travelogue the third – italy

July 4, 2009 at 8:42 pm (travel)

i’m sure it would be nice to hear about the good bits of my trip, the ones that came after the last traveloguebut instead, let me tell you about italy.

last time i was in italy i stood on burning hot roads and got yelled at, spat at and gestured at, at regular intervals of about three seconds. i got lost and got given bad directions, i got so fed up that i stowed away on a train, then went out of my way to swítzerland because it was a slightly closer border than the one i should’ve crossed.

this trip, i certainly had no intention of setting foot in italy. yet there i was in beautiful, helpful slovenia, on my way to ljubljiana with recommendations of places to stay, things to do and ways to get out at the end, when my truck did not let me off at my highway as he had agreed to. he took me to trieste.

i sadly abandonded my plans for ljubljana and decided that the fastest way north to austria was as good as i’d get.

of course, at the truck stop in trieste it is very difficult to find a truck going a different direction, and leaving the truck stop for the highway is a bad idea in italy, with two kinds of not very forgiving police. and it’s no fun to move at all in the heat of the day. so i let him take me to mestre, where there was a stop where there would be trucks going in different directions.

of course this was not true either. the stop was 2km past my highway, everyone was still travelling west and there were cops everywhere, i think i was told it was a bomb scare. so i got in a different truck to the next likely highway, at verona.

after an extended period of dispairing ever finding my way out of this impossible country, a car took me from truck stop to highway tollbooth. this, however, was not much of an improvement. my driver pointed to a crossroad and said i needed to go there, though the highway i was on should’ve been the right direction. eventually i hopped the small, crushed fence and walked 50m to a shopping centre, there to finally find a couple of people who speak english, staffing a booth selling credit cards or phones or something. they were very helpful, printing out a map and telling me to walk up up up here and down down down here, to find myself at the right road. on pain of prison i was not to jump the fence, that would be very dangerous.

advice safely tucked away and having restocked in the supermarket, half a bottle of cold juice went some way to reviving me. so i shouldered my bags again, and set out. up, up, up a km or two, past three roundabouts and a whole lot of shopping centre, i found the highway and turned back in on myself. down, down, down on the unpaved side of the highway, i dutifully did not stick my thumb out until i reached the end of the motorway, though the signs confirmed i was walking away from my destination.

of course, after at least 3km, can you guess? i found a tollbooth and a crushed fence to a shopping centre. i’m sure 50m of grass and a metre high wire fence is so dangerous that walking kilometres on the road is better.

the sun was going down by the time someone stopped. he was going in to verona and offered to take me to the train station, and by that time i was prepared to ditch the hitchhiking in favour of just getting out to hitch another day.

of course i wasn’t so thrilled when i found i had been taken from somewhere with a nice campable field, and dumped at a local train station, with only local trains, and no people. aimlessly leaving the station i got talking to two nigerian guys, who discussed racism in italy, religion, and how women are made to be protected. i argued well but still accepted their offer of hospitality. i found myself in a little apartment that must once have been beautiful, before everything was broken. my tour of the bathroom included the shower, which was a big bucket to fill with water and a dish to pour it with, and the light. ‘it goes off sometimes, but don’t worry, it goes back on.’

despite all, they were very hospitable. i got to eat the african food they made for themselves, semolina to roll in balls with your right hand and shape into a slight bowl, to pick up the spicy fish and chicken stew. i have much to learn in the etiquette of eating with my fingers, but nothing was said about my stew splatters everywhere or my very imperfect semolina shapes. it was delicious.

by the time it was apparrent i had half a bed, not a couch to sleep on, i was not surprised. after a bit of arguing he accepted the no touch rule, and i got a decent night’s sleep with no covers and an open window. in the morning he was not quite as cheery as he would’ve been if i had accepted being his girlfriend and agreed to come and visit italy again, but he took me to the bus to the big train station and gave me advice. ‘if you get there, ask a black man for the information office.’

the bus gave me a nice tour of the city, despite not knowing how to pay. it went on for ever and they have a lot of old buildings that look like they’ve been standing there placidly for ever, but just might melt if it rains. people live around them like they’re solid and dependable though, so maybe i’ll trust them on it.

of course i found that my latest friends had picked up the knack for italian directions that they themselves had complained about. the train station was supposed to be the end of the line, so i didn’t get off at the bus station. i continued on and on and on through suburbs, to another bus station. hang on, surely that’s the same church with suspicious carvings… i got off and walked back, and just when i was going to ask a black man i found an information office. he was genuinely surprised that i wanted a train, since he dealt with buses, but he waved me to the other building where i found actual, almost-accurate train information, and even acceptable directions to the ticket office. i bought my ticket to the border, which is as far as they would sell, and even managed to figure out which platform i needed, and find it!

i waited an hour or two on the platform, with four tvs cycling the same five ads at me, sound fading in and out. i got it confirmed that i was on the right platform and that the next train would be mine. i thought i was away once i got on the train, there was space and it was indeed non-smoking, but there was one final little mishap just to remind me where i still was. i proudly showed the ticket inspector the ticket i had managed to both buy and follow, but with the aid of a book of pictures he showed me that i was supposed to validate it. apparrently somewhere, on train or platform, i had missed some yellow machines where i was to stick my newly-bought international train ticket. still, he scrawled all over it, stamped it twice and left me to breathe again.

i did achieve the border, met up with another australian with a hostel address and a local who knew that the austrian trains can be paid for on board, and things ran smoothly again. i stayed a night in innsbruck and set off to enjoy the austrian roads. forget macedonia and bosnia, i can be proud i made it out of italy alive!

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