Mostly, we view all of the booking and planning of our trips as part of our adventure. We meet people when we set up our vacation rentals and sometimes they become friends. It’s always a challenge to deal with airlines, but we have a system now and we’ve gotten quicker at researching and booking our flights. Getting to and from classes, the grocery store, or tourist attractions is always an adventure once we get to our destination country. There’s no way to anticipate exactly what the public transportation systems will be like until we get there.
A girl sat down next to me on the train between Rome and Venice. She opened a psychology textbook that was written in English. I read over her shoulder a few times, but I didn’t want to interrupt her. She spent the majority of the six hour train ride taking notes furiously on index cards. Toward the end of the ride, I learned that her name was Sophia and she was from California.
Six hours later, we were in Venice. By that time, I’d decided that the seats were not, in fact, comfortable and any illusions that I’d had about European train travel in general had been given a thorough reality check.
Even with all of the information that’s available on the Internet, it’s impossible to know for sure what we’ll encounter on a plane or a train or in a hotel. An airline that normally gets great reviews online may be staffed by a team of imbeciles on our plane day. A train that’s normally rated poorly could be the best experience of our lives if we just got off a twelve hour bus ride from hell. Experience is arbitrary. The more uncomfortable we become, the richer small comforts seem and vice versa.
The train came to a stop in Venice and John, Lydi, and I slung our packs on our backs and trekked the seven blocks to our vacation rental
in Mestre. It was about 4:30 PM.
As I said before, we had approximately 36 hours in Venice. We were scheduled to take a train into the center of Venice the next morning, but we’d spend the night in Mestre. We were scheduled to then board a plane the next day for Tunis at 6:50 AM.
At the vacation rental, a sweet little old lady coo-ed over us and made sure our pillow cases were properly ironed. She left some fruit on the counter for us and brought up a big bottle of water just to be hospitable.
“What a sweetheart.”
“I know! What a nice thing to do!” We raved.
After our day in Venice, John checked us in online.
“It looks like we got bumped…” he said. “But I can’t tell for sure.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, our tickets say 6:50 AM, but at the online Alitalia check-in site, it says 7:50 AM.”
We’d planned to get up around 3:30 to 4:00 AM to get to the airport. Another hour of sleep would be nice.
“Is there someone you can call?”
He laughed at me. “Who? The airline?”
He set an alarm for 3:30 AM. We wouldn’t be sleeping much that night either way.
At 4:25 AM, we began our march down the stairs of our vacation rental building. “Be careful,” I whispered to Lydian as we balanced all our packs down the stairs. At the bottom, the little old lady opened the door. At first, I thought she was just saying goodbye, which seemed strange to me. John made some charades to her and got out his phone. I opened the door to let Lydian out to go to the taxi.
“She thinks we haven’t paid…” John said to me quietly in the echo-y stairwell.
“What?” Normally payments happen automatically through the web site we’d used. “Can she take a credit card?” The taxi driver was outside waiting for us.
John and I stepped into the woman’s apartment. I held up a credit card, but she waved at me. She couldn’t take a credit card. “How much?” I asked.
One-hundred and eighty euros.
It was early. That seemed like a lot to me. Like more than I would’ve agreed to pay for one night. We needed to go. I began fishing in my purse. I’d pulled some money out of the ATM the day before but I didn’t know how much we had left. I gave John what I had and then went out to Lydian and got whatever euros she had. I took them into John. I felt certain that I’d already paid her once and that she was charging 180 euros instead of dollars in an effort to rip us off.
As the taxi driver raced perilously through the fog that morning, I felt thoroughly betrayed. Not only did I seriously doubt our driver’s ability to navigate through the fog at that speed, but I also seriously doubted our ability to judge a person’s true character with any accuracy.
How could I have thought that woman was ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’…she must’ve been just hovering, waiting there by the door…I thought to myself in a sleepy, angry, frightened stupor.
Disillusionment. I said to myself. You see what you want to see…whatever you happen to be looking for.
When we arrived at the airport in Venice at 5:00 AM, they told us they couldn’t check our bags yet. “It’s too early.” They said. “Your flight won’t take off until 7:50.”
Sure enough, we’d gotten bumped.
When we’d booked the tickets from Venice to Tunis, we’d chosen the early 6:50 AM flight because it had a layover and a connection in Rome. The 7:50 AM flight left only one hour between connecting flights and on our last trip to India, we’d missed a connecting flight via United Airlines which created a lot of misery for us. Missing a connecting flight can mean over-nighting it in a crappy hotel and taking the crappiest, earliest, or most uncomfortable flight somewhere the next day, after your vacation rental owner has rented the apartment to someone else.
We sat in a sad, darkened area at the airport in lime green chairs normally used by a pizzeria that hadn’t yet opened. There were greasy fingerprints still on the table leftover from the night before. We contemplated the odds of missing our connecting flight to Tunis.
“Did you get that email I sent you about Egypt?” John asked me. (Egypt is next on our itinerary after Tunisia. “I sent you an article about the military coup in Egypt that talked about people disappearing ‘n stuff…” John said…
He was looking up the information about the vacation rental we’d just left in Mestre to see how badly we’d been taken by the little old lady.
“Nope. I never got it.” I said opening up my email on my phone. (I found it later: A new, harsher kind of repression in Egypt…http://usat.ly/1qVxv7x)
“Okay…”he said. “Here…I found it. Looks like it was 180 euros, after all.” A few seconds later he said, “That’s only $222.00 US dollars.”
Suddenly, it dawned on me that we’d stayed for 2 nights, not one. That was only about $111.00 USD which wasn’t too bad in Venice.
“I feel bad now.” John said as he put the phone down. “I left in such a huff…”
“Did we pay her the right amount?” I asked.
“Well that’s good at least…” I tried to make myself feel better by saying that she should’ve asked us for the money the night before, but I felt bad too. When we’re traveling, we operate more off of intuition and gut than when we’re at home and sometimes, when our guts are hungry or otherwise preoccupied, it doesn’t work properly.
John saw a woman wrapping luggage and he said, “I read one review that said that Alitalia requires all baggage to be wrapped…I bet we’ll have to get our luggage wrapped.”
This set Lydi off.
“If we have to wrap our luggage, how will we recognize it? How will we carry it?” She was suddenly and surprisingly furious about the whole idea of wrapped luggage.
I saw John turn on his phone to begin searching for the review.
“Oh my god…put your phone away!” I told him. “We’ll go up to the little counter and talk to the woman and she’ll say something to us and then we might have to do something or we might not, but we won’t KNOW until we go up there to check our bags…”
This is the problem with travel. You just don’t know…anything. You can read people’s horror stories to make yourself scared or you can read five star reviews and either way, you’ll still end up being disillusioned. Sometimes the disillusionment is fun. Like when a guy picks up an accordion near an Italian food restaurant that smells really good in the historic district, and you have one of those ‘romantic’ moments of feeling at one with the world. But sometimes disillusionment makes us see positive things under a negative veil.
Alitalia didn’t make us wrap our bags.
An hour later, we made our way through security. We boarded the plane. John sat next to an aging
woman who was with a tour group. She told him a horror story about her missionary husband who’d been imprisoned in Tunisia.
“They left the bibles untouched in the backseat of the car though…” she’d laughed at the end of her story.
I overheard bits and pieces of the conversation.
“So…is Venice an island then?” She asked him.
She’d been in Venice for three days.
In Rome, we had one hour to make our connecting flight. It took us at least ten minutes just to figure out which direction to walk. Then, it took another twenty minutes to get to our gate.
Then, we stood waiting…waiting…waiting. I was exhausted and it was only about 9:00 in the morning. As we stood there, I had just enough time for John to relate the woman’s stories about her husband’s imprisonment and get really nervous about going to Tunisia for five weeks…
The man who picked us up from the airport, our vacation rental owner told us that Tunisia is “safe…
“What about Egypt?” John asked…
“Oh no. I wouldn’t go to Egypt right now. Bombs going off every day…no, no.”
I read the article. I watched the news. I looked for travel advisories from the U.S. government.
And there was nothing.
Just my disillusionment, some hearsay, and my mood on the particular day when we decide whether we’ll go to Egypt or not…