14 months in Latin America slapped the type A planner out of me. I no longer travel with calendars and always show up and just figure things out. That’s cool in Latin America because that’s how they roll.
It is not this way in Europe.
You see I am also terrible at geography and instead of zipping over to Italy I did not realize I’d need to go UP through Spain, UP AGAIN to France then OVER to Italy. I am a bit of a European rail dummy.
Sure being carefree can be great, but not always. When you don’t plan ahead here is how things work out:
4pm: Arrive at train station with no plan as to how to get to Florence despite Lily Leung showing me how to use apps to plan it out. No worries I’ll do it when I get there.
4:01pm: Find out there’s no wifi.
4:10pm: Folks in Seville have no idea how to get to Florence either but promise me that when I get to Madrid, just take the subway to the other train station across the city and they’ll know.
9:45pm: Arrive in Madrid, successfully make my way to Chamartin station. Discover they have no idea either and my ticket agent wins the award for the rudest person I met.
Despite ordering in Spanish, when I don’t understand her mumble of cash or credit card she looks at me in exasperation. Knowing that I have a 30 hour ride afterwards I tell her in Spanish that she is very helpful.
10:00pm: have not eaten dinner yet and nothing is open but Burger King. It tastes good but makes me hate myself.
11:00pm: Discover that even though overnight train to Barcelona had nearly an empty car Ms.Sunshine Ticket Agent booked me my seat next to a random guy who looked like he was counting on laying across both seats. He was grateful when I moved to another seat.
7:00am: Arrive in Barcelona. Staff is so helpful and prints off an itinerary for me and books the first 3 trains. I find $10 tropical fruit salad and lentils and rice for lunch.
10:42: Arrive in Figueres Vilafant with an easy transfer to the other side of the track for the next train
1:35pm: Arrive in Nimes. Made the same mistake of taking train at rush hour without booking in advance and had to pay for ticket. That would have been okay but then also had to pay fifty cents to pee – they already got fifty euro out if me and they can’t throw in a free bathroom pass??
I also notice my 10 years of French is in hibernation answering in Spanish.
3:41pm: Arrive in Valence. Started confusing my Spanish and French again but laughed when the girl at the cafe snorted like a pig to tell me the sandwich I was looking at was pork.
6:15pm: It’s like the amazing race. I arrive in Chambery-Challes-E. Train was late and had only five minutes to find mine. I was sweaty and panicky and just as I turned the corner in the wrong direction a commuter stopped me and turned me around I would have missed that fifty Euro train without him.
9:25pm: I did not realize that the train schedule in Italy is just a rough approximation. I arrive in Porto Susa half an hour late. I hoped I could still make the reservations for the Italian portion of my journey but ticket office is closed.
So basically I paid fifty euro for nothing and should have stayed overnight in that other town. I was stuck there for the night so I whipped out my kindle to see if I could find a close hostel for the night.
Oh right I forgot to mention that I didn’t realize I was in Torino I thought I was in Milan. When I exited the Porta Susa station I saw two hotels referencing Milan which was also why none of the hostel directions made sense.
Oh did I also mention that I don’t have any money on me?
Finally I put technology aside and asked a waiter for hostel. Apparently the only place in the world where the train station area is nice and expensive is Torino. He did ask others in the restaurant and they directed me toward a one star hotel.
It’s hard to call things in Europe dingy because everything is old here but my hotel room was definitely on the sad side. I managed to get the old woman who did not speak English but did speak broken Spanish to ask her son to knock the price down and we finally agreed on 45 euro for a room that had a shower but no toilet.
Where do people pee? In the shower?
The next morning I find out that there is a direct train to Florence avoiding 2 more connections so I spend the day in Turin. A pleasant surprise was my Eurail pass qualified me for first class on the nicest train yet. Very sleek and while I was excited about the juice and cookie then they gave me a chocolate.
I said I always wanted a big European rail adventure and while these last 49 hours haven’t been perfect they have certainly been adventurous.
My Advice? Don’t do what I did. Here’s a great Eurotrip guide from Marcela that will help you avoid my mistakes.