Day 2: Amsterdam to Milan to Genoa to Vernazza

A travel night/day. I only sleep about an hour on the flight to Amsterdam. We arrive at 6 am which is 11 pm. Customs goes quickly and it finally hits me we’re in a very diffenrent world when we board the Alitalia jet and the flight attentand says "bon giorno" to me. We arrive in Milan about 90 minutes later and when we find out our plane is delayed about an hour, we stroll about the airport, get our first experience with Italian and an ATM machine: "Mi scusi, dove bancomat?"

When we come back to the gate, it’s apparent that we missed the shuttle to our plane. We were there 15 minutes early but I’d forgotten that a shuttle was necessary. Damn. Oh well, we’ll figure it out. It’s not a disaster, just a minor setback. Suddenly the gate attendant looks at her computer and says something like "non departe" and indicates that we can start boarding the shuttle. And  suddendly dozens of people line up behind us. Yeah! Within a half hour our propeller plane swoops out over the Ligurian Sea for a landing in Genova, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

Our big luggage bag shows up on the carousel but not Robbie’s. I find the lost and found desk and they tell us promptly that the bag is still back in Amsterdam and won’t arrive at our hotel in Vernazza for another 36-48 hours. This bag has all of Robbie’s clothes and makeup but it doesn’t faze her in the least. She’s got her meds with her, the toiletries are in the big bag, and the clothes she has on are comfy for any situation.

We have a hard time figuring out where to catch the shuttle to the train station and I experience the language barrier the first time… or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I experience my inhibitions the first time. I don’t know how to say "where do we catch the suttle bus to the train station" and I’m reluctant to just walk up to anyone and just start talking English. I finally ask a couple of construction workers on break with "shuttle bus to train station?" and they jump up to help, walking me over to a schedule hung on a post. "E qui!" It is here. 

We’re soon sandwiched on the shuttle bus careening around Genova (pronouced "genoa") and Robbie meets a woman from Northern Ireland who chats up a storm and is going to the station, too. We buy our train tickets for the week but then are stumped on how to find the right departure platform. I keep wandering around looking for a station worker of somekind, again reluctant to approach any of the travellers. Not so with Robbie.

She finds an Italian woman who speeks no English at all but is so eager to help that she starts teaching Robbie how to decipher the train arrival/departure board. And to my amazement, Robbie’s figuring it out. It starts to dawn on me that a smiling face, sparkly eyes and animated gestures are a lot more effective than my attempts to remember phrases from the phrase book. It’s another not-so-subtle reminder of why I married this woman and why I still love her.

On the train to Vernazza, we meet a Swiss family of four travelling to the Cinque Terre for a family reunion. Robbie’s chatting up a storm with the mother and when a view of the glistening Mediteranian pops up in the train window behind them, I snap a photo. And the mother gently, smilingly chides me for not asking permission. I apologize and then ask permission to take one and she says no, we all laugh, and keep chatting.

Suddenly we’re at the Levanto station and realize we have to get off. I don’t have my sandals on and have stuff scattered about the seats. We start a mad scramble to get off before the train starts up again and the son of the Swiss family jumps up to carry our heaviest bag off the train for me. I hoist my sandles in the window and wave goodbye.

When finally arrive in Vernazza, we find our hotel, Gianni Franzi, with a sign tacked on the door for us to pick up our keys at the gelato store around the corner. The clerk starts leading us up the walkway to our room… a  narrow, winding walkway, then stairs, then steps, then steep steps, more walkways, more steps, finally to a locked door. She unlocks it and we follow, expecting to find our room.

No, it’s a very narrow spiral staircase. I can barely fit our 55 pound bag up it and by this time, I’m sweating and panting while laughing in amazement.  At the top of the staircase, yet another one. "Holy buckets!" Robbie says in a perfect Minnesotan accent.

Finally we arrive at our comfy, extremely cozy room and collapse. A few steps away, we’re out on the shared private patio with a spectacular view of the ocean and cliffs. Omigodinheaven. We head back down to an outdoor cafe right on the harbor and have a liter of the house white wine and a pesto pizza. We’re exhausted but it’s dawning on us: we’re in freaking Italy! We head down the street for a gelato.