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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wandering Wonderer

"Not all those who wander are lost."
             J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

And Not all those who wonder are confused. But occasionally there are some who are both - lost and confused that is. Take Bill for example ...

You may have noticed that Bill has not been with us on the ride in Italy. And this was a tour he planned and had been looking forward to with much anticipation since the idea first sprouted earlier this year. I think it is about time to tell the story, inasmuch as I know it!

Bill's wife sent me a text on Wednesday, the evening before our planned departure for Italy. She had taken him to the ER with "severe" abdominal pain. Based on his later accounting of that day, "severe" was a serious understatement. This set in motion a series of events, ending up with the decision that Julio, John and I would carry on with the tour, something strongly encouraged by Bill.

Later that night, reports came in that the problem was likely ulcers, but the doctors wanted more tests the next morning. Bill considered trying to leave after the procedures, but by noon on our getaway day he contacted me as I was waiting in O'Hare, saying that he would not be able to make the trip.

End of story, right? Well ...

On Friday evening as I was settling in at the hotel in Alessandria waiting for John and Julio to arrive, I got an email from Bill saying:

"I have booked a flight tomorrow (Saturday)* to take me to Zurich on Sunday then travel to join in Acqui Terme Sunday afternoon*."    *my additions

If only it were to be so easy.

Bill showed up at the La Crosse airport for his Saturday flight to Chicago then on to Zurich (surprisingly, there are no non-stop flights to Europe from La Crosse), a destination dictated by seat availability and cost considerations. But, as it was for me, his first flight is delayed, but in his case by SEVEN HOURS! The result was him getting only as far as Chicago late Saturday night with the flight to Zurich now moved to Sunday. The only good news here was that he would arrive in Zurich earlier in the morning than with his first revised plan, giving him more time to work out the train travel to Acqui Terme.

This, as we will see, was a very fortunate turn of events.

So he did make it to Zurich and, encumbered with suitcase and bike (recall that my late arriving bags provided me the chance to navigate the rail system without having to deal with this issue), wandered around the airport train station, ticket to Acqui Terme in his hand, wondering about which train to take. There was one on the assigned track with the destination board showing Geneva. With near perfect logic, Bill thought, "Geneva is probably on the way to Milan and since this is a Swiss train, they just highlighted the Geneva stop."

OK, so maybe it wasn't that near to being perfect. By the time the train reached Geneva, the conductor had provided him advice on getting back on track. With this and some help at the ticket office in Geneva, he was soon on his way to Milan. From there, he was only a couple of Regional train legs away from joining up with us.

Meanwhile, back in Acqui Terme: We were making plans for dinner and speculating on when Bill would arrive. Based on Julio's trip from Zurich to Alessandria, we figured he would arrive before we set out for the restaurant. Later, we waited in our hotel bar until time for us to set out - we had a reservation and did not want to be too late. We would be very close to the hotel though so I left a note at the front desk telling Bill how to find us during dinner.

What was happening out on the railways of northwestern Italy during this time may never be fully known. Even Bill is a little fuzzy on the details. But after leaving Milan, he changed trains as planned, though there may have been a misstep which had him on the wrong train and needing to backtrack to get on course.

Almost on course. Instead of heading to Acqui Terme, he ended up in Genoa. Now Genoa is on the Mediterranean coast and is not usually a stop on the way from Milan. Since he could go no farther south, he was assured of at least heading in the right general direction (that would be north). And that was, at least, successfully accomplished. But there was yet another wrong train choice where he would need to get off the one he boarded and go back to find the right train. However, a fellow passenger who knew something of the system told Bill he could just wait where he was and that the train he wanted would be stopping shortly.

Planned route in blue, actual route (as far as can be determined) in red
And so Bill finally arrived in Acqui Terme. But don't relax - he was not at the hotel yet.

Being as late as it was, there was only one cab at the station and it had been called by a couple of men who were heading in a different direction. But here is a nice part of the story - after a brief discussion, the men asked the driver to take Bill and his considerable baggage to the hotel, then come back to the station for them. During the trip, Bill got an estimate of the fare the men would run up and gave the driver that amount along with his own fare and generous tip.

And so it was that when I walked down to the Lobby at about 11:15 p.m., I saw Bill's bike box near the desk with Bill and John sitting outside, wondering how Bill had managed to get so many miles out of his ticket from Zurich to Acqui.

Disclaimer: This report is intended to serve as a warning, not a suggestion, for use in planing your next trip.

Lessons Learned
Do you have to ask?

It was, of course, a great relief to hear that Bill's health issues were no worse than they were and we all appreciated his presence during the remainder of the tour.

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