Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Planes, Trains, Boats, Busses and Automobiles, cont.

Ahh . . . Elba. It is a lovely island and I imagine a quite active one, before 15-September. It seems that we arrived after the tourist season and the town where we were staying is basically for the locals. Even the tourist information center was "Closed for the Season". We saw a bus stop down by the harbor and actually saw a bus pull in at the early morning, however, it was going away from where we had decided to spend the day. After trying and calling the landlord who had no idea about the bus schedule for Rio Marina, we decided to venture into town and as luck would have it, a bus pulled past us and stopped about 100 meters ahead of us. We waved as it rolled past and sent our young, athletic passengers ahead to hail the driver. He waited for us and I climbed aboard and asked in my best English, "How much for the four of us?" He answered in perfect Italian, and I didn't understand a singe word. I started handing him money and he just shook his head. Since this isn't Libya, I knew he wasn't saying that the ride was free but was muttering something about how stupid this tourist was getting on his bus and then I noticed that all of the older women on the bus were trying to help. They were saying the names of the towns on the bus route. Finally the light bulb went on and I realized he couldn't quote me a fare until he knew where it was that we wanted to go. That settled, and the fare duly paid, we settled in for a lovely 1-hour bus tour up and down, over and under and through the mountains of the island. We stopped at every village and hamlet along the way until we finally found the town where we knew there was a beach. We got off in the center of town since we had no idea of where the "proper" bus stop was located. After wandering around a bit, we found the beach and a couple of lovely restaurants. The kids left us to contemplate a lovely bottle of the local favorite and went exploring and said they would meet us at the beach in a bit.

When they returned, we all enjoyed a dip in the sea. I had no idea that the Mediterranean was so salty! It was quite easy to float. Anne and Ryan purchased a couple of goggles and we were able to swim with the fishes.

While Ryan was purchasing goggles, he found the local bus station and the list of times for busses returning to Rio Marina so we had no trouble retracing our route to return to the village for the night. I forgot to mention that while in the beach town, we found an internet cafĂ© and not only got to check on the birth of John and Robin Alexander’s baby but confirmed the schedule for the train and ferry for the next day’s adventure traveling back to Rome.

We were all packed and lugged our back packs, day pack and gear down through the town in the dark at 6:30 to catch the 6:50 ferry so we could find a train that would get us to Rome by noon. To make a long story short, we got there, not without a little confusion about which regional train that we needed to be on at our connection, but that’s the fun of the adventure. On the way to Rome, again, I ventured to call the landlord to alert him that we would be arriving. It appears that the service that was renting the apartment, expected us but spoke very little English (beginning to see a trend here?). It appears that they were as frustrated as us as soon a text message appeared saying that they would meet us at 5:00 at the apartment. Since, we had a confirmation for 2:30 arrival, and we didn’t want to roam Rome with our packs all afternoon, we texted back asking them to meet us at 2:30. Now being the good techie that I am, I had down loaded a map of the apartment location and we hit the Roman metro/subway to get there. Talk about a ground zero location, 5th Avenue, Rodeo Drive, rolled into one. High end fashion from the Spanish Steps all the way to our apartment. Only one problem . . . There was no apartment with the address that we had reserved. Before I went into total panic, I texted the rental guy saying that I would meet him at a bar close to the address nearest to the one I had. He arrived and spotted me instantly, the guy with the 30 pound orange backpack standing in the middle of the street/alley. He looked at his instructions and told me, “I’ve never been here before.” His address was the same as mine and wandered around for a couple of minutes muttering before finally calling his office. It turned out we were in the exact location but the address they had in their computer was wrong. He had the keys, they worked, we paid him, and had a wonderful time.

(to be continued with more photos)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Planes, Trains, Boats, Busses and Automobiles

Lynn gets to include all of the tourist scenes from our trip to Italy but I'm here to give you the back story on how we got around! Flying from Tripoli to Rome was an easy couple of hour flight once you take into consideration getting to the Tripoli airport after 45 minutes of rain the morning we left. If you think street flooding at home is crazy after a couple of inches of rain, here, it only takes a few minutes since the street drains serve as garbage recepticles rather than drains. No one worries about it; they just sweep the garbage, dirt and plastic bags down to the storm grates (assuming there is a grate on top of the drain) and plug it up. When it rains, people get out with whatever they have and try to "unclog" the drain. And John Blount at Harris County thinks he has a hard time with SWPPP activites! Anyway, our driver took some back roads and safely got us to the airport in plenty of time. I received a call from our driver coordinator, Najmi to make sure we made it. He had made sure that the driver had the high route to get us there. He knows how to take care of us.

We met up with the kids at the Rome airport as they stumbled off the plane, a bit jet lagged after the all night flight to London and Rome. As you can see, we had decided to carry everything in backpacks, so no rolling suitcases through the crowds. We caught the train from the airport and into Rome and found our hotel for the night near the train station. The picture below is us packing up at 6:45 the next morning to head back to the train station to head north.

We made the successful transfer from the sleek EuroStar train to a regional affair to get to Vernazza in Cinque Terra. Grabbing our packs,we waded our way through the Sunday day trippers through the small town to find the bar we had been told served as the check in point for our apartment. They were expecting us and showed us the lovely apartment below which had two windows with small balconies overlooking the town square and coastline.

The old folks took the twin beds for the first leg of the trip and let the kids have the bedroom. We switched when we got to Elba. After a couple of days in Cinque Terra (see Lynn's blog) we moved back south to Elba. We had no confirmation of our apartment other than an email from the owner saying that they didn't take credit cards to hold the reservation but if I promised to come she would hold the apartment for us. We had no idea what time we could get there so we had to wait until we could get a train and ferry schedule in Piombino to then call and let her know we would be arriving. The only trains going to Piombino were Regionals which stop at most of the towns along the way and transfers at Pisa.

Once the train reached Piombino, it stopped at the station at the end of town. We got off with others and wandered around looking for the marina, which was supposed to be about 200 m from the station. No marina! We looked around and finally someone saw saw us and finally communicated that the train makes a side trip from here to the marina. We all rushed back onto the train just before it left and made the cross town ride to the marina. This would have been muck easier if we had internet connections to see what the schedules were for the trains and boats, but we didn't so we plunged ahead. At the marina station, we found out the ferry line we thought we were going to take wasn't leaving until later so they pointed us toward the other ferry office to make our booking.
Once on board, we finally were able to call the next apartment owner to let them know about our arrival. Unfortunately, the lady with whom I had been emailing was out and her husband didn't speak much english. She finally called back when we were about 15 minutes from shore to tell us that her brother-in-law would meet us and take us to the apartment.

To be continued . . .

Thursday, October 1, 2009


It's beginning to feel a bit like fall here in Tripoli We enjoy sitting outside on the roof patio for dinner and conversation afterward and the air is starting to be rather cool. This week has been catching up for being away for a week in Paris, finishing out all of the monthly reports and then preparing to be gone next week to Italy to meet Ryan and Anne.

This is going to be a bit different arrangement than being in one place and exploring a city such as Paris. We are meeting in Rome and then dashing off via train to Vernazza along the northwest coast. After a couple of days, we migrate south, taking a ferry at Piombino for Elba. A couple of days on the beach and then off to Rome for the final leg of the trip. It should be quite varied and very interesting! We'll try and post some photos along the way.