JOURNAL EXTRACT #02

20th of July

I am sitting on the tiled floor in our apartment in Salerno, a fan at my back, with sweat leaking from every pore. My first European run was a success.

It’s half past eight in the morning and the sun has been up for hours already, the heat is rising with it. Dom and I got up early and ran along the foreshore. It was beautiful weaving through the waking township of Salerno, ducking between the picturesque apartments, and then trotting alongside the apparently endless Tyrrhenian Sea. A sea I intend to swim in today.

Yesterday we bused our way along the coastline to Amalfi, a trip that turned out to be a test of endurance and stamina. For me, at any rate. Dom and Nikki had seats and fared better. As would be expected, the road following the coast folds and winds around like a discarded piece of ribbon, which is breathtaking to look at, but a torture to ride on when standing for an hour and a half on a very crowded bus, where the air-conditioning is no match for the beating sun outside and the press of bodies within.

With every hairpin turn the bus took, my hands would clench whatever bar or surface was available, my legs and abdominal muscles would tense, braced for the swing of the bus and the jostling of bodies. By the end of the trip, I felt as if I’d done a workout.

The road was so tight that with every bend traffic would stop completely, and our bus would edge past cars with only centimetres between the vehicles. Scooters would zip through the tiny breach between bus and car like self-absorbed mosquitos. At times, cars would have to reverse around blind corners to make space for our bus to get through.

At one particularly tight hairpin, the inevitable happened — our bus and another bus entered the turn at the same moment. What followed was a jerking and jolting dance between the two buses as they very slowly crawled past one another with literally half a centimetre between vehicles. The other bus was a tour bus, and not at all crowded like our public bus. Due to the closeness of the vehicles, the passengers on the other bus were only a hand span away. One chubby little boy found the whole experience hilarious, laughing and waving at us. From where I stood, legs aching, covered in sweat and not all of it mine, squashed between stranger’s bodies, head spinning from the endless series of turns, looking into his deliciously spacious and air-conditioned bus, I wanted to slap his chubby little face.

After about fifteen minutes of bunny hopping, the two buses passed, untouched, just, and the patrons on my bus broke out into applause. It was a nice moment.

Once I arrived and got mouthfuls of water into me (from a fountain depicting a topless woman — you can guess where the water came from ) and I sat and enjoyed a beer and pizza, I had revived enough to concede the trip was well worth it. The town of Amalfi was beautiful and the view of the coast line staggering.

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(Nikki featured refilled her water bottle)

After a good explore, and some gelato, we made our way back on a bus that only ever got about half full. I had a seat to myself, was cooled by the air-conditioning, and even managed a nap on the way back.

Dom, Nikki and I have been discussing our plans for living in London and our home there, and it’s strange to know that stage is yet to come. The beauty and fairytale quality of Italy has been completely absorbing, and it’s incredible to know so much is yet to come. It’s slightly daunting, but also exhilarating, all that unknown.

 

22nd of July

I am laying in bed, a metre away from Dom and Nikki’s bed, in our new apartment in Sorrento — I say bed, but the divot running down the centre doesn’t let me forget the fact that it’s actually a couch folded down. Despite the channel splitting the mattress, I slept quite well.

It’s six o’clock in the morning, but my body is wide awake. The sun rises each day at around five-thirty and sets well past nine at night. Despite these long hours of sunlight, I don’t find myself getting tired throughout the day, quite the opposite. I think the ever-present sunlight stops the hibernating chemicals in my brain from going into action. It’s a good thing.

Our last day in Salerno was spent in idleness and relaxation, and was perfect. We sat and had coffee and nutella-filled croissants at a cafe (they’re mad for nutella over here — I’ve seen a litre tub of nutella on sale at the supermarket. I refrained from buying it, reasoning it’d tip me over the weight limit when catching flights), wandered along the shore, and went for a swim. The water was lukewarm and it felt incredible to have liquid wash away the sweat from my skin and to stop feeling hot for the first time in days.

We made ourselves some chicken schnitzel and salad for dinner, and drunk Italian beer, before settling in for a competition of the card game “Asshole.” Many more profanities than that were used by the end of the forty rounds.

Yesterday was a travelling day, and we opted to get the bulk of the travel down the coast from Salerno to Sorrento by ferry rather than bus — both to enjoy the view of the coast by boat, and to avoid another bus ordeal as experience on the way to Amalfi.

We stopped for a coffee on the way to the docks at the cafe we’d visited the day before. The big Italian mumma behind the register and I got talking (I think the six bags we had between us may have tipped her off to the fact that we were tourists). We each insisted each other’s country was beautiful and she claimed she would love to visit Australia one day. She finished the conversation by saying, “Big kisses,” and it felt good to know the ability I earned as a nurse to charm elderly woman was still functioning. If I could figure out how to turn this ability to woman within my own age bracket, I’d be set.

The ferry was heaven compared to the hell of the bus. The breeze off the ocean cooled the sweat earned from the walk to the dock carrying fifteen kilograms in luggage, and the Amalfi coastline drifted past, a continuum of craggy cliffs, houses and apartments and dome-topped churches clinging to the steep sides like insects, defying gravity. Caves pocked the rock and gulls, twice the size of Australian gulls, drifted through the scene.

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We eventually arrived in Positano and from there had to bus it the rest of the distance to Sorrento. Positano is a township of stairs as it’s built up the cliff side, and we climbed most of them in the short time we were there as the place to buy bus tickets and the bus stop were on opposite sides of the town. Whoever designed that uneconomical setup is an evil evil person. The relaxing and cooling effect of the ferry evaporated as, with the aforementioned fifteen kilograms of luggage strapped to my body, I climbed up and up and up. To be fair, the view from the bus stop was damn incredible, and the bus, once it arrived, was deliciously air-conditioned.

We had planned to meet a physio friend of Nikki’s, Tori, in Sorrento, but would arrange that once we arrived and sniffed out some free wi-fi. However, halfway through the bus trip, Dom says, “There’s Tori,” as the bus pulled over and she climbed aboard. Nikki greeted her from her seat, calling out “Tori!”, who instinctively replied with a confused “Hi,” before recognising Nikki and giving a much more exuberant greeting. The four of us enjoyed food, gelato, and explored the sprawling and stunning town of Sorrento for a few hours before Tori had to bus it back to the township of stairs. She told us after three days staying there, her calves were killing her.

Today we explore Pompeii.

 

23rd of July

I am on the Sorrento beach, cliffs rising vertical behind me, and the ocean stretching away ahead of me, apparently, forever. I am surrounded by a throng of people, packed into a small square of dirty, gritty sand that is the free section of the beach. Dom, Nikki and I opted for this sardine-like stretch of sand over the deck chairs and umbrellas checking the wooden jetties to either side to save each of us fifteen euro, essentially covering the cost of dinner.

This crowded square feels more authentic anyway, surrounded by locals of all ages, from tottering toddlers to the sun-browned elderly. At any rate, once you get into the water none of it matters — as the warm salty sea envelopes you, you feel like you have all the space in the world. The water is blue and clear, and decidedly Mediterranean.

Today is a rest day after yesterday’s efforts at Pompeii. It was another thirty-six degree day and the sun beat its rays through a perfectly clear sky, milking beads of swear from my skin on contact. I don’t think I’ve written an entry yet that hasn’t mentioned sweat, and for that I apologise, but with the heat it always seems to be on the edge of my mind. Even here, minutes out of the water, I can feel droplets forming.

Anyway, I was talking of Pompeii.

We trained it in from Sorrento where men with accordions serenaded us and a salesman wandering the carriages sold Nikki a fan — a valuable investment due to the aforementioned heat.

We joined a walking tour and stepped inside the walls surrounding the ancient and excavated city of Pompeii, which once housed twenty-thousand people until Mount Vesuvius spewed out a blanket of ash that covered the city in seven metres worth of sooty detritus. The fact that Pompeii was ten kilometres away from the mount is what resulted in it being covered with ash rather that lava, making excavation a much easier process.

Our guide led us through the ruins, and, as she described the old city and its functions, the broken ring of stones that was once a bread oven, the rectangular stone pit propped up on brick stilts that was once a spa, the space below where fires banked, steam spewing into the air for the enjoyment of gladiators, it transformed from vague dilapidated shapes into a society, into homes and shops, and I became achingly aware that people once walked here, lived here. It was eerie, and incredible, and transportive.

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The city would once have been stunning, every wall decorated with stucco sculptures and intricate frescos. The tragedy of what happened was immortalised in the plaster casts of the dead, frozen forever in the posture of the final resting. If the reality of the place hadn’t be impressed upon me by this point, these figures would have slammed the message home that this was once a place of people, not greatly different from home.

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The brothel also conveyed the same message, although through different means. Artwork above the prostitutes doorways was incredibly well-preserved, giving an insight into the speciality of each woman. It was educational. I feel very worldly.

After returning home and escaping the heat (of a sort — a standing fan can only do so much) we all napped, woke, and ate. Soft cheese of brie and mozzarella, cold meats of salami and prosciutto, and fresh tomatoes covered warm bread and crackers seasoned with basil and olive oil.

It’s hard, this travelling thing, but I accept the sacrifice willingly.

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JOURNAL EXTRACT #01

16th of July

I’m currently in Abu Dhabi airport – a place I never really thought I’d be sitting. Not that in my life I didn’t anticipate airport or travelling, the Untied Arab Emirates was just never on that mental list.

It’s thirty-five degrees here, as opposed to the eight degrees I left back in Melbourne. The jacket I cleverly thought to wear rather than pack in an exorbitant waste of precious space is shed and on the chair beside me.

So far the trip has been – and dare I say it and risk jinxing is all – easy. Perhaps this is due to the pendant around my neck given to me by my sister depicting the god Ganesh. A custom’s lady here in Abu Dhabi remarked on it, surprised to see a young, blonde white-boy wearing it. When she queried me with “Ganesh?”, and pointed to it, I confidently replied “Yes, Ganesh. The remover of obstacles,” as if I was the embodiment of all worldly knowledge on the religion of Hindu. I assure you I’m not, and have my sister to thank for this scrap of information that helped me win over the custom’s lady.

I have a cold at the moment, an apparently immutable side-effect of travelling, even when just setting off, it seems. I have been hoarding tissues to get me through the flights – they may be the most important thing in the world to me right now. Luckily for me, and my fellow passengers, I have had the window seat with my last two flights, and could at least turn away when expelling the contents of my nasal cavity.

I am missing my family and friends, but more so due to the knowledge of how long it will be until I see them than from any huge passage of time so far. It has been eighteen hours since I hugged my parents, sister and brother goodbye at the airport.

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On the flight from Melbourne to Sydney I sat next to a couple heading to a national go-karting competition that they were officiating. In another apparently immutable side-effect of travelling, they were from Morwell, and we discussed people who had grown up down the road from me while growing up. From Sydney to Abu Dhabi I sat next to a sweet Italian couple who were heading to Napals for the first time in fifteen years to visit family. After helping Marie find the port for her headphones post her attempts to shove the plug into a USB port, we became firm friends.

I’m now off to message family and friends through the mundane miracle of the internet. Thank god I live in a time when even here, alone in the Abu Dhabi airport, I’m not really alone.

17th of July — scratch that, 18th of July

I had good intentions to write yesterday, but ran dry on time and motivation. Jet lag and a few beers were to blame.

So I’m in Italy. In Rome. From our small apartment I can hear church bells ringing out, and yesterday I wandered through the ruins of the Colosseum. To say it feels surreal doesn’t do it justice to the sense of dislocation and wonder. Italy has been a presence since childhood due to my primary school’s weak attempt to teach us Italian, and because of this I saw pictures of the Colosseum at the same time I was reading children’s books. Somewhere in my head the concepts merged, and the land of Italy joined the ranks of Narnia and Middle-Earth as just another fantasy land. To be here, to be walking through the physical evidence of those childhood stories is…well, imagine getting to meet Aslan. Yeah.

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The food has incredibly lived up to the hype, and I can foresee myself happily eating my way across Europe. A friend from Austria asked if I’d brought loose-fitting pants for the trip due to all the delicious food I’d be eating — I no longer think she was joking. I’ve made a promise to myself to maintain my exercise, if only so I can completely indulge in the food, guilt-free. Because, let’s face it — I’m not going to hold back on the food.

A change of location now: I’m on a train heading towards Salerno. We were originally going to brave a bus and save some euros but google failed us and delivered us to the train station. And seeing as we were at the train station…needless to say, we took the train. Which, while sitting here, still warm despite the train’s air-conditioning, is probably a good thing — air-conditioning was not guaranteed on the bus. We also learnt the hard way that seats on the train are allocated, and after an awkward bilingual conversation with an elderly Italian couple, wrestled our over-sized bags through three very cramped and full carriages to our seats.

The beautiful Italian countryside is whipping past the windows, so I’m going to stop and enjoy that for a bit.

19th of July

I am on a balcony, three stories above the ground in the seaside town of Salerno. Our apartment building bookends the street, and from my vantage point I’m looking down the corridor of buildings, painted an assortment of creams and tan. Scooters and cars drift by on this lazy Sunday morning, and it is all perfectly stereotypically Italian.

The Italian summer is definitely a contender for an Australian summer —  temperatures remain in the mid-thirties. Our current place is lacking in air-conditioning, and while the owners promised us a fan, they were successful in breaking said fan in their attempt to construct it. So no fan. Luckily, all three of us, Dom, Nikki and myself, are all veterans of a summer in Brunswick, a red-brick house deprived of insulation, and are familiar with braving the heat. This mostly involves laying topless (Dom and I, not Nikki) on the cold tiles and doing as little as possible.

We took a stroll through Salerno and alone the coast — the township curled alone the crag of land with mountains standing senile behind and the sun dripping down in a haze of orange. It was beautiful. And made more so by the beer we enjoyed.

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A concert was taking place on the beach in a temporary stadium, with a line of teenage girls waiting to get it. We managed to discern the headliners were a group called “The Kolors,” which we presume are like an Italian One Direction. Dom was disappointed we couldn’t get in.

A lot of this is still feeling surreal, although made less so by the necessary practicalities travel forces upon you — coordinating transport, arranging accommodation, figuring out meals and activities. These administrative tasks keep the whole experience grounded. The fact that I won’t see my family and friends for so long still hasn’t sunk in. Intellectually I’ve accepted it, but a part of my brain insists this is just a holiday, and my normal reality is waiting around the corner, ready to resume in an instant.

IN TRANSIT

I’m writing this post from an apartment in Rome…and I think that sentence is pretty indicative of just how much my life has changed in the last few months.

 

A little over three weeks ago I worked my last shift for the Royal District Nursing Service. Appropriately, my last patient was a call-out for wound care, and it felt strange yet oddly satisfying to finish the dressing, pack away my equipment, and farewell the patient knowing, for a short while at least, I wouldn’t be doing that sort of work anymore. That from that point on, my time was my own.

I haven’t been unemployed since, at fifteen, I begun work at a supermarket called Bi-Lo. The fact that that supermarket no longer exists is a sign that a break was overdue.

So yesterday (or perhaps it was the day before – I crossed a timeline and got all messed up), I packed the essentials for living into a bag – for those of you playing at home, the essentials for living weighed fourteen kilograms – and left Australia for foreign shores. To live. For a while, at least.

I figured the change in life warranted a change in the layout of the website, hence the modern new look you’re presently enjoying.

 

Be prepared for a barrage of travel posts…