I.S.A. Shipyards, Ancona, Italy; May 2nd, 2004
I’d been on the road for a bit over a year now, my original plans of simply taking a gap year had already started to blow out. After living in London through the Winter a change was on the cards. In the previous September I had done my first trip around Europe (That’s another story in itself) but it was time to escape the old town and move on to something new. That something turned out to be a town in the North East of Italy called Ancona, some of you may have been there – I would take a stab that it was only to board a ferry heading for Croatia, but for me – it was something completely different.
As the Spring air started to cool a good mate from school, Blake and I crossed the train lines past the waiting freighters being loaded by trucks rolling in from the Adriatic ferries. After a stint working in London pubs I’d picked up a job working for Nomads Travel, a chain of outdoor stores across London. It was here that I found a brochure for Oasis Overlanding Company – I’d found the Next adventure; Nairobi to Cape Town overland on the back of a converted Leyland flatbed truck. Problem was working in London was not going to get the cash I needed; so we applied for a job building super yachts out of the TNT (the backpackers weekly bible before the internet was so accessible).
Without a lot of research or planning we booked a cheap flight to Ancona the following Tuesday – we were moving to Italy, and man that first week did we regret it! It was one of the hardest weeks labour we’d ever had to do; but as the weeks went by, the perks of living in a coastal Italian town really came into its own. Every few weeks as we’d walk through the main station concourse we’d search for the first train leaving the station, pack a bag and jump on board; Venice, Florence and this particular weekend, five hours later – Rome. The only hitch that day was it had somehow slipped our attention that it was the May Day long weekend and literally every bed in town was booked up.
Nothing left to do but join the celebrations and see the sights. We wandered around churches and streets, we bar hopped, we sat on the steps of Town Hall and watched the café racers weaving through the traffic. Eventually we thought we’d need to find somewhere to sleep for a few hours. So around 03:00 in the morning we headed down to look at the Colosseum – and amongst the bushes in the surrounding park seemed like as good a place as any. We pulled up some cardboard and put out heads upon our backpacks and drifted off beneath the stars and the glowing orange light of the ancient ruins.
It was weekends like this that made running sanding boards along the hull of multi-million dollar yachts worthwhile. Slowly I was saving the Euros for the next big adventure, but that didn’t mean that I was going to forego the opportunity of the weekend adventures that I had always dreamed about. I remember when I was seven years old and my mum and I were in the kitchen while she was cooking and she asked what I wanted to do when I grew up.
“I am going to move to Italy and ride my BMX bike to work”
I stopped in my tracks one day as I was riding a cheap BMX I’d bought to get to work. I pulled up at the old fort on the waterfront a couple of blocks from our apartment in Ancona – low and behold my age seven prophecy had come to fruition. I guess adventure had been on the cards for some time! It wasn’t quite what I had pictured as a seven year old but at the same time the unexpected was what was amazing about our time in Italy. We moved for a job we knew nothing about, went and partied in towns that I had never heard of and we watched the sun rise on beaches up and down the Adriatic Sea.
Although I moved to an Italian town I had never heard of with only one goal, (which was to save enough money for the next adventure), I didn’t realise at first that our time in Ancona had actually became the next adventure. Strolling through the deserted streets of Rome the night after May Day with Blake and a couple of Norwegian students we’d met the night before made me appreciate that the randomness of life on road was in itself the adventure – and although I was looking forward to travelling across Africa on the back of a Leyland Flatbed I was going to live up every minute of my time in Italy.
That night the four of us slept next to the Trevi fountain – beautiful when it’s crowded; but absolutely spectacular when you have it to yourself in the early hours of a Roman Springtime morning.
Surprisingly we slept quite well that night as well as the previous one at the colosseum and many more like it. We got lucky that it didn’t rain that night but it did teach me a lesson that sticks with me to this day – no matter where you go you always need to have a plan for somewhere to sleep. It might only be for a few hours – it might be for a few days, but having somewhere to sleep makes a big difference with how you can enjoy an adventure – the comfier the better!
At 19 years old that weekend street sleeping around sights of Rome was one of my favourites in my time on the road so far. On the Monday morning we boarded the 08:13 intercity express back to Ancona just in time to start work, grinding super yacht hulls at 14:00, dreaming of the next weekend’s adventure. There were a lot more on the cards – I had six more months until my flight to Kenya and I was going to make the most of every weekend I had living in La Marche. This is the idea behind the ultimate road trip, some of the best adventures are the unplanned ones.
I often wonder if knowing what lay ahead would make for a lesser adventure, for example if we had known it was the May Day weekend and that every affordable bed in Rome was booked out – would we still have jumped on the train to Rome knowing full well we’d have nowhere to sleep? My immediate answer is yes – and I imagine if you are reading this story then so is yours. This is what we have tried to instill in the idea of Bear Rentals – just jump in and go. This is what we did every weekend that we didn’t have to do a spray job on the hull of a yacht at 07:00 on a Saturday morning. We had to make the most of the weekends – the job itself was putting money in the bank that’s for sure but the accidental street sleeping adventures were worth far more than the Euro’s we were getting paid.
The six months spent in Italy were full of more of these sorts of nights scattered across the North of the country – some of the other guys at our work would plan trips months ahead and they couldn’t understand that we would just jump on a train and go – no planning, no accommodation; just a backpack with a change of clothes and a toothbrush; on the May Day weekend I was travelling even lighter. I had had an early shift at the shipyard and woke Blake before I left, asking him to grab my clothes drying on the veranda before heading down to meet me at the train station in a few hours’ time – he agreed and went back to sleep – but of course he didn’t remember me asking this. By the time I discovered that Blake had forgotten my clothes it was too late, I would spend the weekend in Rome with literally just the clothes I was wearing.
Now thirteen years later, these trips are all part of the Bear Rentals story and the reason why our Defenders are kitted out with everything you need! So when customers ask what they need to bring, I always respond, food, clothes and a sense of adventure!