Leaving Greece was easier than I thought it would be…
As much as Greece surprised me at every turn, with reasonably priced food, sensational natives and a truly one of a kind night-life experience, I could practically feel my feet growing itchier by the minute.
The three weeks that I spent bumbling around the city streets of Athens and Northern Greece were enough for me to feel like the country wasn’t as sad and destitute as some news outlets led us to believe it was. With the smiles and laughter of the wonderful people that I’d met echoing in my mind, I pushed forth into the unknown and boarded a ferry bound for Brindisi.
I’d been to Italy before some years ago, on an abortive Gap Year trip that had seen me spectacularly fail at every task that was required of me. I missed trains, I misplaced passports and I just kept on getting lost. That was my first attempt at travelling, back when I had just turned 18.
At that time I was obsessed with Roman archaeology, I wanted nothing more than to wander around the ruins of Italy and pretend that I was back in time with them myself. With my head so far up in the clouds, it’s no wonder that I always losing my way.
This time around would be different though. This time my mind was trained more on the people I would meet and the bars that I would drink at, as opposed to imagining what every street would have looked like thousands of years ago.
If you’ve not heard of Brindisi, then I don’t blame you. After all it’s probably not the most well known city in Italy, a country apparently cursed with an abundance of picture perfect tourist towns. It certainly wasn’t on my agenda the first time round.
On my first trip to Italy, I walked the well trodden tourist route, beginning in Venice where I was frequently turned around in the dark, sewage ridden alleys after daydreaming myself away from the tourist traps. From there I’d travelled South to Verona, Florence and then Rome. The only people I met were travellers around the same age as me and I didn’t speak a word of Italian for the entire trip.
Had I approached this trip with the same mindset, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get to know Tatiana: an Italian widow, septuagenarian and compulsive hoarder.
If ever someone was in need of a professional organiser it was Tatiana.
I first stumbled into her home because I thought she was selling bric-a-brac. I’d just got off the ferry from Patras, my eyes a little gluey from sleep and in desperate need for some caffeine. Her home had tables and chairs carelessly tangled in front, on what appeared to be a street populated with cafes and souvenir shops. As I sat down to take a breather, not noticing the lack of other customers or waiting staff, she emerged from her home. Her arms bent and undulated, reaching for the sky as her mouth rattled off, what I could only assume was a plea in her native tongue to the Lord above – she was clearly in some distress and wasted no time in sitting herself next to me, clutching my wrist and desperately trying to explain her situation.
The fact that I could not speak any Italian didn’t seem to deter her in the slightest. Soon she was tugging me by the sleeve and pulling me inside her home, or what I could make out of it. I had to leave my rucksack at the door, as we had to crouch just to get through the front.
As we snuck through the entrance I began to understand her predicament. The tables and chairs at the front of her house were clearly surplus to requirements – her small flat was packed with furniture. Chairs were stacked on top of stools, wardrobes were packed on top of these and, most precariously, glass tables were stacked at odd points everywhere, just a nudge away from falling to oblivion.
As she warbled away pointing at one chair here and stroking a chest of drawers there, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow myself to get into such a mess. I never found out how she got into such a situation. After she’d led me through to her back yard, we sat down, drank a coffee and shared a cigarette. Once she’d settled for a minute, she seemed to relax and a smile crept across her face, as if all her worries had disappeared.
I left her there in that position, looking at peace in the few square feet of open space that she owned – I wonder if she ever cleared her home out…