Post 2: The Journey

I’m finally in Florence! I’m now having an amazing time and I have already made some great friends and planned some great trips. I’ve started classes and eaten some of the best food in my life. I’ve seen incredible architecture and works of art. But while I still remember some of what I learned on my first international travel experience, let me share it here. Note, in the end, I fared much better than expected but it was definitely not easy.

My first flight, Tampa to Atlanta, went well. We had an almost three-hour layover so my group and I all got to eat and watch a romance movie called “Love and Gelato” per my Aunt Joan’s suggestion to help us get in the Italy spirit. My next flight was Atlanta to Paris and once we boarded that, the issues began. My seat in particular was double booked. Luckily, I didn’t have to move and they found an equally as good spot for the lady who tried to intimidate me into giving up my seat. Lesson 1, If you’re in the seat labeled for your boarding pass, call the flight attendant to resolve. Unfortunately, this experience made it clear they’d overbooked. Three people were compensated to get off and by the time they had finished taking their baggage off, we were an hour behind schedule. I was already worried about making our Paris to Florence connection since I knew we’d have to go through customs so this delay kept me awake for the entirety of the nine-hour flight. I was not wrong to worry.

Once at CDG in Paris, not only did we have to walk/run to the opposite end of the airport, but we had to go back through security, which had the longest line I’ve ever seen at an airport, and border patrol. There were tears in our groupof 15 USF students that missed our connection but I was saving mine for later. Lesson 2, it was clear the French agents were more helpful if you stayed calm, were polite, and tried to speak the language. They definitely responded better to this. Still we sometimes had to ask several agents to get the correct instructions to fly standby.

We were all put on standby for the next flight. Most of us didn’t eat or drink anything and we couldn’t relax. At that point I had been awake for about 22 hours with no sleep, little food and less water since security made us throw out our water bottles. While we waited though, that was when I saw the best in my fellow students. There was even talk that those of us who didn’t have USF roommates we could contact if we were late should be prioritized first. But when the time came, ALL 15 of us made the next flight. We all had to check our carry ons at the gate but they could’ve thrown my carry on in the Seine river at this point – I just wanted to make that flight! Lesson 3, anything important keep in your carry on, or better yet, personal bag!

I still didn’t sleep so when we landed in Florence, I was sleep deprived and borderline delirious. My checked bag looked like it had been backed over by the luggage lorry but I was too tired to care about that. FUA people greeted us with loud cheers and applause and all we could muster were weak smiles. In the two hours it took for the van to deliver everyone, I couldn’t even register that right out the window I was getting a tour of beautiful Florence. All I wanted to do was pass out in my bed. After the van dropped me off, I carried my 70 pounds of luggage up SIX flights of stairs. (Lesson 4, don’t pack more than half your body weight). When I arrived at the apartment, I found my room wasn’t ready. That is when everything started to hit me. The tears didn’t come until my converter wouldn’t plug into the wall. If not for severe dehydration, I would have cried more. Lesson 5, get water when you can. I staggered in 100 degree heat to CONAD City and bought a few snacks and water which sustained me until my room was ready and I could get that long awaited shower and rest.

After a bottle of water and a few hours of rest, the relief of the overseas journey being behind me took over. I was thankful for my apartment which is in a great location with stores and cafes close by and only 10 minutes to class. After a few days, I grew to appreciate Florence, the people I’ve met, and the chance to have this life changing experience. No doubt in a few weeks, I’ll not want to leave. So for others preparing for this journey, Lesson 5, just know the destination is worth the journey so push through. I’m so happy I did!

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