June 16, 2010

Naples/Milan, Italy – Brussels, Belgium

It wasn’t there. I was one of the first people to the luggage carousel. I’m not sure why, when I rush I only succeed in waiting and watching as the conveyor goes around instead of people watching as I mosey through the gates. Still, I rushed. And when I arrived there were only a few pieces going around. The little monitor stopped flashing and indicated the luggage for my flight was finished.

Katze approached smiling. He spotted his red bag, retrieved it, and then offered words of encouragement to me.

I met Katze in the Milan airport – my connection out of Naples to Brussels. It was about a three hour layover, not long enough to do anything but too long to sit there. After about an hour I leaned over to ask if he spoke English. When he responded in the affirmative I asked what Obama was saying about the oil spill.

Only katze doesn’t speak Italian because he is from Belgium (French, Flemish, and English he speaks minds you). Both of us bored, we started a tentative conversation – each weighing how open the other was to a more extensive conversation.

And so it was. We began with our time in Italy, moved to travel in general, to work.

On the plane our seats weren’t together so I didn’t see him when I disembarked and jetted for my luggage. I was rushing partly because I hadn’t secured lodging for the night and I really really wanted to eat something delicious.

Still, katze found me sitting there. And when the last shreds of optimism were dissolved by harsh reality, he followed me to the baggage counter – complete with sympathetic face.

I provided all the necessary information. Indicated what type of bag -rucksack/packpack- color – obnoxious orange you can’t miss. The lady behind the counter asked for my contact information. All I had was my folk’s address in Houston (I couldn’t seem to recall my sister’s in heath). The woman smiled and assured me they would send it along to Houston as soon as it was found.

“excuse me?”

“why? Do you need it now?” she asked quite surprised.

The thing is…I do. My mom has always told me to pack a spare set of clothes in my cary on…at the very least, underwear. But no…not today. Today I left Italy, poorly dressed in thin shorts and carrying a sweater in case of chill. And so the absence of my bag was more than inconvenience.

The woman busily and politely printed paperwork. Katze continued to speak words of encouragement and I found myself trying to work through the next 12 or so hours. “where do I come tomorrow?” I asked. She handed me the paperwork and explained I could check at this same counter, and if it wasn’t there it would be sent directly. The thing is, even if they had found it, the last delivery was a half hour from then so there was no way for me to get it.

“do you know where it is?” I asked. Katze shook his head encouragingly. The woman began typing and reading and then her face lit up.

“it is here! It came on an earlier flight,” and so it was. She wandered into a storage room and emerged with my bag. Never such a welcome sight…never so happy to see orange.

Katze and I continued upstairs. Ever the good travel companion, he took time away from the hour commute he still had before him to make sure I at least had a map and some possible places to stay.

We finally parted ways and I strode (ok maybe I hobbled given the load I was carrying) to the train station conveniently located in the airport. I do love Europe’s affinity for reliable and clean public transportation.

I managed the train, found myself in precisely the area Katze had warned me against, and got myself settled into a hostel – feeling entirely too old to be there as I eyed groups of folks clustered around tables, drinking, laughing, and flirting amongst themselves.

It is only for a night I remind myself, although I could hear lizzie’s voice in my head, “I’m too old to share a bathroom- I just am,” she reiterated every time we changed hotels in Italy. starved, I didn’t ponder too long and so I descended into the metro and found a local restaurant that had been recommended.

Crowded with folks drinking and eating, I ordered sausages with mashed leaks and potatoes and gravy at my watier’s suggestion. Oh yeah, and either a kriek or a lambic (I’m not quite sure of the difference but it was a mort subite extreme). Not a beer person, something Belgium is known for, I do love sweet and lambics, also a pride of Belgium, so I indulged. Unfortunately, no waffles to be found (although the bartender offered his own kitchen as the best place, only he didn’t end his shift until 1am…pity) so I headed home – afraid I’d be caught in the questionable part of town when night fell.

Silly me. Silly silly naïve me.

I’d become accustomed to the late summer nights in Italy. it would be close to 9pm before the sun relinquished its hold on the day.  And so as I hustled home I gauged the time to be about 9. I’d been in transit most of the day and so logic didn’t gel properly or I would have realized that I had left the hostel around 9pm.

Sun still above the horizon, although seeming inclined to cross it in the near future, I walked back into the hostel and recalled lizzie’s voice again. And I am…I am too old to share a room with 10 other people. At least I am when I’ve been traveling for more than a month and I have to be up at the crack of dawn with no alarm clock to speak of. So I got a refund and headed back into the light of day, ducking into the metro to try out a hotel near the airport that Katze had mentioned. The book was wrong. After missing the last free shuttle to the Etap (€15) I discovered the room (a box with a shower and toilet – no phone and no frills) was actually €65. The place across the street was €45 but that place had a shared bathroom on each floor – for that i could have stayed at the hostel.

Part of me is seething inside. My inner frugality coming up against my old age…some things I’m just not in the mood for anymore. Ultimately it was money well spent. After a hot shower I settled into bed and watched American tv shows dubbed in Italian.

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