Arrivederci, Italia and Goodbye, Royal Princess – (The Last) Day Twelve in Venice

Day eleven was our second At Sea day.  It was cooler along the Adriatic than I would have liked.  I wished to sit up on the Deck 16, sunning myself and reading a book, but the wind and clouds forced me to move on to Plan B.  So I worked out and then took a much-needed nap.

Day Eleven At Sea

Day Eleven At Sea

Our final stop on this cruise is Venice, Italy.  We started navigation down the lagoon around mid-morning, and we docked close to noon.  The views coming into Venice were absolutely spectacular, made even more amazing because we watched them from my great-aunt and uncle’s balcony on the bow of the Royal Princess as we celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary with champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

It was just the six of us touring Venice together on this final day (Mom, Dad, Sisters B and C, Kid A, and me).  The rest of our group went over on their own.  We took a short bus ride, followed by a water taxi to shore.  We wandered around the streets of Venice for quite some time.  We definitely got lost for a while, but apparently you are supposed to do that.  I liked Venice best when we were alone on the meandering, narrow streets, passing small cafes and shops and houses.  We even walked past an artist quietly painting inside his studio with the doors open so he could enjoy the beautiful day.

We loosely followed our map of the city and ended up getting gelato near a church (Fun Fact: there are more than 140 churches throughout Venice and the lagoon islands).  We also took a famed gondola ride.  By that time we had gotten lost in the crowds once again, especially when we reached the restaurants, shopping, and Piazza San Marco.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I loved the city of Venice.  The architecture was spectacular.  The views were breathtaking.  I don’t know how else to say it except that Venice left me with a really good feeling inside.  Being surrounded by the water was peaceful and calming and romantic.  It made me want to come back to visit.  And it made me miss Sheepdog so very much.

And what perfect timing, because early tomorrow morning we disembark the Royal Princess for good and take a ten-hour flight back to Philadelphia International Airport.  Following a three-hour layover, we will fly to Atlanta, where Sheepdog will be waiting to pick us up.  We gain six hours traveling westward, which will make it a 30-hour day, but that means we get to go to bed at a reasonable hour once we’re back on Eastern Standard Time.

So, now it is time to say farewell to all of the incredible places we have visited over the past two weeks.  It has been an amazing trip, filled with memories and laughter, long lines and swollen ankles, and more than a few bottles of wine and vodka.  Most importantly, we got to experience it together as a family.  Well, minus the too-pregnant-to-travel Sister D.  The trip just wasn’t the same without her.

Now when do we start planning our 2014 African Safari?

Arrivederci, Italia and Goodbye, Royal Princess

Arrivederci, Italia and Goodbye, Royal Princess

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Greek Mythology – Day Ten in Athens

Our captain made the announcement from the bridge last evening that we would be docking in Piraeus along with five or six other cruise ships today.  Our ship alone held over 3,000 passengers and 1,500 crew members.  Times six!  That is a lot of people.  I definitely can’t count that high in Greek.  Also, they were forecasting bright sunshine with highs near 90° F, so get out the Vaseline.  It’s going to be another sweaty underpants and chafing thighs kind of day.

No matter, because I have been looking forward to Athens the most on this trip.  I have always been enamored of Greek architecture, culture and history.  I have been intrigued by Greek mythology, with all of its gods and goddesses and creatures, since the very first time I saw Clash of the Titans.  Athens has been inhabited by humans for the past 7,000 years, at least!  Athens was the home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum.  It was the host city for the first modern-day Olympic Games.  It is called the birthplace of democracy and the Cradle of Western Civilization, for goodness’ sake.  How could I not be excited to visit?

Well, let me tell you…

We opted for a Hop-On/ Hop-Off bus tour in Athens.  Hop-On/ Hop-Off is a great tour choice that was available in many of the cities we visited.  The gist is that these bus lines have several stops located at different points of interest throughout any given area.  You can stay on board and listen (in several different languages) as a tour guide explains pertinent details along the route, or you can hop off at any stop to walk around and explore in more detail.  You can then hop back on at any of their scheduled stops to continue on around the city or return to port.

At the port of Piraeus, there were three options for Hop-On/ Hop-Off bus tours… Red, Yellow or Blue.  There is little information to base your choice on, so we randomly chose the Yellow Bus.  We would find out later that it was not the best choice.

We started up with a brief tour of Piraeus.  From what I could tell, it’s a great place to live if you endeavor to be employed as a porn salesperson or a stripper.  But, to each his own.

Our first stop was the Acropolis.  Time for our first Hop-Off.  How exciting!

The main interchange there was jam-packed with vehicles, vendors, and people.  We loaded up on cold waters and set up the mountain toward the ticket office.  It took us a ridiculous amount of time to walk 100 yards.  When we finally made our way there, it had become clear that this was not the place to be on this day.  It was so overcrowded (and rumored to be very unsure footing) that we opted not to go see the Parthenon up close.  Instead, we climbed a smaller peak and got a spectacular view of the whole city.  No tickets necessary.

After our short hike, we walked back down to explore other parts of Athens.  We stopped for lunch (tzatziki, lamb, Greek salads, ΑΛΦΑ “Alfa” beer) and walked around a little more.  At that point we were ready to Hop-On to our bus.  It was easier said than done.

Once we finally found a Yellow Bus stop, we waited.  And then we waited some more.  While we waited we were unwillingly serenaded by aggressive musician-types, looking for money.  A young, gypsy boy came up to us and was playing the accordion (really poorly – not one lesson) right in our faces.  I did my standard, “No, no!” and waived him off.  Sister B did it too, but instead of moving on, this eight or nine-year-old boy stopped playing and yelled, “YES!” right back at her.  My mom got involved and then he said something inappropriate to her as well.  Sister B replied with, “You need to learn some manners.  You do not disrespect an old lady!”  It was turning out to be that kind of day.

So we waited some more.  And waited.  More waiting.  “14 stops in the city center.  A bus every 30 minutes.”  Um, no.  We waited with a Yellow Bus representative (who likely wanted to use his perky yellow tie to choke himself by the end) for almost an hour until a bus finally came to take us back to A4: The Acropolis & Parthenon.  Then we had to wait some more for another bus to take us around Piraeus and eventually back to the port.

The only fun part about all of the waiting was when we met a French couple who were also waiting, and we practiced our French phrases.  When Sister B said something really obscure and correct, she screamed, “Regardez-moi!”  Our new French friends laughed and laughed.

Around 4 o’clock, we finally got back to the ship along with several other groups of passengers.  We were all hot and tired and dusty, and we smelled like Greek soup.  I called out to no one in particular as we waited for the elevators to drag our sorry butts up to our rooms.

“So… did everyone enjoy Athens today?”

A man next to me answered in his thick Irish accent, “I enjoyed going there.  I enjoyed much more coming back.”

Ditto.  Athens was a big, fat bust.  Its awesomeness must only be a myth, just like the Centaurs and Sirens.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Talking Turkey (Day Eight in Istanbul)

WEIRD, REAL-TIME PHENOMENON:  Prior to going on this trip of a lifetime, I had only been on a cruise ship once.  I was pregnant with Kid D at the time.  It was a fun trip with my sisters and my mom, but I was not a huge fan of cruise ships following that vacation (you try shaving your legs with an unyielding, pregnant belly in a tiny box of a shower stall).  Then there are all of the grouchy, old people (you would think that people of every age on vacation would be happy, but noooooo, that is not always the case).  And the lines.  And the waiting for elevators because the stairs are nearly impossible to find and they never go all the way from the bottom to the top.  And the nit-picking, à la carte charges for all of the “extras” (I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a daily charge for my unborn child; but in fairness, I was eating for two).   Did I mention the never-ending lines?

When my mom was bouncing around the idea of the original six of us going away together, I was all “YAY!” but then she mentioned doing it on a cruise.  Well, bollocks (I’m much more European now, so I can use a fancy word like “bollocks.”  In the moment – pre-trip – I likely just said “crap.”).

But all of the cruise stuff ended up being fine (even the shower even seemed bigger because I wasn’t growing a human being inside of me this go-around) and I got over the lines and tried really hard not to be a grouchy, old person myself.  I had a really great time with all of my family and friends.  I’m sure all of the wine helped, too.

In the end, you can say that I am still not a cruise person, but I got to see so many interesting places and it really was a cost-effective way to travel.  I might even be on the fence about the whole deal.  So much so that last week I found myself going on the line and looking up other cruises to see where we could go and what it would cost.

Oooooh… Alaska!?!  That sounds fabulous.  We could even bring the kids for that price.  And look!  A short cruise up and down the California coastline.  That sounds romantic for me and Sheepdog.  And Airtran flies on the cheap to SFO.  We could totally do that!  

How quickly I forget.

Then, yesterday Good Morning America ran a news story about how the Royal Princess – the exact same ship we lived on for twelve days – had broken down in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and was likely cutting the cruise short, giving people refunds, and making arrangements to fly them home.  Here’s an article about it: “Bollocks” doesn’t even cover it

A college friend, who had just texted me another article about scuba suit-wearing protesters throwing themselves in the Venice canal to block the passage of large cruise ships because of alleged structural damage to the city, summed it up best… “I can stay home and have the power go out for a lot cheaper.”  Agreed.

…but have you checked out the itinerary for that Alaskan cruise?

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I woke up to a cloudy view of a crowded city skyline.  It was the first time in over a week that my waking eyes weren’t met with an abundance of green mountains and/ or blue sea.  The forecast is for a bit of rain, followed by mostly sunny skies and a high of only 25° C (77° F). The date is September 10 and today we are in Istanbul, Turkey.

Turkey is a country of 75 million people.  15 million of them live in Istanbul.  Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus waterway into two sections… half lies in Europe and the other half in Asia.  The European side has both historical and modern sections of the city, while the Asian side is primarily residential and offers much more room for growth.  In many ways (population, traffic, skyline, a general vibe of crazy), European Istanbul reminded me of New York City.  So I guess that would make the Asian side a kind of Turkish New Jersey.  I guess we’ll see tomorrow when we get to Kusadasi.

Our tour bus deposited us in the Hippodrome, which is a city square in a very busy section of historic Istanbul.  As we climbed off of the bus, it was loud and confusing and we were immediately met with several Turkish men who were trying to sell us guide books to Istanbul.  During the first week of our travels I had developed what I found to be a fantastic, universal language, Maverick-is-disengaging procedure (a loud, “No, no!” accompanied with a head shake, similar to what I would do a million times a day when my kids were toddlers) for use in such situations.  I used it in my best don’t-mess-with-me-cause-I’ll-cut-a-bitch voice, so the men left me alone.

My dad, however, had been out of the tourist game for a couple of days.  The cruise ship had made him soft, and you need to be tough or New York City Istanbul will swallow you whole.  He didn’t understand the language, the men were shoving the books (and now postcards too) into his hands, but he also didn’t want to offend anyone.  There was so much confusion and so many men trying to hand these books to everyone.  It was crazy and not a little scary.  We needed to get back to our tour guide.

I saw what was happening and quickly told my dad to hand the books back to the men and not to buy them.  In retrospect, that was probably not the wisest course of action for me to take.  The man who was on my dad whipped his head around to me and yelled with anger in his voice and fire in his eyes.

“You say, ‘No, no, Daddy?'”  Spittle flew from his venomous mouth.  “You should say NOTHING!”  The last word came out as a snake-like hiss.

Bollocks.

He turned to my dad and spitefully said, “You take.  Is gift.”  But I do not think “gift” actually meant “free,” because he and his friends all tried to get money from my dad at that point.  Blood pressures and tensions were definitely high.  My dad pulled a bill from his pocket and handed it to the man, who finally left us alone so we could catch up with our group.

So, that was our first five minutes in Istanbul.

The rest of the day was actually quite awesome, especially because it was definitely filled with a lot less street fighting.  We went inside the incredible Blue Mosque, a 17th century landmark renowned for its huge domes and 6 minarets (historically, more minarets means it is built by and for the higher classes).  We also visited the Hagia Sophia, which was built in 527 A.D., has served at different times both as a Christian church and a Muslim mosque, and is now operated as a museum.

The most interesting part of the day for me was a demonstration by Turkish rug makers.  They won me over when they first offered us warm apple tea and raki (Turkish moonshine, like the Greek ouzo), along with simit (think sesame bagel, yet more savory), but what I learned about rugs was even cooler.  The incredible amount of work that goes into making them (time, talent, materials, natural dyes) was very interesting to learn about.  Now, I have a new appreciation for quality rugs.  And raki.  Şerefe!

We ended the day shopping (of course) in the Grand Bazaar.  I was kind of getting sick of the aggressive sales techniques on this trip, but my mom and sisters, along with Kid A, were having a ball bargaining and haggling and boosting the local economy.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

It’s All Greek to Me (Day Seven in Mykonos)

This is Monday.

This is Monday, September 9.

This is Monday, September 9, 2013, and today we are docked in Mykonos, Greece.

I have to repeat a similar mantra for each day we are on this trip, else I might lose my mind.  I am thrown off by the whole waking up in a different port/ city/ country/ continent thing.  I feel like I have been away from my family and my home for months at this point.  If someone had a finite number of days on this planet earth, I would highly recommend they spend their last ones on a cruise ship.  Time seems to double or often triple when experienced this way.

Day Six was spent completely at sea.  We were excited for Day Seven so we could scream, "Land Ho!"

Day Six was spent completely at sea. We were excited for Day Seven so we could scream, “Land Ho!”
Coincidentally, that was also my nickname in college.

We have only a few hours in port today.

I’ll bet we spend some of it shopping.  It never ceases to amaze me how much shopping my mom, sisters, and Kid A can do.  Just when you think they’ve bought everything they could possibly need or want to buy, they see another store that they just have to browse.  My dad observed in Spain that he was missing the art gene.  If that is possible, then I am definitely missing the shopping one.

This port is incredibly beautiful. There is so much blue water, which is in stark contrast with all of the white buildings and white beaches.  Mykonos has a very relaxed charm, despite the fraternity/ sorority row comparison (I am just being sarcastic…. I’m perfectly aware which is the chicken and which is the egg).

Someone mentioned wanting to rent a house up in the hills here, but I fear it may be a little too quiet for me to spend an extended vacation.  I really wish we had more time to explore this city and see what it is all about, beyond the touristy stuff.

In the meantime, we are going to wander, window shop, stop for a most excellent Greek coffee, and take lots of pictures.  Most importantly, I want to put my feet in the sand and let the water splash over them.. What a glorious day to be at the beach!

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Pompeii Day – The Turnaround (Day Five)

…and then there were four.

My dad barely limped across the finish line yesterday, and he subsequently self-medicated with a bottle of room service vodka.  Even if we decided to do a tour on Saturday that included being pushed around in chariots all day, it was clear that he would not be participating.  He and my mom stayed on board when the ship docked in Naples.  They really needed a day off.

Kid A, Sister B, Sister C and I were also exhausted, but none of us had been put on injured reserve, so we just reminded one another that this was likely a once in a lifetime situation.  Who knew if or when we would be back to any of these places again?  We set our alarms and dragged our tourist butts out of bed early yet again.

But we decided after having experienced the public transportation systems in Florence and Rome, and relatively little else in both cities, we would try an organized tour this time around.

P (one of our aunts on the trip) had gotten a brochure from a company called CBM (Can’t Be Missed) when we were leaving Rome.  Their tour was only 65 euros and included the spots we wished to see.  That was to be the tour for us!

We left the port proper and walked a short distance to a bus depot.  We walked in a queue and then climbed aboard like pod people. (There is a whole lot of queueing and pod-people behavior associated with cruises.  You just get used to it.)

Guido and The Tour of Happiness

Our tour guide introduced himself as Guido.  I knew immediately that this tour was exactly what we needed.  On the heels of two days of sweating, wandering aimlessly, and pushing our way through throngs of tourists and not even getting to lay eyes on the statue of David (although I had surely seen enough naked men carved in stone in Florence alone to last me a lifetime), I was truthfully a bit negative on all things Italy.  But Guido the Tour Guide turned all of that around with his opening line.

“The sun is shining.  You are smiling.  Your spirit is smiling and shining also,” he beamed as he spoke in his very broken and incredibly endearing Italian-English.

“The sun is whispering to you, ‘Life is wonderful!’” he continued.  Then he gave us some history of the area and a little back story on Naples.  Our plan for the day was to bypass all of the morning crowds at the ruins and to drive up the Amalfi Coast first. We would stop on the way back down for lunch and some free time in the village of Sorrento.  Our last stop of the day would be to observe the destruction wrought by Mt. Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago.

We drove over 1,200 switchbacks in less than 34 miles of coastline.  Guido serenaded us with the Beatles (“…the long and winding road…”) and Chubby Checker (“…let’s twist again…”) many times throughout.  He told stories of his mother getting up early each Sunday to cook the sauce (“blub, blub, blub… for seven hours”) which was the cornerstone of family dinners.  The views were spectacular.  His commentary was priceless.

“Look what life is presenting you today!”  We smiled proper, special smiles as we ate our lemon slushies that we purchased for two euros from a cliffside stand above a breathtaking harbor.  My dad would love this spot.  I took lots of pictures.

After a delicious lunch at an authentic Italian restaurant (“…bottle of red, mmmmmmmm, bottle of white…”) we walked around the local markets until it was time to get back on the bus.  The town of Sorrento was colorful and charming and one of my favorite stops on the trip so far.

“Bene, bene, bene, belissimo!” Guido greeted us.  I could not help but smile around this man!

We had time for some Italian music on the sound system and then a short nap before we started our walking tour of the ruins.  Guido did a fantastic job recounting the story of Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  I could almost see the mud tsunami that suddenly and unexpectedly covered the city.  He painted us spectacular pictures with his words.

I think we spent over two hours walking through the ruins.  By the end, we were tired and covered from head to toe in Vesuvian dust and grime.  I could taste it in my mouth.

Guido reminded us that Mother Nature does not care if you are man nor woman, rich nor slave.  Then he asked the women who “liked to fall down” (including one of my aunts and Sister B, but in fairness, those streets were totally dangerous and uneven) to come walk by him because they “were not good; they were not ok.”  I think he was just looking for an American girlfriend who would cook him sauce on Sundays.

At the end of the tour we were reminded to always “…have the best of today to you.”

All I can say is that I thought that Italy was fantastico after such a proper, special tour.  But I really need a Silkwood shower to clean all of the Pompeii off of me.

Ciao for now, Italia!  Torneremo!

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

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…