June 16, 2014

6:20am

Milan. Lack of food, sleep, bathroom, and direction are terrible things, even if you are surrounded by the grandiosity that is Italy. I always imagined that I would be smiling ecstatically every second of every moment on this trip no matter what the circumstance, because I would be thankful just to be here. Well, here I am in Milan, the fashion capital of the world, and I smell like feet and look like hell.

Such is the stuff of dreams.

Our hotel in Milan.

Lack of the most basic necessities makes for a sickly feeling mind and body. Thank goodness Kirk and Carolyn were nice and trusting enough to let us “borrow” the van, which is under their name, so that we could catch a little bit of shut eye. We offered to go to the train station and sleep on a bench because we didn’t expect them to entrust us, two people they met a mere ten hours ago, to return their van. Fortunately for us, Kirk are Carolyn are the type that believe in the overarching good in people. To our utter surprise, Kirk actually gave some of our money back because he wanted to be sure we had enough to make it through the rest of our trip.

“Send us the money when you have it,” he said. “Actually, I am going to try to claim this through my travel insurance, so I might even be sending you money if it goes through!”

So with an exhausted smile, a final picture, a Facebook search to keep in touch, and my faith in the human race officially restored, we all shook hands and parted ways.

But two hours of sleep in a minivan on the side of the road (after only sleeping four to five hours the previous night, and the same the night before that…), plus the stress of finding the rent-a-car drop-off point as well as getting our tickets to Florence (fingers crossed that they are not on strike or sold out) does not help my feeling of gloom and doom in the slightest. Additionally, once we actually get to Florence, we have to find our hotel and hope that someone is there to check us in, as hotels in Italy are not like the 24 hour ones in the States. They require you to pick a timeslot of arrival to assure the manager is available and not at home or out shopping or at lunch.

I just cannot wait to lay down in a bed; that luxury is more inviting than Florence itself.

Steve had to drive a few miles into Milan’s city centre on only two hours of half-awake sleep. I don’t think I could ever travel alone like this. Steve has a great sense of direction and works really well under stress, but we all reach our boiling points.

Steve is in the train station trying to figure out where we are supposed to drop off this damn Lodgy-mobile. The address the Hertz counter representative gave us back in France does not seem to exist. As I wait in a glossy daze, I watch the hustle and bustle of the train station in the early morning. Motorcycles are parked up on sidewalks. Cars are pulling into the designated bus-parking areas.

As wonderful as I know Italy will be as soon as all of my basic needs are met, I’m currently dreaming of our nice, safe, warm, predictable bed with Rosco snuggled up at my side.

Steve returns, looking defeated and annoyed.

“There is no Hertz counter in there. I don’t know what that guy was talking about!”

I have nothing to say to this. It has become expected that things will go awry, and I’m too exhausted to point out the obvious. We decide to go back to the hotel that Kirk and Carolyn are staying at, drop the key at the front desk, and then find our way back to the train station to (hopefully) get on the next thing smoking to Florence. We have already missed one paid night there due to all of this train strike nonsense, and we want to get there ASAP. We leave for Rome tomorrow. The thought makes me even more exhausted, as if that were possible.

So here we are, back where we started, on the side of the road in front of Kirk and Carolyn’s hotel. I drop the key at the front desk and call up to their room to explain what happened. A zombie-like Kirk answers with a barely intelligible “H-lo?”

“Hi Kirk. It’s Jen,” I say, already feeling guilty about calling and breaking up his much-needed sleep. “Just wanted to let you know that we could not find the drop-off point, so the van is to your right around the corner. The key is down here in your mailbox.”

“Huh, oh. Okay. G’luck then,” Kirk mumbles. I wonder if he will wake up later believing that this was all a dream.

And then, we are back to our mission. We ask a man with his grandson how to get to the train station from here and they direct us to a trolley.

“I go, you go.” The man tells us in broken English, and then finds a seat for the two of them.

We watch this kind man with the acuteness of a hawk. Since there is no more sitting room, we stand in the aisle and hold onto the metal bar overhead. It is so hard to stand, to use my last ounce of strength to hold my backpack and myself in place so I don’t fall into an unsuspecting passengers lap.

When the man stands, he motions for us to get off as well. When we are on the street, he points in the direction we are to go. We smile, thanking him, and head on our way. Before long, we reach the train station. It looks nothing like Gare de Lyon in France; there is not a line a mile long by the customer service desk and people do not look lost and confused. Everyone knows exactly where they are going and exactly how they are going to get there. This is a good sign for us.

We buy our tickets with very little issue (for once), other than we feel like death. The past twenty-four hours has been a whirlwind, starting with our altercation with the Paris cab driver, then the strike and potential riot building at the train station, to renting a manual car with two strangers, driving over the Alps, and Steve almost getting arrested as soon as we entered Italy.

Traveling is sure a dirty business.

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