Monday, October 3, 2011

Arrivederci Roma-It's Been Fabulous!

Ceiling in the Vatican museum

Tuesday, May 31, 2011:

Last night (over a final bottle of regional house wine), we relished in reliving our Italian adventure. Gathering our thoughts, we collaborated in consideration of a variety of questions:

1) What are we looking forward to when we return to our beloved U. S. A.?
  • Not being followed and harassed by street vendors (not that we ever felt unsafe, but it could become annoying at times)
  • Really hot water for hand washing in public restrooms
  • Normal size soap
  • Having toilet seats
  • Not using a converter for electricity
  • American money
  • American language
  • Being in familiar territory
  • Driving our cars
  • Familiar brands of coffee
  • American yogurt
  • Using our own cell phones without having to think about country codes
  • Catching up on our favorite television shows that have been DVR'd
  • Seeing television in English besides perpetually repeated segments from CNN and Fox News
  • Family-especially not being so far away from them that it would be difficult to get to them in an emergency
  • Being with our husbands in our normal routines, including watching a weekend movie together
  • Sleeping in our very own comfy beds
2) What will be miss about Italy?
  • Gigantic, colorful hydrangeas in Sorrento, Capri and Positano
  • Huge oranges and lemons in Sorrento and Capri
  • Spectacular scenery in Capri and Ana Capri
  • Heavy doses of culture and ancient history in Florence and Rome
  • Great shoe shopping
  • Amazing Italian food including, but not limited to: fresh vegetables, herbs, basil, fabulous Roma/plum tomatoes, homemade pasta, croissants that are fluffy and not greasy, ravioli with spinach and ricotta, fresh mozzarella, lighter sauce--no paste used in preparation, lighter pizza and sandwiches that don't make you feel overstuffed, and delicious local/regional house wines
  • Ciro, our hero
  • The many nice people we met from all over the world (but not the rude ones)
  • Sleek Italian clothing
  • Plethora of outdoor cafes
  • Long string of bright, sunny days and crisp, clear evenings
  • Each other, as we sincerely enjoyed our time together as a group. We were a solid travel team, and many times we needed all four of our brains to figure out what we were doing!
3) What would we have done differently if we knew then what we know now?
  • Be absolutely determined to find a way to pack less clothing. (Example--purchase something at our destination if needed, but don't feel as though we must pack for every possible weather condition from balmy heat to an Alp-like snowstorm. Bring travel-friendly clothing that can be washed and worn again if touring for an extensive period of time. Hotel laundry service works just fine also!) Never forget the difficulty of trying to navigate the trains with heavy luggage. Finding benevolent, hulky strangers to lift luggage is not always in the cards. Many actually seem to find humor in observing the struggle.
  • Bring more: Kleenex, wash cloths, normal size soap, hair conditioner, as these are scarce
  • Before leaving the U. S., purchase quality, detailed maps printed in fonts that don't require a magnifying glass to read. Locate our hotels on those maps so we are armed with accurate starting points. This will save considerable time and frustration in another foreign country!
Our departure from Italy:

Summy called a taxi for us, and we reminded him that we were four people with mucho luggage. As previously mentioned, there are no Lincoln Navigators, GMC Yukons, or Chevy Tahoes to be found because they simply wouldn't be able to manage the ultra-narrow streets. We had hoped that forewarning the driver might result in his bringing us the largest possible vehicle.

To transport our luggage from the second floor to the street level, we sent Sharon down in the small lift elevator with any luggage that would fit, which wasn't very much at one time. Next, I came down with as much as the lift would hold, then Laura did the same, and Marianne with the final balance of our belongings.

The taxi arrived and our first visual indicated that it would be far too small for all of us, but the driver was adept at maneuvering and was bound and determined to make this work. Most items were stored in the rear, with two carry-ons and one large suitcase placed in the front passenger seat next to the driver. That left all four women to squeeze (and I do mean squeeze) into the tiny back seat. We each turned somewhat sideways to fit all of our rear ends in, and we were thankful that it wasn't a lengthy ride. We were just a little too close for comfort.

Arriving at the airport, I said goodbye to the girls, as they were flying Delta and I was on US Air. I kept thinking about how beautifully we all got along during the trip. No one was difficult, whiny or a pain in the neck. Everyone was considerate, and all of these ladies were the most pleasant traveling companions one could hope to find.

This is where I discovered that I really do appreciate that Fred had persistently tried and succeeded in upgrading me to first class on this return flight. I marched over to US Air's check-in area, and there were only two people ahead of me in line, as opposed to the throngs of people gathered in the other line.

At this point, my passport was checked and I was given a declaration form. Then I was sent to the actual check-in area for US Air. Once again, the first class line was almost non-existent so I zipped right through, depositing my two excruciatingly heavy bags and obtaining my boarding pass. I moved along to security, and once again there was a special line for first class, which was super short. I then boarded the shuttle to Terminal G and had been given a special pass for the VIP lounge, so I went there to use the restroom and then nibble on a tasty croissant.

This lounge was quite populated, but I sat there catching up on my journal writing and then thought I'd venture out to the main waiting area and see if I could find the girls at their gate. I found their flight on the screen and determined which gate they would be leaving from, and just as I arrived at their gate, the sign changed to Hong Kong! I realized that I had gotten there just a few seconds too late to say goodbye to them one more time in the land of Italia, where we had created so many fond memories.

My flight was delayed by an hour, and by the time we finally boarded, it was probably even longer. I was hoping this would not jeopardize making my connection in Charlotte. Only time would tell.

I chatted during the flight with a nice young woman who works for the United Nations. She was from Barcelona, but lived in Rome. It was interesting to hear about her life in Europe. She said that flights are so inexpensive within the European countries, she can easily live in Rome and fly to Barcelona for the weekend as often as she chooses.

A nice meal was served during the flight, and then I promptly fell asleep. Once again, I hoped that in my state of exhaustion, I would refrain from snoring or drooling.

As we were on our descent into Charlotte, there was an announcement that we would need to complete our customs declaration forms and that we would be claiming our luggage in the Charlotte terminal even if we had a connecting flight. There would be no automatic transfer of checked luggage to our final destinations since Charlotte was the first entry point into the United States for us.

This development momentarily concerned me, as I would be dealing with two carry-ons, one HEAVY suitcase and one additional rolling bag. My hope was that they had found a way to make this process as painless as possible, and my wish came true. In the area for claiming baggage, they offered an ample supply of luggage carts to use at no charge. I marched over and grabbed one right away. When my luggage arrived, I took a deep breath and arranged my belongings onto the cart (which would barely move since it was so loaded down) and proceeded to the checkpoint. I was almost alarmed about whether or not I would reach that connecting flight on time.

Breezing through the customs checkpoint, the next area I encountered was for re-checking luggage to the next destination. Everything was handled quickly and efficiently. Before I knew it, I was at the gate for my Myrtle Beach flight and even had the opportunity to dash into the ladies' room before boarding. Whew! That was one huge relief.

The short flight to Myrtle Beach gave me a few minutes to reflect on how blessed I am to have had this amazing travel opportunity with these three awesome friends. It almost seems like a lovely dream with a backdrop of some of the most superb scenery imaginable. I also thought about Liz and once again prayed that she would soon be healthy and raring to go.

What countries will be next on our list for exploration? Stay tuned! We're thinking London and Paris, but it won't be right away since we'll need time to replenish our travel funds.

In the interim, please continue to view this site for some interesting tidbits about travel in our own treasured United States of America; however, we will forever remember great times in Florence, Sorrento and Rome!!!

Ah, lovely Florence!

We'll have a special place in our hearts for Sorrento!

And finally, a fond farewell to romantic Roma! Yes, we really did miss those husbands of ours. You guys are the best!!

See you in Paris!