30th of July
I am sitting at the outdoor table out the front of the villa, a table we’ve deemed out dining table due to the constant clement weather of Northern Italy in the summer. Jonty is beside me, cheeks full of banana, while Vanessa and Dom chat. Steve’s brother’s family departed this morning at the awful time of four-thirty AM, reducing out little enclave to seven.
It’s been a couple of days since I wrote, and have no real excuse other than I was lost in a haze of relaxing, good company, swimming in the pool, cross words, eating, and occasionally napping. I’ve fought my way free of this cloud of luxury to summon enough motivation to write. I’ll probably have a nap once I’m done to recover.
When l last wrote, Dom, Nikki and I were planning a venture through the forested hillside in search of an ancient wall we spotted from the top of the hill. I’m happy to make my report: We made it.
The three of us fought through the plague of flies, then picked our way along a narrow track choked with brambles. We all obtained a collection of scratches, trophies of our exhibition into the wild. We eventually emerged into a shadowy clearing with a section of grey stone wall ahead of us, and discovered it wasn’t a wall after all. The crumbling ruin we’d seen was actually a fort — we’ve yet to determine why a quaint town in the remote hillside of Umbria required a fort, but I have theories of secret organisations a la the Da Vinci Code. This is Italy, after all.
We tried to find a way to the front of the fort but were beaten by bush and buildings — the fort squats on the edge of homes, one built into the base of an old church, with a bell tower that continues to ring out on the hour.
We retreated back to our section of wall amongst the scrub and, like the true explorers we are, scaled the wall to a small window up the side of the stones. Crawling through the narrow opening, I almost wedged my shoulders in the tiny gap, but after some contorting, crawled out on my hands and knees into the tree-clogged interior of the fort. We were standing on an inner ledge, twenty metres up from the fort’s floor. The roots of the trees around us were probably the only reason the outcropping could take our weight. The sheer drop stopped us from venturing any further, but it was still fascinating to study the vine-scrawled walls stretching away to either side.
We jogged back through the choking curtain of flies (quite literally — I inhaled one, could feel it buzzing in my throat, and hacked it out onto the dirt), warmed by the midday heat of the day and the glow of victory from our successful expedition. We quenched this heat by falling immediately into the pool.
Tomorrow I leave this nest of relaxation and head to London. I enacted my plan to move overseas almost a year ago, detained again and again by red tape and paperwork. It begun to feel like it would never happen, like it was a nice dream but the reality of my life was a vice I wasn’t allowed to escape. Not that I don’t love my life, but I was ready for a different reality.
That tomorrow I land on English soil and see my new home for the first time feels…odd. Odd in that part of me is still skeptical, too well schooled in getting knocked back when it felt like the path was clear. An exhilarating and mad kind of oddity when I convince that part of myself that, no, this is really happening.
Ironically, it seems to have rushed upon me, from an imperceptible crawl to a light speed dash, and suddenly I’ll be there. In my new reality.
31st of July
I am sitting in the cramped seat of a Ryan Air plane, passenger’s around me purchasing coffees and sodden-looking chips, apparently unable to go without food for the two-and-a-half hours of the flight despite the exorbitant prices of this low-budget airline. I am on my way to London.
Last night I farewelled Vanessa and Jonty, although it wasn’t a sad goodbye as they and Steve will be in London twenty-four hours after us, staying with us for the next week in our new apartment a.k.a Steve’s old apartment. We had a late-night dinner outside under the moonlight, a meal made with the leftover ingredients that still managed to be a delicious feast. We drank beer and talked, and I felt blessed.
This morning Steve took us to the train station where, upon arriving, we discovered the train was delayed. We had copious amounts of time up our sleeves so grabbed a table at the station’s cafe, bought one euro coffees that tasted as good as any back home, and played cards.
Our train eventually arrived and in a series of excellent exchanges we moved from train to train to taxi to airport, and to our gate with a perfect half-an-hour to sit and relax before boarding our plane.
Throughout the day the three of us intermittently remarked on the fact that today we were moving to London. It is surreal for me, but even more so for Dom and Nikki. They’ve spent the last five months crawling across the globe, touring large chucks of South America, parts of Central America, and most recently picking their way through Europe. I think the idea of stability and freedom from their shoulder-dragging packs is a luxury akin to heaven.
Already we’re getting into logistics, discussing obtaining bank accounts and sim cards, finding supermarkets and, more importantly, pubs. Talking about these details is a way of breaking down the monster that is London, a point to start in that giant and ancient city.
I have my headphones on, blocking out the roar of the plane’s engine and the cattle-like chewing of my fellow passengers. The melancholy music of Passenger is filling my head, a Brit himself, and it seems a most appropriate way to venture into my new home. The lyrics I’m listening to also seem particularly poignant…
“Well, fill my lungs full of smoke,
fill my belly full of beer,
fill my nights with bad jokes
told by folks full of fear.
Fill my eyes with a stinging,
fill my time with wishing she was here.
Well, fill my wide with a narrow,
fill my safe full of danger,
fill my bed full of shadows.
fill my dreams full of strangers.
Fill my ears with a ringing,
fill my heart with a fear of fear…”
5th of August
Where was I? It’s been five days since I last wrote, five days of settling in, of exploring, of acclimatizing. Of starting.
I am sitting on the couch in my new lounge room, three floors up, and from the window behind me big red buses, iconically London, trundle past. This is just one of the details that remind me I’m in London. The underground logo, seen on a hundred BBC programs, jumps out from signs and maps, black cabs potter down the roads as I walk, and the overcast sky, even in summer, are all gentle reminders that I’m not home.
And, to be honest, I need these indicators. I don’t know if it’s because Australian culture is derived from English, or if the landscape isn’t all the different from Melbourne, at least at a glance, but it’s easy to think as I sit here, Dom and Nikki on the opposite couch, that I’m relaxing in Brunswick, and that at any moment my twin brother, Damian, will walk in. Sadly, he won’t, because despite my brain’s subconscious search for familiarity, this is London, and he’s in Melbourne.
Even walking down the street, I’m still mildly surprised when I hear a British accent, a reflexive part of me still anticipating hearing an Australian accent from the strangers around me. I’m working hard on adopting a British accent, but I don’t think it’s taking.
So far, I like London. It’s easy, particularly compared to navigating Italy. Speaking the same language certainly helps with this. But it’s the public transport system that helps the most — it’s incredibly efficient, particularly given the web of train tracks and bus lines, and the sheer mass of the population. I had a quiet thrill the first time I descended into the underground — I was still lugging around my oversized luggage at this point, so the thrill may have come from sliding it off my shoulders and leaning against the carriage’s interior wall once I boarded.
I find riding the underground, or the subway from when I was in America, as a sightly magical experience. You leave the upper world behind, sit on a rollicking bullet, and when you ascend again you’ve been teleported to a new place — the upper world has changed. Magic.
Given this is a travel journal and I now have settled into my new home, I considered stopping the entries, but reasoned that presently I’m still on holiday (a.k.a unemployed), which makes me a tourist in this city, and so justified further entries. I’m also jetting off to Austria in five days, so the holiday, and subsequently the journalling, must go on.
Suitably, given my self-imposed status as tourist, yesterday we trained it into London to see the clichéd sights. The same dislocation occurred upon seeing Big Ben and the River Thames as when I saw the Statue of Liberty or Venice Beach. These are the places from movies and television, not real places to see and touch, and live around.
Parliament building is an absolutely stunning and intricate feat of architecture, and I found it genuinely beautiful. It made me happy Guy Fawkes never managed to blow it up.
The rest of my time has been settling in, exploring the small township of Morden and the surrounding area. I had a haircut yesterday and decided that attending to this very domestic task has officially made me a local. I even used the phrase “Alright?” with my barber. I think I pulled it off.
There’s a giant park literally across the road from the apartment, and we’ve already explored large swaths of it. Dom and I discovered a path that rings the park, made of a corridor of ancient trees with pine bark laid across the track. The trees shadow the path and the smell of the of the bark permeates the air — it feels like running though Narnia. It’s beautiful, and I’m already anticipating the enjoyment of walking the track in winter with frost on the needles, huddled in an absurdly thick jacket.
Tomorrow I head into the city to meet with the agency who will hopefully find me work. As of now, that work will not be nursing as, from my phone call with them yesterday, the UK nursing board may have lost my latest batch of paperwork, forestalling my registration. And no registration means no nursing. I’ll continue to pursue it, as I have for the past year, once I return from Austria, and until it goes through, my agency has assured me they can find me alternative work.
I’m apprehensive about resuming employment. Not just because it’ll mean the end of my holidaying (for now), but also because I’m nervous of becoming trapped in full-time work. I recognise the need for money, but am hoping to achieve a better work/life balance, at least for this brief slither of my life. I want the focus of this time to be exploration and experience, to trial new things, and not get bogged down in the responsibility of working 40+ hours a week.
I’m hoping to use the next month while I’m away to weigh my options and decide which track I point myself down that provides new insights coupled with fiscal responsibility. Not the easiest tightrope to walk.
But the problems and stressors of real life can stew for now — Austria awaits.