A Conversation in Transit

The second time I left the country came at a point where the project I was working on at the time (Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising) got an extension.  We had been doing monstrous amounts of overtime trying to get the game finished and it had become abundantly clear that the project wasn’t going to be finished in time so we were give a 6 month extension.  Since we had spent the past few months doing a lot of overtime, our project manager didn’t want us to continue this trend for 6 more months and thus we were told not to do any overtime.  We were also strongly encouraged to take any holiday at that point rather than later in the year.  We weren’t forced, but most of us were glad to have some time go off and do our own thing, be it holidaying, spending time with the family or simply sitting around watching TV.

I was still a bachelor, I lived a long way from family, and I didn’t like the idea of sitting around at home for a week or so.  So holiday it was, but where to go?  I posted on Facebook that I had two weeks off and wanted to travel, asking for suggestions.  One of my former housemates suggested Rome, so a week later I was on a flight to Rome.

The flight was pretty standard fare, but landing in Italy I found we had to get a bus to the actual city.  Outside the bus I got chatting to someone who was on the same flight as me.  We got talking and sat next to each other on the bus to keep each other company for the journey.

Turns out she was English, like myself, and had just gotten back from visiting family.  She worked for an American soldier in Naples.  He was a single parent and she was the nanny.  It sounded like a nice job – she drops the kids off at school, has the day to herself and picks them up and feeds them at the end of the day.  She gets full bed and board so doesn’t need to worry financially.

She told me some fun stories.  The first involved the early days of her job.  One of her neighbours came round to ask for some alcohol.  She refused, naturally, but the lady kept pressing her.  She kept on refusing, thinking this lady was some kind of weird alcoholic.  In those early days the language barrier prevented her from figuring out what was going on.  Later her boss told her what was really going on – he has access to pure alcohol which he smuggles off the army base.  He gives it to the neighbour and she makes a home-made limoncello which is a famous Italian liquer.  I made a mental note to try it if I ever went to Naples.

She talked about the pain of living away from home, and possibly gave me the reason she did so (although she never said it explicitly).  She was in love with someone from her home town, but he wasn’t interested in her.  They had been together, but only as friends.  They had never had the relationship she actually wanted.  She talked about the girl he had just broken up with, making her sound like a complete psychopath.  She hated that he always ended up with girls like this.  Perhaps living so far away meant she didn’t need to think about this?

Finally we talked more about Naples.  She said that she hated driving in Naples.  The drivers there were apparently completely nuts.  I remembered reading about Italy being efficiently strict about drink-driving – perhaps this was why?  I asked her if it was as bad in Rome.  She said she didn’t mind driving in Rome – the drivers there weren’t crazy like they were in Naples.

The bus pulled to a stop.  We were in Rome.  After seeming to circle a building several times the bus eventually parked and opened it doors.  We said our goodbyes, got our bags and went our separate ways.  I set to the task of figuring out how to get to my hostel.  After spending 10 minutes dodging cars on the crossings in Rome, I vowed never to go to Naples.

Note:  To this day I still haven’t encountered driving as insane as it was in Rome, but I still haven’t been to China or India yet, so it may still happen.

Safe Flight

I forgot to mention in my posts prior to Amsterdam that flying to Schiphol was the first time I had ever been on a commercial flight.

I was alone.

I was nervous.

So, naturally, I sat off in the Wetherspoon’s in Birmingham International with a pint of Guinness to calm myself down.  BBC News was running on the TVs, and although I couldn’t hear it I could see the headlines and the talking heads miming the news.

And a plane swimming in the Hudson river.

So here I am about to embark on my first commercial flight, on my own, and I’m watching a plane crash.  And it was time to board.

‘No going back’, I thought, and I took what was potentially my last walk ever.  For the first time I sat in a plane.  For the first time I watched those safety drills famous comedians always talked about.  For the first time I watched a commercial plane leave the ground from within it’s cage.

I was holding on to my seat for the entire journey.  Every time we hit turbulence I panicked.

Then I watched England disappear.  I had left my country for the first time.  It was the furthest from home I had ever been.

I think that was the point I became addicted to travel.  I knew it was always going to be risky, but it would always be worth it.

And this feeling would end up taking me to places my family would beg me not to go.