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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Heading to ITALY!!!

Zach and I have both always wanted to travel to Italy. The history, the food, it's just one of those places that I think is on everyone's "must visit" list. In 2010 our Aflac state director announced that our state convention would be a Mediterranean Cruise. We were PUMPED. We get to go on a lot of trips with Aflac but very few of them are ones that I tell Zach he has to qualify for. This was one of those trips. We knew we were going to be getting pregnant and I called Delta prior to conceiving Brittlynn to make sure I'd be able to fly to the cruise trip as well as to Hawaii. We got the all-clear from Delta so we started trying to get pregnant and it only took one try ;) Fast-forward and Zach worked his butt off and qualified for the cruise! We were stoked until we got a phone call that another Aflac agent found out his wife wouldn't be allowed to travel on the cruise because she was too far along pregnant. Her due date was after mine. Not good. I called the cruise and...yup...I would be too far along as well. I was devastated.

Thankfully I have an AMAZING husband who said he wouldn't be traveling on the cruise unless I was able to go with him. We talked about it and decided that since we couldn't go on the cruise we would start saving up to go on our own trip to Italy instead! Honestly, we're not big fans of cruises anyway! We started saving every extra penny we could. We both agreed we would use the trip as our 5 year wedding anniversary gift to each other (um, awesome present right?!?!) and that we wanted to have enough money saved up to do it RIGHT. We wanted to not be pinching pennies the whole time and just enjoy ourselves. While saving money we also tried to earn as many ThankYou points as possible on our credit card. We ended up having enough to buy my ticket to Italy (over $1600!) for our cashed in points plus the difference of $3. Um a $3 plane ticket to Italy?!? Pretty awesome!!!

While I was VERY excited for the trip, I was also nervous. We were leaving the kids for 9 total days. That's the longest we've ever been away from Kye. They stayed for 4 days with my mom and 5 with Mrs. Charlotte and Mr. Rusty. It was good that they would be divided up with time as I thought it'd help keep things fun for them and help them not to miss us as much. I was nervous about pumping that long and getting all of that milk back home. I was nervous about how much I would miss them too!!! It was also nerve-wracking to be planning this trip 100% on our own. It was our first time traveling outside the country when it wasn't with Aflac OR at somewhere with all-inclusive. So there was a LOT of planning involved!!!

When I booked our flights I chose the 10:30 morning flight out of Valdosta. I wanted as much time with the kids as possible, even if it meant only a 30 min layover in Atlanta!!! We were nervous about the plane taking off on time but it was worth that gamble. The Thursday night before we left we had a BIG family night!!! I was SO excited to do something fun with my kids before leaving them for so long! I had explained to Kye where we were going and how long we would be gone, so he knew what was happening. I truly believe honest preparation is so important for a child (when he gets a shot, for example, I look him in the eyes tell him it WILL hurt but that it's to help him and it'll be over quickly, he ALWAYS takes it like a champ b/c he understands WHAT is happening and the WHY behind it and trusts me b/c I never lie to him!).

I let Kye pick where we went to eat and up until that day it was going to be Red Lobster. Last minute he decided it needed to be Chick-Fil-A (at this point I gag when thinking of a chicken sandwich). So Chick-Fil-A it was! I wanted to get some pics of my cuties before we left :)

Kye is pretty obsessed with this hat right now, he wants to wear it ALL the time!
Forced smile?!?!
You can def tell they are brother and sister in this one
My boy!

It's SO funny to me that this outing was Brittlynn's first time sitting in a high chair...and she's almost 6 months old...we just do NOT go out with her EVER. She loved it though and enjoyed playing with her toys while we ate!

Notice: I took this picture and it's ADORABLE
Zach took this one and I had to mega crop it so we look partially centered and there's a nice big cup in our grills. He's the lucky one b/c I'm always behind the camera for his pics...I get the raw end of that deal huh?
Lots of toys kept her busy and happy!

We ate an early, quick dinner and Kye did a little bit of playing before we headed to The Mix for some ice cream. It's my new favorite spot in town FOR SURE. We love it and Kye LOVES getting the pink ice cream. We had a blast!!!
He's laughing, not crying ;)
Took turns keeping Brittlynn happy since she was skipping her evening nap to be out with us!
I always clean the bowl ;)

The next morning we dropped them off at Mom's. It was SO MUCH easier to leave them in the morning time rather than at night. When we have to leave them at night it's SO much more sad b/c we're tucking Kye into bed and it's all cuddly and loving and sweet and it sets in more how much we'll miss him. In the morning time he was all jacked up about playing at Gramma's and didn't even CARE that we were leaving. It made me feel so much better about it. It was even easier leaving Brittlynn because, she too, was awake and happy and not all cuddly going down for bed!

I was mega nervous that the flight would be on time but it worked out perfectly! We flew from Valdosta to Atlanta then to Detroit where we had a mega long layover. I had to pump while at the Valdosta airport and I decided to dump it :( Sad, but it'd be almost 24 hours before I'd be able to get to the hotel fridge and I didn't want to risk it (good thing I dumped b/c by the time we got to our hotel it was longer than that!). I was NOT all sad about it like I was in Atlanta when I pumped and dumped leaving for Paris!!! 

It's interesting to me the response I get from people in the bathrooms when traveling. I've pumped in airport bathrooms (and airplane bathrooms) a decent amount of times (like so many that I can't even begin to list all the times I've traveled without my baby while nursing!) and EVERY TIME I do I get a comment from someone like "oh I remember those days!" It really makes me want to ask them about it. I mean that many moms travel and pump?! And did it long enough ago where it was "those days"?!?! It surprises me every time because I don't feel like it's a super common thing to do, and I would think it'd be even less common back in the days before automatic pumps?!?!

Anyways here's the first bit of milk I'd be saving while on the trip...pumped in Detroit what!
Zach slept while in Detroit :)
On our plane ROME BOUND!
The flight from Detroit to Rome was LONG and awful. The ONE thing that gets us through long flights are the in-flight movies. When you travel a long distance they are FREE so we watch all the ones we possibly can. Zach has a hard time sleeping on flights so this allows him some type of entertainment. We don't even bring much else to do b/c we know we'll be watching movies the entire trip. Well not this time! Our tvs did NOT WORK. :( It was a huge bummer and if I wasn't so lazy I'd totally call Delta and complain about it! You pay $1600 per ticket the movies should work!!! On the upside we did get hooked up with food! We were worried they wouldn't feed us so we ate before leaving but they did. We ate 5 meals that day...guess we were starting off this high calorie vaca right! ;)

Also just to letcha know they have changed the baggage fees for Delta flights. For international flights you are now allowed only ONE free bag (used to be two). We did AWESOME packing...I fit 1 pair of pjs, 4 dresses, 3 pairs of shoes, 4 pairs of pants, 5 tops, 3 sweaters, 1 bathing suit and like a dozen pair of underwear all in one side of a standard sized carry-on! Packing pro over here ;) I literally only packed exactly the amount of outfits that I'd be wearing. Nothing extra. And we left a LOT of space in our checked luggage as we were worried about the weight of all the ice packs plus breast milk for the way home! We packed an extra duffel bag just in case we'd need to check another bag on the way home as we were told it's cheaper to check another bag than to pay an overage fee for the checked bag weighing more than 50 lb.

We were traveling through the night...we left Ga at 10:30 our time on Friday morning and would arrive in Rome at 9:30 Rome time on Saturday morning. We had plans to start sightseeing that day so we needed that sleep to be able to function. Zach took the window seat since it's harder for him to sleep hoping it'd help. Well it didn't. And since I didn't have the window seat I couldn't sleep well either. :( We arrived in a pretty exhausted condition. Thankfully customs was like non-existent. Really the lack of security in the whole country SHOCKED me. It was soooo slack compared to what we are used to!!! They didn't do anything when we arrived. No sort of bag check or customs or anything.

The trip didn't start off too amazingly...we were in a foreign country with no pre-arranged transport to our hotel. I wanted private transfer both to the hotel and then back to the airport on the day we left but Zach didn't want it for either one (it was pretty pricey so I understand his reasoning). So we compromised and booked it for the way back since I didn't want to risk missing our flight home! We both ended up agreeing that we should have booked the private transfer for both ways. It took us until almost 1:00 to get to our hotel and on the way back it took us like 30 min total to get from the hotel to the airport with the private transfer!!! It didn't help that the hotel gave us wrong directions from the subway so we ended up walking (with no sleep, with 4 suitcases and 2 bookbags...) all over the place trying to figure out where we were going!!!

When we finally got to the room we were spent. I had to pump and by the time I was done Zach was totally hardcore asleep. I decided to just join him and not worry about sightseeing that day. Sleep sounded better than any sight :) We got up and got ready (I didn't even bother showering yet!) and headed to dinner. Our front desk people at the hotel were very nice and helpful with places to go eat.

Riding the "elevator" down!
The elevator...room for 2 ;)
The place they recommended for us to eat was close by so we decided to walk. We didn't realize that our hotel wasn't in the best area...we just figured this is what Rome was like ;) We were much more impressed with the city after we saw other areas of it! But it was neat to get a good walk in and see how the locals live off the beaten path!
This is the typical way I saw Zach the majority of our trip ;) Map Master!
It was so nice of the people at our hotel to give us recommendations...but they didn't tell us a name. So we kinda guessed which restaurant it was. Like I told Zach, we were in Italy. The food couldn't possibly be BAD anywhere so who cares if it was the right place?!?! It ended up being on of my favorite meals of the entire trip!!!
Zach's pasta was AMAZING
And my chicken was awwwwwesome.
We quickly learned a few things about dining in Italy...they don't bring you the check, you have to ask for it. You also don't have to tip and if you do they only expect 10%. Touristy places will charge you just to sit down so that's why a tip isn't expected. They always asked if we wanted our water with gas or without...I quickly realized it meant bubbles/sparkling water! They also never brought ice unless we asked and we were always charged for water. Which kinda surprised me. I mean they have public drinking fountains EVERYWHERE yet charge for water?!?! The food was also mega cheap b/c they eat in courses and pasta is considered a "first course" with meat being the main course. We typically ordered pasta so the portions were smaller but plenty filling and much cheaper!

Before leaving for Italy we debated about how to pay for things. Did you know banks (at least around here?) no longer do traveler's checks! We decided to take $500 in cash with us and convert it to Euros (we did it at the airport in Detroit and only got 350 Euors in exchange...crazy!!! At least some mega nice random people gave me several coins to use). Our bank recommended using our atm card over there as they didn't charge a fee for it while our credit card charges 3% per transaction. I gave them the ATM card to pay for our dinner and it didn't work. I didn't worry too much and we just used our credit card but I was a little nervous about it.

Outside the restaurant!
Anytime we visit a place with public transportation, we use it. We are some subway pros! We've done it in NYC as well as in Paris. We each bought a Metro Card (24 euros good for unlimited use of the subway and bus system for 7 days!) and put that thing to good use. On our way from the airport Zach actually dropped his on the escalator!!! I was scared in a foreign city with all of our luggage sitting by myself waiting for him to go back and find it...and I assumed it was 24 Euro down the drain but surprisingly he was able to find it.

We quickly learned how to navigate it and by the end of the trip even I knew which stops we wanted for places. It was SUPER convenient having a hotel so close to a stop! It was interesting to me because when we first arrived I was SO NERVOUS. I heard so much about pick pockets and how men there will pry on American women so I was afraid. I guarded my purse hardcore and just felt panicky the whole time in the subway. By the end of the trip I felt confident and comfortable with the people. I still guarded my belongings but I wasn't afraid...even riding the subway at 11:30 at night didn't scare me anymore. We adjust to our surroundings pretty quickly huh?

We didn't learn much Italian but "uscita" means "exit" :)
The best recommendation we got from our hotel staff was to eat some gelato (ICE CREAM) at the oldest factory in Italy. We went from dinner to there and decided that day that we would eat gelato every day of our trip!!! We both knew we'd love it and were super excited :) It didn't disappoint!!! We were total tourists though...we got in line and then asked how much stuff costs and the guy told us we had to go wait in a different line first to buy our ticket then go get our ice cream. Oops!
YUMMMMM
It was only 6 Euros each (which right now the Euro is worth more than the dollar so it was like $8 but still not too bad) and it was three HUGE scoops and a big waffle cone!

Our quaint little hotel was on the third floor of an apartment building. If you can't already tell...we were rather disappointed with it. I studied up hardcore on Tripadvisor. I wanted to find somewhere with free breakfast, free wifi, a fridge in the room, close to the metro station, good reviews and rather inexpensive. I knew that European hotels just aren't like the ones we have here. We were also SPOILED in Paris where Aflac put us up!!! And we just went to Toronto and stayed at the Ritz Carlton. We talked about it and decided that Aflac has ruined our ability to enjoy any cheap hotel. We're getting snobby haha. 

We stayed at Auditorium di Mecenate. It's rated #35 out of 1280 hotels in Rome so my hopes were pretty high! Especially with all the positive reviews. But let me go ahead and get my feelings about the hotel out of the way now so I can focus on more positive things in future posts :) First off, they gave us wrong directions to the hotel so we were carrying mega heavy luggage around a foreign city with no clue where to go. Then we couldn't find it because there is NO SIGN on the building. You have to be buzzed in to get into the building (reminded me of Seinfeld!) and it's a double buzz so you have to RUN to catch the second door or it locks on you. I already mentioned it wasn't located in the safest feeling area (many, many homeless hanging out and about). 

I contacted them prior to coming about my breast milk situation and how I would not only need the mini-fridge in our room but also a freezer to freeze all of my ice packs in. Um. We got there and they didn't have a freezer all they had was a TINY compartment of a small mini-fridge that was their "freezer." I cried as I thought I wouldn't be able to get my milk back home with me (more to come on that later...). The breakfast was good but we didn't have hot water 3 of the nights we stayed there. After a LONG day with a lot of walking you're so exhausted you don't care that the bed is uncomfortable or that the area outside the room is noisy. But no hot water?!?! Cold shower's are NEVER fun!!! The people at the front desk were ok. The owner guy was awesome but we never really saw him and the other people didn't seem too bright. They even told us that the other guy working was stupid! The phone in our room didn't work so we had to call the kids from the phone in the "lobby" which was really just a desk at the door. It was awkward making personal phone calls with a guy standing there waiting for you to finish. The towels were super thin and some strange type of weaving and they only changed them out ONCE. You also didn't get to have a key to your room, they had to have it when you left. Well the key in the door slot thing was the only thing keeping the electricity running to the room and I needed the fridge to stay cold for my milk so we had to tell them to leave the key in our room and to not clean our room (as the one day they did they removed the key so the electricity was out while we were gone...). We paid $184 a night...which may not be that much to some people but to us it was A LOT and it was disappointing to have that experience with our room. Granted, we weren't in it often but I know I will NOT be writing a nice review on Tripadvisor!!! The best thing I can say about it is that the wifi worked beautifully.

Another interesting thing about the hotel was the elevator lift. It was for sure old school! But we didn't mind it, it was pretty fun. You had to have the system down for it to work. If you did one thing out of the correct order it wouldn't let you out...as I learned the first time using it (since it's so small I had to ride solo up the first time with 2 suitcases then Zach came up after me with the other two!)
We had an EARLY morning the next morning and it was already late that night! Zach was DEAD to the WORLD when I got done showering and pumping. After a day of traveling with very little sleep, it was rough having another night with little rest. I have said it before and I'll say it again...when traveling with a time zone change PLAN FOR SLEEP. I originally wanted to stay one extra day so we could have a day of rest but we just couldn't afford it (and I'm glad we didn't as I couldn't have standed one more day away from my babies!!!). But I know myself and when traveling across time zones I need a solid 12 hours of sleep to adjust and feel human and just to be able to function. It worked great in Vegas and in Hawaii and we WILL do it next time :)
I totally don't blame you if you're already bored and just want to take a break from my blog reading until I'm done with Italy. For awhile it's going to be "The Journey of Italy" ;) I have a LOT of posting to come!!!!!!!

2 comments:

  1. Danielle EckerleJune 18, 2012 at 5:03 AM

    HAHA, Josh and Zach sleep the same way. I am actually excited to hear about the trip - mostly because I am getting hungry just thinking about all the food you guys ate, but also, I want to see all the pictures you took since I probably won't be getting over there any time soon. 

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not read your post are you nuts.  It's my lunch time break everyday.  My dream is to go to Italy so I'm very very excited.

    ReplyDelete

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