Lately, I’ve been feeling particularly reminiscent. Lockdown three certainly hit hard, leaving me free to daydream in my own memories, which I certainly don’t believe is something I’ve been alone in during these trying times.
In such a nostalgic time, I dove into my memories of summer 2019 in which I travelled across Europe for around six weeks, solo and self-funded.
However, as I look back upon my travel memories today I see them differently from how I experienced them at the time. They hold much more meaning and many lessons learnt, which has completely changed my approach to travel.
My summer began in Paris and ended in Copenhagen after a rather long detour through Italy, Austria and Germany. It was my third time in Paris but my first time alone and where I can say with certainty that ‘Paris Syndrome’ soon set in. Becoming stranded at a dirty, damp bus station on the outskirts of the city until the Metro opened was not the ideal start to my trip. The next few days were also not the most comfortable as a female solo traveller, to say the least. However, this, fortunately, did not set a precedent for the rest of the trip and after three long days, I thankfully said goodbye to Paris and moved on to much happier memories in Italy. Perhaps it was a more ‘realistic’ Parisian experience than most appear to have?
My next stop was Milan, a personal highlight of the entire trip. It was here I began to learn the beauty of international friendship and how travel can create that. I got to see my favourite band who were coincidentally in town on the days, attending the show with four friends all met through the band on past occasions in person and online. Re-connecting with them in an entirely new city was truly amazing. This is just one way that previous travel provided me with many far-reaching connections and friendships, with this being just the first instance on my trip, later joined by other friends popping up to welcome me in Berlin and Vienna weeks later.
One afternoon, my friend Marta, a native to Northern Italy, took us to a delightful pasta restaurant near Milano Centrale named Miscusi. Translating the menu for us all after hearing my dreadful pronunciation attempts but politely not laughing at me for them, Marta provided me with the best introduction to Italy possible, showing me around Milan and introducing me to restaurants I may have otherwise missed. Texting me useful Italian phrases to learn before I had even arrived to help me along my following two and a half weeks in Italy was just one way she was a great friend to me. I enjoyed my time with her so immensely that it would be unthinkable to return to Northern Italy without meeting up again – friendship amplified by shared travel experiences is truly something very special.
Across the next three weeks in Italy, I visited Florence, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Positano, Sorrento, Venice and Verona to name just a few. Italian friendliness and hospitality are heavily underrated, seen not just in my friend Marta, but also in a Napoleon family restaurant making a special dish for a friend and I due to a seafood allergy, which was beyond delicious.
Even our hostel host, Giovanni in Naples told us simply that the hostel is his home and everyone is made to feel a part of it when they stay, truly shows once more the value of kindness when travelling. Upon our arrival, he gave us tips and information about Naples and Campania, which led to the discovery of many hidden gems on our trip. Giovanni also cooked pasta for all new guests, engaged in evening conversation about our days and even memorised our names and introduced us to other guests, fostering new multinational friendships. Today, nearly two years on, I still have many of those valued connections.
The ease of making connections through travel also showed me how small the world really is. Meeting a girl who also studied at Durham on a night in Munich, and two boys who lived in the same area as me on a warm night in Venice. Beyond coincidental perhaps?
Copenhagen was certainly an expensive city, but left me with memories that made it all worth it. The beauty of my trip was been undoubtedly enhanced by local hospitality and local businesses, which I realised as I sat in Nørrebro, drinking and laughing with a group of newly gained friends, changed my approach to travel forever. The past five weeks had been filled with irreplaceable, unique, memories all gained through local people in the forms of guides, hosts, small business owners and friends.
Sadly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of the small businesses which added so much value to my trip have been forced to close, leaving my dreams of returning one day impossible. Giovanni’s Home in Naples has recently had to close after twenty years – crushing news to read.
To do my bit in the recovery of such businesses and the local people who brought me so much joy, when we can finally travel again, I will be centring my future trips around local cultures and giving financially where I can to each area and its people, rather than holidaying with multinational companies. I would urge every traveller to do the same. Whilst it can be scary talking to other travellers and local people, you never know what might happen – maybe they’ll be the ones showing you around a new city years later.
For now, until travel is in the realm of possibility once more, I urge you to visit small businesses and local attractions in your area as they begin to re-open, explore what’s on your doorstep, visiting the places nearby you have never quite gotten around to doing so. Who knows what you’ll take away and either way, you will gain a memory or perhaps a new favourite place which one day you’ll look back fondly upon.
Photos: Mary Atkinson