Nervous is not enough. It was my first trip abroad since the crazy two years of confinement and coronavirus. I almost felt like a caged bird that had broken free and remained cautious with the muzzle I had chosen to wear. Being a single brunette Muslim woman, I have always traveled alone. Honestly, I don’t mind, but the thought of getting on a plane and the traffic jams of desperate passengers fumbling to get away, queuing for ridiculous hours was beyond my comprehension. So, I made the decision to go there by coach – not quite a ‘green’ FlixBus, but still a ‘cleaner’ and ‘friendlier’ way to travel.

I made a second decision, to take a trip that would take me to the edge of the unknown. As a Muslim, I often gravitate towards places that have a spiritual setting, and for me they must have mountains and vast expanses of fertile greenery – the Umbrian region ticked all the boxes. I had already visited Italy, but I wanted to go somewhere else; a part that would help rekindle the flame of verse. The lockdown left me exhausted, partly because I was caring for my mum and had no support – that was of course before the Prime Minister at the time decided to introduce the ‘bubble’ to us all.

Traveling by coach is very much like the “bubble”. As soon as you board, you are in your “travelling tribe” for the duration of the trip. Being the only brunette woman, you can imagine the looks. Questions come much later in the journey. But, from a safety point of view, I always felt safe with a group of people who were 20 years (and more) older than me.

“Being the only brunette woman, you can imagine the looks. The questions come much later in the journey”

Once we crossed into Switzerland, the group was a bit more relaxed as most of the “transit trip” had been accomplished. The first comment I was asked at one of the gas station stops was, “You are brave to travel alone.” I wonder if a white woman of the same age would have been asked the same question? No, because it was a damaging question, directly referring to the fact that I was a brunette woman and/or a Muslim woman.

Extroverted by nature and curious by profession, I’m never afraid of conversations. As a former lawyer, asking questions and analyzing are my strengths. Conversations soon turn to the legal profession. I tell them I was an immigration lawyer, diagnosed with cancer, and now I write poetry full time. My white and English companions are perplexed.

First day: we visited Perugia, capital of Umbria. We were given a guided walking tour which is a great way to learn about the local towns and often they give valuable insights that no guide can give you.

This is where the poetry was unleashed. I put the words away in my bedside drawer at the hotel, left them for a few days, then finished them one evening after dinner. In fact, it was the same night that I came down the stairs, and the coachman looked at me as I descended the last step. “Who do you see?” he searched me. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” I smiled – I like a little bravado!

“Umbria is the perfect region for artists like me to flock and immerse themselves in culture, art and religion – I felt at home”

It’s fair to say that for most people I was the anomaly, but how far they were from the truth. Umbria is the perfect region for artists like me to flock and immerse themselves in culture, art and religion – I felt at home. One day in Deruta and we weren’t short of pottery houses. As I sat with a group of different people under the coolness of an umbrella, indulging in Magnum chocolate, I was faced with another predictable question. “Aren’t you warm in your scarf?” I brushed it. It is common sense that the less clothing you wear, the warmer you will be.

As a cancer patient, it was important for me to have a moment of relaxation for me. On our free day, two others and I decided to go to Lake Trasimeno. A boat ride to a remote little island was exactly what I wanted – a mini writing retreat. The views were beautiful and I collected lots of material for future poetry workshops.

I felt that I got what I wanted from this trip. I shook off post-lockdown nerves, made new friends, said goodbye to a confused mind, and thanked Umbria for giving me back my poetic mojo.

Useful information

  • Visiting Perugia in mid May, I found it to be the perfect time to visit – not crowded and the weather is quite warm.
  • Catch a train to Lake Trasimeno, a few stops further you can visit neighboring Tuscany, either as a day trip on one of your free days if you are traveling in a group, or if you are visiting alone. You can easily book a hotel and stay for a day or two and explore the area in more depth.
  • If you visit churches, note that be sure to cover your arms and legs. This is where, being a Muslim, my respect for the Catholic faith was appreciated.
  • If you are traveling in a group, don’t be afraid to decline one or more parts of the itinerary. I passed by while visiting a wine museum, as alcohol is forbidden in Islam. Instead, I took a long walk and took pictures of things that inspired me that I could use as material for new poems.

Strong points

  • A visit to Lake Trasimeno is a must. Especially if you are a poet or a writer and want to write in a beautiful and quiet setting. The boat rides are every 25 minutes to the small islands, you just have to choose one.
  • The majestic Basilica of St. Francis in the city of Assisi is breathtakingly beautiful both inside and out – Franciscan architecture at its finest. Free entry.
  • Take a cable car ride in the medieval town of Gubbio, which whisks you high above the verdant countryside with panoramic views.

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