Having not slept a wink all night, I finally got up at 3:30AM out of sheer frustration. I showered and got ready for the busy travel day ahead. I checked out of the hotel and waited in the lobby for the taxi that was to arrive at 4:45AM to take me to Heathrow Terminal 5, the hub of British Airways. The flight to Pisa, Italy was scheduled for departure at the ungodly hour of 7:05AM. Having not slept at all the night before I now felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Having a sleep disorder, I don’t do well with lost or interrupted sleep; it has always been a problem for me, especially when travelling internationally. I also missed breakfast (never a good thing) as I had to leave before the hotel dining room opened for the day.
At Heathrow, Terminal 5
The taxi arrived at the hotel right on time at 4:45, and I was greeted by a very pleasant and kind driver who delivered me to Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in about 15 minutes.
I was a little early so I had to wait for the check-in kiosks to open, but I eventually got checked in, then passed through Security without a hitch. There were lots of interesting shops once I passed through Security, but I didn’t feel much like shopping at that hour of the day:
British Airways Conflict
Despite my raw, rattled and jet-lagged state from a sleepless night, it was all going quite well – that is until I hit the boarding gate. To make a long story short, British Airways staff would not allow me to take my rolling camera case (containing all my precious, beloved camera equipment) on as a carry-on piece, despite it being well under the British Airways size requirement (in fact, I had spent weeks tracking down and purchasing specific luggage that was sized well under the BA maximum allowed size for carry-on). Talking to three different agents, I explained the necessity to take my camera gear on board – it didn’t matter: they were holding firm and having none of it. I was therefore forced to check my camera gear in the hold – that’s right, my precious, fragile, expensive camera gear went into the cargo hold; every photographer’s worst nightmare.
Muttering that I will NEVER EVER EVER fly British Airways again, I reluctantly surrendered my camera rolling bag and stomped on board to my seat. Well, there goes years of gear acquisition and any future photography, I thought to myself. At this point I was sleepless, jet lagged, frazzled, still hungry and *extremely* pissed off – not a great start to the trip. [I think it’s worthy of mention at this juncture that I hate British Airways with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Every time I fly with them something inevitably goes wrong – like this – ending in a bad scene.]
Onward to Pisa, Italy!
The flight to Pisa was uneventful in itself, and we arrived slightly behind schedule at 10:40AM (we were scheduled for 10:15). I passed through Security without incident and proceeded to the baggage claim, all the while keeping an eye out for the other tour participants who were to be on the same flight. My bags all arrived intact (and surprisingly so did my camera gear in the rolling case I was forced to check), so I proceeded out to the Arrivals hall of the airport. Our tour leader Phil was there to meet me and the others from the same flight, waving his Light & Land sign. I met the rest of my British tour mates I was to spend the next week with – Carmel, John, Louise and Ted. We loaded up our suitcases and camera gear in the van and took off. I can confirm the rumour that there are some very winding, twisty and bumpy roads from Pisa to the heart of Tuscany!
It took about two and a half hours to reach the Hotel Casanova just outside the village of San Quirico d’Orcia. Despite my severe lack of sleep and jet lag, it was a very interesting and relaxing journey; I was mesmerized and soothed by the unfolding beauty of the Tuscan countryside, and started to feel much better as time went on.
We reached the hotel, unloaded our bags and brought them into the hotel’s Reception area. Two of our rooms were still not ready (mine and Teds’), so Ted, Carmel and myself went next door to the Ristorante La Taverna Del Barbarossa (or just Barbarossa as it came to be known) restaurant next door to the hotel to have a light lunch (salad, bread).
The last two hotel rooms were finally ready, so I went to my room (#123) to unpack and settle in. Opening the door I was surprised and impressed to find a split-level room with the bed up in a loft:
A small but full kitchen was hidden behind a couple of folding panels:
The bathroom was upstairs in the loft area:
… And, the room had a very cute walk-out terrace with tiled floor and a chair/table set:
Oh, it’s going to be a rough week ahead 😉
There would no photography today as it was a travel day, and rest was much-needed for our busy week ahead. We had a bit of time, therefore, to unpack and settle into our rooms.
Our group met at about 4:00, and we piled into the van for a trip into San Quirico d’Orcia to get food provisions from the Coop (supermarket) there. Luckily we all had fridges in our room so were able to stock up on any items requiring refrigeration.
After leaving the Coop supermarket with our provisions we returned to the hotel to enjoy an hour or so of free time. At about 6:00PM we all met in the hotel bar and gathered round for a welcome talk from our awesome leader, Phil. Our agenda was set out and we discussed various things such as our expectations of the tour, our camera equipment, other Light & Land photography tours we’d attended, and basically any other tour-related items which came up.
Evening Meal: My First Tuscany Food Experience
At 7:30PM we went out for our evening group meal at Ristorante La Taverna Del Barbarossa, located beside the hotel. I had Insalata Mista (mixed green salad), Verdure Fritte (baked vegetables), and Barbarossa Pomodoro Mozzarelli Salame Picante Cipolea (which was most definitely the most delicious pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life). Utterly delicious; a fine meal and good time was enjoyed by all. We lingered for a long time over our meal (as is the Italian custom) and got to know each other a little better. The length and pace of the day eventually started to show on everyone, so we finished up and left the restaurant around 10:00PM.
Before leaving the restaurant the next morning’s shooting was discussed. Tomorrow morning we will meet at 5:15AM for a dawn shoot of the beautiful Val d’Orcia region, which is conveniently located behind the hotel. With that, everyone turned in for the evening, tired but excited and optimistic for the week ahead.