Academics: A Semester Abroad in England
Venezia Is for Lovers ... Or, Best Friends on a Budget
by Kali McCullough '10
A chain of surprisingly uneventful events led Beka Chinnis (sophomore Rebecca Chinnis of Charlotte, N.C.) and me to the Milan-Bergamo Orio airport. Usually, she and I attract the most ridiculous circumstances, and we were a bit surprised to see that everything went normally, wasn't cancelled, and didn't end in us completely reinventing our plan of attack. As our plane landed, I had a feeling the unusual circumstances were waiting for us in the land of pasta and gelato.
We stumbled off the plane and, according to plan, looked for a place to camp out. In order to save money we'd planned to spend both Thursday and Saturday nights in the airport rather than in a hostel, so we set out in search of chairs or, better yet, wall-to-wall carpeting.
Now, if any of you are planning a trip to Italy, I must warn you: if you're intent on spending a night in Milan-Bergamo Orio airport, don't go searching for a place to sit down. There isn't one. Well, there is, but the chairs are locked up at night, and, in the words of the security guard, "Sit on floor is illegal." We gathered our belongings as he told us of a "nice place" just at the other end of the airport that could "accommodate" us.
The "nice place" was actually a warehouse/soup kitchen that opened for three hours every night for poor college students who decide that it's a fantastic idea to save money by sleeping in airports. It "accommodated" us by offering a cement floor and several banks of yellow plastic chairs connected at the armrests, all of which had already been commandeered by other poor college students who decide that it's a fantastic idea to save money by sleeping in airports. We arrived at the warehouse/soup kitchen at 1 a.m., so we pulled up a square of floor to sleep on. We balled up our waterproof jackets and slept with our arms firmly wrapped around our suitcases, because you never can trust those poor college students.
Two hours later, we awoke to a flood of bright lights and a uniformed officer barking "Good morning, sleepyhead" in Italian. At least, that's what I like to think he was barking. We grabbed our belongings and walked out the door, across the street, and through the door to the airport, altogether a journey of about fourteen seconds. We hailed a taxi to take us to the railway station to catch our 6:10 train some three hours early.
We waited for several hours for our train. The conductor said, in Italian, of course, that the train was broken, so we found another one. We got off at our first stop, Brescia, and just barely caught the next train to Venezia-St. Lucia. When it pulled into the station we stepped off the train and were almost immediately at the water's edge. We bought vaporetti — boat-taxi — tickets to the station our hostel was at and hopped on the next boat. It was incredible, traveling through a city by boat, brushing up against front stoops and people's lines of laundry.
Our hostel, Ostello Venezia, was large and brick and imposing and, according to the laws of Beka and Kali's Luck, closed. We lingered for a bit, waiting, eating lunch, taking pictures, accidentally falling asleep on our feet, until it finally reopened and we could check in. Our beds were situated in the last room of a long hallway of identical rooms full of beds, but I ran ahead and claimed the bed next to the window. If I'm gonna sleep with strangers, I want to at least have a good view.
We showered and, finding that there were no towels, dried off with our bedsheets. Please don't tell the management. We let our hair air dry — a big, frizzy mistake — as we roamed along the water's edge, taking more pictures and planning our next couple of days in Venice. We ran into some boys from Holland that stayed at our hostel, so we all took the boat together to Madonna dell'Orte. We got distracted and accidentally stayed on the boat as it took us to another island, but that's a different story altogether.
Once we got off the vaporetti we realized we were in the least populated part of Venice ... which is exactly where we wanted to be. Paint peeled off the walls of stucco houses, brightly colored doors held lines of laundry above overflowing windowboxes, schoolchildren played a game of football in a desolate courtyard. It was beautiful. We stopped at a gelaterie famous for its gourmet flavors; the boys paid, so of course we got multiple scoops. While we finished our gelato, Beka and I did what we do best: meander. We passed Murano glass shops, kiosks stacked high with Venice t-shirts, countless shops selling Carnevale masks and costumes, and a handful of cafés, splendid smells pouring from the doorways.
As the day pulled to a close, we ate dinner at a restaurant our guidebook raved about for its hundred-and-fifty different genres of pizza. It was fantastic, and as we made our way back to Ostello Venezia we marveled at the crowds, the lights, the life on the streets reflected in ripples on the Canal Grande. It was a fantastic end to our first day in Venice.
The next morning we awoke, finally well rested, in time for a breakfast of bread and tea from the hostel. We retrieved our bags, having to lug them with us for most of the day, and set out on our own. We stopped at the railway station around noon after a morning of buying souvenirs, chasing pigeons, and eating fantastic pasta. After renting a locker, we headed back out into the city only to be met with a deluge that only Venice could offer. We dodged beneath strangers' umbrellas, loitered under canopies, darted into shops that we couldn't even begin to afford wares from, and rolled our pants up to a most unbecoming length. After playing in the rain for several hours we finally broke down and bought umbrellas, only to pop them open over our soaked heads and see the sun poking through a cloud. Sodden, tired and happy, we watched the sun set over the Canal Grande and wandered towards the railway station to start our journey back home.
What no one tells you about railway stations is that they have a propensity to be very, very creepy places at night. Or, in the daytime. Or, any time really. We arrived at Brescia to find that it was pitch black outside, the station was closed, we were the only women there, and our train was running two hours late. In response to this chain of events, we backed up against a tile column in the middle of Platform 2 and said a little prayer. It obviously worked, because our train arrived, we got on, and were deposited mere miles from Milan-Bergamo Orio Airport.
A taxi took us to the airport and we assumed our positions on the cold cement floor of the warehouse/soup kitchen once more. At this point we were seasoned veterans, we knew the drill of the "nice accommodations" like the back of our hand. We slept like rocks for two hours, then awoke to that same kind Italian shriek, then made our way again to the airport terminal. For breakfast we bought tea and croissants, though I must admit I pretended I was feasting on a quadruple scoop of tiramisu gelato. We finally got to make use of the chairs — now unchained — in the terminal before we took off, and let me tell you, that metal mesh was well worth the wait.
By the time we boarded the plane and stretched out over a bank of three seats each, we were exhausted, still slightly damp, and mesmerized by the fantastic trip we had just witnessed. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, interrupted by the most bizarre circumstances, but we held our own and fought for our right to a great Italian experience — not to mention a lot of gelato.
A native of Columbia, Tenn., Kali enjoys traveling, writing poetry, playing guitar and singing, snowboarding, reading, and making things out of paper. She is a French major with a double minor in Spanish and English. After she graduates, she hopes to teach French or work as a translator for an overseas branch of an American company.