Today I had a sense of what it might be for mountain people to see the ocean for the first time. The Adriatic no less! I think the last time I had anything to do with the Adriatic Sea was colouring in a map in fifth grade. And here it is to greet me in Pescara, unexpected and unannounced.
This morning we had a gorgeous walk from our bed in the golden field to Popoli, our eyes all the while on the crumbling castle ruin high on a hilltop above the town. The night was cold and I’m sorry now that I went for the three-quarter self-inflating mattress . . . to keep my feet off the cold earth I’m sleeping half on my pack! We walk along the roadside where the slasher’s just been through and each breath is alive with the aroma of wild herbs.
We find fabulous coffee and yesterday’s pastries, always yesterday’s pastries, in town . . , and here I am compelled to mention the loos in this country, the same country famed for its roads and waterways and other marvels of human comfort has consistently produced the most terrible toilets! They are high, so high I feel like Alice dangling her legs from the Queen’s throne, in my case while I try and get my balance. As for the toilet seats, if there is one they don’t fit! and they wobble!, startling warm skin with ice-cold porcelain.
As we leave the café I catch sight of myself in the shop window! No wonder people stare. We look wild! A little untamed. A little unchained.
We found an internet café and, as is always the case, we were there until suddenly we were not. Siesta creeps up on us again and we are thrown out on the street while civilisation closes down for the afternoon. We found a bar to grab some lunch. All she sold was ‘am-burger’. I said sure, thinking at least I’d get salad in a toasted roll. Well our burgers came, fatty meat pattie all alone in a cold roll, no sign of colour anywhere. I looked closely at the pattie and there was no way I was that hungry . . . Ben got the meat and I got the roll. On the upside, inside the bar we could pick up internet. And just as we set up she closed down too! We bundled ourselves out to the tables at the front, delighted to discover we could still get internet outside.
I decide to leave Ben to it and go get the train to Pescara. It’s a bit of a toss-up, because physically I’m feeling good, the pack is lightening up and my feet are doing okay - yet it’ll be good to give the blisters a chance to heal before we cross into Croatia and, really, I won’t be sorry to miss out on walking through the endless traffic that streams in and out of a big city.
The train was sweet, although I’m puzzled by the signs at the small railway stations warning in big red letters and a man with a missing leg ‘do not cross tracks’ – and then the train pulls in on the second platform and there’s no way to get to it except to cross the railway tracks!
I sat in a couch, can you believe, a lovely turquoise couch, and settled in for a stunning ride out of the valley; mountains facing me through both windows, the old road, the autostrada and the train track criss crossing each other through the narrow corridor, irregular as child’s plaiting.
In Pescara I find a hotel for the night. I shower for the first time in three days, that glorious sensation of water cascading on skin, cleansing inside and out. I am in wash-my-hair Heaven. I walk out into the square and I’m drawn down the end of the street, towards hazy blue, towards emptiness. Bloody hell! It’s the ocean. It’s the Adriatic Sea! Of course Pescara, being so named, was always going to be on the water; I had no idea the city centre would open out onto the sea! I sit on the smooth white stone benches and watched the evening come, the powder blues and pinks of a watercolour sky turn dark until there is nothing at all above; no moon, no sun, no stars, no clouds, just the strange blue hue of evening sheer.
This is a landmark evening. I have crossed Italy. I have walked through her mountainous heart and I am now sitting on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, beside the vaporous umbrella stalks of the summer past, conjuring ghosts of sirens and conquerors and watching for shadows of ships on the sea.
I decide to have a fabulous dinner. To eat long and slow. To eat after eight, as the Italians do. I order gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce, I order salad, it comes with fresh-baked bread and chilli oil to drench it in. I watch an Italian soap opera on the big screen as I eat, just the pictures, no sound. It is about a middle-aged man, an immigrant, and an Italian woman who move in together, each with two children, a boy and a girl. Her children are typically Italian, his are Moslem. The kids are at war with each other’s righteousness, the parents get on with being in love and loving and all the kids are appalled at their parents’ obvious affection for each other. My attention shifts. I watch Italians dine together. I am full and I decide to have the one thing I have yearned for since arriving in Italy yet I am always too full to order by the time I get around to it – tiramisu! How could I come all this way and not have tiramisu in Italy? I do. It is strange. It is not my idea of tiramisu. It is delicious.
I wander home past the old ones hanging out in the square. In my country, if they were young, they would be ‘trouble’, they would be called a gang. I sit among them awhile. I decide it should be compulsory for elderly Australians to meet at night in city squares. It should be compulsory for all of us to sit awhile together in the evening, to make peace with our day.