I’m glad we missed that train.
Venice at night was completely different, and it made me love it all the more. The element of prettiness was still very much there, only it became even more romantic in a way, and was just as inviting. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you whereabouts our little evening stroll had taken us, but it most probably included the streets which only hours before, we were barging our way through.
In preparation for our wait-out in Bologna, we sought out a mini supermarket for snacks and fizzy drinks (this was also in preparation for the looming hangover, which we knew was most definitely coming for us at some point).
After this, believe it or not, we got a bit peckish.
Strolling with plastic bags in hand and weary yet curious looks on our faces, we found ourselves in a charming romantically-lit eatery (after the coin/eyeliner incident there was no shame to be had in our scraggly and by no means graceful appearance). We just wanted a little something (cheap, we wanted CHEAP), so looking at the menu we decided a litre carafe of white wine (house, obvs) and a cheese board (to share) would be most suitable.
The waiter gathered we weren’t his average diners.
“Maybe some bread too” Dobby chimed in.
So I lied about the three-part story thing. Whoops.
“Hello my darling, are you busy? Are you at work? Not working on that blog post though are you?-
Sam if you need to do a fourth blog post then just do it”
Lovely (not to mention sassy) Casalooch had a good point. So here we are. The actual *final* part to our little Italian adventure…
We had a couple of hours til the train was due (missing this one was not an option) and so we found ourselves being very, VERY aware of the time, so agreed to allow 40 minutes to walk from chosen eatery to the station (it was something which could be done in 15 but we were not. about. taking. chances. This way of thinking had led us down the wrong pasta-laden path in the first place.
However when the plethora of cheeses arrived (and oh my, was it something to behold), it was hard not to unwind a little, and back in the bubble we were.
“Oh my GOD LOOK AT ALL OF THEEEEESE”
Dobby exclaimed as the waiter walked away, twiddling her little fingers with glee. She went to pinch a piece of the closest cheddar before I moved to stop her.
Her hand hovered over the plate as her face turned to one of confusion. I raised my glass (which I admit, I had got a bit excited about and poured in well over what was necessary):
“Here’s to trying to make it on time, failing…and wine”
“Cheers to that Badger!”
**enthusiastic clink and slight spillage onto cheese platter**
I also forgot to mention the variety of chutneys (Yes, chutneys) that had accompanied our cheesy platter. (Please see below and also bear in mind there was more cheese but we ate it; priorities)
“I know it sounds bad…”
“You’re glad we missed it too, huh?”
“YES!” exclaimed Dobby.
We roared with laughter and swayed a little in our chairs.
“What a wonderful way to end our Erasmus”
“Not over yet” I paused. “We still have to get back home.”
HAHAHAHAHA *chortle* *snort* *nervous chuckle*
But in all seriousness (jokes and being temporarily stuck aside) this was to be considered another story we were more than happy to add to our list of adventures enjoyed over the past year.
End of an era
Erasmus was almost over and the sense of impending doom aka final year and dissertations was becoming increasingly real. The days of walking out the front door with nothing but that feeling of sheer freedom and uncertainty over what was going to happen; of being the stranger in a foreign land; of making little (mostly culinary) discoveries everyday, was soon to be over. Complete spontaneity and religiously checking Ryanair for (absolutely ridiculous) offers was soon to be replaced for a year of being grounded, responsibility, and of conforming to the people we were before the program began.
But here lied the problem – we were no longer these people; nor did we want to be.
Being the clueless foreigner had its disadvantages, yes, and I am more aware than anyone of how very much I just loved to moan about it. Truth was, I didn’t want to go back to the norm, to reality and to a planned out schedule I was already so familiar with. No part of me held that desire. I didn’t want to go back at all.
My friends and I were aware of our predicament, and before we could learn to come to terms with what was happening and to accept it, we had to go through the phase of denial. Technically Erasmus was still a thing until we touched down on British soil. So here we were, not in the UK, but in Venice, Dobby and myself making the very most of our final days of freedom. And we made it count.
Prince Charming and the Boozy Bread
Dobby took another sip (gulp) and I glanced at the partially demolished Camembert. We’d been knocking back the vino (as per) and most of all, reminiscing about the times we’d shared together; our ups and downs, the impressive characters we’d met along the way and the places we were already itching to go back to.
The waiter hollered over to our table as we sat in a state of profound recollection, the kind that leaves your eyes glazing over a little.
Before Dobby could ask, he placed upon the table a newly filled basket of bread.
“So where are you from?”
He turned out to be a chatty chappy and was seemingly intrigued by our love of laughter, complementary table bread and sharing of cheese platters.
As I answered him in my Pidgin Prosecco-fueled Italian, he proceeded to ask more questions, increasingly curious of our story. our friendship, and it appears, our plans for the rest of the evening.
Dobby made a cheeky smirk as the waiter asked what we were doing after dinner. Unfortunately for him, we did not have plans to accompany him to the disco, and we politely declined, explaining that being the modern Cinderellas we were, we had a train to catch, and incidentally it would be leaving at midnight.
“Oh that is such a shame, why don’t you stay longer in Venice?”
We laughed and rolled our eyes jokingly, shrugging it off and giving him the “What can you do, ay?” look, before he walked away, leaving us to share a giggle or two and finish off the wine.
He did have a point though, it would be a shame to leave.
“I don’t want this to ever end.”
Our unplanned night and unexpected extension of our stay in Venice had somehow become representative of our entire Year Abroad experience. And it was ending, all too soon.
The caraff was down to its last drop and it was getting time to make our way back (at tortoise pace).
“Grazie mille” we slurred as we paid for our singular plate and litre of strong wine.
Pretty sure we were the last out and the restaurant closed soon after, but the staff seemed very happy to be entertained by two English girls, very broken Italian, and loud (unconsciously so) laughter. That, or they were happy to see us go. Probably the latter, on reflection.
Not forgetting our groceries (snacks, just snacks), we marched onwards to the train station, with purpose, somehow with this mindset believing it would get us there quicker.
“We’re going to make it, don’t worry”
“Yup, we just need to stick to the plan”
The Return Journey 2.0
We arrived at Santa Lucia well within time (shock) but even so, that failed to put our nerves at ease. As soon as the announcement was made and the train had pulled into the platform, we were on it, despite the fact it wasn’t due to leave for a good while.
It was one of those ‘Hogwarts Express’ type trains – you know the ones- and so we settled into our assigned carriage, cozy, and more importantly, on our way. Funnily enough, we found ourselves sharing the carriage with a delightful American couple (with Italian roots of course), who were in the middle of their tour of the country, as it were.
“Oh it’s so beautiful there, you have to go – we’re on our way to Naples – I got family there”
“Yes, we love it, the food as well…”
The conversation went onto our reason for being there, and recounting our Erasmus tales. Seeing stranger’s reactions, I came to the realisation that our year was not over *cheese* because we’d always have these memories.
I don’t believe in living in the past, but writing about our experiences does make me relive them, and for me it’s a reminder that more memories are to be made, that these places which served as a backdrop for our stories, are waiting for us to visit again.
Ferrara: the point of no return
The train pulled into Ferrara and both of us, being slightly anxious, rule-abiding Brits at heart (this is not to say boring), decided it best to leave the carriage at this point, and dawdle about in the passageway before the train arrived at Bologna. This was a good plan, until we opened the door to find a lot of other people doing the same thing (they probably had valid tickets though). Despite it being super late (or arguably early) the passage was rather rammed. Incidentally this worked out for the best. No ticket inspector in sight (as if they could be bothered at this time and in these conditions anyway), so no need to hide in a teeny tiny toilet for half an hour. Yay! At this stage of the day, it was about celebrating all wins, big and small.
Walking out of Bologna station was a relief. We were nearly there, just 3 hours to go… Bologna is a city that in my time as a student in Modena, I had visited on occasions, and very much enjoyed; but I think it’s fair to say that the station, especially at night, was ugly, dangerous, and to be avoided if possible. Not wanting to add trouble to our already lengthy adventure, we made tracks for Piazza Verdi, a square known for its student frequenters, and at this time of night, I was counting on stragglers and late party-goers to be populating the area.
They weren’t. Well, not as many as I would have liked anyway.
The square felt kind of empty and the exact opposite of ‘buzzing’ without the crowds of young people and cheap beer about. Not that we were exactly in the mood to party…
“YASSS OMG DO WE HAVE DIP”
“Can wine give you the munchies?”
“I don’t know, I don’t think so?” **rips open packet of something sugar-based and chocolate smothered**
What. A. Day.
We were over the whole ‘adventure’ thing.
As funny as our circumstance was, the lingering strangers and empty plastic cups left in the square had started to give us a sense of uneasiness; we craved the feeling of being under a duvet and within four walls, with a fridge at our disposal and without the dependency on a train timetable.
We continued to eat as we exited the square – on the move we felt a bit safer, and the bars that were open at least meant other people were out and about. It wasn’t bad actually, there were even a few pizza places open – ah Italy how I miss you so!
Walking towards the station, we decided to rest at a bus stop, as it was close, but not too close, if you catch my drift. We just had to wait it out.
The train to Modena was where I found my inner peace. That peace you get from drinking a tea after a long day at the office, or when you hand in an essay you’ve been working on all night, or when you take off your heels after an intense dance-off. You know what I mean?
Back to the cave
Walking from the station to my house was bizarre. It was morning. Not ‘ooh look the dawn is rising’ morning, but actual MORNING time. Birds singing, bakers baking, and weary travellers finding there way home. How did it happen?
We bought two pastries (now was as good a time as any to scoff them down) and on arriving at my humble abode, closed the bedroom shutters completely; total darkness, how welcome you were.
Dobby collapsed onto the already deflating air mattress.
“Don’t wake me up until it’s dark again; I could sleep forever”
“Yeh me too, I can’t even grasp what yesterday was… ”
*Dobby turns to sleep*
“…Dya fancy a cuppa?”
“Ooh yeah go on then!”
And so it ended as it began, two erratic and unstable minds, bonding over tea.