Friday, May 10, 2013

The best things in life are unplanned... (Letter #6 from Italy: April 25, 2013)

Our plan is to take the 5:50 p.m. train from Pisa to Lucca (about 30 minutes’ ride), grab a bite to eat and take the 7:40 p.m. train back to Minucciano. Partway to Lucca, we experience a delay of some kind (we’re not sure what the cause is since the explanation is in Italian, but the train has stopped, people look annoyed and the man across from me is on is cell presumably explaining the delay to his wife, who does not sound happy. He ends the call and rolls his eyes).
We eventually continue moving, and arrive at the Lucca station after 7. Given the time, we grab pizza to go and bring it back to the station. We wait for our train, and don’t think too much about it when it doesn’t arrive right at 7:40 given the fact that several trains seem to have been delayed. However, when it hasn’t arrived by 8, I go to the ticket window and ask the man if he knows when the train to Minucciano is coming. 
“No train to Minucciano,” he says.

“Yes. There was a 7:40 train on the schedule,” I say.

He looks at his watch. “It’s 8 o’clock.”

“Yes, I know,” I say, “But we’ve been here since before 7:30 and the train schedule says it was supposed to come at 7:40 p.m.
“No,” he says. “No train to Minucciano.” 
I am perplexed. “But it’s written on the schedule. Am I reading the schedule wrong?” I ask. 
“No. Times are different today. Day before a holiday.” 
The day BEFORE a holiday? “We need to get to Minucciano tonight,” I repeat. “What are our options?” He has a “not my problem” look in his eye. He sighs and types something into the computer. “You could go to Piazza al Serchi,” he says. “That’s the station before Minucciano.” (We know enough by now to know this is a far different situation than being dropped off one bus stop early). 
“Could we get a taxi to Minucciano from there?” I ask. He shrugs, which I translate to “I don’t know and/or I don’t care.” (I find out a few minutes later that I was standing between him and the end of his shift. I was not registering on his priority list). “Grazie,” I say, although I’m not sure why.
I go outside and break the news to Judith, who is as dumbfounded as I that the train schedule has changed because it’s the day BEFORE a holiday and there is no indication on the schedule of any such change. I see a conductor getting off a train, presumably at the end of his shift. “Scuzi, parla inglese?” He smiles and holds his thumb and index finger a few centimeters apart. “A little bit,” he says. “Speak slowly.” I explain our predicament and he calls one of his colleagues over. They tell us the train station at Piazza al Serchi will drop us too far to walk (a conclusion we’d already reached, but helpful to have it confirmed) and taxis will be too expensive. Our best bet will be to stay in Lucca for the night.

By this time, it’s after 8:30, so we begin looking for a hotel. We consult Rick Steves’ book and choose a bed and breakfast that looks promising. We take out Judith’s cell phone to call the number, only to find the battery is almost drained. We start walking. When we arrive at the B&B, the door is locked. We ring the bell, but no answer. We try a few more times, but no luck. There’s nothing for it but to keep walking. It’s dark and we’re not entirely sure where to go (we decide to try to find one of Rick’s other recommendations). 

And then we see it, “Hotel Ilario.” We stop in at the front desk and are greeted with the beautiful smile of a 30-something English-speaking angel. 

We ask him if they have any double rooms. “We have one room with a double bed,” he says. “How much?” we ask. “One hundred and nine Euros, including breakfast and free wifi,” he says. “We’ll take it,” we say, figuring sharing a double bed is far better than sharing a park bench (to our delight, the bed ends up being a king size).

In the morning, we take advantage of the breakfast (on a beautiful sunny terrace), where I savour two cafĂ© lattes, eggs, bacon, fruit, bread and cheese. 

We check out after breakfast. Our friend at the front desk is still working. We thank him profusely and I ask to take his picture. “Of course,” he says. “And if you enjoyed your stay, please go to Trip Advisor and write a review.” We agree that we will. “Five dots,he says. “If you’re only going to give it four dots, don’t bother,” he jokes. “Five dots it is,” we say, and will be happy to oblige. 

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