Trying to leave Italy

Tuscany in the rain

A harder job than I expected, but not for any of the reasons that I expected. Of course it would have been great to stay longer but more importantly, Italy didn’t want me to go. Or so it seemed.

It started in the morning with our short drive back to Florence from Greve in Chianti where we’d stayed our last night. The drive was fine and not that long, 30km, so we started out at 930 leaving us loads of time to get to the airport in time for my 1250 flight.

Florence graffitti

Everything went well until we got to Florence and tried to find the airport and the rental car return and again ran into our italian trifecta of road problems: bad maps, no signs and general confusion. Italians have curious ideas about signage. They like to put all the cities in every direction on the same sign with one arrow. Do you need to go to Florence, Rome or Bologna? Head this way. Well, that’s three cardinal directions and we only need one but ok… this way it is.

In the same (annoying) way, they think “well marked” roads consist of two signs. One sign 50 meters before you turn off, one sign at the turn off. Come on! That’s two signs! What more do you want? Time to prepare? Time to assess? Time to adjust your reflexes? Sorry. That’s not the Italia way. Here we fly by the seat of our pants. Always prepared: that’s the Italian motorist motto.

After two days in Tuscany we’d become experts at catching small hidden signs at the crooks of turn offs and getting lost less and figuring our way around. But once we got into the city of Florence, we could find signs directing us to the airport but not a single sign for the rental car return, which was in a completely different location. We did a couple rounds of trying this road and that one, taking roundabouts, going different directions looking for some indication of something and then we gave up and stopped at a gas station for help.

The woman at the desk stopped us at “car rental” and ran past us out of the store shouting someone’s name. A guy on a bike turned around, she pointed to us and and then motioned to us through the door to follow her. We went to talk to the guy on the bike thinking maybe he spoke better English or…??? And he said “rental car?” we said yes and he said “5 euro. You follow me. I take you there.”

5 euros!! Highway robbery!

I had flashbacks to all the little hustlers I’ve met in multiple countries who find a crack in the system and widen it enough to let the cash fall in and I didn’t want to pay him, just on principle. Plus this guy was also leading another American in a rental car who was also paying him 5 euro so that’s 10 euros for directions. But Sarah said we should pay him because what else are we going to do? We clearly didn’t know where we were going.

I reluctantly agreed and the guy on the bike took off into traffic leading his little convoy of lost Americans. He zipped and weaved through the cars, waving behind him if we needed to change lanes, pointing over his shoulders if we were turning and taking us through the most complicated zigzag path through downtown Florence.

10 minutes later we saw a tiny sign that said “car rental” with an arrow and 25 meters later we saw this sign

Rental car return Florence

The bike guy took a sharp turn under the underpass and there we were, at the rental car return. If I had to recreate that journey on pain of death they’d have to just kill me because I could never get back there. We paid the guy his 5E and exclaimed over how complicated the route was as he nodded “yes, confusing. Not many signs.” He knows. He’s aware. He’s probably paid for a house this year by leading tourists back and forth to the rental car return. And you know what? Good for him. We needed to get there and ultimately it was worth the 5E because we’d never have made it without him.

So, Sarah and I said goodbye at the airport “so great! Let’s do it again!” and I checked in at the counter for my flight to Vienna with a connection to Berlin and ordered (I thought…) my last glass of wine in Italy

italian wine Firenze

We boarded the plane and then all hell broke loose. I’ll consolidate for time: the plane computer went down, they tried to reset it, they couldn’t, we deplaned while they ordered a computer battery from somewhere to try to get delivered to Florence. Then the sweet multilingual airline lass had to field a multitude of questions: No, they had no idea how long it would take. Yes they were relatively sure that would fix the problem. No, they couldn’t say if the flight would get canceled. No, we cannot take your number and text you with information while you are out smoking (!). Yes, just wait. That’s all we can do. Sorry so sorry.

So I ordered lunch and another glass of wine, figured I’d miss my connection to Berlin no matter what, considered the prospect of staying another night in Florence or perhaps in Austria… etc.

Finally the battery arrived, we got back on the plane a couple hours later and took off for Vienna. When we landed they called my name, got me and 5 others off the plane first and handed us new boarding passes booking us through Frankfurt and got us to our new gate. One of my fellow detainees sniffed and said “an extra flight? I’m not impressed AirBerlin…” and I thought “wow, I am.” In America they’d have let me suffer on the plane and in the terminal until I fought my way to an overcrowded help desk where a harassed agent would do their best to rebook me but I’d miss this connecting flight because all of that would take too long. AirBerlin rebooked me while I was still in the air!

I got to Frankfurt and then to Berlin at 1030pm, approximately 7 hours after my expected arrival, waited through the longest most drawn out baggage claim cycle known to man and… no suitcase.

The next hour consisted of finding a baggage claim desk 3 terminals away and standing in line for another 20 minutes only to find that it was the wrong baggage claim desk. Only barely containing my irritation and exhaustion at this point, I trekked back to my original terminal where a young girl with big wide eyes took down all my luggage information, was horrified when I didn’t have a German phone number (my German phone has stopped working for some reason), sounded skeptical when I asked her to email me with information instead of calling me and then gave me a PO Box in Germany where I could mail receipts if I had to “buy cosmetics.” I got a taxi and was home around 1230.


Yesterday was a very anxiety ridden day waiting to hear back from the airline. Most of the stuff I use every day is in that suitcase and I’m only here another week so the idea of trying to replace all/most of it is so tiring. Not much of it is really valuable but it’s most of my clothes and all my toiletries. I spent all day living with the mantra “it’s just stuff” and reminding myself that even though it’s tremendously inconvenient and expensive to replace it, it’s not the end of the world. At least I have other things and money. Be grateful. sigh. sigh sigh.

Normally I can rally with this kind of thing because I travel all the time and my suitcase always arrives. I think it’s gone missing maybe one other time in 10 years so I’m beating the law of averages by a mile. But I don’t have a phone number here, I have another week, I can’t replace most of that stuff because it’s American made etc. etc. But again, it’s just stuff.

Fortunately, today I woke up to a message that they have my suitcase and will deliver it at a time and date of my choosing. I responded basically “now please” and they wrote back “IHR GEPÄCK WIRD SOMIT HEUTE ZWISCHEN 12-15 UHR ZUGESTELLT” which Google translates as

Your luggage is thus TODAY BETWEEN 12-15 CLOCK SERVED

And now I wait to be served.

And that was the ignominious end to my Italian mini break! Fortunately the trip was better than the conclusion. And I do hope to get back to Italy, perhaps as soon as next year. But only if they promise me some sun…