The noon carillons peal out over the drone of the traffic in our Salerno hotel room – an old folk song, or maybe a hymn. They are staggered – you hear them pealing, first from a church in the distance, and then from the church right next to the Hotel Plaza. Which is in NO way similar to the Plaza Hotel New York City, by the way!
You step into a time warp when you enter the Hotel Plaza, from the small entry door, with just enough room for the word “PLAZA” to be emblazoned over the lintel, to the tiny lobby, where a concierge lurks behind a dark wood counter, with mail slots and key hooks behind him, one for each room. You still pick up your key on the way in, and hand it to the hotelier on the way out. And if the concierge is not there, you ring a large brass bell on the countertop. The concierge looks at me as if I am totally mental any time I say something to him in Italian. The Italian version of Basil Fawlty, in fact.
Our room has a 15 foot ceiling – in fact, the room is higher than it is wide. Twelve foot high patio doors set into a two foot deep wall give out onto a one-foot wide “balcony” and a view of the piazza in front of the train station, with its war memorial – WWI, WWII, and a war between Italy and Ethiopia that quite frankly, I never heard of. Most of the time we are air-conditioned by a ceiling fan. I feel very Italian!
Yesterday’s journey kept us flexible. We were thrilled to be upgraded to first class on the flight from Toronto to Rome and actually got 2-3 hours’ sleep – about the best you can expect. Once we got to Leonardo da Vinci airport (love that name) we bought train tickets to Rome and joined the throng on the platform. Well, the throng grew and the train did not come, and a rumour ran through the crowd that a train had broken down on the track. There were no announcements, and train tickets continued to be issued even though there was no train forthcoming, with enough people gathering on the platform to make you wonder if they were going to start shoving each other over the edge. After standing in the crush for over an hour, we moved to Plan B.
Which was to get a refund for our tickets to Rome, rebook our reserved connections to Salerno (which we had already missed) and then take a taxi to Termini Station in Rome. Sounds reasonable, right? Except by that time there were, by my estimate, 80 other people also lining up for a refund and rebooking, and two agents handling all of it. At typical Italian glacial speed. Calculations: two agents taking, say, just five minutes with each of 80 customers…and not liking the arithmetic, we moved to plan C.
Which was to take a taxi to Termini and try again there. The ride to the city was wonderful as we passed so many favourite landmarks – the baths of Caracalla, the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, the arch of Constantine, the Aurelian walls – and this gave us the strength we needed for the comedy festival that is Termini. You take a number to see an agent, and watch a giant, ever-changing bulletin board that flashes about 20 numbers at a time along with a wicket number, waiting for yours to come up, just like the lottery.
We took two numbers, one for the ticket agents, and one for customer service, hedging our bets and seeking to increase our chances. Another hour later our BINGO came up, and the customer service rep changed our reservations to Salerno with a scribbled note on our original ticket and a rubber stamp, which seemed to work just fine. But apparently he had no authority to issue a refund, so he suggested we take a number and enter the lottery once more. That would have made us late for our rebooked train, so on to plan D, which was to abandon our plans for a refund. For now, anyways. Maybe if we find ourselves back in Rome with nothing better to do…
We should recommend this system to VIA rail. Issuing tickets but not actually providing transportation – what a great way to make a profit.
The train ride was modern, quiet and comfortable – another note to VIA rail – and we arrived in Salerno in the late afternoon. A short rest later, we were ready to hunt down some supper. Every restaurant specializes in pizza! Not surprising, since pizza was invented in Naples, just across the bay from here.
Not knowing exactly where we were going or what we were looking for, we eventually gave way to fatigue, and dropped into a small shop around the corner from the hotel, where we bought some bread, cold cuts and olives, and brought those back to our room for supper. Food never tasted so good.