The new stamps in my passport

“You’re actually flying out of Terminal C.”

Which would be wonderful, except for the fact that I’m talking to a Lufthansa agent in Terminal E. “The flight is being outfitted by United. It says so there,” she tells me as she points to a highlighted note on my itinerary. Oh. Maybe I should try reading the whole thing sometime. But I guess this is why I arrived at the Logan Airport two hours early.

Guided by her directions and an occasional sign, I troop down the escalator, past Dunkies, across the taxi lane, and through a rather sketchy hallway until I arrive in Terminal C. A couple uneventful hours later, I find myself on the plane bound for Washington DC. The man sitting next to me has little sense of personal space and reeks of alcohol, but I use my headphones to drown out his life story that he’s sharing with the passenger on his other side and I watch the cities below me flicker to life. My mind focuses on the journey that is about to begin.

The plan is this: a short layover in DC followed by a six hour flight to London, where I’ll stay for a couple of days with my mother’s friend. Then I’ll fly out of London, have a brief layover in Munich, and finally arrive Italy, where I’ll be living for the next few months as an English tutor/au pair.

When I exit the plane, I see that the flight to London is already boarding. Luckily for me, it’s only two gates away. After takeoff, the flight attendants serve us dinner, giving us the option between pasta and chicken. I opt for the pasta. The meal also includes a roll, salad, and some cookies—the perfect amount of dinner to send me into a food coma for the next three hours. I wake up as the flight attendants pull the breakfast cart down the aisle. The menu includes a croissant, a bowl of fruit (Mom, be proud…I ate the whole thing), and juice. I feel slightly disoriented when we land in London, seeing as my internal clock is practically yelling at me to find a bed so I can get some decent sleep.

Izi, my mom’s friend, meets me after I get my luggage. We talk about all sorts of things as we drive to her house, and the whole time, I’m staring at the oncoming traffic that’s driving on what I consider to be the wrong side of the road. Once we get home, Izi introduces me to Don, her husband, and then gives me a little snack before I head up to my room for a quick nap.

Seven hours later, I stumble down the stairs.

“I’m alive,” I announce, although it doesn’t sound very convincing.

“Ahh, look!” Izi announces to Don. “Sleeping Beauty’s awake at last!”

We decide on fish and chips for dinner, and Don leaves to go pick it up from the store. I amble around the house, becoming more accustomed with my surroundings. If there was one word I had to choose to describe London, it would be “quaint.” The people are delightful, the buildings are cozy, and, as I discover when Don returns with dinner, the portions of fish and chips are huge. We turn on an episode of Castle as we sit at the table and begin to feast. There’s a side of mashed peas that comes with the food and it’s roughly the same consistency as refried beans. I’m not sure what to think of it as I scoop some onto my plate, but I open my mind and my mouth and… it turns out to be pretty good. I go back for seconds.

During dinner, we begin talking about American politics. I come to the conclusion that I need to educate myself more on the subject—Don knows more about my country’s government than I do. After we talk for a couple of hours, I head upstairs for bed, and to my surprise (although it might not be a surprise to anyone else), I pass out within a few minutes, despite the seven hours I logged in earlier.

The next day consists of sight-seeing with Izi. The two of us pile into her car and we check out Windsor Castle and the Thames (pronounced “tems”) River in the morning. We also drive through Windsor Great Park and see about 40 of the royal deer sitting together on the grass by the road. In the afternoon, we drive by Buckingham Palace and through downtown London. On a whim, Izi asks if I’m interested in trying to ride on the Eye. Eagerly, I agree. We find parking in a nearby lot and head to the ticket station. We make it into the capsule and we see that we are the second to last group before they close for the evening. The view is incredible, and we are fortunate enough to see the sunset as we get to the top of the ride. We can see everything from up there—Waterloo Station, Big Ben, the House of Parliament, a new glass building called the Shard, and much more. It’s truly breathtaking. The city lights turn on during our descent, and from our lofty perch above London, we watch the sky become darker and the city glow brighter.

For your Gee Whiz collection: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower, not the clock.

For your Gee Whiz collection: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower, not the clock.

A backward glimpse after the ride

A backward glimpse after the ride

The following morning, Izi takes me back to the airport. A couple of hours later, I’m strolling through the airport in Munich. Everything is in German—the advertisements, the announcements, the signs—and while I can’t understand any of it, I feel very at peace. No, that’s not quite right…I’m in awe. It’s both humbling and mystifying  to be in a foreign and unfamiliar place.

On the ride to Ancona, I sit next to an old Italian man who acts like he has never flown on an airplane before. The announcements are first in Italian, then in German, then in English. Once we are airborne, I look out the window and see what I think are the Alps, but I’m not positive. I should ask the man sitting next to me. Does he even speak English? No clue. But you know what, I have two new stamps in my passport and I feel like I can handle anything right now.

Scusi,” I tap the shoulder of the old man. He turns to me. “Are those the Alps?”

Mi dispiace, non capisco.” Sorry, I don’t understand.

I point, “Gli Apli?” The Alps?

Oh, sì (some more Italian I can’t understand).

Sì, sì. Grazie.

He smiles. “Prego.” You’re welcome.

And that was it. My first conversation in Italian. Not the most glorious conversation ever, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

Vito, the father of the host family I’m staying with, picks me up from the airport. He knows a lot of English, so he tells me about Italy and about his family as we drive home. Arianna, Vito’s wife, greets us as we pull into the driveway and gives me a huge hug. I’m already feeling at home here. Bianca, their two-old daughter, is sleeping still, so I’ll meet her after I put my things in my apartment. We hike up four flights of stairs to the apartment where I’ll be living for the next few months and they  tell me that dinner is in an hour, but I can come later if I need to sleep. They leave me to unpack and I take a deep breath as I look around the apartment—my apartment—for the first time.

My bedroom

My bedroom

The living room and dining area. There's also a small kitchen in the corner

The living room and dining area. There’s also a small kitchen in the corner.

The bathroom

The bathroom

The view from my living room window. See that blue thing? That, my friends, is the Adriatic Sea. Boo ya.

The view from my living room window. See that blue thing? That, my friends, is the Adriatic Sea. Boo ya.

And so it begins.