I went by shared taxi into Tunisia. When we reached *I was the first to be dropped off. I was still carrying my stuff in the three small bags which the lady had given me in Lithuania. By some mistake when I got out I found I only had two of them. So I lost my sleeping bag and mat, which wasn’t an inconvenience then, but I missed them later in the journey.
There were many date plantations around this little town, which made pleasant walking. One evening in the street I encountered a man called *. It was something of a tourist place with some carpet and tourist shops, so one could expect some touting. This man was friendly enough, he wanted to take me to see his mother. I said, ‘then she will have to bring me something to eat and drink. And I don’t want to eat anything now, so I will offend her.’ I was still suffering from the remnants of flu and was not at all in the mood for being sociable. So we just walked about. I met him again the next day. Finally he came with me to the bus station the day I left. He was talking to me as I was waiting in the taxi saying ‘I love you’. I tell him I don’t believe him. Then he unclasped the chain from around his neck and gave it to me. It seemed it meant something even if I, and perhaps also he, didn’t know what that something was. (We are still friends, six years on; he is sometimes there on Facebook, posing about his native place, doing nothing in particular, sometimes in company with his father.)
My whole time in Tunisia I remained in a state of hazy awareness, unable to hear my own voice as I (supposed or wondered if I) shouted in rudimentary French, barely hearing what people said to me, mostly just guessing, probably making replies that didn’t match the questions. But nobody seemed to notice.
At the coast I took a ferry out to an island, getting some fresh air and finding some pleasant scenery and a few tourists, and by the time I got to Tunis I had almost recovered my hearing.
From Tunis a ferry crosses to Sicily. It goes overnight, and was supposed to leave at 11. But we had to wait many hours in the port before we were allowed on the boat, sat in a big crowded hall. There I spotted a fellow traveller, wearing a natty black hat, carrying his belongings in a cloth wrapped around a stick. It turned out he was Swiss, a craftsman, doing his two years out of country apprenticeship caller the onthewalz. I had met some before in New Zealand. Then I got talking to a Sicilian man; he was thinking I was travelling with the Swiss. Soon we are all talking, and as the Sicilian spoke good German the two men were able to communicate fully. It turns out they both had an interest in stone carving. The older man then invited us to come and stay at his house in Sicily. So then we are going with him.
He was a businessman, his passport was absolutely full of Tunisia stamps, so he knew the journey well.
We arrived next day in *, and went with the man in a train to another town. On the way he is saying how the most important things in life are food and sleep. I say, ‘not for me it is walking.’ He tells me that making food is like love. He says when we get to his house he wants us each to cook some speciality of our country. I couldn’t think of anything off hand, and I can’t have looked very excited at the prospect. So I think this changed the situation in his mind. So when we got there, we didn’t go in to his house, instead he took us further on to a big abandoned chalet by the fields, that it seemed he intended doing up. It had many rooms and was absolutely jam packed with furniture and assorted stuff. He left us there, telling us he would come back later. Christopher was quite overwhelmed by it all. He was only 22, and feeling it was quite an adventure.
He was very hungry as he had not eaten for 24 hours. And when the man returned he drove us to a takeaway where Chris bought a big pizza and two cans of beer.
It was very cold in the house. I was sorely missing my sleeping bag. There was one mattress, one duvet and one rug. While Chris kept warm under the duvet eating his pizza and drinking his beer, I sat on a chair wrapped in the blanket, whilst we exchanged travellers tales. There was no electricity, so nothing else to do to entertain ourselves. Chris admitted he was quite gullible, relating some scrapes he got into in Tunisia.
Later I slept on the floor on top of the blanket, trying to retain some warmth from the partial cover of a giant teddy bear.
The next morning I was ready to head off. Chris was intending staying for a while to do some stone carving for the Sicilian.
It was a very nice spot actually, surrounded by olive groves, and I had a very nice walk down through the villages til I got to a main road. It turned out hard work hitchhiking in Sicily, but I persisted for the first day, finding some nice country too in parts with many historic ruins. The next day I took buses and trains, enjoying some pleasing scenery along the way, as I thought of my friend in France, to finally arrive in the southeastern corner at the port from where you can take a ferry to Malta.
I was lucky on Malta to find a cheap place to stay. It was a big seven floor hotel full of British tourists. It cost only 13 Euros a night which included a comprehensive buffet breakfast which could have lasted you all day. In the past maybe I wouldn’t have liked to stay in proximity with so many Brits, but meeting British when travelling had become a novelty now It was good to see people on holiday enjoying the sun.
There’s a very good bus system in Malta, so it was possible to take a bus out to one place and walk round or by the coasts to return another way. I found some beautiful spots along the coasts. In one I sat watching the waves pounding onto the rocks, thinking about my friend in France who I had already arranged I was going back to see.
By the end of a week I had explored all the best trails in the northern half of the island.
I had intending taking the ferry from Sicily to Genoa on the Friday. As it arrived in Genoa at 10 at night I had, at some expense, booked a place to stay on Booking.com. However partly due to delays and partly due to taking a wrong train, I ended up missing the Friday boat. I tried to change the booking but they were full on the Saturday, so I had to cancel it. This was when booking.com was less sophisticated, and if you cancelled it was rather at the discretion of the hotel to charge you. And often they didn’t.
When I arrive in Genoa on the Saturday I walk around trying several hotels, they are all full and the cheapest was 90 Euros. One of them had given me a map of the city, so I thought I would go to the botanic gardens and sleep there. However I found it was surrounded by walls, so you couldn’t get in. Eventually I end up lying on my piece of plastic behind some trees by a house which belonged to the university. Nobody saw me, but my presence was noticed by some wild pigs, which I heard snorting and tramping about nearby in the night. Later, rather miffed that the hotel had actually charged me for my cancellation, I related my story, informing them that maybe they didn’t know that wild pigs inhabited their city. They replied that I was most welcome to stay at their hotel on a future occasion.
Next day not feeling very awake I get going early. But it was a very slow job hitchhiking along the coast towards France. I had arranged to meet my friend in Menton at 5pm.
It was past 9pm when I reached Menton. Very helpfully the man who gave me the final lift took me right up the hill to Castellar (considerably out of his way). Then I was able to walk to François’ cottage, arriving some time after ten. He was there along with a couple of his friends. They had be having a barbeque. I was very happy to find them there.
I stayed for a couple more days, finding some interesting walking in the hills behind. Then I set off on the next leg of my journey towards my next unvisited country which was San Marino.
But I didn’t get there. On the way through Italy I had a wait of a couple of hours for a train connection; as I am walking about I spot an Internet place. I go in and find an email from my sister telling me that my mother had passed away.
So I go back to the station and buy another ticket north into Germany. Three days later I am back in my mobile home in Oxford.
I remained in England for three weeks. Fortunately my sister preferred to do all the work of executorship herself, so I was again free to continue my travels.
It was still April when I arrived in Ghent, with fairly cool, wet and stormy weather prevailing. Nonetheless I found some pleasant walks in the forests of the Ardennes, and sheltered places to camp, one night narrowly escaping a fallen bough of a tree which came down perilously close to my tent.
I found Belgium a friendly place, with quite a character and identity of its own, which could warrant further exploration.
I was rather unfortunate in that for most of the eight days I spent in Luxembourg it was very cold and wet, not at all pleasant weather to be living a life outside. Yet I still camped and stayed dry, finding a degree of shelter inside a beech forest. The first night I had actually been tempted to pay for a hotel, but there was nowhere open in that town.
In Luxembourg they have a very nice system of trains.