That's my boy.. living it up on airport cheese, crackers, iced tea and playing his new mobile version of Minecraft. What is he building? An airport? The Colesseum? ST Peter's dome? Nope. A supermarket. Anyway, he's happy waiting for our flight!
The Word Of The Day!
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!
Update On A Former Post/Packing
Update On A Former Post
The Old Reliable post, which was featured on the blog earlier, can be seen here. All caught up now?
We can't bring a laptop because of all of our stuff (sorry, teachers) 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 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... 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, 2 different car rentals, 3 different train trips, a hot air balloon ride, a Vatican tour and more... A lot different than a plan to a taxi to a hotel!
(Wondering if the wind will blow us over San Gimignano's towers... nice.)
Setting Travel Goals for Italy
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. Then we honeymooned in Paris. 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. My other goals were simple: see the Sistine Chapel, see Michaelangelo's David, drive in the Tuscan countryside and perhaps even the amazing white knuckle roads on the Amalfi Coast. Going into this I knew very little about Italy.
Lisa's goals were simple: See how they make great Italian food, pasta and pastries... stay in an agriturismo, see the Vatican, visit Venice and maybe take a hot air balloon ride.
Lucas had goals too. See the Leaning Tower of Pisa, visit Pompeii, see Mount Vesuvius and eat real Italian pizza. (He is a bit of a gourmet, as far as kids go.)
After understanding our mixed bag of goals, I then had to come up with a plan that did all (or 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 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.
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 short drives to 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:
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 Puglian 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...
So, you can see from Jerry’s last two posts that he is on THE BRINK. The >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!. Picture this:
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 3 carryons? 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? 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 his 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 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 Puglian 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.
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). 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 our first one... 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...
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. Pretty much I finished all my map work (the Google Earth pin maps) and GPS programming yesterday. 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... yesss... Mmmm... ahhh...
Er... nice daydream! Wake up! There's still lots do do! Get those maps and files on the Kindles and phones! Here I go again...
Maps at the Mappery
I was hunting around in Google Images for some tourist maps and came across this great website... Mappery. It is dedicated to maps and created by lovers of maps. Contributers 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. I was amazed at the large selection for Italy. A great find. Enjoy.
While organizing all the different gadgets we would be bringing to Italy, I felt I had to look for some way to lesson the number of cables and power blocks that I'd need to bring. In our home we have pretty much one whole shelf in our kitchen with a multi-outlet surge protector with all sorts of things plugged into it--and we often still run out of space for those darned power blocks.
Then I discovered this beauty: This is the LEPOWER 40W, 5 Port Desktop USB Charger. This thing replaces all those power blocks... most of them nowadays come with USB cables for each device that plug right into the block. Well, instead of taking all those blocks, take just this one.
The beauty of this thing is not only the 5 USB slots, but that two of them (on the right) are super chargers (higher power). When I plug my Kindle into one of them it charges in less than 15 minutes. We've tried our Motorola Droid phones (3 different models), Ipads, cameras, you name it. They all get charged with this one charger. Plug the larger devices into the two right slots, the rest (like smart phones) into the other three. Also, the thing has some sort of circuitry that speaks to each device and gives it the correct amount of power needed for charging. So far, it works with every type of device and I haven't fried a single one. For Italy, all I have to do is plug in one of those European adapters into its power cord and we're good to go (it works with 120 or 220 volts).
So, even though we might still have to bring a mess of cables (some cables are dedicated to one specific device) not having to bring all those power blocks fantastic.
UPDATE: One of the best tech gadgets we brought along with us. It charged every device we had (aside from an older camera) and in most cases, charged them faster than normal. A very valuable tool for travel!
Here's the thing. I love pizza. Always have, always will. I loved it since I was a kid and my Mom would make it in our little kitchen. She'd give me a little ball of dough to make a tiny one just for myself. The smell would waft out into the halls in our little apartment building, and my cousins--who lived upstairs--would know it's time to invade. I also hung out at the local pizzeria when I was a teen. I worked in the back helping to make dough and sauce, folded delivery boxes and delivered for tips... and got a lot of free slices. Dripping hot, cheesy, burn your tongue heat on a cold winter's Friday night--that's the best.
But it wasn't until about 8 years ago that I became determined to make my own pizza at home. A baking stone, a good cutter, bread flour and a professional oven peel and almost a year of practice and lots of so-so pizzas. I even remember one time when I forgot to put the stone in the oven and shoved the pizza off my wooden peel right onto the oven rack. What a mess! Somehow, I managed to get most of it off the rack and folded it over and made my first ever Stromboli.
I now consider myself somewhat of a pizza expert. I can manipulate the dough recipe to make it more crisp, more fluffy, more thick like a focaccia, super thin and more. I can make a Sicilian style, an upside down Chicago deep dish, rustic shaped, pan pizza, heart shaped and dog bone shaped. I've even made double crust stuffed pizzas and my own version of the edge-stuffed crust. Desert pizzas are killer when we have friends over. And at Thanksgiving time there's my Thanksgiving Pizza made with turkey, stuffing, cranberries and gravy. You can't belive how good that one is. I'm so into the nuances of pizza-making that I even noticed how a rainy day has a great effect on my pizzas... rainy day pizzas and better.
Now I'm going to where pizza all started. I'm going to sample pizza all around Italy. But not the tourist pizzas you get across the street from the tourist hot-spots, but the real pizzas from the little mom & pop pizzerias and bakeries. I'm going to take notes with my mouth, my tongue and my belly. I'll see if there are differences between pizzas in Tuscany, Rome, Puglia, Amalfi or the mountain villages of Basilicata. I'll take pictures when the pizza is blog-worthy. I'll come back with new recipes and perhaps a few new techniques. Maybe I'll get a brick pizza oven someday so I can make those smoky, semi-charred pizzas.
Stay tuned... and have a slice on me.
How to keep an 11 year-old boy from getting bored in Italy: Plan the Unusual, Freaky, Fun and Totally Alien for him.
Of course, I want this voyage to change Lucas' outlook on life and have a longterm effect on who he becomes as a man. When I went to live (for just under a year) in France in the Seventies, it changed my whole outlook on life, politics, food, and culture. I learned some of a new language. I saturated myself with French folklorique musique and put up with the likes of Johnnie Hallyday "rock n roll". Of course I want him to see the miracles of The David and Sistine Chapel, but I don't want to bore him with waits on extremely long lines and hall after hall of statue after statue. I mean, how much marble can a young boy take (that is, unless they are the colorful, rolling kind)?
I want him to notice all the small things too... how we are the same but oh so different from people living in another culture: Clothes hanging on the balconies to dry, tiny grocery stores selling really fresh and flavorful fruit and strange looking veggies, lemons as big as grapefruits, weird 3 wheeled cars, roads so curvy and twisty that you have to hold your breath around each hairpin, "old" buildings not just 200 years old (as we have here in Pennsylvania) but over 2000 years old, and after dinner a stroll (passagiata) instead of watching a overly long episode of America's Got Talent....
I've also loaded my Google Earth pin maps with lots of other interesting and fun options: Italian go-karting (a real sport there), a cool amusement park (for a fun break), a huge cavern (Grotti di Castellana near Bari), thousands of real dinosaur footprints (Puglia), a prehistoric "caveman" (Altamura Man), bread that can last for a month (Pane Altamura), a hot air balloon ride over Tuscany, the "Manhattan Towers" of San Gimignano, a Ghost Town or two, a volcano, a night sleeping in an Oz-like house called a Trullo (near Alberobello), huge radio telescopes, an abandoned missile base, sea caves, a boat ride below the cliffs of Amalfi (I'll let him drive the boat), a tremendous sinkhole (he bacame a sinkhole expert after last year's science project), and some other surprises that neither Lucas or Lisa know about. Maybe we won't get to all of them, but depending on the mood and the weather, there are lots of things that I hope will keep him from getting bored.
And if all this fails, there's gelati... pizza, more gelati... then more pizza... then gelati...
We have two different car rentals setup for Italy. One in the north and another when we head south to Amalfi and on into Basilicata and Puglia. So Lisa tells me this week that the first rental charge showed up on the credit card bill but the second never did. I should call and make sure the reservation is good to go. Ok, so I call... and I'm so glad I did! It turns out that although this reservation still was in their system, they said it was set up for us to pay at the rental broker in Naples when we pick up the car. Huh? I set these up the same time and both with the same charge card.
Not only that, but the Hertz rep on the phone (very nice actually) asked if I had the "voucher" numbers for each rental. Vouchers? All I have is the original confirmations when I booked them online. Not good enough. Apparently, they needed to mail (takes 2 weeks or more) or fax (ever hear of email?) the vouchers to us. This should have been done months ago when I first booked the cars. And they would not have given us the cars without vouchers!
With less than three weeks to go I wasn't about to take a chance with the mail, so fax it was... er... but it's been so long since we received a fax I forgot which of our two phone numbers the fax was on. Uh... Ok, I think it's the second number. I told the rep that number and the second line started ringing.... so I run up two flights to our office and the fax is not being answered.
I find the phone line is not attached and that it was really trying to come in on the line I was talking to the rep on. Ok, easy fix. But the phone jack is mislabeled. I quick give the other number and tell them to try that one. Long story short... it was over an hour before I had the two fax vouchers in my hand, BUT BOTH PHONE LINES KEPT RINGING for the next hour or more! Somehow, there were doubled up faxes cued up on their end that kept coming in. So, I had to plug in one line and then sit there receiving fax after fax until that line stopped ringing. Then I hooked up the other phone line and started accepting more faxes.
But at lease I have the right vouchers and will get the cars. Sigh. Italian pizza had sure be better than my own...
It's no wonder that some people opt for a cookie cutter, travel agent planned trip--or even an (ugh) bus tour. It must be easy to sit in someone's storefront and tell them your likes and dislikes and <P U F F>... all of a sudden, your trip is planned for you. Well, I've been planning every little detail of this trip for months. Yes, months. This week it's been getting the details of our technology straight. Skype. Dropbox. Global Calling options added to our cellphones. Making scans of documents to upload to Dropbox (just in case we loose something) or put on our Kindles and phones. Making certain we have all the cables labeled and ready to go. Getting a new charger that uses higher voltage and can quick charge up to 5 devices at once. Reading manuals for a new camera we got for the trip. Whew!
And maps. I'm still not quite done but getting there. I've used Google Earth to plan where to go and what to see--creating pin maps organized by folders (by region of our trip). I then saved each folder separately from Earth as a .kmz file which can be be copied to my PC, then onto either a smart phone or tablet. When I'm in a particular area I can load up "North Tuscany.kmz" and it will pop up in Google Earth! I can then plan our day before we leave our wifi equipped apartment.
As for actual driving routes, I've used Google MAPS to get DIRECTIONS for each specific route. Now the tricky part... After you name and save the resulting map in MY PLACES, then click on MY PLACES, click again on the new map name, and you'll see a little link called KML. This will let you save the map as a .KML file which also can load up into Google Earth! Slick.
For the more ad hoc driving around, I got a new Tom Tom GPS unit with the European maps already installed. I was trying to buy the Euro maps for my old Magellan but after a week of trying to download them with constant error messages I discovered from Magellan that no one in the world could get those maps due to server problems on their end. I couldn't even get them to send me a set on a memory stick (which is still an option on their web site for the same price as a direct download.) Anyway, the new Tom Tom is pretty easy to use and has some nice features. Plus, I'm adding addresses and phone numbers for all sorts of contacts in Italy.
Am I finished? Not by a long shot... but I'm getting close.
The School Year Begins!
Today I'm starting the school year. BUM BUM BUM! (No, not really) I like school, but sometimes I'm still happy to get a few days off school. For Italy I'm getting like a few weeks! And dad told me not to get sick in school, because if I do before the trip, the venture to Italy is GONZO! So I have wipes, sanitizer, etc. in my backpack, and hopefully I still don't get sick!