That's my boy.. living it up on airport cheese, crackers, and iced tea in the VIP lounge at Newark airport, and playing his new Minecraft app. He loves to build things... What is he building in Minecraft? An airport? The Colosseum? Saint Peter's dome? Nope. He's building a supermarket. Anyway, he's happy waiting for our flight!
At this point, the crackers and cheese are welcome. The Wifi is so-so. The stress levels are much lower than in the last few days. Lisa seems happy that we're finally on the move with one large bag checked and on the plane and each of us with a carry-on. We changed my original "carry-on only" plan--she had too many clothes of her own, and she even packed that damned hair dryer!
I'm happy that I found a work-around for that darned outdoor electrical problem, so my security lights will be working while we're away. The house and garden are buttoned up tight, the alarm company notified who to call "in case", my best friend learned how to do our alarm and keys and will check on the house each day. Most of my tomato plants have late-blight, so there's not much harvesting anyway right now... Did I turn off the furnace and the water? Oh... yes. I did.
Ok, all set! Mind clear!
The flight leaves in an hour or so.
Buckle your seat belts and come along with us...
Italia, qui veniamo!
Today the word of the day is:
scuola (English: School)
Another post from me will be posted today at 6:30pm (American time)
So keep looking!
The Old Reliable post, which was featured earlier on the blog...
We can't bring a laptop because of all of our stuff (sorry, teachers, I know you don't like me using the word "stuff")... we have a few cameras, tablets, etc. And we'd have to carry it everywhere. Tablets and smartphones are easier, and we have the Weebly app, so we can still blog! Well, United Airline's prices are CRAZY, but before I tell the horribleness of of prices, the first two bags are free to lighten the mood, but then, after the first two bags, the third one is $50, the fourth one is $100 and so on. And OF COURSE you think after since United's prices are so expensive, they wouldn't have a limit on space of the bag. Well, they do! It's about the size of a backpack. That's really small! If United is trying to get more people on each plane, they're crazy! If you ever fly united PLEASE CHECK the dimensions, they'll probably make them smaller! LOL
Today we started packing, and it's such a hassle with United's prices, so I only can use one bag, a bag we bought this year (WHICH IS AWESOME!) it was a good price, and we have a few others. So picture this....
You have these layers of stuff: (Sorry again, teachers.)
Fun Stuff (Sorry for the 1, 2, 3rd time, teachers)
Now into my backpack, stuff (oops) socks into extra shoes, roll up shirts and pants tight and I'll be squishing my... er... things (Finally! I don't say stuff... OOPS!)
Hope you enjoyed this double post, class!
A shout-AT to my dear wife pointing out to the world what a hot-head I've become in the last week, and a shout-OUT to her for her sweet words thanking me for all the hard work. She really deserves a Grand Voyage to Italy.
As far as Fugitaboutit goes... that's where I'm at now. Two days to go and all the computer work, PDFs, confirmations, reservations and such are done! The last straw was not being able to locate the confirmation email for the car service picking us up at the airport. I found it finally and PDF-ed it onto our devices and I was done!
Now I'm trying to Fugitaboutit and move on to more practical matters: locking up my garden equipment and tools, making sure that new security camera is up and working, testing the alarm system, tightening up the pool cover and giving that darned electrical problem one more shot. Tomorrow: Packing! And I'm trying to Fugitaboutit and start to think of the cool things we are going to experience... picturing myself floating up, up and away in the hot air balloon calmed me yesterday.
I also realized yesterday that--even though I thought I had done some pretty amazing trips before--I've never had to plan more than a plane-taxi-hotel trip. I did a trip by myself years ago to Paris for 6 weeks. I flew to Paris (pre-911 days... lots of space between seats, what a breeze), checked into a hotel, bought a bicycle toured the town and had no problems. On another trip I winged it for 3000 miles throughout France and Switzerland on a moped without any reservations... camping in farmer's fields with gypsies, staying at hostels, 5 star hotels, pensions, castles--you name it. Of course, I was younger and dumber back then. Still, it was all good.
This time around I've had to book flights, book car services, book 8 different hotels, agriturismos and B&Bs, 2 different car rentals, 3 different train trips, a hot air balloon ride, a Vatican tour and more... A lot different than a plane to a taxi to a hotel!
(Wondering if the wind will blow our hot air balloon us over San Gimignano's towers... nice.)
I've traveled to Europe a few times on my own over the years. Mostly in France (I lived in Paris for a bit) and a little into Switzerland. I traveled 5000 miles with a moped throughout France--a real adventure. I once took time off from my busy studio schedule in New York and spent 6 weeks alone in Paris to catch up with art, friends and myself. Years later, Lisa and I honeymooned in Paris.
But this time around, we are going with an 11 year old--our boy, Lucas. Early on I realized that we should set some goals for the trip--not an itinerary mind you, but actual goals. My main goal was to see the birthplace of my Dad--Molfetta in Puglia. I had no idea what else was in or near Molfetta, just that I wanted to pay homage to a great father and perhaps dip my toes in the same water that he did when he was a little boy and perhaps find out where his family used to live. Dad and I always talked about going back to the town he remembered with "the white houses, smell of the sea and all the fishing boats in the harbor." Dad passed before we had that chance.
My other goals were simple. I had seen the Mona Lisa in Paris, WInged Victory and all the impressionists, and Lisa and I loved the Picasso museum in Paris.. In Italy, although I didn't want to slow us down with long days in huge museums (Lucas couldn't take too much of that), I still wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and perhaps Michelangelo's David. I wanted to drive in the Tuscan countryside and perhaps even the amazing white knuckle curves of the Amalfi Coast Road. Having done my fair share of powerboating, a boat rental was on my list, too. Going into this I knew very little about Italy. While researching, I learned about SO much, it was difficult to scale down my interests: Caverns, hilltowns galore, crystal clear seas to swim in, pinnacles in the mountains, sea grottoes, and the food... so much variety.
Lisa's goals were straightforward: See how they make great Italian food... cheese, pasta and pastries... stay in an agriturismo, see the Vatican, visit Venice and maybe take a hot air balloon ride. She loved the idea of staying in unusual, rustic places with tile floors and wood beams. She wanted to cook while we were there. She wanted to just sit somewhere with a grand view and have a picnic. She wanted to "feel Italy".
Lucas had goals too. See the Leaning Tower of Pisa, visit Pompeii, see Mount Vesuvius and eat real Italian pizza, have pasta fagioli in Italy, eat lots of gelato, check out Italian pottery (he has taken several wheel throwing lessons and is pretty good at it), and see what Italian dogs were like.
After understanding our mixed bag of goals, I then had to come up with a plan that did all (or rather, most) of this. After all, Pisa is at one end of the country and Molfetta is at the other--in an area a little difficult to get to easily. We realized that Venice would have to go but Tuscany and Rome were must-sees. (Although early on we even thought of dropping Rome completely because of safety concerns, we realized, both having dealt with Manhattan for so many years, this fear was foolish--we were both tough city-folk at the core).
We even thought about flying into Milan, then driving to Venice, visiting Pisa and Tuscany and--somehow--get to Molfetta and then back to Rome and fly home from there. Wow! Those airlines really sock it to you with the price when you want to fly into one city and fly back from another! That plan died real fast. And lots of driving between Pisa and Venice didn't make sense.
Our Plan Evolved
So, here we are with a pretty good plan to achieve most of our goals--with some new ones added on as we learned more about Italia. Fly into Rome then take a train to Chuisi in southern Tuscany. Rent a car and tool around that area a couple of days, then move on to an agriturismo near San Gimignano--within day trips into Siena, Pisa or Florence. After several more days we drop off our rental car in Florence and take a train down to Naples. Pick up another car and drive on to our 3 day stay on the Amalfi Coast, visiting Pompeii from there. Now comes the surprise part of the trip:
Surprise Leg of the Voyage
While trying to find a way to get from the Amalfi area to Molfetta I discovered Basilicata. Never heard of it before. I discovered a rugged, natural mountainous area full of mystery, ghost towns, bandit history, and amazingly dramatic Machu Picchu-like towns clinging to rugged cliffs--Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa. After a night in Castelmezzano and a stop at Pietrapartosa we will drive on to another discovery--Matera, a city where people have been living in caves for 40,000 years, with homes dug into the mountain that were occupied until the 1950s. Nowadays, there are posh hotels in these cave homes... we are staying in one. Nearby there are neolithic cave dwellings and thousand year old cave churches and deep gorges within view of the town.
After leaving Matera and Basilicata behind, it's onto Puglia--my newly discovered favorite place--and a couple of day stay in a Trullo--cone shaped houses reminiscent of the ones in Oz. Many are half a millennium old and are now being restored into villas and guest houses. In this area (more Greek than Italian) are many whitewashed hilltowns, huge sinkholes, the best bread in Italy (Altamura), seashore, beaches and grottoes, strange dialects and two thousand year old olive trees producing the bulk of Italy's olive oil. And then there's Pugliese wines (who knew?) and frutti di mare--fresher than one can believe.
After the trullo stay, it's onto a Molfetta where I'll discover my roots. After that, a train from Bari will carry us back to Rome for a four day stay before heading home.
Whew! This has really been months of planning, research, Googling, decisions, learning MS Project, emails and many bouts with Booking.com (a pretty painless way of finding and booking places to stay--lots of reviews). There you have it... our goals are met. At least most of them. Many compromises were made along the way and I'm sure there will be more as we drive along in la Bel Paese...
So, you can see from Jerry’s last two posts that he is on THE BRINK.
The past 6 months of non-stop planning have finally gotten to him. I knew we were in trouble when he came back from the store today an announced that he had “had enough”. All righty then. Thankfully, we don’t both have nervous breakdowns at the same time, so at least one of us is logical at all times. No doubt, though, the stress of the countdown hangs heavy in the air, and the countdown seems to be moving faster than ever!
The house looks like a bomb hit it, and we are nowhere close to being packed. The stuff to pack is piling up…can we fit it in only 3 carry-ons? It’s questionable at best.
And then there is the technology. All the technology. And video and camera equipment. The way it’s all laid out on the dining room table, it looks to me like we need the company of a 4th person to handle it. Technology needs its own carry-on.
And... I'm still hanging on to my hair dryer--lol.
Add on to that the phantom electrical problem, pool closing activities, cleaning, and let's see, what else can I pile on? (Insert the foot stomping scene from Cousin Vinny here). It’s gonna be a rocky weekend for sure as we pack, finalize details and close up the house. Lots to do before we can officially deem ourselves “on vacation.” But we’ll get there.
Big shout out to my wonderful husband...
...for all your hard work planning this trip and for organizing the MASSIVE amounts of details, reservations, and more details, most without any help from me whatsoever. Without you, this 3-week trip would be daunting, uncharted territory. Instead, we’re going as honorary locals with a comfortable knowledge of the areas we are visiting. This trip will be awesome because of all your efforts and I look forward to a wonderful adventure with our little famiglia.
Ti amo e ti apprezzo più di quanto si potrà mai sapere. Un sacco di baci!
(I love you and I appreciate you more than you can ever know. A lot of kisses!)
So, it's 4 days and counting. I'm counting by minutes, not days or hours. There aren't enough minutes in the hour--not enough hours in each day. I'm being hit by all sorts of curve-balls, too. Like when Lisa and Lucas said they "had" to go to his school's bingo night so Lucas can have one last blast seeing his friends. Right after school today, Mom decided Lucas needs a haircut, even though my view is he'll fit right in with Italian kids with a more shaggy cut. More time lost. And I need Lisa to sit down with me--uninterrupted--and double check all the paperwork and scheduling. And I still have some house buttoning up to do. Put away stuff in the sheds, put the pool pump away, etc....
And then there's the pain in my butt over the last 2 months. We've had an electrical problem that I've been hassling with... and that needs to get solved before we leave. I've done my own electric for the last 40 years or so, but this one has really got me stumped. After tackling the problem 6 times, revisiting with varied solutions, well... it's still is not working right. (I won't bore you with the details... this isn't an electrical forum, but if I don't solve the problem our automatic security lights won't go on while we are away.) Needless to say, I'm trying to squeeze in another 2 hours this weekend to my already overburdened plate to give it one last try. Sigh.
Yesterday I got all the lodging details and confirmations into PDFs and ready to install on my Kindles and phones. Today I'm loading them up. Next, it'll be making sure we have all the plane, train and automobile stuff ready and squared away... either in PDFs and/or in a folder to take with us.
When going through the hotel details yesterday I came across photos our first stop... an agriturismo in southern Tuscany. I ran the slide show of pictures and it DE-stressed me right away. I pictured myself sitting there looking out onto that rolling Tuscan vista. I pictured myself on that stone veranda having a glass of wine and some cheese. Ahh...
Almost there... stay calm... Yes, that's right. Practice your Italian... Stai calmo!
I started checking long range weather forecasts on the Accuweather site last month. Their "extended" forecasts covers 45 days. At that point, I didn't expect accuracy--only a good estimation of rainy days versus sunny ones--along with getting a general feel for temperature ranges.
This last week I'm getting more realistic forecasts, especially for the first few days after arriving. So far, we are sunny for landing in Rome and sunny for Tuscany, the first leg of our trip. I've also checked the water temperature on the Amalfi Coast and on the Pugliese coast... both are pretty warm for this time of year--around 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Great for taking a dip or wading in a tide pool. Certainly good enough for tooling around in a boat for a while. Oh, and the hot air balloon trip we planned for Tuscany looks good so far... sunny. Can't wait.
UPDATE 5/22/17: In reality, Italy was very hot when we visited. Instead of daytime temperatures in the mid-seventies, we had many days in the upper eighties and some well over 90F degrees. Locals were telling us that the temperatures were "normal" for this time of year. We learned that since Italy doesn't have extreme winters as we do in the northeastern U.S., their autumn is also much warmer than ours.
A mistake we made was bringing a jacket for each of us which we never used. Packing a shell windbreaker and planning on layering would have saved some space in our luggage. One thing we did use and enjoy when we traveled was our Thermos brand bottles that held drinks ice cold for many hours. Carrying a bandana was also helpful (wearing around my neck, wetting in a fountain to wipe my face, etc.). Wet Ones single packs are also great for wiping away sweat and cooling down the neck of an 11 year-old grumpy kid while walking around Pompeii. And I'm a fan of wearing caps and walking on the shady side of streets when possible. Stay cool, mio amico!
All I want to do this week is finish up all this planning. I want to do brainless work like putting away the pool pump, securing yard tools in my shed and starting to organize clothes and gizmos for packing. Yesterday, I pretty much finished all my map work (the Google Earth pin maps) and my GPS programming. Suddenly today--with exactly a week before landing in Rome--I've got another fire to put out...
First I got an email from Booking.com (where I booked most of our lodgings) saying that the credit card I am using for our reservations needs updating. Huh? It's a brand-new, unused card, except for charges for this trip. OK, so I update the info with via the special link they emailed. Then an agriturismo we are renting for 4 days emailed saying they can't do a prepayment on the card. OK, so I update the Booking.com info again, then email the agriturismo to try again. It still didn't work.
So, I got on the phone with the credit card company to see if there is any type of security hold on any charges. There isn't. They already know about our trip to Italy, so it's nothing to do with that. I get another email confirmation from Booking.com so I email that to the agriturismo. They say it still won't work, but they see we have every intent on showing up. I beg them not to give away our rooms.
Thinking this might be a glitch with Booking.com that might effect all our other reservations, I emailed them to explain and ask for help. They emailed back (very quickly, too) saying they checked and there are no reservations being affected. Whew! (Well, so far, anyway). They are also going to email the agriturismo having problems to tell them that we are in fact "confirmed". Next, I get an email from the credit card company confirming everything I discussed with them... "large purchases" are OK... duration of trip... Check!
Can I relax yet? Maybe not... until AFTER I land in Rome, AFTER catching the car service to the train station, AFTER we take the train to our car pick-up town, AFTER the drive to our first agriturismo, and maybe... maybe... AFTER having slept the first Italian night, on an Italian bed with Italian tiles on the floor, and AFTER having a long, relaxing contemplazione of the hills of Tuscany for the first time with my wife and kid at my side... ahh... yes... Mmmm... ahhh...
Nice daydream! Wake up! There's still lots do do! Get those maps and files on the Kindles and phones! Pack up all the cords and batteries and charging cables for your devices! Make sure you have all the train and car reservation info on your devices--backed up by paper copies in your travel folder! Make sure to show your friend how the alarm system works for when he checks up on our house while we are away! Oh, and call the alarm company to give them a new contact phone number! Make sure Lucas does all his homework--no loose ends! Hot air balloon reservation confirmed? Notify the credit card company to expect unusual and large charges! What are we bringing on board the plane to keep Lucas occupied, snacked and happy?
Here I go again... Gentleman, start your engines!
I was hunting around in Google Images for some tourist maps and came across this great website... Mappery (CLICK for their Italy maps listing). The site is dedicated to maps and lovers of maps. Contributors from all over the world scan and upload their maps. It's obvious that some are direct scans of travel worn (and wrinkled) maps direct from people's own voyages. All sorts of maps are on the site--tourist, hiking, topographical, historical, even a fantastic biking map of Rome and the surrounding countryside. Each map can be zoomed in on and panned, with most in very high resolution, so details are very clear. I was amazed at the large selection for Italy.
This is a great addition to your travel toolbox when planning your own Voyage to Italy.