Updated: Sep 3, 2020
The wonders and woes of a poorly planned solo trip - March 10th, 2019
It was 11pm and I’d just spontaneously spent €38 on a train ticket to Modena. I’d been wanting to do it for a while now—go on a solo trip. Granted, mine wasn’t as courageous as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love journey, but nonetheless, I wanted to go somewhere alone. And so I did.
Modena had been on my list since I saw an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix. I figured now was as good a time as any to go. I was already in Italy, the trip was low stakes, and I had nothing to lose.
Let me proudly state: I am the planning-type. Don’t get me wrong, I love adventure, but I also love lists...and prior research...and one too many Google searches.
Maybe it was the three months of continuous coffee addiction, or maybe it was the Italian air that made me feel romantically impulsive, but I’d gotten it in my head that I was now the spontaneous type. Convinced I could throw all my inhibitions to the wind, I swiped that credit card and set an early alarm.
Through the low light and crisp air of a spring morning in Florence, I proudly performed my perfected fast-paced walk to the train station, gliding over cobblestones like ice and leaping over potholes with grace. The streets were still quiet and the city had yet to wake up. I instinctively crossed my arms to keep warm.
Only one street away from my destination, the newfound Italian in me remembered I needed coffee—but with that I lost track of time, and was soon sent sprinting through the streets looking like the frazzled American I absolutely was.
Out of breath, I screeched to a halt inside the station. I looked down at my ticket. I looked up at the platforms. I looked at the time. It was 7:30 AM and my departure was 7:29 AM. All I could think was “there goes my train.”
At this point I’m crying. The next 20 minutes consisted of me going to different ticket windows until someone finally got me onto the next train to Modena.
Once my new pity train left the station, the whole ordeal took 3+ hours. Due to the new train tickets, my one transfer to Modena was delayed too. I spent an hour browsing through Faenza, a small town known for its pottery. I strolled down the street and wandered through a church courtyard. One museum was open, so I went in and bought a postcard. Faenza is a tiny town, but please remember her, she’ll come back later.
It should be noted that my entire train journey was spent in half-naps and moody music to fit my morning. Nonetheless, the whole thing was a welcomed kind of melancholy. The countryside passed by and the world got quiet. Even the train ride was a nice escape from my bustling city life.
I could not have been more excited when the train pulled into Modena’s station. I practically leapt out of my seat and into the street with Google Maps pulled up and ready to go.
The first place I went was the place you should always go to in any Italian town: the piazza. Duomo di Modena stood quietly in Piazza Grande with only a few people mingling around. I especially remember a grandfather and grandson playing soccer in the square. It was a Monday, so the city had an extra calmness about it (in Italy, many shops are closed on Mondays).
I felt such a sense of pride and purpose exploring the streets. It was entirely my day and I was entirely in my own company—I couldn’t have been happier about the solitude.
I made my way to the bell tower and paid the €2 admission. The climb to the top was easy and I was the only one there. I returned to the piazza right after, and sheepishly asked a woman to take my photo in Italian.
Soon my stomach started to speak its own language—so I began to look for lunch. I stumbled upon what seemed like the restaurant—you know, the quaint, seemingly local establishment that would never show up on a guide? Yea, that one.
Well, I walked in all quiet but confident-like and kindly told the host “una per favore” (one please!). And then, he just says… no. CHE COSA? I took a good look around this place and I’m telling you right now, there were seats available. I’m not even a large person. I take up MINIMAL space. But OK. So I left.
I circled back around to a restaurant I passed earlier and this time I was kindly accepted, even in my quiet Italian tone. Bless.
Spaccio delle Carceri was just what I needed. It was buffet style and the food was delicious. I filled my plate (a few times) with everything from tortellini, to zucchini, to smoked salmon, to chicken in a cream sauce with capers. I even got dessert. *chef’s kiss*
(The best part of this whole meal was that I hadn’t seen a menu beforehand, so I literally had no idea how much my bill was going to be haha. It turned out to be €20).
Back in the city center, I listened to some street musicians drum away. I so much enjoyed just being in my own company. The city was more crowded than before, but my mind felt clear.
I continued to shop around and picked up some balsamic vinegar that the city is so known for. I passed through quiet neighborhoods whose streets rounded corners rather than stood perpendicular. The streets in Modena are bumpier than those in Florence. Rather than cobblestone, round rocks line the ground.
5 PM rolled around and I was disappointed my day trip was coming to an end. I hadn’t had gelato and not a single shop seemed to sell any postcards (my one keepsake from every place I visit).
Nonetheless, my walk back to the train station was peaceful and I maneuvered the streets by memory. It was a nice contrast from the morning.
The first train was an hour long journey back to my transfer in Faenza.
Everything seemed fine and dandy until again, I looked at my watch. Time was really not on my side. My train from Faenza to Florence was supposed to depart at 6:21 PM. My train from Faenza to Florence pulled into the station at 6:20 PM. You see my problem.
The second the doors opened, everyone sprinted to the Florence platform. Again, all I thought was “there goes my train.” Everyone was mad. One guy even punched a vending machine. Ouch.
At this point I didn’t have to do any bargaining at the ticket window. I let all the angry Italians do the talking for me and I just played catch up. When all was said and done, I wish my Italian comprehension had been wrong; but instead it was painfully clear: the next train to Florence wouldn’t be leaving until 9 PM.
A moody walk down the street, a mediocre ham and cheese sandwich, and three hours later, the train pulls up 20 minutes late. To say my relationship with Faenza was rocky would be too kind. I got on my train and whispered a fat “arrivederla.”
The whole train ride back to Florence I kept thinking to myself, “please let there be a reason for all these train mixups.” Was I supposed to meet the love of my life by chance on this late train? Was I supposed to be saved from some catastrophe? Nope. None of the above. It was plain and simple. I was just supposed to accept these inconveniences, learn from them, and move on.
All I really learned from this was that… well, shit happens. The things you plan for don’t always go your way and instead, you need to decide to take a deep breath and just face what’s in front of you.
What was supposed to be a full day in Modena got broken into a half day there and quite frankly, a half day in Faenza. You live and you learn.
Mockingly, I didn’t get a postcard from Modena—I got one from Faenza … and with that, a pretty ridiculous story of my first solo trip.
Translations: che cosa = what // arrivederla = goodbye (formal)