Archive | November 2010

Freezing!

I am so cold.

I went outside today in long socks, jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, a cotton turtleneck, a woolen jumper, a knee-length jacket, gloves, a scarf and a hat. I was freezing.

Earlier this evening, my friend Nathalie and I visited the Christmas market along the Champs-Élysées, where there happened to be four outdoor heaters spread along the street (not evenly, unfortunately). Every time we reached a heater we rushed to it, like moths to the flame, and stayed for a good 15 minutes until our hands and faces were warm again. Each time we reluctantly dragged ourselves away, knowing that if we didn’t we’d never leave.

I can’t believe it’s only November. Tomorrow the mercury is expected to drop to -6. I don’t know what I’m going to do in January and February. I already feel like the Michelin man in all of my clothes, and I already have four blankets on my bed.

That being said, there is one good thing about the cold weather . . .

Snow!

On Friday it snowed – beautiful, fluffy flakes that floated in the air like feathers. I gasped as I left the metro at Grands Boulevards and laughed to myself as I walked to my class in the 2nd arrondissement, ignoring strange looks from blasé Parisiens.

After class, some of the other teachers and I went to Belleville for Vietnamese, and the snow started again. I ran down Rue de Belleville with my arms outstretched, catching large flakes in my hands and trying to catch some of them in my mouth (this is surprisingly difficult).

Don’t laugh. I’m Australian. For me, snow is awesome and unusual.

Following my new mantra . . .

In keeping with the feeling beautiful part of my mantra, yesterday I bought some nail polish at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile.

What I’d forgotten was that I’m not very good at manicures (hence I haven’t tried since high school), and finished with some rather messy, deep-red nails. And my landlady, Bénédicte, didn’t seem to have any nail polish remover, so I couldn’t clean them up.

Not to worry – today I bought some remover. As I had a late cancellation this afternoon, I planned to do a bit of beautifying – I ran myself a bath, played some soft music and put on a face mask. While I was in the bath, I cleaned my botched nail job and decided to try again.

This time I’d forgotten about my clumsiness.

I opened the nail polish, pulled out the brush, and proceeded to drop the full bottle into the bath! Purple clouds billowed into the water. I panicked, stood and pulled the plug.

The water drained, and both the bath and I were marbled in a brownish purple.

I’m not too worried about me – a few days of aggressive exfoliation should sort me out, and it’s winter so I’m covered up anyway.

The bath is giving me some strife. Nail polish remover didn’t work!

I have four to five hours until Bénédicte gets home – help!

New mantra

When I went to London I was confident, vibrant and had a thirst for adventure. There were some rocky times, but I grew as I was over there, and all of these qualities were enhanced by the time I returned to Australia. I also developed a sense of acceptance of and appreciation for myself. One of the most flattering compliments I received when I returned was about how I’d “blossomed”.

Then, back in Oz, I couldn’t find a job. I applied continuously for work related to my experience and interests (publishing, editing, media and PR) for two months, and didn’t even get any interviews. I had a lot of free time and not much to do. And I began to panic. I began to criticise myself again. I started eating too much and doing too little. I lost my motivation, as well as my edge.

Thanks to my wonderful mother, I managed to get a three-month position in admin and then a contract in a communications/administration role. I loved the comms role – I was writing newsletters, reading news, learning about a new industry and also learning about graphic design. Unfortunately this role was gradually reduced to administration and, after ten months, I had very little to do. I spent most of my days having coffee breaks and photo-shopping my colleagues’ heads onto strange pictures (putting my boss onto Borat’s mankini-clad body was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever done). I began to get restless and frustrated again, sometimes going to the gym twice a day just to shake off the feeling.

I decided to come to Paris.

Living in London, Paris and New York has always been a dream of mine. Having already done London, and wanting to see more of Europe, Paris was the next logical step. I’d also done an online TEFL course in 2009, so I was fairly confident I could find work.

I organised the visa, but the process took longer than expected, and by the time I left I was so anxious to escape from an increasingly mundane life that I didn’t take the time to appreciate the incredible step I was taking.

As regular readers will know, life in Paris hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing. Although getting set up was a bit of a challenge, what has worried me the most is that there are times when I still feel like I did when I was in Australia – frustrated. Impatient. Unfulfilled.

Yes, I frequently admire the beauty of this city. I enjoy my work. I love hanging out with the friends that I’ve made. But I seem to keep gravitating to a place of dissatisfaction. I’m almost half-way through my trip – when will the adventure start?

I think I’ve realised what the problem is: I stopped appreciating myself the way I used to. And this is making it difficult for me to be consistently grateful for this experience.

So here is my new mantra – I am a Goddess.

  1. I am beautiful and sexy. I strut my stuff as if every street is a catwalk with bright lights and one of those fans blowing my hair back from my face.
  2. I am confident. I make eye contact with and smile at people in the street. Someone having more knowledge or experience than me does not devalue my experience, and I know that my input is also of merit.
  3. I am present. I experience each moment completely, with all of my senses. I listen to and look at people. I wait for my students to find the answers in their own time. I am calm and patient, knowing that I can think about the next hour/class/day/event when it arrives.
  4. I take daily breaks from my head with meditation or exercise. Even if it’s just for five minutes (attainable goals, people!).
  5. Once a week I try something new.
  6. I appreciate myself for all that I am, and all that I want to be.

I’m publishing this online so that you can call me on it when I next complain about being moody, de-motivated and dissatisfied.

Does anyone else out there have lists like this and, if so, what’s on yours?

Christmas is coming!!!

Galeries Lafayette - Christmas lights

Until last week, the Neuilly bus station was carpeted with red and yellow stars as the trees lost their leaves.

These have been swept up. We are officially moving into winter – the trees on the Champs-Élysées are laced with white fairy lights. Street vendors are now selling roasted chestnuts instead of bottles of water. My supermarket has been overrun with festive food.

And, last week, the Christmas windows of the Grands Magasins were unveiled!

As BTL’s office is right near Printemps, I’ve been eagerly trying to see around the blinds covering the windows, and have been staring at the bon-bons and lights hanging over the street, wondering when they would light up. Now it’s happened – Christmas is officially underway!

For me, a real Christmas will always be a warm one in Australia with my family. But I must admit that Christmas in Paris builds anticipation like no other.

Unrequited love

The contract of a teacher I know is coming to a close. We’ve been debating whether or not she should ask out a student that she likes – apparently he’s very cute, and they’ve been flirting since the course began.

I wonder what I’d do if I liked one of my students . . . the drama of it all is definitely intriguing.

I’ve had two students whom I definitely found attractive. I only took them for replacement classes, so the ethical issues weren’t so relevant. :p

The first one was Guillaume of the Eric-Bana eyes.

I don’t remember the second one’s name (I must have suppressed the memory because it was so painful). When he came to get me, I think I may have gasped because he was so lovely.

Probably in his early to mid-thirties, he had greyed early and had thick silver hair. His eyes were an incredibly intense blue, shadowed by dark, expressive brows.

When he smiled, the crinkles around his eyes would deepen, and every time he smiled I found myself falling for him a little more. I wondered what his broad shoulders would feel like under my palms.

“So, how are you today?” I asked when we reached the meeting room and I had started unpacking my books.

“Oh, I am very tired today,” he said with a smile. “My husband is sick and I have been taking care of him.”

I blinked in confusion. Did he have the wrong word? “I’m sorry?” I asked.

“My boyfriend is ill,” he said.

Nope – it was the right word.

Every time he smiled from then on, I felt myself die a little inside.

Blast from the past

In late June I was being interviewed for numerous TEFL positions. One of these was with a school called ICB.

When I arrived there were two or three people waiting outside the front door of the building, looking rather lost. An English guy and I started chatting about whether it was the right address and if we should try calling. Then we realised that, although the street number was above this door, the next door actually had ICB’s name and logo on the glass.

While we waited for the group interview to start, we talked about our respective experience – I’d just arrived in France and had no teaching experience, but had studied English at university as well as doing an online TEFL course. He’d been working in finance in Paris for six years and had lost his job in the economic crisis, and had been doing some private tuition since.

After the interview, we wished each other luck with the job, and went our separate ways.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw him as I walked to Pont de Neuilly metro station. I tried to make eye-contact, but he either didn’t see me or didn’t recognise me, so I didn’t go ahead with the approach.

And today, as I was walking home after my morning classes, we bumped into each other!

We shared an umbrella as we caught up on the past couple of months – he did get the job at ICB. Apparently the pay is also quite bad there and he’s only on a 60-hour a month contract, but he had already gotten a promotion (read, and extra €2 an hour).

“You know, I thought I saw you on the way to the metro a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

I laughed, “I know – I saw you but I wasn’t sure if you’d recognise me.”

“So are you living around here now?”

“Yeah, I actually live just on this street,” I motioned to the street behind us.

“Really? So do I! What number are you?”

“Number 3.”

“I’m 6.”

What are the odds?

Rolling my Rs

Once a week I am subjected to a routine humiliation.

I enter the office and am greeted with a familiar nod by the receptionist.

I say, “J’ai un rendez-vous avec Monsieur Roure.

Avec qui?” he leans forward, a smile dancing around the corners of his mouth. I think he enjoys this – we’ve been performing this ritual for two months now.

Monsieur Roure,” I repeat, the two French ‘r’s putting strain on my mouth so that it’s a challenge to get the required volume for the vowels.

Pardon?

Roure, R-O-U-R-E,” I spell in French.

Ah, Roure,” the receptionist says with a satisfied smile. As he calls my student, I slink to one of the seats to wait.

I have accepted that there are some words I’ll never be able to say in French. Neuilly always gives me strife, which is rather embarrassing, considering that I live in Neuilly sur Seine.

And this student’s name has reawakened me to the difficulties of the French ‘r’. Generally I do it quite well, but there are some words where I just can’t manage it. Roure, for example. Roi is one I’ve struggled with since high-school – followed by this vowel sound, my ‘r’ often sounds more like a ‘w’.

Admittedly, the other day I found myself struggling to say ‘rural’ to a student . . . so maybe I struggle with ‘r’s in general.

Holiday, third leg – Split

I woke on Tuesday to another day of rain and decided my time would be best spent taking a bus from Dubrovnik to Split.

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was because I’d been housebound for a day, but I became increasingly mopey as I became increasingly car sick on the four-hour journey. As the bus wound through the mountains, other people pressed their cameras against the windows and took panoramic shots of Dubrovnik, but I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm.

The grey sky had bled the colour from the landscape – the sea, which had been a rich turquoise two days earlier, was brown. The mountains seemed dull and lifeless, and the formerly terracotta roofs were now a faded orange.

I was worried that I’d lost it – that unquenchable thirst to see everything. When I thought back to my first trip, now nearly four years ago, I couldn’t believe how young I was, and how wide-eyed and eager. I have so many memories of me gasping at the sheer beauty of something on that trip, and now it felt like it had been a lifetime since I was that captivated.

I found myself tiring easier. When I previously could have walked from 10-6 and then had a shower before going to a hostel bar/common room, this trip found me tired by mid-afternoon and ready to retire for a movie or a good book.

Having had a rather quiet holiday with a lot of time to myself, I thought a lot about the future. I’ve realised that I have no idea what I’m going to do after Paris, and I’m not even sure what I want to do – I find myself torn between going back to the comfort and security of home, or travelling and teaching, changing destinations every month or so (I’m sure there will be future entries on this as I get closer to the end of my stay in Paris).

I reached the hostel in Split (which I had to myself – it’s really quiet outside the peak summer period) and had a shower. I was tempted to stay in watching films on my laptop, but at 18:00 it looked as though the rain had stopped.

I walked into the Old Town and through the remains of the palace, which has now been turned into a residential and shopping area. As I walked through the buildings, illuminated with white and yellow lights in the darkness of a bitingly cold night, I felt a familiar thrill curl in my stomach.

I entered the square of the Cathedral/Roman Mausoleum. The white Cathedral towered over the rest of the city and was surrounded by the crumbling remains of columns and walls, with modern shop windows framing the square. I gasped without even meaning to.

I don’t know why I’d been so worried. :p

The next day I explored the city. On a grey day outside of the tourist season, Split was incredibly quiet. I climbed up Marjan Hill and although I could still see Split from the summit, I only passed three people on my walk and felt like I was hours away from civilisation.

When I returned to the centre, I descended to the basements of Diocletian’s Palace. Apparently the people of Split lived in the palace from the seventh century, following several centuries of abandonment by the Romans, and they used the basements for their waste. This actually helped preserve the tunnel vaulted basements, and excavation works over the past decades have allowed this to be opened as a tourist museum.

The basements were completely shielded from the outside noise, so were very quiet and a little spooky. The pillars were lit with yellow lights and small signs explained some of the artefacts, including the oldest olive-oil press in the world. My favourite signs were the ones that had (!?) and (?) written next to the information – generally for pieces of stone where the former usage was unclear. I find it comforting to know that I’m not the only one who has no idea what I’m talking about. :p

I then returned to the sunlight (cloud-light?) and to the Cathedral that I’d visited the night before, which is just as impressive during the day. I wound my way through the former Palace, visiting all of the large squares and many of the small stone streets, window shopping for shoes that I couldn’t afford and just generally admiring how clean and well preserved all of the buildings were.

After visiting the slightly intimidating black statue of Grgur Ninski and the bustling green market between the Palace and the main bus station, I walked back to my hostel along the white marble promenade on the water. For the first time in three days, the sun started to break through the clouds, making the beautiful stone glisten like the neighbouring sea. People ate at restaurants, sitting outdoors under large, white sails, and shopped at the boutiques in the Palace walls.

I turned down Marmontova Street (the main shopping street in Split), which was also made in white stones, and thought about how I preferred this to Dubrovnik. Both cities were beautiful, but Split almost seemed more elegant to me, and the seamless integration of modern shop-fronts into the old architecture make the city an effortless blend between the old and the new. I would love to return closer to summer.

When I got back to the hostel, I wasn’t feeling so good. I’d had a sore throat for a few days at this point, and that morning I’d started coughing. By Wednesday evening my head was aching with my clogged sinuses, and I gratefully embraced being alone in my hostel so I could curl up with some instant soup. I decided to take it easy that night, and hope that I’d be feeling better in the morning.

Unfortunately, I woke on Thursday unable to breathe very well. My head was pounding, I felt shaky and weak, and I kept having sneezing fits. I was scheduled to go from Split to Zadar that day, and had also planned to go to Trogir for a few hours (Trogir is a town 37 km outside Split and it is known as the Dubrovnik of that area). I groaned and buried my head in my pillow, unable to face the thought of rustling up the enthusiasm to explore somewhere new.

I gave in. I cleaned out my bank to buy a new flight and Eurostar ticket back home. Then I realised that the weather had finally improved – the sun was shining and the sky was unbelievably blue. I grabbed my camera and rushed back out to the Palace to re-take my photos, kicking myself for surrendering so easily.

Holiday, second leg – Dubrovnik

I boarded my ferry to Croatia two hours early and had a great time wandering around the bar, looking at the restaurant and trying to snatch a peek of the cabins where the rich people sleep.

I am not a rich person – I booked a place on the deck; the cheapest ticket. That being said, I still think that ferries are now my preferred method of transportation. I slept curled in an L-shape on a two-seater couch in the bar with my feet on my suitcase, and found the couch much more cushy than the couchettes in overnight trains, and leagues above long-haul economy flights.

My only worry was the departure time – originally 21:59, the ferry actually left at 23:31.

My hostel had offered to pick me up from the port, but had warned that if I was more than 15 minutes late and didn’t contact them, they would leave without me. Being me, I hadn’t written down the hostel’s address or phone number (well I didn’t think I’d have to – they were picking me up, after all!), so I was rather anxious as I went to the ferry reception and asked what our expected arrival time was.

“7:00,” the gentleman said.

“Still?”

“Yes, always 7:00,” he smiled.

Excellent – now I could sleep in peace.

As the gentleman had promised – we arrived at 7:00. At 7:30 I was still on the ferry, and starting to panic. I couldn’t access the internet for my hostel’s details – they were going to leave without me!

By 8:00 I made it through passport control and anxiously looked around the car park. My heart gasped with relief – there was an elderly man holding up a sign with my name. He bundled me into the car and took me home to the Dubrovnik Backpackers’ Club.

He chatted about the history of Dubrovnik and rattled off a list of things that were not to be missed in the Old Town as he went through a map with a pen. Then came the buses – he numbered all of the buses I could take from the hostel and traced their routes through the city with a pen (this would have been very helpful if he hadn’t drawn over the street names).

Then the breakfast – I’d already had breakfast on the ferry, but as soon as I smelt Milka (his wife and the one in charge) cooking French toast; I knew there was no way I could resist. Gradually the other backpackers wandered up for breakfast, and Milka greeted everyone by name. She asked them about their plans for the day and how they’d slept, ruffled the boys’ hair and ladled French toast onto their plates against all objections. We sat around the same dining table like a mismatched family, talking as if we’d known each other for years.

Then – off to the Old Town!

I gasped in awe when I walked through the city walls – everything was built in sand-coloured stone with terracotta roofs, matching green window-shutters and arched doorways. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entire area has literally been frozen in time.

I wandered into the Franciscan Monastery Museum and pulled out my purse to pay for the entrance.

“Hello,” said the gentleman at the fold-up desk.

“Hi,” I said as I calculated the equivalent of €4 in Croatian kuna.

“It’s free for you,” he said with a smile.

I looked at the sign that said there was a €4 entry fee, then looked back at him with a grin. “Thank you!”

It was so quiet – a colonnade surrounded a square garden in the centre, which housed a small fountain. I admired the old paintings on the wall, then felt the sun emerge behind me and turned around, my eyes widening as fat beams of sunlight poured through the columns. The sun lit the autumnal leaves of the garden like cellophane, and I endeavoured (unsuccessfully) to capture it with my camera.

Afterwards I returned to the main street, but quickly turned down one of the side streets to the right to escape from all of the tourists. I climbed up the narrow staircases until I was alone, and stumbled through the deserted streets at my leisure. 

I emerged near the port at the opposite end of the city and wound my way back to the main street via a couple of beautiful churches and a market. One of the vendors at the market let me taste some incredibly dainty sugared almonds and candied orange rind, and the warm air wafted the smell of lavender through the stalls. I tried to think of an excuse to buy the wooden toys and small turtles carved in semi-precious stones.

In the mid-afternoon I started looking at my map, trying to remember whether I’d actually seen everything that had been circled in that morning’s lecture, when I bumped into two Canadian girls, a Kiwi and a Chilean guy from the hostel. To make a long story short, what started as a search for decently-priced coffee (Dubrovnik is actually pretty expensive. Cheaper than Paris, but that isn’t saying much) turned into a trek up Mount Srđ to Napoleon’s Imperial Fortress.

“If there’s a mountain, we can’t not climb it,” Justin, the Kiwi, said.

“Can’t we get the funiculaire?” Miriam, one of the Canadians, asked as she looked at her silver ballet flats – not the most sensible hiking footwear.

“But they said it’s €10 at the hostel,” Odille, the other Canadian interjected.

Eventually we decided just to see if we could find the way to get to the fortress.

We found a staircase that led up to a road and a look-out point. We then decided to see if there was another staircase. There was. And then a third. Already tired from a day of walking on only 4 or so hours of sleep (I know, I know – I’m getting weak in my old age. Doesn’t it seem like your fitness level halves when you’re low on sleep, though?), I was surprised to find myself panting.

We had a welcome break when we reached a hillside highway, and walked along the edge of the road (there was no footpath to speak of) searching for a trail into the mountain. After several false starts (Justin running up staircases to private properties), we found some rocky stairs.

We started climbing. The stairs grew rockier until they were just an unsteady trail rising between the trees. I grabbed damp branches as I climbed to maintain my balance. Justin and Nico took the lead, frequently disappearing behind the bends ahead, and soon Odille moved farther away.

As the trees thinned the slope of the path shallowed and it started to zigzag up the side of the hill.

The heat rose in my face and I hung my long jacket over my handbag as my clothes grew damp. The Old Town shrank below us as the boys and Odille became small figures in the distance, several Zs ahead of me on the trail.

I slowed to walk next to Miriam, and we compared notes on living in France (she and Odille were doing an Erasmus semester in Strasbourg) as well as complaining about how unfit we were. The sky darkened with grey clouds as we climbed, and the air cooled and moistened.

On the last few zigzags Miriam and I were silent. I gritted my teeth and kept my eyes on the ground – looking down at Dubrovnik made me dizzy, and looking up was just depressing. It didn’t matter that we were almost there – I was already spent.

Eventually we met the others at the top. It was around an hour from start to finish, and I nearly died.

I need to find a gym.

After collapsing at the top for a water break, we walked under the fortress and stopped in our tracks as we reached the other side. An endless expanse of grey-green mountains stretched out under the storm clouds, slightly fuzzy in the misty air.

I stared in silence. I don’t think anyone who had ridden the cable-car could have appreciated the view like I did that day – I’d earned it.

That night I caught the cable-car back down with the girls (the crazy boys walked) and we cooked some amazing chicken with roasted capsicum and onion in a mustard sauce with a side salad for dinner. Afterwards we drank wine and played cards late into the night as the storm clouds broke outside.

The next day the storm was still going. Rain fell in sheets and water flooded down gutters – it was impossible to do anything.

Highlights:

  • We ate more French toast
  • We watched Inception (really good) and The Initiation of Sarah (ridiculously bad, though if you want something to laugh at when you’re drunk, I’d recommend it)
  • A cat broke my laptop (not happy)
  • We played more cards
  • We got in trouble for making too much noise while playing more cards

View of Dubrovnik Old Town from Mount Srd

Holiday, first leg – Bari

Bari

I have been dreaming about going to Croatia for years. In January 2007, a girl in a hostel in Brussels told me Dubrovnik was magical. In 2008, one of my housemates in London couldn’t stop talking about Split.

I was determined to go. However, I didn’t realise that flights to Croatia are seasonal, and no budget airline was offering flights between Paris and Croatia in October. If I went with a ‘proper’ airline, my tickets would have been €200-€300 each way . . . no, not on my salary.

So the plan was: fly from Paris to Bari on Friday the 22nd, get an overnight ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik on the 23rd, then fly back from Zadar to Brussels on the 30th, and take a train from Brussels to Paris on the 31st. Easy.

The flight to Bari went to plan, though the hostel didn’t give me great directions (the directions from the port were quite good, but from the airport, Hostel World only said ’15 minutes from airport (by urban bus number 16)’).

Not to worry – I’d previously found destinations with less to go on, and this time I had the hostel’s phone number in case I got into trouble.

As I hopped on the bus, I said “Piazza San Pietro?” to the driver.

He nodded and beckoned me in. I relaxed; comforted by the thought that he would tell me when to get off. No such luck – I stayed on the bus until it reached the terminal at the central station.

I looked for maps on the bus stops. Nothing. I rang the hostel, but got a message saying that the person I was calling was unavailable. 17:00 on a Friday – everyone I knew in Paris would be at work or the pub. Everyone in Australia would either be in bed, or too drunk to help me. That left London.

“Hello,” D, my best friend and former housemate said, “how’s the trip going?”

“Okay,” I replied, “would you mind Google-mapping me?” I gave him my location and the name of the hostel, and my phone disconnected – I’d run out of credit.

Thankfully, he sent me a text: any road north of you will get you onto the peninsula. Have a good trip :)

North . . . I turned so the sun was setting on my left (the only reason I know that the sun sets to the west is because there’s a line in the Beauty and the Beast theme song that mentions the sun rising in the east). After about 30 minutes of wandering, I reached a castle. Across the road was a fence sealing off what looked like the parking area of the docks.

I couldn’t go north anymore – left or right? As a sign saying ‘Porto’ pointed to the left, I took that route. After about 10 minutes I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to turn north for some time, and that I was heading to an industrial area. After another 10, I decided that it was definitely the wrong direction and resigned myself to turning around.

Grr – I hate back-tracking. The official reason I give is because I don’t get to see anything new, but the real reason is because it will be completely obvious to any onlookers that I have no idea what I’m doing.

I returned to the castle and continued in the other direction. As no one I asked seemed to know where I was going, I recharged my phone and called D again.

“Hi again.”

“Hey, how are you doing?”

“I’m still walking. Can you give me some more directions?”

“Sure, where are you?”

I looked up at the street sign, “Corso Antonio de Tullio – it’s near a castle, if that helps.”

“Okay, if you keep heading up,” he named a street (not the one I was on), “you’ll end up on the peninsula.”

I pursed my lips, “but I’m not on that street.”

“Oh, where are you?”

“Corso Antonio de Tullio.”

“Oh good, that’s closer. You should have the water and a yacht bay on your left . . .”

My heart sank – I’d already been going in the right direction. I turned back the way I came. After a few minutes I stopped. Did he mean I should turn left (i.e.: west) at the castle so the docks were on my right, or turn east so that the water was on my left side as I walked?

I called again.

It was the latter option.

Tears of frustration started to well as I realised that I would have to turn around yet again.

About 30 metres past where I’d last called D there was a map of the peninsula. My mood picked up – I was going the right way! I suddenly started to appreciate the salty air, and a wave of gratitude rushed over me as I stared at the full moon hanging low over the sea – I was finally seeing somewhere new again.

With the assistance of an elderly gentleman who lectured the boy at the hostel about not having prominent signs up, I finally reached reception.

After paying for my room, the boy at reception took my bag and left the building. Clearly my room was somewhere else, or he was making off with my bag. I followed him as we came out of a small street in front of the castle.

My jaw dropped – I could have saved myself close to an hour of walking in circles! Unfortunately his English wasn’t good enough for me to complain, so I comforted myself pizza and red wine with the people in my room.

I spent Saturday wandering through Bari, as my ferry didn’t leave until the evening. It was lovely, though there wasn’t much to do. By 2:00 I felt like I was done, and I returned to the previous night’s restaurant to eat lunch/kill time. I tried to take my time with my pizza, but I was constantly aware of one of the guys in the restaurant staring at me. While I waited for my pizza to arrive, he gave me some chocolate covered shortbread. While I was eating, he approached me with a piece of paper with his phone number.

I told him that I was leaving Bari for Dubrovnik that night, but he spoke less English than I did Italian, so it took a while for the message to get through.

Stasera?

Si, si.

Oggi? Today?”

“Yes.” He then gave me a bit of paper to write my number on and said (I think) that I should give him a call when I’m back in Bari. I’m not sure what we’d talk about, but it’s nice to know I have options! :p

After lunch I walked through the old town, going in circles as I followed the same streets again and again. I was stunned by the intimacy of the old town – in the small, winding streets everyone hung their washing out to dry on their balconies. Many of the doors were open, revealing people cooking, cleaning and eating, as well as showing small courtyards with stairs leading up to private flats. On a Saturday afternoon it was astonishingly quiet and I felt as though I’d stepped back in time. Down one street, a group of elderly men sat on folding chairs watching a soccer match on an old TV, which also rested on a folding chair. A few streets away, a group of boys in their teens and twenties watched the same game, all huddled around a couple of iPhones.

After I picked up my suitcase from the hostel, I sat next to the water with a book as the sun set, happy to have had an excuse for this detour.