We made a trip over to Italy back in May and Greg spent part of the 10 hour flight back typing up this blog entry.
Lisa’s younger brother Joe (aka “Bubba Joe”) is a West Point grad and an Army Ranger that has been stationed in Vicenza, Italy for the last several years when he was not deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Since we found out back in 2006 or 2007 that Bubba Joe would be stationed in Italy we have said over and over that we would go visit him. We were planning to go over with Lisa’s parents back in the summer of 2009, but with Brooklyn due that summer we had to pass. Since this month was the end of Bubba Joe’s stent in the Army and, therefore, his last month in Italy, it was now or never to make the trip over. So, despite Brooklyn being 21-months old, Lisa being 6-months pregnant, and Greg being really busy at work, we packed our bags and headed over the pond with Lisa’s parents to have Bubba Joe show us around Italy. In an effort to capture at least some of the great times we had on our 10-day trip, we are going to post a bunch of pictures and the associated stories here on our blog.
Our translator and tour guide, Bubba Joe
The Trip Over
When getting ready for the trip, a lot of people would ask “Well, what are you going to do with Brooklyn while you’re gone?” And when we would tell them that she was going with us, the reactions ranged from stunned silence (“Oh …”) to questions regarding our sanity (“Have you thought this through?!”, “Are you crazy?!”) to optimistic fear (“Oh! Good luck with that!”).
For only being 21-months old, Brooklyn has been subjected to a lot of plane flights and has been a GREAT traveler. But all of those trips were in the 1-3 hour time frame. Now we were talking about 16+ straight hours of traveling from leaving our house to when we would arrive at our hotel in Rome … YIKES! We had definitely not thought this through! To add to the fun, we would have just gotten back into town from Conway, Arkansas after attending Lisa’s other brother A.J.’s graduation from Hendrix! Nothing like a 5+ hour drive from Arkansas to get our international traveling started. We just might be crazy and we would definitely need some luck for the trip to go smoothly!
Apparently, smooth traveling luck comes in the form of grandparents and a monkey!! On the 9+ hour flight to Madrid, the only time Brooklyn made a fuss was when her grandparents had the audacity to need to go to the restroom, so she was forced to sit across the aisle with Mom and Dad. This was unacceptable and led to a couple minutes of whining until the bathroom breaks were over and Brooklyn and monkey could go back to Grandma and Grandpa’s laps! With a lot of sleeping, coloring, eating, and playing with Grandma and Grandpa, Brooklyn made the trip over with ease, which made the trip easy for everyone else.
Brooklyn and her seatmate, Grandma
We started and ended our trip in Rome. Rome is Greg’s favorite city. He loves the combination of history, modern relevance, interesting architecture, good food, and walkability that is found in few other cities. Also, the fact that they keep the city relatively clean (as opposed to Naples that, as far as we can tell, is simply the trash can of Italy) doesn’t hurt. Even though we had been to Rome before, we went back to the traditional tourist spots: St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.
Also, on our last night of the trip Lisa and Greg spent a romantic night wandering around the city passing what seemed like every major landmark and small garden in Rome, while Grandma, Grandpa, and Bubba Joe entertained Brooklyn.
Brooklyn and Monkey
For Brooklyn’s 1st birthday, she received a little stuffed animal monkey from one of Greg’s co-workers, Rachel, and her husband, Rob. For whatever reason, she has been enamored with “Monkey” ever since. When Brooklyn was 17-18 months old she started having Monkey do things, beginning with carrying diapers over to her changing pad. This entailed Brooklyn carrying Monkey over to the diapers and making “Monkey’s hand” (really Brooklyn’s hand that was next to Monkey’s hand) reach down and pick up a diaper. So, when Brooklyn/Monkey would bring the diaper over to the changing pad you would have to say “Thank you, Monkey!” If you said, “Thank you, Brooklyn!”, Brooklyn would look at you like you were crazy and wait for you to say “Thank you, Monkey!”. Over the months, Monkey’s talents have continued to develop. These days Monkey does pretty much everything Brooklyn does and needs pretty much everything Brooklyn needs (including diaper changes, drinks, vitamins, teeth brushing, etc.)! So, when deciding what Brooklyn would get to bring to Italy, Monkey was without a doubt item number one. As you can tell from the pictures, Brooklyn wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Waiting to board in Dallas
Layover in Madrid (it's the middle of the night for us)
We weren’t aware of this before we got to Italy, but apparently Brooklyn is a celebrity there! Everywhere we went she was getting free stuff and people were taking pictures of her. Now, here in the States it is not uncommon for people to pay Brooklyn attention, but it is generally a simple “She is cute” after watching her play around a little bit. Not in Italy! You would have thought it was the only baby they had ever seen. Within a couple of hours of arriving in Rome, we had lost track of all the free stuff that she had gotten! Just arriving at the hotel the Bellman gave her candy (not just one piece, but an adult-size handful!), a receptionist gave her an apricot fruit drink (very random, but she liked it!), and another receptionist gave her a box of Italian candy that was like M&Ms. This continued through our entire trip! Pretty much anywhere we went, Brooklyn would get free gelato, free candy, or a free toy. Brooklyn was always reluctant to take whatever was being offered (probably a combination of stranger anxiety, being shy, and not knowing what was going on). So whoever was offering the goods would basically have to beg Brooklyn to take it, which just made it seem like she was big-timing them … just like a celebrity. Finally, even the Customs agents were loving Brooklyn. As we were passing through Customs in Rome on our way back, the Customs agent took Brooklyn’s passport over the to next agent just to show her how cute it was!
Along the trip Brooklyn decided that one of her favorite things to do would be to jump off of any step or any raised surface that we would allow her to get onto. So from Vatican city to the streets of Palermo she would seek out anything and everything resembling a step in hopes of getting to jump down onto the ground. Brooklyn also likes to have anyone or anything she can name participate in whatever activity she is doing. In other words, she likes to take turns with everyone else. This typically leads to Mommy, Daddy, Monkey, Puppy, Giraffe, Hop (bunny), Boy, Girl, and Baby singing songs (Lisa is the pro at singing for Puppy, Giraffe, Hop, Boy, Girl, and Baby!!). So, naturally, Brooklyn was constantly inviting Grandma, Grandpa, Bubba Joe, Mommy, and Daddy to jump off of whatever she was jumping off of with her. Brooklyn couldn’t get enough jumpy! If we would let her, she would continually “jumpy” over and over again. This led to a hilarious exchange while we were in Rome. After getting everyone to jump off a step with her many times, Lisa said she could jump “one more time.” Brooklyn stepped up, jumped down “one more time” and without a pause starting begging for another “one more time, please” with the following facial and hand expressions!!
Greg is trying to get his phone out to take video
Getting Bubba Joe in on the action
And Mommy can't pass up a good Jumpy!
Rome to Sorrento
From Rome, we headed South along the coast to Sorrento. On the way, we stopped to see the Pompei ruins, which we learned is the most visited archeological site in the world. We helped keep their ranking! For those that don’t know (like us before we got there), Pompei was a very large city that was buried in lava and ash by a Volcano (Mt. Vesuvius) around 49 AD, killing everyone in city. There was so much ash that many of the peoples’ skeletons along with the stone buildings and streets were preserved in the ash. If any of you ever go there with a kiddo, do NOT bring a stroller. We took ours because Grandpa thought he remembered it being pretty flat. It was flat … until you got past the modern walkway to the actual ruins! The stroller almost lost an axel on that stop!
Such a nice family picture!
After Pompei, we finished the drive down the coast to Sorrento, which is along the Amalfi coast of Italy. We stayed at the same hotel (Il Nido) that Lisa’s parents had stayed at back in 2009 on the recommendation of an Italian co-worker of Lisa’s Dad. Needless to say, we went back for a reason. Just look at the view from our room’s balcony!
Brooklyn still has monkey!
Throughout Italy they have little corner markets with local, fresh fruit. While we were in Sorrento, the strawberries smelled pretty good so we bought a couple baskets full. Little did we know these strawberries would be the best strawberries on the planet! We wouldn’t call ourselves strawberry connoisseurs, but Lisa and I have had the good fortune to taste some pretty good strawberries over years, including fresh picked strawberries in Norway, and these were hands down the best.
The strawberries looked different than your typical strawberries. They didn’t have the tiny black seeds on the outside, but barely had any visible seeds and what seeds were visible were more of a yellowish color. Also, the strawberries went to a point at both ends, whereas typical strawberries we get in the U.S. are concave at the top. Finally, the strawberries were fairly small compared to what we get in the U.S. But what they looked like didn’t really matter because they tasted so good! Somehow the fresh strawberries tasted more like a strawberry jelly than a fresh strawberry because they were so sweet. Needless to say, Brooklyn fell in love with the “fragolas” (Italian word for strawberries) and we heard a continuous request from Brooklyn for “more strawberries” and “green off” (take the leaves off the top). Here is Brooklyn carrying around her basket of green off strawberries and stuffing her face!
Who thought giving her strawberries by white dresses was a good idea?
Unfortunately, while the strawberries throughout the rest of Italy were good, they paled in comparison to the ones we got in Sorrento. Luckily, we made the most of the strawberries in Sorrento stopping regularly at the nearest market whenever our baskets began running low.
Sorrento to Palermo
From Sorrento, we headed further South to Sicily. To get there, we took an overnight ferry from Naples to Palermo. Since we had spent a couple days in Sorrento already, we decided to spend the day leading up to the ferry ride in Naples. Mistake! Naples is just a dirty, dirty city. There was literally trash everywhere. It was almost impossible to appreciate any of the history or culture of the city because you had to constantly look down to make sure you weren’t about to step in something you would regret! After about 2 hours in Naples (with about 6 more to go before we could get on the ferry!) we were longing for the good days of clean streets and delicious strawberries back in Sorrento. We literally could not get out of Naples fast enough!
Ready to get out of Naples!
The ferry ride to Palermo was uneventful and put us into Palermo at a little before 7:00 in the morning. Again, on recommendation of Lisa’s Dad’s Italian co-worker, Toni Manino, we were staying at a bed and breakfast (Casa Manzella) in a town, Terrasini, that was 15-20 miles from Palermo. While Casa Manzella didn’t have quite the view of Il Nido, it was a nice bed and breakfast in a great location by the town square. Terrasini is small town, so we had pretty much seen everything there was to see that morning while we were trying to kill some time so that it was a more reasonable hour to call the owner of the bed and breakfast to let him know we were there. When we called him close to 9:00 am, it still sounded like we woke him up in the middle of the night! He showed up about 30 min later and checked us in!
While someone in our party typically had pizza for lunch in Rome, Sorrento, and Naples, once we got down to Sicily they looked at us crazy when we asked about getting pizza for lunch! One day at a local market, we asked if there was anywhere in town that served pizza for lunch and after some discussion between the workers the answer was simply no! The result is that all of the pizza places don’t open until 3:00 pm and the restaurants that serve things other than pizza, don’t offer pizza until dinner. This got us thinking about things in the U.S. that we consider “dinner only” items and couldn’t possibly get at lunch. While breakfast typically isn’t available for dinner (at most restaurants) in the U.S., we couldn’t think of anything that is available at dinner but not a lunch. Can anyone think of anything?
We had planned on going to the Palermo v. Chieve soccer match while we were down there, but a perfect storm of events kept us from getting tickets. First, Palermo’s website indicated that tickets were on sale only through a ticket broker (similar to TicketMaster) and that there were two available shops to pick them up on game day, Sunday. Bubba Joe and Greg trekked down to Palermo around 2:00 pm to get tickets for the 6:00 pm game only to find out that both shops were closed on Sundays. So, they decided to head to the stadium in hopes that there would be a ticket office, despite the fact that many stadiums actually do not have ticket offices and those that do are typically not open on game days or close well before game time. This is obviously quite different than in the U.S., where you can walk up to most sporting events and buy a ticket at the window and walk right in to the game. You also have to have your passport (or local ID) to buy tickets and the tickets will only get you into the game if they match your ID. This obviously cuts down significantly on scalping! It is actually designed to prevent the actual “hooligans” who have been banned from attending games by the European soccer association (UEFA) from getting in. After stopping by the closed stores, talking to street vendors about scarf prices and the location of the stadium, Joe and Greg found a couple of booths outside the stadium that were labeled as the ticket office at about 3:35 or 15:35 as the locals would refer to it. Upon further inspection, they noticed that the ticket office was open on Sundays until 15:30!! They had missed it by 5 minutes! Unbelievable! In the end, it probably worked out for the best because it was a rainy evening and Palermo ended up losing 3-1, while we enjoyed a nice apperativo back at Pallazollo! However, the next day we did go back by the stadium for a few pictures while we were seeing the sights in Palermo. Also, Brooklyn picked up a Palermo jersey. It wasn’t hard for her to support a team that wears pink!
Outside the stadium
That's the end of Greg's post. And I'll just wrap it up by saying that on the trip home Brooklyn had pink eye in both eyes and a double ear infection. She was definitely fussy and cried on takeoffs and landings and was not a happy camper while we were stranded in Chicago for 6 hours. But looking back on it, she did amazingly well given what she was dealing with! We were so happy to be back home when we finally got here at 2 in the morning!