“Write about the journey,” Terry Anne advised me.
We were sitting at Pisa Airport having a final cappuccino before she took the bus to Florence and I was left to amuse myself for the six hours that remained unti my flight to Amsterdam and four and a half until check in.
“There are so many journeys,” I mused unenthusiastically. It was my turn to write today’s Monday Morning Musing and, like her, the week before, I was out of inspiration. “My journey as a writer? My journey through grief? My expat journey? My getting old journey?” Frankly, her suggestion didn’t help.
I have a confession to make. I don’t do solo travel. I have never visited anywhere on my own. I have never ever stayed in an hotel on my own to explore a city before catching a flight. Terry Anne has. Countless times. Not me – apart from the National Portrait Gallery in London, twice, alone. I’m much more likely to settle down with a film and my headphones in a Departure Lounge for several hours. This time, after running another How to Write Your Life Stories course at the Watermill in Posara, I wanted to be brave. It was time to be the Have-A-Go-Jo that I think people, inaccurately, consider I me to be. After a week’s teaching I fancied reading my book on a bench in the Botanical Gardens and having a last Pisan lunch with a glass of Tuscan wine. I could do this. First stop Left Luggage.
After waiting in line for a man to copy my passport I waited half an hour to be taken way to other end of the airport to where they were scanning unusual items, such as Yorkshire Terriers, it seemed. That done and my case now tagged with the green tape of approval I slalomed the kilometre back to the other end of the airport, dodging wheelchairs, walking sticks and dawdlers to take my bag back where I had started at Left Luggage. At last my first solo adventure could begin. I was ready. So ready that I decided to take public transport rather than my usual spendthrift cissy’s choice – a taxi. I would buy a return ticket for the Pisamover Shuttle, saving time and money.
Three and a half hours remained.
The Pisamover Shuttle was, you guessed it, back down the other end of the airport, past the dog-scanning, past the car park. There were only two stops on this clever kind of skytrain. The first was the train station, the second the Pisa Central. What could go wrong? Within a few minutes I was there. Buoyed by my brilliance, I spotted the uscita sign and marched out of the station with my walking map, handed to me by Terry Anne before I sallied forth. Strangely, none of the streets seemed to be on the map, so I switched to my trusty friend, Google Maps, keyed in my destination and headed off. I had not expected such backstreets, closed restaurants and lack of people, but then it was Sunday. Google Maps said 18 minutes and I followed instructions. Twenty minutes later I was not convinced I was any closer to the Leaning Tower. Call this a City Centre? It wasn’t much better than Peterborough. Unimpressed, I pulled my floppy hat further down in protection from the beating sun and went in the direction of a one way sign. Then it hit me. Was I following the driving route not the walking route? Terry Anne would never have done such a stupid thing. I changed my settings and the walking route took me back to the same station. No mistakes only learning, I think.
Two and a half hours remained.
Now Google Maps took me back inside the station! Forehead slap! I had clearly exited on the wrong side of the station. Like magic, there were the charming piazzas, the people, the pavement trattorias. Twenty minutes to the gardens. I paid my 4 Euros and flopped down onto a bench, exhausted. This was when I realized I had no time to look at the gardens let alone read a book.
One and a half hours remained.
Time for lunch. Once I had found exactly the restaurant I’d been looking for and that Terry Anne had eaten at on her solo trip a week prior, I found a table. If she could do it, so could I. I ordered my Tuscan bean salad and a glass of wine and settled down to watch the people like a pro, which was when I did the maths. Suddenly I had precisely 45 minutes to eat my pale pile of pulled pork and insipid beans and pay the bill. Now I had no time to walk the 30 minutes back to Pisa Central Station. There was nothing for it but to get a taxi after all.
Half an hour remained.
I had no time to glance at the Leaning Tower as I beetled back through the streets and through the market to the taxi rank. Alleluijah, things were looking up. There was no queue.
“Shall I get in here?” I asked the dishy driver with the slicked-back hair as I put my hand on the back door handle.
“You can get in front and drive if you like,” he replied and proceeded to drive his car like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, spinning round piazzas and dancing through traffic lights in to the upbeat 80s sounds from the radio. Joe Jackson sang out, “You can’t get what you want, til you know what you want.” Which was when, I at last relaxed and knew I’d made it. The journey had been worthwhile though not at all what I had planned. We pulled into Galileo Galilei airport at precisely zero hours. I was back in one piece! Terry Anne, I have much to learn about the art of effortless travel but at least I got my story. The destination wasn’t much to write home about, but the journey gave me something to say.
When you are a writer there is always a silver lining!