Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Spring Break: Italian Edition

Six days. Six women. Countless catastrophes.

During my semester abroad in Madrid, Spain, I traveled to European destinations ranging from Dublin to Amsterdam, where nothing ever went as planned and chaos became routine. While many of my classmates opted to take more of a “traditional” Spring Break to the beach, my friends and I decided to explore Italy.

Rome was an exciting first city and a great learning experience for the rest of our travels. In the Metro station, we watched multiple Italians stroll past the ticket machines and we confidently followed their lead, pleased to save the one-Euro fare. Halfway down the escalator, I noticed police barricading the platform. We turned around at the bottom and walked back up the stairs, but they had spotted us. It was difficult to miss six tall American girls, including a blonde and a redhead. Some of us tried to make a run for it but even our track star, nicknamed “the Bullet,” couldn’t outrun the Italian police.

We explained that we didn’t understand how the Italian Metro system worked. They demanded 50 Euros from each of us and received several reactions in return. One girl started crying. Another fumbled around in her purse for her bottle of Xanax. Another got in an officer’s face and tried to bargain him down to a lesser fine. The police wouldn’t budge and I sadly handed over the remains of my birthday money.

To conserve money but still be able to visit the Vatican, Coliseum, and other Roman highlights, we ate our hostel’s free breakfast (a piece of toast spread with Nutella) and dinner (a Styrofoam plate of pasta) and packed lunches of bread and peanut butter. Nothing but high class.

The chaos did not end in Rome. On the way to our hotel in Venice, we missed our stop and struggled to explain to the Italian driver that we needed to get off the bus. He hit the brakes, pulled to the side of the road, and opened the door. The locals laughed as they watched the six of us stumble across four lanes of traffic, dragging our rolling suitcases through the grass median and screaming in response to the vicious dog barking from behind a thin wire fence.

Our quality of life improved drastically in Venice. We stayed in a real hotel – even if it did have communal bathrooms. An impressive luxury. We spent time lost in the streets of the beautiful canal city, stumbling upon tiny boutiques with handcrafted jewelry and a little restaurant where the chef came out and personally recommended his world-class tiramisu.

In Florence, we were determined to navigate the city efficiently – and we succeeded. We located our hostel and just five minutes into checking in, we were handed 40 oz. beers and told that our stay included free breakfast, dinner, and…all-you-can drink wine and beer. That night, after a delicious pasta feast and several glasses of red wine, the hostel employees took us on a bar crawl around the city. And crawl we did.

Our final Italian destination was Milan, which may have been our most inefficient stop of them all. The painting, The Last Supper, was “on strike,” according to locals and the all of the famous clothing stores were closed for Holy Week. On Easter Sunday, we sat in the hotel lobby, devoured pizza from the only open local restaurant, and watched The Dead Poets Society dubbed in Italian.

As we prepared to board a flight back to Spain, one friend realized she had brought the wrong ticket. With just minutes before the flight boarded, she joined us, out of breath but with a one-way ticket back to Spain in hand. We landed in Madrid exhausted with pizza, pasta, and gelato in our stomachs and a jumbled mess of Spanish, English, and Italian in our minds.

No comments: