As the train pulled up in Florence, a number of people gathered near the doors to hop on, and when it was our turn, the lady in front of Ginny (who looked really quite normal) turned around and helped her to lift her suitcase up the two steps onto the train. Then, when it was my turn, the guy -who was clearly with the lady-grabbed my suitcase and popped it up the two stairs. We didn't think anything of it - it's something we'd happily do for fellow travelers - but they followed us to our seats and then demanded payment. We begrudgingly gave them a euro each, but they seemed to think that 5 euros each was more appropriate. We had to tell them no quite firmly before they'd go away. ... Lesson learned, I guess. I'd heard that you shouldn't accept help at the train stations, but I thought that applied to buying tickets, etc.
After we got to Rome, we had a few hours to kill, and with very few places to sit around the station, we decided to head over to the McDonald's across the street. I immediately got into the line for the loo, only to to discover that it was a unisex bathroom, with only one functioning toilet. In addition to what I'm discovering is the norm around here for public toilets (there is no seat on it and no TP available), this one also had the distinction of being the dirtiest toilet I've encountered on this trip - and that says a lot. Thankfully, my hovering skills are getting pretty darned good - and I've learned not to go anywhere without a wad of TP or a couple of napkins in my pocket. I've got to say, though, that even having gotten that over with, we didn't stay long. It was the dirtiest McDonald's that I've ever seen, and we were pestered by beggars every minute or so. If that is any indication of what Rome is like, I'm glad we decided to limit our visit to the duration of the train transfer.
We arrived in Cassino about 2:00. Although we're here to see the cemetery in Cassino,the B&B is in Mont Cassino, which is up a very steep hill or small mountain. A taxi driver arrived before too long and we hopped in. Right away, when we told him where we were going, he tried to suggest another hotel. Over and over, he tried to direct us elsewhere, but I thought he'd get some sort of kickback for referrals and said no. I said we had a reservation and said we only wanted to go to that one B&B I regretted that a lot once we arrived.
The front desk was empty when we went in, and the place was super-quiet, like it had been deserted. we called out, walked around a bit, then waited for a while with no luck. Finally, when we were starting to have visions of dragging our luggage back down the hill, we heard a child laughing and followed the noise. There was a man there with his kids, and we asked him for help. He didn't speak any English, but thank God he spoke French. It wasn't easy, (I haven't really spoken French for almost 20 years) but I managed to stumble my way through. He told me that the place was closed, and that the administrators wouldn't be around until tomorrow. Sonofabitch.
We went back and forth a few times - it turns out that he lives there with about 15 others who rent rooms as apartments. It's only the unrented suites that are used for the B&B. Finally, after much discussion (he couldn't seem to grasp that we didn't have a phone) he called the owner for us, and she showed up after about half an hour. No apology was given. She didn't speak English either, but seemed to understand limited French. She didn't believe that we had a reservation, and kept flipping around her blank calendar to prove it, until we showed her a copy of our confirmation email. With her speaking Italian and me speaking my broken French, we managed to work out which room we would get, got her to call for a taxi to pick us up the next morning at 9 and then she left.
We had no phone, no internet (or so little internet that it wasn't worth trying) and nothing really to do way up on top of this mountain. It was a nice change after all the crowds, but it was also a bit of a shock. And, truth be told, the place kind of gave me the creeps. It seemed like the Italian version of the Bates Motel. Nothing seemed to work; the bulbs in all the lights were broken or missing, it was eerily quiet and it was dirty. I wasn't very happy.... I tried to think positive, by focusing on the view and quiet, but that took a while before helping me to reign in the crank.
The guy we'd encountered earlier told us about a restaurant that was a reasonable walking distance and price, so we went for a bit of a walk and then headed over there. The food was actually really good, and since this was the first menu we've seen that was entirely Italian, a bit of a guessing game. The bread that they served at the start of dinner was probably the best we've had so far, and we followed that by calzones. I thought mine was going to have a bunch of peppers and some mushrooms, but I ended up getting 3-4 cheeses with a spicing salami -definitely not what I expected, but it was good. Sometime down the road, I might try to recreate it.
After dinner, we walked our way back up the hill and settled in for the night. Ginny took the separate room, and I took the cot in the living room. Frankly, I felt as though I was being watched the entire time (even with the blinds closed) so I couldn't decide if I wanted the lights on - it seemed too creepy to turn them off - or if darkness would make it harder for anybody to watch me. I ended up opting for dark, but got next to no sleep. I wasn't sad to leave in the morning at all.
Having said all that, it's hard to justify bitching while in Italy, so I'll post some pictures I took. The view really was pretty.
... speaking of the morning... this is what we found in the shower.