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Mike's Excellent Adventure to Europe 1993

Part 11: The Trip Home

Originally, we were supposed to leave on July 30th, but the commander wanted us to stay an extra day, so I had to change my tickets to fly out on July 31st.  My stupid NATO paper badge still said "30-7-93" on it, though, for the expiration date.  No one had bothered to ask me for it, so I figured I could still walk around all day with an expired badge, but my boss thought we should play by the rules.

I had an idea.  I thought I could just line through the "0" and make it a "1".  My boss didn't agree.  He reminded me that I almost got shot when I didn't have the badge.  Agreeing that he had a good point, we set off to see the Italian sergeant major who was in charge of access for the deployed troops.

One thing you have to understand about the Italian conscripts is that they have compulsory service, so none of them really want to be there, but they have to be there.  As a result, the conscripts are either bored or are trigger happy.  I had been harassed by the conscripts, and it seemed that they had little respect for anyone - including senior officers.  I couldn't blame them, after all; they were the lowest ranking troops and didn't want to be there.

The reason I mention this, is because the one person that I saw the conscripts have respect for - and this was for all conscripts - was this sergeant major.  I told the conscript I needed to renew my badge. He escorted us to the sergeant major's office and had us stand there at attention as he said something to the sergeant major.  The sergeant just stared at me blankly for a few seconds.  I started to talk, but he gave me a "death stare" and one of the conscripts had a look of immense fear.  I hadn't felt this way since I was a cadet at field training, but I shut the heck up.  This crusty old Italian sergeant major walked over to me, grumbled something in Italian, and pulled the plastic sleeve from my shirt.  He pulled out the slip, lined through the "0" making it a "1", and put it back on my pocket.  He said something in Italian, which I can only guess was an order for us to leave, because the conscripts hurried up and ran us out of the building.

My flight was at 6:30 AM out of Venice, and since I had to be there at 5:30 AM, and it was an hour drive, I had to leave the hotel at 4:30 AM, which meant I had to wake up at 3:30 AM.  It sucked.

My boss dropped me off at the Venice Airport, and I checked in with Lufthansa.  They asked me where my final destination was, and I told them Syracuse, New York.  So, they processed my ticket, gave me my boarding pass, and had me wait.  Then, at around 6:00 AM, we boarded our Dash-8.

I sat in my seat and talked to the woman next to me.  She spoke Italian and English, and she told me she was on her way to New York City.  We talked for a while, and then I realized that it was now around 6:45, and no one had come aboard to pilot the aircraft.

One note - Lufthansa flights between Venice and Frankfurt are bilingual - Italian and German.

At around 6:50, a gate agent comes aboard and starts walking down the aisle.  He says, "levis" over and over again.  I had tuned him out, as I didn't speak Italian, and I didn't know what a "levis" was.  The woman next to me looked at my boarding pass, and she said to me, "I think he is looking for you."  She pointed to my boarding pass where it said "LEWIS."

"See?" she said "LEH-VISS!"  I told her it was "LOO-ISS."

So I told the guy I was "Levis".  He said something in Italian, and when I told him I didn't speak Italian, he repeated himself in German.

"He says, 'your bag,'" the woman said.  When I asked her what about my bag, she said "Your bag goes to Siracusa."

"But I go to Syracuse," I told her.

"No, you back go to Siracusa - Siracusa, Sicilia!" she explained.  So that was the reason for the delay.  So I pointed to the guy to my ticket where it said "SYR" for Syracuse, NY.  He shook his head.

"Check them through to New York," I said.  The guy just stared at me blankly.  "JFK?" I asked.  He nodded and left.  Minutes later, we were airborne.  We flew over the Alps at dawn, and it was beautiful.

Simple beautiful.
Over the Alps at dawn.

What a sight to see on my way out of Europe.
More of the Alps at dawn.

Different from the farms in the US.
Like a patchwork quilt, the farms on the hills of Germany are beautiful.

More of the beautiful German countryside.

Best shot I could get...
Frankfurt (and the plane's engine and cowling).

I flew from Frankfurt on a TWA 767.  I sat in the smoking section next a beautiful German girl named "Grunhild".  Beautiful girl, ugly name.  Anyway, I was single at the time, and I thought I could score, but then she pointed out her boyfriend two rows ahead.  Oops.  But, I had a good conversation with her.  She spoke no English, and I spoke no German, but we both knew Spanish and spoke in it the whole way back.

I hadn't slept since waking up, and flying out of Frankfurt, we left at around 11 AM local, and we landed at around 3 PM local in New York.  Because it seemed like one long afternoon, I still hadn't slept, but I was starting to get tired.  I resisted the urge to sleep, though.

After landing in New York, I had to get my bags, go through customs, and then recheck them to Syracuse.  But, since they were only checked to JFK, I had to take my three bags and schlep them all the way across about three terminals to the one with the turboprops and recheck them.  I finally got over there and got them checked in.

A VERY busy airport...
JFK Airport in New York.

The Russians have landed!
An IL-86 Russian airliner.

I forgot my $%&^* telephoto lens!
You can barely see it, but there's a Concorde there.

We took off in a Beech 1900 and landed about an hour or so later in Syracuse.  My friends Dale and Mace met me at the airport, and they threw my bags in the back and we took off.  But we didn't go home.  Instead, we went to dinner in Utica.  For me, it felt like 8 or 9 at night, but I was tired, because when I woke up in Italy at 3:30 AM, it was like waking up at 10:30 PM the night before in New York, so I was really tired.

We went for Greek food.  Nothing like going for Mediterranean food after getting back from Italy, but we were in Utica, so if it wasn't Greek, it would have to be Italian.  After dinner, we went to go to the movies and see Rising Sun.  I didn't think I would make it through it, and sure enough, twenty minutes into it, I fell asleep.  Luckily, the movie broke near the end, and they gave everyone refunds and passes to another movie.  The guys told me I didn't miss anything.

So, by now it was around midnight, and I thought we would be going home, but alas - we were off to the casino.  So, we went to the casino and we were hanging out until around 2 or 3 AM.  I couldn't gamble, as I only had $1 to my name (and a few thousand lira).  But, more importantly, I was so tired, I knew there was no way I could do the simple math, and my eyes were so fatigued, I couldn't focus on any cards.  So, I went over to the bar and slept (until security made me leave, thinking I passed out drunk).

So, eventually, some time around 4 AM or so, I finally made it home.  I crawled into bed and slept for the next several days.

Continue on to the Conclusion!