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  • Writer's pictureJustin Shaul

I Took My First Solo Trip and It Was The Perfect Example of Murphy's Law

The easiest part of my 3-day trip to Napoli was getting lost in Roma Termini station.

After having said bye to my friends back in Rome, I got to the train station around 30 minutes before my train departed. That seems like enough time right? Wrong. I went in circles trying to find a toilet. There were only two large floors but the lack of signs made it nearly impossible to find anything. I spent the next twenty minutes walking up and down the stairs in the humidity, which seemed worse inside than it did outside. I finally found the toilet and not only was there a long queue to use it, but like the majority of toilets in Rome, you needed to pay €1 to use it. The €1 wasn’t the problem though, the problem was that you could only pay with a coin.

Great, I thought, I will just use the toilet on the train.

I walk back down to the departing trains and open my phone to download my ticket. I see that the time is 13:30. My train departs in 5 minutes. So I ran through the station trying to find where to go, and of course, there was no platform listed for my train. Because, you know, that would just be too easy. I decided my best bet was to stand in front of the TrenItalia platforms in the station, and luckily, the platform was posted on a small screen in the centre of the gates.

I immediately rush to the train and as I get on, I see that the train is packed to the brim with people. I find a spot in front of the train door on the floor next to a middle aged woman and try to take my mind off the fact that I needed a toilet urgently.

My train arrived at Minturno-Scauri around an hour and thirty minutes later, where I needed to get off to change trains. Thankfully, this station only had one platform, so even a directionally challenged person such as myself would have had a hard time getting lost here.

The train arrives and I snag a seat next to the window on an empty carriage. I stared in awe as the train zipped through picturesque fishing villages and towering mountains. I took photos upon photos of the scenery, without glancing an eye at my dwindling phone battery.

I arrived in Napoli with a 10% phone battery. The host of my Airbnb messaged me instructions on how to get to the flat from dante station, but informed me that he would not be there in time to give me the key, so sent his friend instead.

‘He doesn’t speak English very well, but will show you around the flat,’ The host wrote.

Okay, I thought, I can speak and understand basic Italian so how difficult could this be.

I arrive at two massive double wooden doors and buzz the flat on the intercom. The small cutout of wood within the massive door. I crawl through and find myself in a cobblestone courtyard with children running around and cars parked. The instructions given tell me to take a left and go up the stairs to the top, so I look to my left and find a hole in the wall with three concrete stairs leading to a small platform with more stairs to the left. Now, the description of the airbnb said that it was on top of the 3rd floor, but what the airbnb failed to mention was there were maybe 4 flights of stairs in between each floor.

So I climb and climb and climb and finally get to the top where I’m greeted by a tall, bald, skinny man with stubble.

‘You are Justin?’ He asked me.

‘Yes. I am Justin.’ I confirm.

He nods and pulls out a crumpled up piece of paper. He unfolds the paper and reads in a monotone voice: ‘My name is Giuseppe. I am here to show you apartment. This is your keys. The big key is for the big door. The small key is for the second door. The other key is for the last door. Do you understand?’

I nod.

‘Do you have questions?’

'Dov'è la terrazza? Where is the balcony?’ I ask. He takes me to a ladder that leads to the roof, smiles, and leaves.

I stand there in disbelief for a moment before checking my phone and seeing that I am now down to 3%. I figured I would recharge my phone a bit before going back out. So I dig into my backpack for my charger, and to my horror, discover that my UK charger cannot be plugged into the Italian socket.

I quickly open google and try to look for places that would sell phone chargers. After a brief search, I found a shop that's 10 minutes walk from the flat. So I go down the endless stairs, exit through the small door within the big door. I walk down and turn on the main road that was filled with a sea of people and merchants nestled into crevices of the walls. Then it dawned on me: these tourist trap shops MUST sell phone chargers.

I went into shop after shop after shop asking; ‘Tu parli inglese o spagnolo? Do you speak English or Spanish?’ I went to about four shops before finally finding someone that spoke Spanish.

Unfortunately for me, this person spoke with a very thick Spaniard accent. It was as if he were speaking Mandarin rather than Spanish. From what I understood, there was a vendor who sold phone chargers 5 minutes walk from where I was. I thanked the guy and went on my merry way.

With ease, I found the vendor the Spaniard described. I picked up a charger and took out my card to pay when the vendor quickly said: ‘no card.’

I stood there in disbelief. I put the charger back and left the shop.

Back to square one.

I start going into shops again and FINALLY am able to purchase a charger. I walked back to the flat and started entering.

Big key, big door, I thought to myself. I unlock it with ease and go all the way up to the top floor. Winded, I struggle to open up the second door, but it opens after a little bit of wiggling. I walk down the corridor to my flat.

The cream coloured tin door with chipped paint, a missing door handle, and chunks of the wall missing was what stood between me and the ability to shower off all the sweat I accumulated from my mission.

I started to unlock the door, but the key wouldn’t budge. I tried again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. I tried the other key for the other door. No luck. The heat was intensified in that hell hole that was the windowless concrete corridor. I alternated between both keys for thirty minutes. I may or may not have sat and sulked in the corner next to the door for two or three of those minutes.

I messaged the owner, told him I was having trouble unlocking the door. At that point I was desperate enough to put my pride aside and tell him that I needed help with the door. I decided while I wait for him to reply, I may as well continue to try to fidget with the key. I inserted the key, pulled the locked door close to me with frustration, and to my surprise, the door swung open. I nearly cried tears of joy.

He replied to my message less than a minute after the door opened.

The next day I was determined to see Pompeii and afterwards take a day trip to Sorrento. I woke up early and checked the weather to see that there was a thunderstorm that would happen at midday.

My new plan was to go to Pompeii really quickly and then turn around and get back to Napoli before the storm was scheduled to hit. As someone from sunny LA, I have never in my life had to deal with getting caught in a thunderstorm. I wouldn’t even know what I would’ve had to do in that scenario.

Before leaving, I went to use the toilet. Now, let me tell you, I know I shouldn’t have expected much considering the airbnb was only $20/night, but surely one could expect access to a working toilet? I pressed the button on the wall and waited for it to flush. It did not do so. I tried again. Nope. I tried, say, 3 more times and still nothing. I opened the door and saw the airbnb owner in the kitchen and told him the toilet wasn’t working.

He laughed, ‘oh yeah, sometimes you have to press it really fast and hard a bunch of times for it to work.’

I went back up and felt relieved as I heard the water flushing. I started heading out the door when I heard the airbnb owner shout: ‘Hey! Did you manage to get the toilet to flush?’

I turned around and with horror saw that the Airbnb owner was sitting at the table, having breakfast with 4 other people. I froze. ‘Yes. Bye. Buongiorno,’ I muttered as I ran out of the flat.

I sat down on the Circumvesuviana as passengers gradually filled the remaining seats. The train slowly left the station, and suddenly, a middle aged couple with an accordion and a stereo entered the carriage. The woman turned on the speaker and the man started playing bailando by Enrique Iglesias. I watched the graffiti filled city fade and turn into grass as the music blared through my ears.

I arrived at Pompeii an hour later. The ancient city was flooded with tourists. Everywhere you turned, you would see a swarm of people. It was like an ant infestation. This was expected, but surely I figured that people would stay home due to the storm. I was able to find vacant spaces throughout the city, and that was my favourite part of the trip by far.

I wandered around the ruins for two hours as the sun kissed the back of my neck. I thought that it was weird that it was sunny without a cloud in the sky even though there was supposed to be a thunderstorm in an hour. Regardless, after I saw everything, I hopped on the train back to Napoli.

When I got back to Garibaldi, I checked to see how much time I’d have exploring the city before the storm started. The time that the storm was supposed to happen changed from 12 to 3pm. I was a bit annoyed, because I figured I could’ve spent more time at Pompeii or had hiked up Vesuvius or something.

Regardless, I spent my afternoon walking aimlessly along the seaside in the city centre. I wanted to enter Castel Nuovo, but the queue was ginormous, and I thought I would never make it back before the storm hit. I walked back in the general direction of home, and stumbled upon Christmas Alley. The narrow alleyway was lined with merchants and they were all selling mini ceramic chillies. Neapolitans seemed to worship these chillies, you could not walk around Napoli without spotting these chillies. I later learned that they believe that the chillis protect them from evil spirits so often. I later learned that it was used to ward off bad luck and that I probably should have invested in one to carry around for the remainder of the trip.

After a 5 minute walk I made it back to the big double doors and took the big key out to open the first door. I inserted the key and tried to turn it, but the key wouldn’t budge. I took it out, reinserted it, and the key STILL wouldn’t turn. I started getting war flashbacks to the day before. Before I could panic, someone opened the door from the inside to leave.

The sunset that evening was the best one I had seen in a while. The postponed storm was starting to roll in and I watched the sun project orange and red onto the monstrous clouds that slowly devoured the hilltops. From my view on the rooftop, I could see all of Napoli. The view alone almost made the two days of suffering alone worth it.

It got dark and I went back inside to wait for the storm to pass. The rain pounded on the window of my room for a good 30 minutes before letting up. The alleged thunderstorm my weather app warned me about was nothing but a mere burst of rain. After all that I had been through on my trip I felt unfazed. I put my shoes on and went back out.

I’m probably the most indecisive person you’ll ever meet, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to tell you that I spent a good 45 minutes walking around my neighbourhood trying to find a place to eat that night. After finally deciding on a place, the host tells me that for a table for one the wait would be around 20 minutes and then runs off. No big deal, I think to myself, and sit down on a ledge. 35 minutes pass and the waiter has still not shown his face. So I leave and go to option B, the restaurant I went to last night. I walk there, and the host tells me that there were open tables for at least an hour. Everyone in Napoli and their grandma it seemed were on the same height street as me it seemed. I walked around to varying restaurants asking for a table for one, only to get rejection after rejection. If I’m being honest, I don’t even remember where I went to eat that night, all I know is that I did end up finding a place eventually. What I do remember, though, was that the food was mediocre at best.

Dissatisfied and wanting to lay down, I find myself at the big double doors again. To save you the energy of having to reread the recurring plot of this trip: I was locked out again. This time though, my phone was dead so I don’t even know how long I was waiting outside for. I probably looked crazy, I was in such disbelief I couldn’t stop laughing at my misfortune. I laughed as I inserted and reinserted the key. I stopped for a moment and saw that there was a woman behind me wanting to get through the door. She pulled an identical key to mine from her purse and opened the tiny door with one swift left turn of her wrist.

The last day of my trip, I was sound asleep like a baby until I was awoken by the horrible sound of off-tune singing. It just so happens that my airbnb was located on the same street as the infamous Balcone della Canzone. Napoli was full of talented street performers, everywhere, but the singer of the balcone could not be counted as one of them.

I crawled out of bed, left the building and followed the music to a crowd of older female tourists. I stood among them and looked up. The singer of the balcone poorly sang neapolitan folklore songs with glee as the women below him clapped and sang along. He looked down at the crowd, making eye contact with me. He winked and I laughed. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.



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