For years I’ve dreamed of traveling to Europe and while I’ve never had a specific destination in mind, I’ve had this desire to just see it all! About a year ago, my college roommate, LB decided to move to Florence, Italy to teach English and explore life beyond the Midwest.
When she broke the news, I figured it would be a great opportunity to make my first trip overseas. While I’ve been to Canada and Mexico, from what I understand, those don’t count…especially since I didn’t need a passport to get to either destination.
When LB emailed to say she was ready to come home, I knew it was now or never…so I booked my flight from Des Moines to Italy for one week. A lot of folks were a little shocked by the short trip, but in my case it was a week in Italy or none at all, so I jumped.
The weekend before I left, GW and I were back in Grinnell for his college reunion, so I really didn’t get to packing until we returned Sunday night. Basically, I didn’t get much sleep that night, as I rushed to finish laundry, get travel documents in order, clean up any messes I’d left behind, and oh…book my train ticket from Rome to Florence!
My flight took off from Des Moines around 12:30 pm, bound for the Atlanta airport. Putting forth an effort to keep my meals healthy while abroad, I found a decent lunch spot for an airport…Nature’s Table.
A fairly short layover in Atlanta and I was en route to Rome!
To occupy my time, I had a couple of books, lots of Sudoku and logic game puzzles (yes, I’m a huge nerd), and a journal to record my journey.
Thanks to GW’s friend, BJ for helping me get my nerd on with this one! 🙂
One new experience on this flight was the sharing of precious space with animals. I was shocked to see the couple across the aisle from me with a small dog in a bag carrier under the seat in front of them. The dog looked like a miniature poodle (I didn’t have the courage to snap a photo) and it barely moved for the full 9+ hour trip. I am so impressed.
That wasn’t the case for another animal on the flight. Our plane sat at the gate for quite a while, no one seemed to know what was going on. After about a 30-45 minute delay, we were finally told that the barking dog had been removed from the plane.
While that was fantastic since I could still hear it from about 10 rows away, the cat got to stay and it meowed the entire flight to Rome!!! Unnoticeable after a while, I sure felt bad for the strangers in that row!
It had been a while since I was served an actual meal on the plane. Here was our dinner…
Not the worst meal I’ve ever had. They gave us a breakfast as well, as we were nearing Italy. I forgot to snap a photo of that.
Once off the train and in the Rome airport, I knew I had to find the shuttle to get me to my luggage. There were a large number of Americans headed in the same direction, so I followed along, trying to understand some of the more recognizable words on the signs. (I totally should have learned a few things before traveling there). We all hoped on the shuttle and after just 2 minutes, the doors opened. No one seemed sure of what
to do, so we figured our stop was probably next. That was until the car changed directions and headed straight back from where we came from! Oops! So, we stayed on for the 3rd (and final) 2-minute ride to the baggage claim and customs.
After all that, which honestly went pretty smoothly, there was a small train station that would take us to the larger train station (where I had my ticket already purchased). After jumping from one line to another, trying to decide whether efficiency or accuracy was better, I found a small booth that sold tickets to Tremini Station, the main train station in Rome. Fourteen Euros later and some pretty lucky timing, I was on the Leonardo Express headed for downtown Rome.
I arrived in one piece, took a few minutes to look around before trying to find some signs or some people who looked like they might direct me towards the right train platform.
After getting directed to a board of arrivals and departures, I found that I would be departing from platform #5. The trains from the airport were quite a ways from the main part of the train station (at least it felt that way), so after about 15 minutes, I finally figured out where I was going and I hoping on carriage #7 to find my seat.
This is where things got a little dicey. I appeared that someone was in my seat…a sweet Italian couple who spoke no English who showed me their ticket and the fact that it had the same seat number. An Australian women (who’s name I never asked) knew a little Italian and tried her best to help. Everyone in the area agreed that I was on the right train, in the correct carriage, and that both me and the sweet little man had the same seat number.
After searching for a train employee, I returned to find an empty seat across from the Australian woman. Apparently a gentleman had the wrong seat, so I sat there and finally took a moment to breathe. Phew!
I started to drift off…after taking this picture of course…
…when I was awoken to a train employee making his rounds to validate tickets. I handed him mine, while trying to tell him I had the same seat as another, when I heard “we have a problem.” I think that may have been the only English he knew. Australian woman (AW from now on) tried her best to help, explaining that another man had moved, so they had me sit there since it was clear there were two people assigned to the same seat.
Well, that wasn’t really the case. So here’s what happened…it appears that the only one of a few (if not the only) country to use the date format month/day/year. I guess most countries use day/month/year, which makes more logical sense, right?
Anyway, when booking my ticket for June 7, I accidentally booked it for July 6. Well, take note…the man showed me that to purchase a new ticket while on the train would cost me 95 Euros (that’s $136 folks!)! Instead, he had me give him 8 Euros and let me keep my seat. Good thing, because we were already 20 minutes from Rome and I’m not sure how I would have found my way through that beautiful countryside.
Two hours after leaving from Rome, I made it to Florence! I lugged my bags off the train and found LB waiting on the train platform for me. After hugs, we headed to her place before we started our week of adventures.
Well, more to come, but here is a teaser photo.
Until next time!
What horror stories do you have from traveling to foreign lands?
If you could go anywhere in Europe, where would it be? Or where is your favorite city in Europe?