Once again I packed my bags and headed to an airport – this time Mexico City’s – where I would fly Air France to Paris and then onto Rome.
A few days before my departure Air France surprised me with a holiday offering of upgrading to Business Class with my very own ‘pod chair’ to watch movies, read, and fully recline and sleep during the 10-hour flight for an unbelievable price of €289 or just $329USD.
This would have been a couple of thousand dollars if I had purchased this ticket when I originally booked. I grabbed my credit card and quickly took advantage of all the options the upgrade included – access to the Air France lounge at the airport, Seat 4L with all its gadgets, comfort gifts, footrest, fluffy pillow, cozy blanket, a personal pod all to myself plus a menu of delicious choices for dinner and breakfast – and really nice drinks menu! What a great way to start a trip.
I had filled out reams of required paperwork before I left home and showed them all to the Air France desk in Mexico City. She spent about 10 minutes, carefully reading each and everyone before checking her flight consol several times and finally handing me my boarding passes marked ‘Docs OK’.
I arrived in Rome after a 1-hour layover and change of planes and terminals at Charles de Galle (which IS NOT enough time!) with the full knowledge beforehand that because of Italy’s stringent Covid regulations regarding arriving from an “E Designated Country – Mexico” I would have to spend the first 10 days in quarantine.
It was arranged that a private car would pick me up (no public transport allowed). I would be quarantined in the BnB portion of the property where I was housesitting and the owners until they left, would stay in their house which was connected by a doorway on the upper floor.
I had gone through passport control when I changed terminals in France and had my passport stamped without issue as entering the EU. I walked into Terminal 3 at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, followed the signs to Baggage Claim, grabbed my suitcase, and walked out the door where I was sure Italian Customs was waiting to stamp my forehead with a large ‘Q” and found myself standing outside the airport’s arrivals door breathing the fresh Italian air! What a surprise.
Because I was told I would have to quarantine, I had canceled my hotel in Rome, dinner at my favorite restaurant for ‘real pasta Carbonara’, and the planned train trip down to Siena the next day all so I could be transported in the ‘protected environment of a private car’ for the 3-hour drive south. All for nothing – as it seemed the Italians agreed with Air France, the French Passport Control, and all those documents I had submitted that I was Covid-free and did not need to be quarantined after all. Yeah!
Jet-lagged and exhausted, I fell into my bed to wake up the next morning to the sun rising over the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside. Breathtaking.
For the next few days, I roamed the area with my hostess, Patricia Robison, Professor of English at the University of Siena. Now seems the perfect time to tell you how I landed this house/pet sit in Tuscany.
Three years ago when Joyce and I were vacationing in the area, we signed up for Tours by Roberto, the most recommended tour company by our go-to European expert, Rick Steves. Roberto himself was totally booked, so we ended up with the delightful and now good friend, Lorenzo Canestrelli of All Around Tuscany Tours as our guide. But our names were on Roberto’s list which Patti uses several times a year to recruit English-speaking tutors/mentors for her university students.
Volunteering means a weekly Zoom/WhatsApp chat with a junior or senior-aged college student discussing any and everything – in English. As I had enjoyed ‘teaching English’ in-person for many summers in Spain, I immediately signed up. About 1/2 way through my first year, Prof. Robinson noticed how my emails were signed and dropped me a note asking if I might be interested in house/pet sitting the following year over the holidays so they could visit their family. My response was immediate – and affirmative!
I am now in my 2nd year, with my 2nd student and it has been a wonderful experience for me – and hopefully for them as well. The second day I was here I spent the morning with this year’s student, Ana Maria. Isn’t she gorgeous?
We met for breakfast and a tour of old town Siena before heading to the University for her last class before starting her holiday vacation. She had a new watch which told her how many steps we had taken – after a city tour like no other! She had laid out a route for me to see some of the wonderful, unique, and not-often-seen places in Siena. In the end, we had walked 13,000 steps!!!!! and my legs, feet, and jet-lagged body were literally dragging!! But what a wonderful day. Here are just a few pictures I took during our walk.
The next day, Prof. Patti took me to the nearest town, Asciano, where I wandered through their old town loving the homemade decorations they put on their pull-down gates when they close their stores between 13:00-16:00 each business day. I wandered into a nunnery which had been founded during the first half of the 14th century that is now an apartment building, found an engraved listing and sculpture of the cheeses made in the area, located an all-important ATM, got a new watch battery, and had a cup of Italian espresso (wow- that cures jet lag!) and went grocery shopping. They have fresh-made pasta in every store!
Very early the next morning the Robison’s piled into their van with all their luggage and we headed into Siena where they would catch the bus to Rome and flight to the United States to visit with family for the first time in four long years! That left me with trusty Google Maps to find my way back home. It worked just fine until I tried to turn around in the driveway – and ended up in the ditch!
There had been a hard freeze the night before and the grass was wet and as slippery as ice. I hit a patch on turning around and slipped right now the hill. At least I didn’t go through the fence!!! I tried every Minnesota/Chicago winter driving trick I could think of, even putting fireplace ashes behind the tires, but nothing helped. I was completely stuck!
To find out what happens, if I ever get out of the ditch, how I celebrate Christmas in Italy, you will just have to wait a week or so and read Christmas in Tuscany – Part Two!
Until next time….. Merry Christmas and Joyous New Year!