East Italy to Sicily 12th Aug – 13th Aug 2004
We arrived in Termoli on the east coast of Italy and immediately upon getting off the ferry got pulled into the customs office by the police. After seeing the high standard of men and women coming off the ferry, he was probably wondering how a pair of cave-trolls managed to stowaway on board. Despite showing him our tickets, he still wanted to search our bags but within seconds of opening them, wisely decided he would rather risk the possibility that we were smuggling kilos of heroin into the country than come into contact with my dirty underwear.
We boarded the train to Sicily and, yet again, it was heaving. Turns out the month of August is when every single Italian in the universe goes to Sicily on holiday, so not only did we have to compete with people for space but we also had to make room for all the Invicta backpacks so favoured by the travelling Italian. When I got on the train I instantly recognised the distinct musk of poverty. It was coming from a hairy old man with claw-toenails who was asleep on a folded-out cardboard box in the walkway. At first I found this amusing but after three and a half hours of standing, it wasn’t long before I was spooning him – top to tail – with his feet in my face. I highly recommend spooning a homeless person, it was the kind of confidence boost I needed after my time on the ferry.
I was woken up an hour later by the homeless guy’s morning-wood which, after changing positions mid-snooze, was now poking me in the back. It wasn’t ideal and Billy was nowhere to be seen so I decided to relinquish my cardboard bed and go find him. I discovered him a few carriages down where – oh God – he had made a new friend. He had got speaking to a shouty man with milk-bottle glasses who was on his way back from a Jewish “Jangler’s Convention” – a festival which consists of people dancing around with bells on their hands and feet (I have since Googled this and it doesn’t exist which makes me think that he probably never left the train and had actually hallucinated this entire festival). He offered Billy a roll-up cigarette which, since he had run out of cigarettes a while earlier, he accepted. Except it wasn’t an innocent roll-up and within 5 minutes Billy was tripping out of his nut. To this day we don’t know what the hell was in that cigarette but it definitely wasn’t weed.
Sicily 13th Aug – 16th Aug 2004
The Jew-crack that Billy had smoked thankfully wore off by the time we arrived in Taormina but it had left him pretty munchied, so we headed to the nearest restaurant where a fat lady with a see-through top and no bra forced me to eat a lump of mozzarella cheese that looked like one of those white dog turds from my childhood. I had literally no energy left to fight her so, after eating half of it, we just paid the incredibly expensive bill and headed to our hostel.
We spent our few days in Sicily almost exclusively on the beach where we took the long-awaited opportunity to do fuck-all and had a pretty enjoyable time doing just that. On the last day we got a little brave and decided to get a bus to the train station. This was a serious challenge as, when I’m abroad, I find that catching a bus is literally the hardest thing to do; you don’t know where the buses go or if you’re even standing on the right side of the road, there never seems to be anyone else at the bus stops, the timetable is dated 1987 and it is barely legible due to the severe sun-fading. I have been known in the past to stand in a foreign bus shelter for over an hour before realising that it was actually a hut for goats. So we stood at what we thought was a bus stop and waited…and waited…and waited in the sweltering heat until, after what seemed like hours, a bus finally turned up. I was so excited, I thought we had made it. The doors opened and I enthusiastically asked the bus driver if he went to the station. He didn’t understand me. So I said “um…uh…el stazioni??” Bizarrely, he didn’t understand this word that I had just made up either. We were so close to success and I didn’t want to let this one go so in desperation I decided to do an impression of a train. I did a kind of locomotion-type dance move with my arms before pulling a pretend horn whilst simultaneously shouting “choo-choo!” The driver just stared at me, slowly closed the doors and drove away.
Billy was initially not impressed with these developments:
“Uh Jillian…what the fuck was that? Choo-choo? Seriously? Fucking CHOO-CHOO?? Well, you can stand here and do impressions of as many forms of transportation as you want but I’m flagging a taxi……………fucking choo-choo.”
Once we were safely on the train, however, he spent the entire journey to Naples laughing pretty uncontrollably. To this day he will still sometimes pull a pretend horn and go “choo-choo” just to remind me of how much of a dick I truly am.
Naples 16th Aug – 18th Aug 2004
We arrived in Naples without any accommodation because we thought we could handle it. We thought “that’s what us backpackers do, we are free spirits who don’t need to plan ahead, we just take every day as it comes.”
We couldn’t handle it.
We got off the train and pulled out a guide-book to try to figure out where the hell we were going to stay when a woman appeared asking us if we were looking for accommodation. She was pretty young and looked harmless enough so, after asking her a few questions, agreed to go with her to her ‘guest house’. It was pitch dark at this point and she started leading us off the main road and down some un-lit alleyways full of bins and the red, glowing eyes of rapists. I started to get nervous but we were well and truly lost at this point so we kept going. I looked over at Billy – who was trying to construct a makeshift knuckle-duster out of one of our backpack hooks – and had this sudden horrible feeling that she was leading us to an abandoned house where some big, hairy Italians were waiting to club us to death with sticks of salami before taking all our stuff. I started to panic but just as I was trying to figure out how to get ourselves out of this situation, we arrived at the front door of her building. She opened the door into yet more darkness where we could just make out a creepy courtyard that looked like something straight out of a Jack the Ripper documentary. Even in the face of potential death, our British manners completely overtook our survival instincts and (so as not to offend) we still went inside. She took us into an apartment and switched the light on where, to my relief, there were no scary men with meat-weapons waiting for us. Just a cat and some modest furniture.
After going to the bathroom to change our pants, we got speaking to her and she explained that she was actually the cleaner for the apartment, the owners were away on holiday (probably to Sicily) and she had decided to make a bit of extra cash by renting out one of the rooms. This whole situation turned out okay but it could so easily have ended in disaster and I have never been so scared in all my life. We deserved to be stabbed to death and sodomised after blindly following her like a pair of amateurs but, luckily for us, Billy’s ass virginity lived to fight another day. Never do that. You are not a free spirit, you do need to plan ahead and I would not recommend taking each day as it comes.
We spent our last day in Naples doing all the touristy stuff. We started in Pompeii and Herculanium where we saw casts of dead people then went up Mount Vesuvius, had an ice-cream and came back down again. We finished up nicely by going to Da Michele for dinner where we had the best pizza actually ever.
Rome 18th Aug – 21st Aug 2004
After two hours on the train we arrived in Rome. We limbered up for the serious sightseeing action that was ahead of us – beginning with the Colosseum, ending with the Vatican and with a lot of fountains in between. I was nervous about going to the Vatican. As we know, I am uncomfortable when inside any religious establishment so being inside an entire principality dedicated to Jesus was some seriously fucked up shit.
My aversion to churches started when I was a very small child. I was friends with an American girl and one Sunday I was invited round to her house to play. Some sort of logistical issue meant that my parents were unable to drop me off at her house so the only way to get there was for her parents to pick me up on their way to church in the morning. My mum was told that I would need to wear something presentable so she put me in a skirt and top and sent me on my way. The only problem was, no one remembered to put my underwear on. So there I was, sitting in church for the first time ever, no clue what the fuck was going on with a draught blowing right up my ass. I thought it would be a good idea to tell my friend’s parents in the middle of the service that my “fluff” was cold because “mummy didn’t give me any pants to wear.” Their reaction was one of horror mixed with slight amusement. Just at that moment a nun came out of nowhere, grabbed my hand and started pulling me to the front of the church. I could see the girl’s parents trying to protest, explaining that I was not a regular, but it was too late. She dragged me down the aisle and stood me in front of everyone. I was freaking out, I thought I was going to get in trouble from God for putting my bare minge on his pews. I remember bawling my eyes out and everyone laughing at me but, as it turns out, all I had to do was eat one of those cracker things and then hold a candle. All the kids had to do it every week, it just so happened that I was the first one to be taken up there that day.
I have never been the same since that traumatic experience and as soon as I step into a church I instantly start sweating. I just feel like everyone in there knows how generally inappropriate I am as a human being. Despite all this, I wanted to at least give the Vatican a try and I’m glad I did, it was mental. Everything is made of gold and every man in every painting has a beard – amazing! The only slightly unnerving thing was that everyone in the place was crying. You just walk around looking at stuff and there are old ladies, men, children, teenagers – all crying. At first I thought maybe they had all forgotten to wear underwear but I quickly realised that it was Jesus’s presence that was making them all so emotional. I couldn’t see him anywhere though, we must have just missed him.
So that concluded the final adventure of our backpacking holiday. The next day we got our flight back to Aberdeen, surprisingly still in one piece but seriously exhausted. Reading this over, it actually sounds like I had a shit time but it was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely times when I thought “What the fuck am I doing here? Why did I pay all this money to spend my time being sweaty, stinky and tired?” but looking back, it was a million times better than any crappy beach holiday I’ve been on. When you successfully arrive at a destination after a slightly traumatic journey, you feel such a massive sense of achievement that a couple of days on the beach feels like it is deserved rather than a redundant use of your free time. So much happened in such a short space of time and we met so many different people that it was like having three holidays for the price of one. I would highly recommend it to anyone, but heed these words: Go with someone who loves you for what’s on the inside because, within days, your outsides will reach a level of repulsiveness you never thought possible.