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Report 821: Belle Donne

By Valla from washington, usa, Spring 2005

Trip Description: It's hard for me to remember my first trip to Europe thirty-five years ago in 1977 when I fell in love with Italy and Italians. For Anne, spending fall quarter of her junior undergraduate year of college in the small town of Macerata in Le Marche was probably the hook. This trip, her choice of how to celebrate earning her doctorate, will hopefully be a luscious reprise and personal benchmark as we vist Siena and the hill towns of Tuscany.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Florence, Rome, Tuscany

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Foodie Trip; Shopping; Sightseeing; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; 3-4 people

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Page 1 of 12: Precursor and Preparations

Thursday, May 19

Shortly after 9 p.m. I hear the phone ring as I step out of the shower. I quickly wrap myself in a towel and walk into the study to ask Bruce who is calling. When Bruce silently mouths Nancy I shake my head from side to side. Although I am a morning person, I can't begin a conversation now or I'll never be alert enough at 4 a.m. to finish packing and drive to the airport.

I've already begun to wonder if packing several days before traveling as Rick Steves recommends is a good idea. Perhaps for decisive people; perhaps not for me. Each day I seem to remember one more necessity. Now, instead of only my purse and a sleek little soft-sided carry-on, I will be wheeling and lugging a porcine miniature RV, its expandable zippers straining to contain an extra pair of shoes, flannel pajamas and toiletries I donít use every day. I know better. It's definitely time to leave.

Friday, May 20

Today has reinforced my belief that the primary value of money for people my age(60), is the comfort and ease money affords. The cheapest plane fares are the most indirect or long: fifteen hours to travel from Seattle to Boston via Dallas or Atlanta or four mind-numbing hours between flights cruising airport shops in Detroit or Chicago. So, I've chosen the financial middle-ground: a direct flight to Boston (to begin our trip rested) and a return flight to Seattle via San Francisco (when I will gain three hours flying East to West and will probably still be jet-lagged from gaining six hours between Rome and Boston). Air travel must make absolutely no sense to our bodies and I've noticed that physically recouping from unusually long days takes longer than it used to. So be it. Traveling is too much fun to miss.

Today's travel is simple because I begin at Pangborn, our tiny, local airport just two miles from home in East Wenatchee, Washington. At 5:00 a.m. I park my car, walk fifty feet to the terminal entrance, and check-in and walk through security in five minutes before boarding the Alaska Air shuttle to Seattle, a quick forty-minute flight. In Seattle, I grab a cup of Starbuckís coffee, reboard, and simply sit back to sip and read on the five and a half hour flight to Boston. When we land, I walk to baggage claim, quickly collect my suitcase, saunter to the terminal curb, and easily catch the Logan shuttle to Braintree. The tripís only snag is brief. At the Braintree bus depot I stand bewildered for a couple of minutes in front of a pay phone until I realize I must use long distance prefixes to dial a local number. I'm definitely no longer in north central Washington.

Saturday, May 21

It's raining and only in the upper forties in Boston this morning. Alice loans me a fleece jacket, one thing I didnít pack, for an early morning walk around Pond Meadows. We briskly walk the two mile loop twice while catching up on the lives of each otherís grown children and grandchildren. Between being married, working full time as a college counselor and having five grown children and seven grandchildren within driving distance, my older sister is seriously busy and tightly scheduled.

When Alice and I return from our morning walk, Dick tells us that the third member of our group, our eldest sister, Cornelia called. I return Nealís call on the kitchen speaker phone while Alice slices strawberries and bananas and cubes cantaloupe for her daily fruit salad breakfast. Neal surprises me. I just wanted to tell you that if I'm delayed tomorrow coming into Boston from the Cape, I'll meet you in Siena. Hello, what? Neal has never been to Europe, doesn't speak Italian, and has no train or bus schedules from Rome to Siena. As much as I admire her confidence and "can do" attitude, I am appalled at the idea of waiting at Da Vinci airport for her or returning from Siena to Rome to pick her up. I strongly urge Neal to take an early enough bus from the Cape to Logan airport to be sure to make our 5:45 AirItalia flight to Rome.

Is Alice ready, Neal asks. Alice looks at me and nods, Yes. Why worry Neal, a deft organizer, by telling her that Alice's debit card hasn't arrived and Alice hasnít begun to pack because Jen isn't bringing over the suitcase Alice is borrowing until tomorrow afternoon? If my observant and analytical Anne, with a Ph. D. in clinical psychology doesnít fully realize how different her mother and two aunts are when we depart, I bet she will by the time we return in two weeks. But diversity is also potential balance and energy and as Anne said when we discussed inviting Alice and Neal, my only regrets are for the things I didnít do, the risks I didnít take. And whatís more fun than sharing things you love? Can you imagine the look on Aliceís face when she sees Boticelliís ďPrimaveraĒ? Again, I marvel at Anne. At twenty-nine she knows things I was still learning at fifty.

And Iím still learning. Coordinating a trip for four has kept me at my computer e-mailing and searching Web sites since January. At first, with my minimal Web skills, it was an uphill struggle. I'd get onto a Web site and then get stuck, unable to find a way to continue or access a link. However, necessity is powerful motivation. With Anne and Alice too busy and Neal without Web access, I had to persist. Then Anne suggested I check out slowtrav.com and I met Henry.

Bless Henry, my computer and travel mentor and new friend. I responded to Henryís offer at the end of his slowtrav. trip report--any other questions, feel free to e-mail meóand received a speedy reply. Within weeks the geographical distance between Wichita and Wenatchee disappeared. Henry's regular trips to Italy have made him an up-to-date goldmine of information which he has readily shared and his final gesture of generosity, his cell phone with an Italian SIM card, is tucked into my purse. Henry will definitely receive a post card and my first trip report when I return.

In fact, e-mailing Henry has been a lot faster and simpler than sending questions to Anne, Alice and Neal and keeping track of their responses. Though I've been able to send one e-mail to Neal, wintering in Arizona; Alice in Boston; and Anne in Cleveland, their responses dribble back individually. Once we are together, we can have dialogues, not circuitous monologues. Va Bene!

Today concludes with Anne's arrival in Boston around 9 p.m. after a short two hour flight from Cleveland. While Anne eats a ham sandwich, she and I remind Alice of travel essentials: comfortable shoes, wash and wear underwear, earplugs, a purse that can be worn like a bandolier, and her passport. Anne and I adore Alice and want her maiden trip to Europe to be wonderful.

It's hard for me to remember my first trip to Europe thirty-five years ago in 1977 when I fell in love with Italy and Italians. For Anne, spending fall quarter of her junior undergraduate year of college in the small town of Macerata in Le Marche was probably the hook. This trip, her choice of how to celebrate earning her doctorate, will hopefully be a luscious reprise and personal benchmark. With a decade of academics behind her, Anne will fulfill her salaried one year residency requirement next year and then be qualified to set up her own practice. The future promises Anne income instead of government loans and clothes and household furnishings from stores other than Target and Walmart.

Sunday, May 22

Boston's persistently overcast, cool and rainy weather won't be difficult to exchange for the partly-sunny, 55-72 degree weather predicted for Tuscany. However, warmth and sunshine are such an abstraction that I lay out Alice's fleece jacket to wear to the airport tomorrow telling myself that the night flight may be chilly, being cold is enervating, and Tuscan evenings and early mornings may be cool. The cardigan sweater I packed may not be enough.

Today passes quickly as Alice's house fills with her children and grandchildren dropping by to say farewell and staying for the afternoon and dinner. It's amazing how effortlessly Alice and Dick grill and cook dinner for eight adults and five children. Restaurant service alone should be a treat for Alice.

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