by Anne B. Wright

This trip to Italy was special for me. It was the first vacation I’d
had since I lost my husband nearly two years ago, and my first trip to
Europe by myself. I needed to get out and do things, my family and
friends told me. Start living my life again. Italy had been next on
our list of places to visit, so I’d decided to try it alone with a
small tour group.

Over the previous months, I’d studied the maps and itinerary, agonized
over what clothes to bring, packed and unpacked, then packed again.
I’d studied the FAA regulations and watched Italian movies. I’d taken
Italian language lessons at the cultural center.

With a strict
workout regiment of cycling three times a week and rigorous Pilates
classes, I was strong and fit. This time I’d carry my own bags and
find my own way from San Francisco for a Grand Tour of Venice,
Florence and Rome.

At last, I was on the train to Venice to meet the tour group. I
glanced at my watch: 1:30 pm, ample time to relax for this
seasoned traveler. Our group’s orientation meeting was scheduled for
5 pm at our Venice hotel, and only thirty minutes away by train
from Padova where I’d spent the night.

I took a long breath, smiled
and congratulated myself, thinking about how I’d unpack, clean up and
take a walk around San Marco Square before the meeting. I’d get to
know my fellow travelers, then enjoy a gourmet dinner with them at
the restaurant.

As I settled into my upholstered seat to watch the rustic Italian
scenery roll by the window, I massaged my aching shoulders and neck.
My bags, all three of them, were getting heavier, even though the
previous night I’d ditched lotions, shaving cream, extra contact lens
solution, magazines and my old slippers in an effort to lighten the

Kicking my shoes aside, I peeled off my socks and saw that I
had blisters the size of flattened garbanzo beans on each baby toe.

The train car was nearly empty. A couple of businessmen sat near the
front, and a man alone occupied the seat behind me. Across the aisle, two lanky, denim-clad teens of about 18 lolled in their facing seats,
eyes closed, ears plugged into music thumping from their players.
They were probably college students tired from a weekend of heavy
partying trying to catch up on their sleep.

After more than an hour of scenery had whizzed by, I began to wonder
if I had misinterpreted the train schedule. I should have been in
Venice by now. Each station came and went, marked by a large white
horizontal sign with the town’s name in black letters. Where was

I rooted through my daypack for my map, and as I pulled it
out I saw the sign outside my window, Ferrara. I located Ferrara on
the map. It was partway down the boot of Italy, and in the wrong
direction! I choked back a scream.

“Mi scuzzi,” I shook the shoulder of the young man nearest to me. He
jerked out of his daze and gave me a sleepy look. I held my train
ticket up to his face with one hand, and shook my map at him in the
other. “Venezia?” I said in my most American-accented Italian.

squinted at my ticket, gave me the universal shoulder shrug with
palms up and shook his head. “Bologna,” he said. My stomach clenched
and the nervous acid drip continued. We were on our way to Bologna.
How could this be possible?

Stuffing my map and guidebook into my daypack, I stood to exit the
train. The teenager held up his hand to stop me. He shook his head.
“Bologna,” he said. I thought for a minute. Why should I continue on
the wrong way? I still might have enough time to get to Venice for
the meeting if I get off now.

I looked out the window and saw some
people standing next to a small building backed by a graffiti-scarred
concrete block wall, nothing like the busy train station I’d left. A
few apartments lined the train tracks, laundry draped over the
railings of the balconies. I decided that maybe it would be a good
idea to go all the way to Bologna. I might have a better chance of
getting a direct train back to Venice.

Slumped back into my seat I muttered to myself, “How could I be so
stupid?” In my haste to get on the train, I’d forgotten to look at
the ticket and see if I was at the right gate. My head was pounding,
my eyes were dry and tired, my body still on California time.

By the time we arrived at the Bologna station, I’d become resigned to
the idea I’d miss the orientation. Shoulders drooping, I stood and
gathered my bags. I dragged them down the steps of the train onto the
platform. The two young guys were waiting as I stepped off. Each of
them grabbed one of my bags and gestured, “Come on.”

I stiffened as they lifted my bags. All I could think of were the
warnings about all the pickpockets and thieves in Italy. My fingers
felt for my money belt, satisfied that it was safely under my shirt.
I ran to follow them down the tunnel of stairs that led to the other
side of the platform, trying to keep up with their long legs. They
paused for a minute to read the large schedule posted in the
underground passage. They pointed at the listing, and then started
running again.

“Quick,” they motioned. I chased them up the stairs and across the
crowded cavernous station to the ticket window. They put my bags down
and waited in line with me as I moved to the front. They told the
cashier which train I needed, then looked at me and smiled. “Grazie
mille,” I said.

I gave them my best smile and a tear squeezed out the
corner of my eye behind my sunglasses. They raced off as I paid for
the ticket. This time I looked at the gate number and noted the train
destination on the big overhead board. It was going to be 7:30 by the
time I arrived in Venice, but I didn’t mind missing the meeting. I’d
had my own orientation.

About the Author:

Anne lives in Moss Beach, California with her cat, Bridey. She
is a writer of creative non-fiction and photographer whose latest
project is a mural of images she composed while vacationing in
Venice, Florence and Rome earlier this year.