June 25-29, 2019
I’m writing this as a series, because I feel like it would be too long if to read all in one go. It was a ridiculously eventful trip. I might write about more of my travels in the future, but we’ll just have to see about that. I want to include some useful information as well as some reflections as I go about all of this. Hope you find it interesting somehow!
Artistic license comes with the territory. But believe me, Parisian territory doesn’t leave much room for exaggeration. I don’t think I’d be writing about it like this, otherwise.
While I Was Yet Disenchanted
Paris, once upon a time, was my least favorite city in Europe. Sorry, all you romantics and Francophiles, but my ten-year-old self was fast disillusioned. I visited in the European spring (the Philippine summer), and it was chillingly cold, overcast, and – shockingly – stinky. I never knew I’d find the stench of Manila in the streets of the first world – and yet there we were, sewer water, doggie dumps and all. There was trash and graffiti and pigeons pooping on the monuments we had walked kilometers to see. Furthermore, it was expensive. With my budget-oriented family, that meant getting hungrier walking around looking for an affordable place to eat. Which ended up being the pinnacle of French cuisine: McDonald’s. That was when we discovered that they didn’t serve fried chicken in Europe – that was a Filipino fast food quirk, apparently. The way the staff reacted when we asked for fried chicken (among an assortment of other run-ins) made me realize why people ask to be “pardoned for their French.”
I don’t know what my parents had put into our itinerary, but everything I saw was unremarkable. We didn’t even get to see the Eiffel tower because we were too tired. The only saving graces were Disneyland Paris and the Louvre. But in my mind, those two almost existed as separated entities from the rest of Paris, isolated in their unforgettable joy-giving splendor. I had made up my mind: the city of love was, just like love itself, oversold by the media and popular opinion.
So, when my friend Munisa invited me to see Paris with her, I gently tried to redirect our itinerary to other destinations. But flight prices and my hesitation to smash my friend’s dreams of the city dictated otherwise. Oh well, I consoled myself, at least I could visit my best friend studying in Paris and see the Eiffel tower and the stained-glass windows of the Notre Dame. But then, we all know what happened to the Notre Dame. So, Sam and the Eiffel tower it was, plus some.
There were logistical issues we had to deal with – the owner of the first Airbnb that we booked got kicked out of his flat; and I accidentally squandered 40 euros on train tickets to Milan that I didn’t need. And did I mention that the week we planned to go had temperatures peaking at 38 degrees Celsius forecasted? While I was in Paris, my family kept relaying news about “Europe’s worst heat wave,” and I just thought, yep, I can confirm.
Prior to my flight, I was just trying my best not to add things up and ruin the whole trip for myself. I was just focusing on Munisa’s good company and repaying Sam’s visit to me last semester. Coming at the tail of my thesis submission, I knew I’d be stressed, but I was going to see this through despite everything.
And I’m glad as all heck that I did.
June 25 – Tuesday
I rose at around 4 or 5 am. My anxiety beat the alarm to my frazzled morning consciousness. I had to cram cleaning my room, packing my bag, and prepping to go before my 8:25 am train. Theoretically I should have been exhausted – I had slept at 1am the night before (or rather, hours before), and I only slept a total of two or three hours for the whole of June 24 (my fault – I was cramming thesis, but that’s another story, and one you probably already heard before). But, as I mentioned, my anxiety was enough of an adrenalin shot to work me to the grind.
I had three cups of yoghurt to clean out my fridge before I left for the next five days, said goodbye to my roommate who I would probably never see again, and then walked out with a brief case left half-empty for souvenirs. Surprisingly, I was able to leave earlier than expected. If you know me, then you know that that doesn’t happen. I was even able to put some make up on. I don’t know what came over me, especially since I didn’t even like Paris, but I felt like it would be nice to dress up a little for the trip.
Now, the thing about life, especially in small towns like Cesena and when traveling, is that you need cash – and cash runs out fast. Which of course ensures that we have constant visits to the ATM. However, due to my aforementioned thesis woes, I was not able to squeeze my appointment with the banking machine into my schedule of journal article panic-skimming and triple-checking APA manuals.
I had to withdraw at the bank or risk traveling with only coins.
I stopped by a bank, but of course, of course the ATM would be inside. And of course, of course the bank would open at 8:25, precisely the time of my train. I can’t count how many times I wished for the conveniences of the Philippines while living in Europe (it may not seem like it, but we have several advantages in the PH that Europeans just don’t have).
So I walked to the train station and bought water to keep me hydrated in the morning heat that was only teasing how much worse it would get (it was only 8:10, but dark pools of sweat were already sticking the shirt to my back).
“Carta?” I checked at the cashier, after seeing a sign in Italian that might mean that they only accept cash.
The guy at the cashier shook his head. I sighed and said goodbye to more of my physical money.
While waiting for my train, I tried looking for options. There were no ATMs at the Cesena station. I Googled and found that there were ATMs at Milano Centrale, which I would arrive at at 11:25. Withdrawing there might be possible, but I’d have to play it by ear.
The train ride was relatively uneventful. I sat across a middle-aged African-American lady, who tried speaking to me in Italian even when I had overheard her speaking in English about going home to the US, and I had asked her in English if I could sit across her. On the three-hour ride, I read my devotionals, went through everything I had missed while cramming for thesis, and coordinated everything for the rest of my trip (check ins, schedules, transport and all). That kept me considerably occupied for an hour and a half.
Have I mentioned that most Italian trains have USB plugs or electrical outlets for charging your devices? The nice ones also have foldable work desks for each rider, air conditioning, and window curtains. I may complain about their unfortunate ticket system, the lack of maintenance of their exterior, but at least every now and then, a train comes along that reminds you that at the end of the day, perhaps they do care.
On the ride, I also read Jessica Zafra’s Twisted Travels, which my friend Aira gave me and which has been keeping me company on long trips for the latter half of my semester in Italy. It just might be one of the reasons why I’ve been inspired to write this, apart from my mother’s time-tried insistence that I blog about the places I go to. Well, here you go, mom.
When I got to Milano Centrale, I was hungry, thirsty, in need of a bathroom break, and still on the brink of cashlessness. But it was now 11:30 and my flight was at 2:40. Malpensa airport was more than an hour away. Welp. I sucked it up and booked it to where the shuttles were (which I knew just where to find, thanks to previous flight-chasing adventures which I should really talk about at another point in time). Besides, all bathrooms in Italian stations cost about a euro to use.
When I arrived at the shuttle station, the guy at the cashier waved me over urgently. “Hurry, hurry! It’s about to go!”
“How much is it?” I asked, fishing my wallet out.
“Ten euros,” he replied hurriedly, while calling over his shoulder at the people at the bus to wait for me. It was eight two months ago, but I noticed that the price for everything goes up during the high season.
“Can I pay with card?”
“Technically yes, but that would take longer.”
I scratched my coins together. I came up with 10 euros, with only 20 cents left in my coin pocket to spare. I handed it over to him and he gave me my ticket. I ran to the shuttle, where they were waving me over to come faster. They took my ticket and my bag as soon as I reached them. The moment I stepped into the shuttle, it started rolling away. I just sat there, breathing, exhilarated by that close call. If I had used the bathroom or bought food or water, I wouldn’t have been able to ride.
During the ride, I juggled several online meetings (not chats, real online meetings). Throughout all of this, I was surprised I wasn’t dying of exhaustion just yet. I figured that you can keep going as long as you’re too occupied to even realize how tired you are. That’s basically how I’ve kept myself going despite early morning or late night or even overnight trips.
I arrived at the airport around 1pm. I was finally able to breathe. I had already checked in online, and I had figured out how to deal with security in a way that never stressed me out anymore. At least in Europe, I could come in an hour before my flight time, and I’d still be fine. To my joy, the entrance to the airport led to a check in lobby with a bathroom and ATM directly in view. I was finally able to relieve myself in the bathroom, drink water, and withdraw – all while still waiting for the information screen to tell me what my gate was (sometimes they decide this less than an hour before the actual flight, which initially surprised me).
I withdrew a hundred euros using my Bankia card, which I told myself would be my cash budget for the trip. Now, I have to say, I am in love with this card and this bank. Bankia is a Spanish bank that has branches all over Valencia, and probably the rest of Spain too. I was able to open an account with just my passport, Spanish identification number (once it’s on your visa, it’s yours for life), and acceptance letter – not even the residence card or other papers, which other banks like Santander tend to demand. I was able to set it all up within the span of two hours, whereas it took my classmates several days, or even weeks. I didn’t even need an opening balance (but of course I had one). I got my card within the span of a week or two, and it’s been so easy to manage my account on the website and app. Also, what I have is a tap card, which is popular in Europe. Instead of swiping your card or inserting it, like what’s common in the Philippines, you just tap the card on the card machine, and if the purchase is under 20 euros, they don’t even ask you for your PIN. Another reason why I love the bank and the card so much is because throughout all my travels, I’ve only been charged for withdrawal fees once. And did I mention that the staff are sweethearts? They’re sweethearts. And this is true for the handful of branches I’ve been to.
I had lunch at the nearest cafe to the information screen that I could find that wasn’t crowded with people. It was this fancy place with really modern chairs that you had to pay just to sit on. Yes, as if airport food wasn’t expensive enough already. But I found that out ex post facto the cashier totaled my order. I wasn’t too surprised. Italy has this thing called “coperto” or cover charge, after all. It’s common in most restaurants, and it originated in the middle ages when people brought their own food to inns to just eat them there. So inns started charging people just to sit down. And things never really changed after that.
I had a sandwich and a bottle of water. The sandwich at least had excellent bread and Parma ham. I just tried rationalizing that despite the price, I was eating real Parma ham (honest to goodness, it was delicious).
Now that I had just had my first real meal of the day, I was ready to fly. As I boarded my Vueling flight, I noticed that instructions and announcements on the plane were made in English and French. I began thinking about my flights in the past. It appears as though the languages used in flights is usually English, that of the airline, and, sometimes, that of the destination. The language of the place of origin probably takes least precedence. This makes sense, since English is basically the global lingua franca, and then the airline has to stay connected to its branding. As for why they include the language of the destination, the assumption is probably that you’re either returning home or you’re leaving your country with the capability to communicate in the country you’re going to (which means having a grasp of English or the language of that country).
During the flight, I sat on the aisle seat, which was a hassle since I had to stand every time someone heard the call of nature. Doubling my annoyance was the fact that the stewardess had a huge bum. If I had a dollar for every time her butt bumped into my shoulder as she walked up and down the aisle, I wouldn’t have to worry about scrimping on my meals in Paris.
However, one thing I always adore when flying over Europe is the alps. For most of my trips, one way or another, we pass over snow capped mountains, still glistening white in the summer. It’s always something to look forward to, whenever I fly.
When we land, the first thing to greet me is a French flag. This was it. I had already gone through so much up to this point, but it was only the beginning.
Thanks for reading up to this point, guys! I will post the continuation soon.