Monday, April 11, 2011

Italia: Day 1 - Travel Dramz

And away we go...

Ready to Roll

I considered skipping Day 1 entirely as there is 'nary a pretty picture in sight nor a cheery European anecdote to herald what was {eventually} a truly superb vacation.  But, since I'm hijacking EA for temporary use as my travel journal, I figured I'd better stick to the facts as they occurred... for posterity's sake and/or in case I ever need a reminder of How to Make Really Really Poor Dumbass Decisions Whilst Traveling Abroad.  {ooooforeshadowing}. 

We left the States on Thursday {March 31} in the evening.  After enjoying a couple cocktails in the Admirals Club, we sat around like trained monkeys while American {per usual} pushed our flight back an hour and a half for no apparent reason.  My frustration was appeased, however, once we boarded and I was rewarded with a plastic-cup-o-blubbly for each fist.  

And by "rewarded with," I mean "begrudgingly forked over by a pinched-face flight attendant as she simultaneously gave me the stink eye while I simultaneously ripped into my free hospital socks, gleefully rubbed L'Occitane samples all over my forehead, and told Evs he was on his own for the next 10 hours... Mama's got a double feature date with brainless girlie movies on the personal Bose entertainment system."  

Cheers! We're off!
Whatever. Those miles were hard-earned. 

After two decent meals, several glasses of decent wine, five hours of decent sleep, and a four hour brain massage courtesy of Katherine Heigl and Rachel McAdams,  We landed in Madrid.  Due to the initial delay, we were late... very late... for our connecting flight to Rome.  We'd been assured by Pinch-Face that (a) an Iberia representative would be available to direct us upon disembarking, (b) we wouldn't have to go through security, and (c) our departure gate would be located in the same terminal as our arrival gate.

Lies. Lies. Lies. 

I'd heard the new international terminal at Barajas was beautiful and state of the art - and I was very much looking forward to exploring it.  From what I saw of it as we zoomed Home-Alone-Style through the terminal {past the IMAGINARY Iberia Reps, THROUGH SECURITY, and onto a tram towards ANOTHER TERMINAL}, it's quite modern and streamlined and impressive.  One thing was lacking though... SIGNAGE.  No maps, no arrows, no arrival/departure boards.  Not in English, not in Spanish, not in flipping Sanskrit.  Thank goodness I speak Spanish or I think we might still be wandering around there.  

Finally at the correct departure gate, we were told the aircraft was still at the gate but the doors were closed and couldn't be reopened... we'd have to take the next flight.  Oddly, when I busted out the Espanol to ask about times and luggage and some other good stuff, they decided to magically reopen the gate for us.  No clue what that was all about, but it made me feel a bit like Kate Middleton.  

{Not really, but that link needed to be shared again.}

Plane #2... We take our seats {this time, my champagne bubble has burst... coach from here on out, baby}... and proceed to wait an hour while Iberia loads luggage.  Annoyance, yes, but we're comforted by the fact that our bags will surely arrive in Rome as we do. {IRONY AHOY!}

After a brief moment of joy at finally landing in Roma, we are momentarily perplexed when our rollies do not appear on the baggage carrel.  Slightly troubling as it is nearly 3:00 PM {it's Friday now, if you're a stickler for detail} and we have a train to catch in three hours.  No matter, though!  The next flight from Madrid arrives in 30 minutes... still plenty of time to get ourselves together and over to Termi Station.  And, oh, if per chance our bags don't land with that flight, there's another coming at 4:15... cutting it close, but I bet we can make it if we cab it!  Let's just check in with Iberia and confirm...

6:30.  

Six.  Thirty.  

That's 30 minutes after our scheduled train was supposed to leave.  Cue Meltdown a la Evs. 

Note: My husband is one of the smartest men I know.  He understands the ins and outs of concepts I cannot even begin to grasp and confidently pilots situations on a daily basis where I would be at an utter loss.  But keeping cool during a stressful travel dilemma is not one of his greatest strengths.  {I mention this not to pick on him... I'm not big on pointing out other's weaknesses on my little space because it seems pretty unfair - where's their side of the story, right?}, but this tidbit is important in explaining my Really Really Poor Dumbass Decision-making process. 

Knowing that I'm the Planner {and the Contingency-Planner} in our relationship, I found an internet station and pulled up the train schedule.  The next train to La Spezia {the closest you can get to Cinque Terre by rail} left at 8.   It would be tight, but doable if our luggage arrived on time.  However, New Train didn't arrive in La Spezia until just after midnight... and then we had a 30 minute cab ride to Manarola... a teeny, tiny fishing village.  I was afraid we wouldn't be able to get into our hotel at that hour... or, worst-case-scenario, our room might be given away if we didn't show up at a decent hour.  Not to mention I was pretty miffed that we'd already forked over the cash for two {non-refundable} bullet train tickets that we wouldn't be able to use. 

So I hatched a plan.  

{I'll pause here and say that I've made a lot of stupid choices in my life.  Specifically, I made a lot of stupid choices at the age of 20 whilst posing as a Wannabe Spaniard for 6 months that could have put me in actual danger.  I look back now and think "shit, I was dumb"...  Two local men we've just met in a bar want to take us on a late night tour of Paris in their beat-up Fiat?  Brilliant!  Hop on in!  My friends are all leaving but you, random German named Jan, want me to stay and continue to discuss Marx with you behind this dumpster in Portugal?  It'd be an utter pleasure to keep you company, my dear sir!  You say you sell absinthe so strong that it could crystallize in my esophagus if not prepared correctly?  I'LL TAKE TWO, PLEASE.}

{I've always assumed that I'm older and wiser now.}

{Wisdom, it appears, does not necessarily come with age.}

I firmly decided that Evs would go along with our original itinerary - take the train we'd already paid for so as not to waste both tickets, arrive in La Spezia, and continue on to Manarola to check into our hotel as planned.  I would stay in Rome, retrieve our luggage, and make my way on the next train and Evs would meet me at the taxi drop off.  I reasoned that I had more experience traveling in Europe, could better communicate in Italian {useful discovery: speak Spanish with a Goodfellas accent and Italians might understand what you are trying to say 45% of the time.}, and was better suited to roll with the punches at this point in our journey.  

Evs did not think this was a brilliant plan.  He didn't want us to split up.  He didn't want to leave me alone.  He didn't want me traveling through Termini at night.  He didn't want me grappling with a combined 70 lbs of luggage.  

He was right.

But I won.  

Somehow I convinced him that separating was the only option at this point... I'd be fine!  No big deal!  I'll just sit here and perfect our sight-seeing itineray!  I'll have a beer and maybe a slice of pizza and spend too many Euro on Kinder Surprise!  And then I'll hop on my train and be there before you know it!  I am woman - watch me travel solo!  

I regretted winning that battle the minute his cab pulled away... a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that didn't fade with a lukewarm Heineken and as 6:30 came and went with no flight from Madrid, that feeling grew.  

I'll cut to the chase {ha!} and say that I did not make the 8:00 train.  By the time the flight landed and I trekked to Termini {thank you, thank you, thank you Nigerian Seller of Fake Things who instructed your minion to carry my heaviest bag on and off of the commuter train... you helped a sister out, bigtime!}, the 8PMer was long gone.  Next option?  The 11:55 slow train to Torino - stopping for less than 1 minute in La Spezia.  

As I bought my ticket, the biglieteri gently asked me why in the world I was traveling by myself at night.  Sensing that I was pigheaded beyond belief and unreceptive to a suggestion that perhaps I should find a hotel and wait until morning to travel, he instructed me to purchase a space on an all ladies' sleeper cart with a lock on the door.  He advised me to stay in the only open restaurant until 20 minutes before departure, at which time I was to move quickly to my platform and immediately board the train.... and MAKE SURE TO LOCK THAT LOCK TIGHT.

Not unnerving at all. 

As I waited, I tried to email Evs and our hotel to apprise them of the change in plans.  No dice.  Thank you 4G Network.  I tried to buy a calling card and phone my parents so they could email for me.  10 Euros... gone with one click of an answering machine.  I'd just have to pull on my big girl panties and power through.  

At 11:25, as instructed, I made my way to my platform and looked around for a restroom.  The one I passed on my way was closed.  I was about to go back up to the platform when a man in uniform {what I assumed to be police or security} materialized and said he would unlock a restroom for me.   The minute I walked past him in the corridor towards the bathroom, I knew I'd made a grave misstep.  Call it intuition, call it a premonition, call it whatever you want... something was not right and I should not be anywhere near this empty hallway.  

Sure enough, as I reached the bathroom door, he flipped the lights, plunging us into total blackness.  I shoved my bags into the door, slammed it, flipped on the stall light and fumbled for the lock.  With the lights on, I noticed a huge hole had be sawed out from the bottom of the door and the man was standing on the other side, bending down through the hole and banging on the door. 

I screamed bloody murder.  I kicked at the door.  I contemplated which bag I could hoist high enough to throw.  I tried DEJAME EN PAZ, HIJO DE PUNTA just in case it translated.  

After a minute, the fucking coward ran.  And then I ran.  I'm not sure if it was the utter exhaustion of the day mixed with jetlag or what, but I really couldn't even process what had just happened... I knew I was getting on that damn train and no sick asshole was going to Natalie-Holloway my ass before I'd even ordered my first caprese salad. 

I must have looked terrified and pathetic, because a grandfatherly conductor took pity on me and led me to my train.  He also admonished me for traveling by myself so late, pointing at my bracelet and my earrings, motioning for me to take them off and hide them... saying "there very badmens on this train go to Torino."  Awesome.  Wonderful.  Peachy.  

He left me in the care of two Italian women who locked us securely into our cart.  I set my alarm for 20 minutes prior to our arrival so I wouldn't miss the La Spezia stop.  I fell in and out of a restless sleep - curled around my purse, with my passport tucked into those big idiot girl panties I'd foolishly squeezed into earlier. 

Stepping off the train in La Spezia was like one giant exhale.  The proprietor of the B&B where we were staying had informed me that the train station was very safe at all hours and that a cab would be on hand day or night.  Thankfully, he spoke the truth - I found a cabbie snoozing right outside the station and off we went to Manarola.  We arrived around 5 AM... where I remembered the cab couldn't drive into the village.  I'd have to hoof it into town... no streetlights... not a soul in sight... no idea where our hotel was located.  

"The fare is 35 Euro... I'll give you 50 if you'll walk with me."  

--- Blank Stare from the Cabbie ---

"SIXTY!  SIXTY EURO OH MY GOD THROW ME A FREAKIN' BONE HERE"

I think the proprietor donning a femininely fluffy bathrobe, rubbing sleep from his eyes and exclaiming in the most adorable Italian accent "we sooooooo worried about you!" was the loveliest sight I've ever seen... Second only to my husband, in an equally femininely fluffy bathrobe {"well I didn't have anything else to put on!"} when he opened the door to our room several minutes later.  

"Where were you? I waited in the square until 1:30 and I think all the nuns at the church think I'm some sort of creepy pedophile or something.  IwassoWORRIEDthatwastheworstideaEVER." 

Sobbing does not even begin to describe my state of being.  

The biggest hug ever and the rainforest showerhead and a chocolate truffle made things a bit better.  

{Oh dear, are y'all still reading this?  It's like the longest After School Special PSA of all time.}

{But just to recap... (1) Sometimes husbands are right in really big ways; (2) traveling alone, at night, in a foreign country, as a female does not make you a Badass; it makes you a Dumbass; and (3) getting a UTI is better than getting sold into white slavery... just hold it, for pete's sake.}

And 4 hours later, we hiked through coastal mountains between five picturesque cities. 

IMG_2915

But that's tomorrow's tale. 

IMG_2905

Although {plot-spoiler} I do promise no one tried to rape or pillage us on the good ol' Blue Trail.  

IMG_2892

ETA:  This post is NOT meant as a EUROPE IS SO DANGEROUS OMG STAY IN AMERICA message - not in the slightest.  From what I've read and personally experienced, tourist destinations in Western Europe are virtually free of violent crime... ie: you might get pickpocketed if you don't take the proper precautions but you won't be attacked.  The is very much a DON'T THINK YOU'RE INVINCIBLE post... advice I {very wrongly} thought I'd outgrown. 

Okay!  Only fun from here on out!  Promise, promise!  

63 comments:

  1. OH MY WORD!!! I'm all tensed up and got goosebumps several times reading that!!! I am so glad that you made it okay.

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  2. Ahhh!!! So scary and insane! So glad you made it there safely. I think we could all learn that although we think we are independent women who can handle it all – there are some situations we shouldn't put ourselves into. Can't wait to hear the rest of your recap. :)

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  3. KATE! I don't have words. This is the craziest story ever. Write a book. Glad you survived.

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  4. Oh. Emm. Gee!!! What a crazy story! I kept thinking you were going to tell us it was a joke. Dumbest idea ever is right. Don't ever travel alone as a woman, especially at night.

    Oh, and I HATE the Madrid airport! It is so freakishly large that you literally have no idea where you are going. You're just following the sign's with your destination on it, accompanied by a time. Oh,it will take me 75 min to walk to my next gate. How lovely.

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  5. Holy Shit!

    I'm glad you made it through that! You're making me nervous about going to NYC for a quick visit, let alone Italy (which is on my list)!

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  6. Scary! It's crazy the types of stories you gather from traveling, but luckily, you're totally fine and all you have from it is, is a very good story. I'm sure you'll remind your twenty year old future daughter of it when she studies abroad!

    Ohhhh - And I love the gold Toms.

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  7. I'm so excited for your trip recap! You're such a talented writer I feel like I'm right there with you. Plus, I studied abroad in Firenze and have a soft spot in my heart for Italia. Glad you're safe and sound!

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  8. Oh, God. Scary.

    Glad you made it there safe- can't wait to read the rest of your recaps!

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  9. OMG DUDE that is a crazy story. I'm really glad you're alright. Can't wait to hear about the fun parts now!

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  10. Holyyyy Shite! That was the best creepy travel story I've ever read! I'm glad you're safe and the rest of the trip was free of potential abductions.

    Can't wait to read the rest!

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  11. AHHHHHH omg!!! So glad you're okay.

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  12. Scary! But glad you learned a life lesson... for now :)

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  13. YIKES. Glad that story had a happy ending!

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  14. this is the best (awesome story-telling!) and worst (scary! glad you are ok!) story ever!!

    if even one of those Bad Things in the sequence of Bad Things that happened to you, happened to me, i'd probably turn right around and buy a ticket back home. leaving my husband in his fluffy robe to tour italy by himself.

    looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip!

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  15. A. I just busted up laughing that you linked to my post from last week--DYING.
    B. There's a sneak preview of Bridesmaids at the Angelika on the 20th, which, you need to see so that you will understand this quote "There's such a sense of community in coach"--which, I find fitting after your travel hell.
    C. Holy moly, glad you survived that and I cannot wait to hear about the rest of the trip, which, I assume was much more enjoyable!

    xoxox

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  16. So scary!! Super glad you're ok!!!!

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  17. I was so scared for you the entire time reading that!! It was like reading a scary novel! So glad you are OK and you got to your place safe and sound...albeit late!

    Can't wait to hear more about your adventure :)

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  18. OMG, Kate! So glad you're ok! I don't know what I would have done if I were in that situation. That is so scary!

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  19. I am SPEECHLESS! You are a braver woman than I, as I would never have suggested splitting up...I'm a wuss. What an adventure you have to tell. YIKES. Can't wait for the rest of the trip updates.

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  20. My reading of your account was sprinkled with verbal outcries of "KATE!" The cats looked at me like I was nuts. But seriously... KATE! You know better than this... or so I THOUGHT! Love you and glad you are safe.

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  21. What a thrilling story! Who knew that could happen? I would have totally tried to send my hubby on without me too, as I am the only one who speaks any other languages....Scary! So glad you are ok!

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  22. Holy fuck Kate. Thank God you're okay, I can't believe how terrible the beginning of your trip was, and I truly hope the rest more than made up for it.

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  23. My stomach was in my throat reading this!! I am so glad you're okay. I would have been a blubbering mess by the time I arrived at the B&B. I'm glad the rest of the trip was awesome! Can't wait to see pictures!

    xo

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  24. Oh my goodness! Glad you made it!! Cinque Terre is my favorite place in the entire world :) Can't wait to see all your pictures and stories tomorrow!!

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  25. Holy shit! so glad you made it safely, I was freaking out reading your recap!

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  26. While that was a scary tale, I have to admit it was the best tale I've read in a long while. I'm glad you are okay and had enough instinct to know something was wrong and react quickly. Your husband should be proud that he's married to such a brave woman!

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  27. I echo everybody's "holy shit!" Wow. So happy you made it out in once piece! Can't wait to read the more lovelier parts of your trip. It can only get better, no?

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  28. Oh my goodness. What a mess! I'm glad you are okay! The pictures are gorgeous and I can't wait to see more.

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  29. OH my goodness! I'm so glad you're okay. How scary!

    I can't wait to read about the rest of your trip and how fabulous it was (now that we got the scary part out of the way)!

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  30. I understand why you regretted your decision, but you are FAR from a dumbass. Your quick thinking and smarts saved you from a bad situation. God, I remember so many near assaults when we were traveling through Italy by train - it's pathetic really. We had some scary times that I'd rather not think about ever again. Just so thankful that you are okay, and that you had a great trip. I actually got teary as I read about your arrival I was so relieved!

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  31. OMG! I was literally on the edge of my seat while reading this. Reminds me of an encounter I had in Paris several years ago -- and I had two girlfriends with me! Scary stuff. So glad you're safe and were able to enjoy the rest of your trip. Now on to the wine and cheese, please!

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  32. Jesus Christ on a bike, I'm so glad you're ok! Thank you for this post, btw, because people like me need to hear these stories. While traveling to NOLA, recently, I ended up staying at the apartment of the girlfriend of a girl we met in a cafe, because my travel companion didn't feel like paying for the hotel that night. SIGH. Luckily, our hostess was amazing and lovely, but it would have gone much worse.

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  33. ok i'm in tears. I know that it probably has most to do with being 38 weeks pregnant and all but just imagining that moment when you finally made it to the b and b and saw Evs... I'm just so thankful that you are okay!

    um... lesson learned!

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  34. WHAT. OMIGOSH. I'm freaking out over here!!!!!!!!!!! I can't believe this! I think that grandpa man on the train was your guardian angel. By the way the line about getting your first caprese salad totally cracked me up.

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  35. Oh my gosh, thank GOODNESS you're alright. At least you knew it had to get better from there, right??

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  36. Thank. Goodness. You. Are. Ok.

    Wow. Can't wait to read about the rest of the trip! (It's bound to be uphill from that, right?)

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  37. Oh LORD. I have a huge lump in my throat. Kate, I don't even know you but I have been reading in EA for years and was on the verge of tears reading that. I think you are so smart, and brave, but I too have been an absolute IDIOT, both in the States and across the pond, and we have to thank our lucky stars we survived. There was no way you could have predicted that. Sweet relief at the end of this tale! Cheers to your safe arrival.

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  38. OMG, how scary. That sinking feeling when you know you've just made a bad decision is the worst. I'm so glad you arrived safely, even though it was harrowing!

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  39. How very scary, but I'm so glad you were finally able to get to your hotel! Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip, and hope nothing else nearly as "exciting" happened!

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  40. I'm glad you made it without too much trouble... and I'm sorry, but I did laugh at your story. It reads with a very funky sense of humor... or maybe that was just me...

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  41. wow, I traveled alone from Italy to Germany and then to France and got stuck in Luxembourg along the way ALONE during a French train strike for a day and then had to take the most random, convoluted combinations of trains to Paris ALONE, speaking no French, never really knowing if I was even on the rigth train. When I finally made it to Paris in the middle of the night, I got off the train, threw my bag down and promptly started sobbing. That was 7 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. After reading this, I realize it could have been so much worse. Glad you are safe and sound.

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  42. Holy Sh!t, glad you are ok...

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  43. Oh my god! Why didn't you make Evs stay for the bags? I've traveled alone in Yemen and wouldn't have been out wandering at night. And, train stations can be scary! Girl, I'm glad you're okay.

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  44. Oh my gosh! that read like a novel, but so much scarier because it really happened! At least you kept your wits about you and screamed and put up an insane fight! So glad you are safe!

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  45. OMG!!! I teared up while reading this. How terrifying. I'm so glad that things ended up ok, you are safe and that you guys had an amazing trip. Can't wait to read more about your Italian adventure!

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  46. way to beat off that smarmy guy! great re-cap! this post would be perfect in a memoir one day! :)

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  47. I AM SO GLAD YOU LIVED. My email missed you DESPERATELY!

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  48. First I have to say, oh. my. gosh. I'm so sorry that you had to start off your trip that way. SO SCARY!

    Secondly, only you can make a story about travel delays interesting. You are such a great writer! :)

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  49. Holy cow!!! I'm so glad you made it ok! Not the best way to start your trip!!

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  50. I kept hoping for the "...and then I woke up" or "April Fool's!" line. I don't know you in real life, but I was so scared for you reading this! And it's a good cautionary tale for the rest of us who consider ourselves worldly and invincible. Glad you are safe so we can still read your fabulous blog. :)

    On the note of European travels (and averting petty crime), I'm headed to London and Paris with my husband next month - would you mind sharing in one of your recap posts what kind of hand-or-shoulder bag(s) you carried while abroad? And where you kept your passport?

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  51. @Sarah - I will be glad to! After many of my friends were pickpocketed in Spain, I have my passport/purse/bag routine down to a science!

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  52. I have read this like 3 times now. I'm leaving for Paris in 15 days and I'm not officially fucking terrified to do anything without my parents while I'm there because I speak zero French and have poor self defense instincts.

    Glad you lived.

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  53. WOW! WOW! WOOOOOOOOOOOOW! That's a really good story! A page turner, for sure!

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  54. Wow, this is a very interesting story for me because I had a similar experience on a train to La Spezia last summer late at night. I was seperated from my husband in a dash to catch the train and a man approached me to "help me" with my luggage. My intuition kicked RIGHT in and I tried to get away from him. He broke into a run after me and finally I ran into a crowd of people and he ran away. And then we arrived in Manarolla at about 5 am in the PITCH black. We had left our directions in our last city by mistake and were SOL using the payphone outside the little general store near the train station. Ugh, I can laugh about it now, but the HORROR it was at the time. All worth it once we settled in though. :) I know you had a great time! (Longest blog comment EVER, sorry.)

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  55. Jeeeebus! My heart raced for you as I read this tale. I'm glad the rest of your journey was attack free and that you kept your wits when the going got tough.

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  56. So glad you're okay! I told my husband I'm never peeing in any train stations in Rome. Ever! On a lighter note, would you show us what you wore on the plane? I'm currently contemplating my wardrobe for our trip there, want to be comfortable but am afraid I'll be judged for landing in yoga pants and a t-shirt....

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  57. Oh my god...seriously, when I saw "travel drama" on Evan's facebook, I did not realize that it entailed this level of drama. I could kick you in the behind for traveling alone at night like that! I am beyond thankful that nothing happened to you and...alls well that ends well, but I'll be damned if reading that part of the story didn't give me the absolute worst feeling in my stomach. I am so glad you are safe. I love you.

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  58. Oh my GOD Kate. Oh my god. I was horrified with a side of goosebumps reading this. It's like a Lifetime movie. Only worse.

    (And I too have exercised poor judgment in a situation with a German guy outside a bar in Portugal. Were you in Lagos perchance? I am amazed I made it out of Sevilla alive that year considering all the stupid shit I did.)

    I am SO GLAD you screamed and fought and ended up okay. I'm...wow. This is awful. So glad you're okay and that you ended up having a wonderful time!

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  59. @Caitlyn - OMG YES I was in Lagos! At that bar where they give out free absinthe shots if you flash the bartender. NOT THAT I DID THAT.

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  60. So I'm just now reading this and ohmygod. Kate. I want to drive to Dallas and smack you for traveling alone!! And then I want to hug you because you're okay!! I am reading this with my mouth wide open. Girl...

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happy little comments!