Stories from Italy: How Not To Travel in Venice
This is my favorite story to share – after being burned out by the exclusivity of the Cannes Film Festival, my friends and I decided to take a spontaneous overnight trip to Venice. I’ve kept the post in the original format that I wrote years ago, which keeps a little of the smart aleck attitude (always want to stay true to nature). I posted this super-long entry in my personal travel blog the day after I returned from Venice, mainly as an explanation to my parents, who still like to remind me that this was by far the most irresponsible decision of my life. Really, that’s a compliment. Speaks volumes of my generally responsible nature. It just goes to show that sometimes you’ve got to live a little to make you realize why you don’t make these kinds of decisions every day.
When I woke up this morning I couldn’t help but think I was waking up from a crazy dream. Did I go to Venice yesterday!?
After uploading the photographic evidence, that would be a gigantic YES.
I think, for my own sanity and your enjoyment, I should go over a timeline of events that lead to this spontaneous trip. Let’s count on the 24 hr time schedule so this feels more like a crazy TV show (hmmm, like 24?) than real life… because it did.
These events occur in real time on the day of May, 29, 2009. I’m Lindsey Epperly, and this is the longest day of my life. (Wasn’t that a great Jack Bauer impression?)
11:00 – Meet up with everyone at the train station, plan on going to Ventimiglia, Italy (only an hour away) and come back to Monaco for a night in Monte Carlo.
11:45 – Watch sadly as Luke is left while buying a (useless) train ticket.
12:04 – Arrive in Ventimiglia! Wander our way over to an amazing, cheap, authentic Italian restaurant.
Ventimiglia is absolutely beautiful and so very Italian. I’m not expecting to almost hop into a different world. Since the city is the very South Western border to France, I assumed it would have a little bit of Film Festival flare (as in, we would still be denied access to the majority of the city). However, we are all pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the Ventimiglians. Our waitress actually smiled at us!
It is also at this restaurant where we decide we love Italy so freaking much, why not just stay here for a day or so more? We make a pact to not go back to Juan-les-Pins, the seaside town east of Cannes that we had called home for over three weeks. We just want to wind up somewhere deeper into the nation of Italy. What a spontaneous adventure! None of us have anything that could be slightly helpful for backpacking (or pursing?) through Italy. I have a camera, money, and a pair of high heels for Monte Carlo. This just adds to the excitement.
13:04 – Luke arrives in Ventimiglia. We inform him of our plan to stay in Italy.
We wander around Ventimiglia’s inviting outdoor markets. Everyone buys a new shirt/dress (depending on gender) since we’ll be staying somewhere overnight.
14:45 – The market is a perfect path to an exquisite rock beach, the first I’ve ever seen in person. As beautiful as rock beaches are, DO NOT TRY TO RUN ON THEM. Ouch. The boys carelessly strip to their boxers and jump in the ocean. Jealous, over their happy-go-lucky way of jumping in the ocean, Jemma and I run back to the market to purchase a bathing suit (well, to purchase the closest, cheapest equivalent – spandex sports bras and underwear for ten euro). We’re like iguanas as we sunbathe on the rocky shore. These hours are the happiest of my entire study abroad. We write on the rocks, reenact Baywatch scenes, come to the conclusion that Baywatch was very smart not to film on rocky beaches, and lay out with the ocean lapping at our feet.
17:00 – We decide to pack up our things and head to the train station in order to plan (note that I use the term “plan” very loosely) our adventure. On the way, we grab essentials to our journey: chocolate, contact solution, deodorant. There’s no way we could be less prepared or more excited.
17:30 – After a good half hour of intense research, we decide to go to Venice, via train, stopping in Milan and Verona.
19:30 – We have the entire cabin to ourselves on the train to Milan. It’s very hot, and we wonder if it will be this hot in the next two trains. I wish that some future-seeing prophet would have told us that the temperature of the trains would be the least of our worries. But, like I said, we were the only ones on the train. No future-seeing prophets.
21:30 – After resting (difference: resting not sleeping. I just sat with my eyes closed on Chris’s lap vs. actually sleeping), we begin to grow antsy.
22:30 – We’re minutes away from Milan and have all gone crazy. We are making short films and singing theme songs from Nickelodeon programs.
23:00 – We arrive in Mulan. Yeah, Mulan. Like the Disney princess.
23:30 – Our next train is not nearly as nice as the first one. We complain about its sketchiness and how the chairs are similar to the seats on the Ninja rollercoaster. This is concerning, but if the future-seeing prophet had been here he would have told us to shut up and enjoy seats while we still had them. Foreshadowing? Yes.
0:00 – It’s midnight.
0:45 – The next two hours are just a blur, we’re miserable from lack of sleep.
2:20 – Verona! We have a two hour layover here, but we’ve already figured out how to kill time before we even arrive. Romeo and Juliet was set in Verona, so there must be awesome attractions, even at 2 in the morning. It’s also s a college town, so there has to be something open right now. We have already planned to find a place to sit down and enjoy the Shakespearean city.
2:23 – Mission failed. Verona is completely asleep. There are a few groups of teenagers dressed in black leather jackets and walking around, but other than that, this college town is severely deprived of a thriving nightlife, even on a Friday. It makes me miss Athens. It also makes me miss twenty-four hour restaurants, like Waffle House. I’m so hungry at this point that I would kill for a chocolate chip waffle. Or even just a chocolate chip.
Our choices are as follows: continue walking through Verona, or go back to the train station to join the sleeping homeless people. We choose the former.
3:15 – After walking around the silent town, we finally see the lights of a bar… called Bar Bra. Is this an oasis? By the name, is this a strip club? Are our sleepless minds playing tricks on us? When we walk into the bar and find that they serve food and not lapdances, I’m convinced it must be a dream, since it’s exactly what we were looking for. I had the best ham and mushroom wrap I’ve had in my entire life. I’d suffice to say that it was the best wrap I’d ever had. This could have been because of my hunger/sleep deprivation. But I still think it was a pretty dang good wrap.
4:00 – Bar Bra starts shutting down. That’s alright, we’ve got to get back to the train station, anyway. We take our time, as we have a few minutes to kill. We realize we look like idiots and Bryce looks like a hobo, as he is carrying around an open beer bottle and wearing a tux jacket over his polo. We’re such Americans.
4:25 Morgan says my favorite quote from this city: “It’s so freaking boring here, no wonder Romeo and Juliet killed themselves…too soon?”
4:35 – We are now staring at the train. We have not gotten on yet, instead, we’re just shaking our heads in disbelief.
The train is overbooked, all of the rooms are full, people are literally hanging their heads out of the windows like dogs. There is a hallway approximately one and a half feet wide that we are expected to sit in during the next two hours.
Certainly this is not our train.
4:40 – This is our train.
Oh, crap. This is our train.
We are officially seven full grown twenty-somethings are crammed in a hallway.
5:20 – Everyone has passed out like newborn puppies on top of one another. I have never felt this close to six human beings in my entire life and, as an only child, I really don’t like it.
Despite the foot traffic of passersby looking for the bathroom, everyone is dead asleep…except for Luke, Morgan and I, who find the overall situation so hilarious that we simply cannot sleep.
5:27 – Some man has B.O. so intense that when he walks by, his stench lingers in our hallway for at least twenty minutes. It’s so bad that those of us awake (still only me, Luke, and Morgan) get out my Icy Hot and rub it on our noses.
5:29 – My nose is simultaneously icy and hot.
6:50 – Upon our arrival, we sleepwalk into the train station in Venice. We get a little lost before even making it out of the station, despite the fact that it was a straight shot to the outside world.
6:55 – I’m looking at a spectacular Venetian sunrise. (Side note: this is the point where I realized I’d like to work in the travel business. I knew that I wanted to seek out these perfect moments, just not quite in this style of travel…that’s what drew me to the luxury side of things!)
6:57 – This is the initial moment when our group begins to divide. Some people want to get a hotel room and take a nap. Some people want to explore the city. So, we split up – Jemma and Morgan look for a hotel and the guys and I explore the city. We agree to meet back at that location by 8:30 to discuss hotel prices.
FUN FACT: our phones don’t work. I could have had a phone that worked since I’ve got a European plan; however, my phone is sitting back in JLP. I would have brought it had I known we were going to wind up in Venice less than 24 hours later.
7:45 – We walk all the way to the something bridge. I can’t remember what it’s called, but apparently it’s a pretty big landmark. After this, we walk through a fish market that nearly makes me sick. I hate the smell of fish, especially large quantities of fish early in the morning. When a fishmonger slams down an octopus, tentacles flailing everywhere in the midst of a fly infestation, I literally gag and have to walk away from the area.
7:50 – I pay 1,30 Euro to use the restroom. I have never paid to use a public bathroom in my entire life. I begin to miss America.
Oh yeah, it was the Rialto bridge.
While Bryce goes to explore what’s over the bridge, we sit on a dock to rest our feet for a while. Jonathon, Luke, and Chris fall asleep on the dock. I manage to stay awake in order to guard them (how backwards) and smile at the passersby who look at us all really strangely. I don’t speak Italian, but I swear some of them were saying Are those men in polo shirts homeless?
I nod yes, even if they aren’t asking this question.
At some point, Luke wakes up, looks at me, and says, “Wow! I was just completely asleep!” Less than one minute later, he is completely asleep again.
8:40 – Bryce returns and disrupts the catnaps. Somehow, everyone has managed to miss ALL of Jemma’s calls until we reach the area near the train station. It’s at this point that they answer the call, only to find out Jemma and Morgan decided to go to Saint Mark’s Basilica to look for a hotel.
8:50 – Upon the decision that we could not possibly walk all the way back past where we had been to meet up in San Marco’s, we take a water taxi. I would have enjoyed this water taxi much more if I had not been freezing and nodding off every few minutes.
9:30 – We reach St. Mark’s, meet up with Jemma and Morgan, and go to a hotel they’ve found.
We agree to all split the price of a two-person hotel, understanding that we could kind of alternate bringing people up/taking people out so that each of us could get at least an hour or two of sleep. This is a college-minded kind of plan, because this is how we stay during spring break or for Georgia/Florida weekend. It doesn’t work in Venice.
After the room is booked and paid for, Morgan goes out to get me and Chris, under the premise that we are all meeting. The hotel attendant informs Morgan that she is not allowed to have visitors in her hotel room. This is just preposterous, it’s not like we’re trying to sneak people in without paying. We’re so tired that we don’t push the subject, we just regroup for a new game plan.
10:15 – Over brunch (a perfect mushroom pizza and the best cappuccino I’ve had in my entire life – this is no exaggeration. Italy’s food is the best!), we discuss canceling the hotel room.
It’s at this point that everything absolutely hits the fan. I want to give as little detail as possible over this, as it really brings out the worst in everyone. We have no sleep, no place to stay, and we’re grumpy. There are tears, there is laughter, but mainly, there is delirium. Everyone breaks down, and this is the start of my own personal downhill moment.
What frustrates me most is that we’re in this beautiful city – we’ve done so much to get here, but all we can do is argue. We stay on the same street for three hours, eating, trying to figure out what to do about the hotel room, and pointing fingers at one another. We’re blaming everyone, but there’s still no one to blame in this situation.
That’s all I’ll touch on for this part of the trip. We then decide to explore the city… thank goodness.
13:00 – We’ve walked around a little bit, but somehow everyone grows divided again. Some people want to stay and sit, some people want to go back where we came from. I for one want to continue walking, seeing new sights, and to slowly but surely make my way to the train station.
I’m ashamed to talk about this, but we all had our breakdowns, and this is the locale of my own. I’m tired, I’m lost in a foreign city, I’m about to lose it and when I’m about to lose it I just want to talk to my mom. But my phone doesn’t work. So, I send out a text in hopes that it will swim over the pacific and into a cell phone in Georgia. Miracle of all miracles, it does, but it does this about thirty minutes later than originally intended.
Within this thirty minutes, I find myself wandering around aimlessly, agitated at my circumstances. We’re in this beautiful place and it’s just going unnoticed because of our own selfish reasons. Please don’t get me wrong here, as I’m not placing blame – we were ALL tired and grumpy and just had our own agendas. Which is when I got my own agenda: the information center rises in front of me like an oasis. Out of desperation, I stroll in and get directions to the nearest airport.
When I come back to the group sitting on the dock, they can tell something is wrong. It seems that from the moment I broke down internally I cannot stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. We try to figure out a game plan, during whichmy phone rings. It’s an unknown number. I answer it, and as soon as I hear my dad’s voice I lose it – I walk away from the group and tell him I’m in Venice.
“Wow! You’re in Venice, Lins? Well how is it?”
The only phrase I’m able to utter without my voice breaking is “NOT GOOD. NOT GOOD.”
So, this is the point where my parents get involved and decide to look into planes. I really can’t explain the transportation issue from this point on. Chris and I wander through Venice to the train station and agree to meet up with everyone to catch a train before 4:00. This was one of my favorite parts of the Venice trip, as it was how it should have been – we explored, we got lost, we window shopped and we ate gelato. We found random theatres and a hotel he had stayed in on his last trip to Venice. We tried to kick pigeons and they attacked. I am so thankful for this time, it was like a memo from Venice to come back when I can truly enjoy myself.
15:00 – We get to the train station. No one shows up. We check on trains. Nothing will get us to JLP before the morning.
15:50 – We miss this train waiting on everyone, who have yet to show up. Keep in mind our phones don’t work. I use one of the crappy pay phones and can’t get in touch with anyone from our group, but I am able to contact my dad, who has already found flights to Nice. Chris and I decide this might be the best way to go.
17:00 – Upon arriving at Marco Polo Airport in Venice, we find out the price of the plane. Chris decides to see me off and head back to the trains, but I wait for a couple hours until my 7:45 plane on Luftanza. During this time, I talk to my mom several times on a payphone. I hate this because I know she is worried and I’d like nothing more than to curl up in a corner and cry with her. Instead, I’m placed on display at the public phone with a line of people waiting behind me. I hate the lack of privacy and I hate my own emotional instability. I lock myself in a restroom for a while and decide to buy earplugs so that I can at least drown everything else out.
This is the worst part of my entire trip. I don’t mind being alone, I can handle that. In fact, I probably needed that after the hours and hours spent with people (my only-child self can only hand being around a group of people for so long). The worst part is that I am an emotional mess. I haven’t had sleep, I feel as though I’ve made a huge mistake (this grows also from the fact that when I’m on the phone with him, Dad says something along the lines of, “well, this was a pretty expensive mistake”). So, I feel guilt about troubling my parents, financially and emotionally, and about dragging Christ to the airport and that he was now by himself, and the fact that the rest of the group was probably still lost in Venice but there was really no way to find out. I felt the worst from not knowing, and that killed me. I am just a sleepless wreck.
21:30 – I arrive in Frankfurt, Germany. It is frigid. I slept for half an hour of my hour long flight here. My contacts are glued to my eyes. I worry about making my connecting flight, but find out my connecting flight is from the same plane I’m arriving on. Finally, karma is smiling upon me.
23:40 – I am so thankful to be in Nice that I am reawakened. When my driver greets me, I tell him my entire story. He and I discuss Cannes and he informed me that the entire city is posh, so he could see where Italy would be so appealing to my group of friends that we would want to run off in the country for a couple of days. This reassured me a little bit – like, maybe the decision wasn’t entirely stupid.
00:30 – Back in my residence, my roommate is still awake. I tell her highlights and she tells me that she’s going to sleep. Before this, though, she asks me, “Was it worth it?”.
I thought back for a few seconds and wholeheartedly answered, “Yes. Yeah, it definitely was.”
I can’t believe I did this and would probably never do something like this again. But it was worth it. I’ve spent the past three hours and eight pages recounting the adventure, and I’ve smiled through 95% of it.
There was drama and tension and sleeplessness and frightening situations and cramped train rides and hotel payments and emotional instability… but yes, it was worth it for the time spent in Venice with six people who, before three weeks ago, were total strangers. We’ve got this great adventure that we can laugh about and retell once we get to the states and remember what kind of crazy things we did on the travel weekend of our study abroad program. Was it worth it? It’s been the time of my life.