Earlier this month, I took a spur-of-the-moment trip across the pond to Italy to visit a friend who just moved there and had a long weekend to explore Northern Italy.
It started off with an email:
listen..i know it's last mintue, but you got me thinking the other day about the buddy passes....
why don't you come here next week?
i'm off from the 25th april - may 1st.....
if you come... I plan to travel around northern Italy: Verona, Padova, Ferrara, Mantova....your dad's neck of the woods...
what do you say? call your friends at Luftansa and see what they can do....
come on....it'll be fun.....and the weather is warm like in the caymans so not much adjustment...
I checked with Lufthansa and found out there were 18 seats on the flight from Miami to Frankfurt on the way over, and 32 on the way back. Sounds like a lot, but 18/200 or so (747-800) is a pretty small percentage. I didn't want to get stuck in Frankfurt trying to get back across the Atlantic to anywhere in the US. I looked online at some flights from Miami or anywhere along the East Coast for flights across to Italy and they were all in around $1300-2000 US... not very conducive. On a whim, I went to Lufthansa's website and they had some advertised web specials to Frankfurt from the US. I put in Miami as my point of departure and the dates I wanted (7 days out at this point) and they were advertising a fare for $375 US! Return! Holy shit! Suddenly the trip became do-able. I fired off an email to the rest of my team to ask if anyone could think of something I was overlooking or if the schedule was clear. The next morning I went to book the ticket... and it was $1300 now! Fuck me in the goatass! I clicked flexible dates and it brought up the next day, Thursday for the $375 price, so it must have been a seven-day advance booking restriction. I clicked it and booked my ticket to Frankfurt and it came out to $586 with taxes and whatnot. Score! Next I had to get from Frankfurt to Rome, where I was meeting up with Tina (she was going to take the train from Florence that afternoon) I checked around and looked at Alitalia: $900. Forget that shit. I checked Lufthansa: $600. Nope. I tried Ryan Air: E99 southbound and E0.01 northbound into Pisa. Meh. In the end I took my chances on a Buddy Pass on Alitalia, and bought the E0.01 + tax back to Frankfurt-Hahn which I heard was about 45 minutes from Frankfurt-Main by bus.
I got up Thursday the 26th at o'dark-hundred to catch the Cayman Airways flight to Miami. As luck would have it, the night before my Jeep died, so I had to wake John up to drive me there. I had five hours+ to kill in Miami and got on the Lufthansa flight at 3:00 or so. The first thing I did after finding my seat (about as far back as you can go in a 747, row 48) was get out my iPod, PSP, eye mask (iSleep?) and popped two Tylenol PMs. I watched a couple episodes of The Office on the PSP until I got drowsy, then slipped on the mask and switched my noise cancelling headphones to the iPod and took a little nap.
I woke up a few hours later just in time for dinner, then went back to sleep for a few more hours. The flight was 9 hours and 40 minutes, which is about as long as it takes to get to Vancouver from Cayman, but instead of going BACK a couple time zones, I went forward 7. That meant that we left at 3pm Thursday afternoon and arrived Friday morning at 640am. I woke up around 5am or so, had a little bite to eat for breakfast and then snoozed until we landed. I arrived with my body feeling like it was waking up early. Perfect.
I asked the flight attendant if I missed them passing out customs and/or immigration forms and she looked at me like I was a moron, which guess I was. I'm so used to filling out customs forms going into the US and immigration AND customs forms flying into Cayman that I forgot that the rest of the frigginworld had moved beyond that shit. I walked up to the counter at passport control, the guy looked at my passport, flipped through 22 pages of stamps looking for a blank area and put the Frankfurt EU stamp on the last blank page. That was it. No APIS, no how long are you staying, nothing. I made my way out into the terminal area and saw the massive board they have with all the departures on it. I guess I'm used to plasma screens now, so this massive, 50 foot wide and 20-30 foot tall toteboard with all the clickety-clackety alphabets on it was pretty cool.
I went to the Alitalia counter and showed them my ticket and she told me the flight was oversold. Wonderful. Is there any other flights I can catch to anywhere else in Italy? I knew that there were a few flights to Milan as well, but they were full, too. Shit! Bitten in the ass by a buddy pass! She gave me a standby boarding pass to get through security, which was pretty much the same BS as in the US, but more efficient. As I was wandering around the gate area, trying to figure out which city was displayed on which gate because they were all in German, I saw Florenz 0855. I was wondering where that is when suddenly OH! Duh! Florence! and it's boaring soon! I took a chance and walked up to the gate agent and asked if there were any seats available on the flight. He looked at me funny, because at this point I should have a boarding card and a flight already. I showed him my Alitalia Buddy Pass and he had this "Oh shit. Paperwork." look on his face. He asked me how many bags I had, and I said none. His face visibly improved at this point and said "No problem. here's your boarding card, they're boarding now" Holy crap! Now I had to try and call Tina and tell her not to go to Rome! Of course, I didn't have her Italy cell phone number in my phone, so I had to pull out my laptop and fire up Outlook. The gate agent advised me to get through the gate and onto the bus. I stalled a minute, wrote her phone number on my boarding card, shut my laptop and got on the bus where I tried to call her.
Had I read ANY part of the guidebook I miraculously found in the Miami airport, I would have seen to dial 00 39 area code+number. Did I mention that I was using my Cable & Wireless cell phone, roaming in Europe? Yeah... can't wait to see that bill next week. I couldn't get through and couldn't get through no matter what I tried. I got on the plane and decided I'd deal with it when I got to Florence. If I couldn't get in touch with her, I'd just grab a bus to the train station, go to Rome and try to find her there. How hard could that be?
I landed in Florence, who's airport is about the size of the airport in Cayman Brac and turned my phone on again. "Welcome to Italy!" SMS message popped up to let me know I was roaming on TIM to C&W. Wonderful. At that point, I received three SMS messages from Cayman, too. AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH! I tried calling with 39+area code+number and got a recording. Then I actually used my noodle and dialed area code+ number and it rang! We had communicated earlier that I would call IF there was a change in plans, otherwise I would be on AZwhatever flight number in Rome. "Where are you?" I asked her. "Im just walking to the train station" "STOPPPPP! I'm in Florence!" "What? huh? well whatever, never mind, sit tight, I'll take a bus out there and meet you". I cooled my jets, had a cafe macchiato and waited for her to show up.
About 20 mins later, a visibly more stylish Tina showed up at the airport. We laughed and hugged and then went to get back on the bus, but it was full, so we decided to take a cab back to her apartment. We forgot about the "pound you in the ass tax" that taxis surcharge you for for airport pickups as well as a raise in the base rates the week before to coincide with "summer" tourist season. That was the last cab we took the whole rest of the trip :) We dropped my stuff off at her apartment, I grabbed my toothbrush, a pair of underwear and a t-shirt and we were off to Rome. We paused at two places in her neighbourhood to get some bresaola and some schiacciatta and she had a little baggie of rucola with her already. We sat on the grass and made sandwiches with the stuff we picked up and OMG it was good. We gathered up our trash, put it in the bin and then got on our train to Rome.
Next post I'll pick up in Rome