Ritorna da Me (Return to Me)

September 6, 2019 Lynne 2 comments

Dean Martin said it best! We are finally returning to Italy. It’s been more than two years since we left, and we can’t wait to get there.

We got an early start for the drive from Albany, New York to JFK Airport in New York City. in a one-way rental from Hertz. Our rental is a large Dodge SUV with plenty of room for all of our stuff. It’s the Monday of Labor Day weekend, so we hope the three hour drive to NYC doesn’t take twice as long.

Bella hasn’t seen her airline travel kennel in over a year, but she climbed right in.

The weather is gray and rainy, but our early start pays off. Traffic is light and moves right along. We arrive at Hertz and unload all of our stuff onto two luggage carts for the trek to Terminal 1.

To get to Terminal 1, we have to take the Airtran. Nick and I each push a luggage cart onto the train. We haven’t put Bella into her travel kennel yet, and she is quiet and well behaved on the train. When we get off the train, Bella trots along on her leash as we navigate to the Terminal.

Bella is very well behaved at JFK in NYC

We had purchased Economy tickets for our Alitalia flight to Italy, but had successfully bid on an upgrade to Business Class. We love to fly Alitalia because they only charge $200 to fly Bella as baggage. The big US airlines would require us to use a pet transport service, adding at least $2500 to the cost of flying Bella, in the same baggage hold.

One of the perks of our upgraded Business Class tickets was a priority check-in line. Nick took our pile of checked luggage up to the counter while I waited nearby with Bella, her travel kennel and backpacks. Our checked luggage was oversize and overweight, costing an additional $400 but it was worth it to be able to take all of our stuff.

All checked in, there is nothing to do but wait. Alitalia is exceptional and accommodating for pets and their worried parents, but they will not take custody of a dog until the plane is available. Our plane was running late. We were instructed to return to the counter in ninety minutes to check Bella in.

The anti-anxiety pills are starting to take effect

This was Bella’s sixth airline flight, and it was the first time that we medicated her. On her previous flights she got very scared when her travel kennel was handled by strangers. Our scared little girl looked like a snarling beast to the poor people that had to load her onto the plane. I had asked our vet for a solution and he had prescribed an anti-anxiety medication for the flight. We tested it on Bella a few times over the summer to make sure that it worked as expected. I gave her a full dose while we waited for her check-in time.

Waiting for Bella to check-in means that we can’t go through the TSA check point into the airport. As instructed we returned to the ticket counter with Bella after 90 minutes. But the plane still was not here. We wait for another 45 minutes, checking at the counter and getting increasingly anxious about getting both Bella and ourselves through security and on the flight.

Completely relaxed pre-flight.

Finally, they call a baggage handler to escort us to the oversize luggage station to check Bella in. They wipe the inside of her crate with a special wipe to detect any explosive residue. Once the security check is complete it’s time to load Bella into her crate. This is where it usually gets noisy, but thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, Bella quietly goes into her crate and I secure the door. As she’s being rolled away, she lets out a couple half-hearted barks. We are relieved that she is so calm, but we’ll both be worried about her until we see her on the other side.

We hustle to get to the TSA security checkpoint and thanks to our upgraded Business Class tickets, we are put in a priority line. But it’s not moving. A TSA employee motions us to wait while they let others in ahead of us. When I tell him that we are cutting it close with our departure time, he looks at our boarding passes and hurries us through as best he can.

Finally on-board for our first time in the fancy seats.

We arrive at our gate just as our plane is beginning to board. There is a special line for Priority Passengers and we are happy to join it. On board, we enjoy a pre-flight glass of sparkling wine and check out the menu and wine list. A flight attendant takes our dinner order as we wait to take off.

Cheers! Enjoying our pre-flight Prossecco.

Dinner is served with a white linen tablecloth, a linen napkin, china and real silverware. It is a 4 course meal served with a nice selection of wine. After dinner, we recline our seats into a flat position, tuck ourselves in with a pillow and comforter, and sleep our way across the Atlantic. It feels so good.

The menu for our flight. There was also a separate wine list.

About an hour before we land, breakfast is served. When we arrive in Rome, it’s jet-lagged zombies on arrival. We both looking forward to being reunited with Bella! 

The first course of our four course dinner was Braeseola stuffed with goat cheese.

Thanks again to our upgraded tickets, our luggage (including Bella) is the first off of the plane. We enter Italy with our Italian Passports and since we have nothing to claim, walk through the customs process in about 5 minutes.

One of our neighbors on the plane. The bottom of the seat moves forward and the back reclines to a lie-flat position. A pillow and comforter is provided. We arrived well-rested.

Nick calls Roma Drive, the dealer for our leased Peugeot, to pick us up at the airport. Our driver, David, arrives in 20 minutes apologizing for the delay. He tells us about his travels and how much he loves Rome. “It is the best city in the world. The best people and the best food but Rome and Italy have the worst politicians in the world. I’d call it a close tie. Our travel experiences have taught us that around the world, people are great but governments are not so great.

Bella in her kennel in Rome. People are curious to see her.

We arrive at the dealership to pick up our new car. Nick had ordered a Peugeot Model 2008 in black. Just before leaving New York, we realized they had substituted the much smaller Model 208, in red. The manager tells Nick that we don’t have to accept the car. That he sees the mistake in the paperwork. He could have the correct car in less than a month, but that he has no other cars available. “Lo prendiamo” – we’ll take it. We’re happy to see it’s an automatic with GPS. And thankfully our hundreds of pounds of luggage just fit. 

Our sweet ride

Before we go too far, we need to get gas. The price is down to about $6 a gallon compared to $10 a gallon in 2017. Stazione di servizioare are all different in Italy. Some take credit cards only, some cash only. Some have attendant, but most have a single computerize terminal where you select the amount you want and the pump number.  Getting gas in a foreign country is it’s own adventure!

Bella sits up front by my feet for the ride to Giove.

The GPS takes us to the E45 towards Firenze. We are going to spend a week at the rustico in Giove where we spent 5 months in 2017. It’s a great drive, but we notice a huge amount of smog in the air, way more than in 2016. Toll booths here take cash bills or coins. They’re easy to use once you do it once or twice. 

One and a half hours later we are in a grocery store near Giove. €38 later we have enough food for several days. We love the Italian markets. They offer incredible quality at a very affordable price. 

The small grocery stores have a great variety and quality of food

We finally arrived at our Rustico. Bella got out of the car and immediately went looking for the resident cats. Nick and I let ourselves in and found Casa Bandita almost exactly as we remembered, but with some new updates and fresh paint.

Back at Casa Bandita in Giove

After a quick dip in the pool we enjoy a great bottle of Brunello di Montalcino on the terrace overlooking our little slice of Umbria. We sipped very slowly to enjoy the full body and complex taste. Nick made a delicious Panzanella for dinner and we went to bed early.

It feels wonderful to be back in Italy. The next few days we’ll be busy setting up cell phones and banking. Then we’ll be heading to Southern Italy for some new adventures.

Ci vediamo! (See you later)

Lynne, Nick and Bella


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