Buses, Boats, Trains, Planes, and Cabs Part 2

Trip Start Jun 12, 2006
Trip End Nov 28, 2006

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

He Said:

If anyone owes me money or feels like giving me some, you can just make the check payable to the country of Italy. They get you there, keep you there, and strangle all the money out of you they can while you're there. If I have to pay one more cover charge to sit down at a restaurant and eat (or pay for the tablecloth, napkins, and forks as was gestured to us on our first night in Italy well over a month ago when we asked what the 'coperti' charge was for), I am going to knock over drinks, smear red sauce on the table cloth, and I might even loosen the caps to the salt and pepper shakers just to get my money's worth. So far on this trip, Italy has by far been our most expensive country, and on this brief sojourn, it once again has proved costly.

Our two full days of travel from Dubrovnik to Frankfurt began to take a turn for the worse when we realized our overnight ferry from Split to Ancona, Italy was packed to the bulkheads with Italian tour groups returning from a Catholic pilgrimage in Croatia. I have never seen more house dresses in my entire life. Of course everyone knew everyone else, or at least they did at the end of the trip, so we quickly discovered what can happen when you put hundreds of Italians together inside an enclosed space with no windows and no cushioning to absorb the sound. We discovered that you get the hell out of the room if you want any chance of sleeping.

I'll never understand it, but immediately after spending a week on a religious pilgrimage, you'd think people would be more patient, reflective, and full of the Lord's spirit. I guess there's nothing in the Bible that says, "Thou shalt not push and yell at your fellow passengers when trying to board or find your seat on a ship." A week with JC, it seemed, had absolutely no bearing on how people should be treated once outside the cathedral doors, and I thought Alli was going to knock this woman flat out when she tried to elbow her way past in the ticket line.

Nonetheless, we eventually found seats in the lounge and restaurant away from the noise below deck, as we have become quite good at finding the best seats on an overnight ferry. After the Italians ate dinner and left the dining room, the backpackers took over and made beds out of the booths, that is until breakfast was served, when the Italians returned to eat again. We got off the ship in Ancona shortly after day break, and it was still raining. I was wet, somewhat tired, and for the first time the entire trip, a little bit pissed off.

We took a short bus ride to the train station, where we had a cup of coffee, paid to use restrooms that were illuminated with black lights, and boarded our train to Pescara that was to have taken less than two hours. The train didn't move. I wasn't really aware of this fact, as I spent the better part of the morning using my European cell phone for the first time after discovering it comes with a game called World Cup soccer. We eventually found out the trains weren't running due to weather problems from a nice couple that had actually called a friend to translate for us because they didn't speak English.

It turns out that Ancona is a lot like New Orleans. When the city floods, there is no way in or out. A few buses had arrived to take passengers to a staging area where they could make other transportation connections, but the buses were all immediately mobbed upon arrival if they even made it through the floodwaters to begin with. People are animals. I know this is a loaded statement, but in this case, I don't mean it to be. I'm not being derogatory. I'm not being judgmental. I'm just being observant. Somehow, we are made to think that humans are superior to other animals. This might be because of the church or because of textbooks or because of whatever, but nonetheless, we're supposed to believe that humans are in charge of things and are better than every other living organism on the planet. This just isn't true.

When I saw how people attacked a train employee handing out freebies to stranded passengers, I couldn't help but think about the pigeons in St. Mark's Square. It was the exact same behavior. When people began cramming their way onto newly arrived buses, it reminded me of the cattle stampedes they show on TV in old western movies. It was the exact same behavior. When people began barking at one another for crowding into their own personal spaces out of the rain, it reminded me of the territorial elephant seals they show on National Geographic. It was the exact same behavior. The sooner we all realize that we are also animals and are not actually "above" them, than maybe we can move past it and stop acting like them. Isn't acceptance one of the steps to recovery?

As time went by, our chances of making it an hour and a half to the south for our flight to Frankfurt began to diminish. By four, we knew our 6:20 departure wasn't going to happen. We went across the street, got a hotel room, and called my sister to let them know we weren't going to be able to make it. Even though it was only going to be a few short days, I was really looking forward to seeing Hallie. It was very disappointing to say the least, and it didn't make it any better that Erik, my sister's boyfriend, had contacted his cousins in Frankfurt to find a bar that shows American sports, or as I prefer to call it, Gator football. No Florida-Tennessee game this year. Not even on the internet, as our hotel room wasn't in range of a wireless signal.

In our first day back in Italy we managed to spend well over 200 euros, which included two unused bus tickets and two wasted flights to Frankfurt that we couldn't even get transferred, let alone refunded. Part of me wanted to get up and find a way to leave that night, but I went to bed vowing to drive us out of Italy the next day if that's what it took. I really enjoyed the time we had in Italy earlier, but we would not be spending another night there on this trip, at least not in that city.

She Said:

Since we were so early for the ferry, we didn't even notice that we were two of only a few people waiting to board the ferry. We were pleased that it didn't seem like a crowded boat, and we would be one of the first to board to get good benches. We were wrong.

As it got closer to sailing time, Chad decided to check out the situation and returned with bad news. Turns out we were in the wrong place. There was a required passport checkpoint before boarding the ferry, and there were tons of people already lined up. Unfortunately, the three busloads of Italians returning from a religious Croatian pilgrimage got that memo before we did (the ticket agent clearly left that out when we asked about boarding). We took our place in line and dreaded what was going to be a race for a place to sleep. As we tried to get onto the boat, we were pushed aside and almost knocked over by gaggles of older Italian women. For a moment, I thought I saw myself in 50 years, but quickly decided that my manners and consideration for others, especially those smaller, would not be forsaken with age (and I made a mental note to remember that).

Once on board, the race began. We went straight for the "airseats" we got bamboozled into purchasing, our second big mistake. The few airseats on the first level were taken within minutes; the remaining seats were on the lower levels. It was like a room in solitary confinement in a dark prison. Picture this: dim lights; a small, windowless room; movie theater-like seats; hundreds of Italians screaming to each other about saved seats for friends; no air circulation.

We un-claimed our airseats and headed straight to the bar. Unfortunately, all the booths were taken by those who knew better, so we settled for a table with chairs until dinner was over. We contemplated shelling out the dough for a cabin, but even those were completely booked up. By the time dinner was over, we made a B-Line for a booth to get some sleep. Successfully squirming my way through bigger, slower people, I got us a booth and we settled in for the night. We played cards and had some snacks for dinner. Eventually, we curled up in our booth and got a few hours of sleep.

I was promptly awoken at 6 a.m. by an elderly man taking the chair from under my feet. It seems he wanted to use it and didn't really care that I was sleeping. After giving him my pre-coffee, sleep deprived thoughts about that, I went to the overcrowded bathroom to wash up. Competing with older women who were basically naked and washing themselves in the sink, I successfully brushed my teeth and made it out in 30 minutes.

We got in the "non-European" line for passport checks and met a couple from Washington State. Just like the Aussies who won the most-traveled award, I have to say that for Americans, Washington State wins the award, as this was the third couple we've met. They also had a terrible night's sleep, fighting for some floor space after they got booted from their airseats. We spoke for a while, remarking that having a "non-EU" line for passport checks gave us an advantage to get off the boat quicker, as our line was minimal compared to the EU line. Wrong again. We were quickly infiltrated by EU members who were hiding in the bathroom and in cabins, waiting to emerge at the last minute claiming they didn't know they were in the wrong line....UGH!

Happy to be off the boat, we took a quick bus to the train station as the rain status changed from pouring to torrential. As we boarded the train to Pescara, I actually thought that the worst was over, and was excited to be on the last two hour leg before flying out to Frankfurt. We ate lunch, glad to be on the train early and out of the rain, and I took a brief nap. I woke up about 30 minutes later (when we should have already left the station) and inquired to Chad about why we hadn't left. He was so enthralled in his soccer cell phone game, he didn't even realize! I got off the train to try and find out what was going on, but found that no one spoke any English, not even the conductor who took forever to even locate. A nice couple called a friend to translate enough for us to understand that it was weather related, and the estimated time of departure was unknown. About an hour later, the conductor came on the train and said something in Italian. This prompted people to gather their things in anger and begin to leave the train. It was like a bad movie about American tourists, and Chad and I were the idiot actors going, "What did he say? What's going on?" People quickly filed past us without a glance.

Again, the nice couple knew enough English to say "bus", which we eventually realized meant that the train station would be providing buses to take the same route. Anyone who was present for the MTA strike in NYC will understand the chaos that immediately ensued. When one major source of multi-directional transportation shuts down to a reported 13 buses (that is what we were told, however, in the four hours we stood there, only about six showed up), people fight like animals to get on. We had no clue what to do, and felt completely helpless. As the hours passed by, our hope of making our flight was diminishing. We explored renting a car and/or taking a very expensive taxi, but in both cases were told that it was impossible because the highways were completely flooded. No trains, no buses, no taxis...we were officially stuck in Ancona, Italy, approximately two hours from the airport.

We arrived at the train station at about 9 a.m. ready to catch an 11 a.m. train. By the time 4:30 p.m. arrived, we threw in the towel. There was no way we could make it, and we were completely soaked. We found a crappy hotel room across the street from the station and headed straight to an internet café to formulate Plan B. We searched for hours, but unfortunately, nothing going to Germany cost less than a small fortune. Disappointed, we realized we hadn't eaten all day and took a break to get some food. We refused to eat Italian food that night. We were mad at Italy and their faulty transportation system in the rain! Two internet sessions later, we put together a loose plan for early the next morning. The weather forecast was not in favor of taking the train again, but we had no choice but to risk it.

Later that night when I went down the hall to shower, I found an elderly man with his pants around his ankles, shitting with the door open. I am not sure who screamed louder, but if there ever was a time for comic relief, it was then. We decided against getting text messages from my sister updating us with the score of the Gator game. We were exhausted, depressed, and in some serious need of sleep. Travel day #2 had finally and thankfully come to an end.
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