The Value of Playing Outside Your Sandbox

After five hours of driving through snow, sleet and rain, I answered my cell phone to hear the manager at our bed and breakfast destination tell us they were out of power – an ice storm. By now we were only fifteen minutes away. The Inn, and the associated event (the entire reason for the trip), he said, were in the dark. We pulled over and were still in shock trying to figure out what to do next, when the phone rang again. “Nevermind,” he said, “the power is back on.” False alarm.

This is just one example of our traveling life adventure. We drove five hours through dicey weather for an evening dinner, and then drove back the next morning to meet other commitments. The manager of the Inn laughed when he told us at breakfast the next day, “You get the award for the longest ride for a dinner.” It was a long twenty-four hours, but it was worth it. We received quite an education on how to showcase a spectacular evening of food, wine and hospitality, in a beautiful setting outside of Charlottesville, VA.

This business requires a lot of creative energy, as I’m guessing yours does. I get asked why we spend the money to travel to dinners and abroad if it isn’t directly related to a specific sale. But I say it is. It’s important for us to see first-hand how different professionals select their décor, host an event, and display their wares. How do others put on a show? How do they show off their products? What are their products? This is how you see trends and spot new ways of doing things. Or see what’s possible. Sometimes, you see what not to do.

Our travels have taken us down the road to Philadelphia and the Eastern Shore, up north to Vermont, along the Hudson in New York, and flying west to Colorado. We’ve also journeyed to Rome and Paris. These trips have inspired us to figure out how best to bring the beauty of the world around us into what we create in our artisan business - in terms of color, accent pieces and textures. We have a better understanding of just how many choices there are, with a lot more to learn. It has broadened our minds.

The expense of travel to locations and events outside our niche, or sandbox, is tied to business growth, creative energy and our own inspiration, I’m sure of it. You don’t have to travel around the world – although that would be nice – it’s amazing what you can learn from people just down the street. Saddle up, start your engines, hit the road. Play in someone else’s sandbox and see where it takes you.

Notes from a Living Postcard: Rome

Our recent trip to Italy was quite an excursion, this being our first visit. I’ve highlighted a few notes from our journal of adventures in Rome, to give you a sense of each day. I won’t get into the details of each tourist stop, for that I’d need an e-book, and more time. This is about how it feels to be immersed in the neighborhoods of the city. Ciao Bella!

Are those Palm trees? It was one of the first things we noticed getting off the plane. It never occurred to us that Rome was in a climate of Palm trees. Sorrento, we expected it to be balmy and Mediterranean. But Rome? We had not expected it. We need to get out more.

The minute you step outside and into the streets of Rome, you are in the thick of it. That’s the best way I can describe the feeling. It’s loud and boisterous, yet friendly. On the other hand, crossing the street, navigating between motorcycles and cars, is an act of pure survival. Riding in the backseat of a taxi is even more so. We’re still unclear how the drivers know when they can turn and drive on the active train tracks of the above ground transit lines.

It must be the narrow streets that seem to put you so much closer to the action (than in NYC by comparison). There appear to be minimal rules-of-the-road too, mere guidelines, except for the fact that motorcycles can do whatever they want, go wherever they want, and park wherever they want. The few times we were inside a car, I stopped looking out the front windshield at the chaos, and focused on looking out my passenger window. I figured, if I was going to go that day, I’d be looking at something lovely when it happened.

Black is the new black. Women sport chunky boots and black skirts or jeans, with helmets in-hand. And they wear it well, even in 90 degrees. It almost made me want to come home and buy a motorcycle. My rugged half definitely wanted me to do it.

Live music is everywhere. From Piazza Navona, to the Saturday morning market, to the side streets near Trevi Fountain. A budding musician plays at every turn.

We stumbled into an area known as the Ghetto, after being lost for 90 minutes when we tried to navigate our way home from the Colosseum, in the rain. (Note: The blue dot on GPS does not always show where you’re really located.) This streetscape was the silver lining discovery of Rome, with outdoor restaurants lining each side, and pedestrian only foot traffic. Pasta was being hand-cranked outside by the front door of the restaurant where we decided to eat dinner. The live entertainment arrived at dark to attempt back flips over a hand-held bar, in the middle of the street. I tried not to consider what would happen if they miscalculated and landed on our tables. The waiters seemed unconcerned.

Then there was the marching “tin man” as we called him. It was hard to imagine the miles he must cover in a day. (Remember, it was almost 90 degrees at the end of September.) He marched around the market, then showed up hours later at the Pantheon. And he was still marching. He carried the drum like a backpack, with the beat of the drumsticks tied to his shoes. Every time he walked forward, the rope pulled and the drum beat. His free hands then played a tune on the accordion. We had to give him a tip. As I said, a musician at every turn.

After four days in Rome, we were ready to hop our train and head to Sorrento to indulge in the warm breezes, Aperol Spritz, and relaxation of the Amalfi Coast. Rome is both intoxicating and exhausting. There’s no denying that you feel alive and energized in Rome, as all your instincts and senses are on alert. The people, and energy of the streets, command your full attention.

From left to right below: The Ghetto, Pasta making in the Ghetto, Trastevere neighborhood, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, “Tin Man”