Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trip to Florence Italy:

It was the 9th of April ,2010. I was preparing for my trip to Italy from Indira Gandhi International Airport India. This was an official tour to attend the conference at Florence, Italy. The conference was for Schizophrenia International Research Society. My office cab was waiting outside. I stepped out of my residence taking the compliments of my family members at 9:00 pm. My husband and my father-in-law accompanied me to the airport. They dropped me at the airport and left back at home. I was left all alone. I was visiting first time all alone on my foreign trip without any known companions. Though, I had been to Europe earlier in 2005, to Barcelona but at that time I had four companions who held different positions in the same office.

I managed to check in and managed to convince to the officials to allow my poster to be taken in to the cabin. This was the flight to Paris by Air France. People and officials appeared to be warm and helpful.
Before, boarding for the flight, an Indian official asked me why I am going to Florence. When I spoke Florence, he heard “ Laurence” and then he said I have not heard of any such place earlier, then I spelled the name of the city and he further asked me when would I be returning back. I told him that 13th morning I am boarding for flight to India and then he looked at me suspiciously and asked me “Are you sure you will return back to India on 13th or perhaps you may change your mind and stay longer”. I replied to him that “Yes, I am sure, I would be returning back on 13th, as I am leaving my family here and I cannot stay without my family any longer”
The flight left for Paris, the most beautiful city of Europe at 12:35 Hours at midnight from Indian time. I got a comfortable seat in the middle row. Besides me a perhaps a Spanish couple were seated. Later I managed to take the completely vegetarian food, very close to Indian Cuisine but not exactly the Indian Cuisine in the flight.

I slept comfortably in the flight and got down at Paris at 6:05 a.m. on 10th April 2010. Customs and security asked few questions in French and later when they understood that I do not understand the single word of French, then they managed to speak broken English and I managed to make them understand my cause for my Trip. It was chilling cold in Paris and I was not wearing my sweaters…all of them were packed in my baggage which was sent directly to the connecting flight from Paris to Florence. I had to catch a bus which could drive me through the terminal 2C to the terminal 2G. It took me around waiting for 10-15 minutes when the appropriate bus arrived at terminal 2C. It has a screen which showed it would take around 11 minutes from that terminal to terminal 2G. I got nervous as I had only 45 minutes left to fly from the connecting flight to Florence. I reached the terminal 2G and hurriedly went for security checks. Then I managed to find out the terminal from where I had to board for the trip to Florence. The official hurriedly checked for my boarding passes and pointed out to board on one particular flight out of the several planes standing in a row. Perhaps, I was the last passenger to board on the flight. I was given the window seat.
While flying through the Florence from Paris, I could see the snowy mountains… a French traveling in the same flight took some of the photographs of those snowy mountains. I was also feeling very cold.

I reached at the airport of Florence by 9:15 a.m. in the morning but by that time forgot the name of the hotel booked for me in Florence. I immediately messaged my husband Anil that I have reached safely and opened my laptop to confirm the name of the hotel. Then, I looked around on the airport for the local sim card so that I could be able to be connected to my family and friends but could not find one. Then waited, outside the airport in sun, expecting to have a message from one of my colleagues, but when it was around 10:30 Hours, I did not receive any message from her, then hired a taxi myself. It was a difficult task to explain the taxi driver, where I had to go. I had to go to Hotel
“Cellai” and he said that since it is in the center of the city, he would charge 21 Euros. I simply agreed to his proposal. Then after about 15 minutes, he took me to some Hotel Select and told me that you have reached your destination. I said that this is not the hotel I was supposed to go and I spelled the name of the hotel as C-E-L-L-A-I, he immediately said that oh it is “Chellai”, where you have to go and within 5 mins he dropped into the hotel. He charged me only 21 Euros.

I stepped into Hotel Cellai at about 11:30 am, called my colleague, who was still asleep in her room in the same hotel. She called me that the reception and lecture would begin at 3:00 p.m at the Congress and that she would accompany me there. I checked into my room after an hour when I reached there as my room was not still ready. I reached into my room by 12:30 in the afternoon, took hot showers, got ready, eat some of the snacks which I carried from India and settled down my luggage etc.

I waited for my colleague to knock at my door and at around 2:30 p.m, Rita finally knocked at my door. I was meeting her for the first time though we worked together for almost a year- she was based in our organizations London Office and I was based in Gurgaon office in India. She warmly hugged me and we went out together, taking the map from the receptionist of the hotel to the Congress Venue.
I was almost very sleepy in my first session. Then, there was a coffee break and after having some coffee we were feeling recharged. Then, there was the most interesting session by Ellen Sachs, a Professor from University of California, where she spoke about her book “My Journey through Madness”. This was very interesting as she had gone through the several episodes of schizophrenia, have undergone treatment in terms of medicines and psychoanalyses and then later overpowered this illness and became the professor of Law , Psychiatry and Psychology in the University of California.

We had some snacks and before registering for the congress I met one Daniel Umbricht who explained on the map how to reach different sites in Florence.

Finally, we reached our room at 8:30 pm and then we sat together and exchanged our opinions and planned for the next day. We slept around 12:30 at night.

The Next day in Florence:
When I woke up next day it was raining heavily. Then Rita called me up in my room and she said that she would be reaching the venue little late. It was Sunday and I had my Poster Session. I had to mount my Poster before 10:00 am at the congress venue. I took a taxi to the venue as I could not manage to travel in that rain. I reached the Venue carried my poster and mounted my poster with the help of organizers. There was French lady, mounting her poster next to me. Her name was Elizabeth Bacon. She was in mid forties but appeared to be very nice and warm. We exchanged some of our thoughts on schizophrenia.
She asked me to accompany me to the lunch and then Rita came along, where we had a good poster session. We met several of the scientists and researchers there and it was a nice experience with lot of questions and satisfactory explanations from us.
Rita took me for Dinner at 8:30 pm at night to one Italian reataurant. Being a pure vegetarian I ordered for Pasta stuffed with spinach, but when it came it smelled terribly. I could not have a single bite of it and managed to have a coke only and went back to my room and slept almost hungry.

The Third day at Florence:

My third day at Florence appeared with Sunshine. I woke and could see the bright sunlight from my window but I could hear the sound of the wild breeze also. Imagining that it would be colder than usual I dressed up in formals with one sweater and the jackets. Then, myself and Rita walked on the road and visited the dome of Florence with a beautiful architecture and while walking through the way to congress venue took some snapshots of a chapel tower on the way. Though, the wind was horrible but there was no sign of dirt on the road. But with cold my sinusitis went bad. We reached the venue attended another poster sessions, had some lunch. I had lot of mineral water as I was feeling very thirsty and then I had raw tomatoes, cabbages, boiled vegetables and boiled corn, which was little filling than what I had day before.
We went to the symposium on MATRICS battery-a set of tests to measure cognitive functions in schizophrenia, chaired by Prof Stephen Marder and understood from the series of lectures that they tried to develop a scale for daily living skills which could be at par in measuring cognition in schizophrenia but failed to find any significant correlations with the cognitive test batteries. After having a long session and discussion we went out for coffee break and there we had a small chat with Stephen Marder about various rating scales in schizophrenia and a quality control technique to tap on the rater’s accuracy about it.
We went again for Dinner in another restaurant thinking that I could have some vegetarian food. First I ordered for a bowl of vegetable soup and it was soothing for my sinusitis and infected throat. Then I asked for Pizzas with tomatoes and garlic toppings. It was so hard that I had to struggle to break it into pieces with knife and fork. Finally, I came to our Indian style and break into pieces with my hands. Though, it was much better than the dinner we had a day earlier and the restaurant and attendant appeared to be much better. Seeing that I am struggling to break the Pizza into pieces, the attendant who was serving us got a special knife with a wheel and cut the pizza into small pieces. I could not have much even then and I got it packed and carried the stuff to my room. Thinking that I have to catch flight next day, early in the morning, we slept early.

My Last day at Florence:

The next day, I got up at 4:00 a.m got a wake up call from my husband after that and later on got an automated wake up call from the hotel reception. I got ready and then my husband again called me up at 4:45 a.m enquiring whether I am ready or not. I assured him that I am about to leave the hotel room. Then, I checked once again my stuff and carried my luggage to the lift. My room was on 4th Floor and took up the lift for the ground floor. There was a man at the reception. He helped me out in carrying my luggage and ordered for a taxi for the airport. Meanwhile, he asked me whether I am flying back home and I replied yes. He just enquired whether I am going to India and where in India. I replied to him that I am going to New Delhi. He asked how is it in India- is it very sunny most of the time in India- I explained him that India is a vast country with different types of weather at different places. In south most part is extremely hot and in extreme north like Kashmir and Himachal in the belt of Himalayas it is very cold. I explained to him that in Kashmir we do have snowfalls like we have in Europe in winters but at other places in New Delhi, it is not too cold though sometimes there is so much of fog, but otherwise we have bright scorching sun for most of the days. Till then my taxi arrived and I said good bye to that middle aged man from the hotel Cellai, thanked him for his hospitality and left with the dreams of reuniting with my family in India. I reached airport within 25 minutes and checked in with my flight back to Air France from Florence to Paris and Paris to India.
I checked in to the security and reached in to the gate where I had to board into the flight. It was pretty cold there almost as we have during the winters at New Delhi. I got the packet of chocolates for my nephew and colleagues from the Airport and finally the time came for boarding.
I boarded the flight around 7:00 am, got the window seat and enjoyed my journey from Florence to Paris.
I got down at Paris at 9:15 a.m and the boarding for my connecting flight to New Delhi started at 10:55 a.m. from Air France itself. I have to go to the terminal 2C from 2G the same way as I was going through the first day. It took me around 20 minutes to reach the terminal 2C from 2G. I hurriedly went to the security checks, though this time I was not nervous. Seeing, the enough time at the airport after reaching the gate where I have to board I looked for two pens and got the two pens from there. Finally, the time came for boarding, we started boarding and took one English Newspaper the Tribune from the corridor and boarded again on the flight enjoying my window seat again.
I read through the lines of the newspaper after a long time like a person who just relaxes with the newspaper and read about the news of Polish Prime Minister who died in the air crash with several other top official and how this incident improved ties between Russia and Poland. Also, read about the news of several passengers being killed in the passenger bus of Afghanistan, where American troops opened fired thinking that it is a vehicle bomb, killed its driver and many others. I read some of the tragic and some of the good news which broke out of tragedy and finally got some food around 11:30 a.m in the aircraft which sounded something like Indian Cuisine and purely vegetarian. I ate like someone who was hungry since years and felt satisfied. Then watched the movie called “Avtaar”, slept in between for couple of hours, then I went through the map from where our aircraft was moving…we were moving through Afghanistan, then North Frontier Province of Pakistan and Pakistan- India Border…then Thar deserts…then ranges of Himalaya and finally reached New Delhi, where the landing was delayed for some reasons. As soon as I landed and about to message my family members my husband called me up that he has reached here to pick up from the airport and eagerly waiting for me. At last I felt that I am at my homeland…feeling very much at home…a feeling that cannot be described in words but could be experience only.

Dr Smita Pandey Bhat
Clinical Psychologist