The perils and lessons of travel

The perils and lessons of travel

Travelling makes me think I’m very much the hobbit type.

I’m writing this from a cold and drafty train station, and right now I’d much prefer refuge in a well-to-do hobbit hole, warming my toes in front of the fire, and making Bilbo Baggins’ attitude my own:

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

Travel is tedious, trying, and uncomfortable. The notorious inefficiency of the Romans (I won’t implicate Italians elsewhere) has already caused me long delays, missed trains and a fortune in unanticipated taxi fares.

But I can’t blame it all on Italian inefficienza. A lot of it owes to my own poor planning, utter dependency on the Internet, and bad Italian. Did I say bad Italian? I mean non-existent Italian. Rudimentary French helps me communicate to locals, but it’s not much help in translating Italian to English.

For example, I caught a coach to Perugia this afternoon, and I thought I was very clever in getting off at one of the earlier stops. That would bring me to the Ponte San Giovanni train station, from which I could catch an express to Assisi.

Only, it turns out that Ponte San Giovanni is the name of an entire suburb, not just one train station, and the bus stopped at a stazione di servizio on the freeway, 5 kilometres from the stazione ferroviaria.

Capiche? I was here:

When I should have been here:

Neither place is very inspiring, is it? But did you notice the sky? It’s cold – ten degrees or less – but the skies are clear and the sun is shining. I’ve wasted hours hopelessly lost and exposed to the elements these past few days, but God has been good to me. The weather has been beautiful.

And that’s only one reason to be grateful. There are others. The tedium has increased my presence of God. It’s easy to pray constantly when there’s nothing else to do. Which in turn has reminded me how easily distracted and spiritually impoverished I usually am.

The language barrier has made me less self-reliant. I have to rely on the charity of others, and the providence of God.

The unending mishaps teach me patience. I could rant and rave (does the blog qualify?), or engage in self-pity, but it’s more helpful and more instructive to go with the flow, offer up the discomforts, and see the good. After all, the good easily outweighs the bad – even in the detail of “the bad.”

That’s the point of The Hobbit, I suppose. For all his self-identification with hobbits – his dislike of discomfort, travel and adventure – Tolkien knew the benefits these things bring. They change a person from the inside out, for the better.

In a few more hours I’ll be in Assisi. Assisi! What a blessing. My first priority is to pray for Pope Francis. Then for others. If you have an intention, let me know.

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