Day 1: Friday, July 8, 2011 – All Planes Land in Rome

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I had my doubts about this whole thing. With my ever present fear of flying, I worried I unnecessarily placed the safety of my family at risk for some pipedream. I worried the Rochester_Leaving_Home_300office couldn’t survive my absence. I worried my writing schedule would suffer. I worried and I worried and I worried. And now the day is here.

Among the more typical travel worries, however, include the typical last minute packing and the eternal question, “Why does it feel like we forgot something?” Incredibly, we stand posed to leave on time, approximately 10am, but not without the usual squabbles.

“Cesidia, don’t ask why they told us to bring the Blue Cosmos Books, just bring them,” I order, focused more on the time schedule than any paternal niceties. Angrily, she stuffs the blue book into her already packed luggage. As for Catarina, she packed her carry-on tote in her carry-on bag rather than carry it on; thus, defeating its primary purpose (we’re allowed only one carry-on bag and one “purse,” i.e., “tote”). Peter didn’t even bring the extra carry-on tote. Betsy had her (new) purse and I had my computer bag.

The packing spats do not delay us and we leave (surprisingly) on time. Our first stop would be the Walden Galleria Mall (and the money changer) in Buffalo. Then, it’s on to Burlington, Ontario to see my old college roommate Dan. After that, finally, it will be the Toronto airport.

About half way to Buffalo we discover what we forgot. It is nothing important, just a watch for Betsy (everyone except me is so used to getting the time from the cell phones they’re

Peter Before The Ubiquitous Sunglasses

Peter Before The Ubiquitous Sunglasses

not bringing that they don’t wear watches anymore). Peter also forgot his sunglasses. Well, “technically” he didn’t forget his sunglasses, he forgot to “buy” his sunglasses. You see, prior to now, Peter’s last pair of sunglasses were the clip-ons he got with his initial prescription when his was in first grade. In either case, we decide we can get them both at the Galleria Mall, where we need to go anyway to buy some Euros.

We arrive at the Walden Galleria and everyone also discovers they’re hungry. Stepping quickly, we arrive at the Money Changer just in time to learn they’re closing for 15 minutes. Betsy and the kids go in search of a watch, sunglasses and lunch, and I’m left alone with $1,500 in cash and five passports in my pocket. I eye everyone who passes with suspicion.

I also eye the pretzel place next door, being that the last thing I want on a transatlantic flight is a stomach ache. The money changer returns and I trade the $1,500 for €990 and a few coins. I hate coins. In the middle of this transaction, I get a call from an unrecognizable number. It’s Dan. He wants to know if we want hamburgers. I tell him no, we’re eating lunch right now (it is about noon, after all).

Amazingly, I have to go to the men’s room, which is tucked in a dimly lit corner with no mall guards and lots of nefarious looking characters. I can’t believe I go. But, when you gotta go, you gotta go.

I return to the Pretzel place where I meet up with Betsy and the kids. They’re all talking to me at once. It turns out the sunglasses were too expensive and Cesidia didn’t like any of the food offerings. She craves a hamburger – one more bit of Americana before she sails for the homeland. I grumble. Betsy insists there will be something by the K-Mart where she and Peter need to go to purchase his eyeware.

K-Mart proves successful. Peter’s so attached to his new “mirror” sunglasses he wants to wear them everywhere, even at night. As successful as the K-Mart excursion was, finding a fast food place proves impossible. Luckily, I know where one is – or at least I think I know where one is since, it turns out, I have confused Walden Avenue with Genesee Street. I eventually do find my way to Genesee Street and we drive through McDonalds to get Cesidia her precious cheeseburger. For my trouble, I have them throw in a large fry.

We head to Canada.

The 33 (Genesee Street) leads to the 198 which leads to the 190 which leads to Canada. In between us and Canada sits Grand Island and its two massive steel bridges that rise a good hundred feet into the air. The car burps and pushes as it goes up the steeper than normal incline. We agree Ithaca was none-to-well for the 10-year-old vehicle. I wonder if it will make it. Come to think of it, the height starts to bother me, too. I wonder if I will make it.

We both do and we cross into Canada at the Lewiston Bridge. Waiting for Canadian Customs lasts not more than a half hour. I forgot it costs money to enter Canada. I don’t have exact change, so the attendant gives me some coins. Small coins. I hate coins, especially small coins. We speed off to visit Dan. Along the way Aunt Jean calls and gives us Linda Carosa’s number. She’s in Italy (she has a home in San Pio, a town about 200 yards from Fontecchio) and she will be our guide to Fontecchio – I think. I call Linda and she gives me her cell phone number to call when we arrive in Rome.

It’s amazingly easy to find Dan’s house, even though it’s been almost 15 years since we last visited there. Trip-tix on the internet has to be the greatest invention since, well, the internet. We pull into his driveway, bounce out our car and hop to his door. We ring it. Daniel – Dan and Lori’s oldest who is also Cesidia’s age – answers. He seems a bit confused. I remind him who I was and mention we would be visiting for a few hours prior to jetting off to Italy. He nods his head as if he knew and gladly turns things over to his father.

It’s a great visit, catching up on things and all. He has watermelon prepared “because we need to hydrate before flying” and he even has cold Diet Pepsi ready for me in his fridge. I know I disappoint him we I say I’m giving it up for this trip because it would be too difficult to find in Italy. Still, he invites us for a barbeque on the way back. I tell him we’d take him up on it assuming our plane doesn’t miss its arrival time by too much (and I’m kidding).

Before we leave, the ever accommodating Dan gives us new directions to the airport. He promises they’d be better help us avoid the rush hour traffic. Of course, I don’t have a map for the route he’s designing, but I go along with it, even as the kids kiddingly wager how long it will take us to get lost.

Toronto_Departure_Terminal_300The first turn is a wrong turn and we start heading away from the airport. We reverse our direction through a chancy combination of exits and on-ramps. We do go quickly to the airport as Dan promised, but it’s less than obvious where to go once we get there. We start by picking the wrong terminal (with just two terminals, we only have a fifty-fifty chance to pick the correct one, and, wouldn’t you know it…) Remarkably, a second wrong turn leads to the parking place we wanted to go to but had no idea how to get to. We turn into it, park our car and take their shuttle to the appropriate terminal.

Going through security is a breeze – except for Betsy. She gets hung up, even though her suitcase is identical to all the kids. But the delay is only brief and we are one of the first to arrive at the gate. We didn’t arrive early, we arrive at the time suggested by the travel agent and the tour group. Still, the Toronto_Airport_Waiting_300airport wait – a 3 Hour Tour – doesn’t bother me. After all the worries, I can finally relax. My job was only to get us to the gate on time. It’s somebody else’s job from this point on. I can’t overemphasize how it feels to have this psychological weight removed from my shoulders.

The flight departs as scheduled and it is both calm and calming. We have center row seats in the Airbus widebody jet. The ladies to my right complain about their earplugs the entire trip. The folks to our left (beyond Peter, who sat to my immediate left), are apparently in ninth grade and part of a school trip. Peter enjoys their silly rowdiness. So do I.

The girls and Betsy sit immediately in front of me and Peter. Surprisingly, I couldn’t sleep until we are just about to land. And I am wide awake for the landing. When the aircraft lowered its landing gear, there’s that usual bump. The folks in the back think we have landed and break out in a premature applause.

Deplaning is a breeze with all carry-ons. Unfortunately, going through customs, only Peter and Betsy get their passports stamped. We don’t know where our driver is, but his man finds us. We wait in the café for ten minutes until the vehicle arrives.

Our driver picks us up and we’re on our way…

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The next post: Day 2: Saturday, July 9, 2011 – Roman Connection Comes Through

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