“Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!!” ~ Regina George, “Mean Girls,” 2004
We should’ve known last weekend was too great to be true.
We had planned a trip to Greece for the weekend, a last hurrah after our final presentation to our client for CE, Terra Bio, on Friday (which went fantastically! My team, the Foraging White Alpacas, was a delight to work with and we offered the client a great solution to enter into the U.S. market. I’ve included a team picture below, in our business formal immediately following the presentation. Shout out to my Responsibilibuddying Alpacas, love you lots – even when we confuse the meanings of forage and forge.)
Back row: Dom, Me, Christa, Ryan, Cam, Wes, Faraz
Front row: Anita, Nikki, Liz, Sarah
GO PAC GO
We had a great group lunch with the client, and afterwards, we had the blessed opportunity to watch a video made by one of my classmates, chronicling our semester so far. It was BEAUTIFUL, and moved me and a few others to tears – Emily will be the next big thing in video production, I’m certain of it. We had to say goodbye to one of our number on Friday afternoon, too, which made the sadness more real, but also hit home that I’ll be back in the MidBest in a little over 5 days now, which is both sad and fantastic! We took Friday night easy, as we had plans to wake up early Saturday and travel, and prepped for our anticipated voyage to Mykonos (a minor island of Greece) and Athens.
Saturday dawned, and we rose before the sun to catch a 6:30 bus to Pesaro. Two of the girls almost overslept, but luckily they made it, and we all boarded the bus without incident. Our trains to Rome, also, were easy – no problems at all, and we arrived in beautiful Rome early Saturday afternoon with a few sunny and warm hours to kill until our flight. We walked around the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia before somewhat reluctantly stopping at one of the exceptionally touristy lunch places near there. Recognizing we had little choice in the matter if we were going to make our flight, we bit the bullet and sat down, expecting decent food and rushed service. What we received was mediocre at best cuisine and wildly rude service, all of which took entirely too long. Not our best experience, but we chalked it up to the time crunch and our subsequent lack of ability to choose a better lunch locale.
A bright spot in what ended up feeling like the longest weekend of this semester was stumbling across one of my very good friends completely by accident! She has spent this semester in Galway, Ireland, and it was to both of our chagrin when we realized we probably were not going to cross paths in the four months we have both spent across the pond, so when we both happened to be visiting Rome (me only for a few hours, her for the weekend), it would seem that God smiled on us and our paths crossed. We only got to talk for a few minutes, but it was so lovely to see her again.
Her hostess for the weekend, another mutual friend who is studying abroad in Rome but attends Villanova with all of us, put a bit of a damper on things, however. She asked what airport we were flying out of, and we (mistakenly, we later figured out) told her Roma Ciampino airport, the local hub for RyanAir and other budget airlines. She seemed relieved, and went on to explain that Roma Fiumicino, the huge international airport, had suffered a somewhat devastating fire the day before. We counted our blessings that we hadn’t heard anything of the sort cancelling our flight and parted ways.
On the walk back to catch an airport train, we realized that we had been mistaken – we were scheduled to fly back INTO Roma Ciampino FROM Athens, and our flight TO Athens was scheduled to leave FROM Roma Fiumicino. But we still had yet to hear of any complications with our flight, so we continued on to Fiumicino, arriving with no problem and finding the correct terminal and check in desk. I was a little curious as to why the mob of people was surrounding a desk marked with a Word Document print out for a sign, but chalked it up to unconventional budget airline quirks. However, we discovered we (along with every other passenger) was waiting in the customer service line, so we obviously hoofed it to the proper check in line – which was curiously empty. This was about when I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking that we had somehow missed the flight, even though it wasn’t scheduled to leave for another hour.
The Italian woman behind the desk, languishing there as she gossiped with a colleague, promptly told us when asked about checking in for our flight, “Oh, no, that flight was cancelled,” the lack of concern apparent in her face. We stood there in shock, our jaws hitting the floor in disbelief, as we sought the flight number on the “Departures” board. It was still scheduled to take off on time, but as we stood there, one by one, the terrible red script reading Annullato popped up next to flight numbers. We scrambled back to the customer service desk, learning that not only can they not reimburse us for a night spent in Rome since it was the airport’s problem, not the airline, but the earliest we could get to Greece was Monday – on that airline. We all continued to scramble for a few minutes, frantically connecting to the free airport wifi in order to look up possibilities for other plans. Staying in Rome for the night was a necessity, that much was obvious – we found out the flight was cancelled around 5:15 pm, and the last train to Pesaro would get us there much too late for the bus to Urbino.
We stationed ourselves in the waiting area, all glued to our iPhones – either trying to find someplace to sleep that night, researching flights out of the other airport the next morning, or on the phone with our moms, seeking reassurance and a calming word or two. After about an hour and a half, Niki, Christa, Anita and I decided to scrap Mykonos and just fly to Athens on Sunday morning, stay until Tuesday, and fly out of Athens as planned on Tuesday. We booked the flight, booked a hostel in Athens for Sunday night, and continued to research places to sleep Saturday night. FINALLY, after too much stress and poor prioritizing – I do not know what possessed us to put off the most immediate booking until last, when every other single passenger out of Fiumicino was in the same boat, also booking places to sleep that night – we found a hotel near the Roma Ciampino airport, where we were scheduled to fly out of Sunday morning to Athens.
A train ride later, we ended up in Ciampino and followed Christa, naively listening to her phone, as we heard Siri parrot out that it was only a 20 minute walk from the train station to the hotel. About 7 minutes in, we were led to a highway. No sidewalk, no shoulder, and lots of oncoming traffic. Cursing Siri, we promptly retreated to a cute little pizzeria as we dreamt of our hotel beds, so close yet so far. The wonderful, blessed people at the pizzeria helped us call the hotel shuttle, and after a tasty dinner, we arrived at the hotel safe, sound, and without having to walk across the autostrada.
We had to print boarding passes in the hotel lobby, check in, and all shower still that evening, meaning we didn’t fall into bed until almost 1 am, but it was so worth it when we did. One of the sadder moments was 4:30 am, when all four of us awoke from our nap and repacked up, checked out, and piled back into the hotel shuttle to get us to the airport for our 6:15 flight.
Ciampino airport was literally flooded with people.
There may have been about 30284593457 people in line for visa checks, and the security line was just a long. However, when we finally arrived at the front of the line (entirely more efficiently than expected, it only took us a half hour) we were told to rush to security, never mind visa checks – the influx of people was caused by the fire at Fiumicino, directing people to flights at Ciampino. So we headed to security, speed walking like the champs we are, and made our way through an equally long line in about 15 minutes, putting us at 5:45. I made it through, and was about to put my bag on the conveyor belt when I heard a frantic “Ab, wait!” behind me. Niki had gotten stopped by the security man. We immediately thought it was because she didn’t have a visa check mark, so we were all set to argue, but that wasn’t the issue. There had been a snafu with the computer – her flight was booked for Monday morning, not Sunday morning, and in our haste and haze of the 12 hours prior, we hadn’t noticed.
Niki and I went to stand in the customer service line, hoping to get her moved to our flight. However, due to the lackadaisical Italian bureaucracy and a somewhat rude Italian family behind us in line, we didn’t speak to the woman in charge until after 6 am. We heard there was a seat on the flight, we were all ready to go, and then we were slapped in the face with a 200 euro fee.
Needless to say, we did not get on that flight.
We sat in the departures lounge of the OTHER Rome airport, a scene frighteningly similar to our predicament almost exactly 12 hours earlier, only this time we were unsurprised by our lack of luck. We sat there and laughed so hard we almost cried for about 10 minutes.
Without any other plan (or honestly any motivation to anything else) we hopped a train back to Rome, planning on just returning to Urbino, discussing our horrific luck. We made it to Rome, went to purchase tickets for the next train, and after Niki bought hers, the self-service ticket machines crapped out. The server was broken.
We stood in line after taking a number, at this point just impressed with the efficiency of the Trenitalia system as compared with the airlines. The server was back up about half an hour later, so we purchased our tickets without incident, and made it home to Urbino, exhausted but over the moon to be home.
It was, without a doubt, the most shambly 30 hours I’ve ever spent. But also a great story to tell.
We really should’ve listened to Regina George. Greece was not going to happen.