#083: The Luxurious Life of Travel – Part IIITak's dispatch released on 8 May 2017

Northern Italy Train Window

Standing in a glass jetway with your fellow passengers and an actively beating sun. The temperatures are elevating from already lofty levels in this airport greenhouse and, unfortunately, there is no sign of impasse. The boarding announcements may have started on time but the boarding itself has only gotten you far enough into this heat chamber. You can deal with the heat but the time disappears when it disappears.

You find yourself racing off the plane. Do you take the moving walkway with some squatters on it or walk faster alongside? The outdated carpet in Milan’s Malpensa airport blurs on your periphery. Your finger dig in your pocket. Each step your phone is in easier reach until you finally grasp it: pulling, fumbling, swiping, activating, seeking, connecting while briskly walking, navigating, sweating.

“At MXP, delayed, on way,” you briefly text out to your friend while running along.

The train you want is leaving real soon; past baggage claim and the patient victims, through customs and the unlucky souls. You vaguely remember the station location from last time. You are now standing at the ticket machine. You jab your finger, nothing doing. You sidestep to the next machine over and find, it too, is out of order. And by the time you pull up to the customer service line, the train must be on its way…and you are, quite clearly, not.

“One ticket, round-trip, to Milano,” you say.

“Twenty-six euro,” she responds.

“Isn’t it supposed to be twenty euro for the round trip?”

“No, twenty-six euro.”

You haven’t slept in a bed for over twenty-four hours and keeping perfect accuracy on round-trip promotion prices out of Milan isn’t something you are going to bet much on, never mind get into a squabble over in butchered languages. She says no, you think yes and it doesn’t matter right now.

This later train—complete with signs throughout touting a twenty euro pricing for a round-trip ticket— to Milano Centrale is now rumbling along, making the maximum number of stops that one of these trains is ever known to make. The train from Milano Centrale is leaving mere minutes after you are scheduled to arrive and you still need to buy your ticket and find the train.

You jump off the train, remembering to walk to the first car since it—you recalled accurately from a previous journey—is closest to the other trains at this station. You jog, your shoulder bag bouncing alongside for the aerobic session. A man, with a bunch of pamphlets stacked high, turns suddenly in front of you without looking, his arms full. The pamphlets morph from a neatly stacked pile, in a set of arms, to a full on blizzard amidst the scene. He yells something in Italian, you apologize—despite his lack of caution—in English while helping scrape these things off the ground while the minutes disappear.

You locate and run up to the ticket machine—which luckily are on this side of any security checks—search, purchase, print, grab and run onto the train just before it pulls out. Crisis averted: sweat dripping, lungs pumping, shoulder sagging. The journey continues.

The WiFi of course doesn’t work on the train without a phone number and your phone number doesn’t work without WiFi which is to say that there is little chance of giving your friend a time update. Plus, to further delay any chance of a meet up (if you haven’t been deemed dead by this point), you still need to check in to a small bed & breakfast. Just as you are pulling into this small Italian city outside of Milano, your phone is growing quite sluggish. You do a hard restart, while forgetting that a hard restart with plugged in power causes a great problem whereby each app, all 160 of them or whatever it is, has to be “optimized”. No one understands it and there is no way around it, you just have to wait.

You hop off the train. App 109 is being optimized. This means you have some 50 apps to go and it also means you have no access to a map or anything else. You are back in the year 2002, that is sans GPS and electronic maps, albeit this time, without even any preparation. You head off into the misty night, the rain not quite sure whether to fall or not.

Speedwalking quickly ramps up the internal termperature, inducing sweat. At this point – you’ve been without good prostrate sleep for a touch over 30 hours. Your friend is probably wondering where you are as you are well past your due arrival time and its only getting later. You head down one street, check your phone: app 139. You turn down another: app 141. You know the street name you are looking for, but good luck pronouncing it well enough for any of the few passing denizens out on the streets tonight.

You wait under an overhang to catch your breath, wipe the sweat and use the cool temperature to your benefit. Your phone has finally fully restarted by this point and you pull up the map. You were quite close to walking the right pathway except for that one wrong turn which sent you in the opposite direction. You probably would have been better off waiting at the train station but sometimes doing anything feels better than doing nothing.

As you walk up to the address, you are met with giant wooden doors, a doorbell and a large circular iron knocker. Your phone doesn’t make calls – for it has no SIM card and there is no outdoor phone or intercom that you can locate. So the old fashioned method will have to make due.

You tug at the doors but they are quite clearly locked. You glance at the time and it is 9:15pm. You ring the bell and wait. Did the bell work? You didn’t hear anything. Is that because the bell doesn’t work or you just can’t hear it? Not sure. Not much help.

You ring the bell again. You pull out your phone and pull up the reservation on Orbitz, an online travel agent quite popular in the US, reading and re-reading the line that “Check-in” is “until 10pm”. You have forty-five minutes until the check-in desk closes but the locked door clearly seems a problem.

Has your friend given up hope? Worried? Wondering? You figured if you’d be in Milan, you might as well meet up. Now here you are, by way of missed flights and so forth, half way around the world with one night to do such, and you can’t send any communication whatsoever while you stand outside these giant wooden doors.

“If it is supposed to be open until 10pm, then there should be someone to let me in,” you logically conclude. You ring the doorbell a couple more times, letting minutes pass at each interval.

“BOOM, BOOM, BOOM” would be the sound of the iron knocker pounding against the door. You wait several more minutes. You’ve been standing out here now for a good ten minutes. You pound the door again with the knocker. You wait some more. You pound again and then hit the doorbell. “Maybe you need to hold the doorbell for it to work,” you think. You hold the doorbell. “What else can I try?”

This is turning into a one man band. “Boom” with the knocker, “buzz” with the bell, a “hello” or two with the vocal cords and some rocking of the door back and forth for extra effect. Nothing is working. No phone. No pedestrians on this foggy, wet night.

Minutes are dying one after another. Each minute that disappears is another minute less of sleep and, more importantly, a higher probability your meetup implodes despite all the logistical chicanery.

Another couple rounds of this activity. You are looking down the street towards some movement in the distance – perhaps a person with a mobile phone you can beg. Your fingers are gripped around the iron knocker and about to…the door pushes towards you.

“What is going on?” this older Italian gentleman questions in a thick accent. He looks like he was half-asleep, but dressed in some leather loafers and a well-fitting button-down shirt tucked into some well pressed pants. He looks refined, very Italian and not so much pleased.

“Oh, finally, so happy to see you,” you say, your mind lagging from the reality of the situation. “I have a reservation and no phone.”

“You make noise, so much noise! What is wrong with you,” he retorts.

This is not usually how bed & breakfast scenes are supposed to go. You are actually quite glad you were able to make the noise because you have a reservation and have no place to go on this cold, wet winter night. (Isn’t that the point of a bell and a knocker?) Furthermore, you have a friend who is probably wondering what happened and is, probably in your mind just about to call it a night, killing off any chance to meet up. Each minute was another minute you couldn’t afford.

“You wake everyone up!” he scolds in an accusatory manner. “So much noise!”

Any suggestion you’ve been standing out there for over twenty minutes does nothing to calm his fury. The fact that check-in is stated up until 10pm does nothing to calm his fury. Explaining that you have a reservation doesn’t do much for you either, so you stand out in the cool, wet night for your verbal beating.

“Come in,” he finally offers with you pleading you have a reservation. “You have no such thing,” he reminds you each time you claim anything of the sort. In fact, the only reason you get invited in is because he needs to get his reading glasses to read your phone which proves you do indeed have a reservation.

You sit at a large wooden desk as he ambles behind it, fumbles with his reading glasses and puts them on. He inspects your reservation and shakes his head. “Not a reservation,” he notes.

“This is your address, right? And this is the name of the place, right?”

“Yes, but this is not a real reservation. Fraud!” he bellows. “Fraudulent,” he utters again for the lovely effect.

As he doesn’t speak much English at all, you come up with an idea. “Sir, I have a friend in this town who speaks Italian who is also probably wondering where I am. Can I connect to WiFi to send a message and maybe…”

“WiFi is for guests only. You are not guest,” he reminds you.

“Okay I understand that but…”

“You want to make a booking, you make a booking. No booking? No WiFi. No booking, you go.”

You sigh. Unable to communicate with your friend as the time disappears, unable to check-in, only half able to communicate with this innkeeper and unable to explain to him that you have a real reservation.

“What you decide? You make booking? You go?”

“Sir, here is the thing, I booked this on Orbitz.com, it’s a big site in the U.S. and…”

“We do not use this Orbitz as you say”

“Okay, I just don’t know how its possible that…”

“Fraudulent. I sorry, you pay for room or go.” He thinks a little and picks up the phone to call someone.

“I have a person here who says he has reservation with an Orbitz.com,” he sputters. He listens. “Yes, yes” and some other banter goes back and forth in Italian. He perches the landline phone face down on his shoulder with the news: “No, we do not use this Orbitz. No such thing”.

You note how big it is and that you need WiFi in order to get a hold of someone. He reminds you of the “No Guest, No WiFi” rule naturally. So you decide you’ll pay for a room and figure out the prepayment with Orbitz later. You don’t have time for this and have no options to pursue. Just as you are about to suggest he gets a move on this, he grasps the phone and puts it to his ear.

After a bunch of Italian flying back and forth, he says “we found reservation. Expedia not Orbitz.”

“Well Expedia purchased Orbitz two years ago or so…”

“No, not Orbitz, Expedia, you book with Expedia!”

“Well I booked with Orbitz but…”

“No, you book with Expedia. Listen, you tell me you book Expedia, okay, but no, you say you book Orbitz. No Orbitz here. We use Expedia. Like this: we take Booking.com. You say ‘hey, I use bukking.com’ and I say ‘no, we no take’ but you say booking.com and I say ‘yes, we know’. You say ‘Expedia’ we say okay and you say Orbitz and we say ‘no such thing’”

Like a wave of happiness, his antagonistic manners disappear into thin air and he starts treating me like a guest.

“Great, can I get the WiFi so I can tell my friend…”

“Let me first just check you in,” he states and start up the process for the various paperwork required. You try to keep a positive attitude but your mind is racing.

He finally gets to the point where he gives you the WiFi and, naturally, it doesn’t work. He calls whomever he called before and she tells him that the password is in the room.

You bound up the stairs, drop your stuff on the bed and connect on the internet, with the connecting going in and out. You walk halfway down the hall, searching for signal and send out a message that (1) you are finally checked in and (2) you can still meet up.

A nice meal of Italian foods, a recap of this wild journey—which by this point is an fun, outdated memory—and a shot of espresso rounds out the night before you head back to your fortress, bound up the stairs, catch a couple hours of sleep and disappear into the morning air to catch your 4 something AM train.

The glamourous side is oft the more popular socialite among us.

PS: The next post will be back to the normal trip stories…just thought it good to balance the perceived or marketed Utopian notions of travel with the realities afoot. When people brag to you about their traveling plans – realize they are probably just empty souls who need a friend.

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New York, NY
Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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