Traveling for pleasure is a strange thing, if you think about it. A lot of money, time and thought goes into planning and executing a trip. Approval must be granted for vacation time from work, airplane tickets, accommodations, mode of transportation must be considered, as well as practical home concerns; who will feed the cat and bring in the mail? Then, there is the travel companion, is this person a “good traveler?” Will this person enhance the experience and be a help, rather than a hinderance? After a whirlwind, fly by the seat of our pants trip to Italy, my husband and I, fondly (umm, maybe not! ) known to some as “the Bickersons,” can tell you, there is a good, a bad and an ugly to every family vacation.
The Good: First of all, Italy is awesome. In the U.S., history is old, but in Italy it is ancient. I’ve been to Washington D.C. and marveled at our progress as I strolled through the museums, I’ve walked on the grounds of Monticello, and crossed the Delaware where Washington crossed. I live in a state that was established in 1820, and have discovered old foundations hidden in the woods of Maine, and have even dug glass bottles out of the ground, discarded by settlers 200 years ago. However, compared to statues, structures and roads thousands of years old, with cobblestone streets chariots bumped over, and marble steps, worn smooth and indented from the tread of millions of feet, U.S. history seems infantile. The experience cannot be duplicated anywhere, even at Epcot, whose “World Showcase” was the extent of my International experience, prior to traveling abroad (“Sad” my husband just scoffed, when I read what I had so far. He, having already traversed Europe, while stationed in Germany many years ago. However, as he was often under the influence of Oktoberfest, and the wonders of Amsterdam, I countered with my own “sad”).
More good? The food and the wine paired with the atmosphere and the company made mealtime an experience. Savored rather than wolfed, sipped rather than gulped, every part of a meal was meant to be enjoyed, and it was. Even the price was a nice surprise, every authentic Italian meal we ate, was less than what we have paid at Olive Garden. The service was excellent, as the host, a beacon of hospitality, waved us over, welcoming us to sit anywhere, “you like table outside, yes?” Then, with a flick of the wrist, an outdoor heater arrived to ward off the chill, while a man whose moustache was pointy and waxed, surely a character in a movie, took our drink orders and sent a young man over to help us order, as the best places we found, had menus written only in Italian. Laughing and gesturing, we made our requests known and sometimes ended up with a surprise, as when bruschetta (yum!) rather than bread arrived, and meatballs instead of a salad. Lingering is actually encouraged and one owner of an out-of -the-way, authentic treasure, with only four tables, covered with red gingham tablecloths and candles, actually exclaimed, after nearly an hour and a half, “aww, you leave so soon?!?” The people were kind, and appreciated the smallest and even lamest attempt to speak their language. “Buongiorno, chiao, bagno? Grazie” all met with an indulgent smile. Thankfully, most spoke some English.
The Bad: Being sick while on vacation is never fun. Feeling dizzy and feverish is not only uncomfortable but apparently dangerous, as it led in part (the other part being a complete lack of grace and awareness) to my falling down some granite stairs at a palace, no less. Fortunately, I was not seriously hurt, just a bruised knee and rear-end, and I managed to walk a total of 13 miles that day, so it could have been bad, but maybe now, it’s just kind of funny.
Of course “The Bickerson’s ” had to make their appearance as they have on every vacation we’ve ever taken. The Bickerson’s are our alter egos. They like to show up whenever a fun time is expected and throw a bucket of annoyance, irritation, intolerance and aggravation on our heads. They take over for a while, and snippy comments, stalking off, and sulking ensues. The Bickerson’s always wear out their welcome very quickly though, and the Warner’s return before it goes from bad to…
The Ugly: Squashing into an airplane seat between a sleep and nicotine deprived, cranky faced husband and a plump, pinstripe shirt stranger, with no shoes on, who woke only to gulp copious amounts of fluids, then sleep, with his arm resting on mine and his pillow and blanket on my feet, is the ugly part of the trip. In addition, my leg room was commandeered by an oversize travel bag containing essentials such as receipts, train tickets, one half of a converter, binoculars and an empty Ibuprofen bottle. Never a good sitter, I am the person who jiggles their foot in work meetings, and who jumps up at any oppurtunity. Since sleeping beauty was in the aisle seat, both of these things were impossible. While I perched between these two, grimly counting the miles and the minutes, I noticed that we were the only three who did not have an empty seat beside us, probably this happened when we were inexplicably bumped off the plane, and were thoughtfully put back on, in different seats, prompting an annoying and unnecessary “thank you” from me. Eight hours of hell later, we arrived in the U.S., still four hours from home to the news that our bags were in London, and are bus tickets were in the bags. All in all, just the usual travel annoyances; two flight cancellations, one very nearly missed connection, several swear words uttered in Heathrow no less, the land of manners, as well as three charges for one hotel room and the need to buy two more bus tickets, as ours were across the pond. The coup de grace, and my breaking point, came when trying to exit the bus station parking lot, we realized that it took every kind of credit card but ours, which made no sense as I had just used that same card to purchase our second set of bus tickets, three hours earlier. Marching into the dimmed and nearly closed bus station, I felt like the half crazed mother in Home Alone, who is desperate to get home, and does not even know what city she is in. I stalked up to the counter, as the attendant was putting on his coat, and informed him of our predicament. “Well, that’s alright, we take cash.” He said. I counted up my dollars, knowing full well that I would be three short. “I have five euros I can give you with it, but that’s it. Either you take it, or we are stuck here, which is it?” Twenty-two hours of travel had made me bold, and he knew I meant business. He took it, and off we went, realizing only after, that now we had no money for tolls. The irony of a vacation in Europe, ending in scrapping for change for tolls was not lost on us, and we laughed, after we found a dollar, of course.
The Best: I saved the best for last, which is visiting with family without the time constraints of work. Stay up until all hours (by all hours, I do mean midnight) drinking Sangria at possibly the only Mexican restaurant in Rome? Sure! Watch old movies after walking miles and miles while chatting and laughing and reminiscing? Absolutely! Wonder cobblestones streets with a dripping gelato in our hands? Yup. Admire the grit and antiquity of Rome, and the grace and beauty of Florence with some of our best friends, who also happen to be family? Yes, we did all that. More than that actually, we created memories that will last a lifetime. I’m so grateful for them, for my family and for the whole experience; the good, the bad and even the ugly. It is what life is made of.