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From Strong Roots…..

Grow Mighty Girls

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Family Travels

Packing List Sonoma

When possible and practical, I like to include the details of a packing list for my various adventures. Partly, this is to perhaps help others in their journeys. I have to admit, though, to a certain selfish agenda. You see, I struggle with the packing. I want to have all the right things at all the right times. Kind of a tall order when you are allotted fifty pounds and one bag. Also, I want to be a minimal traveler. You know, the one who rolls through the airport, jauntily toting one weekender bag which will sustain her for a month or more in a foreign country. I have a long ways to go.

The packing for this trip was instructive. Mostly because I kind of messed it up. So I thought I would share. Maybe it will help both of us next time around.

I’ll start by confessing that I packed for the trip I wanted to have, not the trip I was actually going to have. Pretty much always a bad idea. You see, I wanted to escape for a sunny and relaxing getaway, replete with lounging in the sun, running, yoga, hot tubbing, strolling through the nearby small town, and sipping wine at sun soaked wineries. I envisioned a lot of sun and outdoor time. Never mind that the forecast called for clouds, rain, and highs in the upper 50’s. Not to worry. I’d just bring layers.

My other posts about this trip will detail what we did, for now we will just focus on what worked, and what didn’t, from the packing standpoint.

Yes:

-Hat (for sitting in the hot tub during a rain storm. Also for wearing while snagging croissants in the early morning pre-shower hours)

-Running clothes (short sleeve top with arm warmers, crop leggings, headband, lightweight mittens, socks, water bottle)

-Comfy pajamas, like these from Cuyana. Seriously, these are the best!

Cuyana Pima Cami

https://www.cuyana.com/dw/image/v2/BDQQ_PRD/on/demandware.static/-/Sites-master-catalog-cuyana/default/dwaf6a87e0/white_900x900_pimacami_black.jpg?sw=1600
Cuyana French Terry Tapered Lounge Pant

https://www.cuyana.com/dw/image/v2/BDQQ_PRD/on/demandware.static/-/Sites-master-catalog-cuyana/default/dw07e5420a/pdp_white_hero_900x900_ja20_frenchterrytaperedloungepant_black_0325_4.jpg?sw=1600

-Hanro tank. This is the only multipurpose cami you need and is perfect for travel. It can layer under anything and is so comfortable you will wear it for lounging and sleeping, too.

Hanro Soft Touch Tank

-Lounge wear (one pair joggers and one pair tights, two zip up lightweight sweatshirts)

-Swimming suits (more than one so that you always have a dry one)

-Patagonia pull over fleece (absolutely essential for staying warm)

-Light weight rain jacket (for staying dry; obviously)

-Other essentials: jeans, long cardigan style sweaters, long sleeved white button down shirt, two short sleeved casual shirts, one long sleeved casual shirt

Needed:

-More lounge wear, much more lounge wear (bought a pair of Vuori joggers and a comfy hoody at the running store to round out my lounge attire)

-One or two more long sleeve, fitted shirts that could layer under a fleece, jacket or vest.

-Slippers (What was I thinking? The house was chilly and the floors downright cold. Purchased a pair of thick socks to get by.)

-Warmer jacket and/or vest

No:

-Too many sweaters that I thought I would wear alone (but it was too cold) and they were too bulky or loose for layering.

-Too many short sleeve shirts. Believe the weather. It’s usually correct.

Despite my clothing misses, my shoe game was on point. Birkenstocks, Oofos slides, running shoes, Paul Green sneakers, All Bird slip ons. Spot on.

Reset

A little over a year ago, the world was shutting down. We didn’t know where we could go, what we could do, how to be safe. Supplies were purchased, tears were shed, plans were canceled. For many of us, there has been no travel. It has now been 13 months since I stepped on an airplane.

For a long time, I simply had no desire. It was too risky to sit in airports, share space on planes, or contemplate navigating lodging and food and activities in a manner that was going to be safe. It felt too irresponsible to my patients to knowingly put myself at risk and then return to caring for them. It was all too hard.

Two months ago, with the protection afforded by a COVID-19 vaccine, I began to contemplate traveling again in this world. It’s far too soon for me to leave the country, but perhaps I could venture out a bit. I thought about my options (still somewhat limited), but decided that what I really wanted to do was visit my sister. She lives in San Francisco and it occurred to me that a wine country getaway might be just the ticket. I texted and asked if she might be interested. There was no hesitation in her affirmative response.

(COVID caveats: I am fully vaccinated. My sister has had COVID. My two daughters, traveling with me, are presumed to be non-immune. So I still wanted to be as safe as possible.)

(COVID caveat #2: No judgment here, please, about any choices we might have made. I tend to be thoughtful and conservative with what I am willing to do. I also recognize that we all have different levels of risk tolerance. I firmly believe that we all need to make the decisions that are both societally responsible and best for ourselves and our individual circumstances.)

With agreeable travel partners secured, the planning commenced. Our target area: Sonoma Valley. I’ve been to both Sonoma and Napa on previous trips and find Sonoma a little more approachable, a little more affordable, and a little more willing to accommodate the presence of my tween and teen daughters. We didn’t have a specific location in mind, choosing more based on available accommodations than on any other criteria. I searched AirBnB and narrowed the list down to 5 potential candidates. They all boasted various amenities. All had hot tubs (a must for this trip), at least 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (another must), and all had been afforded multiple positive reviews. One had a pool (would it be warm enough to use it?), a few had spacious decks, most had beautiful outdoor spaces, one had a game room complete with pool, foosball, Pac Man, and backyard chess. I decided to let the girls choose. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they voted for the property with the game room, well situated in the little town of Healdsburg.

We secured our rental property, purchased plane tickets, and sent grocery requests to my sister, who would be driving up from San Francisco and procuring our provisions on the way. The girls and I excitedly debated the merits of various outfits, shoes, and accessories (half the fun of the trip is in the planning, right?). We scoured the weather forecasts. We brainstormed activities to enjoy while we were there. (The details of which will be reviewed in future posts.)

As we planned this trip, I thought a lot about my intentions. It had been a long, hard, emotionally taxing year. I was spent, both personally and professionally. I was struggling to feel mindful. I was struggling to feel passionate. I was struggling to balance everything. I was going through the motions and I needed to rectify that.

I often have lofty visions of all that I will accomplish when I travel. You know, sleep enough, eat healthfully, meditate, exercise, see all the sights, spend quality time with everyone, learn photography, etc, etc, etc. This time, though, I needed something different. As I pondered my needs and my intentions, I arrived on one very simple thought. I just wanted to be present. To exist in the moment, whatever that looked like. And sleep. I needed sleep.

It’s a pretty big deal for me to have my focus so narrowly defined. But I felt for sure that it was going to be exactly the reset I so desperately needed.

The Cost of Doing Business

Most of my travel posts will include a section at the end entitled “The Cost of Doing Business”. This is a list format reporting of the costs associated with that trip, or that segment of the trip. I will attempt, where applicable, to indicate how many people are included in the costs.

Travel costs can, of course, be significant. Additionally, we all have different values when it comes to how we spend our dollars. You might be a bare bones traveler for whom the experience is everything and not dependent on any luxuries. Likewise, you might find your self splurging on some things while controlling costs on others. Very few will travel with reckless financial abandon (no judgment here if you can swing that, though!).

You will likely ascertain my style after a posting or few. I like to think of myself as a traveler with high standards but endless patience for finding the very best value. I am very discerning about where I choose to lay my head at night. I will search and search for a good bargain but rest assured, I am willing to pay for quality lodging. I also love good food and good wine. That doesn’t mean they have to be expensive, but sometimes they are and that’s okay by me. I make up for my occasionally expensive restaurant meals by almost always eating in for breakfast and picnicking frequently for lunch or dinner. Experiences are of high value to me when traveling but this is where I feel I can also find the most savings. I will definitely shop the bargains, find the free passes, take advantage of extended hours, obtain the discounts that apply, make the calls for the coupons. Where applicable, I will try to note these in my posts. If absolute bargain travel is your thing, I may not be the resource for you. But I like to think that I provide insight about good value, high quality travel.

Buon viaggio!

Piedmont to Genoa or Getting Lost and then Found Again

Some travel days have themes.  Some of these are fun, others, not so much.  Almost all are amusing in retrospect.  Our third full day in Italy was apparently designed to test my navigational skills.  I basically failed but I had a lot of fun doing it.

I started the morning by waking early and decided to get in a run before we traveled to our next stop.  I set off on the winding country road, sure I couldn’t get too lost with a simple out and back route.  I intended to run 3 miles so after heading down the road 1.5 miles, I turned around.  After about a mile or so, I realized that the scenery didn’t look all that familiar.  I was in a foreign country, though, so maybe that was it.  After another half mile it was pretty clear that I wasn’t back at the agriturismo.  Luckily, I had brought my phone with me and pulled my map which indicated that somehow, on my simple out and back route, I had taken a wrong turn and ended up WAY off the beaten path.  Perhaps some day I will learn to embrace this type of situation but at the time all I could think was that my children were expecting me back at a certain time and I had no way to call them and that we had a train to catch in Genoa and a pretty tight time schedule.  Damn.

I thought through my options, hoped and prayed that my Google Maps were actually going to be accurate this time in a foreign country, and began hiking up a rustic trail through an orchard.  Eventually I came to the top of the hill and from there navigated my way back home.  Phew.  We ate breakfast, loaded the car, and set off for Genoa.  However, the navigation system in the car decided to be a bit finicky and had us going up and down a rural path multiple times.  We were hopelessly turned around, going in circles and getting later and later for our train.  I had about lost my mind when fortuitously, the correct road appeared.  It would seem that it was always there and I just didn’t see it, but who really knows?

After getting on the correct road we enjoyed a stunningly beautiful drive through mountain passes and along the coast to the seaside town of Genoa.  Total time in the car was about 2 hours.  I was anxious about finding the car drop off at the harbor in Genoa but it turned out to be really easy thanks to my eagle eyed backseat navigators who spotted it immediately after getting off the autostrada.  We dumped the car and hiked 20 minutes to the train station where we met my husband who had purchased train tickets for us.  We had a few minutes to wait and then boarded our train to Monterosso.

The train ride was less than an hour and deposited us at the train station in the new town section of Monterosso.  From there it was a 10 minute walk to the old town where we were met by our Air BnB host and showed up five flights of steep stairs to our apartment overlooking the neighborhood square.  The apartment was ideally located in the center of old town.  It was a bit noisy, though, and without AC we had the windows open all night and the noise of the town was definitely noticeable.  The long hike up and down the stairs was a bit of a pain, too.  We knew about it ahead of time and weren’t surprised but I think next time we will find somewhere a little more peaceful (which in Monterosso would mean moving only a few blocks up the street).

We had lunch at Belvedere (good pesto pasta) and then met our friends at the Monterosso beach.  One of the luckiest parts of our Italy trip was convincing our good friends to join us in Monterosso for nearly a week.  The girls had friends to play with and the adults had good companions for a variety of activities.  If you’ve read my earlier posts you know I love traveling with friends and having our friends with us on this trip was indescribably amazing.

Anyway, I digress.  The kids hit the ocean, we lounged on the chairs and drank prosecco and soaked up the Italian sun.  Life is good!

At the end of the day it turns out that we got lost a few times.  But we also got found.  And at the very end of it all we found ourselves with our dear friends on a beach in Italy, enjoying the good life.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

A few logistical details: the main beach in old town Monterosso is a pay to play operation.  You rent lounge chairs for the day.  You can also rent paddle boats which were a big hit with the girls.  There is a small walk up restaurant and you can order at the counter or from your chair.  There are sandwiches, salads, etc as well as snacks and drinks.  Beach loungers with umbrellas were 20 euros for the day, lower cost for a basic chair.  The food and drinks were very reasonably priced

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Seaside in Monterosso

 

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End of the day

The cost of doing business (4 people):

Rental car (4 days): €450

Wine: €49.50

Lunch: €71.50

Dinner: paid for by our friends

Groceries: €17.85

Train tickets: €29

Beach: €20

Gelato: €8.80

Piedmont Day Two

The day dawned sunny and peaceful which was more than I could say for the night prior which saw me awake for 3 hours wrestling with the jet lag demons.  We enjoyed breakfast at our agriturismo then hopped back in the car to journey to our second winery, Ceretto.  Ceretto is a family run vineyard located just outside of Alba and produces glorious Barolo wine in addition to Barbaresco and a lovely Arneis. They offer typical wine tastings as well as a wine trek which allows you to explore the entire property.  I was intrigued by the idea of wine trekking so booked the experience months in advance (absolutely necessary).  This turned out to be a very enlightening, educational experience both for myself and my children.  We toured the vineyards, hazelnut orchards, and greenhouses which provide produce for the family owned restaurants in Alba. We received a rich history of the land and family as well as the wines that are produced there.  An absolute experience of terroir.

Side note: bring comfortable, closed toe walking shoes.  The paths are dusty.  If the day is hot, also bring along a water bottle, sunscreen, hat, etc.

The trek lasted for approximately an hour and was followed by an hour long wine tasting in the air conditioned tasting room with magnificent views of the vineyards.  The staff very graciously accommodated my children who enjoyed the views and the snacks of grissini and hazelnuts.  We tasted a variety of exceptional wines during the tasting and before leaving I purchased a multitude of bottles.  A few to keep and consume during our trip but many, many to send home.  The Arneis was a crisp, refreshing white, perfect for summertime drinking.  Cases of Barolo were also sent home to age in the wine cellar.  I also purchased two special bottles of Barolo Prapo.  This was first produced by Ceretto in 1976, the year I was born.  These bottles will kept and one will be opened on each of our daughters’ 21st birthdays.  (They will be ruined for mediocre wine!)

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View from the Ceretto property.

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View of the gardens and greenhouses.

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Destined for the restaurant!

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So many choices!

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Vines of nebbiolo.

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From the vineyards looking up to the tasting room.

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Following the tasting we went back to the agriturismo for a lazy afternoon of lying by the pool, snacking and napping.  Dinner was enjoyed on the patio as we snacked on our assorted meats, cheese, fruits and vegetables, played games and enjoyed each other’s company.

The cost of doing business (3 people):

Wine purchased from Ceretto: €1089

Gelato: €4.50

Groceries for dinner: €16

Desserts: €4

Parking: €2

Lunch: complimentary

Lodging in Piedmont for two nights: €336

Piedmont Day One

Following a not so auspicious start to our Italian trip, we woke on our first full day of vacation to clear, sunny skies and improved outlooks on life.  We ate a quick breakfast at our hotel and hopped in our rental car in search of a gas station.  We found one without too much difficulty and I thanked my lucky stars that I had at least briefly skimmed the information in my guide book about gas stations in Europe.  This one was full service (!!!) which was a major plus.  It felt decadent to just pull up and allow someone else to figure out what gas to put where.  After a huge sigh of relief, I entered our final destination into the GPS and we hit the road.

We headed towards the small Piedmont town of Alba.  We had a reservation at an agriturismo in an even smaller Piedmont village, La Morra, and wanted to explore Alba on our way there.  With the help of GPS and my backseat navigators we hit the Italian autostrada.  The roadways were really easy to navigate and traffic was fairly light making the entire experience as stress free as it could possibly be.  We drove through farmland and countryside with occasional glimpses of the Alps towering in the distance.  The drive took us approximately 2 hours and we arrived in Alba just before lunch time.  We parked in a small parking garage and walked to the town center.  From the center there is a pedestrian only shopping area that extends for a few blocks.  We snagged an espresso (and restroom) and then explored the shops.  Hazelnuts and truffles are produced in this region and can be found in many of the shops here.  The village feels very friendly and relaxed and the streets are just the right amount of busy.  We sat briefly at a restaurant intending to get lunch but the service was poor and before we could be waited on we discovered a small food shop a few doors down.  We quickly abandoned our menus and headed to the food shop to snag fruit, cheese, salami and bread.  The Italian woman who was running the store spoke no English and my Italian is quite limited but we managed to figure it out and walked out with a lovely picnic lunch.  We took this with us up the road about 20 minutes to our agriturismo, La Morra Brandini.

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Pedestrian street in Alba.
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So many truffles!
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Nocciole!

At La Morra Brandini we were greeted with warm hospitality, a refreshing swimming pool and stunning views of the valley below.  Our suite featured a main living area, lovely bathroom, and sleeping area in the loft with a large bed plus a couch bed.  There was a common area outside with tables and chairs for relaxing.  There was a garden on site as well as resident chickens, a goat and a mule.  My children quickly made friends with the goat (whom they named Albert) and he became our very own one goat welcoming committee.

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Poolside is a good place to be.

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Albert!

After enjoying our picnic lunch we commandeered chairs poolside.  I read and journaled and the girls swam.  I spent much of the time simply sitting in my lounge chair, taking in the views of rolling hills and green countryside.  There are rare moments in life when I feel fully and completely content and relaxed and at peace.  This was one of those.

Following our respite, we hit the road again to visit our first winery,  Fontana Fredda.  It was located approximately 20 minutes from our agriturismo.  On a side note, navigating through Piedmont requires a sense of humor and a well developed appreciation for adventure.  You must have GPS or an exceptionally good map.  The roads are narrow and sometimes steep.  The speed limits are posted for a reason.  You can easily get lost and sometimes feel like you are going back and forth across the same road fifteen times.  You might be.  But I’ll always advocate that getting there is half the fun.  And sometimes getting lost is all the fun.

At Fontana Fredda, we were treated to the cellar tour which was rich in historical information as well as wine facts.  The story of the estate is really cool and even my children enjoyed it.  The tour lasted approximately an hour and a half and cost 30 euros for myself while the children were free.  While the tour was great, the tasting afterwards was very limited.  We tasted just two wines.  Not sure why the tasting was so short.  No explanation was offered.  I decided to just roll with it.

IMG_7813After the winery we drove back through La Morra stopping for a few groceries and gelato.  Then back to the agriturismo where we enjoyed more swimming as well as a decadent dinner of gnocchi, pasta, wine and cheese plate.

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Gelato time.
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Appetizer with fresh vegetables from the garden.

Sometimes when you travel you are lucky enough to be with amazing people.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be doing something you really love to do.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be in that magical place that just feels right.  Every once in awhile, all the forces of the universe come together and you get all of it at once.  That is what Piedmont was for me.  It was the most amazing, perfect people, in the most amazing place, doing the most amazingly simple yet fulfilling things all at once.  It gave me that warm, full, relaxed, contented feeling that will continue to inspire my travels for years to come.   

The cost of doing business (3 people):

Gas: €80.87

Tolls: €14.40

Lunch (picnic): €27.70

Espresso: 1.50

FontanaFredda wine testing: €30

Gelato: €6

Dinner and bottle of wine: €138

Italy or Bust!

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Goodbye Montana.

We’re off again, this time to spend three weeks touring Italy.  My daughters and I will be joined by a rotating cast of characters during this trip to ensure that we don’t get utterly tired of each other!  Unlike our last European adventure where we spent the majority of our time based in Paris, this time we are traveling around the countryside.  The girls are older and a little more adaptable when it comes to packing up and moving on every four to five days which makes this approach more feasible.  It also allows us to cover more ground and ultimately, find things that appeal to everyone.  The greatest joy for me, however, is that it allows to sample Italian culture in all it’s variety and glory, from the top of the country to the bottom (almost).

First stop…..Milan and Piedmont.  I’ll admit, the first leg of this trip was more about me than anyone else.  I don’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty about claiming a small slice of the trip for my agenda.  First, moms deserve to have a bit of what they want, too.  Particularly as the children get older there can be a bit more accommodation for our wants and needs.  Additionally, in true serendipitous fashion, my girls found plenty to love on this leg of the trip.  Even though there were no beaches or grand tourist sites, we have fond memories of little villages, local farms, good food, relaxation and a goat named Albert.

I’ve long been a lover of European wines and have recently had a particular interest in wines from small vineyards in the Piedmont area.  The family and friend portion of our trip was slated to begin in the Cinque Terre which isn’t all that far from Piedmont (if you’re an optimist with a sense of adventure).  Truthfully, to get to the Cinque Terre in a cost effective fashion we were going to have to fly into Milan.  Once in Milan, you might as well take a few extra days and detour to Piedmont.  It turns out that even a few days is just not enough, however,  and next time I’ll go back for a week or longer.

Our journey into Milan was fraught with difficulty.  When you are traveling thousands of miles via three different flights and one rental car there will almost certainly be problems.  Or opportunities.  Depends on your frame of mind.  Generally I’m of the opportunity mindset but by the end of this particular venture I was of the “get me out of this recurring nightmare” mindset.  I’ll spare you most of the details but I can’t help sharing a few of the highlights.  We were just pushing back from the gate at 6:00 am on our first flight when the crew announced that they needed a physician to come to the front of the plane.  I pretended to be something other than a physician for a nanosecond until my daughters outed me.  I proceeded to the front of the plane where I found a lovely, gray haired, tenacious woman in her 70’s who felt dizzy and nauseated and couldn’t catch her breath.  Given that I’m a pediatrician, this was not really my wheelhouse.  No matter.  It didn’t take me long to realize that whatever this woman was experiencing was not going to be improved by climbing to 30,000 feet of altitude so back to the gate we went for medical services.  After some time, the woman was removed from the plane, evaluated by EMS, put back on the plane (!!!), and we took off for Salt Lake City.  There we enjoyed a little club room access (thanks Delta business credit card) and boarded our next plane to Atlanta.  That flight was blissfully uneventful.  Upon arrival we walked around, stretched our legs, stocked up on some drinks and snacks, and boarded our plane to Milan.

Those of you who have flown through Atlanta surely know that that airport is utterly cursed.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a flight go well from there. This time was no exception.  We were just about to push back from the gate for our 9 hour flight when the captain informed us that there was a “small crack” in one of the panels that needed to be fixed.  No worries.  Within 20 minutes they would have us on our way.  I stand in awe of the optimism that airline personnel must possess.  Because as all of you know, this was not a 20 minute kind of problem.  This was a 5 hour kind of problem.  Five hours!  On the tarmac!  We were given a small bottle of water and bag of Cheez-Its to tide us over.  Thank goodness.

You can imagine the scene on the airplane.  It was all hungry, tired, chaos ridden angst.  People were threatening to get off the airplane, sue the airline, etc, etc, etc.  Apparently water and Cheez-Its don’t quite soothe the masses.  Regardless, at the very bitter end, just before the pilots timed out and the flight got canceled, the crack was fixed and we were on our way!  I was so tired from keeping myself and two children from flying off the handle during this ordeal that I didn’t even have energy to waste wondering about the safety of the aircraft.  Seems like it was just fine, though, because we landed in Milan in the middle of a hot, sunny afternoon, only 5 hours later than planned.

We managed to navigate through customs and immigration, get our passports stamped and grab our luggage.  We muddled our way to the Hertz rental car desk.  I know, I know.  Car rental in a foreign land attracts me like a moth to a flame.  But really, to navigate Piedmont you have to have a car and I wanted to go to Piedmont.  So I got a car.

We waited in line forever.  Literally.  Time is just different in Italy.  When it was finally our turn, the representative gave me grief about being five hours late and said that our car had already been rented to someone else.  Like being five hours late was somehow a choice I had made and now I was suffering the consequences of that choice.  But wait, magic!  A new car was available.  Brand new.  Just perfect for us.  So we hauled our luggage out to the parking lot and waited in another line until someone could direct us to our car.  It did indeed appear to be clean and new.  We loaded our stuff and headed out gleefully for our hotel.  We had made it approximately ten feet out of the parking lot when it became apparent to me that this brand new, clean, good smelling car wasn’t capable of accelerating past 5 mph.  As I merged into airport traffic I checked everything.  In drive, check.  Parking brake off, check.  Evidence of weird European car settings that I just wasn’t aware?  Nope.  So I attempted to pull back into the rental car lot which unfortunately was up a small incline.  This car wasn’t going up a small incline.  In fact, it stopped halfway up said incline.  So, I got out of the car, children in tow and trudged up the hill to the man working the booth.  I explained to him my trouble.  He looked at me like I was an idiot.  I invited him to drive the car.  He tried.  It didn’t go well.

Eventually, there were six Italian men (in full suits, ties and dress shoes, in the 90 degree heat), attempting to push this car up the incline.  This didn’t go well either.  They eventually abandoned that idea.  As far as I know, that damn car is still sitting there.

After much ado and a lot of negotiating I found myself in another car.  This one was definitely not new.  It was definitely not clean.  It didn’t smell all that great.  Come to find out, the gas tank wasn’t even full.  But the car did run and it was beat up enough that I didn’t really worry about inflicting further damage upon the poor thing.  Basically, it was perfect.  We took off down the road to our hotel where we would spend one night before heading out to Piedmont.  It felt like we had surely used up all of our misfortune for one trip.  After a shower, a stroll around Milan, some gelato, wine and pizza (I don’t like to mess around), I was certain that sunnier days were ahead.

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Gelato!
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Hello Italy!

 

The cost of doing business:

Train tickets from airport to Milan city center and back again: €40 (€20 per adult, €10 per child)

Converters (forgot mine at home, ugh) and water: €55

Dinner: €42.50

Gelato: €10

Travel with Friends

We are really, really fortunate to have great friends that we love to vacation with.  We most often travel with my former college roommate (and med school classmate), her husband, and two girls who happen to be almost the same age as our two girls.  Our first big trip together was to a medical conference in Cancun when our girls were just little (ages 3-6).  The trip was such a success that we have repeated it multiple times.  In fact, my girls really only consider it a true vacation if this family gets to go with us.  We have been to Mexico three times (Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo) and Hawaii once (Maui).  We have been camping with them every summer for 7 or 8 years now and also do a girls’ weekend every holiday season.

When we all get together, one of our favorite topics is rehashing past trips and planning for future ones.  Half the fun of traveling is in the planning and that fun is even greater when you share it with someone else.  In the many months that often pass between seeing each other, we share multiple messages about this VRBO or that AirBnB.  We debate the various merits and downfalls of resorts and camping sites.  We share our research about zip lining and food tours.  We compile shopping lists and lists of activities that we must do.  We meal plan and share the packing list.  You know, I’ll bring the salt, you bring the Ziplocks.  I’ll buy the wine, you bring the beer.

We have tried pretty much every style of vacation with our friends.  We have camped in trailers, stayed in all inclusive resorts, stayed in separate VRBO condos in the same resort and on our last trip even shared one large penthouse suite (yes, it was a blast!).  Somehow, with these friends, it all works.  I don’t think that would be true of everyone but this family is the one family I can honestly say that we can vacation with under just about any circumstances.  This has a lot to do with the kind of people they are.  It also has something to do with the fact that we have vacationed together a lot and know how to anticipate and prevent problems by now.  But mostly, they are just great people and that makes it work.

So, what do you look for in a vacation partner family?  First, I think that having kids of similar ages is a must.  That way, the interests and abilities are likely to be similar.  When our kids were younger they loved to swim (with us in the pool), build sand castles, collect shells, do crafts and play simple games.  Now that they are older we go zip lining, take long beach walks, body surf in the ocean, ride bikes down treacherous trails and let them explore on their own with in a safe distance.  Another plus is that they can all tolerate a similar amount of waiting and walking and time between meals.  It’s tough to have a two-year-old who needs to eat every hour and take a daily nap combined with a 12-year-old who needs privacy and freedom and adventure.

The other plus with similar aged kids is that we can mix it up. Nothing kills a vacation faster than sibling squabbling.   The best antidote for sibling squabbling is friends.  I can take the two younger girls shopping and my friend can take the two older girls to the beach.  The older girls can have a little freedom and walk down the street one block for ice cream while the younger girls do a puzzle on the dining room table.  When they all reunite, bliss reigns supreme (or something like that).  Seriously, though, it helps to shake things up a bit.  Having friends with you increases the odds that everyone will get what they need, when they need it, and even have someone like to do it with them.

Another attribute that I think is key in happy friend vacations is at least a modicum of economic parity.  I know, I know, I hate to bring this up.  Money is a touchy subject but one that has to be negotiated and agreed upon in order to pull off a successful friend vacation.  I love that our vacation partners are reasonable about money.  I know they won’t agree to take a vacation with us unless they can afford it.  We have reasonably similar incomes and reasonably similar ideas about how to spend our vacation dollars.  As I mentioned above, we ended up sharing a penthouse suite on this last vacation.  It was a huge unit with plenty of privacy for everyone.  The shared cost factor made it possible for us to afford some luxuries we wouldn’t have been able to afford on our own. Most importantly, we all agreed at the outset that it was worth it.  My friend and I are both very happy to pay for an ocean front condo when we are on a beach vacation.  We are also pretty likely to eat breakfast and lunch in said condo in order to save some money.  We will splurge on nice dinners with drinks but if we want a drink at happy hour we will make it ourselves in the condo instead of ordering from the resort bar.  We talk ahead of time about adventures and excursions and agree on one or two that everyone will like and that we can afford.  When we get there, we won’t be spending wildly nor feel that we have to keep up with each other.  We know that no one will be stressing about money and that is essential to a relaxing vacation.

Finally, you want vacation partners who are flexible.  We all know that the unexpected happens when we travel.  The last thing you want is a tantrum throwing, inflexible, stressed out travel partner.  If you travel enough, some gnarly stuff is going to go down and when that happens you want someone with you who remembered to pack a good attitude.  I’m pretty sure I can’t even remember all the things we have been through with our vacation partners but there have been hotel rooms that didn’t get booked (anyone need a roommate?), reservations that got lost (how will we keep these kids happy while we wait???), menus entirely in Spanish (we took college Spanish, right?), beach walks interrupted by lightening storms, ocean sick kids on boats, dropped ice cream cones, transit on local Mexican buses, poop in hot tubs (that was your kid, right?), sand in shoes, vomit in beds, head injuries, lacerations, and one really epic screaming fit in the middle of a lake on a paddle board.  And you know what? These people that we travel with took it all in stride.  No big deal.  We shared a hotel room, we kept the kids entertained, we found food for everyone to eat, we danced on the beach, we held hair while kids vomited and cleaned up afterwards, we closed lacerations and evaluated for concussions, we scooped up the ice cream and put it back on the cone (ten second rule!), we emptied shoes of sand and we helped our oldest daughters mend their friendship after that really epic screaming fit in the middle of the lake on a paddle board.

After all of that, I can honestly say, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.  The right travel partners exponentially increase the fun, lighten the load, enrich the memories and enlighten the journey.

Packing List Take 2—Mexico

Now for a brief run down of the non-clothing items I packed for Mexico.

We stayed this time in a VRBO which means that I packed a bit differently than I would for a resort based vacation.  The main advantage of a VRBO is that you have a kitchen.  We generally like to eat breakfast and most lunches as well as snacks in the condo in order to save money.  Condo kitchens are variably stocked, however, so I like to travel with a few of the essentials.  I always bring good salt as well as basic spices. Nl1s7VtIR5ynKteANbEPnwMXd4wKWyR%+ivYKrJ2EyAw

This mobile spice kit has ten common spices that I replenish and refresh as needed.  It goes everywhere with me.  Camping, Paris, Philadelphia, Mexico, you name it, it’s been there!

I will often bring along one sharp knife as well.  I didn’t this time and found this condo pleasantly well stocked with excellent knives and utensils.

Another must bring is my stainless steel Yeti wine glass.  I hate drinking wine out of plastic cups but glass isn’t allowed by the pools.  Enter the Yeti.  It keeps the rosé cold and doesn’t shatter on impact or impart a weird taste to your drink.

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I always travel with a basic first aid kit, too.  You never know what supplies will be available in other countries and you certainly don’t want to have to find out at 1:00 AM when someone has cut their foot or lacerated their face.  Trust me.

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I used a jewelry bag to stash some bandages, gauze, wrap, and Dermabond for wound closure.  We didn’t use it once and I couldn’t be happier about that.

I also brought my Bluetooth speaker which I often take on travels as I love to listen to music.  Maybe it’s because we were sharing space with friends this time but I didn’t use this once.  Given the size and weight, it might stay home next time.  It seems that more and more places have options for streaming music without having to bring your own device.

What are your travel essentials that make life on the road better?  Drop me a line and let me know!

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