I woke up at 6 am, as usual, and helped Trudy with the rest of the packing. We woke the kids up at 8, and Kiyoe came by about 20 minutes later. She needed to pick up the keys to our house when we left, as well as wait for the man from the gas company, who was coming to turn off our gas. Within the next 10 minutes, Tsuneko had also arrived with Teiju; and Tadashi, along with his whole family, arrived as well. These families had agreed to take us to the airport, as our family and luggage filled more than one car load. By 9 am, we had the cars loaded with our things and we said goodbye to Kiyoe. Before we left, Mrs. Tsunomori came out with a gift for us. Just as we were pulling out, the gas man pulled up on his motorcycle, and I knew that Kiyoe would soon be on her way as well.
The 90-minute ride to the airport was fairly uneventful; the main thing I noticed this time was the cost of the tolls. Tsuneko had asked that we just reimburse her the cost of her tolls, nothing else. The total amount for her to drive from her house, in Kobe, to our house, then to the airport, and finally back home again, came to almost 6000 yen! I could see why so many people took public transportation in Japan. This was about the same price as the bus ride to and from the airport, but was obviously much more convenient.
At the airport, we had even more friends waiting to see us off. Yuko and her daughter Ayaka had taken the bus to the airport, along with Shohei. Including the newcomers, our entourage had now grown to 9 people! Everyone waited while we checked in to our flights, Trudy and the boys to Northwest, heading to Detroit, and I to Alitalia. Since I had gotten a round trip ticket with the latter, I was headed to Italy once again on my way back home. There was a little drama when we had to convince the former airline to check one extra piece of luggage, my poster, without charging us any extra, but it all worked out in the end. By the time we had checked in, we had less than an hour to get to our gates, so we said our goodbyes to everyone just before passing through the security checkpoint.
At 12:30, the Northwest flight began boarding, the family was on board 10 minutes later, and I headed to the other end of the terminal to board my flight by 1:10. For the next 12 hours, I caught up on all of the American movies I had missed while I was in Japan. I didn’t want to sleep on the plane so that I would hopefully be able to sleep through the night in Italy. Since we had little movie screens in front of each seat, as well as video on demand, I watched “The Pirates of the Caribbean III”, “The Simpsons Movie”, “Waitress”, “The Hoax”, as well as most of “Transformers”, before we landed.
There was a man waiting for me with my name on a sign as I exited baggage claim. I had booked a hotel that was in the opposite direction as Milan from the airport, figuring that I could see a different part of Italy this time around. The airport shuttle was the same price as the room at the hotel, but the total of the two still ended up being about the same price as the hotels which were right by the airport, with the added benefit of seeing some more sights. The “shuttle” ended up being a guy in a taxi, which was fine with me. He didn’t speak a word of English, and I didn’t speak much more Italian, but this didn’t stop him from talking to me the entire 40 minute trip to the hotel, which was located in the town of Arona, a town of 15,000 on the shore of Lake Maggiore, in the foothills of the Alps.
The few things that I thought I understood from my driver was that he was pointing out various sights as we traveled to Arona, as well as explaining why he left the main road and cut through various towns using the narrow side streets, along the way. The one Italian word I could understand, that he kept saying was “traffico”. The trip took twice as long as they had promised on their website and the man’s taxi meter nearly read twice as much as they had quoted me as the shuttle price by the time we neared the hotel. The thought did occur to me that the man might just be driving me around side streets in order to run up the meter, but when we arrived at the Hotel Spagna, my fears were allayed when they charged me the quoted price, despite the delay.
The hotel was in a narrow stucco building just off the main street through town and was fronted by a little cafe. The twenty-something man at the counter that evening was the only person I encountered at the hotel which spoke a little English, but I was certainly used to this after my seven months in Japan. I climbed the central staircase to my room, which was sparsely furnished but colorfully painted, complete with original artwork hanging on the walls, and went straight to bed, it was only 9 pm in Italy but was equivalent to 5 am in Japan and I had been up for nearly 24 hours!