Sicily Tour 2016

Day 14 Friday December 2, 2016
Catania - Rome - Boston - Home

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The Liberty Hotel featured a see-through shower, but I liked it.

The longest day of the vacation began at 4:15 a.m. For the first time since Sunday I translated that into Eastern Standard time. OMG, it was only 10:15 on Thursday night. Many New Englanders would not even be in bed yet.

The bathroom was unbelievably spacious for a Rick Steves hotel.

I had not been able to find my sleeping mask when I went to bed, and now that I was up, I could not find my shaving cream. I must have left both of them in our room at the Domus Mariae.[1]

I had thought that Sue had arranged for the cab to come at five, but she informed me that the reservation was actually for 5:30. I had time to read Absolute Monarchs while she showered, got dressed, and packed. We went to the lobby to check out at about 5:20.

My understanding was that the hotel would give us a sack of food for breakfast, but Jon and Karen were finishing with their breakfasts when we arrived. There would evidently be no breakfast bags. So, we would need to get some food at either the Catania airport or at Fiumicino. I had already taken the little pastries from Nonna Vincenza that the hotel had left for us in the room. Sue, of course, still had some food from previous meals that she had squirreled away.

When we left the hotel the little hand was on the five.

The cab came at 5:30. All six of us (Jon, Karen, Laurie, Leslie, Sue, and I) piled into the cab. It was cozy, but there was enough room. The streets were deserted, and we made it to the airport with enough time for our 7:25 flight. Jon paid the driver €60, and Leslie and I paid him €20 for our shares.

All six of us and our luggage got crammed into the cab.

All six of us were on the same flight to Fiumicino. Jon and Karen also had tickets for the flight to Boston on which we were booked. We walked into the terminal in Catania as a group. I immediately checked the schedule and determined that our flight used desks 8-14 for check-in. We all walked rapidly over there and got in line. We had reached the check-in area when I realized that Sue was no longer with us. I backtracked to the door through which we had entered the terminal and found her there. The two of us walked back to the check-in area and got in line again.

Jon, Karen, Leslie, and Laurie were well ahead of us in line, but it did not matter very much. We obviously had enough time to make our flight. However, we never got a chance to talk with the other four again.

The first of many lines that day was at the Alitalia check-in desk.

After we checked in, Sue and I sat down and ate our pastries before going through security. I also ate some of my remaining imitation Cheese Doodles.

Once again the lax Italian security allowed us into the gate area without compelling us to remove our shoes. While we were sitting at the gate I was very surprised to see a young priest who had eaten in the Castello di Fiorentino restaurant in Siracusa at the same time that we did on the previous evening. I surreptitiously took his photo, but it came out very blurry.

I was surprised that there was a jetway from the terminal to our flight to Rome. I had assumed that we would need to go through the bus routine again. The flight was packed, but it was so short that no one cared very much.

We landed in Fiumicino at the B terminal. We had a very long walk to the E terminal, which is where the international flights departed. When we got there we found that we had to stand in a very long line for passport control. A large number of stations were available to take care of the passengers, but only a few of them were manned that morning. It was very annoying.

The female Alitalia flight attendants wore uniforms that Mussolini would have approved.

When we finally got to the front of the line, both Sue and I were processed by a man who was talking on his cell phone. He held down our passports with the elbow of his phoning hand while he stamped our passports with the other.

I assume that there was a different area for processing Italians. I cannot imagine that many Italians would put up with standing in line for such a long time.

I never have feared flying, but the precariousness of travel connections always made me very nervous. Not being able to find a gate and missing a flight were recurrent themes in my nightmares. In this case Alitalia had only one flight to Boston scheduled per day. I could not relax until we were actually on the plane.

Whoa, Nellie! The flight to Boston was full of invisible passengers.

We had to take a train to the international gates. After that we had another long walk to gate E43. By the time that we arrived there the plane was boarding. I had planned to exchange the rest of our euros for dollars, but there was no time. I would have to do it at Logan.

Once again, there was a jetway. I just could not understand it. Had they installed all these jetways while were busing around Sicily?

For some reason I took a photo of the right wing of the plane.

The plane was less than half full, which shocked me. Sue, who had gotten very little sleep the night before, was able to move across the aisle to the five center seats, which she had to herself. I was still on an adrenaline high. It would be a while before I would be able to sleep. In point of fact, I dozed very little on the flight.

In Italy the birth rate is so low that they show how to affix masks to people with broken arms.

Our plane taxied around Fiumicino for a very long time. I amused myself by watching the screen on the seat in front of me to view the live video shot by the camera on the nose of the plane. I managed to get a pretty good photo of a plane that crossed in front of us.

I also got a very good shot through the window of another plane taking off. After we finally were airborne, I watched our plane's progress up Italy's west coast. Soon, for the first time in all of my trips to Europe, I actually had a pretty good view of the Alps. I took a photo through the window, and it actually came out pretty good. I also took a photo of the plane's progress on the screen at that point.

Our pilot had this airplane in his crosshairs.

The flight time was nearly eight hours. I expected that we would probably get two meals even though it would be early in the afternoon in Boston when we arrived. I was right. The first one came just as we were leaving Europe. I had already set my watch back; it said 8:00 when the lunch arrived. It included lasagne, cold mushrooms, cheese, and ham. There was also some sort of cake. The best that could be said was that it was food, and I was hungry. I also had a glass of red wine.

We had a great view of this plane taking off.

After lunch the flight attendant asked everyone to shut their window shades so that people could sleep. Sue did get some shuteye, but I was still jacked.

I wondered how the people in these houses slept at night.

I read some more, but the book was beginning to get tiresome. For the first time in my life I spent a lot of time playing with the controller of the screen in front of me. I did three online Sudokus, and I watched three episodes of 30 Rock. One of them had a great quote from Jack Donaghy: “There are no rules in New York real estate; it's like an Italian airport.” I even tried the bowling game. I failed to break 100 the first game, and I never did score as high as 140.

At one point I had a serious sneezing fit. This was not unusual for me. I had often been known to produce up to nine massive sneezes. I had told people that if they ever heard a tenth one, they should call an ambulance or the coroner.

A great view of the mountains.

The plane was definitely right over the Alps.

The second meal, which consisted of a totally tasteless pop tart and a Coke Zero came at 12:15.

By the time that we landed I was a zombie. I had just enough mental capacity to make sure that I did not leave anything on the plane ( again). Once I did so, exiting the plane was much easier than usual. It was not crowded; the lines moved fast.

Standing in line at Passport Control

Passport control was a little more annoying than the last few times that we had traveled abroad. Sue went to a kiosk that was a good distance from mine. When I realized that we should have used the same kiosk, I canceled my session, and walked over to her kiosk. The photos were as bad or worse than the ones from our Africa trip, but we experienced no further difficulties.

We had more than €100 to convert.

We found our luggage easily and wheeled our suitcases into Logan's terminal area. We took turns going to the restroom. Then Sue called Tom while I exchanged our euros for greenbacks. Tom picked us up a few minutes later, and we were on the road in his Jaguar.

The Callahan Tunnel was packed with cars.

To no one's surprise the traffic in Boston was brutal, and Tom's computer program said that there were severe backups on the Mass Pike as far west as Worcester. In fact, however, things cleared up in the western suburbs, and we actually made pretty good time.

When we got to our house, I presented Tom with his bottle of Serra della Contessa, and Sue gave him a marionette of Rinaldo that she had purchased at the puppet show.

No trip was considered complete until the pet(s)[2] were found. I immediately found Giacomo in the back yard and carried him into the house. He scolded us vociferously for leaving him alone for such a long time, but by evening he was his old lovable and cuddly self.

If you have read any of the other journals, you know what we had for supper. I drove to East Windsor and picked up a family bucket of extra crispy.

* * *

This was a good trip. I don't think that I appreciated how good it was while I was involved. The disappointment in Palermo and the two bad days in Ragusa seemed to influence my judgment more than the many good hours. I also fought a slight cold for almost the entire time in Sicily, and that probably soured my mood to some extent.[3]

Traveling in the off-season had one large advantage and one considerable disadvantage. On the plus side, the museums and archaeological sites that we visited were, for the most part, almost devoid of other visitors. This made for relaxed viewing and unimpeded photography. Without a doubt that part of the experience was greatly enhanced. The down side was that many restaurants were closed, and the ones that were open often offered limited menus. If I had it to do over again, I would try to find out exactly which restaurants would be open when we arrived as well as their lunch and supper menus. That would probably be feasible via e-mail in most cases.

The travel on Alitalia was a mixed bag. Getting to Rome was a painful experience that I would not care to repeat. The trip back, however, was reasonably pleasant.

I cannot be sure that I will ever return to Sicily. I would like to spend another day in Palermo, and I think that Siracusa probably would be worth a second look. We did not get to go to Taormina, which is on the regular (not off-season) Rick Steves tour. Still, there are a lot of places in other parts of the world that are higher on my list. As for Rome, I don't think that I could ever tire of the Eternal City.

Who knows how much longer Sue and I will be able to do this? We must strike while the iron is still at least lukewarm.

[1]  The can of shaving cream was in my suitcase but not in my shaving kit.

[2]  At the time we only had one black cat, Giacomo. Sue brought B-Bob home on December 8, which was our fourth wedding anniversary. I hoped that fur was appropriate for the fourth anniversary gift, but I could not prove it.

[3]  I had had perhaps five colds in my adult life at this point.