Dispatches from Lucca #1

Ciao a tutti

So, here’s how it started.

Bought myself into Emirates lounge and had decent champagne and food, and a chat with an American staff member who studied in Lucca decades ago. Her Italian is still perfect.

Screaming toddler all the way to Dubai with mother saying “Sssh” a lot. Needed his mouth taped shut.

Woman on my right nibbled at her red, raw fingers most of the flight.

A good croissant at Dubai but the hot chocolate was appallingly bad.

Girl in the seat behind me stabs the screen in the back of my seat with a finger that would make a jack hammer envious. When I asked her to apply a little less pressure, she glares at me. At that moment, I invented a perfumed spray that will keep her in her hotel bathroom for the next 72 hours. In agony.

Hideous snack out of Dubai – an apple Danish that tasted like compressed cardboard. Not good, Emirates.

Why are airline headphones so useless?

Movie/TV selection on Emirates is poor.

A man up front is wearing two of those high-tech down-filled jackets that fold down to fit in a matchbox. He was also wearing aviator shades – in the cabin.

Our pilot says we’re “taking a very leisurely approach to Fiumicino where it is cloudy and nine degrees”. He wasn’t wrong. I could have knitted another A380 in the time it took to make that approach.

Collected my bag. Do not forget this line. It’s important.

My passport is stamped by a man deep in conversation with three colleagues.

Onto train into Roma.

At Roma Termini my phone rang. All I got was “airport” and “pick-up”. A moment later, it rang again, this time with a woman’s voice. Still couldn’t understand the voice. Do not forget this line. It’s important.

I’m on the train when I get a text asking if I have someone else’s bag. No, I reply, I have mine. I check.

What are the odds there are two red Samsonite suitcases with the Emirates tags in the same place on the same flight?

Yep, Mr O of Cape Town has my suitcase and I have his wife’s. I am now speeding towards Firenze and then onto Lucca. I agree to return to Roma the next day to exchange cases. After all, I didn’t check the tag.

I book tickets on Trenitalia and then realise my phone thinks it’s a day later. My lovely hostess – Sandy from Belgium – suggests a bus to Pisa and then grovelling at the ticket office. She’s a good woman.

Up at 7am, drag very heavy Samsonite through cobbled streets to bus. €3.50 and I’m marvelling at the view of Pisa as we exit a tunnel – pink and blue sky, the Leaning Tower and the Duomo. Pisa is also a walled town, although much of it is now gone. It looks interesting and I made a mental note to return.

At the Trenitalia office, I strike the most wonderful man.

              Me:        Scusi, I’m trying to practise my Italian

              Him:       Anche [me, too]

We both laugh. He has bad news.

              Him:       I cannot change that fare because it was a cheap one. The new one will cost €46…I mean €46,000.

              Me:        Is ok [in Italian accent]

He changes all my bookings, I pay for the new fare, and then navigate the peculiar construction of the Italian railway station. I take the elevator down to the underpass, but I have to drag the #&#&*#!!! suitcase up the steps to the platform. Where it is icy cold. My gloves and ear muffs are……in my suitcase in Roma.

Now I understand the wearing of fur coats and fur hats, but why are children wandering around with no gloves?

Mama enters the carriage. She has three small children with her – maybe 6, 3 and 2? The older girl has a hacking cough that would rival someone with emphysema and she coughs continually, all over the place. The two youngest are plugged into pacifiers but they scream, yell, cry and fight ceaselessly. Mama plays with her phone. She says “Sssh” a lot.

20 minutes from Roma Termini, Mr O texts to say he’s there, at platform 22 in blue jacket with red suitcase. My reply is “purple coat and red suitcase”.

The screaming reaches fever pitch and I move to the vestibule to get away. Followed by Mama and the Screamers. Who continue to scream. And annoy one another. And scream.

At that moment, I invented the “Silencio”, a soft wrap running under the chin and tying on top of the head. Inside, a retractable steel band renders the little darlings unable to make a sound. I also invented an app that allows me to operate this from anywhere in the world.

Why has evolution given small children sharp letters to start with?

              Child #1: Aiiieee! Yeeeeeaiiiyeeee!

              Child #2: Eeeeeeaiiiyyyyyyyyyyyyy Eeeeeeaiiiyyyyyyyyyyyyy

              Child #3: Eieeieieieieieieieieiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyieeeeeeeeyeaiaiaiaiai

They clearly can’t handle them, so why not start with something softer?

              Child #1: Mmmm mmmm mmmm mmmm

              Child #2: L L LLLLLL mmnnnnn

              Child #3: nrrr

Mr O and I meet. We both think the whole thing is hilarious. Mrs O used her code to open my suitcase. Must have a word with Samsonite about that.

Back onto the platform for the return trip. On board, two young women tourists, their bags wrapped in protective covers, are causing chaos. Their bags are too heavy for them to lift.  They have no idea what to do. There is nowhere to put them. In that moment, I invent a remote-controlled device that explodes the bags of incompetent travellers. And vaporises them, too.

At Santa Maria Novella station in Firenze, an overhead conversation. Americans. Dad is model-quality good-looking, the sort that features in ads for retirement living in Florida. Mom is carefully blonded and ageing well (yes, I’m tired). Early 20s son. Dad is clearly annoyed.

              Dad:       Why is everything in Italian?

              Son:       It’s Italy, Dad.

              Mom smiles tightly.

              Dad:       It’s ridiculous. How are you supposed to know where you’re going?

              Mom’s smile tightens a little more.

Commuter train across to Lucca.

Open bag, shower, get into fresh clothes, finish the last glass of vino rosso straight from the bottle.

Go out at 7pm for aperitivo – drinks with free food. I get my first look at Lucca, lit up for Christmas and full of people of good cheer. Sandy orders Pischino, a drink of Prosecco with peaches saturated in some sort of alcohol. Dangerously drinkable. I start with vino rosso. Then we have both have Aperol Spritz and then Pischino. I am now somewhat  intoxicated not having had much food during the day. We eat peppers, giant cannellini beans, gherkins, seedy bread sticks, very garlicky hummus, olives of many varieties and bruschetta which is pronounced brusketta – never bru-shetta.

Home and into bed…and wide awake at 3am from the travel and the booze.

Ciao

Prue

Note: Food is going to be very important on this trip. The hot chocolate in Lucca fills in all those empty spaces you were hoping to collapse into a smaller you. Bucellato is a loaf of aniseed-flavoured heaven that is good torn into pieces, with butter or toasted. Particularly at 3am.