(Written January 24-25th, 2011 as I traveled to and first arrived in Italy)
I saw, while in the sky, the sun both set and rise–both in the same flight.
The journey to Italy was very much like a roller coaster. The trip had its ups and downs, both literally and figuratively. The anticipation was the absolute worst part: anxiously awaiting with my family as my nerves built up. Chatting with friends was a huge relief from this phase, making it easier to relax and focus on the excitement of what’s to come. Pre-departure was the worst–when they go over all the safety and emergency evacuation instructions. The take-off is thrilling, launching adrenaline all throughout your body. And when your mind catches up with the speed, height, rocking and tilt that your body’s facing, the thought of this being a mistake overcomes you. I could’ve sworn I heard Dad’s classic “I want to get down now” that he always confesses when we reach the top of the chainlift of Dorney Park’s White Water Landing. But the thrill is rewarding, leaving you craving more excitement. And in the end, your body will eventually feel the ass-kicking.
My flight was kind of narrated by three songs that popped up on my iPod and stood out to me because of the two distinct stages of the journey they seemed to represent: Que sera, sera by Doris Day, and How Long is the Night? by Thrice and Jet Lag by Frank Turner.
Part I: Que sera, sera
“Whatever will be, will be” is the attitude that kept me calm and sane throughout my flights to Italy. I was feeling really positive and comfortable once I met up with my friends at the JFK airport, and managed to remain that way throughout the travel journey. We took off around 5:30pm (biological clock’s time), landed in Germany around 6:30am (1:30am biological clock’s time) and had about a 3-hour layover. The Munich airport was SO quiet–except for our section with a bunch of obnoxiously loud Americans. I immediately understand the warnings I’ve heard about speaking volume differences. Based on looks from other Europeans I’ve seen in response to loud people in our group, I really do think they find it really rude and some even seem disgusted. But anyway, I was [surprisingly] really awake during that layover, and they had free coffee in our Lufthansa section. I read almost half The Hobbit, which was enjoyable.
The flight from Munich to Florence was quite bad, but que sera, sera! It was a very small plane, and we couldn’t fit all our carry-ons. The girl next to me and I had to sit with one cramped in our legspace. It was only ~1 hour flight, but the plane was so small and stuffy, and kind of rocky. I was actually really queasy for the 20 minutes or so of landing time and just couldn’t wait another minute to get the hell of that thing. The Florence Airport was really small, so it wasn’t tough finding the coordinators who brought us to a paid taxi sent to our place. But I was stressed to not see an ATM or place to buy a phone, since the plan was to get it there. I think it was ~noon or 1 (or 4-5am bodyclock time) when we were going to the apartment. Our taxi ride was dead silent, and that’s when I started to freak out a little.
The taxi driver didn’t really speak or understand English (we tried a little bit back and forth, but silence worked better). We didn’t have to wait too long outside our apartment for a representative from our school to come bring us our keys and help us in. Not too many stairs, thankfully, although the old woman who lives under us came out to insist that we use the elevator (very oldschool). I didn’t want to, but she was so insistent, and I didn’t want to be rude or deny a nice Italian old lady her hospitable efforts. She didn’t speak any English at all, so our communication efforts were interesting. She ever gently grabbed me by the hand at one point to tell me that I had to stay for a few moments more in the process, which was actually kind of comforting.
The apartment is cozy in its quirky little ways. I actually think it’s quite good for an Italian apartment for students (not that I actually have a comparison). It’s a bit chilly, lacks sufficient window light, and is very fragile and just different. But it has high ceilings, a good floor set-up, two toilets, and some cool furniture. Tons of storage space too. I picked the room that has these high dark wood shelves that reach the ceiling and glass-door cabinets that reminded me of Belle’s library in The Beauty and the Beast…we’d just actually need books to fill them, and one of those tall sliding ladders on wheels 😛 There are full-length mirrors in some of the closet doors too. The only downside to this room, which I realized later, is that there’s no window light, we can’t open our windows, and we’re next to the incredibly noisy street. I’ll get used to it though. Thankfully there were down comforters in the closet, which both Heather and I got up to get after waking up shivering, so then we were warm enough. Good thing I packed lots of socks and a sweatshirt/sweaters to wear in the house and sleep in. The school coordinator left us with a DVD that goes over the essentials–garbage, gas stove, oven, washer, etc. No place to hang clothes, so we’ll need to figure that out. Only one tragedy so far: NO COFFEE MACHINE!
After the guy left yesterday, we barely explored the place. I felt really worried and scared and just so many awful things at once. Heather was really weirded out and just said “I don’t like this” and layed in her bed. Poor Chelsea couldn’t find her iPhone and thinks she left it in the taxi, so she was going through that crisis. I tried to tell her that we are probably all going to have our turn at having a crisis of some sort here, so she was just getting hers out of the way now. Somehow she stayed very strong, while I–without any kind of crisis happening–was fighting tears all day.
After a while of sitting in our apartment, I was getting really antsy/anxious and wanted to head out to take care of ATM, phone and food before it got dark. We all went together. I tried so hard to locate one of these ATM locations I had printed from the Visa or Wells Fargo site, but I literally did not see the existence of the few spots we looked at. I did find places that exchanged money to Euros around those spots though. Either way, it was very nerve-wracking to not find them on top of having to pause to pull out maps just to know where to walk in general, and all of this in a group of seven girls with a bunch of locals walking on the sidewalks we’re clogging. So next we looked for the school office where we could use computers, which was also confusing to find. The streets are not grid-like, the street signs don’t stand out like in the US, and the traffic works differently. One of the coordinators helped direct me to an ATM, where I was able to acquire some Euros (and I covered the keypad like I should). I managed to only cry once in public, hoorah! We were going to go to a food store afterwards, but we were all feeling really anxious so we just bought paninis at a cafe down our street. The woman didn’t speak English, but we managed. I think everyone feels like we were given a false impression about how many people (especially shop owners) will speak and understand at least enough English here… At least right after that, we passed a very small liquor store very close to our apartment, and with a non-Italian, English-speaking owner. I bought a bottle of Merlot that was very delicious and very needed.
Part II: How Long is the Night? / Jet Lag
In our apartment we sat around the dining room table to eat our paninis and drinking our wine. I had a few bites, but just had no appetite beyond that. I also broke into tears (yet again) way too many times. Thankfully I am living with wonderful friends who didn’t mind my sobbing while we sipped down our anti-anxiety-meds-in-a-bottle. By the end of the night I was feeling much better and we were all exploring the house together. We then unpacked, and everyone went to sleep probably around 9:30pm. I first showered (which was an interesting session of sporadically hot and cold bursts of water), so I went to sleep around bodyclock time of 4:30pm. Which is probably why I instantly fell asleep (despite a rocky feeling like I had been deepsea fishing for days) but then woke up WIRED at what I thought was, like, 5am….and then Heather woke up about an hour later or so. We didn’t have a clock (or phone to check he time).
I told her that I thought it was 6am.
She was able to go back to sleep and I debated getting up because laying in bed was making my emotions wobble. For a very short and sweet time I had felt fairly optimistic and hopeful again about everything, but before I knew it, I was sobbing again. After HOURS of laying and crying in bed (I must have thought “Ok, I think it’s 6am now” at least 7 different instances), I finally did snooze off again. Then before I knew it, Chelsea woke us up to get ready for orientation. Apparently, almost all of us had an experience of waking up around midnight, so that must’ve been around when Heather and I were up and I thought it was 6am [the first time].
Jet lag and anxiety reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally suck. Luckily it’s not nearly as bad for any of my housemates, but at the same time that makes me wonder if I’m simply not cut-out for this…which surprises me. Hopefully I can accurately attribute all these negative feelings to the jet lag. It’s Thursday evening, and I’ve slept only 3-4 hours since I woke up Tuesday morning in the US. Maybe this is why I’m still suffering from Spontaneous Uncontrollable Crying Syndrome (S.U.C.S. …because it sucks).
I am trying to just keep telling myself that all these feelings are temporary and will go away soon when I get familiarized and start classes and get in a routine. It’s amazing the kinds of possibilities I was dreaming up before I left (day trips, a dinner out, etc), and now I am striving to make the simplest things possible (successfully buy some food, learn the walking routes I need to know, etc). I know that once I get through this adjustment, everything is going to be wonderful and I’m going to be so thankful that I am here.