Bobby is a Principal with a background in History and Social Studies. He first traveled with EF Tours in 2010 to Rome and Paris, and now leads a student tour every summer. He believes that young people should experience life outside of their communities, and that understanding other cultures is imperative to solving global challenges.
A strange thing happened to me during my stay in Parma this summer; I decided to go on a run. While running in and of itself may not be “strange,” for me it was equivalent to waking up and deciding to read the telephone book — something I had the ability to do, but not anything I would ever actually do. To be clear, I am quite capable of running, and in fact many years ago, while in high school, I did just that. I was a multi-sport athlete in high school and did the prerequisite conditioning that is required of all sports. However, I had never run just for the sake of running. For some reason, waking up in Parma on that warm July morning I decided to read the phone book — err, to go on a run.
Perhaps, I felt a little guilty from over-indulging the previous evening on risotto and Parmigiano-Reggiano stuffed veal, and knew I needed to burn some calories. Or perhaps, I knew it was a great opportunity to see the city from a unique perspective. Either way, I rose early that morning, laced up my tennis shoes, and made my way through the hotel lobby to the street below. Stepping out into the street, I really had no plan on where I would run or for how long. After all, I had never actually been in Parma before. After spending a few minutes doing some obligatory stretches, I blindly set out. Our hotel, a quaint three-story building, was located just a few blocks from the Parma River, so I decided to begin my journey in that direction.
The Parma River is unique in that it isn’t so much a river as it is a stream. Fed from three lakes in the Apennine Mountains, it was once said of the river, “That as a capital city it had to have a river. As a little capital it received a stream, which is often dry.” I found that quote to be true as I rounded the turn near the river. The river, which during flood season can stretch from bank-to-bank, was virtually non-existent. Miscellaneous flora and fauna covered, what is during the wet season, the river bed, but at the time, it was as dry as the Sahara. I made a mental note to do some research on this river when I returned to the states — only a quarter mile in and it was certainly an intriguing start to my run.As I continued my run north, I started to see signs that the city was slowly stirring to life. Shop owners began setting out chairs and tables for the impending rush of customers seeking a cappuccino or cornetto to start their mornings. With my breathing getting a little heavier, and my pace a little slower, I passed a group of early morning commuters waiting for the local bus to whisk them off to different parts of the city. I gave a slight head nod to the group, who largely ignored me — clearly, they weren’t impressed — and continued running alongside the empty river bed. Beginning my arc back to the hotel — I thought I would run in a giant circle, more or less — I followed a cobble-stoned side street until I came face-to-face with a tall, narrow, octagonal building. Having seen the baptistery in Florence many times, I knew that this must be the Parmanian equivalent. Taking note of the beautiful structure and accompanying church, it struck me that my morning run was providing me with much more than just exercise. I was experiencing the city in a very intimate way. Winding from alleyway to alleyway, I eventually came back out to the main street heading towards the hotel. Running without headphones or music, I enjoyed not only seeing the city slowly awaken, but took pleasure in all the noises and smells of one of the greatest food cities in Italy. If cultural immersion is your goal, going on an early morning run is an excellent place to start.
In late August, a little over one month after my run in Parma, I ran a 5K for the first time in my life. As I hit the straight-a-way for the last 200 meters of my race, my mind journeyed back to that morning in Parma. It would have been easy to sleep in that morning, eat breakfast, and get ready for our trip to Siena. Instead I did something that I always urge my student travelers to do, but oftentimes don’t do myself — go outside your comfort zone, try something new, and make your trip your own adventure. What began as a run along a dry and dusty river bed is now becoming a habit and a passion, and an experience I will never forget.