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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Faraway places with faraway names, faraway over the sea.....

I hate flying. Everything about it…not just being in a plane, but everything…airports, lines, kiosks, lines, gates, uncomfortable chairs, lines, junk food, lines.  I hate flying.

So, off we go to the airport.  Newark is a huge airport, but I am now somewhat familiar with it, to my chagrin.  We check in at an obnoxious kiosk with the help of an attendant.  We have two LARGE bags to check.  Each must be under 50 pounds to be put in cargo without charge.  One is over, one is under.  We have to rearrange the contents.  My husband thinks they cancel each other out.  He won’t listen to me.  So, I have to ask the attendant the question to which I already know the answer…we MUST rearrange the contents so that EACH bag is under 50 pounds.  No one tells me I was right.

Once that ordeal is done, (there are tables to do this and scales located next to them) I head for the line for checking baggage.  Again, my husband has another idea…that we already “checked” in, so, we don’t have to wait in line.  So, I have to wait for him to be redirected by someone in charge, to where I said we had to be in the first place.  Once again.  Ahem.

We get our bags checked and boarding passes.  Now we proceed through security to head for the gate.  We have “special clearance” only because my husband traveled all over the world with his job.  I had to put up with frisks that last time because I bought the tickets.  HE bought them this time, and suddenly, I have special clearance.  It’s about money.

We wait.  We listen for boarding announcements.  We board.  Economy class.  Ahhhh…I asked for an aisle seat….but I have a window.  I give the aisle to my husband because he is huge, unusually tall.  Do I get any thanks?  I am cramped into a corner.  The amazon girl in front of me pushes her seat back…it is as if I am now in a vise.  Nine hours.  She keeps her FUCKING SEAT BACK for the entire nine hours.  I’m so glad she is comfortable and can fall asleep for a bit.  I can’t.  I am uncomfortable, cramped, I have arthritis, I am not a teen anymore, and this is just a special kind of torture.  The noise.  The droning noise.  And every little blip and bump scares the hell out of me and my muscles are cramping, my butt is numb and my feet are swelling.  Did I mention that I hate flying?

The good news here is that this is a non stop flight.  IF I live, there is no stop over.  I tried to watch a film….I will never do it again…the noise of the plane drowns out half the dialog and the stinking film was depressing anyway.  I got the gist of it, but…..

Then my husband says, look out the window at the stars. Well, that was quite a sight.  Imagine the stars twice the size of what they usually look like…..we were over France at this point.  That was magical.  It was like a fairy tale sky.

I could see areas of twinkling lights on the black ground….and I wondered if one might be Paris.  

Knowing we were over France gave me hope that we were not far now…..from our destination in Italy.

All in all, the flight was smooth and we arrived early.  One of our bags, however, was severely damaged, lost an entire handle….but the contents were alright.  Customs was nonchalant.  Seriously nonchalant.  Boom, bam, proceed.

We had a car waiting..the driver was in the bathroom.  Another driver told us he would be back in a minute….which he was..then I needed a bathroom rather badly.  Then we headed out…it was now morning in Rome.

The drive to Pescara takes about 2 hours.  It is a long way.  Luca, our driver, spoke a little English.  A young man, he told us he works mornings for the cab company, has a wife and a young son (four years old) and lives in the countryside.  He pointed out where he lives on our drive. 

I was very happy to see (for the first time, because my other trips were in darkness) the beautiful countryside, unmarred by billboards of any kind, and spotted with wind turbines on the mountains and several “solar” valleys.  

Since our flight was early, we arrived at our bed and breakfast early.  The street was closed to cars.  Luca parked at the closest intersection and helped up with our bags.  We got to the hotel and it was locked. !!!  

My husband went through the trouble of getting an “international” phone before we left.  It….didn’t work.  So, Luca called the hotel number.  A cleaning lady let us in.  Luca was given a hefty tip.

The room was not ready, so we waited in the “breakfast” room until they tidied up.  More torture…how long have we been awake?

Oh, yes…how could I forget….the “hotel” was three flights up.  By stair.  No elevator.  Two LARGE bags, two small and a PC.  Forty-four steps. Up.  They do not tell you this on the internet when you book a room.

The room was tiny, but meticulously decorated.  The décor was lovely…no doubt about it, chrystal chandelier, white and gold, one wall a floral montage, a lovely little balcony…but, the room was, nevertheless, tiny.  And, there was a screaming child downstairs on the first floor in an apartment.  Screaming.  Screaming.  Most of the day.  

We showered.  We changed into clean clothes.  We were disoriented, tired, sore and…hungry.

So, after a nap, we venture out.  We have no phone and cannot reach our realtor.  The hotel has wifi, but I have no idea how to sign on.  We will deal with this tomorrow.  For now…..where to eat.  

We find a place just down the block..see people, but..they are not open. Come back at eight.  Eight?  We will be dead by eight.  It’s about six thirty.  We continue walking.  The Burger Lab.  No one there, but they are setting up.  Perhaps they will let us wait it out with a drink.  Yes, yes they do.  AND they have someone, a lovely woman who looks like George Clooney’s wife, who speaks English and is charming and fun.  She lets us sit and sip a beer while they get ready to open.

When the time comes, we both order chicken burgers (no beef for us) and fries….it was the best we could do in a pinch.  It was all done quite well, and the waitress lady allowed us a free after dinner drink.  

We went back to the hotel ready to collapse.  In spite of the heat (approximately 90 degrees Farenheit and no air conditioning) and the street noise which continued until about two a.m., we slept.

We start the new day by figuring out how to sign on to the internet and I frantically email Daniela.  But, I am getting no response.  The hotel owner offers to call her and he manages to get through.  Daniela nearly breaks my eardrum…”You are here!”  Ahhhh, yeah… was have an agenda for today?  “I will be there at 2:30 pm!”  Okey dokey.  In the meantime, we cobble together a breakfast and mosey around Pescara.

Two thirty comes and goes.  Three.  Three thirty.  Four.  I have no phone and Roger’s doesn’t work…..we give up and go up the many, many stairs.  We are the only ones here……exhausted, still, we lie down for a bit.  After a while we hear a buzzer.  Is that here?  Could it be Daniela?  Neither one of us can speed down the stairs to find out and we don’t know where the intercom is.  OMIGOD.  

Finally, I get an email that is was, indeed, Daniela.  She was very, very late due to having a client looking at properties way up in the hills.  She apologizes.  We will meet tomorrow morning.

We know the street that the hotel is on is closed to car traffic except for four hours out of the day….so I tell her we will be standing on the corner….since the street is one way, I assume (never assume, and you know why) that she knows which corner I am talking about.

In the morning we trot to the corner, the only corner a car can approach.  We wait.  And wait.  My husband is prone to anxiety and he is way out of control now.  He is getting me upset and scared and he won’t shut up.

Then I hear her……behind us….”Oh, Daniela!”  “Ciao!”  She was, of course, on the other end of the block…..but she walked to the other end and found us. 

We MUST get my phone working.  So we all walk through several pedestrian malls, we see the bus and rail station (good to know) and find a cellular phone store.  And, their system is down.  Naturally.  I am feeling so dehydrated my voice is hoarse and it feels like my lips are glued together.  We all grab something to drink at a pizza joint….water for me.  

Then Roger says, well, let’s take some money out of an ATM.  Let’s use my Italian bank account.  (I don’t want to do this because I am not even sure the card is activated since it was sent to Jersey months ago.)  We try.  It doesn’t work.  Swell.  He has no problem taking money out with his own American card.  Why didn’t he do that in the first place?

We head back to the phone store and the system is working.  I cannot get a regular service because I am not a resident yet, so I have to get a “summer” plan that is really meant for kids and only temporary, but it should get me through to the end of September.   While I’m at it, I buy a European charger.  Yay, I have an Italian phone number!

That killed most of the day, so Daniela has to go, but we plan for the next day…closing day.  We have to check out of the hotel and the closing is not until late afternoon.  What will we do with our bags?

No problem, we will stash them in Daniela’s little tiny car and she will stash us at another property in Montesilvano that is currently not occupied.  We can just hang out there for a couple of hours.  For now, we are done.

For the evening, we wander around the promenade and stop at a café for a glass of wine.  Babies, young people, old people, people with strollers, people with dogs….everyone walking around the promenade.  It is clean, peaceful and convivial. 

Hungry again, we head back toward the Burger Lab because next door is a nice looking place with Italian cuisine.  

I ask for white wine and get prosecco…the Italian version of champagne.  Roger orders fish, I order pasta.  It was lovely.

Somehow we manage to climb up the blasted stairs again and collapse for the night.

Friday morning.  I am excited.  This is closing day.  We have a small breakfast in the “breakfast” room…tea and a roll for me.  Then we begin to pack up.

About 10:30 we check out and head up to the corner….the same corner as yesterday and wait.  Roger is still anxious beyond belief and still has no faith that Daniela will show up.  She does and we manage to shove the bags into her car.  I sit in the back with about as much space as I had on the airplane.

We head to the bank to cut the checks for the closing.  While there, we attempt to fix the problem with my card, but their system is down.  Really.  I kid you not.  So, there goes that idea.  Maybe Monday.

We get the checks and then pile back into the car to be deposited at Montesilvano for a couple of hours.  It is a cute apartment with a big terrace and a view of a courtyard and gardens.  We both snooze for a bit.

We head back downstairs at three o’clock to meet Daniela.  She is happy that we are outside waiting so she doesn’t really have to park.  And off we go to the closing.

The closing takes place in the office of an attorney or notary, as they call them.  It is a typical law office….a small waiting area, a secretary…..Piera, Daniela’s business partner, is there.  I see two people in the small waiting area, a man and a woman.  They must be the sellers.  They have a funny surname and I always get it wrong.  I am correct, though, it is the Juggernauts.  I extend my hand and the man extends his and begins to rise from his seat.  We introduce ourselves and sit and chat for a bit.  They are Australian and he just retired, so they got a big country house.  We want the opposite…something small, easy to care for.

After about fifteen minutes, we and the Gigglesmiths are led into a conference room with a huge table, about 12 chairs and hundreds of law books lining the walls.

The lawyer is seated at the head of the table, with his PC and a large window overlooking the streets of Pescara.  Roger and I seat ourselves on one side of the table and the Gagglesmacks seat themselves on the other.  Daniela and Piera take the other end.

The contract is in English and Italian and the lawyer proceeds to start reading it in its’ entirely in both languages.  He is a slight man, dark hair, dark rimmed glasses and completely fluent in English.  Nevertheless, this is an arduous process….making sure every detail is correct throughout all seven or eight pages of it.

Once that is done, we all have to sign every page, we and the Jiggeriches.  Round and round we go.

At this point the mood lightens and the lawyer decides to tell us he lived in Hoboken for twenty years.  So, no wonder he is so fluent in English!  And, he said that in Hoboken he had “the best pizza” of his life!

Daniela is reaching across the table to give me the deed – the most important piece of paper we have to show the Consulate in New York when we go to apply for visas.  And, I am being given a set of keys.  With this, involuntarily, my eyes well up.  This has been an ordeal….physically, mentally, emotionally…..I’m getting emotional and I have to curb that.  We are in a law office, after all.

Back outside, we squeeze back into Daniela’s car and head up to Penne.  The moment of truth…..Roger has never seen the place.  I’m terrified.  The entrance to this ancient city is a large stone gate.  The entire town is stone and brick.  I have no idea how Roger will react. But, he likes it.  He is being critical, but he likes it.  And what wins him entirely over is the balcony because the view is absolutely breathtaking.  My bonus came in finding out that there is a dishwasher.  I had no idea, it is “concealed”…I thought it was a cabinet. 

We get the bags out of Daniela’s car and we meet an expat from Britain, who is also Roger.  He looks like John Hurt.  He has been here almost a decade and says he will meet us later for a drink.  Then, before she leaves, Daniela gets a call from the Jigglesmirks and THEY want to meet us for a drink.  I guess we have to, it would be impolite not to do so, but the truth is I don’t want to meet anyone…..I truly would like a bit of alone time, but it just isn’t going to happen yet.

Daniela goes home and we ARE home, sort of.  We try to figure out where we will put things.  We try to unpack a bit.  At seven the Jangleglitches arrive and we walk down the cobblestone paths to a small restaurant, café called “Angoletti”…Little Corner…pizza and calzone…..we are both quite hungry, but the Geigersmiths want “aperitif” which in Italy is a snack tray.  Meats that I won’t eat, cheeses and bites of bread.  They are very pleasant people, and Roger One arrives at eight and joins us.  He orders himself a pizza and I am jealous.  When the evening is done, off everyone goes and I am hungry but too tired to do anything about it at this point.

Back at the apartment, I shower and get into bed…I brought sheets and a pillow…Roger Two has no pillow, so I cobble together some towels in a pillowcase.  It will have to do.  Sadly, the mattress is awful.  Every little movement transfers throughout…somewhat like I imagine a water bed would be.  We will most definitely have to buy a bed.

Morning arrives…..we venture out….to a café around the corner….lovely cappuccino and a chocolate croissant.  Because Roger One gave us some valuable information, we know where the nearest supermarket is…and today is Saturday..the big weekly marketplace in the streets….it makes it more difficult to figure out where we are, but we find the supermarket, and the post office, and the bus station….all very close together.  I find “English Breakfast” tea…Roger Two finds a cappuccino instant mix, we buy dish detergent….and we find a little store that sells sundries and housewares.  We venture in and I ask, by his supply of shopping carts, or I try to my stumbling Italian…if he sells anything like this.  Carolla!  Si, si, una carolla!!!  And he does, a sweet little number in red…and he not only takes it down, but unwraps it and proceeds to put it together, getting the wheels on properly and such.  Wow.  He asks where we are from…New York!!! New York!!!  Ahhh!  And I tell him we have bought an appartamento in Penne…..we will be back in the Fall.  Bene! Bene!  I also note that he has a very nice teapot, only one, in the store and I file that away for future reference. 

In the meantime, we head back to the apartment with a few groceries (dog food, canned veggies for Harry, dish detergent, paper towels, butter, olive oil, spaghetti)…oh, yes, while in the supermarket we were searching for spices.  No luck.  I see a man behind the deli counter. 
“Scusate, signore, ma dov’e….pepe, sale, originate?”  He points to my right.  I was standing right there.  Ahhh!  Grazie!!!!  (Duh!)  

Tonight I make my first dinner in our new home. Spaghetti with olive oil, spices and parmesan.  A piece of supermarket bread better than any bread you can imagine, toasted with a bit of olive oil on top.  Roger Two said it was the best toast he ever had in his life!!!!

We once again attempt to sleep in the terrible bed …I took drugs…hahah.

We wake to the amazing balcony again. This morning I have Italian “English Breakfast” tea with water heated up in the microwave.  I have to get that teapot…….. the tea is not bad and I am, for some reason, thinking that it would make great iced tea…something I haven’t had in decades.

We have toast…amazing toast…and venture out again….this time to a housewares store outside the city gate that Roger One told us about.  They have tons of stuff…we buy a hand held vacuum for Harry hair.  I get pot holders and a spoon rest.  Toothbrush holder.  Ice cube trays.  

No gyms necessary here…just walking the slightly inclining streets keeps you in shape. I can feel my knees getting stronger already.

We bring the stuff home, but I am determined to have a proper teapot.  We go back to the little store by the supermarket.  “New York!!!”  He remembers us!  I plunk down the teapot….he asks something that sparks a memory in my mind…..arrosticini?  Arrosticini? Oh, yeah…I remember…”Io so!”  He asks…”Che cosa?”  “Arrosticini e un cibo tradizionale di Abruzzo!”  “Brava!”  It is meat on a stick..usually mutton, that is a traditional dish in the hills of Abruzzo...meat on a stick....something, actually, that was also common on the streets of Astoria, Queens, NY....but not mutton.  He was clearly pleased that I knew what it was and that I was able to cobble together a coherent sentence in Italian.  (I was pretty pleased about that too!)

I now have some food…to be placed in the freezer, a teapot and tea, dog food….enough to get by for a few days before we can settle into life like normal again.

Now we have to plan on leaving….something I don’t really want to do…but I know we must.  Another awful night on the awful bed with the awful knowledge that we have to get up in the middle of the night, anyway, to catch a taxi to the airport.  Torture. Sheer torture.

Three in the morning.  We pack.  Hit the bathroom.  Ready?  Ugh.

We walk to the city gate.  No taxi.  Well, it isn’t even near four a.m. yet.  “Yeah, but they are usually early”  Four.  Four fifteen.  Call them.  We wake some man up….he says the taxi is in Pescara.  Pescara?????  What???? He never checked the computer, never checked the notes…the driver is a half an hour away…..GET HIM HERE NOW!!!!!!

More waiting. Fretting OMIGOD, the anxiety.  I call the driver, whose number we got from Mr. Sleepyhead.  Where are you?  I am in Penne.  No you’re not. No you’re not…because we are standing here and you did not pass us at the very entrance to the city.  Where are you? 

Now he gets agitated and says he IS in Penne…and we argue for a while about where the hell he is supposed to be.  He is by the Duomo.  What?  

Roger Two goes off toward the Duomo.  I stand there like an idiot.  A car pulls up and the driver jumps out frantically and starts loading the bags into the trunk….but…but….my husband…….thank goodness, I see him coming out the city gate…….HURRY!!!!!  We pile into the car…… Scusa, scusa, they send me to Pescara…no, no, it’s not your fault, it’s the sleepy guy who sent you to the wrong place…..but now we are heading back to Pescara….and I know the way..having done it a half dozen times by now…and I tell him where to turn in Loreto and he goes the other way…..what?

Then we are driving on dirt roads and through olive groves in I don’t know where in the dark.  What the hell?  He has GPS but I don’t think he knows how to use it.  We wander around in circles and he pulls up to a gas station and asks someone how to get to the auto strada…..the main highway to Rome.  Shit, man…I could have told you that!

We wander more and wind up back in Pescara and he misses the sign for the auto strada.  I can’t make this up.

We go around in circles again and finally get there.  By now we are seriously late but still hoping….but….as in any large city, there comes the rush hour and now we are in the middle of it.  Tick tock, tick tock.  Not going to make it.

Oh, the countryside is gorgeous.  We are going to miss the flight.  Tick tock.  Gosh, I never saw the giant statue of Da Vinci before..everytime I did this it was in the dark.  Wow.

Finally, we pull up to the terminal, rush out of the car, I am moving, leaving the details up to Roger Two….the terminal is packed…packed.

Roger catches up and we head to Lufthansa…..but our plane is already boarding.  We missed it.  We …missed…it.

We go to a counter and they tell us that the flight was booked via United so we have to find another flight through United, which is all the hell the way that the other end of the terminal.  Off we go.  There is a security guard who will not let us beyond the point we need to go to get to United. SO….we go back to Lufthansa……..on the other end of the terminal…….they again say…United.  But….they won’t let us through……”I can escort you.”  YES!  YES!  You have to…..

She gets us through and the United people..if there are any, since some were Lufthansa, some were Al Italia, some Air Canada….they tell us we have to call….on the telephone..United.  My little  summertime Italian plan comes into play once again…we call United, we get rebooked…it is not ideal, but we still get back on the same day by way of Chicago……we take it…and as I am verifying the information the phone goes….bloopty blooop!  I have run out of minutes for the day.  Errrrrrrrrrr.

With this, we trudge back to Lufthansa with our new information and lo and behold, the tickets are there and she prints them out and checks our now empty and busted up bags and we proceed to the gate.

I actually don’t remember much else…..other than the plane itself.  It was nicer than the one we took in.  We had more room.  There was a little Chinese lady next to me…I was in the middle again..lucky me….she was wearing  a face mask.   I spent the flight slipping in and out of consciousness….and I made the mistake of eating the airline food which was abominable….I think I would have been better off hungry than wondering if I was going to hurl.  It was spinach ravioli, which would have been fine but it was covered in some god awful yellow cheese….just vile.  The roll was a tasteless wad of white nothing….it was all awful.  Never again.

We landed at O’Hare, in Chicago….we had barely enough time to get through security and customs to make it to the little commuter plane to Newark.   Crowds. Lines.  We had to get our bags at baggage claim..and RECHECK them!  People coughing….sneezing…a kiosk to scan my passport which also took another lovely, flattering photo of an old tired lady who had been up for more than 24 hours……really nice.   Security check.  Wait!  Liquids!  What?  Geez, they handed out bottles of water on the Lufthansa flight and I stuffed it into a bag.  Liquids!!!  Geez, guy, take the stinking bottle of water…I don’t care….have a blast….hydrate to your fullest!  Enjoy!  Can we go now?

The flight was already boarding and I had to pee badly.  The boarding seemed to be proceeding slowly, so I ran to the nearby bathroom.  Good thing.  As we boarded, they insisted on taking our carry on away…crowded flight…no room…so sorry…and once again I was in the middle between two rather large….I’m saying obese…people.  

Then the pilot told us that we had to taxi around for a while……because…..because why?   Because of a late incoming flight….because lighting struck something…… because…… we went nowhere for quite some time…as I became more and more uncomfortable and disoriented….my muscles started jumping involuntarily…I drifted now and again into doze land…..

It finally took off….and I watched bits of a movie the girl to my left was watching and bits of something the guy to my right wasn’t watching…..”Gifted” about a little math wizard..and I can’t remember what the other was…since I was barely there to begin with.

Newark.  At long last.  I have to teach my legs how to walk again.  I am swollen, sore, incomprehensibly tired.  We get our bags. We find our car.  We turn the air conditioning up way high to stay awake.  Just a little more…stay awake, stay alert.  Don’t get killed now.

Here we are.  Back in our “not” home.  Roger Two collapses almost immediately, face down, on the bed and he is gone.  I have to unpack my meds,  my phone, take a shower, and have a glass of wine so my muscles stop jumping around.  THEN I can go to bed.

Tomorrow morning, we pick up Harry and the adventure continues.