This post is a throwback to a long time ago. 17 years ago to be precise. It’s not exactly a travel post, more like a collection of musings.
In the year 2000, which was the Jubilee year, my Church in Bahrain organised a pilgrimage of sorts to Italy and France. Since my sister had been on a trip to the US and my brother was only about 8 and my youngest brother was only a few months old, I was picked for this once in a lifetime experience.
I was 12 and very excited. The trip is so vivid in my memory, even almost 20 years later. Like any package trip, we stayed in hotels and had buses take us everywhere. We very rarely used public transport apart from the occasional tram or train.
We spent most of our time in Italy, in more cosmopolitan cities like Rome and Milan, but also smaller towns and villages like Padua, Assisi and Cascia. I found the people in the smaller towns much more welcoming and much nicer than the people in cites, but I guess that’s directly related to the pace of life.
Since it was a package, we had breakfast and dinner covered, but we had to fend for ourselves when it came to lunch. Food was not cheap , and we had a couple of disastrous experiences trying to eat on a budget . I fell in love with the Autogrills, because they were affordable enough to have a good meal, even though I wasn’t always sure what was in the pizza I was eating. We had a bus driver called Nikolai who was super enthusiastic and even though we couldn’t communicate fluently, he was very helpful. When we got off the train from Lourdes to Milan, he gave me such an enthusiastic hug that my ears were ringing!
Lourdes was the only place in France that we visited, but that was the only place that we visited that made me feel that people didn’t like me. I don’t know if it was racism, or just how people are in that part of France, but the change in attitude was so stark, the entire group was completely thrown.
We were only there for a couple of days, and the people who were nicest were other travelers. It was quite an experience, and not just because of the beauty of the town.
An experience I had on that trip will always stay with me, even as other memories fade. Our guide in Padua was a very nice young woman in a yellow and green plaid jacket and skirt. At the end of the day, while we were on the tram back to our bus she struck up a conversation with me. It was very casual, about school or something like that. But at the end of it she said, “You are beautiful”. With so much conviction in her voice. They were three simple words, but at a time of my life when I was struggling with severe body image issues. They were so bad, that I have only one picture of myself on that trip, and I’m very consciously not looking at the camera. The body image issues still haven’t gone away completely, but every time they get too tough to handle, I think of what she said and tell myself that perhaps there’s something that I’m not seeing, something that she saw enough to say those three words out loud.
I guess it’s true when they say that you can never come back from travel unchanged.