I spent the last month and a half in a yurt in the mountains near Sanremo, Italy. I puttered around drinking tea, cooking food, talking to the dog and walking up and down the nearby hills. Every once in awhile the neighbors stopped by to check on me and see if I was getting out and if I was going down to the big city or the village, but I assured them I was enjoying my time up there all alone.
Of course, as with all my travels, my trip to get to that peaceful spot had a few disasters. I was supposed to fly from Sarajevo to Budapest and then catch a connecting flight to Nice where I would be picked up by my hosts from the pet sitting site I had joined (Trusted Housesitters). However, it was Wizzair and during my one hour transfer time in Budapest airport I realized they actually don’t do transfers, they just sold me two separate tickets and the connecting flight waits for no man. So by the time I figured that out I had just a few minutes to push past everyone in the customs line and then the security line after that. I ducked under ribbons and shouted apologies to everyone I was cutting in line and then ran as fast as my 13 kilo backpack would allow to my gate, where I was denied because my connecting flight had already peaced out.
Then I had to deal with the fact that I was in Budapest for the night, a city I had done no research on and knew nothing about. I booked the cheapest 5 euro hostel I could find online and hopped in a taxi, which seemed to drive for a really long time. Finally, I asked, “How much longer till we get there?”
The guy who really doesn’t speak any English at all explains it’s still another 15 minutes and the ride is going to cost me 30 euro. I gasped and said, “You have to let me out of the car right now because there’s no way I’m paying that!” He really tried to convince me not to jump out in the middle of the highway since I have no internet on my phone and it’s a very long walk to the hostel, but I was panicking about the 30 euros so he finally pulled over, turned off the meter, and said that he would take me to the train station for free if I would just not jump out of the car. I thanked him profusely for the favor and tried to enjoy my day and a half in Budapest in my (shall-we-say-less-than-par-conditions) hostel.
After my airline agreed to book me a new flight, I left the next day with a connection in Amsterdam that was also missed due to protests going on in France that had all the nearby airports running late and canceling flights. So I repeated the whole Budapest sha-bang in Amsterdam the next day, then finally arrived in Ceriana to take care of Pippin, the medium-sized dog.
Simon and Claire were kind and generous and left me with a pantry stalked full of food for the month where I enjoyed a DIY retreat in the mountain, reading books, drawing, hiking, and, occasionally, going into the nearby village called Ceriana. It was such a lively little town full of drama and unexpected friendships and it may very well be an inspiration for a short novel in my near future. About 1,100 people live there and it’s got just one main street with a bar, a cafe, an ice cream parlor, and a few vegetable shops. Everyone in town comes out in the evenings, old and young people playing music and planning art festivals. It was a unique and intimate little town and I quite enjoyed being a guest there for a time.
On one of my hikes I took Pippin with me to the other village, Bajardo, which was up the hill a couple hours. The first place we went to was the famous church where there had been an earthquake long ago. All the people had run to the church to hide and then the roof caved in on them and they all died. I let Pippin run free to take some photos and when I turned around he was rolling in a massive pile of fresh horse shit. Some children had been petting him earlier, but when they smelled the stench and heard me wailing my anguish at the situation, they all ran away and left me wondering what to do. I spotted a sink up on a ledge inside the church and I knew the solution. Removing my shirt so as not to get the brown stuff all over myself and make the situation worse, I picked up Pippin and struggled with him for the next 30 minutes trying to wash all of it off his fur, his collar, and his leash, muttering myself and him the whole time. When I finally got him clean and put my shirt back on I turned around to see an old man seated on the steps of the church, quietly watching. I nodded and said, “Buon giorno,” and Pippin and I walked the three hours back down the hill to our place and had a proper shower.
I did make it down the mountain a few times for some day trips to enjoy the beaches in Sanremo and to do my usual walk-around-the-city-and-see-if-I-meet-any-interesting-people routine. I wandered into a Senegalese restaurant one afternoon and met some extremely friendly and interesting people from Senegal, Uganda, and The Gambia. I also ate some fantastic fish and rice and absurdly spicy vegetables. There I became friends with Kevin, who showed me his favorite beach spot and told me about life in Sanremo. Unfortunately, he said that he and other people who come from African countries to Italy are treated with a lot of racism there, being stopped by the police, wrongly accusing them of selling drugs. The money they should be getting as refugees is being withheld. Many of them live on the streets and cannot find jobs or places to live. This was a sad and heavy story for me to listen to. As a tourist, I don’t often see this side of life in the countries I visit. If you come to a country and have money to pay the tourism industry and you’re white and from America, people treat you with smiles and friendliness, but those who come from different situations, asking for help and a welcome often don’t receive that same hospitable treatment. I know this doesn’t just happen in Italy, but also in my home city in Portland, Oregon and in places all over the world. We shouldn’t live in a world where only the wealthy and white get treated with kindness and decency. Those who have nothing monetary to give back deserve the same as everyone else.
Speaking of money, I also visited the famed Monte Carlo, Monaco for a day. That place was like a movie–families in white linen suits and Gucci shades sat on their condo balconies sipping cocktails and preparing for their next yacht trips. I never felt like such a window shopper than I did walking through Monaco, trying to spot the cheapest item on a menu for lunch and to scurry out of the way for the actual paying guests.
The good news is they had a decathlon, where I bought myself a hammock and have been happily swinging from trees ever since.
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