Today's blog post is dedicated to the author and the main character/hero of my favorite books, JK Rowling and Harry Potter - today is their birthday, and JK's 50th, at that. I'll be at Platform 9 3/4 in just a couple of weeks!!
It's the last day of July...and the first day of our much-awaited, long-planned, 17-day Stevenson Family Eurotrip. Yahoo, and God bless the French's attitude toward vacation days, is all I have to say about that. This evening we'll take a train to Beauvais and fly to Pisa tomorrow morning. From there: Florence, Rome, Athens, Santorini, London and Dublin. Whew.
I can't believe it's finally here! We've done so much research and work: potential cities to visit, Ryanair flight paths and times, hotels and Airbnbs, transportation, sights, and more. I now know more about the metro in Athens, how to get to Ciampino airport in Rome, and how to rent an ATV in Santorini than I ever thought I would know.
Side note: If anyone is looking to plan a trip like this to Europe anytime soon, I'd be more than happy to assist you. For a fee.
We have also done trial runs of packing (why yes, I have OCD). When you're packing for a trip this long with a weight limit of 15 kilograms for your one checked bag, you have to get a little creative, aka, you'll be doing laundry at your Airbnbs. Somehow, we managed to get all this into our tiny carry-on. "Somehow" is also referred to as my husband, and by "we," I mean him. As a friend once said about Brian after he helped them pack a moving truck, "You must be really good at Tetris."
The bag is packed, the Ryanair boarding passes are printed and the camera batteries are charged. We are ready to roll. The last thing I needed to do was...notify you all! So here it is, the official Something New, Something Different notification. We're headed out, and we'll be back on the 17th. You won't be receiving email updates for a little while, but don't worry - nothing's wrong, and everything's right. Get excited - pictures galore to come!
Au revoir, ciao, antio sas, goodbye, and cheers!
E & B
This post is dedicated to my best friend, Jess, who loves the Tour de France and introduced me to it all those many, many years ago at Carolina. Sadly, I still don't understand how this race even works, and B has now taken up instructing me where you left off. I wish you could have been with us to see this. Love you!
One of the reasons that B and I work so well together is that we share a lot of similar interests. Sports is not one of them. He likes watching all sporting events. Me? Unless it's Carolina basketball, not so much. But since we're in Europe, we kind of had to do a few things.
On our family's Eurotour, my parents learned a crucial lesson: there is a vast, vast difference between "travel" and "vacation." A vacation is crashing on the beach for a week, where your only physical activity is turning the pages of Southern Living and your only mental activity is deciding whether you want a margarita a or cold beer.
Then there's travel - worrying about whether or not you printed your RyanAir boarding pass ahead of time, full-out sprinting through the Paris metro to your next train, arms burning from hauling luggage (I call this "travel-robics," but that's another post for another time). It is fun, it allows you to see so many things, and it's ultimately rewarding. But travel, in heavy doses, is exhausting.
Where else would you begin your day by being mistaken for an Italian and end it having whiskey shots with your new Irish friend? A garlic and basil festival, of course.
Sometimes choosing a book to review for Blogging for Books is difficult. Their selection changes frequently, and especially now that I really can only read e-books, I'm limited in my selection.
This was not one of those difficult choices. Bookshop? Paris? I mean, all they needed to do was add "wine" somewhere in the title and they basically would have been describing my life. I wanted to read this so much that even though it wasn't available in e-format, I had it shipped to my parents who then brought it to me when they came to visit. I wanted to read it that badly.
Unfortunately, after I'd had a chance to do just that, I realized maybe that was God trying to spare me from this painful book and I should have left well enough alone. The beginning was weird and straight-up confusing. Guy pining after woman for 20 years, a lady moves in across the hall, he brings her furniture, they cook together and have a weird not-love scene, then he hops on a boat and sails down the river, sending new woman postcards. And pining-for woman is dead. It happened so fast, without any explanation, that I frequently had to go backwards to make sure I hadn't missed something. But no, my copy had all the pages. They just weren't very good ones.
The premise could have been so good - a bookseller who "prescribes" books to his customers based on their needs - but in these hands it was confusing and overly wordy. It was as though the author wanted to try to seem "deep" and "thoughtful," getting into these weird rants about life and death and the meanings of things, but she wasn't able to do it. Further, the characters all seemed very flat and one-dimensional - the kiss of death for me when it comes to books.
The verdict: 3 out of 5 stars, but that may just be me being generous because it has to do with Paris and books. Take this one on at your own risk.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.
Sometimes, I don't have very good pictures, but the words flow easy. Other times, like now, I have an abundance of photographs, but the words won't seem to come. Because what can I possibly say about Paris that I haven't already said?
I absolutely love this city, albeit in a different way from Florence, or Charleston/Seabrook Island, or Chapel Hill, or other places that are so deeply etched into my heart. There is a unique loveliness to it - it's no wonder so many people visit here annually. And it was just what we needed after the heat and exhaustion of Rome and the bland niceness of Vienna.
Vienna came like a breath of fresh air after Rome: (slightly) cooler, infinitely cleaner, and far more sparse in terms of crowds. Our housing arrangement was superior as well - thanks to Mom, we stayed at the Flow House, where Wake Forest students live when they study abroad on WFU's Austria program. And it was nice.
When in Rome, do not attempt to tour the entire Musei Vaticani and then traipse across the city in 100-degree heat without sufficient hydration. This could potentially lead to your father nearly passing out at dinner and to-go Italian food. Also, if your hotel advertising air-conditioning and wi-fi, make sure both reach all the way to the 4th floor, where you're staying. Not that I know any of this from experience, of course. Why do you ask?
As my mother succinctly put it, "Rome wasn't built in a day, but we sure walked it in a day." Um, yes, yes we did. This is not recommended. We began with a tour of Musei Vaticani...which wasn't air-conditioned. Only a couple of hallways with tapestries and the Sistine Chapel had AC. The rest of it? Forget it. My feet hurt, there were 3,000,000 people there with us, and it was so hot it was nearly impossible to breathe. Did I mention I had to wear a long dress and a cardigan so that I would be properly covered up to enter the Sistine Chapel and other chapels. Right. A former coworker of mine told me that his dad said Europe was just ABC: "Another Bloody Church." I can't speak to all of Europe, but that's pretty true for Rome.
After we finally got out of there, we set about to walk and see the monuments of the city, but we only made it to two (the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, which was under renovation) before it started to storm. We ducked into a little restaurant to grab some food, since we were exhausted and hungry and dehydrated. It's a good thing we did - it all kind of spiraled downhill from there. I'll spare you the details.
By a collective vote, we weren't major fans of Rome. It was crowded, infinitely sketchy at times, dirty, and mother of God, was it HOT. I didn't have any particular love for Rome on my last trip, but it really was just not a pleasant 24 hours this time. It's full art and history and monuments and all sorts of stuff that needs to be seen...but not worth anything more than a day or a long weekend. There's your travel tip of the day. Just trust me, and if you don't, call my mom and dad. They'll set you straight.
But - the Family Eurotour 2015 carries on! Next stop: Vienna, Austria. Stay tuned...
(Disgruntled and hot) E and Mom and Dad
It pays to read the fine print. Then again, maybe not.
I researched wine tours in Tuscany, but everything I found was prohibitively expensive. Then I stumbled across Italy On a Budget Tours. And the Grape Escape Winery Tour more than met our needs. It was only after I'd booked three tickets that I noticed it was for ages 18-35. Whoops. I myself am just barely sliding in under the wire, never mind my parents.
I emailed the company in a panic, and they quickly reassured me that my parents would be more than welcome. But I was nervous - what if we got a bunch of drunken and immature college students on our tour? Ugh.
I needn't have worried.
As we drove out of Florence into the Tuscan countryside for our wine tour (more on that later), we passed through the Porta Romana gate. In the middle of the traffic circle was this statue:
If you can't see it clearly, there is one female figure facing away from the city, while the figure on top is another woman who is looking back in the direction of Florence. According to our guide Emmanuele (aka Manny), the statue is meant to represent the love of Florence. Though you may go away and leave it, once you've fallen in love with this city you will always return, and you will carry Florence with you in your heart. You never fully leave.
Well. Talk about hitting close to home.