For my last couple of days in France I went to the biggest market in Normandie and got some macaroons and a beret. I visited Camembert and bought their famous cheese. I took a vegan cooking class at La Maison du Vert, learned how to ride a bike, and hiked to a nearby wild orchid field to watch the sunset..and probably lots of other things that I can’t think of now.
Well, it’s been real France.
But it’s time to move on.
I don’t think I’ll ever really feel ready to leave France, so I’m just going to have to “rip the bandaid off” as we say. While I have been in Normandy, Caroline has been to Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. It’s time to meet up again. So Venice here I come!
I try to look up trains so that I can utilize this mother-effing Eurail, but the night trains cost an extra €80 euro. Plus I waited too long to book my ticket so I would have to make the reservation at the station which I can only do if they even have anymore Eurail reserved seats… I don’t speak one single word of Italian and just the thought of trying to figure this out gives me a headache so I’m taking the Megabus again. Which is only €26 from Paris to Turin! Kate helps me work it all out and at 5:35am on October 6th I wake up and pack my bags. My laundry isn’t dry yet so it will have to be rewashed which sucks but whatever. Joey and David wake up early and walk me to the bus station.
The night before we all drank wine ate vegan Indian food and homemade ice cream. Kate made me a card with a group photo of all of us on it and everyone signed it. Kate and Kyle give me cereal bars, vegan chocolate, and bananas for the bus ride. They give me long hugs, warm goodbye words, and invite me back.
I hope I do make it back one day.
I’m awkward with goodbyes so I give the Girl Scout salute and after a few air kisses and “au revoirs”, I’m on the road again.
At 7:00am the bus leaves Ticheville and takes me to L’aigle. At 8:45am I am boarding a Blabla car to Paris with a young (English speaking) French girl who is on the way to Miami for six months, and older Parisian man and his lap dog, and our friendly driver.
**In case you have never heard of it, Blabla car is awesome. It’s like a mix between uber and carpooling. Basically you give civilians money (through your phone like uber) and ride along with them for city to city excursions. It is much cheaper than uber though and instead of the €60 train tickets I was shopping through, I get all the way back to lovely Paris for a mere €9.50***
At about 11:00am I arrive in Paris. I take the metro to Porte Maillot and arrive there at 11:30. Easy. Except my bus doesn’t leave until 21:00 so I waste two and a half hours at a nearby cafe, Walk under the Arc de Triomphe, utilize my “flush” app (which is a necessity in France as public restrooms are scarce) and listen to ten French language podcasts…
Which I’m sure will be really helpful in Italy.
(Honestly though I have already spent so much time studying the language, I might as well continue.)
Finally at 9:15pm I board my bus. A French man sits next to me but gets off at Lyon at 1:00am so I otherwise get both seats to myself. I am exhausted but find it hard (and somewhat painful) to sleep in buses. However, I do eventually fall asleep and when I wake up we are driving through beautiful small villages in various valleys surrounded by picturesque snow capped mountains. I’m in Italy. And just like that we pull into an urban area, I grab my backpack, and step off the bus into Torino. It is 9:00am and my next bus to Venice arrives at around 11:30. I am dehydrated and I need to pee. Which is a frustrating combo. I find a gelato stand and ask for a bottle of water in English. The man looks at me like I am an alien. So I ask for it in French.. And then Spanish. I’m not sure which language he understood but I get my water. I also buy a tiny Italian dictionary.
I do a quick circle of the block but everything seems to be closed and I can’t find a bathroom. So I give up. Sit on a park bench, drink my water, and eat three cereal bars because I’m starving. I finally board the bus which is right on time and spend the next seven hours watching the scenery change.
I feel like I say this about every new place I go to b u t . . .
ITALY IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.
Northern Italy has beautiful intense rolling fog and snow covered mountains and beautiful architecture everywhere. There isn’t an ugly sight to see. Even the people are freakishly beautiful. Even the old dirty crumbling buildings are beautiful. They feel dilapidated with intent like ornate ancient stage sets or something.. I don’t know. I’m delirious. I’ve gotten off the bus twice at the wrong stop and been chastised by the driver both times. I am so ready for this to be over. I just realized that I don’t know if I have ever done one thing for over 24hours straight. Even on long road trips with my family in the States we would break it up and stop to sleep in a hotel. I can’t sleep well and my legs actually hurt from being too stationary. I didn’t even know that was possible. My head hurts and reading makes me car sick. Also I’ve only eaten two bananas, three cereal bars, and one whole large dark chocolate bar in the last 36 hours. I ran out of water a few hours ago and I am definitely smelling as bad as I feel.
I am also semi-blogging this in real time.
So I finally make it to the last stop. I am in Venice. I am so happy and grateful to be at my final destination. There are only two other people left on the once packed double decker bus (because who takes a bus all the way to Venice?) I rush off the bus grab my backpack and the bus pulls away. I am not at a station but in a parking lot which is common for Megabus drop offs. It is dark already (because you know…winter is coming) and I am right beside a large body of water. A huge ferry pulls up to a dock a few hundred meters in front of me and a huge swarm of dark haired fast talking Italians exit and make their way to their cars… Oh shit. I’m in Italy. Everyone is going to speak Italian. How am I going to ask for directions? I pull out my phrase book and look up the phrase, “Where is the train station?” in Italian. Then I find an Italian man sitting on a bench with his wife who is on the phone. “Dove si trova la stazione?” He looks at me and points to a large glass building nearby and responds but obviously I don’t understand what he is saying. I must look pretty pathetic by this point because he says something to his wife who looks annoyed and he gets up and starts walking to the building. I follow him. He goes up to a ticket counter and motions for me to wait at the entrance. He comes out and I follow him to a gate that leads to a set of stairs. He swipes the ticket and motions me to go through. The gate shuts behind me and I turn around and try to give him some money which he declines. He tells me to go up the stairs get on some sort of car and get off at third stop. He tells me this three times. Then he turns to leave. I thank him profusely first in French, then Spanish.. Then English because I’m tired. But I do finally manage a “GRAZIE!”. He turns back and asks me where I’m from. “United States!” I reply from halfway up the stairs. He looks confused again for a moment and then smiles and rolls his eyes and yells “Ah, America! Of course. Long way. Enjoy Venezia!”
I walk up the stairs and into a sort of floating subway car that lifts over water and to the bus station area. I find a ticket booth and buy a one way ticket towards Marghera. I get on the bus and check the directions Caroline sent me which are pretty vague but she says she made it there easily and to just ask the bus driver to tell you which stop is Paleocapa because its barely marked. So, I do ask..
Well, I look at the bus driver and say Paleocapa several times in my sweetest voice (which I think gets my point across). He responds by grunting and gesturing forward which I take to mean next stop.. So I try to get off at the next stop, but a woman yanks my backpack and pulls me back on the bus in a frustrated manner.
“No.” She says not even looking at me. At the next stop the bus doors open and I feel a hard shove from behind. I stumble off the bus and look back at the same woman. “Paleocapa.” She says and the doors close and the bus leaves. I feel a strangely immense sense of gratitude toward her as at this point I am basically dead inside and would do almost anything for a bed.. or a hot meal. I check the directions again and start walking. Then I start over analyzing the directions and take a few unnecessary turns.. Try to backtrack.. Realize I haven’t been paying attention to my surroundings so I can’t backtrack.. Dammit Rachel.
I see a handsome (not that that matters) older man about to unchain his bicycle. I use the book to ask how to get back to the bus stop so that I can start over. He looks at my backpack and says “Camping?”
Which is the name of the huge slightly creepy sounding hostel “camp ground” where we are staying.
Then he asks for a pen and paper and I take ten minutes to take off and unlock my backpack and dig through its contents to find a book and a pen. He draws me a map. He goes over the map three times. He smells amazing. Then he watches me cross the street in the right direction and bikes away. I follow the crude map around my first roundabout. As I approach my second turn, the same man bikes up beside me and quizzes me on which way I will turn. I consult my map. “Left.” I tell him. “Very good!” He says proudly and then bikes off in the same direction he came from. I realize as he peddles away that this man just went out of his way to check that I was safely on the way to my destination. As I am walking another man walking on the other side of the street yells “Straight ahead on the left!” In an Australian accent. Camping Jolly must be a super popular hostel. Soon I see a sign on my left for Camping Jolly. I follow the path under a lit graffiti bridge and emerge at the hostel. Finally. I walk into the front desk area to check in. I check the time. It is almost 7:00pm.
I have been traveling for 36 hours.
“Rachel?” I hear Caroline from behind me. We hug and I apologize for my stench. She tells me later that she had never seen me look so rough before.
The first thing I do is take a hot shower.
Then we catch up at a restaurant across the street. We sit with two Americans from Las Vegas and eat pasta and drink beer. Caroline is nervous about drinking because she is on antibiotics from having recently recovered from strep throat. I feel bad for complaining about a long bus ride after hearing this. Strep throat is the worst.
If I believed in Hell I think my special chamber in Hell would start with having strep throat on a never ending bus ride.. And then of course get crazier from there because I’ve never been but I’m pretty sure Hell is supposed to be scary and not just uncomfortable..
But I don’t know.
The hostel is set up into rows of bunkers. Caroline and I are sharing a three bed bunker with a sixty year old Swedish woman who is abrupt in manner, has questionable hygiene and keeps our bunker insensibly hot. It feels subtropical in there. Luckily, we are both too tired to care and we go to bed little after midnight.
Venice the next day was amazing, but I’m going to blog about that separately.
Ciao for now!