Saturday, September 22, 2007

Paris to Nice to Padua (+ Venice)

This is a Saturday that none of us will forget. The good the bad the beautiful.

We had a “Nice” flight from Paris to Nice. All the connections were fine from the Armstrong, the driver was there on time, it was still pretty dark outside and the ride to Orly was shorter than I expected. No problems when we got to the airport, it is simple to get around, but we were a little surprised by the confusion at the lines waiting to get boarding passes (like this was the first time Air France was doing this and they hadn’t practiced enough). The counter people seemed to come and go sometimes with 2 stations open and sometimes with 4, without regard for length of the line that was building expontenially by the minute. They continuously took people out of line for flights that were being called, adding to the delays, it seems to my simple mind, for everyone in line for all future flights, and perhaps perpetuating their jobs. Once through that we had no difficulties and the flight was short with beautiful scenery. France is beautiful at ground level and breathtaking from 25 thousand feet. Trying not to complain here but the airport croissants were greasy, the first bad ones we’ve had in France (I guess airport food is one of those constants world wide).

Nice airport is small, clean, and well organized (and on this particular day, uncrowded - a new experience on this trip). We had no problem renting a car, seeing that we had pre-arranged the vehicle on the SIXT web site ( with US presence in Tallahasee, FL), the fellow at the desk was friendly enough, and spoke English very well. He seemed interested (actually he started to drool) when Edward indicated a desire to upgrade to a BMW so he and Edward quickly “negotiated” the deal for 100€. Nice price to go from a Ford medium size (that we would probably have to get out and push up hills) to a real quality car. We collected our bags and wheeled/dragged them over to the car pickup area, in a heavenly South of France morning. There is something unique about this part of France, and what a great idea Edward had to fly instead of drive down. The only clean vehicle they had at the moment was a station wagon (we could wait for a smaller vehicle, but that seemed counterproductive at the time seeing that we had saved all that time by flying), and although larger than we desired it was very comfortable and had all the gadgets (including but not limited to (I’m sure) rain sensing windshield washers, electronic shifting, navigation, etc.). At my age and inclination more stuff than I needed (plus I had a damned tough time getting it into reverse, too much coordination required), but big and safe.

Anyway, I drove east from Nice along the very scenic French Riviera, to the highway and crossed into Italy. Edward drove the rest of the way (almost) to our hotel in Padua. He averaged 150 kph, and seemed very comfortable with the car, it’s gadgets (he owned a BMW) and it’s handling. It was a mystery to me when to shift into sports mode, and whack the gearshift lever, (blah, blah, blah as he would say), but he was cool with it. Edward is a very good driver, and I kidded him a lot about the car and the deal, but we were very comfortable and it was nice to sit back and watch the scenery roll past. (Not to sound like a prophet here, but I also told him that they drive like idiots in Italy, and to watch out for motorcycles buzzing around. We had a number of them passing us like we were standing still on the highway). We stopped at an Autogrille for a light lunch then back on the road across northern Italy to Padua.

He figured out the navigation system, bless him, (and similar to Adam with the MEO, relied on it, preferring to believe the screen rather than what his lying eyes were telling him about the road and ongoing construction) we (the other three of us) harangued him with enough conflicting information about how to make our way via these very confusing Padua city streets to our hotel, that a motorcyclist took this opportunity to try to pass us on the left just as we were turning left on PIO XII (which I think was named after Pope Pius the twelfth, may he rest in peace). Two lefts don’t make a right.

The effect of all this was the motorcyclist had the audacity to sideswipe the front left fender of the car, sliding on his right side across the oncoming traffic lane (thank goodness no cars were coming, as Ed had stopped and then waited for the intersection to clear before beginning his turn ) and coming to rest under the motorcycle against the curb.

Of course we were all stunned and concerned for him, and I ran over to see what I could do to help. The motorcyclist pushed the motorcycle up enough to slide out and sit up. As we approached we asked a bystander to call for an ambulance and we motioned the motorcyclist to lie down and not move. We do not speak Italian, and he spoke no English. In fact at this moment in time, according to a quick survey I did, we were the only people in Pauda who spoke English. He was coherent, could move his limbs, and appeared to have no external injuries according to a doctor who was driving by at the time. The police arrived in approximately 10 minutes, followed a few minutes later by an ambulance. The police officers did not speak English and we surely don’t speak Italian. The police administered an alcohol breathalyzer test to Ed the result was 0.00%, (we later learned that is standard procedure). We were fined and paid 75 Euros on the spot for not having a valid international drivers license (IDL) which all the guide books suggest you don’t need.

Thankfully, a very nice German woman named Anne, who spoke English, and her Italian boyfriend Daniele who didn’t, spent a good part of their afternoon with us helping write the incident report, etc. They could not have been nicer, giving us tips on what to say, when to nod, when to frown, etc. Kat got Anne and Daniele’s address, somewhere in Venice. (A few months after our return, I turned a Studley gum tree bowl and sent it to them as a way of saying thank you.)

The two young cops were OK to deal with but unrelenting about the IDL and the fine they HAD to impose. They even took the time to show me in the “fine book” the passage about the IDL and the associated fine. It could have been hooey (it was written in Italian, and it was the early minutes of our 2 and ½ hour “Padua Police Experience” so we thought it would be stupid to argue too much), so we paid up in cash (no receipt) and I imagine the boys in blue had a nice spaghetti dinner that night … now, now.

At the end of all the processing and drawings, and more forms than it took to get our first mortgage, they indicated we could go, but they had one last question for us (asked in a very serious Padua Police tone): Is CSI real they wanted to know? Well, yes and no we responded. Certainly the technology is, but how do you explain the fictionalized aspect of the show without casting aspersions on the geniuses that the actors are portraying? Oh well. One of the officers said that the Padova police were still in the stone age. I wonder how that will impact us in our future insurance-liability process.

Before they left the officers told us they had spoken to the hospital and that the motorcyclist was in no danger. We all shook hands, two cheek kisses, etc. (even the police) and Anne and Daniele (plus two kids in the car) realized that we still wouldn’t be able to find the hotel by ourselves (evident from the many wrong navigation system inspired mis-directions in the first place) were kind enough to lead us (after we screwed up once again) to our very, very nice Hotel Saggitario ( I drove, my contribution to this leg of our Italian trip.

Stefano at the front desk could not have been nicer. He was very helpful as we called SIXT, etc. to report the incident. We finally got the right guy in Germany (one forgets how small Europe is), who opened a case file. I called Visa from the room (thank goodness we put those minutes on our calling card) and notified them. (As it turns out, they are located right in Richmond, and they assured me that all those promises about car insurance while traveling overseas they made before we left were as good as CSA (Confederate States of America) paper money. The woman seemed to find some sick enjoyment in that. Time will tell. )

After buying tickets for the train from Stefano and receiving mud-clear instructions on where to get off, etc. we drove to what passes for a train station. (It took a while to figure out how to get up to it, one of those “we can see it but can’t get there” situations). After parking in what we hoped was the train station parking lot and not someone's driveway we made our way up the graffitti laden, urine smelling stairs to find that we had indeed arrived at the train station. We stood on the train platform trying to decipher first what side we were supposed to be on (critical to go in the right direction), and second what the recorded announcement in (scratchy over modulated cheap outdoor loud-speaker) Italian meant as each train approached. I don't think this station sees much nighttime business, and in fact it was kind of spooky. A couple of trains stopped, opened their doors and then took off without us (I'm not sure if we were waiting for a revelation or something). A few trains buzzed right by us so at least we didn’t have to question whether or not we should board those. Overcoming our inertia, we finally screwed up our courage (when Kat thought the announcement included “Santa Lucia”) and got on the next one into the station.

The train we got on went directly to St. Lucia in Venice, thanks Kat, (we ALMOST got off one stop too soon which would have required a long, life ending walk from the other side of the causeway) and we were in Venice, just like that; magical.

We walked around A LOT. It was evening and crowded, so we had a pizza and beer with a fancy ice cream dessert while admiring the Rialto bridge. It was touristy, and busy, but we were safe, we knew where we were, and had an idea how to get back to the train station from there. What more could we ask for? Edward said it was the best beer (40.0 cl.) he had ever had. A special moment.

We took the 11:34 train (the last one and we assuredly didn’t want to miss it) and ended the day on an up note and for one couple in particular a very quiet note. By 1:00 am we were back at the hotel and finally all asleep … WHAT A DAY …

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