Monday, June 13, 2011

And so we came to Rome...

L-R: Laura, Sharon, Marianne, Mary Anne
May 16, 2011:

Fred brought me to the airport at Myrtle Beach and made sure all is in order. He is very concerned about the fact that my luggage is of a back-wrenching weight. He had upgraded my seat to first class, even though I insisted that it wasn't necessary. He was incredibly sweet, saying that I would arrive far more rested after stretching out in one of those big, recliner-type seats rather than spending eight flying hours with my knees next to my chin. He is such a gem.

The flight from Myrtle Beach to Charlotte is just long enough to become airborne and before you know it, you are descending into Charlotte. I allowed plenty of time between flights in case there was some issue with the MB-Charlotte flight being delayed or even canceled so I have a lot of time to kill in Charlotte. Because I am flying first class, I was able to access the US Airways Club lounge, which is a much nicer location for visiting the restroom and sitting around reading. It is fairly quiet in there unless you have someone seated next to you who is on a lengthy cell phone conversation. Why do people think they have to shout when they are using a cell phone? The chairs are plush leather and very comfortable so I enjoyed my time in there. They also have monitors for all of the flights, so I see that mine has been delayed by at least an hour. I received a voice mail with this information as well.

Our good friend, Joe, is flying into Charlotte from NY. He will be staying at our house for a few days while I am away. I checked to see where he will be arriving and went to his gate to say hello. We chatted and I walked him to his next gate for his Charlotte-MB flight. We visited for a while, and then it occurred to me that I should check the monitors again. Sure enough, they have altered my flight time again. It is not as long a delay as they had originally said. It pays to keep a close eye on those monitors!

Our flight is now in the air, headed across the Atlantic to Rome, and I am getting very excited. They served a surprisingly tasty dinner and people have begun to settle in to read or sleep. I'm too wound up to sleep just yet, so I chatted with a nice young man seated next to me. Unfortunately for him, he is a captive audience unless he feigns sleep. He tells me about his family, his job, and the reason for his trip, and I tell him that I help people write their life stories by teaching workshops and working with individuals to capture their memories to share with future generations. He can't believe what I have just told him, as he had recently told his wife that he needed to preserve his grandfather's story. I offered to email him a list of questions that he can use to prompt his grandfather's memories, and he seems genuinely appreciative. It's what I love to do. Next, I visit the restroom and remove my contact lenses for the duration of the flight. This way I can close my eyes and completely conk out.

Everyone eventually falls asleep, including my seat partner and me. One strange thought entering my mind before I drift off to dreamland is that this is a very long flight, much of which is over a very large body of water. There is no place for an emergency landing, unless it's like Captain Solly Sollenberger in the Hudson. I musn't think those thoughts. The fate of this flight is not in my hands, but in much Higher Hands!

May 17, 2011:

Hours later, and it is actually the next day due to the time difference, all of the lights in the cabin are turned on and it is time to be served breakfast before we arrive in Rome. I fold the blanket I've been sleeping under, gather some belongings from the overhead bin, and go into the restroom at the front of the first class cabin. I am so prepared. I have brought a complete change of clothing, toothbrush, toothpaste, deoderant, hair brush and spray, and I am ready to freshen up so I don't enter Rome feeling funky. US Airways actually gave us a little gift--a small bag with similar items, but I'll tuck that away for a later date. I wasn't aware in advance of their generosity.

When I exit the restroom, there is a long line that has formed--no doubt everyone needed to visit the facilities after awakening. I feel somewhat guilty that I've taken so long in there, but I do feel far more like tackling breakfast and the next part of our journey since I am refreshed.

As we leave the cabin, a woman who is accompanied by her husband and two grown children is talking very excitedly about this being her first trip to Italy, and her enthusiasm is contagious.

And so we came to Rome...Acts 24:18b (NIV)

We must go through a checkpoint before we can access baggage claim. There are two lines--one quite long and one relatively short. No one seems to know where we are going, and just before reaching the guard who will check our passports, I see a sign that indicates this shorter line is for European nationals and the longer line is for non-European nationals. Oh well...I figure if they want to kick us out of this line and send us to the other, they won't be shy about saying so. They are patient, however, and let me through along with the other Americans who were behind me in line. Duh! Now I know what to look for.

Next was a train ride to baggage claim. Laura, Marianne and Sharon have arrived about two and a half hours ahead of me, so I am anxious to connect with them. I proceed to baggage claim, look all around at the sea of faces while I wait for the arrival of my luggage, but see no one who is remotely familiar. Nor can I understand a word of what is being said all around me in various languages!

My sixty-six pound suitcase arrives, and thank goodness it has wheels. I am managing it without too much difficulty. It must be those shoes and cosmetics weighing it down. I also have one carry on bag plus a tote bag that I bought for $5.00 in Charlotte to lighten the load in my carry on. This $5.00 acquisition enabled me to place my handbag in there, along with some items from the carry on to keep me from walking sideways from the imbalanced state I was in. Best $5.00 I have ever spent.

Hmmm...I'm looking all around into a sea of strange faces and don't see the girls anywhere. Where could they be? For just a brief moment, I feel slight panic. I'm in a foreign country, everything around me is chaotic, and I have no idea what all of the jibberish is that is being uttered around me. I can't just hail a cab and go to our hotel because we are going to catch a train to Florence as soon as we connect with each other. This is getting slightly unnerving.

I take a deep breath, move over to the side of the room...away from the crush of human traffic and luggage going by, and retrieve my World Mobal phone. What were those crazy dialing instructions? Will I even have service on this phone in this location? Is it reliable? Were we crazy to plan this on our own? Marianne and Laura have traveled to Paris and Venice before, and Sharon has been to Ireland. I've traveled extensively throughout the U. S., but the only foreign lands I've ever been in were Canada, Mexico, Grand Cayman, Bermuda and Jamaica. What if I can't find them or reach them by phone? Do we even know what to expect without a tour guide to direct us?

I recall the dialing instructions and punch in the number for Sharon's cell. "Hello," I hear my friend say. Whew! What a relief! She tells me that they had exited the area after claiming their luggage. They wanted to get a bite to eat and then couldn't re-enter the baggage claim area. She puts Laura on the phone to direct me to a location where we can meet. Now we're talking!! I follow her directions and wait and wait, walking around, checking the faces to see if I can spot the two sisters, Laura and Marianne, and my friend of over thirty years, Sharon. Just when I was beginning to feel uneasy again, I spotted Laura and Marianne, giving them a huge hug. I was so happy to see them. Sharon had walked to another part of the room to look for me, but we found her, hugged, and scooted our luggage outside to begin our trek to Florence.

There is supposed to be a special train just outside Fiumicino Airport, also known as Leonardo da Vinci Airport, that takes travelers directly to Termini train station. We never even saw this aforementioned train, so we opted for a taxi to take us to Termini. We are beyond ready to tackle this Italian adventure, which will begin with our train ride to Florence--that is, whenever this taxi actually delivers us to Termini.

Stay tuned for the next segment!

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