Learning To Deal With The Unexpected As A Novice Traveler Abroad

My entire life, I wanted to travel and explore the world.

As a 7th grade student, I told my parents I wanted to join the Peace Corps. They squashed that right away, out of fear I think. I also thought about joining the National Guard, because maybe I could travel that way. No go.

Instead of traveling, I like so many of my generation, grew up, got married, and had kids.

The feeling though, that call to explore, never went away.

As a mother, feeling the bond of love for my own two sons, I felt weak in the knees with any child’s hardship and I so badly wanted to go to Africa to care for AIDS babies.

And I mentioned having two boys, so I thought maybe I would adopt a baby girl. Perhaps from China, Russia, South America, or Africa…I looked into all of them.

Unfortunately, just like when I was a kid, these plans were either squashed or simply never came to be. I did travel a bit, just not the exotic adventurous type. But my boys, well nothing stopped them from living out the dream.

They’re both men now and some of the most adventurous well-traveled guys you’ll ever meet (proud mom here!), but I couldn’t continue letting them have all the fun.

It was my time and I was going to finally make it happen!

That lifelong dream of taking off across the sea to explore Europe was fulfilled two years ago when I went to Amsterdam with my friend Julie. I held onto her shirt like a 5-year-old seeing Disney for the first time. The experience awakened the desire in me to do it again. And again and again!

So she and I booked another trip, this time to Italy. Little did I know the adventure I was in for!

One week before departure I received an email from Air Berlin that my flight was canceled. WHAT!?

Air Berlin had filed for bankruptcy and canceled most of their flights to the USA…Boston was one of them.

Panic set in and I thought my dream trip was not meant to be.

The Air Berlin agent I spoke with recommended that I  purchase another ticket because mine was issued prior to the airline filing for sovereignty and was non-refundable.

Another ticket was going to be $2,000 and that was not possible. I called back and forcefully asked what my options were.

They said they did have a flight still going to JFK that I could catch, which would take me to Dusseldorf, Germany, and there I could continue my itinerary to Florence, Italy. But I would have to purchase a ticket from Boston to JFK Airport in New York. I seized the opportunity!

My journey began on Friday, October 6th 2017

Boston to JFK and a 9 hour layover in JFK before an overnight flight to Dusseldorf.

After a 4 hour layover in Germany, I was finally onto Florence, Italy. And on the short flight over to Florence I met a lovely young free spirited, adventurous woman, named Jessika. She was backpacking and couch surfing around Europe.

My first reaction was are you crazy??? And second, is that all you have for 3 months…a backpack? LOL

I’ll own it. I’m a total over packer!

I was in awe of her adventurous and kind spirit, and was very happy to meet her. Once in Florence we exchanged information, kissed cheeks farewell and next adventure begins.

Julie and I had booked an Airbnb. Really a lovely spot. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, perfect for two ladies that have very different sleep habits.

I settled in and waited for her to arrive, as her flight was also canceled and had to be rerouted (that same Air Berlin flight) through Piza, where she took a bus and then taxi to Florence.

Once she arrived, we immediately began to explore Florence.

Day one

We enjoyed a lovely dinner and a glass of wine and walked around to take in the sites of this charming city. Then we called it a night.

For most of our week, we wanted to really experience Florence, to get to know the area, rather than jumping on and off trains cramming in too many places.

But we would leave the city to go wine-tasting in Tuscany. And my son had recommended Cinque Terra as a must see.

During one of our lunches that week we met a young waiter, Amar, who we asked questions about finding a Tuscany tour. Amar actually offered to take us and we accepted!

Wednesday we toured a few towns in Tuscany

Amar picked us up at Santa Croce Bacillica square and off we went. He planned 3 charming towns for us to see.

The first town we stopped at was San Gimignano where we shared a bottle of wine and chatted, breaking the ice and getting to know a little about each other. We were off to a great start.

The next town was bustling with tourist like ourselves. We enjoyed a small bite in a deli that Amar says he heard great things about. The owner, a middle aged man who spoke zero English, was so happy to see us and prided himself on hand selecting his meats and cheeses. He put together an antipasta board for us with vino.

On the wall a sign hung that I had seen many years before in Cape Cod…

In Vino Veritas” – In wine there is truth!

I love that.

We learned a lot about each other during this lunch and after, Amar treated us to Gelato.

Next up was a picturesque drive through wine country to a very old town, Volterra. My favorite.

We walked amongst the locals and viewed artifacts and ruins from 300BC. Words could not describe how amazing. The castle in this town is now a penitentiary.

An incredible day. I ate Gelato, drank wine, had pasta and pizza and it was impossible to gain a pound with all the walking and climbing we did.

The next morning

We were up at dawn and at a hotel for a pick up at 6AM to tour Cinque Terra. Cinque Terra is out of a story book.

These historical small pastel colored towns surround the Mediterranean Sea. A highlight of my trip was to put my toes in the Mediterranean. So happy!

 

We parked ourselves on the beach and took a nap. Sitting next to me was another young American girl, Annaline, traveling solo around Europe for 3 months. Girls are brave these days! We chatted and also exchanged information and bid farewell.

Our last town in Cinque Terra was by boat and we stayed long enough for some wine and I had to try Italian Oysters.

They are very salty and much darker, black almost. I have to say I prefer Duxbury Oysters!

The rest of the week was about walking around Florence, shopping and sampling local fare.

Friday night we went to a concert of 3 Tenors as a tribute to Pavarotti.

Saturday was my last full day in Italy and we HAD to go to a winery in Tuscany. Some locals recommended one and it did not disappoint!

My week in Florence was pretty fantastic. My travels home, not so much. A true learning experience.

Julie and I were traveling separately, as we did on arrival. My flight was a 6:30 AM on Sunday morning and I was told to make Taxi arrangements the day before to be sure I would be picked up on time to get to the airport.

I spoke to several Taxi drivers the day before and ALL of them assured me it was just a call and set up pick up time at 4:15 AM.  I asked for a confirmation number and was told I did not need one.

I felt uneasy about it but tried to put my trust in the system. The following morning I was downstairs at 4:15 AM.  No taxi.

An American family was also heading to the airport. I asked if they would please call the taxi company for me to see where my ride was. They did but no answer because it was too early and they weren’t open yet.

They told me they didn’t have any room in their taxi for me so I proceeded to walk with all of my bags to the station and try to flag one down that might pass by. A few did but none stopped.

I asked anyone I saw walking around if they would call again for a taxi but it was 4:30 in the morning and most of the people I saw either did not speak English or were not focused enough to help.

I tried dragging my bags back to the apartment we stayed at in hopes that I would have WiFi (I left the key with Julie) to be able to wake my friend (who was not leaving until 3PM). Not only did the WiFi not work from the street, but I realized I only had 23% battery life left.

I charged my phone and iPad on the same connection and the iPad took the charge but it seemed my phone did not.

Panic set in and I dragged my bags back to the taxi station again asking everyone I saw for help. None could help me.

It was now 5:00 AM and I am in tears, and about to pass out from anxiety and panic.

I saw a pizza shop/bar down the street and dragged myself and bags to it.  I asked the young man behind the bar if he would help me. I explained my situation to him and he tried again calling the taxi company, with no answer, and then asked his boss if he could take me to the airport.

Nervously, I accepted and he grabbed my bag and we took off running down the street to his car. I noticed an older man who was standing outside the bar and smelled of smoke and alcohol was also coming towards the car.

When he opened the car door I stopped and said to the younger guy, no, I’ll only go with you! He assured me this was his friend and he means no harm to me he is trying to help.

Clearly NOT the seasoned traveler, I felt out of options and had to put blind trust in this stranger.

We must have gone 90 mph the whole way, chatting only briefly (he spoke very little English). It was nail biting for sure.

Once at the airport he jumped out, grabbed my bag and ran with me into the terminal, kissed me on both cheeks and wished me a safe flight home. He was about the age of my son and so kind. I thanked him and wanted to pay him, but he refused.

As we parted ways I realized I never got his name and am still sad about that.

After the morning ordeal I was mentally and physically exhausted and made the decision to check both bags instead of continuing to drag them along. To my horror the 2nd bag cost $200 euro to check.  I tried to get it back, it was gone.

It was a short flight back to Dusseldorf, but going through customs there was a project.

Air Berlin to JFK, USA

The flight was almost completely empty. I was surprised until they made the announcement on board that THIS FLIGHT WAS THE VERY LAST FLIGHT for Air Berlin to the USA.

Out the window I saw the entire ground crew and tower crew lined up waving good bye to our Flight and biding final farewell. Our plane did a drive by salute prior to taking off.

I thought it was kind of cool to be a part of history like that, and then thought about how much of nightmare getting home would have been if I had missed their LAST flight!

My Takeaways

Italy is beautiful and I can’t wait to return.

The young man who took me to the airport, I will never forget and I regret not knowing his name. A lesson to trust in humanity and that people are genuinely kind.

The two American girls I met, Jessika and Annaline, you both inspired and intrigued me. I hope I see you both again!

The food, the culture, the gelato, the wine, Italy is amazing!

Next time I will definitely have an international data plan.

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Kathleen Ronzio
Kathleen Ronzio

Health Coach, Master Aesthetician, Mom & Grandma

2 Comments
  1. Good write! My traveling days will begin in a few months with a trip to the Grand Canyon that my son had given me for Christmas❤️ We’ll go together. And sometime later, I’ll travel to Italy…it’s not booked yet, it’s still just a dream.
    I could feel your panic with the search for a taxi ride back. You knew you felt uneasy about your arrangements but you tried to trust. May it be smooth traveling for you going forward. You did it.

  2. Hi Kathleen (I like your name 🙂 Thank you. It was definitely a challenging experience for me for sure but left me wanting to travel more. I am in awe of my boys and the free spirited 2 young women I met on my travels and truly humbled by the kindness showed to me by the young Italian man that took me to the airport. I encourage you to book your trip to Italy and beyond. Enjoy your trip with your son <3 My best wishes to you.

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