Sometimes Things Don't Go Quite as Planned...
Trip Start Sep 29, 2008
74Trip End Mar 31, 2009
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Sunday morning (November 09) we finished packing, loaded up the car, said good-bye to Daniel (our host) and headed off to Rome, where we were to drop off the car. Now, I know we were going to Venice, and Rome is in the opposite direction. But, the Renault buy-back program (from where we had leased the car) has a very limited number of drop off points in Italy. We were originally scheduled to drop the car off in Milan, and then we would train it to Venice. Daniel informed us that Rome (Roma) is a two hour drive versus four to Milano, and the train ride is about the same distance
Since we were going to be in Rome (briefly),and since we would be returned there in a couple of weeks, we arranged to drop off some of our unneeded luggage (needed for later in the trip) in Rome, rather than schlepping it to Venice and points beyond. No problem, Emmanuelle would meet us at the apartment between 11:00-12:00 giving Mark time to get to the airport). The good news is our Roman apartment is right down town, across the bridge from Vatican City. The bad new is that our Roman apartment is right down town... Despite "Nanette's" very best efforts, we could only get within a couple of blocks of the apartment, because we kept getting hung up on one-way streets and impossible alley-ways. No matter, apartment is just around the corner. The children and I head off to the apartments with a rolling suitcase and a back-pack, and returned to the car about 15 minutes later. Downtown old Rome is a rabbit warren of twists and turns and I was getting completely lost. I even asked some locals coming out of church for some help; they didn't know either. Return to the car. Rolling suitcases are not designed to be rolled over cobbled streets. In the meantime, Mark has taken out our map of Rome. (I know, would have been helpful earlier, right ?) Turns out the apartment is literally around the corner, down two alleys. Find the apartment (just before noon), Emmanuelle is there and tells us to come up -- all the way up to the top floor... We arrive drop off the bags, ask to use the bathroom (remember public facilities are at a premium in this country !), confirm when we are returning, and head back to the car
The train stations is only 4 km away, so how hard can it be to get there ? Well, after only a couple of missed turns, and unexpected road closures (some of the locals were "talking" with the police at the barriers, we didn't bother). We arrive at the station. No place to park. Mark is now driving pretty much like a local. So we stop, double (triple?) parked at the side of the road. The children and I head into the station, and Mark heads off to the airport under the careful guidance of "Nanette".
The children and I successfully figure out which platform we need, find the platform, and lay claim to some space along a wall. We get cold drink, have a snack and wait. And wait. And wait. After the delay in finding our Roman apartment, Mark and I knew the time window for catching the 14:50 to Venice would be slim. So we waited. At 14:40, I had the children load up with the bags (in case Mark appeared in a last-minute rush), and we stood like that and watched out train (on which we had reserved seats) pull away... "No matter", I informed our somewhat stressed out children (Rigel by this point has announced that he does not like train stations, because this "always happens to us at train stations"), "Dad has just been delayed getting back to the station and we will catch one of the next trains to Venice"
Next step was rebooking our travel arrangements while we were waiting for Mark to arrive. Got into the "Customer Assistance" line, right beside where we were standing. Wrong line (needed "Tickets"), but did find out where to get internet access. Left the children (together) to go make reservations: don't leave, stay together, look for dad, feel free to use force if anyone hassles you. Got into the ticketing line -- fortunately not too long. Just my luck: got a grumpy old man who spoke only Italian (no English and no French and didn't care. I think he spoke faster just for the fun of it !). [Just as an aside, I have come to realize that when I attempt to communicate in Italian I feel like a four-year-old with a learning disability. When I get to speak French, in Italy, I feel like a genius ! ] Now back to our saga... When I told him I needed reservation for Venice that day, he said something that must have been the Italian equivalent of, "You have got to be kidding...". Then when he realized we had EuroRail passes, he showed me on the computer that the train was "full". (They hold only so many seats for rail passes on each train...). I thanked him, although I'm not sure what for, and returned to the children. I explained to them that we may not be getting to Venice that day afterall, but we'll work things out ounce Dad arrives. About 20 minutes later, I hear Mark calling my name, and we were all, very gratefully, reunited.
It is just me and "Nanette", 19 Km out of Roma and 1 hour to do it
"You are Late!"
I grovel, "Per favore, Mi scusi."
"Follow me" and I climb back in the car and drive 2 Km through the locked gate and the construction complex
In the office we take care of the paperwork, and he lets me know that he is not pleased that he has had to work through lunch waiting for me. Mea Culpa and one of the seven deadly sins , making some one work over their lunch! My head is hung in shame. I offer my best apologies in broken Italian, French and English. I press on concerning the shuttle service and the need to get back to the train station.
"Ha, no shuttle service! You were late!"
I stop in disbelief. OK. Problem to solve: 19 km away from where you need to be closing on 1 hour to make it and an irritated Italian not helping. I ask about a taxi, he laughs and says that it would be difficult to get a taxi here. I can believe it. I can't believe I found the place. I offer to hire him to take me.
"I don't need your money... I have a family too..." (the lunch thing again)
"Anyway we don't shuttle into the city.... insurance doesn't cover us"
I am thinking.....What ?! Did I make this up? I have done everything I am supposed to do. There is a thing called a contract and customer service... Silly me I forgot this is Italy.
He says, "The only other person you could have spoken to is Gino or something. Here I will call him." He gets o the phone has a conversation in Italian and says "No Gino didn't say he would give you a lift into the city." Do I look that stupid? He could have been talking to his dog.
We are still completing the paper work on the car, milage, signatures, etc. while this is going on.
The phone rings. He answers and after he finishes, he says that another car is being dropped off at 3 and he will give me and the other customer a lift to a train station once he is finished work. FINITO!
The next guy, an Aussie arrives in record time 2:15. He was only a few km away when he called. Still there is no way I am going to get to our train in time. Fortunately this Aussie is just what I need to dissipate the anger and frustration.
We are both dropped off at the closest train station the Italian guy could find, and then he was gone. Fortunately, he did give me the information needed to transfer to the right train to get me into the Roma station. (The station was not on a major route).
Uneventful time on the train and getting to the station. Carrying my back pack around I look for the family. First check in the ticket line. I know that we have to re book and they are not there. Check in with the train Police, and they confirm that Gretchen and the children are not on the train that left from platform #5. I start walking down the station to #5 and then down the platform which looks to be 1 Km long. I get to a point that I can see that there are no more people any further along and turn around to start back. As I get to the main area I see my ragtag family and am grateful for a safe reunion.
Emotionally exhausted and incredibly angry at this person who do not follow through with an agreement and insensitive to the ramifications that this breach of agreement has on other people, not only the monetary cost (see below) but the emotional stress on the family.
As my Aussie friend said, "No worries". I had to agree, We were finally together and safe and healthy. God willing we will stay that way.
Back to Gretchen:
So, now that we were all safely together again, we had to figure out what we were going to do. Merina and Devon had scoped out the bookstore in the train station, looking for a replacement for the Italian phrase book I had lost. (I sound even worse when I don't have reference book.) We decided to see if there were tickets for purchase on any train to Venice that day (since we couldn't use our passes). Merina and I purchased two phrase books (one for me and one for her), and we went to stand in the ticket line. Got the grumpy old man again. Asked, in my very best Italian, for five tickets on the next train to Venice. All he had left were first class tickets... That's what credit cards are for. Less than five minutes later I was in proud possession of five first class tickets to Venice on a train which was leaving in 20 minutes.
Merina, Devon and Rigel decided very quickly that they like first class. (Shame what is likely to be their one and only experience had to happen so early on in the trip !) They had more room in those (reclining) seats, than they had had in the backseat the entire time we had had the car. Now, those of you who have been paying attention will realize that I still haven't contacted the person who is meeting a train in Venice that arrives two hours before we do... First class trains in Italy do not have e-mail. Ask the conductor to have our contact paged, to let him know that we will be arriving on the next train. Not only am I totally unfamiliar with Venice and its water-based travel, I don't have an address where we are staying. Not that that would help much -- I don't have the keys either. The conductor comes back to tell us that they have been unsuccessful in reaching him. There is nothing more to be done while on the train; I will figure things out upon arrival in Venice. Our various family members use the travel time to relax and recoup from the day's stressors.
Venezia Santa Lucia station is the final stop of the run. There was hardly anyone left on the train. We loaded up our gear, and stepped off into an almost totally deserted station. Pierre, our Venetian contact, has told me that he would be wearing a green coat. There, at the end of the platform, was a man in a green coat. When we hadn't arrived on the earlier train, Pierre had thought that we might arrive on the later one. God bless that man ! We headed out of the station, onto a vaporatto (public boat transportation) and into the magic that is Venezia...
The air was warm and a light fog hung over the city. As we rode through the canals, our first image of Venezia was that of an ancient city, lit up for the night and shrouded in fog. There was a magical almost mystical quality to it. After disembarking, we wove our way through Venezia's winding back streets. We arrived at our apartment, located on the top floor of an old building (is there any other kind ?), on the 4th floor, eight flights and 61 steps up (and I double counted). It was such a relief to finally reach our destination, lock the door and collapse !