Three years ago, I boarded a plane on my way to a study abroad in Florence, Italy, equally terrified and excited for the next five weeks to come. I bought my ticket — my first huge purchase as a 22-year-old — and it would take me from St. Louis to Montreal to Rome and back.
When I arrived in Rome, the plan was to take the train to Florence. However, almost every piece of advice that I religiously followed from Google was wrong. Not every Italian spoke English. You didn’t get your train ticket to Florence from where it said I should. Jet lagged in a foreign country, I did the only thing I could: I followed the signs.
The signs took me from immigration to a red ticket kiosk. “To Florence on the fast train?” I asked a nearby employee. One hundred euros later, I had two train tickets. One was to the main train station, the other was for the Frecciargento to Florence. I followed the signs to the airport train station and my departing platform. When I settled down in my respectful train, I realized there were no maps inside to tell me to where I could connect to Florence. I panicked. The sunlight was jarring as my body begged for sleep. I stared at my train tickets, but they didn’t make sense either. I was lost.
An older woman boarded the train with her husband and sat next to me. “Are you off to big adventures?” She asked gently, gesturing to the tattered Delta airport tag on my weathered baby blue suitcase. I told her I was going to school in Florence. This was my first time in Italy, or Europe for that matter. She was Australian and came to Europe a many times before; she told me where to hide my money, to be protective of my passport, and most importantly, where to get off for my next train. My Frecce ticket even told me: Roma Tiburtina.
Speaking to her was a relief to my exhaustion. I found my train stop and validated my ticket (something I had read: if you didn’t hole punch your ticket prior to boarding and a train conductor checked your un-validated ticket, you’d get a fine). Finally, I had about 15 minutes to spare when the hunger kicked in. All I had was cigarettes (a habit I’ve long kicked) so I smoked one. I’m in Rome, I thought, incredulous at the fact that I had made it this far. All I had to do was get on this train and make it on time for orientation at Florence University of the Arts. Nothing could stop me.
Except maybe a tourist’s need to overpack. I had boarded the wrong car on Le Frecce and ended up in a hallway of massive suitcases. The train began to move and I had no other choice but to hoist my full sized luggage over and through to get to my car. Strangers of all nationalities helped me lift my suitcase as I dragged it two cars down; when I arrived at my assigned seat, I passed out.
About an hour later, I woke up in the rolling farm hills of Tuscany. “Are we in Florence?” I asked the lady next to me. “Firenze?” She corrected me. “Si.” I collected my belongings as the train rolled into the city’s main train station, Santa Maria Novella. I had finally made it to Florence.