By: Bryn Elizabeth Porter
My favorite and most memorable experience in Italy could be considered the worst day of my entire trip. However, I look back on the experience fondly because it was an experience that ripped me out of my comfort zone.
My roommates and I planned a trip from Naples to the Amalfi Coast. We were to take the train from Naples to Sorrento, and from there take a bus to Amalfi. Then, the people from our Airbnb would pick us up from the bus station and take us to our accommodations. Our trip was well thought out and perfectly planned, or so we thought.
Everything is harder when you are in a foreign country. Getting to our train’s platform was an ordeal in and of itself, and once we got there, we learned that our plans were stunted from the very beginning because when we finally arrived, we learned that our train was cancelled. We were going to have to catch a later train and hope that we got to Sorrento in time to catch the last bus to Amalfi.
As we were waiting, the number of people who were also waiting started to rise. It was clear that not everyone who wanted to catch the next train would be able to, and we needed to be on that train! As anticipation for the next train’s arrival grew, people started crowding around the platform edge.
When the train arrived, and the doors opened, it was like I was a tiny fish in a tsunami wave. The train filled up in a flash, and people were standing nose to nose. I was about five feet from the door, but I wouldn’t have been able to get off if I wanted to. It was about 98 degrees and stagnant because the train was not yet moving. People were sweaty, panicky, and getting smooshed, and on top of it all, the train didn’t leave for approx. 20 minutes after it loaded! It was the craziest transportation experience I had ever had. Finally, the train left the station, ventilation improved, and people settled into the reality of being packed like a sardine in a sardine can.
Now, I had done my research about travelling by train in Italy. I knew that pickpocketing was a big problem, and I was prepared for a situation like this. I had my purse in front of me on my stomach with the opening facing toward me, and on top of that, I had my backpack. I thought for sure that I would be able to see if anybody tried to get into my things, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
Once people started getting off at stops along the way and seats opened up, I sat down and wanted to check my phone. I was shocked to discover that it was gone. Even with all of my preparation, I had been pickpocketed! Those guys are good. My phone was my lifeline over there. I felt like my safety net was gone, and I was so upset, but I was not going to let that ruin my trip. I would deal with it later.
At last, our train arrived at our stop, but unfortunately, we did miss the last bus. The second part of our plan was now also stunted. Luckily there were taxis waiting, but just like at the train station, there were more people in need of a taxi than taxis available. We rushed up to the biggest taxi available and the six of us piled in.
We were all exhausted at this point, and we were relieved to be safe in a car and on the last leg of our journey. We told the driver that we wanted to follow the meter (because locals had warned us that we would get ripped off otherwise), so the driver started the meter and headed towards our destination. Everything was fine for a short while, but it turns out that this is the part of our trip where we thought we were going to die.
The driving lanes are so narrow that two vehicles can barely make it past each other, the cliffs are extremely windy, it was dark, and to make matters worse, our driver was driving fast while talking on his cell phone! We had no idea how much farther our Airbnb was, and we were all terrified. We couldn’t just ask to get out because we were in the middle of nowhere! The meter was jumping like crazy, and to make matters worse, none of us understood why. It was getting pricey, and we didn’t know if we were going to be able to afford the fee in the end. We could barely communicate with the driver so we asked him to pull over so that we could have our Airbnb contacts speak with him. He got out of the taxi, and after much yelling with our contacts, he gave us a fixed price: 20 euros each. Forget the train experience, this was now the craziest transportation experience I have ever had.
When we arrived at our destination, our driver told us that the road was too narrow for him to drop us off in front of the building and that we would have to walk to find it. We were all so relieved to be out of the car and alive so that news was the least of our concerns. One of my classmates called our Airbnb contacts while we were walking down the road, and while they were on the phone, we passed a barking dog, which gave her our location. She said to wait there, and she would come and meet us. It was such a relief when she arrived. Our perfectly planned trip turned out to be anything but perfect. However, that is the greatest lesson about traveling abroad; you have to expect the unexpected and learn to roll with the punches. And, what you might think is the worst night of your life, could turn out to be one of your favorites. Amalfi turned out to be worth it all, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.