Monday, April 18, 2011

My Tuscan Run

On the “You Might be a Running Addict If….” quiz, I’d suggest “If your luggage is lost for a few days while you’re on a trip, and what annoys you most – and very deeply -- isn’t wearing the same clothes over and over to the conference, but not being able to run each morning.”

When I was invited to a conference at the European University Institute, on the outskirts of Florence, I said yes almost immediately. My last visit to Florence was in 1997. It would be just the right time of year (great weather, not too overrun with tourists), and the conference would bring together people from political science as well as sociology, history and economics, a bit of an eclectic group, all working on issues related to transnational governance and regulation, with several people whose work I knew but hadn’t met. At work, it wasn’t the best time to run off to Italy, because it coincided with the last couple of hectic days for graduate program admissions, but oh well.

One of the things I love to do when traveling – whether it’s to College Station or to Bangalore – is to run. This is partly about keeping up my mileage, but it’s also such a great way to see a new place. One can cover lots of ground (especially useful if it’s a work trip and there’s not time for long, leisurely walks), and one usually ends up in places that one wouldn’t find on a sightseeing walk (not that there *would* be a sightseeing walk in College Station, but that’s another story).

Right before this trip, I was feeling a little fatigued from running, without much motivation for long runs. The Mountains to Sea race wasn’t long – after their 50k was cancelled, I instead ran the 12 mile – but my effort to run fast (which wasn’t very fast…I was a whopping 16+ minutes behind the women’s winner, and another 6 minutes behind the second woman) seemed to have worn me out a bit. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run for more than an hour at a time during my trip, and that this would be a good rest. But I certainly *did* want to run in Florence, especially given that I’d be spending the bulk of my time – all but my first afternoon there – on conference-related activities. So I packed my La Sportiva Fireblades, liking the idea of running in my Italian running shoes while in Italy, and figuring that they’d be cushy enough for roads but also useful on any trails I might encounter.

I planned to run a bit when I arrived early on Thursday afternoon, as a way of resetting my body’s clock after the overnight flight to Europe, and then to run on Friday and Saturday mornings. The civilized starting time for the conference on Friday (10am, very un-American) might even allow for a longer run.

But here was my mistake: I lingered too long at work on the morning of my departure, and so I found myself frantically hurrying to pack my bag. Not wanting to have to make tough decisions about exactly what to pack (or what not to pack), and also thinking about the three flights it would take to get to Florence, I decided to take a slightly larger suitcase, one that was too big to carry on. I might have thought better of this once I got to the airport, where I found out that my original flight was delayed by a couple hours. After about an hour, I was rerouted through DC, bag checked through to Florence. I had a short layover at Dulles, not quite 50 minutes, but certainly enough for my bag and me to make the change.

As it turned out, we were about 20 minutes late arriving at Dulles. I broke into a sprint once off the plane, because I had to change terminals. And then another sprint after the train, up the stairs, and down to the Lufthansa gate, where they were paging me and another passenger (she’d also been on the flight from Raleigh, but I had managed to outrun her. Yes, I was happy with myself for that -- one of those rare times when running is useful in "real life"). I was thrilled that I made it just in time, and also pleased to learn that Lufthansa had my checked bag. And I was happy that I had worn sensible non-running shoes, and that I hadn’t had to sprint through Dulles with my suitcase dragging behind me.

When I arrived in Florence, after a change of planes in Munich, my suitcase was nowhere to be seen. I wasn’t the only one missing bags, so I waited in line to fill in my report. Florence is a small airport, and they have one office that handles all lost luggage, regardless of the airline. And one person working there, it appeared. They couldn’t find the bag anywhere in the computer system, but they assured me that there were three more flights in from Munich that day, and that they’d bring the bag to my hotel.

I headed to my hotel, which was in San Domenico, on the edge of Florence and a 10 minute walk to EUI. I was disappointed not to get in a run, but I walked to the city center, maybe about 3 miles, which was a nice opportunity to get some fresh air (and some gelato). I wandered around various tourist sites, and I bought a couple of shirts and a pair of pants, since I had to go to the first conference dinner that night. Once back at the hotel, I called the luggage office, and I was told that they had no report. I phoned again after dinner but, of course, they were closed by then.

I was beginning to get annoyed:  the downside of the hotel was that it was far from the Duomo, the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio – all the usual Florence tourist stuff. The upside was that it was perhaps a mile or two from the village of Fiesole, near the top of a hill, and apparently with some nice running routes beyond it. On Friday morning, the sun came streaming through the windows of my tiny hotel room, and I really wanted to be out for a run. After breakfast, my phone call to Lost Luggage turned up good news: my bag had been located, and it would arrive on the 12:30pm flight from Munich. They’d send it out with the courier after that. I decided that I’d sneak out of the last session of the conference (we were scheduled to go until 6 or 6:30, also very un-American) and get in a run before dinner. Oh, and that I’d be able to stop wearing the same two sets of clothing (and one pair of socks – ick).

Around 5pm, I happily made my escape, walking a slightly longer way back to campus. I was treated to a view from some of the other buildings at EUI. EUI is housed in a collection of villas – really fabulous, and some great views both of the hills in Tuscany and of the city of Florence. I can see why people like to spend time there! But the news at the hotel wasn’t good – no sign of the bag. Another call to Lost Luggage yielded the news that, yes, the bag was in Florence but, no, the courier hadn’t yet left with it. I begged the nice woman to send my bag (why didn’t I just go to the airport to collect it myself?), and she promised that it would arrive by 8pm. Of course, our dinner was at 7:30, so I just had to trust them.
In the meantime, I took the bus up the hill to Fiesole, where I had an hour or so to wander around. I went to the ruins of an Etruscan amphitheater, and then up a steep hill to a great lookout and a monastery. And then I wandered down a steep series of back roads, the other way back to San Domenico. If I couldn’t run, at least I could get a bit of a sightseeing walk.

If you’ve read this far, maybe you can guess what happened on Friday night: a late return to the hotel  (with a belly full of pasta, chianti and biscotti), no bag, further annoyance. No Thursday afternoon run, no Friday run (did I mention that Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky?), and no Saturday morning run. By this stage, I was beginning to wonder if my bag would arrive before it was time to fly home. On the one hand, I was happy to know that it had been found (I would have hated to lose my Garmin, my Lululemon running clothes, and everything else in that bag); on the other hand, it was almost more annoying – It was in Florence, but it wasn’t with me. And I was realizing that, as much as I don’t consider myself much of a materialist, I’m attaching to my running stuff, and I’m not one for wearing the same clothes over and over and over.

Saturday morning brought what may have been the best exchange of all with Lost Luggage: they said, yes, my bag had been there since yesterday. And, yes, they had given it to the courier, around 9pm Friday night (later than they said they would, but whatever). And, yes, the courier had the address of the hotel, and he would bring it. Sometime. Wait, he’s had the bag for 12 hours, and this doesn’t worry you, and I’m supposed to be ok with it too? She explained that the courier’s contract requires him to drop a bag off within 24 hours after it’s given to him. So, yes, while the bag had hit Florence at 1pm Friday, it was completely acceptable for it not to get to me until Saturday at 9pm (after I finish this post, do I have the energy to write a whinging letter to Lufthansa?). After some begging, pleading and fibbing (“I’m leaving the hotel at noon today”), I extracted a promise of a noon dropoff. And, when I called the hotel from the conference, just after noon, I found out that yes, finally, the bag had arrived. Less than 24 hours before I was to leave Italy, and definitely a bit worse for the wear, but still, it was there.

So, after all of this, I once again ducked out of the conference early. I headed out for a run around 6:45pm, with lots of light left, and another clear blue sky. I ran up the road in San Domenico, past EUI, and then took the turnoff for the Vecchio, the back way up to Fiesole. Wow, what a climb – slow and unrelenting, a very narrow road, lots of villas up the hillside. I managed to run all of the way up, but I was worn out only a mile and a half in. But I was also so happy to be running – the addict, getting a little fix, and with fabulous views to boot. Through Fiesole, then just guessing about where to go, after I realized that the runs to the other villages would take too long. After I passed through town, I saw a turnoff for a “forest park” (as well as for something Olympics-related, but I never figured out what that was). I ran through a school, and then onto a wide path into Parco di Montececeri. I have no idea how large or small this park is, but it featured some double and single track trail, often rocky and rooty, with more climbing, views out to all sides, and some rock formations, I did a loop almost all the way around, then popped out on the other side of the park.

I began to head down the hill, then realized I had no idea where I was going. I used my four words of Italian to get directions from locals, and then enjoyed the downhill run back through Fiesole, and then on down the main road back toward Florence. The sun was setting over the city and the green hills. Wisteria was in bloom, peeking out from the walls of some of the villas. A perfect way to end the day. I saw some of the conference group halfway down the road, at Le Lance, the site for that night’s dinner (I turned up about an hour late, but didn’t miss much dinner, since the dinner seemed to be about a dozen courses – and very yummy too. I didn’t say no to any dessert while in Italy, and Italian coffee – the coffee itself plus the way its done – is great). I carried on down to the hotel, perhaps a total of 8 miles, and such a wonderful run. I was sad that it was to be my only run – so much to explore in those hills beyond Fiesole – but also thrilled to finally get out for it. My body and my mind need to run, no doubt about it.

And at dinner, I think that the rest of the group was thrilled that I was finally wearing clean clothes.   And next time I fly to Europe and want to check a bag, I will. (Although maybe not next time I go to Italy!). But I’m putting the running shoes and running clothes in my carry on. Showing up a bit crumpled and disheveled to an academic conference is ok. But not having the option to run is not.

Unrelated: check out this hairdo, on a US Airways agent in Frankfurt. It almost didn’t seem real.

No comments:

Post a Comment