Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Our Italy Trip (A Long Time Coming)

One of my dreams came true this month. It was arguably the best thing ever for the long-term health of my marriage, too.

We took a 9-day road trip through central and northern Italy -- just me and my husband, without the kids. We felt like empty-nester retiree types, only we're in our late 30s and we have two preschoolers.

Seriously, DH and I had not had that much alone time to have even a full conversation and/or as much sex as we could handle since around 2005. It was fantastic. And it's been hard to return to the stresses (even the happy stresses) of real life.

The kids stayed at my parents' house, and all of them reported that it was the best time they ever had together. My dad thinks the kids have never been more fun, especially our 5.5 y.o. son, who has apparently inherited his grandfather's great sense of humor. When we called to check in one night, my dad had trained him to say to us: "We've been locked in the closest the whole time and Papa only lets us out to eat." He delivered his lines perfectly and we all had a good laugh.

My parents are, quite honestly, the perfect grandparents. They took the kids to the zoo or the park everyday, took them to see two plays, a nature center, a kids' craft event, and a baseball game. The kids can't stop talking about how much fun they had. (Can you say: lovingly spoiled?)

About how the trip came together - one day DH came home and told me he had just spoken with my parents and they had agreed to watch the kids so we could take a long trip to Italy together, which by the way he already booked because he found a great deal on Travel Zoo (and it was apparently also on Groupon). And he had already checked my work calendar and cleared out my schedule for me. Wow.

We've always wanted to go to Italy, and even though we've each traveled all over the world, remarkably, neither of us had ever been to Italy. Plus my husband speaks fluent Italian thanks to his family heritage, so this fact is all the more shocking. We fully intended to go as a belated honeymoon the spring after we were married, but then the Pope died, and travel to Italy suddenly became prohibitively expensive for us. Dream deferred.

Now, dream realized. It was awesome: Roma, Toscana, Venezia - yes, Venezia is a tourist trap, but I say, "Please, go ahead and trap me!!" We focused our visit on Roman ruins and wineries - and threw in a few museums for good measure. We had the best service ever in restaurants, thanks to DH's Italian. Lost count of how many times he told his family's American immigration story. I've never gotten so many things on the house before.

Our friends loaned us their GPS that already had Italy programmed into it. They said it would save our marriage. It did. Having the actual GPS coordinates ahead of time for one of the more remote hotels we needed to find was probably the smartest move we made. It was so remote, in fact, that the hotel put up a video on YouTube of someone driving to it to help guests find the place. Which cracks me up. We also got a kick out of the British-sounding voice of the GPS (a Garmin) garbling the names of Italian streets.

Prior to this travel, I had not done trip research in ages. The Lonely Planet guides used to be my go-to book references, and they've served me well for years. In March, I finally heard of PBS travel guru Rick Steves, and I gave his travel guides a look, too. For Italy, I think I like the Rick Steves' Guides a bit better, although clearly he enjoys museums a lot more than we do, so we by no means took all of his advice.

We flew Iberia on the way home. Not my favorite airline ever. (Nobody will ever beat the awesomeness of Cathay Pacific out of Hong Kong, the airline love of my life.) Though after we were seated, they were kind enough to give us a free upgrade to business class, I suspect because I speak Spanish - I definitely didn't request it. The Americans seated around us were like, why them but not us? Lo siento, cholos! The only real logistical surprise was when had to test the size of our carry-on roller bags twice at the Venezia airport, and I was concerned we were never going to get my bag out of that metal contraption again. But it worked.

We want to go back soon. Like every year and then retire there (unless we have grandkids we're lucky enough to see....). Our next trip will include Milan. Someday.....

So that's where I've been, and why I haven't been commenting on your blogs until recently. Do you share my affection for Italy? Where is your dream destination?


Got It, Ma! said...

I wondered where you'd been. So glad it was for such a great and happy reason. Sounds like a fabulous trip. I went to Italy about 500 years ago when I was 16. My mom and I went together on a school trip - a bit of a treat for ourselves after my dad's death the previous fall. It was an amazing trip and an amazing place. As an archaeology buff, Pompeii was the highlight for me.

My husband goes to Paris on business every 18 months or so and we've decided the next trip is the one. We don't have a good place for the kids to stay, so they'll go with us, but at 8 and 11, they're really great travelers. We also really want to do Ireland. Kind of a heritage site for me and we can even visit the little cottage where my grand dad was born.

So, hooray! hooray! for you guys for taking a trip together. So inspiring! And welcome back.

Anonymous said...

I want to do an eating tour of Italy some day. So does #2. :)

Haley said...

Hooray for you! We did a similar trip for 12 days last summer and it was wonderful. Although by the end of it, I was clamoring for other people to talk to because my husband is the quiet type and I am most definitely not. Did you get tired of Italian food? For some reason, I assumed there would be more variety.

Also, it's funny you just discovered Rick Steves. I grew up watching his show on Saturday mornings on PBS and I think it is what cursed me with wanderlust and complete focus towards getting the hell out of my hometown. We used his Italy guide, as well, and liked being able to speed through a museum and see only the high points.

Welcome back!

Jac. said...

Love Italy. DH and I went in September of 2006 as part of the great-baby-making-kickoff. It was our last big pre-kids adventure and is the happy place I go to in my mind when I need a 'break'. I'm a big European history buff and I love museums and churches so I was pretty much in heaven.

We also think that the Rick Steves Italy guides are the bees knees and I've been known to give away copies to friends when I find out that they are going. My favourites are his self-guided walking tours. He had a nighttime one in Rome and it was magical and romantic and ended in a massive chocolate gelato. I'm doing little jumpy happy claps just thinking about it.

Good husband, making that happen! We've taken a few breaks but our longest has been 5 days and we don't (as a rule) leave the West Coast. Still want to be able to get back if something were to happen. We don't have family nearby and we have to rely on our nanny (who is wonderful, but it feels like asking a lot to go for too long or too far). We have an extended long weekend planned for San Francisco in August. Hopefully, once the Girl is school age, I'll be a little more relaxed about travelling further.

Nataliya said...

oh, that sounds like heaven! We have a distant plan to rent a villa in Italy to drop the kids and grandparents there so we can travel around and they can get together and spend some quality time.

welcome back :)

Cloud said...

Awesome! I'm glad you had the chance to do this,a nd it worked out so well. We're working our way up to leaving the kids w/my folks for a week or so. Maybe next year- the 3.5 year old is still a little too mommy-centric for us to do it. But we've done weekends away, and they rock. Also, in a couple of weeks I am going ALONE to visit my best friend from college for a day and a half and I am super excited.

As for our dream destination... it is hard to pick! We did a 4 month "big trip" around Asia and the South Pacific before having kids, and we both very much want to do another period of extended travel again. Not sure when!

oilandgarlic said...

My blog started as a food blog/ode to Italian foods and life so I'm obviousy biased. I love Italy, as my husband is Italian and I've been there several times even before meeting him.

Rick Steves is a really good guide and I used his tips to find good restaurants (i.e. follow the natives) and I love his boyish, nerdish enthusiasm for travel!

Glad your dream came true.

Anonymous said...

We love Italy, too. I've been fortunate to go several times, and to travel with Italians, which is the best thing ever. A highlight memory is eating in a hilltop restaurant in Tuscany, a lunch that went on for hours.

I'd traveled with my husband before we had kids, and loved that. But, now, I'd have a tough time leaving the kids behind, because they add so much to our trips. When we went to London, we scheduled a special tour of Stonehenge, because my daughter had researched it as a topic. In Tokyo, my son tried to teach himself Japanese out of a phrase book (which attracted a lot of attention); I think the Tokyo-ites (and the Venetians) are hungry for children.

Kids+good grandparents are a delightful mix. My kids spend a lot of time with their grandparents and it is wonderful for both the grandparents and the kids.


paola said...

Glad to hear you had a wonderul time. My annual weekend sans kids has not materialised this year so I am sooo envious, and 9 full days just sounds like a dream.

So many fantastic places, impossible to narrow it down. We love hiking and because of my ties to the Dolomite area, that would be one of my favourite areas. Food is best in the Emilia region, so anywhere there. Sardegna or Sicily for its beaches. In fact off to Sicily very soon for a week of sun and sand. Am so over the English weather.

Too bad Italy's economy is spiraling put of control. And things don't look like they will be better in the neat future either. So sad because Italy is such an amazing country.

Regine Karpel said...

Italy was mine. Crossed it off the list. Swore I would hate Venice but loved it next to Assisi. Paris is my dream destination now!

the milliner said...

Love Italy. First visited with a friend when I was 19. We stayed with an Italian friend of hers and her family in Parma for 3 weeks, with side trips to Bologna, Firenze, Venizia and Lago di Garda. Heaven. It really changed my viewpoint on food and it was where I learned to make my oil and vinegar dressing right in the salad. The family was very good natured about my missteps with too much vinegar :). I still dress my salads this way, though DH thinks I still put too much vinegar.

In Lago di Garda I saw some people rock climbing for the first time, and ended up being the reason I started rock climbing 7 years later.

This trip to Italy was also the first time I heard the name Luca...which is the name we ended up giving our son (which suits him perfectly).

@Paola: Since Emilia has the best food I guess this explains why my trip to Parma was life changing. Especially since it was, ahem, 24 years ago (yikes!) and food in North America wasn't the way it is now. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese was not readily available and most of us knew Parmesan cheese as a dry, dusty 'cheese' that came in a green plastic container and was made by Kraft.

A few years ago I went back for work, this time to Venice, Florence & Tuscany. We got the local's view of Venice as the main purpose of my trip was to work with Venice's biggest mask maker. Had a glass of Prosecco at the oldest bar in Venice, which was pretty cool. The ceilings were so low! Then on to Florence and Tuscany. I ended up having a free Saturday in Tuscany after my colleague went back home. So, I decided to do a bike tour in Tuscany. Eight of us cycled from Florence up into the Tuscan hills with our local guide. Stunningly beautiful. We then, like anonymous, ate at a local hilltop restaurant for several hours. Completely delicious and heavenly. One of the best days I've had in my life.

I would really like to do a 3-4 week vacation in Tuscany with our little family, and maybe some friends to join us. My dream is to stay at villa, possibly with an olive and/or lemon grove, and to make our own olive oil. One day... :)

Vacationland Mom said...

That is so awesome :) Very very happy for you guys. I have been reading your blog but haven't been able to comment- blocked by my computer for some reason.