Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

Trip of a Lifetime

It’s hard to write feelings about an adventure immediately after you’ve experienced it, so forgive me for my tardiness in writing about my time in Italy, France and England.  I needed some time to let it soak in, to let the subtle changes in my person take over, to let the experiences guide me.  That sounds a little new age-y but I’m from Santa Cruz so I just can’t help myself.  

I always forget, when I travel for a long time, that the memories that stick with you aren’t necessarily the places you got to see, but the people you met along the way, the experiences you had, and most importantly for me, the development of the relationship between you and whoever you are with.  I went with Steve, one of my best friends from high school…one of the two people I still talk to from high school.  I won’t wax poetic about what a great friend he is, because he receives this and that’s kind of private, but I will say that a true friend sees you when you’re ugly and sweaty and injured and tired and generally miserable to be around and still loves you afterward.  A true friend also pours water on you when you’ve fallen down a mountainside and cleans up your cuts when you’re too shocked to do it yourself.

Steve and I started with lofty goals about our Italy trip, Vespaing around, hiking through, but in the end we decided to take the train and sometimes numerous buses between places and save the hiking for the non-life-threatening inner town places.  Basically, Italian roads are narrow and people drive fast…we didn’t really want to get killed on this trip.  Though that almost happened anyway, but more on that later.

When Steve first brought up the idea of him moving to Europe I started saving money.  The two of us have this long running unspoken agreement that we will visit each other no matter what crazy far off place the other is living.  Hence me ending up in India for a few weeks and him mozying around London and Paris with me.  I’m hearing rumblings that Indonesia might be my next trip, but nothing is confirmed yet.  Needless to say, when he said, Avignon, I said, okay…I’ll start saving money.  

I knew if I was flying to Europe I was going to go to London.  I haven’t been back in the five years since I lived there, and I have to say, I miss it terribly.  There were approximately three times where tears flooded my eyes and my throat closed up as I sat at LAX waiting for my flight, and another when I looked down at the uneven and often times insane looking patchwork of brown and green parcels of land that I remembered looking down on six years earlier, when I was moving to a new country and was a completely different person.  

Of course, being who I am, my two gay friends from London met me at arrivals…I like to have gay men meet me wherever I go, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  And throughout the first day, more of our friends arrived to meet me as we hopped from pub to pub. And shit, did I miss the British Pub.  American bars, even the divey ones where everybody knows your name, have nothing on the British Pub.  And going to an American bar for a beer at 3 in the afternoon is still somewhat socially unacceptable.  But at the pub, drinking in the afternoon has no bearing to alcoholic tendencies, it’s just about hanging out with friends.  

I won’t be too schmaltzy about how much I loved being in England again, but I will say that it felt like home.  The tears in the airport were a testament to how much England became my home, and my friends their an extended family, in one life-changing year.  In fact, as I was on the train back to London at the end of my trip, I had to keep reminding myself that I would have to fly back to Los Angeles the next day, that, in fact, I was not home yet.  And it ripped a small piece of my heart out that I had to leave.  (I’ll just take this moment to thank my English friends for letting me stay with them and say that I really truly loved seeing you all.  It meant more to me than you could know and I’ll be back soon…perhaps for another year or more).

Of course, staying with tradition, I had to have another of my gay harem pick me up at the train station in Avignon…again with the warm and fuzzies.  And so started the traveling part, in my mind.  Sure, London was part of my trip, but really it was about seeing friends, drinking with them, and bumming around London for 5 days.  It was being home.  Seeing as I speak almost no French, France felt more like traveling to me.  That sligtly panicky feeling when you have no idea where you are and can’t communicate with anyone washed over me as I sat at my station change in Lille.  Hordes of Frenchpeople, their hands teeming with Mickey Mouse dolls and other Euro Disney crap, passed by me speaking a language where I can only decipher ‘Do you speak English?’ and ‘Do you want to go to bed with me tonight?’  Luckily, a drunk Englishwoman (shocking) helped me find my way and I was off to Avignon…the city of popes.  

I rolled in at 8 PM to the cutest smiling face I’ve ever seen.  Practically jumping up and down to see me.  There’s something so special about having being the kind of friends who never loose that youthful, can’t-contain-myself-excitement, when you are seeing each other.  There’s also something to say about friends who can go a year without seeing each other and pick up right where they left off.  I feel pretty lucky to have that.  Steve, being who he is, took me on a Vespa ride almost immediately upon arrival.  Now, many of you may not know this, but I saw a motorcycle accident a few years ago (and almost ran over the cyclist as he crashed in front of my car) and have had a crippling fear of motorcycles since then.  That’s not to say that I don’t think they’re cool and so fucking sexy I can hardly stand it, but I do have a fear.  For me, Steve is the kind of friend that will push the limits of my comfort.  I mean this in a totally good way.  He can see that I’m scared of something (ahem, the eiffel tower) and will agree to hold my hand or be right behind me as he gently pushes me to do it.  There were a few times on our trip where this happened, but he never lets bad things happen to me and I always turn out okay.

Our first stop was Nice, where I swear, I half-expected F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to come stumbling out of a Brasserie, martini glasses in hand.  This is where we started writing.  I’m going to admit that I have not reread anything I wrote.  All my observations are in a notebook on the floor of my room and will be typed up at some point, and hopefully turned into something amazing, but I wanted to do this completely from memory.  

For Steve, our trip started when we flew from Nice to Rome.  And this, I will say, is when the true adventure began.  First off, my Italian is rusty to say the least, so for the first week or so, I was barely communicating.  Luckily, people spoke English.  Secondly, we started calling Rome Dante’s Inferno (it was hot as hell and there were a shit-ton of tourists) and we started referring to our trip as the Sweating Through Europe Tour 2009.   But our collective misery bonded us.  The thing that gets romanticized about traveling in hostels through Europe for so long is that it’s not all the most fun you’ve ever experienced.  Sometimes you’re dirty and hot and sweaty and have a 20 lb backpack on.  You’re sleeping in a room with 6, 10, 20 people, you’re showering in a place where there is no privacy, you have to shit in one stall while 10 other people are surrounding you.  It’s not all sunshine and roses.  But the good parts, those are sooooooo good.  

Our first real encounter came in Rome, when we were trying to plan where the hell we were going to go in Italy (yeah, we started with 3 nights booked in Rome and nothing else).  It was the 4th of July and a drunk Arizonian came up to our table as we finished off our nightly bottle of wine.  He was one of those people that thrives on being on the outskirts of society.  I can’t say that I haven’t toyed with the idea, but the thought of being so vulnerable is somewhat frigtening to me.  He started talking to us about everything from how he was looking for a job here to how he smoked pot with a bunch of Englishman the other night.  This seemed to be a theme in the trip, American’s smoking pot, and they all asked us if we’ve ever smoked it.  Um, we’re two twentysomethings who are from California…please, do the math here folks.  

Rome, for all intents and purposes, is just the place you have to go before you get to the good part of Italy.  And man did we get to the good part.  When we showed up in Rome we had no plan for where else to go and ended up in some pretty awesome places.  I won’t bore you with a day by day, but I will say that there were places that looked like Romeo and Juliet’s stomping grounds, there were places that I got eaten alive by mosquitoes, there were places where we almost got eaten alive by tourists, and then there was the one person tent.  

Ah, yes.  Being the two yahoos that we can tend to be, we brought, what seemed like a large one person tent.  In fact, it seemed so large we decided that two people could fit in it.  Now, in our defense we did get in it before we left and it seemed perfectly fine for the two of us.  That is, until we actually tried to go to sleep in it.  On the muddy banks of the lago trasimeno, Steve and I basically spooned for about 45 minutes before realizing that there was no way either of us was sleeping at all…I’ll try to provide pictures of the truly comically small tent, but for now just use your imagination.  Of course, we were surrounded by European campers who don’t so much camp as bring an entire portable home with them so we looked even more like a couple of crazy Americans as we rolled up with nothing more than a back pack and a sleeping bag.  Steve in his Panamanian Drug Lord hat, me in braided pig tails and a skull and crossbones cowboy hat.  Um, yeah, we did not blend.  Of course the first night, after deciding that I’d be more comfortable under the stars was nothing like the second night, where a mean cold front came in and neither of us got a wink of sleep.  

The thing that’s funny about the two of us is that we’re musicians (that’s not the funny part) so when we were tired an sweaty and over walking with 20 lbs of shit on our backs, we would often break in to song.  I thought about that later, what a funny sight we must have been, two beet red American kids signing showtunes while walking to and from train stations, hefting heavy bags up steep hills.  It’s one of my favorite memories from the trip.

Of course, our other great funny adventure was my fall down a cliff (only funny because I did not end up killing myself which probably would have been slightly less funny).  So here’s the full story of the cliff fall.  

Steve and I stayed in a town called Biassa, right near Cinque Terre on our last two nights in Italy.  I’ve always wanted to go to Cinque Terre so that was one of our must see destinations.  As we got to the hostel, up on the side of a mountain right outside the National Park of Cinque Terre (we met a group of women on the bus ride up I started calling the Ya Ya Sisterhood on our way…but this story is better told in person, complete with screams and genteel southern accents), and checked in the Hostel clerk told us that it was possible to walk to the first of the five fishing villages of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, from the hostel.  

The next morning, being the two gung ho California kids we are, we thought, why take the bus when we can hike, so we set off up the road toward a trail head.  Of course, we didn’t know where the trail actually started so after questioning every small ravine off the side of the road we decided to continue on up to a summit, where the trail head was clearly marked.  And maybe, as we started down the defined trail, we should have sensed something amiss.  But the views of the crystal clear turquoise Mediterranean were too much.  The beginning of the trail made it abundantly clear that this was not used all that often.  Branches scraped our bare legs, and we definitely discussed needing to check for ticks when we got down to the village.  Finally, after about a mile the trail widened out and the overgrowth stopped being a problem.  It was around this time that the breathtakingly gorgeous views came into sight.  The sheer cliffsides, the terraced vineyards that lined the mountain all the way to its triumphant peaks, the small stone houses we passed complete with old Italian men looking over their grapes, testing their ripeness.  

Not more than five minutes after greeting one such a man, Steve and I were making our way down the trail, the side of which was unrailed and led down a steep down toward the Mediterranean.  I, of course, felt the need to comment on the fact that this could easily turn into a 90210 episode (you know, the one where Brandon and Dylan are fighting and Brandon falls down a cliffside, only to be saved by Dylan).  Surely enough, almost immediately after recounting that story, I stepped down on to what looked like a piece of trail, and the road fell out from under me.  I was not drunk, as I have been asked on numerous occasions, I did not trip, as I am known to do, the road simply ceased to exist and I went crashing down the hillside.  Lucky for me, it was a piece of hillside that was ripe with foliage because it stopped me from rolling down into the ocean.  

As Steve tells it, I scrambled to catch the cliffside before turning into what he dubs a ‘hurricane-like’ fall.  Limbs went everywhere as I rolled approximately 15 ft before being stopped by a tree (and the mound of dirt leading up to it).  Steve yelled down to make sure I was okay and if I needed help.  But I didn’t.  He talked me through my the stunned shock that I had settled into as I righted myself and realized what had just happened.  I also realized at some point that I couldn’t see.  My glasses had flown off my face, my shoulder bag had come off my body and I sat dirt covered on the ground of a huge hill.  
I got myself back together and managed to climb up the hill, Steve’s soothing voice helping me along and then his strong hand pulling me up.  He was great, pouring water on me and wiping me down as I was now bleeding from each of my limbs.  My ankle had been tweaked hard and both Steve and I were a little shaky, he more so than me I think.  I mean, he had to watch me fall and couldn’t really do anything about it.  
After that little adventure, we hiked down to Riomaggiore and spent an enjoyable two days in the beauty of Cinque Terre.  Then it was time to go home.  One of the hardest things for me was taking the train from Paris to London and realizing that I was going to have to fly back to Los Angeles the next day.  I’ve made that train trip numerous times and always was home at the end of it.  Alas, not this time.  
Even still, it was one of those trips that will stay with me forever.  A trip of a lifetime.
Peace, Love, and Italia,
Julia

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August 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment