By Jennifer Finn
Eat Pray Love is the story of one woman’s search for anything and everything, across Italy, India, and Indonesia. It is set against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful places on earth and it has become the inspiration to many to take breaks from their everyday lives and get out to see the world. It’s not about backpacking and giving up all your home comforts, it’s about taking time out to eat, pray and love, or in the case of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, learning to love again.
Besides being an engaging read, the novel provides an enticing blueprint for a trip that would be an absolute epic to replicate. Here are a few tips to take away from Gilbert’s adventures. Choose a theme for your travels. Whether it’s eating in Italy or praying in an ashram in India, do something that you couldn’t possibly do at home, something out of the ordinary.
Then, make a list of where you’d like to go. Choose your top three places and plan your route. Once you’ve chosen the destinations, think about what you want to do and see there. The first stop for Gilbert was Italy, which has a lot to offer in terms of history, art and sites. Italy is where all the eating takes place in Eat Pray Love. Rome is home to dozens of pizzerias and gelaterias, Florence has Michaelangelo’s David, and while Venice is sometimes seen as a melancholic place, there are plenty things to keep your spirits up.
Gondolas are almost synonymous with Venice but don’t be fooled into handing over too much money for the pleasure. Legend has it that if you go on a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs with the one you love, you will be together forever. When in Rome… The Mouth of Truth is another must-see if you love old movies. Think Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in “Roman Holiday”. Local legend claims that if you tell it a lie, it will bite your hand off. Tourists queue to have their photo taken beside it.
The Vatican attracts hundreds of tourists on a daily basis. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the visit but you do have to be careful to dress appropriately. Even if it is mid-August and sweltering heat, you will not be allowed to tour the Sistine Chapel unless your knees and shoulders are covered.
You can’t travel around Italy without taking a drive along the Amalfi Coast. It’s too breathtaking to miss. Sorrento looks out onto the Bay of Naples and you can see Mount Vesuvius quite clearly from the coast.
Also along this shoreline you’ll find the picturesque town of Positano which clings precariously to the cliffs. Wear your walking shoes because tour buses can’t fit down the small side streets. But the walk is worth it, if not just for the stunning views, then for the endless numbers of bars which overlook this beautiful coast.
You’ll find plenty of places to rest along your way. Sicily has been described as “the most third-world section of Italy”. With fishermen aplenty here, you can guess what Sicilian cuisine has to offer. Sicilian lemons are justly celebrated and their reputation has reached Dublin, where Sicilian lemon sorbet features as a dessert in Milano on Dawson Street. It’s said that without seeing Sicily, one cannot get a clear idea of what Italy is.
It’s a good idea to set some time aside to rest during travels. By choosing a place like India, you could seek refuge in an ashram. Just like university, you must apply for a place in an ashram. Places are awarded based on the study of yoga. Having gained a place in an ashram, you can attend courses in either Hindu or English. But beware of some ashrams because, despite their claims to spirituality, they may just be frauds with an eye on your money. Gullible westerners can easily be taken in by false ashram claims.
There is no doubt that many will be enticed to visit an ashram after the release of Eat Pray Love later this year in cinemas. Gilbert, who is played by Julia Roberts, said that if you want to walk the path of a yogi in India, you have to visit an ashram.
However, there are so many to choose from and all charge big money all in the name of spirituality. Ashrams can be found in all sorts of areas throughout India, from busy cities to quiet outlying locations. The off-the-tourist map ashrams have a better reputation for authenticity and promise to provide you with a quiet place to meditate and practice yoga. Ashrams are serene, calm and peaceful places so don’t be influenced into paying for a stay at a place claiming to be an ashram that embodies none of these things.
Ashrams invest in their students as they see them as the future of spirituality. All students practice self-discipline where food is concerned. Food has a purpose, and that is to nourish. Digestion is linked to concentration and ease of meditation. Lack of concentration could mean that you’re overindulging or taking more than you need – “you’ll have trouble gliding lightly into transcendence when your guts are struggling to churn through a sausage calzone”.
Overindulgence in food is not good for the body or the mind. The food eaten in ashrams is vegetarian. Finding an ashram to suit you and your purse is a time-consuming but worthwhile process that requires an open mind and an open heart.
After being ensconced in an ashram for a few months, you might feel like popping out for an adventure in Indonesia. Bali is the most popular tourist destination that Indonesia has to offer. Bali is something of a non-industrialised haven. “In the evenings there’s a cricket orchestra with frogs providing the bass line”, tropical birdsong fills the morning air at sunrise, and butterflies glide around all day long; an idyllic paradise and a far cry from city life.
Whilst it seems like a utopia, Indonesia has a bloody and gritty past. Bali was once run on a strict caste system, and the Balinese economy was formerly fuelled by a slave trade and human trafficking.
It was only in the 1960s that the Indonesian government began to lure tourists to visit Bali’s shores by marketing it as “The Island of the Gods”. This marketing campaign was hugely successful and Bali’s past was overlooked due to its beauty and serenity. It has since become a retreat away from city life to many in the Western world.
However, when travelling through Indonesia, one must be prepared for all eventualities. On 26 December, 2004, Indonesia was ravaged by a tsunami caused by an earthquake under the Indian Ocean. Miraculously, Bali was spared but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by this fact. It is still a high risk area for future tsunamis to occur.
Responsible tourism involves knowing the risks and how to act in the worst case scenario when you are abroad. Would you know what to do if you got separated from your travel companion? Globe-trotting for a year certainly appeals to us students.
The main message in Eat Pray Love is to plan your trip in advance. Don’t just arrive in Mumbai without a place to stay. Have a budget and make reservations prior to your departure. Choose a theme for your travels, decide if you want to go shopping in New York or learn how to surf in Australia.
Travelling is an adventure so pack for all eventualities and do your research. Taking a full year off to travel is a big commitment and while most working professionals may find it next to impossible to take a year off, students have the world at their fingertips and the opportunity to travel as soon as, or even before, they graduate. So why not travel the world before you have a mortgage to pay? Just don’t forget to Eat Pray Love along the way.