Although I was warned many times about pickpockets, purse-snatchers, and the possibility of being kidnapped and sold into prostitution, I was more concerned with the fact that I would be spending two weeks with people I didn't know, and I didn't want to eat every meal or tour every destination by myself. The only solution I could see was that I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO TALK TO PEOPLE.
You have no idea how I agonized over this. Here's something you might not know about me: I do not talk to strangers. I don't like it. Small talk makes me itch.
But I knew that it was the only way I was going to be able to
At the first meal, I plunked my plate down at a table and asked, "Have you all already introduced yourselves?" since I'd missed the first part of the group meeting due my late bus from Venice. They answered in the negative, so I started the introductions. There were seven other people at that table: Natalie and Americo, Canadians of Italian descent; Maher and Dolores, Canadians who would get engaged in Venice; George and Kim, Australians on a full summer holiday (visiting George's family in Scotland, then touring Italy, then vacationing in Croatia); and Pam, a retiree from Manchester, England, who was also traveling alone and who would be my closest friend on this trip.
It was easy after this. I talked to some others at breakfast the next morning: Joanne and Judy, sisters from Buffalo, New York, who've become quite the world travelers since they retired. On the second day, I just turned around on the bus and started talking to Millie and Ken, who were also from the Manchester area, and who were accompanied by Millie's brother Clary. In Rome, I sat at an outdoor cafe with Bill and Judy, who are from a seaside city in England (I forget the name; it might be near Plymouth). At Assisi, I leaned against a wall with Marion and her daughter, who live in Rugby, England. There were two other ladies in the group, but I didn't get to speak to them very often, just in passing.
In short, I pretty much made the rounds. In a real-life demonstration of Bizarro-World, I became a social butterfly. I think some of the others--who, with the exception of Maher and Dolores, were all at retirement age--may have felt protective of me, and that's fine; they were far less restrictive than my own parents, who would have attached me to a kid-leash if there'd been such a thing in my younger days (and it would have been warranted, to tell the truth).
Plus, they were super fun! There's so much information out there, especially when you follow the patented Flower Technique (tm), which my father invented: ask ten billion questions at every opportunity and you never have to talk about yourself! I really did learn a lot, just by listening to people talk about what they'd seen and where they'd been. And I am just fascinated by other people's lives; there's just as much to learn from someone else's life experiences as there is in going to a museum.
All in all, I think I enjoyed Italy twice as much because I got to experience it with other people. And I NEVER had to eat alone.