Airport security is a joke. They X-rayed, but the people they have working at protecting our flights look like they couldn't handle a real emergency. For the most part they are all slow-moving and paying attention to their looks (hair, nails) than the passengers. And after all the hassle of measuring our carry on bags and finding models that fit, I saw a lot of older large bags going on board. I didn't see a single bag being checked for size, even though they had the carry0on size checker right at the boarding gate. The overhead was large enough to hold the older style carry-on sizes. So, all that panic about getting the correct size for the just-changed regulations for nothing!
The flight was 8 hours long, uncomfortable and tiring. The seats were tight, but with three of us sitting together we could raise the seat arms for a bit more breathing room. When Lucas gets older and bigger, it'll be much tighter. Leg room was OK, though it's hard to stretch out. The legs in front of my seat were close together, so I often stuck one leg out into the aisle to stretch. A very tall person must hate these new seat spaces, and God forbid the person in front from leaning his seat all the way back.
None of us got any sleep. I tried with my ear plugs and inflatable pillow but the best I had was what I call "hospital sleep". You know, the restless sleep you get when you are in a hospital with lights on and nurses coming in at all hours. Planes are God-awful noisy things, too. I tried getting Lucas comfy enough for sleep, but nothing worked. This poor kid is going to collapse somewhere tomorrow.
We arrived at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, tired, achy and on heightened alert for where we had to go next. So far, about 14 hours into traveling.
We then had to deal long lines and no air conditioning at Italian customs and retrieving our one checked bag (Lisa just had to have more space!) The place was modern yet tired looking at the same time. The workers looked bored and there were few smiles. I was amazed at how hot and stuffy it was. They either don't have proper air conditioning, have it turned off to save money, or have the thermostats set to around 80. Fiumicino Airport is a huge, confusing place.
Over an hour or more later, we walked out the customs doors and found our driver, Adele, holding up a card with our name. She spoke broken English... I spoke fractured Italian. We still managed a decent conversation on the way to the rail station. She played obnoxious Italian pop music on the radio--some with pretty inappropriate lyrics (I knew enough Italian curse words to catch this). Her driving was like any big city taxi driver--aggressive and confident.
As a surprise for Lucas, I had arranged for the driver to take us on a short tour through Rome and past the Colosseum before leaving for Tuscany. I wanted him to have a real taste of Rome to establish that we really were in Italy! She drove us around the Colosseum before dropping us at Tiburtina station, which turned out to be a lot cleaner and safer than expected. But we had to camp out for three hours in a modern cafe waiting for our train to come. We had some decent pastries, drinks, coffee for Lisa and my first Italian soda--Fanta (in Italy it tastes like fresh oranges mixed with seltzer... very different from the chemical tasting Fanta we have in the States.) Lucas finally collapsed into a deep 30 minute power nap leaning on the table and on his cushy fleece jacket. Poor sweet boy.
It's time! Let's get to the track! Because Lisa kept insisting the train coming in was not our train, this confusion almost made us miss it. The conductor helped and assured me it was ours... but we had to race to the first car to get on. Tickets have seat and car numbers on them and you never know if your car number is going to be at the beginning, middle or end of the train. A thumbs up from me once we got aboard and the conductor gave the go-ahead for the train to move. Whew! Close call!
We had a first class cabin on this second class train... it was older, but that's what gave it the charm. This was a regional train... no high speed here. Squeaky brakes, lights that didn't work, and a toilet that dumped right onto the rushing tracks below! Lots of tunnels on this route. Everything looked Italian! The further toward Tuscany we got, the more beautiful... hills, mountains, vineyards, hilltowns. We napped a bit. Took some bad blurry pictures out the window and enjoyed the fun of a new kind of train travel. I haven't been on European style trains like this since the Seventies when traveling in France.
When we got to Chiusi, we had another couple hours to kill before the Hertz office came back from their 2-1/2 hour lunch! These were the types of timing problems I came up against when coordinating flights and timetables for trains. From about 12 noon until 3-4pm in the afternoon, Italians take their reposo (similar to a siesta). Shops close down and workers go home for lunch and a nap. Even restaurants close down (except in large tourist towns).
Luckily, we had lunch in a little trattoria I had discovered while looking around this little town on Google Earth. We ordered some pasta carbonara and tortellini with proscuitto. Lucas awakened and his face lit up with the first bite. This was some of the best pasta we ever had... and for six bucks each! Our only complaint: The place didn't have air conditioning and it was hot.
After lunch, we picked up our little Fiat 500L... The tiny Hertz office was across the street and a half block from the station and manned by two very young ragazzi. When I saw TWO workers come back from their 3-1/2 hour lunch, I thought to myself how ridiculous this system is. Can't they just stagger their lunch hours and keep the office open, the way we do it in the States? Of course not. È l'Italia! Just as we were finished in their office (over a hour with only one couple ahead of us), we learned that we had to walk six blocks to where our car was parked. They don't drive your to you... you have to get it. And get this... It just started to rain again--a real downpour! OK, We got out an umbrella, put up the hoods on our windbreakers and trudged down there in the rain dragging all our luggage along. What is this... our 19 hours or so into our first day of traveling? Fatigue is setting in... but I now have to drive winding, hilly roads in a rainstorm.
They call the Fiat 500L the "Large" here--pronounced "Large". Perfect fit for us. Small car. Narrow for tight roads. Lots of storage in a covered trunk, and raised theater seating for the back seat so Lucas can have a good view. Another thing I liked--the glove box was a cooler. Cool drinks on the road! SO, we got to the car--charcoal grey--and were about to leave when I noticed a few bad gashes on the bumper that weren't called out on the rental sheet. We drive back to the office in a rush (believe it or not, they were about to close up for the day after only being open again for an hour) and have them note this damage in the rental paperwork. I've heard nightmarish stories of rental companies in Italy charging people thousands of dollars for such things. Even though the name is Hertz, all these rental shops are owned by locals, each one with their own way of doing things.
At last... On the Road! This one is a standard shift so Lisa panicked each time my shifting was a little rough or abrupt... hard not to do with Italian drivers cutting us off (stop signs and red lights mean nothing here), tons of curvy mountain roads, having to take off from dead stops on steep slopes, and the sudden torrential thunder storm we had to drive through.
Before getting to our first rental, we needed to pick up supplies. We made a stop in an Italian chain supermarket in Montepulciano--a Conad. Lucas will fill you in on that... oddly different. We bought cheese, milk, eggs, drinks, jam, bread, tomatoes and a few snacks.
I was the first to wake up... going straight to the window to see the view of the nearby hilltown, Pienza--still lit up in the darkness.
As we woke up refreshed, we all explored Cosona--the apartment, the grounds, gardens, the views. Lucas got a kick out of watching the lizards climbing up the walls and scurrying around the rocks--way too fast to catch one. We found a ping-pong table in one stone building, so Lisa and Lucas had a sloppy game--neither a winner. As for myself and Lisa, we loved the beamed ceilings, the tile floors, the stone walls, the olive trees, the songbirds and bees buzzing, the smell of the spices and flowers in the garden, the lichen covered clay tile roof... perfetto. This is just wonderful.