I am from small-town Canada and had never travelled outside my country until I went to Italy. While you may think Italy is like Canada, it is not. It took me a week to find my way in that country. Right from the start we had problems. The first day we were in the country a train conductor fined us 30 euros because we hadn’t validated our tickets. We, of course, knew nothing about ticket validation. When we arrived in a new place, we did a lot of walking because it just seemed easier than taking more public transportation. We walked and walked unless we were sleeping. In Venice we slept at a campground by the airport where planes took off until 10 pm.
It also took time for me to get use to being hassled such as when I looked after our knapsacks in train stations while my husband went off to buy the tickets and people would come up to me and try to get me to go look at their hotel. They were really pushy about it and I was not used to that. Rome is the biggest city I’ve ever been in and it was overwhelmingly chaotic and smelled strange. We went to the Vatican by subway and they stuffed us in like sardines.
After four days in the country I told my husband that I wanted to go home and he said, “Then go”. I called my parents and they told me that I should live it up and not be such a suck. I was a history major in university and that is the reason I didn’t go home early. There is so much history in Italy with Pompei, the museums, the Medici family and I really wanted to see it all.
Actually, there were many great moments. Like when we were at a restaurant in one of the 5 villages [Cinque Terre]. The restaurant was more like a family home except when a train went screaming by. The mother was cooking and the kids were serving and another family was there celebrating. It was a glorious time because of the food and wine and atmosphere. We were vegetarian at the time and they served us gnocchi with pesto that was so light and flavourful and the biggest mozzarella di bufala I have ever seen—as big as my fist. Although the train came by making all kinds of noise it didn’t matter because we were there with these wonderful people.
There are many reasons to go to Italy and it is difficult to pick just one. There’s the food, the wine, the history, the culture, and the art. When we were in Venice, we didn’t do anything but get lost. We did that on purpose, just spending hours walking in the neighbourhoods. And kids were playing soccer in the alleyways because there are no yards and they were having the time of their lives.
I must say it was a great experience. My advice for others is to realize that the first few days—or even the first few hours—of any trip can be frustrating but things work out. Just take one day at a time and don’t over-think things.
Interview and photo credits Erin Tkachuk
© Riding the buses 2011