I had no idea what was in store for me. I thought traveling here was cheap and easy, but in a world completely foreign to me, namely European airports, I found myself a bit overwhelmed.
My train left from Florence at 7 in the morning and headed straight for Milan’s Malpensa airport (if you’re curious malpensa can almost be directly translated as bad thought, comforting for an airport). Upon arrival, I realized that I had not a clue to where I was heading so I followed the crowd into Terminal 1. There were no signs explaining which airlines flew out of which terminals or even the difference between the terminals. I felt like a lost dog or child. Luckily, for once, I was beyond early so I had plenty of time to solve the mystery.
Malpensa’s main terminal is four floors high with staggered, M.C. Escher type stairs running from the ground to the top. Check-ins were on the top floor so I meandered my way up those disparate stairs until finding a massive, unmapped swath of airline checkins. I immediately gave up what would have felt like the hunt for the Holy Grail and asked an information person who kindly informed me that I was in the wrong terminal that I would have to take a bus there. I asked where the bus was and understood perfectly her directions involving which elevator to use and where it was located. She told me to take it to floor meno uno, which means minus one. I thought she meant as in take it down one floor instead of to the below ground level floor so I literally got off every floor until I saw signs for the bus. Luckily I had plenty of time.
Getting to the gate was easy and my flight was a bit delayed so I had plenty of time to hang out and relax. Boarding the actual plane, though, was terribly nerve racking. I had no idea that EasyJet made no use of true lines or boarding order. Instead they make use of a sort of first come, first serve attitude. People scramble into line, push their way forward and generally frustrate themselves getting onto the plane. Now the logical side of my brain had no question that I would have a seat on the plane, but the irrational, insecure side of it looked at the mob of people jamming the entrance to the plane so much so that they had to wait to let additional passengers on as a sign that EasyJet had overbooked, which would have undoubtedly left me without a seat since I was at the back of the line. Visions of me berating some Italian EasyJet representative in Italian about how he had absolutely ruined my weekend flowed through my head. I would have flipped out if my trip to see Courtney had been derailed because an airline had messed up. Needless to say I got on the plane and my irrational side shut up for a little bit, allowing the excitement to build itself back up.
I made the perhaps interesting analogy that boarding onto EasyJet could be seen as a more socialist process because everybody is equal. Nobody can buy his/her way into a better seat and everyone is equal under the “law” of the plane. A society without such distinctions of class or social “worth” can be both extremely hectic, as in the boarding, or much more social, as in the fact that people hung out in the aisles and generally struck up conversations with those around them. Alright, the analogy seems a bit of a stretch right now but at the time it seemed profound.
Unfortunately the discomfort of travel had not finished; I had merely entered the eye of the storm. Once the plane landed I went to turn on my crappy Italian phone only to see that I needed to enter my pin number. My face dropped because I had recently emptied my wallet of all useless items and I saw this pass as surely not requisite to have while traveling. Suddenly I had arrived in a country, not speaking a word of the language without any means of communicating with the person with whom I would be meeting at the hostel.
Luckily I was able to read old emails on my iPhone (something quite remarkable that I don’t need internet access to view emails which I have previously loaded) so I knew the address and metro stops for my hostel. They told me to take either the 5 or 2 metro’s which both would take me within a 5 minute walk of the hostel. As I battled back the rising discomfort of being alone in a truly foreign country where there was a major language barrier for me, I found the metro and bought a ticket and got a map before either conferring with an information booth or any person. I went through the gate assuming I would find either the 2 or the 5 on the other side; no such luck. I saw an 8 and then some other numbers off to the side. I glanced at my map to try and find the airport but couldn’t as my stress amounted. Before actually sitting down and looking at the map (which I would have figured out extremely quickly) I looked at an approaching train which for some reason happened to have a number 2 on the front. I got on and tried to ask if this was the dos train…everyone looked dumbfounded at me. Thank God a nice lady spoke English and she showed me the proper metro path to my hostel. I found my hostel fairly easily after that even though I rushed the entire time because I needed to get internet in order to alert Courtney of my arrival. I feel bad that she had to see me after such a long, stressful day.
Even before departing for the return journey I knew it would be quite the adventure. My plane was scheduled to leave Madrid at 5:10 and get to Milan at 7:15. The last train from Milan to Florence left at 8:15. The last Milan express shuttle bus which would get me to the station in time left the airport at around 8:30. No matter what the scenario I was going to be nearly sprinting the entire time. I put myself at the head of the EasyJet line in the hopes of finding a seat which would get me off the plane as quickly as possible. Success. The plane was only about five minutes behind when we began to taxi, but the announcement came that the flight should only take an hour and forty minutes! I was pumped! Leaving even close to 5:10 with an hour and forty minute flight meant that I would definitely catch the last train and not have to stay in Milan for the night. Finally European travel was appearing as easy and efficient as I had hoped it would be.
I should never let good expectations get into my head; they always seem to disappoint. We spent nearly an hour taxiing meaning that we did not even take off until a little after 6. Any hopes of me catching that train vanished. I knew that I would have to spend the night in Milan. Not a problem! Courtney and I had planned for this by making a short list of hostels nearby that wouldn’t break the bank. Once on the ground I searched my pockets for the list only to realize it had disappeared. Great. No phone, no Internet and no idea of where to go in Milan. No worries, maybe there would be a bus back to Florence or an information booth to help me find a place to stay.
Fighting the panic was a bit more difficult after we arrived at the train station, but as long as I told myself that no matter what I would be in Florence in the morning my nerves calmed down. I bought my ticket from the biglietteria and asked the man behind the counter what time the station closed. It closed at 1 but interestingly if you had a ticket you could stay in the station overnight. OK, so now I had a fallback in case I found nothing else. Still, the idea of spending a night in a Milan train station did not exactly fill me with thoughts of paradise. I explored the area near the train station and found an internet cafe where I spent an hour talking to Courtney which instantly makes me feel better no matter the scenario and got directions to a possible hostel. I walked to the hostel and found out that it would cost 35 euro to spend a grand total of 6 hours there probably with a supplemental fee for the Internet. I couldn’t make my dad and Chris waste more money unnecessarily so I tried to haggle the guy but to no avail. I left, resigned to spend the night in the Milan train station. And that’s where I am now. It’s not terrible minus the cold, hard chairs and the draft concourse. I met an American kid and spent a good hour and half talking to him before he fell asleep.
This is probably a sign that I should plan out my trips more efficiently. It’s not that I can’t plan. When it comes to other people or trips involving Courtney I can plan quite well, but when it’s just me I take a cavalier ‘we’ll see how it works out,’ type attitude. I assume things will fall into place and if not I’m man enough to deal with it. Well, life would certainly be happier for me right now if I were in bed at the hotel, so there is a lesson that I can draw from this; make sure my plans are settled. In the end, though, this is just another adventure on the story of life.