My final day in Rome arrived and so I packed up my meagre possessions, left the appalling hostel I had been staying in and headed straight for Mauro’s bar to say my goodbyes.
I would have liked to have done the whole trip without resorting to air travel but time was pressing and it would just have taken too long so I had done something I swore I would never do again and booked on a Lyingair (Ryanair) flight home. In light of subsequent events I am surprised I am not still sitting in Rome as they apparently think nothing of wrecking the travel plans of well over half a million people due to their incompetence and greed but that is another story. Surprisingly for them, the flight was at a pretty reasonable hour in mid afternoon as they usually fly at the most inconvenient hours to get cheaper airport slots.
A leisurely lunch of Aperol and beer was followed by a strange request from Alicia the delightful young waitress who asked me to autograph her arm! Eh? What is all that about? Pub musicians of my calibre never get asked for autographs. Mauro joked that she was going to get it tattooed over and I sincerely hope it was a joke as her existing tattoo of Alice in Wonderland which you can just see in the image was very good and my scrawl, well, enough said.
There was then a round of genuinely emotional farewells with Mauro, Angela, Alicia and Mauro’s charming Mother whose name I still remarkably don’t know. When I had asked Mauro he always just said “The Boss” and that is what I used to call her which she seemed to find amusing. I really did love those people.
I was planning to get the bus to the airport and managed to keep my wits about me enough to get to the stop in good time, having previously checked the timetable, but there was a huge queue in the oppressive heat and I just could not face it so I bit the bullet and hailed one of the numerous taxis in that area. The ride was certainly an experience as I have mentioned Roman traffic before and it is manic. The driver spoke no English and my Italian was still rudimentary at best despite my best efforts so I spent the time watching the Roman cityscape speeding by and occasionally my life flashing before my eyes as we hurtled towards what looked like another certain catastrophe.
Miraculously we did not die and arrived at Ciampino airport in one piece. Ciampino is not the main airport for Rome but it is the one used by the cheapo airlines. Apparently it used to be the military strip for Rome and whilst the building has obviously had a bit of a spruce up it is not exactly what you would call world class. Still, it served it’s purpose and Ryanair unbelievably got me back to London not too far behind schedule.
If the reader has had a look at another of my blogs here entitled “Back where I belong” they can probably guess what happened next. One of my greatest problems in getting home is that public transport takes me to about 200 yards from my local pub so it was like a moth to a flame that I headed straight there for a quick one but no chance. Being lateish in the evening of a weekday there was only one of my mates there but I had not seen him for literally months and so we were there until closing time catching up.
I reckon I should technically start another entry for this day as it was well into it when I eventually collapsed in my own home again, wherever home may before me.
Having been away for so long, I was going to share an image which showed what awaited me when I finally made it through my front door and it was not a pretty sight although marginally more pleasant than the milk I had forgotten to take out of my fridge before I left. Thank Heavens for sealed plastic containers is all I can say. I stupidly took an image with my name and address on the mail (it had been a long day) and whilst I am not the smartest man, I have enough wit not to publish that! You’ll just have to take my word for the amount of rainforest that had been wasted on my mat and which was attempting to trip me and my poor little suitcase up. It was a very tired but happy Fergy that crashed out that night, the mail could wait until the morning.
I suppose that brings me on now to a bit of a summing up as I believe is customary. This is the first blog of the many I have to transfer here that I have completed start to finish and I must admit it brings me a certain degree of satisfaction to have done so.
That only leaves three trips to Canada, three to Sri Lanka, Malta, the London Loop and Capital Ring and………………………… Looks like Fergy is going to be a busy boy one way and another. At least I have finished my West country and Lundy Island exploit which was another great trip and which you can find here. They will all be published in due course if I live long enough!
So what were my impressions and thoughts after almost three and a half months away through eight countries? They are many and varied as you might imagine so I shall try and make them as vaguely coherent as I can.
As the late Dave Swarbrick once wrote in the lyric of a wonderful Fairport Convention song, “The more I learn it’s the less I seem to know” and this was certainly true of this journey.
Despite the relative proximity of all the countries I visited, there were some I had not even visited before despite considering myself a bit of a traveller. I think nothing of trekking off half way round the world and yet I had never been to Luxembourg which might perhaps seem odd to some.
I certainly learned so much in the conventional sense about history specifically but even my schoolboy French came back to a degree and I picked up a word or two in other languages as well albeit I usually struggle with them.
On a practical level I learned just how sparsely I can still actually travel. I did a lot of backpacking in my younger day and whilst my bad back precludes that now I always travel pretty light but this took it to another level. I have never done that length of a trip on so little kit and this brings me onto another couple of observations.
My backpacking days often revolved around youth hostels and I stayed in plenty this time round which proved to me that I could still cut it in that environment. I have always done that using hostels in Europe and cheap B&B’s in Asia but communal living has never bothered me which may well be due to my time in the Forces where it is often the norm.
By definition this style of travelling brings me into contact predominantly with people much younger than myself although that is rapidly changing. Thankfully the rigid age limits on hostels that I remember from my youth are all but gone and with facilities in hostels now improved beyond all recognition from what they were in my heyday it is becoming more and more common to see other “grey travellers” like myself. I have read numerous articles about the phenomenon and will not re-rehearse them here but this trip certainly reinforced the truth of it to me and indeed led to some wonderful experiences.
Far from being regarded as an object of curiosity as would have been the case in days past I was interacting quite happily with people mostly young enough to be my children and on some occasions even technically my grandchildren. Some of my very fondest memories of this trip are of sitting round a common room late at night drinking cheap supermarket booze (often very good), chatting in whatever mutual languages we could muster, sharing food and maybe knocking out a tune or two on an ancient guitar without a full complement of strings. Truly magical times that will live with me a long time and I hope I have been able to convey in some form in these entries.
Of course the other advantage to the hostelling style of travelling is that it keeps the costs down which brings me rather neatly to the vulgar subject of money but I know it is a consideration for travellers. Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU the £ has taken somewhat of a hammering against the € and I was prepared for that. I have a moderate travel budget and a few travellers tricks helped me to make it last to the extent that when I arrived home and did the accounting I found that I had lived marginally cheaper than I do in London which is notoriously expensive anyway. I certainly wasn’t out of pocket.
Apart from staying in hostels which is a huge money saver things like travelling by bus overnight saved a fortune although it is not something I would do regularly. The shared ride car system was a revelation to me and I would certainly do that again. I don’t eat much and catered for myself quite a bit or else just ate in local little cafes and bars which is much more my style of travelling than eating in posh touristy places which are often rubbish anyway. Apart from being infinitely more authentic it is a chance to meet local people in their own environment, not waiters in tourist hotels or backpackers working in hostels and which moves me nicely onto my last point. I promise you it is the last as this is rapidly turning into War and Peace.
It is one of my several travel mantras that I travel to meet people and I know I have mentioned it often enough in this series of journals or blogs or whatever they are properly called. Certainly it is wonderful to see historic sites and beautiful scenery and fantastic flora and fauna and whatever else but it is really all about people for me and this trip merely reinforced that. I had a wonderful time and could count on the fingers of one hand any vaguely negative experiences I had with people with none of them very serious whilst the positives would take me a week to relate. That is why I love to travel and that is quite enough philosophising from me for one entry!
A heartfelt word of thanks to anyone who read and / or commented on some, any or all of this little effort, it is genuinely appreciated.
There is so much more to come so, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.