We’re off again, this time to spend three weeks touring Italy. My daughters and I will be joined by a rotating cast of characters during this trip to ensure that we don’t get utterly tired of each other! Unlike our last European adventure where we spent the majority of our time based in Paris, this time we are traveling around the countryside. The girls are older and a little more adaptable when it comes to packing up and moving on every four to five days which makes this approach more feasible. It also allows us to cover more ground and ultimately, find things that appeal to everyone. The greatest joy for me, however, is that it allows to sample Italian culture in all it’s variety and glory, from the top of the country to the bottom (almost).
First stop…..Milan and Piedmont. I’ll admit, the first leg of this trip was more about me than anyone else. I don’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty about claiming a small slice of the trip for my agenda. First, moms deserve to have a bit of what they want, too. Particularly as the children get older there can be a bit more accommodation for our wants and needs. Additionally, in true serendipitous fashion, my girls found plenty to love on this leg of the trip. Even though there were no beaches or grand tourist sites, we have fond memories of little villages, local farms, good food, relaxation and a goat named Albert.
I’ve long been a lover of European wines and have recently had a particular interest in wines from small vineyards in the Piedmont area. The family and friend portion of our trip was slated to begin in the Cinque Terre which isn’t all that far from Piedmont (if you’re an optimist with a sense of adventure). Truthfully, to get to the Cinque Terre in a cost effective fashion we were going to have to fly into Milan. Once in Milan, you might as well take a few extra days and detour to Piedmont. It turns out that even a few days is just not enough, however, and next time I’ll go back for a week or longer.
Our journey into Milan was fraught with difficulty. When you are traveling thousands of miles via three different flights and one rental car there will almost certainly be problems. Or opportunities. Depends on your frame of mind. Generally I’m of the opportunity mindset but by the end of this particular venture I was of the “get me out of this recurring nightmare” mindset. I’ll spare you most of the details but I can’t help sharing a few of the highlights. We were just pushing back from the gate at 6:00 am on our first flight when the crew announced that they needed a physician to come to the front of the plane. I pretended to be something other than a physician for a nanosecond until my daughters outed me. I proceeded to the front of the plane where I found a lovely, gray haired, tenacious woman in her 70’s who felt dizzy and nauseated and couldn’t catch her breath. Given that I’m a pediatrician, this was not really my wheelhouse. No matter. It didn’t take me long to realize that whatever this woman was experiencing was not going to be improved by climbing to 30,000 feet of altitude so back to the gate we went for medical services. After some time, the woman was removed from the plane, evaluated by EMS, put back on the plane (!!!), and we took off for Salt Lake City. There we enjoyed a little club room access (thanks Delta business credit card) and boarded our next plane to Atlanta. That flight was blissfully uneventful. Upon arrival we walked around, stretched our legs, stocked up on some drinks and snacks, and boarded our plane to Milan.
Those of you who have flown through Atlanta surely know that that airport is utterly cursed. I don’t think I’ve ever had a flight go well from there. This time was no exception. We were just about to push back from the gate for our 9 hour flight when the captain informed us that there was a “small crack” in one of the panels that needed to be fixed. No worries. Within 20 minutes they would have us on our way. I stand in awe of the optimism that airline personnel must possess. Because as all of you know, this was not a 20 minute kind of problem. This was a 5 hour kind of problem. Five hours! On the tarmac! We were given a small bottle of water and bag of Cheez-Its to tide us over. Thank goodness.
You can imagine the scene on the airplane. It was all hungry, tired, chaos ridden angst. People were threatening to get off the airplane, sue the airline, etc, etc, etc. Apparently water and Cheez-Its don’t quite soothe the masses. Regardless, at the very bitter end, just before the pilots timed out and the flight got canceled, the crack was fixed and we were on our way! I was so tired from keeping myself and two children from flying off the handle during this ordeal that I didn’t even have energy to waste wondering about the safety of the aircraft. Seems like it was just fine, though, because we landed in Milan in the middle of a hot, sunny afternoon, only 5 hours later than planned.
We managed to navigate through customs and immigration, get our passports stamped and grab our luggage. We muddled our way to the Hertz rental car desk. I know, I know. Car rental in a foreign land attracts me like a moth to a flame. But really, to navigate Piedmont you have to have a car and I wanted to go to Piedmont. So I got a car.
We waited in line forever. Literally. Time is just different in Italy. When it was finally our turn, the representative gave me grief about being five hours late and said that our car had already been rented to someone else. Like being five hours late was somehow a choice I had made and now I was suffering the consequences of that choice. But wait, magic! A new car was available. Brand new. Just perfect for us. So we hauled our luggage out to the parking lot and waited in another line until someone could direct us to our car. It did indeed appear to be clean and new. We loaded our stuff and headed out gleefully for our hotel. We had made it approximately ten feet out of the parking lot when it became apparent to me that this brand new, clean, good smelling car wasn’t capable of accelerating past 5 mph. As I merged into airport traffic I checked everything. In drive, check. Parking brake off, check. Evidence of weird European car settings that I just wasn’t aware? Nope. So I attempted to pull back into the rental car lot which unfortunately was up a small incline. This car wasn’t going up a small incline. In fact, it stopped halfway up said incline. So, I got out of the car, children in tow and trudged up the hill to the man working the booth. I explained to him my trouble. He looked at me like I was an idiot. I invited him to drive the car. He tried. It didn’t go well.
Eventually, there were six Italian men (in full suits, ties and dress shoes, in the 90 degree heat), attempting to push this car up the incline. This didn’t go well either. They eventually abandoned that idea. As far as I know, that damn car is still sitting there.
After much ado and a lot of negotiating I found myself in another car. This one was definitely not new. It was definitely not clean. It didn’t smell all that great. Come to find out, the gas tank wasn’t even full. But the car did run and it was beat up enough that I didn’t really worry about inflicting further damage upon the poor thing. Basically, it was perfect. We took off down the road to our hotel where we would spend one night before heading out to Piedmont. It felt like we had surely used up all of our misfortune for one trip. After a shower, a stroll around Milan, some gelato, wine and pizza (I don’t like to mess around), I was certain that sunnier days were ahead.