Europe from a Backpack


GoNOMAD Book Excerpt:
Europe From a Backpack

Mark Pearson and Martin Westerman put together a collection of stories from college-aged travelers who traveled throughout Europe. The results are tales of mishaps, woes, and pleasant surprises, fit into 371 pages of unexpected adventure. Where there is youthful travelers there are spontaneous experiences, which make for some interesting situations.

Most stories celebrate the risk taking nature of these youths and the fly-by-night attitude that they encompass. Tales include a girl who used her friend’s Eurail pass which got her in trouble with Austrian officials, a traveler looking to save some money compromises by staying in the dangerous city of Belfast, and an American working for food in Paris.

Europe From a Backpack appeals to the adventure seeker. Below is an excerpt that is in the true nature of the book, two girls who get a thrilling ride to Siena, Italy in a stranger’s plane.

The City of Beautiful Towers
By Maria Ivkovic

While Davide was finishing up his cappuccino, he asked us what our plans were for the day.

“Well, we would like to visit nearby Siena. We’ve read that the architects that built this city were schooled there.”

At this Mauricio’s face broke into yet another grin. “Davide and I will take you there. The bus, it is no fun.”

Still rather reluctant to spend so much time with strangers, I hesitated. So did Jennie, who was somewhat alarmed by Mauricio’s attraction to her. And yet we could not say no to Mauricio’s excited expression where he offered to take us personally to Siena.

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Before we knew it, we in a little European car, speeding across the Tuscan countryside, through fields of sunflowers. Mauricio had offered Jennie the front passenger seat; I was in back with Davide, peering out the window at the scenes around me. Confused by Mauricio’s decision not to take the highway to Siena, and aware of the remoteness in which we were finding ourselves, I started to panic, wondering if I was wrong to let my guard down with theses strangers.

There were no signs of Siena – just flowers, fields and the blue sky. I stared at the back of Jeannie’s head, wishing Davide didn’t understand English so that we could discuss an escape plan.

Suddenly Mauricio pointed up at a small plane landing nearby. The car rounded a bend in the road, and into our view came a large garage sheltering a large variety of four-seater planes.

“We are here. Bounjourno, Flying Club of Tuscany ! I take you up in my plane!”

Alarmed by the prospect of putting my life in the hands of Mauricio, and annoyed at his executive decision not to take us to Sienna, I told him that I didn’t want to go. Besides, I had been up in a Piper plane before, and distinctly remembered suffering motion sickness. Still, I was intrigued – I wondered if there was anything this man didn’t do.

Jennie persuaded me not to come onto the plane. I discovered then that Jennie was more of a risk taker than I; she had a twinkle in her eye at this adventure ahead, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the idea of letting Mauricio take us into the sky.

Again Davide and I sat in the two backseats, with Jennie and Mauricio in front. I felt that Davide and I were officially Mauricio’s and Jennie’s respective sidekicks, in the back, along for the ride, and yet inevitably part of it.

I rolled my eyes at the flimsy seatbelts, not bothering to put mine on. Davide tightened his across his lap, a horrified expression across his face. My mistrust or paranoia of these assertive strangers dissolved as I looked at him, also terrified. The engine sputtered and roared, Mauricio flicked a couple of switches, and suddenly we were up in the air, soaring over Tuscany.

Mauricio energetically told us of his love for flying, with Davide interpreting from time to time. Jennie, her eyes still sparkling, asked Mauricio if she could take over the controls of the plane. Davide looked sick as he translated this for Mauricio, who dramatically reached over and kissed her forehead. “Of course you can, Jennie! You can do anything Jennie!”

The countryside of Tuscany was stunningly vivid from our height. I thought we were flying through a fairytale, and Mauricio’s words echoed through my head; “You can do anything!” I had a feeling that Mauricio approached life that way, embracing every opportunity to experience adventure, including welcoming strangers into his life.

Though I may not have realized it then, I decided up in the plane over Tuscany that I would try to live my life more like Mauricio.

Jennie was in control of the plane, which started fluctuating in altitude, it’s making me feel sick. Davide was clutching his stomach and grimacing, beads of sweat on his upper lip. He gave me a weak smile; “It is fun, no?” And then he pointed to what lay ahead, now in our field of vision; Siena.

Jennie exclaimed, “Look, there it is!” as she and Mauricio together dipped the plane wings for a better view. As we swooped over Siena ‘s favorite plaza, Mauricio exclaimed, “Look, Jennie, you dip the plane! Jennie! I love you Jennie!”

Davide and I were laughing in the back seats, which provided the perfect vantage point from which to appreciate the scene before us; Siena’s wonderful plaza, Mauricio’s b oyish grin, and Jennie’s amused reaction to his words. It was giddy and wonderful, as if we were drunk on life.

Soaring through the air like that, I felt we were on top of the world and that anything was possible. I even thought of my high-school Latin teacher, who always ended class with his trademark “carpe diem” – seize the day. Jennie caught my eye and we gave each other a look that said we would never forget this moment with our Italian friends.

Jennie and I sat for dinner that night at a small restaurant just outside the center of San Gimignano. While we missed the laughter and spontaneity of Davide, we were excited to be on our own and celebrate the day.

The restaurant tables were eloquently set with linen and goblets, and the menu offered a wide range of meat and game. As we waited for the wine, we giddily recounted our favorite moments of the day, often laughing to the point of tears. When the wine arrived, we raised our glasses for a toast.

For the first time in my life, it came naturally; “To San Gimignano,” we said in unison. Jennie added, “To Mauricio. To Davide. To living each day like it’s your last. To letting go and embracing spontaneity.”

In this magical town, I had taken risks that changed what I expected of people and places, and that now colored my life with wonderful memories. Browsing throug the menu, I decided to try something I’d never eaten before, too. How about “Pasta with wild boar sauce?”

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Europe from a Backpack: Real Stories from Young Travelers Abroad (From a Backpack series)

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