Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The train station and the scam...

I need to begin by saying that as a travel professional of a gazillion years... ok maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but I think I have a good understanding of vacation scams.  I have talked about scams, taught agents about scams and written about them.  We advise our passengers  to "be aware" while travelling in various situations - not to cause fear but to emphasize the importance of being aware and travelling wisely.

I have travelled a fair bit and I can tell you lots of stories - about other people.  But this story is about me and Camera Guy.

We arrived at the  Tiburtina train station.  We were looking forward to the next part of the trip.  Taking the train to Florence, picking up our car rental and driving to our rented house on the Italian Riviera where Elliot, my son and Leah his girlfriend, were going to meet up with us in a few days!
For those of you who have not travelled on European trains, there is usually a very large electronic board displaying the trains and track numbers.  Everyone stands and watches the board until their track number shows - about 10-15 minutes prior to departure.  You then make your way to your track.

Camera Guy (CG)  and I were waiting for the train on the track specified.  I was huddled over our luggage and CG was tossing something in the trash can about 8 feet away.

My back to the track, a guy pulling a suitcase approached me from behind and pointed to the train so I slightly looked away from the bags and asked if this train was going to the airport.  I said I have no idea and turned back to the luggage - 5 seconds. I had not let go of the top of the bags.

CG at the same exact moment was approached from the opposite direction and asked the same question.

I said to Camera Guy that I felt something was wrong and sure enough CG's camera lens had disappeared.  A 3rd guy, at the exact moment when we were both distracted, scooped the $8,000 lens. CG was heading off to the Commonwealth Games to photograph the Canadian team in Scotland which is why we had that lens with us.  We both were unaware that the other had been asked the same question at the same time....
I felt like the lens was surgically removed from right in front of me... these were skilled thieves.  The 400mm sport lens was in a black bag with a little NIKON label. They knew what it was and its value.

It was insured.  I suppose like any robbery,  you feel violated and upset that you could have allowed it to happen.  And so the day went downhill from there. For insurance purposes we had to report it to the police, which caused us to  miss our train.  When we finally arrived in Florence  and made our way to the car rental depot, it was closed.  I forgot to mention it was a 10 minute walk with the luggage.... in the rain.  We thought it was closer.  Did I mention it was closed?  She smiled at me through the glass and said I could try the airport.  I begged and pleaded through the glass. We told her about our unfortunate experience .... to no avail.

We tried to find a taxi, there were none. We stood in the rain on a side street near the Florence train station outside the closed car rental counter. And so we began to walk... trudging through the streets in the rain... to a hotel where the front desk clerk took pity on the drenched travellers in front of her and called a taxi for us. We found out that the airport car rental counter was not actually AT the airport, but at an office NEAR the airport. The taxi driver seemed really upset that we were not going to the airport and informed us that an additional charge would apply. We were not surprised.
We finally got our car and plugged in our GPS that we brought with us. Hmmm, it didn't work.  The depot was out of maps....

At this point, CG knew the general direction so off we went. We just wanted to get there.  It was about a 2 hour drive. And we did find our way to the closest village  of Zoagli. We then referred to the instructions the owner sent us. 

"At the second church you are in the hamlet of San Pietro di Rovereto, which is a frazione of Zoagli.  After the church the road narrows, you will pass a bar and green grocer.  Shortly after the "village" the road makes a sharp turn to the right and a steep descent..."

The road was very narrow, and was completely congested  due to a music festival in the village that evening. Two cars could not pass each other without one reversing into the nearest open driveway. Cars were parked everywhere.

The rain continued and so did the thunder... and the lightning. I cannot even continue writing, it is too crazy to repeat.
We finally found the house and climbed the 1 million steps up the hill to the house... in the dark, or  I should say intermittent light from the lightning.  The one time I have begged for more lightning.

We went to sleep.  No, we didn't.  We couldn't sleep. We wondered aloud if this was worth it.

The next morning we opened the door.  We opened the shutters.
And this is what we saw....

Ciao for now
Penny and Camera Guy

Next ...the arrival of Elliot and Leah!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Photographer's Wife in Rome

July 2014

Twirling in my retro dress and posing for camera guy is always fun!  The Pantheon, which was minutes away from our cute little hotel, was where the photo above was shot.  The Pantheon opened in 126 AD and is the oldest standing building still in use!!  Early  in the morning...verrrry early...he eagerly pushed me out of bed so we would get to the Pantheon without anyone there and of course catch the right light or as Camera Guy calls it "The magic light".    It all sounds quite posing in my colourful dress and all - but in reality it was quite a dark overcast morning.  Everything looked grey.  And just for the record, it wasn't only about my photo - there were several amazing photos from that morning.While Camera Guy did his thing, I wandered about the Piazza della  Rotonda trying out the chairs at the empty tables imagining what it was  like  a long time ago... During the nineteenth century, the piazza was especially noted for its market of bird-sellers, who brought their cages with live parrots, nightingales, owls, and other birds.   I get a little weird around lots of birds so maybe it is a good thing the Piazza wasn't like that any longer.  

We had limited time in Rome, on this trip, so we decided to stay in a hotel as central as possible. This way we could walk easily to many places we wanted to visit.
Hotel Caravita was the perfect place.  With only 8 rooms, this little luxury boutique hotel was 5 minutes from the Pantheon, 10 minutes to the Spanish Steps and 10 minutes to the Trevi Fountain. 

It had incredible service, a perfect location, was spotless, had wifi and included a beautiful breakfast. Who could ask for more?  And a rain shower with lights changing colors every few seconds!  Dancing in the shower hahahaha!  

The hotel had a cute little dining area where treats were  laid out to eat during the day- from fresh fruit to homemade tarts and cakes. The room was quite small but for a night or two, who cares?  I would highly recommend this property!  Especially if you are only staying one or two nights.

As far as meals go, you can make reservations and eat in a decent restaurant for about 40 Euros per person.  We, on the other hand, wanted our evening to be flexible so simply found a little street near the Pantheon with numerous restaurant tables lining the sides of the narrow streets.  Each restaurant offered a modest menu - a two course meal with a bottle of wine for 12 Euros each.  The atmosphere was great and we were happy!

Ciao for now

Penny and Dan (camera guy)


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