Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thursday, July 7 and Friday, July 8

This trip has not gotten off to the best of starts. After getting up early this morning and finishing off the packing, we made it up toOttawa with plenty of time to have a very quick (street-level, front-of-NAV CANADA-building) visit with Zandy before going over to pick up Helen.

We parked the car at the NAV CANADA facility on the west side of the airport and took the short cab ride over to the terminal building.

The first thing we found was that our departure from Ottawa to Chicago was running late enough that counter agent felt it best to re-book us to travel (with Helen) by way of Washington. And while that eliminated any problems we could have encountered with different arrivals and possible delays, it did mean that we had to sit around for an extra couple of hours ... never mind missing out on Lufthansa hospitality.

The departure from Ottawa was about 10 minutes late, but, combined with a bit of extra flying to divert around thunderstorms, meant that we only arrived in Washington with enough time to catch the shuttle bus (8 minute wait) from the 'A' Terminal over to the 'C/D' Terminal. we got to the gate just as the boarding was getting going.

United was an early purchaser of the B777, and this particular aircraft's interior definitely looks like it's seen better days. There is no AC power at the seats ... and the "on demand" video system uses TAPES! The seat is comfortable enough, but the fittings have a rather "worn and frayed" appearance.

We pushed of the gate - only a few minutes late - and taxied out for departure. We even lined up for takeoff, but then the captain came on the PA and advised that there was a problem with the indicators for the crew Oxygen system. So ... back to the gate for a quick visit from Maintenance (well, quick in that it only added 1:30 to our eventual departure time) and we finally got underway.

The flight was uneventful and I managed to get a bit of good sleep. Because we were late leaving Washington (and subsequently late arriving in Frankfurt), the lounge was quite full and I wasn't able to get in for a shower - the line-up was just too darn long! Margaret and Helen managed to get themselves cleaned up a bit ... but since I was holding out until the last minute for a shower, I wound up having to do my cleaning up on the Frankfurt to Rome flight. It's pretty amazing how fresh you can make yourself feel even when you're only using the things available in your plastic baggie carry-on and an aircraft washroom.

The scene at Rome's airport was all-too-familiar. Not from the masses of people crowded around old baggage carousels; not from the heat and humidity. Once again, we managed to arrive in Rome without our luggage!

Perhaps it was the connection in Washington ... after all, we did have move quickly between the 'A' terminal and the 'D'. And given the amount of traveling I do, it's to be expected that my luggage would be delayed from time-to-time (even though I normally travel with carry-on luggage exclusively and try to stick to direct flights). But, really! C'mon! No fair!

At least I knew the drill. Stand in line while some molto-bored guy takes information about our bags and where we're going to be staying. That only managed to consume a couple of the few that we'd set aside for a whirlwind tour of Rome; taking Helen to have a quick look at some of the sights.

So, by the time we got downtown, the best we could manage was a quick subway ride over to the Colosseum. 

In a city notorious for pickpockets, the most notorious place is the subway. I know that. When you go to Rome, you have to keep your wits about you at all times. I know that. Twice that little weasel nudged himself in front of me and then stopped dead for. No apparent reason. If I were to find myself in the situation again, I would lay my full weight on one of his feet, or "accidentally" scrape his ankle with the bottom of my shoe. Instead, for today, I will content myself with knowing that he only got about 25 euro from my right pocket. My passport, credit cards and additional money remained safe in my backpack (all that remains of my luggage - for now.

We wandered around the colosseum area for about 20 minutes; time to go to the train station to head for La Spezia and Vernazza.

It's Friday afternoon in Rome - and now, it seems, all roads lead FROM Rome. At least that's the way the crowds were heading. The train heading north was nearly full;  although it was not as bad as the trip to Florence two years ago when we had to stand for over four hours. The Eurostar was fast, running along at speeds up to 180 km/h. It was also very comfortable, we had two seats on one side, and one on the other of a little table ... which had an electrical outlet built in. Too bad my phone charger and plug adapter are in my (delayed ... lost ... missing) luggage. :(

It was dark by the time we got to La Spezia, fortunately, we did not have to wait long for the train to Vernazza.

While enroute to Vernazza, I called Gemmy, owner of the bed and breakfast I had booked earlier this year. We met her just after we left the train station. When I had originally booked our stay in Vernazza, it was for Margaret and I for three nights. When we convinced Helen to join us, we trimmed the Vernazza portion by one day to open up some time for a s top in Venice. Rather than use the "booking" portion of her web site, I wrote to her directly; asking her to adjust the duration of our stay and add a second room for my sister-in-law. She wrote back and said it would be taken care of.

Perhaps it was because we made these arrangements outside of her normal booking process ... but when we met Gemmy, she realized that there was going to be a problem: three people and only one double reservation. She recommended we have supper and that she would contact some of her friends to make other arrangements.

I'll take this opportunity to recap the score: three pieces of lost luggage, one pickpocket and misplaced accommodations reservations. A pretty full 10 hours in anybody's book if you ask me.

Gemmy managed to come up with two different friends who had rooms available. While Margaret and Helen waited at the restaurant, I went to check them out. "Our" room was up this rabbit-warren of narrow stairs and passageways. As we got close, the "landlord" asked me if I was going to remember the way back ... well, funny he should ask me that, because I was just starting to wonder the same thing. Fortunately, there was a simpler way ... "just follow the red stone in the stairs". I did and then went with the other landlord to check out Helen's place. This one was in a newer building, straight up the road from the restaurant. More than a "room", this was a whole apartment. Accommodations settled for the evening, I went back to the restaurant to finish supper.

After supper, I managed to send an email to Lufthansa's "Lost Baggage" group ... giving them the address to which our luggage could be delivered. That taken care of, I put my head on the pillow and fell asleep.

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