In 2014, my husband and I made our way back to Italy for the second time for what I dubbed “the minor cities” tour. We spent one week in Sorrento, using it as our home base for Capri, the Amalfi coast, and Pompeii. The second week, we used Milan as our base for Lake Como, Turin, and the Italian Riviera.
I had kept the last day of our trip open and unplanned, a miracle all on its own where I’m concerned. I tend to fall on the Type A control freak side of the personality scale. We decided to spend it on the Riviera. That’s always a good choice, right?
In keeping with our relaxed vibe for the day, we bought one-way train tickets from Milan to Santa Margherita Ligure with the intentions of buying the return ticket whenever we were ready to head back. We checked the return timetables so we would know what our options were and went on our merry way. And this is where the trouble ensued. We just didn’t know it yet.
We arrived in Santa Margherita Ligure, walked from the train station to the port and began the walk along the coastal road to Portofino. This walk was gorgeous, has to be one of the most beautiful in the world, but for some reason, I remembered my Rick Steve’s guide saying it was about 1.5km. It’s not, trust me. More like about 2.5 miles.
After making it Portofino we enjoyed a scrumptious seaside lunch. Side note: Italy is not America. A very boisterous American man was sitting at the table next to ours and requested ranch dressing for his salad. Do yourself a favor and at least attempt to educate yourself about the local culture before traveling somewhere. Just about any article about Italian life would have included the fact that there is no such thing as salad dressing in Italy; it’s all olive oil and vinegar over there. Also, please never eat at an Italian restaurant that has grated parmesan cheese on the table. That’s American, not Italian. (For more tips on what to expect in European culture, click here.)
Back to our adventure, at this point, Kevin and I had been together for 10 straight days with no break. We’ve been together for over 27 years and married for almost 26 and purposely choose to spend uninterrupted time together traveling. We are obviously dedicated to one another and love each other deeply, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get on each other’s last nerve sometimes. We were kind of at the point in our trip where we just needed a break from each other, and that is okay! It’s okay to say “I’m going to go do this thing for a bit. You sit here and drink your coffee and people watch.” There have been many times that Kevin’s waited for me outside while I went into yet another museum that he had absolutely no interest in. Just because you love each other doesn’t mean you have to spend every single second together.
There are two options to get back to Santa Margherita Ligure from Portofino to catch the train back to Milan: your feet and a ferry boat. (There is no train station in Portofino.) Kevin picked his feet; I picked the ferry boat, which gave us about an hour and a half respite from each other’s company. Just what we needed.
A lot of the train stations in the smaller Italian towns are unmanned. You can buy tickets from a machine or sometimes from the tabacchi, a tobacco and newsstand shop. We saw both when we got there so I wasn’t concerned about getting our return ticket. Problem: the machine only took cards with a chip and a pin, no cash. Being from America, we didn’t have a chip card at this point. No problem, we’ll go to the tabacchi. Except they don’t sell tickets at this particular one. We are literally running back and forth between the tabacchi and the machine, trying to figure out what to do with like 2 minutes left before the train leaves. Thankfully, it was running about 5 minutes behind or we would have totally missed it.
Finally, the lady working at the tabbachi tells us just to get on the train and we can buy the ticket from the conductor. At least, I think that’s what she said. So we run and jump on the train and collapse exhausted into random seats, panicked that she had no idea what she was talking about. (There was a bit of a language barrier, enhanced by dramatic charades).
We waited for the conductor to come by and check for tickets. I’ve been on a lot of Italian trains and a train official almost always comes by to check tickets. There’s even a fine for not validating your ticket in the machine before boarding the train. So we waited. And waited. And waited. No one came by to check or sell us a ticket or fine us or threaten us with time in an Italian jail.
And that is how we became Italian hobos.