Category Archives: Travel Stories

About That Time I Was a Hobo in Italy

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.

Amalfi-coast-italy-travel

Amalfi Coast, Italy

 

 

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.

santa-margherita-italy-travel

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.

portofino-italy-travelAfter 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.

Portofino-3

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).

portofino-italy-travel

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.

How I Caught the Travel Bug (In Paris)

Paris passport stamp

One of my favorite movies of all time is “While you were sleeping”. What’s not to love? Crazy Uncle Saul, Midge and her creamy mashed potatoes, Lucy and her dreams of traveling to Florence. All Lucy wants is a stamp in her passport. A dream I shared for the first 40 years of my life.

 

Having a husband who travels all over the world sounds glamorous until you’re the one sitting at home with the kids for two weeks straight, pretending you’re not about to lose your ever loving mind because all of a sudden you’re a single parent. And yes, I realize that single parents do this amazing task every day, often for decades, without help from a significant other. But, when you’re married and you’re spoiled to having a co-conspirator to trick the children into going to bed or that broccoli is the yummiest food on the planet, and then all of a sudden you don’t. Well, it’s a rude awakening, to say the least.

I was never jealous of my husband’s trips at first. He went to places like India or Cambodia. And he didn’t travel to the tourist areas of these countries. I’m not even sure India has a token tourist trap, other than the Taj Mahal. I only ever hear about the smell. But anyway, he was going to remote villages where there wasn’t clean water or electricity or food I’d recognize, things I find to be necessities in life, so I wasn’t really tempted to join him in his escapades.

Eiffel Tower

Since I was little, I had dreamed of seeing the other side of the world with my own eyes. For you to comprehend how big of a dream this was, you have to understand where I came from: a his, hers and ours family that lived in a double-wide mobile home. I’m not sure my mom had ever been outside of the southern United States at that point in her life. She’s still never been to California or New York or any of the places I’d consider essential to the American experience. My dad never dreamed of going anywhere that I know of. He came to visit me when I lived in St. Louis which was probably one of his biggest travel adventures. Somehow with this insular backdrop to my life, I got the travel bug.

In 2007, I was so optimistic that my time was coming to break out of the borders of these United States that I got my passport. It didn’t matter that I had no plans to travel (a question asked on the application; I just left it blank). I was going to be prepared for when my opportunity came, even though the $97 fee was a stretch since I was predominantly a stay at home mom at the time.

louvre paris

The Louvre, Paris

Then, in 2010, Kevin’s travels took a turn for the better. A new development led to the need for him to go to Paris. Without me. I can’t say that I was very mature about the whole situation. I mean, I’ve never even been to Cancun for the token college trip that most kids go on. We married before my sophomore year of college so I missed out on a lot of those ‘rite of passage’ events that most college students experience. And now my husband was going to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower without me. This was not too long after the popularity of Facebook took off, so I had an ample audience for my grievances over this injustice.

Finally, in 2011, Kevin needed to return to Paris and we had almost enough frequent flier miles for me to go with him for free! AAAGH! My dream of having a stamp in my passport was finally coming true! Of course, our flight was late. We don’t know how to arrive on time anywhere via airplane. (On a trip last year, I traveled internationally alone and every flight but one was on time. I accused Kevin of being my flight delay problem at some point during my trip. Then one got canceled and I ended up at Heathrow at 2 am with an overnight layover so maybe I should keep those theories to myself next time.)

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle

We arrived at Paris Charles de Gaulle 7 hours late. Despite the lack of sleep–who can sleep in coach anyway–I was still laser focused on my goals: first, a stamp in my passport; second: to see the Eiffel Tower. We arrive at customs. Kevin had done this many times at this point in his life so I was trying to follow his lead, being a customs virgin and all. We walk up to the window for passport check and the guard does not stamp my passport. Just waves me through. WHAT?! I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment and I don’t get a stamp?!

So, I do what any logical, sane person in a foreign country would do. I walked back through the line to go back up to the window and tell the guard I needed a stamp. I don’t know if you’ve been to Europe or not, but their policemen are not exactly friendly looking and they carry huge automatic rifles. Everywhere. All the time. I’m sure on the list of 100 times in our marriage that Kevin wanted to strangle me, this was probably at the top. And yes, I’m sure the times Kevin wanted to strangle me is more like in the thousands.

Jardin de Tuileries

Jardin de Tuileries

Other than looking incredibly annoyed, nothing detrimental happened. And I was the very proud owner of my first passport stamp.
The rest of the trip was just magical, except for that whole jet lag thing. To see all the things live and in-person, that I’d only dreamed of from books and movies was just beyond words. The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the grandeur of Versailles, Degas and Van Gogh at Musee d’Orsay, the magnitude of the Arch de Triomphe….just magical. And I knew I’d never be content with just this one trip.