I'm back! Hopefully I'll write more about the convent later, because in this post I'm just going to rant about the travel. :)
The plan was for me and my parents to leave on Sunday night from Los Angeles and take a British Airways redeye to London, where we'd have a four-hour layover at Heathrow Airport and then catch a flight to Pisa. From there it's an hour-long bus trip to Florence and we'd arrive late on Monday night, having lost nine hours to the time change. My parents would stay in Florence for a week and tour Tuscany. I would be met at the bus station by a sister of the Adoratrices-- yes, I was considering joining an order whose name I can't pronounce-- and she'd drive me to their convent, located in a little town about half an hour outside of Florence. After a week with them I'd meet up with my parents again and we'd all bus back to Pisa and fly to London. My parents would stay in England for a week, disporting themselves in London and Oxford, while I'd have a one-hour layover in Heathrow and them fly immediately back to LAX, the Los Angeles airport. I'd have a day to recover and then return to work.
That was the plan. Needless to say I booked the flights before the volcano in Iceland erupted and started disrupting all flights into and out of England. And I hadn't heard anything about the British Airways flight crews preparing to strike either. I figured British Airways was just about the most stable, reliable, dependable airline you could fly. So here's what happened:
My parents and I arrived at LAX nice and early, and learned that a cloud of volcanic ash over London was delaying all the flights that day.
We were given free dinner vouchers, courtesy of British Airways, and after eating some airport food we took off about three hours late.
The flight was okay... long flights are always a pain in the legs, but I did manage to sleep. And British Airways knows how to serve tea.
Arriving over London, we had to circle in the air for about fifteen minutes before we could land. That was kinda fun; I recognized the Tower Bridge and the London Eye.
Had to sit on the runway for about twenty-five minutes before a gate opened up.
All the delays added up, and so in spite of the four-hour layover, we missed our connecting flight to Pisa. British Airways rebooked us for the next day and gave us free hotel vouchers, meal vouchers, and bus tickets to and from the hotel. It was a very streamlined, simple process-- they've had lots of practice since the volcano blew, I think.
Once checked into our hotel, Mom and I spent several hours attempting various ways of calling Italy from England to let people know we'd be a day late. I never did successfully get through, though in the process of trying I incurred charges totaling twenty-six pounds on my hotel phone. What did get through in the end was the email I sent to the convent using the internet on my hotel room's TV (at six pounds an hour). One of the sisters replied within the allotted hour, bless her, and she said they'd wait for my call the next day to come pick me up.
Incidentally, the most remarkable feature of my hotel room was the toilet that let you choose your own flush volume. An idea whose time has come!
We flew out to Pisa the next morning (Tuesday) and caught a bus to Florence. Once there we found my parents' hotel pretty easily-- a quaint old place once owned by the Medici family. My dad was very tired, so he lay down while Mom and I went back to the train station to call the convent. "I'll time how long this takes," said Mom, as I got out a phone card, picked up a pay phone, and prepared to wage another unsuccessful battle.
Fifteen minutes later I'd gotten nowhere, and Mom offered to go ask some taxi drivers what it would cost for them to drive us out to the convent. I pulled out my paper with the convent's address in Sieci and started to copy it down for her. Just then I noticed a young nun not far away, wearing the black and white habit of the Adoratrices and looking at me. I never saw a more welcome sight! They must have decided to send someone without waiting for my call.
I bounded up to the nun. "I'm Rachel Gray!" I told her. She smiled, "Are you from the Adoratrices? Are you here to give me a ride?"
"Um... I don't speak English," she managed to say. She had a French accent. The Adoratrices are mainly French (in spite of the fact that they live in Italy... long story), and I speak no French whatsoever. But the nun appeared to expect me to follow her, and that'd be weird behavior if she wasn't the one I was supposed to meet, so I let her lead the way to where her car was parked.
"Are you sure she's the right order?" Mom asked me as were tagging along after her.
"Who cares?" said I. I was just relieved not to have to deal with the phones any more. I hugged Mom goodbye and got into the car with the nun, and I'm happy to report that she did in fact take me to the right convent... I'd tell you about it, but this post is for complaining about travel. :)
So, after a week, the same nun drove me back to the station in Florence and I met Mom and Dad there. They seemed to have had a good week in spite of Dad's bum knee acting up. Our bus to Pisa was thirty-five minutes late. Italians.
It didn't matter because our plane arrived at Pisa two hours late anyway. It wasn't volcanic ash causing the delay this time, nor yet the flight crew strikes-- it was a malfunctioning bathroom. True story. So we were late taking off for London. And if you, dear reader, are thinking to yourself, "Didn't Rachel only have a one-hour layover on the trip back?" you are completely correct. I missed another connection! So British Airways rebooked me on a flight for the next day and then snowed me under with more free vouchers-- bus to hotel, a room in the hotel, dinner at the hotel, breakfast at the hotel, bus back to the airport the next day. Mom and Dad had their own hotel because they'd been planning to stay in London anyway. They made sure I would be settled for the night and then we all said goodbye.
The next morning I got back to the airport in plenty of time and blew all the Euros and pounds I had on something for my co-workers: little chocolate bottles filled with various liqueurs. (Like these. I took them to the lab the next day and they were appreciated.) My plane took off an hour late, but I had no further connections to make so I hardly cared.
So the final tally is that I lost two extra days because of flight delays and missed connections. I was especially sorry to lose the day at the end of the trip, since that was supposed to be my buffer day before I had to go back to work. But I couldn't complain much. British Airways put me up in a very comfy room... right here...
...and the dinner and breakfast buffets at the hotel were fabulous. None of this "continental breakfast" nonsense in England; they give you the full English breakfast, which means MEAT, and hash browns, and baked beans, and baked tomatoes, and something called "black pudding" which really is black and has a bready texture but tastes a bit like sausage-- what's in that stuff?
Okay, I just looked it up. According to Wikipedia, "Black pudding is a type of sausage made by cooking blood or dried blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled."
All right, then. Moving right along, it was a good hotel with all the food I could eat (I totally would have tried the black pudding even if I'd known), and it occurred to me that what ranks as a most inconvenient day of my life would rank as the most luxurious day ever for some people in the world.
Also I couldn't complain because I had this video in my head: