Italian Vacation Diary: Chapter 1 – Travel Day

Our first flight wasn’t until the afternoon so we had some time to sleep in and gather last minute items the morning of our trip. A two-week (15 days) vacation is a great idea, if you know how to pack for it. I may have overestimated how many different items of clothes I would need during the trip. Stephanie and I each had a carryon bag plus a backpack to bring on the plane. Additionally, we each had a larger bag to check. This much luggage for two people was not easy to move nor fit in many vehicles. We decided that for a 15 day stay we would get a ride to the airport from our home using Lyft rather than park a vehicle at the airport. To be sure we would get a ride and arrive on time, we requested a ride earlier than we needed to. In order to accommodate our excessive luggage we had to request what is called a ‘Lyft XL’. This is a driver with a larger vehicle such as a large SUV or minivan. Normally, this is for when you have up to six passengers, but in our case four of our passengers were bags of clothes. We were unable to find a Lyft XL in our area, so we had to go with Uber.

We arrived at the airport in sufficient amount of time, unloaded all of our baggage, both emotional and physical, and entered the airport. Some years ago I applied for the TSA Pre-check program which allows you to use the special security line which is usually shorter and less disruptive. Stephanie also got to go through the TSA Pre-check line because we booked our tickets together so we were both through security in less than five minutes. We walked quickly to our gate having shedded two of our bags at the airline desk. Upon turning the corner to the D section of the gates, we saw four smiling faces. Those faces of course were Paul, Natalie, Mike, and Alaina. They were all just as excited as us to get to our destination even though we had a long flight ahead of us.

We all decided that we better get some food before our first flight and we proceeded to the airport eatery. I believe between the six of us, we went to three different restaurants which is one of the benefits of airport and mall eateries; something for everyone. While we were eating Natalie saw someone she knew eating behind us. I usually refer to Natalie as “the mayor” because it seems like no matter where we go, she knows someone. This particular person turned out to be Reb Beach most famously of the band Whitesnake. He seemed nice but also in a hurry to leave, and so were we!

It’s now time to board the plane so Stephanie and I took our seats near the middle of the cabin. Back when we booked our flights I had the great idea that one of us would take the aisle and the other the window seat. With any luck we would have the middle seat empty for us to stretch out into. All of our luck must have been used up on a safe flight because a man sat down right between us. Normally I don’t mind sitting next to a stranger when that person is respectful of my personal space and doesn’t talk to me. The guy who sat between us, let’s call him Brian, took a phone call immediately after sitting down. Because I’m a nosey person I listened to his end of the phone call. In my opinion it sounded like he got good news from a medical test or health outlook. After thanking the person on the other end of the phone countlessly, he hung up, threw his hands up into the air and screamed “Whooooo!”. After a couple more “whooos” and fist pumps he stopped. I thought to myself, “Good for this guy, but I’m glad he’s done celebrating”. As other passengers were still finding their seats Brian decided to explain why we has so happy despite no one asking him for such information. Brian had received a phone call that he had been accepted into “his doctorate program”. Now I don’t know his history or even entirely what was involved in this but I don’t think this news deserved the amount of public display as Brian thwarted. I understand how exciting and proud someone can be when they achieve an education milestone but dude, you just got accepted. In my mind he just got approved for a huge loan in exchange for a future piece of paper. 

We both shared several “WTFs”, eyeballs, and giggles over our past two hours with Brian.

As our plane taxied out to the runway Brian turned his attention toward Stephanie and began to compliment her and ask her questions that made me think he was hitting on her. I know Stephanie is very polite and will never stop this guy or tell him that we’re together so I decided to let it play out. A few times things got weird with him touching her, but it wasn’t in a creepy way, more of friendly interactions. As we were taking off Brian gripped his armrests and put his head back like he had never been on an airplane before. I could see his hands turning white from how hard he was gripping the seat. I kept reminding myself of how I should have never willingly kept an empty seat between us.

Shortly after we were up in the air, Brian fell asleep and I had about an hour of peace on our short flight to Atlanta. Most of the time I listened to music as I was saving all my real entertainment for the long flight. As we descended into Atlanta Brian awoke from his somber where he seemingly forgot everything he talked about before falling asleep. Part of his short-term memory returned as he became instantly reinvigorated by his doctorate news. He mentioned again how excited he was with more fist pumps and “whooos”. This time he was talking to both of us instead of just Stephanie, but definitely didn’t know we were together. The one thing he did, that I will never forget, is he crossed his arms, put his head down and gave Stephanie and I both playful arm scratches from under his folded arms. He also let out a very weird and excited “Ewwwww!” as he touched us. I froze and didn’t know what to do because I never expected something like that. We landed safely and I rushed off the plane leaving Stephanie and her new boyfriend behind. I even saw Brian get Stephanie’s bag down from the overhead compartment. As I walked away I laughed to myself, “I’m a terrible husband”. They walked off the plane together and Stephanie joined me and I saw Brian walk away in defeat. We both shared several “WTFs”, eyeballs, and giggles over our past two hours with Brian. Now it was time to get ready for our nine hour flight to Venice, Italy.

We boarded the giant 767 plane and got settled in. Stephanie and I opted for the “Delta Comfort+” seating which gave us a little more room and two seats by ourselves. They were a lot less roomier than I imagined. This flight was much less eventful than the shorter flight before it. I tried to sleep and definitely fell asleep a couple times, but never to the point where I felt like I was rested. The person in front of me decided that they were going to recline all the way back like no one should ever do. He was essentially reclined back to in between my legs and I was left starring into the balding top of his head. I attempted to lean my own seat back, but didn’t want to disturb the people behind me like a good human being. They served dinner which was surprisingly good. I had brought a bunch of snacks and drinks but didn’t need any of it as they kept you well fed and well hydrated. Shortly after dinner, they served breakfast which was funny to me because yes we were landing in Italy in the morning, but we just ate dinner a few hours ago. Breakfast was also surprisingly good. We landed in Venice around 9am local time but really it was more like 3am at home. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was very tired.

 

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Italian Vacation Diary: Prologue

After a successful Outer Banks trip in 2016, Natalie, Paul, Stephanie and I tossed around the idea of the four of us doing an Italy trip together. The next year both of us couples bought houses and Natalie and Paul were unable to attend the follow up OBX trip so our Italy plans had become unknown. After settling in our new homes we had a chance to talk and we were all in favor of keeping the Italian dream alive. The planning commenced.

We decided that the next spring would be the target time and spreading it over Memorial Day would give us an extra day of vacation to play with. Word soon spread that we were going to Italy so it was expected that we would have some envious outsiders. Paul, Natalie, and myself work at the same company so we had a lot of time to think up ideas at work. Our coworker Mike quickly got word that we were planning this Euro-trip and expressed how he and his wife talked about going to Italy for a honeymoonesque getaway. We accepted Mike and his wife Alaina (who coincidentally works with my mother) into our travel group and began planning the serious details.

One late summer evening the six of us gathered at Paul and Natalie’s house and had a whiteboarding sessions of what and where we wanted to see. I was very ambitious with all the cities and landmarks I wanted to visit since this may be my only visit to Italy. We soon devised a plan to start in the north and work our way south. This was going to take a lot of driving and a lot of time.

As the autumn leaves began to fall our anticipation rose. It was still too soon to act on anything as flights were not available. By the end of the year we had pretty much solidified our plan as follows: Fly to Venice, travel south to Rome, maybe hit Pompeii before making the trek to Sicily. Easy enough right?

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2017… we booked our long and expensive transcontinental flight. We were leaving from Pittsburgh, stopping by Atlanta, and landing in Venice the next morning. It was going to be more than 9 hours on a plane, which was about 5 hours more than my longest flight ever. While I was nervous about the flight the once in a lifetime trip excitement conquered all.

After the flights were booked we set our sites on accommodations. We were going to stay in AirBnBs throughout the country as sleeping six in a house was much more affordable than hotels. Mike and Alaina decided that they would parts ways shortly after Rome and spend some time alone before heading back to the states. This was just another cog in our elaborate machine with shuffling of rental cars, hotels, and AirBnBs.

Paul and Natalie are Italy veterans. Not in the sense that they served in the Italian armed forces, but that they’ve vacationed in Italy a few times. They even made the trip all the way to Italy to get married. Paul is the ultimate Italian tour guide as he fluently speaks Italian and has family members living in the country.

We met one last time in March to go over final details and talk about logistics. You could see the excitement building the more we talked. By this time we had all the rooms, cars, and flights booked and I was pretty far into my Italian language app. The only thing we had left to do was pack. Packing for a 15 day trip is very challenging the subject may come up again later.

I want to write down my experience as well as share it with the world as I feel this was a vacation that may not ever be beat. Lots of adventure and great memories to share. Stay tuned.

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