Buon giorno and arrivederci are in the rearview mirror. I’m back home.
Went through customs at Detroit’s Metro Airport and heard a nice refrain over the loudspeaker: “Welcome to the United States.”
I enjoyed Italy. But I’m glad to be back. Glad to be in America. Glad to be an American. Glad to be in Oklahoma. Glad to be an Oklahoman. We had a great time, but I have a great time most every day. Including Wednesday, one of the longest days of my life.
I thought I would end the Italy travelblog series by telling you what it’s like to journey home.
CAB RIDE THROUGH ROME
We had an 11:15 a.m. Rome time flight out of da Vinci airport. They tell you to allow three hours at the airport on international flights, so we wanted to be at the airport in suburban Fiumicino by 8:15-8:30. So we decided to leave the Hotel Nord at 7:45. That meant a 6:45 wakeup call.
We decided to take a taxi instead of the train out to the airport. The cab is 48 Euro to the airport; the train is 11 Euro per person. But we had five bags; walking the two blocks to the train station, boarding the airport train and catching a bus at the airport to take us to a different terminal seemed awfully daunting considering how loaded our bags were.
The hotel booked the cab for us, and like all Italian transportation, it was very reliable. Italian hotels, like I’ve told you, are very old school. I didn’t even have to give them my credit card when I checked in. They just want your passport — it’s Italian law. The hotels have a printout of all reservations but don’t seem much computerized. My dad was in the hotel business in the 1970s. Didn’t seem much different from what he used to do.
The cab headed out, and I’ll be in the first 15 minutes of the ride, we made 30 turns. The cab — another Mercedes, I’m telling you, taxis are high class in Italy — zipped through street after street, and I finally figured out why. There are no freeways near Rome’s city center. Think about it. In Oklahoma City, to build I-35 or I-40 50 years ago, government authorities just cleared a path. But in Rome, you don’t just clear paths. There are the little matters of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and 2,000-year-old churches. There are no words in the Italian language for “Urban renewal.”
Eventually, our cabbie found a major boulevard, and then a freeway. He drove like crazy; my heart leaped twice as I thought we were going to rear-end another car. I spotted him going 160 kilometers per hour on the freeway, which is 99 mph.
But we made it to da Vinci alive and well.
Terminal 5 is the home of outbound international flights, and you know you’re in a different place when you see peace officers of some kind holding automatic rifles. I found it reassuring, to be honest. I don’t mind security if it’s legit security. Security for appearances sake doesn’t do much for me.
We were told that sometimes it takes forever to get through security and sometimes it wasn’t so bad. This was a breeze.
We went through a Delta checkpoint, where we had to show our passports and answer questions about our baggage. No wait; didn’t take three minutes. Then we had to check in at Delta and check our bags; again, virtually no wait and just a couple of minutes.
Then came regular security, like at any airport, and our wait was probably 6-7 minutes, with no discernible difference from U.S. security. Rome didn’t even have those fully-body scanners like we have at Will Rogers, just the old-fashioned metal detectors.
Finally, passport control, where a guy checks your face and your passport. There was no wait and he spent maybe two seconds on each of us.
Then we got on a bus that took us to Terminal 5’s gates. The whole process wasn’t 30 minutes. I could have slept until 7:45.
We had something like two hours to kill before our flight. So we did a little shopping. The Rome terminal is full of shops, including some very pricey places, like Gucci. We bought one final gift (not at a place like Gucci) and found peanut M&M’s in a mini-mart that wasn’t so mini.
Then we sat down, but had to sit on the other side of the round terminal. The Rome airport has an acute shortage of seating for waiting passengers. At our gate, for a plane that seats about 300, were maybe 40 chairs. Too many shops taking up all the space.
DELTA, DELTA, DELTA
Another Delta flight, another great experience.
This was a 10-hour flight, Rome to Detroit, and it was a pleasant ride. No lout sitting behind us, like on the trip to Rome. Heck of a way to travel, actually. I had an aisle seat, so I could stretch my legs from time to time. The Dish did a decent amount of sleeping.
Again, the plane didn’t have Internet, which baffles me. So I read most of the way. Babbitt. I read John Grisham’s The Racketeer and To Kill A Mockingbird while in Italy; I got Babbitt and the Port Robertson biography almost finished. Babbitt is the Sinclair Lewis novel from the 1920s. I read Lewis’ Main Street in college; everyone always has said Babbitt was better, and unless it falls off the cliff, I’d have to agree.
The Delta flights contained excellent service. For this daytime flight, we got two meals. Not long after takeoff, a lunch option of Thai chicken or tortellini. I had the chicken, and the Dish didn’t much care for her tortellini, so I had both, with some decent salad, a roll and cheese-and-crackers. Not bad. Plus constant beverage service. Then not long before we landed, here came a sandwich offering — chicken, turkey or ham, with cheese. I wasn’t hungry but the Dish had a chicken sandwich.
And not long past the halfway point, I decided to watch a movie to give my eyes and my brain a rest from reading. I watched “Taxi Driver.” This young Robert De Niro guy might just make it in Hollywood.
Two strange things happened with flight attendants, though.
At one point, a flight attendant came by and gave me some water. I said, “Thank you.” She said something like, “Oh, that’s nice to hear. We don’t hear it that often.” What? People in airplanes don’t say thanks? That’s nuts.
A little while later, I had finished off some water but still had some ice cubes in my cup. I was savoring them, having gone basically two weeks without ice. And a flight attendant came by and, without asking, grabbed my cup and deposited it into the trash. I didn’t say “thank you” then, I promise you. The long arm of Italian culture extends well over the Atlantic Ocean.
MOTOR CITY LAYOVER
We landed in Detroit around 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. And I was introduced to customs.
We didn’t go through customs in Italy. I have no idea why. The Italians didn’t care what we were bringing into the country.
But the Americans do. We had to fill out a form before we landed, asking us questions about what we were bringing back into the country. Food, soil, seeds, that sort of things. My only puzzle was whether olive oil and wine — we had bought a few bottles of each — constitutes food or not.
At customs, our wait again wasn’t more than three minutes. We had to pass through a scanner that read our passport, then took a picture of us to verify we were the same person. Then we had to undergo a 15-second interrogation that asked the same kind of questions as the form. One last walk through passport control, and we were free. Whole thing didn’t last 10 minutes.
Then we faced about a four-hour layover. We mostly sat and worked on the Internet. The terminal had plenty of seating, and I got caught up on reading The Oklahoman. I had stayed up to date on the sports sections but had gotten behind on the rest of the paper.
Turns out our flight was late, so we had even more time. Finally, about 7:30 p.m., we walked down got a hot dog. Mine with chili, melted cheese and mustard. Lots of mustard. The Italians don’t much believe in condiments.
Our plane, coming in from Albany, finally landed about 8:15 p.m. We finally boarded the plane much smaller than the one that crossed the Atlantic. We took off about 8:50 p.m. Eastern, I pulled out Babbitt and suddenly I hit the wall. It was 3 a.m. in Rome. I was a zombie on that leg of the trip, falling in and out of sleep.
We landed a little after 10 p.m. Oklahoma time, the girls were there to greet me and I got a second wind.
All our bags made it, which is no small thing, we loaded up, Haley and J.J. took us home and the girls stayed with us. A little after midnight, which was a little after 7 a.m. Rome time, I laid my head down. I had been up for more than 24 hours.
I’ll never forget the trip. But I’m also glad I’m home.