Lunch in Modena

“I don’t like Italy too much, but when I go on holiday, I miss it very much.”

We talk with our friend over lunch in Modena. As we have become accustomed, the produce is superb; wonderful olives so full of flavour, buffalo mozzarella with an inside of pure creamy goo, Parma ham, preserved courgettes, bread, and a Gorgonzola Capable of making your eyes water. I opt for tortellini, a dish which has its roots firmly in the local area, its delicious. We also make light work of a hefty bottle of red between us.

I have spent much time on this trip wondering, worrying about finding happiness, and so it’s a relief when I can readily recall the things that make me happy during the conversation; family and friends, music, riding my bike, design and interiors, and of course, food and drink.

I have written about how good it was to arrive in France, with the abundance, and quality, of the produce. To that end, Italy is a sort of France plus plus, with the added bonus of being more at ease, and more playful than the French appear on the surface. It’s undeniable that a smile breaks from the face of an Italian more freely than that of its neighbour, and the fuss made of our daughter is touching.

Our friend seems a little embarrassed as “there’s not much to see in Modena.” I tell him that the colours of the buildings, the cobbled streets, deli shops selling hams and cheeses, tailors’ windows, and the public buildings may be the norm for him, but for us they are a visual treat.

I am not a romantic man, but italy is a romantic, and infectious place. I’m looking forward to spending more time here…..

 

Speaking, not speaking.

Speaking, not speaking.

Another van arrives and dithers around for a minute, before turning around and parking in front of us. An older couple get out, our eyes meet, and for once they don’t pretend we haven’t seen each other. The lady comes over with a smile and says hello. They are French, though their English is excellent. After a bit of a chat, the husband joins us too, he is also very smiley and friendly. Most odd.

We talk a little about how long we’ve been in our vans, are we on holiday, where have we been…… I’m taken aback.

“China”

“China?!”

‘Yes” she says laughing at the madness of it.

“Wait, China?” I say again, confused. “You drove to China and back in your van?”

It turns out they took part in an organised trip with a number of vans to drive to China and back, via Russia, and the ‘Stans’ (some of which I have to pretend I’ve heard of).

This is incredible, these people are incredible, and indeed a very rare breed. Mainly because not many people ever go to these places, certainly not overland, and not (without being rude) a bit later in life.

They are the breath of fresh air I need, and in fact, camped out for two night by the side of Lac Cenis, we chat with two or three friendly and slightly mad couples doing something different with their vans.

Since we left Britain 5 months ago, I can count on my two hands the amount of people I have had a conversation with beyond a seemingly reluctant exchange of hellos. People in our age demographic, certainly less than five.

This has been a real shock to me, and frankly a huge disappointment. Before we left, we began to open up, and try to connect with people doing similar, travelling longer term, or even living in their vans. We found a few, mainly on instagram, and some blogs like ours. Though, if you look through social media, it would seem every man and his dog are at it. Casual shots of women in bikinis taking solar showers in remote beach spots from the backs of their vans. Guys standing on roofs triumphant from their 8 hour hike in the high mountains…..

All I can say in my personal experience, thus far 12,000 km of it, is that this, is bollocks.

Every day we turn up to old people in £75000 motorhomes sitting around in their chairs, doing fuck all. I can’t for the life of me understand what it is they ARE up to actually. It appears they stock up before they leave home, and never venture from the saftey of their vans. The first thing they do when arriving at a spot, is get the satellite to auto tune itself, shut most of the blinds down, and stay put. Quite why they feel the need to leave the comfort of their own homes is beyond me, and what they tell their friends on return is an even bigger mystery.

As you may be able to tell, I find myself irked by this. A large part of the trip for me was to connect with people, and see how other peoples lives looked, not necessarily lives in vans, but how their ‘normal’ lives are, and alas, I’d have had a more enlightening experience in solitary confinement. It is true, and fair to say, my language skills are all but absent (except a little french). I accept that to that end I am as much a part of the problem as anything else, but honestly, language or not, the body language, behaviour, and general interaction, has been at best, closed, and worst, non existent.

To that end, we are thinking of placing ourselves for several weeks in the the coming months to try to establish a connection, a feel for a place, maybe even make a friend or two in different areas?

I mean, it’s not like weve publicly come out and said we want nothing to do with the Europeans after all…..