Tuesday, July 15, 2008

La Dolce Vita: The Adventure Begins...

After several months of planning, hubby and I finally nailed down a tentative itinerary, complete with hotel reservations and travel arrangements. This was mostly the work of hubby since he is way more organized a traveler than I am. I tend to just get the flights down and wing it when I hit the ground. I also have family all over the world so I usually rely on them to coddle me through my explorations. This trip is dramatically different. We'll be visiting places I've never set foot in previously, therefore, no nutty cousins acting as tour guides. We will be on our own.

As much of a laissez faire traveler as I may seem, I have one skill, a talent really, that trumps my lazy planning prowess: I am the best packer in the world. I welcome anyone to challenge me on this. I can fit a ridiculous amount of stuff in the smallest of containers. I'm like the Isaac Newton of packing. What proof do I have of this grandiose claim? Well, for a month in Italy, we did not need to check any bags...oh yeah, carry on only! What did we bring? A carry-on size rolling suit case and backpack each--well, hubby had a messenger bag since he wouldn't be caught dead wearing a backpack. I know you're probably thinking, "Well, they must be minimalists taking three outfits and 1 pair of shoes." No way, raggazi! I took 5 skirts, two sweaters, 5 pairs of shoes, a bunch of tops (t-shirts, tanks, and dressy items), a dress, three swim suites, 4 beach cover-ups (shorts, sarong, shirt dress, and flowy top), 3 pairs of pants, workout clothes, a ton of undies, 3 pairs of socks, toiletries, and so much more! Hubby did the same, only I think he took even more than I did! Fancy pants. He, too, was in shock at my gift from the nomad gods. "I just can't believe you got all of this shit into those two small suite cases!" I have to say, I was beaming with pride as we glided into planes, trains, and automobiles with so little baggage. No worrying if our stuff would make it through our layovers. No waiting on sad baggage claim lines with the other over-packed chumps. Oh no, not us! Now if we can make it through our 14 hour traverse across the continents (11 hours to London plus 3 to Rome), we'll be just bene...

Yes, we couldn't take a direct flight. That would have cost us a fortune and we would miss out on what could only be described as the funniest airline experience ever: New Zealand Air (NZA). Picture this: We're on line for NZA, a snaking beast of a line that continues to grow as we all wait in anticipation for the one desk attendant to arrive from her afternoon tea or something. Hubby and I, can't help but crack up any time some of our line mates open their mouths--the accent is priceless. Clearly, we've watched way too many episodes of "Flight of the Concords". Our line mates are also traveling with the most bizarre cargo. One woman was standing next to this huge, flat box that apparently had a mountain bike in it. A large and red-faced man was carrying what seemed to be a scuba gear. Another man, with an actual dead animal as a hat--not a toupee joke-- had a cooler with a really weird symbol on it that kind of looked like a hazmat sign that had to be carrying either his most recent kill or black market organs. I'm thinking that it was organs. This other woman was wearing a pink boa. All I kept thinking was if we were on the plane to hell.

Speaking of hell and planes, since when did all of the airline companies get together and decide that the best way to provide service in the sky would be to sweat out their customers by jacking up the cabin temperature? We were so happy that this flight had interactive media for each seat (think Jetblue TV with OnDemand EVERYTHING) but I couldn't enjoy it because I was too busy trying to air myself out. There must be a conspiracy going on. I'm all for going green, but this really was cruel and unjust torture.

Speaking of torture, the food on this flight was maybe the worse than eating a Patrick Ewing's sport socks after an over-time game. Seriously, it was putrid. We, for unknown reasons, were mistakenly assigned a kosher meal and a low-calorie meal. Perhaps these were better than the normal menu? Wrong! They were bad. Bad, bad, bad. The chicken that I was allegedly served had a texture similar to Mack truck tire rubber. Don't even think about trying the fish.

Speaking of further torture, we apparently booked the "baby plane" for 12 hours. Yes, you can imagine what this was like. Screaming, whining, convulsing, puking, leaking babies...everywhere! No where to run. Yes, they're cute but not when projectile vomiting behind you. The smell that emanated from that green faced imp should be used by interrogators of terrorists. You think waterboarding is bad?

Needless to say, we made it to London with the help of magazines, OnDemand movies, meditation, and lots of drugs. While getting off the plane, I asked hubby how long our layover was supposed to be. He answered: 5 hours. I think after my 7th lap around the food court I was ready to lose my mind with the rest of the sad lot that was stuck in Heathrow. Formerly glamorous Europeans mutate into frazzled, glassy-eyed, boars while passing the hours in this international purgatory. It's truly an amazing process to watch...and to take part in. I felt so fugly on in the inside and the outside. Hubby passed the time on the internet. I stared at the ceiling and then starting playing the old "Euro, academic, or gay?" game while people watching--which is really challenging when in Europe.

The flight on Alitalia was short in comparison to the NZA fiasco--only three hours. But this plane was filled with grumpy, impatient, Italians who pushed and shoved their way to their seats, the bathroom, and anywhere they could smooth themselves into. The concept of personal space became a distant memory for us. After some more drugs and 4 glasses of wine (thank you, Mario, my savior and flight attendant), we landed at Rome's Fumicino Airport where we were greeted by my cousin, her husband, and the greatest kid to walk the face of the planet, their son, Maurizio.

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