Thursday, December 9, 2010

Italy: We're all friends here

Fresh off the plane and it was only 8:15am. And cold. Wow...so cold. But hey! I made it! After a long, sleepless night of waiting in the Madrid airport, I was relieved to find that my early morning flight to Milan had not been cancelled, despite the recent strikes. So relieved was I, that I slept the entire way to Italy and didn't even worry about turbulence or falling out of the sky. Just get me to Italy, was the last thought that crossed my mind before I dozed off into deep sleep. 

Well, here I was in Italy. Alone. I needed to meet Jordan at a different airport, also in Milan, but about two hours away (Mishap #1). I spotted a man selling tickets to the Milan Central Train Station, and knew he was my guy. I bought a ticket to the station, and stood in line for some breakfast, as my eyes zoomed in on a mouth-watering panini. But my attention was quickly demanded elsewhere-on the Italian woman behind me, who did not seem happy at all. 

"Tuo zaino. E' aperto! E' aperto!" She was talking to me. "Sorry, I'm American...Americana?" She didn't seem put off by that at all, but instead continued pointing at the back of my head and rolling her eyes. Just as I convinced myself that this situation would improve drastically if I simply walked away, she turned me around and zipped up my backpack. "E'aperto!" 

My backpack was open. Of course. "Thank you!" I said, much too loudly, and then smiled stupidly. She laughed and turned to her husband as she said, "Americana, eh!" and made some kind of funny hand motion to go along with it. 

I got my panini and ate it quickly, because I had to catch the bus to the Milan Central Station at 9am. The only problem was once I got outside, I had no idea which bus to take, as there seemed to be multiple ones headed in that general direction. I asked a man who looked like he worked for one of the busing companies. 

"Scusi? Which bus..." I pointed to my ticket. He did not like this, and in a gruff voice said, "Not my company" (which actually sounded more like "nottaa myaa compania") Great. "But which one?" I was desperate. It was 8:56. "Which bus?" He said the same thing again, that it wasn't his company. I shot him a look of what I thought was sheer frustration, but actually must have been pity personified because he pointed me to the right bus, although he looked angry at his finger for betraying him. I thanked him and continued on my way. 

The bus ride to the Central Station went by fast and before I knew it, I was outside buying tickets to the Milan Malpensa Airport, where I was supposed to meet Jordan. This bus ride was much more fun. It was absolutely packed with Italians, and everyone was talking over each other. The lady sitting next to me was fluent in English and Italian, which was very convenient. We were talking about different trips and places we'd like to see, when we overheard what sounded like an argument between the bus driver and another woman. 

My new friend translated that there was another woman who didn't have a seat on the bus, and was instead sitting on the floor next to the driver. Apparently, the driver was saying how much he loved Italy because there were no rules, but this was just wrong. The woman seemed fixed on staying where she was, and their banter back and forth was accompanied by many bravos, clapping, and laughter from the fellow Italians. The girl next to me laughed too and said, "Eh...it's Italy you know? We're all friends here." 

I got to the airport and hopped onto my last bus, which would take me to my final destination-Terminal One. The driver pulled up to the entrance, but I was still unsure of where to go. I asked him where the arrivals were, and he kept saying something in Italian that I didn't understand. So I kept asking. Finally I put together that I needed to go on the 1st floor to the right, but before I could even say grazie he shooed me out of the bus. "Ciao!" he barked. "Ciao ciao ciao ciao ciao!" Again, my facial expression must have been one of surprise because he softened his tone a bit and added, "Ciao bella."

I finally met up with Jordan at the airport and we headed to beautiful Lake Como. Although it was snowing and colder than I thought, we had an amazing time exploring the area, doing a little shopping, and of course, eating the incredible food. 

Mishaps #2, 3 and 4 made the trip even more interesting. These were a comedy of errors such as (upon my recommendation) our late night bus into Bellagio where (I thought) our hotel was, only to discover it was in fact on the other side of the lake. Luckily we caught the ferry just in time. But this was only Mishap #2. Mishap #3 was the sad news that there was virtually nothing to do in any of the charming little cities, because everything in Lake Como was closed for "off-season." 

Mishap #4 was my favorite because what looked like the worst way to end a trip turned out to be the best. We switched hotels and arrived in the city of Bergamo, where our flight was leaving early the next morning. We caught a cab and it quickly became obvious that our hotel was far from the main city. Very far. A twenty five dollar cab ride far. To make matters worse, the receptionist at the hotel told us the only place we could eat nearby was a bar called Bingo Hall. So much for a delicious last dinner in Italy.

But instead, the events that followed went like this: The receptionist said he could take us to a nice restaurant he knew of, so that we didn't have to pay for a taxi. About a half hour later, we met up with a group of three Dutch men on a business trip who were also staying at the hotel and were going to the same restaurant. Turns out they were the nicest guys in the world, and we all sat together for dinner. Two of them were closer in age to Jordan and I, and the older man was the owner of a massive company in Holland. We laughed about everything at the dinner table, making fun of each other, sharing stories and wine, and eventually exchanging email addresses. The older man, Bart, had such a good heart and his smile was infectious. He refused to let anybody else pay for the dinner, insisting that our presence made his heart warm.

Not to mention, the meal was everything your last meal in Italy should be. Utterly delectable.

I have left out many other memories that made my trip to Italy unforgettable, but I will leave it up to the pictures to fill in those gaps:
I loved Italy...even when the people were a little impatient or confusing. No matter how many times they said "ciao" or shoo'd me away, they always offered a little smile or bella at the end, in attempt to soften their rather blunt nature. Because, after all, we're all friends in Italy.

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