I’ve suffered horrendous travel trocities

Linda and I have enjoyed lots of amazing trips, and usually traveled with little difficulty. But occasionally, we suffered what I called travel trocities, always caused by our airlines. I’ve decided to share some of those stories with you, for your entertainment.

Here’s one about our last trip to Italy in 2016.

 Getting to Italy was a long ordeal

             The first 36 hours of our recent 2 week trip to Italy were – well, hell. Let me tell you what happened. Almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

            Every trip is a long trip when you start out in Maine. We left Mount Vernon at 3:30 pm on a Friday, driving to Portland to take the bus to Logan Airport. We always leave early, just in case. So we arrived in time to take the 5 pm bus, instead of the 6 pm bus we had planned on.

            That was fine, because it got us to Logan plenty early to check in, get through security, and eat dinner. Our flights were, first to Rome, then to Pisa. We boarded the Boston Alitalia plane at 10 pm, for our 10:30 pm flight, and then sat there for nearly 2 hours while the pilot kept announcing that the “technicians” were checking things on the plane. That didn’t give us a lot of confidence in the plane!

            Finally, about midnight, the plane took off. Unfortunately, because of the late start, we arrived in Rome with just a half hour to get to our connecting flight to Pisa. And we had to take a shuttle to a different part of the Rome airport, go through two security checkpoints, and walk what seemed like a couple of miles, only to arrive too late at the gate to make that flight.

            So, then it was back to a different place in the airport to try to schedule another flight to Pisa. The line for that service was so long, hot, and slow that a lady behind us fainted and was taken away on a stretcher. Finally, we got to the desk where an Alitalia agent rescheduled us on the next available flight – in 7 hours. She assured us our bags would be on that plane. But when I asked her if she could call the owner of the place we had planned to stay that night in Vernazza, Cinque Terre, to let her know we would not be able to get there until the next day, she said her phone would not allow her to do that. She did give us gift certificates for dinner at an airport restaurant.

            We settled in for a long wait. I had not purchased the opportunity to use my I-Phone in Italy, because we rarely make phone calls there, preferring to use our computers. WIFI is available almost everywhere. So I tried to purchase a card that would allow me to make calls on a pay phone, without luck. Finally, I found a phone that took credit cards or cash. We always bring some euros home from our trips to Italy, so I had both money and a credit card.

            I tried the card first in the phone, and it didn’t work. Then I pumped some coins into the phone and was able to call the Auto Europe international line to tell them we would be late picking up our car at the Pisa airport. I got someone on the line, but lost her when my money ran out, something I didn’t notice until I heard the click and she was gone.

            I kept pumping coins into the phone, but was unable to reach someone at Auto Europe after that. I also tried to call Elisabetta, the owner of the place we had hoped to stay that night, without luck.

            So I fired up my computer and emailed Auto Europe and Elisabetta. I got a response from Auto Europe soon after, assuring me that their Pisa office stays open until midnight. Our new flight was scheduled to arrive at 10:30 pm, so that would work. And later, I got Elisabetta on the phone and she told me she would hold our room, put our name on it, and leave the key in the door, so we could get in no matter when we arrived. I told her it would be the next day.

            We did enjoy a nice dinner in the airport restaurant and boarded our new flight to Pisa about 9:30 pm. We sat on the tarmac for a very long time, due to rain and fog. But finally we took off, arriving in Pisa about 11 pm. As we waited for our bags, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. And sure enough, our bags did not arrive with us.

            So then it was on to the Alitalia office, waiting in line to find out how to get our luggage. We finally met with a lady who put all the info into her computer and said the bags would arrive the next morning at 11:15 am. With just 25 minutes left until the Auto Europe office closed, we hustled outside, into a driving rain, to wait for the shuttle bus to the car rental agencies.

            After 15 minutes and no bus, we went back inside to get information on how to get a taxi to a local hotel for that night. But when we got back outside, about 3 dozen people were standing there, waiting for a taxi. So I decided to run over to the car rental place, not too far away, in the rain, but before I exited the airport, I saw the rental car bus and got in it. I arrived at the Auto Europe office five minutes to midnight, and like all of my experiences with Auto Europe, the fellow was very helpful. I had left Linda, with our passports, in the taxi line, and the fellow needed to see my passports, but told me to simply call them the next day with the info.

            I drove the car back into the airport, but couldn’t figure out where to park, so I stopped along the entrance way, got out, ran to get Linda, who was still waiting in the taxi line. She’d checked out some local hotels on her I Pad and our luck finally changed. About five minutes down the road, as we headed into Pisa, we spotted one of her hotel selections.

            Of course, the way our trip went, our card to open the gate to the hotel’s garage didn’t work, but our room was really nice, as was breakfast the next morning.

            Then it was back to the airport to pick up our bags. And of course, they didn’t arrive. We’d packed in a carry-on bag most of what we needed for our next 3 days in Vernazza, Cinque Terre, so when the Alitalia agent said they would ship our bags to us, we had them sent to our next stop after Vernazza – Il Santo in Greve.

            And we hit the road to Vernazza, sadly without the GPS I’d rented and left in one of the big bags, now still in Rome. I made one wrong exit, which was easily corrected after we stopped to get directions, and we arrived in Laverno in about an hour and a half, to take a train to Vernazza. You can’t drive a car into any of the five towns in Cinque Terre.

            We got our tickets, went to platform #2 as told, and got on the first train that stopped there. Turned out to be the wrong train, whipping past Vernazza without stopping. Eventually we got to the other end at La Spezia, where they allowed us to use the same tickets for the reverse trip. With help from fellow travelers, we got on the right train that time and got off in Vernazza.

            With a stunning view of the town and ocean from our rented room, and a nice bottle of wine enjoyed with a gorgeous sunset, we put the 36-hours-of-hell quickly behind us, and enjoyed immensely our three days in Vernazza. And when we arrived in Greve, our bags were there!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.