Not Enough Wine… by Elizabeth Moore
“There’s not enough wine.” I muttered through clenched teeth, stepping into a puddle as the rains of Perugia unleashed another squall of rain.
Forty-eight hours earlier I had been sitting in Sydney airport anticipating four weeks in Italy that included a residential cooking school with my brother on an Umbrian farm. I reviewed my itinerary and hoped I would make all my connections.
Fly Sydney to Milan, overnight in Milan, early morning Rome connection, then Rome to Perugia. What could go wrong? Well, here’s my ten step misadventure.
Step One: Milan’s Malpensa Airport is self-absorbed. Finding the shuttle connection to my hotel was punctuated by my fractured Italian, dismissive shrugs and mild panic. Admitting defeat, I finally decided on a taxi.
“But it must be local taxi, signora.”
I found one by counter-intuitively ignoring all directions and simply wandering. I showed the driver the printed address and sank into my seat.
Step Two: My hotel room had a hot shower, but none of my universal plugs worked and Thomas the Tank Engine spoke Italian. My Rome flight was at 7.00am and so I booked the 6.00am shuttle. Sleepless at 4.00am, I called the front desk and rebooked a 5.00am departure instead. Just in case.
Step Three: Rain was drenching as we left for the airport. Landmarks from my ride the day before were shadowy and distorted, only eerie sweeping headlights were visible and I hoped the plane would be on time. The airport was busy but the staff eventually decided my suitcase wasn’t overweight after all and I had my boarding pass and lukewarm coffee.
Step Four: To the gates! As an international airport, Milan tempts all comers with duty free goods. I lingered just a little but decided finding my gate made more sense than trying to select extravagant facial products.
I felt quite pleased with my progress, stopping staff several times to make sure my gate was ahead. Finally I reached a passport checkpoint and propped. Goodness, I was only flying to Rome. Oh well. I queued and handed over my boarding pass and passport.
“Signora, you are going to Roma. This is the international gate. You have come to the B gates – you need the A gates.”
Oh. I retreated, leaving amused smiles and raised eyebrows behind me and found the A gates. I checked my watch. There was no way I would have made my connection with the 6.00am shuttle. Good decision.
Step Five: Finally I was on my commuter flight to Rome. On landing, I headed to the carousel, where approximately 20 people were waiting for their luggage; most passengers just carrying briefcases and laptops for their busy day. As each suitcase was retrieved by relieved travellers, my unease began to build. I always worry that my bag won’t appear but this time I felt unduly anxious. The dull black delivery belt rumbled as the final case was retrieved, continued on its empty way and then stopped. I waited. Nothing. Stifling panic and tears, I realised the area was deserted. With my confidence in shreds, I finally found an official who shook his head and pointed to the Lost and Found desk. No, I’d make one last perimeter run.
Step Six: Once more unto the carousel. As I approached, the weary black belt stuttered to life once more. My suitcase made a victory appearance at the top of the feeder belt, toppling to its side in front of me. I exhaled, then took a huge breath and reviewed my travel documents.
Step Seven: ‘Proceed to the Alitalia desk on arrival.’
Well there was no desk and no-one could tell me where my departure point was. All the drivers with printed collection signs looked hopeful as I passed, illegal taxi drivers touting for a fare kept shouting but on I trudged. Eventually they just ignored me. I could feel anxiety roil once more.
‘Go to the Alitalia desk.’
The only desk was in the departure lounge one floor above.
“Go to the meeting point. Staff with grey uniforms will take care of you.”
My wait was interminable and no-one appeared. There was no comforting Alitalia livery and I felt uneasy. No-one knew anything about bus connections to Perugia, indifferent head-shaking met my plaintive appeals and I weighed options. Miss this bus and there’ll be no connection until tomorrow. My brother was meeting me at the station but he had no phone. Tears threatened.
‘No. I can do this!’
Step Eight: Smoking seems de rigeur in Italy. I approached two staffers taking a cigarette break and began my well-worn request. They smiled. I paused and realised they wore grey uniforms with Alitalia colours.
“Don’t worry signora. We will take care of you.”
Step Nine: I sat and watched. They wheeled in a desk, unfolded two Alitalia banners and got to work. Passengers were processed and bags were tagged. They had conjured an efficient checkpoint from thin air. Finally two names were called for Perugia. We followed the staffer across uneven roads and down concrete ramps. It began to rain and we crossed streaming gutters, ducked dripping arches and negotiated a flooded courtyard. The bus was waiting and finally we were off.
Step Ten: It rained the entire way as we crawled through road works and flooded sections. My brother would be waiting for me and I was extremely late, with no phone connection. Instead of panicking, I watched poppies clinging to unforgiving rockery as farms, hills and fields stood to attention, ensuring they were following postcard and travel brochure protocol.
Perugia is impossibly beautiful even in pouring rain, clinging to the Umbrian hills and winding narrow streets around its edges. At the station I clattered into the deserted foyer. No-one, I had missed him. Now what? Suddenly he materialised, open armed, grinning and I realised just how fraught my journey had been. I exhaled, relieved and shaking.
“There’s not enough wine in Perugia” I muttered to him and stepped into the rains of Umbria.
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