photo © 2005 Anna Harris | more info (via: Wylio)
Tossing coins in here is said to insure your return to Rome one day.
Of course I threw some in!
On Saturday I wrote about a close call I had on my Eurail trip. At the time it seemed unfathonable that a group of five people could get into trouble but it is even more amazing that I spent two months blindly counting on the kindness of strangers and I was so rarely disappointed. My husband likes to say I am missing a danger filter and while he may very well be right, I normally approach people and things expecting the best. Polyanna-ish? Perhaps, but in the case of my two month backpacking tour, things turned out far better then I could have possibly planned.
One of the great gifts of traveling alone is that you become a lot more approachable. Kind old ladies are compelled to check in and see, "Are you doing alright dear?" and fun fellow travelers are willing to break the ice, "Where are you headed?" Or "Have you been to Pisa yet?" Over and over I was able to make new friends, share a meal, get directions or even be left alone if I chose. Couples and groups were always harder to approach. They were already busy with each other, my time with my 5 friends in Greece was no different. While we were together I met very few new people, the group of five required no additional participation and while I easily could have spent my entire trip with the group, when California guy (My scrapbook from this year is in storage so I don't have access to any of the names I've forgotten.) and I headed back towards Italy I was looking forward to meeting new people and forging ahead in different directions.
On the ferry ride, which went over night and a good part of the following day, I had the chance to talk with and meet many other travelers. The boat had overnight accommodations for travelers willing to spend the extra money but in summer the Youth Hostel set camped out in the open air of the top deck. The "sleep over" party atmosphere encouraged little sleep but impromptu picnics, sing-a-longs and philosophical discussions were plenty. So many interesting people and stories. My California friend, an artist who carried more drawing supplies then clothing on his trip, spent his time sketching what he saw while I headed for the conversational groups.
I remember being startled on several occasions by the amount of "living" so many of these kids had already done. I had been an exchange student and was now on a cool Eurail tour, worldly credentials by my small upstate NY town standards, but really nothing when compared to others. There were kids on their fourth or fifth backpacking tour and a gal who had just spent a month in Morocco (not the most female friendly country) by herself and plenty of people who spoke 4 or 5 languages. My passable "tourist German" made me feel slightly superior to many American tourists (known generally in other countries as not able to speak, or even willing to try speaking another language) but in comparison to this crew I felt like a preschooler in life.
At one point I noticed a larger then average group gathered around a very tan and fit, super cute guy who I think was named Chris. He was telling the group about his "walk around the world" tour which he was trying to finish before his father disowned him. According to his tale, he had dropped out of college more then a year ago to "figure some things out" and to see if it was possible to walk around the world. Over large bodies of water he did resort to using a ferry but he claimed he was about two thirds of the way done and figured it would be a total of two years by the time he made it back home. After my experience with the pottery guy in Athens, I found I was a little skeptical of his tale but didn't feel it necessary to tell him I doubted him or at least some of his details.
Chris was a great story teller and true or not, he shared something that has stuck with me all these years. He told us that the hardest part of his trip was getting through rural China. It could be days before he saw any person and when he did they almost never spoke a common language. He also said that even without a common language the hospitality of the people was incredible. In one particularly remote village he was given a meal which included an orange for dessert. Chris had been so well fed during the meal that he didn't eat any of the orange and when it was time to go he left it on the table. More then an hour later the old woman who had given him the meal came running up behind him to give him back the orange. She had followed after him, several miles out of her way to return the gift.
Chris learned later that oranges were quite rare in this part of the world and to share one was an honor. He had unintentionally slighted the old women by leaving it behind, giving it back to him would repair the slight. It was moving to hear that she had gone so far out of her way to give the orange back and restore a stranger's honor. Over the years I have remembered this tale when doing the right thing seemed "too far to go." If that old woman could go so far out of her way to return an orange, I could go back to the store when I noticed I was not charged for everything in my bag. If that woman could run after a complete stranger I could drive the lost cell phone to it's owner, rather then waiting for them to get it. Sure, I'd like to think I would do the right thing anyway but somehow hearing about this woman, fictional or not, has made me more likely to act in a way that honors the goodness in all people.
Hearing about the orange lady fresh on the heals of being scammed in Athens helped restore my faith in human beings. I didn't like feeling wary of every little thing and subsequently resolved to look for the good. I wouldn't be stupid. I'd keep my wallet and passport hidden inside my clothing but I wasn't going to be afraid of talking to people. When I arrived in Rome I was rewarded for my faith.
While wandering around the Vatican's high walls I noticed a couple who had dropped their post cards. I picked them up and ran to return them. Many thanks given and I walked away feeling quite satisfied. A little while later I happened to drop my map and as I turned to pick it up, that same couple was behind me and we laughed as the woman returned the map to me. What were the chances of such a thing happening?
Anyway, we struck up a conversation and I joined them for coffee, where I learned she was visiting her friend who happened to live here in Rome. Her trip was ending the next day but I was invited to join them for the tour her friend was giving her. It turned out the guy was some sort of architecture expert and proceeded to show us all sorts of interesting buildings and cobblestone nooks, archways and statues not on traditional tourist maps. It was fascinating and had I not been so willing to chase after them with their postcards it may never have happened. The woman ended up giving me her unused ticket to a museum and I was also treated to a lovely dinner.
Over and over serendipity and good will followed me. That odd ball sister and brother I had met earlier on my trip reappeared in Pompeii and introduced me to a lovely women from Canada with whom I spent two days traveling. I didn't really want to spend money on a bus trip but happened to show up on "free day." A loaf of bread and a little cheese would gain my admittance to many wonderful picnics atop youth hostel roofs or in passenger cars. Yes, I had bumped into a real creep in Athens but over and over for the rest of the summer people showed me the helpful good side. Friendliness abounded and I returned to my home eager to travel again. This is also why I know, no matter how hard it will be, when my daughter is ready to spread her wings I will let her.