Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Unicycle Diaries 1: All Roads Lead...

Nothing is more fascinating than rediscovering forgotten experiences via an old travel journal. This inaugural wander down memory lane (part of an irregular series) is written by fantasy novelist Narrelle M Harris.

I face a particular challenge when travelling – for me, directions are something that happen to other people.

The main reason I am not still wandering around lost and dazed on the moors of England after my first overseas trip is that Tim was there to make sure I found the hotel again.

To be fair, I can mostly read a map. Provided it’s turned around so that it’s facing the same way as I am. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I have other skills useful on the travelling trail.

For example, having only English at my disposal, I have mimed my way across Europe, South America and the Middle East.

I may have spread bemusement and hilarity wherever I go, but I’ve also managed to purchase the required candles, bubble wrap and other sundry items along the way. So that’s +2 points for International Relations and Non-Verbal Communication.

My capacity to be geography-challenged is not all bad, though. Occasionally I get to have unexpected adventures as a result of not knowing where I am or where I’m going.

Rome, for example.

On our 2001 trip to Italy, I took the map and bravely flung myself out on the streets of the Italian capital on a solo mission to find a clock shop I had spotted a few days earlier.

The clocks, you see, were brilliant. Simple flat ceramic faces, glazed using a Japanese method called raku and bearing inscriptions in Latin. They became my had-to-have memento and I was determined to never leave Rome until I had bought one.

Consulting my travel diary of the time, I find two pages of handwritten notes, all about how lost I got. Note how carefully I have retraced my steps afterwards, using my otherwise useless map:

“I came to the Piazza Cardelli… then the Piazza Nicosia… then the river. Quick look at the map. Head west-ish down to via di Monte Brianzo (maybe) and get confused and down a different street… wander past several butchers, an art gallery, scaffolding, local apartments. Not a tourist in sight and I’m clearly in a residential area.

“Map check and then to the via della Stelletta, but too far… there’s the river again, but a different bit this time. Down a different road and round the via dell’Orso… getting kind of dizzy by now… and out I pop at the top of the Piazza Navona!”

I like that exclamation mark. How surprised I was to arrive at a place that was both familiar, and nowhere near where I was meant to be. But it continues:

“…head off around the Ai Monestari, heading for the Largo G Toniolo….the Piazza Rondanini… Piazza della Meddelana… is this where I found the beautiful paper shop, or was that earlier at the Piazza di Firenze?

“Forge on. I think I got muddled somewhere around the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Aquino… up the via dei Pastini to emerge at the Tempio di Adriano – Hadrian’s Temple. Which I’ve never seen before.”

At this point, I gave up looking for the clock shop and poked around some souvenir shops in the vicinity, before:

“I began to head back via dei Pastini – AND THERE WAS THE CLOCK SHOP!!! I’d walked right past it. Twice.”

I dived in to buy my clock. Alas, they did not have one inscribed with ‘Tempus Fugit’ but I got ‘Carpe Diem’ right enough, and carried it at the bottom of my suitcase for the rest of the trip.

Proving I can read a map when I actually know where my destination is supposed to be, I met Tim for lunch. My diary records him as being ‘vastly amused by this story’ of my fevered wanderings through Rome.

Eight years later, I still have my clock, and I still have the wonderful memory of bumbling along Roman back streets which are rarely seen by travellers who actually know where they’re going.

Find details of Narrelle's vampire novel The Opposite of Life at her website, along with details of her other books.