May 2nd, 2015
After a very short night wrapped into a modest brown blanket, I got up pretty early in the morning. On my way downstairs I met an elderly man who pointed at me and said, almost accusatory, “Colazione“! That is not my name, Sir, but if you insist, you can just keep on calling me that. I must have looked at the gentleman very doubtfully, so he exclaimed “Uh, breakfast!” – “Sì“? I replied, not in the least less doubtful. “Downstairs, downstairs!” the man excitedly gesticulated towards a flight of stairs, from which I could already make out voices. “Grazie“, I smiled.
When I got to the breakfast area, a small, but comfortably enough room, a small lady with a big smile greeted me in Italian and pointed at the tables. She must have realised that I didn’t understand a single word, so she asked “Español?” Sure, why not. “Sí“, I affirmed, so the lady enthusiastically explained to me that I could sit wherever I want and that I could serve myself as I pleased. I thanked her and chose a spot in the corner, where I had a good overview over both people and the food selection, which was very scarce.
I roamed the room for something edible and decided on hot chocolate from a coffee machine, one of those typical round white breads that you will find almost everywhere in Italy, and a croissant filled with jam. Trying to be as little of a burden as I possible could, I grabbed my breakfast plate, cup and leftovers and asked the breakfast lady where to put them. She looked surprised and said she would’ve taken care of it, but I assured her that it was no effort at all.
Back in my room, I packed my belongings and already dreaded the walk back to that bus stop from yesterday. It turned out that in the daytime, Rome seemed to look like a much friendlier place though, and what had seemed like an at least two-mile walk to me yesterday was really not so much as 400 metres. In the middle of the street a huge, lively market was taking place. I made my way through various fruit and vegetable stands and all that mumbo jumbo, and much to my delight almost immediately found bus number 90, that would bring me back to Termini.
Once inside of the bus, I asked an elderly man of around 70, where I would able to purchase a ticket. He’d start talking in Italian and I would reply in English and none of us really got their point across. Finally he reached out his hand and I put money into it. Looking back at it, I still feel really awkward about it, because the man dropped the money and in an enraged voice said “no!” (I understood that). The money rolled all over the floor and out of the bus, and the man shrugged. Somehow, he made me understand that you had to purchase the ticket prior to your trip. Well, there hadn’t been any biglietterias in, what I am sure was a five-mile radius, so I stubbornly decided to stay anyway.
So here I was on a bus in Rome, without a ticket and praying at every halt the bus driver made, that he wouldn’t call the carabiniere and have me thrown into the Italian jail.
I wasn’t literally praying. I was more like appealing to some higher being that might or might not exist. The elderly man I had addressed before, however, started talking loudly to himself. Maybe that was what Italians did when they got bored on the bus?
When the talking wouldn’t cease and none of the other people on the bus seemed to be imitating his behaviour, I realised that the man was praying. I was ashamed and also somewhat offended. Did this pious Catholic soul pray for this poor, wretched, ticketless Austrian, so his Catholic God would spare me from purgatory?
Arriving at Termini, I once more paid the ludicrous fee of 16€ that made me want to growl like a bulldog on a bad day, but I decided on not looking like the odd one out and patiently waited on the train like everybody else.
I arrived approximately three hours early at the airport and before I could pass through to the check-in counter, a man and a woman asked me where I was going. “To Canada”. – “Do you have a visa?” -“I don’t need a visa”. -“Do you have a return ticket?” Obviously. “Yes”, I replied, somewhat growing impatiently. “What are you doing in Canada”? The man, who blocked my way to the check-in counter, asked. I had to restrain myself from being sarcastic and asking “What are YOU doing in Canada?” and instead replied, “Oh, touristy things and stuff”. That seemed to be good enough of an answer and I finally got my ticket issued.
My destination was to be Terminal 3, which I supposed was used for non-European flights. In order to get there, one had to get into some sort of metro that transported you, not underground but actually overground, somewhat like a roller coaster, but not as fast and scary, to the terminal.
I still had more than two hours to kill before the boarding would start, so I did what any average Joe or Jane would do on their visit in Italy, and got myself some pizza. Don’t judge me, I know you would too.
Two and a half hours later I found myself wondering why the boarding still hadn’t begun and why I was the only one wondering about it. Besides, the screen that I hadn’t paid any mind to for about an hour suddenly said “Moskow”. By now it finally dawned on me that somehing was terribly wrong. I asked the lady at the counter what happened to the flight to Montréal and she said, as calmly as can be, that they had changed the gate. Great. How about informing the passengers? I rushed to the other gate and to my relief found that the boarding hadn’t even started yet.
On the plane, I discovered that I had an entire row all to myself. The itinerary on the overhead screens announced that it would take us precisely nine hours to arrive in Montréal. I hoped I would be able to fall asleep but this seemed to be an impossible undertaking. Everyone around me was snoring and lying around in the most hilarious positions, but I kept staring at the screens that updated the itinerary, watched Veronica Mars and fastened and unfastened my seatbelt, which sadly enough was the only entertainment I got.
Nine hours later, I was already jetlagged and sore, we finally landed in Canada. A couple of hours before that, the air hostesses had handed us declaration cards everyone was required to fill out for the Canadian border agency. Speaking of which, I spent two hours queuing up at customs, just to talk to a bored-looking guy that asked me the standard questions of “What are you doing in Canada?”, “Do you have a return ticket?”, “For how long will you stay?” and without further ado granted me my visa.
By the time I was allowed to leave the customs area, I was worried whether my luggage might have already been transferred to some other unknown destination, because it had been more than two hours since the plane had landed, but again I was lucky.
I told myself not to despair or fall asleep, grabbed my luggage and started looking for a bus that would take me downtown, which was a lot easier to find than any bus in Rome. I addressed the bus driver, a rather sour-looking woman, where I had to get off and she said it was the last stop. Great. That meant I had one less, one less problem. On the bus, there weren’t any signs to indicate where the journey was going either, so the lady bus driver just yelled out every bus stop with extreme annoyance.
I remembered the first time I had travelled to Montréal. It was in 2003 and I was twelve years old. It would be my very first flight, I travelled all by myself and I would never look at things the same after that journey. I remember being impressed by the eternal drives on illuminated motorways, the skyline of Montréal in the background and a heart that was dancing with joy. Back then, I was never able to linger, since my grandfather, this crazy, admireable man I love so much, lived in Ontario, the neighbouring province of Québec.
My grandfather is a whole different story. When he was well over fifty, he suddenly decided that he wanted to emigrate to Canada. Thus far, he had lived in a small village in Upper Austria for his entire life, raising four children (one of whom was my mother) and then he got curious. He started reading books about Canada and ended up being so fascinated, that he just took a flight to Canada to see for himself. Like me, he returned a changed man and his decision was made – he would pack his wife, my grandmother, and oldest son – and move to Canada. I still look up to him for having had the courage to leave everything that he loved behind him and start somewhere new and I owe so much gratitude to him for having given me the opportunity to fall in love with this country in the same way that he did.
I got off at the terminal station and, unsurprisingly, had no clue where I was. I asked every person imagineable, if they knew the street where my hotel was at, and everyone gave me the same answer: “Walk straight ahead, take the first street left and walk down a couple of blocks.” Have I mentioned that I am terrible at understanding directions? I might as well not ask, because I always get lost anyway, like this time. Again, it was getting dark and I was just getting desperate, running down every side road with my heavy luggage, until I finally found the hotel. It was the most run-down, shabby-looking place I had ever seen, but at that point, I was beyond caring.
I rang the alarm at the “reception”, that was basically a back room clogged with various items ranging from furniture to blankets, a fridge and a surveillance camera. I sincerely apologized to the man at the reception for the delay. He more or less patiently listened to my story and then asked me my name. When I told him, he said that my reservation had been cancelled. “What?” – “Well, your credit card could not be authorised”, the man said somewhat apologetically. I explained that I didn’t have a credit card but that I would be able to pay in cash. The man at the reception said that the entire hotel was complet. “Are you saying that you don’t have a single room left?” I was devastated. The man thought for a while and since I probably looked like a pitiful stray dog to him, he said he would try and fix something up for me. I would, however, have to pay twice the price. I was shocked, but I agreed.
“Thirty minutes”, the guy said, “the room will be ready in thirty minutes. Go and have a cup of coffee somewhere”. I don’t even like coffee.
I went across the street to the only shop that seemed to be open and as I was really thirsty, I treated myself to an over-sweetened drink and some water. I tried striking up a conversation with the guy behind the counter, who must have been around my age. He said that he was sorry, but he barely knew how to speak English. I frankly was too afraid to speak French because I was certain I would make a fool out of myself.
I didn’t want to wait outside on the street, because I was too exhausted, so I asked the owner whether I could wait inside. Instead of the owner, a young, dark-skinned man with glasses of around my age opened the door and asked me to come into the VIP section behind the reception counter. I took a seat at the couch and slurped away at my drink. The young guy said he was sorry but he didn’t speak English, so unless a miracle was about to happen, we would not be communicating.
“Euh,” I commenced, “mon vol a été en retard et je suis fatiguée parce qu’il a duré neuf heures“. The young man opened his mouth and gave me the same look that a person, who had just found out that they won the lottery, would have given me. “Donc, tu parles français“? No, no I really didn’t and I felt so ashamed that my ears were probably burning, but I was trying. Most of what he said, I understood perfectly fine, however responding was an entirely different story.
“People in Québec are very proud of their language and culture”, he explained, “but their French is not easy to understand. When I first got here, it took me a whole while to realise that “ääää” actually meant “un“. I was very much amused. The young receptionist explained that he was from Algeria and that he had a visa that permitted him to stay for ten months. “However, as an immigrant to Québec”, he exclaimed, “you need to learn both French and English. I don’t see the point in that when everyone speaks French around here anyway!” That was a good point. I started telling the guy about my long trip, that I hadn’t slept in forever and that I was dead tired. “Oh, every time I fly”, he said, “it usually takes me around nine hours as well. And I am always so uncomfortable because one can barely move and everyone around me is sleeping but I just can’t!” – “Haha, same here”, I concurred. “Your room is ready”, the owner yelled from upstairs. I felt it was a pity, because that meant that I had to stop this conversation. The young man helped me carry my bags upstairs, said he had enjoyed the conversation very much, and wished me a nice stay. “Maybe we’ll talk tomorrow”, he added.
Cheapskate’s 2 cents:
If you haven’t exactly won the lottery or have inherited a large sum of money that you don’t mind spending, I advise you to do the following things:
– Wherever you go, don’t, I said don’t start scanning the news(papers) for any bad news on the area you are going to. You will find that there are bad news all over the place, and knowing certain things won’t be helpful but will on the contrary cloud your judgement and make you worried.
– Be open-minded. Not everyone speaks your language, but they are not supposed to. With a little effort on your part, which includes not being rude, you will get an entirely different reaction from people.
– Compare prices of hotels online. You will find that they vary from one website to another.
– Compare flights but be cautious of additional costs like credit card fees, baggage fees, insurance fees etc.
– Speaking of hotels, don’t set your standards too high. You probably won’t be spending much time in them anyway.
–Stay away from taxis. I mean it. Don’t be afraid of using public transports like buses, the metro etc.
-Find a good balance between splurging yourself and spending too much money. If you spend too little, you will soon feel resentful and if you spend too much, you will soon be out of money.
-Shop in the same grocery stores as the locals. This way you’ll avoid overprized food, water and other everyday items