Cabs and trains and buses, oh my!
Written by Melissa March 4, 2015
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, we traveled frequently in the three months we lived in Italy and loved every minute. But it’s worth mentioning how different travel is for a study abroad student in Europe in comparison to travelling in the United States.
Don’t worry, I’ll also provide some helpful advice to those of you who plan to visit Europe and travel within Europe in the future.
It starts on Sunday night at 10pm as we arrive again at the CIMBA campus and exit the cab after a weekend of exploring in whatever city/country. We climb the five flights of stairs to our rooms to unpack our backpacks, only to think about repacking them in just a few days for our next trip. As our friends begin to arrive on campus after their trips, we meet up and share stories of our weekend’s travels. Then is time to get down to business. We pull out our “bucket lists” of places we want to see while we’re here in Europe and compare amongst our friends’ lists. We throw around several ideas.
“No I’ve already been there. I went during the first long weekend, when you both were in Florence.”
“Okay, then maybe Switzerland?”
“Too expensive. I can’t afford to survive the weekend in Switzerland.”
“I heard that Greece is really nice! The islands that is. Not Athens, it’s a dump from what I’ve been told.”
“I’m planning on touring Greece with my dad when he comes to visit me for Thanksgiving.”
Finally, we can decide on our top three choices, though some people favor one over others. It’s so late now and we’re all exhausted from our awesome weekends so we go to bed (or more likely, do homework).
The next night after dinner and homework we meet back up. Now, there are hours of researching times and prices on trains and planes and hostels and local attractions. There is silence as we all work diligently, except for the typing and clicking. Occasionally someone breaks the silence to share a cool, cheap hostel or convenient, cheap train times that will work for all our class schedules. (Emphasis on “cheap.” We’re in college.) Eventually we have to sacrifice one of our top three destinations due budgeting or no achievable transportation options (like the only flight out to Sicily less than 500€ is at noon on Friday when we’re all in class). There goes Prague. Soon after, someone will get really excited about whatever destination they’re researching and will present to the group and we’ll all get excited. We decided on Rome! Now we’re all happy and looking forward to a weekend in Rome! It’s late now and we’re all exhausted from our awesome day of classes and homework so we go to bed (or more likely, study and do more homework).
**Hint: Rome2Rio is a great website for transportation and logistics. You can type in any two destinations on earth and it will tell you a series of steps to get there, the general prices of those steps, and also give you so many options for changing any leg of the journey. It has a lodging search as well, but I never used it.
The next night we meet up again to plan Rome more in depth. After a couple hours of price comparisons and discussion, we have a basic outline of an itinerary with our hostel all picked out and a general list of things we want to do during the weekend. We also found an affordable train that works with our Friday schedules. We run to get our credit cards to purchase the tickets and we’re all so happy (and tired)! Going through the checkout process on trenitalia.it (this website will both annoy you and save your life), we now notice that there are only two tickets left at the cheapest price 35€, so the third person will have to pay the first-class price of 70€. That’s not cool. Maybe Rome isn’t going to work out this weekend. We’ll have to wait until next week. We all are tired and disappointed so we go to bed (or more likely, study and do homework).
**Hint: TripAdvisor is cool for finding attractions and restaurants, but you should also Google your location to see what it’s known for world-wide, because those are the best attractions normally.
**Hint: Trafalgar and Affordable Tours are great places to book tours for any city you’re visiting, but usually you have to book WAY in advance and tours can actually get pretty expensive. I was looking for a wine tour in Siena in Tuscany, but all the tours were booked for the dates we were going and they were VERY expensive.
Now it’s Wednesday and we’re all having anxiety over our travel plans and this weekend is approaching so quickly, what was that other destination we were considering on Monday? Right, Milan! Okay, worst case scenario: we can all stay here this weekend and rest, get work done, and maybe visit the nearby towns of Bassano del Grappa or Asolo and we can go to the Crespano market on Sunday morning and it would still be an awesome weekend! Still, let’s try to get to Milan. Someone finds affordable train tickets to Milan with only two stops in Venice Mestre and Padova that would get us to Milan at 9:30pm (not bad at all). We book three tickets! Okay, I think we accomplished enough tonight. Let’s celebrate by going to bed (or more likely, studying and doing homework).
**Hint: Ryan Air is a budget airline that we don’t have in the U.S. (yet, but fingers crossed). They’re not known for their amenities or their smooth performance, but they get you where you need to go for WAY less than all the other airlines.
**Hint: Skyscanner is a good website to compare flight information. You can even decide on a destination by using the “Everywhere” option (example: put “Venice” in the “From” space and put “Everywhere” in the “To” space and it’ll show you the cheapest flights out of Venice by location).
Thursday night we research hostels in Milan. After comparing prices and locations and amenities we pick one that has wifi access (a must) near the Navigli (canals; one of the most romantic and lively neighborhoods in Milan). We run to get our credit cards and book it. Someone will call Fabio the cab driver to make sure we can get a ride to the train station in Bassano at 7pm (after the buses stop running), but Fabio is already taking a full cab of people to the train station at 6:45 and won’t be able to get us. Next, we call Flavio the cab driver who’s available, but only at 6pm, which is good enough. But the cab fits nine people and there are only three of us, in order to avoid paying more we have to run around frantically to find more people who need a ride to Bassano tomorrow at the same time. Found some! Cool, so now we can split the cab cost seven ways. We can work out who owes how much for what (train, hostel, cabs etc.) later. We’re ready for this weekend, we can research more about Milan tomorrow night when we get there (not ideal, but it normally works out this way). Now we go to bed (or more likely, do laundry so that we can quickly pack some clean clothes tomorrow during the 30 minutes after lunch before our next classes, and study and do homework).
**Hint: Hostel World is a neat idea that we don’t use much in the U.S. You can basically live in someone else’s home or apartment and either have your own (lockable in most cases) room or the entire place to yourself depending on your preferences and affordability. It’s really cool and a lot of the people you meet through it are super nice and travelers themselves. It’s fun and useful to live with the locals a lot of times because they’ll tell you where all the best places to eat are!
Friday is hectic. 7am we grab our clothes from the dryer. 8am we go to class. Lunch is at 12:05pm. At 12:45pm we run upstairs to pack our backpacks. At 1:15 we go to mindfulness practice because it might help us calm down and re-focus on the weekend ahead. At 1:30 we’re in class. At 5:15 we run upstairs to change into travel clothes, pack some last minute items, run to the tabacchi (corner store; kind of like a 7-11, but not really) to get a sandwich from Diego for the road, run up to get our bags and bring them downstairs before Flavio arrives with his cab. 6:12, Flavio is late, but he’s here at last and he loads our bags into the back of the cab and off we go to the train station!
As you can see, it’s quite a process. Every week was a challenge for us (especially the more indecisive ones of us – me – who can’t decide on a destination until Thursday; that causes problems). Strangely, the more stressful the trip was, the more relieved I felt to finally arrive at the destination and the more rewarding it was for me. Every week there was a new obstacle, every week there was a new travel group (for the most part), and every week I was an anxious/excited mess every day as I recovered from my last trip while simultaneously looked forward to my next trip.
I called so many taxis, learned so many different subway and bus systems in different countries and different languages, flew with so many different airlines, rode on a few buses, and I can’t even tell you how many train rides I took. Meanwhile the scenery was always beautiful. No matter how you get there, make sure you’re looking out the window. What an awesome time studying abroad in Italy was.