Travel Fails – Ciao Italia

I’d been to Italy before, but just to one city and just for a couple of days, so I was a little nervous about traveling between four different places over the course of a week. I figured all the trains would be late and I’d miss connections, I’d get lost trying to find where I was going and at some point I’d accidentally leave my luggage on a train or somewhere else. Fortunately none of this happened, but just like any other trip I take, it provided me with a good number of mishaps despite the best laid plans.

First of all, I learned Yelp isn’t necessarily a helpful resource for Italy (or train stations). When I was trying to figure out which Genoa train station to use to get to Cinque Terre, Google sent me to Yelp reviews of the two I was considering. The reviews of the main station indicated it was one of the worst stations the reviewers had ever been to. The reviews of the other station (Brignole) were more favorable and one even included a picture of some cool architecture in the station. So Brignole it was. The bus from the airport stopped first at the main station, and it looked really nice from the outside. So nice I almost got off there, but I stuck to my Yelp recommendation. Brignole was far less impressive from the outside, and when I got inside, I wondered how bad the main station had to be to have worse reviews than this. While looking for that cool architecture I never found, I stumbled upon the bathroom. While I was thankful there were actual toilets in there (not a luxury to be found consistently on this trip), I was perplexed by the existence of a maintenance office in there that was occupied by two men who kept coming and going through the women’s restroom.

Second, a lot of things were broken. Within 10 minutes of my arrival in Vernazza, I learned the following things were broken: the ATM, the front door to my building and the credit card machine of the apartment owner. The ATM was apparently eating cards, something the frantic people standing by it had just had happen to them when I walked past. The broken ATM added to the challenge of figuring out how to pay for my lodging without being able to use a credit card. The front door opened and closed, but it couldn’t be locked because the housekeeper had broken off the key in it. But I was assured that was fine because my room had a door that locked. More on doors later. Even part of the famous Cinque Terre trail was broken, or closed due to landslide damage. This isn’t uncommon, but this time it was the two easiest sections that were closed, which necessitated a 6 km detour straight up and straight down a steep and rocky path to complete the through hike. At least the views were pretty good from up there.

2014-10-16 Italy 1

While this is embarrassing to admit, one of my other issues was with doors. If there is a “Doors for Dummies” book, I might need to put it on my Christmas list. On my last evening in Vernazza, I got back to my building to find the front door was locked for the first time during my visit. I tried to open it without any luck. I could turn my key and hear the door unlock, but I couldn’t for the life of me get the door open. There was no knob, just a knocker-looking thing, and despite some furious pushes and pulls, I couldn’t get the door to budge. I tried several times, walked away for a bit, came back and tried some more. After about 10 minutes of futile attempts, I threw in the towel and called Anna, the woman who had brought me there when I arrived and told me to call if I had any issues. After a conversation in broken English and Italian that I’m sure was painful for both parties, Anna agreed to come and let me in. In the meantime, the couple staying next to me had heard the commotion from their balcony, so as Anne headed over, they came to the door to see if they could open it from the inside. Unfortunately, the door also needed to be unlocked with a key from the inside, and the key they had been given when they checked in was the top half stub of the key the housekeeper had broken off in the lock! Shortly after this, Anna came huffing and puffing up the stairs and showed the dumb American how to get in. She also told all of us (my neighbors were still on the other side of the door) not to lock the door. Not a problem – I’m sure I couldn’t figure that out either!

I would like to say that was my only door-related incident of the trip, but sadly that would be incorrect. I rented an apartment in Florence through airbnb, so at the appointed time the owner met me in front of the building and opened the three different doors that stood between the street and the apartment. Shortly after, I left to go explore the city, but before I got too far I made sure I could unlock every door from the outside. Door to the apartment – check, that was easy. Door from the hallway to the entryway – doh! I couldn’t open it. It was the same general issue as the door in Vernazza. Why don’t the Italians believe in doorknobs?! Again I tried for about 10 minutes before admitting defeat. I texted my host to let him know I needed help, but that I was in no rush because I was headed out. About an hour later he texted back and said he’d come by to help me. I rushed back to the apartment to meet him and realized I couldn’t open the door into the building. Crap! After a few minutes of frantic attempts, I got it – after unlocking, pull the door towards you ever so slightly and then push it – voila! When I got to the door I couldn’t open the first time, I tried the same method and it worked. I still felt like a complete idiot, but at least I salvaged a little bit of my dignity. The postscript to this story happened the next night. I was in my apartment and heard some noises outside. I soon realized it was the same noise I was oh-so-familiar with – the continual unlocking and locking of the outer door, broken up by pauses to try to push/pull the door open. I opened the door to find a shocked but relieved-looking family who was staying in the apartment next to me. I explained to them I had the same problem the day before, and I showed them how to open the door. They didn’t speak much English, but hopefully my door opening demo was enough of an international language that they didn’t get trapped in the hall again. In case you were curious, this is that the inside of that door looked like:

2014-10-16 Italy 2

My longest-running fail of the trip started at 3:30am on my last morning in Italy and ended at 5pm in Seattle. As I stood on the sidewalk waiting for my cab to the airport, it started to rain. Not just rain, but Noah’s Ark storm level rain. I think most “pack smart” advice tells you not to travel with an umbrella, but I was so glad I had mine or else I would have been soggy for a nearly 24 hour travel day. I noticed continuous lightning off in the distance. That couldn’t be good for my flight. Where was the cab? I was told to be outside by 4:20 for my 4:30 cab, but the guy didn’t show up until 4:40. Fortunately the ride to the airport was short and uneventful, as was everything else until I got on the plane. After waking up at 3:30, I was dozing off on the plane before everyone was even boarded. I was half-asleep when I heard the words “take off delayed until 7:50” because of fog in Amsterdam, and I was then wide awake. I did the math and determined it was unlikely I’d make my connecting flight home, but at that point there was nothing I could do about it so I went back to sleep. Over the course of the next 19 hours, I did an Amazing Race-worthy (but ultimately unsuccessful) mad dash through the Amsterdam airport, waited in line at the KLM transfer desk for 2+ hours to get rebooked, was told there were no Delta flights available to get home until the next day or maybe the day after, heard a flurry of frantic Dutch spoken behind the counter and was then given a golden ticket – a boarding pass on the afternoon flight to Seattle – and spent ten hours happier than I have ever been to be in a middle seat.

I guess there was one other fail worth noting. I did a short layover on the way to Florence, and I ended up at a broken tourist attraction. They really should maintain those things better…

2014-10-16 Italy 3

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