We arrived safely in Rome. It was a trip marked by lots of waiting time in airports. As we already mentioned, our flight from SLC was delayed two hours. This was no problem because our flight from Dallas to London didn't leave until 4:35 pm - later delayed until around 5:15. They had changed our seats from the ones I selected, and I was a little sad. However, when I mentioned it, the woman at the counter said she would do what she could.
About half an hour before takeoff, she called us over to the desk and she had managed to get our original seats back. The plane was a 747-400. In economy the seats go 3 - 4 - 3 across each row. However, at the very rear of the plane there were three rows of 2 - 4 - 2. I had selected the very last row (53) so we could try the two seat row. It turned out to be pretty nice. I had the window and Geri had the aisle. There is about a foot and a half space between the window seat and the window. We were both able to pretty much stretch out the whole way. We had exit row seats from SLC to Dallas and from London to Rome, so we were definitely flying in as much luxury as possible in economy seating.
When we arrived in London, it took forever to disembark from the plane. Instead of the extendable walkways, they had a series of buses. Passsengers had to walk down a couple of flights of portable stairs to get from the plane to the tarmac and then board a bus. This was a bit difficult for elderly passengers, so it was a slow process. Being in the very last row, we were pretty much the last to leave the plane. Our bus had to wait for a couple of REALLY slow people. I thought we would never reach the terminal. However, as it turned out, it didn't make a bit of difference.
When we finally made it through passport checks and security, we found that our flight to Rome was delayed an hour and a half. At Heathrow airport, they don't post the gate numbers until about 45 minutes before each flight. So we waited for about three hours for our gate to be posted, then walked to the far end of the terminal to finally board our flight to Rome. On the way to the plane Sister Scherbel's foot was run over by a suitcase pulled by a fellow passenger in a hurray. It was very painful for her and left a crease across the top of her foot which was swollen from sitting so long. It looks like it will be a multi-colored bruise for a while.
While waiting in London, I decided to buy something to drink. I purchases a "cloudy lemonade," a "cream soda," and a "ginger beer." They had a special on - buy two get one free. I had forgotten that Endland is still on the pound sterling instead of euros. So, I gave the cashier a 5 euro note and received a couple of pounds and pence back in change. The money exchange in Italy wouldn't change coins. Since I don't think I will ever have the opportunity to spend that change in England, those three bottles of soda cost 5 euros, or nearly seven dollars -- and they tasted terrible. Live and learn.
Security was kind of funny. They ask you to open your luggage and take out any liquids, pastes, or gels and put them in a clear plastic bag. There is a limit to how much of these items they allow. I only had a nearly empty tube of tooth paste, literally about two brushes worth left in the tube. I dutifully put the flat tube in my little plastic bag. It looked a bit silly, but we did make it through security with no problems.
Security at Rome was interesting. We were flying from England to Italy, so since we were flying between two EU countries, there wasn't any customs check at all. We showed our passports to a very bored Italian security agent. He didn't even scan or stamp our passports. We need to have a special "permesso" within eight days of our arrival in Italy in conjunction with our visa for religious purposes. I don't know how they will know when we arrived in the country.
So, aside from spending plenty of time in airports, we arrived without incident. The benefit of delayed flights is that there is plenty of time for the airline to transfer your baggage, so all of our baggage arrived with us. Another fortunate event -- we weren't charged for our extra bags. I think since we originated with American Airlines and I am a lifetime Gold member, there was no charge for our two extra bags. Both of Geri's bags and one of mine slightly exceeded the 50 lb. limit, but we had absolutely no baggage challenges.
|Sister Scherbel waiting with our luggage at Terminal 3 in Rome|
True to form, there was no one to pick us up at the Rome airport even though our flight was about two hours late. I had called Sister Steuer from London to advise her our flight would be late. After waiting about half an hour, I called the mission home. I couldn't get through because of a busy signal. I finally called President Kelly's cell phone,. He had given me a business card when we visited him in November. He said the assistants, Elder Hansen and Elder Longhurst, were on their way. I finally got ahold of the mission office and obtained the cell phone number of the assistants. After a couple of phone conversations, they found us, loaded our luggage into the mission van and drove us into Rome. Very impressive missionaries.
|In front of the Rome Temple beside the mission van|
They were kind enough to stop at the construction site of the Rome temple. The builders are just putting the exterior marble or granite (we're not sure which one) up. It is much more grey than in the architect's renderings I have seen. I had pictured it whiter. It will be very beautiful nonetheless.
We then drove over to the mission office where we met Elder and Sister Steuer again. (We had met them in November also.) They are a really impressive couple who are assigned to the mission office. They gave us a few instructions relating to driving cars in Italy, how our expenses will be handled, and some information about our branch in Battipaglia. We then drove with them to the mission home where we were again greeted by President and Sister Kelly. It was so great to see them again. They are a truly wonderful couple. After another of Sister Kelly's delicious meals, with a delictable apple pie and gelato provided by Sister Steuer, we watched a video they are producing as a kind of documentary of the year 2012 in the Italy Rome Mission. They have done a super job. President Kelly wanted a little different music, so I suggested "Nella Fantisia," my newest favorite song. They were already familiar with it and might use it in the video.
We spent a very pleasant evening with the Kellys and the Steuers, but faded kind of quickly after our all night plane trip. We spent the night in a very nice bedroom in the basement of the mission home and zonked out until around 5:30 am. I walked outside for a quick stroll around the mission home in the early morning hours. I have lots of wonderful memories of Rome. It is so amazing to be back after amost exactly 46 years. As I remember, our district arrived in Rome in January of 1967. We stayed in a "pensione" near the train station as we looked for an apartment.
Before I finish this long e-mail, I want to tell you about an experience I had while waiting in the DFW airport. As we were finding a place to sit at the gate, we noticed that they had little islands with seating around them. The islands had electrical outlets where people could plug in their computers, iPads, etc. This was perfect for us as we always have things that need to be charged. As we were trying to get situated, we had to work around a man who looked to be from the middle east. Once settled, we started talking. It turned out that he was from Turkey, near Istanbul, where he is an assistant professor of electrical engineering at a university there. His English wasn't too good, and my Turkish is non-existant, but we had a very pleasant conversation. He had been visiting in Baton Rouge, LA and had made a quick trip to Florida. We talked about families and life in general. Then we began to discuss religion. he is Muslim and quite devout. He reads prayers from the Prophet Mohammed every day. We became instant friends. We exchanged e-mail addresses. Then he did an interesting thing. He had purchased a large bottle of Planters Peanuts for a snack. He felt he had to give me some of his peanuts. It was such a personal gesture of friendship. He took a sheet of newspaper, made a cone out of it, and poured a whole bunch of peanuts in it for me. I was so touched by his kindness. I had nothing to offer him in return but my thanks. People are so good. We need to stop fighting and arguing and just enjoy friendship. It was such a testimony to me of the innate goodness in people in general.
Well, we are ready for a new day. We hope to drive to Battipaglia today and move into our new apartment by this evening. My secondary goal is to eat a Battipaglia pizza before the day is ended.
Thanks again for your wonderful hospitality. We are starting to miss you already, but are extremely excited to be here and hope we can find ways to bless the lives of the people we meet.