Departure day has finally arrived.....
Trip Start Jun 06, 2013
14Trip End Jul 04, 2013
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DEPARTURE DAY! The long awaited day is finally here! Up until now, this day has seemed so elusive and far in the future. Now it's finally here and the reality is starting to set in. I’ve been nervous and "jittery" for the last few days, which totally defies all logic as I’ve been through this process so many times. This seems to be normal for me though, and the apprehension usually dissipates once I actually get into “holiday mode” and start travelling.
To begin with, I should add the same disclaimer as I have in previous Blogs. My seemingly increasing group of readers are a somewhat diverse group, so some parts of this Blog may not be of interest to everyone. However, I’ll do my best to keep it current and interesting for all
It was nice for a change not to be travelling too early, as it gave me lots of time to get organized and take care of last minute details. The ride to the airport was quiet and uneventful. Check-in and security went very smoothly, and as usual they had to “swab” my Camera bag. Sitting in the departures lounge at YLW while listening to “elevator music” seems like a pleasant way to start my journey. Unfortunately my first flight will be on a DH-3, an aircraft which is not known for being “spacious”, but as long as it gets me to Calgary, I’m not complaining.
The flight to Calgary was about an hour, a familiar trip. The vista through the window began with the neat rows of vineyards and fields of the Okanagan, then progressed to the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, and finally ended with the patchwork fields and neatly arranged cities in the Calgary area. On arrival and as I remembered, it was a LONG walk from the tarmac to the departure terminal for the Frankfurt flight. The first part was through a long tunnel with hard concrete floors that seemed to go forever. I was annoyed by the thunderous cacophony of a number of those goofy wheelie bags
Although there was a wait of over an hour, it didn’t seem long until it was time to board the flight to Frankfurt, an Airbus 330-300. I noticed something unusual just after I entered the air ramp. A CBSA officer had detained a group from what appeared to be south Asia or the middle east in a side stairwell, and was counting from a wad of $100 bills as thick as my fist. It seemed a bit unusual for this to be taking place at the departures gate.
After getting seated on the plane, I discovered much to my delight that once again there was no one seated beside me so I had both seats to myself (seating on this Air Canada 330-300 aircraft is 2-3-2). Once the entertainment system was activated, I had a look at the movie choices. I started with Jack Reacher (which I had seen before). As has been typical with Air Canada flights in the past, the entertainment system “crashed” and had to be re-booted, a process which took at least 20-minutes. My next movie was Parental Guidance (somewhat of a “snoozer” but not too bad), and finally Gangster Squad (somewhat gory and disgusting,so I napped a bit while it was playing).
Within an hour or so, they served the main meal, a choice between Beef Stroganoff and Chicken with Cous Cous (I had the Chicken)
As with past trips, I found the last two hours or so of the nine hour flight to drag on forever! About an hour before landing, they served a “continental breakfast” which consisted of a piece of Banana bread, Yogurt, coffee and more water (I was sure to stay well hydrated during the flight).
After landing in Frankfurt, I went through Passport control, which took all of about 30-seconds once I got up to the desk, and then went to find the departure area for my next flight. Since it wasn’t leaving for about four hours, it wasn’t shown on the monitors yet so I wasn’t quite sure which Terminal or Gate to head for. The Lufthansa staff figured it would be Terminal 1A and Gate 23, so I started there. Unfortunately I had to go through security once again but it was very easy since I had everything in my Tilley Vest. They didn’t ask me to take my Belt off, but I did get a treatment with the wand and a thorough “pat down”. I’ve found the security screeners at Frankfurt to be about the most professional, thorough and fast that I’ve ever seen
At this point I was regretting the choice of a four hour+ layover, but the die was cast so I settled in for the long wait. I was getting hungry so had a snack at one of the food stands. I positioned myself at Gate 23 and “dozed” as much as possible.
After what seemed like an interminable wait, it was finally time to start boarding, which occurred only about 20 minutes before the flight was to depart. Passengers were taken out to the Tarmac in a Bus, and boarded on both front and back stairways. The aircraft was a Lufthansa Embraer E190 and I was seated near the back which was actually a benefit with the rear boarding (I didn’t have to navigate the entire length of the plane, tripping over other passengers). Again, no one was seated beside me – what a treat!
The flight to Florence took slightly more than an hour, and during the flight they served beverages and half a chicken & mozzarella sandwich on white bread with some kind of jelly (not sure what it was?). It was kind of gross but at that point I wasn’t complaining – it was food and it was free, and “free” is not typical for European airlines
Upon arrival at Florence, I was the first off via the back stairs, and again the trip to the terminal was on a Bus. The wait for luggage on the carousel was only about 10 minutes and my bag was the first to appear (I was quite surprised by that). I had originally planned to take the Shuttle Bus to Florence SMN station as I had lots of time for the train, so I went directly to the Shuttle stop. While waiting I heard an Ambulance go by, which was a great reminder that I was actually back in Italy! After waiting for about 15 minutes and no Bus, I was getting annoyed so walked across the street and took the first Taxi. The driver didn’t seem to be able to speak much English, but I managed with my limited Italian.
The trip to the station took about 20 minutes or so, and the fare seemed to be on a "flat rate" as the meter stayed at the same value, €20. Once inside the station, I took one look at the horrific queue at the ticket office (as usual), and headed straight to the ticket Kiosks by the tracks. I had trouble with the first machine I tried, but was successful at the second. Unlike past years, on this occasion, the machine asked for my PIN, so it must be reading the “Chip & PIN” credit card.
I had a wait of an hour or so for my train, and stopped for an Ice Tea at McDonald’s to cool off (it was very warm and humid). As usual, the station was a bit of a “zoo” with people coming and going, PA announcements, trains arriving and departing, etc. (rather exhilarating in some ways though). I was being watchful for pickpockets and scammers, but didn’t see anything suspicious at all.
Eventually the train showed up on Track 15 just as shown on the departure charts. There was a young Australian couple with two small girls seated beside me, so I had a short visit with them. I reminded them about validating their tickets, a necessity they weren’t aware of. I showed them the machine and another “helpful individual” assisted as well (he asked for and got a cigarette for his efforts). Fortunately they were only going to Campo di Marte station, so their tickets weren’t even checked.
The train ride to Assisi was only a couple of hours, but again it seemed to drag on forever. It was a Regionale so stopped at EVERY station along the way. Shortly after leaving Florence, I called the hotel and asked if they could have a Taxi waiting, which I had pre-arranged as I wouldn’t be arriving until 22:42 and there was no way I wanted to deal with Buses at that time of night and after such a long travel day.
When I arrived at Assisi and walked out the front door of the station, the Taxi was indeed waiting. The 6 km ride to the hotel took about 15 minutes, but I was SO glad to finally be here! The fare was about €17 (Tariff was showing as “3”) but I gave him a small tip considering the time of night.
My room was a small double, with a TV, small “wet” bathroom (total size about 8’ x 6’). A Hair Dryer was provided, and an air conditioner in the room although there was no remote for it (I expect they provide that when the weather really gets hot). I finally got to bed about midnight after a travel day of about 25 hours.
I'm looking forward to starting to explore Assisi in the morning.