The journey begins and I’ve left Germany behind. The first station of my journey is Italy and even though I finished this article on Saturday, I had some problems getting internet to upload the pictures I took.
A few minutes ago you could find me sitting in a small café at the side of the street, making use of the free wifi. That was, I now managed to get everything online and welcome you to the first article on the journey!
It is one of the last few days in Germany. So far it always seemed distant, there was no particular feeling involved with it. You are just sitting there and feel some kind of emptiness levitating above you, like there is only nothingness coming after that specific day. You have ideas about what could be but none of them seem to come close to reality as there are neither your or anyone else’s experiences you can rely on. It doesn’t follow the usual path. What you can see in your head is more like a hunch of what may or may not be, when you leave the house.
That is how you could describe the feeling you will get just before you leave on a long journey. That is how I felt just before leaving for New Zealand. That is, how I felt these last few days. From the point of departure onwards, you lose any former feeling for time, there is a breach in your mind when you try to think about what will happen afterwards.
It seems obvious to me that I cannot fittingly describe that feeling. It is completely unique and I’ve never felt it in any other situation as it requires you to leave the path you’re comfortable with. And so far that didn’t happen in the extend it does now.
A week before my departure everything still seemed pretty quiet. Now and then I’d take my backpack and go for a longer walk, trying to get a feeling for the 16kg I’m carrying on my back and to look at the long-known landscape one more time. For the first time, I filled my bottle with water coming from a small spring in the forest, filtered it and treated it with ultraviolet light. While it isn’t really necessary, it is one of the first steps into the journey. And even though I’m going to spend the first time on a boat and will not have to bother with these kinds of things, it feels nice to get a first feeling for it.
Looking over the last week in Germany in a few words it would look like this: a huge load of errands that only seemed to become necessary last minute, getting my international driving licence, doing a fitness test for recreational scuba diving, some vaccinations – I thought of them as unnecessary so far but learnt better three days before departure when I swapped my doctor – and last but not least packing my bag. Obviously it didn’t turn out to be as simple as it sounds here: the space seemed to have shrunk since the first few tries I did, the vaccinations would take several doses therefore requiring me take one several days into the travel, the appointment for the fitness test was made relatively spontaneously 24 hours upfront and some of the stuff I got during my errands proved to be defect. No time being left to take care of it, I just had to go with what I had.
And soon the last full day on German ground begins. As long as I’m in company I’m fine, but standing in front of my backpack just to realise, that it ended up being a lot bigger and heavier than intended (18kg by now) leaves me with a bad feeling. I’m looking at everything around my with the knowledge, that pretty soon I’ll have my bad moments and will miss them. My cats, my friends, my family, the familiarity of my room and my surroundings, the fact that everything I need is available whenever I need it. These few lucky moments happening on the journey that I sometimes imagine happening fade into the background and make space for darker thoughts, filled with sorrows and fears of what might go wrong. I’m questioning my motives for the journey frequently. Still, it’s manageable. I’m still home.
The day of departure approaches. My parents decided to take Friday off and take me down to Italy. That way, I do not have to hitch hike the whole way down. We want to leave at eight o’clock in the morning, but as usual: We’re late. We never make it in time and why should turn out to be different today? Around nine o’clock we finally manage to get on the road and head down to Switzerland.
The drive is going quite well, my father and I take turns driving and in no time we’re in the Alps. The Gotthard-tunnel is blocked because of a traffic accident, but luckily we can pass it again as soon as we arrive as they managed to take of the wreckage. Arriving in the Italian part of Switzerland, it will take us another few hours.
Eventually we end up in Sanremo in Italy after 12 hours driving. There my parents found a cheap place to stay for the weekend.
After checking with Michelangelo – the skipper who invited me here – , I decide to spend the night from Friday to Saturday in the hotel with my parents and we’ll search go see him in the morning. At that time, I find myself in a mentally beaten state. The doubts that quieted over the long drive now come rushing back and start screaming in the back of my head. “Culture shock” is what I would call my reaction, as until now I’ve only been to countries close to the “German” way of life. I have usually spent my holidays in touristy places and my parents took care of organising everything. New Zealand took me out of my nest but offered my a different kind of protected environment. There has never been this feeling of being lost in a strange environment; a feeling of being naked, unguarded and alone. Usually communication was easier as well, as I either knew the country’s language or had other people around me being able to translate. I do not speak any Italian and I’m not even sure if it is due or duo. Unluckily, that’s about as much English as most people from around here speak. All in all I’m feeling down and the only thing I want is a bed I can sleep in. And that as soon as possible.
Luckily, I do not have to end my writing on such a negative note. Saturday morning and I can already start the day with a grin on my face and the sunshine on the hotel’s balcony magically makes a smile appear. My fears and doubts are being replaced my some kind of adventurousness, it is the first time I am consciously present in Italy. My last visits have been limited to some skiing in the southern part of Tirol or earliest childhood memories. Now the thought of feeling new somewhere doesn’t seem as bleak as the day before. I even begin to like it. The last time I had that kind of feeling has been during my arrival New Zealand and even though I don’t like the feeling itself, I’m looking forward to the new experiences and adventures it promises.
During breakfast I get a text from Michelangelo telling me where his houseboat is riding at anchor. Imperia is the place we have to get to, a town directly at the ocean about 40km east of where we are staying. Having trouble to find the harbour in the Italian city, we decide to ask for directions in a sailing shop we found at the side of the street.
Here we are close to the French border and most of the citizens of Sanremo and Imperia speak more French than English. Scratching the pieces of French I learned during my school time in Germany together, I manage to ask the cashier for help and a friendly customer offers to take us:
”suivre moi, suivre moi!”. Apparently he also has to get to the coast.
Following him on his scooter, he takes us back the way we came. It seems we already missed the way down to the harbour a while back.
Have you ever been to Italy? There are tons of scooters here!
Wherever you look you can see them parking at the side of the street. They even have special parking slots for smaller two-wheeled vehicles. Regularly we are being passed by the small racing machines while they are making their way through the busy traffic. The median strip seems to be more of a mean of orientation for cars than actual border between the lanes; crossing this line doesn’t seem to bother them at all while passing another car on the street that simply does not seem to be fast enough for their taste. Even with oncoming traffic that looks like the normal procedure around here. Several hours after I texted Michelangelo back, we finally arrive in the port of Imperia.
Ponton F is the area we have to search for and we start looking around. N, M, … H, G … Wait! There is something missing. The letters stop with G and we are not able to find the right ponton (a stay bridge it seems). A small group of locals at the water’s edge is able to help us out using some pieces of English and they send us over to the other side of the harbour. At this point I’ll keep it short; Michelangelo was talking about the position of his sailing boat that we would go on in a few days and I mistook it as the description for his houseboat in Imperia. His houseboat logically didn’t look like the sailing vessel he was describing and we even unknowingly passed it on our search. We even managed to find ponton F after a while, but that didn’t really help us. After some back and forth we end up meeting at a church close to the harbour and he helps us find the way.
That way, we finally get the opportunity to get to know the skipper. He invites us three onto his boat and shows me the cabin I’ll live in until we swap to the sailing boat. My parents leave after a short while as they only wanted to drop me at the boat before minding their own business and searching for a nice spot to relax in the sun. They are going to stay around until Sunday, but their plans are independent from mine.
Michelangelo currently has some problems with his wrist and wanted to lie down. That way I have the possibility to sit down for a moment and write for a few minutes.
The weather is actually pretty good, it’s 20°C and the sun is shining. The wind in the harbour is quite strong but tolerable. Even my worries about getting seasick seem to have been unjustified. Although I got some pills against seasickness before I left, it seems I won’t need them.
Michelangelos partner mentioned that some of the symptoms simply involve being tired and I have to agree: for the time of the day I’m unusually fond of my bed. Until now I reasoned it would be the “mental strain” of the last few days but it seems unlikely. I slept incredibly well last night and my general state seems have improved quite a bit since yesterday.
For now, I’ll leave you at this point of my journey. The next article should be finished in a few days and as I found an internet connection, I should be able to upload it earlier. I’d love to upload a few photos of the ship and the skipper I’ll be traveling with, but he proves a bit shy so I’ll see about that.
Since this was the first English diary entry of my journey, I’m still trying to find an enjoyable writing style. I’d welcome it, if you could leave me some criticism, feedback and/or tips!
Best regards from Italy!