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Italy 2004 – Preparation and Day 1


We had wanted to vacation together in Italy for years. We had each been there, but not together. Chris had gone on business, and she hadn’t really had any time to see sights. Dale had been there for five weeks in December 1984 and January 1985. After almost twenty years, he was sure the place had changed. Besides, it would be nice to stay in nice hotels and see it in better weather than the bitter winter he had experienced.

We started making plans in February 2004. We thought about spending three weeks in a country villa outside Florence, but we were afraid we would run out of things to do. Additionally, Chris really wanted to see the museums in Florence, so we decided it would be better to stay in the city. We contacted a travel agent to recommend hotels and itineraries. She suggested a cruise, and Chris brought home a catalogue of cruise routes and schedules. We decided a cruise that went from Rome to Venice would be good. Once we knew the date of the cruise, we planned the rest of the trip. We would fly into Venice and take a train to Florence the next day. After five days in Florence, we would take a train to Rome and stay there two nights. That would get us to our cruise departure point on time. After the one-week cruise, we would spend another two days in Venice.

The travel agent took care of the cruise arrangements, but we were able to find better hotel deals on Expedia.com.

Dale’s sister, Theresa, and her husband, Christian, were planning a trip to Europe about the same time as us. We sent them our itinerary, and they planned their trip so that we would overlap in Venice, Florence, and Rome. We would find out later (through Theresa) that Orbitz.com has better hotel deals than Expedia.

During our trip, Mike, a friend of ours, stayed at our house.

For communication ease, Dale purchased a pre-paid cellular account from Telestial before we left home. The account was with an Italian carrier, and it gave us decent rates for calls within Italy and back to the United States. The account came in the form of a SIM chip that we put into a GSM phone (a Handspring PalmOne Treo) that also contained our address book and calendar data. The account cost $50, and Dale expected most of that to be in the form of airtime. It turned out to be mostly not. When he activated the phone in Italy, it had only €5 (about $6.15) of credit on it.

Day 1 – In Transit

Chris and I tried to start acclimating to the time change by getting up at 3:00AM this morning. What a tough start to the day. We thought we would have plenty of time and get bored before we left for the airport, but we managed to fill every minute with: last minute notes to our house-sitter, double-checking our luggage, the usual morning rituals of bathing and eating, throwing away food from the fridge that would go bad before Mike could eat it, and numerous details that ate away at the time. Nonetheless, when Bruce arrived at 5:25, we were ready to go. The car was packed (mostly) and all we had to do was say goodbye to the cat.

I drove the car while Bruce and Chris chatted away. Traffic was nearly non-existent, and we were at the curb in front of the Delta counters at 6:10am. The line for check-in was already pretty long. In fact, it split across a hallway. We had to stand in line to get in line. Every once in a while a Delta employee would come down the line asking when passengers’ flights were departing. If the time was within 75 minutes, the passenger was whisked to a shorter, high-priority line. Chris and I had gotten to the airport early enough that we were made to stand in the low-priority line all the way to the counter. 50 minutes after we got in line, we were in front of a ticketing agent. 3 minutes later, we were on our way to security. We still had over an hour before our flight.

Security was a breeze – a short line that moved quickly. Chris beeped the metal detector, but put her watch and a cardholder through the x-ray and came through fine on the second try.

The waiting time passed quickly and we boarded and took off on time. The in-flight movie was The Stepford Wives. Chris had seen it, and I wasn’t interested in watching it, so we read instead. The meal was “for purchase” and we opted for the fruit plate (Chris) and a turkey wrap (Dale). Total cost: $11. The meal held us through the rest of the flight, which passed uneventfully.

We arrived 20 minutes early at JFK and had a very short walk to our next gate. We made a pit stop, and picked up some puzzle magazines in the News & Gifts along with the most expensive tube of Chapstick we’d ever seen ($3.00). After that, we settled down to wait the 3 hours for our next flight.

At 6:00, we went to a nearby bar and grill for dinner. Chris got a chicken quesadilla and I had a burger. We each had a beer. During dinner, we watched local news coverage of hurricane Frances, as it was moving up the Florida coast. The newscast prompted Chris to call her sister, Ann, who lives in Punta Gorda, FL. Ann had been cleaning up after hurricane Charley for the previous weeks. Frances would spare that section of Florida.

We also saw a short story about how four terminals in LAX had been shut down for four hours because of security concerns. Two unrelated incidents – a passenger who bypassed security, and a flashlight battery that exploded – prompted the closure. We were glad we hadn’t gotten caught up in that mess.

Shortly after 7:00, boarding began for our flight. Chris had already used the airport facilities to wash her face and brush her teeth. I would do that on the plane. We boarded around 7:20 and sat on the plane waiting for takeoff. Pushback was delayed so a maintenance crew could replace a component in the in-flight entertainment system. As far as we were concerned, they needn’t have bothered – the in-flight movie was going to be Garfield, a movie neither of us had the slightest interest in watching.

We finally took off around 8:30pm, 45 minutes late. Chris and I set our watches to Venice time and realized it was 2:30am on Sunday there. I brushed my teeth and we both settled in to sleep, using earplugs and blinders to isolate ourselves from the hubbub in the cabin. We both went to sleep pretty quickly. Neither of us remembers hearing dinner being served. Chris woke up after a couple of hours and watched some of the second movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. After 30 minutes of that, she decided she could sleep again. We both slept lightly until around 6:30am, when we fell into much deeper sleep.

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