I always set myself a pretty ambitious start to the annual Vinitaly pilgrimmage. A smart person would alight at Milan airport after 24 hours in a steel tube hurtling through space at 800km/hr........breathing dubiously recycled air, and get a hotel room for the night. Me, no. Not smart. Bad. ( I'm chanelling my inner Trump!) I feel the urge to head straight to the train station and prolong the initial journey and consequently arrive in Verona a shattered man. This year, to properly test my pioneering spirit, I decided to ramp up the degree of difficulty a bit higher. I was going to head to Chianti upon landing.
Qatar Flight 127 magically lands at Milan Airport an hour early (they ARE the World's Best Airline), and I am excited about being ahead of schedule. But alas, I round the corner to the customs hall and hit the anchors ala Scooby Doo when he sees a ghost, legs flailing in reverse. Before me was a scene straight out of outback Australia. Think a large mob of sheep packed in lamb shoulder to lamb shoulder as they wait to be drafted one at a time through a narrow gate. This was Italian Public Service at its finest. Less than 50% of the customs gates were occupied and the professionally unsmiling Forza di Confine (Border Force) slowly processed each happy tourist with all of the enthusiasm and urgency of a teenager to tidy up their bedroom (hi daughters!). Ah, don’t start me. Let’s just say that the hour I gained arriving early was easily eaten up….. and more.
I felt the need for speed, so rather than taking the bus to Milano Centrale I decided a cab was in order….or actually the random guy (Carlo) who skilfully intercepted me at the exit doors with a “taxi?” enquiry, then proceeded to lead me to the carpark where his family station wagon was parked, complete with assorted soiled children’s sporting paraphenalia in the luggage section. Carlo was a rogue Uber dude. He was also a man of few words but a heavy right foot. We didn’t get under 140km/h the entire 50 minute journey, with Carlo displaying his well developed “text’n’drive” skills and even at one point driving with his knees while he manipulated a recalcitrant iPhone charger into place.
Needless to say I got the train station early. I used the time wisely to have a glass of wine and some antipasti (yes, this is a train station). The train ride to Florence is about 2 hours and uneventful (tho it still spins me out when the monitor flashes up that the train is travelling at 290km/h …….eat your heart out Carlo).
I arrive at Florence Railway Station and note that it is raining. Mmmmm didn’t predict that ….. it will make the “5 minute” walk, with luggage, to the Hertz agency a slightly more challenging event.
Now I am a lover of Google Maps….when driving….but I admit to being an abject failure at using it to assist a walking journey. On several previous occasions I have gone in the entirely opposite direction while being seemingly encouraged by the little man on the app that I am doing ok. Today my lack of skill was heightened by the fact that I was steering 2 pieces of luggage along cobbled footpaths about a metre wide in rush hour, in the rain. I could only occasionally glance at my phone and the little man seemed to be giving me positive feedback. Fooled again. The “5 minute” trip took me over 30 minutes and I arrived at the Hertz agency drenched on the inside of the shirt from the exertion of the trip and soaked outside from the light but persistent rain. My resilience was beginning to fray.
At the counter, engaging the 2 Hertz people on duty, were 2 of the wrong types of couples for Hertz's efficiency ratings feedback. Exhibit A – young, chatty Italians engrossed in a warm and humourous discussion with a young, chatty Italian woman on the other side of the desk. All were oblivious to the steam coming off (and out) of the dishevelled Australian next in the queue. Exhibit B – a middle aged American couple who were interrogating their Hertz lady with a plethora of scenarios designed to test the comprehensiveness of the accident insurance. My presence in the office had yet to register on their radar. I am proud of myself for not throttling both couples when after 25 minutes they were still talking. Finally the Italians departed and I got my turn. Five minutes later I left to the sound of question 247 from the Americans “what happens if the car gets hit when we are not around?”. None of this is embellished.
I cross the street, get into my brand new Opel Mokka with sporty black wheels and steel myself for the foray into Florence rush hour traffic (in the rain)…..clutching the hand drawn map from my Hertz lady pointing out to me how to avoid the “Restricted Traffic Zones” which carry heavy fines if breached. I drive the car about 3 metres and feel sure that I hear a female scream, which I ignore. But the screaming doubles in decibels and I duly stop. I am not sure if it was the pressure of the task ahead or the lack of sleep……but I have driven off in my brand new Opel Mokka with the rear door wide open and it is about a foot from collecting a pole. That could have been tricky, but more likely...ugly.
Oddly enough the 90 minute hour trip out of Florence to Gaiole in Chianti unfolds without incident (heart in mouth notwithstanding)…..and I even managed to get out of second gear for a stretch. As I park and turn the car off I briefly reflect on the non stop journey from Kensington to Gaiole via Doha and Milano. I make a solemn a promise to myself that next time, after a 24 hour flight, I will take the feeble, yes, but definitely smarter option..... and seek the restorative powers of a hotel bed.