Friday, October 18, 2013

Lo Sciopero (It's another Strike!)

The strike notice
Now for a lesson in the UNFUN things that can happen in Italy. They're calling it Venerdì Nero: Black Friday. It's the dreaded sciopero....they happen all too often, sometimes with little advance warning. Other times they are advertised a week in advance in newspapers or on flyers, like the one above from 2011, which lays out the exact time the strike will go on. (From the start of service to 6 am, from 9:15 - 11:45, then from 3:15 to the end of service, probably midnight. This means that people can get to work between 6-9:15, but won't have a way to get home.) Since I hadn't been reading Italian newspapers this week, I was not forewarned. The current strike was a protest in response to new austerity measures proposed this week.

So far I've managed to avoid the brunt of the Italian propensity to strike. When they happen, trains, buses or planes will stop running, sometimes for a few hours at a time, or like today, for 24 hours. And it usually seems to happen on Monday or Friday. I've been inconvenienced when the regional trains or city buses didn't run. But today I got broadsided.

When I got to the Florence airport at 5:30 a.m. to catch a 7:00 flight, I heard the word "strike" and knew I was in trouble. All the Alitalia flights had been cancelled, and all flights operated by Alitalia would be cancelled throughout the day. Oh boy, what does that mean? I've been very fortunate in all my travels abroad so far to have never missed a flight or had one cancelled on me. Until today.

I always fly with Delta, but to fly out of Florence, which does not have an international airport, many major airlines rely on Alitalia to get their clients to larger airports, like Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. I was scheduled to fly to Amsterdam on the first leg of my journey, then on to Minneapolis and Kansas City. flight. What's next? We were ushered to a line where we stood for about an hour while they re-ticketed everyone. Some people were rerouted to flights in Pisa and Bologna, and buses were provided to get them to those airports. Some would have to spend the night at the new destination. When it came to my flight, the news was different: I would have to wait two days before they could get me out of Florence. To be honest, it didn't bother me that much. I figured I could go back to the flat I'd rented or stay with friends. An unruffled agent booked me on flights to Paris, JFK and then Kansas City. Not my preferred route, but I can live with it. And I'd rather stay in Florence than face an unknown situation in Pisa or Bologna.

I left the airport and took a shuttle back to the city center. I sent a text message to Eleonora, the woman I'd rented the apartment from, asking if I could stay an extra two nights. I planned some back-up options: I could stay with Anne, who lives in the same apartment building, or go to an inexpensive hotel that I've frequented many times. Luckily, Eleonora agreed to let me stay, free of charge, and would meet me at the flat to give the keys back to me. So far, so good.

I got on a bus that goes to San Niccolo, only to learn that the bus would not be running after all, as there was a protest going on and traffic was stalled. Ah, Italy! I hauled my luggage back off the bus and waited with others in the same predicament. At some time or another, the buses would be running again. I chatted with tourists visiting from Amsterdam and Greece. After thirty minutes or so, another bus came ambling along. It was then that I realized I'd left one of my bags on the first bus. It was an overflow bag, nothing special, with an old sweater, some gifts I'd been given, and others I'd bought to take home. But I'd also put my new ticket and itinerary in the bag. And worst of all, the journal I'd been keeping of my travels was stashed in there. Uh-oh.....I need that bag!

I asked the driver what to do, and he told me to talk to some men in a kiosk across the street. When I went there, they told me to go back to the bus stop and wait for each bus on that bus line and ask the driver if they had found my bag. I did that for several buses, but the drivers were so rude (one even refused to acknowledge that I was speaking to him, and walked away) that I gave up and took the next bus to San Niccolo. I was told I could try the lost items office later in the day to see if the bag had been turned in. Okay.

I got back to the flat, got settled and called Delta on Skype about sending me an email with the new itinerary and confirmation code. An agent agreed to do that. I went out to get some lunch and ran into some of my new friends at a nearby osteria. Great! A pleasant diversion. When I returned to the flat, I hadn't received anything from Delta, so I decided to find out where the lost objects office is located. Get this: it's only open M-F from 9am to 12:30 pm. It was already past 3 pm on a Friday and I'm leaving on Sunday. So I figured that bag is a goner. I'm just glad I didn't have anything costly, like my passport, camera, phone, tablet or wallet in the bag.

I called Delta again, and this time got a wonderfully helpful and patient guy who tracked down the itinerary that Alitalia had created for me, and had them send me an email with the information I need for the flights. Great! I'm all set! And a friend offered to go to the lost objects office next week and see if my bag shows up. If it does, she can save it for my next trip here and send me the journal.

The upshot is that I have two more days to hang out in Florence with my friends, I have one less bag to carry, and I have a comfortable place to stay. Let's hope the flights on Sunday will go smoothly. Tonight I'll lay low, drink some wine that I'd planned on bringing home, and hit the hay early. I'm more upset about the loss of my journal than anything else. Two months of my thoughts and experiences gone! Sure am glad I have this blog to remind me of many things that happened.

Moral of the story: if you come to Italy, you have to learn to go with the flow and see what happens. Things will work out, one way or another. In the meantime, find some way to enjoy the delay. Tomorrow I'll enjoy the great weather and dine out with friends.

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