Ninja, Fire, and the Polizia

The last three days of spring break got pretty wild. There’s something sweet about the end of something, even if it’s just a break. For me, this meant caring less that all of my clothes were dirty, spending less time on my own and more time enjoying the city with friends, and going clubbing. The story itself is pretty funny. I hate checking my coat at clubs so I timed my departure from the hostel perfectly (or so I thought) and arrived at the club at precisely the time I said I would meet my friends, so that I wouldn’t need to wear a coat. Unfortunately, one of the girls was still putting on her makeup and the group I was meeting hadn’t left the house left, which was twenty minutes away. Retreating into the marginally warmer train station, I waited for the better part of an hour as they struggled to get out of the house, got out at the wrong train station, and then got lost.

Finally, we found each other and went into the club. The music was terrible. When we got there almost nobody was dancing. Everybody was looking around a little uncomfortably, so I suggested the group of girls I was with start playing Ninja. For anybody who doesn’t know this is a very silly looking game where you try to slap one another’s hands. Before long other people started to join in and for a while it was just people playing Ninja on the dance floor. Then when we started dancing we’d already mingled with one another so it didn’t seem nearly as awkward. I went in halfway with another girl to buy shots for ourselves and the girl whose birthday it was and was very unprepared for the bartender to pull out a lighter and set all three drinks on fire. We had to drink them really quickly to stop the straws from melting. One of the girls spilled her drinks as she was trying to finish it and set the entire bar on fire. I came home sweaty, tired, and having had a thoroughly good time around two in the morning and tried to quietly situate myself in a hostel room full of five other sleeping people.

Continuing with the theme of poor traveling decisions, Owen and I realized that the overnight train ticket we’d bought was actually from Vienna to Venice, and wouldn’t get us to Florence at all. So the next morning we walked to the train station to try and fix our mistake. We couldn’t get refunded for our ticket, but the cost of a second overnight train ticket from Vienna to Florence was cheaper than a ticket from Venice to Florence would’ve been so we took that. The night train felt very much like Harry Potter, with separate compartments of 6 chairs each. Each chair reclined so far that you could lie down completely if there were only three people in the car. Owen and I were in a car with a very nice African guy, who talked to me a little bit, before we turned off the lights and went to sleep.

We were brutally awakened at 1 in the morning by the Polizia (Italian police) who slammed the door open to our compartment and flashed on the lights, demanding to see all of our passports. Disoriented, confused, Owen and I scrambled for our passports, but they hardly even looked at them before turning to the man next to us.

“Do you have a permit of stay?” the polizia demanded.

“It’s in Rome,” the man replied, looking uncomfortable. “I have to go pick it up.”

“That’s not good enough,” the polizia replied.

And then, so fast the man barely had time to grab his backpack (and forgot his phone charger in the outlet) they removed him from the compartment and forcibly marched him from the train. I saw him on the platform, being led away by the police, and I wondered if they were going to deport him that night. It was a very disconcerting experience, both the startling way in which they’d woken us and the swiftness with which they’d grabbed the man next to me. I asked Yuli later, who’d been sleeping in a compartment a few cars away and she said the police never came into her compartment. I wondered if they’d only come into our car because there was a black man in it and I hardly knew how to process that thought. I still don’t entirely know how. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced because it felt like I was seeing a snippet of a life that didn’t belong to me whatsoever.

Grounds of the Belvedere Palace looking out on the city of Vienna

Belvedere Palace in Vienna

Large statue to Maria Theresa in front of the Natural History Museum in Vienna

Votive Church in Vienna. One of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in. The stained glass is incredible and it’s so cold inside that you can see your breath even when it’s warm outside.

Another picture of the Votive Church

Rearing Horse Statue in front of the National Library in Vienna

Deadsprint to the Wrong Train

For having absolutely no information, Owen and I have been doing pretty well. Today we went sprinting from one platform of the train station to the other, trying to find the FlixBus that would take us to Vienna. We got so desperate that we started asking random people on the side of the bus station where the platform was. With just a few minutes left to go,we ran back inside the train station where a woman told us, “There isn’t a bus that goes to Vienna.” There was a train though, so we sprinted to the platform and toward the wrong train. Catching sight of the departure time, we redirected ourselves onto the train in front of it at a dead sprint and into first class. “Do you think this is the right train?” I asked. And Owen replied, “I don’t care. We’re staying on it.”

Traveling has had its ups and downs. In Munich Owen and I went to a concentration camp, which can only be described as the most horrible place I’ve ever been in my entire life. I didn’t write a blog post for a while because I didn’t think I could do one without making it too dark. The tour was 5 hours from start to finish and by the end of it I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from hearing all of the things that the prison guards had done to the people there. It’s the only thing I’ve ever experienced where my imagination of the sort of horrors that people did to one another was actually better than the truth of what happened. We walked through the entryway and then through the place where the people would be stripped of their clothes and given numbers and then into their living quarters and finally down the yard to the gas chamber. Horrible isn’t even a sufficient word. I walked through the facade of the chamber, trying to picture the moment when people realized the showers weren’t going to come on.

There have been some really good times here as well. Salzburg, Austria has been my favorite place on this trip. I’ve been here for the past two days roughly recovering from that. It’s beautiful and reminds me a lot of Prague. It’s been mostly cloudy but occasionally the cloud cover will retreat, smacking us in the face with the Alps. They look like they’re two buildings away and they’re HUGE. The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg so there’s everything from a sound of music tour to a playing of the movie every night at 8 pm in the hostel lounge.

Salzburg has also been my favorite place because of the people. Two nights ago I was sitting in the hallway (I needed an outlet and the only one was outside the women’s bathroom) and a group of young Pakistani guys came out of their room and invited me to have drinks with them at the bar below. We stayed down there for hours, laughing and drinking until the bartender kicked us out. He played the song “closing time” to get us to leave, something I hadn’t realized was on my bucket list until it happened. And even then, we just went into the dining room of the hostel and continued to talk.

Austrian and German beer may in fact be the best in the world and I’m only saying that because I liked it for the first time in my life. Like all things, I’m sure it tasted better because I wasn’t paying for it, but I had pizza and beer the next night for dinner (and Snickers for lunch) and I liked it then too.

Most surprising about this trip for me has been how much my legs hurt. It’s amazing how walking can do that to you. I think it’s the repetition of the motion because I went for a run yesterday (all I had was my pajamas, so the Austrians stared at me like I was nuts) and nothing hurt untilI started walking again.

After our hectic morning, Owen and I are off to Vienna. We’ll be there for roughly two and a half days and then we’re taking a night train back to Florence. Neither one of us is quite sure why we thought that was a good decision, but that’s what we’re doing.

The gates of Dachau concentration camp

Salzburg, Austria

Good Ideas, Worse Ideas and Poor Execution

It’s the coldest winter they’ve had in Florence for ten years. Enzo keeps laughing during dinner and saying, “and it’s the semester you and Owen are living here!” We find it slightly less amusing. My morning run up to Fiesole was not improved by a couple inches of unplowed snow on the road. “But Becca,” someone will say. “Isn’t it a bad idea to run along the side of a road in the snow and the ice when you almost get hit a couple times a run without ice?”

Yes. The answer is yes.

But I wanted to run. My rationale for running in the ice was that the reason I almost get hit on normal runs was that the drivers weren’t paying attention around turns, but that they’d be paying more attention in the snow because they didn’t know how to drive in it… I’m not saying this is smart. I’m just saying that’s what I told myself. It turned out to be a safer run than I’d expected. All of the cars on the road had already spun out and were being dug out, or else had already been abandoned, by the time I started up the mountain that morning.

Starting yesterday morning, it’s Syracuse University’s spring break. I got up 1t 4.30 and was waiting for the cab outside the house with Owen the specified 7 minutes before it was scheduled to appear (We both laughed about the strange arbitrariness of that time). Neither Owen or I was particularly confident about our odds of making it to Germany together. Although our ages are about 12 and 13 apart (Owen is older, though slightly) together we’re both about 6 years old.

We made it through our first two flights unscathed and then went to the bus station to wait for the final leg that would take us into Heidelberg. When the bus arrived, however, we learned that we’d bought tickets for 12:30 am instead of in the afternoon. Owen and I heard this, sprinted to the parking ticket pay station to try and buy tickets, realized we couldn’t buy tickets there, and did the walk of shame back to the original bus driver and bought tickets from him.

It was not warmer in Heidelberg. Owen and I went immediately to the hostel where we added more layers (Owen had on a record breaking 6 shirts on) and went back out. I took us confidently in the wrong direction. When we figured it out Owen said, “It’s half my fault. I should’ve realized that when you said, ‘I think we have to go forward and left’ we really should’ve gone right and back.”

We got pastries for lunch. My six second opinion is that Germany has better bread and pastries than Italy, but Italy has better coffee and pasta. Apart from the fact that Germany revolves primarily around the production of meat, I’m not sorry to have different food options. Owen and I aren’t even sure what you can eat in Italy if it’s not pizza and pasta.

After lunch we split up for a bit and I found my way up one of the wooded side mountains to overlook the city. I get the feeling it would’ve been very pretty if the sun had been out, but it was snowing and dark. I met Owen back at the hostel around 6 and lay on the top bunk watching cars pass outside the window. I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke to Owen flashing the lights on and off like we were having a bomb drill.

For dinner we walked to a German restaurant and I endured the cringe of the waiter when I asked if they had anything vegetarian. We went to bed pretty much as soon as we got back, sharing the .18 of a travel toothpaste that I have. We don’t have towels either, so when I showered in the morning I showered with my duvet cover and came into the common room to try and avoid the woman who was hacking up phlegm into the bathroom sink. She followed me in, opening the window (It’s freezing outside) and continuing to hack out the window onto the ground. So I’m ending this post by leaving and going to find somewhere better to sit while I wait for Owen to wake up.