We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Living the dream - Hang on to your passports!

An alternate title for this post ought to be "Living a nightmare". I have had quite an ordeal with my passport since I arrived in Italy. Here's a lesson learned for you.... do not travel with your passport in your purse!

A week after I arrived, I had to take the train to La Spezia, the town where my mother was born to handle my citizenship papers there. The train ride is about 6 hours, with a change of trains at the Firenze Rifredi station, which is a small station just outside of Florence. That's where my wallet including my passport, a few credit cards, all the cash I had on me, and my new blackberry cell phone were stolen. I went to grab for the phone to let my husband Michael know that I had completed the first leg of the journey and was about to board the next train for La Spezia and that's when I realized my stuff was gone from my purse. This incredible feeling of doom swooped down on me!

I have traveled extensively, and fairly extensively in Italy, and have heard lots of stories about items being stolen, but I had never been the victim before. I had 8 minutes between trains, and there were no police around to even report it to. The only choice I had was to get on the next train. Thank goodness my cousin Carlo was waiting on the other end for me. If it weren't for him, I might have spent that night begging in the train station to come up with some money for a return train ticket back to Venice. I didn't have a nickel, no way to make a phone call even, and no way to get a hotel room or train ticket! Trust me, me begging in the station would not have been a pretty sight.

When I arrived in La Spezia, we immediately made a police report, and contacted the American Embassy in Florence. They said not to worry, I could replace the passport at the embassy in Florence anytime. I also did all the other required calls to my banks and credit cards.

I called the Embassy again the next week to check on their hours of operation. They told me they are open every day from 8:30 -12:30. They also informed me that I needed to bring the police report, 2 passport size pictures, and 100 US dollars. On Monday morning, Feb 18th, I boarded a Eurostar train at 6:40 am headed back to Florence. The train arrived at 10:10, and by 10:30 I was standing in front of a locked door at the Embassy, which by the way, is in a huge palazzo overlooking the Arno river. Great little piece of real estate! On the door is a little notice indicating the Embassy is closed for President's birthday! Do you think they could have mentioned that on the phone when I called to ask about their hours? Yes, we are having fun now!

I called the emergency number on the door ( with my new little Italian telefonino), thinking that perhaps there was a way to get an afternoon appointment the next afternoon, since I'd be back through Florence after visiting La Spezia again. The phone message said that only emergencies like a death or imprisonment would be handled by the Rome office that day.

The next morning I called again, from La Spezia, asking if an afternoon appointment were possible. No way. Come back another morning. On friday of that week, I again hauled myself to the Santa Lucia train station at 6:30 am. This time I had a new passport in my back pocket and was on the train back to Venice by 11 am!

What have I learned??? Lots--- now i carry next to nothing in my purse, and I guard my passport like it was some incredible treasure. While I know it can easily be replaced, I also know the drill I have just been through, and don't relish the thought of doing it all again anytime soon.

I also know my way around the Trenitalia ticketing system pretty well, and the insides of both the Venice Santa Lucia and Florence Santa Maria Novella train stations. Not bad for my first month in Italy!!!

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