My wife, Jaclyn, and I are French enthusiasts, or Francophiles, as well as avid travelers. We love to travel all over the U.S. and Europe. We haven’t made it yet to Asia or South America, but with a little help from our friends, namely those of Brazilian and Chinese descent, we plan to make the leap out of our comfort zone.
In the first half of last year, we took in a Broadway show in New York City, went antiquing in Camden Passage in London, we celebrated my birthday in Paris, and we lounged on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea under the white peaks at Forte dei Marmi. We saw a lot last year, but prominent among our favorites had to be Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost village of the Cinque Terre. Don’t get me wrong, we love France, but Italy, specifically the area around Florence and Pisa, is such a pleasant place to visit. The pasta is always perfect, the wine is always delightful (and not expensive), and the weather is usually amazing.
When we were in Paris last year, it rained and rained, so arriving in sunny Tuscany was a welcome change. Navigating the Italian train system is never easy. Not being a student of Italian (I’ve put all my energy into learning French), it’s a memorization game to guess what the signs mean in the train stations—and forget about the train schedules! Although trains tend to run on time (at least in our experience), it would help to know the word for Departures and the word for Arrivals, as they are two different schedules on two different boards in the station and you could easily find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks if you’re not careful.
Our path to the Cinque Terre started at Paris’ Orly Airport, early one rainy morning. As the taxi driver sailed down the slick autoroute from Denfert-Rochereau at 130 kilometres (82 mph), I learned for myself how to tell the driver to slow down. After some mild snafus with regard to having over weight bags and finding our way to the Easy Jet counter, we finally landed in sunny Pisa. From Pisa, we made our way to La Spezia and finally to Monterosso. When we arrived at our hotel, we were delighted to find a darling 3 room inn, hosted by a kind older gentleman and his daughter, neither of whom spoke any English. For a while, he would call his son, whose English was not much better than his, but we understood each other.
After some phone calls and passing the phone back and forth—and a lot of miming—the all-important question finally came out, “parlez-vous français?”
“Oui. Bien-sûr, Monsieur.”
Once we discovered we shared a common language (French), communication was much easier. His French was not much better than mine, so there was still some pantomime, but there was no more need for telephone calls to his son.