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The Flying Dutchman

So Much Distance to Cover, So Little Time

ITALY | Monday, 15 March 2010 | Views [1074] | Comments [3]

After Alice went to the home, and I assumed just hopped on her plane and flew home with no problems (never assume), I immediately jumped into the second phase of my adventure.  I was to fly to Basel, Switzerland that night (from Barcelona, I was currently in Madrid) so that I could meet my buddy Bonnie the next morning! Before checking out of the hostel to begin this journey across Europe, I went online to check my facebook.  Luckily I had checked, because in my inbox I found a message from Bonnie saying that her flight had been cancelled, and in a last ditch attempt to salvage a large portion of her vacation, she had booked another one, still arriving in Zurich, but at a different time.  If I had not checked my facebook, I probably would still have been sitting at the wrong gate at the airport, waiting for a plane to arrive that wasn't going to, and Bonnie would have been spinning around in circles worried because I hadn't been there when she landed.  So glad this situation was avoided.  

This new information didn't change my immediate plans though, so I went to the train station and casually stepped onto a high speed train going from Madrid to Barcelona (I love the eurail pass), and had arrived in a few short hours.

Once there, I did a little bit of wandering around the beautiful city and eventually took the train to the airport, where I had a few hours to sit around.  I got thirsty, so I went to a restaurant in the terminal and got an orange juice, and what happened next changed my life.  Probably not, but it's still too early to tell.  I ordered the juice, and guy at the counter turned around and put oranges into the top of this machine, and then pressed a button, and the gears started to turn, and one by one oranges would drop down into the inner workings of the machine (which was glassed in so I could see it!) and get the juice squeezed out of them and then get discarded out the side.  It was SO cool.  That is what I call fresh.  The orange juice was amazing, and the viewing experience was equally awesome.  The glass of juice may have cost 6 euro (like $9) but who is keeping track (maybe I should be...)  OK, so maybe it didn't change my life, but it was the highlight of my day!

I checked my bag and went into the waiting area.  I am apparently a really organized person (little did you know) and was there a good hour before ANYONE else showed up.  I had two hours to wait for the plane, which ended up being an hour and a half delayed, so I was there about three and a half hours early.  Upon boarding the plane, the pilot informed us that this flight was actually supposed to be cancelled, but they had brought this plane over specially from Hamburg, just to get these lucky passengers to Basel.  He also told us about how bad the weather was where we were going, and how this plane had just gotten back from being fixed, and how it was probably missing a wing or something else to make us all feel really relaxed as we took off over the Mediterranean.  We successfully got up in the air though, and we were off to a good start.  

Once at cruising altitude, I took advantage of the decently sized menu that was offered to me - I thought I would celebrate me successfully boarding a plane all by myself!  The sandwich I ordered was absolutely delicious, and probably the best airline food I have ever had.  Fresh tomatoes and cheese and meat and lettuce and it was just made that day and it was awesome.  

On the plane, I was a little worried about the eleven hours that I had between the time that I landed in Basel and when I had to be in Zurich to catch Bonnie at the airport.  I had tried to book a hostel in either Basel or Zurich, but both cities were surprisingly filled to the max, so all I could do was hope that there was a vacancy when I got there, or maybe a cheap hotel.  I also was worried since  the receptions of all the hostels in Basel closed at eleven pm, and, if my plane had been on time, I would have just made it in time.  Of course, my plane wasn't on time, so I would be getting into a city I had never been to before, in the middle of the night, without a room booked, and after all of the receptions had closed.  Que sera, sera!

When I landed in Basel, I was promptly kicked outside the terminal, as it closes at midnight, and it was past that.  Outside by the taxis that take you into the city, I met a French couple with the exact same predicament as me, so we shared a cab (which was extremely expensive, still).  Upon arriving in town, we went to a hostel that I had researched before arriving, and rang the bell.  Eventually, an innkeeper poked his head out of a window on the second floor, and we told him that it was cold out and that we just needed a room for the night.  He apologized and told us that there was no room for us to stay there.  I had a feeling that if we had looked on the outskirts of town, we would have found a manger that we could have spent the night in.

We tried a couple more hostels, and all were full.  We stopped in at some hotels as well, and all were WAY too expensive for our tastes so we were left stranded outside.  It was kind of difficult talking to people as well, because everybody spoke German.  Between us, we knew French, English, and mediocre Spanish, and that is how we greeted people.  Parlez-vous Francais? no. Do you speak English? no. Hablas Espanol?? no.  Surprisingly, more people spoke English as a second language than spoke French, and Basel is right next to France.  The airport was actually on the French side of the border, where everyone spoke French, but as soon as you crossed the invisible line into Switerland, the was little French.  

One hotelier had told us about a hotel twenty minutes away by cab that was decently priced (for Switzerland).  I declined, because it was still out of my budget, and I really was only going to get 6 hours of sleep at the most anyway, and the taxi would have cost nearly as much as the hotel.  The French couple thought about it and expressed their need for a bed, in broken English.  They WERE French, after all, so I could see why they wouldn't be ok with sleeping on a bench.  It wasn't their fault.  They spent the extra money, and left me in Basel, alone, and bedless.  I headed back in the direction of a really nice hostel we had tried, and as I stood outside the locked door, someone came out for a smoke and I snuck inside before the door closed (I have never been so grateful for smoking).  Once inside, I made my way down to the chill room, and found a nice comfy couch.  I had been up since 6 am that morning (which felt like days ago) so I was barely able to tie my bags around my arms (so no one could steal them) before I conked out.  

I arose four solid hours later, and left the hostel as if I hadn't been there in the first place.  I went to the train station, which had been empty just hours prior, but was now bustling with loads of people.  I hopped on my train and was at Zurich Flughafen (thats a funny German word for airport) within the hour.  

Now that I was at the airport, I needed to find Bonnie's arrival gate. Easy enough, I would just find her flight number which I had written down on the arrivals board. Problem: I hadn't down her flight number. My bad. I did remember her saying that she would now be arriving from Chicago, instead of Washington, and I found a flight that was arriving from Chicago, at around the right time. I also checked all other flights coming from the U.S. and luckily, they were all arriving at the same gate. Crisis averted. 

I waited at the gate, and watched many beautiful emotional reunions in the meantime. Then, Bonnie came out! Yay! (side note from Bonnie: little did he know, I was scandalously smuggling in some very tasty trail mix-well actually I was so excited to see Neil that I didn’t think about the trail mix that was in my bag (apparently you are to claim things like nuts and fruit) I had still had doubts about my own logic in choosing this gate, but now I had found her and the trip was saved! We shared stories of both of our adventures in the last 24 hours - hers involved getting pick-pocketed before even making it out of Chicago (sidenote from Bonnie: first strike against Chicago) - and then took the train into downtown Zurich to explore the city (sidenote from Bonnie: first official train ride ever!). 

We arrived at Zurich Hauptbahnhof (main train station) (sidenote Bonnie: I am at this point still not really aware of the fact that I am actually in Europe), and made to leave the building. As we were walking in the large main area of the station, people suddenly started running at us. They yelled too, and we froze in our tracks. People from all over ran past us, yelling at the tops of their lungs (we were very confused at this point. No, we hadn't had time to experience confusion yet, we were frozen like deer in the headlights) and we turned to see what they were running at. They all joined in the middle of the station and made a tight group of flag-waving, swatch-toting, Swissness; jumping up and down with their hands in the air like some sort of spontaneous pep rally (sidenote Bonnie: it will forever be known as “The Running of the Switzerlands”……I am beginning to realize that I am not in Canada anymore). We noticed that this was all being filmed, so I thought it might have something to do with the Olympics? Like "Look how excited everyone in Zurich is about the Swiss bobsled team". Unfortunately, their inspirational Swiss footage had two stunned Canadians in it - and we are quite obviously Canadian (sidenote from Bonnie: we looked like the Canadian flag had thrown up on us, multiple times) - who kind of got in the way and spoiled (no, improved) the event (sidenote from Bonnie: I believe that we completely added to the event and made it even better than it was before). We shrugged it off, and continued on our merry way into the city.

Zurich is beautiful, just like every other city I've been in in Europe, and is situated on the edge of a pristine lake - with swans abound - and bordered by mountains. We stopped at a Starbuck's (yes Alice, I am really really sorry), but only so that we could get the wireless internet on my iPod and Bonnie could email her mom and let her know that she had landed, found me, and was safe. We also got a massive (I always forget what the sizes mean at Starbuck's, even after being in Italy so much) hot drink each, before seeing some more of Zurich (sidenote from Bonnie: this was the first introduction to how expensive Switzerland was).

We didn't have much time however, as we had a plan to fit three countries (Switzerland, Italy, and Greece) into 12 crazy (sidenote from Bonnie: wonderfully fantastically awesome) days, so we caught a train heading due south, and our journey began. After a few hours of train through the Alps (poor us) we arrived in Milan and YAY Bonnie was in Italy! We had a connecting night train to catch quite soon, so we only had time to get some McDonald's from just outside the gorgeous old train station (sidenote from Bonnie: pet peeve: beautiful buildings having Americanized stuff in it, on the plus side though, they know how to make a classy looking Mcdonalds), and take funny pictures with the large Giorgio Armani advertisements that filled the station of course (sidenote from Bonnie: that day a new fashion statement swept the nation- curling pants, an Aggie jacket and running shoes).

We boarded our train, and I kind of hoped that we had been mistaken and were actually supposed to be on a much nicer/newer train (sidenote from Bonnie: I knew nothing different but was disappointed in the very unlike Harry Potter kind of train it was). As soon as we got on the train, the hallway that led to our sleeper room formed a bottleneck as it was about the same width as my backpack. Of course there was about 15 other people trying to fit into the same hallway and get into their rooms so we had to wait for quite some time. I also think that there was a little old lady with a walker at the head of the line, because it moved deathly slow. Another problem was that once inside the couchette, which contained two sets of triple bunks in an area the size of a single king-sized bed, there was even less room, so people would come in and out of their rooms often. After about ten minutes of back-strained agony (I may be making this sound worse than it was, but at the time, this is how I felt) (sidenote from Bonnie: no he isn’t) we got inside our couchette, and lay flat on our beds, because there was no other position that would have worked. 

I went to use the washroom (which was also appalling, but we won't get into it) and when I returned Bonnie said that the conductor had stopped by (sidenote from Bonnie: and as in stopped by he means angrily yelled (using non English words) at my non-Italian language speaking skills- I was officially not in Canada anymore), and needed me for something. Eventually, the conductor came back, and, unfortunately, did not speak any English. He may have known the word for "ticket", but with his accent, I wouldn't give him credit for it. He took our eurail passes (the lifeblood of the trip) and wouldn't give them back (or didn't understand) when we asked for them back. He got another guy in our couchette (who also didn't know English) to keep trying to explain to us what was happening. Eventually, after many hand signals and head shakes and nods (sidenote from Bonnie: and attempts by him to load is laptop to use a translator), we came to understand that we needed to wake this guy up at 5:30 am. Ok, that makes sense. No it doesn't. We were still worried about our passes and didn't know why he had left with them. Bonnie hadn't yet written in the date of travel on hers (which you are technically supposed to do before getting on the train) so I imagined him on the phone with interpol talking about getting us deported. We eventually got up to go talk to him ourselves, because he was taking an awfully long time. We came into his office at the front of the train and he was standing there joking with a bunch of other train workers in Italian, and munching on a sandwich. He laughed at us and finally got the point across that he would give us our passes back AT FIVE THIRTY. We felt kinda dumb but were relieved and got some sleep (side note from Bonnie: somewhere here I came to the realization that I really went through no customs once arriving to Europe and had begun to question if I had properly went through all the security measures I should of-this was followed by a very horrible dream involving me being deported because I smuggled in trail mix). 

We did get our passes back (and we didn't wake the guy up at 5:30) and we got off the train in Salerno, before the sun was up. Salerno, not, as Bonnie was unable to remember, Cilantro (side note from Bonnie: it was a very hard name to remember and I am investigating a way to get them to change the town’s name to Cilantro). One is a city, the other is a spice. While we had been sleeping/fretting about our eurail passes, the train had taken us all the way down through Italy to south of Naples, Salerno, and from here we hopped on a little train that took us right to Pompeii. We arrived at Pompeii just as the sun was coming up, so we had a few hours before anything even opened (side note from Bonnie: and by nothing being opened he means pretty much nothing other than the small station cafe….the bathrooms weren’t even opened), and we got a cappuccino in the station and watched as the rain that had welcomed us to Southern Italy ceased, and the sun came out. We walked into the (new) town of Pompeii, and got breakfast. Our waitress spoke English (YES!) and told us which way to go to get to the ruins. 

While at the train station, we had learned that the only way to get to Bari, a port on the other side of Italy, by tonight, would see us leaving Pompeii in two and a half hours. We had precious time, so we speed-walked to the ruins, thanked God that they had mandatory baggage storage (it was a relief to get rid of the backpacks), picked up our maps and dove right into the Ancient Roman Empire.

We were so excited we ended up getting lost. We had our map, but nothing was labelled very well, and we were all confused and in a rush, so we just walked down one road until we came to a sign that told us where we were, and it turned out to be very far from where we thought we had been. Now that we had found ourselves, we resumed our torrid pace. We saw a huge amphitheatre, lots of old houses, streets, and everything still intact (sidenote from Bonnie: this is where we met the third member of our wolf pack, a stray dog who followed us around). It was amazing how well preserved it all was, and how expansive it was. It was an entire city, frozen in time. We came upon some American tourists and they asked us "Do you know where the people covered in lava are?" (American Accent) (sidenote from Bonnie- this is was probably the first people I had talked to since landing that used English as their first language). We saw lots of the great sights of Pompeii, and in record time, but then had to high tale it out of their or risk missing our train, and then our bus, and then our ferry, and it just would have been a disaster.

Did we make it to Greece? Did we get lost again and are still stuck in Pompeii? You will have to wait until next week (probably more like tomorrow) on The Blog.  

Tags: barcelona, basel, bonnie schott, madrid, neil loewen, pompeii, switzerland, train, zurich




I'm so proud of your traveling skills!

  Alice Mar 26, 2010 9:51 AM


brilliant story! are you canadian by any chance? So what's 'flying dutchman' is all about then?

  Fiz Aug 14, 2010 9:22 AM


Yes I am Canadian! And you? The Flying Dutchman came out of when I first created this blog for my trip, and was like "hmmm, what to call it" and then I was like "I'm half-Dutch, and I'm flying there! So i'll be the flying dutchman!". Plus, Pirates of the Caribbean is awesome.

  The Blogster Aug 17, 2010 8:49 AM



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