Saturday, February 05, 2005

Siamo arrivati in Italia! (5/16/02)

We arrived safely in Italy at about 8:15 ora locale this morning, which is about 10-1/2 hours ago now as I write this. I apologize for the delay, as some of you wanted to hear from me as soon as we got here. Until now, I just have not had the time to write, for reasons to be explained below, doubtless to the amusement of one and all. We actually made it all the way to Florence, and I am writing this in an Internet cafe across the Ponte Vecchio from the main part of town, and next to the Palazzo Pitti. Sheila is at the Dei Mori, taking it easy, as I think she should. Meanwhile, travel always invigorates me somehow; I have had perhaps three hours of sleep in as many days, and am only now starting to get really tired.

The flight over here was pretty uneventful, for the most part. In St. Louis a passenger with a definite Middle Eastern appearance was carefully searched as we boarded the flight to Chicago. I assume I must have met the terrorist profile, too, as the next person to be searched from head to toe was yours truly. The guard even squeezed my shoes, presumably to determine if I was a disciple of that shoe-bomb idiot who gained notoriety several months ago. This was in St. Louis, home of the Cardinals, and I decided later that the fact that I was wearing a Cubs cap had probably generated the suspicion of the security people.

On the way in, we flew over the island of Corsica -- birthplace of Napoleon and Laetitia Casta -- which the pilot mistakenly identified as Sardinia. He said I was right when I suggested to him that the island really was Corsica, and then he laughed when I said he had given us a good flight and I would therefore not report him to American Airlines for this slip-up. We missed the train from the airport to the main railway station in Rome when I put the ticket into the validating machine sideways and had to ask a carabiniera to get it out for me. We waited about 30 minutes for the next train. Then the real fun began. We took first-class passage on an IC train -- which was a smart move -- but near Chiusi the train had to stop for an hour, right there in the middle of nowhere, for no apparent reason. At first I thought it was a strike -- they have at times taken place in such a manner in this country -- but it turned out to be some kind of technical or mechanical problem on the line ahead of us. So we arrived in Florence about an hour later than planned. We were then told to take an "A" shuttle bus to the Casa di Dante, but the driver went too fast down the narrow streets for us to be able to see where we were going, and instead of stopping where we wanted to, we ended up traveling the whole route back to our starting point. A quickie tour of Florence, and on a hot day in a crowded bus, not a particularly pleasant one at that. The bus changed drivers, and the new driver asserted that he did not know the area when I asked him to point out the Via Dante Alighieri when we came to it. Then we learned that the nearest bus stop is far enough away from the Dei Mori to persuade both of us that we really should have taken a taxi after all. [I learned a few days later that the "A" bus actually stopped right across the street from the Dei Mori -- which, of course, made me feel like a real moron.] And to top it all off, Sheila, who can't carry anything because of her health problems, also does not believe in traveling light. I felt and doubtless looked like a Chinese coolie as I pulled our (mostly, her) six tons of luggage all over the historic center of Florence, asking several passersby where Dante's house was located, and getting a different answer each time. Finally we found it. It is almost 7 p. m. now, and I'm going to wander around for about two hours and then crash. (BTW, at the moment I really AM traveling light, toting only my map of Florence, my guidebook, and an Italian dictionary as I begin my exploration of the city. I just realized that I even forgot to bring my camera this evening, but there will be plenty of time for taking pictures tomorrow and thereafter.)

My initial impression of Florence -- once we moved past the exasperations associated with getting here -- is that it is an easy place in which to get lost, but a sure cure for anyone's boredom. I am cheerfully availing myself of any and all opportunities to make a fool out of myself in Italian, with which I have actually had very little trouble thus far. I think I may be better in Italian now than I was in Spanish when I started my mission. I realize that is probably not saying much, but I think perhaps it is not all that bad for one who is entirely self-taught in the language.

I'll try to write again tomorrow, when I am less tired and -- I hope -- more coherent. But we are alive and well, and I can't believe it -- after all the planning and anticipation, we are finally here in Italy!

Ciao a tutti voi.



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