I stood newly on the mainland of Italy, held up my hitchhiking sign, and got a ride from the second vehicle off the ferry.
It was at approximately this time when I realized I really wanted to be in Greece.
I had just wussed out on my plan to get to know Greece, for the second time this year. But, all it took was two minutes of fun hitchhiking to rekindle my wolf's sense of freedom, and confidence in my dream-chasing. I realized I could've been hitchhiking the pea-green Greek countryside now, camping out and meeting people and eating bucket-fuls of olives and searching for work on the way.
But, it was too late for that. Forty-six-year-old Rocco was already driving me up the southern Italian coast. If every day were like this for everyone, we'd all feel too good to wuss out on anything. The sky was blue, the sea was bluer, and Rocco's hair was so blue it was gray.
Rocco spoke only Italian and spoke it to me with family friendliness and humor. When I asked him if his "madre" (mom) was a good cook, he only raised his eyebrows at me happily and patted his round belly. He'd once been to the United States, where he'd fallen head-over-heels in love with "polo fito" (fried chicken). He asked if I knew how to make it. When I said I was going to see my friend in Prague who's a great cook, he joked that if she could make him "polo fito" he'd take us in his small cargo truck all the way there. "Polo fito ... polo fito!"
A second friendly forty-five-year-old trucker, Pietro, gave me a ride next. We passed odd, two-story wooden structures which stood just off-shore in the sea. They looked like the early stages of construction on what were going to be the types of houses that tip over in the wind. But, Pietro said they were fishing devices unique to the central Italian coast. Maybe my grandpa in Michigan should try making some?
And then Julio and Simontina picked me up. They were a good-looking, mid-thirties couple who'd left the kids with grandma and were going to Bologna to see a rock concert. Simontina was very excited about what I was doing. She kept turning around to face me as she rabbitly shot questions about my life. My Spanish-spoken-with-an-Italian-accent had picked up a lot of local words this day, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could converse halfway decently here.
"Grazie." I left them in Ravenna, a town off the expressway on a small road. Ghostly spheres of light surrounded the lamps of the central plaza this evening. A sensible, briefcase-brown building the length of a carnival train boomed for four stories above the plaza. I walked away, to the orange but grassy walls of a massive ancient fortress, and camped.
-- Interjection! I'm sorry, but I have to mention this some time.
-- Some of you people are familiar with my last trip to Europe, which ended in May 2005. It ended because I wanted to go home to see an Italian-blooded American ex-girlfriend.
-- The girl and I didn't get back together. If I learned something from this, it's that loving someone shouldn't be about getting that person to also love you. You should instead hope for and help that person to be as happy as he or she can be - with or without you. And there's a sort of peace that comes with that.
-- Of course ... I now feel we'd be healthier if our love for others was equally dispersed and not centralized. But, back to the story. --
The next day, German Matthias took me in his semi-truck into Austria.
The high, green hills of the Alps pushed up, up to that point where the sky said, "All right, already! You're gonna have to stop there."
Full sheep grazed, giant conifers bulged like plump sausages, clear rivers washed dawdling paths to lower ground, and cloud ribbons zigged out from a spying bluff across the blue. The purple, yellow, red, or chocolate, square, Alpine homes were - like the sheep and spruce trees - bigger than one would've expected.
I nearly went to a rave party that night with three young boys who picked me up. The driver had bleach-blond, gelled hair and bright, new clothes. He swore a lot, "Sheisa!" sped like a devil, and loved drugs. After we couldn't find the rave for an hour, I asked to get out near a field so I could save party-entrance money and just go sleep. "This is crazy," said one boy about my camping. I'd thought they were the crazy ones.
It was my sleeping situation the following night which was crazy. Me and Pepa and our backpacks slept on trams of the Prague city transportation system. When each tram reached its final stop, the conductor yelled at us to wake up, and we had to get off and walk across the street and board another tram without paying.
Pepa was a big, young guy with eyes that wobbled in and out of focus behind dark-rimmed glasses, a silly face, and brown hair that stuck up because it hadn't been combed. Pepa lived in Prague, and not only was he not homeless but he was an engineer for Siemens. I guess he just liked sleeping on trams.
We'd gone out to a bar in the dark city whose old buildings looked like they wanted to stomp us out of spite. We were supposed to sleep at Karel's place. But, once we finished drinking, Karel stumbled away and disappeared.
I had been on a train to Prague when I noticed Karel hodling two plastic cup-fulls of beer and laughing in a way that suggested there were several empty plastic cups nearby. After a long day of unsuccessful hitchhiking, I craved those beers. I ran while the train was stopped to a bar and ordered myself a "pivo." Karel and Pepa and Gabina, the deer-faced long-Prague-purple-haired girl who Karel was hitting on, and I became friends for the rest of the train ride. They never understood anything I said, and the only Czech I understood was "Curva!" (which means, "Sheisa!")
The night ended when I told Pepa I refused to get on the tram again. He ran to get on, and I slept in my sleeping bag under a bush.
Ahh, Prague. The next morning, I walked around.
What a city!: full of huge, long, five-story buildings and their windows. Buildings were the yellows and purples and greens of cookie frosting. The most impressive thing was that the streets sounded more like a forest than a city of two million. There were few cars, and it felt peaceful.
There were tall, glazed-brown watch-towers with golden angel statues. The St. Charles pedestrian bridge ambled over some named river, and it was packed with kingly and saintly and dragonly statues you could ponder with for hours. A monument to 15th century King Vasel and his horse stood valiantly in a vast central square surrounded by golden-spired hotels with golden statues atop. I taste-tested a Czech pastry shop. The city was very touristy.
I caught a bus the rest of the way to my good friend, Klara Sigmundova. She lived in Rymarov in Moravia, Czech Republic, population 10,000. It was September 12th, and I couldn't wait to get to Rymarov!
peace, Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Rocco; Pietro; Julio & Simontina; Brian; Anna & Nina; Matthias; Johannes, Fabian, & Mark; Christjan; Hanz, Adreanna, & "Iogi"; Dascha & Lucy; George; and Karel for the rides!