Thursday, July 16, 2009

So Far So Weird

ON BOARD TRENITALIA 530—VERTIMIGLIA, ITALY TO ANTIBES,FRANCE—Repacking my luggage for the trip to Perugia, I realized the wooden-boxed bottle of wine from Paul Jaubet winery in Rhone wasn’t a good fit for my luggage. I bestowed it on clerk Frederick, much to his surprise and delight. Without missing a beat, he disappeared into an tiny anteroom and re-emerged in seconds with a leather business card holder. I actually really needed one!
So when I returned to the hotel at the end of the day, he was only too happy to find me a hotel room on the busiest day of the year.
The Aston Hotel, tucked into a passageway just off Rue Cite Bergere, around the hotel from the Hard Rock Cafe, may just have been the smallest hotel room in Europe. About six inches of space separated the desk and chair from the bed, and if I opened the door and leaned into the hallway just a little, I could pull open both the adjoining hallway door, and the elevator.
The elevator? It fit me. Or my luggage. Not both.
When I arrived, the clerk instructed me to go up to my floor, and wait for my luggage, which he would send up on the next shuttle flight.
It was there in that tiny hotel room that the serious industrial-strength jet/train/taxi walking lag kicked in at full strength, and I fell on to my bed for a nap at about 7:30 p.m., not to awaken until the next morning.

Back to the Gere du Nord station, scene of my earlier triumph. Determined not to miss the train, I headed directly for the platform. My ticket read “Coach 2, seat 71.”
“Go to the first car,” a conductor told me. Um, that would be the last car from this end, and European Rail trains can stretch on for a hundred yards or more.
About three coaches from the front of the train, a bell sounded and I leapt aboard.
Read this next part carefully: I placed my garment bag onto a rack, as I looked for coach 2. The coach I was sitting in was labeled “Coach 2” on the outside, and a paper label denoted it as “Coach 12.” And there were several seat 71s.
I left my garment bag there, found my proper seat a few cars forward and settled in to a spacious and comfortable air-conditioned seat to enjoy the scenery.
“You’ll change trains for Milan in a few hours,” the conductor had told me, one of many confusing directions I was given during the weekend. It’s an interpretative thing. What he was actually saying was, “This train will release several coaches behind this one, at a station in the Alps a few hours away from here, and your garment bag that you put on that rack will be lost forever along with your cowboy boots that you got in New York City in 1985, your two suits, including your new one, and that tan blazer that you got at Target in Pasadena that you love.” That’s what he meant to say, I’m pretty sure.
On to Milan.
But first, some very important information about riding trains in Italy, and probably Europe: Your destination is probably not the name of the train, especially if you’re making connections. You want to go to Ville-Fromage? You take the Ille d’Canard Train and transfer at Croissantbourg to Ville Fromage. There is likely no train called Ville Fromage. None of this will be explained to you. By anyone.
So, trying to figure this out at 11 p.m. on a Sunday evening, left me with a ticket to Bologna with a transfer at Tortolla (?) On the massive schedule in the center of the station, there was no Bologna train listed, because of course, Bologna is a stop on the Mayonaisse train, which is leaving...right now.
And that’s how I found myself sitting on my luggage all night in the empty and cavernous Milan Station until the first train in the direction of Perugia would leave at 6:30 a.m. be......

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