A Trip Report by David Bowers
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Day 1 - Monday, November 12
At long last, the day had arrived to begin our journey to Italy. With most things already packed, we awoke, made final preparations, loaded up the car, and headed to breakfast. We went to Daybreak for breakfast, ensuring that we started the trip with a nice meal. Then after making some last minute purchases, we headed to the airport. We opted to listen to a CD on the way to the airport. This is important because it also meant that we were not listening to the radio, and thus did not hear about the plane crash in New York City.
Shortly after 11:00 we pulled into a remote parking facility, where a parking valet shuttled us to the Delta terminal. We slowly made our way to the international terminal, checked in for our flight to Venice, Italy (via New York's JFK airport) and made our way to a bench. It was about this time that we met up with some more of the tour members. Sitting in the terminal building, we were filled in on the news. Mysterious plane crash, New York, airport closed. We sat in the terminal waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, when several members of the media descended on us for interviews. This served as confirmation for the rumors that had been buzzing around. Note how empty the check in area is in the photo to the left. It seems that our group was the extent of business taking place at International check in.
Shortly after 13:00, our travel agent arrived, took attendance, reassured us that our trip was still on, and sent us to our gate. Due to the new airport regulations, the travel agent could only stay with us as far as the security checkpoint. The lines at the security checkpoint were no longer than they are usually, what differed is that the lines were moving a lot slower than usual. Travel credentials and IDs were checked and the screeners paused the belt to get a better look at each bag. The National Guard was supervising the security checkpoint. Having successfully cleared security we caught the subway train to the concourse.
Since it was only about 14:00 and our flight wasn't scheduled to take off until 16:00, we decided on a light lunch. It was at this time that I noticed the concession prices at the airport have appeared to have been lowered. I don't know if the reduced traffic in the concourse prompted it, but the perceived value of food to cost is pretty good. After our light lunch we headed to the gate to hang out until our flight. A lot of first introductions were made and things were going well. With just a slight delay, Delta began boarding procedures; first the Business Class, then Skymiles Medallion, then wait a minute. Passengers are seen getting off the plane, and an announcement that this flight was being delayed indefinitely. About ten minutes later, our group leader was paged to the podium, and he came back and told us that the flight had been cancelled. Then some Delta representatives collected our tickets for the CVG->JFK and the JFK->VCE legs of the trip and escorted us to a private lounge. A lounge that was stocked with complimentary snacks, juices, soft drinks, coffee, phones, etc. The lounge also had a television, which gave us our first real glimpse of what happened at JFK this morning. A few moments later the Delta representative told us that they had been able to arrange for us to fly to Venice, though a bit later than planned. They announced that we would be flying out of Cincinnati at 20:00 headed to London's Gatwick airport, and then we would be placed on a British Airways flight from London to Venice, Italy. The only downside would be that we would arrive in Venice at 17:00 as opposed to 11:00 on Tuesday. It was a forgone conclusion that Tuesday's touring itinerary would have to be scrapped. A quick glance revealed that we would therefore have to forgo the excursion to Padua (Padova). We lounged awhile, and then our new boarding passes came.
It's Teambuilding Game Time! - Rather than write new tickets for every single passenger, Delta resorted to Flight Interruption Manifest (FIM), special tickets that admitted four designated passengers onto the flight. They also passed out individual Boarding Passes for our first leg (Cincinnati to London). As you probably guessed the teambuilding game was that people had to stay in their groups of four. Slightly later we were shown back to the gate area for our flight to London. This time boarding procedures commenced as usual except that I became the lucky winner of: A Random Security Search. These searches entail the going through all of your carry on baggage by hand, as well as inspecting your person with a hand held metal detection wand. While I can certainly appreciate why they are doing this, I still have to wonder that if I made it through the main security checkpoint, what are they expecting to find here? I almost think its like a show, to show the other passengers that something is being done,
Having done my part to demonstrate good air safety I was permitted to board the plane and locate my seat. And we sat, and sat, and sat. Then an announcement was made about a faulty backup fuel pump, however we were told that it wasn't mission critical and so after some paperwork was completed and waiting in the queue for the runway we were off on our way to London.
The flight to London was relatively uneventful; I was too keyed up (and a bit nervous after the day's proceedings) to get any sleep. The movie was "Legally Blonde", dinner was a steak issued without a steak knife. To better appreciate this, go to your local steak house and try to cut your steak using a plastic knife. I resorted to using the two slices of bread they gave me to make a sort of steak sandwich. Real chewy and hard to eat, but it worked. Note to airlines: Since you can't issue steak knives, perhaps you should consider taking steaks off your menus??????? After dinner it was time to settle into countless hours of boredom. By the time we got near London, I don't know if it was airsickness, dehydration, lack of sleep, nervousness, claustrophobia or a combination but I was not a happy camper. So much so that I only ate the breakfast bar out of the breakfast we were served aloft. One final comedic moment in this most unusual flight was that right before landing, Delta shows a brief film about the airport you are arriving at, to give you sort of an orientation, sometimes travel highlights of the destination city are mentioned. As we begin to arrive in London, the movie started "We will be landing in Cincinnati in a few minutes" A round of laughter, then the London video is shown. Finally, thankfully, we touched down in London. I'd seen it in movies, but had never done it till now. They rolled a huge staircase up to the side of the plane, and we exited the plane to the tarmac, where shuttle busses were waiting to take us to the terminal. (8 hours in a Boeing 767)
Day 2 - Tuesday November 13, 2001
As we entered the terminal, we learned that since we were connecting to another international flight, that we would not have to go through passport control or customs. So technically speaking I never actually entered England. However, I'm saying I was close enough. Here our groups of four regrouped to get our FIM's exchanged for boarding passes for our British Airways flight. This process went a lot smoother than I expected and I must give kudos to both Delta and British Airways for the smooth transition that occurred at the check in desk in London. We then had to go through a security checkpoint, where I noticed their x-ray machines have large cool color monitors where you can watch your own bag going through along with the screener. From there a short escalator ride brought us up to the waiting lounge,
England airports operate slightly different than those in the States; here your gate number is not assigned (or at least not announced) until 30 minutes before your flight. This tactic holds all passengers in the central waiting lounge until their time, and away from the boarding doors. What we were to learn is that the waiting lounge doubles as a huge duty-free mall. Since we had a five-hour layover, we decided to cruise the mall, which included a Harrod's department store. Other noteworthy stops were an Internet Point where I was able to send some emails to friends, family, and co-workers, as well as read some news on CNN, as well as what looked like a video arcade but I noted contained a significant number of gambling devices. I admit I dropped a couple pounds into these machines to no avail. Take note of the unusual pointy fountain in fron of Harrod's.
I then sat back in a chair with a Lilt (a product of Coca-Cola Co. that tastes sort of like Citra), and soon joined a lot of my tour mates as we commandeered a section of the waiting lounge and stretched out on the benches and took naps in shifts. One last stop to buy a London postcard of the airport (my time in London) and a postcard of the London Eye (I am a ride enthusiast after all). An interesting oddity is that the stores in this mall honor US currency. The only catch is that you get your change back in Sterling. Supposedly the registers do the conversion for you, and that the registers are allegedly set to the same rate as the Change office.
After a nice nap and rest, and feeling rejuvenated it was time for our flight to Venice. The monitor revealed we would use gate 45, a look at the airport map revealed gate 45 to be close. It did not reveal that it would be two flights of escalators down. Gate 45 is a bus station of sorts. After you get downstairs it splits into several lettered gates. A message board at the base of the escalators revealed that we should go to doorway F. Here another oddity, you can't enter the waiting area by the gate until you have checked in. One final time to get our group of four together to enter the waiting area. Here we sat down to wait some more but as an astute observer noticed, "Hey, we get different color chairs". After waiting some more, the shuttle bus arrived to take us out to our plane. A much smaller plane, well in reference to the 767. In actuality this would be a Boeing 737. And another oddity. Both the front and back door of the plane were open, and as we approached the plane on the bus, we were instructed that if you are in rows 1-12 to use the front door, rows 13-24, use the back door. It may be the first time I have walked under the wing of a plane, other than at a museum. Okay the seats may be leather instead of cloth, but with all the doors open it was frigid in there. And the seats offered even less elbowroom than the 767. Honestly when they served lunch (I opted for the lighter pasta dish) you had to synchronize eat. But hey I got to read a different in-flight magazine. And I noticed the European travelers actually pull the safety card out of the seat pocket and follow along with the safety presentation the way you are supposed to do. The man seated next to me noted that usually this flight is near empty. Well I guess when you add 49 people to a 120-seat plane at the last minute. After the marathon flight to London the two-hour flight to Venice seemed short. What was dismaying is that it was only 16:45 and already sunset in Venice. We saw sunrise out a plane window and sunset out a plane window. After calculating it all up including layover in London it took 15 hours to get from Cincinnati to Venice. If we start the clock at the time Delta requested us to appear in Cincinnati for our original flight, it took 23 hours to get to Venice. Which means I was to hit 31 straight hours without any real sleep. Oh, and check out the "Name of Passenger" on my Birtish Airways boarding pass, right. According to it, my name is "Euro Traveller".
Having landed in Italy, we were allowed to exit out the back door of the aircraft, again to a waiting bus. After the bus filled, we were shuttled to the International arrivals area. Barely inside the doors of the terminal, the line was split into citizens of the European Union countries and those of us outsiders. The first stop was Passport Control, no questions were asked, just a stamp applied to our passports, then baggage claim. On the pasport 'visa' page shown to the left, the barely legible stamp in the upper-right box is the entracne stamp from Venice. The much darker stamp in the lower-right is the exit stamp from Rome. With the flight change and all we were really worried as we stepped up to the baggage carousel. In our group all but three bags arrived. I am happy to report that all of our bags arrived. (Mom and I) We then turned the corner to head to customs, followed the arrows for "Nothing To Declare" and were quite surprised to find ourselves heading outside the terminal building. Piece of cake. Our tour bus awaited across the street. We checked our bigger bags to the bottom of the bus and climbed aboard for the ride to our hotel. On our way out of the airport I noted the name was "Marco Polo Airport". We also met our tour Director, Teresa, and our driver, Ernesto. The bus itself was much smaller than busses we had used on previous trips, but at least we all fit. On the way out it was formally announced that we would have to skip Padua, and we got introduced to our tour manager and driver, got some introductory information on currency, tour schedules, procedures, an overview of Italy. The whole orientation was timed well and we reached the hotel soon after.
We then checked into our hotel, the Hotel Sirio. The Hotel Sirio is a charming hotel that looks like it hasn't seen much renovation since the 1970's. Yes, big flowered print wallpaper all over the rooms, the beige tile bathroom, and the wooden furniture. The lack of air conditioning. But it did afford us some time to rest up for dinner at 19:30. We were assigned room 207, and upon seeing the long queue for elevators that can maybe hold three people each, and thinking that 207 would be just one floor up we started walking. Surprise! When we hit the first landing and found out that it was the first floor. We went down to dinner around 19:00 and met up with those who had flown in previously or had flown to JFK from other airports and reported to us that our original flight to Venice went off with only 33 people on it. Catch a glimpse of the 70's room to the left.
Dinner tonight was in the hotel restaurant. Italian dining is not as it is portrayed here in America. For our first meal, we were first served Cheese Lasagna and bread (this would be a beef-free tour in consideration of those worried about Foot and Mouth). The Lasagna had a most delightful and unusual cheese. As the lasagna plates were being cleared, it came as a surprise that it was only an appetizer. Next up came a plate with Roasted chicken, baked potato wedges (real good), and tossed salad. Lastly, a crumb cake was served for desert. Wow, a huge meal even by my standards. Another oddity was that bottled water was available both with and without carbonation. (Frizante or Naturale), In the photo at right Mom (Patricia Bowers) is far left, and I am third from left, sitting by the window.
After dinner it was pretty much mutual that we would all get some well deserved sleep. Besides, breakfast isnt till 8:00 and the tour resumes at 9:00 Wednesday. Back in our room, some time was taken for a well-deserved hot shower. Mind you to be careful not to trip over the bidet on the way to the toilet. After feeling much better I decided to watch a little TV. Italian TV remotes will drive you up the wall. While you can adjust numerous things about the picture from the remote control, there are no simple Channel Up/Down buttons. You must enter the channel number you wish to view directly. But its not that simple. For channels 1-9 you just press the channel number. For 10-19, you first press 10, then the last digit. For 20-29 you first press 20 then the last digit. The TV seems to have a hard limit at 29 stations. And not all those were in use, and several channels had the same logo. As expected most channels were in Italian, but we could figure out what type of show it was and watched a few briefly. Very briefly this first night as I couldn't hold my eyes open for longer than two minutes once I was in bed. I did locate one English language station on the television, CNN.
Enough about TV, its time for a good old sleep, Ill catch you in the morning, and I'll try to forget this room is 80 degrees with no A/C. (Now, I just had to bring that thermometer, didn't I)?
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