An Accidental Pilgrimage to Italy Put Life Into Perspective

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Lorraine Chin. (Courtesy: Lorraine Chin)

Who: Lorraine Chin, 44, a public health educator in NYC. I decided to live the dream as a single, free-spirited woman—with a solo trip to Italy.

Where: I visited eight cities in Italy: Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice, Padua, Verona, Milan, and Como.

Why: I had traveled prior to Paris, Scotland, Madrid, England—but as a crazy kid studying abroad. I knew seven days in northern Italy sightseeing, shopping, and eating fine cuisine was just what the doctor ordered.


The village of Assisi—one of the stops on Lorraine Chin’s life-changing trip to Italy. (Photo: Xavier / Flickr)

How I Changed After: I was working on Riker’s Island at the time and when I came back all-of-a-sudden I had an OMG moment and my eyes were open: I’m working in a jail. I started questioning how similar and different I was from the inmates I was serving. Could I be one paycheck away from being homeless? One condom away from having HIV/AIDS? I don’t take anything for granted anymore—there’s bigger purpose, bigger reason to life. It prompted me to get my real estate license and also work as a paralegal for a time. To make my life full and open.

The Cost: I paid $1,800 for a bus tour that included the flight, hotel, and guide. I was daring enough to go alone, but not daring enough to travel by myself and backpack independently across Italy like in my more no-consequences study-abroad days. What I didn’t realize till I got there is that my tour group was actually a pilgrimage!


Piazza San Marco. (Photo: Javier / Flickr)

What I Loved: The people. Everybody on the trip was there for a different reason—to find a different solace or spiritual awakening. There was even a group of nuns. After I got over the “oh wow” moment of realizing I was part of a pilgrimage, that’s when the eye-opening began. To see what all the other ladies were experiencing, people from all walks of life, made this trip to Italy deeper than I could have imagined.

What Did You Learn? Perspective. It took all my vanity and what I thought was important and shook it up. One of the ladies on the trip had a mom who was just diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. She cried practically the entire time and was just looking for solace. I always think about that young lady … I realized what I was going through wasn’t that big.

So You Became More Spiritual? Yes—without a doubt I became more devout. I wasn’t grounded spiritually before at all. [Laughs] I came back home and wanted to learn more. I found it fascinating how people prayed to all the saints. Italy didn’t change my life, per se, but it did change my spiritual side.

Travel Inspiration: Danielle Steel books [laughs] —she wrote such detailed info about various places that I’d sometimes forget about the romance. She made me want to write and travel, so much I almost became a flight attendant.

Next Trip: Disney World in August. With two small children I haven’t been anywhere in five years, so this is going to be good.


(Photo: Riccardo Cuppini / Flickr)


Best Sight: The atmosphere in the Sistine chapel was very powerful, very holy. Michelangelo’s artwork was divine and inspirational. You’re mesmerized with everything going on—the sense of history, the fragrance of frankincense and myrrh in the air—you get overwhelmed. There was a heavenly aurora that kept me in a trance.

Most Unusual Meal: [Laughs] The pizza in Rome. It was dry, it just didn’t taste or like anything I knew from New York. I hate to say … not in a good way. But the pasta there—wow.

Best Shopping: I danced my way into every designer store in Florence, salivated over exquisite jewelry I could not afford, and pranced around with leather bags that I couldn’t possibly buy. It was the best.

Rome: This ancient city told many stories of the past. The architecture was captivating. On a visit to the Coliseum I could practically hear the roaring crowds see the battling gladiators (and I don’t mean the guys in costume out front.)


(Photo: Moyan Brenn / Flickr)

Favorite Souvenir: A Misuri leather coat I got in Florence. I still wear it! The quality of the coat is so refined, so soft. When they told me Italian leather is nothing compared to the leather in the States they weren’t lying.

A Quiet Afternoon: In Venice, walking around, surrounded by water everywhere. And pigeons. Lots of pigeons. It was perfect.

Apennine Mountains: Past farmhouses and olive groves, everyone was mesmerized by the mountainside. We laughed and talked of how it reminded us of The Sound of Music.


(Photo: John Fowler / Flickr)

Venice: A gondola ride here started off like an NYC yellow cab, each gondola driver racing to catch that new fare. Once we started to cruise, we enjoyed the melodious tune that was played (very unlike NYC).

Parting Thoughts: Visiting the different basilicas and participating in their mass left me with a great deal of respect and admiration for the saints. After spending time with the nuns, my fear of growing old diminished. The realization dawned on me that I was on my own pilgrimage—through life.