A wise man- J. R. R. Tolkien, to be precise- once said, “not all those who wander are lost.” He had a point, however sometimes those who wander are just plain lost.
Getting lost is not always a bad thing. If you fall off the beaten track, you might get to see the real city, find places which you never thought you’d see or stumbled across hidden gems. Yes, it can be a nightmare, I’ve had horror film scenes flashing through my mind and you can lose valuable time if you’re in a city for a limited amount of time but I’ve found that it usually turns out for the best. At the end of the day, you’ll probably at least get a decent story out of it.
If there was one thing that I took away from my first ever road-trip, it was that I didn’t have a great sense of direction. In fact the words ‘sense of direction’ just don’t apply to me. The first time I got us lost, my friend was driving us to a campsite just outside of Santa Cruz. As we were driving down the freeway, I looked back to see a sign for Santa Cruz pointing in the other direction so I suggested we turn around. 2-3 hours later, we realised my friend had it right all along. The campsite was about 10 minutes away from the point at which I had turned us around.
On our way to Berkeley, again my friend was driving, the road split and neither of us had seen any signs. We took the wrong fork and ended up going over the Bay Bridge with a dwindling amount of petrol. We tried to find someone to tell us where we could get petrol but struggled to find someone who spoke English as we’d ended up in what seemed to be a mainly Chinese area of downton San Francisco. We finally managed to get pointed in the right direction but as we got to the station, we couldn’t figure out how to use the pumps. They were not the same as in England. A man popped up and started to help. He thought he was from Venus and suggested he came along for the ride. Then his “brother” popped up, as we gave him some money for helping us, and opened the door to our truck. We had to make a speedy exit and the adrenaline helped me actually read a map and get us to Berkeley. At least we got a story out of it.
The only thing that my travel buddy and I knew about our hostel upon arriving in Prague was that it was on Wenceslas Square, near the astronomical clock. It was a landmark and we figured that it would be huge and easy to spot. It wasn’t. As we went to the tourist information for a map, we tried to communicate our predicament. We didn’t know where we were. The woman on the desk went and picked up a guide and pointed to the name- “Prague”. Well at least we had it confirmed that we were in the right city!
After she told us which tube stop to go to, we managed to get there before we preceded to spend the next couple of hours traipsing around the city, towards every clock we could see. None of them were the right one. As we walked backwards and forwards, our new map was of no use. The only landmark on it was Debenhams. Finally the realisation dawned on us that the square onto which we had emerged as we came out of the station was Wenceslas Square. In the Czech Republic, they translate their street names- that was why we’d missed it, That would have been helpful to know.
That wasn’t the only time we got lost in Prague- it happened a second time. We were looking for a bridge in order to cross the river and get to Prague Castle. I’m not entirely sure how we got lost doing that but it happened. It turned out not to be bad thing, we found a really cute bakery, where we ended up stopping for lunch. That’s the thing with Prague, getting lost helps you see the city and find somewhere great.
On one of my first nights in Berlin, during my stay in August 2013, I was in a hostel, doing some work from my room, when a couple of new dorm-mates wandered in. They asked me where was good in the area as they had just arrived. A friend had taken me to a nearby beer garden a couple of nights earlier so I figured that would be a good place to take them to. After all, they weren’t in Berlin for long and that seemed to be a typically German thing to do. The only problem was that I had not been paying attention to where she had taken me. Obviously, I went the wrong way and got us lost. Instead we ended up near what turned out to be Mauerpark. We grabbed some tasty Thai food from a restaurant opposite and as we sat, we noticed the amount of people flocking into park. After dinner, we grabbed some beers and went to see what all the fuss was about. It turned out that nothing was happening. In Berlin, people just go to the park, chill and drink beer. So that’s what we did. It wasn’t a beer garden but it felt like a typically Berlin thing to do. Admittedly, the photo below was taken on another day.
That wasn’t the only time I got lost. Another typical Berliner activity is going to a lake on a hot day. I wasn’t really feeling like straying far from the city, so my friend and I found a lake in the city. Well, I say find, we spotted it on our map. In practice, we found ourselves wandering up and down a somewhat industrial area. It quite clearly wasn’t right. We ended up at a fair ground and decided to just hop on a bus to the main train station. Once we were back off the bus, I wandered to a nearby beach bar. It may not have seemed like the most relaxing position, lying on an empty faux beach, with trains going overhead but it turned out to be just that. In fact, after eating my ice cream and cracking out my book, I fell asleep on my sun-lounger. It wasn’t quite a lake but it turned out to be a good alternative. A little while later, I did actually find a lake called Krumme Lanke. It was accessible by bus and the U-Bahn and I thought that I was lost as I meandered down a residential path but it turned out that I was on track this time.
On my first night in Venice, I arrived at the bus station, knowing my hostel was on an island opposite Piazza San Marco. I didn’t, however, know where the bus station was. After getting the bus driver to point out my position on the map, I realised I was on the wrong side of the main island. The thing with Venice is that there are no roads- everything is by boat- and it was night, so everywhere seemed empty. I decided I had no choice. I had to walk across the city. Thankfully, it turned out that there were signs everywhere for San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.
As I wandered in and out of the alleyways, delving deeper and deeper into the city, I felt like I got to see the real Venice. There were no tourists and everything was peaceful and calm. It was like I was lost and not lost at the same time. I suddenly fell out of a narrow alley and into Piazza San Marco. Again, it was empty and it was huge. The architecture was breathtaking and I could actually enjoy it as opposed to dodging groups of people. Of course, I later realised there was a ferry port right next to the bus station and another right by my hotel but it was okay, Venice is a city you should get lost in.