Italy: Day 6 Venice

On our last full day in Italy and mom and I got up early to meet a friend. I have a Facebook friend, Anahid, who lives about an hour away by train from Venice. She was sending her kids off to school before coming in with her youngest.

Meeting international book buddies

She had claimed her English wasn’t good, but she spoke it amazingly well. Much better than my Italian! It was fun walking the streets, having my own personal translator, browsing the shops, and talking about everything from kids to books. A stroller in Venice is an experience, as almost all of the bridges have stairs. I got quite the arm workout!

When it was time for her to go home, I went with her to the train station. We ate lunch and sat, discussing books, until her train arrived. I’m so glad we were able to meet in person!

When I went back to the hotel, we hit the alleys again for more souvenir shopping. Tony found a t-shirt, I finally found a scarf I loved, and we found a mask shop. The shop was amazing, we were able to see them painting masks while we were browsing and they were all so beautiful. Mom, Tony, Chiara, and I all picked out a mask and had them bubble wrapped to survive the trip home. Tony and I went off on our own to wander. We sat by the canal for a while and were a little disappointed by the garbage in the canal. The sight that had us laughing was a condom floating in the water. Of course we got lost on our way back to the hotel, but we found a Lego gondola that we knew Arthur had to have!

Once back to the hotel, we packed up aand checked out. Our flight was leaving at 6am, you’re supposed to be at the airport 2 hours before international flights, and with the water buses schedule, we needed to be there the night before.

Riding the water bus

It was an hour and a half boat ride to the airport, and we played on our electronics after spending the first little while enjoying Venice at night.

Venice at night

We arrived at the Venice airport, possibly the smallest airport I’ve ever been to, and made ourselves as comfortable as possible till morning.

Italy: Day 5 Venice

Today we let ourselves sleep in a bit. We have been squeezing a lot of vacation into this week! Once we checked out of the hotel, we made our way to the train station and boarded our train to Venice. Another two hour ride and Chiara loved this one. She made friends with the Japanese teenager sitting across from her. They played with his go-pro, making short videos and immediately watching them.

Chiara and her new friend

Once we arrived in Venice, we made our way to the hotel. Well, we tried. Google maps struggles to find you in this city. The narrow alleys, the canals, and frustration briefly took over. Especially with the heat, everyone was getting hungry, so it was a bad hour and a half! We found a restaurant to have some lunch, and that helped immensely. Especially as there was a guy playing accordion. After lunch it took another hour to get to our hotel, but we were all in a much better mood!

We let ourselves take a short break, with some of us napping in the air conditioning. Then it was off to wander the city. It was really nice not to have any specific plans. We wandered the shops, picking out some souvenirs. Chiara found a shirt, very bohemian, that she wanted for the first day of school. Arthur got himself a gondola in a bottle. Mom was very excited about some of the beads she found for her Pandora bracelet.

Daily dose of gelato

Arthur had a bad moment in one of the shops that upset him a lot. He accidentally dropped a plastic rubik’s cube with scenes of Venice on the sides. Two of the pieces popped off and the shop keeper absolutely flipped out. It was only $25, so we bought the thing, at her insistence. Tony was able to pop the pieces back on as soon as they left the shop. Now we just say that Arthur accidentally picked out a souvenir.

Spidermen at the Rialto bridge

Since we had only seen the trailers of the new Spiderman: Far From Home, the kids were really excited about seeing the Rialto bridge. So of course, Josh and Arthur wore their Spiderman shirts, they brought them just for this photo op!

Gorgeous views

We ate a late dinner at a restaurant just down the alley from our hotel. We were all still adjusting to the slow pace of Italian meals, but the food, as always, was delicious.

We went back to the hotel for the night, I needed to be up at a decent hour the next day. It was no hardship to spend a relaxing evening there, as our room was essentially a small apartment. Aside from the frustration of finding the hotel, it was an excellentfirst day in Venice!

Italy: Day 4 Pisa

We let ourselves sleep in a bit this morning. Around 8am we were up, showered, and made our way down to have breakfast. I had my first Italian cappuccino, which was amazing. I ended up having two of them before we left for the train station.

We were on our own schedule today. Nothing pre-booked, just plans to go to Pisa. Mom and Josh went to the post office to mail home some souveirs, while the rest of us wandered the shops near the train station. We met up at the station and managed the ticket machine, then found our way onto the train around 10. Bit of a bummer for this hour ride, as we were standing or sitting on the stairs until just before we got there.

We ate a lunch at McDonald’s when we arrived, then made the 20 minute walk to the tower. Seeing it for the first time, I felt a bit like a kid. Here is something I’ve always seen in pictures, seen the goofy tourist photos, and have always wanted to see for myself! We bought our tickets to climb the tower, and had a few hours before our time slot.

Josh had a picture idea using his gelato

Somehow we got separated from Tony and Josh, so I left mom and the kids sitting in the shade while I looked around the grounds for them. This was the only awkward part of vacation, only mom and I had set our phones up for international. Josh did after this, but I did find them near the cathedral. We got mom and the kids, then took a tour through the cathedral. I didn’t see one ugly church in Italy. Some overly decorated ones yes, but nothing ugly! We found another angle to take some more pictures too!

Tony’s idea for a picture was my favorite

Our turn to climb the tower came, so we stored all our stuff in lockers, no extras can go with you, and we started climbing. This was a head trip! Walking up didn’t always feel like up. When going in to the lean, it actually felt like going down, and out of the lean was like the steepest stairs of your life!

Mom and Chiara at the top

Chiara was hilarious. Once we got to the top, a bit ahead of mom, Chiara was waiting for Nana to get there. An older Chinese lady came around the last turn, and Chiara put both hands in the air and said loudly, “Welcome to the top!” The lady started smiling and laughing, asking while pointing at Chiara, “I take picture?” So Chiara is in someone else’s vacation pictures, and I’m sure she’s referenced as “the sweet, funny American girl”

Down the stairs was another experience. Downstairs should always be fairly easy, yes? No! While walking out of the lean, downstairs felt like you were falling backwards and going up. Tony was last coming down, mainly because we were both staying with Chiara. She had hands on both walls and was taking her time. A fun experience for all of us!

Souvenir shopping of course, and Tony was very happy with his leaning shot glass. Chiara found herself a hat she loves, it has leaning towers all over it. We slowly made our way back to the train station, bought tickets, and luckily had seats for the return trip. Our legs were done after the stairs!

We found a restaurant in Florence, on our way back to the hotel. Probably the priciest place we ate the whole trip. Very good, and I was proud that I was able to order my meal speaking Italian. Mom on the other hand told the waiter “merci” when he brought her food. They did have my favorite wine the whole trip though!

Back to the hotel, where we packed as much as we could. We wanted to sleep in as long as possible before our train to Venice the next day.

Italy: Day 3 Florence

Up fairly early on our third day in Italy. Packed our bags and went to the station to catch our train to Florence. It was a two hour ride, and we all enjoyed ourselves playing Phase 10, reading, and playing our game systems.

On our walk to the hotel, we were stymied by a political protest going on near the Duomo. The only street to our hotel was blocked by the crowds, so we sat down and enjoyed a drink with a view. We packed light, but a backpack and carryon per person makes all walks feel a little longer. When our way cleared, it was still too early for check in, but the hotel allowed us to store our bags until later.

Once we were back out on the streets, Josh wanted to go climb the bell tower. Our group split up; Josh, Arthur, and I to the bell tower, and mom, Tony, and Chiara went to Hard Rock Cafe Florence.

Proof that I’m always right

Josh insisted on the bell tower, claiming it was taller. I tried telling him the Duomo was taller, but he wouldn’t listen. It worked out for us anyway, as there were no more tickets available to climb the Duomo. 49 less steps, and an amazing view from the top, so I call it a win!

View from the top of the bell tower

The three of us made good time to the top, enjoyed the view and the breezes for about 15 minutes, before making ou way down. Narrow staircases, and people traveling up and down, means you get very close to other people!

Back on the ground

After the tower, we made our way to HRC to meet up with the others. We got some more drinks, climbing towers is thirsty work, then made our way to Ponte Vecchio. It’s a city street that is entirely built on a bridge.

Ponte Vecchio

We got our daily dose of gelato on our stroll too. We basically stumbled on the Uffizi, but mom and I were the only ones interested in more museums. Tony and Josh made their way back to the hotel with the kids, while mom and I conquered even more stairs in the Uffizi.

Niobe trying to protect her youngest daughter

This was my favorite piece in the museum, although about halfway through, I began wondering where the David was. You would think, with all the research I did for this trip, I would’ve known the David is at the Accademia. Nope! We saw many amazing pieces, but neither of us were up for the walk to another museum, or another walk through. Mom bought me a puzzle piece magnet of David, so there is that.

After getting the kids and the guys, we enjoyed a delicious pizza dinner by the Duomo and some souvenir shopping. You can’t go to Florence and not get something leather. I ended up with a small leather bag in red, and I also picked up an Italian copy of Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare. Tony and I broke away to try and get a nearby geocache. All of the others we had logged were virtual, and I wanted to sign at least on physical log. Success was ours!

Returned to the hotel, the kids were so excited because mom had taken them on the carousel on their way back. Arthur and Tony fell almost right to sleep. Chiara and I had some energy still to burn, so we went for a late night walk around the Duomo. I’m glad we did because it is beautiful at night! It reflects all of the light from surrounding buildings and looks like its glowing.

The Duomo at night

We spent some time watching a young man play on a recorder. Talent doesn’t care what instrument you are playing, it will make itself known! Its aways amazing to see what someone can do with simple instruments.

Once we got back to the hotel, we both fell asleep easily. Good thing too, since we had plans for the next day.

Italy: Day 2 Positano and Pompeii

This morning we had to be up at 6am, so we could be ready for pickup at 645. There was some irritation with the hotel over the free breakfast. So we were skipping breakfast and hoping we would have a food break before we got too grumpy about it.

Roberto, our driver for the day, picked us up at 7am, then we went to another hotel to pick up the couple who was joining us. Marium and Sam, a couple from Dubai, were delightful. We were talking most of the two hour drive to Positano, when Roberto wasn’t informing and entertaining us with information about what we were seeing.

Luckily there was a pit stop about an hour in, a small shop where we could buy food, drinks, and use the restroom. Something to know about Italy, you have to pay to use the restroom, unless you have a receipt to prove you’re a customer. Between the food, and the naps most of our party took, we were ready for the day!

The view of Positano

We stopped at a pull off on our way in to Positano for a photo op. It is stunning! The Mediterranean spread out, the colorful buildings climbing the hills, and the smell in the air was absolute magic. Lemons and salt.

Dipping our feet in the Mediterranean Sea

We didn’t bring our suits, but I needed to be able to say I had my feet in the Mediterranean Sea, so we kicked our shoes off for a photo. We only had an hour and a half in town, so we did some souvenir shopping, and of course had our daily gelato!

This rosemary bush smelled amazing

Mom was not a fan of the limoncello

Our next stop was Dal Patriarca for lunch. Our tour included a meal of pasta, which was amazing! A shot of limoncello for all of the adults and once again the smell was amazing. The food, the flowers, it was a perfect followup to our morning in Positano.

Mosaic in Pompeii

Our final stop on the tour was Pompeii. We were led through by Hector. An older man who had more energy than my kids! We were taken through a day in the life of a citizen of Pompeii, shown what was shockingly well preserved, and shown the devastation left by the eruption. The cobblestone walking was a little hard on mom and Tony, even with their canes, but we enjoyed it all! We held up our van group to steal time for souvenirs, but I had to have something to mark this visit.

We were back to the hotel around 7 that evening, we packed a lot in 12 hours! Chiara had to immediately change into her new Pompeii shirt before we walked over to see the Trevi fountain. We were leaving for Florence the next morning and had to see this block long fountain! It looks amazing lit up at night.

We went to Hard Rock Cafe Rome for a late dinner. My mom needed to get her HRC souvenirs, and we needed fuel before passing out after our busy day.

Day 2 was one of my very favorite days of this vacation!

Bumblebee

I had a date night with this handsome kid last night, and we went and saw Bumblebee. He’s been a huge Transformers fan since he was three years old, but somehow this one is the first we’ve seen in theaters! After a yummy meal at Subway, his favorite place to eat, it was off to the theater.

The movie opens on Cybertron, in the middle of the war. Arthur especially loved watching that battle rage, seeing the fall of Cybertron happen instead of the brief flashbacks we’ve seen in past movies. Bumblebee is sent to Earth by Optimus, as a sort of scout, to pave the way for the rest of the Autobots.

His arrival on Earth is not a peaceful one, but we do see how he loses his voice and it was a sad scene for me. He is my favorite Transformer after all. Things get better when Charlie comes along, and there are some very funny moments, with only a little heartbreak thrown in.

I won’t spoil the movie, but I did tear up a few times. Apparently I’m a soft touch and a bit of a sap with books and movies, but I am standing by my emotional rating!

There was a scene during the credits that makes me question if they will be doing at least one more of these prequel movies. Otherwise the timeline will be a little skewed and that will bother me forever!

Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it?

2018 in Retrospect

This has been another crazy year. It never sounds like it until you sit down to post about it, but wow.

In typical fashion of a combined family as large as Tony and I’s, we had a wedding. We were invited to two, but were only able to attend one, my cousin’s. Don’t we look spiffy?

In what is becoming a sad tradition, we attended a funeral as well. It seems for every wedding we attend there is a funeral to pair with it. An amazing woman, who has been deeply involved in Tony and I’s lives since we were teens passed away unexpectedly over the summer and it is still hard to process that grief.

At the beginning of the year, we built our beautiful new kitchen, still not complete, even though we’ve been using it since March.

It has been just over a year since my brother, Josh, moved in with us and he has been an amazing addition to our home. Tony and I have been able to enjoy more nights out together, the kids have enjoyed him immensely, so there is really no downside to having him here as he attends school.

Half way through the year I adopted a habit tracker system to help keep me organized, which worked brilliantly until November rolled around. I’ve been taking the dog for more routine walks, which has been good for both of us. Getting out in to the air, spending quiet time with the silly Zuko, has been great for me personally.

I completed my first reading challenge on Goodreads, 120 books this year, with no rereading. I have found so many amazing series, Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses, some embarrassingly delightful smut novels, etc. I’m looking forward to next year where I can continue my “no rereading” policy.

I was able to attend a Halloween book signing at Turn the Page bookstore, Nora Roberts, obviously, and the amazing Karen Marie Moning, another author I discovered this year. One more signing off that particular bucket list!

The family and I took a fall trip to New Jersey to visit Tony’s grandmother and had an amazing time. The boardwalk, the ocean, and time with family are always a fabulous addition to the year.

This year promises to be just as amazing. Italy coming this summer. Meet and greets with more authors I’ve fallen for. Putting the finishing touches on the kitchen, and who knows what else!

I hope your year was meaningful. Just remember that a year doesn’t have to be about checking off boxes on your bucket list, or visiting exotic locales. It can be about time spent with family, achieving a personal goal, or even something as small as how many books you read. Perhaps you survived another year at a job putting you through college. Whatever it is, celebrate the year that has past, and embrace whatever is coming. It’s going to be good, I know it!