Once upon a time, when writing my bucket list, I added 'go traveling alone' to the list. I had always envisioned packing a bag, dropping everything & just catching a flight somewhere. Quite without a plan & entirely on my own. When I was nineteen, I bought a business class flight (clearly had more money than sense) to Rome, booked up a swanky four star hotel (again...) & fully intended to spend my twentieth birthday there, alone. However, as the departure date drew closer, my nerves set in & I ended up asking a friend to come with me, who, thankfully, said yes. This became a little bit of a repetitive pattern through the following years.
So, when I finally made it to Amsterdam last July, all by myself, with only my wits to guide me, I was quite impressed. After nearly a week, I left Amsterdam & took a flight to Naples, then a boat to Sicily & three months later ended up in Rome. I almost felt silly that I'd ever been so scared to go anywhere on my own. However, my new found confidence took quite a battering during my journey from Milan to Nice.
Having had a crappy afternoon, attempting to leave Milano Centrale, I had finally settled into my seat on the train to Albenga, iPhone plugged into the nearby power point, happily abusing my data allowance. With only a few hours until I was due to arrive in France, I figured I might as well use as much of it as possible, as my Italian sim was due to be defunct.
Arriving at Albenga at around six o'clock, I strolled out of the station to the awaiting buses outside. None of them were indicating Ventimiglia, my destination of choice. Spotting a very attractive hipster kid in a beanie & skinny jeans, I moved closer & asked him if he was going in my direction. He was. Brilliant. I could cosy up to him on the bus & possibly arrive in Nice with a new boyfriend in tow. I can't deny, I am a hopeless...optimist.
Finding the bus we wanted, we queued up & Hipster boarded first. I showed my ticket to the woman guarding entry & she just started waffling on at me in Italian. I may have spent four months in the bloody country, but there is a limit to my vocabulary. "Parli inglese?" Venom crossing her face, she told me my ticket wasn't valid for the bus & I'd have to go catch a regional one. My face washed with horror. That bloody swine in Milan had sold me the wrong ticket. Bastard!
Hovering round once again clueless, without my hipster boyfriend, I approached another official looking person, who looked at my ticket & told me to get on the bus I'd been shunned from. "But she won't let me on!" I said, to which he responded with a quizzical look & told me to wait. So I waited. Then the bus drove off. Then I panicked. Grabbing the guy again, I kept asking him where the bus to Ventimiglia was. He pointed to another bus & sent me off.
I handed my ticket over to the bus official outside of bus number two. Nope, apparently his bus wasn't going to Ventimiglia, apparently there now weren't any ruddy buses to Ventimiglia. By this time, I was holding back tears. He told me I'd have to get on the bus, get off at Imperia & get the train from there & that I'd have to go back into the station & pay a little extra for the privilege. I started wailing about how I bought the ticket in Milan & they'd told me to get the bus & yada yada. Bus Official couldn't handle my hysterics & ended up telling me to just get on.
The very sweet driver thankfully spoke English & told me he'd let me know where to get off & how to get the train once I'd arrived. Sadly though, by this point, it was all too much & by the time I took my seat, I burst into tears & cried the whole way there. Maybe traveling on my own wasn't as great as I thought it was.
Arriving in Imperia, the driver didn't stop at the train station like he said he would. All these elderly Italian woman started shouting at him, demanding he pay their taxi fare to the station. That's one thing I've learnt in my time in Italy, don't get in the way of an Italian's temper. The driver, attempting to be reasonable, locked up his bus, grabbed some of their luggage & walked us all down to the train station. "This is Italy, it's all crazy!" he said & I was inclined to agree.
It was 7:50pm by the time we arrived at the station. Thankfully there was a train to Ventimiglia at 8:10pm, so I figured I didn't have to wait too long. The only issue being that I was supposed to arrive in Nice at 8:30pm & so, it suddenly dawned on me, what if I'd missed the last train there. Whipping out my phone, I went online & saw that the very last train to Nice Ville from Ventimiglia was at 9:20pm. I knew the train to Ventimiglia was supposed to take forty minutes, so I figured I'd make it in time.
Standing on the platform, half my makeup down my face, feeling very agitated, I could feel myself about to explode when at ten past eight the train had not arrived. Another five minutes went past & I ended up asking a fellow commuter, if it was due to come at all. He assured me it was coming. Italy, a land where the term 'on time' doesn't exist. Another five minutes went by & I almost wept as I saw it approaching.
A few more tears, several hundred time checks & a conversation with some creepy Italian man sat across from me & finally we arrived in Ventimiglia. Another passenger left the train as I did & I saw him check the board & then run to change platforms. Worried it was the train for Nice, I did the same, only for the board at platform two to be blank & next to it, on platform three, only Cannes was showing. "Nice!?" I asked the guy, who at this point was stood smoking a cigarette by the waiting train. "Sì!" By now distrusting anyone's advice, I asked him again. "Nice Ville!?" "Sì!" I looked at the board, back at him, back at the board. "Are you sure?" "Honestly, I'm getting off there." Deciding to trust him, I hopped on & crossed my fingers.
Train Guy & I conversed a little on the journey. He was Italian, but had been living & working in Nice for two years as a chef. He apologised for his pigeon English & I assured him his English was far better than my Italian, or French for that matter. I showed him the map of where I was staying & he assured me it wasn't far from the station. When we arrived in Nice, he told me he would take me to my hostel, as, whilst Nice was not a dangerous area, myself being a 'small blonde girl' alone might pose a threat.
Off we set, the pair of us, down Avenue Thiers, turning right, down Avenue Jean-Médicin & walking all the way down to the end, before turning left to go down Rue de l'Hôtel des Postes, where, much to my delight, I saw my hostel, Villa Saint Exupery. I was so overwhelmed with relief to have finally arrived, I hugged Train Guy & thanked him excessively!
So, whilst I do feel rather confident in my abilities to get around, country to country, on my lonesome, sometimes, just sometimes, it's rather nice to have someone to help.