Thursday, October 14, 2004

Munich, Germany—Milan, Italy—Verona, Italy—Days 256/257

After three weeks of bratwurst and beer, it was time for me to make my way down to Italy. After spending the day in Munich with Elizabeth, our time together narrowed down as the time for my night train approached. I had a reservation to have a bed on the train which I was excited about. It cost a whopping 40 Euro for the reservation but since it was fully overnight—I would go to bed in Munich and wake up in Milan—I was excited to see what kind of train it would be.

I was hoping for the best and when I got on the train, I realized that it was. Elizabeth helped me with my stuff and we oohhh-ed and ahhh-ed at my private room, my personal sink IN my private room, and the “security system” that the train attendant showed me to get in and out of my room. When he asked me if I wanted “tea or coffee” in the morning, Elizabeth just shook her head. I smiled but secretly inside felt bad for all of those passengers down the back of the train who had to spent twelve hours sitting upright in a compartment with five other passengers and their belongings. I definitely was living it up in my room.

Elizabeth had to get off the train and we stood talking until the very last minute. As the train pulled away, I waved to Elizabeth through the window until we were finally out of sight from each other, then retreated back to my room. It was just going on nine o’clock and I decided that I should just go to sleep. I got ready for bed and turned off my light.

I managed to sleep ok on the train—I kept having dreams that the train would derail. I seemed to wake up every time the train went around big turns as I rolled around in the bed being pulled by the force of the train. I would wake up, forget where I was, remember where I was, and then try to fall back asleep. When I was asleep for a while, I was woken up again by the person in the compartment next to me who was loudly trying to get into my cabin. It wasn’t like he was trying to break in or anything, just trying to open the door that separated our compartments. There was a sort of door separating our cabins with the signs “open” and “closed” on it which made you think that perhaps you had a closet behind the door to put your things in. I certainly thought this and tried unsuccessfully to open the door before I went to bed (before he boarded) and found he was trying to do the same thing. Except it was like 3 o’clock in the morning so his efforts were not appreciated on my part. Eventually he stopped and I drifted off again.

I woke up when my alarm went off (my personal alarm automatically set by the train conductor) and got dressed. Soon I was served breakfast (rolls, jams, nutella, juice and tea) and I munched on my breakfast while looking out the window getting glimpses of Italy as we passed.

Our destination was Milan—I would be meeting my friend Sarah Mauet (she goes by Mo) in Milan. Mo will be with me for ten days while we zip from Milan to Verona, Venice to Rome, all in the name of hippos. We pulled into the Milan Central train station forty-five minutes late. I got off and headed first to the WC where I had quite a funny exchange with an Italian woman who didn’t know how to put her money into the turn stall in the bathroom to let herself into the wash room area. There was a machine, you put in your 70 cents, and then a green light came on and you could pass through. I thought it was pretty simple, but she didn’t. While I scrounged for change, she waited to watch me to see what I did. I made the mistake of putting in a one Euro coin in at first (it didn’t accept the full Euro, only smaller coins) and netted two extra Euros as I took my one Euro from the rejected change slot. I actually was going to make a profit from going to the bathroom! I then found exact change—all the while the woman is standing there just watching me—and finally put my money in and went in. She got the hint and happily put her coins in after me, thanking me for my help.

After the bathroom incident, I headed to find a place to store my luggage for a bit. Couldn’t find lockers for the life of me but eventually found a sign that showed some sort of luggage storage. I followed the signs and came to a sketchy set up—a man standing in a big room with one side designated for dropping off your luggage, the other for picking it up. I went ahead and dropped off my two bags and my small side bag after reading the signs claiming that “we are not responsible for lost valuables.” Great.

I paid the exorbitant fee and got my ticket. I now had just about four hours before Mo’s plane was supposed to arrive. I decided that I would go to downtown Milan and see the Duomo in the center. So I pushed my way through the crowds to the metro and bought a 24 hour day pass and was soon, almost miraculously, found myself on a train to the Duomo.

I got off and followed the hoards of people to the exit of the subway and emerged right in the middle of the square, with the big beautiful Duomo (the cathedral) in front of me. I was impressed. I walked all around the Duomo before going in it, amazed at all of the statues that adorned its outside. I then went in and was truly impressed at the size of the Duomo and at all of the beautiful artwork that adorned its walls. So far I had no complaints.

Luckily near the Duomo was the tourist office. I went in, waited for my turn amongst all the American tourists and finally got directions to the Milan airport. I would have to take a special train from a different train station than the central one, which I would need to take the metro to. Sounded easy enough but I still had quite a lot of time to spare. So I started wandering and eventually ended up at the old citadella where I witnessed a very large truck trying to go through a very tight space as the truck driver tried to maneuver the truck into the main square of the citadella. It was so close, I couldn’t watch. I headed back to the subway and got the metro to the train station that would take me to the airport.

I bought my ticket and soon was on my way to the Milan International Airport which was 45 minutes away. Once we were there, I tracked down Mo’s flight and found the correct terminal and the exit gate that Mo would be heading out of. I had some time to kill so I found the business center and dilly dallied on the computer there for a bit before heading back out to wait for Mo. She soon appeared through the door and we were both sort of shocked to see each other. I was shocked (and impressed) at her lack of luggage she brought with her and she was shocked to see me standing there without having to go through customs again. She thought she was going to find a customs agent, and there I was!

Nonetheless, we were excited to see each other. We headed back to Milan on the next train and then took the metro to the Duomo again so that Mo could see it. Despite traveling for, like, 24 hours, she was in good spirits and was excited to see things despite the lack of sleep. We went around the Duomo again (brining her suitcase with us which was quite funny) and then got some lunch to eat at a sidewalk café. We then decided to make our way to Verona, the first stop on the Italian hippo trail.

We went to the central train station, retrieved my things from the luggage storage—thank goodness—and realized that the next train to Verona left in like five minutes. After a slight panic and an episode of me running to find a ticket booth (which somehow meant that I ran outside of the train station, around it, and then back in again through another door), we had a ticket for Mo and were running towards the platform. We got on, found two seats together, and peeled off our jackets. My heart was racing and I felt hot and flustered but at least we made the train.

The train started up and we started off towards Verona. Our slight mistake was that we hadn’t validated Mo’s ticket in the train machines on the platform before boarding, so the ticket man warned us that we needed to do that or face a fine. He, thankfully, wasn’t going to charge us this time, but gave us a warning for next time. This was good because neither of us had anymore Euros at that point so I don’t know what we would have done to pay the fine.

We made it into Verona just over an hour and a half later and took a taxi to our hotel—which was practically just down the road from the train station. We dropped off our stuff and eventually headed back out on the town, wandering the streets of Verona as the sun set. We stopped at a small pizzeria for dinner and then headed back to the hotel for the night.