It’s late when Andrea parks the Twingo in a dark corner of the parking lot. Raindrops caress the ink black surface of the Garda lake that expands into the distance next to the car. A hooded figure is waiting for us at the entrance to the street. Eugenia, a childhood friend of Andrea, welcomes us impatiently and gestures to a tiny alley that leads uphill, away from the lake. She doesn’t look like I had imagined her while talking on the phone just half an hour ago. Not that there’s much to imagine after giving someone your pizza order, but still. She shows us into her tiny ground floor apartment on a minuscule and very Italian square. We’re in Castelletto, an small, typical Italian village. Cobbled, narrow alleyways that lead to a small piazza that nonetheless caters two Italian restaurants, a tobacco shop and a Gelateria. A cat lurks under an ancient semi truck that looks like it hasn’t moved for years. The staff of the Italian restaurant smokes a well deserved after-shift cigarette under the pergola out front and in a side street an old lady hastily takes her drying laundry inside while silently cursing the weather gods. They even sing when they swear, I notice amused. After dinner we want to join the staff under the pergola, but everyone’s gone home. A beer and some Italian-English small talk keep us entertained for an hour or so more. Then we retreat to the bedroom where Eugenia and Andrea share the double bed and I roll out my sleeping bag on the couch next to them. Tomorrow there’s an early morning market in the parking lot where we left the car, but blissfully unaware of this we leave the ensuing chaos for when it’s due.

A quick lakeside breakfast and we’re on the road again. It’s still raining and the normally idyllic Garda region looks sad and unwelcoming. The tourist season is over and everywhere restaurants, bars and hotels are shutting down. Winter is coming, and soon their staff will move on to new places, in search of other seasonal jobs, up north in the ski resorts of the Alps or down south where the weather stays nice even in winter. Eugenia, who works as a waiter in one of the two trattoria’s on her square is among them. We say goodbye and drive off. Andrea is almost home, a historical and utterly emotional moment that we celebrate by completing a list of very uninspiring chores. After unloading her packed car, picking up the keys to her mothers house at a friends place and inquiring about a possible appointment to get a mechanic to check the car we finally frisk into Bologna and feast on gelato and aperitivo and Andrea tells me about this ridiculous theory she read, which says that everyone has 21 so-called yellow people they meet throughout their lifespan. We watch a Spanish movie without subtitles, something that seemed like a good idea until both of us are left quite puzzled at the end, explaining each other very divergent interpretations of the plot. Then it’s suddenly Wednesday and after five days together we say our goodbyes at last, promising each other to meet again somewhere in Asia in a few months time.

Andrea leaves to take care of a few things (after all she is moving to the other side of the world in a week) and I stay behind in an empty apartment. In a fit of feeling lost being on my own again after traveling with company for a while (something that would happen a number of times over the next few months) I resolve to finding a volunteering opportunity somewhere along the way through my brand new Workaway account. To give some direction and a loose time frame to my eastward wandering. Being completely free to go wherever and do whatever may be a very exclusive luxury, but also provokes a paralysing indecision to make choices, thus limitating that freedom again. I have seven weeks to reach the Turkish-Iranian border over land to not let my Iranian visa expire and meet my friends Jasper and Zoe, who are on a little around-the-world tour of their own. Seven weeks to cross southeastern Europe, the Balkan and Turkey. To change Europe for the Middle East and eventually Asia. I decide to try and find some work on an organic farm somewhere halfway, in Greece. I send out requests to a few projects that look interesting and hope for the best. Then I repack my backpack, swing it over my shoulder and leave the apartment. The road to Venice calls. I hitch a ride and meanwhile ask my Erasmus friend Roberta if she’s in town. We meet on the same square where we last met in 2014 when I was hitchhiking around Europe. This is the third time in six years that I hitchhike to Venice, I realise matter-of-factly while I make my way to Campo Apostoli.

Bags are dropped, new friends are introduced and glasses of beer emptied. Pizza bufala after, in a place where some famous rugby team arrives for dinner a few minutes after we arrive. I talk the whole evening with Filippo, a friend of Roberta who spent a year in Australia on the working holiday visa. He goes completely mental when he hears that I’m making my way there. “I’m so jealous mate, you’re gonna have the time of your life!” His stories and advice flow abundantly all evening long. His enthusiasm is so contagious that by the time we say goodbye I wish I was there already.

I spend the night on the couch of a friend of Roberta and by next day afternoon I decide to try and hitchhike to Trieste, the last Italian city before the Slovenian border. I’ve seen most of Venice before and if I’m hit in the face by a Chinese tourist’s selfie stick one more time I’m going to lose it. I can’t afford to stay anyway.

Hours later I’m still by the side of the road in front of Venice’s Marco Polo airport. I’ve cursed every driver with an empty car that passed during the last hour, and eventually my anger makes way for despair. I give up and sit down dispirited on a bench in front of the airport. In a fit of opportunism I even check the prices to fly from Venice to … To where actually? The realisation that I have no idea where to go calms me down a bit. I realise that this is my journey, my game. I make the rules and if I decide to change them that’s entirely up to me. Hitchhiking in Italy is a pain in the ass. Blablacar to the rescue! A few swipes on my smartphone and Carolina and her boyfriend pick me up. There’s another passenger in the car that turns out to be a famous Italian opera singer. We sing a few arias together (ahum) to pass the time. When we arrive in Trieste Carolina invites me to stay the night on their couch. She takes me along on her scooter for a quick nightly sightseeing tour and a few beers. Our conversation is strangely deep and honest considering the fact that we’re virtually total strangers.