Saturday, July 7, 2007

What Feels Like Home

Above images taken from the little terrace out the French doors of our apartment. 4th floor. (Warning!!! This is a long post!)

We are home. Or “the cabin” as we are calling it now, in Minnesota style. We are at apartment Il Terrazzino (“The Terrace” because it has one) in Palazzo di Ginori in Firenze. I am drinking the wine that the Marchese di Ginori Lisci leaves for us in the ceramic bowl on the very old walnut table, produced by her family. The studio is exactly the same as we remember it except for the new arm covers on the sofa and a new towel bar in the bath. Il Duomo is still out the window and the scaffolding is now gone. It is beautiful and I literally kiss the wardrobe in the room when I arrive. It is hot and sunny with a pure blue sky. It is paradise after four cold, windy and rainy days in Brussels and Amsterdam. Give me summer!

Getting here was not so easy, but being here is everything to us. We arrived at around 3:00 pm (15:00), went to get a bite since we had not eaten since 7:00 this morning in Amsterdam. We picked up supplies – water, yoghurt, chocolate, vodka and tonic – and toothbrushes and toothpaste. Yes, we packed our toothbrushes and toothpaste when we left Minneapolis. Not, they didn’t make it to Florence.

The story of the last twenty-four hours is a trifle compared to most of the world’s problems, but an annoyance for us. We missed our flight from Amsterdam to Florence. It is the first time either of us has missed a flight anywhere. And, only by minutes.

Yesterday morning, we had our bags packed for the fair city of Florence and left our B&B for the airport according to the scheduled recommendation of our host with his also recommended private airport shuttle service – and then added 30 minutes extra “just to be safe”. “It’s 15 – 30 minutes under good conditions. It’s 45 if it is bad,” he said. Great - we’ll give ourselves 2 hours. So we did and added 5 minutes. Well, it was raining in Amsterdam yesterday morning and none of us – not the driver, Lee, or me, have ever seen such a traffic meltdown anywhere in our lives. That driver tried four different routes, swerving in and out of entrance lanes when the attempt to get onto a major highway seemed hopeless. By comparison, this experience makes LA a contender for the city with the world’s best traffic flow.

The coup de gras is when he knows he is screwed, so skips over this grassy median and begins driving on what we perceive as the bike path along the highway, but which he says is the bus lane. All I know is he says something like, “I hope there aren’t any police around.” Ok – it does say something about “bus” for all we can read in Dutch, but I still say we are driving on the bike path. It is out of a Jerry Lewis movie. And we start to wave at the suckers on the road pretending we are Prince Lee and Princess Alecia today, special guests of honor in Amsterdam, citizens of the day.

Of course, as in any Jerry Lewis movie, a problem comes up – well, that is when we have to cross a bridge, the arm is down and turning around isn’t an option. “Well, now we have a problem,” he says.

“We have more than one problem, buddy,” I am thinking. I suddenly am certain I will be hitching to the airport. We are stuck on a bridge with no way to get through other than to ram it and I have the thought that he might just do that. But he has the good sense not to make matters worse, backs up, finds a driveway to turn around in and heads back to the busy highway.

Well, in the meantime we have heard via a phone call that the flight is being held for 30 minutes. It is 10:00 now, we arrive at the airport, the flight was scheduled for 10:20 originally, but we figure if we hurry, we’ll make the 10:50. What we don’t know is that he was given misinformation and as we got to the luggage check at around 10:15 for the 10:20 flight – not even through security – that the doors are closed and we cannot get on. This is Meridiana. Meridiana doesn’t have a live representative in Amsterdam. KLM is their proxy and can’t do a thing for us except sell us two one-way tickets at $1096 EACH! Not happening.

For the next two hours, we google until we decide the best (read “cheapest”) solution is to just buy two more tickets on Meridiana for the same time, next day and get a dumb hotel near the airport as an insurance policy against this happening a second time. I am done with trains, planes and automobiles at this point. Now airport hotels in Holland are almost as bad as airport hotels in America. The biggest difference is the bar is so smoky, neither Lee nor I could stay for a drink. The food is overpriced and made with that lower common denominator in mind. And the Dutch seem to eat nothing but meat. Meat, meat, and more meat. With their smoking, how do they live beyond 40? Ham this, beef that, a different kind of ham, add a little bacon. For breakfast, the $20 buffet was nothing but meat and cheese. For last night’s dinner, I hoped for a salad. There was not ONE salad on the 5 –page menu! They had 14 kinds of potatoes – and Lee was served three kinds with his dinner even though he ordered only one! But not a single salad! Do they know about cholesterol and heart disease or is their low level of stress such an antidote to the negatives of what they ingest that it all works out in the end? I am thinking that the Dutch could use a gigantic x-ray machine over the country to moniter lung cancer and heart disease? But, hey, they seem really laid back and happy and who am I to judge, the princess for the day?

Oh, the ending. We got to the airport 2 hours before our flight today. And, true to our experience yesterday, it was the longest, dumbest, most annoying wait I’ve ever had at an airport. Their laid-backness started to bug me and I just wanted to kick some ass before it was all over, especially the frizzy-haired lady in front of moi who was holding up a gigantic line of tired travelers while she perfected her caligraphy at the luggage check by writing out ID tags for her fourteen pieces of luggage like they were hand written invitations to the queen’s wedding. Even the agent was getting annoyed.

As I told you in the beginning- we did arrive in Florence. Our luggage did not. Neither did 74 other bags that were supposed to be on that flight. And, true to Italian style, no one knows when they will arrive. So I am in Florence dressed for the winter in Minnesota in jeans, a sweater and clogs and it is 85-90 degrees (well, 35 C) After waiting in line for 1 ½ hours to fill out a claim, we are now just so happy to be here, we don’t even care. The wine helps. And now I will stop whining about the stupid little inconvenience and get back to enjoying life with deep, deep gratitude for what we have and where we are. At the cabin. I’m off to find a salad.

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