Gulliver's Travels part 6: The leaning (falling) tower of Pisa

In the summer of 2006, I worked in Munich and hungered to see the world. I was able to get 8 days off my summer internship and decided to go to Austria (Vienna) and Italy (Rome, Pisa and Sicily). After that chaotic trip, I wrote an email to my family and friends chronicling my adventures and these are the tales I will share with you for the next few weeks. 


  The Vatican was going to be closed for two days due to a national holiday. I left Rome on Tuesday 1346 hrs and got to Pisa at 1657. The journey there basically involved me falling asleep and waking up to more lovely views of the Tyrrhenian Sea (the name of the Meditteranean in the North West of Italy.) The views were spectacular, and I got to enjoy the mountainous countryside of Italy.I had drank lots of water, and decided to venture into the restroom (I usually religiously avoid restrooms in trains.) This restroom was surprisingly very clean, but there was a strange breeze in the room and no windows. So when I was done using the toilet I tried to look for the flush button but could not find any. Then I looked into the toilet and strangely there was nothing there. No tissue. No water. I needed to solve this mystery! I peered further and what do I see………………………….the train tracks!!!!!! Yes you heard me right. All the regional trains I took in Italy also followed in the same fashion. I was soooo totally grossed out. Not only is that like major pollution….I mean all the toilet paper that must be littering the train tracks all over Italy,  I vowed never to cross train tracks in Italy. This was just way too disturbing. How can they make a toilet that looks just like a normal toilet but discharges on the train tracks????? Strangely I had seen one of the other bathrooms had a sign that said “Out of order.” I wondered what “out of order” could have meant. There was definitely no plumbing involved in the toilets .In Pisa I walked for half an hour, found the leaning/falling tower of Pisa . I mean that tower is dangerously leaning. It looks like it could fall over any minute now. Pisa was a cute little town though it looked really ancient (not ancient like 1500s, but ancient like stuck in the 1920s.) Maybe it was the town or maybe it was my new sunglasses, but the town had the strange brown color/ sepia that TV had just after black and white and before they got color quite right.  I managed to find a cute little dress in Pisa (5 euros.) Stuff was really cheap in Pisa and I wished I had more time to check out the shops. My train was leaving Pisa at 1900 and getting to Rome at 2228 and my train to Sicily would leave Rome at 2300. Yes I know I am very daring. Sooo yes my train from Pisa left ten minutes late, and the whole journey I was holding my breath knowing that if I missed my train to Sicily I would be homeless for the night and really messed. Luckily my train got to Rome at 2248 and I hopped into my train to Palermo , Sicily .

Gulliver's Travels part 5: Pub crawl in Rome

In the summer of 2006, I worked in Munich and hungered to see the world. I was able to get 8 days off my summer internship and decided to go to Austria (Vienna) and Italy (Rome, Pisa and Sicily). After that chaotic trip, I wrote an email to my family and friends chronicling my adventures and these are the tales I will share with you for the next few weeks.


Well what can I say……I came, I saw, I crawled. Yeah so once I got back to the hostel I just really wanted to drink and party. I asked – Gibrila- the Ethiopian dude..if he could ask the Scottish girls from the night before if they were going out tonight (I had met some nice cool Scottish  girls the night before at the reception when I was waiting for Salvadore to find me a room…..they had been drinking wine and were on their way out and looked like cool company.) Gibrila had just showed me where my new bed was- I was on the top bunk, and I had looked at my room-mates and I am convinced I have seen furniture that had more life in it than them.  Now people…Gibrila and I don’t share any common language….he speaks Amharic and Italian…his Eritrean friend speaks Tigrean and Italian and Salvadore speaks only Italian. This was the hardest conversation of my life. At some points he thought I was telling him I am a lesbian and I want one of the  Scottish girls…The next minute he thought I was asking him for wine….Finally I gave up. I just decided to shower, get ready to party and go downstairs to ask Salvadore if there was any party places in the region. So I got ready,and I went downstairs and Salvadore gave me instructions to a pub nearby and strict directions to walk back only along the main road when coming back since any side streets would be harbouring criminals. Then the Ethiopian guy comes and takes me to the Scottish girls’ room. I was really surprised that he had understood what I said. I wondered if he had just been making fun of me during that long conversation earlier. So I got to the girls’ place and they were tipsy and all drinking wine. We all started chatting and I was drinking my martini. They told me they were not going out that night since their train left at around midnight , but they knew where I could go. They told me the night before they had gone for Pub Crawl.

What is Pub Crawl? Well it is a thing totally organized for young tourists in Rome to get to meet each other. Basically you pay 20 euros, and you get to drink unlimited beer and or wine and eat pizza at the Spanish Steps in Rome then after that they take you bar hopping to 4 pubs where you get in for free and get a free shot at the entrance of each pub,and finally you are taken out to a huge club with hiphop, techno, house, rock etc till morning.  They also told me there are a lot of drinking games which equates to more free drinks! You also get a free t-shirt!  Sounded like my type of party. Cab fare back would cost me 8 euros which sounded great. They were going for dinner around that region so we left and took the subway together. We just barely made it into the last train and sat down. Some girl was trying to get into the train, and I believe that the subway in Rome must have killed some people. She just got halfway in, and the doors started closing on her. Not the closing that means the doors will open if you push a bit more……it was the closing where she almost lost her leg. The doors closed on her foot,and I could see her face turning redder and redder as she tried to save her foot. The (un)lucky girl managed to salvage her foot,but her shoe went with us in the train. I was actually traumatized though tipsy enough to forget that creepy incident. One of the girls told me that the long distance trains in the UK open for a specified amount of time,then immediately close. So if the train has many people getting off then you are assured you will not get in. Random!!!

So finally I got to the Spanish Steps, and strangely the organizers of Pub Crawl are university students from the States working for the summer in Italy . This is a really cool night job if you ask me. I met the crowd there and mostly consisted of Australians, Scots, Irish and a scattering of Americans and people from everywhere.  The nationality of this people should have been enough to make me pack my bags and go home on realizing that I was in the midst of expert drunks. I still felt up to the challenge and stayed. A few beers later, and my martini bottle half empty I heard some german conversation behind me. I turned and started talking to these two german girls. Off we went to the first pub. Shots at the door. I participated in one of the drinking games inside and won this competition. Off to the next club….by this time me and my German friends are quite drunk. I am just remembering bits and pieces from the night. Get another shot at the entrance.  I don’t remember how we got to the next pub. Ok obviously we walked but I don’t know how. Another shot at the door.  Heeeee then I started feeling really drunk. World spinning!!! Seeing doubles etc. Same for the German girls. Me and the German girls (who it turns out were in a youth hostel next to mine) hopped into a cab, and went home. I  feel stupid that I never made it to the dance club, but I doubt anyone other than the Scots could make it that far on all the booze we had been drinking.  I got home, and I was drunk, drunkety drunk. I remember that randomly my phone got an sms and I was trying to read it but could see nothing.... I couldn’t read. My youth hostel is a fortress, but mysteriously I was able to use my keys to open the main door, the elevator door, the floor door and my room door. I got to my room and thought “to hell with changing clothes, I will sleep as I am so as not to wake up my roommates!” I climbed the table from which I would be able to spring on to my top bed. All these actions are happening in the dark by the way….. I spring from the table top onto “my” bed and land on someone!!!!!!!!!!!!! The startled person springs up and I couldn't tell who was more shocked….me or him.  Anyway it turns out that Ethiopian dude had showed me the wrong bed. I was actually meant to be on the bottom bed. I am not sure what apology I gave the guy on the top bunk. I was beyond feelingl feelings like embarrassment. I went down to my own bed. The next morning was when I felt embarrassed. I only woke up once I heard him leaving the floor, and even then I showered and packed up rapidly so as to make sure he didn’t see me in the daylight. 


The next day I woke up with a head heavy enough to dent a wooden pillow.  I was hungover like wow!!!It was my last night at the hotel and I had earlier on intended to spend my day at the Vatican . Luckily I found out from someone that the Vatican would be closed that day and the next day. I couldn’t figure out what to do in Rome for the day since I was too hungover to go walking around for hours. I needed to lie down somewhere. I decided that I would change my travel plans a bit and jumped on the train to Pisa where I would atleast be able to nurse my hangover and nap in the train. I left all my luggage in Rome in storage for two days at my youth hostel (2euros per night) since in the evening I planned to take the train to Sicily , and didn’t want to go with my baggage.

Gulliver's Travels part 3: Venice

In the summer of 2006, I worked in Munich and hungered to see the world. I was able to get 8 days off my summer internship and decided to go to Austria (Vienna) and Italy (Rome, Pisa and Sicily). After that chaotic trip, I wrote an email to my family and friends chronicling my adventures and these are the tales I will share with you for the next few weeks. 


Soooo panting and all I found my seat. Most European long distance trains have cabins with six seats (3 on each side) and a sliding door for the cabin. My cabin mates were a middle aged Argentinian couple (they were really nice), two Korean students and a Chinese guy who only spoke Mandarin but was the nicest person ever. We all talked for a while and the Argentinian couple warned all of us to be extra careful in Italy since there are a lot of thieves and pickpockets. So I instantly went into Kenya mode which is the mode where you never leave your bags unattended, where you carry your backpack in front of you in crowds, tightly hold on to your bags and always have an eye open. I am proud to say I was not robbed even once in Italy . The Argentinians even told us there are thieves on the trains. By this time I was so exhausted, and dying to sleep. The guy opposite me (the Chinese guy) was so sweet and let me put my legs up on his seat. I gave him the same offer and he refused. The sweet guy stayed in this uncomfortable sitting position for the whole 12 hour journey, and even slept in this position, while I was comfortably stretched out. I honestly think my next boyfriend should be Asian. That guy was so polite and chivalrous! The two Korean dudes are the ones who lifted everyone’s bags up to the bag storage place. Surely that is sweetness.  Hmmm so we all slept. At one point though I woke up to the scariest noise I have ever heard. The Argentinian guy next to me was snoring so loud and so unrythmically that I could not believe it. I think people 1km away could probably hear him. It was a scary snore. Soooo scary that it was able to wake me up from my usually deep sleep. Yeah him and his wife were competing in the snoring department. Finally he turned over and the snoring became less loud. I fell asleep only to be awoken again by one of the Koreans loud snoring. I seriously think I must have been in the snoring cabin. Like honestly….I know many people who snore, but in this cabin it was unbelievable. It was more like choking coupled with screaming coupled with coughing and a bit of wheezing thrown in for good measure. Really bad snoring. I couldn't understand how they could sleep through their own snoring.


 Finally after sleeping on and off morning came. I went to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. Most of the taps in Italy have huge signs in red saying “Don’t drink the water.” I was seriously beginning to wonder what is wrong with Italian water. Munich water is the cleanest ever,and  drinkable. I did not drink the water though! Soooo I wash my face and brush my teeth. People I am not lying when I tell you that my gums bled and suddenly my face broke out in rashes later that day. Like seriously!!!!!!!! You would think that the most dangerous thing water could do to you is give you typhoid. But in the words of a guy I met in the train on my way to Sicily “Don’t touch the water!!!!!! It is acid!!!!” This was before his friend handed me a face wipe to save me from having to wash my face with water.

Oh back to Venice . So I am now sitting in the train watching the lovely scenery outside. Suddenly the train is on a bridge and the only thing below us is the Adriatic Sea (the name of the Mediterranean sea in the East of Italy.) It was so amazing. The sea was sparkling in the morning sun, and I felt this warm glow in my heart. It was soooooo beautiful. Arriving in Venice was so sooooo soooooooo one of those moments you can never forget in your life. Venice can truly not be described in words or pictures. I still find it hard to believe I saw such beauty. The whole city is right on the water. There are no buses, roads or taxis in the main part of Venice only boats, gondolas (the lovely narrow boats from ancient times), canals and very very narrow streets.Venice’s beauty is made more spectacular and fragile by the fact that the city has flooded 300 times in the past 10 years. One day there might be no more Venice . I really mean the buildings are right in the water. I honestly don’t know how the city was built. I saw someone get off their boat and jump into this huge building. The door of the building was only 2feet above the water, and the whole foundation was under water. Truly a marvel. I hopped into boat  ie bus no.1 (5 euros) – they call the commuter boats,buses- and traveled half an hour to St. Marco’s square which is the most famous part of Venice. The whole journey there was spell binding, and I kept on expecting to wake up. I got to St. Marco and passed all these traders selling all this carnival costumes/masks and swore to myself that the next time I come to Venice it will be during carnival ball. At St.Marco’s square I went to the famous St. Marco basilica. It was just toooooo much to take in. The whole beauty of the place. The whole magic of Venice . I was now beginning to feel overwhelmed. The basilica is really magical, and the symbolic sculptures on it were too many for me to really take in. The lion of Venice . Standing there in the middle of St. Marco’s square a single tear dropped down my cheek. It could have been the acid water affecting my eye sight, but it was not. I believe it was just the joy of being in Venice . The joy of seeing a place I had only read of in books. The whole feeling that God, Fate and Fortune wanted me to be in this exact spot at this exact moment of time. The fact that life is so unpredictable. The fact that a year ago I would not have dreamed of myself being in Venice , breathing in the cool ocean breeze, standing in a place of such historical significance. Just the feeling that this must have been a vital point in my life… which I will probably never fully understand. But even sitting here writing this email, yet more tears of joy roll down my cheek. There is beauty in this world. Beauty that is capable of evoking such strong emotions in someone’s heart. Standing in St. Marco’s square I felt so happy to be such a small small tiny fragment in this big big world. Standing there in St. Marco’s square filled me with wanderlust- a feeling that there is so much out there in the world to see. It made me make a vow never to pass up an opportunity to travel anywhere – Africa , Asia , Australia etc. There is so much for one to see that one could never know until they see it.

So after leaving St. Marco’s square I still had quite a bit of time to wander around. I started wandering through the streets trying to pay attention to what turns I had made so that I didn’t get lost when I had to go back to St. Marco’s square to catch my boat back to St. Lucia ie the train station stop. I walked through the winding streets. They were so beautiful and interesting. I can see why many books choose to portray Venice as a place of mystery and sometimes danger. The streets are winding and confusing. Some streets end in bridges which end in shops and lead one back to a different winding road. Like really it is easy for even an expert navigator to get lost in Venice . So after a few turns I still knew where I was. I was still walking without paying attention to the turns I made then I realized “oh crap!!! I am lost!!!!” Note to self……..”Never ask Italians for directions!!!”

Carrie: “ Hallo, how do I get to St. Marco”

Italian 1: “e left……. Keep on straight.”

Half an hour later

Carrie: : “ Hallo, how do I get to St. Marco”

Italian 2: “e right…..straight.”

I got totally contrasting directions from everyone. Anyway finally I managed to get knowledgeable tourists who pointed me in the right direction : left, walk 10 minutes straight, the fourth bridge, turn right…..walk fifteen minutes….blah blah blah.” I luckily got to my train station early. It was so sad saying goodbye to Venice …..sob sob!!!