E+C Tour Italy

Last night I dreamt I was in a castle, and when I awoke in search of the bathroom I could have sworn the hallway was made of stone. The night before, when Evan came home after I'd gone to bed I thought he was a Roman, come to steal me away. Apparently this is what it means to be suffering from jet lag, or else withdrawal from a wonderful vacation in Italy.

You see, for the last two weeks, Evan and I have been off on adventures abroad. In Italy, to be precise. The land where gelato is your daily vitamin, Duomos (cathedrals) sit majestically in every city, and where ruins of times long ago have become part of the landscape. Where cats congregate in Roman parks (we counted 15+ once!) and sleep in the corner of outdoor restaurants, but unlike strays in other countries, these Italian felines look well-fed and cared for, a true testament of Italian culinary habits. We soon learned that in Italy it is not acceptable to leave a meal unfinished, that a quiet night is a rarity, and that trains are the most efficient and economical means of transportation - and quite fun if you enjoy the sensation of being hurled towards the center of the earth. In Italy, old-fashioned leather shoemakers still exist, hog's heads can be found in street markets, you can rent a bike in almost any city, and brioche (pastry) is the new breakfast.

Of course it's easy to romanticize a trip, especially through photos that neglect to show the burdens of travel. The blistered feet when someone forgets to bring close-toed shoes, the soggy shoes when the other person neglects to bring waterproof shoes, the bruises and scrapes from a fallen bike and wheeling your carry-on down cobblestone streets only two-feet wide, the unpleasant smells of a country unaccustomed to the practice of deodorant (and the reality of living out of a carry-on for ten days), the blurry-eyed first day of jet-lag in a (hot!) foreign city, squabbles over who controls the map, and the added stress of not knowing if you will make it home.

See that last part is the reality of non-rev travel, which we've had the privilege of using all summer long. Sure, it's thrilling knowing you can jet-off almost anywhere on a moment's notice, but it is far less than thrilling when your return flight is over-booked by five, you are number 15 on the waiting list and you need to come up with an alternate plan that may involve an overnight train and giving up your comfy hotel room - true story. (With the right mindset this is also part of the "fun" part, but the right mindset is key!) Of course I can't forget to mention that Evan worked his butt off to make this trip happen. Although throwing bags at the airport ranks high on E's list of fun activities, it is no walk in the park. He's had to deal with predawn wakeups, back-to-back shifts, and cranky pilots (cool ones too!). His summer schedule has him working every Thursday through Saturday, so in order to take this vacation he had to trade away a bunch of shifts, and since no one wants to pick up a weekend shift, he often ended up working two in place of his one (or on the 4th of July) to get those days off. So as a preface to my forthcoming posts on our Italian adventures, I want to emphasize that photos don't tell the whole story, and that my photos and tales are not meant to trigger jealousy or any other feelings social media tends to feed. I simply love sharing our experience and find joy in the act of storytelling.

So, let's begin!

At the top of this post is a map showing our path through Italy. When Evan signed on to the airlines earlier this spring, we knew we wanted to go somewhere abroad to fully take advantage of his benefits. Let's be honest, there would have been no Italy trip whatsoever had we not had these perks, so that's precisely the type of trip we wanted to take. Italy was on the top of our list because there are so many different areas one can visit in such close proximity - and the flight loads looked pretty good with multiple airport options (which is essential when flying standby). And who doesn't want to go to Italy? We really only began planning in earnest a couple of weeks before departure, and we booked all of our B&B and hotels just one week before we left. For such last-minute planning, we really are quite proud of how prepared we were - we even purchased our train tickets ahead of time (the main ones anyway), so as to save time and hassle in the stations later, and exchanged some $ at our trusty bank. Most of our planning is thanks to Rick Steves and his wonderful guidance in Italy 2013, which we borrowed from the library of course.

1 - Pisa, because the plane was practically empty, and the city is quite manageable in size and thus easy to navigate when struggling with some jet lag. Lucca was a short train ride away and perfect for an evening bike ride and dinner. It's a small old town with a wall around it, so the bikers and pedestrians far out-number the automobiles.
2 - Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore is where we stayed) because it's awesome. Nothing else like it. Google it and you'll understand why.
3 - Florence, for the art, history and food (our favorite food was in Florence). Fiesole because it was a quieter place to stay, overlooking "Firenze" (Florence).
4 - Orvieto, because it was right off the rail line and is older than Rome! A quiet break before the noisy streets of Roma.
5 - Rome, because going to Italy without roaming around Rome just seemed silly. And there were lots of flights heading back to the states so it seemed like a natural place to end the trip.

We stayed at a few Airbnb.com places, one bedandbreakfast.com, and one straight up hotel purchased through LivingSocial. I'll go more in depth on these in a future post. For now I'll just say that we loved our variety of "hotel" experiences as they let us talk to locals and save a little money (except for in Rome). We're kind of frugal travelers, and get a thrill out of staying on a budget.

I'll leave you for now with a quick list of the top things we'll miss about Italy. And to be fair, I'll also include what we missed most about the U.S. Turns out a 10 day trip is pretty much our sweet spot, so we're glad we didn't get stuck in Rome for another day or two (although we almost did!).

Now if you'll excuse me. I'm off to rest up and begin the daunting tasks of editing 1300+ photos! I'll be back shortly with a quick post that will likely be titled "Piersons in Pisa."

Things We’ll Miss About Italy
-Brioche (chocolate croissants!)
-Good public transportation
-Our daily gelato
-Duomos in every town
-The history, around every turn. Always something to learn/explore
-The amaaaaazing pucker lemoni granita in Corniglia (Cinque Terre)
-Bonding with strangers just because we speak the same language
-Talking with local Italians who don’t understand a lick of English, and those who do.
-Reading maps - a new one in every town/museum/station!
-Swimming at the Radisson Blu, overlooking the busy streets of Rome. Most refreshing pool ever. Like a sauna and Lake Superior all rolled into one.

Things We Missed about the U.S.
-Free water at restaurants (or anywhere!)
-Free bathrooms (although we were stubborn and never once used a pay toilette)
-Cheaper food ($ not quality)
-Balanced/Complete breakfasts (brioche was tasty but doesn’t fill you up for long!)
-Earlier dinners (their time frame messed with my desire to be out walking during sunset after dinner)
-Variety of food (kind of sick of carbs, not gonna lie)
-Quiet nights/uninterrupted sleep
-Smoke-free air
-Knowing how to order a meal without feeling foolish

Wondering how we're flying standby this summer? Read about Evan's job at the airport here.

Summer 2013 Destinations:
Fairbanks, Alaska (I have another post about Alaska coming soon!)
New Jersey (and some NYC)
St. Louis

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