I try to take the train to Pisa airport from Bagni di Lucca, a 20-minute drive from my village of Casabasciana. But a train journey that takes 1 hour and 15 minutes at 8.12 in the morning, takes 3 hours at noon because there’s a two-hour layover at Lucca. So this morning I drove to the airport along the Serchio River valley. Bamboo has colonised much neglected land around Lucca, especially in stream and river valleys. This appears to be generally a good thing, since strong, tall bamboo canes are needed to support tomato plants, of which there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, including the canestrini, a knobbly variety found only in Lucca province. At first I found a good, accessible stand of bamboo along the road to Bagni di Lucca in the Lima valley. But now that more and more strangers are invading the area (including me), the old-timers are erecting fences, and last summer the track to the bamboo was blocked by a chain. I found another really good stand on the Serchio flood plain along the road to Lucca. This morning as I passed, bulldozers were busy clearing the whole stretch. It looked naked in the bright sunlight.
When you get to Lucca, you have to know you follow the green autostrada signs to ‘Firenze’ and ‘Genova’. There is not a single indication anywhere around Lucca that there is an airport only half an hour away at Pisa. I put this down to ancient animosity between the two cities. When getting on the autostrada you follow signs to Livorno which lead you, almost accidentally, to the airport on the way. To get to the centre of Pisa, you take the airport off-ramp, drive through the airport and out again, following signs saying ‘PIsa’ followed by a bull’s-eye denoting the city centre. Woe betide anyone who exits at Pisa Nord, thinking they’ll be at the airport or the Leaning Tower. Think again! I wonder whether those who program GPS systems have got this one right. I won’t even attempt to tell you how to find your way back to Lucca.
At the airport there’s a long-stay car park, but low rates only kick in after the first 7 or 8 days, during which you pay the same rate as the short-stay car park; last time I looked it was €15 per day. Much better is Park to Fly, on the wrong side of the tracks from the airport. You follow signs to ‘Chericoni’, who were the previous owners. It only costs €8 a day, even for just one day, with a free shuttle service to and from the airport. On a warm, sunny day like today, now that baggage surcharges have disencumbered us of large suitcases, it’s a nice 10-minute walk. Book on line at www.parktofly.it.
Today I go straight through security to the departure lounge, remembering to remove Renato’s sausages from my bag and put them in a separate plastic tray. Last time they set the x-ray machine off, being the culinary equivalent of hand cream. The lounge is nearly empty. Everyone must be out doing their Christmas shopping. British Airways announces boarding for their flight to Heathrow, departing before my EasyJet flight to Gatwick. One couple walks up to show their boarding passes. A few minutes later a single young man rushes up. Shortly after him a woman with a child and baby in a push chair arrive at the desk. Increasingly frequent calls in Italian and English announce the imminent departure of the BA flight. Another couple saunters up. Then a group of four immaculately dressed Italian businessmen, including one sporting shades, who could be a pop singer or actor, plus one stylish young woman. Now an announcement naming three missing passengers. Someone comes back from the plane having found one of the missing persons. In the end I count 17 adults, 1 child and a baby. If you want to avoid the crush of Ryanair and EasyJet, fly BA — if they’re not on strike already.