Always Have a Backup Plan

15 Dec

As much as I would love to share with you my amazing adventures of Italy and mostly London, sadly there were several obstacles along the way resulting in many changed plans.  Ready to read a book?  Here we go.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010:

I woke up this morning more excited than ever to make my way to Milan, Italy.  A while later, we were all waiting in the boarding line for our flight when we realized it should have taken off several minutes ago.  After a few moments, we are informed that the flight has been delayed due to some strikes occurring in Santiago, Spain, and that we would receive further information at 3pm.  It was noon.  Finally, at about 3:05pm, we suddenly have a gate number again!  Ryanair begins the boarding process, which took nearly 45 minutes simply for them to check our boarding passes.  Then, we are all told to start descending the stairwell to begin boarding the plane.  However, it turns out that 100 people or more are stuck in this stairwell for more than an hour.  Talk about furious—and it sucks for anyone who is claustrophobic, obviously.  Finally, they release us outside where our plane is within sight.  Oddly enough, they still are not allowing us to actually board this plane.  A few moments later, some airport guards came outside to inform us that there had been a great miscommunication, as Ryanair was attempting to board us to a pilotless plane.  That’s right. A plane without a pilot.  We all have to go back inside, upstairs—so much for waiting there for more than an hour—and return to the waiting room.  About 10 minutes later, they are ready to board… for real this time.  5 hours late.

2 hours later, we were landing at Bergamo Airport with a massive amount of snow zooming by the airplane windows.  I had never experienced a landing in the snow before, so I was just a tiny bit nervous.  Anyway, once off the plane, the snow was gorgeous!  And we instantly started hearing Italian, which I’m now convinced is the most beautiful language that exists.  We managed to find the right bus to take us to the home of the family of one of the girl’s I was travelling with. 

Upon arrival, her aunt taught the three of us how to make some traditional Italian food, how fun!  Once everything was prepared, the neighbors came over and had dinner with us.  Now, if I thought the Spanish comida was long, our dinner began at 9:30pm and didn’t end til nearly 1:00am, complete with 5 courses and more than enough wine.  There was also an exchange of three different languages:  English, Italian, and Spanish.  I was honestly having the time of my life.  I had never met people so happy, so passionate, so welcoming, so fun.  Although we arrived in Milan so late that I didn’t have a chance to sight see, I was able to experience a part of the Italian culture that many may never.  Soon I was off to bed, as I needed to catch a flight to London the next day!  Or so I thought.

Thursday, December 2, 2010:

My alarm sounds at 9:00am and a thought crosses my mind: I will shortly be in London, the place of my dreams.  I packed up my bag, navigated my way through the Milan metro, found the bus to the airport, and soon enough I was arriving at the Milan Linate.  I confidently walked up to the check-in desk, with a giddy smile on my face, and handed the lady my boarding pass.  The next words I heard made my heart stop.  “I’m sorry ma’am, but this flight has been canceled.  Gatwick airport is closed for the day due to severe snowy weather conditions.  All other flights from Italy to London are full until at least tomorrow, and even then, weather permitting”.  Wait a minute… I remember wishing for snow, but not enough to ruin my vacation!  At this point, I was still calm, yet clearly devastated, and told her that I needed to make a phone call.  She directed me to several payphones, yet after many attempts they were just not functioning correctly (or else I just couldn’t figure it out). I finally sought out someone, who unfortunately hardly spoke English and none of Spanish, and I tried explaining to him my situation.  This was my breaking point:  All I needed was something so simple, and it couldn’t be done.  I was stuck in Milan, I couldn’t speak Italian and could only understand a word if it was similar enough to Spanish, the two girls I was traveling with were leaving for Venice the next morning, and my friend that was meeting me in London was supposed to be leaving from home in Alicante.  My dream trip to London was laying in crumbled pieces. So I’ll admit—I cried.  As I was sobbing out of frustration and helplessness, an extremely nice passerby hands me his phone and gently asks, “Would you like to make a phone call?” I couldn’t have been more grateful.  While I talked to my friend from Alicante, we both decided it was basically too difficult to make a Plan B when we were in two different places.  My next call was to let the two girls in Milan know about the situation.  After, I had to exchange my pounds, which were of no use to me in Italy, and lost 40 Euro doing so.  Yay for airport compensation rates.  I then attempted to talk to EasyJet about what I could do about my flight—however, the only lady that knew English had left, and another girl just kept repeating something over and over about making changes on the internet or the call center.  No computer. No phone.  So I headed to the center of Milan to meet with the two girls.

I will save you most the details of the drama that happened between one of the girls and I, but I will say that she made it very clear that it was a bad idea to continue to Venice with them, as I would be upset the entire time about London.  She also made it evident that it was rude to let her aunt know at such short notice that I would be staying another night, and if I could, it would be best to find a flight to Alicante tonight.  I’ll spare the nasty details, but  I clearly no longer consider her to be my friend, if she ever was.  Nevertheless, I returned to her aunt’s house and of course began immediately looking for flights.  All flights from Milan to Alicante were sold out until Sunday.  Of course making travel plans at this time is extremely difficult because it is the Spanish holiday, and many people are travelling.  Time to look for other options.  I knew I could easily get to Alicante from Madrid, so I began there.  The cheapest I could find a flight for the next day was 95 Euro, with one seat left.  Of course, that’s to be expected when I’m booking the flight 11 hours before the departure.  I was stressing so much about money because I had already invested so much into my trip to London, my nerves had never been more out of whack.  After purchasing my flight, her aunt returned home and was given the news that my trip had been canceled.  She immediately did everything she could to make me feel better, even insisting I could stay there for as long as I needed.  However, I had already bought my flight because her niece was apparently trying to get me out of the country as soon as possible.

Friday, December 3, 2010:

I basically didn’t sleep this night.  Like, literally.  At 4:00am I gathered my things, and the family’s neighbor drove me to the bus station in central Milan.  I had to take a 5:00am bus in order to make my 7:00am flight, and even that was pushing it.  Once I arrived in Milan Malpensa Airport (note: third airport in Italy within less than 36 hours), it was pretty much automatic from there.  I boarded my flight, and I was on my way to Madrid.  I landed in Madrid around 10:00am, and I later found out that I was extremely lucky!  The air traffic controllers in Madrid Airport went on strike not even 8 hours after my plane landed, resulting in thousands of passengers stranded in Madrid.  Come on Spain, what’s with the strikes?  Anyway, this was my first experience winging my travel plans.  I had arrived in Madrid, and I had no further steps concretely mapped out, only that I was going to explore each option one at a time.  I can just honestly tell you that I had never more appreciated being in a place where I could communicate with ease in Spanish.  I talked to Ryanair to see if I could purchase a ticket for a flight, but apparently with them you absolutely must make reservations online—what’s the purpose of the airport, again?  So I pay to use one of the computers to check prices for the flights: 140 Euro for same day.  There was no way I was paying that much for a one hour flight Then again, I had to seriously begin thinking about the very real possibility of having to stay in Madrid… and how much (or rather how little) money I had to do so.  Again, nearly my last bit of extra money was already invested in this London trip, and it was going to take some time to get reimbursed for some of it.  I then went to the complete other side of the airport to the RENFE train tickets office.  There were absolutely no tickets to Alicante for two days.  At this point, I was getting slightly frantic.  I went back to the tourist information desk, and was given directions to the Madrid Bus Station.  I again crossed to the complete other side of the airport—including walking to a whole nother terminal, Madrid is huge!—and hopped on the Metro.  Luckily for me, it was easy enough to navigate.  Once arriving at the bus station, I asked about the 3:00pm ticket for Alicante.  They were all gone.  I had almost given up hope, until I was told that there was a ticket for 6:00pm.  I took it without thinking twice.

I had a good five hours to kill before my bus departed, so I decided that I may as well explore Madrid a bit, since I had only ever seen its airport more or less.  Of course, it was a little difficult to enjoy it very much when I was lugging around my duffle bag, running on zero sleep, and had absolutely no desire to be in Spain at the moment as I was supposed to be in London.  Nevertheless, I saw the area around Plaza del Sol, and it was enough to pass the time.  I returned to the bus station and finally was on my way back to Alicante (regretfully).  I arrived at 12:30am, walked to my house, and found that my key was not working properly.  Fortunately, my host parents were actually in the house, although I felt horrible for ringing a doorbell at 1:00am.  My madre looked like she had seen a ghost when she opened the door to me standing in front of her.  I had to explain that I was unable to call because my Spanish cell phone was completely out of minutes, and by time I had thought of calling, I didn’t have access to any other phones.  Quite fortunately, my host parents didn’t take the trip they had almost been planning, or else I would not have been able to enter my house.  I called my family and my boyfriend, as they were worried when they heard of my troubles.  I finally managed to lay down in bed with lights off and head on the pillow sometime after 3:00am.  The first chance I was able to sleep in nearly 48 hours.

Well, there you have it.  That was how my vacation went… and it was my first time leaving the country all semester.  I wish I could say that I didn’t sulk in self pity for the two days following, but then I would be lying.  Now, I can look back at some of the occurrences with a little bit of humor, but at the time it was all a little stressful and heart-breaking to say the very least.  While things were pretty terrible—especially with at the time not having the experience of dealing with circumstances such as these—things definitely still could have been worse.  I felt I did pretty well for the cards I was dealt (as one of my friends told me), but I of course was still devastated that I was not able to visit the place of my dreams.  Nevertheless, I still have a few good things to take from this experience.  Firstly, if a situation such as this occurs again, I will know better how to handle it.  Secondly, I was able to learn how to make authentic Italian food—now I’m no pro, don’t get me wrong—and I was able to have the rare experience of spending two nights in an Italian home.  Thirdly, visiting a country in which I did not know the language made me realize how incredible my Spanish skills are, and I have never appreciated this second language more.  Finally, I’ve also learned that maybe it’s a good idea to always have a backup plan.

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