Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Black Sea 2007, Day 1 - July 29/30

This is something different and new. I’ll be adding my blog to http://dabea.blogspot.com and my video blog (which should start soon) and blog to http:/www.brianraynes.com. You may view it as you like. Hopefully this works! Enjoy!

Today has been an interesting day, or rather, the last couple of days have been REALLY interesting.

Lindsay dropped me off at Logan Airport for me to get on my non-stop flight from Boston to Milan. I took off on July 29th and landed in Italy on July 30th (Red-eye’s are SO much fun!). My flight was fine: After 7 hours, on the nose, I landed in Italy. Getting through customs was tricky, as it always is. But, there was one aspect of my trip that was definitely unique: The baggage carousel. After years of traveling and waiting for my checked luggage to arrive, I finally had an experience where all three of my bags came out at once, and TOGETHER! What made it even better, was that I had to pick up the bags from my bosses previous flight, where Alitalia lost his luggage, and it too arrived DIRECTLY after mine! Definitely my lucky day.

Even though I landed in Milan, I was still two and a half hours drive from La Spezia, where the NATO ship the RV Alliance was docked. Sure, there were trains that could’ve taken me, but with 7 pieces of luggage (I was carrying a lot of equipment that got shipped late) I didn’t want to be schlepping that around on a train. Instead, IFE rented a car for me. A Fiat Panda! Don’t let the name fool you, this was a Multi-jet Diesel humdinger of a machine. It was a four-door hatchback that had a folding rear bench that allowed plenty of room for my (and consequently, my bosses’) luggage.

Driving in Italy was nothing different from driving in any other new city for me. Sure, I didn’t recognize a thing, but I was able to get through with my trusty map and GPS. Ah, what did Christopher Columbus do without a GPS unit? He and his crew probably got lost a lot and almost died of scurvy! But besides that, I learned one valuable lesson: You do NOT want to be driving through Milan’s motorways on a Monday, during 9 am traffic!

Once I found the port where the RV Alliance was stationed, I knew I was half way there. Sure, I was in La Spezia, but I have no IDEA where the ship is. Imagine a facility filled with shipping containers 50’ long, 10’ high and wide, stacked 10 containers high. This wasn’t going to be easy. Between my broken Italian (which stinks, by the way) and some brain cells from my previous French and Spanish Classes, I was able to convince the Port Authority: 1. I wasn’t a terrorist and 2. I really needed to get on my ship. After some pantomime and destroying the Italian language, I called my Italian guide from aboard the RV Alliance. He had it sorted in short order.

Once I was parked next to gang-plank, I hauled my luggage to my stateroom. It turns out the bunking arrangements were not as I had been originally told: Yes, there are quite a few single berths, but I was not getting one of them. Sigh.

After I parked my car, I headed for lunch. Now, as I’ve told some of you before, we’re used to buffet style eating: Stand in line, grab what you want to eat, and follow the old Maritime adage: “Eat it and beat it!”. Typically there aren’t enough seats to seat every crew member, if they decided to eat at the same time, so people tend to eat in shifts. Now, the big difference here, is the fact it’s not buffet style, there’s actually a steward who takes an order from you, and let me tell you: The food was EXCELLENT! And, oh by the way, they have TWO Cappuccino and Espresso makers (just in case one breaks down, I guess). I better not get TOO used to this!

After finishing my lunch I was told the unfortunate news: NOTHING about this trip has been going correctly. The shipper for the packages that didn’t make it on board the shipping containers says the package arrived in Italy. The Italian shipping/receiving agent we’ve been using, tells us he can’t find the packages. Oh, boy! AND, the satellite van has been mounted on board the ship, but unfortunately they haven’t brought the shipping, tool, control and imaging van over, because they are buried on the container ship that brought them over the Atlantic Ocean. By the way, there was a catastrophe where 26 shipping containers fell over and were damaged. We’ve been TOLD none of them were our vans. I guess we find out tomorrow! I know I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Because of a problem moving the shipping containers form the receiving section of the port, we need to move our ship to a more secure location, which happens to be one of Italy’s Navy Bases in La Spezia. What I don’t get is that our current location is directly NEXT to the receiving section of the port and where we’re moving to is directly across the bay. How is it better to move the containers 3 miles around the bay, instead of 50 feet around a barricade? I don’t get it.

I had to bring back my rental car, as I didn’t need it anymore. I took the car over at 3, since the ship was moving at 5. Plenty of time, right? Two hours? WRONG! It seems that EuropCar takes their siesta from noon to four. Which means I have 30 minutes to check my car back in, and RUN to catch my ship, before they raise the gang plank. Great.

Don’t worry. I made it.