Travel and me have a very toxic relationship. I love it, but it tends to be that annoying kid in the back of the plane who kicks you on a six hour flight and yells in your ear… I have terrible, terrible luck. Combine that with an almost unbelievable clumsiness, my scatterbrained ADD and you get an insane combination. Ironically, I am also pretty lucky. A lot of other people would have gotten into far more trouble than I have with far less predicaments. It reaches the height of incredulity at times. This adventure is but one of them.
I am half Italian, so naturally I had always dreamed of going to Italy. I will go back again at some point. I had always pictured breezy entering the town of Terragina , and finding my long lost relatives while eating a huge bowl of ravioli. I think I watched too many movies…
I decided to go to the Changing Times Conference, a huge conference set in Verona. The year was December 2009. I would spend New Years there with some of my friends and a bunch of people from all over the world in Verona, Italy. I also booked the flight at a cheaper rate so I could see a bit more. I have always travelled alone, so I didn’t think of aligning my trip with some of my friends departure, and in retrospect it was a mistake.
Well, in retrospect a lot of things were a mistake. I never really plan what I am going to do when I go somewhere, I just sort of let the wind take me places. I could stay for another subsequent winter school, travel around italy…. I could do a lot of things.
I went on the same plane with my friends persian- uruguayan friend Sahba and his two sisters, as well as some other people who were with us. When we arrived in Milan, we had to wait for a friend of theirs who was coming all the way from Argentina to the conference. That’s where the unlucky curse began.
Long story short, we just missed the last train, and the only trains available to verona were terribly, terribly late. No one knew where the ticket offices were, no one helped us so we were left with our weird blend of Italian Spanish to find our way around. We got to the hotel exhausted.
The conference was great, but the service at the hotel was horrible. They kept confusing our bags, not giving us toilet paper, confusing room numbers and generally causing havoc. We eventually had a nice train trip to Venice from Verona where I subsequently lost my friends and started to hang out with this other group from Dubai. No one knew their way around, and the girls seemed more interested in shopping than really watching the old watery ruined buildings.On the way back to Verona we stopped at the wrong train station. There was no taxis, but eventually we found one…. four hours later. ( At which point polite conversation had dwindled)
At this point I was starting to get cranky at all the mishaps. The last day of the conference was new years, and all the latinos decided to make a big salsa dance. It was fun, but we didn’t get much sleep. I told the hotel that I was going to stay another night and then left to take another stab at going to Venice for the day. Unfortunately I lost sahba and their family and spent a good portion trying to look for them , good thing I was with another group who were America.I came back to fidn that my suitcases were missing, along with my computer and other devices. They had taken my stuff out and put it in the lobby! It had been there all day! I was really lucky nothing got stolen but at this point I was reaching level 2 of being fed up about things. Sahba and his family were leaving the next day so we went to find a place to eat. We had pizza. And we found a worm on it.
I decided not to stay for the next conference, after all the hotel service was so bad. So I packed my stuff and headed with a group of people I sort of knew to Firenze. At five am, right before we were set to leave they sat me down and basically told me that they would rather do the trip by themselves but I was welcome to stay at the hostal they were staying at. It was too late to turn back and I felt the beginnings of a flu coming in.
I also lost my bank card so I had no money to my name.
So there I was, alone in Firenze. Too cold , too sick and too miserable to appreciate the michelangelo statues , the bridges and the cool water surrounding it. I was. miserable. While I walked around near the Duomo I heard some very sad chanting from the churches around FIrenze. I entered the city and heard the priests chant, in the abandoned church. I felt an odd feeling come over me, of sadness and worry . It wasn’t coming from me, I felt like it was coming from my Nana Paulina, my great grandmother who had passed away at age 100. I called my great aunts on the phone . ” She must be worried about you, please be careful” They told me. My nana never wanted me to cross the street alone nevermind going to a foreign country by myself!
The next day I romaed the city alone by myself with some western union cash and a book, calmer but still too weak and cold to really explore too much. I would find out that depending on where you sit in a restaurant is how much they will charge you!
That night in firenze I crossed a bridge not near the water front not really knowing where I was going. Everything was quiet. My legs hurt and I was getting wet so I stopped at a very small diner in the middle of nowhere. I went up the stairs and sat down. A huge loud group was staring at me and I didn’t really understand why. I gave them an odd look and sat down. I heard from them the words ” abdul Baha” and knew they were bahais from the conference! of all the coincidences! Verona was six hours away from Firenze, this diner was completely abandoned so there was no way knowing we would bump into each other!
I realized that God never really leaves us alone. Even in the darkest moments , we can always find a friendly face. That’s what keeps me going in these travel misadventures these kind beacons of light who show me the way.
We walked back , and they asked if I wanted to come back with them, but I preferred to go back and get my stuff. I told them I would see them in Verona the next day.
I walked to my hostal slightly cheered up. The walk up to the hostal was covered by woods and it was really hard to get to . It was dark so to cheer myself up I began to sing as loud as I could ” love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart consumed by fear”. I turned around to see a couple laughing and perhaps enjoying my singing. Oops, I thought I was alone. The hostal people around me were playing a beautiful orchestra as I caught up on my work. Things were getting brighter.
I spoke too soon.
I got back to Verona exhausted and in need of just wanting to get back to England ( where I was living at the time). I was to fly the next day and I couldn’t be happier. I took the train from verona to Milan happy with expectation. Because it was a relatively cheap flight I had to go on a bus from milan to the airport, around an hour and a half from the city.
PHEW> it was all over. One of my friends from Oxford , Mahsa, was going on a later flight and we kept each other company.
And then, oh then…
All flights got delayed due to a snow storm. Luckily they gave us a hotel to stay the night but not without not telling us for more than six hours. Every day we would lug our stuff to the airport and everyday no one had any answers. I was one of the lucky ones though as some weren’t getting free hotel rooms.
There I was, stranded in Milan. We were surrounded by an eclectic band of people in the same situation. There was the couple from Israel. The Palestinian man ecstatic for not going to work the next day and staying in a five star hotel after paying for a ticket with five euros. The ukranian mime who worked in London. The japanese tourists. All of a sudden, the barriers were down and the stories flowed.
And I was just wanting to go home.
My friend mahsa was enthusiastic and would say ” let’s go to a devotional with everyone”!
I am sure I could have been more gracious, more kind, more patient. But my sense of wonder had died somewhere in that abandoned church in firenze. I wanted.To. Go. Home.
It couldn’t get any worse right?
The airport or the airline was horribly inefficient. We never knew if we were going to be there for a long time or not. We were set aside, no one talked to us. I had had enough and my Italian temper had gotten the best of me. The brits looked on horrified as I started a hissy fit with another hot tempered Italian stewardess. There was seventy year old Russian woman who knew no English, Spanish or Italian and needed to find a flight. I told the lady ” Look, she needs help stop ignoring us and do your job!” Sure, it looked bad but after that people started to help.
After three excruciating days we finally were going home.
All was well in the universe again.
When I boarded the plane I must have been exhausted. To this day, I don’t know what happened but when I arrived in London my passport had disappeared.I was doing into immigration with.no.passport.
No, please. Oh no. Oh Dear Me no.
Good thing I was a British Citizen because they let me off the hook. After some hours of course. And a lot of crying. And enduring weird looks from the officers. ( I mean who loses a passport on a plane??)
And that was the end of my Italian disaster.
I am going back though, I promised myself I would have a decent Italian experience.
Let’s wait another three years for that to happen. Have you had any travel adventures of your own? If you have I would love to hear them!
By the way, I only have pictures of the conference, no evidence exists that I made this trip. You will just have to trust me on this one.