Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Keys and Storm Drains....

Since being in Italy I have learned a lot of things, but probably some of the most important lessons have come with the helpless situation of being locked out of my apartment.  It would seem unlikely, but this has actually happened to us three times already in the one month of living here, not because we ever forgot our key inside, but because of somewhat extenuating circumstances that made our re-entry impossible. 

The first of these cases is something that I hinted at in the last post and occurred before we had even stepped foot in our apartment.  We received our keys from the real estate agency, got our landlords phone number and walked to our apartment on the second day of being in Florence.  Unfortunately, when we walked up the stairs and came to the door, we found ourselves incapable of opening it.  The key would turn, but something seemed to be stuck and was unwilling to budge, no matter how much cajoling, shaking, and whispered prayers for mercy were muttered. 

We finally resorted to calling our Landlord; maybe there was a second lock that we didn’t know about.  However, this too was a dead end, as the number that we had gotten from the agency seemed to be disconnected.  OK, we’re still not at the end of our options, we can try the rental agency – closed for lunch, which here in Italy lasts from around 2 to 4 PM.  It was 2:15.  We proceeded to stake out on the steps of our apartment building until the rental agency finally opened two hours later. 

When we were finally able to get a hold of them, they said that the key should work fine, we just didn’t know how to open the door.  We should see if there is anyone else in the building that could help us.  After ringing all the other doorbells, either no one was home, or no one was willing to come out and see what the crazy Americans in the hallway were up to (probably more the latter).  Thankfully, after another half hour, we caught someone coming home and related in broken Italian with a lot of hand motions that we were somehow locked out.  He proceeded to walk up to the door, turn the key, give it a couple shakes and, voila, it opened right up.  After many thanks, we were finally able to enter our apartment for the first time. 

First lesson learned:  It may take some shaking, but the door will open eventually.

Incident #2:

What started out as a pleasant dinner and a quick trip to get some gelato, turned out to be one of our more memorable stories of being here in Florence.  First, this story requires some preface:  When we first got a key to the apartment from the agency, they said that there was only one copy, but we could have more made so that we all would have one.  On the way to the apartment, we ended up having two more copies of the key made so that we all had one, only to find out that there were, in face, two more waiting for us once we got into the apartment.  So, now we have five sets of keys. 

On with the story: we had a nice dinner and decided that we were going to go out quickly to get some gelato to finish off the night.  As we were deciding what to bring, we decided we probably just needed some cash and one set of keys to get back in.  Instead of grabbing one of the originals we had, we just took one of the copies that was sitting on the entrance table.  As we leave and close the door behind us, we try to lock the door with the key and realize that it doesn’t turn.  In the standard U.S. door, this wouldn’t be a problem because the door isn’t locked, so you could just open it up again with the handle.  The only problem is that the doors here are not like standard U.S. doors.  Ours requires that you use the key just to get it open even if it is unlocked, so if your key doesn’t work, you’re locked out of your apartment no matter what.             

At this point I really had no idea what we should do.  None of us had cell phones, we collectively probably had about 20 Euros, a key that doesn’t work along with Carmel’s camera, which we may be able to pawn off for a night in a hostel, but probably not.  Well, we decided we should just go ask the people at the Tabacchi (a kind of convenience store) across the street.  Thankfully the guy there spoke some English and said that we needed to go down the street to a locksmith shop a few blocks down.  There is hope!

Then the small amount of hope is suddenly crushed when we get to the shop and see that it is closed for the night.  What now?  Carmel has the brilliant idea of going to one of the nearby hotels, because people there probably speak English and they may be able to tell us what we need to do.  We go to the nearest hotel and relay our story to a very sympathetic receptionist there.  She knows exactly what we are going through as she just locked herself out not too long ago.  She said that what we need to do is call the fire department (I guess they act as the locksmiths over here) so that they can let us in.  The only catch is that they have to have papers verifying that we are the ones that actually live there.  We do, in side the apartment.  So, she calls and says they should be there soon.  Thank goodness!

We head back to the apartment and wait.  After about fifteen minutes, a fire truck with about seven firemen pulls up.  They all crowd up our narrow stairway and proceed to open our door simply with a sheet of floppy plastic (it killed me to know that it was so easy).  We showed them our documents and passports, thanked them, and the world was right again, back in our apartment.  After that we definitely earned our gelato, so went out for a second attempt, this time making sure to bring a working key and a cell phone.

Second lesson learned: make sure that your key works before you shut the door.

Incident #3:

This actually just happened about half an hour ago and is what prompted me to write this extensive blog about my different adventures with keys and locked doors. Once again it centered around us going out for a quick study break treat of chocolate across the street (maybe God is trying to tell me something about my eating habits).  We were literally going across the street, so we just brought some cash and one set of keys, but we knew that these ones worked (we did learn something from the last time). 

We got our chocolate bars and all seemed to be going smoothly until we were just steps from our door.  Brie found this to be an opportune time to comment on how ironic it would be if we end up being locked out of our apartment another time.  Just as the words were exiting her mouth I had reached into my jeans pocket to retrieve the keys while I was also stepping up the curb.  As I pulled the keys out of my pocket, they slipped from my fingers and fell to the sidewalk.  The only problem was that it happened to be at the same spot where there was a storm drain in the curb.  It was a direct hit, not even a bump on the side, right down the drain. 

I looked up at Brie, dumbfounded, and she doesn’t even believe me at first.  It wasn’t until I was bent over the drain that she realized it was actually true.  Option #1: find something that could help us fish the keys out.  Option #2: try and get help from someone who probably doesn’t speak any English.  Option #3: wait for Carmel to get home from class with her key (two hours later) and get something from the apartment to fish it out.  As Brie had a class in an hour and a half and there wasn’t anything in the near vicinity to stick down the drain, we resorted to option #2.  

Brie walked across the street to the mechanic shop to try and find a flashlight as I tried to jam my arm down the muddy abyss of drain.  After swiping my fingers through a few cobwebs I finally grazed the bottom, but couldn’t quite get past my elbow to go any further.  By this time, Brie had managed to motion her way to getting the mechanic to come over with a flashlight and pliers.

He was able to get the top to the drain open and simply reach in and grab the keys, saved again by a friendly Italian citizen.  Aside from some mud up to my elbow and a couple scratches, we were once again back in the apartment, safe and sound. 

Third lesson learned:  Even if you have one working key, make sure that you have a spare on the off chance that you drop one down a storm drain.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I've month later

            I’ve been in Italy for a month now, and realize that I haven’t been posting any new blogs about how things have been going here or how I’m settling in.  Not that I’m presuming that anyone has even been wondering, but just in case someone has, I figure I better put something up so that one person doesn’t feel left out in the cold. 
            I’ll have to start by recapping our quite interesting tale of the journey getting here.  We knew it was going to be a long trip with lots of connections and places for things to go wrong, so we were all praying that it all went as planned.  It was one of those times where you hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  I don’t want to say that the worst happened, but it was probably pretty darn close. 
            We flew from Seattle to NY with no problem, met up with Brie in the JFK airport and then made our connection to the international flight; so far, so good.  We flew Swiss air from JFK to Zurich, Switzerland and then had another connection to take us to Florence.  The plane landed in Switzerland and when we boarded the plane to Florence I was in a window seat, so I could see them loading the bags.  I immediately looked for mine, as that was one of the things I was most worried about.  To my surprise, it was right there, on the last cart.  I recognized my bright blue tag on the handle.  I couldn’t believe our great luck at having everything work out so smoothly…probably the wrong thing to be thinking about. 
            Just then, they stopped loading the bags and started driving away with the baggage trolley.  The only problem was that my bag was still on that cart.  I could see it driving away from me and there was nothing I could do about it.  There was a moment of panic, but then I realized that it’s not really that bad, at least I know that my bags made it to Switzerland.  How hard could it be to get them to Florence?  There would probably be another flight that same night…ha, right. 
            So, the plane takes off and I forget about the anxiety of losing my bag as I realize that we are about to land in the place where I am going to be spending the next four months of my life.  I have to say that the decent of the plane was one of the roughest that I have ever experienced.  Even being in some wind storms in Alaska aren’t as shaking as the landing coming into Florence.  Then, just as we were about to touch down, the pilot make a drastic pull up and we’re back to circling around the city.  What could go wrong now? 
            The captain comes on the intercom and says that there’s just too much of a tail wind in Florence right now and the plane is too heavy, we’re going to have to go to our alternative landing point: Bologna.  First thought:  Where the heck is Bologna?  I thought that was a lunchmeat?  Second thought:  If they already had an alternative landing spot, does that mean that this kind of thing happens often? 
            Either way, we make our descent and land.  I get off the plane and take my first steps in Italy to the Bologna airport.  Funny thing is that no one who was working at the airport seemed to know anything about who we were or what our situation was in trying to get to Florence.  They unload the baggage, but of course, my isn’t there.  I go to the baggage claim counter; thank goodness they speak English and begin to explain what’s going on.  After a few minutes they say that I need to make my claim in Florence, because that is where my final destination was originally.  OK, great, but right now I’m in Bologna, so how do I go about getting to Florence? 
            Just then a lady comes over and says that the airline is providing busses to Florence, we just have to go meet them in the parking lot.  We go to the parking lot, load on the bus and ride to Florence.  We’re all extremely jet-legged, culture shocked, and really have no idea where we are. 
            Two and a half hours later we are dropped off at the Florence airport.  First stop is to the baggage claim.  I wait in line for a good half hour, then am finally able to make my claim.  An hour later, I have my receipt and they say that the bag should be delivered to the school in the next day, maybe, could be a couple of days, no one really knows for sure.  At this point, I don’t really care, I just want to make sure I get it eventually. 
            Now, we have to deal with the problem of where we are going to sleep.  Due to the delay and redirecting of out flights, we had missed our appointment to sign in for our apartment and also had no way of contacting the agency that we went through.  In fact, we didn’t even know how to go about getting into the city of Florence.  Thank God for information desks.  We go to the desk and they tell us that we just have to take the bus to the city and gave us a name of a hotel that had an open room. 
            We board the bus, get to the hotel (which turns out to be more of a bed and breakfast type thing) and then set out in search of food.  We saw a McDonald’s on the way, and as sacrilegious as it sounds, we were so tired that something familiar sounded really good.  After a McChicken burger, we found an Internet cafĂ© to tell our parents that we were still alive and went to bed. 
            Luckily, the next day wasn’t quite as bad, but wasn’t great either.  We spent most the day walking around the city trying to get in touch with the school and check into our apartment.  Thankfully, my bag showed up.  Unfortunately, this also meant that I had to drag it all through the city the rest of the day. 
            However, we eventually got our apartment keys and got moved in.  Of course, this is after we were stuck outside the door of our apartment for five hours thinking that our key didn’t work when really it was just that we didn’t know how to open it, but that is another whole story in itself. 
            So, that was the adventure of arrival.  Since then there have been many more stories, some of which I may find the time to write about later.  As of now, we are four weeks into classes and I’m beginning to settle into the Italian life.  Although there was a rocky start, this is turning out to be a rather interesting adventure and it all just adds to the story.