Saturday, October 26, 2013


Italy is a lot of wonderful things: food and art stand out. But it does not have the "tourist-friendly"  part figured out. An example has been the past 24 hours. Yesterday (Oct 25) we considered that today (26) that we could go to Pisa, then to Corsica, spend one or two nights, and return. Knowing for a certainty that DOES NOT WORK (and I don't care what the printed tour books say to the contrary - IT DOES NOT WORK NOW: no matter where you want to go from Florence, it says there are no trains; none to Rome, none to Venice, none to Pisa, none today, none tomorrow, none the day after tomorrow) so, I checked on the Pisa-Corsica ferry: only 1, at 8am.  On our way back from Perugia, I stopped at the ticket machine at the Florence train station (there are no employees selling tickets: 100% automated) and confirmed a train 6:31am -7:25am Florence to Pisa.

Last night we were considering our plans for next week and I wanted to look at going to Venice Tuesday or Thursday. While does not work, its chat feature does. So I asked about prices and times. "It is best to get that information at the train station" was the response. No kidding! So I told them 3x that I was not going to walk a half hour to the train station to "talk" to a machine. Finally she said the times. She was wrong!  Then I found another URL which accesses a different entry point for trenitalia and this one let me select an outbound trip but no matter how many times I tried, it ignored my return date and time and put in 7:55 am on January 1st. So I connected to chat. I was told "Just buy your outbound ticket, then go back in (re-enter all of the same information) and buy your return ticket"!!  No kidding.

So, we got up at 5a, had breakfast, and left the apartment at 5:55a, walked to the train station. No 6:31am train to Pisa. It was not cancelled. It does not run on Saturday but at 3p on Friday the computer showed a 6:31am train for the next day.  What to do?  We are packed for 2 days.  Donna suggested we go to Rome. We bought a ticket and tried to find WiFi. There is a food court. McDonalds there has no wifi. The only WiFi requires a pass code from a "Chef Express" receipt however - in true Italian form - there is no restaurant "Chef Express" in the food court. As we walked out, there was a sign on the door (maybe 3" high) that said "Chef Express".  We went back in but still no luck finding it among the many restaurants so I walked over to ask someone and in tiny letters (less than 1") on her name tag: "Chef Express". So Donna tried to buy something. No, have to pay across the food court and bring back the ticket. So Donna stood in line and ordered orange juice. But the ticket booth had no change!  No kidding.

We boarded the Eurostar (€88 for 2) at 6:50am to Rome.  Immediately 2 very large, very loud women sat down by us (reserved seats). They BOTH simultaneously talked loudly in Italian, elbowed me a half dozen times and once clapped loudly as I - and the other travelers around us - tried to sleep. Despite announcements over the PA in English and Italian to please be quiet, they bellowed on the entire 1:45 to Rome.  I'm not sure either one ever inhaled.

At Rome we needed information. There was a sign for "Information" with an arrow!!  It pointed to a blank wall. We asked directions and found another sign for "Information" and another arrow! It turned out that it pointed the wrong way.  Finally we located the information center at the central Rome train station. ONE person working there.  Long line. We waited.  Has no maps.  Sign says they have no information on trains!  In the TRAIN STATION. No kidding.

Found the ticket office for the ferry to Sardinia.  It's an overnight ferry - 4 hours - leaving at 10p.  Set out looking for WiFi. None. Not even at McD.  So now we've decided to haul our bag to the Metro, find a map, and go to the Coliseum.  Maybe we can find WiFi (to find a hotel) at lunch.

We did not plan on 3 things: how a 30 pound pack would hurt my foot; and how 90 degree sunny windless  weather in clothing for 70 degrees would exhaust me, and how incredibly HUGE the crowds were approaching the Vatican.  But I get ahead of myself. 

We went to the Metro, bought 2 all day metro passes (€6 ea) and a Metro map and rode 2 stops to the Coliseum.  Line for an €8 ticket was half way around the 60,000 seat facility so we paid €25 each to skip the line and have a guide. It was a nice tour and we got some good pictures. By the time we finished the tour of the Coliseum and the Forum and the Roman Senate (not where Julius Caesar was killed - this building was under construction at the time), it was almost 1p so we grabbed a sandwich and a water at a roadside stand, walked around the Coliseum in the blazing heat, and hopped the train to the Vatican which closes at 4p.  We walked about six blocks when we encountered a huge solid, impenetrable mass of people. Half of them were in various protests about something and the other half were standing 10 deep in a long line snaking along the way and out of sight. They were waiting in the blazing heat (the Rome Chamber of Commerce says it was 80 today; maybe in a villa, in the shade; but on the asphalt in line with 50,000 people in the bright sun it was 90!) to get in to the Vatican.  We never got close enough in the crowd to see how far away the entrance was. A mile?  Two?  We have no idea. We never saw any part of the Vatican grounds . 

So, we grabbed a cab to the train terminal, there was a bullet train leaving in 5 minutes going back to Florence; we bought our €44 each tickets and hopped on. The air conditioning hit me in the face and instantly the pack was lighter. No, that was because Donna had carried it for awhile. In the ac I was instantly asleep, waking an hour and a half later as we were approaching Florence. At 4p we were back at our apartment.  As we approached our apartment we were speaking with an Italian couple who explained that there was very little tourism to Corsica and Sardinia in October. I smiled and nodded. Ya' think - just maybe - it's because the ONLY Corsica ferry leaves at 8a and the first train to bring the tourists arrives 30 minutes away any the same time: 8a. Or maybe because the ONLY ferry to Sardinia leaves for a 4 hour trip - at 10p?  When you arrive in Sardinia at 2am, how do you find a B&B? Or a cab?  And how do you make up your lost sleep?  If they wanted tourists - and they clearly don't care in Italy if tourists come or not - both ferries would leave at 9:30 am . 

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