European Vacation – August 15

This was the big day..Ferragosta. And this was the day we had picked to catch a train down to Paola where we would meet up with Jill’s parents. We had no idea how busy the trains would be. As it turned out, it wasn’t a big deal. It appeared that everyone was already where they were supposed to be, and the trains were relatively uncrowded. We caught the Circumvesuviana train into Naples, where we were entertained by a rather motley succession of panhandlers, the first being someone playing big band standards on the world’s oldest saxophone, and missing pretty much every note, the second being a 10 year old boy with the saddest eyes in the world, playing a cortina and the last being another saxophonist who did unmentionable things to the Macarena. The little boy, sensing he had found fertile ground, positioned himself next to Jill and played until she finally broke down and gave him a euro.

We arrived into Naples and found the station almost deserted. We had a couple hours to kill, so we grabbed a bite at the McDonald’s, then boarded the train to Paolo. This was the local, so we settled in for a long journey. The train pulled through the ugly industrial land next to the ocean through Naples, gave us a quick glimpse of the much more scenic country by Sorrento, then headed inland for awhile by Salerno. About half way through the journey, as it left Campania for Calabria, it returned and continued the journey next to the Mediterranean, pulling through various small seaside towns with names like Maratea, Praia a Mare and Fuscaldo. Eventually we pulled into Paolo and transferred our bags to the van we had rented with Jill’s parents. Getting 6 people, over a dozen suitcases and 3 boxes of food (Anna, my mother-in-law, always makes sure no one ever goes hungry) required some engineering, sheer force and a quick closing of the back door, but eventually we were off. With the somewhat dubious help of a GPS unit and Microsoft’s AutoRoute, we found the road out of town and were headed to Cosenza, where our hotel was. I love to put my faith in technology, but in this case, it was seriously misplaced. I started off confidently, with my laptop giving us directions (my father-in-law was driving, I was navigating) but as we arrived in Cosenza, things started to go off the rails. The computer told us, “You will be turning left in approximately 300 meters”. I relayed the directions to Flori, my father-in-law. We looked..but there was no road heading left. “You will be turning left in 10 meters”. “There’s no damned road to turn left on!” I yelled back at the computer. It didn’t seem to notice. “Turn left now”. “I can’t &%#$ing turn left now, there’s no &%$@ing road to turn left on!” “Off route” was the only reply. Okay, recalculate the route. “Turn right in approximately 100 meters” Right, a temporary glitch was all. “Turn right in approximately 50 meters.” Hmmm..that looks like a one way (senso unico) going the wrong way. “Turn right now” “It’s one way, you stupid %$&$ing computer”. Again, the computer got the last word..”Off route”

I had to figure this out. Apparently, the map supplied by Microsoft bore little resemblance to the actual city of Cosenza. Bill Gates had let me down in a big way. I told my father-in-law to keep driving until I figured out how to get to the little red dot on my map. This was supposed to be much easier, a demonstration of how technology triumphs. It was turning into a trip from hell, in a rented van with a non-cooperative GPS. The one thing the computer was telling us was that we were going the wrong way. I got us turned around and heading in the right direction. Eventually, with a lot of swearing, wrong turns and going around the same block at least 4 different times, we arrived at the hotel, the Best Western Centrale.

This was the second time on this trip that I was pleasantly surprised by a Best Western. It was very modern, clean and yes, even luxurious. Not what we expected from a Best Western. Of course, we had the traditional screw up with the reservations.

“How many people?”

“Six, in two rooms”

“No..four adults only”

“No. Four adults and 2 children. That’s what was reserved”

“No, Four adults only.”

“No, Four adults and 2 children”

He showed me the reservation. I showed him where it said two adults and one child in each room (Thank God!) and he accepted defeat rather quickly. We had a cot moved up to each of the rooms for the kids.

We arrived in the rooms (clean, bright and rather large by European standards) and then proceeded to unpack the food and wine for supper. Delicious sandwiches of fresh tomatoes, cheese and prosciutto washed down with inexpensive but good red wine and we were ready for more.

We were now in the home territory of Flori and Anna and the visiting began almost immediately. We hadn’t been at the hotel for more than an hour when relatives started appearing. The first night, we stayed at the hotel and they found us. For awhile I tried to keep track of who was related to who and how, but I soon gave up and just started kissing whoever I met on both cheeks, male or female. I apologize to all involved, but I’m not going to attempt to give an accurate record of who we met and what their names and connections were. For the next three days, it was all pretty much a blur, most of it in a language I was rapidly realizing I was totally non-proficient in.

The first night was a visit with an older couple who spoke very loudly and emphatically, but that’s not unique. Everybody here spoke that way. I was the “Inglese” the one who didn’t speak Italian. My inclusion in conversations was usually somebody pointing at me, followed immediately by a burst of incomprehensible Italian. I just sat, smiling and tried not to do anything that would be interpreted as being rude. When anyone entered or left a room, I jumped up, ready to start kissing any cheek presented to me.

After an hour or so, we excused ourselves and went to our room, leaving Flori and Anna to continue the conversation. We did find out, as we entered the hallway, that the Best Western’s soundproofing wasn’t up to the challenges of the average Calabrese conversation. We could hear it all the way down the hall and up the stairs to our room.

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