I woke up at 3:30 am, according to my watch that I had set in the plane. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, so I got out my computer and worked on it for the next 90 minutes. Just then, the phone rang with my wake up call. I was confused, since I had asked for a 6 am call, but my watch only said 5. I decided that I must be the one that was wrong, and then took a shower and got ready. As I walked down to the lobby 30 minutes later, I noticed that the clock above the stairs said 6:45 am, and figured that it must be 15 minutes fast.
The streets of Arona were dark and deserted, it seemed way too dark for 6:30, appearing more like midnight, but I decided to look around anyway. Arona left a much better impression on me than Milan had, seven months earlier. The dingy, gray, graffiti-covered buildings had been replaced by quaint stucco buildings akin to my hotel which lined the narrow streets of the village. I walked around the courtyard of an old church, and then walked down the hill to the lake front. It was still pitch black outside and I had yet to see a sole on the streets.
After circling the area, I wound up back at the hotel and saw that the cafe had opened up. I had been famished ever since I had gotten up that morning, since my eating schedule had been completely thrown off by traveling. I went inside the cafe and ordered a chocolate-filled croissant, along with a cappuccino. Maybe it was because I was hungry, but I swear that it was the best croissant that I had ever eaten- warm and buttery and flaky. I understood from the man who worked at the cafe that breakfast there was included in the price of my room.
As I walked past the front desk, I noticed that it was 6:30. That meant that I had been right about the time all along and that my wake up call had come an hour too early. As I neared my room, I could see that the clock on the stairs had not changed from when I first looked at it. I therefore set out once again for a tour of town, knowing that sunlight could not be far off. Alarmingly enough, stepping out the door of the hotel revealed that it was still completely pitch black outside. By the time I returned to the lake, however, there was a slight glow in the sky above it. After walking around some more, I was able to watch the sunrise over the lake.
I returned to the hotel once again and brought my bags downstairs in order to meet my taxi at 7:45. The same man drove me back to the airport, this time taking the main road the whole way and taking only 25 minutes to get there, but still talking to me in Italian the entire way. One bit of information I was able to gather from him this time was that Malpensa Airport was one of the busiest airports in Europe.
Upon my arrival, I could see that he was right- even though I got there 2 hours before departure; I barely made it to the gate on time. It took a full hour to check in and, by the time I got my boarding pass, it was already time to begin boarding, even though I had yet to pass through security. The line for the security checkpoint was unbelievably long- it reminded me more of our day at Disneyland, it wound back and forth so many times. Finally, after 35 more minutes, I arrived at my gate. Luckily, there was still a long line to board and I didn’t have any problems making the flight.
The flight to Chicago on a 747 didn’t have the individual screens to watch movies on, but I did catch “Ratatouille” as well as two Italian movies on the main cabin screen. I took a few cat naps during the flight, but otherwise didn’t really sleep. After we landed in Chicago, I stood at the baggage claim area, watching the luggage go around and around. Soon, there was no more on the conveyer, but still at least a dozen people standing there without luggage. The airport staff soon determined that there was no more luggage from the flight to be had and suggested that we all go through customs and fill out a claim for our lost luggage at the Alitalia ticket counter. I wasn’t particularly worried that they had lost my luggage forever, however, due to the number of people who were still missing theirs.
Trudy and the boys were waiting for me outside the arrival area, but had posted themselves at the wrong set of doors, so I went up behind Trudy and scared her by asking who she was waiting for. Soon, we embarked on a three hour drive through dense fog to get to my mother’s house. We stopped there briefly to pick up some of the things we had sent back with her during her visit, and then continued on the 90 minute ride to Galesburg, our home town. By now, the fog had given way to a light rain. Since it was Brennan’s 12th birthday, we stopped at our favorite Mexican Restaurant, El Rancherito, for a celebratory dinner, without even stopping at home yet. After our (mostly futile) search for Mexican food in Japan, it was good to be back! Brennan got to wear a sombrero and had fried ice cream for dessert.
By 8:30 pm, we finally reached our house. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Justin’s friends from high school has taken it upon themselves to dig our Christmas decorations out of our attic in order to put up a tree for us as well as put lights up in our yard. I helped Trudy unpack and put things away as long as I could, but by 11, I needed to go to bed. I had been up for over 24 hours for the second day in a row! The rain had now given way to sleet, and was supposed to turn to snow later on. I went to bed listening to the sleet hit our bedroom windows- I was definitely home.