Travels and Arrivals…

So here I am in Italy!!! This is my first post from Perugia. I don’t even know how to begin.

I’ll start with the plane ride. I had a teary goodbye to my family (I never cry), but the security guys all comforted me (of course) and helped me wipe my tears. They even tried to help me get mascara off my face but they gave up and told me to find the bathroom. As we took off, I noted the pit in my stomach, a mixture of anticipation and absolute terror. Emerging above the cloud tops reminded me of plane rides with my family, Liz and I imagining soaring amongst the giant cloud creatures, riding the smooth mountains, bouncing in the valleys. Avoiding more tears, I immediately pulled out a book I bought in the airport, The Mermaid Chair. Sadly, the beginning of the book was very much composed of the narrator’s childhood flashbacks… hiding under the table during thunderstorms with her ever-protective mother, touching fingertips with her father on boat rides… and I had to stop reading. More tears, and all I had to wipe my face with was a coarse, crumpled American Airlines napkin (the only thing on the flight that didn’t cost money… even cashews are now $2.00). I felt the concerned stares of a professorial-looking man and his wife diagonally behind me, and tried to cover up the smudges beneath my wet lashes with the makeup in my purse. As the sun set, I pressed my forehead against the window, trying to lose myself in a stunning New York City skyline, burning in a golden sunlight and I remember wondering to myself if I should just get off the plane and head to the city, the place I call home in my heart.

I had no idea JFK airport would be so enormous. I was a bit panicky, even though I knew I had five hours before my next plane. Eventually I found out I was in terminal 8/9 and needed to be in terminal 4 for Swiss Air. I found it, but I had to wait in the check-in line for an hour and a half, where I met my first fellow student, Laura. Laura has studied in Austria and was with her very kind family. We waited together and then chatted in the terminal after feeling like a constant suspect in the security lines. As I walked to the bathroom, I heard the pronunciation of my first and last name in three different languages, calling me to the gate counter. They had entered some passport information wrong, but as a result I got lucky and was bumped to business class and sat beside a sweet girl named Melissa who was to be studying in Madrid. We talked a little but mostly tried to sleep on the red-eye 8 hour flight to Switzerland.

Flying into Zurich was my first taste of Europe. When I woke up on the plane, we were chasing the sunrise. We were so far above the ocean that I couldn’t see the waves, but slowly and surely we came upon the European coast. An attendant brought me coffee and a croissant, but I barely touched it, so enamoured in the beauty of the land that awaited me. A rocky coast, washed with a warm sunbath, was followed by hills and the creases between them. The bottoms of these hugged tiny villages, all red-roofed houses with smoke rising from the chimneys. I wanted to stand up and yell to everyone to wake up and look out the window, imagine the families fixing breakfast by their kitchen fires, children, the elderly, the sullen teenagers in those homes, but decided to keep this a private moment to myself. I felt another familiar lump rise in my throat, but this time I knew I was in the right place. The Zurich airport was incredibly clean and suddenly there were foreigners everywhere. Then I realized I was the foreigner, I was no longer the cocky American that walked with an ownership of the land. Gorgeous women and fantasically beautiful men floated past on the moving sidewalks, rattling off conversations in tongues I couldn’t begin to recognize, and I became uneasy.

The third plane is when it all hit me. I was far away from home, there was no turning back now. In an aisle seat in the middle of the plane, beside two frighteningly greasy men, I was sweltering hot. I begin to feel shaky. I was seated in an emergency aisle and the flight attendant thought I was Italian. She gave me instructions in Italian as I looked at her, bewildered my her ranting, and she realized I was American. After take-off, I caught a few quality glimpses of the alps below me, but my awe was consistenly interrupted by the shiny, balding and grey hair of an unshaven man dressed in a bright purple, half-buttoned silk shirt and tight stone-washed jeans. “Are these the Italians?” I thought, as a wave of nausea brought me to my feet and to the bathroom in the back. I felt as if I could vomit everywhere, but nothing. Returning to my seat, I thought twice and sat in the back, next to a drunk American student named John, who tried to comfort me by asking me questions and telling me how much he liked my Southern accent. The flight attendants gave me Alkaseltzer as we landed in Rome, and I sat in the back of the plane, sipping it. It didn’t help, and I became worried.

The Rome Fiumicino airport was a blurry experience, marked by frequent searches for a Servizi, or bathroom. We breezed through Passport Control and Customs, and I plopped on the floor as my new friends glanced at my ashen face worriedly at Baggage Claim. Forty-five minutes and a lot of concern over missing bags later, I plastered a smile on, struggled to drag my enormously heavy purple bags into Ground Transportation, and finally saw a kind man holding an Umbra Institute sign. Fresh, cool air filled my lungs and I thought I was okay.

After a bit of confusion and even a little panic thinking I’d missed the bus and was stranded in Rome, I was on my way to Perugia. Again, I felt a familiar shakiness. A sweet staff member named Lindsey gave me some Italian dramamine gum. I popped half a xanax when a few other staff members queried my condition. I dizzily told them I thought I may faint, and they put me in front seat and told me to lie down. I passed out and woke up three hours later just in time to see the bus pull into the parking lot of the Hotel Gio in Perugia.

The first night in Hotel Gio was fine, but I was really so tired and anxious and nauseous at the same time that I could hardly enjoy it. We were actually closer to the outskirts of Perugia, and all I could see was the side of a mountain and a few shoddy buildings the next morning out of my hotel room. I met my roommates, whom I liked but was truly still in quite a state that I couldn’t take much in. We slept through breakfast, but had an appointment to get to our apartments for the first time at 11:30 AM. We lugged our bags to the taxi and met a few staff members. The cab driver spoke no English and this was my first true taste of what life was about to be like.

We got in the taxi and took so many steep, twisted roads that I completely lost any sense of geography that I ever had. Eventually we started to see some beautiful buildings but just as things came together a bit, the cab driver turned onto a steep cobblestone road, pulled over, and said “Corso Garbibaldi settante-sei??” We looked around at each other, in utter confusion. He kept pointing up the hill saying, “Settante sei, settante sei!” Finally we figured out he was saying “76! 76!” But we really had no idea where 76 was… we knew it was our address, but looking up the cobblestone mountain ahead of us, we got nervous. Finally, he got in his cab, shook his head, and left. As far as we knew, we had just been dropped off in the middle of nowhere, where no one spoke our language, with a bunch of bags that we couldn’t begin to carry on our own. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much choice. So I heaved a bag across my shoulders and then one rolling suitcase in each hand and began to climb, dragging them along behind me. My arms were actually already aching from the previous day of lugging the same suitcases, but I had no choice. Suddenly in front of us a little Italian lady came running out and motioned for us to come in. She barely spoke English– in fact, I may as well say she speaks no English. She somehow communicated for us to come with her, but we left our bags in the front entrance hall of our new apartment building. We looked at the crumbling plaster walls with exposed brick and knew that this was no American imitation… this was really an ancient building. As we climbed the slick stone staircase, we began to worry about getting our bags up the flight of stairs. It was twisting, turning, inconsistent. Finally we came to our door and we were showed into our new home. We loved it. It was decorated in a modern way (think Ikea) but was clearly ancient. My bedroom walls are brick, except for one plaster wall that is painted a deep red. My windows have shutters on the outside that open and close as I please, and in my bedroom, above my roommate’s bed, is a loft. The loft is supported by two steel beams with a long, steep staircase leading up to it.

We were to meet a group for a brief tour of Perugia. They had handed us a map when we got there, but it truly made no sense at all. Somehow we found our way to the city center and excitedly looked around. This town rocked.

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