Flashback Friday: When I Was Stalked in Lucca
I believe that solo travel is a great thing. It forces you to get outside of your comfort zone and put yourself into situations you might normally squirm away from. For the OCD planner like myself, it lets me schedule packed itineraries and recite guidebook facts without making anyone want to slap me. But there is a downside to traveling alone. Especially as a female.
That is, unwanted male attention.
There’s nothing worse than that skeezy guy who wants to talk you up as soon as you take your earbuds out. Maybe he’s not threatening to your personal safety, but he’s definitely threatening to your mental sanity. This was the case with my Luccan stalker.
During my homeless in Europe stint, I spent a week in Florence during which I decided I would take a day trip to the Tuscan country side city of Lucca, known for its ancient city walls and tortelli lucchese. On a clear weekday morning I made the quick walk from my hostel to the Santa Maria Novella train station, purchased a ticket, and hopped on an almost empty train for the 90 minute journey.
I settled down on a tattered Tren Italia seat and pulled my iPod from my bag, turning on a playlist full of Brand New and Tiziano Ferro to drown out the world as the haphazard Roman architecture slowly gave way to rolling Italian countryside. I spent the next hour drifting in an out of sleep when suddenly I noticed a man across the aisle staring at me.
“Sei italiana?” he asked as I accidentally met his gaze.
“No, sono americana,” I said hoping to quickly end the conversation.
“Oh! Then you speak English,” he exclaimed happily in an accent that was noticeably un-Italian.
Wonderful, I thought, as he continued to ask me questions that I answered with about as much disinterest as possible. I was starting to wonder how I was going to ditch Mr. Creepy when the police entered the carriage to perform identification checks. I’m not usually a fan of law enforcement but I let out a sigh of relief as Mr. Creepy quickly bolted out of the cabin. I calmly handed over my drivers license happy to be free again.
Shortly after the police check the train pulled into Lucca’s tiny station and I made my way straight to the city walls for a walk. Lucca’s city walls, originally built for defense during the Medieval times, form a four kilometer ring around the city. Now that surrounding Italian cities are no longer trying to attack, the walls are used as a place to walk and bike, and make for a great view of the city.
I was enjoying myself, leisurely strolling along in the still warm fall air and taking photos, when I heard someone trying to get my attention.
“Hello again! Hello! Hello!”
The always enthusiastic Mr. Creepy was back. He wanted to have lunch. Never mind the fact that it was about 10 am. I mumbled a bunch of excuses under my breath as he persistently kept trying.
“A walk around the city. A photo together.”
He inched in closer.
I started to feel nervous. My heart was beating faster. The words I wanted to say were running through my head but wouldn’t materialize on my tongue. I stammered out a quiet no and walked away quickly, trying to get lost in the arriving crowds and hoping I could ditch Mr. Creepy for good.
Lucca is a small town and there is a well marked tourist trail of churches and piazzas. Hundreds of people are herded in on buses everyday and I decided to stick close to them. Safety in numbers and all. I spent a couple hours wandering up and down the narrow cobblestoned streets admiring the architecture, the crafts and artisan foods for sale, and reveling in the small town feel that was so different from both Rome and Florence.
Getting hungry, I ducked into a small restaurant on the outskirts of town. I sat for an hour or so, writing in my journal, enjoying a glass of red wine, and savoring the delicious tortelli lucchese (an almost ravioli covered in a rich meat sauce) Lucca is known for. I felt relaxed. I felt happy. There’d been a bad start, but the day was turning around.
I paid my bill and left the restaurant, heading to the last church on my list and maybe a cafe for an afternoon espresso. I had my head down digging through my purse looking for my guidebook not paying attention to my surroundings. When I looked up, who was directly in front of me? None other than Mr. Creepy. Now, like I said, Lucca is small. But it’s not THAT small. I was now a little scared and a lot angry. I was trapped. His mouth opened as if he were about to speak. Before he could I spun around and walked furiously in the other direction. Right to the train station.
Almost in tears, I fed the euro bills into the ticket machine, trying to get myself back to Florence as soon as possible. I was angry at this man for not realizing I didn’t want anything to do with him. I was angry at myself for not being stronger and more explicit with my rejections. I was angry for not having been able to fully enjoy this beautiful, historic city.
With more than half an hour to wait, I bought a gelato. As time passed and the scoop of stracciatella got smaller, I realized couldn’t let this break my sprits. My cup was empty and the train was arriving when I decided that this day would be a learning experience. I wouldn’t let him sour my thoughts about Lucca, Italy, or traveling solo. The only thing I could do was grow from it and move on.
But I’d still like to go back to Lucca someday. Without Mr. Creepy lurking in the shadows.
Have you ever been the victim of unwanted attention? How do you deal with this situation?
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