Fiumicino (the airport, not the town)

Landing in a German airport after the chaos of Rome’s Fiumicino airport is like going from a crowded, humid, sweaty subway up into the fresh, clean countryside. I always fly in and out of Fiumicino, so perhaps the other Italian airports are havens of calm and comfort…..but I wouldn’t bet on it.

To give you a bit of perspective on Fiumicino, there are 3 main interconnected terminals where you catch your flight, cleverly named Terminal 1, 2 and 3. And then off to the side – away from those, in a separate building — is Terminal 5, which is only for US and Israeli airlines. It has an extra layer or 2 of security.

Terminals 1 and 2 are for airlines from the rest of the world outside of Italy, and the only times I’ve used them was to take an Air Berlin flight to either Munich or Hamburg. Needless to say – everything was very organized, the people were friendly and helpful, and it was a pleasant experience – except for the fact that Italians in general do not like air conditioning, the result being that the airport is kept at a sultry 80 degrees in summer.

Terminal 3 is just for Alitalia, and you can count on there being at least 3 times as many people as the authorities would deem safe. So in addition to the 80-degree setting on the thermostat, you also have the heat generated by giant herds of very frustrated people. Italians have this reputation of being incredibly friendly, but those friendly Italians do not happen to work at the airport. I think you have to pass a sulking test to be hired. The employees all give off vibes that their lives would be so much better if it weren’t for these needy tourists flocking into their terminals…..expecting help…..if you can imagine such a thing.

When I used to take my beloved cat Orson back and forth, I had to fly Alitalia from JFK — 2 hours away….traffic willing. Philadelphia airport is only 20 minutes from my house, but USAirways – the only non-stop to Rome – in an effort to endear itself to pet owners worldwide, does not take any animals anywhere it flies at any time. But at least when I got there, New York’s Alitalia was surprisingly well-organized.

Fiumicino’s Terminal 3 Alitalia, on the other hand, gives you the same calm feeling you might have if you were stuck in the middle of Time Square’s New Year’s Eve crowd. To be honest – I do occasionally exaggerate a bit, but this really is the procedure I had to follow when bringing Orse back to the US: Let’s think of Terminal 3 as one of the long New York City blocks….say between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue. After we entered at 5th Avenue, Orsie, luggage and I had to muscle our way through the tightly packed swarms of people to check in for the JFK flight, which was, of course, on 6th Avenue. When they saw Orson, they would give me a slip of paper acknowledging that I had a cat, which I had to take back to a counter just inside the entrance at 5th Avenue to pay for his “ticket”. This could not be done when we were originally passing by that exact counter; I had to get the paper from the check-in counter first. So I would go to 5th Avenue, pay the extra money, go back to 6th Avenue, and only then would they give me my boarding pass and put a notification on Orson’s cage that he was official. I would then have one final trip to 5th Avenue because that’s where the station was to drop Orsie off to be taken to the plane.

When coming to Rome, you come through Terminal 3 Arrivals, because it has the custom and immigration people who have never looked at either me or my bags.  The very first time I took Orse to Italy, I had no idea where to pick him up, and the “friendly Italians” whom I asked had me running from one baggage claim area to another because Italians have a difficult time saying “I don’t know”, and they’d much prefer to give you a wrong answer than no answer at all.  I finally found him tucked away in a dimly lit corner. On the other hand, I saw this in the Munich airport:

Munich airport

Munich airport

And if you should miss this highly-visible, easily-understood sign, I’m pretty sure that any of the smiling airport employees would know exactly where you could find your pet or bicycle.

After Orson died, I went back to the convenience (not to be confused with comfort) of flying USAir, which means I now have much less legroom, and I leave Rome from Terminal 5. The first time I was there, I thought it was a bit creepy to enter the huge entrance room and see machine gun-armed guards patrolling above us on a catwalk just below the ceiling. Now if you see someone up there, they’re probably changing a light bulb. Because this terminal serves so few airlines, it’s relatively calm and orderly, and has the added benefit of being cooler than 80 degrees.

Since Terminal 5 is set away from everything else, they have a shuttle to take you to the plane-boarding area, which is fairly new and has shops from a lot of the high-end names – Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, etc.   It’s a somewhat pleasant way to say arrivederci to Italy. The last time we were there, we were standing at a counter having our final caffe`, and we could hear rain pounding on the roof. Suddenly, water started pouring out of one light fixture after another, as you can see in Picture #1.


Picture #1

Picture #1

Picture #2

Picture #2


Picture #2 gives you the over-all scene. Everyone scurried away from the seats, there was water everywhere, and someone thoughtfully placed one very small red pail where it would definitely NOT catch any of the rain. The high-end shops were not immune from the leaking roof, either, as I saw the sales person in Gucci manning her mop. This is the showcase terminal for one of the world’s most important cities.  As we were snapping our photos, we noticed that the others doing the same thing were all non-Italians. The Italians? They just shook their heads and wandered off to find a dry seat, muttering “e` cosi`” — which loosely translates as “that’s just the way things are…..”  I don’t know what the equivalent phrase would be in German, but my bet is that they seldom need to say it and if they ever do, it would definitely not be in one of their airports.


The Return

Well, this certainly is not the topic I was hoping to write about for my first blog back in Italy.

I had put down as alarmists those who talked about gypsies picking pockets in crowded tourist destinations….until a friend of ours had his wallet stolen on the Spanish Steps in Rome last year.

And had I scoffed at people who warned against leaving baggage in your parked car…..until our arrival last week.

We thought it was such a good idea to get our new cell phone cards at a shopping mall near Fiumicino airport, rather than take a chance that the smaller shop in Orvieto might not have them.  We were gone no more than 15 minutes.  I can only put down our obvious lack of good judgment to the dangerous combination of complacency mixed with jetlag. We were, after all, in Rome — not Orvieto.

Alan was the first to see the pile of glass under the rear driver’s-side window, and initially we were relieved because they were unsuccessful in stealing the garment bag that they had managed to get only ¼ of the way out.  It took a few minutes to realize that there was indeed a bag missing, and it turned out to be the most valuable.  This was one of our carry-ons, and the reason you have carry-ons is to hold the items you really want to have with you.  We’re still remembering important things that are now permanently missing from our lives.

Green glass on the ground, no orange carry-on inside.

When you’re robbed, it makes you realize just how important seemingly ordinary things are.  For instance – while our computers were safe in the other carry-on, all the wiring for them was missing.  So the fun you had re-arranging your photos on the plane now results in a computer with no power.  We had to be judicious about using our phones.

They took all my prescription medicines.  You have no idea how difficult it is to gather up 6 months worth of a medicine.  Today’s insurance industry will only give you 90 days worth, though you can get 1 “vacation over-ride” per year.  This sounds like it makes up the ½ year you need, but your original prescriptions can only be filled after a specific date, and if you’re leaving a week or 2 before, your only option is to get a new prescription and pay full price.

Alan gave me a great new device for music called Sonos when I moved into my apartment.  If you have WIFI available, you can just plug this in anywhere in your house.  You control it from your computer or iPhone or iPad, and can listen to music from your iTunes library, the radio or one of the systems like Pandora.  The quality was so fabulous that we decided to bring it along with us.  Gone.

When someone takes your property, you realize that even inexpensive jewelry can have great meaning to you, and if it happens to be expensive, its worth is much more than the original price when you know you’ll never see it again.

And then there was a little wooden box with a small useless lock and key dangling from the front, and a brass plate on the top engraved with a name:  Orson.  They took Orson’s ashes.

So what are the outcomes?  Well….it turns out that Apple international is as good as Apple USA.  Alan ordered the cables Monday and we got them Wednesday.  We hadn’t realized at the time that the mice (mouses???) were also gone and ordered them Wednesday.  They arrived Friday.  Replacement cost for 2 computer, 2 iPad and 2 iPhone power supplies plus 2 mice (mouses???):  $465

We’re not replacing the Sonos now because things are so much more expensive here, but buying it when we get back should run around:  $450

My jewelry somehow got tucked in the “wrong” place and was therefore saved.  Alan’s more expensive watches didn’t fare so well.  I don’t even want to ask about those losses.

Getting my medicine has been an on-going saga and I’m hoping I can make a somewhat amusing story out of it to share with you at some point….assuming the saga ever ends.  I have no idea what the replacement cost will be, but I do know that what was stolen was worth around $300.

We haven’t bothered trying to figure out the costs for the 2 iPods, 1 iTouch, iPhone car charger, a “classic” first-generation iPhone, high-end earphones, a camera and who knows what else.  It’s now a week later and we’re still discovering things that are missing.

And as for my little box….  I think this is harder on me than when Orsie died.  I knew he was old and tired, and I wanted him to be at peace.  But having his remains here in Orvieto, where he’d spent so many good hours with friends and the wonderful Italian sun, was going to be my peace.  Unfortunately, as far as losses go, Orson’s ashes turn out to be the most expensive:  priceless.

Guest blogger: the VERY handsome Orson

I’ve been busy this week and haven’t had time to put together anything blog-like. Orson, my always-willing-to-help cat, suggested that you might enjoy reading about HIS first visit to Italy.  He wrote this originally on March 3rd & 4th, 2009, the day he landed on Italian soil.  So…… HERE’S ORSIE!!!!!!…

Orson in the US

March 3, 2009:  The start.

I should have suspected something when the cage took up permanent residence in the kitchen.  But since it was big and roomy and Susan always put my food in there, I figured it was just a new, fancy dining “situation”…..something FINALLY worthy of my obviously regal heritage.

Orse in the Rolls Royce of cages

Then she put that collar on me.  It was very attractive…..light blue with tasteful green, yellow and red strips….and she kept telling me how FABULOUS I looked in it.  Considering that it did not hamper my two favorite activities (sleeping and eating), I let this, too, pass without mention.

A couple of days later, she attached two metal disks to my tasteful collar.  I thought I saw my name on both disks as she was struggling to affix them, but it seemed a bit odd that one said USA and the other said Italy. The thought:  “What’s an Italy?” passed briefly through my mind, but then I went on to more important things — like the fact that while the disks didn’t interfere with my pastimes, they made a slightly annoying “clink” when I’d walk fast…..something, I hasten to say, that I do as little as possible.  Still….I thought it was a point we should discuss.  Susan seemed so busy getting clothes out of the closet and putting them in those strange boxes with the zippers that she gets out every so often that I figured I’d wait until the morning, when things had calmed down a bit, to bring up the topic of those pesky metal disks.

But the morning was anything but calm.  I just tried to stay out of her way.  The only time I got really bent out of shape was when she turned OFF the heated bathroom floor….if you can imagine!!!!  And then the day turned truly odd.  We went for a ride in a car that did not smell at all like ours.  And while everyone knows that cats have no real sense of time, this certainly felt like a VERY long drive. It wasn’t too bad since Susan rubbed my chin practically the whole ride, but even that gets a little old after awhile.

When the car stopped, we went into a loud, frightening place.  Even though I could sort of hide in my roomy cage, it didn’t feel nearly as safe as it did at home.  First I waited with Susan in a long line and then before I knew what was happening, she took me out of my cage while a stern woman went over every inch of it with a strange wand.  I was afraid she was going to use that wand to turn me into something horrid… a toad, perhaps, or even worse – a dog!!!  I was momentarily relieved when she told Susan to put me back where I belonged, but then I was handed over to a burley man who took me away from Susan, and put me on a “plane”.  I had never heard of a “plane” before, and in case you haven’t either, I can tell you that it was a totally charmless area (I can’t even call it a room) with strange containers piled everywhere.  Worse still is that it bounced around at random times, and was VERY noisy.

As the burley man was taking me to the “plane”, I heard him mention to the other guys who were shuffling around zippered boxes like Susan’s, that I was to go to ITALY!!!!  Wait a minute!!!!!  Didn’t it say “Italy” on one of my metal tags???  Maybe back when I first saw the word, I should have tried to find out a bit more about it.  I don’t think it’s a person.  Is it a store or a restaurant?  Or maybe another town.  The thing he didn’t mention was whether I was going with Susan, or was she sending me off by myself.

Well….that’s where things stand now.  The sign says I’m at 33,000 feet — whatever that means.  Thinking back, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Susan talk to people about Italy, and I seem to recall that her mood always perked up and she had a huge smile on her face during those conversations.  Alan talked about it, too, so maybe he’s going to be there with me.  I’m really hoping I’ll see Susan soon, but as I mentioned before, any of those time terms like “soon” or “later” are a bit open-ended with me.  I do know that this hell hole is not my favorite place, and it seems like I’ve been here “forever”.  Let’s hope “Italy” – whatever it is – is better than this!!!  And I have my toes crossed for heated floors.

March 4, 2009:  Arrival

Well…..THAT certainly was not pleasant at all!!!!  I guess I needn’t tell you how happy I was to FINALLY see Susan!!!!  And to tell you the truth, she was pretty happy to see me, too.  She had a long story about how they told her I’d be at one end of the terminal while, in fact, I was at the other, so she had to talk to three different people before she found me.  Right before we went out the door, we went through “customs”.  I’m not sure what Susan thought “customs” was going to be like, but if this is why she made me go through all those humiliating vet visits, it certainly was not worth the insult to my dignity.  I could have been foaming at the mouth, with fleas covering my cage and they would have waved us on through.

Outside, there was a very nice man with a car, and this time Susan made the mistake of holding me on her lap as we took still another drive that I’d term “long”.  I felt really bad about it when I peed on her lap, but after all — this was her doing.

FINALLY we arrived at our destination which, if the burley guy was right, had to be “Italy”.  For those of you less well-travelled than I, I can tell you that “Italy” turns out to be a pretty nice home that you get to via an elevator.  It doesn’t have nearly the number of comfortable spots as our other house, but I’ve tried all the usual places, and currently I prefer the white couch.

The guest beds are much too hard....and this is coming from someone who sleeps on tile.

This bed is more comfortable, but only when there's someone else on it.

Ahhh....the white couch. Just perfect.

My biggest gripe is that all the floors are tile, and they are definitely NOT heated.  In fact, when I arrived, they were so cold that I thought my little paws were going to freeze to them, and I’d be stuck to the floor, looking like a squirming cat sculpture.  But the place heated up fairly quickly, and now I can actually lie on them without shivering…..though, of course, I prefer the white couch.

So all in all, I like it here.  Susan says Alan is going to come “soon”, and I can’t wait to see him again.   It might not be fun getting here, but at least for the first day – this “Italy” place is OK in my book.

October 18, 2011:  Epilogue

Well, I’ve had many, many trips since then.  The good news for Susan is that I haven’t peed on her again.  As for “Italy”, it continues to be a great place where I can practice my favorite activities in pleasant surroundings.  Sometimes guests come and I very generously allow them to join me on the white couch — particularly if they understand the honor and pet me the whole time. I’m very happy that Alan is there because he’s much more generous about sharing than Susan, so I occasionally get an extra snack or two.

Sometimes Alan lets me share his yogurt.

What’s the difference between Italy and the US? Not much; I like them both.  The only negative is that time between the two, since the “plane” has done NOTHING to make my life more comfortable. Maybe I could talk them into heated floors……