I hadn't travelled internationally since I was a child when I visited the Dominican Republic with my parents. Oh, and there was that one time I spent about 24 hours in the Bahamas to do some a voiceover work (but given my fears, I don't think I need to tell you how THAT went!)
But here it was, the moment of truth, my first real international travel experience. Florence, Italy was the destination. I was all packed the evening before, but I clearly remember trying to pump myself up by reciting over and over, "You better go towards your dreams or die trying- this is IT!"
I tried to put on my 'big-girl-face' when my daughter dropped my husband and me off at the airport. We were flying to Florence for the Black Portraitures II conference, hosted by NYU, where my husband was a featured panelist. I was shook walking into the airport, knowing that each step I took was one step closer to boarding a flight... to Italy. But somehow, I made it through security, to the concourse and ultimately to the flight gate without turning back. Whew!
But my victory was short-lived. I guess I should mention an important part to this story; we were flying standby.
If you've ever flown as a stand-by passenger, you know that a seat is not necessarily a guarantee. It's something of a gamble. Sometimes it's no problem to board a flight. Sometimes your seat can be upgraded. But in the event a flight is full, you will most likely get 'bumped' and you'll have to wait for the flight and hope they have seats available.
For some reason, it seemed EVERYONE in Atlanta was headed to Italy that day. We got bumped. Not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES!
Watching our names appear on screen at the end of a very long stand-by list, my anxiety grew exponentially. On the outside I played it cool, but internally I was ready to break for the door! Maybe this was a sign NOT to go?
Time was of the essence. We had already secured an AirBNB in Florence and as a result of the delays, we would end up losing a night's stay. But more importantly, my hubby was scheduled to speak during the conference, so not making it wasn't really an option.
Ultimately we were able to re-route our flight. Instead of traveling direct from Atlanta to Rome, we decided to take the last flight available to London. Once inside the EU, it's significantly less expensive to travel between countries. This was good news because our new flight plan required that we buy tickets from London to Rome and then from Rome to Florence.
So after spending all afternoon waiting for and rearranging flights, we finally boarded the flight to London's Heathrow Airport that evening. It was an overnight flight, 7+ hours. Once I settled into my seat on the plane and the door shut, I felt like life as I knew it had ended. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew this was the beginning of my transformation. Thank goodness I was exhausted from all the waiting and negotiating with airline representatives, so I slept the whole way!
I awoke in London. Disembarking the plane, I found myself in awe of Heathrow's hustle and bustle. But perhaps even more, listening to the British accents!
While waiting to board our flight to Rome, we decided to eat at a quaint Mediterranean spot in the airport and let our family know we made it safe. I even took a step outdoors just to see what London air smelled like! Crazy, I know, but this was a completely new experience for me. A birthing of a sort. I simply wanted to be in the moment. Once I took a whiff, I realized I was being ridiculous because there was no difference in "American" air and "British" air!
The flight to Rome was short and smooth. But I can't say the same for the line at customs!!! It appeared that every tourist in the world arrived in Rome at the same time. Both my husband and I became extremely anxious because we only had a brief window of time in which to catch our connecting flight to Florence. We waited in line for over an hour and a half. After being cleared we made a mad dash to find our connecting flight only to discover it had JUST taken off. Not only that, we were told there would not be another flight until the next morning. The cherry on top; we would have to buy more tickets for the next flight because the ones we purchased were non-transferrable!
I simply broke down. I don't think I ever cried so hard in my adult life! I'm talking about that UGLY cry, WITH snot! (I'm laughing hard as I type this, but it was no laughing matter at the time).
Here I was-- THOUSANDS of miles away from my children and I can't do anything for them if they needed me. I never felt so helpless in my life. I was certain that I'd made the biggest mistake ever. My husband (bless his heart) comforted me and said, "Let's just get some dinner and a room for the night and be ready to go to Florence in the morning."
And that's what we did.
Next morning we were at the airport bright and early, ready to keep it moving.
We boarded our flight to Florence and before you know it... WE MADE IT! *cue Drake song*
Our taxi driver spoke very little English (and our Italian was pitiful), so we basically just showed him the address of our AirBNB and trusted that he'd get us there.
The ride from the airport to our lodging was fascinating! Almost all the cars there are Volkswagen Bug-sized, and all signs were in Italian (duh!). The radio stations had Italian songs playing! I know I'm being Captain Obvious right now, but it was these little nuances that affirmed to me that I MADE IT! And I was still breathing and shit!
I kept saying to myself, "Am I in Florence? Am I in FLORENCE???"
In FLORENCE, ITALY.
Come back so I can tell you about my time there!