Hi all, it has been so long since I have written here I feel kind of rusty, so ramble here I come. Actually I guess I would call my sharing with you here more of a folksy writing as compared to the articles I wrote for the April issue of the WALPOLE CLARION, but isn’t that what SHUNPIKING WITH RAY is about, right?
Back in February I mentioned I was heading to Italy with David’s family for Mari’s brother’s wedding – well we are here. We left Wednesday night from Logan on Swiss Air for Zurich to then catch the smaller plane to Florence, with the plan on this trip to then catch the train to Cortona. If you remember STUCK IN ZURICH from last July you may recall that winds at the airport in Florence wreak havoc with the schedules. I have now had three attempted experiences in or out of Florence’s airport, of which only one worked. Yes, on our approach the winds kicked up, actually we learned it was a tail wind which made the air speed too great to land on the short runway, and just as we were about to touch down the pilot pulled up aborting the landing. I was on the left side of the plane which became the right side by the window to get a wonderful aerial view of Florence enabling me to spot all the sights I saw last July. Last year following our cancelled outbound flight we were bused to Bologna to catch our outbound flight, but this time we were diverted to Pisa on the coast where we were told that buses would eventually show up to take the passengers for the hour ride back to the Florence airport. We would have to wait for the bus back to the airport in Florence, and then catch the bus (as planned) to get to the train station in Florence. At the Pisa baggage claim there was a large permanent sign explaining to diverted Florence passengers what to do – obviously something that happens often. Instead, since there is a train station in the Pisa airport, we gathered our bags and rushed to see when the next train left. As fortune would have it, we had 5 minutes – but no tickets. The ticket machine was broken and if we went back into the air terminal to buy tickets we would have missed the train. We boarded, knowing that occasionally you can buy a ticket on the train for a small extra fee.
Now is the time for me to impart some Italian railway information. There are many ways to purchase your ticket. In Cortona tickets cannot be purchased at the station, but instead at any number of tobacco stores. Prior to boarding a train you validate your ticket in a machine so the conductor, when asking to see your ticket, knows when and where your journey began. But you seldom see a conductor, thus seldom asked; however, if asked to produce a ticket and you have none you are subject to a heavy fine. On three train trips last year I was only asked to show my ticket once, and that was at the last stop before I got off the train returning from Florence. Shortly after the train departed the airport at Pisa the conductor arrived and Mari explained our situation – he was not pleased and excitedly was talking fines upon his return. About 10 minutes from Florence he returned and took Mari and another passenger into the vestibule. When she returned she said, “hurry and get the bags off the racks and into the vestibule to be the first to depart because the conductor said our train to Cortona leaves 12 minutes after we arrive,” and she concluded, “our trip from Pisa is free.” We quickly got to the train headed for Rome stopping at Cortona, ironically the same track and time that I travelled last year. We got all our luggage stowed in a vestibule, and Mari went to find the conductor to explain our lack of tickets. Soon she returned saying he would come collect our fares without penalty. And, if you have not assumed so already, he never did return prior to our stop. So, no fares for five from Pisa to Cortona, but I do not recommend this. My ticket to Naples and return will be purchased at the tobacconist before I get to the station on Monday.
Arriving in Cortona at 5:30 it felt as though it was just yesterday we were here. Thursday evening we settled in, and at 7 PM met Mari’s friends at her college roommate’s restaurant. After dinner we all finally started to wind down and one by one turned in. Today, Friday, we headed to a small village near Arrezo with a wonderful fashion shop – Mari needed a jacket and David a shirt for the wedding tomorrow. Mari commented how Cathy would have loved the designer fashions there, particularly since the prices are about a third as in the states. Many options remained open for the afternoon, but we ended taking a hike. As you know, “all roads
lead to Rome.” Mari’s Dad drove us way, way up in the mountains on a lonely road past Frances Mayes’ little known second villa which she purchased to escape the tourists searching for Bramasole, where he dropped us off so we could hike down the Strada Basolata (paved road) built by the Romans and still surviving. What a thrill, and what views. Our overall descent was 1200 feet and just over 3 miles (per GPS calculations). You just cannot escape the breadth of history in Italy, it is so humbling.
Close back to town we overlooked the church where the wedding will be tomorrow at 3:30, and Saturday will be spent in final preparations. But I will fill you in on that probably on Monday night when I am settled in Pompeii. So, for now, good night. Yours, RAY