Last month I traveled to Italy for a week at another Jovial Culinary Getaway; I attended as a guest this time versus working as a photographer and videographer – and I traveled sans The Professor . . . internationally . . . and I lived to tell about it . . . barely.

italy 5

Previous trips to Italy had us flying through Paris and then to Rome, Pisa or Florence; all of which are a bit tricky to navigate both the airports and the language barrier – and I simply do not know enough Italian that would ensure I could make all my connections. The Professor performed his usual scouring of the internet to see if there were other options and found a flight from Chicago to Heathrow and Heathrow to Pisa; I knew I would be picked up by a driver in Pisa but I’d heard horror stories about getting through Heathrow. I sent a note to my friend Maggy who assured me that even though a 45-minute layover wasn’t ideal to make my connection – it was doable. We both took a deep breath and with a click of the mouse, The Professor booked the flight.


I’ll admit to lumps in our throats as we said our goodbyes but I also knew that making the trip alone was something I needed to do; there was much to learn in Italy and The Professor had students to teach. Italy? Through London? I can do this.

Making the connection through Heathrow to Pisa was indeed challenging and after clearing the first security checkpoint I had my gate number and was headed up two escalator flights of stairs; the second security checkpoint involved scanning my passport, removing shoes, laptops and unbeknownst to me until then, my iPad – oh, and that bottle of water I forgot to toss. As you may have already guessed, I was pulled out of line and had to wait while they went through the entire contents of my bags leaving me a little more than 5 minutes to get to my gate before it closed. But I made it and landed in Pisa safely.



The return home? That was another matter entirely. What started out as having an hour and 45-minute layover (plenty of time to get through Heathrow security) ended up being only a 30-minute layover when my plane from Pisa was delayed a full 30-minutes. The first security checkpoint failed to give me my gate number (and I forgot to ask), the second security checkpoint ran out of bins just as it was my turn; I did, however, remove my iPad and tossed my water so there was no additional delays.

But now I’m down to 10-minutes before my gate closes – and I still have no idea which gate I’m leaving from; I ask a flight attendant who tells me I must take a tram. ‘A tram?’, I asked. She smiles then says in a proper British voice, ‘Yes. It’s easy, just take the lift down and the gate you need is two stops.’ ‘Two stops?’, asked in my very panicked, high-pitched American voice. I gulped, feeling my heart beginning to beat faster. ‘Yes, two stops.’

Into the lift and down to the Tram; one has just left and now I, along with a hundreds of my closest friends (said with teeth clenched), wait for the next Tram – ‘Arriving in two-minutes’ according to the proper British announcement over the PA system; I check my watch. Seven minutes until my gate closes. Heart pounding faster and now I’m pacing in front of the Tram. Finally it arrives but the doors don’t open; instead, ‘Mandatory security check, please wait’ says the proper British voice. The doors on the opposite side of the station open and a security guard meanders through each car as if he’s on a Sunday stroll; when he completes his task, the doors open on our side and allow us to board. Another check of my watch and I’m now down to less than 5 minutes before my gate closes and I miss my flight. ‘Please, oh please, oh please, let me make this flight’ I’m screaming inside my head.

Two stops later and I launch myself from the Tram onto the glass-like polished floor in a dead run, luggage and all, through the airport to Gate 56; the overhead the proper Britsh voice says, ‘Last call for Heathrow to Chicago, gate is closing now.’ I can’t breathe as I’m frantically looking for Gate 56 – which happens to be, you guessed it, at the very end of the terminal.


Amazing Race style, I fling myself and my luggage towards the agent; visibly shaking, I’m yanking on my passport and boarding pass, sweat dripping from my forhead, chest heaving. The agent looks at me and says, ‘Ma’am, you’re going to have to calm down before I can allow you to get on that plane.’ Oh. My. God. Are you k-i-d-d-i-n-g me??? ‘Ma’am, take a couple of deep breaths and calm down or I will not allow you to board this plane.’ ‘But I can’t miss my flight – my husband . . .’ I can feel the tears start to inch their way up from my throat; the inevitable meltdown and full-on ugly cry is just below the surface. ‘Ma’am, you’re not going to miss your flight; you’re here. But you have to calm down before you can board.’

Multiple deep breaths, and using force even Luke Skywalker would be proud of, I get myself together as the agent checks my passport and boarding pass; within the next few moments I’m walking down the jetway to the plane. Ten hours later I’m home and a very happy Professor was there to greet me in Chicago.

And yes, there were tears.

Stay tuned for Part II – the Hipster Seatmates


  1. I love the sound of this soup. It has a combination of flavors that I know my family will enjoy. The trip home sounded rough but I am glad that everything worked out and you did arrive safely to The Professor. I miss seeing your updates on FB but I am trying to visit as many friends on their own sites as often as I can. Have a great day!

  2. Oh I loved Italy! It’s been over 10 years since I have been but I definitely want to go back. Also loving this soup, esp the wild rice. I just hosted friendsgiving yesterday but unfortunately only have about a cup of turkey left. I may need to find more turkey haha.

  3. Oh my gosh, I would have been Freaking Out! And if they had to me to calm down before boarding, I would have gone into full-on hysterics. You were very brave! Now, how ’bout some of that soup? =)

  4. Wow, what an adventure (in the not good way) Debra. I’m sure your time in Italy with Jovial was wonderful and helped make your travel challenges more bearable. We just got back from France and I know what you mean when you don’t think your language skills will get you through! I’m glad you survived and now have a no doubt hysterical story to tell when we see you again! 🙂

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