It was time to explore Rome. I had a rough idea where I wanted to go but had a short walk to get there. Most of the walk was through a city that felt like any other in Italy. Building after building, I wasn’t paying much attention to the modern architecture around me. Suddenly, as a passed down a narrow street between two large buildings, there stood the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Colosseum. This is the Rome I was looking for.
The Colosseum was just the tip of the iceberg. Stretching out behind it were ancient Roman ruins heavily protected by the city. Tourists lined up to enter the ruins that were fenced off from everything else around them. I decided to walk around the outside parameter to see as much as I could without being surrounded by the huge masses of people.
There was so much to see in Rome. I’m sure I could have spent several more days just exploring. Everywhere you turned, there was something that reminded you that you were in a city thousands of years old. To my disappointment, the Trevi Fountain was under heavy renovations, but there was still so much to see throughout the city. At one point, I ended up at a dead end with a single door at the end of it people were slowly trickling in and out of. It was small church, so I took a look inside. The church was certainly very old, and made me wonder how many people had stepped foot through its doors.
That night, I met back up with my friends from the night before. We sat around on the rooftop again. This time there were a few new faces; two of them were a couple of girls from Buffalo who were convinced they needed to go to a certain Roman club that night. We sat around, telling stories and joking until the rooftop closed and again we made our way to the bar downstairs.
Not many people were excited about the club idea, but I wasn’t all that opposed. Aussie Matt initially didn’t want to join us, but after a few more beers we were able to convince him. The girls went and got ready while the guys waited around at the bar.
We took a taxi to the club and walked up to the entrance. The bouncer stopped us at the door, looked us over, and proceeded to explain to us that the club was closed that night. Apparently the electricity was out, he said. What’s curious about the whole thing is that there we Italian girls waiting on the other site of the door. Maybe they were electricians.
The taxi driver hadn’t left yet so we caught a ride back to the hostel. The bouncers back at the club didn’t realize since Matt had been a chef in Italy the last two years, he spoke some Italian. He explained to us on the ride back that they were criticizing the girls’ footwear; the girls had decided to wear flip flops to the club. Oh well.
Before we called it a night, we stopped at a little pizza shop across from the hostel. After a couple of drinks and some slices of pizza, I decided to head back. I thought about staying another night but decided against it. I had heard some good things about Cinque Terre from an former coworker and knew it would be an escape from the big, touristy cities I had been visiting. At this point, I think it’s exactly what I needed.
There were messages from a BlaBlaCar driver waiting for me when I awoke today. Looks like I’d have a ride after all. The pickup location was at a train station across town so I’d have a nice little walk ahead of me. I went downstairs and enjoyed another fine breakfast with the folks from San Francisco. After another long chat, this time about our experiences in Venice the day before, I packed up my things, showered, and hit the road.
At this point, the feeling of being disconnected came over me again the same way as before and at this point, I was really starting to enjoy it.
There wasn’t much to see on my walk through the city, but just before I arrived at the train station, I walked through a tunnel with some very cool street art.
I had three hours to kill and thought I should probably eat before a five hour drive to Rome. There was an Italian restaurant across the street with plenty of locals so I knew it couldn’t be too bad. No one there spoke any English so the waitress just brought me out something she thought I’d like. I paid and left but not before snapping a picture of a man who brought his parakeet to the bar.
After lunch, I sat in a nearby park reading the book my mother got for me entitled “How To Travel The World On $50 A Day.” What an absolutely essential book for someone new to backpacking. This book has it all! I’d strongly recommend anyone thinking of traveling abroad to read it.
I met my BlaBlaCar driver at the train station. She spoke very little English but her Italian passenger did and ended up doing some translating for us. She drove a Mercedes Coupe, which might sound nice unless you’re stuck in the back seat for five hours. The craziest part is that she drove right down the middle of the highway almost the entire drive. I later had to ask other Italians if this is typical of Italian drivers. It wasn’t. When we got to Rome, it came time to pay from my ride. “55 euros,” she said. 55 euros!?! BlaBlaCar told me it was only supposed to be 22! Luckily, I had taken a screenshot on my phone of the price earlier that day. I don’t think she was too happy about this but it immediately resolved the issue. I paid the woman and followed her other passenger into the Metro Station. We still weren’t in the heart of Rome; to get there would require a short metro ride. The BlaBlaCar passenger I was with was happy to help me out. He bought me a metro ticket and made sure I arrived at the right stop.
I hostel I booked was only a couple blocks from the metro station. The clerk at the front desk was a very friendly guy from the Philippines and had me checked into the place in a matter of minutes. I stopped by my room, locked my stuff into one of the lockers, and headed to the rooftop where I was told there’d be people hanging out. Several tables and chairs were arranged on fake grass and everyone immediately greeted me with a hello as soon as a walked out onto the roof. When I realized everyone had a drink in their hand, I decided to go back downstairs to the bar to grab one or two for myself.
Apparently, tonight’s lesson was going to be one about always carrying cash. The hostel bar only accepted cash but was kind enough to point me in the direction of the nearest ATM. Unfortunately, this would require hopping back onto the metro to the next station. No worries, I already had a metro ticket that was good for 100 minutes. Only it wasn’t. It was good for a single ride up to 100 minutes after it was purchased. Since my last metro ticket was bought for me, I hadn’t yet learned that the metro ticket machines and my credit cards didn’t like each other. Of course I didn’t have any cash for one either. Defeated, I walked back towards the hostel.
There was a restaurant across from the hostel so I decided having something to eat would lift my spirits. I made sure I could pay with a credit card and before I left, I asked if I could buy a beer to go. They were happy to oblige. It took me almost two hours but I was finally back on the hostel rooftop with drink in hand.
I met some great people that night. There were a few girls from Canada, a guy from Brazil, another girl from who knows where, and then there was Aussie Matt. Matt was a long time chef that had nothing good to say about anything, and we hit it off immediately; I just seem to get along well with Australians. Around 11PM they closed the rooftop and most of us moved to the bar downstairs. It was so satisfying hanging out with people who had the same goal in life: traveling the world.
Most of the bar’s playlist included old classic American rock songs that everyone seemed to know. At one point, “Time of My Life” came on. That’s when Matt decided to bust out his dances moves. Every time the chorus came on he would stand up on the bench, dancing and singing his heart out. Everyone loved it, and Matt was convinced that before the end of the song he was going to have to reenact the lift scene from Dirty Dancing. One of us ‘blokes‘ was going to going to have be lifted into the air by a drunk Australian. Of course no one else thought this was a good idea, but I’m sure you can guess who volunteered.
We cleared out a space at the front of the small bar. I walked down the hall, got ready, and waited for my queue. Just as the last chorus came on, I ran down into the bar where Matt waited.
I don’t think I was in the air longer than a second before Matt fell over backwards. I bounced off the table behind him and rolled on the ground. Matt hit the ground and rolled backwards. The bar went wild. I’m sure the videos they all recorded are floating around somewhere on YouTube by now.
We all stayed up a couple more hours before heading to bed. While reading other blogs and stories from fellow backpackers, these were the types of experiences that always stood out to me. Nights like these are the ones that will make this backpacking trip something I’ll remember forever.
The bed and breakfast was just what I needed to get my head on straight again. I woke up in my nice room, in a very nice bed, and had a nice breakfast. Today was off to a good start. The night before, I stayed awake looking for a ride to Venice and room when I got there so my plan for today was all mapped out.
I had an hour and a half walk ahead of me that morning in order to arrive at the pick up location. It was a pleasant stroll taking me past city parks, shopping centers, the highway, and finally out towards the country on the outskirts of Verona. Once again, I would occasionally find a smile on my face as I walked along.
The BlaBlaCar driver was very friendly. Him and his wife were traveling along with another BlaBlaCar rider from France. It was short ride, just over an hour, and we talked about our trips across Europe. The driver was kind enough to drop me off on the street where I would be staying. I thanked them and they left. As I walked down the street, I asked an older man if I was on the right track. He spoke no English but after seeing the address I had written down, he pointed to a tree next to us. “Tree?” I asked. “Si” he replied, as the the pointed down the street at the largest tree in the neighborhood, then gestured that the house was right on the other side. I thanked him and kept walking.
The room I booked in Venice was found using AirBnB; it would be the first time I’d ever used the service but I had heard nothing but good things about it. The room I found was in the home of a family of five and they had amazing reviews so I figured I’d give it a shot.
I arrived at the home and rang the buzzer; every home and business in Italy seems to have a fence around it. Everywhere. I was buzzed in by the father who I knew from the AirBnB listing spoke very little English. I introduced myself and he called for the mother to come downstairs to help me get acquainted with the place. Again, I introduced myself and she said “Russell?” as if she were asking if I was sure. “Yes, Russell” I told her. Suddenly, the look on her face changed from happy to a very stern, almost upset look. She immediately walked into the next room, pulling her husband behind her. Of course I had no idea what they were saying, but by the time they got back, I knew something was wrong.
She was a little more calm at this point than when she left the room and very politely explained to me that they weren’t expecting me until May. Apparently I had chosen the wrong month. I checked my email and sure enough, it was for May. After looking back at the iPhone app, I realized just how easy it is accidentally change the month while scrolling through the days of the month. I will not be making this mistake again.
Luckily I had booked this room with the nicest family in Italy. She told me she had an idea and disappeared into the next room again. I could tell she was on the phone this time, and when she got back, she said I could sleep in her son’s room. I told her this wasn’t necessary and that I could just as easily find another place to stay that nice but she insisted. She told me to go out and enjoy Venice. By the time I got back, she said, everything would be in order.
There’s more to this story involving an hour an a half conversation about how AirBnB makes changes to reservations. It’s not worth going in to great detail but the misunderstanding boiled down to a simple miscommunication. While she was trying to explain everything to me, she kept using past tense while she was actually referring to something that was going to happen after I left. Too bad I don’t speak Italian.
It was late afternoon by this point, and I had actually booked two nights in Venice to give myself all day tomorrow to explore. After the incident back at the house though, I decided it would be nice to head to Venice that night just to take my mind off the problems I caused and to familiarize myself with the 40 minute bus ride to Venice.
I arrived at the main bus depot and walked around Venice for a couple of hours just to get a sense of the city. I could immediately tell that exploring this city tomorrow was going to be so much fun. Before it got too late, I hopped back on the bus to head back. Just a block down the street from the bus stop where I got off was an Italian restaurant so I stopped in for a bite to eat. The food was fantastic!
A short 20 minute walk after dinner got me back to the home I was staying at. I figured I would write a few blog posts and call it a night. That’s when I heard a knock on my door. It was the younger of the two sons asking if everything was ok. I told him everything was great and thanked him and his family for bending over backwards to help me out like they did. He also explained the reason he came up was to invite me out with him and some of his buddies to the local pub. Definitely.
We got to the pub and met his friends in the side room. They were immediately very friendly and welcoming and were happy to explain most everything in English to me. Hanging out with these guys reminded me of all my friends from home and was definitely the best night I’ve had in Italy so far. One guy even reminded me of my brother. He didn’t speak any English but just by the way he talked and joked around, I could see my brother in him. At the end of the night, as we were driving home, they all made plans to eat sushi and invited me along. Definitely.
While I may have screwed up the reservation, I definitely picked the right place to stay. The family was nothing but nice throughout the whole experience and made me feel right at home.
I woke up and walked down the stairs to find a breakfast waiting for all the guests. The mother welcomed me to the table with a huge smile and I took a seat along with three others who had stayed at the home last night. Breakfast consisted of fresh muffins, fruit sauce (which is the only way I can describe it; think apple sauce made with several types of fruit), and toast. The other three at the table were all from San Francisco and even after I finished eating, I sat at the table for at least another hour just chatting away with them.
That morning I wrote a couple of blog posts and took a shower. I hopped on the bus and knew exactly how to get to Venice.
I spent most of the day walking about Venice but I’m not quite sure how to describe the place without showing tons of pictures. The entire town is a huge, HUGE maze. I have no idea how any one there gets around. While it’s true many of the “streets” are actually canals designed for boats, you can just as easily get around on the pathways that run along and between the canals. It was obvious well before I arrived in Venice that cities in Italy were not designed with a grid system in mind, but Venice took the cake for craziest streets and pathways.
It literally felt like being inside a huge maze and it was awesome. I loved just wandering around aimlessly trying to get from one site to another. Looking on a map would show streets that looked more like a back alley when you actually looked at them. Many times I found myself just following someone who looked like they knew where they were going. Overall, Venice was just a ton of fun to explore.
That evening I hopped back on the bus towards the house. When I arrived, the son I hung out with last night met me at the door and explained that he and his friends would not be meeting up tonight; at the last minute his work had called and he had to go in. No problem at all. This just gave me more time to plan tomorrow’s trip. I messaged several people on BlaBlaCar but as it grew later and later, I didn’t expect to hear back from anyone until the next morning. I was quite hungry that night but also too lazy to do anything about it. I went to bed hungry without a solid plan the next day, but I wasn’t too worried about it.
I had survived the hostel. I actually slept quite well besides waking up a little earlier than normal to the sound of a snoring Frenchman. Note to self: Use the eye mask and ear plugs you bought next time.
I thought about taking the shower but didn’t. It would be time to checkout soon and I still hadn’t found a ride to Venice. I went downstairs long enough to attempt a wifi connection and found a BlaBlaCar driver heading the the right direction. After contacting him, I translated his pick up location from Italian to English and knew where I needed to go today. It was time to leave.
The metro station wasn’t much more than a 10 minute walk from the hostel. Luckily the automatic ticket terminals had an English option so I was able to get a ticket with minimal effort. The train soon arrived and shortly after I was at my destination. Followed the signs reading “Uscita”, I reached the surface. It was here that I would wait until noon to get a ride from a complete stranger that didn’t even speak the same language. How exciting!
I was feeling less like an outsider today. This was probably because, while on the train, it was easy to imagine I was back in the states again in any other big city. Most things were represented by pictures instead of words, and there weren’t many people around me speaking Italian to remind me where I actually was. Maybe they were all too tired. Regardless, the feeling of being disconnected wasn’t quite as strong this morning. Perhaps I was just growing used to it.
Once to the surface, I saw a McDonalds across the street. I had enough time to have a quick bite to eat and maybe even contact the BlaBlaCar driver while I waited. Sticking with the idea of cheap, I got a hamburger and a cheeseburger. They taste exactly the same as they do back home… which isn’t saying much.
Italy has a law that anyone using public wifi must provide enough information when connecting to be personally identifiable. Most of the time they want the user’s mobile phone number and without one, you’ve got to fall back to using a credit card just to identify yourself. All this was a pain and I wasn’t actually able to contact the driver. No worries. I knew where to meet the driver. I’d just go back across the street and wait patiently, hoping that he’d show up.
I just realized I have no idea what day of the week it is.
On the very short walk back to the metro station, I actually saw a Buell motorcycle like mine! The rider was just about to leave but I stopped him for a quick picture.
The BlaBlaCar driver was right on time and was picking up two other passengers. Both were girls, one from the Netherlands and the other from Italy. The girl from the Netherlands spoke English rather well and we talked for a short while. When she fell asleep, I stayed awake listening to the Italian girl and the driver chat.
With what English the driver could speak, I learned that BlaBlaCar was a very popular way to get around in Europe. The ride went smoothly and soon I was in Verona for many times less than the cost of a train ticket. I paid the driver and began walking. He dropped us off right in front of the Verona Arena so I walked around taking a few pictures. Compared to Milan, there didn’t seem to be as much to see in Verona besides some bridges and few bell towers. I can’t remember who said I needed to go to Verona but I’m not sure why they would suggest it.
Maybe it was this thought that triggered a chain reaction of more negative thoughts that day. Over the next couple of hours, I continued having thoughts like these. Was I growing tired of Italy already? Should I just head north now, making an unplanned trip to Austria on my way to Switzerland? Should I stick with my plan just to see if there’s anything more I enjoy about Italy? Maybe Italy isn’t for me. I’d be having such a better time if I didn’t have this backpack weighing me down. Where am I going to stay tonight? And what’s my plan for tomorrow? How can I keep going like this if I have no way to speak to people and have to keep relying on wifi networks to make plans?
Hours went by while walking throughout Verona as I asked myself all these dumb, doubting questions. I never once thought I wanted to stop my backpacking trip, but I was thinking and worrying about everything else I possibly could. This was really starting to get to me.
I was hungry and I had no one to talk to, so I walked into the next little cafe with a wifi sign on the door and ordered some pasta. I figured sitting in the back of the cafe would buy me some extra time to relax and figure out what was going with me.
I decided to call home. I talked to my parents and just vented. I don’t know how much of what I said to them made sense; not much of it even made sense to me. I was just doubting everything and I never expected myself to feel like this on my trip. My dad offered me some very good bit of advice: slow down. Stop feeling like you need to do anything. Enjoy the time you’ve given yourself.
I was glad I called home. I was already feeling a little better after talking with them and decided that I needed to figure out where I was going to stay that night. I chose some place I thought would help me relax and think about my trip. There was a little bed and breakfast not far from me (according to the map) and so I booked a room and began walking.
I immediately felt considerably better just having a plan for that night. The walk to the bed and breakfast gave me time to clear my head, and after 45 minutes I had reached my destination.
Except that it wasn’t were it was supposed to be. I was in a small shopping district that didn’t appear to have any signs of a bed and breakfast anywhere near me. Oh great. I walked up and down the streets trying to figure out my mistake. I didn’t have an exact street address but new I was in the right neighborhood according to the map I saved at the cafe. After 20 minutes of walking around, I decided to start asking. The first guy I asked had no idea and said I was probably lost. How helpful. I walked closer to where I thought the bed and breakfast was supposed to be and asked two men in a cell phone shop. One man knew exactly what I was looking for and walked me up the street. There was a door here like all other doors around it, but he pointed to the buzzer next to this door. There, in letters smaller than what you’re reading now, was the name of the bed and breakfast. I had finally found it.
I hit the buzzer and the door but no one answered. Luckily a lady was walking into the door and was kind enough to let me in and direct me upstairs. Two flights of stairs brought me to a dark hallway, at the end of which was a kitchen area. The lights automatically lit up as I walked towards the kitchen, revealing that this place was actually quite nice. A wifi router sat in the hallway. I reached the kitchen and sat at the table, a very small but also very nice and clean kitchen. Not knowing what to do next, I walked backed to the router and got the wifi password. I pulled out my laptop and tried to find out if I was arriving too late and if I even successfully booked my room at all.
A short while later, a man staying here came out of his room into the kitchen. I tried to ask him if there was anyone who could help me but he spoke no English at all. Since I was connected to wifi, I used Google Translate to explain to him my situation. After realizing, he was very happy to help and called the bed and breakfast owner. I thanked him and continued to wait. A guy younger than me arrived shortly after and spoke English rather well. I gave him some extra information and was finally allowed into a room. A very nice room. A perfect place to relax.
I think I want to get a dog when I get back to the states.
I spent the rest of the night thinking about all the weird, doubting thoughts I had earlier in the day. I thought about what my parents had told me. In the end, I realized they were right. I was trying to move to fast. I spent most every day of my life up to that point having responsibilities, deadlines, schedules. The thoughts earlier today that I could do almost anything were almost too much to handle. I had saved up the money and given myself all this time to relax, to travel, and to see the world. There was no reason I needed to rush or feel like I had to do anything at all. By the end of the day, I was glad to be able to pinpoint the root cause of all of my anxiety that day.
The other thing I realized that night was how good it felt having a plan for where to stay at night regardless of where it was or if I even made it happen. Just the thought alone of having a place to sleep was a comforting one that helped me get through the day.
Though it was quite a confusing and overall weird day for me, I went to bed happy that night.
The train ride into Milan was a short one, but it gave me some time to figure out the places I wanted to see while I was there. I had found some great apps on my phone for exploring Italy. One of the apps has the ability to create what it calls a ‘city walk’. It allows you select several sites you’d like to see around the city and then it automatically generates a route around the city to view them all. Very cool.
With my city walk created, I was ready to see some of the main attractions in the lawn. The train arrived at the station, and I knew exactly where I wanted to go. But first I needed pizza!
After eating, I began walking around Milan and was surprised to see how much it reminded me of a large American city. I wasn’t in a small Italian town anymore.
While walking around the city, a man from Dubai stopped me and asked if I could take his picture in front of a monument. His name was Aziz, a friendly fellow, and I ended up walking around the city with him for several hours. He’d been in Milan for a couple days already and had already seen a few of the sites so he took me around.
At the end of the the city walk, we arrived at the Milan Cathedral. This this is spectacular to see in person. You can even go inside to look around. I tried to walk into the cathedral but I was stopped by a soldier guarding the entrance. He told me my backpack was too large. Since Aziz was going inside, we said goodbye and parted ways.
At some point earlier in the day I had stopped to book myself a place to stay. I figured at this point, I should start walking in that direction. I wasn’t sure, but while walking I thought I’d felt a raindrop or two. I should’ve paid closer attention, because not two minutes later it started pouring. I had plenty of rain gear with me but putting it all on meant digging through my bag to get it out. I found the driest place I could find under a tree and started digging through my backpack. Waterproof pants… Check. Waterproof jacket… check. Waterproof shoes? Nope, didn’t have any of those. I finally through all of my rain gear on and repacked my bag. I wrapped my bag in my rainproof cover and continued walking. Looks like the next two hours would be walking in the rain.
The nice thing about walking in the rain is that it takes your mind off of how sore your body is.
By the time I arrived at the hostel the sun had gone down and me shoes were soaked all the way through. I should’ve paid much closer attention to the ratings on the website I booked with because this place was a dump. The only thing this place had going for it was the people staying there. Everyone I talked to for all parts of the world were very friendly. After talking to one guy staying there, I learned that the hostel was commonly given a rating of two on most travel websites. Not a two on a five point scale. It was two on a ten point scale. I should’ve taken more pictures, especially of the room I stayed in, but trust me when I say that this place was no Holiday Inn.
When I checked in and finally got up to my room, there was a French guy watching a movie on top of one of the bunk beds. All five other beds were empty. I dropped off some of my belongings and decided to go downstairs into the common area to connect to the Internet. The connection was terrible but I saw that they had lockers available. I went back to my room to grab my stuff to lock up. I stayed downstairs in the common area and I met a few very interesting people.
One lady told me she was a movie writer with a crazy past. She told me she had been working on a movie that the government did not want produced, and they were doing everything in their power to end the production of the movie. First they poured gas into to room while she was sleeping. She said it made her develop a 50 lb. pool of liquid in her body cavity she can’t get rid of. Then they bombed her. Twice. They stole her purse with all her movie industry contacts in it. Then, she said, they ended up killing the first producer of the movie. They must really not want this movie produced.
I also met Yana, a woman from the Ukraine. She was looking for people around the room to split a pizza with and I was hungry so we decided to buy a seafood pizza and some beer. We talked for awhile and before I turned in for the evening, Yana told me she said she knows a couch surfing host in Paris I might be able to stay with. Awesome.
The last few days were spent walking around Luino. This place is exactly what I would imagine a small Italian town to be; scooters everywhere, narrow streets, bakeries and pizzarias. It’s certainly not a town you would find anywhere in America. I didn’t take many pictures. Instead I focused more on simply soaking in the small-town Italian atmosphere. Since Davide allowed me to use his apartment to come and go as I pleased, I left all my belongings there and was able to explore without the burden of my backpack. Only later would I realize how reliant I became on having that place to stay.
When Davide got home from work around 6 PM each night, I was able to get a better idea of what it was like to be an Italian in a small Italian town. The night of the 16th we decided to go out for pizza, but he said we couldn’t go have pizza until we had ‘aperitivo’ first. I had no idea what this was but wasn’t about to disagree. I would later learned that aperitivo is one of my favorite things about Italy. Imagine happy hour only after ordering your drinks, you’re served appetizer after appetizer in unlimited quantities. This was awesome! And this was only in preparation for dinner? I could get used to this. We hit the streets and stopped at a local bar.
After aperitivo, we continued down to a little pizza shop. Davide said we should eat here he thought the waitress was cute. Fine by me. We sat down and ordered from the menu that was covered in dozens and dozens of pizzas. I ordered water, but they had to clarify what type of water I wanted. In Italy, they have two words for water when you order at the restaurant, one that translates to natural water and one that translates to sparkling water. Sparkling water it is I guess, why not? I found out this is very common in all restaurants here.
On the 17th, I walked around some more, taking even fewer pictures. Davide got home from work around 6 PM again, but this time we had other plans. Tonight he had band practice so we had to take a train ride down to Milan. He said he wasn’t a big fan of leaving early so we ended up half walking, half running to the train station. We got there with just enough time to buy a train ticket and walk out to the train platform where we found an enormous hole in a construction zone. Our train was just about to leave and this construction separating us from the platform we needed to be on so we ran back through train station and out onto the next platform to find our train had left. That’s when the fight happened.
Not a fight between Davide and me but between him and a few train station attendants. I have a very clear picture in my head when I think of what it would look like two Italian men fighting; yelling, arms flailing all about, each one getting louder and louder than the first, saying more with their hands that with their words. This fight was exactly that. There were no punches thrown but there were more hand gestures used than I’d ever seen before. It lasted at least 10 minutes and the only thing I could do was stand there and watch; I had no idea what they were yelling about. Eventually the train station attendant left, and we began walking back to the street. I asked him what all that was about and he said we’d need to catch the next train. By then, I had figured that much out on my own.
The next train was only 50 minutes away so we walked to a bar around the corner and waited. Aperitivo!
The train ride into Milan was less than an hour, but it gave me enough time to surf the web looking for my next destination and it gave Davide some time to let play a little bass guitar. Two of his bandmates picked us up at the train station and we drove across town to the jam space. It was in the guitarists basement and seeing the instruments immediately took me back to all the times I’ve jammed with all my friends in all the cities I’ve lived in. And I couldn’t have been happier. I sat watching the band and surfing the web to find a ride to Verona. Towards the end of the jam session, I had found a ride.
After band practice, Davide and I got a ride home with the singer back to his mother’s house. Our plan was to stay the night there and catch a ride to the train station from his brother in the morning. We stayed in his old bedroom on the second floor. It imagine his room hasn’t changed since he was a young kid; there were toys in display cases, posters on the wall, and things to tinkered with scattered all over the floor. He even had a little single string bass that he created when he was younger that I played around with for a bit.
In the morning, I met Davide’s brother, a kid who had a knack for electronics. I got a kick out of his workbench and asked if I could take a picture. He also showed me a little robot he built that was controlled over Wi-Fi with an arm and a camera on the back. At some point I mentioned to Davide that I wished I would’ve brought a pair of jeans on the trip. He asked his brother and they found a pair jeans they said I could have. The design was quite unique; they looked like a pair of jeans I would’ve had when I was younger, but I was happy to have jeans regardless of what they looked like. You’ll start to see what I mean in later pictures. Davide’s brother gave us a ride to the train station. We said a quick goodbye and like that I was on my own again.
It became immediately apparent as soon as Davide left how reliant I was on having a local host to help me out. Once again I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I had no one to help me out, no one to speak the local language, no one who had any previous experience to follow. It was just me again.
I bought my ticket and while waiting for the train, I walked across the street to an international store and bought a bag of peanuts. I got onto the train and headed for downtown Milan.
While on the train I started wondering to myself, why am I really doing this? If I don’t know why, how do I know I’m finding what I’m looking for? What will I have gained by taking this trip? The only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want it to stop.
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.