Saturday, December 15, 2012

Italy 2012

It’s been ages since I’ve written on my blog.  My bad.  So much has happened in the last couple of months...where do I start?

In early September, I went to New Delhi, India for a week of training.  While I was there, demonstrations took place back in Pakistan as a result of the video made portraying the Prophet Muhammad in a very negative light.  I returned to Lahore on September 15 and was told to stay in my house.  Four days later, on September 19, those of us who were considered ‘non-essential personnel’ were told to pack our bags.   We were being flown to Dubai on authorized departure.  We had no idea how long we would be gone.   I was scheduled to leave on my first R&R on October 1 so I decided to pack what I planned to take/wear on my trip, just in case my departure city changed from Lahore to Dubai. After 5 days in Dubai, we were informed that things were not improved enough to return and we would be there at least another 6 days.  Having served in Muscat, Oman, I had been to Dubai 4-5 times before.  The first few days were OK…did some shopping, pigged out on the breakfast buffet and slept in.   I don’t normally eat breakfast but since things were so expensive there, I would fill up at breakfast and then just skip lunch. Dinner was usually $40-60.  So, when we got the news that our stay would be extended another 5 days, I decided to head back to my favorite place…Muscat.  I had to give up my daily per diem for the days I would be out of Dubai but it didn’t matter to me.  Muscat had beaches, a nice place to stay with friends and a chance to visit some of my favorite shopping sites.
I emailed the Travel office back at the Consulate and asked her to change my flights so that I departed for Venice from Muscat instead of Lahore.  I had her email the new itinerary to a friend at the Embassy.  When my friend got it, the font was so tiny, we could hardly read it.  We tried enlarging it but still had trouble reading it.  But the bar code was readable so it seemed OK.

All flights depart Muscat in the middle of the night.  My trip took me from Muscat back to Dubai and then after a 6 hour layover, on to Venice.  Or so I thought.  Travel in this part of the world is not the most fun thing because it seems it’is always in the middle of the night.  Half asleep, I boarded my flight from Dubai to Venice and then tried in vain to get some sleep.  Shortly before landing, the pilot came on and made the usual speech.  This pilot had a very strong accent and I paid little attention to him since I fly all the time and rarely pay attention to the announcements…unless they say “PREPARE FOR A HARD LANDING!”

Anyway, we land and I get off the plane.  Something isn’t quite right. I’m not hearing Italian.  I’m hearing people talking like Arnold Schwarzenegger!   Oh hell…I’m not in Venice…I’m in VIENNA!  Panic sets in as, in my state of sleep deprivation, I try to remember which country Vienna is in!!  And once I figure out it’s Austria, I try to remember where Austria is on the map…and just how far away is Venice???  I look to my left and see the ticket counter for Austria Air.  Just my luck, one seat is left.  Once I had my ticket in my hand, I had to laugh.  Emails from my travel person referenced Venice but when I looked at my boarding pass, in black and white, it said VIE.  Who knew VIE was Vienna and not Venice??  Finally, 3 hours later, I am in my room in Lido, Italy!  Lesson learned…pay more attention to the first announcement that says the flight number and destination!

One of my covert photos of the Sistine Chapel
My 3 weeks in Italy were a dream!  What a gorgeous place!  I started in Venice, moved on to Florence and finally to Rome, spending a week in each city.  I rode a Vespa through the countryside of the Tuscany region, having lunch at a beautiful vineyard.  I floated through the canals of Venice in a Gondola.  Every church I came across, I went in and was amazed at the beautiful sights inside.  I even went in one and a gorgeous wedding was in progress.  I saw beautiful art in the Vatican Museum and covertly took pictures in the Sistine Chapel.  I basically ate my way through Italy!  Pasta, spaghetti, gelato…every bite was amazing.  I walked miles and miles every day and actually ended up losing 9 pounds.  Nice surprise when I returned home and stepped on the scale.  I was even lucky enough to be at St. Peter’s Basilica when the Pope was giving his weekly message. And inside the Basilica…no words exist to describe it. Also in Rome…the Coliseum,  the Pantheon and making pasta with a chef at That’s Amore. 
The Arno River, Florence
By the time I reached Rome, I was so tired of the 4 outfits that I had, I was ready to burn them!  I wore them from September 19 until I returned to Lahore on October 20.  I haven’t worn them since.
Things have quieted down here in Lahore but another crisis could be brewing.  Another movie, “The Innocent Prophet” is scheduled to be released December 14 and could very well cause more protests and demonstrations.  The world is full of knuckleheads who feel the need to make stupid films when they shouldn’t. 

It will be time for my second R&R in February.  I believe it will be London this time.  And in June, I will take my last Home Leave to Texas.  After that, I return to Lahore to serve my final year before I retire in June 2014.  Time is flying by so fast…but I think to myself…this is one time I wish it wouldn’t!