Saturday, April 23, 2011

Italy- The arrival

I've given a lot of thought to what my first blog should be, and what it should NOT be.  After all of this though, I figure I'll just jump right in.  That's pretty much how my life operates.  I set a goal, I reach it, and God makes it happen.  This particular instance of jumping right in entails my fabulous Spring Break from teaching trip to Italy.  I get to see my little (older) brother and hopefully some good friends from college.

So, after all of the research and planning and arrangements back home were made, it was off to Italy on a Friday early morning.  Everything went smoothly through GSP and into Newark.  Of course, the security guards wouldn't let me into the international flights terminal in the airport so I got stuck in airport limbo, which is cold, noisy, dirty, and empty.  Not to mention, I was in Jersey.  It was beyond stereotypical NJ and I literally felt like I was watching an episode of the Jersey shore.  I found a corner to hole up in and do some work, but with almost a 7 hour layover, ended up bored even with my wealth of people-watching opportunities.

Finally, I got on the plane to Lisbon, Portugal.  This, of course, was after a long conversation and some very suavely spoken Portugese with a beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous, so so so sexy Portugese flight attendant.  Seriously, I wanted to learn Portugese on the spot.  The flight over wasn't bad.  I was on the end of the middle row of the plane, and the two women next to me were great.  One was Portugese and lives in the US- we chatted about the different educational systems and reforms, etc....right up my alley.  Unfortunately, across the aisle from me was an adorable BABY.  You can guess how that went.  They left the lights on the entire flight, and I was in the very back row, so we were pretty cozy with the flight attendants, which was great for my "more agua please."  You know what else is in the back of an airplane? The toilet. ooo, fun. Anyway, I survived.  Our flight got in a little late and I had less than twenty minutes to get the bus to the terminal, through customs, and to my next terminal and gate.  Luckily, my next flight ended up getting delayed three times, so I made it.  Customs was so easy- I hope it's that easy on the way out.  I got my first Euros at the airport while I waited! I couldn't get them in Newark because EVERY SINGLE ATM in the two terminals I was in was out of commission for servicing and the money exchange's credit card reader was down.  Just my luck, of course.  Anyway, like I was saying, my luck was improving for a little while.  Because the flight was so late, I got into Rome later than expected.  I found some really helpful people along the way, found the train to the main train station, Termini, and purchased my ticket and got on the train- all without difficulty.  Then, I had quite a time trying to get a ticket to Florence, who's Italian name is Firenze.  I bought a ticket for the fast train (1 hr 35 min as opposed to 4 hrs) and barely made it on the train.  Thank goodness for information kiosks in the EU!!!  I dozed off for the first time and scared myself half to death that I'd missed my stop and was going to wind up somewhere in northern Italy with my luggage and fantastic knowledge of the Italian language (code for: none).

Long story short: I made it.

Scene: I'm in Florence, exhausted, running on adrenaline and sooooo psyched that I'm finally in Italy with Kevin and Jess.  I'd told them I'd be in between 2 and 3, but actually got in at about 3:15 knowing they were waiting in the station.  Of course, the station was huge.  I have no cell phone and don't have Jess or Kevin's international numbers. Fabulous.  Then, I met another wonderful person.  She saw my Vera Bradley tote, knew I must be American, and came up to me asking me to help her find my friend.  I told her that'd be fantastic, and that I could use some help looking for my friend and brother.  This was after about half an hour of pacing the station.  We ended up walking a few more laps, then talking to the police and getting an announcement out on the loudspeaker.  We didn't understand anything in the announcement except the names.  Anyway, this girl, Steph, and I found an internet cafe and got on the internet to contact the people we were meeting.  She got in contact with another girl she knew in Florence, who came to pick her up.  Since we'd continued to hang out in front of the McDonald's at the station, this really nice girl said she lived nearby (less than a five minute walk) and that I could come to her apartment till I found Jess and Kevin.  I walked with them.  She lives in a wealthy part of Florence...right in front of Il Duomo!!! I used her internet to get directions to Jess' apartment, a 30 minute walk.  Off I went adventuring. I saw some beautiful sights on my walk!   When I got to Jess' apartment, nobody was home, so I decided to walk around and find an internet cafe.  This is virtually impossible in residential areas.  Italians are also smarter than Americans and lock their wi-fi networks.  Finally, I start to get worried that it's now dinner time, I haven't slept in forever, I want a shower, and I want to SIT DOWN and stop walking, plus I was really looking forward to starting my Italian tour with Jess and Kev.  Just on a whim, I turned on my phone and guess what? It's international, and I could've saved myself all that trouble if I'd known it.  From there, I found my way to a major intersection near the apartment and it was not long before Kevin and Jess came to meet me.  I'd been thinking all along that I was going to be absolutely thrilled to see them, but by this time, they had no idea how excited I was.

So, we reunited, went to the apartment, and went for a long walk along and across the Arno to get my first Italian meal: Pizza Margherita and a Coca-Cola light.  All was instantly made well.

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