I didn’t realize I had bought my train ticket from Venice to Milan for March instead of February until the old Italian man scanning my ticket on the train shook his finger at me, saying, “No, no, no. Not valid.”
It had been a four-day trip in Milan and Venice, I was running on about three hours of sleep, and I only had one 50 euro bill left in my wallet. I had been on a whirlwind tour through these two cities, and I was ready to nap the whole three-hour ride from Venice to the Milan airport. That is, until I was forced to get off at the next stop to buy a new ticket after having promised my friends I would catch the next train, desperately hoping it would be that simple. Of course, I got lost because the signs were in Italian, and as I wandered through the station, my bulging backpack constantly bumped into people.
“Scusi,” I apologized, frazzled and lost, to the disgruntled Italians I kept jostling,
Finally I found the railway representatives, only to discover the price for a ticket the day of was significantly higher—but I had no other choice. I had a plane to catch from Milan back to the Netherlands. So I shelled out 40 extra euros for my idiotic booking mistake.
I got on the next train no problem, totally frustrated with my own stupidity and with the confusing website that I’d used to book my wrong ticket. As I was sitting there on a beautiful, sunny day, winding through the Italian countryside, all I could think about was the money I’d lost.
But then I looked outside and saw the Alps stretching out in the distance, their snowcapped peaks just visible over the edge of little towns perched on the tops of the hills. The scene was completely idyllic, and I had almost missed it because I was worried about having bought the wrong ticket, which, in the grand scheme of a semester of traveling, isn’t the worst mistake you can make.
While traveling, especially as a student on a budget, it’s easy to forget how lucky I am, getting to see the places I’ve always dreamed about. And as I reflected on the beautiful churches I had seen and the delicious pizza I had eaten—which was practically a religious experience—I concluded that every euro was worth it.
From seeing the beautiful shoes on Milanese feet to admiring the thousands of masks I’d seen on Venetians’ faces for Carnival, and from eating thick focaccia to drinking Venetian Bellini’s, I had seen a lot of the beauty of two very different Italian cities.
On one hand, Milan was modern, mostly gray stone buildings and wide roads, on which cars whizzed and honked like in Boston. People were brusque, but beautifully dressed. From over-the-top furs to sparkly stilettos, the majority of men and women were stunning, and I felt like a bumbling American pretty much the entire time I was there.
Then, just a few hours away from Milan by train, I was transported to a magical city, somewhere that felt like a fairytale from a different era, and where tourists abounded. The long skinny gondolas replaced the speeding cars, as the blue-green water reflected back the light cast by the pink street lamps lining the canals. It literally took my breath away, first when I stepped out of the train station and saw the Grand Canal at night, then again seeing the city in the daylight, and a third time seeing the massive Carnival festival in Piazza St. Marco where people were dressed in absurd outfits, wigs, and masks. I felt like Alice, having just stepped into a less threatening but just as bizarre of a Wonderland, as a loud parade wandered the winding city streets and people in their outrageous costumes trailed behind it.
Speeding away on the train to the Milan airport, admiring the sunny countryside and thinking about these two very distinctly different experiences, I tried to think about the bigger picture. Forgetting the stress of getting kicked off the first train, buying a new ticket, the glares of annoyed Italians, and my nearly empty wallet, I settled into my seat. Soaking in the sun, I knew my best memories would be about experiencing the culture, food, and atmosphere of these two cities.