May 24, 2006
We left for Italy on Saturday (May 13) from Pittsburgh. We flew to New York’s JFK airport, where we had a 4 hour layover- fun! Especially since the airport hadn’t turned on the A/C yet so it was nice and steamy. We hung out in a bar and ate sandwiches and waited until it was time to find our gate.
Finding our gate was loads of fun. Our boarding passes said ‘T1′, which we realized meant Terminal 1. We were currently in Terminal 3, so we looked at every map we could find and NONE OF THEM listed Terminal 1. WTF?! We wandered up and down, thinking we must have missed a sign or something… but there was nothing. Finally, we asked someone and they directed us to ‘go outside and walk down the sidewalk’. Yeah. We had to go OUTSIDE, through a construction area, lugging our carry ons and everything, near busy traffic. Where was the freaking shuttle, dude? We asked a second person, and got the same answer. HMPH. Pittsburgh International totally kicks JFK Airport’s ass.
Anyway, luckily we had plenty of time to get to our plane, so everything was fine from there on out. Our flight left JFK at 9:15pm and we settled in to try to get some sleep before we landed in the morning (5:30am Pittsburgh time, 11:30am Rome time) I think I got about 20 minutes of sleep the whole night. Yeah it was awesome! We watched Fun with Dick and Jane and played games on the chair consoles. And the plane had these screens that showed exactly where we were in the air, altitude, outside air temperature, speed, etc. For geeks like us, it helped pass the time a little bit. Except when I would doze off and wake up to see only 2 minutes had gone off of the ‘Estimated Time to Landing’ part of the screen, I’d get pretty frustrated!
Finally, we landed. We got our first stamps on our passports, collected our baggage, and met our tour representative who took us to our taxi.
Let me just take a minute to explain what driving in Italy is like. Or at least, driving in Rome. You know the lines that are painted on the highway to designate those things we call ‘lanes’? Yeah. Well they have them too. But NO ONE PAYS ATTENTION TO THEM. Weaving in and out in their little ‘SmartCars’, keeping no further than 3 inches away from the car in front of them.. it was an exhilarating ride, let me tell you!
During the 30 minute drive from the airport to our hotel in downtown Rome, when I wasn’t clutching my chest in fear at the driving, I stared in awe out my window. I WAS HERE. Italy. It was hard for me to fathom, really. I got a little teary, thinking about it.
Growing up, I was poor. We didn’t have much other than each other- my mom, dad, sister, and me. We had food of course, but other than the bare necessities, that was pretty much it. I didn’t have designer clothes like my friends at school. I had clothes from Hills, usually from layaway. I didn’t get a car when I turned 16 like other kids I knew. I got the keys to parents’ used Ford (after much begging, of course!) I didn’t have my own bedroom. I shared a tiny, tiny one with my sister until I was 19. My family didn’t go to the beach for vacation. We went camping a few hours’ drive away. And really, all of those things are fine with me. It was my life and it’s been a great one. And because of all of that and how I grew up, when I was riding in a taxi in Italy going to my fancy-pants hotel with my husband, it made me truly appreciate it. And made me think about how far I’ve come, how hard Dan and I have worked for the past few years and it was FINALLY PAYING OFF.
I got teary-eyed again when I saw the Colosseum. It was gigantic, looming beside us as we waited a red light (thankfully and surprisingly, they DO stop at red lights in Rome) I had seen pictures in my art history book in college and thought ‘Wow, how cool would it be to go and see that for real?’ Dan and I had said while taking the required art class that someday, we’d like to go to Italy. “Someday”… like before we died. And here we were, not even 30, IN ROME. EEEEEEE!
We arrived at our hotel and were greeted by our guide for the week- Nicola. She is British and just cute as can be! I’m a big sucker for British accents, so I was in love with her right away :) Plus, she was really nice and patient with our cluelessness and extremely helpful. And she speaks fluent Italian (she’s married to an Italian man!) She helped us check in and we headed up to our room.
We rested for a while, took showers, and then headed out for our first bit of sightseeing. Then we had a meeting with our group- about 30 other US travelers. We talked about our itinerary for the week and after that, we all went on a short walk a few blocks in either direction around our hotel to see the closest restaurants, the pharmacy, the grocery store, and the ATM machine. Then we headed back to the hotel and CRASHED. The next morning was an early one- we were leaving around 8 for our first official sight-seeing tour!