I have been travelling with my friend Naomi for a week or two, from Belgium, through Luxembourg and into France. We continue our adventure down to the south of France. The generosity of the French surprises me, and it’s the only country I have hitchhiked where most of my lifts have been from women. We sleep in many places: a couple invite us into their holiday home at the Cote d’Azur, another woman feeds us in her mountain home….we sleep on the rocks of the coast, and on balconies of summer homes that are not yet being used. We carry on travelling through hideous Nice and the even more hideous Monte Carlo.
We arrive at night in the shady Italian town of Viarregio. A group of lads are sitting outside a bar, listening to dodgy r’n’b on their mobiles. They invite us to drink with them. Naomi jumps at the chance, sits amongst them and exclaims, “this is just what I needed!” whilst I sit down moodily and think, “this is the last thing I needed”.
Naomi can’t understand why I’m not enjoying myself. One of the boys (men? I’m not sure what you call a twenty year old) invites us to crash at his, and at first I refuse, but Naomi is very keen on not sleeping rough. I reluctantly agree, and to our surprise the boy takes us to an abandoned hotel. It’s got about sixty rooms and has been empty for three years. He is squatting it! The perfect setting for a horror film, it still has all the furniture in, but stinks of rot. I explore the rooms alone, but Naomi is too scared. Left alone, we get a surprisingly good night’s sleep! Naomi’s open attitude towards meeting people has once more paid off.
Then we go from Pisa to Florence, and then in Florence Naomi and I agree to part ways. She is heading north to meet her boyfriend, and I am going south. So, I continue to Rome. I must be the only tourist in Rome without a guide book, and one ruin looks like another ruin to me. Amongst the bus loads of tourists and shoppers buying designer tat, I feel the London in me coming out. A rage sweeps over me, and I fight the urge to barge people or to trip them up, just like in London! I stay at a squat – it’s a huge fort. A real example of community living, they have a cafe, cinema, herb garden, bee hives etc etc. I time my visit well because there is a massive electronic party and about 1,000 people attend. It’s like being back in a Berlin club!
After Rome I head for Naples. Hitchhiking is successful until my driver drops me off literally on the motorway. Within two minutes a motorway maintenence van drives up: ” Illegal, illegal, dangerous”. It’s not particularly dangerous – I am standing on grass the size of a football pitch – but they won’t let me hitchhike, yet won’t take me off the motorway. They even erect one of those big, flashing arrow roadworks signs next to me. One hour passes, and they have called the police, who put me in the back of their car and drive off at speed, swerving through traffic with sirens blaring. I wonder whether they are taking me to the police station, and realise that I have anarchist material in my bag from the last London protest. However, they drop me off in Naples and wish me a good holiday!
I visit Pompeii, then sleep rough on a beach, before heading to the east coast and hitchhiking a twelve hour ferry ride to Greece , and saving myself at least 50 pounds (thank you once again, Irish truck drivers! My saviours!)
I am relieved to leave Italy. I am fed up with the cold, hard stares I get from everyone. Fed up with the police on every street and the bus loads of tour groups. I am currently in western Greece, and I seem to fit in a lot more. Maybe it’s because I look Greek?! (Nearly every day someone says to me that I don’t look English). AND THERE IS VEGAN CHEESE THAT TASTES GREAT!!!
I have started to fit in with a whole new class of people. The homeless drunks wave at me and beckon me over…the man trying to sell packs of tissues to passing cars firmly shakes my hand and becomes my new friend. I like this new life on the streets!
In a few days I head to Turkey, where I will meet my friend Jo. The exotic East is finally beckoning.