why do we travel? (plus two great hotel websites)

This post was written two years ago. I’m reposting it and adding two hotel links.

I had an existential moment as I stood for three hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for only 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing area. The three hours passed faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta. I self-consciously ate two slices of pizza while eight pairs of eyes stared at me.

I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about (and didn’t want to know.) I looked out the window at the passing landscape. And I watched as two policemen boarded the train and accosted two black men. It turned out they were African boat migrants who, no doubt, had paid a smuggler to break into Fortress Europe. At the next station they were escorted off the train. What awaited them?, I wondered. A detention camp, maybe, and deportation. I felt sorry for them.

And I guess that’s one of the reasons why we travel – to see the world, in all its splendor and misery. To see how other people live. To step out of our lives – for some people, their ivory towers – and observe the diversity and destiny and danger of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.

Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine (I hate routine). It’s good to change our daily habits and shake things up. Or, as the French say, “changer les idées”.

To step out of our comfort zone, to test and challenge ourselves, to not stand still, to feel inspired. To connect with humanity. To have great conversations with complete strangers, until they’re no longer strangers but new friends with whom you’ve exchanged email addresses. To see great art and taste gorgeous foods that we normally wouldn’t see or eat at home. To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds. To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign, lyrical language in our ears. To unplug from our computers and our hard drives and see things from another perspective because there are, in this world, differing points of view.

Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote this –

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

 

To plan your next escape, take a look at these hotel websites –

https://www.hiphotels.com/

https://www.tablethotels.com/

see Naples and die….

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Naples is a slap in the face. A hard slap. Within 5 minutes of my arrival – in plain daylight and in the middle of a street – I was attacked by a purse-snatcher and found myself tussling with him over my handbag. I won and he lost, but more on that in a minute.

My arrival into Naples was as inauspicious as my (shortened) stay there. As the Air France jet started its descent, we flew into thick black cloud which hovered menacingly over the city. An omen? I found the presence of the clouds odd because the two hour flight from Paris had been sunny and uneventful all the way down. Suddenly a rainstorm of biblical proportions broke out. Turbulence ensued and we landed, rather rockily.  The taxi ride to the hotel was even worse.  We descended a slippery hill (in the pouring rain) with such velocity that I found myself sliding across the back seat from one side of the car to the other.  I groped for the seatbelt.  It was broken.  To make matters worse, every time we passed a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary – of which there were many and erected for each fatal road accident that had occurred there – my pious taxi driver made the sign of the cross, not once or twice but three times. Kissing the side of his index finger, he then touched his fingers to his forehead, chest and two shoulders.  Three times.  All without lifting his foot from the gas pedal.

Not knowing how to say “Slow down!” in Italian, I think I invented a word. “Tranquillo!” I squeaked, now clutching a shred of leather strap that dangled from the ceiling.  My taxi driver laughed uproarisouly.  “Calmo! Calmo!” he said, then slowed a little bit. The phrase “See Naples and die” ran through my head. Only I hadn’t seen Naples yet … just the airport, black cloud, rain, and a portion of shrine-studded road.

Then his cell phone rang and he launched into a lengthy and animated discussion with his mother. I know this because every sentence was punctuated with “Mamma”. “Oh dear God, if there is one,” I muttered to myself, “Must he speak with his mother now??”  With the phone clamped to his ear, he spoke and made gestures with his one free hand – all the while reaffirming the Holy Trinity every time a roadside shrine appeared.  We continued our descent into Dante’s inferno, or rather, the city.

Finally reaching the hotel, I staggered out of the car, checked in, dumped my bag in my room and went out again (it had just stopped raining). And was immediately attacked by a purse snatcher.

And it’s funny because just as I entered the road marked Via Alessandro, a mere 4 minutes from the hotel, I had a flash-like premonition.  A voice in my head said “What if something should befall you in this street?  Like a car running you over or a flower pot landing on your head from an above balcony?”  And it was while I was looking up that a motorcycle drove by, driven by a male whose face was covered like a jihadist.  Slowing down, he grabbed the strap of my handbag which was wrapped around my torso, causing me to spin around.  I remember standing there, visibly shaken, and staring at the back of this cowardly brute with disbelief and defiance as he drove away.  I couldn’t believe his audacity!   Cowardly because he covers his face and his targets are single women.  The next day my torso would be black and blue.

But he had failed to snatch my bag, so he turned around and came back.  By this time I was walking quickly back to the hotel.  He reached out and grabbed the strap of my bag again which broke.  I was now holding the bag with all my might while he was pulling on the strap which broke again.  He was babbling unintelligible words to me in Italian; I was shrieking intelligible words to him in English.

There was NO WAY he was going to get his hands on that bag.  Everything essential was in it – my passport, my bank cards, my phone, my brand new YSL fuschia lipstick…..My determination was greater than his and in the end he drove off, bagless.  Vigliacco!  That’s “coward” in Italian (I looked it up).  And it’s too bad I didn’t know this word at the time because when you say it with force and accompanied by a flamboyant hand gesture, it comes out as a guttural rasping utterance which is very satisfying.

VI-LIA-KKO!

Marching into the hotel, broken handbag dangling from my hand, I recounted my street scuffle incident to the two men at reception. They looked embarrassed because only ten minutes earlier they had been greeting me with a hearty “Welcome to Naples!  We hope you’ll enjoy your stay in our fine city!”  They apologized profusely.  “We are very sorry, Signora,” they said.  They then instructed me to leave everything in the safe in my room and to go out with nothing.  “Nothing?” I said.  “But I need to take some cash, at least. And a map.”  They told me to put a few things in zippered pockets or in a secure money belt hidden under my coat.

And so I went out again, rather unhappily, sans camera, sans handbag.  But for someone such as me who lives and breathes freedom, I found this restriction on my personal liberté very depressing.

Photos taken from my hotel balcony.  I only took two photos the whole time I was there.

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onwards to Polignano a Mare

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At precisely 1:20 pm the regional train – near-empty and spanking clean – pulled out of Lecce train station and made its way through scrub countryside to the coastal town of Polignano a Mare.  Perched dramatically on a clifftop overlooking the Adriatic Sea, this dazzling città will instantly seduce you. 

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If I had only one word to describe this utterly charming town, it would have to be clean. Clean and sparkling white.  It was a joy to walk through the maze of narrow lanes in the old town, past the small shops and private homes.  At one point I even removed my sandals just to feel the smooth, velvety stone under my feet.  The wind that blows in from the sea is also clean – constant, cleansing and calming.  Lecce and Polignano a Mare are, in my opinion, two feel-good, regenerating places.

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Below is the view from my hotel.  As I peered over the ledge, I was horrified to see groups of teenagers clustered on the rocks below, some diving into the water. It looked awfully dangerous and I thought to myself – How can their parents let them do this?  They probably did the same when they were young!

PUGLIA June 2014 227PUGLIA June 2014 223PUGLIA June 2014 221The hotel has this lovely rooftop terrace where breakfast is served. I recommend this family-run establishment for its location, its super comfortable beds and its fresh, clean décor.PUGLIA June 2014 237I meandered into the old town and came across this beautiful old church (look at that gorgeous stonework).  It’s called the Purgatory Church.PUGLIA June 2014 254

I pushed open the door and, as is my wont, walked around its cool, dim interior.  It was only when my eyes became accustomed to the dark did I realize I was not alone. In the nave of the small church was a casket – an open one – and I saw an elderly man lying inside, his hands folded across his chest.  I froze.  There was no-one else in the church, just him and me.  A shiver passed through my body and I suddenly felt cold.  And then the heavy door creaked open and a group of women came in, swathed in black.  I muttered “Scusi”, and slid discreetly past them.  Stepping out of the church, I stood blinking in the strong sunlight.  I felt sad.  Sad for their loss…and for loss in general.

MORE TO COME….

Hotel – Malù Bed & Breakfast