Have you ever noticed how long it takes to walk through an airport terminal; almost feels like slow motion, way too much time to think, especially for someone like me. We were dropped off at the terminal. One might think we got very lucky when checking our luggage because the limit is 50lbs per bag, not that I knew that, and mine weighed in at 80 lbs. My children started to cringe. Granted, the nice gentleman at the counter let it pass (Husband: no he didn’t; I am a million-mile flier and am entitled to excess weight without charge), but all I could think was what else had he let pass through that day?
We have made our way to the United Club Lounge because of my husband’s status with United Airlines (Husband: no; we are there because I pay a $500 annual membership fee) and, naturally, no tables are available but we have managed to find a few seats along the wall. My daughter of course goes straight to the buffet, my son is searching for Pokemons within the lounge, my husband is preoccupied with paperwork and I have the perfect view to watch everyone and make my personal decisions as to who is dangerous and if that person will be on our plane or if the woman wearing the winter coat in July is hiding something under it. Why isn’t anyone else seeing this?
At this stage fear has taken over and I am numb on the inside but still trying to communicate with my children. The lightning from the storm that was coming is now visible through the terminal windows. I can’t help but think that maybe it’s an omen of some kind. I am so tired.
I was reluctant to travel to Italy for obvious reason from the beginning but these reasons were not so obvious to my husband and certainly not to my children. As we moved through the planning stage my anxiety built up to the point of creating physical symptoms.
A mom first, how could I not worry about the ‘what ifs’ given the state of affairs in the world today? Nowhere could be taken for granted anymore as a safe place. Concerts, movie theatres, shopping malls were all being targeted; it made no difference where you lived, and all of this could be considered local let alone international.
At the same time how do I deny my children the right to experience beautiful places, other countries and different cultures? It would not be fair, but I cannot help but think at what cost?
-Walked into the Rome Marriott Hotel Flora http://hotelfloraroma.com/ at around 10AM Italy time but as we had flown overnight I felt like I was sleepwalking into a very bad dream. The fact that our rooms were not ready at the precise moment we arrived did not help any. Didn’t they know we were from New York? I wondered before I got here how I would communicate since the only Italian I was familiar with was helping my son study for his Italian tests in school. However, I found that although it was very frustrating, I was able to get my point across very nicely and, even though we still had to wait a while to get in the rooms, I would like to think that I helped expedite the procedure or maybe I needed to think that. (Husband: the kids and I hid from sight while she went full New York and tore strips off the front desk at maximum volume because the early-check-in I had paid for wasn’t ready.)
The room itself was very welcoming but just not enough to calm my nerves. How was I going to get out of here if there was a bomb? There was no time to be impressed by a hotel. Given my state of agitation, my husband thought it best to find someplace within walking distance for dinner our first evening in Rome, Il Fiammifero Strano https://www.facebook.com/Il-Fiammifero-Strano-299571573505152#_=_ was the choice. Set on a very quaint street, it looked one of those pictures in a magazine. He ordered wine immediately, can’t imagine why. (Husband: indeed.) After the first glass and the picturesque dish of pasta that was put in front of me, I realized I was in Italy. Some of our family had flown in from Prague for the weekend and that made the evening very convivial.
The trip had been planned for over a year and although the anxiety of the trip was anticipated, I never considered the full impact of it until we disembarked from the plane on portable stairs onto the tarmac, and we had flown in from Newark! I thought when you flew from Newark you would arrive someplace with a similar airport; once again I was wrong! Although there seemed to be buses waiting for the passengers, there was no one who spoke enough English to explain the procedure now that we were there.
Where is the security? That is what I was thinking as we walked into the Vatican. This will be our first full day here and our tour guide, Giovanni, picked us up at 9AM. The Vatican was our first stop and a private tour had been planned. Giovanni introduced us to Valentina, who under any other circumstances I probably would have liked but given I was in ‘security’ mode that was all I could focus on, much to the disgust of my husband who, I should mention, is English and travels to Europe as frequently as I may travel to the convenient store. We are doing what is called the Tour of Christian Rome which includes St. Peter’s Cathedral (the Vatican) and St. Paul’s Basilica. http://www.driverinrome.com
As the day progressed, the security became obvious; it was everywhere, but if you are from New York like I am, you can be a bit cynical. All I could think was “do they really know what they are doing?” Giovanni informed us that Bruce Springsteen was in Rome for a concert that night. For some reason I found this comforting; he clearly felt it was ok to be here and wouldn’t he have some sort of inside information?
A drink with dinner (or without dinner) was probably what I needed. We ate in the district of Trastevere in a restaurant called La Tavernaccia da Bruno, http://www.latavernacciaroma.com and once again dinner in Rome made me forget everything else for a brief moment.
I saw it on the way back to the hotel after our tour the first day, the American Embassy in Rome. While everyone else in the car was focusing on what they had seen on their first day in Rome, I was working out how to climb the walls of the embassy if I had to and which doors I would be able to open for my children once I got inside. It was three blocks from the hotel, finally something I could manage if I had to while we were here.
Giovanni was picking us up at 9:30AM for our second day of sightseeing. Most likely from being mentally and physically exhausted, I managed to sleep a bit. Our first stop was the Colosseum and all I could think of was Ben Hur. The Parthenon (Husband: no, wrong city. The Pantheon), the Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Navona http://www.aviewoncities.com/rome/piazzanavona.htm were only a few of the stops planned for today. Each attraction took me deeper and deeper. At first it was superficial, but then I wanted to know when, how and why. I liked it here; it seemed to me so far away from anything I ever knew. It wasn’t just the wonderment on my kids’ faces now, I was here too.
Dinner at Virginiae next to the Piazza Navona https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d1894666-Reviews-Virginiae-Rome_Lazio.html was the perfect ending for what turned out to be a pretty perfect family day!
My phone alerts were going off. I had set my phone to receive any newsflash from any place in the world. Of course I had to stay connected, what kind of mother, person would I be if I weren’t connected. How would I know if we had to leave? Registering for S.T.E.P (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) https://step.state.gov/step/ was only part of my safety precautions. What if they were trying to reach me?
An early breakfast, sad goodbyes to family and we will be on the road.
Leaving Rome feeling mildly relaxed, but can’t help thinking each mile we drive towards Tuscany is one more mile away from the airport that would take us home. I was comfortable in Rome, I had gotten used to it, what was the point of leaving? Well, part of our plan was to drive from Rome to Tuscany, because that is what people do when they travel, they map out trips and this trip was mapped out!
Regardless of how I felt, I was in no way prepared for the hotel we were walking into in Tuscany.
I cannot stay here was all I said to Michael. To be fair, Michael had done a great deal of research but even he can be fooled sometimes. He was looking for an apartment-type setting in Tuscany. Just for the record, Hotel Terre Rosse http://www.hotelterrerosse.com was not a good choice. Even if I could have got over the room which needed many updates, the musty smell, the AC that did not work, and the shower stall that looked like it would collapse while you stood in it, I could not get past the numerous insects everywhere. As Michael said, “it was Scout camp without the amenities”. Challenging as it will be, tomorrow we will find another hotel.
One comforting fact for an American who doesn’t travel well – in Italy the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, or, if you’re going to be technical, the left side, which in my world is the right side. Bottom line, if I had to drive, I could. Reading the signs, another story, but I figured I could always ask my kids to use Google Translate if necessary.
My daughter and I entered alone but I knew before we walked in that this was where I wanted to stay. Sara at the reception desk was as accommodating as she could be. Given we were meeting more of Michael’s family (Husband: the UK branch this time) we needed three rooms and not only did she find them for us, they were all on the same floor. Villasanpaolo http://www.villasanpaolo.com/en/, located in San Gimignano, was the type of resort you could search months for prior to a trip so to say we got lucky was an understatement. (Husband: I found it; that was not luck. What was lucky was to find three rooms for ten days at the height of the season with no notice.) A villa located in the middle of gardens with its own Olive grove and views of Tuscany from wherever you stood, as well as a spa with an indoor/outdoor heated pool, saunas and a Turkish bath was all of a sudden very appealing.
For dinner my husband wanted us to have the true feel of Tuscany, Casa Alle Vacche http://www.casaallevacche.it/en/the-farm/ had just that. The ‘farm’ as it is referred to takes particular pride in its grapes which are transformed into their signature wines, a few of which we are experiencing this evening. Add to that their homemade olive oil, bread and antipasto, there is not much more that I need.
I knew what I was. I was a ‘soccer mom’ who became a ‘security mom’. There were other ways of describing this but after watching a news story written by Sebastian L. Gorka, I realized I was not alone, It was a new feeling of awareness that was driving everything I did, it was becoming all-consuming.
“It’s the soccer moms at the soccer game. It’s the people picking up their groceries at the grocery store. It’s those American kids in a concert, an American concert, in downtown Paris, or at a Christmas party in San Bernardino. There is no front line in this war. The front line is when you leave your house in the morning – that’s the front line, he warned. This is the reality.”
Watching my daughter and her niece reconnect after so many months is one more reminder of why we are here. The pool is literally set in the middle of the olive garden with a peacefulness that I am learning is part of this culture. Sharing lunch at the pool and taking time to just breathe a bit.
Dinner this evening at Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a family-owned farm that serves wine made from the grapes grown in their own vineyards, olives from their own trees and homemade pasta all while overlooking San Gimignano at dusk. It is as special as it sounds and once again my husband made an excellent choice.
Some women worry about everything and I am one of them. It’s a lot of work to try to manage everything not only for yourself but for your children and husband as well. Now add the fact that you have to keep them safe against new threats that can affect your everyday life and it adds a whole other dimension to your role as a mother and wife.
Shopping in Florence was the plan for today. Given my daughter will do just about anything to get me to take her shopping at the Garden State Mall at home, you can only imagine the level of excitement knowing she was going to shop in Florence. Via de Tornabuoni, Piazza della Signoria, Piazza Del Duomo are a few of the places we visited.
My best purchase, a custom leather belt for my son for 28 euros. Priceless!
Dinner proved to be interesting, Taverna L’Antica Fonti http://www.tavernaanticafonte.it. The restaurant was located in the old (14th century) hilltop part of Certaldo, birthplace of Boccaccio, and while the intention was good, no one explained to me that we had to walk up the hill to get there! (Husband: the guidebooks didn’t show that road access was restricted to residents).
The hike made us late which made us miss our reservation. So even though we finally made it up the hill, and I am sure a good part of the town (Husband: and Central Tuscany) heard the crazy American cursing as I was climbing it (Husband: she doesn’t suffer in silence), we did not even get the advantage of the views because we were promptly seated inside, which, although very quaint, was not part of the plan. Can’t even remember the food because I was so aggravated once we got there! The reviews are good though and my kids enjoyed it so I’m sure it was ok.
How am I meant to know what and/or where is a safe place to eat, walk and/or drive in a foreign country. Given I married an Englishman, is it too much to expect that if we are traveling abroad, he would do the research involved? (Husband: discovered the next day that there was a funicular to take you from the parking areas to the top of the village. Didn’t immediately share this information…)
We were due to have a relaxing morning and this was it!
We were also running out of clothes at this stage so my husband and his oldest son went in search of a laundromat. Yes, there are laundromats in Tuscany, but if it were up to me, I would have let the hotel do the clothes given they offered the service. However, as my husband pointed out, at 12 euros per piece and 7 people in total, it would have been instead of dinner for the rest of the week! In one of my more supportive moments, I kissed him goodbye and went to lay by the pool. After all, I had brought enough clothes with me so they were on their own.
The biggest surprise to me, I was able to relax and completely enjoy the scenery!
Ok, so dinner is a different story. When you are traveling with extended family they say you are supposed to have an open mind, I am not very good at the ‘open mind’ thing!
Il Mangione in Siena, https://www.facebook.com/ilmangionesiena/ was buried in a side street and this is where my oldest stepson wants to eat! Granted, my attitude going in probably did not help, but I think he managed to find the worst restaurant (if you can call it that) in Italy. A bit too authentic for my taste and given I didn’t even like the wine we ordered that night, I pretty much sulked my way through. (Husband: yup.)
OK, so we are in the home stretch of our vacation, we arrived here safely, we have not been attacked by anyone, we have not been poisoned by the food, no bombs have gone off, I have not gotten stuck in any elevators, flights have not been canceled and my cell phone is working and has not been infiltrated by any foreign spy. So, just maybe for the few days we have left, I might focus on this beautiful country and pretend that we are safe here.
A day to explore Tuscany. A small town is always fun to explore with a cup of coffee in your hand on a weekend day, but a small town in Tuscany will give new meaning to the words ‘small town’.
Monteriggioni, http://www.monteriggioni.info is surrounded by a curtain wall and towers with cobblestone walkways and paths that leads to stores that sell custom and homemade goods. My personal favorite, a loom shop that sells handmade scarves and sweaters that they make right on the premises. My only issue is that the restaurants only want to deal with you if you speak Italian, so my New York accent (never knew I had one) did not go over very well when I tried to make a reservation for lunch. Much to my surprise my husband manages to speak different languages when he has to, still don’t know how he does that, and we were able to eat a very authentic lunch.
Well, my stepson more than made up for his previous bad choice of restaurants this evening when he chose La Mangiatoia, back in San Gimignano, for us to have dinner. https://www.facebook.com/lamangiatoia1977/.
Sitting outside in this beautiful town with unlimited wine, antipasto and homemade pasta made it a perfect evening.
When your children are safely sleeping in their beds, your husband is content to be where he is and you have family all around you, you allow yourself the time to relax. An early morning cup of tea, on a deck surrounded by sunflowers and olive trees is better than meditating and I was slowly being pulled in.
As our original accommodations had a kitchen, (that was the bad dream I spoke of early on), Matt (my stepson) had planned a few meals for us, so although desperate to cook with no facilities available to him he decided it would be a good day for a poolside picnic. Matt wanted us to have an authentic Tuscan lunch with all of the trimmings and he did deliver. We found a picnic table under the grape vines and next to the olive trees. I don’t mind authentic in this setting and the lunch he prepared was as special as any restaurant we could have gone to.
For dinner we met Tiziana, the larger-than-life owner, at Il Vecchio Maneggio, http://www.ilvecchiomaneggio.com/food_farmhouse_san_gimignano.html# and I would call it more of an experience, one that you should not miss if you are in this area. Family-style eating with whoever else has made a reservation that evening. There is no menu, it is whatever she has decided to cook that day. Unlimited food that even my son had a problem finishing. Unlimited wine and grappa that my husband had trouble finishing, just to keep it in perspective.
So what if it was ok to travel, what if I didn’t have to worry about everything? What if there was no penalty for enjoying yourself? Imagine the possibilities. I did.
My son doesn’t make many requests, so when he asked to see the leaning tower of Pisa in Cathedral Square, http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/pisa-cathedral we felt having come all this way, he was entitled to that, especially because of a report he had done in school. Personally I found the Fallen Angel, https://m.viator.com/photo/pisa/leaning-tower-of-pisa/1-3-56/photo.htm more interesting than the tower but if you are going to be in Italy, I suppose you should see it at least once. Lunch at Antica Trattoria Rosemary in Pisa was ok… As long as my son can get a dish of pasta, he’s happy and I can relax, but I feel no need to go back there.
Dinner back in San Gimignano at Osteria Delle catene http://www.osteriadellecatene.it was a lucky find. No reservations and he took us all in. Great food. Hotel California playing was playing in the background which felt like a welcome mat had been laid out for us. Very enjoyable evening.
Although conscious of my surroundings, I was not focused on that anymore. I appreciated where I was now. I was able to enjoy my family.
A clear day to explore! Given my first experience in Siena did not work out quite the way my husband wanted it to (it’s his favorite city in the world), we decided this would be a good morning to explore the streets and find the hidden beauty in the town, which by the way, is not so hidden! A little shopping, a few gifts and we are ready for a light lunch. Osteria Pane e Vino, https://www.facebook.com/Osteria-Pane-e-Vino-544255002291402/ was on one of the side streets by the Piazza del Campo and was perfect. The sun was very hot this day so we were a bit hungry, tired and cranky but after lunch, felt so much better. My only complaint (and this seems to be in many restaurants in Tuscany), they all seem to forget the top part of the toilet seat. It’s like going into a men’s room; would love to know the reasoning behind this!
Dinner this evening in San Gimignano at La Mandragola, http://www.locandalamandragola.it/en/ referred by a friend of mine who had just returned home from this area. She messaged me on Facebook and said we should not miss it and she was right! Outdoor garden, great food and great setting in the heart of the town, quickly became one of my favorites as well!
Only one more day. I knew I would miss it here and to think I almost missed it completely, how sad that would have been.
6:24 PM Italy time; our last night here, my kids and husband are showering and getting ready for dinner. I found a quiet spot, a type of veranda off the hotel restaurant overlooking the valleys and hills of Tuscany. Ceramic tables, wrought-iron chairs, green umbrellas, terra cotta and brick walls. Olive trees, rolling hills and bright flowers that go as far as I can see. The waitress just brought me a glass of Vernaccia, grown locally in San Gimignano, http://www.wine-searcher.com/regions-vernaccia+di+san+gimignano. I don’t think a setting or view could be better than what I am looking at, it almost feels like a reward but that would be presumptuous on my part, maybe more like a gift. I have learned to appreciate Tuscany and the cities and towns within it. I would like to think I can come back, it feels special here and I feel privileged to have experienced it. (Husband: it took me fifteen, yes fifteen, years to persuade her to come here.)
For dinner this evening, decided to go back to where we started our first night here, it was that good! Case alle Vacche . http://www.casaallevacche.it/en/
So, was it worth it? My 14-year-old son stepped out of his comfort zone, my 16-year-old daughter enjoyed every moment and even met someone the last day, my husband relaxed and I proved to myself I could do it! Yes, it was more than worth it and given the opportunity, I would do it again.
More sad farewells to family. Then driving back to Rome, early morning flight tomorrow morning. No, still not comfortable driving here, so while my husband drives, I start to think again. The impending flight home, the airport Marriot in Rome, the fact that my husband has to drop off the rental car and leave us alone for a bit, the fears are there, just beneath the surface but this time it is the sunflower patches that I am focused on, the mountains and my kids’ quiet conversation in the back seat of the car.
As we walk into the airport, I try not to focus on the sharpshooters surrounding the airport. I suppose in a way it should be comforting. It is still a bit unnerving, if you ask me, but I found that staying focused, looking at my family and knowing I would be home later that day had a very calming effect.
12:27AM Just got into my own bed!
It is an inner battle, one that is not easy to win given my every waking moment is consumed with the health and safety of my children but everyone needs a vacation and someplace between Rome and Tuscany this trip became a vacation – much to my surprise I might add.
*It should be noted that while we were away there were seven incidents around the world that suggested terrorism was involved. In Germany a suicide-bomber, separate incidents in Turkey, France, New York, Afghanistan, Fort Myers, Florida and Japan.