Italian Memories

Thursday, June 2, 2005 - written by Jan Sabey

Little did we know when we gathered at the Round Barn Center in the light rain that in our excitement and business of loading the nice big Illini Swallow bus that we were ignoring (and perhaps secretly complaining about) almost the only rain that most of east central Illinois has seen in the month of June. And perhaps that is part of the story of our trip to Italy -- little did we know.

We straggled in to the Round Barn Center parking lot in our typical good-intentioned and happy-hearted manner between 10 and 10:30 a.m. on that memorable Thursday morning. We came dragging luggage, wearing backpacks, and carrying small duffles or assorted bags and totes as our carry-ons, many of us already second-guessing our packing strategies. Little did we know that we would become more adept at juggling this luggage and getting ourselves on and off buses.

The Goodbye

An ad hoc "sending committee" -- composed of Maud and Ray Demorest, Betty LaBerge, and Pat "the soprano" Neyens - stood in the drizzle, holding a home-made farewell banner and handing out small sweet treat bags and bon voyage good wishes. What a touching and thoughtful reminder that we were indeed leaving some of our friends behind -- and yet carrying them in our hearts!

As we boarded the bus, we received another BIG goodie bag - the gallon zip-lock size! This bag came to us compliments of THE CHORALE and some of the local merchants in town who gave discounts or actually donated items. The bags contained all manner of stuff for traveling folks from an extra wash cloth to some Airborne, from hand sanitizer to chocolate candy and other snackie items. (Little did we know that some of those goodies would be considered a nutritional godsend when our eating schedule was abruptly changed.) Oh my goodness, something else to fit into my precisely-packed carry-on tote!

After many "final" hugs and instructions about plant watering and phone cards and various other vital pieces of information and advice to friends and family who had transported some of us to this boarding spot, we finally arranged ourselves in the big, comfy bus and headed up I-57, leaving almost on time as we pulled out of the parking lot at 10:35! Maud and Ray, Betty and Pat waved to us until we were out of sight. As we watched familiar Champaign pass out of sight, many of us were pondering in some corner of our brains that incredible as it was and impossible as it seemed a year ago, we were really on our way. "Chicago - Madrid - Rome - HERE WE COME!"

The bus trip to Chicago

The trip north was filled with the giddy laughter and bubbling conversations of an adventure well-begun. We chatted, joked around, and Julie used the intercom to read us an email from Jean Redpath, wishing us well and encouraging us to "sing their socks off." The only thing missing was a little music. With all of our preparation, we really hadn't thought to learn some traveling songs. (Hmmm -- maybe that's something to consider for our NEXT tour!)

We made a brief stop at the mall near Bradley to pick up Katrina and add a few more bags to the luggage area. Now our bus was full, and our Chicago-to-Madrid-to-Rome contingent was complete. We would meet the Acords and Andresens and Madlen in Rome. We had good highways, no real traffic jams, and a comfortable ride all the way to Chicago.

At O'Hare, our bus was able to park practically at the check-in counter. We gathered our check-through-to-Rome luggage in a little side area, and we got in line. Little did we know that we were practicing for many such moments in Italy. Line-standing is a finely-polished art in the world of tourism, and we all began our apprenticeships in O'Hare. We also began to realize that it takes significant time to move 50+ people from Point A to Point B, and many of us noticed that we weren't very accomplished at staying together. However, Julie and her steering committee, in their group wisdom, had divided us into smaller groups with a "leader" to whom we were to report when we were in "gathering mode." We began this process at O'Hare and got better and better at it throughout the trip.

Once we got checked in, got our seat assignments all the way to Rome, shuffled our way through security, and found our departure gate (which was, of course, at the far, far end of the terminal), the group dispersed on a multitude of urgent errands - restrooms, lunch, phone calls, shopping, scouting, sight-seeing (yes, even in the airport). Beth jubilantly rejoined the group announcing that she and a few other Chorale members had seen Lou Henson at one of the other departure areas and had stopped to talk with him. Of course, our first thought was that Coach Henson was there to see us off . . . but he was actually heading back to Arizona. While we waited in the departure lounge, a number of us drank the fizzy Airborne concoction, some kind of a potion to help us stay healthy. What is in that stuff anyway?

Our plane (we flew Iberian Airlines) began boarding about 4:00 p.m. CHORALE people were scattered throughout the plane. Some of us were in rather tight seating situations (poor Julie and Alan were in inside seats in the middle rows!) and others of us had a little more room (aisle seats with no one in the middle). I add a sad note here that both Kate and Scott were both feeling sickly at the beginning of our journey. Fortunately Kate had some room to lay down and rest during our long 9 or so hour flight across the Atlantic.

In flight, we were served a dinner (choice of chicken or beef) and much later, a rather light breakfast. Little did we know that that breakfast would have to sustain us for a good long while. We could listen to a variety of music via earphones or watch a couple of movies - "The Pacifier" and some other film, both of which seemed to be dubbed in Spanish. Many of us chose to sleep, read, wander up and down the aisles, go on the "find the other Chorale members scavenger hunt" or stand in line for the restroom.

We left Chicago at about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Illinois time and arrived in Madrid around 10:00 a.m. on Friday, Spain time. Somewhere over the Atlantic, day 2 of our Italian adventure began. And so ends this journal of day 1.

the next day

 

touching the spirit... enriching us all