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Chapter 13: An Italian Heist and a Floating City

Took a side quest on the way to Venice

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Bermago, Italy. 

Have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t. Yet I ditched my train to Venice, caught a bus to the outskirts of Milan, wandered through a suburban Italian street fair, and flagged down a bus on the highway to get to Bermago, Italy. Why? To secure someone else’s 30 pound blue backpack.

Welcome to Italy.

Saturday, October 2nd cont.

I didn’t do a ton Saturday night, so I was going to fast forward to Monday with this write up. But I need to tell you guys about my new roommate. This dude was the final boss of weird COVID-related habits. He was the first person I’ve ever seen sleeping in a COVID mask.

Think about this for a second.

In this guy’s mind, the virus is dangerous enough to warrant sleeping in a mask. Buttt it’s still safe to share a small room with seven strangers. How you can be willing to hostel hop but not be willing to sleep maskless, I’m not sure.

“Why does it matter if he sleeps in a mask? He’s not bothering you.”

You’re right, I wouldn’t care if he didn’t bother me. But you know what happens when you restrict your airway while you sleep? You snore. Really, really loud.

This dude’s mask was psuedo-suffocating him the entire night, and he sounded like a human thunderstorm.

If he wears a mask while driving alone, who cares. If he wears a mask jogging outside, that’s chill I guess. Choosing to share a room, sleep in a mask, and snore so loud you keep everyone else up? That’s ridiculous.

Sunday, October 3rd

After a night of little sleep, I headed to the train station in Zurich. There was direct train to Venice, but the train was sold out. However, an alternate line stopping in Milan would get me to the floating city by 5:00 PM, so  I bought a ticket and hopped on.

Here is how the next four days were supposed to go:

  • Spend Sunday and Monday in Venice.

  • Head to Milan on Tuesday to meet Jason and Tanner.

  • Travel as a group to Croatia on Thursday.

Here’s what actually happened:

Remember those COVID travel restrictions that I previously mentioned? Well Italy has a travel ban on Turkey. Only Italian nationals can fly in. Tanner had been in Turkey for the last week, and he was planning to come to Milan today. Tanner was unaware of the quarantine rule, and when he arrived at the Istanbul airport he was informed that his trip wouldn’t be possible. Pegasus Airlines, a Turkish-based company that makes Spirit look like Delta, accidentally loaded Tanner’s bag on the plane. Meanwhile Tanner was stuck in the airport arguing with the airline worker.

Tanner was stuck in Turkey, his stuff was headed to Italy, and he had no idea where to go.

He texted me when I was about an hour from Milan, and I had a couple of ideas. First, the “travel ban” from Turkey could easily be circumvented by going to another country i.e. flying to Greece. Jason had actually flown from Turkey to Greece the previous week, and he would have no problems getting to Italy.

Another example of ridiculous rules. You can’t fly direct from Turkey to Italy, but you can fly from Turkey to Greece to Italy in two days. Come on man. CoViD pRoToCoL.

Second, I was going to arrive in Milan around the time that Tanner’s original flight landed. We decided to meet in Venice later this week, and I told Tanner I would go to the airport and scoop his bag.

When I arrived in Milan, I mapped my way to the airport and saw that it was about three miles outside of the city. I bought a metro ticket and took the train as far as I could, where I then hopped on a bus to the airport. Was I supposed to pay for this bus? I have no idea. I just sat in the back and kept my mouth shut. The bus route didn’t match what was on my phone (this is important later) due to an outdoor festival having some of the streets closed. As we approached the airport stop, my heart dropped. I had mapped myself to the wrong airport.

The correct airport was actually 27 miles from Milan, in a small city called Bermago.

Meanwhile, Tanner was following the Turkey —> Greece —> Italy playbook, and he was leaving for Athens in an hour.

I saw that there was a train from the Milan Central Station to Bermago, so I tried to find a bus stop to take me back to the train station. Unfortunately, none of the bus stops matched Google Maps thanks to the street fair that had half of the roads around me closed.

I had now ditched my train from Milan to Venice, taken a bus to the suburbs of Milan, gotten completely lost, and had no idea how to get to either Bermago or the Milan station. Then I saw a highway bus route from outer Milan to Bermago on the map. I decided to head that way.

I thought I was walking to a bus station, or a normal stop on the side of the road, or something other than what I was actually walking towards.

There was literally a shoulder on a six lane highway for people to hop on buses. I stood out there with some Italians just waiting for this bus to pull up. 10 minutes later it did, and I hopped on.

Like the first bus, I had no idea if I needed to pay or not. So I just sat in the back and kept my mouth shut. We did end up making it to Bermago, and I caught another bus (which also wasn’t paid for. I have no idea if I’ve been breaking laws or not) to the airport. Tanner has landed in Athens at this point, and we both realized something incredibly dumb:

I had gone out of my way to get his bag from the Milan airport, and he was flying to Milan the next day. He literally could have scooped it Monday night.

Well, I was already here now. I explained the situation to the lost and found lady at the airport, and she said she had his bag. I couldn’t take it unless he emailed them a form and a picture of his passport. I Snapchat-called Tanner to explain the situation. The PDF copy he sent back to the airport looked like it was filled out with crayons. Whatever, it worked.

He was staying in Athens for the night before flying to Milan on Monday, and I was trying to catch a late train from Bermago to Venice.

*Update* It turns out, scooping his bag was actually the right move. Tanner flew to another airport in Milan more than 30 miles from his original destination, and he wouldn’t land til 7:30. Lost and Found at the original airport closes at 8. He wouldn’t have been able to get his stuff.

After securing the bag (pun intended), I hopped on a bus from the airport to the Bermago train station (4th “free” bus of the day) and managed to scoop a ticket to Venice. What was the total cost of the ridiculous side quest? $17 and six hours. Not terrible considering how much I moved around.

I arrived at 10:00, and the hostel was right across from the train station. The first thing to go right all day.

The Anda Hostel in Venice is freaking awesome. It’s technically on the mainland, but $17 a night with really nice rooms and easy access to the train station makes it more than worth it.

I dropped my stuff off, showered, then hit the outdoor bar downstairs. There were 50-60 people hanging out down there. A much-welcome change up from the dead atmospheres in the Swiss hostels. I spent the night hanging with some of the other guests in the bar area.

What’s the best way to have friendly, fun-filled conversations with strangers? Talk about religion and politics. What did everyone at my table end up discussing?

Religion and politics.

Let me tell you something, 12 people from different countries talking about controversial topics can lead to some electric conversations.

Talking COVID, Biden, Trump, socialism, capitalism, Christianity, atheism, and just about everything else with a bunch of strangers? It’s a blast if you have a dry sense of humor. It’s a nightmare if you take yourself too seriously.

Monday, October 4th

After an interesting night at the hostel bar, I woke up around 9:00 in the morning. The hostel offered all you can eat breakfast for 6 euros, so I took full advantage. Four cappachinos later, I sat down to grind out some writing in the lobby.

I found an outdoor “gym” a mile away, and ran down there before lunch. This “gym” consisted of two pull up bars, two dip bars, and a bench for sit ups. It was perfect.

Around lunch time, I showered and headed into Venice.

For those who don’t know, Venice isn’t connected to the shore. It’s a group of islands about 5 miles off the Italian shore, in the Adriatic Sea. This floating city is incredible.

There isn’t a single street or car in the entire city. All walkways, bridges, canals, and boats. The water level in the canals is often really high. If a boat creates too much of a wake, the water floods the sidewalks. The locals are undisturbed by it. I grabbed pizza at a waterfront restaurant, and waves from a large boat surged over the edge of the canal. It caught me off guard, but everyone at the other tables simply lifted their feet and let them down once the water subsided.

I guess we get used to anything that we live with long enough.

After lunch, I found myself next to Ca' Foscari University’s business and economics campus. CFU (I guess they use acronyms too?) is a top ranked Italian University, and I thought it would be interesting to check out a class. I wanted to see how an Italian finance class would compare to a US one. The security guard told me I could email the school to see if I could sit in on a class.

I still haven’t heard back two days later. Oh well.

Yes, I tried to attend a class in Europe. Yes, I’m a nerd.

Have you ever played a video game so immersive that you wanted to explore the entire world before focusing on the main plot line? The first time I played Skyrim, I spent hundreds of hours pursuing side quests and discovering new cities before I really began the main quests.

Venice is the real life version of that, just with more gelato.

In Prague I wanted to see the castle, and in Budapest I wanted to see the Danube. In Venice? I wanted to see everything and nothing. I wanted to explore with no destination. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, so I walked, and walked, and walked. The city was a maze of canals, bridges, and dead ends. Then you turn a corner and see a massive basilica. I wandered around the city for eight hours, and I wanted to stay longer. With four more days here, I knew I’d have more time to see the rest.

When I got back to the hostel, I met one of the more interesting Americans from my travels.

Eric was a 30 year old Pittsburgh native living in Austin, Texas. After graduating from Harvard Business School, he took a job with a VC firm in the Lone Star State. He was in Italy for a wedding, and he decided to explore the country for a week. Since I’m going to Columbia Business School next year, we spent some time discussing his B school experience.

If my experience is anything like his, grad school is going to be awesome.

The coolest thing about Eric wasn’t his grad school pedigree as much as his high school one. Eric played lacrosse with Mac Miller. As high school friends and teammates, he had several wild stories about the rapper from back in the day. Mac Miller’s homie, Harvard grad, living in one of the coolest cities in America, taking some time to explore Italy. Eric was a chill dude.

Tuesday, October 5th

At breakfast, I met another American traveling around Europe: Ali. He’s living the nomad lifestyle, working remote and hopping from country to country. We talked about our travels for a while, but he had to leave to catch a train to Munich.

Unlike the day before, I headed straight into Venice after breakfast. There are dozens of islands surrounding the city center, and I bought a two day ferry ticket to traverse all of them. After spending a few hours hitting some new parts of the city, I took a ferry east to Lido.

Lido is a long island southeast of Venice with a massive beach on its right side. The main strip of the island was really cool: tons of bars, restaurants, and hotels. There was a golf course and resort in the south, and a monastery to the north. I walked down to the beach and saw several people kite surfing in the Adriatic Sea.

Kite surfing is now a bucket list activity of mine.

After leaving the beach, I headed north to the old monastery. I passed a small regional airport with some private planes on the way there. As I got closer to the monastery, I noticed that more buildings were empty, vegetation was overgrown, and streets were empty.

When I arrived at the monastery, the door was wide open. I walked right in.

Instead of encountering monks, I was surprised to see a dozen well-dressed 30-somethings sitting in the monastery’s courtyard speaking English. They told me that the the monastery had been converted to the Global Campus of Human Rights. While it was the nonprofit’s regional headquarters, the monastery also served as a study area for students. I found an empty “study room” and sat down to write for a while.

I walked back to the pier around 7 and took a ferry to another island. The Generator Hostel in Venice, part of a popular chain, was located half a mile across the water from San Marco’s, and the view was fantastic. I grabbed a beer at the hostel bar and watched the sunset from the island. After grabbing another pizza here, I headed back to the hostel.

After an hour or so of playing drinking games with some of the other guests, I went to hang out with some other Americans at a table. There weren’t enough seats, so I asked a group from another table if I could take one of their chairs.

One of the girls said, “Oh no, there’s no way we’ll let you take one of our chairs.”

As someone who respects sarcasm, I sat down to see what their deal was. The group of three (two girls and one guy), all lived on the mainland but worked for the JW Marriott resort in Venice. The resort is an island of its own about two miles from the city, and they had to take a hotel shuttle from the main island to the hotel everyday for work.

One of the girls, who was coincidentally named Georgia, said that they had the best breakfast in Venice. As someone who loves breakfast, I replied, “I guess I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow then.”

Did she believe me? No. Was I serious? Obviously. I love breakfast, and I’m tired of Europe’s floppy excuse for bacon.

European bacon is trash. Cook that stuff a little longer. It’s literally just strips of ham.

That’s all for now. Tanner’s arriving tomorrow, and he can change his clothes for the first time in four days. Bless up.


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