Italy, The Trip that Broke Us: Chapter 1

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I’m back from Italy and I’m sitting here realizing that I’m a completely different person than who I was when I left. Frankly, I think I’m experiencing a little bit of PTSD from this trip and what happened to us. It’s been really hard to process and part of me wants to just not blog it, like I do with all negative things: Pretend it doesn’t exist. If you don’t have something nice to say (or funny, you can say not-nice things with humor) then don’t say anything at all, right?

But my trip to Italy was an amazing trip also. There are lots of parts I do want to blog. I saw so many sights, I took so many pictures. I want to share! I have a lot of good stories too but unfortunately I can’t tell the good stories without including the bad stories because they shaped every part of this trip.

So this is my story:

On the day we left, the Santa Ana’s blew in hard and tore off a limb off our front yard jacaranda tree. I was a mess of nerves and excitement, filming the wind damage and dancing around with glee that I was leaving soon on a girls’ trip to Italy. I hardly slept the night before I was so excited. I LOVE ADVENTURE. But I was also full of anxiety, did I pack the right things? Did I forget anything? Would I have everything I needed? Check, check and re-check.

This trip came up out of nowhere, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Our friend Christine wanted company on a trip to Milan for business purposes. She’s spent all last year in Italy and is pretty fluent in Italian.  My other friend, Teresa, is a travel agent. We put it all together and decided we’d take a girls trip of a lifetime!  It all happened so fast I didn’t get time to buy trip insurance which is ridiculous . I figured it would be fine. Every other trip I’ve ever been on has been fine.

But it wasn’t. Note to travelers: always buy trip insurance. You have no idea what could happen to you.

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The night before our trip Payam bought me a new backpack. An expensive one that was really cool. I was going to buy it for myself but he swooped in and bought it for me like the generous loving boyfriend that he is. You can see it up there with the big gold clasp. I took a picture of my luggage while we waited for our flight because I was worried it might get lost and I would need a photo to show to the airlines if they needed to track it down. Funny, that was what I was worried about.

I don’t know why I thought I needed a backpack. Backpacks are really not that great for traveling. But I didn’t know. I thought it was just what I needed to carry my laptop and my camera. It worked pretty well, at first.

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Our flight was long and uneventful. It was really hard to sleep but what else is new, right? Long flights are always hard to sleep through. The arm rest gouges into your back when you turn sideways, your legs cramp up, it’s cold…everything is uncomfortable.

But who cares! You’re traveling across the world and it takes time! We were off and I was excited.

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Finally, we arrived in Milan and a van picked us up to take us to our Airbnb. My eyes were bugging out of my head, wanting to see everything at once. Maybe the car wreck in the oncoming lane should have been an omen of things to come but then again maybe the limb of our jacaranda tree getting ripped off could have been an omen. Maybe I don’t really believe in omens.

Some Prius-like vehicle was upside down in the oncoming traffic lane and it’s front was badly smashed in, most likely a fatality. Sirens wailed and traffic backed up for miles.  This was my first impression of Italy. I remember thinking that drivers were pretty aggressive in Italy. Our taxi driver drove very fast, dodging in and out of lanes with complete ease. It was just another day in Italy for him. For me it was whack-a-doodle bananas. But at that point I was strung so high everything seemed whack-a-doodle bananas.

When we got to our Airbnb we met Christine and she whisked us off to see the sights and get dinner out. I don’t remember feeling at all afraid until we got to the Duomo. It was very crowded.  Kind of like when I visited Notre Dame in Paris and gypsies and pick-pocketers swarm you.  You’re staring up at this giant church, ogling it’s massive presence and then suddenly you feel someone putting corn in your hand.  I didn’t know what to do. Why did I suddenly have corn in my hand?

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“Feed the pigeons!” a man said to me, standing right next to me. So I threw the corn in the air for the pigeons. “No!” he shouted. “Hold out your hand to the pigeons.” So I did and some pigeons started landing on my hand. It was kind of cool and crazy. I tried to take pictures of the pigeons in my hand but my camera was too close. It was a really weird experience but I felt a little vulnerable because I was so distracted. I couldn’t be sure someone wasn’t going to swipe my bag or my camera and my friends were calling to me to leave before the man demanded money for his pigeon trick. Somehow I got out of there.

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We walked around and looked at everything. It was all very overwhelming and exciting. I definitely had stimulus overload but in a good way. I love seeing new places for the first time. Everything is new and different.

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This fruit stand and gelato truck intrigued me with their freshly roasted hazelnuts and coconut fountain. Have you ever seen a coconut fountain? Not me!

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We walked through the galleria and I spun around for good luck on the golden bull. What a funny tradition. It didn’t really bring me good luck but I got a kick out of it.

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After a delicious dinner (that I unfortunately don’t have any photos of) we walked back to our Airbnb and settled in for the night.  I couldn’t sleep of course. I mean, how could I?!! I’m in Italy and it’s so exciting!

Somehow I got to sleep but then at 3 am I heard some noises outside so I got up to investigate. We had left our window open a crack because it was stuffy in our bedroom. We were on the ground floor but our window was a good six feet up from the sidewalk outside. For some reason it never crossed my mind that it was dangerous to leave our windows open. So at 3 am I peeked out the window to the street outside. I saw a man moving trash cans around, making the noise that I heard. I thought it was strange that he would be putting trash cans outside at 3am but I figured he was a custodian of some sort and maybe that’s how things worked in Italy. I do remember the man saw me. We made eye-contact.

Then I went back to bed. I slept fitfully, waking up half an hour later. I don’t know what woke me up but I remember staring at the door of our bedroom into the living room. It was open about half a foot. I remember thinking I saw something in the dark. A shadow moving. I couldn’t be sure. I told myself my eyes were seeing things and continued to stare at the door to see if it would happen again. It did happen again. I got up thinking maybe it was Christine doing yoga or something, though that was kind of a weird thing to do in the dark.

When I got to the living room I knew something was wrong. The living room window was wide open (not at all how we left it) and the contents of my purse were splayed out across the couch. My purse was there, my passport was there and my credit cards and driver’s license were there. My moleskin full of sketches was there and even my small pencil bag full of pens was still there. Everything else was gone, including the 300 euros I had gotten out for spending money. Even the cheap pleather card holder that I kept my license in was gone. Why would they go to the trouble of removing my cards and take the pleather holder? It was very strange. Maybe the thief didn’t want to leave me high and dry.

I ran to wake up Christine in the other room. I shouted, “We’ve been robbed!” Everything became a blur after that. I ran into our room to see if anything had been taken. My backpack that held my laptop and camera was gone. Everything except my suitcase and my phone that was plugged in under the counter was gone. I was lucky. I had my phone, my passport, my driver’s license and my credit cards. But I lost my laptop and my camera and my new fancy backpack that Payam had just gotten me. The sadness hit me like a ton of bricks.

I must have interrupted the thief because he didn’t make it to Teresa’s stuff or to Christine’s room that was separate from ours. He only got my things and snagged Teresa’s sunglasses that had been sitting on the dresser near the bedroom door. Everything else was left untouched.

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Christine called the police and stammered through a police report. It was really hard to communicate over the phone. Interpreters were involved and the phone connection was really bad. Christine kept hearing her own voice play back at her.  Police in Italy don’t exactly operate the same way they do in the US. They didn’t seem to think it was necessary to come and asked us to come into the station the next day to create a report. That was no good for us because we had train tickets to go to our next destination the next day and all of our travel plans hinged on getting there on time. This was a royal kink in our plan.

We were pretty freaked out. Everything was scary. I remember thinking the thief could come back at any moment. Here we were, three women feeling kind of helpless, shocked and vulnerable.  Were we targeted? Was it the trash man I had seen at 3am? Had someone followed me from the Duomo? So many questions. I just wanted to get out of there.

Two policemen did come and we made a report but they didn’t speak much English and they didn’t really have anything encouraging to say. I told them the story. I showed them the footprints on the windowsill that was not more than three feet from where I slept. We surmised that the thief must have come in through the bedroom window (right by where I was sleeping) and left out the living room window. It was so creepy to realize someone was staring at me when I was staring back at them in the dark.

The Airbnb owner came to help us communicate with the police and tried to comfort us. He told us nothing like this had ever happened before but I’m not sure I believe him. He did seem really nice and worried about us. He stayed for a while but eventually left us. We didn’t know what to do. We waited until dawn and then left for the train station.

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The picture above is the couch that my belongings were strewn across and the window on the right is the window that I peaked out and that the thief entered through.

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I vowed that I wouldn’t let this robbery ruin my trip. My heart was broken that I had lost my camera because I wanted to spend this trip taking pictures. The fact that my laptop was gone was a huge blow financially but I knew I could start over. I had made a manual back-up before I left and everything would still be there when I got back. It would just be another big purchase that I wasn’t counting on at all. This trip to Italy may have been the most expensive trip I have ever taken.

But all is not lost! Next up:Varenna, the sleepy little village that healed my soul.

Adventurers in Downtown LA

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You know I love adventure. I love big cities. I love little towns. I love the countryside.  I love the sea side. I even sometimes love the ugly downtrodden side! I just love getting out and exploring the world.

Of course getting out of Orange County is a huge big deal because I am kind of bored of my safe little neighborhood. I love it here but I also love to get out of it and when I do, my eyes are so big taking everything in.

Naturally, I love having a travel agent friend (aka Teresa). I mean, how could I not? I want to download her brain and snag some insider tips on travel! Who wouldn’t?! But she’s also super nice and one of my very best friends.

We have a lot of common interests but exploring LA (and specifically points of interest from the tv show Bosch) is definitely one of them. So when she was going to meet a mutual friend and client in LA to discuss travel, I hopped on the chance to tag along. Woo hoo!

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We went super early of course so we could sneak in some sight-seeing before her lunch meeting. We explored the Bradbury Building—a favorite of mine ever since I spotted it on 500 Days of Summer.

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Have you ever seen such a beautiful building? It’s like a giant iced cake of design in a Victorian bird-cage like atrium. Does that even make sense? You get it. We didn’t have time to brush up on all the history but I do plan to find out the story behind this building and it’s famous namesake architect.

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After that we hopped on Angel’s flight because if you watch Bosch it’s a major key landmark and why not. It’s better than walking up a steep hill in the hot, hot sun.

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Then a block or two later we met up with our friend (and Teresa’s client), Christine, (You might recognize her as Bug’s old elementary school principal!) for lunch at Bottega Louis.

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Wow. This place. It’s so pristine and perfect. It felt like a fancy hotel lobby with perfect lighting in Paris. Except we weren’t. It’s an Italian restaurant in LA.

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Macarons and pretty treats for days. Huge white walls reaching expansive bright white ceilings with decorative crown molding…

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Cooks and servers, waiters and bakers…everyone on their toes being polite with Disney-trained smiles and good attitudes. You definitely get what you pay for here. Primo primo!

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I was smitten with the crazy flower-bomb bouquets and the white walls. A perfect backdrop for a movie if I ever decided to make one. See that guy on the right? He totally caught me taking his picture. I never made eye-contact though so I’m hoping he’s thinking I was taking a close-up of the bottle and blurring him behind. We both just pretended it never happened. He ate a whole pizza and drank a beer by himself and then left, walking by with a gold-handled cane. I would love to know his back-story.

Our lunch lasted for hours and nobody pushed us to leave. It really was like being in Paris.  But guess what the best part of our three hour lunch was?

Christine talked me and Teresa into visiting Italy (for a week) with her next month. YESSSS!!!!  Of course we had to go home and talk it over with our families but she planted the seed and we fell for it hook, line and sinker. Can you believe it? It will be a bit of a stretch but I’ve landed a few jobs and I think I can swing it. The tickets are bought and I cannot wait to be blogging from ITALY! I will be sharing everything with you of course!

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Please drop me a line with all your recommendations. We plan to hit Milan, Florence and Venice.

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After that fun-packed lunch, we weren’t ready to stop talking yet so we walked through the Biltmore hotel next-door and continued our Italy discussion.

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The Biltmore is also a Bosch landmark so Teresa was happy to get her travel agent research in. She’s putting together a tour for other Bosch fans. What a fun job she has.

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We both have fun jobs and I have to admit I know how lucky we are to be freelancers who can take our jobs on the road with us. and take three hour plus lunches (!). I don’t know that I’ll be doing any crafts in Italy but I do think I could get a book idea out of it. Little Hoo in Italy perhaps? Wouldn’t that be a fun travel series?

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After the Biltmore we walked through the downtown market, got some ice latte’s and a small treat. We talked and talked and talked some more until we had to come back to the reality that we had to go home and we had to sit in some serious traffic. Ugh. The only bad part about visiting LA: traffic. Next time we’re going to take the train!