Friday, April 22, 2005

4/22/05 Tuscany: Day 1

This morning (yesterday morning) started at 5am with my mother waking me. By 7am we were at the San Jose airport, and by 2:45 local time, Chicago O’Hare. Everything was smooth until our changeover in Chicago, and it all went downhill from there. The flight to Rome was delayed. We finally departed at 4:50. I’d told my mother several weeks ago that there was no way we would get to Pisa to pick up our car at 2pm, but she insisted that we could. We were lucky to have a smallish international flight with just us sitting in one section, aisle and window. (When I was a teenager, and went to Ireland, I was stuck in one of the middle sections, with like 6 seats across. Ugh.) Tylenol PM knocked me out. Arrived around 9am in Rome, with a few vague ideas, and some clear ones:
1.) Get to Pisa
2.) Pick up our rental car
3.) Check into our apartment

Seems simple enough, but we didn’t’ really know how to get to Pisa, and neither of us had really learned enough Italian to communicate even simple needs. Managed to get a fairly helpful ticket agent to tell us where to go, and sell us our tickets for all of our Italy train trips. First, you take the train into Rome (Ostiense, in this case). Then, you get a train to Pisa at 11:57. Easy. Except, we were on the specified platform for our train to Pisa when suddenly the they changed the overhead sign from Torina to Civitavecchia. And our train doesn’t show. We asked the closest person, he said our train was ritardi (late). And would be through at 11:35. OK. It will be 40 minutes late, fine. We waited. The sign turned back to the destination we wanted (Pisa is in the way to Torino) and at about 11:35, a train came through, so we got on it. The train stopped every-fucking-where and looked more like a commuter train than a distance train. And, uhhh, at Civitavecchia I see from the sign at the platform that it’s now going to return to Rome. Beautiful. So we got off and asked the station agent. "Platform 2." So we went. And trains came and went. "No, it can’t be this one…" and so on. Then, one looked right, so we got on and shortly, the two empty seats next to us were filled with a little girl (Marta, about 11y/o) and a rotating cast of her family. My mother made conversation with her, which she really enjoyed. We met her little brother, Orlando, mother Ellen, and friend Julia. She showed us her school textbooks and her little brother spazzed out a lot and talked way too enthusiastically. It was really neat. Her mother enlisted other passengers’ help to try to help us figure out where to go to get our rental car in Pisa. Really nice people.

Finally in Pisa, back and forth to the tourist office to check the location, and then on a bus to the Pisa airport, which seems more like a shopping mall than anything, but whatever. Crowded, annoying, Italian servicemen everywhere shipping out, loading their bags on carts to push around (ain’t they ‘posed to be able to carry that stuff?) Got the paper, went to get the car. The shuttle to the lot where the car was would only take the driver, so I waited alone with the luggage. And waited. And waited. When the shuttle driver returned for the second time after dropping off other drivers, with my mother in tow (At least she wasn’t lost in Italy somewhere) it seemed the car wouldn’t start. Finally, the mechanic brought it around and showed my mother that there’s a special trick (involving a red light and a special button on the key fob)to start the dang thing. We’d had enough, with late planes, wrong trains, dehydration, and no sleep.

My mother was not born to drive. She can do OK in California I suppose, but the Italians DRIVE. Active, not passive, like Americans. Tailgating is normal. They drive fast in curvy small roads without a thought. My mom normally has a lead foot, but the damn rental beeps and tells you "eccesive speed, slow down" on a little LED screen when you go over 90km/hour. Which is pretty slow. We got passed by Volkswagens, RV’s, and even SCOOTERS. Ugh.
Got turned around a few times, but finally found our place before sunset. And damn, is it nice. Cold as shit, but incredibly scenic and just perfect. Apartment upstairs in Tuscany with a view of the walled medieval town San Gimignano out the window. Downstairs is a farm with cats and chickens in the yard. There’s a woodburning stove, library of books, games, and tourist info, kitchen, wine, and, get this, they baked us a PIE. When was the last time a stranger baked you a PIE????

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