Landing in Lucca: the Perils of Making the Jump

By Theresa Elliott

Part 1 – Packing

I sleep like a rock, but not now. For the last three nights I have woken up at 2 am, a stabbing pain in my guts as the wheels in my brain behave like the children’s art game Spiral Graph, the pen of my mind tracing over and over nearly identical pathways, each an iteration of work left to do before leaving for Italy.   

We had decided to sell our home rather than simply rent. From the outside this might look like a quick decision, but was really two years in the making. We started with plan A in 2020 and finally arrived at Plan Z in 2022: Sell the Edmonds home and with the proceeds downsize to a “lock and leave” pied-a-terre in Seattle, enabling us to Snow Bird between Seattle and Lucca. Surely a compromise between our two big personalities, a mid-way between the all or nothing live here or live there, and seems to me the best of both worlds. 

With a hard stop departure date that now included selling the house and only three weeks left, the prevailing concern became boxes. Buying boxes, making boxes, stuffing boxes with stuff.  Lifting boxes, stacking boxes and finding it wasn’t enough. With every item checked off, with every task completed, we discovered there was not one, but five to-dos needed! Always lurking was the question, what if we can’t finish? We had agreed with our crack realtor and friend Cliff that the most important thing was for us to get us out. But what of the necessary things we could not schedule before our departure, like painting, carpet replacement and a seriously terrifying grand piano move involving a 12% grade driveway? That’s part of the definition of a crack realtor and now great friend. He’s managing what we cannot. 

One of the smaller boxes, a Mix Mooz shoebox, packed by Chewie.

We have never snipped at or been so irritated by the others’ choices at any other point in our relationship, including trekking through 95 degree heat while starving. You could take the entirety of snips, snaps and paddy whacks from the whole of our six year marriage and it would only be a fraction of what was blurted and barfed during the last week of our exodus from Edmonds. 

Simply put, the physical and mental effort was grueling, but was also a testament to our capacity for endurance, deep reserves and the ability to make a huge change. We have agreed to never deploy this skill set again. 

Part 2 – The Cats

Preparing animals for international travel isn’t rocket science, but it does require attention to detail and determination. I do not recommend having a glass of wine while perusing the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection website. While it is well laid out, the name, abbreviated USDA-Aphis for short, gives you a heads-up on what’s to come and it’s too easy for the uninitiated to get lost in its labyrinth. I resorted to taking screenshots of important and relevant information so I could relocate it. 

Everything is specified for international animal transportation, from a health check and required shots which yields a Health Certificate from your veterinarian, to the size and type of carrier that is allowed on the plane. Mind you, the carrier containing your pal sits under the seat in front of you where you usually store your feet. 

There you have it. What it looks like to put a cat carrier fully loaded under the seat in front of you.

But that Health Certificate (HC) from the vet isn’t viable until it’s made official via a trip to Olympia and given the stamp of approval by USDA-Aphis. Never mind they have never seen your pet. The HC must be scrutinized within ten days of landing in your new country. And just to make things interesting, you cannot do this process in person at the USDA-Aphis office because of COVID. Still. Instead you UPS Overnight or next day air the HC to them. Please keep in mind turn around once they receive it is 2-3 days. After approval they UPS Overnight the now certified HC back to you in the self-addressed UPS Overnight envelope you remembered to enclose. Add to this equation two nonworking weekend days which one cannot avoid, and this becomes a tight, no margin for error scenario. I sent the package to USDA-Aphis on Wednesday, we received it back the following Wednesday, one day before leaving. 

But I digress. Now to the truly stressful part. You haven’t lived until you’ve taken not one, but two cats through airport security. You know that bit where you stand in the scanning machine with your legs apart and arms over head? You get to do that, then go back and take your terrified cat out of their protective carrier, and step into the machine again. Fortunately they don’t require the victorious Lion King stance, animal held high overhead while rescreening, but allow your pet to cower in your arms. 

Pee pads, wisely advised and placed in their carriers, were enjoyed and used liberally by Chewie who went through three during our 18 hours of travel which included 10 hours from Seattle to Frankfurt, a three and a half hour layover there that was then delayed by another hour, an hour and a half plane ride to Pisa (yes, security and cats again) and finally a town car pick-up from the airport to their new home, Lucca, Italy. Lollie on the other hand, waited until she had the real McCoy, a litter box. 

Now to the kicker. Clearly the check-up, the rabies shots and new international microchips in the cats left shoulders were not for naught. Chalk it up to kitty cat maintenance. But the Health Certificate with its cool, freshly minted embossed stamp on every page, delivered via a total of $65 in UPS Overnight fees and still don’t know how much in departmental fees from the USDA-Aphis office? Ya, no one wanted it. I tried to give it to Border Control and the young man blew me off with a nonchalant wave of the hand “I don’t need that.” I asked him who does? He replied “I don’t know.”  And with that we went on our merry way. 

Part 3 – Arriving

I sat in the Frankfurt bathroom stall and pulled up the ADT app on my phone so I could turn on the house alarm in Edmonds. Like a dork I left without setting it thinking, “meh. There’s only furniture in the house.” As the scramble of my brain settled during the long flight over, this seemed a bit short sighted. I set the code to “Away” via the app and immediately felt better. I had enough wattage in my noggin to let our managing realtor know so he could continue with the exodus projects without getting an ADT surprise. 

However, we arrived to our other home, the one without an alarm system in Lucca, the one up a staircase of 48 steps, ass-master galore, to find the door jam destroyed and the entire apartment “tossed”. And I do mean the entire f**king place. Everything from every drawer and every shelf was on the floor. But some peculiarities marked this break-in. Like they took nothing. Even the bike, a hot commodity, remained. And, they carefully closed the door to the apartment as they left. 

Greetings, traveler. I managed to get a few photos of the mess.

I guess one of the perks of 48 irregular Italian stairs in a twisting staircase is it makes it tough for robbers to haul loot out. They clearly were looking for the small and easily portable, money or jewelry, of which we had none. This does give me some measure of satisfaction: those assholes must have been frustrated. That, and the hot Italian police dudes who showed up to take our report made the event a little more tolerable. Lordy. What do they feed those boys? Sadly I was just too damn tired to get a selfie with them. 

It is now the next day and I’m on my second glass of wine after my three double lattes this morning. I figure why not? Live large or go home, wherever it may be. 

©️Theresa Elliott, all rights reserved. 

Like this? Please tell your friends: