Time is flying by. No sooner do I post a blog aiming to follow it up with the next one when a week goes by… and then 10 days. I guess the days of endless spare time in Iran are long gone, but as I say to many friends… I still feel like I have all the time in the world.
Flying out of Istanbul to Naples was a tremendous feeling. I’d recently been contemplating how the arrival into Istanbul was such a symbolic one. The riding portion of my trip was about half way in terms of time. I’d also just done 10,000kms which at the time I’d estimated as being half way in distance. And finally, here it was that East meets West. No longer would my countries be more obscure and less visited by westerners and no longer would my trip feel as adventurous. But entering Europe had many other appeals.
The prospect of a wedding was a great one. Here I was in the middle of long, dusty and, at many times, lonely journey about to be immersed in a group of people whom (I would later find out) were so much fun and offered an amazing week of celebration. My friend Sarah (aka Prada) from Wales (via England, Hong Kong and Australia) was marrying her Silver Fox, Chris from the U.S. I’d been looking forward to seeing Sarah and to be part of the big day is always special. I was also keen to meet Chris and it was a great feeling leaving Italy with two friends instead of one. (In truth, that number is probably about 50, but I should at least go back to the beginning.)
The beauty of a destination wedding is there isn’t just a single event: the wedding. There’s a whole week of festivities and as the days pass more and more people join. So by the time the big day comes round, you already know everyone and it makes for a real cracker from the get go without the awkward getting to know you phase. And then once the date passes, slowly people leave day by day and then finally it is all over.
In terms of destinations, I’m not sure the Amalfi Coast can be beat. Equaled perhaps, but certainly not defeated. I had conjured images in my mind of a very touristy place and even though this is exactly what it is, it simply cannot dull the shine of what I think is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Our event was in Ravello in the mountains and the views are spectacular. The fact you leisurely walk everywhere makes for a completely immersive experience. Being there reminded me exactly why I wanted to live in Italy. The culture, the language, the people, the food, the mountains and coastline… right down to the taxi drivers desperately (and largely successfully) trying to rip me off. After all, you can’t have the good without the bad. It’s what brings stories to life and memories that endure.
I arrived on the Sunday and made my way to the family’s Villa which was beyond spectacular. The views down to the coastline, the magnificent villa itself and the pool made us all feel like movie stars or characters in a Bond film. And so it began. The meeting and greeting, the drinking and eating. The laughter and joking and the swilling and the chilling. I thought: This is paradise. After weeks of isolation I was in my element meeting so many people. Of course, Sarah had primed everyone about my journey so it got its fair amount of attention and I had a reputation that preceded me.
The coming days were quite relaxing. Lunches in the town square. Meandering around the cobblestone streets. Bumping into fellow guests who by now felt like old friends and sunning by the pool. The big day was Tuesday 26th September. It certainly didn’t disappoint. The venue, Villa Eva, was gorgeous. Sometimes in life, you just feel very lucky to be exactly where you are at that moment. I’ve certainly had a number of those on this trip, but this stands out in my mind as perhaps the most surreal. And I think it was because only days earlier I’m on the world’s most dangerous road wondering how long it was and how much harder it might get… being and feeling as alone as one can possinly be and feel! The whirlwind of experiences can sometimes overwhelm.
Of course Sarah looked lovely on her big day and I smiled to myself thinking how little she and I had changed since I met her back in London in 2000. It’s a nice feeling knowing you can go years without seeing someone and the first thing they do when they see you is pay you out. She’s the master of it. It makes it feel like yesterday that we last saw each other. And so with a ceremony that had the most exotic view, a wedding feast that was probably the best meal I’d eaten for months and dancing that would go on for hours, the idea that this wedding could be called a success does not do it justice! We all made the most of it and partied our hardest. My only minor complaint was a shoulder that was far from healed. All the girl twirling on the dance floor wasn’t doing it any favours either, but the painkillers (alcohol) certainly did their job.
Side note: My shoulder was to cause me concern for weeks to come. I basically couldn’t lift my arm above shoulder height (and even that caused extreme agony) and even though I managed to get by during the day, my sleep was extremely disrupted. I consulted my brother (Dr Kizza PhD) who’s broken both AC joints – one severe and one less severe and between his experiences and mine (Dr Shano PhD) having done one severe broken AC previously, we concluded (with a collective experience of all four of our shoulders being busted) that this was probably one of those mild AC breakages if you can even call an AC breakage mild. I never did go to a doctor to confirm, but gradually it came better. It was just one of those things where there’s not much you can do, so you may as well just suck it up.
As the wedding night slowly came to end and those of us left over helped carry off the presents and ornaments, it occurred to me I was now officially a year older. Midnight had struck hours ago and so it was I reached 42 years of age. I farewelled the gang and strolled back to my hotel. I took the time to sit on the church steps overlooking the empty town square and soak it all in. Very quietly I thanked God for getting me this far. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday and to have made it 10,000kms on a motorbike through places I’d never even heard of.
Although I was due to fly out in a couple of days I’d been getting repeated harassment from Sarah to stay a bit longer to go on a boat ride with the newlyweds and several others around the Isle of Capri. My rubber elbows were twisted and I was so glad they were. The day on the boat was so much fun. Even late September is great for swimming and the ride, the views and the lunch all made for a fun day. Of course it ended with everyone pushing each other into the water, but I’m sure that wasn’t influenced by alcohol. It was the perfect end to the “holiday within a holiday” and I couldn’t believe that yet another amazing experience had occurred as a result of me losing my passport.
Funnily enough, I was strolling through the square one day when I saw Geoffrey Rush, the famous Australian actor. It took me by surprise. He was enjoying his stroll too and I greeted him with a smile. He enquired as to my visit and I told him about the wedding before wishing him all the best. It was the very next day I saw a very glamorous wedding in the town square and wondered whether he was one of the invitees. I didn’t get as far as asking him much because I figured he’s probably on holiday too and could do without the interrogation.
Come Saturday, Sarah and Chris drove me to Rome for my departure flight whilst they stayed on for a honeymoon. It was nice to get that last bit of time with them and we wished each other all the best. It was time to get back to the journey. With an Autumn in Europe looming, I figured the trip would now take on a whole new chapter.