If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.
As my college freshman year was coming to a close I got to talking with a friend about meeting me in France and hitchhiking through Italy. My parents had just relocated to the Alsace Lorraine section of France and were living in village called Nomeny, not far from Metz and Nancy. My travel was covered because my dad worked for the Air Force and I was considered a dependent entitled to travel benefits.
My friend, Alan, was attending the University of Washington as was I. His father agreed to send Alan on a tour of Europe. We decided that at the end of his tour, I would meet him in Paris.
We could come back to my parents home in Nomeny and then hitch hike down to Switzerland and on to Italy. And that is what happened.
Our first day on the road we had anticipated going south toward Geneva, Switzerland. Our ride had his own plan which took us east through the southern parts of Germany. When we started south through Switzerland we were travelling through the mountainous center of the country. We were lightly clothed and there was still snow on the ground. It was a bit of a miscalculation. Still it came out alright.
We entered Italy from the north coming down past Lake Como, a stunningly beautiful area. We were on our way to Milan. It was a Friday afternoon and the Italian workmen were going home by the truck loads for the weekend. One of the trucks stopped for us and asked where we were headed and in my mix of English, with some French and Spanish I got them to understand we were going to “Milano”.
” Dannata that was great! Get in. That is where we are going . . . MILANO.”
At least that was the gist of the conversation. We bumped along the roadway for a couple of hours. Finally they pulled up to a little café in a small, really small town, and disappeared inside. Al and I sat in the back of the truck for about half an hour. Then I went inside and inquired when they were going to get back on the road to Milano. There was a pause and one of them conveyed to us the fact that this was Milano.
” This is Milano? I thought Milano was a large city. This can’t be Milano.”
There was another pause and then someone said something to the effect of,
” ME Lawn OH? Oh no, this is ME lan OO. Me Lawn Oh is way down that way.”
So we caught the train into the city.
When we got there we found a room in a small inn. The landlady asked for our passports and some other details and I was able to understand because I have some knowledge of Spanish and French and Italian is so similar. I would respond “Si” or “No” or give the document requested. She smiled and said, “You speak Italian” and then became angry when I said “No, not really”. Guess she thought I was being fresh.
Anyhow, Alan and I were in Italy and on our way.
The first city we visited after Milan was Venice. It was magical. The canals, the Gondolas the little restaurants, the square and the cathedrals were a whole new experience to us both. In one of the glass blowing shops we met two Canadian girls, Sandy and Bee, and started an association that pretty much shaped the first half of our trip.
We were thrilled to find English-speaking girls our age. We spent much of the day with them. They were from Toronto attending college. Their parents were letting them travel together for the summer. When we parted we let them know how much we had enjoyed meeting them. We explained we were off to the Youth Hostel in Florence the next day.
The Youth Hostel organization was very well developed in Europe and we used it where ever we could.
It took us all the next day to get down to Florence and the Youth Hostel. What a grand place this was! Most Youth Hostels are pretty modest, at least they were in those days. Sleeping bags on pallets type of places. But this one had been the home of Mussolini’s mistress and was gated. It was large with extensive gardens and handled around 200 travellers. Pretty upscale.
We walked into the registration area . . . and met Sandy and Bee! They had taken a train and had been there all afternoon.
Well, this was great. We had Sandy and Bee. After we got settled in the four of us went down to the cafeteria for dinner. The eating area was large with long tables. As we sat down a fifth wheel, a GI, sat down and started making moves on Bee. I didn’t like that. When we had eaten the GI decided to be “Mr Gallant” and took Bee’s tray back into the return area. Outta sight!. Gone forever.
I grabbed Bee’s hand and said, “Let’s go” and led her off to the gardens. We strolled along, found a bench, held hands and talked. Finally I leaned over an kissed her. AND WOW! Have you ever had one of those experiences which is a complete turnoff? I do not know what it was, bad pheromones or what, but whatever it was it cooled my ardor immediately. I wanted no more of this. But I did not want to be offensive. So I started talking and chatting and smoking my pipe and anything I could think of to avoid another kiss. Finally, the evening was getting long in the tooth and we retired to our respective areas in the Hostel.
Next morning, Alan and I got up ready to explore Florence. After breakfast we headed out to the gated entrance and . . . found Sandy and Bee waiting! Oh lord! They were with us all day. And the next and the next. There was one way out of this Hostel and they were always there.
Eventually Alan and I had enough of this and decided to go down to Rome to one of the Hostels there. We gave the cook some money to take us out through the kitchen and out the service area so we would not have to go through the dreaded gate of doom. And we were on our way.
The trip south was uneventful. I remember it was hot.
There was one noteworthy experience on the way. We were given a ride by a middle-aged man in a small Fiat. I sat in the back. Alan sat in the front. As he drove, this fellow asked us the English word for various private parts of a person’s anatomy. We told him and then he started chanting these words as he drove along. Creepy!
Suddenly Alan turned back to me with an astonished and not too happy expression and said,
“He grabbed my love muscle!”
I said, “Knock his hand away”, which he did. Then the fellow went groping back for me. I slapped his hand away. At this point he decided we were not going to play and let us out to find another ride. We found ourselves sort of dumped in the middle of nowhere.
Eventually we reached Rome and located a youth Hostel. There were several. I don’t remember how it was that we chose this one. It was quite nice. We went in to register and … met Sandy and Bee! They had discovered we had left Florence and took a train down to Rome. They had been down several hours waiting for us.
So our experience was starting to repeat itself. Finally it came to an end in a somewhat memorable way. The side yard at the hostel was a place where the travellers would sit out at night with a glass of wine or a beer and enjoy the warm summer air and the company of others. I was in such a funk about Bee that I had decided to go nowhere. I was just going to stay in the yard and drink beer. I would buy three beers. Put them on the table. Drink them. Buy three more and go another round. I would not get rid of the empty bottles. When the table would not hold more bottles I knew I was through and would go to bed. It wasn’t a really big table, but still you get the idea.
This one particular evening Sandy and Bee were there, of course, as was a new girl, a girl from Texas. She was quite pretty and one of the fellows there had his eye on her. Every time she looked away he would top off her wine glass. I was watching this sardonically. I knew what he was up to.
As the evening grew late someone said,
“Lets go out on the town!”
“Yeah, Lets go out. Everyone. You too, Tom. You come too.”
“No I’m going to bed. You all have a good time.”
“Oh, Come on Tom. You come too”.
“No, the Hostel closes at 10:30. We won’t be able to get back in.”
The other guy said, “I worked out a deal with one of the guys. He’ll leave a window open.”
I couldn’t stand the idea of going out with Bee.
“Nah, I’m going to bed. Besides you need a sports coat to get into clubs (in those days there were dress standards) and I don’t have a sports coat.”
“I’ve got one you can use. Come on!”, he said.
And all the girls including the new gal from Texas, chimed in together,
” Yes Tom, come on. Please come on Tom.”
Well a fellow can only take so much of that before his head gets bigger than a pumpkin. So I agreed to go. As we went in to get sport coats my benefactor asked me,
“Which girl do you want?”
And for the first time I thought there might be a choice.
“Uh, the dark haired one (Texas), not the blond (Bee).“
“That’s too bad”, he said. That’s the one I want.”
“Yeah that’s too bad.”
We went out to meet the group and the dark haired girl from Texas ran over to me and took my hand. It was the start of a wonderful evening.
The next evening I was having my dinner alone and Bee came to the table. She asked,
“Tom, Did you put that mark (hickey) on the girl-from-Texas’ neck?”
The question caught me by surprise and I was embarrassed and laughed “Yes”.
she snarled, and stomped away never to be seen by me, again. That is how it all came to an end in a somewhat memorable way.
One downside to my night on the town was that I for lack of sleep was dead tired the next day. Al dragged me to St Peter’s where I fell asleep on a bench while he explored.
Al was studying architecture at the University of Washington. This was a real plus because he knew about many of the palaces and cathedrals we visited. Without him I would have missed a lot.
Our trip took us as far south as Naples and Pompeii. At this time the entrance to Pompeii was a small dirt road flanked by two short square columns. There was a fellow there selling postcards of the erotic art found in the ruins. It was a, “Psst. Hey fellow, want dirty pictures?” sort of thing. We didn’t buy any.
Pompeii was essentially empty. I think we saw one other couple as we wandered the streets and houses. Today the entrance is elaborate with a large souvenir store and a huge parking lot. The last time I was there it was hard to see anything because of the bus loads of tourists. I’m glad I saw it the first time.
The same was true of Rome. We wandered all over the Forum. There were very few people there. This is a composite photo I took overlooking the Forum. Do you see any people?
Today it is crowded and much of the area restricted. Probably because of the actions of people like Alan and me.
Notice him as a virgin in the Temple of the Vestal Virgins. You can’t do that sort of thing today.
Eventually we headed up the west coast of Italy through Pisa and Genoa and home. I remember Genoa as difficult because it is a large city. We had to walk through much of it as people seldom pick up hitch hikers in a city.
Next week I’ll tell you more about our doings when we got home to France.
More to come
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