We are safely ensconced in an airport hotel in Rome after arriving late this afternoon, waiting for an early morning flight home.
It was a long and rather unsettling day. We set out this morning from our lovely haven in Tuscany, enjoying the ride through the hills. The sun was out, the temperature cool. A perfect day, really. One that made us wish we had a little more time.
I did manage to get a peek at La Foce’s celebrated gardens before we left despite it not being a garden tour day. Sweetie, not much interested in flowers, stayed behind to pay the bill and distract the receptionist who had unlocked the garden gate for me, giving me a few extra minutes. As I walked along the garden wall looking out at the valley vista, I ran into an elderly gentleman. White haired, a little stooped, walking with a cane. He was dressed with somewhat shabby elegance.
“Buon giorno,” he called, “Bellisimo giornata!”
“Si,’ said I. He switched to English; we chatted a bit. I asked if he lived on the property. He said yes, for a few days at a time. I’m not sure what that meant and have no idea who he was but he was clearly at home. As we walked through the archway of trees and vines that cover the stone walk, he suddenly veered off the path. Bye bye, he said. And he was gone. An unexpected little pleasure as I said goodbye to Tuscany.
We were feeling quite confident as we drove towards Chiusi where we planned to drop off the rental car and catch the train back to Rome. We made all the correct turns, found the highway, recognized landmarks from our drive in. Until we reached the town. Somehow, somehow, we missed a turn. We twisted and turned through narrow one way lanes which all seemed to drop off the cliff down one side. Suddenly, we were heading back towards Tuscany. We stopped on a hill. A scary steep hill. Especially in a little Fiat with a rather clunky standard transmission. I closed my eyes, Sweetie turned us around and we headed back for another try. More twists, more turns and still no clue where we were. The clock was ticking, my anxiety building. Finally, I spotted a post office and went in hoping for directions.
“Buon giornio, signora. Parla inglese?”
“No.” The postal clerk smiled and turned away, clearly not remotely interested in helping a lost tourist. Fortunately, there were several customers in the post office. A man turned to me and said he spoke a little English. I asked for the street of the car rental agency. Some head scratching, some lively discussion in Italian with the other patrons.
Finally, he said, “You turn, you go down, down, down, past round, straight. You find it.” This was accompanied with some pointing and waving of arms. The trouble was, they kept pointing and waving in different directions each time he tried to repeat the instructions.
Ok. I went back to the car feeling less than confident. Suddenly, the man was banging on the car window. He pointed some more, sending us in a different direction before going down, down, down etc.
“Ok?” he asks.
“Ok. Grazie mille.” We looked at each other, followed the new directions, went down, down, down. A long way down. Suddenly, things began to look a bit familiar!
“Look, Sweetie! The Fiat sign! We found it!” Huge sighs of relief, we returned the car and made the train. We have concluded that neither maps nor a GPS are of any use in Italy. Just leave twice as much time as you think you need to get anywhere and you will be okay. Probably.
Each train we’ve been on in Italy has been different from the last. This one had separate compartments, each with six seats, three and three facing each other.
Ours was already occupied by three men. It was a most uncomfortable trip. The man sitting directly across from me, a large man in a grubby grey track suit, stared intently. I smiled hello. No response. Just the stare. Which continued for most of the hour long ride. His feet moved closer and closer to mine. Sweetie, who was sitting beside me, began to stare back. Moved his feet in front of mine as a kind of barrier. We looked at some of our photos on the camera. I stared out the window. Did everything I could to avoid making further eye contact with grey suit man. Finally, we left the compartment and moved to wait for our stop near the exit.
Sweetie turns towards me. His eyes start to dance. I can see he’s trying not to laugh.
He suggests I look at my nose in the mirror. There is a large brown spot on the end of it, acquired no doubt when the coffee man came by right after we boarded and I was desperate for a little caffeine. He’s now chortling away. “Don’t say it,” I tell him.
Once in Rome, we grabbed a cab to the airport hotel. Sweetie wanted to know if the hotel had a pool.
“Oh yes,” says the young woman who is checking us in, “But you need to wear a bathing cap. They are available in the fitness centre.”
“A bathing cap?” says Sweetie.
“Yes, they are mandatory for everyone.”
I smile. “What’s the matter? You’re afraid of wearing a bathing cap?”
“No,” says Sweetie. “It’s Facebook I’m afraid of.” Especially after all the comments on the squashable hat.
It’s been a wonderful trip in so many ways. Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, provocative and filled with laughter, great meals and good wine. Today, though, I am feeling a bit fragile. My emotions are closer to the surface. The call of home has been getting steadily louder and I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again.