Outer Banks: On the Road

Is it even morning if the sun isn’t up? We had to get on the road by 4:30am so we could meet the check-in time in Kitty Hawk, NC. Luckily we only had to throw a few things in the van, ourselves and the dogs included, so we were right on schedule.

First stop was Grove City, PA to meet up with our vacation buddies and get some breakfast. Then there was the issue of “What Sheetz are we meeting at?” So we moved on and finally met up at the next exit. There family of four in their van, and our family of four plus dog in ours.

Zuko wanted his seat

Our dog normally rides shotgun around town, but on long road trips he’s usually put in the back. He managed to worm his way onto Tony’s lap for almost an hour before his 60lbs became too much.

Our caravan of caravans stopped for a fill up and we grabbed lunch, but our traveling companions wanted to wait to eat, so on we went. It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled with multiple vehicles together, and it was interesting to say the least.

We did get separated when we had to stop to check our kayak straps, and they stopped to get lunch. Then there were the constant slow downs for accidents and construction. I’ve never lost so much time to traffic on a vacation. Almost three hours, including 30 minutes sitting in park.

We finally made it to the house we rented and got to stretch our legs and unload the vans. Our legs will certainly be getting a workout this week, as there are three floors in this house and the stairs don’t stop. My friend’s husband and I made a trip to Walmart for some food and alcohol. We got back, made the pizzas up and had a nice evening in.

Jenna and I in the hot tub

The kids played in the pool for a bit while Tony, Jenna, and I enjoyed the hot tub.

Now to see what tomorrow brings

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!

Italy: Day 1 Rome

Welcome to the Coliseum

Even rushing full speed from the airport, to the hotel, to the tour meet-up, we were a few minutes late. If you ever have the chance to go on a City Wonder tour, punctuality is key! They leave exactly on time. Luckily, they were able to squeeze us in to the next group, an hour later, so we had a gelato and caffeine break.

Sev, our tour guide for the Vatican portion of the day was amazing! He knew so many details and kept us laughing the whole time. My favorite line he used was when we were crossing the street to enter the Vatican. He said crossing the street in Rome requires a little faith, the cars will stop or they won’t. Which is true because the Italians drive like it is a competition and winning is everything. Its terrifying!

St. Peter’s Basilica

I had no idea the history of the Vatican. Starting as the Pope’s art collection, before becoming a museum, there is art from every era. The architecture, the statuary, the paintings, it was all so beautiful!

Sistine Chapel ceiling

We all were impressed with every part of this tour, even though we could barely keep our eyes open!

Chiara falling asleep on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica

When we finished at the Vatican it was a quick trip to the Coliseum for part two of our tour. Tiziana was our guide for this portion and she was another delight. She charmed Chiara by calling her princess the entire tour, because of her Italian name and Italian descent.

Did you know it was oval?

The Coliseum was mind boggling. The size of it, the history of it, and there were details I was completely unaware of. I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t know it was oval. We were able to see the rooms where the slaves were kept, the ancient plumbing, and the fact that it’s still standing makes it all the more impressive!

It was a short walk over to the Roman Forum, to see more of these ancient structures and the tour ended there. By this point everyone was drooping, ready to fall in to bed. As we had skipped lunch, we were also starving!

On the walk back to the hotel, we found Pasqualino al Colosseo. Delicious does not begin to describe it! I had the tenderest steak drizzled with basalmic vinegar and I could hardly bring myself to share it. Stumbling the rest of the way to the hotel, up to our rooms, to fall into bed before 730. Approaching 48 hours awake, a walking tour that encompassed huge pieces of Rome, and we had all earned a good night’s rest.

Italy: Getting there

June 10th finally arrived! This year it wasn’t just about my anniversary, Tony and I have been married 13 years now, but we were leaving for Italy! I had been planning, plotting, and in general losing my mind about this for months. I was finally going on my first international vacation!

A friend from one of my Facebook groups was supposed to be taking us, but I kept getting all these weird messages from her, making me think she had to bail on us. Neighbor John to the rescue! While we were loading our van, the online friend showed up, yelling about how I ruined her evening, but I was flying high already, so we didn’t even look at her, and she left.

On the way to the airport, we got an alert that the flight had been delayed an hour, but no worries, as they had already bumped us to the next connecting flight to Rome. At the airport, printed our tickets, through security, then to the terminal to wait.

We needed an anniversary shot of Tony and I for posterity

We boarded the plane, both kids squirming in excitement because this would be the first flight Arthur would remember, and Chiara’s first flight ever. Then out on the tarmac, the captain made an announcement that we would be on the tarmac for about an hour. The weather in NY was too foggy. Everyone on the plane handled it well, my mother especially, talking to everyone within a three row radius.

Look how excited he is!

We finally made it to NY, but were left rushing towards our next flight with no hope of making it. At least nine people missed that flight by a window of twenty minutes. Ugh! The next flight to Rome wasn’t until 4:25 the next afternoon, meaning we were losing an entire day in Rome, a night at the hotel, and would now be rushing to our first tour. Double ugh!

We were able to find a hotel close to the airport, they sent a shuttle to retrieve us, so we at least had a place to sleep that night. Once we got to the room, Josh, my brother, and I walked down to the 7-11 to hopefully find some food at 11pm. They actually had a great selection of fresh food available, including a pizza they cooked fresh for us!

We woke up around 9am the next morning to make our way back to the airport. We then spent the next six hours wandering the JFK airport and hanging out in the USO.

My first time seeing the One World Trade Center

Another bummer to being bumped on an airline is that you will most likely not be sitting with your party. We only had two seats together, so Chiara and I took those. My mom was able to get someone to switch, and had Arthur next to her. Tony and Josh were sitting solo. Sleeping on the plane was impossible for all except Josh. Marine training, and time in a war zone, allows him to sleep anywhere.

So there we were, arriving in Rome, our tour starting in just two hours, running on no sleep. Let the fun commence!

Pagan Pride Festival

Today the family, friend, and I hit the 9th annual Pagan Pride Festival and we had a blast. I am a Christian, born and raised, and I still hold those beliefs. I will say that we had a ton of fun though and plan to go back next year.

Goodies from the Festival

My son collects rocks, and they had a large selection of stones, rocks, and crystals for him to choose from. My husband, brother, and son like sharp things, so they purchased assorted knives. My daughter is a fairy freak, so she got a tiny pewter fairy statue and a star shaped jar of pixie dust. I got myself a Pagan Pride tank top and have a beautiful new paper towel holder made by a local blacksmith.

Needless to say the artisans, vendors, and local shops represented were amazing!

They had food trucks there that had an amazing selection and I had myself an early dinner.

We waited till Sunday to go because I wanted to see Tuatha Dea perform and was not disappointed. They had a wide selection of songs, from Irish choices to Rhiannon, a personal favorite.

We’re definitely planning to go back next year! I do want to add that these are happy people. No one was rude, or snide. There was no judgement for anyone, no matter who they were there with, what they were wearing, or how they looked in general. Don’t be quick to judge someone based on their beliefs. Not every pagan is a satanist, not every Christian is judgmental, and everyone deserves to be weighed (not judged) by their own merits.

A Day At Disney Hollywood Studios

Our Disney trip was last summer and I still haven’t covered it all yet! Slacking off here!

Above is the planned itinerary for our day at Disney Hollywood. Of course it is just a plan, so things change, but the plan sure helped us get the most out of it!

The day started off early for Arthur and I. We got up and caught the bus from the campground to Disney Hollywood to be there before the park opened. I wanted to be sure Arthur was able to attend Jedi training! Once the doors opened, we quickly made our way over to Indiana Jones stunt show area and got Arthur signed up. Then we had a little time to kill before everyone else arrived.

I’m in the process of raising geeks, so Arthur made our way to the Star Wars side of Disney Hollywood. We had a lot of fun meeting some characters and checking out the amazing displays they had set up.

It was really nice to get in early. We were in and out of character meet and greets in no time. 

We made our way back to the park entrance to meet the rest of our party. Then it was a little bit of wandering in and out if buildings to avoid the sprinkling rain. The rain was a little nerve racking because it could cancel out Arthur’s Jedi training, so we were constantly checking the weather reports. Thankfully we were good to go!

Jedi training is amazing! During signups, they give you a time to come back, when you arrive, they give the kids a Jedi cloak and have them march to the stage. Once there, the kids are given lightsabers and taken through a series of moves as a group. It is a bit of a show too, with the teachers interacting initially with Darth Vader, the Seventh Sister Inquisiter, and Kylo Ren briefly. Then the kids are given the opportunity to face either Darth Vader or the Inquisitor individually. Big tip for this one: make sure your kid goes to the bathroom prior to this show as they hydrate them before going on stage!

We used our fast pass for this park to see the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. This was amazing! It was stuntmen and women reenacting scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Rolling boulders, flaming airplanes, whip work and people flying through the air! The kids and adults in our party were awed through the whole show. There is also some audience interaction when they pull some of the audience members on stage to be bystanders during some of the stunts. Definitely a show worth seeing!

Chiara had another fun princess interaction, just like at Epcot, when she got to walk away with Sophia the First. She was the last one in line before the princess’ break, so Sophia took her hand and walked away.

Our lunch was at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante. Delicious option for a meal, but truthfully this was probably a little too heavy for lunch. Especially if you will be walking around more in the summer heat of Florida. Large portions, friendly staff, delicious food! There is the added benefit of getting to reserve your seats for Fantasmic, the amazing Disney Hollywood show. We ended up missing the show because everyone was wiped, but mom and I had seen it on another visit, and the show is amazing!

Other highlights from the day included the kids, and my almost 30 year old brother, making their own lightsabers. Arthur made his to look like Kylo Ren’s, Chiara made herself a purple one to match my Mace Windu one. Josh, my brother, made himself a green one. 

We also rode Star Tours several times! This is an amazing ride that starts off as a tour through the galaxy, but you go astray, end up in a battle, facing Kylo Ren, and finally making it safely back to the start. Arthur, my sweet little Star Wars geek, loved this ride a lot!

We may not have followed our itinerary very closely, but we still had a blast. That is the most important part of vacation after all!