Secondly, we would have to get on the road by 7am to get to the Hertz office in Florence to return our Fiat 500L (we fell in love with that car). Florence was just over an hour's drive from San Gimignano where we were staying. Judging by our first experience with car renting in Italy, I knew that dropping off the car and paying could easily take an hour. Our train would depart for Naples just after 10am--I'd rather wait a bit for the train than miss it. The Hertz office was on Borgo Ognissanti, only a few blocks walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station, but we were walking under burden--six bags total, two bags each.
We planned on checking out from the pseudo-chic Mormoraia agriturismo because their useless staff were rarely in the office, and I wouldn't take a chance on them being in as early as we had to leave. As it turned out, when I did try to check out we had all sorts of hassles. I asked for a discount since the apartment we rented wasn't fully equipped for cooking as advertised (missing cutting board, knives, pots, and no basic staples, like olive oil, sugar, spices or salt--even though they grew and produced their own olive oil and had spice gardens in their gardens) and neither the TV or WIFI worked. I asked them to at least take off the extra charge for the overpriced breakfast we were forced to have in the little cafe on the property.
"Impossible" they said. I asked to speak to the manager... and found that the texting, short-skirted, out-of-work photo model was in fact the "manager". So I asked to speak to the owner. "He is never here". This made sense because the place had all of the pristine, big money out-of-country developer smell devoid of any authentic history. I also told her that their expensive bottle of swill wasn't worth the 30 Euros we paid. We were already getting fantastic bottles of wine from local alimentari for under 6 Euros. One more complaint we had was the laundry facilities advertised were small, household machines in the cellar of another building which the housecleaning staff used to clean all the sheets and towels of all of the 10 or so B&B rooms and apartments! Disgusting. Besides, we had to wait our turn to use the washer... and then discovered that the dryer didn't work. We were given a rickety drying rack to place on the landing of our apartment's entrance.
In the end, after almost half an hour debating over the phone, he finally took off the breakfast charge. Madonna mia, what a jerk. Just to illustrate the difference... At our previous lodging (Agriturismo Cosona) they supplied us with everything we needed to make breakfast. We had a completely equipped kitchen, pantry with basic staples (olive oil, coffee, tea, spices, sugar, salt, etc.), pretty good WIFI, a TV with many stations and as assortment of bread, pastries and jams.
We were happy to see the dust of Mormoraia in the rear view mirrors of our Fiat as we started out for Florence...
While we were there, Lucas and I had to use the men's room and found this...
It's a bit confusing, especially since I didn't know what I wanted to order until I walked down the entire display counter, trying to see what was on sale in between all the other people crowding there. In any event, I got some gassata (sparkling water) for the Voyage, some cioccolata calda for Lucas and an espresso for Lisa, and a few cornette. Lisa and Lucas were happy for the refreshments.
Within an hour, the Frecciarossa pulled into the station...
Believe it or not, crossing the street was a tough task. You see, the Corso is where the A3 Autoroute dumps all of the traffic coming into this part of Naples... yes, right in front of the train station. More so than the average Italian driver, Neopolitan drivers pay no attention at all to crosswalks, stop lights, stop signs, traffic lanes or pedestrians with a kid and lots of luggage trying to cross the street. We actually backtracked a bit away from the Hertz office to another crosswalk that had a stoplight--not that it really stopped any traffic, however.
When we reached the other side of the street, we were hit with the chaos that defines Naples. It reminded me of New York City back in the early '70s when it was a dangerous and filthy city. A mix of languages, mixed sounds, mixed smells, mixed classes... and some seedy types in the mix as well. There was a working class, suited female exec rushing past the street peddler selling hats and knock-off handbags, blue collar workers bumping into a mom with a stroller dragging a toddler, cellphone hugging businessmen and backpacking students, street vendors hawking street food and tourist kitsch. There were smells of diesel fumes mixed with fried something or other blending with the odor of 20 or more trash dumpsters lining the curbside... and a few weary Voyagers (us) trying to make our way through the cacophony toward the Hertz "office". I mean, I'm a former New Yorker, but this is a bit of a madhouse.
This time, we crossed the street at a roundabout, feeling a bit intimidated when we stood in the middle of it waiting for a break in the cars zooming past. OK... andiamo! We made it to the curb and started walking... past the foul graffiti... past the urine smells... past the tired looking social security office... past the beggars looking for a handout... past a couple of hookers... past the stench of even more dumpsters... past the Ramada Hotel (Wow, this must be a great place to stay) --still no sight of a "parking lot". When we reached the corner of this very long block, I was looking around for a "lot", but just then Lucas looked down the side street and noticed a tiny, two foot long Hertz sign on a garage building halfway down the street. What eyes on this kid! Oh, and it was more like 350 meters--not 30. I measured.
First of all, this was a parking garage. The Hertz thing seemed like an afterthought. I suppose the local guy who owns the rights to Hertz has a bunch of cars that he moves around through different brokers (often, rental brokers partner up). When I asked if they had my Fiat 500L with automatic transmission (I wanted that to help deal with the Amalfi Coast Road) they seemed surprised and said "No". I had reserved the car rentals three months before, and had confirmed both rentals within two weeks of our departure! I was assured by the international Hertz helpline that my reservations were solid.
He said not to worry, that he would upgrade us to a Volvo SUV (they pronounce it "suv"). He then asked another man to bring it down... I was shocked how big and wide this car was. It had a standard shift and was diesel (read: noisy, low power and stinky). The final insult was that it was filthy!
When I asked if they had anything smaller, he said they didn't. This was the only car they had. Really? So much for picking car types through Hertz Italian bookings! Never again, Hertz! As a small appeasement, he offered to have the car cleaned... but it would take over an hour--he would have to send it somewhere else. In Italy, when someone says "one hour", they mean "when I get to it... sometime later". We had a two hour window to meet the manager of our rental villa, so we took the Volvo as is.
As we drove up into the mass of the Amalfi peninsula into the hills, we felt refreshed. The air smelled of the sea and lemons. There is a notch in the mountain just past Castellammare di Stabia that wove us through village after village toward le Cicale (the Cicadas), a villa hanging onto the cliffs far above Furore's lovely bridge over its small fiord. We stopped at an alimentari to pick up supplies in Pianillo and had a wonderful experience. The older couple who ran the place were so helpful and friendly, helping to choose the best cheeses, sausage and even a couple of bottles of vino (at 4 Euros each). We stocked up on gassata (gassy water) and Fanta (in Italy it's simply seltzer and orange juice!). Bread, snacks, some fruit and tomatoes--both fresh and passata for making sauce--topped off our list. We were ready for le Cicele, making dinner and taking in the sunset over the Adriatic...
With Stefania gone and the door locked behind her... the place was amazing. Our front door was down one flight of tiled steps from the road, opening onto a gorgeous veranda with the most amazing views of the Adriatic you can imagine. I could see the Furore bridge over a thousand feet below. There was an old man tending his vegetable garden just below our balconies. The rooms were big and cooled with cross breezes from a series of shuttered balconies and windows. All the floors were wall to wall tile, as is the Amalfi style. This was going to be a great hub to explore Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast.
First things first... We all fell on one of the beds for a little riposa of our own. Then dinner and those views. Night fell and made it that much more magical. We're on the Amalfi Coast! I'll believe it when I see it... domani.
It really has been a long, long travel day...