The Day We Didn’t Get Lost (Part One)

Most of my Women’s Walkabout adventures are some derivative of “wandered in the wrong direction, madness ensued, eventually stumbled on the right path”. But this day? As the title says, this was the day. That one, single day. The day we somehow knew how to get to where we wanted to go, every step of the way. Not to put too find a point on it, but for me and my traveling companion — let’s just say that if it were a steak, it would be dripping with blood.

It was no easy point A to point B journey, either. This was trains, busses, hikes. This was sojourning through pickpocket central and navigating bus schedules so confusing that their own attendants didn’t understand them correctly. This was when our attention to detail, determination, and self-confidence were tools that we held at the ready, and they served us well.

Rome to Naples

Delicately hot, slightly sweet cappuccino. Soft yet flaky croissant with just a hint of butter. The roar of passing trains and echo of overhead announcements to keep an eye on your belongings and take care to stay a safe distance from the tracks. These are the sense memories of our morning departure from Rome.

As prefaced earlier, the gods somehow graced us with the gift of navigation that morning. Despite being city newbies, we found our way to the metro station without incident, and a random Italian showed us how to use the ticket machines. We got off at the Roman equivalent of Central Station, which was clean, busy, and put me mentally right back into my days in Japan where I took the trains pretty much daily. All the old skills came back to the surface of my brain, and at one point my traveling companion told me to stop being so station-savvy because she was struggling to keep up. (On the one hand, yay me for being savvy! On the other, shame on me for trekking ahead — sherpas are supposed to guide you up the mountain, not show off how much faster they can climb than you.)

I slowed down and showed my friend how I was navigating the signs, and we got tickets from the kiosk in exchange for our printed reservation for a bullet train down to Napoli. Departure in … oh, two hours. Better early than — yawnlate, we decided, only slightly irked by how we could have set our alarms an hour later. Then we found the café, and stopped complaining.

The bullet train was tons of fun, in particular because amidst the rotation of advertising and safety messages on the overhead screens, every couple of minutes it would land on the travel metrics — where are we on the map, how fast are we going, what has our average speed been, and estimated time of arrival (based on the aforementioned data, of course). I don’t know about everybody else, but that is, hands-down, my favorite screen ever. It’s the stats tab on WordPress, except it is describing you, in you are here fashion, plus all sorts of other amazing aspects of what “here” means. And yes, a version of this is my default screen on the digital dashboard of my Prius, and my airplane channel go-to (when the flight is long enough to get it). It’s the closest I can get to charting my personal space-time continuum, and I freakin’ love it.

Not-So-Nice Napoli

One of the most brilliant aspects of our trip to Italy in general was that my friend had friends who lived there, from time to time. While they weren’t physically around to give us the tour at the time that we went, they made up for it by a) giving us the key to their parents’ unoccupied house in Rome as a homebase (in exchange for taking care of the mail and such), and b) writing out an extensive, humorous, and incredibly useful to-do-that-tourists-don’t-know-to-do list for us.

Smack dab in the middle of page one of said list was a capitalized, bolded, underlined dollop of Italy resident wisdom:

Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, BE CAREFUL IN NAPLES.

Needless to say, as we petite, cis female wanderers pulled up to the end of our bullet train ride, our backpack zippers were latched tight, our money and passports were safely stowed away in various hidden and intimate places, and our brains and bodies were on high alert.

Another weird variety of ticket kiosks awaited us. My friend expertly walked right past them and up to the manned ticket booth.

“Sorrento,” she said loudly and clearly, holding up two fingers with one hand and pointing at me with the other. Magically, the clerk instantly punched some keys and the cost was displayed digitally in view of the window.

She quickly paid for us both, then asked for directions in English — and again, the clerk miraculously obeyed.

As we rejoined the crowded stream of people hitting the escalators to the various station tracks, finding the correct lane almost instantly and managing to keep a couple of feet distance away from people behind us (apparently 1/3 of the people you meet in the Naples station is a pickpocket? or something), we were still profoundly nervous and guarded, but a little more sure-footed. We wore our Detroit-grown “don’t-mess” looks on our faces and kept a firm focus on watching the arrival / departure times marquis until our connecting ride pulled in.

And wouldn’t you know — it wasn’t really that scary. Nothing too different from a typical stroll through Corktown (holla to my Detroit people) on any given Tuesday. Believe it or not, Napoli wasn’t actually the firey flames of Hell that we were told that it is. I’m not saying you want to wave your winnings from Cash Cab around or anything, but what we saw was your typical mix of locals, tourists, and homeless opportunists. Just don’t make it obvious how to rob you — or at least not as obvious as the people you’re standing near.

After all, it’s not about outrunning the bear — it’s about outrunning the other guy who’s also running from the bear.

Stay tuned for the next installment …

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