A few days ago Jessie and I were heading into town via our local bus when we decided to get off a stop earlier than usual. Our bus does a giant loop near the end of it’s route so I thought it would be faster to get to our destination by cutting over at the beginning of the loop. We cut across the alleys as we made our way toward the main street. We’d come this way only a handful of times during the several times we’ve lived in Seoul. There was nothing remarkable about the buildings this side of town. But we walked slower and kept looking all around at the “new-to-us” scenery. At one point we passed a new coffee shop that looked really interesting and decided that we’d have to come back to try it out.
When we used to live in Kentucky it would take us six hours to drive back to our families’ homes in Michigan. When we googled the route, we found out that there were two equally long ways to get there: expressways or back roads. Jessie likes driving the expressways because they allow you to go fast and offer the ability to mentally check out for long spans of time. I love driving the back roads because there are so many things to see. Also, driving in the country ‘s kind of like a puzzle: you have to connect your route from town to town – sometimes jogging left, sometimes right – always heading incrementally closer to your destination.
Here’s the thing: I love wandering. I love getting caught up in the scenery, losing myself for a while, and then figuring my way out.
We’ve had many wonderful and unexpected things happen while wandering, but right now I’m thinking of my experience on the island of Capri, which is a two hour ferry ride out to sea from Naples, Italy (from which we got Neapolitan ice cream). During the trip you can go outside to the back of the boat and watch the coastline slowly recede from vision. Along the way you can see Vesuvius, the volcano responsible for the destruction of Pompeii, rise up from the countryside and stand watch over the Bay of Naples. Shifting to the front of the boat, a dot appears on the horizon. The dot becomes a dark line, then a small bump in the water, then a mountain, before you finally get to see all the features coming up dramatically from the water.
The town of Capri is 800 feet higher than where the ferry docks at sea level. A steep and winding road that is best traversed with closed eyes connects these two. The road has one lane, but buses and cars zoom back and forth within inches of each other like it’s a three lane highway. For those who don’t mind paying more they can ride the funicular up the side of the hill (but what’s the thrill in that?). We opted to stay on the far side of the island, called Anacapri, because accommodation is much cheaper there. Getting to Anacapri involves another nail biting bus ride on a road attached to the side of a mountain which separates the two halves of the island. The outside lane has a 900-foot drop off. Despite the fact that I’m not afraid of heights, my heart was still in the pit of my stomach by the time we rolled to the bus stop in Anacapri.
Our hotel was down a series of alleys that led us through several courtyards. After settling in we were starving, so we took the shortest way to the main strip. I don’t remember what we ate, but I vividly recall what happened next. As we wandered home through random alleys we came across a tennis court where a large gathering of locals of all ages were passionately watching and rooting as high school boys played an intense round of dodgeball. As we walked up to the perimeter fence we witnessed one of the boys get knocked out. He ran over to the referee and whined, “Oh Lu-EE-gi! Luigi!” And then he argued something in Italian for two minutes. We had to bite our lips to keep from laughing. Of course we knew that Luigi is a common Italian name, but it just felt so stereotypical that we found it hysterical. Anyway, Luigi was darting his head back and forth, trying in vain to officiate the game while this sore loser continued to step into Luigi’s line of sight, demanding eye contact. Kudos to Luigi for keeping his cool. If it were me I’d have erupted at him and told him to get out of my face a long time ago.
The next night Jessie and I were looking around for a good place to eat. We couldn’t decide what we wanted. It didn’t help that there was a food festival going on that night. Many restaurants were closed as the owners prepared for the event. We would’ve gone but the tickets cost an outrageous 35 euro per person. Eventually we decided to head away from the crowd and down to the island’s cape, thinking that we could find a market and put together a picnic along the way. There’s a road that winds back and forth down the mountain to the windy point, but we wanted to walk through the residential areas where there’s more to see. We chose a random path that went off in the approximate direction. We hadn’t been on it more than two minutes when we came across some people setting up a booth. They waived us over and offered us food. We told them that we hadn’t bought a ticket for the event. “That’s okay!” they said. Then they handed us bowls with heaping portions of pasta in fresh tomato sauce, salads and glasses of wine.
These kind of experiences are pretty unique; you’ll hardly ever have them in tourist areas. So next time you’re on vacation, give yourself some time to wander. Instead of taking a bus or taxi, walk! You see so much more this way. (We’ve found most of our favorite restaurants like this.) Try a different road on your way back to your hotel. Forego some of those “must-do” things you found online or in your guidebook and follow your curiosity. It’ll get you away from the hoards and give you some of your most memorable travel experiences ever.