Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rome X: The journey home

Why does travel always make me feel so dirty? Is it the public restrooms? The carefully selected "traveling outfit" that gets impossibly rumpled five minutes after I leave the house? All I know is, we hadn't even taken off from Fiumicino in Rome and I already felt like I hadn't showered in two days. Oh, but maybe that's because I hadn't showered in two days. And had thrown my toothbrush in the trash, since I suspected our plumber of unwittingly spraying it with toilet water.

The good news is that Mad Scientist stopped puking long before it was time to go and none of the other kids took up the practice. We sat, with our bags packed, awaiting our cab. The landlady stopped by to embrace us all. "Prossimo anno," (next year) our new Italian acquaintances in the neighborhood said to us. Mr. McP ran down to our favorite bar to say arrividerci to my hottie cafe man, who gave him a bottle of juice and a pastry. I took a last walk around the Piazza di Santa Maria.

The taxi actually arrived early and delivered us at the airport in plenty of time. Once we got through the bag drop and security--which was chaotic, why oh why can't there be a system, or at least some understanding, for large families at airport security?--it was time to find some breakfast. Fiumicino has numerous shops where one can buy quality handbags, paper products and other duty-free items. There is, however, just one cafe. There was no one shopping for Gucci bags at 9:00am, but there were about 5,000 people in the cafe, all clamoring for coffee in ten different languages. This being Italy, there was no orderly queue, just people milling about, waving Euros. With the help of Mr. McP and Mad Scientist, I eventually succeeded in obtaining three cappuccinos and six chocolate pastries to go. We hadn't even boarded the plane and I felt like we'd been traveling for days.

The flights were uneventful, and I'll just take a moment to say that British Airways is an excellent airline. My flight requirements are basic: I want to arrive without dying or disfiguring burns, and don't want to be treated like a beast by the crew. British Airways succeeds admirably on both counts and is, I believe, one of the last airlines to offer free alcoholic beverages to coach passengers. They make a decent cup of tea, too.

We had a layover at Heathrow, which is clean, quiet, and oddly empty of people. Every few minutes, a recorded announcement reminded us that "unattended baggage will be removed and destroyed." We bought some snacks at Boots and were childishly amused at the pounds and pence we got as change for our Euros. Jon talked me into going with him to the bar, and I wondered wildly if unattended children would be removed and destroyed. They weren't.

Soon after we took off from London, our individual TV screens lit up with a "Welcome to America" film. It was so delightfully cheesy, so American. First came a quick montage of the glories of the United States: Mount Rushmore, professional football, amber waves of grain, accompanied by the sort of sanitized-all-instrumental-lite-pop music you hear in locally-produced TV commercials that air during the 11:00 PM news. Then we were all introduced to the Byzantine world of US customs and immigration. "If you have a VISA or a green card, please fill in the white, W289 form. If you don't have a VISA or a green card, please fill in the green W128 form. If you have something else altogether, fill in the blue W78 form. If you are a US or Canadian citizen, please disregard all instructions. Failure to fill out these forms correctly will lead delays at your destination and to the possible sale of your first born child into slavery." God Bless America!

It turned out that the customs people at the Philadelphia airport were really nice, which was a surprise, because my main experience with US Customs is at the US/Canadian border in Buffalo, where the US customs officers are THE biggest assholes in the known universe.

By the time we'd collected our bags, cleared customs, caught a shuttle to the distant "economy" parking lot, and found the car, it was well after 9:00pm. We were exhausted, but our dog-and-bunny sitter would be leaving this evening so we had to get home. Philly to Charlottesville isn't all that far, really. Except when you've been awake for God-knows how long, and it's dark, and you miss an exit in Washington DC (the SAME exit 495/I66) we missed on the way to Philadelphia) and then the engine light comes on in your car, oddly, in the very same spot where your car had been acting strangely on the outward journey, and also at the spot where you miss your exit and are temporarily lost in suburban Washington at midnight. I think I will draw the big, black curtain of forgetfulness over that drive, although I won't soon forget the guy who hit on me in the gas station outside Washington at 1:00am. Suffice it to say, we got home and collapsed into our beds and didn't stir until the middle of the next day.

I am grateful for the safe return home, and all our possessions made it intact, except, mysteriously, my contact lenses--last seen in security at Heathrow. I picture them, sitting innocently in a bomb-proof box and then incinerated into nothingness. It's just as well, I have no idea what microscopic horror the plumbers sprayed on the case while we were out and I was probably going to throw them out anyway.

Oh, and a few days later, when I took my car to the shop to find out why the engine light came on, the reason turned out to be that the catalytic converter is "funtioning at less than optimal efficiency." Not broken, you understand, just FUNCTIONING at less than optimal efficiency.


  1. Ah, reality bites doesn't it? I'm glad you had healthy people traveling, though. Traveling always makes me feel super filthy, too. Even a short plane ride has me wanting a hot shower.
    Relax. I'm off to read about the rest of your trip since I'm behind a few posts!

  2. HAHAHA oh, patience, what a good fussell/bryson rant you give. i need, need desperately, a sign that says, "wildly unattended children will be removed and destroyed."

  3. I agree 100% about British Airways.
    When we were at Heathrow, someone left a package unattended! The security people surrounded it and hurried it away.

    Welcome back to Home, Sweet Home and civilized plumbing!

  4. Oh dear, I missed an exit in Washington DC once and ended up going about an hour out of my way. Actually, I think it might have been two, but don't tell anyone.

    Welcome home! I'm glad your catalytic converter is still functioning, albeit at less than optimal capacity. That is like a metaphor for my life. And how ironic that I would say something was "like" a metaphor. Okay, I'm done now.

  5. i think it's high time for another George picture blog

  6. Excellent! So glad that you guys arrived home safely and without too many incidents - lots of things were so funny though, as seen and related by you! Surely, there are not a lot of things worse on the travel spectrum than driving around somewhere unfamiliar late at night, strung out and with burning eyes.

    I'll bet your animal companions were so happy to see you as you were to see them. Now, as with any trip, you can relax, ruminate and savor your experiences, good and not so good.

    So, when do you want to go back? We're game!
    Talk to you soon -
    Your friends and childern's secular life guides

  7. Just have to say I disagree with you on British Airways. Ben was denied boarding his flight from Nairobi to Rome (via London) because he supposedly lacked a "transit visa", a document he didn't need. Then in Rome, because he "missed" his Nairobi flight, there was no record of his reservation of flight from Rome to Washington. Resulting in him having to spend thousands out of pocket for tickets to Rome and then to DC. BA (of course) is refusing to reimburse. I would NEVER recommend anyone who is not an American citizen to fly with them. Apparently being a perm. res. and having a Schengen visa for Italy (but that by law covers all of the EU) means nothing to BA (or at least the particular employee who started this whole mess).