Travels to Italy: Part 1

Although we didn’t need to leave for the airport until 8:00 AM…we were up at 5. Why? Because after many delays, we were finally off to our vacation in Italy. The European trip began being put together by my mom and my wife a couple years ago. We were moving to China for a new job and my parents, who have been to China many times already, proposed that they not visit us there but that we meet up for a vacation together somewhere in Europe. That idea gradually morphed into a our Tuscany adventure.

We were supposed to make the trip during the week long Chinese New Year Holiday back in February but my recent job relocation to Hong Kong ended up delaying the trip until now. Yes, we did get some flack for taking Gabriel out of school for this but I figure:

* He’s in the 7th grade…he’ll make it up before university
* Thirty years from now he’ll remember walking around Florence with his grandparents and have no memory, or care, for the school lessons he missed this week!

So, about 7:50 AM we rolled our little suitcases out the door and down to the Park Island airport shuttle for Hong Kong International. Of course, for Tammy and Gabriel a trip to the airport means not only a flight but a visit to Popeye’s chicken. For some reason, Popeye’s is in no other place in Hong Kong save the airport and once clearing immigration both made a beeline for the chicken palace. In fact after scarfing down a chicken breakfast I had to buy a half dozen pieces to go just incase my 6 month pregnant wife suddenly got cravings at 30,000 feet.

Our flight to Rome was on the Russian carrier Aeroflot and was routed through Moscow. I must admit, as a child of the 80’s and of Ronald Reagan’s America, the thought of flying into the heart of the former Soviet Union was somewhat exhilarating for me. After all, while growing up, this was the heart of the “evil empire” and the “iron curtain”. In actually, it turned out rather uneventful. No gulag, Pravda, or KGB stories to tell, just ended up chatting with an American from Broomfield Colorado in the transit lounge. (Ah…the irony!)

The one interesting thing flying Aeroflot was the sudden realization that it was a “dry flight”. When the steward asked me what I wanted to drink I asked for a glass of wine. He looked at me uncomfortably and muttered that they were out. I then asked for a beer to which I found out that there was no alcohol served in economy class of the flight. Now, I’ve been flying Internationally for over 20 years and I have never seen alcohol not available on a flight. Seeing that many of the people on the plane looked like extras in a Guy Ritchie movie, it would appear a tactical decision to keep everyone sober had been made. Scanning my flight companions in the cabin I would say it was a wise decision. I ordered apple juice!

Landing in Rome we headed to the Avis counter to collect our reserved rental car. I admit I was a little anxious. I hadn’t driven in over a year and now I would be driving the streets of a foreign country at night trying to find our hotel…and with a stick shift! The plan was to meet up with my parents at the hotel for a night before departing in the morning for Tuscany and our rented farmhouse. 30 minutes and 2 wrong turns later we arrived at the hotel for our first night in Italy!

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