* The worst day of my travelling life
Her right hand intertwined with mine so tightly, while the other hugged my forearm. She was latched onto me as if I could shield her from any potential danger. Me- the 5ft woman who’s heart is pulsating through her own lungs as we board the flight to Italy.
“You’re out of your mind travelling alone with the little one. I wouldn’t do it, even with help”, screeched a mature aged woman, wearing sunglasses with bright red lipstick shaping the contour of her imaginary lips. She was about to board a 13 hour flight at 10pm and felt that Ruby Red and her opinion was a necessity. And clearly the lights from the airport were blinding her arrogant vision- still to this day I don’t trust people who wear sunglasses inside.
“Well it’s a good thing you aren’t doing it.” I reply, while trying to direct my daughters attention elsewhere. As we finally take our seats on the torture chamber, my girl looks up at me with excitement and bright eyes, already minutes into ‘Shaun the Sheep’ and it’s that moment I’m made aware of my responsibilities during this European Summer.
After three days in Rome, filling up on pizza, cafe hoping and noticing all the beauty that is the colour mustard we started making our way to Venice. This is when things took a turn. Sadness lingered over me as I soaked in my last few moments of this incredible city. The endless cafe’s that provided such ambiance and comfort, the food, the wine, the people. No part of me wanted to leave. We arrived at the train station which seemed like it had it’s own city within a city. There was at least half an hour before our train- yet I started speed walking, in any direction, concerned if I stopped I’d be trampled by the hundreds of commuters. Massive suitcase, back packs and a child to my left when that feeling I had forgotten something swept over me. I stop dead in my tracks, people forcefully brushing past each shoulder, nudging me forward inch by inch. The heart starts racing, I could feel it beat through my hands as I fumble for our tickets and analyise the mental check list in my head. I glance over towards my daughter and she’s leisurely taking in the unfamiliar surroundings, the Italian accents, mesmerised by the details of the ceilings, oblivious we were mid stampede.
“What’s wrong mum?”
“Nothing baby, I’m just making sure I have everything.”
“You have me, everything is fine.”
I was more alert than ever. Constantly making sure she was attached to me, vigilant of anyone in our 3m radius and making sure no one had cut a hole in my backpack. I was checking our passports didn’t move from the zipped hidden pocket, in my neck sachel, under my shirt, guarded by my right hand. This happened on a 30 minute rotation. Sienna skipped along with the busy crowd, taking in the hustle and being somehow uplifted by it’s fast-moving pace. Songs from the buskers made her smile wide as she danced along, following the foreign sound.
“Sienna, so help me god! Stay next to me, hold onto my shirt.”
“Mum, relax it’s okay. Can you hear the music?”
Through the sounds of my anxiety and train call overs I could barely make out any sound but to be honest, I couldn’t care.
“Mum what instrument is that? Can I play that one day?
“SIENNA… MY SHIRT! Hold my shirt”.
The train ride introduced us to the ‘gypsy’ culture. Well I was acquainted with it, Sienna just assumed lovely older ladies were leaving us notes next to our seat.
“She seemed nice”, Sienna delicately whispers.
Then when younger girls ‘offered’ to help us with our luggage, she again responded gratefully and even complemented their strength. Meanwhile I was 10 Euro down and wondering if ‘fuck off’ was universal.
“Look at this mum”, Sienna pointing to the picturesque scenery out the window, amazed by the whole experience.
“Yeah great babe”, half looking and unimpressed while feeling for the outline of our passports. Still trying to wrap my head around the fact I was just scammed by girls no older than 14.
First change over was in Florence. Patience was wearing thin. The schedule was tight and so was my grip on our belongings.
“Mum we should leave our bags somewhere here.”
“Ahh not happening, they are staying right in my vision.” Still frazzled by my earlier interactions.
So with luggage in tow we boarded another train, dodged any assistance and I bunkered down until Pisa. I was on edge while Sienna made friends with an Italian woman sitting across from her. They were laughing over Sienna’s drawings and although weren’t speaking the same language, they were having a moment. I was fiercly starring down the situation, cautiously picking apart every expression, imagining scenarios and my quick response reactions in my head. I was on guard. They were laughing and I was judging. Unsure if my protective nature was exageratted by that red lipped, sunglass wearing woman at the airport or I was just a nut job.
On arrival, I decided against any further form of transport and followed the crowd to what I could only assume was this iconic leaning tower. We walked for longer than I was mentally prepared for. Longer than my younger fit self could endure. It was disgustingly hot, sweat was dripping and Sienna was getting tired. I was now carrying all of the luggage which included Sienna and a fluffy bear. My patience had worn out and I was mentally ruined. Couldn’t tell if the burning sensation in my legs was from exercise or sunburn straight through my jeans and just before giving up I hear Sienna burst out.
“We are here, look at it. Can you see it mum? Wow.”
Like most attractions in Italy, it’s a beautiful piece of infrastructure but now I have sweat in places I never knew existed and I’m sure my hand had gone numb from lack of circulation. We viewed the tower through a sea of thousands of other sweaty tourists, attempting to hit that glorified ‘leaning’ shot. It was a bouquet of people striking the same pose with arms and legs stretched out, flying away with their dignity. No thanks, not today. I wanted to leave. Everything looked identical. Why is there no cabs around a massive tourist attraction? Praying my legs wouldn’t buckle from within me, we started walking. Sienna stopping at every statue, touching it, climbing it, chatting to random people who complimented her. While I have my head in my phone googling ‘cabs in Pisa’ and cursing the lack of transport around this Leaning Tower. Time was catching up and knowing we had minimal minutes until our next train otherwise we could forget Venice- my heart started racing again. The beat could be felt through my finger tips, confident it was prominent enough to make sound. Somewhere between searching numbers, feeling for our passports and watching my child- I lost it. I was fed up of walking, done with carrying luggage and not knowing where I was. I had average reception, minimal battery and I was fearful I’d failed. Failed as a mother and as a tourist in general. Also why am I the only one carrying fucking luggage?
The woman from the cab company must of heard the severity in my voice. “Where are you?” she asked. I look around in the blaring sun, no street signs, no standout restaurants, nothing! Everything is actually identical. I look at Sienna, standing patiently next to me with a hopeful smile and I just cry. Shit was lost. Pure frustration came streaming down my face and I wanted to collapse right in the middle of apparently nowhere. Sienna embraced my fragile body, grabbed my phone and stopped a man walking past and said- “Can you please tell them where we are?”
My first thought was- I will never see my iPhone again.
“Sienna no, you can’t just give people my phone.” I cried.
“We have to mum, we don’t know where we are.”
She hands over the phone with a smile, like this 6ft gent was a family member. The kind stranger started speaking Italian to the woman and said- “The cab will be here in 5 minutes, wait just around the corner.” He gave us a smile, placed headphones in and continued about his day. Sienna acknowledges his friendly nature while waving him goodbye and then proceeds around the corner while I stand still, shocked and ashamed of my untrusting nature.
We made the connecting train, with minutes to spare. My girl could feel my relief as I lugged the massive bags up the last step and onto the platform. We made it! Sienna starts dancing as a result and signals me to join. After the past few hours, I was in no position to question her choices- so we danced. We had a good thirty seconds of twirling around in happiness on the busy platform before we sat back comfortably on the last leg of our journey. This turned into my moment of reflection on how different interpretations are from children to adults. Children view things much more beautifully and innocent, because they are. They haven’t been done over by life yet and their encounters are not hindered or based on bias or religion, but love and kindness. I wanted to reverse my time to see visions this clear, this simple.
Eventually I step out into the clear skies of Venice, smiling. Despite feeling drained of all energy and overwhelmed by the days events, I decided to perceive this beauty from a child’s eye view.
“Oh my goodness mum, they don’t have roads here. We are catching a boat.. YAY! It’s like a fairytail mum, look!”
“You’re right baby, this is magical.” I reply, as I stare into the unfamiliar distance. I finally drop the luggage, grab her hand tightly while the other hugged her forearm. And I looked, seemingly for the first time.