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  • Melissa

Returning to Rome...

In late February, we flew to the U.S. for what was meant to be a two-week visit with family and friends. In the end, because of travel restrictions and flight cancellations, it turned into a four-month stay. But by early summer we were ready to return to Rome. Like the rest of the world, we’d been eagerly awaiting a July 1 reopening of the EU and we hoped the U.S. would be on the list of allowed countries. Sadly, the U.S. remained on the banned list. Nonetheless, we felt fairly confident (backed up by the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Italian consulate in L.A.) that, as residents of Italy with a valid permesso di soggiorno (residency) , we’d be allowed to enter. As we begin our travels in the early morning hours of July 9, here’s how it goes in real time ...

Albuquerque (ABQ) to Dallas (DFW)

We arrive at the Albuquerque airport about an hour and a half before flight time. The airport is quiet at 6:30 a.m. and there is no one ahead of or behind us in line at the ticket counter. We hadn’t planned to check our bags, but a day earlier we receive an email from our carrier that Italy would not allow any carry-on bags in overhead bins for all flights entering Italy. We check our bags and present our passports. The agent asks to see our Italian identification, as she can’t guarantee that we’ll be allowed to transit through London without showing these at the start. No problem, we have them in hand. The flight to Dallas is short, uneventful, no service, and I’m starting to adjust to the full-time mask.

Dallas (DFW) to London Heathrow (LHR)

Our 5-hour layover in Dallas is not bad. I try to walk around as much as I can, but there is a lot of sitting. Our footsteps echo in the international terminal. Before boarding, we also have to complete a health declaration for the U.K., submit it online and download it to our devices. The 9-hour American Airlines flight on a stretch Boeing 777 is nearly empty. I have friendly conversations with the flight attendants about how surreal the travel business has become. They are grateful to still be working. Wearing the mask for 9 hours (except while eating or drinking; food service is brisk but sufficient) isn’t as bad as I’d expected. I lie down and sleep most of the way. Upon arrival, no one asks us to show the U.K. health declaration. Heathrow has consolidated its arrivals/departures into only two terminals, so we land and will depart from Terminal 5—easier than taking the airport shuttles that are crowded and typically take forever. Another 5-hour layover. Heathrow is eerily uncrowded.

London Heathrow (LHR) to Rome (FCO)

My nerves kick in when we board the British Airways flight for the last leg of our journey. Aft er a temperature check (I feel like I am having a hot flash, but my temp reads normal!) and forms filled out, our Airbus 319 lift s off . (Speaking of forms; we had carefully completed before traveling the self-declaration forms downloaded from the Italian Foreign Ministry website. But before boarding, the BA agents give us an additional form, which they collect as we approach the jetway.) The flight is full and we are the only Americans. The other passengers are mostly British and Italian. Interestingly, BA off ers full service with a very nice boxed lunch, drinks, coffee, and tea, all served by flight attendants rolling their carts down the aisle. Landing in RomeI love flying along the coast on the approach to Rome. On this day, the sea shimmers under the late aft ernoon sun. We are so close. As we near the immigration area (a thermoscanner takes our temps along the way), passengers are asked if arriving directly from London or elsewhere. If from elsewhere, we have to complete yet another form. I’m told it replaces the one I’d brought with me. There is no line at the immigration booth. The agent is friendly (maybe they’ve been lonely) and tells us we have to quarantine for 14 days and stresses that we “Non uscire!” Our bags are waiting for us (this has to be a first at FCO) and we are at our apartment within half an hour.

All told, we wore our masks for 24 hours.

July 10: Today begins 14 days of quarantine. We’re going to be good. We’ve just come from our beloved home country, which is raging with the virus.

July 20: So far, no one from the “competent health authorities” (I’m quoting directly) has checked in to see if we are self-isolating. Only four more days to go. Upon release, I plan to first make a visit to my parruchiera and then savor an aperitivo from a rooftop overlooking eternal Rome.

August 6: We are now more than a week out of quarantine and we are free to wander in Rome, to travel in Europe. But Rome is eerily, weirdly quiet. No tour groups, no American voices, no tour buses, no selfie sticks, no guides with flags. It's wonderful in a way, but I fear for my friends and colleagues here who are so dependent upon the tourism sector.

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