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.

The Terrible No-Good Apple-Picking Weekend

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Most people would take it easy on a weekend before they jet off to another country but I did not. I decided to schedule an apple-picking expedition with my kids because that’s what you do when you are “basic” and it’s fall and you can’t fit it in any other time.  But really, there is a reason so many white people like to go stand out in an orchard and take pictures of themselves picking apples. It’s pretty! And it makes all the cozy seasonal bells go off in our heads which aren’t really going off normally because we live in Southern California where seasons do not exist.  I hate pumpkin spice lattes so I have to find my seasonal jollies where I can.

We were due for a visit to my mom and the kids hadn’t painted pottery in sooooo long. They’d been begging to go since this last summer but we never got the weekends right. It was time. They wanted to see my mom’s new house etc etc…

EXCEPT an epic storm blew in and messed everything up! As you know we don’t have weather here so when something so much a little puffy cloud blows across the horizon we all send out massive storm warnings and freak out. The roads are slick because they are covered in oil and dust that hasn’t been wet in half a year and everyone goes crazy driving their cars into each other.

We left as soon as the girls got out of school but that didn’t help the traffic problem at all. In fact, I think everyone and their cousin had plans to get out of town at that exact same time. Add some rain and it was mayhem. Google maps routed us off to some tangent mountain road and then stuck us there for HALF AN HOUR because of course mountain roads are not any safer than any other road and of course there were five wrecks. Good times!

Actually it was kind of awesome though because we didn’t have wifi or a radio signal because of said mountains and the girls had to actually get off their phones and talk to me. It was great. We sang, we laughed, we connected our bluetooth to Joon’s playlist and rocked out with the sun roof open. It was QUALITY BONDING TIME with a light sprinkle.

Long story short we made it to the pottery painting shop, painted until 9pm, had a quick Panda Express dinner (my worst favorite place to go but the girl’s favorite) and then finally made it to my mom’s at like 10pm.

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But the story doesn’t stop there! Oh no! There were spiders and a few mishaps with my mom’s dog that may have traumatized Joon who is not used to our ways in the sticks. Spiders and poop are not Joon’s cup of tea. They are not really mine or Bug’s either but we’ve been to this rodeo before and have grown a thicker skin.

My dad is away earning extra money driving a potato truck for some family in Idaho so my mom is left alone to take care of her animals by herself. This is all fine except my mom has a bad knee and she can’t take her dog out for the long walks her dog is accustomed to. Her dog is Miss Priss and doesn’t like to go outside in the yard and poop. She wants to go on long excursion walks to the special pooping place under a willow tree or on some nice grass up by the clubhouse. So you can see how some bad things might happen. My mom is at her wits end. Add some rain and her Miss Priss dog is even more uncooperative. My mom is literally pushing the dog outside by it’s rump and the dog is putting the breaks on with all four paws. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so frustrating and sad for my mom.

It’s 11 o’clock at night, I’ve walked the dog to the special green grass at the clubhouse and I’m trying to settle the girls into their collapsing recliner beds. I’m soothing their spider phobias when suddenly I hear my mom call out for help from her covered patio. Guess what?! IT’S FLOODED. Of course it is. Because we don’t know what to do with rain and all the drains are plugged up with leaves and debris.  My mom is still in the process of unpacking so of course her covered patio is stacked with cardboard boxes that are now standing in three inches in water getting soggy.

You know what’s sad? I’ve been to this rodeo before too. My mom has had so many valuables ruined by flooding over the years (more a side effect of hoarding than weather) it’s sort of created a trigger for all of us. It’s almost midnight and there we are hauling boxes to her garage, wading through cold water in our pajamas. Good times!

I gotta hand it to my mom though. These things happen regularly so we just grin and bear it and think about how it will make a great story someday.

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Somehow we all got over that and got a few hours of sleep. We woke up early and took the dog for a long excursion walk in the fog. It was so pretty. I think we all forgot about the trauma from the night before because now the weather was creating all kinds of dramatic instagram content for us. Win, win!

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We loved it.

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It’s so pretty! Click, click, click. Snap, snap, snap. Musically, musically, musically.

Then we went to breakfast at IHOP because we love that and headed off to the local hills to go apple picking! It was super foggy and a little treacherous but we made it.

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We were worried that the apple farms might be closed because it was still drizzling pretty hard. But they were open and they were magical because they weren’t super crowded with tourists like they usually are. In fact, now that I’ve been here in this “awful” weather I don’t think I can go back in any other kind of weather. Give me drizzle and fog any day over crowds of people and sunshine.

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I mean, look at these photos! The secret on the top photo of me is that I accidentally left the *food* filter on my phone camera (which rocks by the way) and it made everything all orange and fall-ish looking. That’s why the blur is so extreme. But whatever, I’ll take it.

I hauled my big camera around in my purse all day but I didn’t take it out because it was raining all the time and we were kind of in a hurry to get out of the rain. Nobody thought ahead and packed a raincoat or an umbrella or anything. What are those anyway? We don’t even know what they are!apple-picking-2

I really wish I would have set up a proper photoshoot though because this magical combination of colors and weather will probably never happen again. In fact I know it won’t. I have to move to Oregon or somewhere like that.

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Long story short we had kind of an awesome weekend even though we sat in traffic for hours, we nearly got in a few wrecks, we sloshed around in water in our pajamas, we dealt with poop and spiders and tween-age angst…the list is so long. It should have been a very horrible no good weekend but it wasn’t! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

OR maybe getting awesome photos for your social media far outweighs the crap of dealing with every day problems. I think if this had happened back in 1980-something we would have groaned and complained and filed it away as an epic failure of a weekend but now in 2018 we look at a bunch of rosy, pretty pictures and call it an epic success! We remember what we want to, right?

I will say I am going to remember all the laughing and singing with the girls forever. I love these girls so much.  Of course we missed Payam and wished he could have come along too (he had work and somebody had to stay home with the dogs) but it was super sweet to have this time together. Especially since I am leaving for Italy today!

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Every time I ask the girls what they want me to bring them back from Italy they say a plane ticket. They want to come with me so bad. We all have the travel bug since London and Wales. I want to save up to take Bug and Joon (and Payam!) to Paris on Bug’s 16th birthday. I always promised I’d take Rapunzel but I never could make it happen. Now I really have to make it happen.

I should wrap this post up here because it feels like the end but I wanted to share about the new app that Bug accidentally spent ninety-nine dollars on. That was another part of our horrible, no-good, apple-picking weekend. We were bumping along on that mountain road and Bug asks me if she can download this really cool cinemagraph app. I’m driving and dealing with people slamming on their breaks in front of me and causing wrecks so I’m only half paying attention to her. But I’ve seen those photos that are part moving gif and part still photo so I tell her to go ahead and spend the $9.99. It seems like a pretty good deal to me.

I can’t figure out how to embed the picture right now but click here to see what it does. Really neat, right?

Then I get an email on my phone, that I look at even though I’m driving, and it says that iTunes has charged me $99 for a year subscription to Cinemagraph. Not the $9.99 that Bug said it was. What?!!  OOPS x 1000.  This is what I get for driving in weather and traffic and approving apps without paying attention.

The girls figure out a way to share the app on their two phones and spend the next hour or so making the coolest moving pictures ever and my anger fades. In fact, I love this app and I’m super bummed that I can’t use it on my Samsung phone! The girls have promised to edit photos for me and I think I will take them up on it. In fact I know I will.

And that is the end of my terrible no-good apple picking weekend. Not too terrible after all!

Next up: ITALY!!!