and to my surprise, had a voicemail notification. It was Craig, saying how he was desperately trying to get in touch with me, apologizing profusely, but he couldn't stop thinking of me and wanted to hear my voice. I melted against a wall, struck by the beauty in front of me and the romanticism of the whole moment.

Unfortunately, I couldn't call Craig back. The call-back function didn't work and he hadn't left a number in his message. Aside from all the obvious social media searches that just made me think "stalker", I was at a lost at how to reach him. He had set-up a Twitter account (specifically to contact me) but technical difficulties meant we were sending messages without receiving the reply. So everyone on Twitter but us were able to see what was happening. Two hopelessly lost romantics, unable to tweet and DM.

On my second last day in Rome, I booked a two- hour viewing at the famous Borghese Gallery. It was at the Borghese Gallery that I discovered Bernini - his art swept me off my feet (much like Craig had).

Step four - Never give up

Bernini art creationsBernini art creationsJust moments before I headed into the gallery, I was in the Borghese Village, containing the most beautiful garden bordered by enchanting trees. Surrounded by beauty and a peaceful calm, an email arrived on my BlackBerry...

"It was our very own William Shakespeare who wrote "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I never saw true beauty till this night". I never truly understood that line... before now. I can't describe how you made me feel. My only regret is that I didn't spend more time looking at you."

The story of Craig and I started in Italy and from there extended into a long-distance relationship with romantic moments when we were reunited three months later and of course, when he proposed at Pearson International Airport just moments before boarding a plane back to England.

Finding love in ItalyFinding love in ItalyItaly represents the pinnacle of my independence and the cross-over into a lifelong partnership. As I begin to experience new milestones like motherhood, I realize the importance of that travel experience. It changed me and I'm so glad I was able to capture much of it through writing my travel blog and having a constant reminder (thank you Craig) of just how wonderful that time was.

Bio: Caitlin Smith lives in Waterloo with her husband. She is a Communications Advisor by day at Research In Motion Ltd., and volunteers as the Communications Director for the Clair Hills Community Association. Caitlin extends her passion for writing by blogging at www.constantbaker.com and tweets via the handle @ConstantBaker. As a soon-to-be mum, Caitlin is hoping to launch a new blog later this month. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University specializing in Organizational Behaviour and Management.

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