Friends, mostly new.
I have enjoyed being on nudist / naturist beaches many times over the years. Some were officially designated, most were not. I have also been on campsites many times over the years. But I have never previously combined the two.
Croatia has a long history of supporting naturism, so I booked 4 nights on one the most established, and certainly one of the largest campsites. It has 1500 plots and the website successfully lured me with tasteful photos of healthy looking young people. Imagine my disappointment after I checked in to discover that I was the youngest one there! Almost all of the other naturists were retired Germans, with a few from Austria, Holland and Portugal. I was not only the sole British visitor, but the only solo camper too.
As soon as I pulled up the Rocket they started fussing over me with the usual questions. How big is that engine? How many cylinders? Where have I been travelling? Where am I going? Am I alone? Only this time I was answering the questions in the nude.
It did not take long, an hour maybe, before I realised that they were showering me with admiration and love. Can they help me set up the tent? Would I like a cup of tea? Would I like to join them later for a beer? Their age, (their obesity), and our nudity, all quickly became irrelevant. Or perhaps it was relevant. I was not sure.
When you are all naked, there is nowhere to hide. We are all reduced to the lowest common denominator. That encourages engagement with each other in a way I had never previously been aware. It was a wonderful feeling.
I joined a small group of friends for drinks. They knew each other well and had been coming to the same place for decades. I was the genuinely welcome stranger in their midst. They spoke almost no English, and I speak even less German. Nevertheless we managed to discuss a terrific range of topics moving from the pleasures of eating fresh grilled fish, to the mood swings of Jose Mourinho. If you focus on their eyes, the other ‘bits’ disappear.
In a further conversation I was impressed to learn that a few of them still came there even when the Balkan war was on. They listened to low flying bombers roar overhead every night from bases in Italy.
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I have met an extraordinary number of new people on my journey so far, even after just two months in Europe. Of course I had every intention of putting myself forward to engage with everybody, not only to tell them my messages and discuss my passions, but to listen to them too. Some conversations have been, by necessity, too short to be of great value. Others have been delightful, leading to many new ‘followers’ on social media platforms and through my website. I have learnt so much from them.
Waiting for ferry embarkation has enabled a number of friendships to develop. A passionate Irishman and vintage motorcyclist comes to mind. So too an Arsenal supporter, an ecologist, and the strange incident of the lost camper van keys.
I have long since learnt that I don’t like eating alone, especially in a restaurant in the evening with a glass of wine in my hand. Many occasions have prompted conversations with adjacent diners. In Milan I met a honeymooning Texan couple, so full of enthusiasm for life. In Venice I met a fascinating couple from Ohio celebrating a significant wedding anniversary. In Malta I met powerfully addictive friends of friends. There have been young people almost everywhere with an adventure-seeking glaze in their eyes as I explain my journey. I do so love putting a big smile on their faces. I like to think that they rush to tell their friends about the conversation they just had, and end up inspiring them too. Some must have done as they are now following me on social media.
There is also the French lady, or was it two, I met in a restaurant on the most bizarre of evenings. I could write chapters about her but best kept private for now.
Il y a aussi la dame française, ou si c'était deux, j'ai rencontré dans un restaurant le plus bizarre des soirées. Je pourrais écrire des chapitres à propos d'elle, mais le mieux gardé privé pour l'instant.
Friends in Spain, Friends on Malta, a Greek reunion, a Montenegro border official, Rocket X owners, cancer sufferers and survivors, alcohol abuse victims, and so many more fascinating people have touched my life on this journey so far, and reminded me that people of the world have love to share too.