Ok, my blog is going to start with a Pop Quiz.
I have not written to you in two weeks because:
a) I had such a good time in Italy, it has taken me two weeks to get back into the grove.
b) I know it is summer and you are all doing fun things, besides reading my blog, so I gave you a few weeks to catch up on all the doings.
c) I decided to clean out my garage to make room for a new Italian sports car.
d) All the above
So now that we have the Pop Quiz done lets move on to Florence! I love Florence! It still is my favorite city in Italy, but sad to say I only spent one night in this beautiful city this time because I had more on my plate.
First of all, we need to discuss the madness at the train stations these days. When I arrived and left Montepulciano I used the firm of Private Driver Services with Emanuele. Emanuele was prompt, curteous, and drove a spotless Mercedes station wagon. On my last day in Montepulciano he picked me up in Montepulciano, drove the 30-minute ride to Chiusi, carried by bags into the station, down the stairs, up the stairs and told me to wait at the proper train line. What a guy! This was nothing like the treatment I had in Rome. In Rome a train attendant (I thought) came to me, picked up my bag and walked me to the proper train line for my departure and then said, “That will be 15 Euro.” I was a little taken back, I thought he was a kind train attendant helping me. (Like in Prague in an earlier posting) I gave him a twenty and asked for change and he looked me in the eye and said, “No,” and walked off. Well, that taught me a lesson.
When the train arrived in Chiusi, a man, who was also boarding the train picked up my bags and hoisted them onto the train. I had stewed over this because even though I had mailed home boxes of goodies and my books, I wasn’t sure I could heft the bags on the train in the few minutes allowed to heft. As it turned out this man, his wife and friends were also my booth mates on the train. They were from Australia and we had the best time talking and we all hit it off immediatley. We talked all the way to Florence and discovered we would all be heading to Cinque Terre in a few days and I hoped we would meet up there again.
As we approached Firenze Rifredi Train Station, it was raining Gucchi cats and dogs and there was no shelter where the train stopped so it was every man for himself in the pouring rain. I lumbered along with my two stacked bags and when I reached the station a young man hoisted my bags and took off down the stairs, up the stairs and around the bend of the train station with me struggling to keep up with him. When I got there he said, “Thirty euros.” What????? Well, I looked him in the eye and said, “No.” He looked so surprised. I gave him 5 euro.
I went to the Taxi Stand and to no surprise there were no taxis available. So I waited. Then I crossed the street and waited at that taxi stand. Still no taxis. I thought it odd there would be no taxis available, but then it was pouring so I thought everyone was wanting a taxi and there would be a wait. As I waited, I watched. When a taxi did pull up my friend, the exorbitant bag carrier, would hail the taxi, talk to the driver and then place hand picked travelers into the taxi. Every taxi that pulled in had the same routine. The taxi did not stop at the taxi stand just looked for the bag carrier and took his travelers. Hmmmm….. Then an anxious looking visiting priest came up to me and asked if I had called for the taxi. What? He said I had to call for a taxi to come to this station and the bag handler had offered to do it for him for 50 euro. What???? How much had I given him?
I was sure I would never get a taxi now. So the priest, who had called for a taxi and I along with three more priests stood and watched as every cab that came was hailed to the “Bag Handler” as I now referred to him. I was nervous about being left alone at this station so asked the priest if I could ride with them if we ever got a cab. We stood for over an hour and watched this procession with the priest going up to each taxi and stating that he indeed had called for a taxi, but the taxi driver looked nervous and only followed the orders of the “Bag Handler.” My phone had no signal here at all. So I looked the Father in the eyes and said, “Father, we are going to have to be ruthless, they have a scam going on here, so follow my lead.” When the next station wagon taxi pulled in I ran to it and flung open the door and threw in my smallest bag. All the priests followed suit. The “Bag Handler” came to the taxi and I gave him a piece of my mind, something on the order of treating priests like this and so on. I was furious. The taxi driver got out and opened the hatchback allowing the priests to load our bags all the while the “Bag Handler” read the taxi driver the riot act. We had all squeezed into the taxi when another taxi pulled up. Our taxi driver looked so relieved, but told us we had to get out and take the other taxi since he was not supposed to be taking travelers. So one priest went to confirm this with the woman taxi driver, who was very helpful and said yes she had been called to pick us up. We then transferred all our luggage to her big Mercedes station wagon and after one last dirty look at the “Bag Handler” we were off. I told her we were going to different locations, and she said no problem. We proceeded to City Center Florence chatting in Italian and English while she waved at all the other female taxi drivers and I tried to cool down. She said Firenze Rifredi Train Station was not the main terminal so most of the taxis would be waiting at Florence Maria Novella Station, the station the priests had failed to get off at. They will never make that mistake again! I had no excuse my train was destined for Firenze Rifredi. As we passed Maria Novella we saw a long line of taxis there, the real taxis. We were told most taxis wanted the easy pick up fees of Maria Novella while the out-lying stations were manned by the “Bag Handler,” with him receiving a cut along with his mob of drivers. Over three hours later I arrived at Antica Torre Di Via Tornbuoni Hotel, where my husband was frantically waiting for me, since I was late and had not answered his telephone calls. I paid for the cab for myself and the priests and waved goodbye to them. I needed a drink! On to the Rooftop terrace of Antica Torrei Di Via Tornbuoni!
For a great car service while visiting Montepulciano I suggest: Tuscany Transfer Service (Emanuele) http://www.tuscanytransfer.it