I don't like planes, breathing that fresh canned air scent, imprisoned in the scratchy chair that wouldn't pass muster at the movie theater, watching the little plane on the screen blink slowly, nano-slowly across the vast ocean of tiny headrest screen. Planes and airports transform me into that mean little girl in The Secret Garden, yearning to run with my stringy dirty blond hair amongst the wild brambles and sweet heather-filled moors of the Yorkshire countryside. My travelling companion on this first leg of voyage (whom we shall call MM), on the other hand, loves planes, loves airports, had even planned out his travelling clothes a week before we set our dancing feet at JFK.
Actually, I had never before set my party-pooper feet at this grand international airport before; I've always flown in and out of Newark, a venue that does little to improve my tomato garden state's reputation and causes my mother to get lost every single time she attempts to pick somebody up. The airy windows and shops, the prospect of good times abroad, and MM's infectious plane-related excitement perk up my mood considerably.
After spending a long-ish time at the gate as we had arrived rather early, we finally boarded. The stewardesses greeted us in a dazzling, if slightly frightening array of english, french, and german. Ah, Swiss Air. Will it rain chocolates? No. Only cartons of duty-free cigarettes.
In the air!!!
I have given up my aisle seat so that I can sit next to my buddy, who is in the last row/middle aisle on the plane. I call this true friendship. The button on the armrest that should move the seat back so that the passenger can rest upon it comfortably à la lawnchair is just there for show. I press it and attempt to lean back to no avail, getting a small workout on my back muscles.
The guy next to us is a first-time abroad traveller. He is a nice guy but a little clueless, asking us about connecting flights. All three of us will connect in Geneva for Rome. Over the course of the flight, he will down five mini-bottles of red wine.
Planes are no mans land. You can read, watch, eat, drink anything you like (On my return flight I watch Hitch.). I skim through an issue of Lucky, watch a quarter of Life Aquatic, half of Bug's Life, and check in on MM's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" game. It's the British version though, so the dollar signs are replaced by pound signs and there are strange questions having to do with by jingo, by golly and marmite or summat. The food is edible and luckily we both get some sleep. Et voilà, we arrive in Geneva.
Getting off the plane, I gasp a little. Yes - fresh air, but also, here's some real purple mountain majesty. The airport is in an impressive locale with the backdrop of shadowy mountains and inexplicably blue sky.
Once at the airport, Clueless and a few others stumble about. We straighten him out and our connecting gate etc. MM and I decide that we'll attempt to take the train into Geneva proper. With a little confusion, we get on a train and hope for the best. The pleasant machine lady voice announces in French and English the stops on the train. Bon, we are on the right track.
We get off ten minutes later at the quiet train station. After veering towards a park and deserted road, we find the right direction towards Lake Geneva. The water is impossibly sparkly, vast, and like the city, clean. There are not that many people out and about and there is an apparent cool and collected atmosphere - MM and I have been invoking national stereotypes all throughout the flight and so we pretend or agree that it makes sense that this country is known for its diplomacy, precise watches and shady neutrality. There will be a very different story in Italy. We see banks, chocolate shops, Swatch watches, and lots of flags and return to the airport.
The flight to Italy is short. I miss the scenery because I fall into a dead sleep but MM tells me that we flew over the Alps. We arrive in Fiumicino Airport, Rome safe and sound and find our luggage with no problem. We help Clueless find his friend and advise him to keep his money in different places, warning darkly of gypsies and pickpockets. While we wait for KM (MM's brother who has been studying abroad in Rome) and G (KM's friend) to meet us, we have fun guessing what nationality people around us are. Most Italians are given away by their shoes and sunglasses. Some Americans are given away by lost looks and shorts. There is one Italian man wearing tight jeans, a blue blazer, classy little loafers, and laughably large sunglasses. I begin to realize that Rome is a little like Williamsburg aka hipsterville. More on that later.
Here, too, the announcements for trains to Rome come over the loudspeaker in multiple tongues - Italian, French, and English. This is the last time we will hear translations. The trains are sorrrrrrt of on time. Finally, we see our amici and we all get on the train to Rome. KM has brought me chocolate. That, too, is what I call friendship.