Oh Italy. You bella, you.
I spent a little over a week in that country during my sojourn abroad back when I was twenty (God, I was such a baby. And I know I felt so grown-up running around Europe all by myself). I hopped from Salzburg over to Venice, then down to Rome, where I met my brother, and we went to Florence, and then back to Rome, where I dropped him off at the train to the airport, and by then I was frustrated and tired and so tired of being cold that I found a train heading south, got off at Naples, and limped my way to a ferry for Capri.
It was wonderful and crazy and frustrating and enchanting all at once. Most of my “this is so random but…” stories from that year take place in Italy. To wit:
I stayed in a hostel on the mainland. It was small, my room had only two beds. I remember I got in early in the morning (and found myself without a working debit card, thanks to my stupid bank that never believed me when I said I’d be traveling in Europe for nine whole months), checked in and dropped my stuff off, and hightailed it over the island, where I spent the day wandering around and getting hopelessly and wonderfully lost.
By the time I got back to the hostel that night, another girl had checked in. We hit it off and spent the next day roaming the canals together. We enjoyed dinner of a huge pizza and a bottle or two of wine. We took one of the canal ferries back to the bus station to get to the hostel, rushing because we had lingered over the wine and I had to catch a late night train into Rome.
When we got off the bus across the street from the hostel, I took off running. I had already checked out, but my giant backpack was being stowed behind the desk. I burst into the lobby, asked please for my backpack and could they call a cab for me?
The cab arrived, it took me to the train station — well, it took me to a plaza within sight of the train station and couldn’t go any farther. I paid the fare and sprinted — as much as possible with my pack — to the station, where I jumped on the train and found my sleeping compartment with minutes to spare.
And all that rush was because I had to get to the airport in Rome the next morning to meet my brother, whose luggage wound up getting lost and it took him forever to be able to leave and I had to wait around and make expensive international calls to my parents to assure them we were just fine.
So, in Rome, we stayed in a hostel and got in a co-ed room with six or eight beds. I think there were a couple girls there when we checked in, but they left after a day or two, and then it was just us and Pietro.
Pietro didn’t speak English, but he and I were able to sort of communicate in broken French. He seemed like a very sweet, shy guy…who quickly developed a crush on me. At one point, I was in the computer room, checking emails and assuring my parents that yes, we were still alive, and he came in, started talking to me…and then, without warning, stood behind me and started rubbing my shoulders.
It took every ounce of my high school French to explain that was not okay and I didn’t reciprocate his feelings. I spent the rest of our time in the hostel avoiding him so as not to give the wrong impression.
Florence will always be my least-favorite city because that was were some bitch stole my camera. My camera that still had over 300 pictures from Rome on it that I hadn’t yet transferred to my laptop. That sucked.
At some point in Rome or Florence, I had twisted my foot on the cobblestoned streets. It was mid-January, and after coming from Copenhagen, to London, to France, and Austria, I was so, so tired of being cold. I wanted beaches and I wanted more mild temperatures. Not knowing a damn thing about the island except that I had a couple days where my itinerary was up in the air, I made my way down to Naples and then to Capri. I remember sitting on the ferry and feeling like I could truly just relax for awhile. Backpacking by yourself through Europe is a blast, but it’s one of the more stressful ways to travel, overall. I mean, I had a bunch of train timetables memorized without even trying to.
Capri is absolutely beautiful. The thing is, January is the off-season there, so half of it was closed and the island was pretty empty. I had arrived with no reservations or plans to stay anywhere, thinking I’d just wing it.
Except every reasonably-priced hostel — and the tourism office — was closed.
Luckily, I’d gotten there early afternoon, so it wasn’t like it was getting dark and I had nowhere to sleep. But I also didn’t want to take the ferry back and have to find a place in Naples, instead. So I got some lunch (at a place that reminded me of where we’d go after soccer games when I was a kid — a big, open pizza parlor that served beer but where it was still totally appropriate to have a bunch of kids running around) and started hoofing it up the hill, looking for anything that could work as accommodation.
Finally, I saw a Marriott sign. Oh, thank God. There was no way their rooms would be in my budget, but I was fairly certain someone there would be able to speak English and help me. I walked up to the big glass doors…and a little old Italian lady started yelling behind me.
I have no idea what she was saying, but it was clear from her gestures that she was telling me the Marriott was too expensive for me.
“I know, I know, I just…” Eventually I somehow made it clear to her that I needed a room with one bed for two nights, and she made a motion for me to follow her. Not knowing what else to do, I followed. At some point, she hopped on the back of someone’s scooter or Vespa and left me to try to keep up (on my stupid twisted foot).
Finally, after a lengthy hike up the hill, she stopped and talked to another lady. I hung back, not really sure what was going on. She was pointing back at me and I heard her saying (all in Italian, of course) “one bed, two nights.” I think “single female” was mixed in there too. The woman beckoned me over and led me up to the cutest little Italian B&B-type place. I had my own room, with my own bathroom — with a bathTUB — and a double bed (really, two twins pushed together with full-sized sheets, but even that had me overjoyed). It was definitely out of my price range, but for one night, I didn’t care (the lady called and found another, cheaper place — still with private rooms — for me for the next night).
I took a bath, I washed a bunch of socks and underwear, I went out to a little market and got some bread and Italian beer and just sat in that room and relaxed in doing nothing all by myself for a night. I slept in the next morning and as I was leaving, the lady still called me into the dining room and served me a huge slice of some kind of fruit bread with yogurt and fruit and orange juice. I loved Capri.
Then there was the slight incident in Naples where I got out of what was probably a hefty fine for riding the bus without a ticket by being pathetic…