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Report 926: My Dream Trip To Italy and France

By BGE from Fox Creek, Alberta, Canada, Spring 2005

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Page 24 of 38: I’m Leaving Firenze Today and Going to Paris!

photo by BGE

27 Damremont, Paris, France

Today is my final day in Florence. I am awake early, without my alarm ringing.

At breakfast, while sitting on the terrace one last time, I find myself thinking about the past few weeks. It amazes me that I’ve actually done this! I’ve planned, organized, booked and taken a trip to Italy and France. I did it with mega-help from my travel site, Slowtrav. I’ve had hundreds of bits of assistance and advice given so freely from the members of that wonderful site. My doctor gave me so much encouragement and support, and my friends stood by, supporting me and cheered me on when I doubted if it was a good thing to be doing, having family members in poor health.

It definitely is a good thing to be doing.

I realize now that my staying home would not help these darling people and would not keep them well and alive. Funny how the mind plays tricks on a person. I realized that I was not making my travel plans because of the age-old, “What if I go and they get sicker? What if they die while I’m away, enjoying myself?” This is an interesting revelation. I think it’s pretty normal to feel like this. We tell ourselves that it’s wrong, somehow, to go and have a good time, when others are not well and not having a good time at all. I’ll have to think about my reasons for doing this, a little bit more.

I’ve set aside this morning to get all the chores and packing done, so I pick up my job list and start. By noon, all luggage is packed and in the hallway by the door, the apartment is cleaned, the linens washed and hanging on the clothesline, all plants on the terrace have been watered one last time.

My brain is fried!

I’m running 1000 miles an hour in my head.

I need to stop, take a break and chill for a bit. Taking a nap is the best thing for slowing down, and that’s just what I do. I open the skylight over my bed, wrap up in a warm blanket, set the alarm for an hour later, and blessedly, I sleep.

Taking this nap is the best decision I've made so far today. It is the perfect antidote to the drunken monkey that was running around in my mind. I wake refreshed and ready to finish getting ready to leave for Santa Maria Novella.

This self-imposed time out has stopped my disasterizing, the ‘what-if-THIS-or-THAT-goes-wrong’ syndrome that I’ve been stricken with for the last few hours. It gives me the break I need to remind myself to live in the moment, and not several hours down the line. After a lunch of leftovers… salad, bread, some salami and cheese and the last glass of wine left in the bottle, I’m ready to leave.

At 3:45 P.M. the doorbell rings and it is Lorenzo, with Claudio downstairs waiting in the van, ready to take me to the train station. Lorenzo hands me my security deposit.

“Don’t you want to check the apartment first?” I ask him.

He shakes his head and says, “I know these apartments very well and I can tell you there is no problem with how you have lived in this one!” That’s so cool! He also tells me that I am welcome to stay here anytime I return, because I’ve been such a good guest. I guess I have, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve done anything special. I’ve just lived in the apartment and taken care of it as if it were my own home.

Lorenzo hands me my train ticket to Pisa, I offer to reimburse him for the cost of the ticket, and he says, “No, Brenda, this is the least I can do for you.” He is such a good guy! I am totally spoiled.

After my luggage is loaded in the van, Lorenzo says goodbye and wishes me a safe trip. He also tells me that Claudio will take me to the exact place where I need to wait for my train to Pisa. We drive away, and as I look back at the front of the apartment building, I see the guy from the front desk coming out to wave goodbye to me!

He’s given me some pretty good lessons in speaking Italian and he’s been such a cool guy every morning as I leave the building. He has made sure that I have my carte agile and that I know where to get on and get off the bus, where the best cafes are…how cool is that?

The trip to the train station is short, pleasant and comfortable in this air-conditioned Mercedes van. We find the platform where my train is to arrive, Claudio stacks my luggage beside me, then tells me, “Stay here! Don’t move, OK? You wait for the train here.”

I agree.

He has no idea how nervous I am about this part of the trip, so I’ll not be going anywhere. He gives me one more direction to stay in this spot, and we say goodbye.

There are angels everywhere, I swear. While I am waiting for my train, a couple from Scotland sit down and we chat about our trips. About 3 minutes before the train is to arrive, there is an announcement that the train to Pisa is NOT on Line 5... but Line 1! By this time there is a large group of people waiting here for the Pisa train, so we all begin to run frantically to the new location. A guy from Wales helps me schlep my bags to the other platform, and we make it in time!

As we board, the couple from Scotland sit in the seat across from me and they are great company! I tell them about my travel site, Slowtrav. They’ve never heard of it. I write down the web address for them and again wish I’d thought to bring Slowtrav business cards with me. Next time, I will.

I am a little concerned that I will miss the station in Pisa... well, a lot concerned, actually. This is all new for me and the drunken mind-monkey is back, in spades! I ask the couple from Scotland if they know where we are to get off in Pisa and they don’t, but the guy across the aisle tells us he will make sure we know when we are about to arrive. Angels everywhere, I tell ya!

When we arrive in Pisa, the guy across the aisle tells me the next stop is the airport. There are more guardian angels waiting for me… a really nice Swedish couple help me lift my luggage off the train and the guy tows it into the terminal for me.

Here’s where things get a little crazy. I am near the front of the line to check in my luggage, and I’m seeing the staff making everyone stuff their carry-on into a little metal frame thing. If it fits, they get to take it on, and if not, they are made to check it. There are more than a few people really angry, and I overhear them arguing about the size restriction.

“This is the right size, we know because we measured it before we left home, “ one woman says.

It makes no difference to the Easyjet staff, they just insist that the luggage must be checked.

I’m now a little uneasy, because even though I’ve measured and weighed my carry-on, and even though it met the size restrictions on Easyjet’s website, I’m thinking that it might not fit in their measuring device. It looks so similar to all the other bags that don’t measure up.

I’m up next, and as instructed, I place my carry-on into the metal frame. It fits, right the way down to the spot at the bottom where the handle is riveted onto the bag. That piece won’t slide through unless I push down on it. I reach to do that and am told, “No, ma’am, you must check it. It does NOT fit.” For some strange reason, I'm thinking right now of Johhny Cochrane telling the jury, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit!"

I ask for a minute to remove my medication, my jewellery and my camera from the bag, and she tells me sharply, “No, you must check it. NOW.”

I open my bag, quickly take out the aerosol mousse, my camera, a little bag of jewellery and my medication...stuff that I’m not comfortable leaving in the bag if it is to be checked. I zip it up quickly and hand it to her. She places it on the scales beside my checked bag, and announces triumphantly, “You are NOW overweight!”

Really?

Wow!

Quelle surprise!

She sends me over to the wicket where I have to pay for my overweighted-ness, telling me that she will not give me my boarding pass until I bring back a receipt for her. She also says I must leave both bags with her, and as I walk over to the wicket to pay my fine, I see that they are standing beside the scale, leaning against her platform.

The line for overweight luggage fees is long, long, LONG! No doubt it is long, when most of the people who are checking in luggage are sent here to pay extra! There is a lot of muttering about the smallness of the measuring device being used, and one guy says he swears it is smaller than the required measurements on their website. No one has a tape measure, we are all totally pissed off, and it seems like there is nothing we can do about this, so we pay and pay and pay.

What a glorious way to make a lot of extra cash! When it is my turn, I am told I owe 130 Euros.

130 freakin’ Euros?

The freakin’ flight was only 74 Euros! They now have me for 204 Euros.

I could have flown Air France for 20 Euros more than this cheap Easyjet flight, with no hassle about my carry-on, no extra charges and a flight out of Florence, to boot! This so reminds me of my grandfather’s favourite saying, ”The cheapest is the most expensive in the long run, girl.”

What can I do? I have to pay. I am so angry about this, and what is heaping coals on my head by the bucketfull is the cold, harsh reality that they have me over a barrel, by the short and curly, caught smartly between a rock and a proverbial hard place. Screwed, blue-d and tattooed, I think the saying goes?

I take my receipt back to the chick at check-in; she takes it and initials it, handing it back to me. My luggage is still standing beside her and not in a very secure place, in my opinion. I ask her to please check it through. It's as if I’ve asked her to give me her first-born, served up on a platter, surrounded by roasted veggies! She tells me that she WILL, when SHE has a moment.

Walking away, I don’t have a very good feeling about this situation. My gut is in knots and something smells here. Still, I have no idea if this is the normal way people are treated here in the Pisa airport at the Easyjet check-in, so I try to put this past me and move on.

"Build a bridge, Brenda, and get over it!"

In the boarding area, there is a huge number of people, without their carry-on, and without smiles on their faces. They are a pretty angry bunch. I’m starting to realize that I’m not the only one who has some kinda negative feelings about this situation.

Sitting next to a lovely lady named Giovanna, from Livorno, we talk about this Easyjet luggage thing and then we decide to “forget about it”, and begin sharing stories about our grandchildren. This is a much more pleasant topic, and my anger begins to fade. We share our packed-at-home lunches and watch each other’s luggage while we take our turns for potty breaks. We also discover that I’m boarding in Group A and she’s in Group B. I promise to save her a good seat!

The line-up waiting for boarding is hot, hot, HOT! I can feel sweat rolling down my back, down the sides of my face... definitely not a 'Secret deodorant' moment.

It’s finally time to begin actual boarding, out on the tarmac. There’s a little rain and fresh cool air, and it feels so good after the hot, stuffy air in the boarding area. Giovanna sits in the saved seat next to me, and she spends the rest of the flight sharing her advice with me about taxis in Paris, restaurants where she likes to eat, as well as her favourite things to do. She travels to Paris often, to visit her children who live there, so she’s a very knowledgeable traveller and I am soaking it up.

The flight is good. It takes only an hour. As we begin to circle the city, I see the Eiffel Tower out of my window! It is nearly midnight, the sky is dark and the lights on the tower are amazing. No one had to show it to me, I find it by myself! I feel a sense of accomplishment, somehow, as if recognizing the tower without someone pointing it out to me is a brilliant thing. “I’m REALLY going to Paris!” I think to myself, and I know I’m smiling. A lot!

The flight is short.

We are up… we are down.

As we deplane, the guy from the train who reminded me where the airport stop in Pisa was, taps me on the shoulder. ”You forgot your umbrella,” he tells me. My Du-o-mo umbrella! I’d never forgive myself! "Grazie," I reply and then realize that the Italian slipped out without thinking!

Inside Orly at the luggage carousel, I’m not looking for my luggage anytime soon, because I checked in near the first of the line. First on… last off, that’s what usually happens. I’m in for a total surprise! BOTH of my bags tumble out of the chute first… and together! That is totally unusual, but I like being first out of the crowd milling aorund the carousel, so I’m not complaining.

Out through the front doors of the terminal, Giovanna gives me the first taxi in the line and she speaks to the driver for me... in French. He is about 30, really friendly, takes total care of my luggage and drives a really clean car. I give him my address, ask him to stop at an all-night grocer along the way for some bottled water and we’re off. We chat along the way and he tells me that he knows a guy who lives in my home town! How’s that for flow? It turns out that we both know the same person…that’s amazing! Six degrees of separation, I think that’s called.

After a quick stop at the grocers’, he delivers me to the front door of my apartment building, in just shy of 25 minutes. That’s not bad! I am so happy I chose a night flight, rather than getting stuck in Paris traffic during the daytime. He charges me 47.5E, plus 5E more for my luggage. I give him 58E, and tell him to keep the change. I’m not sure about the amount for a tip, but he seems really happy and thanks me profusely. He did a really good job… helping me with my luggage, stopping for water for me, and he knows someone I know…why not tip the guy?

Inside the first set of double doors, I look for the secretly-stashed apartment keys. They are exactly where Lauren told me she would leave them! This has caused me a lot of anxiety, worrying about being dumped out on the sidewalk, at midnight, with no way to get into the apartment. What a relief this is! I struggle to open the second set of security doors, cannot get the key to work at all… is this my worst nightmare beginning?

Another guardian angel appears. He asks if I will permit him to help me, and I tell him, “Gratefully, yes!” He takes my keys, finds the RIGHT key and the door opens effortlessly.

Ummmmm, I was using the wrong key?

He asks me if he may assist me with my bags and I reply, “Even more gratefully, yes!” The guy carries my bags to my apartment door, leans them against the wall, and tells me that he is in the same apartment, only 3 floors up. He says that if I need anything or want help with anything, he’d be pleased to help me. He says, “Good night and sleep well, Madame.”

I’m thinking, as I let myself into the apartment, that this is a scene right out of a movie. A kind stranger helps a woman moving into a new apartment, and tells her where he lives, then invites her to call on him for assistance if she needs any. Only in Paris, I think!

I am in my apartment at 27 rue Damremont. It is exquisite. It really is better than the pictures on the internet. I actually wander from room to room, looking and touching and saying out loud, to no one but myself, “Oh, my goodness! This is so beautiful! It really is perfect!” I actually remember to take my photos of my rental now, when the place looks perfect like this, because after I’ve moved in, it will never look this good again.

It’s time to unpack and put everything away and go to bed. I am exhausted from the long day, the stress of doing this without really knowing what I’m doing. The unfamiliar is always stressful for me.

I pick up my carry-on, set it on the bed and begin to unzip it. What is this? The zipper looks smashed in.

I look closer and see that it is indeed broken and a small bit of a scarf is hanging out through the opening. I struggle to unzip the bag, and finally pop it open.

Everything inside is chaos!

My first thought is that someone has opened the bag, dumped everything out on the floor and then has thrown it all back into the bag, stomped on it really hard, and then ripped the zipper closed, breaking it.

I then see that all the bottles of gorgeous bath lotions and gels from L’Erbario Toscana are broken, smashed into small pieces and the contents are everywhere inside my bag. All of my clothing, cosmetic bags, my books... all are covered with the lotions and bath gels and broken bits of bottles.

Then, I realize that the little green paper bag from Cellini Gold is lying on the bottom of this heap of sodden stuff, torn open... the little boxes inside the bag are crushed and empty.

Bastards! BASTARDS!!!

The precious bracelet that I found for my beautiful daughter... gone.

The beautiful earrings I finally chose for myself... both pairs... gone.

So, tell me, how would someone know the jewellery was in this bag? I realize now that the bag was sent through the scanner along with my other checked bag, and the scanner would have shown them what was inside. How bloody convenient for them.

It dawns on me that there were MANY carry-ons that were re-routed to become checked luggage on that flight. What a scam this is. They make you check your carry-on with all those gorgeous steal-ables packed ever-so-carefully inside… then they charge you a whopping huge fee for now being obviously overweight, and THEN someone in baggage handling steals all the valuables from your now-checked-in carry-ons.

I am so pissed.

I don’t remember the next few minutes, other than I am crying, walking back and forth in the bedroom, punching my left fist into my right hand, whispering as loud as I dare, “Bastards! Lousy BASTARDS!” as well as several other less-savory four-letter friend-getters. I'm whispering because I don’t want to wake the neighbours, as it’s after 1:00 A.M.

I am stunned.

I feel like someone has just punched me in the gut. I cannot get my breath, I cannot think straight. All I am capable of right now is copious swearing and pacing back and forth.

I punch the pillow on the bed really hard.

Again... really, really hard this time.

I hurt my hand, when I miss the pillow and hit the corner of the headboard.

The ONLY time that damn bag was out of my sight was from the time I left it with Miss Nimblenuts at Easyjet’s check-in desk to the time it rolled off the luggage carousel in Orly... first off the rack, remember. SO, sometime between it going God-knows-where from the check-in desk to the loading trolley out on the tarmac, some filthy little bastard smashed open my bag, totally destroyed the contents and stole my daughter’s bracelet and my new earrings.

I don’t even care about the earrings right now…I will later on, but right now it truly breaks my heart that this perfect gift for my perfect child is likely being handed over right now to some low-brow, no-mind, cokein' and smokin' cracker in a drug deal somewhere.

I’m writing to the owner of this airline and letting him/her/them know what has happened. Will they care? Not bloody likely. If I’d been dumb enough to pack the jewellery in my checked bag, I would accept that having it stolen from there would be a possibility. If I’d left the bags sitting unprotected, even though it angers me to know that someone would take what’s not theirs, I’d accept that I shouldn’t have left them anywhere I wasn’t.

I realize it is VERY late and I am VERY angry.

I also realize that I really need to sleep… being sleep-deprived makes everything exaggerated. I also think that I’m NOT going to let these creeps ruin this perfectly divine week in Paris with my son. So there!

In bed, much later, I cannot sleep. I feel really afraid and violated. I’m going over and over everything…wondering what I could have done better/sooner/smarter/different. There’s really nothing I can think of that was my fault. Just ‘the luck o’ the Irish,’ as my grandfather used to tell me, whenever bad things happened.

The last time I look at the clock on my nighttable, it is after 4:00 A.M.

Best Things Today:

~ being ready to go before Lorenzo arrived

~ my nap after lunch!

~ the amazing line-up of guardian angels whose paths crossed mine today

~ this glorious apartment

~ the peach taffeta pin-tucked drapes in the living room

~ the silence of the bedroom…the comfort of the covers, when I most need comforting

Worst Things Today:

~ it's pretty simple, really... being robbed

~ the feeling of fear inside of my body, when I'm lying in bed in the dark.

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