Lost in Translation...in Italy

I've been travelling recently. To places and fields that have limited to no mobile connectivity and this can be a challenge when a challenge arises.

Immediately following Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this month, my family embarked on a multi-week European vacation. After spending a couple more days in Spain, we jumped on the rail to Paris for a couple days and then on to Rome for 10 days. The Eiffel Tower along with 'I see London, I see France, I see Daddy's....' request was our daughter's and Italy was something we've wanted to do for a while. During the train ride - which was fantastic - we saw vineyards, castles, the Alps, old bunkers and tons of scenery you never get on an airplane. It's almost like eavesdropping on these remote lives as you pass by at 187 mph while they hang their clothes to dry or tend to their fields. Yes, mobile connectivity was very spotty but it was not a big deal since we were enjoying the views and had no reason to 'connect.' I even turned the phone off at various times just for the peace.

In the major cities like Paris and Rome and if you have roaming of course, you're able to connect to one of the available 3G mobile networks within that country. While not LTE, you get decent connectivity and can accomplish many of the mobile tasks that have become commonplace - email, maps, navigation, browsing and so forth. Incidentally, if you want to learn how LTE Roaming works, check out this video we did at MWC15. It is when you venture out, Griswold style, when you can get into trouble.

While in Rome, we visited many of the typical tourism destinations like The Coliseum, Pantheon, Vatican, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and others. It seemed like our entire trip was going exactly as planned and we were having a wonderful time. That is, until the day we left Rome to return to Barcelona for our flight home. The real adventure was about to begin - like the last 20 minutes of a movie when you think everything is wrapped up and that last big crisis hits.

We bought, what we thought, were rail tickets from Rome back to Barcelona. They were less expensive than our inbound rail, which for some reason, didn't fire off the warning bells but we thought that since it was direct, it should be fine. We get on the train and have a nice semi-private area to stretch out and relax on the trip back. As we start the journey, everything seems great - the scenery, the company and we packed some good snacks for the ride. The conductor came through, verified our tickets and we felt like we could unwind. After a little while, we can see the Mediterranean Sea but it is on the wrong side of the train. A little concerned, I asked a uniformed staff if this was the train to Barcelona and was assured that it was. OK, maybe we go South for a few stops but turn around and head North. Seemed reasonable.

We arrive at the Pompei station and get to see Mt. Vesuvius but at this point, we start to get concerned. I find the rail staff for a second time and again asked if this is the train to Barcelona. Even adding that we're going South and wondered if it turns and goes North (up & around, etc.) at some point. Again I'm told that we are going to Barcelona. More time passes and as we get further South, connectivity gets spotty. As it goes in and out, I search, 'does the train from Rome to Barcelona go under the Mediterranean Sea?' There is the English Channel Chunnel so maybe this does the same thing? Nope. Now I'm panicked.

I find yet a third staff member and ask where are we going. It is at that point I learn that we are not headed for Barcelona Spain but Barcellona (Pozzo di Gotto) Italy. We're supposed to be on our return home flight from Spain in less than 36 hours and we're heading for Sicily. He says there is an airport in Catania and we might be able to get a flight to Barcelona. But with no connectivity, we can't see what is available and didn't want to risk arriving with no flights. I ask when is the next train back to Rome...at least get back there. We're told to get off at the next stop, San Giovanni, and we might be able to catch the overnight. Frantically, we grab our stuff, jump off and look around. Pretty grim. After a couple ups and downs of stairs with our bags, we finally make it to the ticket window. I explain that we want to go to Barcelona and the agent tells us, we just missed the train. I pull out a mobile translator and again attempt to communicate. I get frustrated, the agent gets frustrated and we're stuck. I grab a piece of paper and write SPAIN on it and his eyes finally light up but there is no path from where we are to Barcelona. It's 18:00 hours and we have less than 24 hours to reach Spain.

While a crowd gathers behind us, we ask about a train to Milan. Luckily, there is one and it leaves in 30 minutes. We'll take it! It's an overnight and we don't arrive in Milan until 11am the next day. Down to 20 hours before our plane leaves for to LAX. Hopefully we can get on a Milan to Barcelona flight but without connectivity, there's no way of knowing. We get on the train and I start crying - not so much because we're lost in a foreign country but the relief we're finally going in the right direction. Since we can't determine our next steps, the only thing to do is attempt to rest in this little 3 bunk room. The conductors on this route helped as much they could and told us that this happens to people almost every other month. We're not alone but we're nowhere near a solution.

We finally get to Milan and immediately jump in a cab to take the 45 minute/90Euro ride to the airport. We also have some 3G connectivity and at least see there are a few flights to Barcelona but also rely on the cab driver to point us in the right direction. In addition, the connectivity is so spotty on the way that trying to book a flight becomes impossible. At the airport we find the ticket window and buy some of the last remaining tickets for the last flight to Barcelona that day. After not bathing or sleeping for two days, I still felt relieved. We just might make it. As an eerie aside, just the day before our flight path went over the same location as the crashed Germanwings plane. Our jaws dropped when we learned of the tragedy.

We land in Barcelona with 12 hours to spare. Get to our hotel, eat, shower and collapse for a few hours. Not taking any chances, we head out early, make our flight and am grateful to finally be home to tell this story. I learned a lot about geography, mobile connectivity, communication, security, and about myself. We've become so dependent on connectivity and it seems that we've become one with our mobile devices but when there is no signal and they can't help in a crisis, paper, pencils and people still matter. While harrowing, it was an amazing adventure and a fitting end to our wonderful trip.


Connect with Peter: Connect with F5:
Published Mar 26, 2015
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