March 28 Arriving in Agrate
When I showed my 75-year-old brother-in-law my blog, with its photo of fennel, he looked bemused. I can’t blame him; when fennel is part of your DNA and grows in your garden, why would you write an article about it?
Even after a night in business class, day 1 was pretty awful. I just wanted to sleep and clear the dull ache in my head. I’d tried so hard to make the trip comfortable for Sandro, but of course travelling is never comfortable.
Just before we landed in Frankfurt at 7 a.m., ensconced in our blue Air Canada pods, flight attendant Paola told Sandro we’d never make our 8 a.m. flight to Milan, and would probably have to take the 1 p.m. flight instead. No! But we could try, she decided.
So began a 45-minute scavenger hunt through the airport to find our gate in Terminal A. We followed the blue sign upstairs and down, through endless tunnels and up one elevator. In the process we passed through security, where my shoes set off the alarm resulting in a very intimate (and long) pat-down. I ran ahead, figuring if I could just get to the gate before they closed the doors they might wait for Sandro to catch up. Twice I lost him in a sudden crush of people and had to go back and find him.
The second elevator was surrounded by a room full of school kids, I pointed to the stairs. What do you think? Of course I didn’t know Gate A was five floors up, but Sandro kept up heroically – he who hasn’t climbed more than one flight of stairs in months.
When we reached gate 11, the plane was not only still there, but it was 15 minutes late so hadn’t even boarded yet. When I asked if our luggage would make it the guy wasn’t the least bit concerned. Of course, it was in the hands of ultra-capable Germans!
The funniest part is that when an Air Canada plane at Pearson somehow misses checking the photo ID of one person, it makes the national news. Yet in Europe, all you need is a boarding pass.
We arrived in Milan an hour late and headed to the Hertz counter. I’d prepaid the car at a great rate via a website, and handed the clerk my confirmation. But when she pulled up the contract, it included 350 euros worth of extra charges and insurance, all the things my contract said were clearly included. Of course I refused to pay, but she couldn’t release the car until somebody did.
Forty minutes of increasingly exasperated phone calls later, she handed me the phone to speak to Victoria from the website in England. Obviously someone had screwed up, but she advised me to pay whatever Hertz asked for and she’d make sure I was compensated when I get home. I see the confirmation email she’s sent says they’re prepared to pay “reasonable” expenses. We shall see what that means. (Full refund!)
So there we were in our sleek new upgraded Volvo with no local map. No problem, right. Sandro grew up here, we’ve done this before and we know the names of the towns between the airport and and his village. Off we went in the rain. Got to the first roundabout with the sign Somma Lombarda and were pretty pleased. We then proceeded to get completely, utterly lost, ending up in Angera, on the wrong side of Lago Maggiore and way too far north.
At one point Sandro got out of the car for a smoke to ease his frustration. I realized it was his first since we left Toronto and sorely needed. We drove back to Sesto Callende, where everything closes exactly at 12 for lunch so there wasn’t even anyone to ask. We finally found a guy sitting in his car in a parking lot, smoking. He sent us over the bridge – we’d gone under it the first time – and like magic we were back in familiar territory.
We arrived at Sandro’s brother’s house three hours late but just in time for lunch. Remo walked toward us, more rickety than ever, with that big Julita smile, and gave us both a huge hug. We were home for Easter.