In April 1996, I traveled around Europe on a Eurail pass with my friends Leah and Meghan and a ten pound copy of Let’s Go Europe. I’ve been wanting to write about the experience for a while now but no one story was big enough to warrant a whole blog post. So instead, I bring you a collection of short vignettes.
We stayed at a friend’s apartment for a couple nights. Our friend’s roommate was one of those know it all types. When we said we were visiting the Tower of London the next morning and believed we could get through it in a half hour, the know it all said that it was impossible to do the Tower of London in a half hour. We take the challenge. The next morning we lace up our sneakers, enter the tower at a brisk pace, and bob and weave our way through less “motivated” tourists as if we’re running a 5K.
On the second or third day in France, Meghan and Leah tell me that they are sick of tapestries and do not want to see anymore of them. Their tone suggests that I had secretly signed us up for the Tapestries of Europe tour and were putting a stop to it.
We arrive at our Pensione and the kind old hotelier requisitions her English-speaking son to show us to our room. He spends a minute or two pointing things out unnecessarily. The beds, the mirror, the wardrobe. We’re all nodding and smiling politely. And then he opens the wardrobe door and says we are welcome to use this “knife” if we get cold. He is undeniably pointing at a folded blanket. We nod and smile, but perhaps not as genuinely as when we smiled about the beds and the mirror.
Meghan knocks on the door of the bathroom we share with a few other hotel guests. In response, she hears a male voice jubilantly suggest that she “come in!”
Leah goes into a shop to buy some Italian cookies. Meghan and I stay outside because we don’t like Italian cookies. After a few minutes, Leah comes tearing out the shop door urging us to GO, GO, GO. Apparently, she had ordered a kilo of cookies. And as the cookie seller is in the midst of shoveling 2.5 pounds of the anise flavored treats into the bag, Leah realizes her mistake. She does not want 2.5 pounds of cookies, nor can she afford them. She tries unsuccessfully to tell the cookie seller that she doesn’t want all those cookies, but when she realizes he is not understanding, she concludes that her only option is to flee.
We are looking for the entrance to the bathes of Caracalla. If we’d turned right, we would’ve found the entrance pretty much immediately. We turn left. At first, we are enjoying our walk. But after 30 minutes with no entrance in sight we realize we’ve made a grave error. We walk around the entirety of the bathes and finally find the entrance but are too cranky, hot and tired to go in.
I needed something to cover the blisters I got from walking around the exterior of the baths of Caracalla in my stylish but impractical converse all stars. I ducked into the first shop I saw and purchased a small box of band aids. As had become my habit at that point, I asked Leah and Meghan to convert the Lira on the price tag into Dollars. Usually I did this before I made a purchase. But this time, I decide to throw caution to the wind and buy the band aids without knowing the price. Meghan tells me I’d just spent $15 on the band aids. She is kidding. But before she could tell me that, I had already burst into tears.
We had to call the Aliscafi company in Naples to see if boats would be running to Capri on Palm Sunday. We nominate Leah to make the call. We all get into the small phone booth together. Leah dials the number and when she gets a response, she asks “Parli Inglese?” Presumably the person said no because Leah courageously forged on with the line she had practiced before making the call: “Domani e Domenica delgi Palme, e l’aliscafo che gira?” She expertly made it through the first part of the sentence before pausing. But before she could ask if the aliscafo was running, the person at the other end of the phone hung up. Leah was stunned. Meghan and I were stunned. The nerve! But then we realized that the aliscafi company representative had actually been quite justified. Leah had asked him if he spoke English and when he said no, she told him that tomorrow was Palm Sunday.