Travel Update #2: The Best Laid Plans . . .

In what we all now recognize as my hopelessly unrealistic fantasy-land of trip planning, our overnight layover in Rome went like this: Arrive at 7:00 p.m., hotel shuttle picks us up, we check in, and then go out for pizza and gelato. We retire early, wake up to a nice breakfast, and then get shuttled back to the airport for our noon flight.

Enter reality.

As you know from yesterday, contrary to the intelligence given us beforehand, general strikes in Italy actually do affect international flights. Considerably. Ours finally left Tunis at 10:00 p.m., a mere 5.5 hours late, and arrived in Rome just after midnight. This of course (among other things) precluded pizza and gelato. Fortunately, our lucky business class tickets also entitled us to a sort of cold dinner in the plane, comprised of such delights as palm hearts, petrified turkey, and canned pineapple.

In Rome, the real fun began. Although our terminal boasted eight luggage carousels, all were empty but the last one, which was scheduled to receive baggage from all incoming flights, and was surrounded by crowds several layers thick. Fortuitously, there was a small playground right next to that eighth carousel, into which Axa and Dominique plunged with an energy level mysteriously attained by small children only after midnight following many hours in multiple airports. When they were tired of that, they began weighing themselves and various other items on the gigantic scales, which I had to eventually put a stop to after a few narrow misses as they raced recklessly across the crowded hallway with rolling bags in tow, nearly crashing into several luckless fellow sleep-deprived passengers.

Like most airport luggage carousels, this one had the requisite abandoned bag that rides forlornly round and round forever, just to give everyone hope that their own bags will eventually also be disgorged from the bowels of the aircraft. This abandoned bag was cocooned in plastic, but both the plastic and the bag had split at some time during its journey, and large quantities of a shiny, viscous brown material were oozing out. It added materially to the surreality of the moment, as I tried not to imagine what bizarre or disgusting substance had been ensconced in the bag, and how long the poor bag had been circling faithfully in the vain hope that it would be reclaimed, while the brown material slowly hardened into a crust around it on the carousel. I’m sure everyone else watching that bag go round and round was hoping like I was that their own bags would not come out straight on top of the abandoned one, becoming repulsively contaminated with unidentified filth on contact.

While I waited vainly for the luggage, Tony called our hotel to let them know we were in, so they could send the shuttle. Incredibly, he was told that it was too late for the shuttle, and we would need to get a taxi. That was strike one against our hotel, the “La Melis Airport Bed and Breakfast.” But we gamely took our bags (which had finally arrived) out to the taxi line, where we were informed that those taxis only went to the city center. Unfortunately, we had purposely booked a hotel near the airport, so the taxi driver who was at that moment in the act of loading our bags into his taxi immediately unloaded them and pointed us vaguely over to a different spot where he said we could get a more local taxi.

By this time it was approximately one in the morning. We did find a place with parking stalls marked off for taxis. In front of it was a small group of tired and depressed-looking travelers waiting for these ephemeral local taxis. We parked our luggage carts and waited too. For what seemed like a very, very long time. Finally, Tony went to see if he could pay one of the original taxis extra to take us to our objectionably close hotel. Axa went with him because she had to go to the bathroom. I spent the next twenty minutes keeping Dominique from climbing on luggage carts, fences, and any other conceivable climbable object, including tired travelers. Until he decided he needed to go to the bathroom too. Finally, a couple of taxis pulled up, and the other travelers kindly offered to let us take our manic children away in one. Too bad Tony was still gone, and had the address of the hotel in his pocket. Luckily, he came puffing up with Axa at the last moment, and we loaded the bags and set off.

The taxi driver laughed when he saw our “hotel.” The “La Melis Airport Bed and Breakfast” is a normal Italian house that has been converted into a tiny cheap motel. Here’s a peek at the supremely efficient and elegantly installed air conditioning unit, just to give you an idea of the general feel of the place (picture taken in photobooth just like yesterday’s, since I don’t even know where the camera is packed).

When we finally showed up at the hotel around 2:00 in the morning, the front gate was open, as was the front door to the building, and there was a light on. But there was nothing resembling a reception desk. We walked around, looking for someone, anyone, and calling that we were there for several minutes, before I finally decided to try one of the three numbered doors, figuring that perhaps they had just left a room open for us. To my horror, the unlocked door opened to reveal a man sleeping on a bed just inside the door. I quickly closed it again and tiptoed away, hoping I hadn’t awakened him.

He emerged, awake, and actually expecting us. Turns out he was a fellow guest, who had been recruited by the off-location owners (I kid you not!) to let us in when we arrived. There was an uncomfortable pause when the poor guy requested cash payment on the spot. When Tony and his mom had made the reservation on Priceline the week before, they’d assumed that the requested credit card had been charged when they booked the room. Apparently, it hadn’t. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that we hadn’t expected to do much shopping (i.e. none) in Italy during our overnight layover, and hadn’t changed enough euros to have cash for a hotel room. And no, our poor fellow guest could not take a credit card. After a frustrated middle-of-the-night conversation with the “hotel” owners (in which it also emerged that although the establishment is called a “Bed and Breakfast,” they actually don’t serve breakfast at all), we settled on paying the next morning when (if) the owners showed up to take us to the airport.

I hurriedly brushed the children’s and my own teeth and put them to bed. Axa went straight to sleep. Raj rolled around maniacally for a while, and finally passed out. Tony eventually reappeared after his phone call with the owners. Honestly, my only consolation was the thought that at least I could blog about the whole thing tomorrow, so my sufferings had not been quite in vain. Pathetic, I know. The worst part about the whole thing was that after all our tribulations, we had only accomplished one measly hour of actual flight time. Thirteen left to go!

When the owners showed up the next morning, they and Tony made up after the previous evening’s verbal scuffle. I had been putting the kids to bed at the time and hadn’t actually participated in the conversation, but I should probably be sorry for my uncharitable thoughts. Anyway. Turns out the “shuttle” service is just the owner’s husband in the family sedan (when he feels like it, of course). He did take us to the airport in the morning (breakfast-less as we were), and we even managed to fit all our bags (and ourselves) into his car at once (barely). I guess all’s well that ends well, kind of. In the end, though, I can’t really say I would recommend “La Melis Airport Bed and Breakfast.” Consider yourself warned.

Stay tuned for what I hope will be the thrilling (or better, the completely boring) conclusion to THE LAST TIME I WILL EVER TRAVEL UNTIL TECHNOLOGY HAS ADVANCED FAR ENOUGH TO RENDER AIRPLANES OBSOLETE.

Beam me up, Scotty.

2 thoughts on “Travel Update #2: The Best Laid Plans . . .

  • September 8, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Here’s for a completely uneventful trip today/tomorrow!

  • September 8, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I have to admit to feeling the same way about blogging these sorts of surreal experiences. I enjoyed reading yours.

    And I am desperately hoping for the return of passenger ships.


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