Yesterday was one of those days that made travelling with a family seem like a seriously Bad Idea. It started out with a 5 a.m. wake-up call from the preschooler. He started talking excitedly about the new motorcycle he’d acquired – and wouldn’t stop. Things escalated, perhaps thanks to our panicked reaction at how little sleep we’d gotten, and it resulted in a full-blown tantrum that ended only when we all got up at 7 a.m. Needless to say, we were in a bad mood.
I then had to say goodbye to my friend Francesca. We’d been reunited in Florence after eight years apart and I felt like I’d barely seen her before it was time to leave again. Only the day before, I’d had to say goodbye to three other wonderful friends, too, so I was already emotionally delicate. As our train pulled out of the station, I could see her outside the window, crying. I collapsed into a puddle of sobs, much to the delight of the baby, who laughed at the funny sounds I was making. The preschooler was full of questions: “What are you doing, Mama?”
I got a hold of myself, but by then my face was red, makeup all gone, contact lenses dry and uncomfortable, eyes swollen. I was drained, both emotionally and physically. We had to run to catch another train to the Pisa airport. Wrong platform. “Go to #13,” the woman said. “It leaves in 2 minutes.” Picture the parade: me running with baby in a backpack, pushing a stroller; J. with a giant backpack, suitcase on wheels, another pack on top; G. with two backpacks, helping me carry the stroller up countless flights of stairs. So when we piled onto the train, gasping for breath and sweaty in the 28C weather, I was more than irate to overhear the following conversation from a woman standing nearby.
“Questi stranieri, sempre tutti ben organizzati… Guarda come sono!” she said to one of the train staff in a disgusted tone of voice. Translation: “Look at these foreigners, always so well organized. Look at how they are.”
I turned to her with rage barely contained, “Ah, signora, grazie per i complimenti. Thank you for the compliments.”
Her eyes widened and the train employee said, “Parli italiano?”
The woman recovered quickly and continued in her nasty tone of voice: “Prego, signora. I wish I could be just like all of you.”
“What’s your problem?”
“Niente, niente. You’re all so cute; look at you all together. It’s so sweet.”
I turned away because there was nothing more I wanted to say to this clearly miserable person. (As J. put it poetically as we walked away, “Who pissed in her milk this morning?”)
Needless to say, it didn’t put me in a better mood for negotiating with the Ryanair desk at the airport. I’d failed to check in our large bags online because I didn’t understand that, with Ryanair, one must pay extra for all checked luggage. It’s a solid 30 Euros apiece, but apparently if you do it at the airport, the cost is 125 Euros per suitcase. I just about hit the roof. Each suitcase would be costing us more than all the tickets combined! I complained, explained, pleaded, argued, and – miracle of miracles – the man behind the counter admitted that there’s a way around it. We could pay 60 Euros per bag IF we carried everything to the foot of the airplane stairs and threw out all our liquids. I considered it a success, despite the pain of handing over that 180 Euros extra.
Boarding the plane was late. The shuttle bus pulled onto the tarmac and we were left inside, sweating and roasting in the sun, with dehydrated, miserable children who pleaded for the water that we’d thrown out along with a fortune in Euros. The reason for the hold-up: the pilot was missing. No one knew where he was. We waited a good 20 minutes, squished into that bus, with a bunch of loud Sardinians loudly complaining, “Ajoooo! Come on, let’s go.” Finally he showed up, running across the tarmac, tie flying, white shirt wet with sweat.
The arrival in Sardinia was anything but smooth. It involved a treasure hunt for an internet connection. WiFi is rare in Europe, I’m discovering. Finally some women at an Air Italia booth offered me their computer to use and I was able to find the crucial information regarding our pre-booked car rental and the address of the apartment we were heading to. Kids were going nuts; both were going on less than a half hour of sleep; none of us had eaten in hours; we were dying of thirst.
We got into our rental car, found the apartment, unloaded luggage, but then had to search for groceries. Another aspect of travelling in Europe is that things are often – usually – closed on Sundays. It took forever, driving through the darkening streets of Alghero, to find an open supermarket. I careened through the aisles of foreign products and brand names and emerged ten minutes later.
Amid screams of hunger, exhaustion, and general misery, I prepared orecchiette with pesto and sausage and a green salad as fast as I could. We shoveled the food into the kids, settled them in bed, piled the dishes in the sink, and collapsed. That was the last time I had consciousness till now. What a day. And now I’m in Sardinia. Emotions are running high, but that’s a story for another day.