Florence and Rome… The European Charlie Foxtrot (Days Three and Four)

REAL TIME NOTE:  I was at my kids’ elementary school yesterday for a parent/teacher conference and I saw a friend (She is the Queen of the PTA, B and C.  She does so much for that school, including leave me alone when it comes to looking for committee chairpeople.  I love her and her kids.) in the parking lot.  She said, “I thought… ‘That can’t be Stacy!  I just read this morning that she was in France.  But it IS you.  What gives?”

Alas and alack, my globe-trotting adventures came to a halt last Sunday.  It was indeed me doing mundane things like interacting with the people who care for my children for eight hours each weekday.  I clarified to the Queen that I am back home and readjusting to my less European lifestyle (less wine, more housework).

I wrote these entries while I was on a cruise called the Grand Mediterranean for 12 days aboard the Royal Princess cruise ship.  So don’t be confused if you see me running walking about town these days.  I may have some talents, but I have not yet mastered the art of being in two places at once.

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TWO WEEKS AGO:  Let me preface this by saying… I am having a fabulous time on this trip.  I am thoroughly enjoying spending time with Kid A, my sisters, my parents, and the various other friends and relatives who also came along for the ride.  But let me be clear that this whole experience is definitely a ride on the Crazy Train.  Correction: The Super Crazy Train.  There and Back.  With very few stops.  Woot-woot… All Aboard!

This particular Royal Princess cruise has four total stops in Italy… three days in a row in the beginning, and one at the very end.  We began in the province of Tuscany/ port of Livorno (near Florence), made our way to the port of Civitavecchia (with reasonable access to Rome), and then we would dock in Naples (from whence we would be able to travel to Positano, the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, and Pompeii).

We started off traveling with 13 of the 15 people in our group.  The other two – sister D’s godparents – are very smart and paid for the Princess Tours.  The tours are expensive, but it turns out that they are usually well worth the money.  You actually see the notable things in each port, hear interesting facts while you are touring, learn about local cultures and customs, stop for lunches featuring local cuisine, and – most importantly – YOU DON’T GET LOST.  If you miss the ship’s daily boarding time when are on a Princess tour, the ship will wait for you to return.  If you go out on your own tour and you miss it, they will leave your ass dockside.

So the 13 of us were (granted, much less expensively) touring Florence on Day Three and Rome on Day Four on our own.  Our first Italian Job was simply to not lose anybody.

That is a lot easier said than done.  So is getting back to the ship on time.

We ended up making our way around the Italian countryside, without anyone who really speaks the language, and with no one who is familiar with the cities we are visiting.  When I say, “made our way around,”  I mean that we were either waiting in lines, lost, or shopping.  Instead of seeing, hearing, learning and eating all of the local stuff, we have become the American poster children for a European Charlie Foxtrot.

In Livorno, we took a bus out of the port, and then we walked down below the train tracks, through a long tunnel, and then back up some steps to the main train terminal to purchase our tickets into Florence.  It is easier said than done unless you understood the board and the stops and the stamping process for the tickets (which was all in Italian, capisci?).  Somehow (mostly because of Kid A’s Spanish), we figured it out and made it to Platform 7, boarded our train and we were off to the city of Florence.

Throughout the day, it was much of the same… push through crowds of people, not quite sure where you were going, but believing it would surely be better when you pushed your way free of the bodies.  Somebody in our group had to go to the bathroom.  We waited for them.  The somebody had to get more euros, so we waited again.  We had moved about two blocks from the train station at that point.  It was going to be a very, very long day.

We had purchased tickets online to go to the Uffizi Museum and Gallery as well as the Accademia (Academy of Fine Arts), where the statue of David is on display.  We walked around the perimeter of the Duomo, but opted to not go inside because of the extremely long lines.  There were also very long lines for the museum, but we had already bought tickets.  First we had to wait in line to change the online vouchers over into actual tickets.  Then, we had to get in another line to gain entry.  Next, we waited to go through the x-ray machine.  Lots and lots of queuing.  Keep in mind that it was in the mid- to high- eighties (°F), and oftentimes we waited in lines while under direct sunlight.  I surrendered early on to the fact that it would be a sweaty underpants kind of day.

All 13 of us were still moving through he Uffizi together at one point.  I am not sure about anybody else, but after all of the hurry up and waiting, in especially in conjunction with my underpants sweat, I was not in the mood to appreciate the many, many, many, many stone penises on display.  And don’t get me started on the violence and depiction of the hurting of the babies.  The art may be breathtakingly beautiful, but the Renaissance was not nice.

It made me miss Sheepdog and Kids B, C, D, and E very, very much.

We had a yummy lunch (tomato and mozzarella paninis, with a side of wine) in Florence, and we got to see the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, but we missed seeing the statue of David because were too short on time.  We made it back to the train station and were (not easily) able to decipher which platform/ train to board.  Our group of six made the bus back to the port, but the others got lost/ sidetracked and had to take a cab in order to board the Royal Princess on time.

The next day we were in Civitavecchia.  It was much of the same.  Bus to the port gate.  Walk three or four blocks to the train station.  Decipher Italian train schedule.  The train to Rome took just under an hour.  After debating a bus tour vs. taking the Metro and local city buses (we opted for the “local flavor” option), we somehow managed to get to the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Square, and the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel (Amazing, yet much smaller than I expected.).  Oh, and we got lost.  More than once.  And it was hot and humid again, so there were more sweaty underpants.  And we barely caught the last train (standing room only) back to the port.  The Charlie Foxtrot continues.

By the end of our second day in Italy, we were all hot, tired, sweaty, and a little down.  We all looked like hell.  My thighs were chafed (sexy, I know).  But there was a nun who boarded the train with us and she winked at me.  And for some reason it really made me smile, despite how grouchy I was at that moment.

At dinner that night, after we had showered (I showered twice because I was so dirty, then rubbed Vaseline on my thigh rash) and dressed nicely, my dad spoke to everyone at the table.  We were all kind of defeated by our less than stellar travel days so far, but he decided to put a positive spin on it all.  It’s what he does.

Someone asked how he was doing.  He started off by giving his standard response that comes out anytime we are doing anything together, even though he may be miserable (like anytime we take him shopping, or when he is wandering around a foreign country in unbearable heat with a twisted and swollen ankle, hobbling up and down the gajillion steps of the Vatican Museum).

He said, “I’m good.  I’m with my girls.”  And he really meant it.  But then he added something else.

“I learned two things in Italy.  First, I learned that there are things in this world that are older than me,”  I’m sure his body was feeling every minute of his age at that point; I know mine sure was.

Then he went on, “…and second, I learned that my girls love me very, very much.”

I think he added that part because we were walking behind him all day waiting to catch him if he fell.  And he’s a big guy (6 feet, 4 inches tall), but we totally would have caught him.  We made sure he had enough water and got to rest occasionally, wore his sun hat so his head wouldn’t get burned, and even found an elevator at the very end of the museum tour.  And just maybe the nun saw us watching out for him and that’s why she winked.

Who knows?  I’m delirious at this point.  Somebody please pass the wine.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

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