Venezia – Of Land & Water


I don’t remember to have ever made Venice a priority on my see-the-whole-world list. The rumours that the city was in reality not as charming as its fame went and that the water stank might have subconsciously put me off. Or was it the clichéd image of lovers cobwebbing the city and proclaiming to be madly in love in gondolas that turned my thoughts from it? Whatever it was, Venice and I did not seem to click. Ryanair changed that for me by displaying a round trip Brussels-Venice for 30€. I was immediately seduced.

Week-end in Venice in mid-November it is! I wake up at 3 am, have no coffee leaving it as something to look forward to when reaching the airport and give it some gas. The lack of caffeine and a worrying sense of orientation typically assigned to women cause me to actually lose my way to the airport by taking the wrong exit. Tricky considering that I also largely deviate from the requirement to be at the gate two hours before departure.

But, as all independent and self-assured travellers, I count on myself to always find my way, anytime, anywhere. Fact! Ok, add a spell of luck to that, too. I make it on time for the boarding: one hour and 20 minutes till Venice and ready for take-off.

The weather in Treviso is surprisingly worse than in Brussels, usually hard to beat: it rains heavily, the cold gets to your bones, and the heavy grey hanging in the atmosphere is amplified by a strong, unfriendly wind. Not the magic place I expected.

From the Treviso airport to Piazzale Roma it’s a one-hour trip. There you are finally delivered to the city…and what a majestic one it is. Even under the heaviest of rains, Venice is still one of the most delightful sights I have ever laid my eyes on. Go off-seasons to avoid the crowds, though: the less people per square meter, the more you connect with the place.

IMG_8685 IMG_8776Venice is very easy and pleasant to explore. To begin with, there’s no traffic. Not in the streets, that is. Here, the traffic has been placed on water: there are water buses, water taxis, ferry-boats, gondolas, all-size boats, all floating around and trying to avoid one another. Upon seeing my very first vaporetti station I almost drowned in fascination. After one day of hopping on-and-off, though, this became as casual an activity as taking the bus on land.

In spite of its famous water transport, flooded Venice is best explored on foot. Its great charm resides in its narrow and very narrow streets, bordered by very old buildings which withstand renovation. The visual shabbiness creates the perfect environment for a magic leap into the past. Venice does not belong to this century. Nor should it.

IMG_8981Walk the streets and you will be plunged back in time. The houses are small, some garnished with mini doors in guise of entrance. They all differ in size, shape and colour at every corner. The beauty of Venice is the possibility to get lost in it. I do not mean that you will never find your way back – it is very easy to orientate in Venice. But it creates a unique labyrinth-like experience to enjoy and play with.

Take one street and forget where you are or where you want to go next. Hesitate between turning right or left, take one of the two and then find yourself blocked in your errand by a wall or a closed courtyard. Turn around and try another street to see where it goes. Some literally end in water. Try the game somewhere far from the horde of tourists in the dim lights of the evening, with the rhythmical sound of your footsteps on the stone pavement and a moving shadow on the wall. Leave the boat to the sleepy lovers; Venice is a playground to roam on foot.

After a full day of rain, the Piazza San Marco is a sparkling pond under the Indian summer sun. People queue up one behind the other on the walkways that have been set up to keep their feet dry. Others put on colourful waterproof boots and walk the Piazza carelessly, feet in the water. Venice welcomes everyone. Culture, art, architecture, luxury shops, a lagoon with islands, all gathered to piece together a splendid fraction of Earthly paradise.

IMG_8955With its (too) domesticated pigeons and sparrows that are bold enough to pick up the cookie crumbles straight from your coffee plate, the illuminating sun that blinds you when reflected by so much water, the drops of rain that make the water from the canal shiver and the gondolas look sad when anchored, Venice has unexpectedly become my favourite city in Europe, by day and by night.


IMG_8984Why visit Venice:

  • The city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in its entirety.
  • It is Europe’s largest car-free area.
  • It is a unique venue: 177 canals and 409 bridges (says wiki).
  • Famous for its masks and carnival (watch out for the crowd, though).
  • It is probably world’s most popular and romantic place where you can finally declare your flame in a gondola or go as far as propose (if you really must). Then maybe you can take a flight to Los Angeles, get drunk and get married to close the deal.
  • Sunday is particularly charming when the bells from St Mark’s Basilica shake the city.
  • You can buy Venetian/Murano glass objects (if you can afford it).
  • Here’s your chance to drink a very expensive coffee with a view and share your very expensive cookie that comes with the expensive coffee with the pigeons and sparrows that will inevitably land on your table.
  • Because the following people lived here: Marco Polo (a famous explorer after which 50% of Europe’s pizzerias have been named), Antonio Vivaldi (if you like the seasons) and Giacomo Casanova (the most notorious self-declared hypersexual Italian of all times).
  • It inspired Shakespeare to write “The Merchant of Venice”, thus making sure to sour the life of any student in literature throughout the centuries.
  • It is a 1600 year-old city with a wooden foundation, built and maintained on water by very complex technical systems – a man-made wonder that is likely to sink one day. To avoid this, the Italian authorities might want to collaborate with the Dutch – they, of all nations, know a thing or two about how to tame the water.

Visit Venice.


Bad Company in Campania

Some journeys are just longer. To others, there’s simply no end. My thoughts exactly as our train halts for the third time in the last three hours in a station which is still not our final destination. I am steaming, sweating, perhaps also swearing on a train in Italy, somewhere between Rome and Ariano Irpino.

Chance and curiosity plotted to get me here. First, my name was drawn at a tombola organised during a wine and cheese tasting event, opening up the possibility for me to spend an agro touristic week-end in the beautiful Campania to which I am now headed. The flight tickets were not included, but for someone who never won anything before, this was no obstacle. The organiser is very considerate: he makes arrangements for me to travel in the company of one of his colleagues. I praise such generosity and cannot believe my luck. But that was before I meet my travel mate.

The lady he sent over is not a gift. Suspicion ramifies inside me that she is on the mission of putting my patience to a test. This I do not have plentiful and she seems determined to put me off balance. Her conversation opening line when we reach the airport is: “I hope no plane crashes today.” I’m dumbfounded: why would anyone mention plane-related disasters 15 minutes before boarding a Ryanair flight? “Last time I was here, one did crash on the platform and our own plane had to be delayed.” Meet Vania. I will be stuck with her for the next endless hours.

While I am quite the independent traveller, Vania acts as if crossing the street on her own were a wild experience. Hence she follows me: I turn left, she turns left. And as she does so, she feels compelled to utter her precious opinions and substantial advice. And she has one for everything. I now finally have someone to coach me on how to eat, where to sit, when and how to look out the window, etc. Vania truly makes one appreciate the golden side of silence.

I hope my nerves would last. The doors close behind me, taking me hostage in the Italian train. But pray the Lord: the seat next to my undesirable partner is already taken! I rush in the hall, rejoicing the prospect of some peace and quiet. But no, Vania cannot let me sit on the floor, and insists I take the only spare seat that lies not far (enough) from hers. Needless to say, there is no refusing Vania. Not if you want to save yourself a headache.

I then search for refuge into music. But even though a perfectly visible cable connects my ears to an iPad which I ostensibly hold in hand for anyone to see, Vania keeps talking to me. Fearing I might be too subtle, I increase the level of my rudeness to point out as clearly as humanly possible that I need a break by diving into a book, doing my best to fake concentration and turn invisible. But there is no stopping Vania: try as I might to camouflage my presence for a little while, she ends up tapping on my knees, making signs that I should look outside.

A window separates me from that wide open field she is so crazed about. I wish she were on the other side. The train has no air-conditioning. The night is falling and we are much delayed now. We’ve been travelling all day: took a plane early in the morning, then a bus to Rome Termini, walked the streets of Rome, and ended up on this battered old train. We are trapped in one of the five carriages that carry too many people it can handle. We sweat in unison. After all, Vania did warn me: “I hope we make it to Ariano. When I travel, there’s always a problem.”

The train squeaks and dies on us at 9 o’clock in the evening: this time, we even get the privilege of an announcement. It says sorry, due to technical problems, overheated engine, all passengers must get off, not going any further. Everyone takes the exit except for Vania who believes we should stay, just in case the train decides to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and move again. I jump out, thinking that reaching the destination would not solve my problem: I still have a whole week-end in front of me with Vania.

Florence, the Machine and Almost Us

Florence concert

When I fell in love with Florence + the Machine, they were scheduled for a concert in Antwerp, Belgium, but it was already sold out. Surfing the World Wide Web, my eyes roll in my head like a casino slot machine when I find out that there are tickets on sale for their concert in Luxembourg, just around the corner. Crazed with enthusiasm, I contact my other band freak, Roxana. Two email exchanges and we have a deal. The group was performing on Wednesday, November 28th, and she was joining me from Romania for a Jason Mraz concert the day after anyway. It was in the cards.

But God works in mysterious ways. And probably that day when we went to Luxembourg He just wanted to be entertained and picked us for the job. For me, he booked one hell of a week. On Monday I took off at 6 a.m. with my team to Sweden for an intensive two-day team building, at the end of which I was just dreaming to get some sleep. And while I was making myself ridiculous doing traditional Swedish dances triggered by good wine, Roxana was quietly waiting for me in my apartment in Brussels. Having failed to synchronise due to my departure, I hadn’t seen her before I left but managed to pass her the keys to my apartment via a common friend.

I landed back in Brussels on Wednesday morning, after a short night’s sleep brutally interrupted by my 4 a.m. phone alarm clock. At eightyish we were back in the office. The concert is in Luxembourg at 8 p.m. and there’s no snow in view. It should take us 3, max 3.30 hours to get to the hotel which Rox kindly booked five minutes away on foot from the concert place, I say to myself. So I go home to collect my friend and hit the road. I’m a bit delayed on my way, however, because as soon as I take the main road I am stopped by the Police for having a dead headlight. I know, that’s one of the reasons my car failed the technical inspection, officer!

I am released and I finally get to my place. Rox is there, and she came with plenty of goodies from my other country. Happy times. We fuel up and start the journey.

Apart from having a dysfunctional left headlight, my car also has a faulty heating system, in that it does not work. At all. So that by the time we reached Luxembourg, we were barely able to articulate, we lost contact with our toes, and my hand was somehow glued on the gear stick. But hey, we could have run out of gas somewhere on the highway between two gas stations! So we see the positive sight of being only five minutes away from the concert hall, we park, get the room and get some booze to warm up. After all, we are on holiday.

Two bottles of whatever alcoholic beverage later, we dress up for the concert. We walk at a slow pace; we’re not too far, anyway. Ten minutes to 8 p.m. we’re in front of den Atelier, the music club hosting Flo and her machine. But surprise, shock, bewilderment: the courtyard is empty and all the lights in and outside the building are off. We check the street and the number; it still looks like we are in the right place. “They cancelled,” screams Rox, “they must have cancelled!” But when we examine the black-and-white printed tickets, we see the very small, barely legible letters of a second address taking shape in the upper corner of the paper. We started to doubt that we were in the right place.

We then take to plan B. Which is: get to this presumably correct address as soon as possible. Rox is a freaking walking and talking satellite, and is armed day and night with a fully working GPS, so she immediately checks the location. CIA would be jealous. “The good news”, says the intelligence agent undercover “is that we are not too far: 20 minutes by car.” The bad news, I think, is that I had a drink. If I am as lucky as in the morning and am halted by the Police again, this might become an extra problem, considering that my car did not succeed the technical inspection. But, anyway, we were so close and Rox and I are not exactly the type of persons who are easily discouraged. So we take the car, I stop on the bus lane because it just happens to be in front of our hotel and because Rox needs to pick up my driver licence to give us a sense that we were somehow behaving responsibly.

So I speed up to this new place, hoping to catch at least a small part of this concert that we made a long way to see. Rox is directing me, iPhone in hand. We arrive in a place where cars are parked on the sidewalk. This must be the concert hall. Rox is so high-spirited she could actually jump out of the car as I drive at full speed. “We can leave it here,“ she voices her enthusiasm, showing me a side of the road that could have been a good parking place, had it not been blocked by a big monolith. “We can move the stone,” she goes on, now clearly eager to jump. Looking at the size of that stone, I decided to drive around some more. Rox did her best to persuade me to park in some other illegal places, too, but I remained resolute: after all, we could use the car as a means of transport to go back as well. We finally found a real three-store parking, but since there were only 20 empty spaces left, it took us a while before we finally found one.

We run out of there looking backwards, trying to memorise our geographical position. We follow the crowd into a big building and when we ask about the concert, we are amazed to find out that Florence + the Machine will only start their show in one hour. What the hell was on our tickets?

We split to queue up for beers and pizzas. We now finally relax and look around: we are at Rockhal in Esch-sur-Alzette, in southern Luxembourg, a nice place looking like a hangar that could hold an impressive number of people. We head towards the stage, ready for the concert, and the lights go dim. The crowd starts to cheer, possessed by the excitement that precedes a major concert. We are left in complete darkness, colourful lights start to play around us, and then the intro…Florence and the Machine take the stage in a storm of applause and shouts. “She is not from this planet,” says Rox. Indeed, Florence Welch is not an earthly creature, at least she does not sound like one. It was a great night. Mission accomplished!

Later on we were to realize that the accurate address was highlighted in red letters on the original tickets. Having printed them in black and white only, this turned out slightly difficult for us to detect.

On “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

The perks of being a flower

Here is a simple and touching storyline: Charlie is a wallflower, aka an introvert, lonely teenager who spends time reading, writing to a non-identified friend and connecting to the people in his life whom he lost. He also has a problem that he would not talk about. Discreet and consumed with inner demons, he hopes to make real friends. It is when he integrates a group of outsiders that his potential comes out and he finds the freedom to finally become himself.

One may criticise the film’s emotional overflow, because what really stands out in this movie is love, and some may be allergic to strong feelings exposure. But one cannot fail to admit that it is precisely this load of sensibility, along with excellent delivery from the actors and powerfully written lines that leave the audience hanging in sweet awe, long after the closing credits’ scrolling down is complete.

Yes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is utterly expressive, allowing adolescence agonies to surface plentifully and prevail. It is also a conglomerate of life’s touching issues and struggles, of basic realities that we are so bad at acknowledging. Everyday paradoxes are highlighted here: we all know that nobody can save anybody, yet we try. We all know that we must end-up a dead-end relationship, but turning the page is wearisome. We would all like to be seen by the person we love and we would all like to possess that nonexistent remote-control with a “Love me and not somebody else” button to press on until it works. This is the movie’s recipe for timelessness and inspiration. Resolutely a must see.

You see things. You understand. You are a wallflower.

Anna Karenina revived

Bringing an old-time classic to the foreground again is a daring attempt that can easily turn into complete failure. Unless you do it the “wright” way. Especially when the classic is Anna Karenina, a heroine that has successfully crossed centuries and needs no introduction for what she does to herself. Yet this is precisely what director Joe Wright decides to do: he takes her off the shelves, breathes new life into her and puts her on a theatre stage in a different movie that stands no comparison.

After Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love that turns into a party-of-two suicide due to various unfortunate misunderstandings, Anna Karenina ranks probably as the second most applauded suicide in literature. Wright has a very intelligent take on the Russian classic and exceeds all expectations. Nothing changes to the good old Tolstoy story line, but the dynamics, the vision, the portrayal, the interpretation, the engagement are totally different.

All the original ingredients are there: we’ve got passionate vs. reasonable love, social circumstances working against the lovers and we have Anna, inevitably under the train as the absolute tragic ending. But Wright employs a “life as a theatre” technique and suddenly we forget that we are at the cinema. He plays a lot with imagination, his and ours, realizes beautiful visual imagery, zooms on detailed gestures and dramatics that are typical of theatre actors, and somehow, while making us slightly confused, manages to keep the emotion alight.

Rather than giving away too much, Wright plays on suggestion. He invites us to cogitate while we roller-coast through an unexpected fake decor drawn up to mock the Russian aristocracy. Keira Knightley, sparkling in her ever-changing costumes and moods, walks as agonising Anna in the middle of a crowd which stands still: her world stops and everything else falls silent with it. So do we, as we witness it. Blending the lightness of musical comedies with an atmosphere that is somehow reminiscent of Almodovar, and occasionally bordering parody, Wright manages to leave even the connoisseurs with a shade of doubt: is she really going to do it?

It would be unfair to compare this movie with its forerunner: there would have been no purpose in Wright wanting to reproduce exactly the same pattern that has been screened before. Was Mercutio ever black in Shakespeare’s vision? But by being innovative, Wright provokes polemics and takes the chance of dividing his public in two: hate it or love it. His merit is that he re-constructs a lost world in an incomparable style without ever losing focus on the actual tragedy: love and passion, equally uplifting and devastating, the most explosive cocktail of feelings that has ever driven the human kind. A classic brilliantly re-visited and an experimental director who scores high.

What’s in a box?

Tiny, big, carton, coloured boxes…they wrap up a piece of our existence. Indispensable when we move from one place to another, they keep our belongings locked-up, a small universe that we hide from the rest of the world.

Part of the “putting in the box” process is also choosing what to leave aside. Throwing away things that are not worth keeping anywhere near anymore. Things that do not make sense to the present and that certainly do not belong to the future. The decision making…Packing the obsolete or not. The hesitation…how valuable is the past? Do I need? Do I want? This one goes in, this one goes out. The boxes say something about the way in which we organise our lives.

Boxes work on a “close” and “open” principle. If Pandora (the equivalent of Eve in the Greek mythology and as disobedient as her) had not opened (suspense!) that bloody box, how much trouble would we have been spared? That woman left us with a box full of hope only. And it was actually a jar.

Miroslaw Balka, a Polish sculptor and a man who obviously thinks out of the box, gave some careful consideration to this object and literally built an extra size one for us to hop in. I was lucky enough to try his “Black Box” sensory experience four years ago at the TATE Modern and the piece of art made quite an impression on me. It is haunting to get a perspective from the “inside”, to walk in complete darkness, not knowing where the void will end and to hear the sound of emptiness with every step. Balka’s box contains us and causes us to confront with our capacity to “feel” around. It is so scary that I was grateful he did not block the way out. Sometimes we need to be confined to better understand freedom.

Today, I felt like praising the Box, its limitations and its possibilities.

My Name is Silvia and I’m an Immigrant


I am one of the hundreds of million of people who moved from one country to another. At twenty, I willingly left Romania and reluctantly landed in Belgium. Back then, I was just travelling somewhere else, having no idea that immigration would stick with me. Now that I have been living in Belgium for ten years and only went back to Romania twice for few days all in all, I know that immigration is my new ID.

So one September day in 2002 I took a plane to this misty country I knew I would hate. Because I would have gladly gone elsewhere, but my sister was living in Belgium, so it was a “logical” choice. Because I was leaving all my friends behind and at twenty, that’s all you care about. I also hated the weather intensely, I hated the city (Liège), I hated the people’s over-politeness – Belgians have a thing for repeating “Hello, how are you, what can I do for you, good-bye and have a good day” on every occasion. Very disturbing when you come from a country where this is not seen as a priority. I hated their patience: the little old lady counting the Euro cents to pay her bill in a crowded supermarket would have probably been publicly crucified in Romania. I also hated that I did not understand everything that people were telling me, even though I had studied French at school. Later on I would understand that there is French French, Belgian French, Liège French, etc. This explained my struggle.

I hated that, during my studies at the university and right from the beginning of my stay in Belgium I would be an “exceptional case”. Since Romania set up conditions that were impossible for me to fulfill so as to legally study abroad, I left as a tourist, I was accepted at the University of Liège, but had no authorization to stay for more than 3 months in Belgium. I therefore started a regularization process under the article “9.3 of the aliens’ legislation. (According to this article, there may be an exception to the principle that the application for residence should start in the country of origin).” I was the alien, the article and the exception. The process took one year and a half, during which I was not considered a “legal” resident.

“Exceptionally”, I also managed to go to Germany with the Erasmus programme: “normally” I did not have that right. There were a number of other things that I could not really do, like stay in Belgium after my studies, unless I had a job, for which I needed a working permit which was mission impossible to get.

Hateful times. A lot changes when you live in a different country, especially if you’re used to mum putting the plate in front of you while you watch TV, like I was: you start from scratch, you have no papers and you freak out whenever you drive and you see a Police motorcycle in your rearview mirror. You suffer from nostalgia (acutely, if you also lack light): you miss the mountains, the seaside, having a normal conversation in your own language, you even miss the stray dogs. You lose the notion of “home” and you feel, rightfully, that you will never fully integrate into the new country. There will always be words and jokes that you will not understand. How could you? You did not even watch the same cartoons as the others when you were a kid and you have overall different reference points and ways of having fun. You feel that you don’t say exactly what you mean in a different language. You have an accent, so you know that you will always have to answer the question “Where do you come from?”. But when you decide that you’re not going back, you learn to look in front of you, in time. Learning to be an immigrant is a continual process.

You also learn to wear a label. Accept it or not, being an immigrant is one. You discover that labels exist everywhere in the world (which you do not know if you never get out of your country) and that you just have to live with them, because so many other people do. I was at least associated with prostitution in the “eastern countries”, “Dracula”, and Nadia Comanici. My mother even had right to a remark such as “I know your gipsy music and I like it very much” coming from someone who wanted to make a good impression and prove that he knew something about Romania. It’s still a mystery how the guy survived my mother’s look.

Labels aside, go abroad and see how little some people actually know about your country. I was asked if we had electricity (Romania being somewhere on a different continent, in a different century and we, blood-sucking Romanians who all perform on the uneven bars being somehow fallen from a tree). The best line I got for introducing myself as a Romanian came from one of my most beloved university teachers. “Nobody is perfect”, he replied.

You learn how powerful the notion of luck is. And how this saves you, white Caucasian, from having your papers checked by the Police one day when you simply step off the bus. Two of the travelers are requested to make proof that they are Belgian residents. They are dark-skinned, so it’s not their lucky day. They are visible immigrants, while I do not bear that mark. But that day, I was the illegal one. Today, I am a Belgian citizen.

What I also learned, while living in a foreign country was that I did not want to live in my own. Yes, guilty as charge! I was therefore also pointed with the finger by some compatriots who accused me of not contributing to my country’s development, of being a deserter, bla, bla, bla. Have martyrs ever been rewarded while they were actually alive? Along with bullshit of this kind, brace yourself to hear some of the most surrealistic remarks that have ever toured the Planet when you ditch your homeland. Also, when you live elsewhere (the exact place is of no real importance), your friends and family at home will always think that you are richer, happier and luckier than they are. Don’t try to convince them otherwise: it is a strong belief.

Looking back, I would have certainly not learned so much, about myself, about others, about life, had I not done the “big move”. I now know how to balance my sense of in-betweenness, because I understand that this experience makes me the person I am today. I’m not sure I got the best of both worlds, but I have knowledge of them. And while I am both Romanian and Belgian, I am also none of them, really. I am an immigrant. And I’m getting better at it every day.

Deromanticizing Rome

I went to Italy, scene of ancient battles, gladiators and perverted pleasures – so delightfully reproduced in movies and TV series (if you think “Rome”, there sure is a lot of reproduction going on) – four days after the 4-0 defeat of the Italian football team by the Spaniards (remember, Russell Crowe in “The Gladiator” was nicknamed “The Spaniard”?). All roads lead to Rome, goes the saying. With Ryanair, the selling point of everything that you have never considered buying while being up in the air, you are left at the Ciampino airport. From there, it takes 40 minutes to travel by bus (and almost the same to wait for one) to the Termini Train Station, Rome. And this, at Termini, is where things actually begin…

When Martin Luther (the guy with the Bible) stepped into Rome, he issued: “If there be a hell, Rome is built over it”. Now, I am centuries apart from this guy, but that day, when I disembarked at Termini, our minds were one. The heat was slightly unbearable (but that’s normal, because I was coming straight from Belgium), the crowd of people was just horrifying, the Romanian gipsies too many and everyone seemed preoccupied with walking on my toes, robbing me, pushing me and all sort of group activities against me. A piece of Dante’s “Inferno”.

After having walked to the metro station in Brussels, taken the metro to reach the station, taken the bus to go to the airport, flown with Ryanair, taken the bus from Ciampino to the Termini station, all within 7 hours,

I then needed to take the metro from Termini to wherever my camping for the night was. So I needed a metro ticket. Some ticket machines came into sight, but what a hard work to get to them: how to make your way through the gipsies who gravitate around you like hungry vultures, the visitors who already bought their tickets but won’t separate themselves from the ticket machines, and the Polizia who passively pretended to do their job and chase the gipsies away. I could have bet that they split 50-50 with them.

Anyway, ticket in hand, I look for metro line number 2. Easy as, I thought, knowing that in Rome there are only 2 metro lines. Think twice and bite your tongue, baby! For the way to El Dorado was long. The metro station was actually under construction for Pope knows how long and the only signs towards my longed-for destination were sheets of paper glued to the walls, with an arrow and a 2 printed on. So I followed, for quite some time.

While Rome was not built in one day (and the precious remains definitely testify for that), it was certainly built on seven hills. Hence the uncountable number of stairs that you climb to get anywhere.  Honestly, do

not pack too much if you really need to go through the metro station: all escalators do not work. You’ll just end up carrying your luggage on an insane amount of stairs, so it’d better be light (and you’d better not have a heart condition). You’d also better not be handicapped; for I’m not sure Romans are actually prepared to welcome disabled people with the necessary facilities.

So much for the first impressions of a highly coveted and excessively touristic European capital…”Sinistra”, says the voice in the metro to announce that the way out for the next stop in on the left side. “Sinister”, I thought, holding my bags extra close to my body, for by that time I had started to suspect everyone of wanting to rob me.

After the metro, I also had to take a bus to reach the camping site where I was to spend the night. In Rome, buses have still not been provided with on-board systems announcing or displaying the bus stop name. Consequently, you never truly know when to get down. Luckily, the bus I was in was filled with young people speaking English, so I told myself I should just follow them: they looked like the camping type. I eventually got to do the check in at the camping site, cursed myself briefly for having booked there, but then, hey, I actually started to notice that: it was hot the way I liked it, the sun was shining and there was a pool! With water I could swim in!

What I normally do once I dropped and locked my luggage somewhere in a foreign country/city is to immediately grab a map and explore it. But then I was so glad to have escaped the hustle and bustle that Rome was to me that afternoon that I decided to know better than that: I jumped in the bathing suit, took a beer and laid by the pool in the company of a friend who was travelling with me the next day. Only when we finished the third beer and got sunburnt (I do not consider putting sunscreen on necessary, since I only see the rays once a year) did we realise that we had to go to the Termini Station (oh, no, not there!!) to meet up with another travel mate and have dinner.

So there we were, 3 girls from 3 different corners of the world, wandering in the streets of Rome to get some food. Bree, our mate from Australia, was recommended good restaurants in the San Lorenzo area, which we still could not locate half an hour later. I then started to look for my skills in Italian and asked a guy for the

direction. What he said to me in Italian confirmed the puzzled look in his eyes: he explained to us that San Lorenzo was a place where people openly sold drugs and put it in your hand without you even asking for it. We “grazie”-ed him and took the first chair of the first restaurant that was not in San Lorenzo and had the best gnocchi alla carbonara and the most delicious wine my lips could have expected to taste. Evening in Rome was good.

Between brackets, it’s true what they say about the Italian men: they truly jump out of the car at the red light, no, not to kidnap you, but just to tell you “You look beautiful”. If that does not make one smile!

During the next 3 days, I had a most wonderful trip to Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello (The farther from Rome, the nearer to God?) with Busabout. I could call this a perfect break, since I fully enjoyed so many of the plentiful flavours that Italy has to offer. So much so that I have to go back.

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