For those of us who were able to study abroad, we all know how truly lucky we are.
When people ask how my trip was, all I have to say is, “it was amazing’, “best time of my life”, or “it was perfect”. Yet, in reality, it wasn’t perfect. What people do not understand about going abroad is a lot of things go wrong, and just about everyone has an “oh s**t” moment. Here is mine.
While spending the semester in Rome last spring, traveling the rest of Italy on the weekends was expected. I had been to Italy before with my family. I hit all the “postcard” cities – Rome, Florence, Positano, and Venice. We finished the trip with Venice, and subsequently I ended up pretty much hating it. It felt like an amusement park; fun for a few hours, loads of tourists, endless, monotonous gift shops, and bad food. Reluctantly, I put these feelings aside, and decided to give Venice a second chance. Within a week of being in Italy, my roommates and I booked our first weekend trip to Venice for the last week of Carnival – the festival that leads up to Lent. We pictured ourselves parading around the city in our Venetian masks without a care.
The weekend had arrived with iPhone Weather predicting a chance of rain. Thinking that iPhone weather is always wrong, I ignored it, I left my umbrella, and walked out the door. At this point, we were a mere train and bus ride away from the unluckiest trip ever. The train ride was the only thing that went smoothly. After, we funneled into a crowded bus. Inside we were met with a man wearing a Jigsaw mask, smoking a joint hidden from sight but not from scent. Interesting. We stepped foot on the island around 11p.m., making our way through the tight, dim passageways and over the canal bridges. Venice at night was pretty eerie. Mobs of people in masks and capes filled the otherwise silent path to the heart of Venice.
Photo Credit: Roberto Taddeo
We got on a water taxi that we had thought, would take us to our hostel. As the boat made its way through the Grand Canal, we looked forward to see only water and darkness. Soon enough we were surrounded by open water, Venice was no longer in view. Minor panic attack set in, till we circled around again to the taxi stop we began at. We concluded that we had gotten on the wrong taxi. An hour later we got on the right taxi that dropped us off at our hostel around 2 a.m.
We walked into the Generator Hostel, discovered the bottom floor was a club, no complaints there. After checking in, we walked upstairs to our 8-person mixed dorm. We figured there were six of us girls, good chance we get the room to ourselves. False. The odds were not in our favor. I opened the door to instantly make eye contact with a 50-year-old man without his shirt on. This is the moment I learned the difference between hostels and youth hostels. Three of our friends had been upgraded to a private room where I slept on the floor instead of with our new friend. We went to sleep with optimism that the next day would be better.
We checked out of the Hostel in the morning. We had decided to not book a room for the second night. We were going to save money and party in the streets till our 6a.m. train on Sunday. This was a great plan we thought. What could go wrong?
We walked outside and it wasn’t raining. We grabbed a water taxi and crossed the canal to Piazza San Marco. It was now raining. The rain was steady, definitely more than a drizzle. We convinced ourselves that it would stop eventually; it couldn’t rain all day and night. We all bought masks, obviously, and a few of us bought umbrellas. Priorities. We wander the streets for a few hours and the rain does not let up. Our boots are completely soaked through from walking through puddled streets.
We decided to take a lunch break, where I ate pizza that tasted like cardboard. Still, it was raining. We decided to carry on with our plans. We went to the small island where glass is blown. Then things escalated. The sky darkened and the winds picked up. Cue huge bolts of lightening and crackling thunder. We ran to the water taxi to make it back to the main piazza. This taxi ride rivaled the first. We were tossed around in the water as I contemplated my life choices.
We reached land and Venice was now in the midst of a monsoon. We joined a random parade of people chanting and dancing led by what seemed to be religious monks. What else was there to do? As the day went on and the rain persisted people began to leave Venice. All the outdoor events were a clear bust and there was nowhere else for the masses to go.
Photo Credit: Michela Simoncini
We went to a restaurant, drank hot wine and charged our smart phones. We left. We went to another restaurant where they were so desperate for customers we were allowed to drink our own alcohol at dinner. The waiter grabs one of our bottles off the table and takes a shot of whiskey. Cheers.
We walked the streets in the dark. The rain had left Piazza San Marco under two feet of water. The canals flooded into the streets, blocking bridges and pathways. Venice was a maze. The temperature was dropping and our socks and shoes had been drenched since 10 a.m. We accepted trench foot as a likely possibility. We then entered survival mode. We found a bar and grabbed a booth. Someone ordered a beer and two people fell asleep on the table. We decided to remove ourselves before someone else did.
We relocated to a dark piazza, street lights were nonexistent. All we had left to eat was a bag of pistachios. We sat on a bench chucking the shells while two of the girls relieved themselves in a puddle. our situation had become pathetic and our actions, animalistic. After accepting defeat, we called it quits and headed to the train station. On the bus ride back one of my friends had passed out in her seat. Everyone else got off the bus as I tried to wake her up, but she would not budge. As the bus driver was preparing to pull away from our stop, in an act of desperation, I grabbed her by the backpack and pulled her off the bus. No man left behind.
We walked inside the station to find that we were not exactly, ‘inside’. The station was not enclosed and wind was whipping through the station. It was about 40 degrees. A few of us sat on the ground, huddled together, as others went to look for a bar. The only other people that were left at the station were homeless. We pretty much blended right in. The other group had found a late-night café that was open until 5am. We sat there watching MTV music videos until we were told to leave.
We headed back to the station and waited for McDonalds to opened at 5:30am. The train came, and we headed back to Rome at 6:37 am. It was over.
No one cried. No one complained. And we made it through our first abroad disaster together.