Sunday, March 4, 2007

I've Arrived! (In More Ways Than One!)

Santa Croce
Ponte Vecchio

It's Saturday, March 3, 2:40 p.m. Florence time. I have been here since 1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1, so for about 48 hours. I know that some of you are anxiously waiting on my update! I have been very busy getting settled and acclimated, but honestly, I am mostly so excited and overwhelmed to be here, I hardly can think straight....maybe it’s just the jet lag. In 48 hours I have experienced so much, it is unbelievable. I will try to capture the highlights here and save some of the details for later.

The journey was relatively pleasant, although I had a lot of excitement and anxiety about the still "unknowns" (my apartment, getting my luggage settled, etc.) The plane was not crowded at all, which made the trip comfortable. I had 2 seats to myself! I flew from Nashville to Charlotte, had a 45 minute layover, just time to get to the next gate, and then Charlotte to London. All was pleasant and uneventful here, although I only slept about 2 hours due to my excitement.

I arrived in London Gatwick, and it was chaos. I suspect additional security measures in the London airports contributed to this. I had an hour and a half, so arrived unconcerned about the time of the layover, but ended up cutting it really close. I had 2 carry on bags, that unbenownst to me are not allowed on the airline that I was using from London to Florence. So, I got in the massive security line only to be stopped once I got to the end and told to go and check my bag. I was able to do so, but only had 15 minutes until flight departure time, and had to go through the security line again. Thank goodness for "Fast Track", a line that allows passengers who are within 30 minutes of their flight time to go into a shorter line. I made the flight...last one on the plane. My anxiety level was out of control at this point. First of all only 2 hours of sleep, and for my body it was 2 a.m., although the clock in London was at 8. Secondly, still the outstanding unknown portion of my apartment, meeting the landlord, the luggage, etc. but the 3rd thing that had just been added, was checking a piece of my previously carried on luggage! Now think about why you carry on luggage on an international flight.....important stuff that you need and don’t want to get lost, that’s why! I had in that bag....medications (a years supply that I worked like a dog to secure), my Bose docking station, information on my school enrollment, financial documents, get the picture. After I got on the plane, I also discovered that my Palm Pilot and my cell phone where in there! So, for the next 2 hours, I just about hyperventilated thinking that for sure because of the lateness of checking the bag, that it would be left and I would be stranded.

I arrived in Florence about 15 minutes late, and got a cart to gather my luggage. I was pretty happy with my packing. I ended up with 4 checked pieces (5 after the carry on). The only thing I was focused on was that red carry on bag, which I saw almost immediately! Yeah! I piled my cart with my luggage and one smart ass looked at my pile and asked if I was which I replied, "As a matter of fact, I am! He didn’t know how to respond to that. (American of course)

Anyway, one piece of luggage was missing, the one containing summer clothes. I went to the lost baggage counter, filed a claim, and proceeded on. All of the travel I do, and I have only had my bags missing 3 times in my life, this being one of them. The other two times they were found, so I had high hopes that this one would be also, and if one was delayed/lost, this was the best possible scenario. Today I learned that the bag has been located, and someone will call me for delivery.

I called Tatiana, the woman who leased me my apartment over the internet. She had been helpful and nice through our email correspondence and had told me to call her from the airport so that we could meet at the apartment. We connected and agreed to meet at 2:30 at the apartment. (See the photos I saw to make my decision around the apartment at (

The taxi ride took about 20 minutes and cost 25 euro. As we pulled down the street (which looks more like an alleyway), I saw no one there to meet me. The taxi driver who I had hoped to pay to help me take the bags up the stairs, unloaded them in front of a locked iron door with 7 doorbells which was the entrance to my apartment. I waited for only about 5 minutes when Tatiana called my name...Buon Giorno!

She speaks English pretty well. She unlocked the door and we dragged the 5 bags into the entrance way, allowing the door to close and lock behind us so that they are not sitting out on the street. We started up, carrying some of the lighter bags. One of my check bags weighed 72 lbs! The one that is lost weighs 58 lbs. There are 50 stairs to my apartment and no elevator (or lift, as they call it). The building was built in the early 1500's, and is concrete and plaster. The hand rails on the stairs are a piece of iron which is molded into the cement/plaster. The width of the stairs is about 3 feet. You get the picture, narrow and steep.

As we entered the apartment, I immediately recognized furniture from the photos. There is a desk, a wardrobe, which serves as my only closet, but it is massive. The kitchen is well equipped, and larger than I thought. Actually, the entire apartment is larger than I thought.

The entrance area and kitchen are to the right when you come in the door, and the living area and bathroom to the left. The loft with my bed is directly over the living area. The ceilings in the apartment are about 16-18 feet high, and the loft was built in later it seems. The floor is ceramic tile, painted a light taupe color with blue accents. There are 2 windows, but because of the height of the buildings around, I don’t get much sunlight. The window in the kitchen looks into the street - 4 stories down. The photo with the motorcycles and buildings attached is looking to the right out of my window. The second photo of the "street" leads to the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce, and the church in the photo.

The location is ideal, and I have located a supermarket, restaurants, internet café, and walked to my school to gauge the distance. Perfect! Because it is in the city, there are unusual noises at all times of the day and night.....tour groups walking by, scooters, ambulances, questra (police) drunks, etc. Because of the locked iron door, and another dead bolt like I have never seen before on any door, and the fact that Florence has hardly any crime, I feel very safe.

Tatiana and I hauled the luggage up to the apartment, and before we were finished, Sylvia, the owner of the apartment showed up and helped us also. Sylvia lives in Vienna, but is in town a few days, so came by to help show me the apartment and to meet me. Both Tatiana and Sylvia were unbelievably friendly and helpful. They spent about an hour and a half going over things in the apartment like : cleaning supplies (because these are all Italian labels, they wrote on them in English for me so I would know what to use for what), how to use the tiny washing machine (there is no dryer, but 2 clothes lines that hang out my back window), Information on the microwave, refrigerator, other supplies in the apartment, how to use the telephone, how to use the call button on the door below, use of the heat, water, and gas (all of which have gauges on them, and other cost saving switches). They gave me many conservation tips around the use of electricity, gas, and water. This is very important to Italians!

After they left, I poked around on my own and started to unpack. I unpacked my toiletries, my personal goods, and then decided I had to get out and about and have something to eat.

At 5:00 p.m. I sat in the Piazza della Signoria, and the church bells in the city started to ring. I was eating roasted chicken, salad, and french fries (arrosto pollo, insalata mista, y patate frita), drinking wine, and weeping like a baby! It was at the point that I was relaxed enough to realize that I was actually living in Italy, and I was so emotional, happy, relieved, and proud of myself, I could not stop the tears. The waiter inquired if everything was okay, and I assured him it was, but I don’t think he believed me! At least he knew it wasn’t because of the food and wine, which was one of the most delicious meals I have ever had, and I was ravenous!

That evening, I wandered a little more around the city trying to familiarize myself. Since I spent 2 weeks here about 16 months ago, and Florence is small, it is easy to gain my bearings. I went back to the apartment, and tried to sleep. Exhausted, but still so excited to be here, so many new noises and unfamiliar things, it was tough, but finally I did sleep.

Yesterday I was busy grocery shopping, finding internet access, buying a hair dryer that is European friendly, tracking down my lost luggage, finding my school, and continuing to explore the city. I could and will elaborate on many of these experiences in the future, which were all much more complex and full of learnings than you could ever imagine! I couldn’t leave this first entry without photos of two of the most famous things in Florence.....the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, which I had to visit to bring additional reality to the fact that I’ve arrived!


Kelly Mills said...

Looks beautiful! So glad to know you are safe & happy. We are thinking of you ( I am picturing you hauling all that luggage up the stairs). Do those Italian women know a few new English words?

Will said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Will said...

Hi Mom. You are awesome and I can share in a few of those tears as I read your unbelievable stories! I can't wait to see you in just 4 week...

I love you Mom, Will.

Connie Mang said...

Awwwe...and then Will's post brought my tears on! I can't wait to visit you. The pictures are beautiful, and it sounds like you've gotten off to a mesmerizing start.

I already miss you terribly (and not just because I've lost my downtown place to crash)!


Anonymous said...

I am so happy for you Karen! Glad you made it safely. Looking forward to hearing about your adventure.

Love, Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

Hey Karen,
Congratulations on your "arrival," in all meanings of the word.
Your knack for jounal writing is already breathtaking for everyone reading.
Sorry I missed you in San Francisco. We received 6 feet of snow at Lake Tahoe.
I look forward to keeping up with your journey.
Penpal Remmel

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you have arrived safe and sound. I am so excited for you. I cannot wait to this this adventure through you. You are a VERY strong woman, and you will do well. Love and live every minute of this adventure. You have lots and lots of thoughts and prayers from here to keep you going.