Before I begin this post, I want to say my trip to Europe went very well and I had a great time. It is an experience that I am still comprehending. I have so many great memories and so many photos. But I feel the need to start at the very beginning, even though the beginning was the hardest part of my journey.
When traveling alone overseas, the first 36 hours of the trip are the hardest. My travel time, including layovers, was about 24 hours. This was for three flights. For my carry-on luggage, I had a big purse and a heavy bag that did not have rollers. When running around airports that you are not familiar with, this can take a great toll on your body, especially your shoulders. I had called the airline in advance to order gluten-free meals for the flights. However, that request was lost, and I was basically stuck with not eating. By the time I reached my third flight I was so hungry that I ended up eating food with gluten. I paid the price with a very horrible stomachache.
I was actually quite lucky with the seating on my second flight (8.5 hours) out of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. I was in the middle section, but I had an aisle seat and there was nobody seated next to me or behind me. This meant I was able to put my seat as far back as it could go without feeling guilty. I tend to be the type of person who, if I put my seat back at all, will only do it a tiny bit because I feel so guilty about the person’s space I am intruding on behind me. So, this seating arrangement left me with plenty of space. It was an overnight flight, but I have never been able to sleep on airplanes. I was only able to close my eyes for a while.
I had my connecting flight at the London Heathrow Airport. This was a bit of a nightmare. It is a big airport. To get from one terminal to another, you have to take a 15-20 minute bus ride. By this time, all I felt like doing was brushing my teeth, taking a shower and changing clothes. But I got onto the bus and headed to the other terminal. There I was greeted by an incredibly long security line for international connections. I got in line and each time it stopped I put my bags down to help my aching shoulders. Then, usually as soon as I set them down, the line moved again by a couple of feet and I had to pick them back up again. The wait lasted about 45 minutes. I was hot, dehydrated, hungry and exhausted. I pulled out my bag of liquids and my computer to be scanned for the second time during this departure trip and stepped through security.
I made it to the gate area, but it still was too early for them to name a specific gate for my flight, so I went to the big seating area and sat down. I was seated in front of a little restaurant centered in the middle of the waiting area that served wines and beers from many different countries. I sat silently as I watched people go in and out. By this time I was in a little bit of a daze from getting no sleep and very little food. At moments like this, you start wishing that you could be at home, but I still had another 2.5 hour flight ahead of me and a long taxi ride in an unknown city.
I arrived in Rome after dark. Before reaching the bag claim area, I had to go through passport security. A line formed and I moved to the window when it was my turn. Apparently the man and woman behind me were standing to0 close and the Italian man working the booth yelled out sternly, “Behind the yellow line!” The couple looked confused like they hadn’t completely heard him and the girl started giggling a little bit. They did not move behind the yellow line. Becoming angry, the man in the booth yelled out again, “Behind the yellow line!” with his Italian accent showing itself. The couple stiffened up at the sternness in his voice, but still looked a little confused. I was concerned with the man in the booth becoming angrier, so I said to the couple, “He said behind the yellow line,” and pointed to the line on the floor. They finally moved to the correct position. When the man in the booth was finally satisfied with their position, he opened up my passport, looked it over with dark eyes and stamped it. He returned it to me and I rushed out of the area. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the people in line behind me.
My bag appeared on the conveyer belt in good time and this made me feel a little better. I always have a small fear of my bag never showing up. I found the exit and moved to the area where there were taxis parked. I told the taxi driver the name of my hotel and he sort of repeated it, but it was obvious he was not familiar with the name. I had written it down, along with the address in a small notebook. I opened my enormous purse, took it out and gave it to him. Judging from the noise that came from him, he recognized the street and the taxi ride began.
In Rome, the airport is far away from the city center. Even though he was a fast driver, most often driving in the passing lane, the ride still took about 30 minutes. It was obvious that he knew very little English and I knew barely any Italian, so the taxi ride was silent. There was no radio playing either. The only sound came from his phone when he received text messages. We arrived at my hotel on a busy street. I paid him 55 Euros (yes it is expensive) and grabbed my huge fleet of luggage and attempted to cross the street.
I checked in successfully and was so happy to make it to my room. It was small compared to Western standards, but it had a bed. One of the first things I did was try to plug in my fan. I sleep with a fan every night and am not able to sleep without one. It turned on and I let out a sigh because I was so happy. Then about a minute later the smell of burned metal filled the hotel room and I noticed my fan was smoking. I unplugged it immediately and realized my fan was ruined. I had not researched adapters and converters before I went overseas and had borrowed an adapter from a friend who had used it several years ago. I did not know why this had happened at the time, but after that incident, I did not want to attempt to plug in anything else.
So, I was essentially without power. I couldn’t plug in my computer, I couldn’t charge my phone and I had no fan. At that point, I felt completely defeated. All I wanted to do was lie in bed, browse the internet a little and then go to sleep. I decided to focus my attention on taking a shower. It was a shower with no curtain and half a wall. I couldn’t figure out how to position the shower head to keep it from spraying water all over the floor. Consequently, I showered as fast as I could. I laid in bed thinking about how tired and hungry I was. I felt so distant from everything in that moment. I turned off the light and tried to sleep.
I was able to get some sleep, waking up every couple hours. The next morning seemed better. It was light out and I could look out my window onto the street. I told myself I had to get dressed and go out to find a market for some food and a store for an adapter. I was able to find a market pretty quickly. I wandered around for about two hours before coming across a store that sold adapters. I bought two. I returned to my hotel with my food and adapters. I stuck the adapter in and decided to try out my phone charger first. I was so scared that it was going to burn out my phone. I plugged it in reluctantly. It worked!
The day instantly became brighter. I had food, was clean and bathed, and had power. Everything seemed infinitely better. I was now prepared to begin the actual part of my trip. I got all my things together and set out to walk to my first destination. I knew I had made it through the worst part of my journey. There were low moments, but it all came together. I was certain then that I could handle anything that came my way. Rome is a big city, but it was not going to beat me. My first day ended successfully!