I could stare at this ocean for hours with a Kellogg‘s mug of camomile. My stiff hair and hairy legs are caked in salt and propped up on the railing. A huge ship docks overnight, offloading Maersk containers and rudely obscuring the mountains. My four days in Rijeka are bejewelled with 3am crepes, 6am swims in diamond water and a 22 dollar bedroom view that rivals the tacky travel posters pasted on airport walls.
I’m nicknamed “animal” by the host who talks only about sex and insists his blood is 10% alcohol. He’s a strange man who seems to never sleep and wears his torso and a pair of too-tight blue boardshorts. “Sexy”, as he’s called, is eager to show us a photo displaying the bare buttocks of last weekend’s guests. Every night he offers a nudie swim but prudie me says ooh…dear no.
A long stroll leads me past a traditional fruit market and towards a Croatian woman leaning out of her window, destroying an apple with a paring knife. With every chew she drops chunks onto the pavement and spills frothy juice out of her wrinkled mouth. Narrowed eyes follow me carefully and suddenly I’m victim to a loud rant and a furious hand that points over my shoulder. I reach another dead end and shamefully tiptoe back the same route, copping another yell and frantic thrust of the apple.
There are two German boys at the hostel who’ve cycled through the Balkans. The pesky one won’t stop saying “she’ll be right mate” after I tell him I’m Australian. To my horror and disgust, the phrase has now embedded itself in my vocabulary.
At dinner time I’m finally able to cook veg chilli for someone other than myself and it’s surprisingly edible. I’m gifted with a bottle of wine from the English guy and with a pop of the cork, Sexy is asking for a glass. An impromptu Android photoshoot features me and the wine bottle and you’ll never see it.
My first Jägermeister experience commences at an underground tunnel bar and I can assure you it won’t be repeated. Within an hour we’re sprawled in different parts of the city in various states of inebriation. Our loaf of discussion crumbles and miraculously we stumble back to the hostel for a nude dip and one of Sexy’s crepes. But shit!! The German boy has passed out and missed out on the doughy jam-slathered circles of greatness. In a mad stupor, I drag one upstairs and force feed it to him by blocking his nose so his mouth opens. Without waking, he swats my hand away and the plate hits me square in the forehead as I tumble over and probably wake up the seven other guests. What can I say? Crepe time is important. No man gets left behind.
My hangover is shooed with eggy toast, an icy plunge and some unwarranted selfies of puffy eyes and upturned noses. Stone skimming quickly morphs to rock throwing and our high school shot put skills are truly put to the test. The Swedish girl and I play beached whales and morph into land monsters that emerge and stumble onto stones that line the shore.
A plump white-moustachioed man is bitten by his angry dog and his scolding hand hovers as they stare each other down. The dog won’t stop yapping, the waves are calm and lapping against the ground but the old man is bleeding and using his shirt to stop it seeping.
We say an English goodbye to the Germans on bikes and the motorcycle-bound Englishman. The Swedish nugget of joy joins me for another swim in layers of turquoise water. Hot and cold pockets force fog vibrations to swirl above remains of Roman columns and pieces of plastic. We’re joined by two Croatian men with beach ball bellies and toothbrush moustaches who plop in with their crocs on. We embark on a pumpkin curry-flavoured mission to Lidl and head back to the hostel.
I don disposable gloves and enact the worst hair salon service I can muster. A older Croatian guest examines the cardboard L’Oreal box and tells us he doesn’t think blue is a good idea. I force a laugh and slap his hand away from the sunflower princess who will soon be sporting mermaid locks.
It’s a valiant effort and judging by the satisfaction of my first client, maybe there’s a hairdressing future for me. She braids the little hair I have left since my life-altering chop last July and we play never have I ever with two German girls who share their chips with us. Our zany host flips us a last crepe in the morning and we part ways to Zadar and Zagreb with zero zebras onboard.
Fraza dana: She’ll be right, mate
Pjesma mjesta: Dog stole my earphones back in Florence (not a song, but a cold hard fact)
Guys. GUYSSSSS. I had a moment. A tourist ahead of me decked out in Camelbak glory turned around not once but TWICE to check if I was following him. How the tables have turned! Hi, what’s your name? I’m Creepy Mia.
In Florence, I power walk past the cathedrals spilling queues out their wooden buttholes and affirm my status as Worst Tourist Ever. I pay a round man for one peach and walk away with a kilogram of yellow plums and a pat on the cheek. They are delightful and I eat fourteen (14) of them.
Michelangelo’s David and I share a special moment and I take a naughty selfie that I won’t include because there are parents reading! There are some genuinely weird mutant babies in the museum and I’m wondering if they might have popped out of the womb as fully grown shrunken prunes.
Back in Fontanella I spend a relaxing afternoon in my Airbnb with a belly full of stolen grapes after being followed home for the umpteenth time. I’m perfecting The Snarl™ and reserving it for viscous dogs and barking men. Dinner is peanut butter and peanut butter because the only store is closed on Sundays and SOMEBODY didn’t prepare.
An uneventful train ride to Bologna lands me in a city bustling with history and hipsters. I meet a polite German girl and we explore huge cathedrals with tomato-shaped roofs and celery columns with string cheese decor. We gobble the creamiest gelato in all the world with our turkey tongues, made of I don’t know what but it’s got no milk and feels like silk.
We climb a tower that may as well have been a pipe with a view unworthy of the desperate sightseers clogging the plumbing. There’s a one-woman fashion show featuring sparkles and glitter and if only my bag was bigger. Our shopping extravaganza leads us to fluffy heels and lavish jewellery sparkling in fluorescent incandescence. I’m glad my preconceptions of Italy are somewhat accurate because there is So. Much. Gucci.
I hear a lot of the word “tutti” and have vivid recollections of one weird orchestra conductor who would swiftly raise both arms and smack them down again with a flick of glossy Lord Farquaad locks. ‘From letter A, tutti!’ he’d exclaim melodically.
Dopa Hostel, which is dope-as-shit, has good tea for once, which I enjoy twice. There’s a long discussion about thinking about nothing and trying not to have fun. The Dutch man doesn’t want to be the one in the hostel that plays guitar but I’m only half awake and the Oxford professor is meditating again.
A poetic interlude:
Bread and pasta
Scoff it down
Digest it faster
It’s dinner time which means time to check on my spaghetti. It’s a slow growing plant but I have high hopes. Halfway through a very delicious bowl of eggplant penne (not grown by me), I consider the spiritual possibilities and skin benefits of bathing in pasta sauce. They’re quite religious in Italy. Maybe they baptise their children in salsa al pomodore.
Frase del giornio: PREGO
Musica del posto: La Dolce Vita - Ryan Paris
We’re back on the right side of the road. Honestly! Between this walking fiasco and multiple powerpoint conundrums, The Homogenous Kingdom of Europe I’d imagined has been shattered. This is exactly how I felt when I found out my favourite Yo La Tengo song is a goddamn cover. Betrayed by my own ignorance.
Today I’m hiking in Cinque Terre, in the company of an Argentinian whose tattoo reads “la vida es una fiesta.” He’s a good companion, besides begging for a beer at every town. I get to practise the few Spanish phrases I’ve learned such as “muchissimo tráfico” and “estoy cansada.” We have to stop every now and then so that he can vlog. I take in the sparkly view while he spins around with arms wide, proclaiming the same phrases to his reflection every time. See below: evidence of my sun-safe attire and jubilant mood.
After my first prickly pear experience my mouth resembles a Venus flytrap. Delicious, but wouldn’t do it again. A billion stairs lead down to glassy lapis lazuli waters that dissolve our aching calf muscles. It’s a morsel of savoury relief before we head back up the two billion stairs to finish the hike. Pinching myself isn’t enough—I’ve resorted to leg-slapping and head-hitting. We’re visited by some angels in dog form that traverse the narrow cliff walkways with ease. I’m sticky with grape juice, covered in blackberry scars and still picking spikes out of my lips.
We end the evening on a pebble beach in front of a screaming passionfruit sunset. There are flying fish and swimming humans, potato crisps and Birra Moretti. Two men are performing a very important rock-carrying dance across the uneven ground. In between breaths of fried food and air we make the last hike up the hill to the shuttle stop and I turn in early.
On Thursday I journey to Porto Venere with three lovely girls from Montana, who soon become two as one takes the wrong path in a wood that isn’t yellow. There’s a view through olive tree foliage and an open gate so we peer in. A passionate “NO! Stay out!” is followed by a middle-aged woman jaded by the selfishness of travellers. We shuffle the hell outta there, vamos, and continue downhill. A few metres later I collect a beautiful knee scratch as a souvenir of my stumble. It’s not as beautiful as the view but it’s close. I wish I had more words because even the pictures don’t do it justice.
Inside the town, my second ever online dating adventure commences, involving (surprise!) more grapes, snorkelling and some relatives in seaside bone boxes. Anonymous Boy spends six weeks here in Italy every year with his grandparents, whom (yes, whom) I meet briefly, or rather smile at and mumble ciao, buongiorno.
We visit the church and take the ferry out to the island and speak of cormorants and boats with wings and plenty of other things that are none of your business. I had to borrow a piccy or two from Anonymous Boy because evidently I was having too much fun to take any. Our brief farewell occurs on a jetty in La Spezia, as he has an important statue-sacrificing ritual to attend. Later we summarise the day as, “met internet stranger, didn’t die,” which is huuuge! Two ordinary attendees with no homicidal intentions. More than I could ask for.
Back at the ostello, I’m feeling social. Salt-caked and shiny, my tired legs carry me to the garden. A Melbournian is intent on ironing out the correct slang term for chicken parmigiana and comparing beer glass sizes. I insist on my indifference and lose an argument to the Londoner on how many mls are in a pint. We ridicule each other’s blogs and compare amount of days spent wearing the same pair of shorts. He wins by two.
We are silenced for a prolonged moment because the aspiring singer is more than eager to perform. I cross and uncross my legs and cross them again waiting for it to finish. A pair of bloodshot eyeballs beg for an instagram follow, nearly swimming in their glass of red at this point.
The moon is so huge I confuse it with a street lamp. “It’s quiet time in the hostel,” says the host, but he’s easily bought out by my cheerful chocolate offering. Tables are knocked over in a flurry of awful salsa dancing and my book suffers a fatal wine stain. Fumbling hands apologise, and I’m sure the protagonist, Eleanor Oliphant, is scolding us from inside the pages. After a few more plastic vessels of local wine, it’s “business doing pleasure with you,” and goodnight. I’m calling it. This has been the best day so far.
Frase de giorno: I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller. An ADVENTURER
Musica del posto: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell