Without a doubt, traveling solo is the best way to go. It’s total freedom. Go where you want to go. Do what you want to do.
Feeling lonely? Meeting people is easier when you’re stag. Fellow backpackers going it alone are more approachable. Intrigued by the lone traveler, groups want to take you in like a stray puppy.
That being said, this one-man wolfpack needs to see familiar faces once in a while too, so I was excited to meet up with two of my former roommates for a 5755 reunion. Oh, to the uninitiated, 5755 is our old house number. I think the site has been designated as a cultural landmark since we moved out. Feel free to drive by sometime.
My former Aussie roommate Ben and his brother Sam just happened to be passing through Italy at the same time as me. Our former Italian roommate Armin had just finished his semester in Salzburg. We all met up in his hometown Bolzano, which is in Northern Italy. With such good timing, someone or something was on our side.
Then again, a true miracle would involve all seven of 5755’s former members – which includes a Saudi, German and several Americans – crossing paths. Might require a small fortune in airline fees, but I’m still holding out hope for the future.
The last time I saw Ben and Armin together more than one year ago, the police had just visited 5755. In a rush to clean our house before we officially left and said our goodbyes, we dumped the blackened remnants from a previous night’s backyard bonfire into a neighbor’s yard. They called the cops. I apologized to our neighbors. It was that kind of house.
13 months later, no brushes with the law this time. In fact, I would like to think we were all a little more mature – discussing literature and wearing monocles. Not exactly, but for all I knew the Aussies were referencing books. Understanding them individually is easy, but Ben and his brother together guaranteed a slew of indistinguishable words – for example, take the word “ending.” I thought I was fluent in Aussie, but apparently not. Their language evolves by the month.
My language problems were nothing compared to Ben’s hard time with German (even though Bolzano is in Italy, they primarily speak German because the area was once a part of Germany). When he saw a trash bin with the word “danke” across it, he asked Armin if “danke” meant bin. Since then, I can’t help but laugh every time I throw my trash in the “danke.”
Unlike in San Diego – where all he had to do is open his mouth and girls would excitedly say “OMG UR AUSTRALIAN!!!!?” – Ben had a more difficult time in Bolzano. Nice to see him come back down to earth. For the few that could understand him, he claims still got a few points for the accent, though.
For his part, Armin seemed pretty unchanged, which is a good thing. Same cool, easy-going guy who pretends to be both Italian and German. Italian when he’s talking about food – German when it comes to cars. He likes to sneak into places, especially in the U.S. – I often demand reparations for my country from him. If I had to construct a pie chart of how he spent his time in San Diego, nearly 50 percent would be shaded “aimlessly walking around at the gym and being late for things.” Being such an interesting person, I’m going to pen his biography. Joking aside, I can’t thank Armin and his family enough for being such great hosts.
Bolzano is a series of green hills at the foot of the towering Alps. Peaceful lakes, a small town square where everyone appeared to be in no hurry (now I know where Armin got his aimless walk from), vineyards flowing from the outskirts into the city like arteries – it was a welcome place to rest my head for a few days. But rest is hard to come by when you’re with members of 5755.
The combination of tweaking my back playing basketball, a few long nights out and more than 40 days on the road already meant picaresque Bolzano was starting to look like 5755 days of past – great times that took a toll on my body and mind. Days when I constantly walked around like a sleep-deprived zombie.
The drink of choice for sleep-deprived zombies? Cuba Libre. It’s Armin’s trademark drink and our nights wouldn’t have been complete without it.
A 30-minute tram away, Armin’s family invited us to their second home further up in the mountains one afternoon. His parents prepared a delicious meal. We all took siestas in the shade. Given how tranquil it was, I had a strong urge to leave society behind, grow a Grizzly Adams beard and live in the mountains with my snowboard as my sole companion. I told Armin he shouldn’t be alarmed if he finds me squatting in his house this winter.
Another day, we watched Armin play Fistball. I kept laughing because the Aussies openly talked about fistball players they thought were cute – even right in front of their parents. Talking in Aussie speak, no one had any idea what the hell they were talking about.
Several days later, the successful 5755 reunion came to end. We dropped the Aussies off in Milan so they could catch a flight to Greece. Armin and I went to Lake Como for a night. Not much to write about, which isn’t necessarily bad. During the day, we drifted from gelato stand to gelato stand and enjoyed the lake. At night, I talked to a girl from France who’s majoring in publishing. We agreed to team up and publish my biography about Armin. Maybe this blog entry will be the first chapter?
The next night, Armin dropped me off at the airport as well. Not knowing when the next 5755 reunion will be, we said our goodbyes – sans cops this time. With seven hours until my flight, I cuddled up with my bag on a McDonald’s bench inside the airport and mentally prepared for Warsaw.