I often describe travel as fun and enriching, challenging and exciting; however, this trip played out like a daytime drama, and I was on the brink of being killed off. It was filled with tears, a reroute through the Arabian desert, and a mistaken train journey to Switzerland. I began to feel like I was remaking my own movie, called "Run Katie Run" as I chased after planes, trains, boats, and buses on an almost daily basis. My idyllic-sounding "6 days in the Lombardy region of Italy for a wedding in a castle outside of Bergamo" quickly turned into a dramatic tale of "How many things can go wrong in 48 hours?"
Before I begin my daytime drama, here's how it was supposed to go: Leave Boston at 7pm, get into JFK about an hour later, and then hop on the once-a-day direct 7-hour flight to Milan.
Here's how things really went down.
There was some rain in Boston. That photo above with a clear blue sky is truly moments before a big rainstorm. Once it hit, I headed to the airport. I arrived a few hours earlier than I needed to, and everyone there seemed optimistic that I'd make my flight. Putting me on an earlier flight wasn't on offer at that point. Feeling positive that everything would go to plan, I soon received one of what would eventually be 4 emails notifying me that my flight was delayed until midnight. I decided the 2 hour customer service line leading down the corridor was my best bet to figure out a solution. Once I made it to the counter, I was with the "new guy," prolonging the agony of the solution. Ultimately, he placed me on an earlier, yet still delayed flight to JFK, where I would be rerouted through Dubai, yes Dubai, and then finally end up in Milan.
While transferring to another terminal in JFK, I finally got through security and discovered that my original flight to Milan was still at the gate! I was hopeful. Stupidly hopeful. The gate had already closed, so I was forced to journey to the Middle East, while watching a handful of movies that have all melded into one 13-hour plot line.
During my 6-hour layover in Dubai and aboard the plane, I received a slew of emails regarding the cooking class that I had organized months prior. It was quickly unravelling after learning that two of the four of us couldn't make it, due to a fellow wedding guest's sprained ankle. I had just enough wifi to reschedule and communicate that I was still going to make it, albeit late. Thankfully, Amy of Amy's Cucina was able to accommodate the last minute changes and rerouted my directions to her from the Milan airport.
48-hours of travel later, and I finally arrived into an Italian heat-wave. I'm not a fan of heat, unless I can jump into some cool water, so my rough start was intensifying quickly. My bags were getting heavier by the second, and the waft of jet and emotional exhaust emanating from me was palpable. I exchanged and lost almost half my money at the Milan airport, purchased a local sim card, and boarded the train to Saronno. A fellow lost traveler recognized my confusion from behind and caught up to ask me if I was also looking for the connecting train to Como. Yes, yes I was...thank you kind stranger. We were in this together.
A quick note about Italian train stations. They can be like cruel treasure hunts. Signs, times, and ticketing booths are mysteriously tucked away, with seemingly contradictory arrows and schedules. The next train to Como was in over an hour, so we were forced to relax and slow down even more.
Delays and running for trains were an unwelcome theme for me this trip, but making friends with fellow travelers is something I love, so I decided things were looking up. We sat down for a coffee, talked about where we've lived and traveled, while I tethered wifi from his phone to communicate with Amy about my continuously delayed timing. (My sim card was still activating.) A couple of espressos later, and we finally boarded the train to Como. Yes, I finally made it! Just to give you a sense of time and distance, if I had taken a car from the MXP airport to Como, it would have been about 32 miles. This whole journey took over 3 hours. Italian time.
While this was a very difficult travel experience (on par in some ways with Lake Tekapo), I'm so happy I made it for my friend's incredible wedding! If this is how Italians get married, I'll be a guest any day. The food was as wonderful as expected, and the castle setting was epic. During dinner, we all stopped mid-bite to see if Pavarotti was serenading us. No, it was just your average Italian with an incredible voice who was also DJing the reception. Being there for a once-in-a-lifetime moment for my friend was why I went, and it was all worth it.
I also learned how to make pasta from scratch, indulged in amazing gelato, experienced breathtaking Lake Como from Varenna, and now have greater compassion for fellow travelers who have experienced similar delays and difficulties.
A few things to remember if you find yourself in a similar crazy situation:
- Make sure to get a local SIM card once you've arrived at your destination. If your phone is unlocked, it can help you text and call with locals as well as offer data to look up train and boat schedules. I also found it handy when my bank card wasn't working and could use my existing Skype credit with the sim data.
- Never exchange money at the airport. I lost about $100 in exchange at the Milan airport. I knew better, but time and convenience won out in this situation.
- Slow down on needing to see and do everything, and instead focus on the good stuff. There's plenty of that in Italy, especially after a gelato.
- Make sure to take lots of photos. After the dust settles, at least you'll have some beautiful images, and hopefully time will transform the ridiculousness into humorous stories. You will soon forget the anguish and frustration and be glad you had a camera capturing the scenery when you were just trying to get through the day.
- Don't check your bag if you can help it. Thankfully, I didn't check mine. Who knows where it would have ended up or when I would have gotten it back! It may have been a lot of weight to carry for so many days in a row, but I had what I needed the whole way.
Here's a brief overview of my 5 1/2 days in the Lombardy region, below the beautiful Dolomite mountain range. My itinerary includes some great options, but there are also other lakes and cities, such as Lake Maggiore and Turin. While Cinque Terre is technically doable, you may want to skip it, unless you're carrying on to other parts of Italy. Trains are limited, so if you miss the return train back to Milan, you're staying overnight. For more details, check out the city links below.
Day 1 & 2: Cooking Class and Como
Day 3: Varenna
Day 4: Bergamo
Day 5: Verona
Day 6: Milan