Saturday, June 16, 2012

First Day in Italy - Trains

And so, the adventure begins!

We caught the flight to New York - LaGuardia without any trouble on Friday. Got to hang out with my Dad for an hour as the flight was an hour and a half delayed. It has been awhile since I've visited New York. It was fun flying over the city and recognizing so many landmarks. We took a cab from LaGuardia to JFK - the third time I can remember ever taking a cab. The last real normal cab was in seventh grade in London. I suppose I just haven't had very many opportunities to need to take a cab, but it was kind of fun. I'm happy I wasn't driving. Crazy traffic in New York. Crazy drivers.

At JFK we grabbed some sandwiches and then waited at our gate. There was some tossing around of seats and passengers and I was listed as the last standby passenger to maybe get a seat. Morgan and Mom got on. And then suddenly there wasn't a seat for me anymore. I was number 12 with 11 seats left. But then things shuffled again and I was able to snag the last available seat in Business. I'll take it.

(Pause. At LaGuardia before we caught the cab to JFK, we all used the ladies restroom. I'm not entirely certain, but my mother and I are pretty sure that there was a man in our restroom. There are lots of other possible explanations, you know, not everyone who looks like a man is a man, but if I were to guess, I'd say this was a man. He nonchalantly washed his hands and walked out, holding the door open for the lady coming in. There was nothing bad about it, it was just...odd.)

For those of you who aren't familiar with Stand-by flying, essentially, if you're related by one of a couple different paths to an employee of an airline, you get certain flying privileges. One of those is being able to fly stand-by, essentially flying for free (when I was younger), or for a fraction of the price (now), but with no guarentee that you'll get on. You only ever get seats when there are open seats available. Flying domestic, passengers can easily upgrade to first class. Flying international though, somehow it is either more difficult, or more expensive, and there are frequently more Business seats open than Coach. So, I felt lucky not only to get on the flight, but to be seated where I was. Stand-by can be incredible inexpensive, but it comes at a considerable risk that you won't get on your flights.

So, cushy flight to Milan. Lots of food. At odd times. We'd just eaten sandwiches and then they fed us an hour or so into the flight. It felt...wasteful on some level, because they kept bringing food, but I wasn't hungry. And then in the morning (6:30 a.m. in Italy, 12:30 a.m. EST) they fed us breakfast and I still wasn't really hungry. I don't know about you, but I don't typically eat breakfast at midnight...

I watched the most recent Mission Impossible and got about four hours of sleep. Not too bad for an eight hour flight. It was kind of interesting looking at the flight map as we flew over Europe. All of the city names were listed, but there were no borders on the map. It was...refreshing to see the land laid out like that. I know there are maps like that, but I just hadn't noticed how unified it looked until today.

Morgan and I had a creepy stare exchange during the last little bit of the flight. Morgan thinks I give her creepy looks. Perhaps I do. Anyhow, it was much easier for me to play the game than for her, as I was sitting several rows back and to the right of her. I had an easy view of her, but she had to turn around to give me creepy/creeped out looks in return. I think the couple behind her may have been quite confused by her behavior.

A small oddity at the end of the flight. Apparently a man got out of his seat to "use the restroom" just as we were getting close to pulling into the gate. Rather than simply asking him to be seated in person, the flight attendant looking at him used the P.A. to tell him, repeatedly, to sit back in his seat. It was...awkward for everyone.

Our first train to Milan Central was easy - no problems, but once in Milan Central, everything became very confusing. We were looking for an information station, to active our tickets and to try and find the appropriate platform to head to Florence. No where could we see any listings for Florence/Firenze because instead of listing that, they listed a destination farther down the line, Salerno. We eventually asked someone and they explained it to us. There were also two trains going that direction, the fast train and the slower (less expensive train) which we already had tickets for. We opted for the one we'd already paid for and walked over to the platform just as the train was coming in. Everyone was heading down to the far end of the train, so we followed, but then back tracked to the front car to sit in a 1st class car.

Seated in one of the 1st class cars, we poured over our tickets and filled them in (activating them) and then sat and looked over them for a bit longer. After fifteen minutes or so we discovered that we had two passes, one for general travel in Europe, and one for more regional travel. The first pass was for 1st class, but the second (which we were about to use) was for 2nd class. Realizing our error we got up just as a couple came to sit just where we'd been sitting (important) and walked down to the the first 2nd class car and sat down in some seats. After we'd been there for about five minutes some people came along and said we were sitting in their seats. Confused, we realized that most people made reservations for the seats they bought. We moved to another car and found seats (again) but realized that the couple that had come to our seats in the first car had likely been coming to their reserved seats as well. So, we're in our third seats. The train leaves. We stay in those seats (in a compartment for six passengers) for quite awhile until one by one, more passengers get on along the way to Florence and guess what? We were in their seats. Fortunately, there were seats in the hallway of the train (little pull down flap seats) that no one could reserve, so we got to enjoy those and each and every person who squeezed by with their large bags, as well as the food trolly man. It was quite exciting.

We finally reached a Firenze (Florence) station, but it wasn't the station we needed to be on, so we figured we'd stay on another stop and get off at the next Florence station. Well, that was the only one the train stopped at in Florence so we hopped off (half an hour later) in Arrezo and took the train heading back which took us directly to the station we wanted. A very round about way of getting where we wanted to go. Let me just say, these things seemed very simple but they were far less simple than we'd expected. We figured it out, but it wasn't particularly newbie friendly.

A nice walk with our luggage rolling over the cobble stones and we finally arrived at Della Rosa, our apartment, and Alexander let us in and gave us the walk through. It is a cool little apartment with sparsely placed rather kitschy small decorative items, but overlooks a busy street in Florence. We have a balcony. And an inside view of a little courtyard. It's fun. :)

We went for a walk, grabbed some food, bought some water, walked around some more, listened to some street music, and finally came home to crash and recover from the long day (two days...) traveling. It's been a crazy day, full of mistakes, but we've learned a great deal and it has been an adventure along the way.

Last thought for the day. It is easy to end up feeling like we're in a bubble as far as language is concerned. I know there are more people here who speak English, but while we were on the train, it was easy to feel as if no one understood us, so even though we were talking in public, it felt like a private conversation. It was interesting.

1 comment:

  1. I wondered about the pictures of you all sitting in the train's hallway. It's hard to understand a foreign country's transportation system at first glance. Probably their communication system, too. I'm glad you all got to your destination safely! Looking forward to hearing more about it! Have fun!