pisa with peff: part 1

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Part of the reason I love living in Europe is because you constantly find yourself in these situations -- just crazy, unbelievable, unpredictable situations -- in which you have to stop and think, "Could I ever have imagined this scenario?"

Example: Me, Jenny Clem, a train compartment on an overnight train from Austria to Italy, a drunk man holding a knife staring at me and whispering to me in drunk Italian.

With that said....

Through a series of, at first, unfortunate and, eventually, very fortunate events, Peff found himself in Europe for 2 weeks with no concrete travel plans. He spent the first half of this time in Paris with Bubba and Emma and then I told him that I would find a way to meet up with him after work on Friday. I wanted to meet him in Bratislava because it would be very cheap for me (it is less than an hour from Vienna, you can take a bus there for next to nothing). Well, if you know Peff, you know that he is impossibly frugal (he's a civil engineer), which makes planning anything with him...well, impossibly impossible.

Our bartering process:
I wanted to go to Slovakia, he wanted to go to Italy. He vetoed Bratislava (too expensive to catch a flight there from Paris) and I vetoed Venice (one of my least favorite cities on the planet Earth). I vetoed Cinque Terre (too expensive because all the hostels were booked) and he vetoed Bratislava again (I refused to give him other options). This went on for a few days; in fact, the whole time he was in Paris, we were emailing back and forth until finally, I agreed to meet him in Pisa.

It's no secret that I haven't had great experiences in Italy, with the exception of Cinque Terre (heaven on earth, despite the fact that it has turned into somewhat of a tourist trap and, even more unfortunately, a frat-boy meet-up hotspot). I thought I would give Pisa a chance, though, since I've never been there and because Peff could get a relatively cheap flight there from Paris.

I took an overnight train from Vienna after work on Friday. It left Vienna at 7:30 pm and arrived in Pisa at 8:00 am. I told Peff to meet me at the train station (he arrived in Pisa the night before me) and, much to my surprise, he was actually there waiting for me when I got off the train! This was surprising to me, simply because 99.99% of the time, travel plans do NOT go according to plan. But there Peff was! I was so excited to see him. The first thing he said to me was, "Cousie! Do you wanna go to Cinque Terre? It's only 5 euro to take the train there." I don't know why I hadn't thought of that already. That made so much more sense. My reason for vetoing Cinque Terre had been that the very few hostels were booked (since we had decided to take this trip on such short notice) but I hadn't considered the possibility that we take a train from Pisa to Cinque Terre (it's only an hour away). I agreed to this plan immediately and we decided to drop our things off at the hostel and then come back to the station. Since it was only 8:00 in the morning, that meant we could still get to Cinque Terre before lunch and then take the last train back to Pisa...and then still have a full day to see Pisa tomorrow!  This was such great news.

We walked outside of the train station to catch the bus to our hostel and Peff started laughing, and when I looked at him, he said, "I would have never imagined having this conversation with you in front of the Pisa Train Station." We both started laughing and I was so delirious that eventually I was crying, because, if you had told me a week ago that I would be in Pisa with Peff I would have been genuinely confused. Only in Europe.

One thing I have learned since living over here.....there is no place like Italy. That is both Italy's greatest asset and greatest downfall. In most countries, you step on the bus, wait for your stop, and get off. How do you know it's your stop? Well, the screen on the bus tells you or the voice on the bus intercom announces the stop 30 seconds before arriving there. We knew what stop was next to the hostel, so we got on the bus and then.....the bus started driving past every stop.... no announcements, no screen, no idea where the bus is going and why it seems to have its own route....Peff and I knew that the hostel was less than a mile from the station, so we got off after 5 stops, realizing that we had obviously gone too far. At this point, I am ranting about how this would NEVER happen in Austria or Germany, how this is exactly why I despise Italy, etc. I'm projecting all of this negativity on Peff, which, if you know Peff's and my friendship at all, is pretty typical. We asked 3 different people for directions while backtracking the bus route, until we eventually just decided to return to the station (our starting point!!!) and take a cab to the hostel.

Why did we make this decision? Because these were the "directions" we received.

First stop: Local cafe.

Peff: Could you tell us where the street Nino Pisano is?
Italian man in cafe: I've never heard of that street.
(great sign)
Peff: Oh...okay.
Italian man: I can look on a map for you, one moment.
(6 minutes later)
Italian man: Okay, it's only about 5 minutes' walk from here. Just turn left outside the cafe and walk 5 kilometers and you will be there.

.....Yes, because the average human walks 1 kilometer a minute.

Second stop: Local cafe.

Peff: Could you tell us where the street Nino Pisano is?
Italian woman in cafe: Yes! Yes it is not far from here. Let us go outside, I speak no English.
Peff: Okay!
(we step outside)
Italian woman: 2 4 6 8! 3 5 7 9! It is at 9.
Me: Excuse me?
Italian woman: You know 2 4 6 8? Go 3 5 7 and Nino Pisano is 9.
Me: Oh, okay, thanks!
(We walk away)
Peff: Did that make sense to you?
Me: Nope.

Third stop: Local cafe.

Peff: Could you tell us where the street Nino Pisano is?
Italian man in cafe: It is too far to walk from here, you need to take a cab. It is very far, near the highway. You must take cab.

(Nino Pisano turned out to be around the corner from that cafe).

So....We walked back to the train station, took a 5 euro taxi to the hostel, and everything was fine....2 hours later (literally, 2 hours).

It should be known that I am the world's worst person at choosing hostels. I have chosen some of the sketchiest, dirtiest hostels just for the sake of saving money. I booked the cheapest hostel for Peff and myself, which was a pretty big risk considering that we were their first customers. When Peff found this out, he almost turned around and got back on the train. I told him that it would be fine, and it turned out to be so much more than fine! The hostel was owned/run by a cute little couple -- an Italian girl who looked just like Audrey Tautou and a Colombian guy named Caesar. They were probably only a few years older than us. They just decided to rent out the extra 2 rooms of their apartment and turn it into a hostel. Since we were their first customers, it was super cheap and SO CLEAN! We locked up our things and walked to the train station, because I don't plan on setting foot on an Italian bus ever again.

When we told the hostel owners about our bus experience, they said, "Yeah, you have to tell the driver your stop when you get on the bus, otherwise he will just go wherever he wants". This is not normal. But this is so Italy.

And I'm beginning to be okay with that.

^^ My room at the hostel! ^^
Jan said...

Sounds like you & Peff had fun. Can't wait to hear about the rest of the trip. I would have freaked out on the bus!!

Kaitlyn said...

i need part 2 immediately, if not sooner.

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