Friday, October 3, 2008

How much time will it take ?

Arun and I visited Italy(Roma, Firenze, Pisa, Modena, Milano, Venezia and Trento) and France(Paris) last December. Yesterday, during the course of our conversation we remembered the people who made our stay in these places, memorable.

I waited in Roma station for Arun to arrive. It was past the time and I was still standing in front of McDonalds, our meeting point, having already walked the entire length of the station twice to check the McDonalds outside. Starting to get worried, I tried to call him up from the pay phone(I had decided not to use a cell phone for the six months I was in Trento) beside McDonalds. After wasting three euros, I understood it was futile to try using the machine without understanding it. I turned around to find an Indian couple standing in front of McDonalds. Walking up to them, I asked them if they knew how to operate the pay phone telling them that I had already tried thrice. Their answer was a blunt 'No' and they turned their face off. I felt like I was slapped. With tears stinging my eyes, I walked the three steps to my original place and waited there. After a few minutes, I tried the pay phone again. An italian came up to me and said that the pay phone was not working properly and that it was no use trying. I realized that he had been sitting there all the time and I had not noticed him at all, but he had noticed me. Another ten minutes and I saw Arun walk up to me and I flew into his arms. He could not understand why I was so emotional. I told him how I had been trying to reach him and pointed to him the Indians, my own countrymen, who actually shooed me off. That was how, our holiday started.

Next experience was Modena where the ticket clerk booked us on separate trains. No amount of explanation in english could get to him the point that we were husband and wife and wanted to travel together, as he knew only italian. It was then that a guy standing in the queue walked up to him and told him that we are together and questioned the ticket clerk as to how he could book the two of us in different trains. He got the whole thing sorted out for us. All we could say, was Grazie.

At Milano, we had walked a long distance trying to reach the Duomo. We ran out of time, and had to turn back. W didn't want to take a chance in missing the train to Bergamo Airport. So, we asked a gentleman walking in the same direction for confirmation of the route. Looking at our rather unsure faces, he told us to just follow him. At one point he pointed ahead showing us the train stazione and bid us adieu. Again, all we could say was, Grazie.

The next stop was Paris. We landed at 1:00 a.m. in the city and were lost. We found our way to the Metro station. After finding the way to the platform as directed, we asked a gentleman standing nearby about our destination and the train we had to take. He told us that he was headed in the same direction. He got down half way but in the meanwhile asked us where we were from. When he realized we were indians, he and his wife started talking about how they loved India. As a doctor, he has come to attend conferences in India and in the process visited a few places. Again, we were grateful to have met the two of them, at 1:00. Merci, Grazie.

We reached our destination, but the map showing us the way to the hotel was too vague. After trying the three roads leading from the stazione, we came to the conclusion that we would have to pick a random road and try our luck. At this point, (at 2:00 a.m.) we found two ladies sitting and talking in the car. We asked them for the way. They told us that they were not sure and try the straight road we were standing on. After 15 minutes of walking and reaching nowhere, we decided to make a U-turn and head backwards. We tried a different road, looking for the signs marked in the map but to no avail. 45 minutes and we had reached nowhere. At this point, we found that the two ladies were still there. We knocked again and told them that we didn't know what to do. At this point, one of the ladies asked us the hotel name, called up someone and asked for directions. Then, she asked us to get into the car and that she will take us there. We were very apprehensive. On seeing a kids chair at the back seat, we put our fears behind us . The two women, talking all the time over the phone asking for directions, dropped us right in front of the hotel. They saved us on that cold December night. All we had to tell them was, Merci, Grazie Mille.

Walking down the Champ d'Elysees, we wanted to take a picture of ourselves in what is supposed to be one of the most romantic places in the world. The walk is really great. We looked for someone who could take our photo. On finding a gentleman, walking fast towards us, we decided that he may help. I asked him if he could click one snap of ours. I then told him that I hoped I had not stopped or disturbed him. And he said, "Yes, I am busy, but then, how much time will a snap take ?" He won our respect and admiration at the same moment. And all this in just one minute and he went on his way. Again, only a simple Merci, Grazie.

Next was Venezia. Venezia with its winding roads and canals can be a real maze. We had one hour to reach the stazione from the place where we were shopping. After walking half an hour, we realized that we were taking the wrong route and had somehow got mixed up. We asked a venetian walking ahead of us if he was headed to the stazione. We told him how we had exactly half an hour to make it there. Again, he took us all the way to the stazione, and standing on the other side of the canal(bridge) bid us goodbye. All we had to say was, Grazie.

Again midnight, on the 1st January, 2008, on our way back to the hotel, we missed the bus stop. Arun asked a gentleman for directions. Understanding the we had come a long way, he offered us to drop us at the hotel. For this he had to take a slight deviation from his route, which he happily did for our sake.

We have met other people too in the course of our travel. The owner of Hotel Duilio at Firenze, Vincenza, who was the perfect host one could expect. Then, there were some bartenders who were not very friendly. At the Louvre, there was a young lady from the far east, telling Arun to move off when he was posing for a photo, as she wanted a photo of her compatriot standing in the same location, exactly at the same point of time. And the chinese restaurant, where we as vegetarians were looked down upon, as we could only pick one item from the menu.

But of all these, we would love to remember the kind Italians from Firenze, Milano, Venezia and the Parisians. Thankyou, Merci and Grazie are words that are not enough on occasions like these. We are ever indebted to the two ladies for their help at 3:00 a.m. at night. For not looking at color, race, language, nationality....... For the understanding. For the compassion they showed. It made us believe about the good in this world. That there was hope for us to co-exist. This is what we learnt in this new year, 2008. And thanks to the Parisian for the lesson on the Champ d'Elysees - one both of us will never forget. We will remember them not by their names, but by their actions. They are etched in our memories forever.

(This is only about our travel in the last week of Dec, 2007 and first week of Jan, 2008. In the course of my stay in Italy, I met some very wonderful people who will remain friends forever - for they gave me the confidence to believe in myself, to laugh, to be happy, to be crazy - unlimited).

1 comment:

Kam said...

Realistic. True.

Grazie Signora,
Merci Madame,
and thank you madam.