Category Archives: Travel

Throwback Thursday: Summer 1985

All this talk of travel has me remembering my first real solo travel experience. In the summer of 1985, just before I graduated from college, I went on a self-guided tour of Europe.

It may sound extravagant, but when I think back to how scrimped and saved my money and how I traveled sleeping on trains, and in hostels, I know that I would never want to have that experience again. And yet, I would not trade that experience for anything.

I was 22 years old. I was working as a waitress while attending college. My friend, who was studying French,  wanted to go to Europe that summer and speak with the natives. I thought that sounded great!  I was nursing a broken heart and the thought of traipsing through 11 countries in six weeks sounded a lot more appealing than staying in a Southern California and running the risk of bumping into my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend.

I read the travel books, planned our itinerary, applied for my passport and hostel card and, in a big splurge, bought a First Class Eurail pass. My friend and I planned to save money on accommodations by staying in hostels, and sleeping on trains. We heard how 2nd class cars were crowded with backpack-toting-college-aged cigarette- smoking students so we figured it was worth the extra expense if we could travel in a train car where we didn’t have to sleep standing up, breathing second-hand smoke.

In this photo, from the looks of the clean, roomy train compartment, I would say it was money well spent.

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Traveling this way was a once in a lifetime experience. We had a planned itinerary, but we remained spontaneous along the way. We decided to take an overnight train from Amsterdam to East Berlin after hearing it was a great destination for the budget traveller. We met people along the way who opened up their homes to us. In Rome we spent the night in a convent after a local priest learned we needed a night’s lodging. As we crossed over the English channel from France to catch our flight home out of Heathrow Airport, we met a friendly Englishman and his family who put us up for a night and then drove us to the airport the next day.

At 22 years old, I was trusting and still naive enough to believe that being in another country meant I was free from harm’s way. Sadly, I don’t know that if I traveled this way again I would have the same rich experience filled with random encounters of both hospitality and adventure.

 

Number 22: Travel to Italy (Part 1)

If you have been around my blog before, you know that this has been a pretty eventful year for me. In May, I celebrated a milestone birthday.  In preparation for my half-century anniversary of life, I made a list of 50 Things to Do Before my 50th Birthday.  Number 22 on that list was Travel to Italy.   I didn’t get to finish everything on my list, but in April of this year I managed to complete Number 22.  I tried to keep a record of my trip as I traveled,  but time was short so I never finished writing about my trip,  until now.  Thanks to NaBloPoMo, I have the motivation to get it done. Here’s the first leg of my trip:

LAX to ROME 

We arrived in Rome in spite of ourselves.  After making our travel preparations, which, by the way did not include actually planning our sight-seeing itinerary, we nearly missed our flight.  We arrived at the airport early and found a seat near the gate.  We began to wonder why it was taking so long to board our flight.   I was on the phone with Diego, who had called us for the 5th time since we left home, when all of sudden, just minutes before our flight departed, I heard the announcement, “Last Call for Mejia.” I then realized the airline changed the gate number.  I abruptly ended the phone call and raced to catch our flight!

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Once we boarded the plane, we settled in for the long flight to Toronto and then onto Rome. I managed to sleep a bit while Juan stayed wide awake almost the entire 15 hour flight. When we arrived in Rome we found our rental car and tried to get our bearings.  Juan, my techie husband, did all kinds of research in how to use our smart phones for international travel.  He figured that he would use our unlocked iPhones and buy a SIM card for data usage.  This would allow us to use our phones as GPS devices.  It sounded too techie for me to be concerned about, but had I known how much we would need our smart phones as a GPS from the moment we drove out the airport, I might have given it more thought.

The ride from the airport to our hotel was enough to make me start drinking and made Juan start biting his fingernails again.  We were completely turned around, and had no idea where we were going.  We were tired,  hungry and we had to use the bathroom.  Juan drove and we kept circling the same roundabout looking for our hotel.  We finally gave up and decided we needed to eat lunch.  That was the best move we made.  We found a wonderful trattoria with delicious food, and oddly enough, no women in the restaurant. We ordered wine with our meal and began to relax and get into vacation mode.  Hey, who needed a GPS? We were on an adventure. In Italy!

Our first meal in Italy.

Our first meal in Italy.

By the time we finished our wine and our meal we were so relaxed all we could think of was getting to our hotel so we could nap.  We left the trattoria and got turned around walking to our car.  Without a GPS we were in trouble. Still, we tried to stay positive and paused long enough to take in our first views of Italy.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

Back in the car we tried again to find our hotel.  Another three times around the same roundabout and we wanted to cry, or get a divorce. Juan wanted to stop at a phone store and buy the SIM cards so we could use a GPS, but we could not find a phone store that took credit cards. We drove around looking for an ATM.   At last, we found cash, bought the SIM card and were able to use our phones as a GPS.  Several hours after we landed in Rome, we made it to our hotel.  Our hotel was located about 25 minutes by train outside of Rome,  in Frascati.

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati

 

Frascati, Italy

Frascati, Italy

We checked into our hotel,  fell into bed and slept.  We woke up two hours later. By the time we were ready to start exploring it was already 9:30 at night. Even with a GPS, after all we had been through navigating from the airport,  we knew we did not want to drive into Rome at night for a meal. Besides, we were hungry and when I am hungry, I am cranky.  Frascati is a quaint town with many restaurants that close early.  We walked and walked looking for an open restaurant.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Thankfully,  we found a local pizzeria and enjoyed our first pizza of the trip. I think the pizza was really good, but I was so cranky hungry by that time, I can’t say for sure.  At least the service was wonderful.  Our waiter Alessandro was charming and friendly.  Fed, and nearly rested, we returned to our hotel where I watched The Walking Dead and Juan slept.  The next day Juan and I would start our tour of the Eternal City.

The first of many pizzas on our trip to Italy.

The first of many pizzas on our trip.

 

 

 

Doing Laundry with The Walking Dead

My Sunday nights used to be all about folding laundry while watching The Amazing Race. I fantasized about racing around the globe and winning a million dollars, as I paired socks and folded underwear.  I was so caught up in my fantasy that I missed out on a lot of good TV and found myself bingeing on Breaking Bad to stay current and feel a part of things when Juan and I were invited to attend a finale party.  My fantasy racing around the world made me late to the party at Downton Abbey and almost caused me to miss out on another popular TV series, The Walking Dead.

I never thought I would enjoy a show about a zombie apocalypse, and I scoffed at the idea of such lowbrow TV. How could a fan of Downton Abbey find anything remotely interesting about a television series about survivors of a zombie apocalypse? The series is set in the southern USA after a zombie epidemic wipes out most of the population, leaving only the undead and those fit enough to outsmart and outlast the brain eating walkers. Even though The Walking Dead’s premise did not appeal to me initially, I heard so much buzz about the show I decided to give it a try.

Before we left on our trip to Italy Juan loaded up his IPad with movies and the first season of The Walking Dead.  Since I can sleep almost anywhere, I caught up on much needed rest on our flight to Rome. Occasionally I would wake up and glance over at Juan with his eyes wide open, fixated on his iPad.  By the time we landed in Rome I was feeling only a little tired but Juan was both fatigued and pumped up on adrenaline from watching the first few episodes of The Walking Dead.

On our first day in Rome we toured the Eternal City and at night when jet lag kept me awake, I watched The Walking Dead.  Exhausted from the flight, Juan was finally able to sleep while I caught up with him on the AMC series. From then on, we watched episode after episode while we waited for trains, at night in our hotel room and on the long flight home.  When we returned from our trip we were hooked on the series and quickly watched the entire 3 seasons on iTunes or Netflix.  By the time the fourth season premiered last month, Juan and I were among the many fans waiting to see how Rick and his Zombie apocalypse survivors were faring.  We have not been disappointed.

The fourth season has had a lot of plot development.  As is typical for the show, the creators have not been afraid to write off characters who have had major roles throughout the show.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.  I don’t want to be a spoiler for this who haven’t hooked into the show yet.

Juan and I have to careful talking about the show and spoiling it for our 15 year-old son Nico.  Even though Nico has never been a fan of horror or scary films, he was intrigued by the premise of The Walking Dead.  I told him the show was more about survival and the dynamics of a group trying to make it through an apocalypse. A fan of The Hunger Games,  Nico enjoys reading and watching science fiction stories, and playing strategy games. Nico decided to give the series a try and after the first episode was hooked. Now, in addition to his talk about superpowers, he has begun discussing how he would survive a Zombie apocalypse.  This week I was doing some shopping and I found this:

An appropriate Christmas gift for a teenage fan of board games and zombies?

An appropriate Christmas gift for a teenage fan of board games and zombies?

Needless to say, I bought it as a Christmas gift. Am I creating a monster?  I hope not. Once Nico catches up watching previous seasons, maybe he and I will be able to watch the series together.  Right now, for me, watching The Walking Dead on Sunday nights sure makes folding laundry a lot more exciting.

 

Do you watch The Walking Dead?

 

Throwback Thursday

Today’s Throwback Thursday is inspired by yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

I am sorry the picture is so grainy but I couldn’t find the original and I had to use a copy of the photo. Besides, the photo was taken in early Spring 2002, long before I had a digital camera.  Juan and I were dating and things were getting serious. We were spending more and more time together and on those weekends that we had custody of the kids, we would take them to the zoo, the park, or other outings.  In this photo we were driving home from our very first camping trip with the kids. I use the term “camping” very loosely.  Juan never really camped before, while I grew up camping with my family, and had great memories of spending time outdoors.  I wanted our kids to experience the fun and adventure of the great outdoors, so I convinced Juan that we should take the kids camping one weekend.  As an introduction to “roughing it” I chose a campground about 2 hours north of us, in Solvang.

When we arrived I discovered that the “campground” was really an open meadow located a few blocks out of town.  The campground was accessible to restaurants and grocery stores.  It wasn’t quite the getaway I envisioned, but the campground had flush toilets, and showers, and with three young kids, I figured it would be a pretty safe introduction to camping.  The campground accommodated tent campers like us, and RV’s like everyone else there that weekend.

Instead of the wild call of nature, we heard the hum of generators.  Instead of campfires and marshmallows, our neighbors listened to their radios and watched their portable TV’s.  Even though it was not the camping experience I wanted for our kids, they thought it was a great adventure.  They ran around the meadow, dodging RV’s and trailers, while Juan and I struggled to pitch our tent.  After a take out pizza dinner we roasted marshmallows.  We tried to sleep but the noise of all the other campers did not make for a very restful night.  The next day we packed it all up drove to a nearby beach.  Between the sleepless night and a day at the beach, the kids were wiped out.  They slept all the way home and I took this picture.

Do you have any camping memories?

 

Dreaming of Italy

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since I created my list of 50 Things to do Before my 50th Birthday. With my 50th birthday less than two months away, and a lot of my list unfinished, I have been thinking that my list is more of a Wish List than a To Do list. But, to be fair, even though I have not yet completed many of the projects on that list, I am proud of those things I have been able to attempt, some which I began to think I could never do.

Number 22 on my list–Travel to Italy– was something I began to feel certain was more of a dream than a possibility. Traveling to Italy is something I have wanted to do for the last 28 years. When I was 22 I saved my waitress tips and wages until I had earned enough to travel through Europe for six weeks. I was young and adventurous so sleeping on trains made possible for me to criss-cross the continent and wake up in a new country every couple of days. I traveled on $30 per day, making meals out of bread and cheese, and I economized, squeezing in as much as I could see on my limited budget. My first visit to Italy was brief but memorable and it left me waiting for a day when I could to return. Like most tourists, I dropped my coins in the Trevi Fountain and vowed to come back one day to soak up the wonderful culture, and dine on something beyond bread and cheese.

If I had I really considered what my trip to Italy without kids would cost my husband Juan and I in time, money and effort, I might never have made such a public proclomation to return to Italy. I guess I’d forgotten how expensive and all-consuming it is to raise three teens and an 8 year-old. Suddenly, it’s two months before my 50th birthday and Olivia is about to graduate from high school and embark on her dream to attend college. Nico and Erica are freshman in high school and are busier than ever. Diego’s schedule is packed full with baseball, choir and the school play. Yikes. What was I thinking? With college tuition on the horizon and the usual onslaught of end of school year events, Italy was looking more like a pipe dream. Juan and I discussed it and decided that travel to Italy would have to wait until, well who knew when?

Then, after a particularly stressful month involving all sorts of teen drama, coupled with a large dose of adolescent entitlement, I received an email blast from one of my favorite travel websites. Travelzoo was offering a reasonably priced package to Rome, Tuscany and Venice, complete with airfare, hotel and rental car. The trip itself was only 8 days but really that was about all I could spend away from work and home. It sounded wonderful, but not probable. I sent the email to Juan anyway. That night we looked at our budget, our calendars and decided we had to do it. The trip started out as my dream, but the more Juan and I talked about it the more it the more my dream became his wish too. We would be celebrating 10 years of marriage in June. Married life can be wonderful and challenging, and marriage in a blended family has more than its share of struggles. We really felt like we owed it to ourselves and ultimately to our family.

We went on-line and booked the package, along with the trip insurance that would refund the cost in the event of a medical emergency or death. It’s probably a good thing the insurance didn’t cover cancellation in case of unforeseen teenage angst, or 8 year-old son separation anxiety, because I might have needed to use it.

So, here I am on the plane to Rome. Juan and I have spent the last two days frantically trying to get ready for this trip. We want the trip to be unstructured to allow us some time to explore on our own, and most of all, slow down and soak up the Italian culture. It’s a good thing too, because we have had very little time to really plan where we are going and what we will see. We have a wish list but it’s just that, a wish list. I know we won’t do or see half of it, and that’s okay. I am mostly looking forward to reconnecting with my husband, celebrating nearly 50 years of my life and 10 years of marriage, and of course, eating some really good food, and drinking Italian wines.

I had to keep all my hopes for this trip in mind this last week as I coordinated with the other parents who will take care of Nico and Olivia and Erica, and as I did countless loads of laundry, shopped for groceries to keep Diego and our nanny fed while we are gone, created schedules, arranged childcare, carpools, wrote medical authorizations, jotted down endless lists, and even reviewed our Wills. At one point I was so stressed I joked that maybe we should fake a medical emergency so we could cancel our trip!

Last night Diego spent the night with his grandmother because we had to catch an early morning flight. He used his iTouch to call and FaceTime with us four times. He was trying to be brave but I could tell from the way he combed his hands through his hair and blinked his eyes, that he was already homesick and sad. He called us again early this morning, right before we boarded the first leg of our flight. He tried to hold back tears. I cut the call short for fear I would begin to regret this trip altogether, but before I hung up the phone I told him that I left a present for him at home. He seemed to brighten up at the idea of a surprise waiting for him.

I bought him a Dreamcatcher, and I wrote him a note. The Dreamcatcher is something he’s wanted since he saw his older brother’s hanging over his bed. In the note I wrote to Diego I explained that while his dad and I are gone, the Dreamcatcher would help him keep away bad dreams and we could see each other in his good dreams. We said good-bye and as I hung up the phone,  I was cheered by Diego’s smile and the thought of how happy he would be by the Dreamcatcher. Then, it suddenly occurred to me that giving him a Dreamcatcher as I travel to Italy is the perfect going away gift for me too.

A dream about to be realized.

A dream about to be realized.

Do you have any travel dreams you would like to see come true?

 

 

 

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