Conversations On The Road

 People who live in tourist destinations like Venice, Athens or Rome may be quite tired of bus loads of visitors who land up in their neighbourhood. The visitors stay for a few hours, or a day and then leave to return to wherever they came from. Both tourists and locals get nothing out of the incident unless the locals are engaged in selling magnets or key chains or the tourists are looking for bottled water. Try and start a conversation with the people of the place you are visiting and the scenario changes – another dimension is added, a new memory is created and both sides are left with new impressions.

 There are no guidelines as such about when to start a conversation and with whom. They happen on us and the idea is to grab the opportunity and make the best of it. Here are a few examples we enjoyed:

 Travel sites had informed us that it was worth taking a detour to the small town of Levadia on the way from Athens to Delphi. We drove into Levadia and realised that the GPS was a bit out of depth with several roads under repair or closed off. We stopped our car and my husband ran across to a cycle shop on the street. The shopkeeper was overjoyed that tourists from a far off village in India had come to his town and were looking for the seat of the second oracle. Within minutes he had scribbled a rough map of the area and sent us on our way to the spring, the ancient water mill, the cave and the abode of the second oracle.

 It was a day for talking. At the site of the stream, we met two women who were most eager to tell us the story of the second oracle. One of the women spoke no English but knew everything about the place and legends connected with it. The other woman knew little about the legend but was able to translate everything that her friend shared. They showed us the entrance of the secret tunnel that ran all the way from Levadia to Delphi – the seat of the chief oracle in Greek mythology. The tunnel now remains closed but what she had shared was something we knew nothing about. “This tunnel was in ancient times used to help people overcome the fear of death,” she explained.

 The next morning before we could begin the visit to the site at Delphi, we walked into a general store to pick up some water. The owner of the shop identified us immediately and another conversation began – he gave us a lot more than drinking water. “I was a tourist guide in this town and since retiring I have started this shop. The highlight of my career as a guide was to take your former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi around the Delphi site. She visited Delphi as a guest of Melina Mercouri, the famous actress who was at that time the Greek Minister for Culture.” Mercouri in her lifetime he added had done her bit to try and get back the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum.

 A few days later in Goreme in the Capadoccia region of Turkey I greeted a group of women chit-chatting outside their home just off the main road. Within minutes they invited me to join them as they cracked fresh walnuts and munched on the kernels.

 It costs nothing to begin a conversation with people of the place that you are visiting. It is an honour to greet a person and for that person to become a part of your journey. The interactions are priceless and the dividends are enormous. Signs, gestures and a warm smile can overcome all the barriers of language.  And, as always if the chat is not going well, there are myriad ways to walk away, or add the full stop.