Sometimes, and maybe most of the time with me, things don’t go as planned. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Knock West Airport was nice enough. It’s run by Ryanair, a budget airline that runs through most of Europe. What they don’t tell you when you buy your ticket is that you have to pay a ‘development fee’ of €10 whenever you take one of their flights. I wasn’t too mad about it since my 1000 mile flight only cost €35 so I just sucked it up and checked in. I sat for a while in the airport charging my stuff and sitting by the wall. I kept smelling breakfast food and desperately wanting to eat but I knew I should wait because it would be pretty costly. Eventually though, the fact that I had been so stressed for the past day and having gotten no sleep and having to literally run around town at 5am that morning made me give in. It was the best decision ever.
On the flight over I met a nice Italian guy about my age who had been working in Galway (yuck) for eight months as a server. When I asked him why he was moving back home, he said, “Non sai. I ask myself the same question.” Good enough for me, I guess. We talked a bit about my travels and my inability to speak Italian. Every time I attempted something in Italian he would laugh and say, “I don’t expect you to know those words!”
Ryanair flits are really strange compared with other flights I’ve been on. A lot of people get up and ok around, change seats, and chase their children down the aisles because their kids are insane and think airplanes are like playgrounds. As for cultural differences, they sell toys and stuff on each flight, makeup, food, magazines, and other stuff every fifteen minutes. The flight attendant was a middle aged Italian guy who would first announce things in English, then Italian, and then a couple of times in French. At one point, Filippe, the guy sitting next to me, laughed at one of the things the attendant said, and when he got to our row he asked him, “You are Italian?” “Si.”
“Then you know my pain.” Oh! How sad…?
The country, as soon as I could see ground clearly, was beautiful. Rolling mountains, huge lakes and rivers, simple-looking countryside with cute little houses arranged neatly in groups with red roofs and white walls.
We got off after the 2.5 hour flight and parted ways after the passport check. Here are several things I thought were true that actually weren’t:
Many people in Italy speak either English or Spanish.
I had a SIM card that would still work in Italy.
I would be able to find wifi if the SIM card stopped working.
I was in Milan.
I would be able to get to Nice easily.
The outlet converters I bought would fit into sockets in Italy.
First thing was first. Since I couldn’t find any wifi, I needed a SIM card. A found a bureau de change that sold them inside the airport and against my better judgement bought one for €25 that had unlimited call and text and 1 “jigabyte” of data. After realizing how stupid paying €25 for a SIM card I would only use for a couple hours was, I told him I didn’t want it and after some reluctance he gave me my money back. A map had to be somewhere, and from there a SIM card was bound to become available because shopping centers were all over the place. There was a pad full of maps of the city available in one of the rooms for €1 a piece but I just took one (shh!) and walked out of the airport in a random direction.
I couldn’t tell which direction was north from the sun because I’m too stupid for that so I went up to a really old woman who looked incredibly motherly and said, “Scuzi, questa direzione e norte?” Pointing at what I thought was north. She corrected me and asked me where I was going (I think. At this point in the day I had already used all my Italian words other than acqua).
“Sono di estados unidos, solo parlo spagnolo e inglese. Io ando a Nice. Posso autostop aqui?”
I kept inserting English and Spanish into my Italian sentences and hoped she would understand.
“Non, non se possa autostop,” which I’m pretty sure meant I couldn’t hitchhike. She pointed at some buses and said they went to Milan for €5. Well, that was dumb, I thought. I was already in Milan I could just walk to “il centro” by following the map.
I spotted a mall across the street, thanked the woman for her help and headed over that direction. I couldn’t figure out how to get there because of several barriers between the airport and the mall so I asked a young guy I found out was born in Morocco where to go. We went up the highway a bit and through a tunnel before making it to that side of the street and then he just pointed me in that direction. “Grazie, grazie amico!”
I latched on to the first person I saw in the mall. “Dove posso comprare una carta sim pa il mio teléfono?” He pointed me to a SIM card station where two girls my age were looking unbelievably flustered with several customers waiting in line. After waiting a bit in line I tried as nicely as possible not to annoy the hell out of them with my crappy Italian. They were surprisingly nice to me after I mentioned “Io sai la musica di Nek. Laura non c’e! Nella stanza veintesai!” (I listen to an Italian music artist and started listing some of his songs and they loosened up.) I told them I needed a SIM card for not big money and they gave me one for €15. Much better. I used my new SIM card to look up a bunch of words in Italian and how to conjugate a couple verbs (things I should have done before coming) and went back to the stand to ask them where the bathrooms, supermarket, and a box ow hitch I could write a message for hitchhiking would be. After reading the manual for my SIM card in Italian and looking up all the important words, it was suddenly MUCH easier to communicate. The thing is, you sit in class and learn languages by memorizing conjugations and word lists and taking tests. I’m not saying those are bad ways of learning a language, but throwing yourself into a place where only that language is spoken and attempting to survive just really makes it stick. And the fact that you’re constantly using it just to get around and find things and connect with people makes it that much more fun and interesting… And needed.
Anyway, there was a supermarket in the mall so I went there and had feasted on cheese, bread, and oranges. What I hadn’t figured out by the time they were checking out was that here, you have to weigh your fruit at a weighing station, type in the code for that item, and then attach a printed sticker to your bag of fruit so they know how to price it. One of the cashiers helped me out by signaling to follow him and taught me some more Italian by correcting me whenever I said something in Spanish or used the incorrect form (it’s not aprendito, it’s aprezo for “learned”). Fortunately I was able to understand the price the cashier gave me because the numbers in Spanish are pretty similar so I gave him exact change and counted that as a win big enough to get me through the rest of the day. He also told me I wasn’t in Milan, and that I was in Bergamo, so I would have to take one of those €5 buses. I wasn’t about to walk an hour drive, so I just took one.
Once I was in Milan I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t find a single ride anywhere west of Milan online, I had forgotten to put up a couchsurfing request in case I actually had to spend the night, and I forgot to take into account the train system here. Then I remembered an old high school friend w studying here and was friends still with my friend in the states, Jessica. I tweeted furiously “HELP, LOST IN MILAN WHERE IS PAOLO.” Milan is a scary, dirty place, and I’d already seen a fight and been asked for money three times before getting a response. I decided just to sit at a lamppost for a while.
To make a long story short, I got his phone number and was able to contact him. I walked around town for a couple hours before he picked me up and went back to his apartment with some authentic pizza and he offered to let me stay the night. Yay! AND he let me do my laundry! Unfortunately, the outlet converter I got does not fit I the sockets here. I think there are two European sockets, and I had both of them, but thought they were the same and left the other one at home. I’m stupid.
Anyway, Paolo and his roommates went out to drink and celebrate having just taken a med school test and I opted to stay home and sleep off my cold.
My view this morning.
I didn’t wake up until 1pm. It was fantastic. Paolo went out to the grocery store and let me come with him. I finally got a razor to get rid if my ridiculous mane and managed to find a beer he liked for €2. Alcohol is SO CHEAP here. Food too, but especially the alcohol. There were three packs of beer for €1,50 and bottles of wine for less. If only I were staying longer!
For lunch I had actual Italian wine and Paolo told me about how you can tell what the cows were eating when they made the milk for the cheese back in his home town. There is a huge different in flavor depending if the cow has been eating grass in the mountains and flowers and such, or grass from the farms. Thought that was fascinating. The cheese, at any rate, is legitimately different and better here the anything I’ve had in the states, it’s almost sad what we will call cheese…
Lastly, we looked up trains and blablacar rides from Milan to Nice, and I decided on a 6 hour, multi-stop, €32 train ride along the coast from here to Nice leaving tomorrow around 12:30. Great! I have a plan! Finally!
My clothes are still drying and we managed to find a socket my converter works in, so I’m charging my stuff for the day and recuperating before I start my crazy journey again. The only other interesting thing that happened today was my being assaulted by the shower because I failed to realize it was pointed straight at me by the wall.
More when I get to Nice. Ricorde, la vita e bella, amici! Bellissima!