Friday, October 30, 2009

Welcome to Suck-Town; Population: Me.

Milan was always kind of doomed to fail in my eyes – but man did it ever do a good job of really helping shove the nail in its own coffin.

I started off with a final toast breakfast in Venice, and then headed off to the train station with two other hostelers. This ploy was, of course, to prevent any of us from getting all that lost. And while you might expect this tale to end is upset, and tears, it really didn't. The plan worked, we all figured out the right way, and excellent time was made.

They had to buy their tickets; I had purchased mine the night before. And then we said our goodbyes, and headed to or three separate trains, already waiting in the station.

You know, there are few things I love more than sitting on the trains. There's absolutely nothing you can do but read, and pass the time by relaxing. There's no way to speed things up, nothing for you to see, no feelings of guilt that you're stationary. There's just you, the train, and your novel. It's fantastic.

A pretty girl sat down beside me, reading a Dragonlance novel. That was - well, it was almost enough to make me wish that I was wearing clean clothes today! But no such luck, Her book was in another language anyway, replacing our beloved quotation marks (“) with the ever so foreign greater than, less than alligators (<<).

Even so, I bet she wished that I was wearing clean clothes. Sorry pretty-nerdy-girl. No such luck here!

The longer I travel, the less and less concerned I become about my fellow travellers. And the more I realize my fellow travellers often smell themselves. These things are just to be expected. The thought of wearing a shirt only once before washing it – such things are comical to me newfound sensibilities.

So for the three and a half hours, I simply sat and read – read texts that continue to plague my dreams with Russian terrorists, and other such things. But then, the train ride started to come to an end.

The feeling of relaxation, and delight is always quickly fleeting at the end of a train ride. Where once I felt ever so secure, wrapped in a blanket of three ton steel, I now felt nervous, anxious, and a slight tinge of fear.

I've talked to other travellers about this, and many of them feel the same. Being on the train is a pure delight, but stepping off into a new, and unknown city, can be terrifying, no matter how well suited, and travelled you are. Anything could go wrong, you may not find your hostel, you may not understand the local culture. Now, sure, within three hours of arrival you feel as safe and secure as ever – but those initial moments can be quite distasteful indeed.

Stepping off into Milan could hardly have gone worse.

First, their central station looks like it should be an outlaying station, where few travellers ever venture. It reminded me of where I had to change over in Spain, all that time ago. It was not the delightful central station a major city should have. And it proved this in every way possible.

I went to buy my train ticket for Interlaken, on November 1st, and found myself waiting in line. No take a number here. Look, if the guys that sell you beef can figure out a system that works, why can't a major train station? And when I finally found it my turn, the salesman tried to give me a ticket arriving at 1am. Excuse me, I said, but I said for November 1st. Oh, not today? He was shocked. He spoke English – and must have just glazed over my request. So no, not today. Had I handed over my credit card I'd have had no way to get that money back. Once bought, there is no refund.

Finally I explained my request, and he hooked me up with a train that would arrive at three o'clock p.m. Of course, where it would arrive at three p.m. I only discovered after the purchase. There will be no further trusting of Italian ticket sellers – and I've just been lucky to this point to be able to use the self-serve machines in country. Why anyone would ever not use those machines, aside from international destinations, is beyond me.

So my ticket will get me in to Brig at three. I was also told I'd have twenty minutes between trains. Also false – there would be two connections within Switzerland, with ten minutes each, which combines to twenty – if you don't understand your job. This was not a language barrier. This was him not knowning how to work his terminal. Had he put me in charge, it would have been a much smoother (and more beneficial) time. As it stands now, I might arrive in Interlaken on November 1st at four p.m. Provided there are no delays, and I make my transfers with much speed. Here's hoping. And if I miss them? Well who knows. More trains will be by, I'm sure.

And at least I'll be out of Italy. Won't have to worry about creepy Italian men grabbing my ass, and pretending like they slipped. Look buddy – I know you grabbed my ass, I felt it, it was not a slip. You don't slip, clench your hand on buttock, and then be standing straight up when I turn around. Look – I know what you did, you know what you did, and I'll just hope you were trying to see if I had a wallet there you could help yourself too. We'll all be better off that way. Good? Good.

Now, I really do love Italy – but Milan. Bloody Milan. Never make this your last stop. Travel North to South, don't sour yourself. Hell I'm only here to break up the train ride to Sweden. And say that I've been to Milan – which may come in handy if I'm ever picked for Canada's Next Top Model. It could happen. More likely though, I'd be featured on What Not to Wear – too bad Canada doesn't have a show like that! I'd love me some t.v. access. And some fashion advice. What I've been wearing hasn't been travel specific. This is my regular wardrobe. Even the travel doctor made fun of me for it. Jerk.

So I got my ticket, and left for the metro, because I couldn't find a map, and hostelworld only had metro directions to my hostel. Best to just pay the euro – at least it was only a euro – and be done with it.

Now if only I had a euro. The ticket machines wouldn't accept my credit card for a one euro purchase, nor would they take a twenty euro bill. And I only had thirty seven cents. And – oh bloody hell no -

Here come the gypsies! The god damned bloody hell gypsies. Look, I know that's not what they are – you know that's not what they are. We both know that gypsy is a term like “Indians” when referring to the indigenous people of North America – but when I say here come the gypsies, you know exactly what I'm talking about – and if you have a better term for them, please tell me – because I really hate the misused term too.

But here they came. Some were crying, and whining by the walls about how awful there life is, I imagine. Yeah – no kidding. My life would suck too if I spent hours in a subway station pulling at peoples pants, and bitching all day. Seriously. Get over it – get a new scam – go into the sun – and enjoy your time. All the “real homeless” in the city are up there, sleeping on benches, passing out on steps, and basically emulating the trends of the Toronto homeless that I'm used to. Somehow they're making it, and they have friends, and they have money to buy food and drink. They're making it some how without all the lying annoying scams – no I don't have a piece of fruit! Really, I'm sorry. I hear they have fruit in Paris. I don't know. I didn't have it then either.

But that's fine. Stay by the wall, do your thing. It's when I'm at the ticket machine, and you come up to me “ticket sir? You buy ticket?” and you try to 'help me' that I back away. I'm tired, I just got into the city, I'm discombobulated – and yes, I know that's exactly why you're coming to me. But no – I will back off, and walk away, and try to figure out another machine. Unfortunately there are more people there doing the same thing. So I'm never allowed to figure it out on my own.

Not that it worked anyway – bloody Milan with your must spend ten euro to use a card, or a twenty.

Now I don't know their scam at these machines. If any of you do know, please tell me, because I don't see how it plays out. They show you how to use the machine, and they have coins in their hand ready to put into the machine. But if you had coins, you'd have done it yourself. So what I figure is they buy the ticket? But then you, what, tip them for that? That actually makes a lot of sense, and would be a good thing. I would pay one fifty for a one euro ticket if I had no idea what I was doing. However, when they see all I have is a twenty, they can't think I'd give them twenty euro for the ticket?

So please – I have seen this in all number of cities, and I've never understood it, nor stayed around long enough to watch it play out. Because I assume it could also be a distraction method, allowing someone else to grab your stuff.

Needless to say, I did end up with a ticket – bought from a tobacco shop, cause, why not, right? Heaven forbid they people at the gate would sell them – nope, they just point to the shop. And there the lady tried to give me ten euro less change than I was due. But I was not ready to let this go – I was pretty geared up by this time, surrounded by people selling all sorts of silly toys that were quite wonderful actually. A Barbie that pedaled her bike in circles, a bubble gun, and a little helicopter that flew around in the air in tiny circles for thirty seconds before landing (this I almost bought – as it was the most amazing junk toy I've ever seen – but I knew it would soon break. Even still, had I the room in my pack, I still might have paid the handful of euros for a good ten minutes of simple childlike joy.

Ahh – and now, there I was at the final stop on the line (we'll skip over how the lines are under construction and the arrows pointing out the transfer from M2 to M1 were all lies.) And you'd think this is where my story would have ended. But no – for I got off of the train, and followed the instructions: right outside the subway. Oh yeah? But at least I saw the street I needed to be on. And it was just a few blocks past the sex shops, low income housing, and other delightful things, and – oh yes – I did step over to the wrong side of the tracks. But then i saw the sign for my hostel. And the gate was open. So in I walked.

Of course the door to the hostel was locked. And I'd need to ring through the buzzer outside the gate anyway.

Just for kicks, though, the gate was now locked. Uh huh – I was locked in. Slamming, and battering would do nothing to help me here. And after some time watching my struggle a man inside buzzed to let me out. Then I could buzz in, get in, and get registered.

Ahh. Finally. In Milan.

Now, here, they had a little dog. A cute little white dog. This I have mixed emotions about. For the last few weeks whenever I see a little dog I have been thrown between feelings of slight anger, and then feelings of sorrow. And here was one that I'd be staying with for a while.

So why – why was the dog upsetting, and all dogs recently, upsetting to me? Well – it's a tale of less than delight. A few weeks ago, my puppy back home had to be put down. She was sixteen years old, and it was amazing that she'd lived as long as she did. Leaving on my trip, I almost expected that I wouldn't see her again. Though, I thought I might see her in Florida one last time, in December. Though i didn't expect this either. There was a reason I took all number of pictures with her before I left.

Travelling, I haven't really been able to process this either. To me, my puppy is no more here, than gone – like Schrodinger's cat she is neither alive nor dead, until I look in the box. In this case, the box will be in Florida. As I'm travelling, I see her no more or no less than if she were alive or dead. And while intellectually i know that she is no more for this world, it's not something I'll process until I'm in a place where she should be – only to find her absent.

This has led to a few dreams – still combined with Russian terrorists, mind you – trying to process the fact, and the mixed emotional response when I see other people with their dogs. I think it's because I tried to cut off the emotional connection years ago – which is always a foolish thing to do, and never possible, and often leads to regrets.

But now here, was a little white dog, not unlike my own puppy, except that it was wearing a stupid green sweater. Which reminded me of the red raincoat and boots my parents tried to force on my dog a decade past. She would have none of it.

So Milan had struck out on all number of – oh, the dog jumped up on the bed, and curled up beside me. Well, yes, this is somewhat of a delight isn't it? And who can be mad at a cute little puppy, looking for warmth, shivering because the fur was cut too short and despite the coat, it will still be frigid in the night air. Hmm – well, as far as Milan goes, it's highly probable that this dog will be the highligh. The one bright spot in an otherwise dreary, and forgettable city – best to be avoided.

Asking other hostelers what there is to do here, what they'd recommend – and being met with “nothing.” does nothing to bolster my confidence.

Still – I'm cranky. And it was too late to explore when everything was finally settled. Perhaps tomorrow will do me better. I'll head out and wander around anyway. There must be something of interest here – let's just hope it's blue skies overhead, otherwise this city is truly doomed. I hear they have a castle? It's been a while since I've seen one of those. Maybe I'll go check it out.

And if not, well, there's a cute little puppy here, willing to spend hours watching Dr. Who streaming (for the first time since Spain) on my computer screen. And that? Well it's not so bad after all, is it?

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