Sunday, May 1, 2011

Where will I wake up tomorrow?

If anyone is wondering why these are so long, boring, and detailed, it is because this is my actual trip journal.Everything I write, I post. 

April 30
I am on a train headed to Rome. We hadn’t really “planned” on going to Rome until next week but late last night we decided that we wanted to go to Primo di Maggio in Rome. Primo di Maggio means “the first of May” and on that day, the biggest rock concert in Europe is held in Rome on one of the open squares. We went back and forth for a bit on whether or not we wanted to stay in Switzerland another day, go to Paris, or go to Rome and in the end Rome won. Most of the hostels were full or only had one opening available by the time that we decided on this so we booked another Marriott and plan on moving to a hostel tomorrow. Hopefully there are still some openings by the time we get there and find internet.
                So this morning we checked out of our hotel at a little after 7:30 so we ended up getting to Zurich about 20 minutes after the train left to Rome. Not to worry though, we were quite hungry and had not had time to eat anything other than granola bars for breakfast so we figured that this would give us time to do that. The first thing that we did when we got to Zurich was to go to the ticket office and make sure we were going to be able to reserve seats to Rome. Even though we have rail passes we still had to make reservations and pay a fee for the reservation. I guess almost all of the trains in Italy require reservations because they are high speed or something like that. When we found out that it was going to cost 33 Franks a person we thought, “Well shoot, maybe we’ll just go to Paris instead.” Then we realized that the reason it was so expensive was because we had to switch trains in Milan, so we were actually paying registration fees for two trains. As soon as we knew that there were still spots on the train we rushed to an internet club and made reservations for our hotel and rushed back to pay for our tickets. This time, we talked to a different person at the ticket window and she said that it was only going to cost us 23 Franks a person which was perfect because between Bryan and me, we only had about 67 Franks. We were quite happy about this because now we had about 10 Franks left over that we could by breakfast/lunch with. We were glad about that because every time one changes money here at the station they charge 4 Franks just for the transaction. Providence smiled on us and we left Switzerland with less than 2 Franks altogether.
                Our train ride down through Switzerland was so beautiful. I now have a new goal, I want to go on a bicycle tour of Europe. As we were on the train, we passed several groups of cyclists cruising along small country roads and I was inspired. I just can’t explain how beautiful Switzerland is. Once we got to the border of Italy, things really opened up. We came out of the mountains and right now we’re passing through fields and vineyards. Our excitement for the day came when we arrived in Milano almost 15 minutes late. By the time we got off our train we only had 7 minutes to catch our connecting train to Rome. We rushed as quickly as we could through the crowded platform to the board where all arrivals and departures are posted so that we could find which platform our train was leaving from. Luckily it was only a couple away from where we were at so we ran, and of course our wagon was almost down at the other end of the train so we booked it even faster and managed to get onboard just as our train was supposed to be leaving. We made it.
We are now in Rome. Since the moment we arrived interesting things have been happening. Right after we got off the train we ran into a tourist information guy. We learned from him that tomorrow the Pope is being canonized. I guess it’s a pretty big deal. I remember hearing about it but for some reason I thought that it had already happened. So because of that, there were quite a few people running around the train station. Bryan and I were both quite tired at this time. It was about 7:00 pm and we still hadn’t had a real meal since arriving. Point is that we were kinda tired. Well we made our way over to the tourist information office and picked up a map and got directions on how to get to our hotel. From there we went to go change some money into Euros. Number one thing I learned today: never exchange money in a train station. Number two thing I learned today: never hand over your money until you know exactly how much you’re going to get back. Number three: don’t exchange money, just use an ATM card and save yourself the hassle. Now you may be asking, “What makes you say that?” Well let me tell you.
Knowing from previous experience that there was a $4-5 service charge to change currencies, Bryan and I decided to just change all our money in one shot so we would only have one fee. Mistake number one. Since the rest of our trip will be spent in countries that use the Euro, I decided to exchange the rest of the money that I had which was $300 and so since Bryan and I were doing it together he matched it so we exchanged $600. I believe that it was my idea to exchange all the money there as well. We looked at the exchange rate and it seemed about what we had expected so I gave him the money. Now remember this was at a legit place in the train station, it wasn’t just some Podunk deal. He had me show him my passport and sign some little paper. He gave us our receipt and then started counting out our money. As we were looking at the receipt, Bryan and I both became really confused as to how we ended up with 300 Euros instead of the 380 Euros we were expecting. So we were immediately like, “Hold up! What kind of fee is this? Is this a flat rate or a percent?” and the guy was like “Oh there is a 4.80 Euro fee for the transaction and a small commission.” “Small commission?! That’s almost 20%” And since he was still counting out our money I was like “Whoa, we don’t want to exchange all the money.” Basically, to sum it all up, our transaction was “finished” and we were out $60 bucks a person just to change some $$ into stupid Euros. Well that immediately put a damper on the day. It’s been like 5 hours and I still keep kicking myself over how the whole thing went down. I’ll run out of money a day or two before I had expected but Bryan and I both agree that we are definitely learning the hard way how to be better travelers.
After that, we walked to the Metro station and rode it out to the end of the line, got on a bus from there and went to the end of that line, and found our hotel just a short distance from that. We checked in without a problem, dumped our stuff in our room and went out in search of food. We found a little pizza and kebab place and had some delicious kebabs. Satisfied at having a real meal in our stomachs since the airplane (Bryan didn’t even get that because he was sick and gave his meal to me), we headed back to our hotel as the clock was nearing 10:00 pm. We decided that because of the events of the day we needed to secure cheaper sleeping arrangements for the next several nights that we’re in Rome. We went down to the Lobby of the hotel and bought 15 min of internet for 2 Euros, logged onto and started checking on hostels that we had looked at earlier. Most of them were not available for all the days that we need them so we finally settled on one on Via De Rienzo called Hostel Happy World Roma. Our time was about to run out so I quickly entered in my information to reserve the beds and as soon as the confirmation page came up our time ran out so we made it just by a hair. One thing that we will have a problem with is where to put our backpacks. We really, really, really don’t want to have to carry them around all day but we do not have locks to put on the lockers at the hostel because we did not know that we needed to bring any. I guess that is something we’ll have to worry about tomorrow. It’s about 12:30 now and I’ve got to get to bed because tomorrow has who knows what in store for us. 

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