The Excellent Adventure ends

The last days of our Excellent Adventure all ran together in a blur under gray, rainy skies and some of the coldest temperatures we had felt since Paris.

Sunday Lynn cooked up her last meal in the apartment, our customary delicious brunch of eggs and lardon, this time sans the lardon because we had eaten it all. Then, of course, we walked over to the Irish Pub at the Duomo for our last Bloody Mary in Europe. The skies were threatening the entire time, and sure enough, it started to rain on our return just a few blocks from home.

And then, incredibly, it started to hail.

Little pea-sized pellets of ice pelted down, which actually was a good thing, because they bounced off my coat without getting it wet. We retreated to our apartment for a very quiet afternoon before venturing out to dinner at Fuoco Matto (Crazy Fire in Italian).

How we missed Fuoco Matto for three weeks in Florence is beyond me. The restaurant is located on Via April 27 right around the corner from our apartment. In fact, you can actually see it from our apartment. However, currently the restaurant is obscured behind scaffolding and orange plastic construction netting, so I use that as an excuse. That and the fact that we usually walk on the other side of April 27 to avoid the scaffolding.

This restaurant is wonderful, among the best we have enjoyed in Florence. The staff is young, friendly and most pleasant. The pizzas are excellent, and the more elaborate main courses are even better. Our dinners were excellent on both nights.

The restaurant offered a glass of prosecco for starters accompanied by a flatbread type sandwich with vegetables served room temperature. After our first dinner there, they brought over a complimentary dessert for us to share with our lemoncello digestif, after which our waiter brought out a bottle of Amore (the base of Amoretto) for further post-prandial tasting. All of it on the house.

Monday was prep day for departure, so packing was the order of the afternoon. Under still threatening skies we walked through the markets around Mercato Centrale so Lynn could buy some scarves and leather bracelets for gifts.

We had decided the night before to go back to Fuoco Matto on Monday for our last dinner in Florence. Part of our decision was location-based, as the rain just would not stop. The second visit was as good as the first, although without the Amore and complimentary dessert tasting.

Apartments Florence was kind enough to let us stay in the apartment until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, as our flight did not leave until 8 p.m. Had they kicked us out at the regular 10:30 a.m. check-out time, I don’t know what we would have done, because Tuesday was the coldest, grimmest day we had experienced in Florence and pretty much our entire stay in Europe.

We managed to avoid most of the rain for a quick walk to Vecchio Mercato restaurant and a last lunch of their most excellent, creamy lasagna. It was full-circle and fitting that our last lunch was at Vecchio Mercato, since our first lunch more than three weeks ago had been there too.

Gabriel, our Apartments Florence check-out attendant, showed up exactly at 5 p.m. and quickly went through the procedure, which included toting up the utilities we used during our stay. The bill came to 188 euros, a bit shocking to us, since we rarely used the heater during the day and never at night. But pay up we did, then hustled into the cab that Gabriel kindly summoned for us.

Florence is not a large city, but it has big city rush hour traffic, especially in the rain. Nonetheless, we reached the airport in plenty of time, and the Veuling ticket counter attendant checked our cursed third bag without charge, as the flight was not at all full.

On our arrival into Barcelona, we hit the timing lottery again, when the hotel shuttle showed up just minutes after we rolled the luggage across the drive to the pick-up point.

The Barcelona Airport Hotel was quite luxurious. Our room was huge by hotel standards, and the bed was at least king size if not bigger. It felt strange not sleeping in an apartment bedroom for the first time in three months. Even more strange showering in a full size shower.

The one essential that the hotel did not offer was coffee service in the room, so the next morning I walked downstairs to fetch coffee and scope out breakfast while Lynn showered. Breakfast was expansive, with a selection of just about any meat, cheese, fruit, pastry, and scrambled eggs you could ask for. We knew it may be our only real meal of the day, so we took advantage.

To my surprise, breakfast was added to our bill, most unusual for European hotels. But to my utter shock, the price was nearly 20 euros each. If I had known, we would have stuffed our pockets. Breakfast at Brennan’s it ain’t, and breakfast at Brennan’s is less expensive.

And so began the odyssey home. First we shopped at the mammoth duty-free store in the beautiful Barcelona airport. I picked up four bottles of 7-year-old Havana Club rum, three as gifts for the guys checking on our boat and one for moi. Havana Club is not available in the U.S. because it is a product of Cuba. But it is overall the finest rum you will ever taste. There is a certain flavor about Havana Club that is different from every other rum at any price. We drank it all over Europe.

But Barcelona’s duty-free store does not deliver directly to the airplane as others do, so we had to schlep the four bottles, all wrapped in duty-free plastic bags, resting on our accursed third bag. That load gets heavy, even perched on a rolling suitcase. It felt good to heave it and the suitcase and my briefcase and our coats into the overhead bin on the eight-hour flight from Barcelona to JFK in New York.

We waved good-bye to Europe one last time, as the plane climbed through the clouds on its way across the Atlantic to the U.S. I can’t deny that we both shed a tear.

Thanks to Global Entry, our route through passport control and U.S. Customs was speedy and almost pleasant. Don’t ever leave home without a Global Entry card–it’s worth every penny of the $20 per year fee.

And then we hit JFK’s international TSA lines. Welcome home to the U.S.A.

There was no separate TSA Pre-Check line, but the agent told us to alert the next agent of our Pre-Check status so we would not have to take off our shoes, etc. It didn’t matter. Only one of the two scanner lines was moving with any efficiency at all, and of course we were in the other one. All told, it took nearly an hour to go through a simple TSA screening that included putting each bottle of rum into a black box machine to make certain the bottles did not contain explosives. This, despite the fact that all the bags were sealed at the duty-free store.

Actually, I have never quite figured out why returning international  travelers are required to go through TSA upon arrival in the U.S. anyway. We had already cleared security in the country we are leaving.

Lugging the rum, the briefcase, Lynn’s “mom bag,” two heavy coats and of course, the oft mentioned third bag, we dragged ourselves down to the gate. It was now 3 p.m. Eastern, about 9 p.m. according to our body clocks. At the gate, a most friendly Haitian Delta agent graciously let us gate-check the monster to get it off my shoulders for the last leg home.

On the ground in New Orleans, we were herded into the longest taxi line I have ever seen in any airport in any city, inlcuding New York. Three flights had arrived at Moisant at the same time about 10:30 p.m., and the taxi line snaked back to the middle of baggage claim. By now, it was 5:30 a.m. to our bodies, and it was all we could do to give directions home to our cab driver.

Our Excellent Adventure was over. Welcome home.




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