A (Not So) Perfect Ending

It was the final curtain call on our Italian Honeymoon. It was so hard to say goodbye. How were we supposed to leave this on Sunday…

The view from our rooftop lemon garden.

The view from our rooftop lemon garden.

Looking down onto our little patio.

Looking down onto our little patio.

Missy window shopping in the streets of Monterosso.

Missy window shopping in the streets of Monterosso.

…and expect to return to our day jobs on Monday? The trip had unfolded exactly as planned, and Missy and I both determined that we would not have done a single thing differently. Well, except maybe spend a few extra days in Monterosso-al-Mare. Everything was perfect. Unfortunately, we had already stretched our vacation days to the max and needed to (grudgingly) return home.

The return home began with a 12:20 PM (CET) Sunday flight out of Milan, which was one three-hour train ride (to even reach Milan) and one 50-minute bus ride (from Milano Centrale train station to the airport) from Monterosso. With Missy and I both under the mindset that this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we had decided to “vacation” as long as possible and not to travel to Milan until the Sunday of our flight. This meant an extra early train ride and an extra-extra early wake-up call. I had purchased the 5:19 AM train tickets to Milan (direct!) soon after our arrival in Monterosso. This would hopefully put us at the airport around 10:00 AM, leaving plenty of time to spare before our flight. I had left nothing to chance…

…or so I thought.

See, occasionally in Italy, there are these little things called “train strikes”, in which the train conductors (and other laborers) cease all scheduled trips for 24 hours or so, in hopes to increase wages by proving to the Italian government how important the trains really are. From what I now understand, these aren’t very frequent and usually only affect the shorter Regional trains. Be that as it may, it just so happened that from 9:00 PM Saturday night prior to our flight to 9:00 PM Sunday (after our flight was due to depart), one of these said train strikes was taking place.

Having found out about the strike from some travel friends from Canada we met in the Cinque Terre, on Saturday evening I had checked to make sure our train (a larger and usually less affected InterCity train) was still on time. In my broken beginners Italian I asked the man at the ticket window whether or not we can still expect our train, and from what I understood, we could. We were relieved, but still slightly unnerved as we shopped the rest of the evening, packed our bags, and slept.

* * * * *

The alarm buzzed at 4:00 AM Sunday morning, and we were out the door twenty minutes later. With no receptionist this early, we left our keys on the desk and huffed the dark ten minute walk to the empty train platform. The long list of cancelled trains echoed from the loudspeaker, but thankfully ours still seemed on time. Until the words we dreaded to hear came at 4:45…

“…train from La Spezia [via Monterosso] to Milan Central delayed 50 minutes.”

“At least it’s not cancelled…” I said.

As if someone heard me, five minutes later, the announcement came to let us know the 5:19 to Milan was indeed, cancelled.

...wait, cancelled?  That can't be right...

...wait, cancelled? That can't be right...

Panic soon set in for us both as we stood there on the empty platform…we felt frustrated and absolutely helpless in the dark. At some point, the decision was made to go back to the hotel, drop our gear, and determine a plan of action. After the 10 minute jog, we found that, thankfully, the lobby was unlocked and our key cards were right where we left them, allowing us to do just that. We walked around the quiet streets of the old town briefly, hoping for any signs of life that could help us. However, since it was still so early, the empty streets made us feel as if we were the only two people left on earth. Defeated, we hurried back to the hotel.

We were running out of time and options. Not having a very clear idea of what I was going to do, I told a very distraught Missy to hang tight…I was going back to the station. I covered the distance in what seemed like 30 seconds, and the screens above the platform indicated that there was a train bound for Milan leaving Monterosso at 6:50 AM. Doing the quick math, if we did manage to catch this train, we should be at the airport by 11:30 AM. Time would be tight, but from what I could tell, this was our only shot at still making our flight. Running back to the hotel, I reported my findings to Missy, and ended by saying that we could either sit tight or try and use our tickets for the 6:50 train. We decided to try our luck and use our tickets from the earlier train (since the ticket window did not open until well after this train left).

By the time we made it back to the train station, it was not empty. Other travelers in similar situations had arrived, which made us feel a little more comfortable. But where was my long sleeve Under Armor shirt I had on before? Back at the hotel room, of course…where else? With a few precious minutes to spare, I sprinted back to the room, found the shirt, and returned, dripping with sweat.

The well-worn path from our hotel (H), to the train station (T)

The well-worn path from our hotel (H), to the train station (T)

The train arrived, but since we didn’t have seats, we bounced around the car from seat to seat for the majority of the three hour journey. When the official came through to check our tickets, we explained our situation to her and, thankfully, did not have any trouble. When we arrived in Milan, we were the first off the train. We sprinted through the terminal (Home Alone, anyone?), bought bus passes, almost boarded the wrong bus, found and got on the right one, and ended up at the Airport an hour later. Still in full-out race mode, we ran through the airport, checked our bags, made it through security, and found our gate with no more than 20 minutes to spare.

The flight to Amsterdam lasted less than two hours, but when we reached the gate to our intercontinental flight in Amsterdam-Schiphol, we found out that we had been put on stand-by! They offered us room, board, and money to stay an extra night in the Netherlands. “No way, lady…now you listen here…” I said. Or not. But I wanted to. We “stood by” as the plane boarded, but in the end, everyone who was bumped, including us, ended up on board. I don’t think we would have gotten the money anyway.

The flight to the U.S. was a long eight and a half hours, but since I have trouble sleeping on planes, no shut-eye was to be had. We landed in Minneapolis at around 5:30 PM CST, went through customs, and found our gate. The puddle jump home to Des Moines lasted 45 minutes, and we landed just after 8:00 PM CST. Now, if you’re counting at home, that’s more than 25 hours of being awake and traveling. It was quite possibly the most hectic day of our lives, and it sadly left a small blemish on an otherwise perfect trip.

However, we didn’t dwell on the last day for long…after we caught up on our sleep and started downloading our pictures, it was as if that Sunday didn’t even happen. The fact that we made all our connecting trains, planes, and buses…well, you can’t deny that we were being looked after. What’s more, the luggage we had been toting around Italy for 12 days all arrived in tact and the souvenirs we bought (including glass bottles of wine, pesto, olive oil, vinegar) all survived the journey unbroken!

So I guess there was a perfect ending after all to an otherwise not so perfect day of travel. In the end, all was right with the world!

(Editor’s Note: All photo credits from the Italy blog posts, minus Little Caesar and the map of Cinque Terre, belong to Missy and Tommy Hardinge. More can be seen on Facebook, of course!)

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About Tom Hardinge

Loving husband to my wife Missy, loving father to my four daughters Sienna, Rowan, Jovie, and Lola. I'm a chronic over-packer who loves good coffee, good music, running, waffle tee's, fleece pants, and Jesus Christ!

2 thoughts on “A (Not So) Perfect Ending

  1. wow! amazing that it all worked out for you guys! we’ve been pretty lucky and have survived some hairy, scary situations like that as well! always nerve-wracking when you calculate it all and realize the back-up plan will work, just barely, if everything goes exactly right and you are able to RUN with all your bags… !!
    glad you to survived and you’re very right to concentrate on the glorious days before! does make for a great story though! 😉 keep traveling!!

  2. Pingback: Home. | living in pursuit

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