Before we left Switzerland, we booked six nights of stay at the Hotel Comfort Davout Nation, Paris.

When we arrived for checkin, the main office had lost our booking and had to give us a room temporarily for the first evening. Our non-smoking double reaked of cigarette smoke. The double bed’s sheets had specks of dirt and a few stray hairs, and the bedspread/comforter had several dubious stains. The room was so “cozy” that one small suitcase occupied about a quarter of the free floor area. The advertised remote control for our ceiling-mounted cable television was nowhere to be found, and the volume controls on the television itself were missing. We never saw the advertised coffee maker, but that was OK since we wouldn’t have wanted to spare even that much valuable space.

The continental breakfast around 9:00 the next morning made me wonder whether the French Revolution had actually brought about as much change as my schooling had led me to expect. There were two baguette heels (and no plates), a basket full packets of jam (and no knives), orange juice (and no glasses), and a coffee machine (and no mugs). When a hotel employee came out to refill one or two of these lacking items, a small stampede of hungry wildebeast-people would clear them out again in seconds.

When we complained at the front desk about the smoke in our room and asked for another, the rabid mongoose of a maid behind the counter responded by sustaining a wounded hyena laugh for about thirty seconds. It was awkward. The other guy at front desk insisted that the hotel was too full to give us a room that fulfilled our non-smoking booking, but we threatened to leave so they moved us to an even smaller not non-smoking room that was inexplicably smoke free.

In summary, I heartily recommend this hotel to persons who wish their own life stories were being written by Franz Kafka.

Cons:

  • Dirt
  • Tinyness
  • Smoky stench
  • Inadequate breakfast
  • Questionable neighborhood

Pros:

  • Easy access to metro.

The Plan

On Tuesday morning I left DIA for Perugia. As anyone reading this likely knows, I had a little bit of an ordeal set up for myself:

  1. Denver -> New York (3h 15m)
  2. Layover in New York (4h 45m)
  3. New York -> Shannon, Ireland (6h 15m)
  4. Layover in Shannon (~5h)
  5. Shannon -> London (~1h)
  6. Layover in London (~2h)
  7. London -> Rome (more hours still)

Which, all told, comes to around 27 hours between taking off at DIA to landing at Rome. Doh. That sounds painful. With that itinerary booked and reserved, then, here’s what actually happened.

The Story

Tuesday my flight from Denver to Kennedy airport in New York City took off on time and according to plan. It was a nice flight; they provided free satellite television, and had very nice legroom for coach. I sat next to a nice banjo player coming back from a bluegrass festival in Telluride. Navigating Kennedy airport was kind of a pain, since it is very large and I had to change terminals; it took at least an hour and a half to claim my baggage, check it in again for the flight to Shannon, and find my way to my gate. I still had a couple of hours left to kill, so I figured I’d get some dinner and text M-dawg to say that I’d arrived safely and so forth. When I got to the gate, however, I found that they’d overbooked the flight, and I didn’t have a seat. D’oh. The customer service representative at the desk offered to pay volunteers $400 worth of airline vouchers plus a free night’s stay at a New York hotel in exchange for taking the next night’s flight, but with all the connecting flights needed to make, this looked grim. I half-jokingly suggested that if she’d to put me on a flight directly to, say, Rome instead, I’d be more than happy to make her life easier. To my surprise she took my suggestion very seriously, and while she found no flights directly to Rome, she did manage to switch me to a flight directly to Pisa leaving that very same evening instead. I was kind of surprised. I was more surprised when she switched my return flight from Shannon (which would have also been a bit of a bummer) to a return flight from the more expensive London Gatwick at no extra charge, and also gave me $400 worth of vouchers. If you subtract that from the $500 cost of the original ticket to Shannon and the $200 or so flights from Shannon to Rome, that amounts to a net $300 ticket to Italy and back from London during peak season. I doubt I’ll ever find a deal like that again 🙂

The flight to Pisa went excellently – I managed for sleep for a few hours, saw the Alps blocking the cold and rain from getting down into Italy, and then landed on a gorgeous sunny day. Then, the other shoe dropped. At baggage claim, it became clear that my luggage hadn’t been successfully transferred into the Pisa plane in time for takeoff. It was time to press on, however, and so I reported loss at the baggage tracking station and set off with just my backpack to start catching trains to Perugia so I could meet up with M-dawg. On advice from a localperson I started to walk to the Pisa Centrale station, 2km from the airport. My attempts to get there resulted in probably 5km worth of walking, and included fruitless expeditions down residential roads, small-scale residential highways and eventually a muddy ditch next to a highway. After a lot of this, I began to wonder if — dispite typically male American discomfort with doing this — it was time to ask someone, but right as I was about to do I stumbled (accidentally) into the rear entrance to the train station. Hooray! Victory! Home free!

Except, not really. I hadn’t ridden a train since I was a child, and had no experience navigating Italian rail. The train was departing almost immediately, and so I ran on to it just in time before I had a chance to ask the ticket-selling man where I should actually be getting on and off. The ticket had a bunch of cities written on it, which I initially figured would be transfer points. When I asked a nice Scottish couple for some help, they weren’t sure either, but said out that they were taking this train directly back to their hotel near the Firenze S.M.N. (“Santa Maria Nouvello” (sp?)), the second station listed on my ticket; they knew it would go at least that far. They also warned that I’d get a lecture from train conductors if I didn’t get my ticket stamped. Clearly I wasn’t going to have to stop at the first stop listed on my ticket, so my initial guess was way out in left field. My next guess was the opposite: maybe all these cities were simply landmarks along one line. Perhaps if I stayed on the train, it would take me directly to the final station on the list, Terontolo, which I’d seen on a trenitalia map connecting to Perugia. This seemed like a promising new hypothesis; pleased with myself, I watched the Italian country side fly by. One thing I noticed was the distinctive red logo of a chain of supermarkets called “coop.” There were many different locations along this rail line, in a distinctively diverse set of buildings, some of which had been built in the 19th century, and some in the 21st. When the train arrived at Firenze S.M.N., I bade farewell, and stayed on. The train huffed and puffed and got going very nicely, and everything was going swimmingly.  This was excellent!  “I’ll be there in no time,” I thought.

Right about then, I started noticing that the “coop” buildings looked kind of familiar.  Now, in that part of Italy, pretty much all of the buildings look similar, but these looked familiar in an unnerving sort of exactly-identical sort of way.  Hrm.  After clumsily getting help opening the train door from a stylish young Italian girl about my age who probably thought I was trying to hit on her, I got out, and saw that indeed I’d passed this station before.  D’oh.  It seems that Firenze S.M.N had been the end of that line, and I’d come right back in the opposite direction.  Oh well.  I hadn’t punched any tickets yet, so at least I couldn’t get in trouble for cheating and using the same ticket twice when I hopped on another train going the opposite direction back to good ol’ Firenze S.M.N again.

Now I was right confused, but I knew I needed to get to Terontola, so I got off at Firenze S.M.N. and wandered around for a good while looking for useful information.  The obvious place with the big ol’ “i” in a circle around it had a long line that wasn’t moving at all, so I skipped that; plus, I still don’t like asking questions, and figuring stuff out on my own is more fun.  I searched for probably 10 minutes for a display of a rail map somewhere, but there was nothing.  There were also big printed displays of all the trains scheduled to arrive and depart the station for the whole day, but they also showed just the final destinations for the train with some smaller bits of text underneath them.  The big boards also only said the final destinations of the soonest-to-depart trains.  Unfortunately, the next city on my ticket (Arezzo) was not a final destination, which tended to be larger cities like Rome or Milan.  Grrr.  In desperation, I went back to the printed displays again, but this time I noticed that each final destination had some stations written underneath it.  And times!  Aha!  At this point I finally put 2 and 2 together and realized that these would be the stations that the train would pass on the way to their final destination.  I found one that would pass Arezzo (and only Arezzo) on its way to Rome.  Hooray!  I went to get some pizza across the street from the station, where I learned how to say water (“acqua”) and ask how much something costs (“quanti costo”), and then hopped the train.  After a little more thought, I finally realized that the stations listed on my ticket didn’t actually tell me anything about how to get to Perugia, except that if I use those stations I won’t get charged or ejected by a conductor.  My final strategy of looking for the nearest to the last station listed on my ticket as possible on the departures list at a train station worked well for the last leg of the trip, and I arrived in Perugia yesterday evening at 20:15 local time (12:15 PM mountain time), 29 hours after I left Boulder.

Current status of my baggage: who knows.