Let me paint this picture first…..Can you imagine if , in your mind, you will be visiting a place for the very last time. Add the fact that the place you are visiting is the place you were born. Furthermore, it is the last time you will see relatives and family. Just thinking of that can actually depress someone even before landing.
February 2016 I decided to bring my parents to Italy for what my mother calls the “farewell” tour. Many of my aunts and uncles are in their 80s and seeing that my parents are also getting older with health issues, one can only think that after this one particular visit, Europe travel will no longer be feasible.
My brother Johnny had some business meetings in Milan which worked out great for we organized a way that his down time can overlap with our time in Cassino, Italy. We flew Delta via New York, while Johnny flew Air Canada via Toronto. 4000 miles later, we meet at Fiumicino Airport in Rome. Despite flying in first class and pampered, I looked half-dazed and exhausted after taking care of my parents for 8 hours in a confined tube. On the other hand, my brother gallops out of his plane all energized and ready. We meet at the baggage claim and the adventure starts.
We head down to the car rental location, squish all our belongings in the trunk, power the GPS and we’re now driving to my parent’s home town. Sant’Angelo in Theodice. We’ve been there many times but for some reason it is always great to visit the location in which our parents grew up. The stories of the 2nd world war and the bombardment of the famous landmark Monte Cassino always gives me shivers.
We arrive at my uncle’s home, everyone exchanges kisses and the reminiscing starts. Stories fill the room in all directions and one clearly knows how Italians can carry several conversations at once. Food is always in abundance and carrying voices mimic a soccer stadium in a World Cup game.
Lunch is over and we need to wander the area for a while to digest. We walk the small streets…actuallly let me rephrase that…..we walk the “one” street making up the city center and within 4 minutes, we’re back to where we started.
Next morning we decided to travel to Gaeta where my cousin Mario was stationed at the Navel base in the early 90’s. Gaeta is a gorgeous little city in Lazio where the USA Military had their John C Stennis ship docked. The weather was great, the view was spectacular and as always the company is what makes it the most fun. Something about the mountains and ocean that just make me stop and realize on how this earth is perfectly made. I always wonder on how even the idea of destroying it can enter someone’s mind. To end that beautiful day, we decide to have supper at a local restaurant. I did mention Italians are loud. Well, we were even louder with all the great food and laughter going around the table. Those Italians surely know how to have a good time.
The last day, my parents and I headed out for Rome to catch our flight while my brother drove to Milan to complete his business meetings. We get to the airport only to find out our flight has just canceled. The fun starts.
This type of travel is what excites me. Commotion in airports. Uncertainty as to which flights are delayed. All these abnormal issues is what gives me the adrenaline rush to seek alternatives. Alternate routing, scrambling for another flight……all of this is what makes the trip a full-blown experience. Mind you I also enjoy a well relaxed “by the book” flight, but this particular one was a little more challenging since I had my parents. The running from gate to gate, or even terminal to terminal with my parents definitely adds a new variable in my flight plans.
One of the great benefits working for an airline is that there are reciprocating deals in which we get fantastic rates with other airlines called “zed fares”. This is how my thought process went…..
- Delta flight announced cancellation out of Rome
- Verified flights out of Milan to see availability
- Verified train to Milan to see if it would make it in time to catch Milan flight
- Checked Air France flight schedule, Checked Alitalia flight schedule
- Checked passenger loads on both flights
- Checked weather in JFK to see for our connection
- Checked if the JFK flight was available
- Determined Alitalia was opened and no need to take train to Milan
- Signed in to our Delta Portal to gain access to Alitalia
- Booked 3 seats
- Picked up tickets at Alitalia
- Dashed to their Gate, boarded their flight and all was back to normal
I prepared my parents that upon arriving in New York, we would have 1 hour and 20 minutes to catch the next flight. It may seem like plenty of time, but keep in mind we have to go through US customs via an international flight. Usually that portion with my Nexus card is done in 7 minutes flat, but seeing my parents don’t have it, we had to take the normal line. Time is running out. Already 40 minutes pass with only inches gained in line. I reiterate to my parents to stand still and I would be right back. Leave the line, go speak to an agent flashing my Delta ID card and hoping he’d feel my urgency. BINGO…he lets me pass to the front of the line and the connecting flight seems more attainable. Quickly scanning the overhead monitors, looking for our next gate, I realise it is at the exact opposite of our current location. Glancing at my watch, only 30 minutes left for take-off. I feel so bad since I see my mother hopping and father gasping for air. The last time I saw either of them doing any physical activity was their dancing at my wedding. I’ve been married 25 years. They are totally exhausted. I was ready to throw in the towel. Should we simply stay the night in New York have a good supper and just leave the following morning? NO WAY….we had to get home.
I see this man sitting by a gate playing with his phone with a wheelchair by his side. I explain our situation and despite being on his break, he offered to push the wheelchair. 15 minutes remaining the race is on. It is quite funny recounting the story today, but let me tell you, that was the longest 2 kilometer walk. Here I am leading the single line by 8 feet, behind me is the Pakistan airport worker pushing my mother, and around 10 feet behind him, my dad. What a sight! The longest 2 kilometer walk. What made matters worse was that the carry-on that I was pulling from my mom, was actually my sister Antoinette’s, in which the wheels were all crocked and jammed in the wheel-well. The whole trip I was cursing her name.
We made it just in time, the flight was smooth and we chalk another successful trip in my travel blog.
For my parents, the departure from Italy this time around was definitely different. I sensed the sorrow, pensive and nostalgic farewell. Their tears upon their final goodbyes seemed heavy and actually took their breaths away. I’m still hoping it’s not a farewell tour put we have to face the reality.