Things have been busy in the last 3 weeks, because as well as getting into the routine of a new job, I’ve also travelled to 4 different cities. On the 19th June, I flew to Rome to catch up with an old friend, before taking a train to Milan a few days later to meet a new one. Just a couple of days after coming home, I packed my bags again and headed to Częstochowa in southern Poland, before again travelling by train- this time for a few days in Krakow. While each city deserves a blog post in its own right, seeing as I’m fresh off the plane (landed just a few hours ago) now seemed the best time to write a summing-up about some of the things I’d learned while on my trips.
- I’m really unhappy with the way things are going in my country right now following the Brexit vote. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my sympathies were with the Remain campaign, and I went to the trouble of arranging my postal vote well ahead of time. I can honestly say though I’ve never been ashamed to be British (or, more accurately in this particular instance, English, given the result of the vote in Scotland and Northern Ireland) before. I was in Milan when I heard the news- I had, somewhat forebodingly, been dreaming about domestic violence when my novio woke me up to break the news. The reports of race-related hate crimes, in the wake of the result, including one in my adopted city of Leicester which saw my Muslim colleague in tears, had me hanging my head in shame.
2. Spanish and Italian are not mutually intelligible or “the same language”. OK, this one’s embarrassing. I believed the anglophone hype that claimed that Spanish and Italian are closely enough related that if you can speak (or at least understand) one you can speak the other. Not quite, my friend. While Italian seems tantalisingly close to Spanish in many respects -sometimes I’d catch snatches of conversation on the streets of Rome and understand- they really are different languages with distinct punctuation, grammar, and vocabulary. While mainly the Italians I attempted to speak to in Spanish were extremely kind and forgiving, it took a boozy afternoon with an older Italian gent and a fun Australian woman I met in a restaurant for me to really realise that speaking Spanish to Italians was a bad idea. Also, I was struck by the fact that when I ordered a cafe con leche in a train station bar, the waiter gave me a kind of saddened stare, shook his head, and gently corrected me: latte. I’d hurt his pride! I had been insulting people all along by speaking to them in a foreign language, thinking it was close enough to their own for me to get away with it. Lesson learned.
3. My Spanish is OK, but it’s not there yet. For most of my trip to Poland, I was in the company of my novio‘s large extended family, and Spanish was the dish of the day. Proving that the UK really is as diverse as anywhere you’d care to mention, my Spanish boyfriend’s London-resident Mexican cousin was marrying a Polish woman, and the wedding party consisted of two factions: Spanish-speaking guests, and Polish-speaking ones. As the only Brit present, I became a de facto Spaniard, and I did my best to keep up with the half-familiar rituals and customs (arriba, abajo, al centro, y pa’ dentro). Apart from one embarrassing incident over breakfast when I completely misunderstood something my novio‘s Mexican aunt said, I managed to keep up with the flow of conversation pretty well. When it came to my turn to speak though? I struggled for words to express my thoughts, and even to me my language seemed halted and strained. I’ve got work to do.
4. I’m really good at walking. Sound like a bit of a lame boast? It’s not. I have never, ever, enjoyed sports- at school I was always the slowest in the race, and the dark memories of everything from hockey matches to darts games where I couldn’t even hit the board still make me shudder. On bikes I wobble, and anything other than a very gentle yoga class leaves me red in the face and miserable. So taking this into account, and an effort to live a more active lifestyle- as well as a reward for my first payday in my new job- I bought myself a FitBit a few weeks ago, and was keen to put it to the test for something other than my regular walking commute. In Rome, one day I walked 23 kilometres, and in Milan most days I was walking 15 to 20k. It was a little less in Poland due to the fact we were in the wedding, but in Krakow I happily eschewed the tram in favour of pounding the pavements. Maybe it was the excitement of seeing so many things, but I was told repeatedly by my travel buddies to slow down because I was going too fast- and I didn’t even feel it. I was happy to cover so much ground, figuratively and literally, and I even wore out a pair of leather sandals.
5. I’m also good at map-reading, and finding my way in general. It’s a little-used skill in these days of GPS and smartphones, but when your iPhone refuses to play ball with data abroad and there’s no wifi in range, what are you supposed to do? I navigated myself and others around the cities we visited, taking over from cartographically-challenged novio who was trying to be gentlemanly and direct me. On my last day in Rome, I achieved my most impressive direction-based feat. My friend had left earlier than me to catch a plane to Serbia, and I had practically a whole day ahead of me before my train to Milan. I trundled my case to a cute piazza in Trastevere, and tried to plan my next move over lunch and wine. I got chatting to my neighbour though -an Australian lady with a fascinating backstory and lots of tales to tell- and the next thing I knew 5 hours had passed and we’d had more than a bottle of wine, and also my friend had accidentally taken my map of Rome to Serbia. I had to get to Termini! What to do? I got some half-coherent directions from my companion, and set off. I crossed the Tiber and followed my nose (also, I ate two ice creams on the way because it was hot and I was in Italy). I made it for my train with time to spare.
It’s been an exciting couple of weeks, and I have to admit I feel rather flat now I’m at home. I do, however, have a couple more trips in the pipeline, with over 2 weeks off work in August which are as yet still to be filled with plans.