Baptism by Fire- My Reintroduction to Travel in Europe

Interlaken in the rain

In my first twenty-four hours back in Europe, I learned some new things:

  1. The airplane Gods have a huge dislike for me.
  2. Nuns always smell the same
  3. No one knows anything in Milan train station except for the currency conversion clerk .
  4. Whenever plans go wrong, I meet some pretty interesting people.

New York – a city hated by most Bostonians, was also disliked by a certain Sox fan when her plane was delayed three hours. They boarded us just fine, after talking to a backpacker traveling to Rome to meet up with a girl that he had met while studying abroad last year. Her mother owns the Pop Inn next to Termini so he was going there to work and see her for the summer. But after sitting down and settling in (I even had my seatbelt on at this point) we were told we needed to deboard because of a problem that “may need us to fly in another plane…” Aye aye, captain. We grumbled off the plane, flooded into the terminal and did an about face, waiting for instruction that followed an hour and a half later, saying we were ready to reboard. Taxiing away from the terminal, the plane lost power, to which the humorous flight attendant then responded with “ok everyone go to bed!” and the captain, who had forgotten to shut the intercom off, got out “screw it, bring us back to the-“ before he realized we could hear him. Groaning ensued as we sat without air flow until somehow we did regain power and actually took off. You better believe that I was praying someone had a picture of Jesus flying with me on this flight – because it sure did calm my nerves when I went to Costa Rica and the woman in the seat next to me was carrying a rather large portrait complete with a rosary.

Even without the Jesus portrait, I arrived into Rome safely, but three hours behind schedule, led a few students through the mazes of Fiumicino, and then propped my computer on my suitcase and found Austin online who was the bearer of the bad news I had already predicted: they had left without me. And to catch the next train to begin my journey from the airport to the Termini train station, switch trains and head up to Milan, where I’d have to transfer again and then once more to arrive in Interlaken and head to Balmer’s all while carrying my 50.0 pound bag and backpack on my back.

Bring it.

I launched myself through the walkways and made it up to the ticket booth where I stumbled through my rusty Italian to explain what I needed. The man behind the counter informed me that my debit card wasn’t working and politely explained it was probably because of my bank. I politely as I could explained that I had taken all the necessary precautions to make sure that this DIDN’T happen as I sighed and pushed my credit card towards him – of course, that worked perfectly fine. Onto the train, off in Termini and, sprinting, back on to a train to Milan (“Your seat is on car nove. You are at due. Run”) where I sat across from a nun that was very quiet the entire time but smelled exactly like my elementary school principal – oddly enough, a nun as well. Getting off of that train, I was filed into Milan train station and began my wild goose chase for a. a train ticket to get somewhere in the vicinity of Switzerland because my train did not exist. And then b. a payphone to gain further knowledge of my terrible mess of a plan.

In line, with a 50 pound bag, a backpack and a line of people “dieci” long according to the three year old counting to his father behind me. When I finally reached the counter, I spoke in Italian and asked for a ticket to Interlaken via Spiez. The man rolled his eyes as if I asked to go to the moon via boat. He told me there were no trains. I told him I was told there was one at 7:30. He shot me down. I scoured the terminal for another ticket window – asking the store owners, the Cabanieri  (just one more example of how they are not the most helpful people) and all pointed me directly back down to where I had just been.Perhaps it was my sweaty forehead that made the conductor stop, but he helped me (does stress induce better Italian language skills?) by explaining that there was no train, pulled out his schedule to show me this, and then gave me advice to tell me what train to take instead.

With this information, I needed to inform bus2alps what my new plan was. Trying to find a payphone was even more dramatic endeavor . My arms were aching from the bag and the moving sidewalks had a minimal effect on the up and down flights. On this round of inquiry, I was repeatedly directed towards the same non-functioning phone conveniently located directly in front of the whirring train engines and loudspeaker for announcements. Another round of asking for directions led me to the currency converter office, wherein a very nice man knew enough English to tell me there was another phone hidden between the mobile tabaccheria and a telephone pole. I couldn’t fit into the spot with my backpack on. Battling the noise of the trains, I called Austin. He and CJ helped me get a new ticket and I jumped on the train. I switched trains and switched boarders as I pointed out Lake Como out my window to my new friends – the bearded travelers that I had squeezed next to after realizing my real seat was three cars down and I refused to make it that far.

While riding, they spoke about their travels to Sardinia without a map, how they rented a car and drove blind through the countryside, coming upon a restaurant with a local delicacy of cheese processed with live maggots (they had horrible pictures to prove it), and how they slept in said car for the night on the coast, and woke with the most beautiful sunset. We spoke about past travels as we sped through the mountainous regions of northern Italy, and stopped as the conductors changed from Italian to Swiss on the border. It was then the boys decided that they were riding the train out as far as possible. They had a tent, anyway. It wouldn’t matter if there was a hostel or not. On the smoke break, we met a girl from the next car from Belgium who was kind enough to draw out a large and detailed map of the downtown area, complete with the best waffle places. She was traveling around Germany for a few weeks. It was in this time span that the train almost emptied out because of the late hour and one of the boys, Franklin courteously pointed out that the wheel on my luggage had perished in the struggle. Lopsided and hanging on by a thread, I then realized why it had been more and more difficult to lug the bag through Milan. Now, with one wheel and 50lbs, I hoped that the rest of my journey would be in association with people with arm muscles, or I was going to grow some pretty quickly.

As requested by Austin, I jumped off the train at a stop called Olten at about 2ish in the morning where I sat with construction workers whistling away in the background until my knight in shining white armor came to take me away into the mountains…just kidding it was only Mike LaPorta but it was still wonderful to relax in the seat and brought right to the front door of Balmers.

Finally pulling into Interlaken, I was partially in dream mode to begin with, but walking into Balmers didn’t feel real. The last time I left, I didn’t think I’d be there again, never mind in two years for a job.  I was led up to a room and my bags were flung into the dark. “Have fun trying to find an open bunk” – Thanks Mike. But thankfully a cell phone lit up on the right of me and T helped me to my top bunk in the corner where I dramatically collapsed under a patchwork quilt that made me feel as if I was home and put me instantly to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up to sunlight streaming through the curtains. The mountains of Interlaken, covered in snow, stood tall in the backdrop of Balmer’s. All was well in life. Missing flights means making friends. It may require a little extra effort and stress, but the best stories come from travel woes. Europe knew me too well to give me an easy travel day.I’ll call it training for the best job I could ever think of. If the travel god’s haze me a bit, I think I can handle it.

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2 thoughts on “Baptism by Fire- My Reintroduction to Travel in Europe

  1. Pingback: “Sometimes on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one” | shecomesfromboston

  2. Pingback: “Sometimes on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one” | She Comes From Boston

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