Saturday, June 18, 2016

Evitando the "walk of shame"

Trainwreck-ing a vacation before it even starts . .

I advocated for taking the early train to the Pisa airport because we have had bad luck before. Live and learn, right? So we left four and a half hours before our flight was to depart. As soon as we took one step outside our front door we bumped into Stanli, Cool's brother, who gave us a long good-bye send-off. Then we bumped into our neighbor Stefania. I wasn't going to cut her good-bye speech off short because she is the person who makes the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life. Then we got a nice wave from another Nigerian guy named Jude. And when we got to the train station we were in a bit of a rush. The line for tickets was really long so we both got on lines for the ticket machines where tourists were bickering with each other and sweating bullets, trying to figure out which buttons to push to get their tickets. I tried to get F to help this older English couple in front of me, but he didn't want to lose his place behind this nice woman Anita. Unfortunately, Anita had to buy tickets for her 16 family members and when we got to the platform, the train doors were already locked. 

No problem. The next train was in half an hour, which was still plenty of time. After 20 minutes, it occured to me that the next train might arrive on a different track, and so it did. We made it to the correct track and boarded the train. There was no delay message listed, but the train left the station ten minutes behind schedule. When we got to Pisa, we had to walk a long path boardered with all this construction equipment to arrive at a little orange airport bus. We annoyed the driver because we hadn't bought the right tickets for that part of the journey and we didn't have the proper change for him and had to pay with a 20 euro bill. 

Finally at the airport, I thought the worst was over until F looked at the overhead departure schedule and saw that our flight had been canceled due to an air-controller strike. We went to see about how to get on the next available flight and ran into Luca, the Pisa airport employee who we went out of our way to write a positive work performance review about when he was so kind in helping us the year T had to go to New York with a broken foot and crutches. He took me to the ticket office and had me cut the line. I didn't realize that he had asked a special favor of the woman at the ticket window to arrange a transfer for us, even though everyone else was being told to go home and try to reschedule on-line. We agreed that the best option was the following evening on a flight that wouldn't get us into the air bnb apartment until midnight. As F frantically searched his cell phone for express train tickets, we both had the same thought. Neither of us wanted to do the return walk of shame through Lucca back to our apartment. We had left like the joint mayors in chief and we didn't want to return like cheap hookers, despite the fact that, if we were being honest, Italy had just f°cked us. 

F convinced me that we should just get on a train that would get us in that same night. Luca had warned me not to take the train because it was faticoso and would take so many hours before he went back to work, but, you know, the walk of shame. . . I turned backed to the lady and told her sheepishly that we would prefer to take the train, after all. She was furious and told me she would never do another favor for anyone. Fast forward to F, who could not actually get reception to get train tickets over the phone, stepping outside the airport, and me getting death glares from the ticket woman who could not get Ryanair to un-do the favor she had just done for me. Out of spite, she made me stand there for twenty minutes, even though my presence was no longer necessary and she couldn't help me anyway. 

We took a taxi to the train station (10 euros), where the buzz on-line was that the strike might effect the trains, as well, at some later point in the day. No matter, there were no tickets left anyway. We then took a taxi (10,35 euros) back to the airport to try to rent a car. Anything to avoid that trainwreck of a walk back to the apartment. We waited on a line at the company with whom we had already rented a car to pick up in Brindisi. When the man finally understood what we wanted, he shook his head and said they had no more cars available. I ran around the room of rental car companies shouting out my query, and one after another weary sales people told me there were no more cars. I yelled out to the last and least famous of the companies which is called something like Sicily a go go and we got the very last car. 

In the car, we sang along to the radio and realized that if we hadn't stopped to talk to people, and hadn't missed our first train, and had gone through security we would have checked our bags, losing them forever, and would have had the flight canceled anyway. We were actually lucky. 

The catch was that to save money, we had to drive nine hours to Brindisi and switch cars that same night for the car we originally rented in the first place. The farther south we went the more highway accidents we had to circumnavigate, but we made it just in time. We stopped just twice for gas, once to pee, and called our hosts on the way. The last phone call was to the caretaker of the beach house in Puglia to ask if, after so many hours without food, we might find a pizza somewhere. He told us we would have to try to get one by 11 PM. While the GPS took us on hairpin turns through the middle of nowhere, we ended up at a pizzeria at 10,59 and got a maxi margherita pizza, made the old fashioned way for only 9 euros. Even F couldn't finish it. 


The keys to the beach house were in a safe. We finally got inside and I asked F to put the suitcases on a spare bed. Ten minutes later I realized that the black specks on the mattress were bugs and that the place was teeming with termites and ants. Luckily, F had booked another location that we never canceled and it turned out to be the best air bnb yet. It is a giant three bedroom ranch house that couldn't be cleaner or more beautiful. There are these sweet hounds that want to be pet on the porch. The beach is perfect and there is total quiet and peace. F already looks like a new man.

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