Two weeks ago, I joined my husband on what I dubbed our lemons to lemoncello tour (we kinda had a shitty fall). Basically, he was going to Germany and Italy for work and I decided to tag along. Ah, the joys of working for yourself!
We'd spend a few days with friends in Berlin. Josh would leave me back in Germany to work for a few days in France and Italy. I would meet up with him at his hotel in Milan for a few days of carbs, wine and meandering. It's what you do in Italy.
I was mostly excited. I was also a little scared.
At the risk of sounding extremely annoying, I am well-traveled. I've been to all seven continents. I've spent days crossing the Drake Passage (known as the most turbulent waters on earth & was scary as all eff) and three weeks traveling through India (anywhere with predominantly squat toilets gets a Hey Eleanor seal of approval from yours truly!). I've been some awesome places, but I'm been in some scary ones, too.
So suffice it to say, I was baffled when I started losing sleep over the fact that I had to take a cab, on my own, from Milan's Linate airport to my hotel.
It all started before we even left for Europe. Josh and I were talking logistics, and he mentioned that I should just take a cab from the airport unless I wanted to figure out the train. Train? From literally one side of the city to another? At night? In Italy? Where they built roads when the main form of transportation was horses? And streets are literally marked with teeny-tiny decorative signs posted on buildings sometimes? Ahnothankyou!
Cab it is!
As the days between me and the looming cab ride ticked away, I started worrying. What if I got ripped off (everyone who's been to Italy has an "Italian cab driver story.)? What if I couldn't explain where we were going? What if I got dumped out at the wrong address? Am I supposed to tip? What if the taxi driver was a murderer? What if, what if, what if!
A decade ago, I might have had a little anxiety about taking a cab by myself in a foreign country, but nothing major. In fact, I once took a "cab" home in London that I am pretty sure was just a regular guy in a regular car who was willing to drive me and a friend to our hostel across town. I wasn't scared at all.
Maybe it was the alcohol.
At any rate, something in me has changed dramatically since college. I noticed it more on this European trip than I have anywhere else. I'm less inclined to trust random strangers (maybe it has a little to do with this incident?), less interested in staying in until 2 am (because that's when the "good" bars open! Ha, as if I even care.), and certainly less interested in sleeping anywhere with a shared bathroom. Just no.
I think I've grown up.
But back to this cab thing.
After deplaning, grabbing my bags and following the clearly marked signs, I hopped into a queue of people who either just enjoy smoking in a line or were waiting for a cab. I think both. Oh my gosh, people still smoke A LOT in Italy. I'd love to tell you that I hate it, but I don't. I like their devil-may-care attitude.
After some lady who was old enough to know better (but not too old to care) swooped in and took the cab that was supposed to be mine, a driver in a white mini van waived me over. He helped me with my bags, then asked me where I was going in Italian.
Novate Milanese! I said, just as I'd been rehearsing for an hour in my head, complete with what I thought was a pretty good Italian accent.
Okay, okay. No big deal. I handed him the hotel address that I'd written down on a piece of paper. Okay, he said.
I hopped in the back, he sat up front and plugged the address into the GPS and started driving. As he pulled onto the freeway, he started speaking to himself in a quizzical fashion. It was pretty clear that the address wasn't popping up.
He explained what was going on (in Italian), then, while the car is still moving, he picks up one of those old school 900-page city map books and starts flipping through the well-worn pages. As a person who can't stand when someone is texting or looking at their phone while driving, this is a whole new level danger. At least you can see around your phone a little bit. An open book of maps that you're physically paging through? Come on!!!
Once we're on the freeway, it's all taillights. Rush hour. I can kind of see over his shoulder to the GPS, which seems to now be pinpointing something in the general area of my hotel. Trust me when I say I researched exactly where & how long this ride would take (because anxiety!). I figured without traffic, it should take about 30 minutes and cost between $45-65 euros. I could've sworn GPS said the freeway would take 27 minutes. He announces, Many cars here. I go city center. Hmmm... that sounds like a scam! As he's exiting, he says, about 45 minutes.
I have two choices. One, point out that I think he's not telling me the truth, try to explain that I saw that the GPS said the freeway is 27 minutes, and that I think he's screwing me over. OR I just sit back and enjoy the ride and don't bitch about anything because I have no idea where I am and wouldn't enjoy getting dumped in some random part of the city with all my luggage and knowledge of six Italian words (that are all food related and will not help).
I choose the latter, less stressful option.
It's great. We fly though roundabouts, I get to look at all the weirdly named businesses (did you know the Italian word for massage is massaggi? Isn't that delightful?!), all is well. Within 30 minutes, we've crossed the entire city and appear to be nearing Novate Milanese. I even see it on a sign.
We pull off the main road and onto a creepy, dark street with a tall concrete barrier on one side and a bunch of abandoned houses on the other. Okay. This is okay. I am fine. I can see on the map that we're in the right-ish area. Next, he takes a left into what's clearly abandoned industrial park.
Clearly, my hotel is not here. But we keep driving down the long, winding road until we hit a dead end. I quickly come up with my exit strategy. If shit goes down, I'll grab my purse, leave everything else in the car, throw the van's sliding door open and run. As I clutched my bag, ready to make a break for it, he slowly turns around and goesback the way we came. After a few more wrong turns, I see a brand new hotel-- built in the middle of nowhere-- just ahead of us.
That's it! I shouted.
He pulled up front, helped me unload my bags, and said, "47 euros." Literally two euros more than my low-end estimate of the cab ride. I forked it over, along with an extra few euros, because you tip taxi drivers, right? He gave me a confused look. Oh god. You don't tip cab drivers. Especially ones who were lost for the last 10 minutes of your ride. I barely cared. I'd made it to the hotel without getting murdered or ripped off, as far as I could tell.
Josh was waiting for me in the lobby. After I nearly squeezed him to death, I relayed my cab adventure. He said, Oh no! I should've told you that the hotel recommends giving drivers a different address. This hotel is so new that it doesn't come up on GPS.
It all made sense.
The next day, I had to take another solo cab ride and wasn't scared at all. I didn't tip, either.
This whole cab fiasco reminded me of something incredibly important-- one of the biggest lessons I've learned since starting Hey Eleanor. It's important to practice living outside your comfort zone. If you're routinely doing things that make you even a little uncomfortable, it expands your comfort zone and makes you more open to new experiences. Ultimately, it helps quell your anxiety.
The older we get, the more we get set in routines. I think that's a big reason why a lot of things get "scarier" as we get older. We're out of practice. So thanks, Italian cab driver and your big book of maps, for reminding me to keep pushing my boundaries a little bit every day.
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Like solo travel stories? Here's three great ones: Sarah Von Bargen on solo lady travel, what it's like to drive cross-country by yourself, and why Jordan decided to take a trip to Central America alone after her companions bailed last minute.
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