Friday, March 26, 2010

Sleep? Nobody Needs Sleep when in Italy!

For those who have been traveling along with me on this journey from the US to Italy through my jouranl, let's pick up where we left the airport where when Chris and I landed after traveling 4,408 miles and 9 hours 23 minutes to reach a life-long dream!

WOW! WOW! WOW! Italy! Italia! Italians! Beautiful people! Beautiful language! Pinch me. Is it real? It's funny how your body and mind seem to work in high gear and run in overtime when you're having fun! There is no way under the sun that I was about to feel tired. Not now, and not for a long time to come! Just walking through the airport in Italy was an adventure, and I didn't intend to miss one second of it!

Chris and I realized within seconds that we might be up against a bit of a "problemo" since neither one of up spoke Italian. Let's just say that the Italians made it very clear.....THEY were not the foreigners. We were, and it was our responsiblility to speak to them!

NOTE: When travling in a foreign country, bring along an interpreter, a dictionary with translations OR get really smart and study the language so that you can get directions, ask where the bathroom is located, and order your food!

Chris has a way with women, and he soon met "Anna", pronounced Ahhhhhna. She was drop-dead gorgeous, and she could also speak enough English to help us get pointed into the direction of a bus to Rome. Yep! Off to Rome after no sleep for twenty-four plus hours! Our plans were to tour a bit of Rome, get some great Italian food, then get back on a bus that was headed in the opposite direction, travel for three more hours, and meet up with our friends from the States, who are now living part-time in Italy.

My journal is as mixed up as I was at this point. Nothing was done in order. Nothing was planned, and we didn't care! We soaked up everything like sponges! The beauty of the buildings. The gorgeous blue sky. The long stretch of seamless highway. The miniature cars. The fast motorcycles. The scooters with lady drivers. The speeding trains. I'll say it again -- and all of the beautiful people! Italy was already proving to be an amazing place!

When the bus stopped in Rome, the very first thing we did was hit up a place for food! Authentic Italian food!

Three observations and then I'll close this chapter of the trip for today:

1) Never once did I reach inside my purse for my cell phone. When in the states, I couldn't go five minutes without calling or texting someone. What does this mean? Nothing philosophical, really. I knew my phone wouldn't work in Italy, so I didn't even try! *insert a big funny smile!*

2) I finally realized that my number 5 child, my son Chris, was a bit crazy. He is fearless. He walked up to any and every stranger on the street and gave a nod of the head and a bit of a side-kick dance with his tennis shoes and bright, neon green shoe laces. He also spoke words that he thought were Italian, but were really made up words. Chris, I knew you were faking it all along!

3) Chris is certifiably the most giving, caring person in the world to take, of all people, HIS MOTHER, on a trip to Italy! I could tell it was a stretch for him at times (okay, it was a stretch the entire trip), but HE DID IT! HE TOOK HIS MOM TO ITALY, and for that I will be forever greatful!

Chris, I can even *almost* get over the fact that you were sporting a rat tail and that golly-awful front fanny pack!

More tomorrow.......stay tuned for the ride to Petriotoli to meet up with our friends in Italy! That is where the true "Adventures in Italy" began!



Dulles Airport to Rome, Italy - but Hot Tea First!

C'mon and get ready for another adventure or two as you follow the traveling mother and son duo to Italy!

Monday, March 1, 2010 - 3:00 p.m.

Believe it or not, the half-hour flight from Pittsburgh to Washington was uneventful. In fact, I didn't even make a journal entry about that part of the trip. However, that all changed once we landed in Dulles Airport!

We had a few hours to kill before the final boarding for Italy, so Chris and I decided to get a quick snack to eat and then we would do our final money exchange. Okay, for me it was the only money exchange. Ever since Chris told me about this trip I had fussed and worried over the money. I told him I had a secret stash of cash saved for this trip, but I needed to know how much to bring along. Now, for me a "stash of cash" is an amount of coins that will fit loosely into a small coffee can. For Chris, a "stash" is...well, slightly more.

He kept telling me that I didn't need to worry about the money part, but I'm a mom and I wanted to pay for at least part of my way on this trip. So, I spotted "The Money Exchange" in the airport, and off I dragged Chris to help me get this task completed. I boldly stood up to the window and counted out my one dollar bills (I think I drove the teller crazy, and I know I drove Chris even MORE crazy). Yay! I now had "Euros" of my own to spend! I could treat Chris to meals, and I could buy some gifts. I could even help pay for gelato! Until this very moment, I didn't even know what the money exchange for Europe/Italy was called! Obviously, I had not met Rick Steves yet. (Do you remember him from a previous blog entry?)

Note: It's a super wonderful thing when your kids back off from showing you that you really are dumb! Even though you know that they know, when they don't tell you to your face it's greatly appreciated. Chris, thanks for allowing me the dignity of feeling like I was paying for some of this trip. I needed that! I really, really needed that! Thank you for allowing me to feel like I was contributing my part even though we both know that I wasn't.

Chris followed me to the window for the remaining "extra Euros" he was going to bring to Italy, and like a pro, he flashed that fanny belt of his to the teller, whipped out his plastic card, and said......"Cash it in!" We were set to go! The money exchange was completed. Look out Italy! Here we come!

We had another hour left to wait for boarding, so we went to our gate, and I was fidgety so I stood up and watched other planes taking off and landing. Chris was content doing the same until five minutes before time to board. No, I take that back....the call for boarding had been made. "Section 1 -- time to board!" We were in Section 2 which meant we were next!

What did Chris do right at that very moment? He looked at me and said, "You go ahead and board. I'm going to look for a place that sells hot tea." WHAT?!?!?! "We're boarding -- right now! You cannot leave here! We are boarding!" "Yes, I sure can leave! I want some hot tea, and there's no rush with the boarding. They'll be a good half hour boarding this plane." And, with that, off he went!

My stomach felt sick. Why does he have to do these things? Is it fun to see the color drain from my face? Is it a kind of game to play to see how long it takes to bring on the "big one"? He didn't need hot tea any more than I needed to meet the man in the moon. He wanted to make a momentous impact on me by missing the plane! I could see it in his face. This was all part of the plan. He'd call the other kids and tell them the trip was off because I went crazy on him right before the plane was ready to take off.

Now, this is where a lot of my family will be saying, "She's doing it again. She's exaggerating. She's fabricating a story. That really didn't happen the way mom is telling it." Kids, listen up! It DID happen, and it got worse!

The plane to Rome boarded..........and I continued to stand "alone" by the gate and I continued to text Chris. "Where are you?" "Please answer me!" "Everyone is on the plane but the two of us." "Please don't do this, Chris!"
Nothing. No answer. No Chris. So, I looked at the lady at the desk by the gate and explained, "My son and I belong on this plane that is going to Rome, but my son went to get some hot tea, and I can't find him." "Ma'am, I strongly suggest you get on that plane now because in exactly two minutes the doors will be shut, and that plane is taking off."

No time or energy to cry. My hands were trembling as I began another text. Darn him! I know he has his phone on. Where is he? I'm gonna kill him when I see him!!! That's when the text came through. "I got my tea. Got a bit side-tracked looking at the chicks. Am on my way."

I looked up to see Chris slowly walking along with that darned Rat Tail, his cup of tea, and his phone in his hand. And, he was laughing! He thought the entire incident was funny! He really, really did!

Another Note: All kids work very diligently to make their parents sweat blood, and most of them succeed more than once. And, for those wondering....yes, Chris was a success! I'm still very much in recovery!

We ran to the door of the plane, showed our boarding passes and passports, and the door was successfully slammed shut. This was it! Nine hours and twenty three minutes in flight. There were no more escape routes for Chris. The two of us, mother and son, on a large jumbo jet filled to capacity with people headed for Rome. Thank you, dear God! We made it this far!

There's no turning back now. The dream...... the life-long dream is finally going to happen!!!! Italy, I can almost touch you!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Off to Italy! - Pittsburgh International Airport

Let's continue along on this journey to Italy.......

Monday, March 1, 2010 - 11:30 a.m.

Pleskin (a friend of Chris') dropped us off at the airport in Pittsburgh to catch our first leg of the trip -- a short 30 minute flight to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. Nothing could go wrong at this point, right? We did a double and triple check to make sure that we had everything before leaving, so I felt more calm now than I had felt in the past two days.

"Should we check in at the kiosk?" I thought that was a fairly intelligent question coming from me. Chris looked at me with that, "You've got to be kidding!" look. I hate that because I feel like a mom asking her kid what to do. Kids are always supposed to ask their parents what to do! "No, we're going to the ticket counter because we have bags to check in, remember?" Whatever. I guess he's the man in charge at this point. I'm just happy that I'm on my way to Italy, and I'll be even happier when I get that boarding pass in my hands!!!

Off to wait in the line......I can still feel how hard my heart was pounding at that moment. Would I get to show my passport now? A passport!!! I still couldn't believe it. "Step up to the counter, please. Where are you heading, and how many bags do you have to check? May I see your passports?" It's REAL!!!!!

"Place your driver's license into the kiosk and it will print out your boarding passes, sir." No problem with that. Chris slid that driver's license of his right into the slot, and then it happened. ERROR! ERROR! ERROR! Umm........please don't tell me we didn't really get booked. No....nothing can go wrong at this point! There is absolutely nothing that is going to go wrong!

"Sir, let's try again. For some reason this is not reading your information. Where are you headed? Rome? What is the time of your flight?"

With that, a slow smile (kind of the "Hey dorks. You gotta be kidding me. You're flying to Rome?" type of look) came over the face of the person behind the counter. "You have made a slight mistake, sir. You've booked your flight with a different airline. We'd love to have you fly with us, but......not this time. Please take your baggage and clear the way for those who are boarding with our airline. You need to find your airline which is located on the opposite side and at the far end of this floor."

Now who was the one who was going to be flustered? I loved it!!!! It wasn't me who made this mix-up happen. It was Chris! But, did he care? Heck no! He stepped out of line, sat down his luggage in the middle of the ticket area, and said, "It's hot in this place and I forgot to put on my deodorant this morning. I need to find that and get smelling pretty before we leave for Italy."

I thought I was hearing wrong. I really, really thought I was hearing wrong! But that isn't the end. Much to my surprise, and much to the surprise of all of the people now staring, Chris dug through his stuff, found his deodorant stick, pulled up his shirt and began smearing his armpits as everyone stood and watched. Yep, that's the one who is going to take care of me in a foreign country. He's the one who is in charge and he began by taking us to the wrong airline. He's the one who is making us late because he's finishing his shower in the middle of the airport! He's the one who is soon going to cause me to have a mini breakdown!

After that little fiasco, we did indeed get our boarding passes, I got to flash my passport not once, but twice, and then the countdown for the first flight began. It was 1:30 p.m., and we were to leave for Dulles at 2:00 p.m.. You guessed it! The plane was delayed! Does Chris care? Are you kidding me? While I clutched onto my boarding pass and hung onto the desk at the gate where we were to board, he went off exploring the airport. I knew at that moment that this trip was NOT going to be an easy one!

Note to self: Keep reminding yourself that kids really don't want to make you go crazy. They just want you to have a sense of humor even if it means you must first have a mental breakdown in order to get the sense of humor!

Finally, finally.......the announcement came, "All those boarding at Gate 9 for Dulles Airport may now board the plane." Those words will never be forgotten. And...... neither will the deodorant exhibit in the middle of the airport be forgotton.

Just as an aside, for those of you who think that I'm fibbing, exaggerating, or just plain telling a lie....I'm NOT! My son, the one sporting that strange looking Rat Tail and that under-the-pants fanny belt (that he wore on the outside of his pants) did every one of those things, and in his mind it was all NORMAL!!!!

Stay tuned for the next stop.....Dulles Airport. There are more surprises awaiting!

Clara Hinton - aka "Bella"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Off to Italy! - Notes from My Journal - March 1, 2010

Well, if you've been following along, you already know that there was no sleep the night before the trip. Too much excitement! Let's take a peek into my journal to see what happened the morning of the trip!

March 1, 2010 - 7:00 a.m.

Coffee for me, tea for Chris, and then a bite of toast and then a double-check: Passport, camera, clothes, money (more about that later), checks to drop in the mail (hey, bills have to be paid!), letters to be mailed. Done! Oh, wait -- let's check the weather outside. We've had the worst winter in I don't know how many years -- a couple hundred inches of snow to be exact! I'm freezing, but it's probably my jitters about the trip. Nope! Not so! My feet aren't freezing because of my anxiety about the trip. It's 23 degrees in Shanksville and still snowing! Oh, if Italy has sunshine, I'll know there is a God! I honestly forget what the warm sunshine feels like! Please, please, please let there be sunshine!!!!! I'm craving it. I need it -- I NEED the sunshine!

Chris and I did very little talking before piling our few bags into the car. I think it was an understood message between us that for the next 16 days I'd be looking at his Rat Tail, and he'd be looking at -- well, he'd be looking at "ME"! I felt bad. I honestly felt bad for him at this point because I didn't see the same spark of excitement in his eyes as I was feeling. For me, this trip was a dream-come-true. For Chris, it was a trip of an unknown outcome. I'm sure he was wondering as he glanced at me, "Am I gonna make it 16 days without killing this woman? I could probably get away with it in Italy! I've gotta come up with a plan just in case she starts driving me totally nuts!" Well, like it or not, Chris, it's me and you for the next two weeks so get used to it, kiddo!

The drive into Somerset normally takes about 20 minutes, only today it took longer because of the ice and snow. GRRRR! Down 6th Street and what do I see? Nothing but that darned snow! I'm really sick of this weather, and I'm ready for a change! Italy, here we come! Did I happen to mention that I'm dying to see the sunshine? Italy, please, please have warm weather while we're there! (Note to myself: I really don't use the word "hate" often, but I'm using it now. I HATE all of the snow we've had this winter! There...I feel better just getting that off my chest!)

In the car, Chris and I talked about where we wanted to go in Italy, what we wanted to see, and how we thought things would be. For me.....I wanted to meet the people. Just walk among "my kind" and get the feel of what it must have been like for my grandparents, Franco and Angelina Lucca, who actually lived in Sicily before coming to the United States. I wanted to eat the food, hear the language, see the homes, walk along the sea, and listen to the beautiful music of Italy. I wanted to take in the sights, sounds and smells of everything. The Colosseum. The Vatican City. The Cistine Chapel. Rome. Lucca. Florence. Sicily. Ristorantes. Markets. Seafood. The wine and bread. heart was doing dances just thinking about the awesome things in store for us!

Now, for any of you that know Chris, let's just say he is not very openly expressive nor is he within the realm of what I'd call normal with his romanticism for life. In fact, there are times his bluntness and off-the-wall nuttiness kind of stuns me. This was one of those stunning moments!

"I want to check out all of the chicks, hit some naked beaches, and eat ten meals a day so I can get fat and see if the chicks still go crazy over me. Uh, I want to grow my Rat Tail down my back and twirl it around my finger real sexy-like, I want to grow a razzle-frazzle beard, and I want to flash my fanny pack and make the girls die for me. Oh, yeah....I'm also going to lock you up in your room once a day and go cruisin' around at night to see what the night life is all about."

Huh? Oh, wow! I had a sinking feeling that this could be the trip of my life, only not quite the way I'd imagined. Oh, Lord.....that was about all I could think. Please be with me, Lord. If he acts like this, I'm not gonna make it. I really won't make it. If this kid wrecks up this trip by acting like a 30-year-old Rat Tail, I'll lose it with him. I really will!
NOTE: Moms can say stuff like this because we're moms. After going through the infant, toddler, pre-teen, and teen years, you kind of expect your kids to grow up a bit -- especially when going to a place like Italy. Darn you, Chris! (You'll just have to keep reading in the days ahead to see what happens.)

As we continued to drive along, Chris mentioned "Rick Steves" this and "Rick Steves" that. I had not one iota of a clue what or who he was talking about. Who or what is Rick Steves? A movie star? A famous composer? Somebody Chris knew from work? Somebody we were going to meet up with in Italy? A friend from college who was going to help us find hotel rooms? (No, we didn't have one reservation made! We were entering Italy totally without a place to stay! Another Chris idea, of course! ) I didn't know who Rick Steves was then, but I'd soon learn all about this character.............

Stay tuned for more of the "Adventures of Mom and the Rat Tail in Italy"! I assure you......this is not your normal trip!

Clara - "Bella"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Italy - Quotes from My Journal - Day 1

Well, I've thought a lot about how to share my thoughts with you about my dream-come-true visit to Italy, and the very best way I know to do is to use my daily journal and quote from there. After all, those thoughts were the "real deal" -- the thoughts I had right at the moment. So, let's get started! I hope you'll follow along with me, and "tour Italy" and "tour my heart" for the next several days. The trip was 16 days, but my blog will be more than 16 entries. Come on -- I could write three blogs on Chris' first few moments at Pittsburgh International Airport! What a boy! The Rat Tail Son takes Mom on the Trip of her Life! -- How's that for a good title? :)

Pre-trip Jitters - February 28, 2010 - Sunday

Wow! Off to Rome in just a few short hours. No sleep last night -- way too excited! My mind is swirling and going in every direction. Did I forget to pack anything? Do I have my passport? Gosh! The passport! I cry every time I look at it. For years and years I've dreamed about seeing my face on a passport, and that dream has finally come true. I held it close to me when it arrived in the mail. Holding something in your hands alway makes it seem more real. Yes, I can touch my passport. That means it's real!

Chris spent the night at the house on Sunday so that we could go over last minute details of the trip, and I know he was being "fatherly" towards me. He thinks I don't know how to pack. UGH! Why don't kids get it that their parents somehow managed to get through life without their guidance? I think I get upset about this part because it's a reminder that I'm getting older and that creeping fear always makes my mind think, "The kids are patronizing me because they think I'm getting too old too fast and won't be able to do stuff like traveling very much longer." Hey kids -- your mama isn't dead yet! She has lots of life and spunk left in her so please don't treat me like I'm an antique! Thanks! I just had to get that off of my chest! I hope that doesn't sound kids will understand what I mean when you get older, too. It's a whole different world when you begin the downward descent of your life than when you're climbing to the peak. Parents don't want to lose their place in the family. They always want to be parents! I guess that's a tip for anyone reading this blog. Always allow your parents to keep their place of dignity. Thanks.

Anyway, Chris bought me an extra memory card for my Sony Cybershot Point and Shoot which is the next best thing to my passport. That Sony is attached to me, and NOBODY will get near it, or they'll see a crazy Italian Mama for sure! Thanks so much for the memory card and the trip to Walmart, Chris! Greatly appreciated 'cause I didn't have the time to go there! Also, thanks a million for researching hotels, places to eat, plane tickets, travel itineray, and all the zillions of other things you did to prepare for this trip. I wonder if I said "thank you" enough to him? Chris, THANK YOU again and again!!!! I know he will never fully understand what this trip means to me, but I'll be sure to share with him my thoughts all along the way. (I can just see him groaning already! My kids hate it that I talk so much! )

Packing was done by 1:00 a.m., then a shower, then WIDE AWAKE thinking about what it will be like. Will I love every minute? Will I get afraid since I have never traveled outside of the United States? Will I be disappointed? Visiting Italy has always been my dream -- will it turn into a mini nightmare instead? Why do thoughts like these even exist, crazy woman??!!?? You know you're gonna LOVE Italy! Well, I hope and pray I'm gonna love Italy! I know one thing....the trip is happening! The trip is really, really happening, and my heart is racing just thinking about it. This has been a dream of mine since I was about 9-years-old.

I can remember sitting under the grape arbor with Grandmom Lucca when I was nine. She was "babysitting" me while my mom was in the hospital after delivering my baby sister, Ruth. Grandmom Lucca never learned to speak English, so you can just imagine the conversation we had under the arbor. She flailed her hands and occasionally got out a word that I understood. And, I sat staring at her face thinking, "I love you so much, and I don't even know how to tell you. I want to be like you. I want to vist the place where you were born. I want to talk like you. I want to know more about you. I want to see Italy!"

Instead, I ended up crying because she got frustrated with me because I couldn't speak Italian. I couldn't wait for my dad to come get me at 5:00. He spoke English AND Italian perfectly. "Why didn't you teach me how to speak Italian, dad?" "Because it's too hard." End of discussion, but not the end of my dream!!!! Never the end of my dream!!!!
Stay tuned for more thoughts tomorrow!
Clara aka "Bella"

PS Dreams really do come true!!!! Never, ever give up on your dreams!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Petritoli -- the Village that Won My Heart!

A few months before visiting Italy, friends of ours from the States contacted us and said, "We're going to be in Italy the same time as you, and you simply must come visit us. We bought a small home in Petritoli, and we won't take no for an answer You will visit us!"

And, visit we did! There aren't words to express what Chris and I experienced while in Petritoli, the small self-sufficient villa of 2500 located by the Adriatic Sea to one side and the Sibillini Mountains to the west. Talk about breathtaking! Talk about quaint, and historial, and warm, and giving one the sense of community! The essence of Petritoli is what I dreamed Italy would be, and it turned out to be even more! None of this would have been possible, of course, without the hospitality and friendship of Tom and Kirsten. It's a small, small world and friends are an essential and beautiful part of that world!

Note: Choose friends wisely, and cherish those friends always! Tom and Kirsten, you always have a place to stay with me! And, I will always thank you for opening your home to me!

This blog, in order to do justice to the topics of friendship, beauty of Italy, and events we encountered while in Petritoli, will no doubt turn into several mini blogs as I want to include photos to share with you, also. The sheer beauty of this villa is enough to make your eyes pop right out of your head!

Stepping off of the bus onto the curb in the quaint town of Petritoli, we spotted Tom running to welcome us to Italy! We were all so excited to see each other that the conversation was lively, and filled with laughter as we drove to the local coffee house in the villa to meet up with Kirsten. Walking through the doorway to the coffee house was an experience in and of itself! Sitting on couches and comfy chairs were neighborhood friends, Kirsten sitting central among them as she and Tom were the villa guests. Francesa jumped up to greet us with a hug, a kiss, and a glass of wine! gotta love the people of Italy! One-by-one, the others gave hugs, kisses, offered more wine and cheese and crackers than we needed, and the chatter and laughter continued on into the night. (Keep in mind that Chris and I had gone well beyond 24 hours without a hint of sleep, but who cared? We were far too enthralled by the experience of it all to need any sleep!)

Note: Dogs are allowed in all eateries in Italy as we learned that evening. At first I wondered if everyone there needed a seeing-eye dog, but I soon found out that dogs are as much a part of the culture as people, and so they are included in all activities, including coffee talk!

Also Note: Italians have held tight to the art of conversation! My golly, how much I've been starved for that! I haven't had an evening like this in years! Talking, laughing, sharing the events of the day, and openly and freely hugging and kissing! I cannot even tell you how much I've missed that element in my life. I grew up living in an Italian town with first and second generation Italians who held fast to the culture. Since leaving, I've found myself having to adapt to a hand-off, no hugging, no kissing, and very restrained "visit by invitation only" type of living. Thank you, God, for restoring my belief that there are people left among us who still spend evenings sitting around talking, laughing, and eating together and openly and freely welcome others into their circle of friends!

After getting warmed up with lots of wine for me (hot tea for Chris -- he was a total teetotaler while in Italy!), delicious chocolates, cheeses, fruits, and crackers, we said our farewells for the evening to our newly formed circle of friends in Petriotoli, and off we went with Tom and Kirsten to their home for dinner.

Another thing to Note: Dinner is never served in Italy before 8:30 p.m.! The hours prior to that are spent chatting with friends, sipping on wine, and enjoying the home-baked delicacies of the day! I loved the Italian life-style already!

I'll end the blog on this note for today. There was only one challenge that I had to date since setting foot in Italy -- the toilettes! For the love of Pete, I got locked into every stall I used, and it took me at least 20 minutes each time to figure out the technique of "how to flush"! Tom and Kirsten's home presented the same challenge. Not only was their toilette located on floor 4 of their home, BUT it was a pull string flush that didn't always work! Needless to say, there will be an entire blog of nothing but "la toilettas" in Italia! But, for today.....Tom and Kirsten, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for introducing us to the ways of Italy and to the beauty of Petritoli!

Next item in the journal...dinner at 11:00 p.m.!!! Kirsten is world's best cook -- I'm totally convinced of that!