I have done long bus rides and I have done long train rides but nothing prepared me for the 13-hour ferry to Bari. Although overnight and seemingly quick- the entire experience of the commute was confronting to say the least. Imagine you have arrived early, checked in on the boat and found a comfortable spot with your new friend to ride out the long trip ahead. You and your friend both have big packs which you have unloaded next to you, as to keep them close. Imagine feeling confident in your ability to find the dock, scan your ticket, have your passport stamped and snag a semi-comfortable spot in the bar, all the while blissfully unaware of the incoming of Italian families you are about to be bombarded with.
Half an hour before departure a sudden rush of people, all very rushed and very loud, made their way into our section of the ferry. What proceeded next was many women yelling at my friend and I in a language I cannot even partially understand, to move our bags and vacate our positions so their children could sit down. Grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles and children of all ages ran around the cabins, occupying any space they could, literally sitting almost on top of people until they dominated the space entirely. Knowing there was no where else for us to go if we gave up our spots, we maintained our positions- much to the obvious dismay of these women. As the boat took off and the families began to make sandwiches on the floor (yes, you read that correctly) my friend and I took turns to go to the bathroom, convinced that if we both left we would return to find our bags thrown haphazardly overboard and multiple children sleeping in our chairs. The remainder of the night consisted of a restless sleep; picture me, sprawled out across a pack and backpack, under a bar table, with a t-shirt over my face and mismatching socks.
Arriving in Bari I could not have been more relieved when a stranger used his phone to determine where exactly I had to walk to check into my hostel. It was only six minutes away by foot! Score! Bari was my first stop in Italy and I could not control my need to gorge myself on heavy pasta, pizza’s and gelato. Although only there for a short while, thanks to the guise of my hostel manager, I stumbled upon one of the most beautiful spots of my entire trip- Polignano a Mare. Sparkling waters, surrounded by cliff edges and secret caves; although ridiculously busy I was in bliss. After almost seven weeks of solo travelling, my body was scratched, bruised and almost entirely exhausted, but as I was floating in the clear, green ocean, I felt myself begin to recharge.
I arrived in Napoli exhausted but finding an eagerness within me I did not know existed. I was finally meeting up with a familiar face- someone I would continue the rest of travels with. I was finally meeting Alex in Italy. Solo travelling taught me a lot. Experiencing nine cities alone was a daunting experience that I believe has ultimately shaped my person for the better. However, at this point in my trip, I was tired. I was sweaty, I was dirty and to be quite honest, I was sick of being my own travel buddy. I was ready to enjoy the beauty of Europe with somebody by my side.
Having only a few days in Napoli, we utilised our time to see as much as we could. We joined a tour group to explore and learn more about the lost city of Pompeii and hiked up Mount Vesuvius (not an easy task, I guarantee you). Although not the most physically appealing city, we spent our last day relaxing and eating giant, delicious- and I mean delicious- pizza’s.
After our short time in Napoli, it was straight to Taormina for a week of sunbaking, swimming and stuffing ourselves. By having Alex with me, I was finally afforded some comfort and reassurance. Although we were still struggling with directions, the heat, and the language barrier, at least we were struggling together. I finally had someone to laugh with when I became so frustrated I felt like crying. I finally had someone to appreciate good food with and I finally had someone by my side when the beauty of something took my breath away.
Taormina, although ridiculously expensive, was picturesque to say the least. We spent our days exploring, swimming in the warm, clear ocean and stuffing ourselves with arancini (I’m talking at least five a day). When it came time to farewell Taormina however, we were more than ready. I was finally about to embark on my first trip to Malta, the country from which my whole family came. I left Sicily without even looking back.