They say the most beautiful moments in life are often the unplanned ones. This story of mine has countless such moments. Missed flight, little cash, borrowed water from Pakistani guys, survived whole day on chips & bananas, paid 150 bucks for a printout, attended a European top flight football game with my favorite player playing, tried my luck on fishing & finished the trip with forgetting my wallet in the cab. Those were crazy couple of days but gave me experience of life time.
We were a group of 19 students on an extended MBA program of 6 weeks at Bordeaux University in France. Most of us had not been outside India and intended to make full use of this opportunity by visiting as many countries as possible during our stay. Every weekend, we would pack our bags and travel to one of the many beautiful countries our Schengen visa and our cash light pockets will allow access to.
One such weekend, we had 4 days off and were desperately looking for affordable flights to some of the best destinations in Europe. After hours of comprehensive analysis that would have done the best of MBA grads proud, we finally narrowed our options down to Bordeaux – Milan – Barcelona – Bordeaux. Booked our flights, booked cheap hostels and were all set to roll. Out of 4 flat-mates, Krunal, Rishank and myself had decided to take up this adventure.
As our trip was going to start next day afternoon, I along with the 4th flat-mate, Manoj, who was not coming with us on the trip, decided to visit our other friends living around 10 KMs from our place. I had planned to come back early morning next day and leave for the airport from my place. The next morning, Manoj suggested that our friends’ place was closer to the airport and I could avoid going back to my place and leave directly from there. That sounded like good advice at that time. I called Krunal & Rishank to get my stuff with them to the airport and I will meet them there. On reaching the airport, I realized I had overlooked one small item while making this request – my passport. I called them again to see if they hadn’t yet started. They were late themselves and were out waiting for the bus to the airport. I asked them if they could go back to get my passport and then take a cab to cover up the lost time. They tried but had to scrap their plan midway when they realized they were running out of time. The realization was too late however and all of us ended up missing the flight.
Now, you may be inclined to believe I was to blame for my friends missing their flight but I think they were already late and would have missed the flight anyways: P
Journey to Milan
After missing the flight, feeling rather deflated (both financially and emotionally), I was still determined to somehow reach Milan. The reason being, there was a game between Inter Milan & Juventus scheduled for that weekend. For any football fan it’s a dream to be able to witness such games live at the stadium. To put icing on the cake my favorite player “Nimanja Vidic” was going to play in that game. I got know about it only a day before. I dropped the plan to go to Barcelona & booked the ticket for the game immediately. This was a once in a life time opportunity and I was never going to miss it.
So I called up the Manoj who had (wisely) decided to steer clear of our crazy plans, and told him, “Bhai mujhe Milan pahucha kaise bhi (bro, get me to Milan somehow)”. By the time I got back to my place to pick up my passport, he had identified the fastest way to reach Milan. It involved sharing a Bla Bla car till Lyon and taking overnight bus for the onward journey to Milan. I only had 42.2 euros and my credit card was stuck along with my friends at the airport so Manoj booked all the tickets for me. I went to a local store and bought some chips and bananas for 2 euros. That was all I planned to eat throughout the trip. I was now left with only 40.2 euros.
So I set out on this adventure with little money to speak of, zero understanding of French or Italian language and with no one to call in case any trouble. I just had one aim in sight, to reach Milan in time for the game. I started from Bordeaux in car driven by a Swiss guy with an elderly French lady and a young Korean girl as co-passengers. The Korean girl didn’t talk much but I had interesting conversation with the French lady, the Swiss guy being our translator. She had visited India a year ago and shared her experiences most of which were positive but she had one complaint, “why do people honk so much while driving”. She also wanted to know, “Why cows are considered sacred in India”.
Anyways I reached Lyon around 930 PM and had to take a local train to reach the boarding point of the bus to Milan. At the train station there was a ticket vending machine which takes only coins. The fare was 1.2 euros and I had only 1 coin of 20 cents. There were no one out there at that time ask for change. I had to borrow 1 euro from the French lady who was also going the same way. So thanks to her, I reached the boarding point of my bus. Left with just 40 Euros now. I couldn’t sleep that night out of excitement of the game next day. I kept visualizing myself in the stadium next day enjoying the game and possibly witnessing a winning header from Vidic.
Milan came up with its own interesting moments and challenges.
First up at the Milan bus station I met two Pakistani guys almost same age of mine. It felt nice to meet someone from our part of the world in Italy. I told them I have come to see the game, they said they were there to find some work. They gave me some water to drink and offered to keep the bottle as well. It was a 2 litre mineral water bottle, I kept it with me thinking it will take me throughout the day, 2 Euros saved. They offered me something to eat as well which I refused, I thought not to be too negligent of the fact that they are complete strangers. I thanked them for water and then they went on their way.
“India and Pakistan are two countries with great animosity towards each other yet there was none of it in a foreign country. Those guys were really nice to me and I hope one day it will same between everyone.”
I then decided to take the subway pass for the day, cost me 7 euros but I could use the subway for all day with that pass. Left with 33 Euros now.
It was around 730 AM by that time and I knew only one place in Milan i.e. San Siro stadium. It took me some 40 mins to reach there but when I saw that stadium for the first time it was like pure bliss. I was standing next to the home ground of two most famous clubs in Italy. Many epic games were played here and I was so glad that I was soon going to witness one myself.
But it was too early, no one was there and after spending some time there I decided to go to the city center of Milan. After reaching there, I settled near a small restaurant which had free Wi-Fi, ate some chips and relaxed for a while. The game was at 6 PM and it was still around 10 AM. I spent next 3-4 hours exploring the city. It was a fabulous place with tall modern buildings, tree lined streets, ancient churches, beautiful parks etc. The local people understood fair bit if English so it was easier to navigate.
In between exploring the city I made another trip to San Siro, bought an Inter Milan jersey with the name of Vidic on back of it there. It cost me 20 euros and I was left with just 13 Euros. I returned to the restaurant with free WiFi and checked my mails. I was supposed to get my ticket a few hours before the game. It was 3 PM by that time I still hadn’t received my ticket. I tried calling the customer care but the call will not connect. I was cursing the ticketing agency and thinking it will be such a shame to miss this game after going through all this trouble. I like to eat when I am stressed, I bought some more chips. Down by 1 more euro, left with 12 euros now.
I got the ticket around 330 PM and now there is another problem, I must take a print out, soft-copy is not allowed. There were no cyber cafes around that place. The thing about big cities is that it’s difficult to get small works done. It took me almost an hour to find a place where I could take printout of my ticket and more annoyingly it cost me 2 euros. As Indians we tend to convert everything in INR and compare and I thought ~ Rs 150 for a printout..!!. Left with 10 euros now.
Any ways got the printout and rushed towards the nearest station to reach the stadium. It was then I realized how big the occasion is for the people out there. The station was packed with people and it took me around an hour to reach the ground and another 30 mins to get inside the stadium. While getting inside the stadium the security guard took away my water bottle which I was using since morning. But I didn’t care, all I wanted was to get into the stadium as quickly as I can.
By the time I reached my seat, the game was just about to start. I was in the same side of the pitch where Inter Milan was defending. I saw Vidic standing just about 40-50 yards away from me. It was one of the best feeling I have ever had. For me, in his peak, he was the best defender in the world.
There were other star players as well in the line up from both the teams. Icardi, Palacio, Shaqiri from Inter and Morata, Barzagli, Pogba from Juventus to name some. As Juventus had won the title already unfortunately some of their star players like Buffon, Tevez, and Pirlo were not part of the squad. Inter got off to a flier with Icardi scoring a brilliant goal with only 9’ on the clock. That was the moment when I felt how it was like to feel a goal from home side. Everyone was jumping on their seats, hurling the team flag, singing and dancing and celebrating. I took off my shirt and used it as a flag and celebrated with the fans.
Juventus started putting more pressure on Inter soon and with 42” on the clock, the worst thing possible I could think of happened. Vidic of all the players conceded a penalty. It was such a terrible moment for me and every inter supporter out there. Claudio Marchisio, the captain for the day for Juventus, converted the penalty and the score were level at the half time.
In the second half again Inter started better of the two team, dominated possession had lots of shots on the goal but couldn’t convert. With 83’ on the clock, Juventus took advantage of the profligacy shown by Inter in taking their chances and scored the winner via Morata. It was a killer blow coming almost end of the game. And now it was the time for the Juventus supporters to make themselves heard. There were chants of “Juve- Juve” all over the stadium with lots of disappointed Inter fans starting to move out of the stadium already. I was disappointed too with the result but the experience to witness such huge game in a historic ground with my favorite player playing in it was more than enough to make up for it.
I came out of the stadium with a smile on my face and an experience of life time. Again it took a lot of time to get back into the train and reach my bus stop. Just to let you know there were 60,000+ supporters coming out of the game and trying to get into the train.
Back to Bordeaux:
While I was waiting at the bus stop for my bus and a gentle man walked up to me and started talking. He was a lifelong Inter Milan supporter and used to travel to Milan for every game from Lyon. He had noticed I am wearing jersey with Vidic’s name on it. He told me Vidic didn’t play well that day and he was not happy with him. I told him that he is not at his peak anymore but he used to be a top player couple of years back. He agreed on that. He also mentioned that he had visited India and liked it. He also had same complaint with India, “Why does people honk so much while driving?” I have personally taken a note of this question and try not to honk unnecessarily while I am driving. I would urge everyone reading this to do the same.
We started from Milan on time and had a 5 min stop in Turin, the home of Juventus. I was really thirsty by that time and had to buy some water. It cost me 1 Euro, felt 1 euro spent well, left with 9 Euros now. It was a smooth ride to Lyon after that. From Lyon again I had to take Bla-Bla cab to Bordeaux and to reach the boarding point I had to take the train and 1.2 Euro spent again, left with 7.8 euros now. I even thought of jumping the barriers to avoid the ticket but decided against it and was lucky as there were checking going on inside the station.
I reached the boarding point at 645 AM, the cab was at 730 AM. I decided to take a walk to nearby river. I saw some elderly folks fishing there and I asked if I could give it a shot. I had never done fishing in my lifetime but that they I caught a fish in first attempt. It felt really nice. I couldn’t catch another fish after that though and came back to my boarding point.It was a couple who had given me a ride from Lyon to Bordeaux and there were no more passengers apart from me. I just sat in back seat dozed off. They stopped for a break mid-way at some road side store. I bought a large chicken sandwich for 6 euros there. After all I had almost completed my trip and still left with 1.8 euros. That sandwich felt like a celebration of my efforts.
There was still one more twist remaining in this eventful journey. We reached Bordeaux and I thanked the couple for the ride and they continued on their way. As I was standing at a tram station to get to my place when suddenly I realized I didn’t have my wallet. I had left it in the cab. I called them and they told yes it’s in the cab and circled back to come to the same place where they had dropped me. I took my wallet and thanked them again, this time it was with much more gratitude.