The first time I ever crossed continental Europe, I rodepassenger on a Honda 500cc. I had hitched a ride from North London and five days later, I ended up on the Greek island of Kerkerya (Corfu). Still a teenager, I was an au pair in North Finchley when the autumn breeze began to bring a distinct chill in the air. As the Fairground Attraction song goes: The wind knows my name… I knew it was time to leave for warmer climes, and one serendipitous evening, I ended up getting an offer of a lift to Greece. How could I refuse? A few days later I was crossing the English Channel and headed to the unknown.
Rain fell steadily the entire first day in France (years later I would experience the same weather in Paris), and when nightfall came, my new friend and I found a Bed and Breakfast (auberge). I was freezing, soaked to the skin and saddlesore from my first day on a motorcycle. Luckily my high school French- one of the most useful classes I ever took- came in handy. Mrs. Shue would have been proud as the words le lit, une chambre and conjugations of manger tumbled from my mouth.) In saying that, we ended up in an oddly shaped split leveled room with five different rickety wooden beds- one for each hour? I was happy for a hot shower and draped my wet clothes near the radiator….
The second day across France took us high up into the mountains. We reached Nice around midnight and sat on a seaside bench at the waterfront for the first view of the Mediterranean- a sea that would influence my life for the next decade….My first welcome to Italian was by sub- machine gun. We had raced through the mountainous tunnels (perhaps too fast)- some only small enough for one way traffic, and after one rather long stretch, a group of polizia- Italian police sporting sub-machine guns (de reguer apparently). They made us take off our helmets- looking for a fugitive? Bank robber? who knows, before waving us on our way… Welcome to Italy! The Italian names ripple like cascading falls from the tongue- San Remo, La Mer, and my favorite, mountainous Baddaluccio- where the house cling to the side of the mountains in impossible architectural feats. We camped on the roadside near a swinging rope bridge stretched across a ravine, before continuing south. After some odd sleeping places like a roadside pull off, a beach of snakes (San Sebastian), we splurged for a ritzy hotel in Anzio and I managed to wash the grime and exhaust away. My hair was greasier than a tar pit- I don’t believe those adverts where the sexy girl pulls off her helmet and her perfect hair swishes around her cute face- HAH I say- eight hours in a sweaty helmet ugh…you come up with the picture!
Located on the west coast, Anzio is a WWII historical battle site, but the town came to life at night, with lights strung across the sidewalk cafes- it was my first experience with a pizza vendor- Pizza Hut watch out! Men pushing metal carts filled with square pans of pizzas-real Italian pizza with the olive oil and anchovies, nary a tinned mushroom in sight. And it was hot! And it was good!
We left Anzio the next day and crossed to the East coast of Italy and the port city of Bari, where, due to the late season, the ferries had already ceased running. We headed farther south to Brindisi and by 9 that evening, had an overnight deck passage on the boat to Corfu. I stretched out my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the shudder of the ferry engines. Tomorrow would bring about a new destination and the next chapter in my life’s book.