Monday, June 15, 2009

Coming Home

12:00PM June 2

Friday morning I was up again by 7:00, nervously awaiting my departure from Florence. I fiddled about for the better part of the next three hours, packing various items I'd left out of my bag before. I made one last attempt to catch up with Antonio before leaving, and it looked good for a time, but then he informed me that he could only meet me if I came up to campus. I didn't have that time to spare, so I waited for John to get up, and he joined Adam and I for one last cappuccino and pastry.

By 10:00, I headed downstairs to catch my taxi to the airport. I arrived in plenty of time for my flight, and Lufthansa didn't even open the check-in line until I'd waited around for half-an-hour. At that point I made it through security and found Adam, who'd left about a half-hour before me, at the airport's main cafeteria.

We chatted for about forty minutes, both reminiscing and discussing exactly how we planned to make it as musicians back in America. After he boarded his flight, I got a slice of pizza—which was closer to Pizza Hut than anything—and then headed down to my gate. I waited there for a while more, and eventually I ran into friends who were on a flight after me. We chatted for some thirty minutes or more before I had to board my own flight. I got tingles as I boarded the aircraft. That was goodbye to Italy for who knows how long. The sites that had become so familiar, the hills laden with olive orchards, the eighteenth century stucco buildings, the terra-cotta roofs, all of which I could see from the tarmac, would become foreign again.

On the tarmac at Florence International Airport

Just making liftoff

Overlooking the Tuscan valleys

The edge of Florence

Northern Tuscany

When I'm carrying my guitar on board, I always try to make sure I am one of the first people on the plane, securing a space for my instrument. The guitar is delicate, and especially in the soft case that I use to get around day to day, I can't afford to check it. That was no problem on my flights over to Italy, but the overhead compartments were not nearly big enough to hold it on my small flight to Munich. Fortunately, I spoke to a flight attendant immediately, and she found room for it in the unoccupied seats at the back of the plane, strapping it in with both seatbelts.

Next was probably the best part of the day. I had a ninety minute flight over northern Italy and the Alps. It was simply stunning. I spent the entire flight listening to music and shooting pictures of the mountains—I was fortunate enough to get a window seat. Forget about reading or writing; checking out the scenery was all of the entertainment I needed. Quite abruptly, the Alps ended, not turning into rolling hills, but vast expanses of farmland. The multi-colored plains were only broken up by what I soon realized was the grand soccer stadium built for the 2006 World Cup. It was one of the rare signs of sprawl that I saw in Europe, building such a stadium way out in the middle of nowhere, and at that point, I knew we had to be coming in for a landing in nearby Munich.

Farmland before approaching the mountains

Hills turn into mountains

Entering the Alps

Lovely snow-capped peaks

The mountains begin to erode

The plains of Germany/Switzerland

Munich's grand World Cup stadium

German Multi-colored farmland

Unfortunately, I only had about forty minutes in between touching down in Munich before my next flight departed for America. If I had more time, I definitely wanted to get a beer and a bar of chocolate for the road, but I made as quickly as I could for the gate of my next departure, breezing through customs, where I picked up another stamp in my passport. A majority of the passengers had already boarded this flight, but it was a giant Airbus with pairs of seats on either side and three in the middle, and I had no problem finding room for my guitar in the overhead compartments. As I was about to take my seat on the left aisle, the man with the window seat offered to switch so that he could talk to his companion directly across the aisle. I had no problem with this and was even pleased to have a chance to catch more of the scenery.

When I'd finally sat down at the window, I heard a woman behind me complain about there being a cello or something taking up all of this room in the overhead, forcing her to find a place for her bag that wasn't directly over her head. Another woman helped her get her bags together, and the two of them then commiserated about how it was always women who helped out other women, as if men have some deficiency for being gracious.

While waiting for liftoff, I heard the two men next to me speaking in some Italian-like language. They looked more German than Italian though, so I asked where they were from. "Croatia," was there response. When I mentioned that their language sounded Italian they both chuckled. "Italians speak so much faster," they said. I couldn't believe this. The only thing that Italians do fast is drive. There language is notably paced and lyrical. Especially compared to Spanish and French, Italian always feels very slow. They responded, "maybe it isn't fast, but it always sounds like they cram thirteen syllables into each word." Now if Italians are fast, I can't imagine how things move in Croatia.

I then checked out what was on my video system. The movie options weren't that interesting, so I watched an episode of 30 Rock. I think I'd seen it before, but it was still great entertainment. We were over the clouds at 38,000 feet for most of the flight, so I had no views down to the scenery below. I spent most of the flight either watching movies or catching up on the blog, which I had trouble finding time to write for at the end of the semester. There were probably eight movies or so, but, excepting the two I'd already seen The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire, none of them were very interesting. Eventually I settled on Bolt, which was a poor rehash of the exact same story as Toy Story 2, made without any of the skill and care of Pixar.

At some point during the movie they brought out a meal. I got the chicken piccante, which, as airline food goes, was a really excellent dish. It came with a vinaigrette salad, and, taking advantage of still being on a European airline, I got a glass of red wine to sip along with my meal. Over the course of the flight, they were gracious enough to bring around snacks and orange juice several times more, including a sandwich before landing.

Even though it still felt like I was in Europe, I realized that I would have better luck speaking to the German attendants on my Lufthansa flight in English rather than Italian. I caught myself a few times, about to ask for "vino rosso," or inquire, "scusi." The language barrier was already gone.

I worked some more on the blog after the movie, but I was running out of battery on my computer, so I decided to watch Slumdog Millionaire. It was still an excellent film, but I really didn't need to watch it a second time so soon after first seeing it.

Just as the movie ended, we began to break through the clouds, approaching Newark from the north and flying parallel to the Hudson. I got a great view of the city coming in, and it seemed only too fitting that the last thing I saw before touching down after four months in Europe was the Statue of Liberty.

The Atlantic, just to the south of Iceland.

Entering the clouds as we descend towards Newark

"New York City, just like I pictured it...skyscapers and everything" -Stevie Wonder

The Statue of Liberty

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