Ups and Downs of Travel

I was going to wait until Wednesday to finish this story. But what if the train really does crash? And that would be too bad because you’d be missing the last part of the story, which I have to get from the Bologna police.

From the beginning:

One of the really nice things about living in Europe is the ability to travel quite economically to other countries in a few hours’ time.

We left for a weekend in London. This was instead of our yearly trip to Montecarlo for the Tennis tournament. Something a bit different. Also, there was a friend of Dante’s in London at the time and he wanted to meet with him.

As always, I get very anxious about getting to the airport on time, and I nagged Dante to be ready to leave so we can arrive with time to spare at the airport. The fact that his being late already cost us a flight to London some years ago, only adds to my anxiety. But he just doesn’t get it. So we left a half hour later than I had wanted.

Besides worrying about the time it may take to go through security, there is always the extra ten minutes that it takes us to find the cheap parking area where we had made a reservation. It’s very cheap (about 4 euro a day) and very close to the airport (about 100 m walk), but it’s tucked away on a side street behind some construction and with the one way streets it’s difficult to find.

Anyway, we found it and arrived at the gate area 5 minutes before they began boarding. Perfect for Dante..Hell for me!! Normally, we would be flying Ryan Air or one of the other cheap airlines, but somehow we stumbled on a great price with British Airways. 114 Euro round trip! Cheaper than the cheapest airline! And much more comfortable. A bit of leg room in Economy Class. Even Dante wasn’t uncomfortable! And with the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, it was really convenient. Our hotel was a 5 minute walk from Paddington.

On our last trip to London, we decided to check out another hotel very close to where we had stayed for a few years. One of the things our hotel didn’t have is a lobby and we saw that there was one a few doors away that had a fairly large lobby, so we stopped and asked about prices for our next trip. It turned out that the price was pretty much the same as we had been paying and we asked if we could see a room. But the hotel was full because of the Rolling Stones Concert which was happening that evening in Hyde Park right at the end of that street, so we couldn’t see a room. But we figured they’re probably all about equal. So this time we made the reservation at the Norfolk Plaza Hotel.

We arrived late in the afternoon on Friday and in the light of day, the hotel did look a bit dated and tired but, what the hell it had a lobby! Dante wanted to pay cash because there is an extra charge for using a credit card, so he went out to change some euros to pounds. I went and sat down in the famous lobby to wait for him. I couldn’t believe it! The furniture was fake leather and it was all ripped, the stuffing coming out in many places! I’ve never seen anything like it! AI AI! What have we done?

When Dante returned and checked in, he didn’t see me in the famous lobby, so he went up to our room. I followed and when I saw the room, I was amazed! Three single beds, all lined up like a dormitory, .not a thing on the walls, not even bad motel art. Everything just looked dingy! And why the three beds? Also the bathtub had a spot where the enamel (or whatever it was) had worn off so it looked dirty.

Oh well, it had a lobby, which as it turned out was the only place with wi-fi access. So I went back down and sat on the ripped armchair and tried to get on line. It took a long time to come up, but then finally worked. I had to use the bathroom while I was downstairs, so I asked where that was, and it was down another level where the breakfast (which was NOT included) room was. Every step down was dirtier than the one before…AI AI! I’m getting out of here!!!

On the way to dinner we stopped at another hotel up the street where it said there was a vacancy. It was right next to our old hotel and had been recently refurbished. It looked very nice and very clean. We asked how much the room would be and it was only going to be a total of 25 pounds more the Nofolk Plaza, but it included breakfast, so in fact, was actually cheaper. Unfortunately, it had no lobby!! We made the reservation and said we’d be there in the morning.

When we returned from dinner, we stopped at the reception desk and told the girl that we had a change of plans and would be checking out in the morning. She explained she could not give cash back, but the manager would credit the American Express card Dante used to make the reservation. Unfortunately, it was the weekend and the manager would not be in until Monday. So we should leave all the information and it would be reimbursed on Monday. Not a very secure feeling, but we were getting out of there anyway.

After not sleeping on the very uncomfortable mattresses, we got up at 0630 and checked out. There was a man at the desk who had a note from the girl the night before. Perhaps he was the manager because he credited Dante’s card with no problem. We walked down the street to leave our bags at the new hotel, being as it was way too early to check in. The lovely girl there suggested that we go downstairs and have breakfast for free. We had told her our sad story. I guess she felt sorry for us.

The rest of the weekend went well. The weather was quite chilly and I was glad that Dante had talked me into bringing my nice new Barbour knock-off jacket that he had bought me. So as long as the rain held off, walking around was fine. We really like the Hyde Park area and feel quite comfortable zipping down to the tube and travelling all around London.

We went to lunch at a Peruvian restaurant that Dante had seen on the internet. Since he’s been to Peru a couple of times, he knew the menu and was really happy to see his favorite dish, ceviche, which is raw fish cured with lemon and spices and served with vegetables. I opted for a poached egg dish with spinach served with a lovely sauce I cannot begin to describe, but it was very nice. For dinner, we returned to the neighborhood Indian restaurant where we had eaten a number of other times. Then a little walk around Hyde Park

This time we wanted to find some new places to see and new restaurants to try out. So on Sunday we went to Spitafield Market, which is a huge open-air market surrounded by vintage shops and fast food holes in the wall. The name of the market derives from the WWII Spitfire airplanes that the Brits used to defend London during the Blitzes. The merchants at this marketplace donated a Spitfire to the British Air Force and so the market became known as Spitafield.

A new experience for me was seeing people sitting on the sidewalk eating their take-away. Didn’t seem like anything I’d like to do but it was interesting to see them sitting next to bags of garbage, munching away at Indian or Middle Eastern food wrapped in paper. I’m not much of a shopper, but Dante loves the markets, especially the vintage stores. I actually found a purse that I liked for 20 pounds and Dante bought me a scarf, which is a knock-off of some famous brand I don’t recognize.

After all the walking around, we returned to our hotel (without the lobby) to rest up for dinner. We had found a place called Cross Keys, which is a 300 year old pub located in Chelsea. Check it out at: http://www.thecrosskeyschelsea.co.uk/ .

We tried to make an on-line reservation, but they said that after 5 pm, you must call for a reservation. I called them and they said they could accommodate a party of 2 at 8 pm. I asked what tube station was near and they said Sloan Square was the nearest but that it was about a 20 minute walk from there so it would be better to take a taxi. Good advice since it was probably more like 30 minute walk and we’d never find it.

When we arrived at Sloan Square, Dante realized that he had left his wallet at the hotel. Bad news because I hadn’t changed any money so all I had was plastic. No big problem, I thought. Of course the restaurant would take credit cards. But what about the taxi? There was a taxi line near the station and I went and asked the first one if he took credit cards, “Sorry, no. Try the guy behind me”, he said. The second cab also said no. The third cab driver said, “Are you asking if I take credit cards?” I answered yes and he said, “No but where are you going?” I told him the Cross Keys restaurant and he said, “It’s not far, hop in and I’ll take you there for free.”

What???? I couldn’t believe it! A taxi driver offering a ride for free??? Wow! He insisted it was no problem. Just a short ride. So we got in. I offered to give him euros, but he refused, reiterating that he was happy to do it. What a nice guy!! What I should have done is have him take us to an ATM then I could have paid him. But I didn’t think of it.

He dropped us off at the restaurant and I immediately checked to make sure they take credit cards. I also asked if there was a cash machine near where I could get some pounds. He told me there was a machine up the street, not too far. But this was a residential neighborhood and it sounded like it might be a challenge to find it. Oh well, we’d find it. We needed the cash for the taxi back to the station. But it could wait until after we had dinner.

Dinner was very nice. We had an appetizer of crab on toast and we both ordered their version of Fish and Chips. A bit non-traditional since the fish was more like fish sticks and was normally served in a bun and called a Fish burger. But we ordered it without the bun and it was close enough to normal Fish and Chips.

After we had asked for the bill, the waiter came and asked me how much money I needed to get from the ATM. I said I’d probably take out 50 pounds. He said that was a bit much but he’d ask the boss if he could give it to us and charge the credit card. Well, in that case, 20 pounds would be more than sufficient. WOW! First the taxi driver and now the waiter offering to help us out. Who ever said the Brits were cold fish? In the space of 2 hours, 2 complete strangers went out of their way to be more than kind to us. WOW!

And then came Monday morning……..

Another flight. Another trip to the airport. Another anxiety attack for me.

Our plane leaves at 0850. The Heathrow Express train leaves at 0710. If we make that we should be at the airport about an hour before flight time. This, for me, is the absolute minimum of time for my comfort level. We left the hotel at 0700, 10 minutes later than I would have liked, but we made the train with 4 minutes to spare.

We flew through security because British Airways is very efficient and has about 15 security belts. So we were inside at 0745. Perfect for me. Way too early for Dante, who continued to insist we were 2 hours early.

Anyway, what happened from there depends on who’s telling the story…

Suffice to say that the gate wasn’t posted when I looked at 0815. Then Dante went to the bathroom. And the next thing I knew it was 0845. I looked for the gate and saw 17. I called Dante but he didn’t answer. I waited for him and when he came down the stairs, I was practically running to gate 17.

Of course when we got there, the gate was closed and Dante said he thought it was gate 13. Which it was, and the 2 minutes it took to get there was enough to miss the flight. I believe that we had already missed it anyway.

How I let the time get away like that, I don’t really know. But why Dante hadn’t come back from the bathroom when he saw gate 13 and the time, I also don’t know. So, even though we were at the airport in time, we missed the flight. Now we’re yelling at each other and he’s saying it’s my fault we missed the flight. I agree it was my fault that I missed the flight, but it was his fault that HE missed the flight!

And now to the British Airways desk to get another flight. There were no more flights going to Pisa from Heathrow that day. Here were our options:
1) Come back tomorrow and take the 0850 to Pisa. Price: Approx 380 pounds each + 40 to rewrite the ticket. Plus, of course, another night in London.
2) Flight from Gatwick to Pisa leaving in 2 hours. It would take us at least 1 ½ hours to get to Gatwick and that wouldn’t be certain depending on traffic. Price about the same as above but not really an option.
3) Flight to Rome leaving in 2 hours. Price 665 pounds each + 40 to rewrite the ticket. Too much.
4) Flight to Bologna leaving in 6 hours. Price about 375 pounds + 40 to rewrite the ticket.

There went our great 114 euro tickets! Naturally, all the above were in addition to the 114 euro. We chose option 4. We would have to take a train from Bologna to Florence, then to Montecatini and a taxi up the hill since it would be too late for the bus up the hill. Or we could get a train from Florence to Lucca to Pisa and get our car. We had 6 hours in the airport to consider which of these options we’d execute.

We arrived in Bologna and took a bus from the airport to the train station. They have the strangest system there for buying a ticket from the agents. There are machines, but Dante prefers to speak to someone in case he has questions. So there is a room with 3 windows for selling tickets.

The room is closed with glass sliding doors. There is a funny little man in a funny little uniform (presumably issued by the station) guarding the door. He stands in front of a ticket dispenser that gives out numbers for entering the ticketing area. Kind of like taking a ticket at the deli counter and waiting your turn.

There are about 8 numbers before us and it looks like everyone takes about 10 minutes to get their ticket. I’m off to the machine. It can’t be that difficult. Dante is a little machine phobic, but I point out that there’s a woman there that can help us. So off we go to try to figure it out. Actually, it’s not too difficult as long as one doesn’t press random buttons!

At last we figured it out and the machine spit out our tickets. I turned to pick up my suitcase and it was gone! At this point, I wasn’t even upset. It just seemed like it was bound to happen given the day we’d had. I immediately wanted to go to the police but Dante said it was useless. I insisted because even though I didn’t think they’d recover my bag, I thought I might have insurance so I was going to make a claim in any case.

We had about ½ hour to wait for our train so I hoped we could get it done within that time. The Station Police were right there and we told them what had happened. One officer asked which machine we were using so we took him there. He went back and looked through the video of the last ten minutes and sure enough he saw me at the machine with my red bag right beside and a bit behind me. He showed me a still shot and I confirmed it was I. So I had to make a “denuncia”. We told the officer that we were in a time crunch and he did hurry it along. It took about 15 minutes and we left for our train.

Now, losing your suitcase can range from a real tragedy to a mere annoyance. Mine falls somewhere in the middle of that. Firstly, there were no documents or cash in it. I still had my purse. I also had my laptop computer in its own carrying case. But, it was 10 degrees C when we left London and it was 24 degrees C in Bologna, so I had taken off my nice new Barbour knock-off and put it in the suitcase when we landed at the airport. In the pocket of the jacket were the keys to the house and to our other car as well as my bank card that I had used to buy the train ticket to the airport. I believe there is also a 10 pound note in the same pocket.

Enough with the DOWNS..Time for an UP..

About 10 minutes into our train ride, the police called Dante’s cell phone to report that they had found my suitcase. Incredible! Not to be believed! Not only that, it was full! The idiot who took it was still in the area and evidently hadn’t even looked in it yet. I still can’t believe they found it. They said it would be a few days before we could retrieve it.

Back to the DOWNS:

It was really too late to try to get to Pisa to pick up our car and also too late to get the dogs from the Pensione. So we decided to go straight home. But the problem was that Dante’s keys were with the car in Pisa and mine were in the stolen suitcase.

So we began calling Vivetta, our neighbor who has a spare key to the house, but she wasn’t home. Finally, I remembered that I gave another house key to Davide, another neighbor and it turned out that he was home and did still have the key. One hurdle overcome.

Then the next thing was how to get the dogs the next day. Normally, I would meet Angela, the dog sitter, down the hill but I explained I had no keys for the other car and she agreed to drive them up the hill. Second hurdle jumped.

Then, of course, I had to take a bus down the hill and a train to Lucca and another to Pisa to get the car as well as the other set of keys. That was a 5 hour evolution. So, instead of being home around 2 pm on Monday, it was 8 pm on Tuesday before the trip was really ended. Ended, but not finished. Don’t forget the suitcase is still in Bologna.

The police called on Thursday to say we could pick up the suitcase. So on Friday we drove to Prato to take the direct train to Bologna. When we got to the station, we looked at the schedule and saw that all the trains were “supresso”.What happened? Was there a terrible accident? No! A sciopero! A strike! Oh shit! Italian trains go on strike a couple of times a year. It’s usually just for one day and if we were home we may have seen the notice on the television or in the paper. But we obviously didn’t see it.

Dante called the police and told them we would come Monday. Of course, Monday is a holiday here. April 25, when we saved Italy’s ass back in 1945. So not Monday. Tuesday Dante is busy. So Wednesday it is. I’ll finish the story then because I want to include the story of how the police actually found my suitcase, that is if the train to Bologna doesn’t crash on Wednesday!

It’s Wednesday. The train didn’t crash. In fact, it was an uneventful trip to get the suitcase, except for the little anxiety I felt when there was no answer at the police depository where my suitcase was being held. We were told to call an tell them when we were arriving and Dante called at least a half-dozen times starting from when we left the house and continuing on the train to Bologna.

Finally, just before we arrived in Bologna, someone answered. Dante said we were arriving at 1245 pm. The depository is about ½ kilometer away from the train station, so Dante went there while I waited at the Police station. We had to fill out some papers (of course).

When Dante returned with my suitcase, I checked and saw that everything was there. My bank card, my keys, and the 10 pound note in the pocket of my jacket. Evidently, the young Moroccan man with the orange cap was not smart enough to put a little distance between himself and the train station. He was seen by the police strolling down a nearby street with my red suitcase. Evidently he never even opened the suitcase.

The policeman explained that there is a new law now that allows for victims to make a “denuncia” against the thief, but we weren’t interested. I can’t even imagine what a bureaucratic mess that would be. Plus we had the return train to catch in 10 minutes.

And nothing was missing from my suitcase, so except for the inconvenience of the keys and the bank card being missing for 9 days, it wasn’t so bad after all. The Moroccan with the orange cap will no doubt be swiping someone else’s suitcase and maybe they’ll make the “denuncia.”

The journey is now complete and ended on an UP.

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9 Responses to Ups and Downs of Travel

  1. Eva Silverfine April 29, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

    You find adventure wherever you go….

  2. Ed Poirier April 29, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    Louise and I spent some time in London 2 years ago and found the people very helpful and pleasant to deal with. Keep writing. I enjoy reading your stories. If you ever find yourself in San Francisco area, let me know so we can meet up.

  3. elsie souza April 29, 2016 at 11:19 pm #

    great adventure lol, love the story.

  4. RowZ April 30, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    Mary….as USUAL, never just a “three hour tour” (Gilligans Island)….LOL!!! And having BEEN to that Bologna train station WITH you, we were able to picture how it all unfolded. GREAT story!!! Keep em coming… but next time, STAY HOME! lol!!

  5. carol April 30, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    Ciao Mary – OMG ~ Lots going on for a trip to London! I enjoyed reading it but wouldn’t want to experience it. The only thing you didn’t mention was rain. Did it rain in London? Dante would have loved that!

    • Mary April 30, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

      Just a few drops on Friday afternoon. But it was pretty cold and cloudy the rest of the time.

  6. PATTY May 1, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    UN F—— BELIEVABLE…I THOUGHT OF U & THAT TERM ON MY TRIP TO CHICAGO ALONG THE NORTHERN ROUTE! REMEMBER OUR TRIP TO OHIO?

    I THINK BOTH OF US SHOULD STOP TAKING TRIPS. I KNOW I AM! ENJOYED THE STORY, AS USUAL. TOO BAD I CAN’T WRITE. MY STORIES WOULD BE INTERESTING TOO.

    LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT ONE…

  7. Jeff Johnson May 5, 2016 at 5:03 pm #

    I really LOVE your stories, detailed descriptions of your adventures and experiences in life. You have a certain karma which makes your life interesting, full of excitement, love and adventure. Your willingness to survive in any situation is a strength I greatly admire in you. Keep telling us about your exciting life with Dante and your dogs. Warmest regards, Mary, your Navy shipmate, Jeff

  8. Wayne Brokke May 15, 2016 at 8:35 am #

    WOW, The story made me sad, tired and anxious all at the same time. I am sure you feel the same. Loved it
    !

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