Posted tagged ‘Lourdes’

Take a Breather

April 14, 2009

By Steve Marshall, Senior Business Student

We had set a pretty detailed plan before leaving, and it packed a lot into the first few days of our break.

Rome was a weeklong whirlwind already, and even though we had two days in Venice and two in Milan, it still felt like we were rushing (notice: a pun could be made here about being American, not Russian). As we were coming in to Nice, that feeling changed.

I had never heard of it, but apparently Nice is a pretty famous European beach town. It’s right on the shores of the Mediterranean, and is full of tourists from around the EU, especially during the summer. That made finding lodging easy, because of just how many little hotels there were to support the summer crowds. Since we showed up in the off season, plenty of rooms were empty, and some places were willing to drop their prices in order to get our business.

We did a bit of looking, and found a couple really nice places that would give us a room for inside our budget. We ended up settling on the one that wasn’t across from a sex shop (there were actually a lot of these in France, I was highly disappointed). The guy at the desk was named ‘Bader’ (bah-der), and was super nice. We came in later on with chicken from the grocery store, and just so we didn’t have to eat it cold, he let use the staff microwave in the hotel employee’s break room to warm it up. Great hospitality.

Since we were stuck here for the next couple days, we rescheduled our hotel in Lourdes, and canceled the one in Barcelona. A lot like what I did as a producer for the school, I had prepared a logistics document for our trip with all the information we could possibly need, and it really paid off. It was a little sad that we wouldn’t be able to see Barcelona, but since we were in a French beach town instead of a Spanish beach town, it wasn’t too disappointing overall.

It was an interesting city. The center of town was very much designed for people to congregate, there were huge, stone-paved streets set aside purely for pedestrians, gardens, and in the town square, there was a set of 8 huge columns in the middle of the street, with sculptures of naked men in athletic poses, which lit up at night and changed colors. I don’t know what they represented, but they were kinda cool to look at. It was either really classy or just kinda funky. I never really decided which…

We walked around the city a lot. Walking to the beach, then to the grocery store, then back to the beach for a picnic… we also collected some ‘souvenir water.’

It’s somewhat of a peculiar habit, but a few years ago I started collecting water from far off, adventury places. We have some friends that live on an island off the coast of Alabama, and on one visit, we found an old bottle washed up on the beach with its cover completely intact. I used it to gather some ocean water from the Gulf of Mexico, and then put it on the shelf of my library when I got home. After that a friend brought me back some water from Hawaii, my sister got me some in Canada on her honeymoon, and the collection has continued to grow. I like having it because of how unique it is, easy to tell stories about, and you can also get it at a fairly low cost.

Of course, with all the fantastic places we were going on this trip, I HAD to get water from some key spots in Europe. The trick was getting it into containers that were small enough to be easily transportable, and wouldn’t make our luggage impossible to check at the airport. In Venice, we emptied a little bottle of mouthwash to get water from the canals, and I had also filled a water bottle at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. When we finished our picnic on the shores of the Mediterranean, we had an empty jelly jar. It was small, it was round enough to be quaint (kinda a pot-bellied little thing), so into the surf we go, and came out with the jar of water, and some pebbles and sea glass to sit in the bottom. Looking at these three containers of water, it was decided that the Trevi bottle was far too big. Luckily, a couple of the stores we had visited sold these teeny little wine bottles for really cheap, so the Trevi water was relocated to a much classier container.

We had also found a church in our explorations, so in the evening we wandered down that way and ended up at mass for the feast of St. Joseph.

I tell ya, French is such a cool language. They use a lot of sounds and mouth-shapes that Americans never even dream of! The prayers of the mass sounded so strange, I almost burst into a laugh at the beginning of mass. I definitely would like to learn French at some point, just so I can have an excuse to say words like that.


Geneva, Genova…

April 13, 2009

By Steve Marshall, Senior Business Student

It’s just one letter difference, couldn’t cause too much trouble, right?



We woke up early to catch the commuter train out of Milan. The newly discovered limitations on our Eurail passes meant normally one free train in the morning, and one in the evening. Unfortunately, we took a little too long on breakfast, and made it to the station just barely under the wire for our 8:30 train to Genova.

When we ordered our Eurail passes, they sent us a timetable book, so we could plan our trip in advance. It was published at the beginning of the year, though, so we were warned that all the times might not be accurate.

When we got to the platform, it said 8:35 to Geneve. *Sigh of relief* we’re not late, they just changed the train schedule. Spelling seemed to change quite a bit too: what we know as Florence is spelled ‘Firenze’ in Italian, and Venice turns into ‘Venezia.’ We were getting used to the fact that if our timetable book says one thing, the train station will probably say something different.

So out of Milan we go. Annie digs into second breakfast, and Tasha and I settle into our book. Enter the conductor. This is where we discovered that Geneva is different from Genova, no matter what language you’re speaking.

Apparently, Genova is just a stop on a train going to another town (even though the timetable book said it terminated in Genova), so we completely missed the train we were supposed to get on. Instead, we were on a high speed (and high cost) train to Geneva, Switzerland.

The conductor was really nice about it, though. She let us off at the next stop (without having to pay for our mistake), and gave us the times and trains that we would need to get where we were going.

The stop in the north of Italy turned out really cool though, because while we were waiting for our train back to Milan, we hit a Basilica of the Assumption, which was really beautiful, and gave us a reminder that we had someone watching out for us.

Once we got back to Milan and took our seats on the right train, we lost our tickets.  Nothing huge. We had set them down on the seat, and the lady across from us picked them up, thinking they were hers. It ended up being a really good thing, though because as she gave them back, she asked if we had validated them (in Italian). It took us awhile to overcome language barriers, but found out that whenever you buy a ticket, you need to feed it into a machine at the beginning of the platform before the train leaves, or else you get a fine when they punch it on the train. I got a chance to run full-tilt down the length of the platform, in order to get them stamped, and we learned yet another valuable lesson about the Europe train system.

This post has been very much about our learning curve. You don’t use trains like this very often in the US, and we discovered the system isn’t quite self-explanatory. Now, don’t tell any concerned mothers that may (or may not) be reading this, but the last part of our train learning curve caused a pretty radical change of plans for the next leg of our journey.



Free or not, there turned out to be only one train that went from our area to Lourdes. It left from Nice, France at 10 am on Thursday. The problem was, the earliest we could get there from Milan was 10:45. We had a reservation on Wednesday night in Avignon, but getting from there to Nice proved even more difficult (which was pretty weird, because of how much closer they are together).

To catch our train, we decided to cancel our hotel in Avignon (we wouldn’t be able to use it anyway), and just stay the night in the Nice train station. Annie’s comment on it was “What’s a trip to Europe without spending a night in a station?” It couldn’t be that bad, my sister stayed on a bench in a German station on her way back from World Youth Day in Cologne, and on his Europe trip, my older brother actually spent a couple nights in trees after getting locked out of his hostel. Besides, everything we saw said the town was really Nice.

So, apparently the Blessed Mother had different plans (does she count as a concerned mother?)

We got to Nice without any further complications. To avoid any more complications, we decided to buy our tickets to Lourdes right away (and validate them), so that we would be sure that all the connections would work. It was Wednesday afternoon, and the guy at the counter tells us that tomorrow there would be a nationwide strike by all train and bus workers, so we wouldn’t be able to get out of Nice until Friday night.

With two and a half days to stay, we definitely needed lodging, so we struck out across the town to find a plan B.