Venice Pilgrimage 2.0

Sunday, February 5, 2017

This post is dedicated to Dr. Lea Graham.

Today has been one of the craziest days of my life. There’s always a story to tell during travel. And I have one for you…

*I apologize now for typos, because I am typing and not stopping*

This morning Sasha left early with her mom and sister to go to the airport. They left the apartment at 4 AM to catch their 6 AM flight to Munich. I woke up at 6:15 AM to leave with her other sister and her dad for the airport to catch my 10 AM flight. We chatted in the car, and I soaked up my last views of Kyiv. Once we got to the airport, we had to walk a bit from the parking lot. As soon as your enter the airport, they put you and your stuff through a metal detector. Sasha’s dad had a pocketknife, so he had Zoya (her sister) come in with me and send me off. Zoya helped me check into my flight at the counter and gave me a hug at the security line. It was so sweet!

I made it through security fine and treated myself to a good breakfast before my flight. I tried to use up my remaining money, but I was 20 UAH short (less than $1), so I had to put it on my debit. No biggie! I was surprised that people were ordering beer and wine at that hour on a Sunday morning! #justkyivthings

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Our flight was delayed half an hour (not unusual while flying in Europe), but we made it to Amsterdam no problem. I admired the huge and modern airport and sat down for lunch after going through passport control. I had a yummy smoked salmon sandwich and FaceTimed my parents. My mom moved to Cape Cod today to start her new job!

I arrived at my gate B36 right at boarding time. It was a smaller plane than the previous, and it wasn’t completely full. We took off around 3:30 PM and were expected to land at 4:55 PM. I watched “The Age of Adeline” which I had downloaded on Netflix, and I ate the wrap the kind flight attendants served me. Around 4:50 PM, there was an announcement on the PA. I assumed they were going to tell us that we were beginning our descent (that was delayed). I was wrong.

After a painfully long announcement in Dutch, the captain informed us in English that a plane hadn’t made it off the runway in Bologna. It overran the runway, and the airport closed in order to removed it from the grass. No flights could take off or land in Bologna. He said they had enough fuel for an hour and that we would orbit and hope that they could remove the plane quickly. My heart sank. The panic in the aircraft was palpable. They didn’t give us too much other information. I thought a big commercial jet had crashed into the grass, and there were no survivors (of course I thought worst case scenario. Plane crashes are one of my few fears about traveling).

I asked for a cup of water and took some Advil, while others ordered beer and wine to take the edge off. I finished watching my movie to distract myself. After an hour had gone by, we were still in the air. I really started to freak out. They told us we only had enough fuel for an hour! The captain said it would take a few more hours for the airport to open, and we didn’t have a choice; we had to land in Venice.

Venice was only twenty minutes away, but it felt like twenty days. It was the bumpiest plane ride I have ever experienced. It must’ve been the choppy air, the heavy clouds, and the downpour of rain. The season is changing which makes the air even more unpredictable. We had turbulence which is normal, but the plane felt like it was trembling or shivering. We couldn’t see the city lights which you normally can on a descent. I was doing some deep yoga breaths and trying to remain calm. In my head, I was thinking This is it. We’re going down. And for the first time in my life, I directly prayed to God or some form of a higher power. I prayed that we would all make it down safely and that I would see my family, friends, dog, and bed again.

Finally we touched down on the wet runway. Everyone cheered “Bravi” in Italian. We were all so happy to be on the ground. The woman sitting next to me said her husband and son were waiting for her in Bologna. She showed me our flight map, and we had circled probably 6-8 times. We got off the plane and on the bus to the terminal. On the bus, we came to a sudden halt when it hit a dumpster (at fairly high speed)! What else could go wrong tonight?! We all fell forward, and the Italians exclaimed, “Idiota!” We had to wait for a new bus to come get us. I have never felt so anxious before. The woman who sat across from me grabbed my cheek while we waited for our new bus and said “Tutto bene.” That means “Everyone’s good.” That moment made it feel like everything was going to be okay. It was the assurance I desperately needed. This stranger managed to comfort me in such a stressful time by such a simple action and phrase. It made me confident that I would make it back to Florence in one piece. As we passed our first bus, we all couldn’t help but laugh at the damage in the front (cracked windshield, fallen off bumper). It was a moment of both irony and comic relief.

The airline provided transportation via bus from Venice to Bologna. At that point, I had no chance of making my train out of Bologna and didn’t want to be stuck there. I messaged my friends to look at trains out of Venice tonight to Florence. We all found that there were trains available that I could make.

Optimistically, I exited the airport and went to the taxi line. None of the drivers seemed to pay attention to me, so I went to the aerobus across the street and bought an 8 euro ticket to the train station. I got out of the bus, and it was down pouring. It took me a minute to figure out where I was; I was in Venice just four months ago! I sprinted across the bridge I remember walking across while I was talking to my dad on the phone in October. I headed straight to the train station to look at the departure screen. My heart sank again. No trains out to Florence. The website lied! I tried the ticket machines and then the customer service. I was out of luck. I can’t get to Florence tonight or Bologna.

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Sprinting across the bridge

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I asked the customer service rep when the earliest train out to Florence was tomorrow. She said 7:30, but I have a class at 9 AM tomorrow. My first class of the semester! I asked if there was anything earlier. She said 5:15 AM.

“I’ll take it.”

I called my mom and somehow managed not to cry during this whole evening. She told me to use her credit card (intended for “emergencies” like these) to get a hotel room. I got myself together and headed in the direction I recalled having hotels and restaurants. 30 seconds later on my left, I saw a fancy looking hotel. It was a Boscolo Hotel (the hotel we stayed in at Praha), so I was familiar with it! I told the concierge: “I need the cheapest and most basic room you have tonight.” He looked at me with sympathy; I’m sure he noticed how distressed I was by looking at me (I was soaking wet and looked like I was going to start bawling at any moment). The man told me, “99 euros. I got you a good room.” He swiped the Chase card and gave me two room keys, even though I told him it was just me.

I made it on the elevator and hit button “4.” My room was small but warm and clean– perfect for me. The king sized bed was a huge bonus! I just got out of the shower and am going to call my grandparents and my mom. I’m hungry, since I haven’t eaten since the Amsterdam airport. I have to wake up at 4:30 AM to get to my train at 5:15 AM! It will be a miracle if I make it to my 9 AM class. I’m slightly nervous my door doesn’t seem to properly lock, and I’m worried about being at the train station so early and having to transfer in Mestre. But I can do this.

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This is my second pilgrimage in Venice. This is an unimaginable ending to my trip to Kyiv. This is problem solving. Throughout this whole crazy day, I’ve realized you can only deal with what’s in front of you. “Life’s what happens when you’re too busy making other plans.” As I was on the plane today thinking about going out to watch the Super Bowl with my friends, unpacking, and doing my laundry, life happened. xo ~ e.

PS* There were no deaths or major injuries involved in the accident. It was a small plane with two pilots who were reported as unharmed.

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3 thoughts on “Venice Pilgrimage 2.0

  1. Lucy I. says:

    What an awfully stressful day that was! You managed it very well, in spite of high anxiety. It hope it will give you confidence in the future to know you can handle tough stuff. Brava!

  2. Lea Graham says:

    Emma,

    What a moving account! Also, you handled this so impressively. So here’s a question: Thinking about your first pilgrimage to Venice and considering the notion of “authenticity,” is there anything about this experience that has made you think about it differently? Did the intense anxiety of this experience seem more “authentic” than other travel you’ve done in which everything went smoothly? (Sorry if I sound too professorial!)

    It was a pleasure to read this! I am really enjoying your blogs and impressed with your persistence.

    And thank you for the dedication–what an honour! I am so glad, too, that you (and everyone else) are ok!

    Bravissimo!
    LG

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