Greetings and Salutations (said in my best Christian Slater voice which is horrible because I keep adding a British accent). My name is Caroline and I am on a journey to turn my frown upside down. For awhile now, I’ve been in a rut, a funk, a depression if you will. I had always longed to be a successful writer, but somehow lost my confidence and have been plugging away at a job that, although I am really good at, never seemed to be the right fit for me.
I’ve been the main bread winner for 6 years while the Hubster has remained home with our little girl, now 8. It has felt like so much responsibility and more difficult for me to come to terms with than it should. Why am I having such a hard time finding happiness all the while being successful enough to support a family of 3 in San Diego, one of the more expensive places to live in America? We live in one of the best neighborhoods, we can walk to the grocery, and we have our choice of wonderful award winning restaurants in walking distance as well. My husband is President of the PTA and has purpose in his life. So why am I so sad and lost????
I found part one of the answer to this question which is…drum roll please…. I can no longer stand my job. Well not the actual job, per se, but my employer. I’m spending too much time in my life at a place that brings a wave of misery to me every morning that I pull into the parking lot for my shift. Their is so much bad energy in the place that you can’t help but feel it. And I can’t help but blame myself, is my loathing contributing to the negative vibe? And is it like an infectious disease infiltrating my home life, with my daughter learning that job = sorrow? I have to figure out how to contain, and eliminate this pandemic.
I’ve received advice to, “Just give it until the end of the year” or “Let the new management turn things around and you will be rewarded for sticking around.” Well…two years later and the only thing I have to show is a fancy new title, anxiety attacks, temporary loss of sanity, and my commissions cut. Almost all the senior employees quit the company in a mass exodus last year due to, what they felt, was the companies ineptitude and other reasons. But this girl (two thumbs pointing at my chest) decided to stay on the ship. I guess it was for unselfish reasons that I stayed, which was that I wanted to help the company get back on their feet since they gave me a job for so long and helped me to take care of my family. Also, I was worried I wouldn’t find another comparable job. Then the light bulb lit up…duh! Everyone else who has left the company found other jobs!!! Why the heck can’t I too?? WHY NOT CAROLINE? Finally, and it’s been a long time coming, I’ve reached the conclusion that if I continue to stick around, I’m just punishing myself. I mean, I’m literally sickened by it, mostly mentally. It is time to look for new employment.
* Change is scary, but sometimes the scariest changes in life are the best changes for you. *
Currently, I am taking some time off of work to find myself, to remember how to enjoy life, how to push past my subconscious which is telling me I’m not good enough, and to do things to reach my goals. Starting with this new blog (my 3rd venture into blogging in the last 15 years). I’ve resolved to try meditating, yoga, writing, and other various means of therapy. And…. are you ready for this, in one week, I will be traveling overseas for the 1st time. Italy!!!!! Picture in your respective heads – Tuscan hills, vineyards as far as the eye can see, the Amalfi Coast, Roman ruins, and the statue of David (hubba hubba…I’m a class lady).
My camping face
My next post will most likely be about this EPIC trip to Italy. So please come back, join me as I find myself and rearrange my life. Please do leave a comment on my posts with advice, inspirational quotes, etc. Perhaps we can help each other get out of our ruts and remember how to love this wonderful life we have been given.
I’ve been away a long time and am very sorry the delay. I’m still here!
We traveled to Seattle early December and had a magical time when it began snowing in Leavenworth during their Christmas celebrations! Then at the end of the month we went camping here in San Diego County. In between these events, I was helping my hubby and daughter get over the flu and then I manged to catch it as well. This flu has been an especially tough one. It lingers and lingers. I’m also completing my classes for my next exciting venture.
I don’t want everyone to think I’ve given up on writing. I’m relearning to focus since I’ve got so much to say (It’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I will upload something soon. I have a notebook full of sentences that need to rerouted into coherent paragraphs. Please stand by…
Until then, I hope everyone had a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!
Sorrento was…well…BELLISIMA! Surreal. I felt as if I was part of Homer’s odyssey and listened intently for the Sirens as our ferry pulled into port. The sheer cliffs were impressive, with the homes and hotels sitting precarious atop, beckoning us to visit and admire their views from their respective balconies. It was not as I expected. In fact, is was much more than I could have ever dreamed. It is no wonder that Sofia Loren, the iconic actress, found this area of Italy her favorite. She filmed “Scandal in Sorrento” here. There are images of Sofia all around town. I had found this remarkable city to stay in after reading about it in a few tour books, etc., to be a great place to stay and visit all the nearby locations such as Positano (#1 on my list), Pompeii, Naples, Capri, and the rest of the Amalfi coast. My co-travelers agreed, and we had booked 3 nights in the Hotel Del Mare (http://www.hoteldelmare.com/ ), a wonderful hotel in the infamous Marina Grande in Sorrento. We had called ahead while in Orvieto and inquired as to if we would be able to come a night early and they were more than accommodating. In fact, they placed us on the very top floor, with a door that opened to a sunroof with the most amazing views, one of which is my current desktop wallpaper. The hotel was the tightest space we had slept in so far, since we had previously stayed in much more spacious Airbnbs with separate bedrooms, but found the sacrifice of space was well worth it. The view from the window alone took my breath away. It was at this window that my niece, Sydel, proclaimed to us that this was, by far, her favorite place she had visited out of all her world travels that year (this girl has gone some places, let me tell you!). The hospitality provided by Tony, and all the others who worked there, was amazing and they deserve to know how great they made our stay. Thank you, Hotel Del Mare!!
4 nights means a lot of stories from Sorrento. I will try to keep it short and sweet.
Day 1 – Traveled by slow train from Orvieto to Roma. In Roma, we never left the train station, but did eat some amazing McDonald’s cheeseburgers before we boarded the high-speed Italo train to Naples. And by highspeed, I mean sign of the holy cross, please let me live through this, highspeed!!! The train was operating at speeds up to 220 MPH (360 km/h). The countryside was breathtakingly beautiful here. When we arrived at Naples, we were very wary of pickpockets due to the many warnings we received from other travelers, and guidebooks alike. We took a cab from there to the Ferry station Mollo Beverello and took a €12 ferry to Sorrento. From there we took a €20 cab to our hotel.
Day 2 – walked up to town from Marina Grande. Ate at an English pub. Staff was uber friendly, Sydel got her first Italian kiss from the server Luigi. Walked to center of town. Looked at the old mill. Train ride that takes you to all the tourist locations throughout the city. ½ hour ride. Interesting. Not as good as walking to them yourself.
Day 3 – Laundry day. It had been a while, so we walked our laundry up the hill to the city and waited in line for one of the 4 washing machines to open at the laundry mat. It was very nice to have more of a selection of clothes to pick from since we were living out of our 42L backpacks. Came back and got ready for dinner on the Marina. I had freshly made raviolis with a vodka sauce from the restaurant called RISTORANTE BAGNI DELFINO Delicious! But a very small serving. I was disappointed that I couldn’t eat more of the delicious squares of goodness.
Day 4 – Took an early €2 bus ride from Sorrento to Positano. The roadway is infamous for its scenery and sheer cliffs. Unfortunately, the woman who was forced to stand up next to me since they ran out of room, easily got carsick and began throwing up between my friends and me. It was horrible. We took the ferry home for €14, which I have to say was worth the extra splurge. Our first stop after leaving Positano was Capri (where the rich and famous go). It looked just as beautiful as the Italy I had seen in Sorrento, just a bit more secluded being on an island. The ferry then took us back to the port in Sorrento where we were welcomed again by those beckoning cliffs. I MUST SAY, COME TO SORRENTO BY FERRY. YOU WILL NOT REGRET THE EXTRA FEW EUROS. Upon our return, we sauntered over to a near by a day use sun deck/eatery, who rented lounge chairs that sat on a small pier with umbrellas, food and drink service. The three of us women jumped into the water off the ledge of the pier and quickly swam back. It was cold!! And different than swimming in the beach or bay like we were used to. The water was choppy, the ground was mossy, and I wanted out of there to go worship the sun. We took the pic and got out.
Day 5- Time to get ready to go. (sniff sniff) Sorrento, I will never forget you. I bought the T-shirt and wear it proudly. One day I will bring my husband to your welcoming arms and he can revel in the wonder which is you.
Journal Entry September 20, 2017 Wednesday; SORRENTO, ITALY
“Where do I begin? What can I say about Sorrento? How it rises 1500 meters from the sea on cliffs, switchback stairs leading pedestrians to the main city. Streets winding up with mopeds, trucks, and cars maneuvering around each other with what seems to be no actual rules, just the occasional consideration to allow someone to have a turn into the lane.
Drivers honk as they pass, and wave as most seem to know each other here. A friendly awesome from the natives is easy to come by. Surprisingly with the hordes of tourists who arrive via ferries daily.
Our hotel sits 50 meters from the beach in Marina Grande, the old fishing village. We must walk 8 mins to reach the city center upstairs and inclined sidewalks consistently bringing us higher and higher. We must stop and catch our breath several times, but use this as a happy excuse to appreciate the amazing views. When we reach the top, we arrive just in time to see the bustling town come alive. I am glad for the hills as they help me feel justified for the gluttonous eating I do here. Yesterday alone I had 2 breakfasts, a pizza for lunch, and raviolis for dinner “Bagni Sant’ Anna” http://www.ristorantebagnisantanna.com/. Let us not forget the wine! At least a ½ liter. But the house wine at €7 a liter is hard to pass up, and harder to find anything bad about it (yummy!) I ate so much yesterday I had to go to bed early.
Our plans here include relaxing on the beaches here by the water, which my companion determine to be the Mediterranean. We will drink limoncello, eat more pasta (Lord help me), and rejuvenate our souls. Tomorrow, we adventure to the Amalfi coast and set our sights on Positano. Positano!!!! The only thing missing is my husband. Hard to be without him in such a romantic place. The sites, smells, sounds, all lead me to wishing I was in his arms and creating these memories with him. He tells me that our daily calls and many pictures help to feel that he is here too.
Journal Entry September 22, 2017 Friday; LEAVING SORRENTO FOR ROMA
Sorrento stole my heart just a little. The window towards the sea, the marina with the local fisherman bring up their catch for the day, the sun decks with the tanned bodies, both large and small, old and young, worshiping the sun and relaxing. We swam in the sea while small fish swam around our legs. Drank Bellini on a sun soaked deck above a rumbling green sea.
The food, the sights, the sounds. Climbing up steep hills just to be in shock at the beauty before my eyes as the sea draws my eyes to it. The volcano Vesuvius looming above the cities across the water, knowing just 2000 years ago, it buried the civilization of Pompeii.
I will miss Sorrento as one who misses a dear friend they made at summer camp. Always cherishing the memories and hoping, one day, the wonderful things I did could be relived again. Like your fist kiss, first slow dance, and the first time I ever met my husband.
If I could put it all in a bottle and sell it I would be rich, and could afford to come back as often as I wanted, but Sorrento is to be experienced in person. You must feel the sand in your toes. Look up the cliffs at the homes above. Eat the pasta at Emelia’s and chase it down with a limoncello. Feel the sun kiss your skin as you close your eyes and lay down on a deck above the water. Feel the burn in your legs as you climb up the hills, and know this is one of the reasons Italians are so fit. Order a carafe of house wine and split it between those you love. If I could do it again, I would stay longer.
Not everyone is lucky enough to remember, or to find, their true passion in life and know what they love to do. I’ve loved to read and write from an early age. At the age of 7 I started my first diary, and kept one continuously since. When I was 9 years old, I blossomed into a bibliophile, reading all the Nancy Drew novels my elementary school library had and read all of them by the end of the following year. I would go on to progress to different authors or series, read them all, then move on to the next. Many of my childhood nights were spent staying up late reading the Babysitters Club series, Sweet Valley High series, Judy Blume (Tiger Eyes!) and Paula Danziger (I have an autographed copy of one of her books!) Eventually I moved on to the horror genre reading the likes of V.C. Andrews, Steven King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, and Anne Rice. I could go on and on about the books that I adored… Barbara Kingsolver, Louie L’Amour, Anne McCaffrey, Aldus Huxley, John Steinbeck, Louisa May Alcott… Let’s move on.
When I was about 11, I started a family newsletter called “What’s New(s)” and enlisted the help of my nieces and sister for story contributions. My awesome and encouraging Father bought me some publishing software with clip-art that would layout the words in columns and we would write about family matters (floppy disks). We attempted to sell subscriptions and sold the paper for 50 cents each as we were trying to earn money to fix up a dilapidated bunkhouse we had at our mountain property. When my Dad bought a VHS Camcorder shortly after, the news stories became fiction and my father would sit in his lazy boy recliner, popping open beer cans, and would film us reading our scripts. One time I interviewed Dolly Parton, my sister with two balloons in her sweatshirt, about what it was like knowing Kenny Rogers. My love of journalism eventually got me on the school newspaper for the full 4 years, with one trip to journalism camp at Pepperdine University. I had goals, plans, and a future that was attainable. Until I became subservient to the impending darkness that began to envelope me.
I started to develop “episodes” around the age of 16 and had no idea what was happening to me or how to control it. I felt like I didn’t belong or fit in anywhere or with anyone even though I was in journalism, choir, sports, and held school office. In other words, my feelings of isolation were self-imposed and self-inflicted. My mind told me that I was awkward, shy, and not interesting to anyone around me although I had many friends. Sometimes, I felt like I was two different people. One person who wants to laugh and go out and enjoy the world, and another who curls up in bed, draws the curtains, and doesn’t answer her phone. When I was in an episode, I could feel the two personalities fighting each other inside my head. I became self-conscious to talk to people and afraid of what they would think of me. In the many journals I’ve filled throughout my lifetime you will find poetry, descriptions of my day, deep thoughts about life, and a list of all the boys I ever kissed in chronological order (I add this because it is so adorable to me!) It is fascinating for me to read these musings and follow my progression in this world to a life of darkness and despair. Into a girl who went from happy-go-lucky to my up and down world of mania and gloom with no hope. My interest in sports, academics, and more was fading. My sweet mother was worried about me and knew that this wasn’t your normal teen angst she was working with when I attempted to jump out of a moving car, so she took me to get the help I needed.
I remember telling this wonderful sweet lady psychologist about how I could hear whispers in my ear sometimes, but it was just that I was in tune to the other side. I claimed that there wasn’t anything wrong with my mind, it was just that I was so highly intelligent that I had caught on before most people my age about what a sham our world was and how there was no purpose in growing older and having babies because why would I put children in a world like this??? She gave it a title, “Bi Polar II” and medications were ordered, which only made me feel more isolated than before. I got reckless in my behavior making irresponsible decisions soon after that. I started to hang out with a new crowd who smoked weed and drank. I found that, hanging out with them, after a few beers, I felt more interesting, brave, and outgoing. Liquid Courage! After one evening hanging out with, what I called my friend, Captain Morgan, shit hit the fan. I knew that I had to have a change of scenery or I was afraid I might do the most drastic thing that depression makes us want to do of all (I don’t want to say it, but you know what I mean).
My decision to move to Seattlecame to me in 1998 at the age of 20 and was influenced by PEARL JAM (my still-to-this-day favorite band), and the GRUNGE MOVEMENT (flannels, Doc Martin boots, Singles, Nirvana, Soundgarden – are you feeling me?). I thought this would be a place I could fit in while I worked to overcome my depression. Seattle was, after all, pretty much the Prozac capital of the world. How hard could it be to find link minded souls among the evergreen trees and the constant rain? I was able to find a job quickly and started working at a well-known tow and car service company overlooking the Seattle Slough and was making $3 more an hour here than San Diego’s measly minimum wage. At night, I would spend hours drinking coffee at the Totem Lake Denny’s restaurant over in Kirkland, smoking cigarettes, and writing stories I would never finish. I also wrote to my mother via email every few days, chronicling my life’s events living on my own for the first time. She printed every one of those emails and gave them to me when I moved back to San Diego a year later (I had fallen in love with a boy in San Diego and came back home). She asked me, on multiple occasions, to take those words and transcribe my experience into a book. She saw the potential in me then and thought maybe my story could inspire or help others. She had written a romance novel with my older sister and tried to sell it to a publisher, but they had gotten rejected. I think she thought I could succeed where she had not. (Incidentally, I did make several good friends in Washington, with a few actually moving down here to San Diego.)
But here is the Kicker…. My Point… My Biggest Character Flaw… I started stories, but didn’t complete them. I started my path to be a journalist in school and didn’t finish. Why? Because depression makes us do things that we don’t normally want to do. It takes the afflicted away from our goals and convinces us that we are not good enough to accomplish our dreams. Then we decide to “settle” for a life that is comfortable, that pays the bills, but doesn’t necessarily make us happy. I know there are a lot of us out there with the same experience. We take medication to feel more level, medication works great, we think we don’t need medicine anymore, so we quit, and then we start back where we began. It is a cycle that most manic depressed people are very familiar with.
In this age of social media, where people generalize and group people up for one trait or another, it is hard to not want to be a perfectionist and pleasing to everyone. You cannot put your opinion out to the public anymore without being blasted by someone for one reason or another. But we cannot be afraid of who we are meant to be. I do not want my daughter to be wary of expressing herself. I want to raise her to be confident and say how she feels. Just last week, a girl at school told her that being Belle for Halloween was for babies. I want her to look that girl in the eyes and say, “Belle is awesome. I am awesome. So, the costume is perfect for me. Step off!” I hope she lives her life with less self-doubt as I did later in life. I am going to pursue my dreams, succeed and lead by example!! I hope neither one of us “fit in” and just get to be our own selves because, darn it, we are freaking awesome. With the right self-care (send me a message if you wonder what medications and holistic care I use) I am back on track. For the first time in several years, I have hope, faith, and a perspective that I can accomplish whatever the hell I want to do. Why not Caroline??? I have a plan and enlisted supporters to help.
Hence, the whynotcaroline blog and my new notebook that is quickly getting filled up with ideas of new tales and reflections. I am incredibly blessed to have come to the realization that this is my life to live how I want. I don’t need to necessarily worry about what others think of my actions anymore. If I want to quit my job to focus on me for a bit, to improve my life and my mind, then why the hell shouldn’t I? If I want to write, then damn it, I am going to write! I feel empowered to be courageous!
Acknowledgements: I owe much of this to my dear friend, Cheryl Emery, and her Mom (my mom#2), Sondra Hess, who urged me to put my Italy stories on paper and start the blog. When I expressed my lack of confidence, my wonderful friend told me to forget all that and reminded me of all the years we worked together on the high school newspaper and of my skills. She is also a Professor at a University of California school teaching Critical Thinking and Writing and said she would edit my stories and give me feedback upon my request. The doors are open for me, I’m stepping through and doing this. I’m also reading this AMAZING self-help book by Jen Sincero called, “You are a Badass. How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.” (Link to the Badass Book, Author’s page) I simply call it the Badass book. It is an easy read. Not a snooze fest at all. Check it out if you are interested in giving your confidence a boost.
To my husband, Josh Nelson, who I definitely did NOT settle for. He is my rock, my hero, and my soul mate.
And since I owe everything to God, I will close with this: Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Afterword: I have had this written and ready to post for several days but have been reluctant because this is the first time I’ve really exposed myself like this and talked about my depression with the public. Those who are very close to me are aware of the demons I fight. I worried that putting this out there could put me at risk for rejection at my next job interview, but I can’t think like this anymore. I have to get rid of the “what ifs” and go for it! My past and present speaks for itself. My resume is stellar as am I. So this is me, naked, truthful, and unveiled.
Do any of you have stories like mine? How did you overcome your fight? Are you kicking ass like me? Please provide your inspiration, stories, and more. Share with me. 🙂
On a whim, the three of us agreed that, at least one of our unplanned days, would be spent in Orvieto, taking us out of Tuscany and into Umbria. We knew Orvieto was on a train line and it would be easier to get to than some of the other medieval hill towns we considered (Montepulciano, Cortona, and Montalcino to name a few.) Our train, although dubbed a slow train, got us from Florence to our destination in two and a half hours. The countryside had several fortresses and we could spy small towns perched upon hills in the distance. I loved seeing the small Italian cities demonstrating their thriftiness, and attachment to the old days decorating yards, terraces, decks, etc. with hanging linens and clothes drying in the sun on their respective lines. I thought to myself about how I was going to work on saving resources and respecting Earth more when I got back to America (recycling, clotheslines, yard sales, more walking, etc.)
The Orvieto train station is small and mostly vacant. Across the street is a building with the words “Funicolare” on the front. I walk in and, to my surprise, find that the funicolare is a trolley which rides up a steep hill, through paths cut into the cliffs, diagonally up to this hill town. Very cool! I had seen a you tube video about this while researching my Italy trip, but hadn’t recalled that this was one of the cities where one was located. I felt like a kid in a candy store, clapping my hands giddily. I was delighted, and my friends were laughing at my reaction. The town is in Southwest Umbria in Central Italy built on tuff volcanic rock 1000 feet above valley floor. We were on our way up, to Piazza Cahen, where our hosts were going to pick up and take us to our apartment. (Funicolare you tube video)
Right off of the Piazza Cahen
Piazza Cahen is where the Funicolare drops you off in Old Orvieto, next to Medieval city gates. You can walk through the Fortezza Albornoz and see an awesome view of the cliffs the city is built on. The Pozzo di San Patrizio (Well of St. Patrick) is near here and is a recommended architectural wonder worth the short walk.
Our lodging is close to the city center adjacent the Maurizio Clock Tower. We ate at an over 100-year-old restaurant named Bar Montanucci where I had one of my favorite meals in all of Italy. It was a freshly made pasta with 4 cheeses off their special menu while the girls ordered some more authentic Etruscan eats (see photo). It was divine, and I still dream of it. We purchased a delicious Chianti from here to take back to the apartment, where we went back and enjoyed the tranquility of our evening listening to the thunder outside.
In the morning, for €6, we took a one hour long underground tour and were surprised to learn that the city is built over 1200 tunnels, 3 of which we explored. Many houses have their own tunnels. Some dating before Christ. The Etruscans originally began digging them out and the continued inhabitants continued over a 2500-year span, using them for businesses such as oil making, pigeon farming, ceramics, etc. It was very fascinating, and I enjoyed it immensely. The tour guide made a good point stating that any visitor to Orvieto ought to take the underground tour before anything else because of the wonderful history lesson you are provided about the whole town. From there, your piqued interests may take you to the Pozzo di San Patrizio (famous well), or the cloth from the Miracle of Bolsena that started the feast of Corpus Christi and encouraged the building of the grand Cathedral.
Afterwards, we strolled into the Duomo (1290 AD), with its gold and mosaic façade, and marveled at the frescoes inside. That evening we had our first taste of Brunello (the best of the best Chianti) at the Enoteca al Duomo which had a quaint little patio adjacent to the Duomo itself.
Our time in Orvieto was a true opportunity to really observe the culture, buildings, and the people, without being rushed. We spent a lot of time just relaxing, closing our eyes, and listening to the town around us. It felt like the first time we just stopped and soaked it all in. We were in ITALY!!
Journal Entry Day 2 Orvieto, Italy: “Currently, I sit on our rented apartment’s terrazza (terrace) in the sunlight with a breeze going by. Neighborhood cats approach me, meowing their requests to come inside or for me to bring them some snacks. I hear the doves and pigeons cooing. The Duomo looms above me, with only one small building between it and our terrace. The apartment is called Apartment Casadarte (Casadarte on booking.com ) and, I’m guessing, is about 400 years old. The ceiling is wood beams and you can see the brick floor for the apartment above through the spaces between the beams. I love that every building I have laid my head to rest in here is older than anything I’ve been in before. The history of each of these buildings must be positively fascinating.
This city honors the Italian tradition of taking siestas, where the shops close for a few hours and re-open later (usually around noon to 4pm). The other, bigger cities we have gone to, we stuck to the areas that were heavy with tourists and found that the stores there seemed to not observe this tradition. So, when we saw this in Orvieto, we knew we had really found an authentic hill town. We also had observed that the tourists who came to town seemed to spend maybe 1 or 2 hours total here and then they were bussed out of town. I had the pleasure of walking around at night hearing nothing but Italian being spoke. It was a surreal, calming moment and I took it all in, taking pictures with my mind and hoping I would never forget the memory. “
PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT ANY ADVENTURES YOU MAY HAVE HAD IN ORVIETO, ITALY. COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS WELCOME.
Florenceis the capital city in the dreamy area called Tuscany(Tuscania) and is the birthplace of the Renaissance. Most of you can recall the movie and book, “Under a Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. Us three women were really looking forward to this part of the journey and were imagining similar adventures for ourselves here. We planned on sampling Tuscan wines while in this area, infamous for being the home of, arguably, the best wine in the world from the Sangiovese grape, Chianti!
We arrive at the Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence after a memorable 2 nights in Venice, and all Sydel and Michele are craving is some McDonald’s Cheese burgers and fries. The main allure for Michele and myself was that we could actually purchase beer at McDonald’s, which you cannot in the U.S. I find this incredibly humorous due to the fact that I had planned on eating authentic Italian cuisine on this trip for both myself, and for the ladies who I feared I might disappoint if I appeared to be too picky about food. I was far too concerned about other’s opinions. I had promised myself I would say YES to foods that were put before me and I was going to be brave about trying new foods, and here we were looking for a McDonalds! This was a turning point for me. I realized that I would stop worrying so much about what people thought about me but, for my own personal growth, I would make it a point to try different foods here. On my trip of all trips, my very fussy palate tried foods such as artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, fish, spritz, toast (proscuito and cheese), Lemoncello, Tagliera, Cantuccini with Vin Santo (biscotti with sweet wine), Sicilian Arancini, and so much more. Incidentally, we did go to the Firenze McDonald’s a total of 3 times, at least one of those times I was a reluctant participant.
LET THE ADVENTURES BEGIN!
Wednesday: Arrived around 4pm to discover my husband and daughter had a floral bouquet, Baci Chocolates, and some Orvieto white wine delivered to our Airbnb as a surprise and to let me know they were thinking of me and missing me. It was reminiscent of the movie, “P.S. I Love You”. So Romantic!! We sampled wines at Da Fiaschino (an Enoteca), found the Conad grocery store at stocked up on snacks, and ate Lasagna and Pizza at a nearby restaurant.
Thursday : We walked to the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) which was absolutely breath taking. We stopped for our first gelato and then visited the Ponte Vecchio, which had amazing views of the river Arno. Next, was lunch at the Piazza della Signoria where we saw the many beautiful sculptures. We went back to Da Fiaschino ( Link to tripadvisor for Da Faschino) and tried Vino Nobile for the first time. It was heavenly.
Friday: We got up super early in the morning and quickly walked to the Train Station to meet up with Walkabout Florence Tours and join our group for the Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing tour (Link to trip advisor site where we purchased our tour) . We were embarking on a 12 hour long adventure to see some of the major sites in Tuscany : Siena, a winery for lunch with wine tasting, one hour of personal time to tour San Gigamanoon our own, and Pisa. It didn’t take long for Michele to befriend Jenn, a woman who had been traveling solo through Europe celebrating her divorce, and we quickly adopted her. At the wine tasting, I made it a point to speak to our neighbors at the long picnic table to get to know others. We sat near a couple from Chicago, another couple from London, and a family from Australia among others. Sydel made new friends there as well, a married couple from Florida who were an absolute crack up.
In San Gigamano, Jenn went with us walking around the ancient city and it started to storm. We found a table at a café and I had my first Spritz, they drank wine. We saw the married couple looking for shelter and invited them to squeeze in on our table since all tables were scooped up quickly by tourists trying to avoid the rain. We all ended up clicking and became the “fun” group on the tour bus going forward. They were an absolute blast!
When we got to Pisawe all took the obligatory photos of each other holding up the leaning tower. These were unique photos we were going for here, not the generic holding up Pisa pics. We were going for flavor! Plus we were definitely in a wine induced fun loving spirits. Unfortunately, they are not on my camera. 😦
12.5 hours later, our tour was over. We had some planning to do as we had yet to decide where our next destination was going to be. We purposely did not book the next 3 nights because we wanted to be open to what ever adventure presented itself to us. We went back to our apartment, exhausted, and contemplated where our journey would take us from here, over a little bit more Chianti, of course!
Our 10:30 am plane from Los Angeles to Montreal is 2 rows of 3 seats. A tight squeeze up and down the aisles for sure. It would be great to be a little skinnier but too late for that… can’t dwell on the things I cannot change now. While we were preparing for takeoff, Sydel asks me, “What are you going to watch Care?” In all seriousness I replied,” The ground sinking below me.” She started cracking up and I realized she was asking what I was going to watch on the plane’s in-flight entertainment system. My response was the truth though! I did watch the ground go away from me, losing all remaining control of my situation. There was no turning back now, I was on my way to ITALY!
I am regretting that I drank 4 glasses of wine last night and have quite a hangover. I just feel icky. Like I need a nap. But I can’t really sleep yet because I should acclimate to the 9-hour time change I was facing. I decide then and there that I will not spend my time in Italy hung over. I wanted to remember every moment.
When the plane reaches our cruising altitude, the flight attendants begin to make their rounds and my friends order red wine. She asks my buddies, “Isn’t it a little early for wine?”, a foreshadowing of the first few wine infused days of our trip. When I order a ginger ale, she calls me the designated driver and we all laugh. On our red eye flight from Montreal to Venice, the flight attendant graciously gives us free bottles of wine when she learned that we are 3 women on our way to explore Italy on our own. Not really wanting to drink it I offered it to the girls who instructed me to “save it and we can drink it in the morning.” The morning?! Wine breakfast?! Oh boy… this was going to one crazy trip! I decide to rest for a few hours and gave my wine up to the others.
My companions on this trip are my world traveling single niece, the brunette 2 years younger than I, and her red headed best friend who, like me, left her husband and kids at home for our half month adventure. This was a trip they had planned together, and by God’s grace, had invited me along. I was determined to hang with them and not slow them down in any way. I had the mindset that us three fun loving San Diego women were about to take over Italy. Little did I know that Italy was going to have so much power over me, my disposition, and melancholy outlook on life that it was going to take over ME.
In Venice, you must take water transportation from the airport to your destination since there are no roads or cars. We took the Alilaguna shuttle for €15 to the San Marco district, where our Airbnb is located. In Venice there is something called acqua alta, or high water. It is when the city begins to flood due to high tides, etc. You can actually see the water bubbling up out of the drainage holes along the streets. On our arrival day, we found many streets to be somewhat flooded as the clouds rumbled with thunder.
I stepped into the water with my sketcher sandals, not caring that my feet were going to be wet. Wasn’t this what I had researched before coming to Venice? That the locals weren’t afraid of the high water here and my shoes would eventually dry and I had spares. Smug and proud of my “no fear” approach, I took a moment to look back at my companions who were following behind me, only to find that they had found a path, 2 feet to the right of the narrow street, that allowed their shoes to stay dry. Other locals and tourists I saw kept their shoes dry too because they either took the same path as my friends, or they were wearing waterproof boots. This, the very first day in Italy, was the reason why I had to deal with stinky sandals for my whole trip and why I eventually ditched them in Rome. In my defense, I had been traveling for about almost 24 hours at that point from Los Angeles to Venice and was extremely jet lagged with little sleep.
LESSONS TO SHARE: Avoid the high water if you can and don’t get your shoes wet. Bring water proof shoes to Venice or buy the funny plastic bag boots they sell for €8 on every other corner.
We settled into our lovely Airbnb near the Teatro la Fenice, a 15th century artist’s building with stained glass windows that looked down into gondolier trafficked canals who, from time to time, had accordionist and opera singers singing such melodies as an aria from La Traviata or Bella Notte as entertainment for their passengers. This lovely 2 bedroom apartment was quite the deal and I recommend booking this for yourselves for, not only the amazing atmosphere, but it’s convenient location to everything in San Marco. We walked everywhere, except to the train station, at which point we took a water bus (how do they drive those things so accurately in so much water traffic?) The only modes of transportation in Venice are boats or your feet. There are no cars. At the end of our 2 days visit to Venice, we are sitting at the train station so that we can get to Florence, and my niece makes an observation, “I haven’t seen any fucking cabs here.” We crack up and gently remind her, there are no cars or roads. This is going to be such a fun trip!!
I knew the sites that were close, as I had researched the city for my companions and knew some of the history. However, for the life of me, I could not figure out these “streets” and how which way was which so I would show the map to my niece, let her know where we needed to go, and she would get us there. I still can’t figure how the hell she did it. I would redeem myself later in Florence by becoming the navigator there.
We found our way to the many sites in the San Marco district: Ponte Rialto, Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica, gondolier rides, the Grand Canal and so much more. We drank cappuccinos, wine, and ate pasta at outdoor cafes while people watching and listening to the Italians speaking with their extravagant hand gestures. I left a little part of my heart in Venice those 2 days and can’t wait to come back and show my husband one day.