I woke up very early today. It’s not like I had a choice though; my flight was at 5:20 AM so I woke up more than an hour early. I went to the airport and shoved my backpack into the little box designated for checking to see if your carry on bag was small enough. It barely fit and actually stuck out a bit on the sides but they let me pass. I walk to the gate. I sat down and waited. I was finally taking the first step of my journey, and for the first time I was very, very excited about this trip.
Everything went smoothly at the airport and I got to Chicago without any issues. My flight to Newark was delayed by an hour but that didn’t matter. I had a five hour long layover in Newark waiting for me so a delay in Chicago only meant that I was waiting to fly to Italy in a different airport. After touching down in Newark, I really wanted to get out and explore New York but quickly realized I just didn’t have the time to do it. Which was okay since I was flying to Milan, Italy to begin traveling the world.
The flight to Milan was an overnight flight and I slept for most of it. When I awoke the next morning, I pulled open the window cover and realized we were flying over a city. I quickly checked the map on the LCD screen in front of me and realized it was Paris! Take a look at one of the pictures and see if you can see the Eiffel Tower.
When I landed in Italy, I had no idea what to do. I actually just sat in the airport for about 45 minutes looking around, sorting through my backpack, and occasionally laughing to myself at the fact that I was finally doing this. (In fact, throughout the whole day today I would find myself occasionally laughing in disbelief at what I was doing). Once I finally settled down, I continued through the airport. I waited so long there was actually no lines to check my passport. They scanned and stamped my passport and that was it. I was in Italy. At this point I realized I was free to do anything I wanted, which was a very strange feeling. I never recognized how most everyday up to this point I spent the whole day wondering what I was supposed to do next? This realization came as I asked myself then “What am I supposed to do next?” Today, there was nothing I was supposed to do next.
Earlier in the week I received an offer on CouchSurfing.com from a man named Davide a saying that if I needed a place to sleep and Italy, I was more than welcome to sleep on his couch. It sounded like a great offer to me but it meant finding my way to Luino, Italy which was about 35 miles away from where I landed. I knew that trains were the best way to get around here so I looked for the train station at the airport. I found it but realized I would have to wait in the airport for another four hours before the train arrived if I wanted to ride all the way to Luino. Now, I didn’t fly all the way to Italy to sit an airport for four hours, so I found a Wi-Fi connection and checked to see which route I could take to walk to Luino. (At this point the only time I can use my phone is when I have a Wi-Fi connection, I have not yet set up phone service here in Europe; I’m quickly finding out that this is a huge pain in the ass and will try get set up a phone tomorrow). Thanks to Google Maps, I found a walking route and was able to save that map off-line so I could continue to use it even without an internet connection on my walk.
I left the airport and headed north. (Again, many times on the walk I found myself occasionally laughing at the idea that I was now backpacking in a foreign land). Not long after beginning my walk, I was outside of the city and walking down a country highway. I probably would have been smart to make sure my water bottle was full before I started walking (it wasn’t) but thankfully I soon came to a small gas station. There was a small dog running and so I sat down. He didn’t care. He just barked until his owner came over. It’s funny to see people’s faces when I began speaking English to them, some immediately just say no no, some just have a puzzled look on their face, and some people actually know enough English to carry-on a conversation. Luckily the gas station attendant new enough English to help me out. He was happy to fill my water bottle for me. (I’ll have to make sure I have water with me at all times). Then I asked him if I was on the right way to Luino. He laughed. He said that it was quite a walk to Luino and that it would take me all day to do it. I knew it was a long walk but again, I had no intention of sitting around an airport and was happy to do anything else instead. I thanked him and continued walking down the country highway.
Eventually I started seeing signs of civilization again, and after figuring out where I was on my map I realized I was in Somma, Italy. There was a supermarket there so I went inside and purchased myself a red bull and a banana. The supermarket girl was very cute and spoke no English at all. I didn’t realize I was supposed to weigh the banana myself but the girl had no way to verbalize this. Since she spoke no English she used her hands to represent a scale weighing the banana. We both smiled. I realized my mistake and quickly ran back over to the produce section to weigh the fruit. There’s a number that correlates with every piece of produce. Bananas were number 6. I found the scale and weighed the banana, punching in the number 6 and out popped a little sticker. I quickly ran back over to the cashier, paid for my items, and was on my way again.
Walk through Somma, I eventually stopped across from a small restaurant. I pulled out my phone to check to see if I had there was Wi-Fi network nearby. Thankfully there was. By now it was 2 PM so I called my mother to tell her I was alive and then decided to see if there were any trains in Somma heading to Luino. The closest one was 5 miles away and it left in one hour. I knew I would be cutting it close if I decided to walk this distance so I jumped on Uber to see if I could find a ride. I was in luck. There was an Uber driver 17 minutes away. He was a very friendly fellow by the name of Claudio and he was happy to give me a ride to the train station. We raced through the narrow, brick-paved streets of this Italy town, streets just wide enough to squeeze a single vehicle all the while honking the horn at every turn to ensure that we didn’t crash into anyone. For as fast as we were going, almost felt like a scene out of the movies. We arrived at the train station in no time. The station was a rundown building with boarded up doors. There no ticket booth. Nothing. I had no idea if I was supposed to already have a ticket or not. There was a girl sitting on a bench. If she wasn’t there I would have really questioned whether or not I was even at the right place. I asked the girl if she could help me but she simply smiled and said no English. The train arrived a few short minutes later so I climbed on board and asked some boys sitting there if anyone spoke English. One of them did. I explained my situation and he walked me to the end of the train so that I could pay my fare. He did the translating for me and I quickly had myself a train ticket. We stood at the end of the train there and talked until he got off at the next exit. Before he left, he explained that I was in the first-class section and needed to move back to the second-class section, which I was fine with. There were plenty more seats back there anyway and I was finally able to sit down for a long while. My feet and legs were growing sore and I was happy to be sitting. Luckily my back was fine. (I’m glad I had such a helpful representative in the backpack department at REI… thanks Tori!). The train was bound for Luino, which was a 40 minute train ride, and the view out window opposite me was spectacular. Much of ride ran right along Lake Maggiore, a lake that sits right in front of the Alps on the Italy/Switzerland border. It’s amazing that all these people on the train get to see this view every single day.
The train arrived at Luino. The train station was large but it was mostly empty so I followed the locals through it to find myself on the streets of Luino. Without having any way to contact my CouchSurfing host, I started walking around and exploring the city, all the while occasionally checking to see if I had a Wi-Fi connection. Davide told me to look for the town center. The town center had been turned into a large market today with vendors selling everything from shoes and clothes to small knickknacks and even chainsaws. I didn’t need too buy anything but it was certainly fun to look around. I finally found a Wi-Fi signal and sent a few messages on CouchSurfing to Davide and kept walking. Eventually I found myself at the edge of the lake and the view was absolutely gorgeous.
When 5 o’clock rolled around, I knew Davide would be getting off work, so I went back to the Wi-Fi network to see if he was receiving my messages. No reply. Since I had an Internet connection, I use the Google Translate app to translate something along the lines of “pardon me, may I use your phone to call my friend”. I was going to start asking people to borrow their phone and figured if I encountered anyone who did not speak English (everyone) I could show them this message. Thankfully, after talking to about three people I came across two guys who were happy to help. One of them spoke very good English and after he realized the situation gladly offered me his friend’s cell phone. I called Davide and after the second time calling he answered. He was excited to hear from me and said we should meet at the train station. The two guys offered to walk back to the train station with me. When we arrived, I thanked them and found a nice bench to sit on across from two older gentleman, one with a very small dog.
Again, I found myself laughing about the fact that I was clear across the world with nothing but a backpack and no plans whatsoever. After 15 or 20 minutes, Davide pulled up. I threw my backpack in the backseat and jumped in the to the passenger seat. I could immediately tell that I was going to get along with him very well, he was a very friendly and outgoing. We talked about him as a CoucSurfing host and he told me I was actually the 31st per first person to stay with him in the past nine months. Before we stopped at his place, he need to stop at the mechanic before 6 PM. It was 5:50 PM. Queue another race scene through the narrow streets of a small Italian town. I beginning to realize that this is just how all Italians drive, or at least that’s what I think. Even after we left the mechanic to drive back to his house, it was a wild ride.
10 minutes later we dropped his car off at his place and he began showing me around the town. We walked along the lake and then turned turned town as he told me about all the things that I should see and do while I was here. We passed a little meat and cheese shop, and he said there was something that I just had to try. He bought and and we left. We continued walking and found a bakery. We stopped, and he ended up buying what he called pasta. It was not like any pasta I had seen before, it was actually strips of dough that were deep-fried. We continued walking and finally got back to his place. Davide began preparing dinner. We listened to music and talked as he began placing dishes to the table. The last thing that brought to the table was the item that we purchased at the meat and cheese shop. He opened the the plastic bag and pulled out what looked like another small white bag inside it. After he placed it on a plate though, I realized that it was actually something we were supposed to eat. It was mozzarella cheese like none I’d seen before, and as he cut into it, the center of it spilled out onto the plate. That outer surface of the cheese held together but the the center of this blob was mix of cream and cheese and it was absolutely delicious! We continued eating dinner, drinking, and chatting. Eventually, as 10 o’clock rolled around I realized just how tired I was. I didn’t know if this was jetlag, but I was very very tired indeed. Davide suggested I sleep in a second room so that I wouldn’t be disturbed as he got ready for work in the morning. He gave me keys to his place and said I was more than welcome to come and go as I please tomorrow (no way! How awesome is that?!)
Time to sleep. I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow but I have several ideas. I sure hope my feet and legs quickly adapt to all this walking. I’ve got plenty more walking to do before this trip is over.