Thursday, October 30, 2014

And now they have gone.

I haven't written for a few days.
I gave my mind a bit of a rest, but also, my daughter and her partner were coming over from Düsseldorf and I wanted to devote my whole time with them as I hadn't seen her for over six months and their time with us was a priority.
Alas, they have returned today to their adopted home and consequently, we feel very lost without them here already.
Florence is, as you know, a beautiful city. It is full of people from sun up to sun down. It is a crazy noisy place, especially around the Duomo which is where we are residing for a week and it is such a contrast to where we live 'normally'.
Just to set the scene, I will tell you dear readers of our adventure, getting to Florence.
We left Paris on the day we were supposed to.
We had a long train ride in front of us and both Murray and I were excited at the prospect of catching up with our daughter and her boyfriend after seven odd months.
The train we hopped onto from Paris was great. We had decided to travel first class and we were in a compartment by ourselves. Lots of leg room, newspapers if we wanted, drinks and food all part of the service.
 Such a contrast to train service in Australia.
The only problem was that initially when announcements were made they were first made in French, then Italian and then in English.
 We travelled through the countryside on a very very fast train getting up to speeds in excess of 250 kms. per hour. We had coffee, we had bread (French style) and we continued on and on....
Beautiful countryside zipped by and I swapped sides of the train to take photographs, trying to record as much as I could. (God help me when it comes time to edit these photographs as I'll be at it forever).
There came a time when we stopped at a town called Chambery in the early afternoon. We had made typical time and all was what we thought on schedule.
At this point, we were under the impression the train would continue on to Turin where we would hop off, then board a train from Turin to Florence.
We had been given a pre determined arrival time and other than having to disembark at Turin and board the train to Florence, we were not aware of any other changes.
You can imagine then dear reader, our profound discomfort at this country town Chambery after the train had stopped, a large number of people got off the train. We waited thinking we were continuing then all of a sudden, the train started going backwards!
We looked at each other, wondering if we had missed something in our instructions and thought that perhaps the train was going back a little way then would travel on to Turin as we presumed.
You can then imagine our further discomfort when we continued going backwards, getting to a pretty busy town by the name of Aix-Les-Bains then even further on to a town Annecy before realising we had been thwarted in our attempts at freelance travelling through Europe!
Once we realised THIS train was stopping at Annecy (never heard of it before this day) and not going any further, panic mode set in and all I could think of was that my beloved daughter and her boyfriend would be waiting at Florence Station for us and we would not be arriving. We would be lost somewhere in France and be set upon by goodness knows what...
We asked a young station attendant where we were and what was happening. She did not speak our panicked language and directed us to the information booth man who spoke neither French (our version-bear in mind, all niceties had gone out the window by then) and definitely not English!
He waved us onto the ticket office and I had visions of us camping there for the night until an interpreter could come and save us from our 'Lost In France' plight.
We waited for ages here as there was a queue and we were 5th. in line and every person ahead of us had their problems to deal with before us and there were only three women behind the counter and they seemed interminably slow.
Eventually, "Next" meant us and we walked up to the lady who was to throw us a lifeline that afternoon and explained in broken English and broken French our plight...
'We had booked a train from Paris to Florence. We knew we had to swap trains at Turin (Aka Torino) but not one person had told us about Chambéry'.

The lady who shall be known as 'Elizabeth The Lifesaver' was brilliant. She was :
A) Cross for us
B) Sorry for us
C) A Multi skilled problem solver for us
D) Able to not only book a ticket for us to Turin that day, but booked us accomodation in Turin for that night as we had missed our connecting flight of course and booked us an ongoing passage via train the next morning to Florence.
E) So sympathetic when I began to weep, me thinking our daughter would be distraught and beside herself when waiting at the station in Florence with no Ma and Pa rocking up that evening.
F) Our proxy support, taking us personally to the platform we had to be on to catch this later train to Turin.
I will forever be in her debt as she made what was a scary experience initially into a bit of an adventure (Turin was a bit on the side... An extra bit perhaps).

 Merryn and Kieran were in Florence that evening and we weren't and that was my primary cause for distress.
 We finally got to Turin and found the hotel booked for us. Once I was able to message Mez and let her know our dilemma and received her reply and reassurance I felt much better.
As you can imagine, I had been so looking forward to catching up with her that a few hours delay seemed like a lifetime at that stage so I was quite emotional that evening.
The hotel in Turin was a funny place.
The room was tiny, the bed comfortable. The ammenities were basic but adequate. The room was very hot and when Murray put the fan on, a lot of dust flew down from the ceiling so consequently, the fan was turned off immediately.
There were beaufiful wooden doors that opened onto shutters that in turn opened onto a balcony which overlooked the street. We were on the third floor of this hotel, but there was no view as our street was a main street with a very similar building opposite.
The story goes that Turin (AKA Torino) was the very first capital city of Italy until they decided Florence would do. They then decided Rome was even better but that's another story!
Prior to the recent global economic crisis there was in excess of 1.5 million people living in Turin, but with that horrible impact, many people have left this beautiful town and their population in now under 900,000. There are beautiful streets with colonnade arcades for miles and miles, but there are people sleeping on cardboard in those streets which tells us poverty is rife in this city now, which is ever so sad. This information is imparted to us, compliments of our taxi driver in the few short minutes it takes to get from the station to our temporary accomodation.  He is a lovely man who tells us he wants to visit Australia, especially Sydeney (sic)!!!
The night passed quickly enough and the following morning we are at the station quick smart to catch the train onwards to Florence, ensuring this time there are no hiccups.
We board again and cannot believe our luck that all is good and Florence is on the map this time without a problem.
I might add though that it's very confusing to pull up at a station on the outskirts of Florence, known as Florence and think you have to get off, until I ask someone "Is this Florence central?"....
"Oh no Signora.... You must get off at Firenze Santa Rosa, which is the next stop"
Lordy me, we nearly did it again!!!
We eventually got off at Firenze, Santa Rosa. My heart was in my mouth, so impatient I was to see my daughter.
There were crowds of people as we struggled off, some getting on (for this train was travelling to Rome) some getting off....with people all over the place. I craned my neck to see if I could see my girl and all of a sudden I spy Kieran in the distance (he is very tall after all) and I start to cry.
There is a clearing, and then I see her and the tears start to really fall. The anticipation has been so great with this delay happening that I am beside myself to see her and envelope them both in a big hug.
We laugh at each other when we finally get there as she is crying too. All I can say is thank goodness for dyed eyelashes!!!

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