San Gimignano

San Gimignano
Beautiful city of San Gimignano, where we spent last Sunday afternoon.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Italia- #1 Post Traveling to Italy

I have arrived in Italy.  Actually I arrived a week ago.  My intention to keep family and (interested) friends supplied with timely updates hasn't worked out smoothly yet :-)  I'll get there in my own good (retired and lazy) time though!

I spent about six weeks staying with my Dad in Fayette, taking care of odds and ends with the house in Winfield, visiting with family and friends and just generally tying up as many loose ends as I could before leaving the country.  It was good to have that much time to just relax and see people.  I almost became a regular at the lunchtime Charlie's crowd with my Dad, fried chicken fingers, turnip greens and macaroni and cheese.  They just handed me a sweet tea without me even asking every day lol!  I only had to set the alarm clock about 4-5 times the the whole six weeks, it was LOVELY!  Lyra, the sweet, old English Springer Spaniel stayed with me some of the time and she was a good buddy....although she did insist about 8 a.m. that she absolutely MUST go outside so that usually rousted me up and out.  She's such a sweetheart that I usually didn't mind too much.

I was planning to fly to Italy around Feb. 6 or so but because of the unusual snow fall in Europe Steve and I decided it would be best if I waited a week or so.  Italy has had more snow this month than they've had in 30 years.  Even Rome had significant snowfall.  I will try to post some pictures of Rome with snow.  It was just beautiful in all the pictures!  We decided not to risk me being stuck in a European airport for a day or two when there wasn't any reason for me to be in a hurry.

I ended up having the Army Travel Office out of Ft. Benning book my ticket for Feb. 14 and asked them to route me through Rome (as far south as possible to avoid the cold weather and snow).   So on Feb. 14 I flew from B'ham-Atlanta-Rome and then in to Pisa.  After all of our years of international travel I was psyched up for the long hours in the airport and in the plane.  I had my magazines, my Kindle Fire with downloaded books, my neck pillow, my snacks, my tourist passport and my official government passport.  I also had my government orders, all my medications, my jewelry, cosmetics, two changes of clothing and a few other things in a carry on bag.  I have had my checked bags lost TOO many times to ever, ever travel again without taking a change of clothes, make up, meds, etc. carry on!   I was dressed in my black knit suit with long sleeve T shirt with slip on shoes.  It is like my "travel uniform" haha.  Black= doesn't show any stains.  Knit=stretches and gives if you have to twist up and sleep in a chair or airline seat. Slip on shoes=clearing security quickly.   The one habit I cannot break is that I still constantly have to re-check my purse to make sure my passport is still in there :-)    When we all traveled together as a family Steve carried all the passports with him and we all just took them from him as we passed through customs and then handed them back.    I also had to keep up with my boarding passes for Atlanta and Rome.

Fortunately all my flights were on time so there were no wild runs down the terminal trying to make connections.  I have been there, done that!  I am now too old to make those runs now.  When I arrived in Atlanta I immediately went up to the Atlanta check in desk and used some Southern charm and asked to change to a window seat and then sat down to quickly eat my Panda Express lunch before boarding.  In a few minutes they called my name and "Voila, I had a nice window seat".  It makes sleeping so much easier if I have something to lean on....and Steve wasn't going to be there so I needed a wall :-)    Once on the plane I again had to use some more Southern charm since I am too short to hoist my check in bag (i.e. see above post about what all is in that bag, it is also very HEAVY) into the overhead rack so a nice gentlemen helped me get it in to the overhead rack.  At this point I sit down and make my nest.  Steve, Mary Beth and Melissa will understand what this consists of.  I will spare the rest of you those details.

As we prepare for take off I realize that probably more than half of the plane is speaking Italian.  Real Italian, the kind I do not understand.  Point to self, get serious about learning Italian when you arrive in country.  It is such a beautiful spoken language!   The rest of the flight was like all long flights... movies, reading, try to sleep (I can't sleep sitting up, never could, never will), eat what they feed me, toward the end feel grungy, sleep deprived and a little disoriented.  I turn on the Monitor that follows our flight which shows we are flying over Ireland and then almost directly over London, I want to wave out the window to Mary Beth below :-).  We then fly over Belgium, very close to Mons where Steve was principal for two years and then head south toward Northern Italy where they tell us we are beginning our descent.  As we break through the clouds I can see the Mediterranean out the window on my right.  Little did I know that we were literally flying directly over Camp Darby as we descend in to the Rome Airport.  If I parachuted I guess I could have just dropped out at Steve's school and surprised him lol!  We land in Rome, I gather up my things and go through customs.   I have a U.S Govt. passport with has an official Italian VISA in it allowing me to be in the country long term.  I was unsure if they would ask me questions about this, like where I was staying, etc.  Fortunately, no questions, just a stamp and a wave through.

I then go to connecting flights and have about an hour to get something to eat.  Despite our four years in England and travel throughout Europe I sometimes forget all the different cultural ways of doing things in different countries, especially when I am jet lagged.  Fortunately I have absolutely no shame and just don't care whether people look at me funny or not ...a very valuable attitude when traveling abroad :-)
  I figure I don't know them and will never see them again in my life so what do I care what they think of me lol    So I go into a coffee shop to get a chocolate croissant and a diet coke.  On one side are the people who are standing at the bar eating standing up in the coffee shop.  On the other side is the place you pay and get your take away items. They are NOT THE SAME and should not be confused!  Fortunately, the nice Italian guy behind the counter recognized the confused, jet lagged American lady needed further well as the caffeine in her Diet Coke right now!  Plus I did not yet have Euro so if they didn't take Dollars I was going to have to use some more Southern charm to work out a swap with someone or find an currency exchange place (which I didn't have time to do before my flight to Pisa).  P.S. The Southern charm was wearing very, very thin at this point in time.  I had been up for almost 24 hours with no sleep.   Anyway, as I am standing in line to pay an American young woman asked if I had just gotten in and when I said yes, she said she lived in Pisa and I said 'Oh, I'm going to be living close to there" She asked if it was "Camp Darby" and when I said "Yes". We introduced ourselves.  Turns our she's originally from B'ham, AL and was flying back that day to see family in NC. Small world indeed, coffee shop in Rome airport.  Nothing like a Southern accent to break the ice :-)

Soooo, I catch the Pisa flight, it lasts all of 25 minutes.  Get off plane in Pisa and it is VERY cold and windy. We all go to baggage claim and they start spitting out the luggage fairly quickly......all the luggage except mine.  I go to the office and make my claim.  The nice Italian lady puts a track on it and tells me they will deliver it to the base gate once they find it.  At this point I don't even care, I just want a shower and a bed.  I am worried that Steve thinks I'm not on the flight and is going to leave the airport (my cell phone won't work in Italy).   I finally emerge and he's waiting on me patiently :-)   We make the short drive of about 15 minutes from the Pisa airport back to Camp Darby where we attempt to get an ID for me.  Since I can't do much of anything without an official identification card it is important I get this made pronto.  The office is closed for lunch and I'm too tired to wait for them to re-open.  Take a shower and then collapse for 4 hours.  Delta has located my luggage and delivered it to the base gate around 8 p.m. that night and it appears that everything is there.  I knew not to pack anything valuable in there to begin with.  I figure if they wanted to steal socks or sweaters they could have it but they wouldn't have a chance at my jewelry.  Steve had 300 Euro stolen out of his suitcase several years ago from a checked bag in Italy.  Lesson learned.   That pretty much sums up my travel experience for this trip.

Most of my time since arriving has been getting over jet lag and taking care of business on base.  Steve has been sick with whatever seems to be going around everywhere.  He went to the base clinic last Thursday and got some antibiotics and has just now started feeling better. I have kept the Chlorox wipes and Lysol out so that I hopefully won't get it too.  We have been going out for nice dinner's every night.  I will post some pictures in the next day or two.  The weather has been overcast and very cold until today.  It is sunny and very pretty today which I hear is more typical this time of year.