domenica 19 luglio 2015

Those of you who follow my blog know that I write only when traveling; or better still, I write only when something noteworthy happens. In fact, it has been so long since either one of those things happened, that I have forgotten altogether that I had ever even had a blog. It was not until much after our first adventures that I remembered that I should be writing this down. Now, on the sixth day of Italian adventures with Tracey and Jen, I am remembering to blog. Going back and recounting our fund will be hard, because it had so much: what will be difficult is remembering everything funny we have seen and done. So is that having been said, please forgive any omissions. So, on the first day, or D0, as I was calling it in anticipation of Tracey and Jen's arrival, I went to Pisa airport to retrieve my faithful companions. They were on the Delta direct flight from JFK to Pisa. They had already encountered glitches along the way: weather delays out of Reagan national and JFK, which put to their arrival almost an hour behind schedule. As I waited for them to emerge from my screen, I got to see all the people with whom they shared their journey. One woman was so noteworthy that she has earned mention in this entry (noteworthy because I never in my life seen such a thing happening.) A well-dressed thirty-something New York City – woman ran out from baggage claim with only her expensive LV handbag. She greeted a woman I assume to be her mother, then she ran outside holding a cigarette and lighter in one hand. When she returned a moment later, reading of cigarette smoke, she cannot remember and announced that she had left her suitcase inside and thought she could go back in and get it. When she heard she could not return to secure baggage claim area, she simply shrugged her shoulders and said, "I hope Andrea knows to get my back with hers." I assumed Andrea was traveling companion or sister. I bet Andrea is used to this sort of thing. I also bet this woman eventually got her bag. Things always seem to get taken care of by the long-suffering "Andreas" of her world. Shortly after all of this, Tracey and Jen emerged, bags in hand, and we went back to the house to drop luggage and formulate a plan of attack for the day. By the time we got out of Pisa and home it was closed today and the sun was blazing. We decided to clean up and hopped back in the car (a little Lancia Ypsilon) and make our way towards Volterra (http://www.volterratur.it/en/). Volterra is a quaint, walled city, famous for its Roman theater, Etruscan roots and museum, and being the home to a maximum-security prison. We were right alongside the Roman theater and headed into the wall fortress. Interestingly enough, this summer, Volterra is hosting an ancient theater series. They are presenting a number of plays from antiquity as well as a few modern pieces. A great series and a great venue. My only complaint is the addition of large-scale modern art pieces scattered behind the scena. This tendency to correct it distract from the architecture in situ is becoming more common. It is truly disappointing. After a whip around town (which is also hosting an installation by the "excellent" Signore Bartalini which seems to present live film action recreations of Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition from the Cross, projected at sites around Volterra (http://www.volterratur.it/en/eventi/tribute-to-rosso-fiorentino/) ) we finally sat down to lunch: a simple nosh of prosciutto, melon, crostini, and panzanella. Not bad but not amazing. Simply adequate. The space is charming enough but better was to come. On the way back home, we made a stop at the grocery store in Pontecelli and got "provisional provisions." I always enjoy a grocery store experience and love it when my guests are similarly disposed. We went up and down every single aisle and inspected all of the packaging of all the produce and product. We came home and feasted on a dinner of cinta senese sausage (http://cintasenese.blogspot.it ), tomatoes, onions, and schiacciata. Everyone slept a hard, fast sleep.

lunedì 9 luglio 2012

Outlet shopping with a detour...

Outlet Shopping with a detour... This morning, I rose as I always do, around 5:30, took my vitamins, leisurely embracing the day. I went out for a longer than usual walk, because my knee was feeling better, the day was gorgeous and I was enjoying every second of being outside in the not quite yet hot summer sun. When I got home, I pondered how I could make this day even better. Why, a trip to Pucci would make for a perfect afternoon. I ate my breakfast, got dressed, and headed to Leccio, where the most marvelous outlets live: Burberry, Pucci, Tods, Gucci, Loro Piana. And that isn't even half of what all is there. But, I was on a mission: Pucci. I made it there in exactly one hour. Good time for the lunch hour. I pulled in to the parking lot and found a great spot at the very end of the line and started... Crash! I must have misjudged how much room I had because the next thing I knew, I was backing down from having mounted the curb. Well, no matter. These things happen all the time. I parked and got out, walking around just to look... I was certain I'd find nothing. Boy, was I wrong! The front right tire was completely flat. You could hear and audible shhhhhhh as the last whisp of air escaped the michelin rubber.  Great. Now what? I debated. Do I shop first then deal with this? Maybe I just change the tire to the spare myself and then deal with it later. Perhaps there is a nice man who will help me... Let me just interject here: chivalry is dead, at least at the Mall in Leccio. I asked a passer by and he ignored me. I walked up to customer service and asked a security guard... His excuse was his bad back. Right... So, my next series of thoughts was that I just needed to call the rental agency and let them handled it. So, I did. After two aborted calls which ended up as disconnects, I finally got through to a nice woman who said a tow truck would be there in 40 minutes. I could either get a new car or go with the tow while they fix the tire. At first, I got a little excited at the prospect of ditching what has got to be the unluckiest rental of all time! Then she clucked her tongue in the way only an Italian woman about to deliver bad news can: "Madame, you require an automatic? I'm sorry, but there is no automatic with which to substitute. You will have to wait with the car in Firenze." At least I had 40 minutes before the tow truck would be there. That gave me PLENTY of time to hit Pucci. I found a great top, two belts and the dress of my dreams ! I pulled out my Merrill Lynch to pay and the card was rejected. "you have got to be kidding me..." On top of everything else, I had to call Merrill in New Jersey, which, by the way, is totally frustrating because amongst all the menus there is not one which gives you the option to talk to someone!  After a 20 minute call during which it was discovered that no one alerted the account of my travel (although everyone knows I do this every year...) all was resolved. Now, all I had to do was wait for the tow. And on cue, precisely 40 minutes from the end of my call to Europcar, the tow truck arrived. A very quite man called Francesco got the car on the back of the flat bed and off we went to Florence to get a new tire. He spoke not a single word the whole way. I tried to make small talk, as I'm wont to do... He didn't bite. So, it was a very, very quiet drive to a section of Firenze Sud I had never ever seen before. Apparently, neither had the tow truck driver since he had no idea where he was going. We eventually found the tire place and after a series of calls, it was decided that the only thing to do was to trundle me off into a cab to the airport to deal with Europcar face to face. So, I collected my gear from the car and waited for my cab.   The next thing I knew, I was on my way. At the airport, I was assigned ANOTHER Mercedes A Class, but in true Italian fashion, it was not ready. They were cleaning it up. Where? I was unsure. Who? That, too, was a mystery. All I did know was that 5 guys were standing around, smoking cigarettes and talking on cell phones while one guy was rubbing down the same car for about 25 minutes. Now, I'm no professional, but Catherine and I can wash the Porsche inside and out in about 15 minutes. The A Class isn't that much bigger. So, I'm not sure what the hold up was. But, one full hour later, the same exact car as I had just left at the tire repair shop came lurching around the corner. The license plate number is even almost identical... I hopped in and raced, and I mean raced home. I think, tomorrow, I will just go to the pool, where I can do the least amount of damage. Oh: the other thing... sitting in the hot sun for an hour gave me a chance to scrutinize my car rental contract. It seems that I am prohibited from taking the car to Eastern Europe, so Croatia is out. I will spend the next 2 hours cancelling everything I booked yesterday. When it rains, it pours!

domenica 8 luglio 2012

In Search of Pinnochio

In Search of Pinocchio... Anyone who has been in my house knows I have a quirky design flair. Either you like the monkeys on the chandelier or you don't. Either you love the Pinocchio paintings or you hate them. I happen to love both with all my heart. Many years ago, I happened upon the work of Eugenio Taccini, an artist working in Montelupo Fiorentino. He had a shop brimming with a variety of ceramic wares, from traditional pharmacy jars to ultra modern representations of Tuscan landscapes painted on tiles. I acquired a jar and a plate for my mom, a mirror as a wedding gift for my brother and sister-in-law, and two Pinocchio paintings done on tiles and mounted on rough wood. Whenever anyone came to visit me in Castel del Bosco, I always put Taccini's workshop on the regular tour route. His work is so exceptional and he is so open as an artist. When I took the Shaw-Bowdring family to visit Taccini about 6 years ago, Eugenio not only personalized one of the paintings, but he took a picture with Kathy. It is that sort of contact with the artist that makes the work that more meaningful. When I moved to Siena, I didn't have occasion to come this way much, other than to visit Vivetta. The guests I had coming were very short term guests and there just wasn't time to visit Montelupo. However, three years ago, when I was in Italy for Christmas, quite by accident, I happened upon Taccini's work again. He had opened a small sales space in the Coop shopping center in Empoli. I bought one piece (Pinocchio and Mangiafuoco) and saw another: Pinocchio and the Carabinieri. It was rather large, much larger than my suitcase and I knew it would never in a million years fit in the overhead compartment on my British Airways flight home. I stood and weighed my options... how could I get this piece home? I could get to DHL and ship it... but not during Christmas week. Everything closes intermittently and without prior notice. Could I really buy this painting without any real assurance that it would get home? I decided to leave without it. But, it bothered me. It gnawed at me for literally years. When I redid the curtains in the living room and rearranged, I took the brass rubbing down from over the couch. I knew that the Pinocchio needed to be there... but every year I went to Italy, I never made it to Montelupo. Other things came up along the way and it just never materalized. Until yesterday. I decided yesterday would be the day I ventured to Taccini. I looked on the internet to see if his website had an updated address. I knew that they would be leaving the shopping center; his wife had mentioned they were about to move back to their original spot as the rent was simply too high in Empoli. I found the address and google mapped it. (Google directions had done me right going to Villa Romana, why not try again?) I was a little less successful with my directions this time. I drove through the center of town, I drove around the western part of town, I drove through the northern part of town... it was on the fourth (and what I had decided would be my last) attempt that I happened upon the spot. In fact, what had happened was that the way I was used to going had been turned into a pedestrian, one way system, so google was sending me on an alternate approach. As soon as I saw the Arno and the parking along the river, I knew I was in the vicinity. I headed down the road into the little borgo and immediately saw the maestro at work in the street in front of his studio. I asked him where the shop was. He grabbed the keys and led me down the block and unlocked the door. He said, "have a look around" and started to leave, to return to his work. I interrupted his departure with, "Excuse me, but I am actually looking for something rather specific. I was in your shop three years ago and saw a painting of Pinocchio and the Carabinieri. I don't suppose you still have it?" He chuckled and said, "Ahhh... I had two of them. One broke. One is in Collodi." I clearly looked disappointed. I explained how this image has been haunting me for years and how I was fascinated by his Pinocchio images and how I had three already at home, and I even had a picture of one as a background on my iPhone... (I tend to babble in Italian once I get started. I feel sorry for whatever Italian finds himself in the direct line of fire of my verbal barrages...) I then went on to explain how I was here all summer staying in Castel del Bosco... at this point, the maestro interrupted me. "Wait... you are here for a while?" "Yes! I am here until August. I am going to France for a few days at the beginning of August, but I am leaving from Pisa on the 8th of August, or the 7th of August..." He interrupted again. "I can recreate the painting for you if you are here for several weeks. I am in the middle of preparing for an exposition in Florence on the 15th. I will be in and out of the studio after that. But I can definitely have what you want before you return to the United States. (At some point, I mentioned that I was a Latin teacher from Washington D.C. and that I used to live in Siena... as if he was interested in my life story...) He proceeded to fish through a paper bag of pictures, looking for the image of Pinocchio and the Carabinieri, so that we could agree on what he would paint, that it would be the same one I had in mind. He fished through that bag for a good long time without being able to find the image. Finally, he said, "I will just sketch out what I had in mind and you tell me if it was you saw..." and with that, he began sketching, "How big was it?" I pointed out a painting next to us which as about the same size. "So, 8 tiles... ok..." And the next thing I knew, he had perfectly recreated the image of Pinocchio being hauled away by two policemen. Overjoyed, I approved the design. The maestro and I exchanged email addresses, and he vowed he would get to work on it when he could but that he would have it done in plenty of time for me to organize the shipping home. He would send me a photo of it as soon as it was done so I could see and give the final approval. I could hardly believe that I was having a painting done specifically for me! It is one thing to go in and buy a piece and have the artist sign it to you, (which is what I did yesterday... I picked up a nice Pinocchio with the fox and the cat done on a pinkish mauve background which will be great in my new bedroom). But to have a painting done specifically for you, that is something special. You can find an entry on Taccini's Ceramics Shop in Fodor's. But, you would never know it by the lack of foot traffic in Montelupo. It is definitely a hidden gem of a place. This is the Italy I love. The secret, "I know a place..." or "I have a ceramics guy..." or "My jeweler is just terrific..." It is only by spending a long time in a place that you really get to know not just where things are, but where you can get the best panorama photo, or where the best onion marmellata is, or who can get you the best deal, or what artist is the best kept secret. The best kept secret artist is most definitely the maestro, Eugenio Taccini. For the other secrets, you will have to come visit to find out...

venerdì 6 luglio 2012

Two cars crashing in the night (evening)...

Two cars crashing in the night (evening)... When I lived in Siena, I did some translation work for a group called Radio Papesse (www.radiopapesse.org). It started out as an internship, and then I ended up taking various freelance museum audio guide projects. Some of them are attached to their website unde the archives. It was great fun, and work of which I am very proud. But, mostly, I am grateful because I met some really great people in the process. It is with these great people that I begin my tale today: I received a message via Facebook from Carola, one of the Papesse girls, inviting me to an art opening in Florence for the evening of the 5th. I couldn't say no. I love an art opening and I was eager to reconnect with old friends. So, on the 5th, I cleaned myself up, put on a dress and some make up and headed to Florence, armed with google maps directions to the Villa Romana (www.villaromana.org), where I would see an exhibition of the work of Gianfranco Baruchello. I followed the directions meticulously and when I thought I was almost there, I parked the car in a free (i.e. you don't have to pay) spot outside the walls of the city. I knew it was going to be dicey getting the car out, because of the traffic pattern behind me, but I figured it would be late and there would be less traffic then. So, I left the car and started off on foot. I walked and walked and walked. When I eventually found the Villa Romana, and saw that there was ample free parking on the street out front, I decided to go move the car. I had plenty of time, seeing as I was 20 minutes early (a feat which almost never happens). I set off back to the car, still with plenty of time. I got in the car. I secured my seat belt. I took a slug of warm tea from the bottle next to me. I was ready. I looked in the mirror and eased out of the spot. I got into the lane of traffic without any problem, and then I decided to make a quick u-turn. Wrong... As I turned the wheel, a little Opel Corsa came from nowhere and I hit her. It was totally my fault, since I was making this STUPID U-turn from the inside lane... What was I thinking?? In all honesty, I didn't think I had hit her. I didn't feel an impact, onlt the force of the car stopping abruptly. I got out and surveyed my damage. I had a rub mark on my front left bumper and that was it. I am going to pick up some rubbing compound and rub it out without any problem... Her car, well, there is a dent and a scratch and a HUGE rub mark. She is going to need some body work... I felt really bad, because it WAS my fault. But, geez... I have never had an accident in Italy before, and apparently neither had she. She called her husband and he instructed her to get me to fill in the CID which is an accident report you submit to the insurance when there is not much damage and you don't call the police. I think it is a great idea, and we should have this system in the States. It would make Judge Milian's job on the People's Court SO MUCH EASIER!! Anyhow, we filled in the report, as best as we could. The whole thing was in Italian, and much of it was asking information I could not provide, like in what State the car was registered... It wasn't on any of the little slips of paper I could find. At least no one was hurt. She was terribly nice, this poor Cristina B. who found herself in my path last night. And, maybe she will at least have a fun story to share with her friends and family about how she met this crazy American who rammed into her and kept nattering on about how she had never had an accident before... she couldn't understand what she was thinking... how it was totally her fault... (All things I would NEVER have admitted at home, but since the car has comprehensive insurance under their policy and I am not financially responsible for any of it, I figured I was in the clear.) In any case, I was able to get it all filled in, and get back on my way, now 20 minutes late for the start, but 10 minutes early for the presentation. I found a great spot right out front of the Villa, went in and met up with Carola and Ilaria. I had a wonderful evening, sipping wine, listening to an art historian have a Q&A session with the artist himself and then partaking in an al fresco dinner after. (Actually, I didn't eat, since I had eaten before leaving home, but I sat and enjoyed the company and conversation of long lost friends.) An evening that started with a BANG (or at least a CRASH) ended very quietly, and peacefully. I returned to Castel del Bosco around 1 in the morning, and waited an hour for my AP scores to post (the College Board was posting at 8PM US Time). Much as the evening was a net success, the AP scores were a net success. I had 5 pass, 6 not, but I don't count the one kid who got a 1 because he did no work all year and told me he wasn't even going to prepare for the test or answer the questions seriously. (Nice...) The scores that passed were good and I was pleased overall with the results. Just like my evening: serene, but with a few bumps along the way. Isn't that just like life?

martedì 3 luglio 2012

The swimming pool

Today's installment is an entry I wrote last year, about going to the pool here in Pontedera. I am attaching it here now because it is timely, and I will have an addendum to it at the end. Enjoy! I have got a fun new game... we can all play. It is called, "Let's see what we can to to piss of the American swimming laps!" It is easy and fun for the whole family!! The way it works is this: when we see her swimming in her lane, not bothering anyone, we jump in front of her and stop. Or we send our kid to kick water in her face. Or, best yet, and worth the most points, jump in, cannonball-style, right in front of her as she is coming to the end of her lap. Sounds like fun, huh? Well, apparently, for the good citizens of Pontedera, at least those who frequent the 'piscina communale' or the public pool, it provides hours and hours of fun. At least, four hours, to be exact. I have been to the pool four times, each for and hour and I have had nary a quarter of an hour total of peaceful swimming. Now, don't get me wrong, I do understand that this is a pool for everyone, even the rude and obnoxious. However, where is the common decency? There is a lot of space. It is a HUGE pool. Perhaps the biggest pool I have ever seen. It is 50 meters long and at least 25 meters across, perhaps even wider. It is a gorgeous pool. The middle 4 lanes are roped off for adults to swim in, but that doesn't mean that kids don't play there. The first day I went, I was swimming along, minding my own business in a lane with three middle aged men, who were doing likewise. These kids were jumping in as each of these men were finishing their laps. Not one man said a word to them. When it was my turn to finish my lap, one of this 'young imps' dove into me, missing me by centimeters. I stopped, reared up and screeched in English, "Holy Christ, what the f do you think you are doing?" I yelled in English, mainly because it was instinct. I was frightened and shocked. However, it did the trick because they backed off for the rest of our swim. My question is why didn't one of the men say something? These brats will be brats as long as they are allowed to be brats. The next few days were more or less the same... bothersome, but not dangerous. A few fellow swimmers (women) not respecting the lane directions, or swimming backstroke with no idea where they were going. Stuff like that. But, the fourth day... it was an "all play!" I went to the pool knowing there was a thunderstorm brewing. It was cool (75 degrees) windy, and grey. Not a speck of sun. I thought that this boded well for me. The pool would be empty, I could get my swim in. Boy, was I wrong! The place was PACKED!! Kids everywhere. Adults everywhere. (I ask myself why the adults are not at work... and if they are out of work, why are they wasting their money on pool admission which is not cheap.) I got in the chilly water and started my swim. There was one boy who seemingly had my number from the get-go. As I approached him, he went under water and looked me in the eye and as I grew nearer, he swam in front of me and stopped. If I tried to avoid him, he zigged to stop me. I am not exaggerating when I say that this kid was messing with me. When I moved lanes, he followed. What was most shocking, however, was when his MOTHER got in the pool and started swimming laps, not respecting the lane directions and intentionally swam coming at me, when she knew that I was swimming there first and had been swimming to the right. About 5 minutes into this cat and mouse game, her kid started the "let's stop in front of the swimmer" game with his mother. Rather than chew him out for being obnoxious and rude, she just laughed it off. He continued, thinking he was being cute. He was at least 13 years old... far from cute. Now: Flash forward one year. I am no longer frequenting the piscina communale in Pontedera, because of the abysmal behavior of the local kids. I have found a better pool, larger and better equipped for both the swimmer for exercise and the swimmer for fun. Le Barbate is the name of the establishment. It is a private complex, not governed by the rules of the commune. It has two connected pools, one 25 meter lap pool with roped off, dedicated swimming lanes, and one huge kidney shaped pool with slides and big water gushers... everything a kid could want in a pool! I started coming here because I thought the issue of kids in swimming lanes would not be a problem, since they had the other, huge, and way more fun pool just to the left of them. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. Can I tell you-- they will leave the worlds of fun pool empty to stand, frolic or cannonball jump into the swimmers' lanes! This is not exclusive to kids, either. Older men will stand at the end of the lane, with arms crossed, blocking your lane turn, and glare at you in a menacing way, as you finish your lap. Older women will simply float in the lane on their backs, sideways. It is almost as if they have no understanding of the concept of DEDICATED SWIMMING LANES. And, the "life guards" do little to nothing to regulate any of this behavior. My only conclusion is that this IS a game that all Italians love to play, not just with Americans, but with swimmers, in general. Much as they do not respect the rule of standing in line and waiting one's turn for anything, they do not respect the rule of the swimming lane. They feel as if they are entitled to run rampant through the pool. They must feel as if they have paid their price for entry and, dammit, they are going to use every inch of the pool, no matter what it is dedicated for. Or, maybe it is not a game after all... The entitlement is their's: Adults here apparently don't reprimand their kids for obnoxious behavior. They often join in with the behaviors. This is why, when you go to a restaurant in Italy, you can spot the Italian kids a mile off. They are the ones running ape-shit-wild around the restaurant, while their parents are busy socializing and smoking cigarettes. The German kids and the Dutch kids are the ones sitting quietly, eating their meals, not saying a word. The American kids may be sitting at the table, but they are being loud, usually complaining that they want something else to eat, something that isn't on the menu. I am glad to see that the phenomenon of the little snowflake is not particular to the good old U.S. of A.

venerdì 29 giugno 2012

The more things change, the more things stay the same...

Here we are: Summer 2012. I guess I could entitle this blog entry: The more things change, the more they stay the same... So much has changed since I first started coming to Castel del Bosco for my summer vacations. I have lost 140 pounds, for one thing. I no longer teach full-time. My Italian is much better, having actually LIVED in Siena for 3 years. However, what has stayed the same? No matter how hard I try, I will always arrive in Italy, whether it is at the Pisa Airport, or into Milan or Rome... with at least one piece of luggage missing. This year, both bags decided to stay in London an extra night. I guess they thought that if I couldn't enjoy a longer layover in Heathrow, they would oblige on my behalf. I knew even before leaving Washington that I would arrive at Pisa without my bags. My 6:40 PM flight did not actually take off until after 8 PM. This delay meant that I would have precicely twenty minutes to deplane from flight #1 and board flight #2; inorder to do this, one must traverse terminal 5, passing again through passport control and security. As I left the plane (thank GOD I was in business class, so was at the from of the line to exit), there was a British Airways employee waiting with a sign for the Pisa flight. He ticked my name off and handed me a bright orange "express connections" pass. This is essentially a "fast track" pass, which I already had, since I was travelling business class. What I really needed was a "front of the line" pass, which I don't think exists, unless you are Sting or Madonna or Lady Gaga. So, I made my way through passports relatively quickly to the purgatory which is Terminal 5 A Gates security, only to wait and wait and wait. I do not understand for the life of me, nor will I ever understand, why people approach airport security as if they have never flown before. They are resplendent in fake metal jewelry, forgetting to remove belts and shoes, neglecting to take out computers and iPads... And, there is ALWAYS a half empty bottle of Diet Coke in a backpack or purse. When it was my turn to cross the threshold of the metal detector, I had to wait. Of course, they let 6 men pass through ahead of me. But, I had to wait, because the WOMAN in front of me was being patted down on account of the change she had left in her pants pocket. When I questioned the guy on the other side why they were letting me through, he stated it was because if I had a problem, he couldn't touch me. "You have got to be kidding me... I swear, I won't be a problem." He assured me it wouldn't be much longer. I kept explaining that my flight was LEAVING. He couldn't have cared less. When it was finally my turn, I raced through, collected my backpack and purse and took off for gate A-17 at a sprint! A-17 was about as far as I could have been from security, of course. I arrived just as they were getting ready to close the gate. Thankfully, I was able to board, however, my bags never made it on. The flight itself was rather unremarkable. I got to Pisa, went through passports and went directly to the luggage carrousel. I stood there, obediently, waiting to see if my mocha rouge Vera Bradley luggage was coming around the bend. Of course, I knew, logically, that it wasn't. However, there was some part of me, the obedient rule follower part, that stood and waited. When the last bag had been collected, I went to the 'lost luggage" counter to make my claim. I was not the only one who had a close connection, so there were several of us waiting. I took my number (76) and waited. They were assisting numer 41. I knew I was in for the long haul. We were instructed to wait outside the glass doors of the office until our numbers came up. We waited and waited and waited. About 45 minutes later, when none of us had been helped, yet the office was still full of people, I went in and asked what the problem was. I was shouted at and instructed to continue to wait outside by a rather severe older woman. So, being the rule follower I am, I returned to my perch. Another 15 minutes passed and the number was still 41. I returned to the office and went to the young man at the desk and said that we were waiting an hour now and the number had not changed. He instantly punched the number button all the way to numer 79 and called for 79. This was so arbitrary and random, I could barely speak. But, speak I did. "Whoa! I'm number 76!! What about me?!" He conceded that he had missed me and motioned me to come forward. Whatever. I just wanted to get my rental car and go get supplies for the interim... So, I went through the process of declaring my luggage lost. It was rather embarrassing because the young man asked what was in my bags... I couldn't bear to say that one entire small roller bag was full of 24 kilos of gummy vitamins, sugar free coffee syrup, Luna bars and other random supplements and drug store items. So, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "you know, what you would expect..." To which he replied, "so, personal effects." To which I replied, "yeah, let's go with that: personal effects." "Anything to declare?" "Good heavens, no!" (Of course, if any of my quirky cargo was prohibited, it would never have made it out of London...) And, with that, I was released with a slip of paper outlining my rights and responsibilities as a BA passenger without luggage. I picked up my car (thankfully, there were no problems with that) and went to the IperCoop on the way home and picked up food, water and random sundry items to last me a couple of days (a cheap bathing suit, a couple of tshirts and some underwear...). In the end, my bags arrived the very next day. They were waiting outside my door when I arrived back from the pool. When my Mom and sister-in-law came many years ago, my mom's bags didn't make it. We did the same IperCoop run and went to the beach the next day. And, sure enough, the bags were waiting for us when we returned home that evening. So, the moral of the story is that if you lose your luggage, go to the IperCoop, buy a cheap suit and hit some sun and water. Like clockwork, your bags will be waiting for you when you get home. I should have applied that formula to the situation the last time I lost my bags coming in through Milan. I will definitely be testing the theory next year, when I arrive sans luggage!

sabato 7 aprile 2012

Just when it was starting to get good

Just when it was starting to get good...

It is Saturday. The last day of our cruise. Today we got up early, went to the makeshift gym on board, which consists of one (1) elliptical, which doesn't plug in, but runs on batteries, two (2) treadmills, and two (2) bikes. We did our usual one hour of cardio, then went down to breakfast. The food onboard the Orient Queen really is superior to that which was served on the Cristal. After a lovely breakfast, we retired to our cabin and basically relaxed until it was time to eat again.

As an aside, you should know that housekeeping is rather over zealous on the Orient Queen. Yesterday, we were visited no less than six (6) times for various and sundry reasons. Today, in the three hours between breakfast and lunch, we had three (3) visits. Just when we had gotten comfortable, or had dozed off for a cat nap... Knock knock knock. "Housekeeping.". It was almost as if the Cristal had sent over a copy of our pictures and said : "Keep these two on their toes!"

When it was time for lunch, we headed up to the Horizon Restaurant and when we arrived, we were seated with a family we had had dinner with last night. Let me now take this opportunity to tell you about the assortment of people we have seen on this cruise, starting first with this particular family. We saw them the first day on the Cristal: a mother, about 60 and German looking, father, 60 and Persian, and a daughter. We figured our age-- early 40's. She had this far away look about her, and we were convinced that she was probably drug addicted, or a recovering addict of some sort. We immediately dubbed her AA in da house and her parents as just mom and dad. Everyhwere we were, they were, too. Every tour, every meal. Even in the lounge... Mom and dad loved a nightcap. AA always went right to bed. But, we never interfaced with them. It became something of a running joke to say, "Oohh, AA in da house" every time they surfaced. Little did we know that they would be following us to the Orient Queen! When I discovered this, Maureen was on the elliptical and I had gone to the disembarkation meeting. They were in the same figurative and literal boat as we were regarding the screwed up itinerary. As soon as the meeting ended, I nearly broke my leg running to the gym to tell Maureen that AA in da house and mom and dad were coming with us to the next ship. When we got to the new ship and had to register for table reservations, Maureen said, "wouldn't it be funny if AA in da house and mom and dad were seated with us for dinner?". I replied that it would be funny, but we weren't that lucky...

Well, as luck would have it, THEY WERE! And as luck would FURTHER have it, they are freaking from DC! They seemed as amused by the turn of luck as we were to be seated all together. It turns out that the daughter is not AA, but she is "special." Mom and dad are super cool and we had a great time talking to them at dinner, swapping warstories, as it were, about the Cristal. AA, well, bless her heart. She seemed still to live at home, and try as her parents have, she seems to have a job as a massage therapist. The dad is a retired scientist and mom seems to have been in the hospitality industry. It was less jarring to be seated together at lunch today, as well. We enjoyed the conversation and it passed the time until we were able to go up on deck and see the entry into the port of Istanbul, which happened about an hour ahead of schedule.

We went up and got some amazing photos of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia from the Bosphorous. It made us a little sad that we were not going to see anything, since as soon as we disembarked we were going straight to the airport, as per the instructions of "mom and dad" who had told us at lunch that we were leaving during rush hour and that we shouldn't chance it, and go directly to the airport-- the traffic would be horrible. And, horrible it is. This traffic makes the beltway look like child's play. As I type this, I am in the back seat of a yellow fiat sitting in the worst traffic I have ever seen in my life. We clearly made the right decision to go directly to the airport. Hopefully, we will get in, get a coffee and I will be able to upload the last three blog entries. I know there are many people following, even if it feels like I am typing these out just for myself. I hope you are enjoying our trials and tribulations... And, Darla, send Donna D your address so I can send you your prize for identifying the Kellerman's reference ;) !