Spontaneity. Such a funny concept when it comes to long term travel.
I am not spontaneous. Sometimes if it’s something…no, I’m not spontaneous. As I’ve said, I’m super Type A so I like to be organized and have a set plan. And I really like control.
But when we met our two friends from California in the Amalfi Coast, they convinced us (it didn’t take long) to meet them in Corfu, Greece in three days.
I had booked a quiet week in the French Rivieria already. I desperately wanted to see Monaco, Cannes and Nice but Chelsea was still trying to figure out what she was going to do because she didn’t want to spend the money for somewhere she didn’t want to go (the French Rivieria is incredibly expensive!).
But after talking to the girls, I decided the expensive French Rivieria is a place I will go one day with my husband so I canceled my hostel in Nice and we booked Corfu.
We left the girls in Amalfi and headed for Cinque Terre with plans to meet at the port in Bari, Italy three days later. The ferry is discounted with our Eurail passes so it would be the cheapest way to get there.
I should have known when we heard that you could only book ferry tickets to Corfu at the port that we were in for a wild ride.
It all began in La Spezia. We went to the train station there to get our tickets to Bari, the port in Italy where we would be catching the ferry to Corfu.
We have Eurail passes but unfortunately all of the trains in Italy need a reservation so we had to make one for anywhere from 3 to 10 Euro.
They call the summer “high season” in Europe for a reason.
Every. Last. Train. to Bari was sold out. Everything through Parma and Rome was sold out. Our options were to get on a train at 1:35 a.m., to Naples, transfer three more times and get to Bari at 6:35 p.m., or get on a train at 5:52 a.m. to Naples, transfer to a bus and arrive in Bari at 4:30 p.m. We had to get there that day because that was the last ferry to Corfu for five days.
We chose the latter as the ferry was to leave at 8 p.m. and we didn’t even have tickets yet.
The 6.5 hour train ride went by uneventfully except for the fact that we were starving because nothing had been open at 5 a.m. for us to get some breakfast.
The bus to Bari was also uneventful. I slept most of the way so the three hour bus ride flew by. A good book and a nap can pass any long transportation!
When we got to Bari, we got on the slowest moving bus ever to the port. It’s really hard to get used to European time which runs much slower than the U.S. and A BOAT LOAD slower than Manhattan. I come from a loud, fast moving newsroom where if you can’t talk fast enough, you’re going to get left behind. So the fact that these buses sit forever without moving despite timetables is definitely hard to get used to.
But we finally got to the port and stood in line for about 20 minutes before we were told that nope, we weren’t getting on. The ferry was full. If people didn’t show up, we MIGHT be able to get a seat at 7:30 p.m. right before it leaves but the chances are slim.
I’m about to have a minor freakout until we turn around and see Katie and Brooke, our friends from California. They also didn’t get on so we were all in this together.
We sat in the port, across from the ticket desk, staring these ferry people down for three hours. She told us she would remember us and put us on a waiting list so we were convinced our girl was going to help us out.
7:30 p.m. rolls around and there are a dozen backpackers, a few Italians and a couple families mixed in all chomping at the bit to get to the ticket desk. We were like rabid dogs ready to pounce on this woman to get whatever tickets were left.
The girls were all standing at the desk while I watched the luggage. My Type A-ness was freaking out that it couldn’t control this situation so I needed to sit back and just hope for the best or I was going to bite off all my nails.
The woman isn’t really talking to them about what’s going on but I see a few pairs of Italians getting tickets from other booths. Two Italians get tickets right next to them, yet our woman wouldn’t tell Chelsea, Brooke and Katie anything.
Finally she tells them. Not happening tonight. But there is a ferry tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. with tons of space so if we get to the port at 10 a.m., we can get on it. We didn’t think there was a ferry to Corfu again for five days so maybe we were in luck.
Either way, we were stuck in Bari for the night. Lovely.
I grab our stuff and start running to the boat. I am getting on that damn ferry. I have a 50 Euro bill in my hand and the girls are chasing after me.
“Superfast ferry?” the first security guard says.
“Yes!” I holler and we keep running.
“Superfast? You better run!” the second security guard says to me.
This is too damn easy. I’m getting on this ferry!
But there were too many of us. The security guard stops the girls behind me asking for tickets. I’m about to ask the guy how much we can pay him to let us on this boat when about eight other security guards run over. Yup, I’m not the Wolf of Wall Street. I’m not bribing all of them.
We show them our Eurail pass with one last effort, praying the dumb American card would work, but no dice. Yup, we were stuck in Bari.
But wait a second. These ferries allow cars on them. Maybe we can find a van with a lot of space in the back and pay someone to let us hide in their trunk. Yes, this is a brilliant idea.
As we walk by the cars lined up to get on the ferry, we realize that no one is speaking English. And most of the cars are full. And what if we still need tickets once we actually board. Could we get arrested for sneaking on? I like my life. I don’t want to sit in an Italian jail for years. I’ve heard about girls that happens to.
So we ditches that idea and head to the next ticketing building to see if there are ferries on other ferry lines. Superfast Ferries are the only ones that accept Eurail pass but we were desperate to get to Corfu so maybe we should just cut our losses and pay for something on another ferry line. But there were none.
We accepted defeat and I asked someone where the closest hotel was.
“Go out of the port, go left 200 meters. When you have to turn right, go up,” were the directions the man gave me. Name? Yeah, he didn’t know the name of the hotel. I just died of laughter. How could I not at this point?
Oh, it gets better though. Of course it does.
All of the cars are coming from the right of the ticketing office so we start walking. And walking. And walking. With our 25-40 pound packs on our back. Have you ever walked with a 40 pound backpack? Fifteen minutes later we are still in the port and get to a road that says no people are allowed on it. So back fifteen minutes we go. Of course, the entrance had been the other way.
We start walking the way the guy had told me. We’re walking for about 10 minutes and it looks like there are no hotels in sight. There’s the Sea on one side and a giant fort looking thing on the other.
Chelsea asks a guy on the street and he says a hotel is 10 minutes away. Walking or driving, we’re not sure. Because 10 minutes later, this is around 9 p.m., we’re still walking. And let me remind you, we’ve been up since 5 a.m. and we still have those damn backpacks on our backs.
Who knew that Bari is a happening place? The streets were FILLED with people! I found a group of teenagers and figured they must speak English. They knew a few words in English except for one guy so Katie starts talking to him trying to get directions.
I’ve learned about 10 Italian words during our two weeks in Italy so I say, “Dove hotel?” which means “where hotel?” and one girl starts rambling to me in Italian. OK, yeah, that didn’t really work how I hoped.
Two guys with enough English to understand each other tell us they know where a bed and breakfast is close by so they’ll take us there. At this point, there were four of us and the streets were packed so we figured we were safe and what else could possibly go wrong.
The bed and breakfast is full. But you already knew that because you know how EVERYTHING goes wrong for us. The guy at the B&B says he has some friends who own hotels so he’ll make some calls. We leave our Italian friends and wait. And wait.
The B&B was attached to a beautiful, romantic restaurant and we’re standing right in the middle of it. Dripping with sweat from every pore of our bodies, packs still on.
Fifteen minutes later, this guy still hasn’t given us an answer about another hotel. We start to walk away and he tells us he’s going to make one more call.
“Sorry, all hotels in Bari are full,” he tells us.
Yeah freaking right buddy! There is NO WAY you called every hotel in Bari. Nice try. We’re dumb Americans sometimes but not they dumb.
So off we went. The Italian teen who had fairly good English told Katie there was a hotel about 10 minutes away but it was pretty expensive. At this point, I was ready to pay whatever it took to get me a shower and a bed so I was willing to do it. So off we went. More walking.
About 20 minutes later, we finally arrive at this hotel. And it is nice. Really freaking nice. Like Ritz Carlton nice.
We hear the woman at the desk tell the people in front of us only the Presidential Suite was left so I gave up that dream.
“This hotel is too expensive for you,” she tells us when she looks at our sweaty, dirty bodies and backpacks.
Thanks lady. Which credit card do you want to accept?
But again, I’m not the Wolf of Wall Street (I’m reading that book right now, can you tell!?) so I just asked her to help us find another hotel.
She was amazingly sweet! She could have kicked us out and said sorry but no. But instead she looked online and even offered to call them and secure the booking for us. But we grabbed their wifi and did it on our phones on Booking.com. It was back near the train station and was going to take AWHILE to walk. Screw it, we got in a cab.
We got to the hotel and it was really nice. We had gotten our rooms for only 79 Euro a night so we were pretty happy and excited for a shower in a fancy hotel.
Katie gives the receptionist, Francesco, her name and he starts looking in the system.
“We don’t have your reservation,” he says.
“Oh, we just made it online five minutes ago,” she says.
He checks the fax and there it is.
“You booked two deluxe double rooms but we don’t have them,” Francesco informs us.
Oh no buddy. We have been traveling since 5 a.m., so you better find two deluxe double rooms stat.
Francesco gets on the phone with Booking.com. Brooke and I sit back and can’t believe this is actually happening, Katie stays calm at the desk and Chelsea heads to the bar. You can always count on that girl to lighten the situation when times get tough.
With Francesco’s fairly decent English he informs us that we will have to pay the difference to upgrade to a suite because it’s all they have left.
Brooke and Katie start going off.
“No, no, no. We booked these rooms. Booking.com said they were available. If anyone should pay, it should be them,” they said.
“Yes, yes, they pay. I’m just finding them the price,” Francesco said.
Oh thank god it was just a language barrier and we weren’t actually going to have to pay the difference. Booking.com was going to have to figure it out.
While we’re waiting to see if we’re going to get their two last rooms, Chelsea comes bounding around the corner, followed by a bartender with a tray of four margaritas. I told you this girl can always turn around any situation with alcohol! She’s the best to have around.
And Booking.com finally figured out our situation. At 11 p.m., we finally had two rooms. Chelsea and I in a superior suite at 79 Euro a night and Brooke and Katie in the presidential suite at 79 Euro a night. Say hello to plush, plush beds, air conditioning and tons of space. We were going to live like kings for the 10 hours we would be in the hotel. And we had lovely little Francesco to thank for it.
The next day we were up and ready to get back to the port. We walked about 15 minutes to the train station and sat on that damn bus to the port again for a solid 20 minutes. Seriously people. I just can’t.
We finally get to the port and there are a lot of people waiting in the waiting room. Did we do this again? Are we going to miss the ferry again?
We see a girl we had seen the night before who didn’t get on. She asks the woman behind the desk something and looks really dejected at the answer.
Oh no. We weren’t getting on.
I sat with the luggage, my Type A-ness again going through the roof. About 10 minutes later Chelsea comes running over asking for my passport and Eurail pass. We’re getting on! We’re going to Corfu!
They come back another 10 minutes later but don’t look happy.
“What’s wrong? We’re going to Corfu!” I exclaim.
“No, this ferry doesn’t go to Corfu. We have to go to Igoumenitsa first. Then take a ferry to Corfu,” Chelsea tells me. Oh, and she adds that we get to this Igoumenitsa place at 11 p.m. or midnight. A nine to 10 hour ferry. I broke into hysterics. Of course the next direct ferry to Corfu is in five days and we have to do this. Of course.
But we got tickets so we headed for the ferry. The nightmare was finally over.
But you know I’m speaking too soon.
We didn’t have assigned seats for this ferry. We just had “Deck.” We asked where the “deck” seating was and the woman just sort of pointed to the left. We found a room with airplane-like seats and figured that was it. We grabbed seats in the front row with tons of leg room.
We still had about an hour before the ferry actually left so the girls left to explore the boat while I sat with our luggage.
While they were off exploring, a giant group of young Aussies came into the room. They start calling out seat numbers. Oh no. They notice that the girls’ stuff is in their seats and they throw a serious fit.
“Get the stewards. I can’t believe people are in our seats. They need to move,” they start ranting.
“They’re coming back, don’t worry!” I tell the Aussies. But these loud, angry Aussies were not taking that answer. The steward came in and started trying to figure out the situation when the girls came back.
“You’re in our seats, see!” one Aussie says. We believe you bro. Calm down!
We go searching for somewhere else to sit and find that every inch of the ship is filled. There are people all over. In every stairwell, hallway and outside deck space. We head to the restaurant but they won’t let us in with our bags. So we went back to the luggage area, stuffed our bags on the shelf and went back to the restaurant just so we could sit down.
We still hadn’t even left the port yet. Around 2:15 p.m., it finally left, 45 minutes late. Time to start our nine hour trek. Hopefully we will arrive in Iqoumenitsa in time to catch a ferry to Corfu. We had heard mixed reviews about whether or not the ferries between the two fun 24 hours. After a little googling it seemed the last ferry was at 11:15 p.m. so we were going to have to run, if we even made it.
Five hours in to the nine hour ferry ride and our next adventure begins. An old man is smoking right in the stairwell we had found to sit in. At first I was going to let him because it’s Europe and you can smoke in a lot of places here. But then I took a deep breath and smoke filled my lungs and I let out a long string of obscenities.
I went and found a steward and told him what was going on. He was also not happy. He screamed at the old man who started to scream at me in Italian or Greek, I’m not really sure. I just gave him a blank stare. He probably called me a fair number of obscenities himself but also did some weird motion like he was cold. Buddy, I don’t care if you’re cold. Take your cancer outside.
The rest of the trip went by unscathed and I never saw him again. We finally got off the ferry at 12:30 a.m. and headed into the ticket building to find a place to sleep until the next ferry left at 5:30 a.m., which is what we were told.
Fortunately a woman came up to us and asked us if we were going to Corfu and said a ferry was leaving at 2:30 a.m. but of course it was on the other side of the port. We would be in the wrong ticket building. We grabbed our bags and booked it out the door. Time check – we’ve been traveling for 18 hours at this point.
As we’re paying the 10 Euro for our tickets to Corfu, two stray dogs come charging at us, barking angrily. Stray dogs make me incredibly uncomfortable. As they started smelling our bags, I almost started balling. Vet Chelsea saved the day and kept them away from me because she saw the breakdown that was about to happen. I was convinced they were going to bite us and give us rabies. One had really red eyes and another had patches all over its’ body. And it would be our luck to get bitten.
But for once luck was on our side and we made it onto the ferry with a minute to spare! It’s amazing how people come into our lives at just the right moment to save the day. Thank you to that random Greek lady!
The ferry to Corfu was two hours and I was wired from the adrenaline rush of the day so I stood watch while all the girls slept. Also, since we got robbed, I get too anxious on nighttime public transportation so I just couldn’t sleep.
Thank god for Brooke and Katie. It made us feel so much better that there were four of us suffering through this. We all said that if our two pairs were alone, we would have killed each other.
“Chelsea and I wouldn’t be speaking at this point,” I said to Katie.
“Oh yeah, us too!” she said.
Glad to know we’re not the only travelers who get a little pissy when times get tough.
We were to arrive in Corfu around 4:30 a.m. with absolutely no idea how to actually get to our hostel. They were supposed to pick us up but since we didn’t have wifi, we couldn’t email them to tell them our new arrival time.
So we got off the ferry in Corfu and there was one empty taxi just sitting there. He told us our hostel was 30 minutes away and we could get there for 30 Euro. The end was in sight! After a trip of incredibly winding roads, we got to our hostel at 5 a.m., exactly 48 hours after Chelsea and I started this crazy journey.
Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong on this trip did. It’s a reminder to all that long term travel is not a vacation. You have to do everything on the cheap and it will take forever that way. Fortunately, now we are on a Greek island so the end is a reward but getting here was pretty much the hardest experience we’ve had on this trip.