30 Days of Indie Travel Project Day 22: TRANSIT: The word travel comes from a French word meaning “work” and sometimes, getting there is work. Between crowded buses, long airline delays, overnight trains and crazy rickshaw rides, transportation can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding part of the tip. Tell us about a time when the journey became more important than the destination. Read in Italian
The pains of traveling: my first time in Europe…
1st Difficulty : leaving behind a new romance. It was a lot of work to get to Florence that first time. First my parents bought me a ticket on Sabina Belgium World Airlines. I took a plane from Cedar Rapids Iowa to Chicago for a brief layover in order to see my then boyfriend, before taking off for Europe for an extended study abroad program. We had started dating a few months before my departure and I remember when my dad put me on the plane bound for the windy city being slightly skeptical that a new romance could endure the test of time and distance. Nice! I spent the flight to Europe pining for a love left at home.
2nd Difficulty: not knowing how to read a European Train Schedule. When I landed in Belgium I met up with three girlfriends with whom I was traveling to Florence by an overnight train. None of us had ever ridden a train in Europe and never imagined there would be more than one train station to worry about. Due to our ignorance after exiting the airport we jumped on the first available train and instead of going to Brussels North we sailed directly into the city center. We found ourselves in a foreign city, with all our bags, without the slightest idea how to find our train to Florence. I don’t believe my parents had completely thought through my itinerary when they bought my ticket, and basically at that moment, were blissfully unaware that their daughter was pretty much stranded & lost in a foreign city her first day out.
3nd Difficulty: traveling with a friend who brings a flotilla of bags and does not adhere to the “bring-only-what- you-can-carry-by-yourself” rule. Fortunately for my friend, she had me to help. Unfortunately for me, it was not easy to carry someone else’s bags as well as my own, all over the inner city train station in Brussels and I had the aching muscles to prove it.
4th Difficulty: being freaked out by the state of the Belgium public train station restrooms. “Toto we are not in Iowa any more”!
5th Difficulty: not knowing how to speak French. Eventually we made it to Bruxelles nord where trains departed for other European countries. Great! Only problem? There were lots of trains departing Brussels for Florence. Again we were facing the same problem. Clueless as to which train to hop aboard we found ourselves running from track to track looking for the right one. We attempted to flag people down to explain our predicament and ask for help. But, as one might expect no one spoke English and our sad attempts at pantomiming got us nowhere and what little information we did glean only added to our confusion. Our decision making process at the point was a little clouded by get lag, but putting our heads together we finally figured out which train we needed to take..and not a minute too late! Out of desperation and panic we had been about to board the 3:45 train to Florence instead of waiting for the 6:23 train. If we had taken the earlier we would have arrived in Italy a week later, seeing as it was the milk train and made every stop from Brussels to Florence. Instead, we located and boarded the correct overnight couchette, scheduled to arrive in Florence the following day.
My first attempts to make my way in the world were a bit pathetic and more a comedy of errors than anything else. But, on the upside, due to mistakes made, my friends and I had a few hours to explore Brussels, even if we were weighed down by a bit of extra baggage. Once aboard the right train we made friends with the conductor, who called us “his Americans” and he helped us settle in and feel at home aboard his train. In the morning, in the first light of dawn while hanging out of the train’s window, I had my first glimpse of Italy and I immediately fell in love. Upon arrival in Florence we were met by our professor who bought us our first Italian gelato. Gelato, I must say, goes a long way to easing the pain of a dreadful travel day. Oh, and that boyfriend I left behind…well things worked out pretty well and he is now my husband!