Archive for the ‘hiking’ Category

What a weekend! Last weekend was our 5-day group excursion to North Bengal and the Himalayas (here it’s pronounced him-ALL-yas) – and it was just what I needed. I wish we could have stayed longer.

We left Friday morning for the excursion – which started off with an hour and a half long taxi ride to the airport (Kolkata traffic…). We had a short flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra, just less than an hour-long flight. Once in Bagdogra, we were off to Chilapata Jungle Camp and we were originally told it would take about 3 hours to get there….try doubling that. Oh, India. It was about a 5-6 hour drive, but it was nice that we were not in a big tourist van but instead in 3 Jeep-like vehicles. The roads were pretty comfortable, only the usual bumps from poorly paved roads. We arrived at the jungle camp around dinner time – and it was a very nice camp, in the middle of rural villages full of rice paddies and surrounded by dense jungle forests. We stayed in individual hut-like cabins on stilts, which were very nice (but cold at night without heat! I slept in all my layers). Since we arrived so late that first night, we didn’t do much more than have a leisurely dinner and go to bed. I caught up on some reading for class before going to bed early, since we had an early morning ahead of us for our excursion into the jungle!

6am came quickly the next morning, when the doorbell rang for bed tea. Hot masala chai (which I am quickly becoming addicted to) was wonderful when it was so cold in the morning, but at the same time we could have stayed longer in the warm bed! We bundled up since it was so cold out and started off on the safari. We were looking for wild elephants, and any other interesting wildlife. We were driving for a little bit before Haley spotted two elephants! Our driver was driving too fast at the time (how are we supposed to spot the wildlife then?? his fast driving quickly became annoying), so we had to reverse and didn’t have the best view of the elephants. Wild elephants are not like at the zoo, where you can see the whole elephant. These elephants hid back in the forest, so we were quite a distance away and not at a good vantage point for taking pictures. All the pictures I tried to take ended up looking like leaves and kind of a gray blob in the middle of the leaves. It was incredible to be in the presence of truly wild elephants though! As we drove along the rest of the morning, we spotted a rhino in some tall grass – but the grass was so tall we could only see the top of its back. It was so wonderful to be out in nature, away from the noise and the crowds of the city. This weekend confirmed my belief that I need to live somewhere with some nature – I don’t necessarily have to live in the wilderness, but I don’t want to live in a huge city. We were out for about 3 hours before returning to camp for breakfast of toast and eggs. Madhu then gave us some options for the rest of the morning – to go birdwatching, to visit the villages, or to bike ride.

I chose to go bike riding, along with Elizabeth, Brynn, Kia, Abbey, Jennifer, and a guide from the jungle camp. It was WONDERFUL – one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend. It was so nice to be on a bike in the sunny weather, and we biked through many of the villages. It was amazing to see that rural rustic lifestyle as we biked through rice paddies, tea gardens, mustard flowers, and all sorts of vegetable plots. As we biked through the villages, I had kind of an eye-opening revelation to see people actually living like this. I realized that these people have to work so hard for literally everything they have. They have no machines to help them grow their food and build their houses – it’s all hard manual labor. As we were biking through the rice paddies, I realized that I don’t even know or understand how rice grows and the process of harvesting it. To me, rice comes in a bag in the store. When I thought about it more, I realized that I don’t really know how most of my food gets to my table – I can just go to the grocery store and get whatever I want, even if it’s not in season. I think it’s pretty sad that I don’t know where my food comes from or the work it takes to produce it. So now, I’ve taken a new interesting in learning about where my food comes from and sustainable eating. I’ve already started on my food education by buying a book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Anyway – in addition to realizing all how hard people work here (not just in the villages) in India, I also realized how resourceful and resilient these people are. They find solutions with so little to work with. On a similar note, most everything here first fulfills a functional or practical purpose. Most things are in a constant state of slight disrepair here, but as long as it still works and fulfills its original function, all is well.

Our bike ride lasted about 2 hours, and it was so wonderful to be outside and getting some exercise. After lunch, we had a short rest before heading out for our second excursion. The second excursion was about the same as the first, but we saw more elephants! It was also nice just to stop and listen to the silence. We had afternoon tea with pokoras afterward (my 3rd cup of tea that day!) and relaxed with everyone through dinner and caught up on some more class reading before calling it an early night. We got up early to leave the next morning for another long journey to Neora Valley in the Himalayas. It was another 5-6 hour car ride on bumpy roads – but the scenery was beautiful. The tea gardens are very picturesque, as are the mountains. The actual climb up the mountain (over 6,000 ft) took well over an hour, and I was glad I had taken my motion sickness medication. You know you’re in the mountains when you’re on one-lane winding roads and if you don’t feel like throwing up, you feel like you’ll fall over the edge at every teetering turn. The best and worst part of the drive was the last part, going on the road to the Neora Valley Jungle Camp. It was a road in the widest sense possible – not even gravel, but jagged rocks that literally bounced you out of your seat without anything to hold you down (no seat belts, of course). The driver couldn’t drive very quickly then, and one of the tires on the other car popped! We walked the rest of the way to the camp – which was great! We stayed in individual cabins that slept four – one big bed, a loft with another bed, a bathroom, and two balconies! They were wonderful – except for the fact that there was no heat and only a few lights. The views were spectacular, but it was a weird combination of evergreen trees kind of like home and giant jungle plants, like ferns that were bigger than me. We all went out for a short hike right away while we still had daylight, hiking through the jungle until night fell. We had a great dinner (all the dinners there were amazing!) and spent most of the night in one of the rooms having some group bonding :) What happens in the Himalayas…stays in the Himalayas…

Next day was our last full day of the trip that wasn’t full of travel – and we spent most of the morning on a long hike. We set off down the mountain on the road to go to a waterfall. Walking on the roads was challenging enough, since you can’t take your eyes off of where you are placing your feet. It was beautiful – and once again, so nice to be out in nature. It took a long time to get to the waterfall – a few hours, and the last part was a really steep concrete path – but it was worth the long hike! We took tons of pictures and relaxed a little before hiking back up the path, which was so difficult – I was definitely sore for a few days afterward. Luckily, we didn’t have to hike all the way back up to the camp, which would have taken several more hours. We took the cars instead so we could get back for lunch before we headed off to Lava, a nearby town.

In Lava, we went to see a Buddhist monastery. It was beautiful, though we didn’t have a very extensive tour. It also made me want to learn more about Buddhism, since I only know the very basics. Buddhism was started in India and used to be very popular, but now it’s a minority religion. We had the opportunity to see some of the monks saying some prayers – it was so different and interesting since I come from a very different religious background with little to compare this to. We spent a little time in town before heading back – but on our way back, we stopped in one of the small villages to taste a local beer. It was great – this family took us into their home to have this local millet beer – they soak the millet all day, put it in these bamboo mugs with a bamboo straw, and you add hot water. It was actually really good! It taste like beer, just without the carbonation. It’s a common drink there in the winter and even kids drink it to warm up (it’s not very alcoholic). We went back to camp for an amazing Chinese food dinner and spent the night having a great talk with Kia! She has an amazing story to her life.

We left the next morning, and everyone was sad to leave. The weekend was the getaway I really needed – to get out of the city and into fresh air, silence, and open spaces. It seems like we didn’t do a lot when I describe it, and in some ways we didn’t but that’s not what we needed. It was a long day of travel back to Kolkata, and I was crabby to be back in the crowded and noisy city. Wednesday was back to class – though this study abroad has not really required much of the “study” part. We had our first class of the sociology course we signed up for, since the teacher was finally back from being gone at professional training for the past month. The teacher seems nice, and it’s nice to finally be in the right class – but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the teaching style here! All the classes seem to be the same – straight lecture, no discussion, and the material is the most general and broad possible. The teacher repeats him/her self all the time – they will literally repeat the same thing 5 times. There is no critical thinking, and I’m not sure how homework works here. So far, no teacher has assigned reading…so I’m not sure if the students are given a reading list to read outside of class on their own time? It’s rare that anyone asks questions. It’s hard to shake this high school kind of atmosphere – and it looks like it will be up to us to ask question to make the courses more interesting. It’s just a challenge to adapt to this different method of teacher, when our classes at CSBSJU are all about discussion, interaction and critical thinking. After class, we went to Kolkata’s famous annual book fair. We took a city bus to get there, and were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too crowded or dirty. Buses are hard to figure out here – they don’t really have official stops like at home. The buses kind of stop in the middle of the road, and you literally have to jump on. A man comes around and you pay the fare to him to get the ticket. The book fair was a bit overwhelming – like MN’s State Fair, but all books. It was very crowded, but I enjoyed it after I realized that you just have to shove your way into the store and firmly plant your feet where you want to browse. I ended up buying 3 books – The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Being Indian, and a handbook to Hindu mythology. It’s funny – the book fair has a theme every year (though I didn’t see the theme played out very much), and this year’s theme is the U.S.A! They had a replica Capitol building and some American flags, which was funny to see.

Yesterday was a great day – we found out late that we only had one class! Turns out our sociology classes were canceled, and Madhu was canceling her class to take us to the book fair, which was optional. Seems like we may never have a reliable schedule here! Next week, we have Tuesday and Wednesday off for Saraswati Puja, and Hindu festival that celebrates learning. Our only class was one hour of Bengali, where we learned some words for body parts. Bengali is so different from any other language I’ve learned! It’s very difficult to make the sounds, and most of their letters of the alphabet are difficult for my ears to distinguish the subtle differences. After our class, we had the rest of the day ahead of us, so we decided we would try to make chocolate chip cookies! Arundhati said she wants to learn how to make foods that we eat at home, and chocolate chip cookies were at the top of the list. Vinayak, our host brother (whose birthday is today! he’s 13), went shopping for ingredients with us. He’s just adorable and we love spending time with him. He’s very proper and polite, and every once in a while we get him to break out of his shell a bit more. He makes us laugh all the time and we just think he’s adorable. It was interesting shopping for ingredients – it was difficult to find white flour, there are no chocolate chips, no brown sugar, and no baking soda. We bought chocolate bars and broke them up into small pieces, substituted honey for brown sugar, and instead of baking soda they use a combination of baking powder and khabar soda. They also don’t have/use measuring cups, so we had to eyeball the amounts, and the little toaster oven is in Celsius! We could only bake 6-9 cookies at a time since the oven is so small, but…they turned out AMAZING!! We were so happy! They turned out really close to what we make at home, and they are delicious. It was so nice to have that taste of home, and continued by making brownies, which also turned out well. The family was so appreciative of the treats, and gave us so many compliments! Our host family is so wonderful.


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Well. I’m not quite sure where to begin to try and describe my recent weekend in Cinque Terre, Italy.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Many of my friends have been to this wonderful place before – the Cinque Terre – and after hearing their stories and googling pictures, I decided I just had to go. The Cinque Terre is 5 towns along the Italian Riviera, and it is just absolutely gorgeous – you hike between the 5 towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. It’s not a place you go to see museums and monuments, but instead to be in nature and appreciate the natural beauty. And when better to go than when I’m already here in France with some open weekends? I started looking into it,  and Leah and Alejandra said they would come with me. I went last Tuesday to ask about train tickets from Cannes to the Cinque Terre – and it looked like it would work, especially since it only cost about 50 euro for there AND back! Things were looking good.

We started to get a little worried if we would even be able to go…because there is an ongoing strike (la grève) throughout France because the government wants to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. France loves la bonne vie, and la grève is a national pastime. They strike for everything. And, more than 2/3 of the French agree with la grève – they do not want to work for 2 more years! It’s not just that it is 2 years, they believe it is a slippery slope…if it is 2 years this time, how much will it be next time? Younger generations and highschoolers are protesting as well. There are tons of protests every day and transportation has been on strike. It has not yet been a full strike where there are no buses or trains, but instead there may be one train for every three normally, so it is a little difficult to figure out which trains or buses are available when. Everything is very organized though – you can go online and see what is available when, and the strikes are planned in advance. The National Assembly has already voted on the reform and it has passed, so now it goes to the Senate which will vote (tomorrow night!) – if it passes, then it becomes law.So, I had checked on Tuesday with the train station but they told us to come back later because they weren’t sure if there was going to be a strike on Saturday, the day we wanted to go. Alejandra checked in again on Thursday, and they said they never know if they will be on strike until the day before, so we would have to come back tomorrow. So…Friday we all headed to the station, ready to buy our tickets if they said yes, but completely expecting a no. And we were pleasantly surprised! The trains we wanted would not be affected, and within minutes we had tickets to Italy!!! We were so excited – our first trip to Italy!

We got up bright and early Saturday morning for our long trip of train transfers – our first train left Cannes at 7:10am, so we had to leave the Collège at about 6:30am. We got there with about 10 minutes to spare, but Alejandra needed to use the ATM first to get some cash. For some reason, it didn’t work – and we figured the machine was broken, and didn’t have time to mess with it since our train was leaving in about 4 minutes. We made it just fine, and we were on our way! Our first layover was an hour in Monaco – so we headed out of la gare for a little petit dejeuner at a café – some tea and croissants :) Then we were back on the train, headed to Ventimiglia, one of the first stops over the France/Italy border. We noticed some differences right away once we crossed the border – the buildings are similar but have enough differences, and everything is in Italian! None of us speak any Italian, but between the 3 of us, we had three languages to work with – we all speak English and French, and Alejandra speaks Spanish as well. We were really excited when we got off in Ventimiglia for a 45-minute wait before our next train – we were in ITALY! We stepped off the train and heard all this Italian around us and thought, “this is definitely not French…and I have no idea what they are saying.” We headed down the stairs to use the toilet and were shoved down the stairs by a pack of nuns. Welcome to Italy. I was waiting in the excessively long line for the toilet, since there were only 3 stalls and no one was using the second one because there was poop on the floor…and then the woman ahead of me got stuck in the stall! The door wouldn’t open! She started banging on the door and yelling, I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, and everyone was looking around with a look of I’m not sure what to do in this situation. Some guys arrived and started to try to ram down the door…it was my turn to use the bathroom then, so I didn’t see the victorious liberation from the bathroom stall, but I heard everyone cheering once she was released.

We're in ITALY! In Ventimiglia

We headed out into the town to explore a little bit, and Alejandra tried another ATM. The ATM said the transaction was terminated and returned her card. Crap. We tried again at another ATM…and realized that her card had been deactivated. Luckily, Leah and I had enough cash and money on our cards to pay for her throughout the weekend – no problem, but an inconvenience. We wandered through a market with some of the biggest mushrooms I have ever seen, stands selling just pasta, and a huge flower market (though later we realized all the flowers were fake!). We headed back to the station and got on the next train headed for Genova, which was fine, but a long ride – about 2 hours. We arrived in Genova and needed to buy a regional ticket to one of the towns in Cinque Terre – we had decided on Corniglia because it is the third town, and that way we could hike in either direction to 2 towns as we wished. We got to the counter and asked English? Français? Espangol? and the woman replied, “english…poquito.” The story of our trip – no one spoke French or Spanish, and the Italians we encountered spoke broken English. We managed to get our tickets for Corniglia, but the train didn’t leave for another hour and we would have to change trains yet again in Monterosso. But at that point – qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire? We took the tickets and grabbed a quick kebab before hopping on the train. We accidentally sat in first class to Monterosso (luckily didn’t get caught) but in our defense, it was not marked well at all (we saw as we were leaving that it was a piece of notebook paper taped to the side of the door that said first class).

The 5th and final train!!

We arrived in Monterosso….and it was raining. Damn. We were not prepared for this – I had quickly looked online for the weather and it had said 60 and mostly sunny for Saturday with only 20% chance of rain. None of us had rain jackets or umbrellas, and we had packed mostly shorts and t-shirts since we figured we would be hiking and would get hot. Alas. On the last train, (train #5 of the day) the 10 minute train to Corniglia…one of the workers came around to check tickets. He checked Alejandra’s, frowned, then started talking to her and pulled out his write-a-ticket book. Turns out we didn’t stamp our tickets – you’re supposed to stamp those tickets because you buy them without a specific date/time on them, so you have to stamp them so they know you’ve used it just for this one trip – but we didn’t see any stamp machines anywhere! Besides, on the French tickets it says quite clearly at the top of the ticket that you have to validate your ticket before you get on the train – and it said it no where on the Italian ticket! Even it was on there somewhere, we wouldn’t have been able to read it in Italian! In France, the stamp machines are right in front of you…turns out in Italy they are tiny and hidden in the corner. Ugh. So he said, “this time you pay 5…next time you pay 50!” Whatever…but we weren’t in a position to argue, especially with a language barrier, so we just paid the 15 euro. And after, he just left! Didn’t check any other tickets, and if he would have started at the other end of the car, we would have gotten away without the stupid fine. But, we were finally in Corniglia!! We stepped out into the rain and headed for the information booth. There was no one there…so we just started to walk up the hill figuring we would run into the town. We were right – and luckily it let up raining about halfway up the hill.

uhh...where is she taking us?

It was already about 5pm by then (the trains took way longer than I expected with all the time inbetween), so the first order of business was to get a hotel room. Since we had just gotten our tickets the night before, we hadn’t had time to book someplace to stay, and figured we could find some place once we arrived, especially since it’s the off-season. We started to look for rooms, and saw on the door next to us that it said “rooms”…and this old lady in the window above us who had been watching us called down to us and presumably told us to stay there. She met us – sweet old plump lady with glasses and thinning hair who didn’t speak a word of English. She asked us how many nights…we said one, and she smiled and started to walk in the other direction. We were expecting the rooms to be right there in that same building, so we were a bit surprised and unsure…but started to follow her anyway. Hmmm. She kept walking. And walking. And walking. Alejandra and I exchanged some bemused glances…thinking, “is she actually leading us to a room? where are we going? is she just crazy or something? She looks too sweet and old to try and harm us…?” After what seems like forever, she finally stopped and lead us inside a building, up some stairs, and into a room. The first thing I noticed is a big double bed and thought, but there are three of us…eh, we can all fit. I was so tired and we just needed a place to stay. She pointed to the closet in the corner and said something in Italian…we just exchanged unsure glances, and she pulled down a bed from inside the closet. Sweet. It took a little while to figure out the price – Alejandra was better at deciphering the Italian than Leah and I – but it was only 25 euros each, so we paid her and managed Si and Grazie until she smiled and hobbled away. Well, at least we had a place to stay – with a huge bathroom!

We dropped our stuff and headed out to explore the town – it was really cold out and it didn’t take very long since it’s a pretty small place. We stopped at an internet café so we could email our director our hotel information and for Alejandra to try and figure out why her card wasn’t working. This one balding and toothless man kept coming in to talk to us, and left with “Ciao. Good night. Sleep well. Think of me.” We stopped at a nearby open restaurant for dinner – I had some spaghetti with paprika, and we discovered that the couple at the table next to us was from New Brighton, MN!! It’s a small world after all. We headed back to the room, exhausted, and freezing – there didn’t seem to be any heat in the room despite the storm outside, and the covers were very thin! Leah and I took the double bed and agreed that it would be understood if we woke up spooning. We set an alarm for 7am so we could wake up early and get a full day of hiking in, hoping that the storm would blow over during the night.

Our alarm went off at 7am, but we could hear the howling wind and pouring rain outside. UGH. Leah actually went downstairs and looked outside and reported back that it was pretty ugly out…so we promptly went back to sleep and woke up again at 9:30am, since we had to be out of the room by 10am. Luckily by then, it was still really windy but not raining! Nothing was going to stop us from hiking, but we would prefer not to hike in the rain. We pulled out all the long sleeved layers we brought (which wasn’t much) and passed them around so everyone had at least something! I layered 4 shirts under my track jacket and was very happy I had brought a scarf. Poor Alejandra hadn’t even brought pants – she only had shorts and leggings. We headed out and met the old lady along the way, who was coming to collect the keys from us. We managed some more Buongiorno, Si, and Grazie before we continued to a little cafe for breakfast of bread and jam and yogurt – yum!


We didn’t get on the trail until about 11am at this point, and had to buy a ticket before hiking…but we were on our way to Vernazza! The views made all the struggle worth it – it was absolutely gorgeous, despite the wind and rain. The path was a bit strenuous, mostly because all the stones were slippery from the rain, but nothing too bad. It  was so great to be out in nature and hiking, and we reachered Vernazza in about 90 minutes. We even managed to fool a couple people that we didn’t speak English, since we were speaking French at the time! I felt as if I needed to get credit that I speak another language…it just happened to not be the language of the country we were in! We took tons of pictures, and once we had reached Vernazza, we decided to just continue along to Monterosso to catch a train back to Genova.

Corniglia in the background

Looking back at Corniglia

Leah, me, Alejandra at Vernazza!


with Monterosso al Mare in the distance

The second hike was a bit more difficult, mostly because there were so.many.stairs. We probably climbed over a thousand stairs that day! Many times, the path was only wide enough for one person, and a substantial fall would be just on the other side over the ledge. Some people still insisted there was enough room to pass on a clearly one-person trail…and we came close to falling a couple times. We were tired by the time we reached Monterosso al Mare, about 1.5-2 hours later. We went straight to the station to check for tickets, and it’s a good thing we did because the teller first offered us tickets to Genova that arrived at 4:58pm…and our train left from Genova at 4:55pm. Not good – little panic moment there, until she said, “oh, a fast train…” and we got tickets for a train leaving in 15 minutes that would get us to Genova by 4:15pm. Sweet. We had just enough time to grab a sandwich and eat quickly, and we made it onto the train just fine.

We had a little problem once we got on the train though…Alejandra and I went to our seats and saw that our compartment had the curtains drawn. I opened the door and fumbled open the curtains to find 6 people about our age in there already seated, half of them asleep. We just stared at them for a minute and began to explain that they were in our seats, and one guy tried to tell us (in Italian, of course) to take their seats elsewhere…we were about to argue more, but then Leah called to us that there were open seats in her compartment. We threw them some annoyed looks before taking a seat in Leah’s compartment. This was fine until about 45 minutes into the ride, when other people came to tell us that we were in their seats. So Alejandra and I headed back to the other compartment, ready to get our seats back, and they were being really stupid and uncooperative, trying to make it seem like we were in the wrong. I was about to call the attendant over when they let us in – they put 4 people in a 3 person spot…so Alejandra and I had spots…but really?? Why can’t they just go sit where they are assigned? They are causing a chain of problems for everyone else. We sat in an awkward/annoyed silence for a little while, until luckily some more people came along and told them they were in the wrong seats, so they all got up and left. Did they not have a ticket? Probably – but it’s annoying that they tried to make it look like it was us who made the mistake and caused problems for everyone else.

The rest of the journey passed without problem. Our train from Genova to Ventimiglia left about 20 minutes late, but that ride was uneventful. So, we reached Ventimiglia at 7:35pm and according to our itinerary, the next train to Monaco should be at 7:43pm. The woman in the compartment with us asked if we were heading to France, and warned us that there was a grève going on and we might not be able to get trains. We smiled and said thank you, mentally blowing her off and thinking thanks lady, but that was yesterday. Since we only had 8 minutes before our train left, we hurried inside to find the platform number. We looked up on the screen and saw all the trains to Monaco are “sopresso.” Shit. No no no no no. We need to get back to France – we can’t be stuck in Italy! This was just the icing on the cake of our less than well planned weekend. We verified with the ticket counter…no more trains until 6am the next day! It was time to call Beth, our program director, to let her know we were stranded and to see if she could somehow help us. We had to go to the station café/store to buy a phone card first – all the while analyzing our options. Option 1 – find a place to stay and stay here until 6am for the next train. Option 2 – maybe someone from the Collège can somehow come get us? Option 3 – some guy nearby tells us there is a bus headed toward Nice/Cannes that leaves at 11:30pm.We liked option 2 the best. The guy, fairly young guy from Romania named John, tried to help us figure out the phone – and after about 300 tries, we got through to Beth. Apparently we had been dialing the phone number incorrectly since we didn’t put in the right international code first. We are so lucky we were stranded on a weekend that Beth had rented a car for sightseeing! She and her partner Ross said they would look up directions and leave right away to come get us – we were saved!! John made some small talk with us, and gave me his number “in case you want to have a drink or something some time” which I couldn’t refuse since he had just helped us, but really not wanting to be hit on as we had just been contemplating our strategy of surviving a night in the Ventimiglia train station.

no chairs...thanks Italy.

We still had some time to kill, and we were really hungry. We headed out into the town to find a restaurant, but everything was closed up (which is surprising since at least restaurants are open on Sundays in France), but we didn’t want to wander too far from the station late at night. We returned to the station and decided to eat in the café there – they had a decent selection, but it was so confusing trying to figure out how to select what you want and then pay for it. We first saw some tables, and sat down expecting a waiter to come, as it said on the nearby sign. A waitress did appear, but just spoke to us in Italian and left. Apparently we didn’t understand the system. We decided the tables were too confusing and there looked to be an easier “a la carte” section. We tried telling the guy we just wanted some pizza, but apparently you don’t just tell them what you want and they give it to you and you pay. No, it has to be much less efficient and more confusing – you have to go to the separate cashier away from the food, tell them exactly what you want, pay, and then you show your receipt to the guy serving food.

We hung out on the station floor next to a hobo-looking guy playing Sodoku until Beth arrived! We were saved!! It was a great trip, despite the problems, and a great story now! I think I’ve decided I prefer traveling with a little more planning, but would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY.

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