I have travelled, at this stage, to over 300 cities in 37 countries over the last nearly 14 years. During this time, I have gone though some really cool and sad stuff and I could have a blog dedicated to my travel stories only. Most of them are only relevant to me, things that have changed my way to see life in general. I am not going to go through some philosophical tangent and say what travel means to me etc, I am just going to share probably what is MY favourite travel story.
In 2004, just after New Years, I took a trip to Italy after the pub I worked as a stocktaker closed. Well, I had some money saved up, but not nearly enough to take a just over two week trip to Italy. I had enough money for, maybe, a six day trip? A week if I stretched my money a lot? But I had 16 days to do the trip, and 16 days is the time I was going to spend there.
This was a trip full of cool story, so I will save some for future posts. The itinerary was Venice, Bologna, Florence and Rome, for 16 days. So I will get on with it.
As I mentioned in a previous post, budgeting is a big part of my travel plan, but this time, I threw that out of the window a bit. To make the story shorter, I will fast forward to my arrival in Florence, after Venice and Bologna. I had 9 days left in my trip and virtually no more money left. Due to some glitch to the booking in my hostel, I had no place to stay for the first night. I could either eat for the next 4 days or spend €35 for a last minute bed in a hostel nearby. Well, I can spend a long time awake, so I decided to walk around the city. It was still very early and I had 30 hours until 2pm the next day to check in to my hostel and take a nap.
I had a great day, but as night started, I had to decide what I was going to do, find a place to stay because, just like any other city in the world, Florence is really dodgy after 2am. The common and obvious thing to do is to head to the train station, and so I did.
As the station closes, I stayed just outside. Soon after I sat down and got into my sleeping bag (it was very cold!), I was approached by a homeless elderly man. I was a bit apprehensive, but just waited to see what was going to happen. I speak a little Italian, so I understood if he could sit beside me. I agreed, so he did.
After introductions, I found out his name was Carlo. He asked what languages I spoke, none of which were his fluent french and german, so we stuck to Italian… well, he did. Soon after he sat down, he started talking at the fastest pace I had ever heard italian being spoken. It was around 1am (time when the station closes) and I thought to myself: “As soon as the hostel opens its door at 6am, I am getting out of there”. Anyway, he started talking and, not to seem rude, I had to pay attention very closely to what he was saying to pick some random word and make sense of his story. Let’s say I understood, with luck, 40% of the words and maybe even less of his story.
This is his story (in short), for what I can remember. Carlo was born in Palermo, Sicily and fought in the second world war, on both the Axis and Allies’ side (Not sure if you know, but in 1943, Italy broke free from the Axis and declared war on Germany, that’s when I found this out!). After the war, he worked and got married in Rome. After his wife passed away, he had an “esaurimento nervoso”, which I had an idea what it meant, but I took it down and later confirmed it was a nervous breakdown. He couldn’t bare to go back to the house and started living in the streets. During the war, he was stationed in both Germany and France.
The sun came up, people started walking around and getting on with their daily routine and we were kicked out from the gate of the station, as it was about to open. I felt that he was not finished talking yet. At this stage, I had no idea what he was saying anymore, I was so tired, but I went on listening. I needed some coffee, so I invited him for colazione, which he readily accepted. We had a few coffees (yes, a few coffees) and ate a few things. We had been speaking for almost 10 hours. I told him some of my stories with my broken italian, but I only did, say, 15% of the talking.
As soon as breakfast was over, I mentioned that I was going to drop my bag in the hostel and walk around a little. I don’t know if my need for people to like me is pathological, but I invited him to come along. He refused… “non voglio perturbarti”, he said, if I recall correctly, so we said goodbye. I saw tears rolling down his eyes and I, naturally, started crying as well. He thanked me for listening and for the breakfast and gave what I describe as the “smelliest and warmest hug” I had ever received. I don’t think someone had been this grateful to me for just listening. And then he left.
I looked for him over the next three days, but with no luck… ah well, that’s how it was supposed to be… maybe.
I spent €20 of my €35 on breakfast and had to do something about it, but that’s a story for another time.
I sometimes wished I had started blogging or kept a diary back then, this story would have been so much richer in details. I will look for the paper photo I took and share with you, no digital photos back then!