Italy’s Happy Memories Lessen Travel Angst

I’m home from Italy now. For a few frustrating days I wondered whether I’d be spending Christmas in Europe.

On my attempt to get home I missed four flights in 96 hours. The first missed flight was due to Hurricane Sandy, the initial domino that seemed to tip my travel fate off course, after my flight to San Francisco via Newark, New Jersey, was canceled.

The homeward-bound deconstruction of my Italian trip began when I spent one night in the Turin, Italy, airport after Slow Food International decided some of us delegates didn’t need to spend our last night in a hotel. Unfortunately, I was the only delegate at the Turin airport (the rest were in Milan). This didn’t concern my 20-something Slow Food USA representative, who chirped, “You know what? Get a bottle of wine, get some snacks and just have fun with it!”

I’d like to give her a snack.

Doni had the Torino, Italy, airport to herself where she spent the night and later was prevented from boarding a plane because the airline had no record of her ticket number. Apparently, this number is fairly important. Duly noted.

My second unplanned night in Turin was at La Rosa Bianca Hotel near the Turin airport (a sweet little place for only 55 euros, btw) after a major mix-up when the airline claimed I had a confirmed seat number, and a flight number but no ticket number. No ticket number, no boarding. Most likely, it was an error made at a United Airlines call center as scores of flights were canceled and thousands of passengers were stranded.

Meredith Fisher travel agent to the rescue, who booked a whole new series of flights home, starting with one from Turin to Munich the following morning. But I missed not one, but two flights to Munich (one was blamed on mechanical difficulties, though I never learned what happened with the second one).

When I finally did board a tiny puddle-jumper and landed in Munich, I had so little time left to catch my connecting flight to San Francisco that Andrea, my Italian seatmate (who lives in San Francisco and was heading that way, too), coached me as our plane’s wheels touched tarmac.

“As soon as the plane stops, grab your bag and run!”

I started to tell him about how I’d sprained my ankle about six weeks earlier, and how it was still swollen, and I hadn’t worked out or done Jazzercise for almost two months, but he looked so earnest. And I did not want to spend the night in Munich. The only German I know is from “Hogan’s Heroes” 45 years ago.

“Just run!”

I did. We did. When I started falling behind, Andrea – my airport angel – grabbed my 20-pound carry-on bag and sprinted ahead of me, and said he’d wait for me.

He did. We made it. Just barely.

Once on the plane, I felt so grateful and relieved. I thought my worries were behind me, that I was in the home stretch heading for San Francisco.

Throughout the ordeal, I maintained a texted lifeline with my earlier travel companions, world travelers son Joe and daughter-in-law Marie, via my cheapie little Italian travel phone.

Gelato smiles all around in Venice with Joe, Doni and Marie.

At each turn of events, Joe – who I eventually dubbed “Mama Joe” for his intensity of worry and advice – was texting me messages of disbelief-turned-relief “what the hell?” every time I missed a flight but got a new one. Joe was so happy when I texted him after I boarded the Munich-to-San Francisco flight.

But no, the travel gods weren’t done with their fun. As the final insult I missed the last flight to Redding from San Francisco because I was detained with what seemed about 1,000 sloth people slogging through custom-quicksand. Then, after running from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 I was stuck in security behind a dazed, unhurried man who removed his belt, shoes, laptop, keys and pocket change as if he were in a tai chi class precisely as my plane was boarding.

Still hopeful, I grabbed my bag and bolted for the stairs that led to that stupid little shuttle, and watched in horror as the driver pointed to my gate as he drove by it to deposit me farther away, not closer.

Which reminds me. I have a major bone to pick with United Airlines for taking off 10 minutes before its scheduled departure time, just seconds after I arrived at the gate. Take-off time was 10:37 p.m. I arrived at the gate at 10:27 p.m. The following day I met a grandmother and granddaughter who were also in the same situation, and they ended up sleeping in the airport. They have a bone to pick with United, too.

United Airline’s customer service person listened impassively to my litany of missed flights – which, because I was so tired and defeated, I delivered deadpan, with all the passion of reciting a weekday shopping list. I’m guessing that he took one glance at me – sweating, wet head to foot from running in the rain from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3, mascara-streaked, puffy-ankled – and he decided to quickly hand over hotel and meal vouchers and get me the heck out of there before I exploded.

Good choice.

Yes, the next morning I boarded a plane from San Francisco to Redding. That flight was delayed by nearly two hours. Of. Course. It. Was.

Perhaps this would be a good time to take a few deep breaths and look at some pictures from my Italy trip. There. I feel better already.
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To those who say, with blatant sarcasm, “Oh, you poor thing, stuck in Italy!” – let me just say that I would have loved to have stayed in Italy … if money were no object, and if my house weren’t on the AAUW Home Tour on Nov. 3. My home was chosen because it’s an example of a budget remodel where I recycled liberally, a house that I’d featured in a series called the Pink House Chronicles, complete with before-and-after photos, like this one, mid-project, when Best Choice Home Improvements installed a front door at the – are you ready for this – front of the house.

And this photo of my bedroom after I’d had the former kitchen hutch moved into my formerly purple bedroom.

That hutch is now my dresser.

By the time I got home and unpacked I had less than 24 hours to get my house ready for the tour, rather than the four days I’d planned. The inside needed cleaning, but the outside needed major dealing with construction materials, as well as showing some of the details that were the brainchild of Karen McGrath, landscape designer, who’d put so much thought and creativity into my outdoorscape. Even though her plan is a work in progress, I wanted some things finished, such as the pair of raised recycled bathtub planters.

Landscape designer Karen indulged my desire to recycle this pair of bathtubs removed from the Pink House during its remodel. Superman handyman Corey Bunton created these for me, and sided them with boards salvaged after I replaced the old fence. Blueberries on the right; herbs on the left.

Here’s where I pause to give thanks to sister Shelly and friend Canda, who worked all week on my house in my absence. Canda sewed cushions to make my spray-painted wicker couch look more like a couch and less like the patio furniture it really is.

And interior redesigner sister Shelly Shively staged my house and thinned it of clutter and made it look like something from a magazine.

Thanks, also to Betty Long and Kirsten Plate, AAUWers who came to my rescue by washing windows Friday after the cleaning guy I’d hired cancelled at the last minute. And a standing ovation to two fantastic handymen, Robert Purcell and Corey Bunton, who were at a dead run from sunup to beyond sundown Friday to transform my outside disaster area into something presentable. And thanks to Marvelous Construction contractor Chris Fisher, who tended to last-minute details, like installing my closet doors and hanging a heavy-ass mirror. And thank you to neighbor Tom Parent, who dashed back and forth across the street to let us borrow special vacuums and power-washers.

It does take a village to get a house home-tour ready.

I opted out of sleeping Friday night so I could meet my Saturday home-tour deadline, which, coupled with jet lag, made me delightful company by Saturday night at the pop-up restaurant at Deja Vu I’d committed to attending. I looked and felt as if I’d been shot by a rhino tranquilizer. My twin occasionally flicked ice water my direction to revive me, and friend Canda just kept saying how sorry she felt for me.

“I’m going to call you half-mast, because that’s what your eyes are doing,” she said.

No doubt.

Six months ago you may recall I had a medical travel misadventure in Hawaii, something that might have dissuaded most sane people from booking a flight to Italy. Me? I figured I’d already had my lifetime portion of bad travel luck out of the way. That only emboldened me to get crackin’ and plan “A Harvest Sampler”, the fundraiser to help pay my way to Italy for the Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy. Two weeks after the fundraiser I was on a plane bound for Italy. One day after my return was the home tour. Multiple hurdles? Yes. Doable? I was counting on it.

I’ll tell you more about the Slow Food conference later.

And I’ll share interviews with some of the interesting delegates I met there.

I bought some cute little knitted animals for Austin made by these Terra Madra delegates from Kenya.

And I might write about Cleo, the sourdough friendship starter I carried in my suitcase from Italy, and I’ll share what happens when one puts a small jar of warm, wet, yeasty sourdough starter in a suitcase for an 11-hour flight, though some of you might already guess.

I loved Italy. But I love being home, too.

Some people called me crazy for trying to cram so much in just a few weeks.

But I did it. I made it. And I lived to tell about it.

Now, if I could just get the smell of Cleo out of my clothes.

But first, I shall sleep. In a bedroom fit for a home tour. And I will dream of my next flight, wonderfully uneventful and totally boring.

For more on Doni’s trip to Italy, click to read about the first and second day in Venice and the first day in Turin. Click here for a video of the sounds of Italy.

 Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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25 Responses

  1. Yikes — glad your ordeal is over and that the Home Tour was such a success. Isn't it heartwarming to know how good friends will pitch in when needed? Someday, you know, you'll laugh about the mishaps — but it may be awhile. Get some sleep in the mean time.

  2. don williams don williams says:

    Doni

    Welcome home, and who ever said travel could not be fun, exciting and frustrating all at the same time. Sounds like the return trip from he…… As much as I've traveled I've never had quite that bad of an experience. Again welcome home.

  3. Avatar Chris B. says:

    I'm STILL waiting for someone to invent the teleporter. And just think, crazy times make great stories. Welcome home!

  4. Avatar Canda says:

    Doni, So happy you're home and enjoying some down time in your beautiful home. LOVE the slide show of Italy, and love you!

  5. Avatar `AJ says:

    All I can say after reading the above article is "Ahhhh, youth!!!" What an ambitious undertaking in such a tight period of time. But, not only did you get it done (thanks to sisters and friends) but you even survived!!! YOU GO GIRL!!!

    I have a question: were any of your flights on AlItalia? Therein lies a tale way to convoluted to include here. I also recall one trip that took me 39 (that's THIRTY-NINE) hours to get from Redding to Hawaii. I'm sure that most of us who have done a bit of traveling have some horror stories to tell . . . but it is also interesting that the further they recede in time the more they tend to evolve from frustration to humor. I promise!!

  6. Actually, I can laugh about it now – now that I'm home and the home tour and fundraiser and trip are all behind me. What a relief!

    I must be a simpleton because already the stress I felt during those uncertain days is fading and I can even image traveling again, if you can believe that.

    I am working on a column about travel tips that I learned, and I welcome your comments, suggestions and wisdom.

    I admit that even during the most hair-pulling, frustrating travel times, the consolation was I would be able to write about this experience and serve as yet another cautionary tale.

    • Avatar `AJ says:

      Well, and just to cheer your day, there are those of us that are pulling for you to take a tour group back to Italy on a gastric tour, the motto being (as I have said in other locations on this site) "I've done the castles, I've done the cathedrals . . . . SHOW ME THE KITCHENS!!"

  7. Avatar Ron C says:

    Here's a travel tip. When you arrive at the San Francisco with a United Air connection to Hawaii to catch a same day New Year dinner, and you see a mechanic sitting on a red tool box under the wing of your connecting flight with a yellow bucket positioned to catch drips from the wing, you need to move quickly to make another reservation.

  8. Avatar Charlotte says:

    You are a wonderful writer. You allow us to see your journey in amazing words and pictures. I look forward to everything you write, and continue to be happy you have this forum to share your life with the rest of us. Your resilience is beyond fantastic. Yes, family and friends are the helping hands we all need. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Avatar lee riggs says:

    May I suggest transcontinental rail and steamship next time

  10. So sorry your trip home was such a disaster! I love the Italian slide show…:>)

    • I know it sounded like a total disaster, but there were many good parts along the way, like meeting other passengers stuck in the same situation, like encountering some compassionate ticket agents, and staying at a cute little hotel in Turin, and learning a lifetime about travel in just a few days.

  11. Avatar Rita Simpson says:

    Doni, So happy that you made it through all that. I love how you tell a story! I believe everyone has a flying horror story or many. Myself included! Keep writing and entertaining all of us!

  12. Avatar Kirsten says:

    …………..Doni- next time take the QE 2 across the ocean………….

  13. Avatar RMV says:

    Welcome home lovely Lady!! 🙂

  14. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    I wish you had room to describe every single detail of your trip. Even with the horrendous airplane luck (flights are the great equalizer, they throw all classes of people into the same frenzy), it still sounds like a trip you'll talk about when you're 90.

    I love the shot of the gondola "factory." I stumbled across that myself on my last trip to Venice and it was thrilling to get to see where they actually are made.

    Welcome home, bella!

    • Oh, Matt, you are so sweet. Only you would want to hear every detail about Italy. And you crack me up that you recognized the gondola "factory" – because I'd forgotten about that photo! Good eye!

  15. Avatar Ginny says:

    Now, Doni, why would you want a boring trip!!!!

    Think how much you have to write about on your trip being anything but uneventful and boring.

    Glad you are home from your latest adventure safe, sound, and having spent time with the Kids & Italy. After all, we'd miss you if you ever left Redding for good!

    Love!!!

  16. Avatar `AJ says:

    When I got to Italy the first time, my kids, who were living there, gave me two hints that really helped understand the mind set of Italy:

    #1. Everything is DOMANI (tomorrow). Ehhh, we don't get it done today, there's always Domani!

    #2. All traffic instructions (like stop lights and lines on the road and speed limits) are only a suggestion! If you come to a red light and there's no cross traffic, you'd better GO or you chance getting rear-ended. Made me glad I was the navigator and not the driver.

  17. Doni, your family and friends did a wonderful job at your home. We had no idea it didn't always look like that and loved what you did to refurbish a treasure.

  18. Avatar Leah says:

    Oh, Doni – You are my hero (she-ro)!