Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why Are All of These People Speaking Italian?

We got up on Saturday March 24th at 4:30am and left our apartment at 5:30am. It was dark when we walked across town to the train station to catch our bus to the airport. When we arrived at the train station, we found, not only the ticket office closed, but also no buses running due to the early hour. This was going to make it much more difficult to take a bus to the airport. Being the resourceful travelers that we are, we hailed a taxi and arrived at the airport with time to spare. Good thing, as it took awhile to make it through security, weigh all of our luggage, (see previous blog entry for pooling) and making it through the metal detector. For some reason, I kept making the metal detectors go off so I had to be frisked and then totally scanned with a wand. The security officer finally decided that it was the zipper in my slacks that was making their machines protest. When it came time to board the plane for unassigned seats, there truly was a stampede of passengers for the terminal doors and then some nasty pushing and shoving trying to be one of the first to the airplane stairs. The girls were totally embarrassed by my behavior. We managed to get four seats close to each other on the plane and, yes indeed, they each had a seat belt. True to their word, there was no drink or snack service on the plane. They did have soft drinks and beer for purchase. Next, the 2 stewards walked up and down the aisles selling cigarettes. Then, they tried to sell us lottery tickets. I was beginning to feel like I was headed for Las Vegas.
After our plane landed in Milan, we took a bus to the Florence train station, then a train from Florence to Lucca. We had gotten up at 4:30 and arrived in Lucca at 3:00pm, so we were pretty tired. The last hurdle was to get from the train station to our hotel, hidden somewhere in the winding, tiny streets of an Italian city that was straight out of a Renaissance painting. Carrying, pulling, and generally dragging our luggage, we made our way over the bricks, rocks and cobblestones of Lucca. I had the distinct feeling that these streets were made before the arrival of wheeled suitcases. Along the way, we were treated to the lyrical comments of little voices expressing their appreciation of the historical sites they were seeing firsthand; "I'm tired, I'm thirsty, I'm hungry, Can't we take a taxi?" All set to the tune of Santa Lucia, of course.
Finally, after 30 minutes of hiking with the happy campers, Jim knew that we were within a few blocks of the hotel, he just wasn't sure which block held the coveted building. He navigates using the "geometrical method" (his words) while I use the, "Let's ask directions" method. After a few minutes of wandering and seeing the same blocks 2 or 3 times, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I walked into a corner, meat, cheese and fruit shop and asked the lovely lady behind the counter for directions to the hotel. I showed her the address on my paper and she lit up, knowing exactly where it was. Unfortunately for me, she was Italian.  After giving me several directions in great detail, complete with many hand motions which pointed the way to our desired destination, she smiled and waved me on. I thanked her (in Italian, I want you to know) and stepped outside to address my bleary-eyed, yet hopeful family members. Jim asked me what she said. I said, "Plenty. I just don't know what it was. Can you believe it was all in Italian and about 23 steps long?" I decided to follow the hand directions she had made and stop in the next store we came to for further hand motions.
After 3 blocks, I was overjoyed to see the street sign that matched the address of our hotel. I walked faster and stopped in front of the entrance to a building built in the 1600's - our hotel. Visions of hauling water from the town well to our room appeared in my mind. We all went inside and navigated the rickety stairs to a gothic wooden door with a handwritten sign on it, stating it was our B and B. I rang the doorbell twice but no one answered. At this point, all I wanted was a bed of straw so I could get horizontal and recover from the long trip. We rang the bell two more times and were ecstatic to hear the sound of footsteps coming. The door opened and a man appeared. I was so happy to see him, I grabbed his hand and enthusiastically began shaking it, explaining that I was Becky Caruthers and I wanted to check into our room. Continuing to shake my hand, he replied, "Hi, I'm Robert and I'm a tourist." I was too tired to be embarressed. He had left his hotel room to answer the door with the annoying American on the other side.  He pointed us to the manager's office who checked us in and showed us to our room. I shook her hand too, just not as enthusiastically.