Greetings from Pisa, Italy. I am back in the country I love so much and nothing has changed. It is still as crazy as ever and it took me all of 2 minutes to realize it.
I landed at the Galileo Galilei International Airport half an hour before midnight, walked past the baggage carousel and was out! Did I mention the airport was small? At the exit, I looked for the information service, which I found so quickly that I was pleasantly surprised. It was closed. I was not surprised.
Walking out, I found the taxi stand. In Stockholm (yes, Stockholm is the benchmark 😛 ) there is a neat line of taxis; people queue up and get into them one by one. At Pisa, the taxi queue has only one item missing. The taxis. The occasional taxi gets lost and pulls up (about 1 every 10 minutes) and picks a passenger from the Italian style queue. What is an italian queue? Glad you asked. What basically happens is this.. as the taxi pulls up, a crowd of loudly talking italians gathers around it and the universe chooses one set of travellers by random chance, who get to jump into the taxi. Einstein was wrong. In Italy, God does play dice.
I stood there for a solid 15 minutes wondering whether to return to my roots and show the italians how it is done (hey, I am from Mumbai after all..) or to take a more dignified way out. Eventually, I chose the latter. Looking at my trusty map (of course I had a map..ALWAYS have a map of the city you are visiting) I figured out that my hotel wasn’t very far from the main train station. I guestimated a walking time of about 20 minutes at most and the night was warm, the air was pleasantly scented and adventure was already in the air. So next task: Get to the railway station. Now here is an important fact that many visitors to italy miss out on. Italians do.not.speak.english!! But I hadn’t spent two (y)ears with italians for nothing. Revving up my rusty italian, I figured out that bus 21 will take me to the city center. I found a ticket vending machine at the bus-stop and after pressing a few buttons quickly realized that while it would accept my 20 euro note, it would not give me back any change for my 1 euro ticket. Not nice. After a couple more italian coversations I learned that one can buy a slightly pricier ticket (1,5 euro) on the bus itself. Just then, a bus came along, I jumped in and handed over my 20 euro note to pay for the ticket. Naturally, the driver did not want to give me change and we engaged in a gladiatorial staring contest. I won, and he gave me 18,5 euro grumbling to himself. First blood, hah!
The cautious traveller may have read up in advance that italians like to race. What he probably won’t realize until he arrives here is that this is, in fact, true! The bus driver was obviously upset about the fact that some random jerk called Michael Schumacher was occupying his rightful place in a Ferrari cockpit. Had Schumacher seen how this guy moved on the streets, he would have never come out of retirement. As I clung on to every available surface, my only consolation came from the fact that someone on a vespa was going even faster, and managed to overtake the bus..from the wrong side of course.
Eventually, I heard a voice saying “Prossima fermata, Via XYZ.” The display system on the bus showed “Via ABC” at that time but of course, we were at “DEF” which was in fact, the train station. Thankfully, I stepped off and was almost run over by another Vespa zooming past. The driver shouted something rude over his shoulder and I responded the only way I knew how, shouting “A soreta” behind his departing back. Authoritative sources have told me that no matter how bad the insult, saying “a soreta” is bound to be even more insulting. When in Rome, do as Romans do..
I made my way to a streetlamp and pulled out the map to locate myself. Of course, the street I was on was missing the sign with its name on it, so I walked randomly till I came to another street and found it on the map. Birds of a feather flock together. I was quickly joined by an american girl clutching a sheet of paper with her hostel’s address on it. So off we went, chatting, laughing, trying to figure out where our destinations lay. We eventually found her hostel, exchanged numbers, agreed to meet up tomorrow evening and I moved on to my own destination.
That walk through the town around midnight was exhilirating. The town is old, old, old. I trudged along the cobblestones and there are piazzas everywhere, with young people sitting and eating pizzas, drinking beer.. eating places were still open (In Stockholm, you’d die of hunger after 19:00 unless you consider kebab and korv as food). I found a gelato shop and continued on my way, licking an icecream cone. Sounds of talk and laughter were everywhere and this is Italy as I remember it.
Sometimes the piazzas are so densely clustered that they don’t show up distinctly on the map. Consequently, I reached a point where I was no more than 150m from the hotel, but for the love of pizza, I couldn’t find it. There were tiny little lanes departing in all directions with cross connections among them and I started understanding how the lost souls in the labyrinths must have felt. Eventually, I gave up on the map and asked the first person I met. She led me right up to the door of the hotel, which was just around the next corner. But since I was in italy, in the 1 minute it took to reach the hotel, I learned her name, where she works, where her husband would like to go for summer vacation, where she would like to go for vacation, where they were actually going to go for vacation and the best pizzeria in the locality 🙂
Now I am ensconsced in my hotel room and missing the coolness of Stockholm. Fortunately, the air-conditioner seems to work. But I’m happy. I am in Italy again and tomorrow is a whole new day. Things are going to happen. I can feel it in my blood.