Monday, June 27, 2011

Walking, walking, walking....

The Cathedral of Florence
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
Facade started in 1296 and mostly
completed in 1469

Still Tuesday, May 17, 2011 in Florence:

We wandered just a short distance from our hotel, spying a lovely restaurant with an outdoor cafe--Ristorante Coccodrillo on Via Della Scala. Coccodrillo means crocodile in Italian, but we weren't looking for any menu items with crocodile as an ingredient.

The bruschetta was refreshing with enormous chunks of tomato, sprinkled with basil and spread on tasty bread, drizzled in olive oil and a hint of garlic. We had ordered an appetizer tray with a variety of samples including some pate concoction that no one was really crazy about, along with other items that I can't even recall because I didn't write them down. I was so tired, I felt almost dazed. I could easily have made a meal of the bruschetta alone, but chose lasagna with meat sauce. This selection was surprisingly light--just right, not leaving me with an overstuffed sensation. We had been advised in advance to always order the local or regional house wine, and this choice did not disappoint us.

There was a cozy, snuggling, older couple at the next table who were constantly looking over at us. I wondered if we were talking too loudly or bothering them in some way. When Laura and Marianne went inside to locate the ladies' room, Sue, the female from the next table, came over and introduced herself, apologizing for staring. She said that I look exactly like her niece. She and her husband were visiting Florence from Australia--a 20 hour flight--and they would be leaving tomorrow. Having just experienced our arrival today after flying during the night, I can't even fathom a 20 hour flight. It must seem like an eternity. I think I would get mighty antsy.

The restroom proved to be a bit of a challenge. Remember, we were all still jet-lagged and dealing with a 6 hour time difference. Sharon and I marched into the restroom and were greeted by a large sink area and mirrors. We saw a smaller room with stalls and proceeded, each separately wondering why the toilet seats were in the "up" position. I completed the intended task, washed my hands at the large sink with mirrors, and applied fresh lipstick. We suddenly noticed that a tiny plaque on the entrance door to the smaller room we just exited was the symbol of a person wearing pants. Uh oh...then we saw another adjoining room that had a symbol depicting a person wearing a skirt. Too bad we weren't alert enough to see these miniature signs before we inadvertently used the men's room, and we were thankful that no men came into that restroom while we were in the stalls. We decided that we probably needed to be more observant, which would be easier after a good, solid night's sleep.

We agreed that Ristorante Coccodrillo was a good find, as the food was delicious, our waiter, Donnie, provided exceptional service, and the wine was exactly what we were looking for--not too sweet, not too dry. Now it was time to walk off the calories. Inquiring with a few passersby regarding how to reach the River Arno, we achieved very little success in obtaining dependable directions. We set out walking, walking, walking until we finally located the river. While we did have a map from the hotel, it was difficult to understand due to the fact that we weren't even sure where we were located on the map! Looking at it was almost a dizzying experience because it showed a myriad of streets, the names of which were printed in the tiniest font known to man. We were wishing we had a magnifying glass to study it. Tomorrow, we will determine the hotel's exact location on the map, and then we should have a better sense of direction. Maybe! I'll be the first to admit that I probably have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know.

When we reached the River Arno, it was nearing sunset, but we were able to take a few photos. An interesting fact--the Arno overflowed its banks and flooded Florence on November 4, 1966, killing 40 people and damaging/destroying countless works of art and rare books. There were some stores in this area, but they were not open by the time we arrived there. We will make it a point to return to this same place again during the daytime. Let it not be said that we missed a shopping opportunity in Florence!

Once again walking, walking, walking, we found our way back to the hotel, rode the elevator like a bunch of zombies, and proceeded to our individual boudoirs to crash for the night. Tomorrow's another day, and much sightseeing and shopping awaits us. Day after tomorrow, Marianne has prearranged a Tuscany wine tasting tour for us, but until then we will be content to attempt to get our bearings, explore, dine and what else????!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011:

I awoke at 6:00 a.m. Italy time---and I mean wide awake. I couldn't wait to explore Florence. I showered, dressed and watched some CNN, which was fine, but it seemed to be rather repetitious, as I kept hearing the same stories over and over again. While I was waiting for the other girls to be ready to face the day, I was watching the flurry of activity on the street below. People were rushing to get to work, and there were so many small motorcycles and scooters that would zip in and out of traffic. As I surveyed the scenes before me from my large window, I noticed that there had been an accident between a bicycle and a scooter, with the cyclist still stretched out on the busy highway. Traffic began to snarl as buses, cycles, scooters and cars attempted to avoid the accident scene and not run over the injured victim. Eventually, the ambulance arrived and transported the girl to receive medical attention, but they left the bicycle and scooter in the street exactly as they had been positioned during the accident--apparently pending the arrival of an investigator. In the interim, all of the traffic was backed up for a long distance as they formed a single lane to navigate around the accident scene.

We were all ready to go in search of food, and we spied a small coffee shop on the corner very close to our hotel. We had to quickly learn coffee bar protocol, another new experience for us. We found out that we had to browse the bakery items first in order to view our choices. Next, it was a walk to the cash register to pay for what we intended to order. Sounds simple, but wait just a minute. There were decisions to be made. Were we planning to sit at a table, stand at the counter, or take our items to go? The price to be charged was dependent upon our selection of these available options, an escalated fee being levied to dine while seated at a table. Good to remember--having a place to sit comes with a price! Receipt in hand, one goes back to the pastry counter to order the item paid for and then on to the coffee bar section to order the beverage already purchased. We chose to sit at a table and collect our thoughts regarding our anticipated agenda for the day.

Re-fueled and invigorated to the degree possible, we located a small grocery store across the street and purchased the items that we would want immediate access to over the next few days while staying in Florence. It was going to be nice to have our own supply of liquid refreshments, snacks and fruit rather than having to chase them down at every turn. The store was so small and had the narrowest aisles. It took us a little while to make our selections, as there was obviously no brand recognition here. The grocery carts were these tiny contraptions that looked like miniature orange crates on wheels, and we were trying to compose ourselves because we didn't want to be making fun of the Italian grocery carts and create an international incident. Depositing our treasured items back in our rooms where we had small refrigerators, we set out on a walk that would take us across the street once again, but to an opening leading to underground shops which eventually connect with the train station.

Wandering through a few stores, mostly those selling shoes and handbags, Marianne was the first to make a purchase--an adorable pair of turquoise sandals with a sweet decorative flower/design along the top. We readily noticed that the shoe styles were fabulous and distinctly different from what we are accustomed to seeing in our stores, and they truly were not overpriced.

After scouring the underground stores for potential acquisitions, we headed for the outdoor leather market vicinity, about which we have heard so many favorable comments. Laura had been waiting for this moment since the trip plans began to formulate! While the leather coats were just amazing, with the leather being so soft it felt like butter in your fingertips, we were also fascinated by vendor after vendor offering magnificent scarves. A huge percentage of the population we encountered seemed to be wearing some form of a stylishly tied scarf. This included several men that we casually observed. We carefully checked out the belts, handbags, various leather goods, jewelry and trinkets that serve as nice souvenirs. I am one of those people who wants to see all of my options before I decide what to buy. I could shop and shop until my feet ache, but until I'm ready to make a purchase, I am content to look at all of the merchandise.

In one of the piazzas, there were postcards for sale and Sharon decided to purchase a couple. As she was reviewing her choices, she came across one selection that offered an enhanced view of the private parts of Michelangelo's David. We couldn't help laughing and commenting, because who would actually want to buy one of these postcards and send it through the global mail? To top that one, Marianne spotted one that took ludicrous to an entirely new level. The private parts were wearing sunglasses! That pretty much sent us over the edge with laughter. There were even bookmarks with the same scene. Would our husbands pose for a similar photo shoot? We didn't think so.

Our next goal was to work our way back to the River Arno bridges. We knew there were stores in that location that were just waiting for us to make an appearance. What we expected to see there were New York City diamond district-type goods, but what we actually encountered was an astonishing surprise!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rome to Florence

Still May 17, 2011:
Laura and Marianne negotiated a fixed price for the taxi ride to Termini--smart idea so we aren't driven all over creation when it is actually a 16 mile drive between points. That being said, after squeezing us and our luggage plus carry-ons into a very small taxi, the driver proceeded to cart us all over Rome. We couldn't move a muscle, as this Fiat van was beyond tiny. The vehicles we'd seen so far in Rome were all compact, as they have to be able to navigate the narrow streets. We zipped through the congested city traffic, and we noticed many Smart Cars, Fiats, motorcycles and scooters.

Sharon, Marianne and Laura were shoulder to shoulder in the back seat of this miniature vehicle, while I was seated in the front with a suitcase lodged between the driver and me. He had to reach around my large piece of luggage in order to shift the gears of this manual transmission. We began to wonder how much longer this ride to Termini could possibly last, and the driver seemed to be taking us past every historic site in Rome. He probably thought he was doing us a big favor, but this was really close quarters. Laura finally asked him how much further we had to go, and he deposited us at Stazione Termini a few minutes later.

We got our bearings in the station and located the agents from whom we would purchase our train tickets to Florence. We went through the process, showed our passports and paid 63 Euro each by credit card, but they couldn't yet tell us from which track it would be departing. Laura, Marianne and Sharon purchased a McDonald's lunch because there didn't seem to be any other choices available. I had eaten such a big breakfast before we landed in Rome, I wasn't ready to eat again. Perhaps I was just too excited about actually being in Italy to recognize a sense of hunger.

I stood off to the side while I was waiting for the girls to purchase their McDonald's lunches, and a woman approached me, jabbering in Italian. I just shrugged my shoulders in the international signal for "I have no clue what you are saying." She walked on and jabbered to someone else. Another woman came up to me a couple of minutes later and did the same thing, eliciting the identical response from me. I don't know what their stories were, but we were warned about pick pockets, distractions, etc. so I was on guard.

We read on the huge board that the train to Firenze (Florence) would be at Track 1E. We rolled our collection of luggage and carried our other bags all the way to Track 1E, only to discover no train. We asked two different railway employees and finally received a response that we should be at Track #2. How could we possibly know this? The board indicated that Track #2 was for the train to Venezia (Venice). We didn't really understand the confusion, but we were finally headed for the correct train, along with many other people who were anxious to board. While we struggled with my 66 pound suitcase, a nice man offered to assist in boosting my elephantine luggage onto the train. I'll bet he was sorry he had generously volunteered if he had to seek medical attention for a hernia repair.

We were finally settled into our pre-assigned seats on the train. Our transportation was Trenitalia, and this was a high speed, clean, modern train which took us on a 1 1/2 hour pleasant ride to Florence. The system seems very organized once you actually find your train and track, and your ticket indicates which car you are in, along with your seat number. We were all very quiet once the train began to advance along the track. I assume everyone was somewhat exhausted, but we could finally take a deep breath and relax during this ride--until we would once again be forced to maneuver our luggage.

All was peaceful until the conductor arrived to see our tickets. Laura's ticket had absolutely vanished. She frantically searched her handbag, her carry-on--even her McDonald's bag. The ticket was nowhere to be found. Did she drop it when we were juggling luggage? Calmly, Marianne left her seat to assist in the search. The conductor, very annoyed, said to Marianne, "YOU talk to her!" Marianne looked through every possible nook and cranny. We reasoned that she must have had her ticket when she boarded because she readily found the seat number that matched her ticket. It had to be here somewhere! Suddenly, all was well once again as Laura reached into the pocket of the seat in front of her, where she had placed the ticket for safe keeping. "This is what I always do on Amtrak," she said. It's so easy to become disoriented on insufficient sleep and being deposited into the center of a foreign land! Eventually, the conductor with the stern expression returned to see if there was still an issue with Laura's ticket. He grinned from ear to ear to learn that the elusive item had been located.

As the train sped along the Italian countryside, the scenery was of green, rolling hills, houses with orangish colored roofs, boxy structures like one often sees on House Hunters International, vineyards planted on what appeared to be fairly dusty soil, mountains in the distance, and several herds of sheep. I placed a call to Fred to let him know that we were all fine and were on our way to Florence. The time difference is six hours so I have to calculate New York time in order to avoid calling Fred or Mom in the middle of the night. Our phone connection was great until we began gliding in and out of tunnels, so we concluded our call.

Arriving in Firenze Santa Maria and Novella at Piazza della Stazione in central Florence, we all pushed and pulled our luggage to exit the train station. Our hotel, The Waldorf Suite Firenze, is supposed to be located directly across the street. We saw some retail stores, but no hotel. We walked back to the front of the station, where we asked two uniformed policemen or train station officials--whatever they were--and they were simply very little help. We didn't know if it was due to the language barrier or that they truly don't know or actually don't care. Maybe we were just too tired to absorb what they were saying, as their command of English was limited. We hauled all of our belongings back across the street once again and inquired with a scarf vendor on the corner. He pointed in a direction on the opposite side of the station, but communication was sketchy at best. Another person we asked said, "Go to the other side and ask the people." Oh boy.

Here we go again--back across the street, through the bustling station, steering and pulling our now very cumbersome appendages to exit on the other side of the building. Did we see our hotel from this new vantage point? No. Nothing. Nada. We saw some small hotels, but not ours. We walked a short distance to the right and came upon an encouraging sight--a post office! This was fantastic! The post office knows everything! We have hit pay dirt. We watched Laura's luggage while she entered the post office, armed with the folder containing the reservation which shows the address of our hotel. Marianne took the opportunity to sit on a step to rest her weary bones. Laura exited the post office looking exasperated, as the young, snotty male postal clerk had responded, "This is a post office--not an information center." Very helpful indeed.

We walked across the street and to the left and almost marched right past our hotel entrance, as it is small and rather inconspicuous. We entered the front door and came face to face with a daunting set of marble steps. There was no bellman or anyone to assist us with our paraphernalia. We went through the check-in process and asked if we would be able to split our room costs on separate credit cards at the end of our stay, and were delighted to receive an affirmative response.

The elevator was tiny, so we ascended to Floor 3 in pairs. We discovered that our suites were generously spacious, but there was one minor issue. There was only one queen size bed in each entire suite, which is okay, but with two large rooms within each suite, we shouldn't really have to share a bed. The two rooms within each suite had separate bathrooms, closets, flat screen tvs, safes, etc., but one room had a bed and the other a sofa. I opted to sleep on the sofa so Sharon and I could take advantage of the privacy offered by the two separate rooms which were joined by our own private entry way.

Marianne and Laura's suite had the same layout, but they had a balcony because Laura trends toward claustrophobia. I wondered how she was feeling during our seemingly never ending taxi ride in Rome. Although Sharon and I didn't have a balcony, we had a fascinating view of the street and piazza below. I found myself opening my window (yes, wide open fresh air--no screens) and watching the persistent activity of the tiny autos, motorcycles/scooters, and pedestrian traffic.

What we have discovered so far on our first day in Florence:
  • The hotel does not supply Kleenex or other tissues in the rooms other than toilet paper
  • We were warned to bring our own washcloths, as they are not supplied. This is true.
  • My shower has a curved door with a very narrow opening. If you are larger than size 8 or 10, I'm not sure how you'd even enter.
  • Each restroom has a bidet. We're uncertain as to how to use them, but if we were inclined to do so, I guess we'd figure it out.
  • In order to activate the electricity in our room, we must place our door key in a slot that is located in our entryway. The key remains in the slot while you are in the room. We found this out the hard way, after calling the front desk to tell them our room had no electricity. Sharon said, "I feel like I've been asleep for twenty years and I just woke up and I don't know how anything works!"
  • The only English-speaking television station we are able to view is CNN.
  • Laura and Marianne, although they used a converter for the electrical service in their room, experienced an overheating curling iron. They were afraid it was going to fry.
  • Sharon's cell phone carrier had given her a converter for her cell phone, but it was the wrong type. She was able to borrow one from the front desk upon leaving a 10 Euro deposit.

We all crashed in our respective rooms for a much needed rest and made plans to meet in the lobby at 6:00 pm to locate a restaurant for our first dinner in Italy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

And so we came to Rome...

L-R: Laura, Sharon, Marianne, Mary Anne
May 16, 2011:

Fred brought me to the airport at Myrtle Beach and made sure all is in order. He is very concerned about the fact that my luggage is of a back-wrenching weight. He had upgraded my seat to first class, even though I insisted that it wasn't necessary. He was incredibly sweet, saying that I would arrive far more rested after stretching out in one of those big, recliner-type seats rather than spending eight flying hours with my knees next to my chin. He is such a gem.

The flight from Myrtle Beach to Charlotte is just long enough to become airborne and before you know it, you are descending into Charlotte. I allowed plenty of time between flights in case there was some issue with the MB-Charlotte flight being delayed or even canceled so I have a lot of time to kill in Charlotte. Because I am flying first class, I was able to access the US Airways Club lounge, which is a much nicer location for visiting the restroom and sitting around reading. It is fairly quiet in there unless you have someone seated next to you who is on a lengthy cell phone conversation. Why do people think they have to shout when they are using a cell phone? The chairs are plush leather and very comfortable so I enjoyed my time in there. They also have monitors for all of the flights, so I see that mine has been delayed by at least an hour. I received a voice mail with this information as well.

Our good friend, Joe, is flying into Charlotte from NY. He will be staying at our house for a few days while I am away. I checked to see where he will be arriving and went to his gate to say hello. We chatted and I walked him to his next gate for his Charlotte-MB flight. We visited for a while, and then it occurred to me that I should check the monitors again. Sure enough, they have altered my flight time again. It is not as long a delay as they had originally said. It pays to keep a close eye on those monitors!

Our flight is now in the air, headed across the Atlantic to Rome, and I am getting very excited. They served a surprisingly tasty dinner and people have begun to settle in to read or sleep. I'm too wound up to sleep just yet, so I chatted with a nice young man seated next to me. Unfortunately for him, he is a captive audience unless he feigns sleep. He tells me about his family, his job, and the reason for his trip, and I tell him that I help people write their life stories by teaching workshops and working with individuals to capture their memories to share with future generations. He can't believe what I have just told him, as he had recently told his wife that he needed to preserve his grandfather's story. I offered to email him a list of questions that he can use to prompt his grandfather's memories, and he seems genuinely appreciative. It's what I love to do. Next, I visit the restroom and remove my contact lenses for the duration of the flight. This way I can close my eyes and completely conk out.

Everyone eventually falls asleep, including my seat partner and me. One strange thought entering my mind before I drift off to dreamland is that this is a very long flight, much of which is over a very large body of water. There is no place for an emergency landing, unless it's like Captain Solly Sollenberger in the Hudson. I musn't think those thoughts. The fate of this flight is not in my hands, but in much Higher Hands!

May 17, 2011:

Hours later, and it is actually the next day due to the time difference, all of the lights in the cabin are turned on and it is time to be served breakfast before we arrive in Rome. I fold the blanket I've been sleeping under, gather some belongings from the overhead bin, and go into the restroom at the front of the first class cabin. I am so prepared. I have brought a complete change of clothing, toothbrush, toothpaste, deoderant, hair brush and spray, and I am ready to freshen up so I don't enter Rome feeling funky. US Airways actually gave us a little gift--a small bag with similar items, but I'll tuck that away for a later date. I wasn't aware in advance of their generosity.

When I exit the restroom, there is a long line that has formed--no doubt everyone needed to visit the facilities after awakening. I feel somewhat guilty that I've taken so long in there, but I do feel far more like tackling breakfast and the next part of our journey since I am refreshed.

As we leave the cabin, a woman who is accompanied by her husband and two grown children is talking very excitedly about this being her first trip to Italy, and her enthusiasm is contagious.

And so we came to Rome...Acts 24:18b (NIV)

We must go through a checkpoint before we can access baggage claim. There are two lines--one quite long and one relatively short. No one seems to know where we are going, and just before reaching the guard who will check our passports, I see a sign that indicates this shorter line is for European nationals and the longer line is for non-European nationals. Oh well...I figure if they want to kick us out of this line and send us to the other, they won't be shy about saying so. They are patient, however, and let me through along with the other Americans who were behind me in line. Duh! Now I know what to look for.

Next was a train ride to baggage claim. Laura, Marianne and Sharon have arrived about two and a half hours ahead of me, so I am anxious to connect with them. I proceed to baggage claim, look all around at the sea of faces while I wait for the arrival of my luggage, but see no one who is remotely familiar. Nor can I understand a word of what is being said all around me in various languages!

My sixty-six pound suitcase arrives, and thank goodness it has wheels. I am managing it without too much difficulty. It must be those shoes and cosmetics weighing it down. I also have one carry on bag plus a tote bag that I bought for $5.00 in Charlotte to lighten the load in my carry on. This $5.00 acquisition enabled me to place my handbag in there, along with some items from the carry on to keep me from walking sideways from the imbalanced state I was in. Best $5.00 I have ever spent.

Hmmm...I'm looking all around into a sea of strange faces and don't see the girls anywhere. Where could they be? For just a brief moment, I feel slight panic. I'm in a foreign country, everything around me is chaotic, and I have no idea what all of the jibberish is that is being uttered around me. I can't just hail a cab and go to our hotel because we are going to catch a train to Florence as soon as we connect with each other. This is getting slightly unnerving.

I take a deep breath, move over to the side of the room...away from the crush of human traffic and luggage going by, and retrieve my World Mobal phone. What were those crazy dialing instructions? Will I even have service on this phone in this location? Is it reliable? Were we crazy to plan this on our own? Marianne and Laura have traveled to Paris and Venice before, and Sharon has been to Ireland. I've traveled extensively throughout the U. S., but the only foreign lands I've ever been in were Canada, Mexico, Grand Cayman, Bermuda and Jamaica. What if I can't find them or reach them by phone? Do we even know what to expect without a tour guide to direct us?

I recall the dialing instructions and punch in the number for Sharon's cell. "Hello," I hear my friend say. Whew! What a relief! She tells me that they had exited the area after claiming their luggage. They wanted to get a bite to eat and then couldn't re-enter the baggage claim area. She puts Laura on the phone to direct me to a location where we can meet. Now we're talking!! I follow her directions and wait and wait, walking around, checking the faces to see if I can spot the two sisters, Laura and Marianne, and my friend of over thirty years, Sharon. Just when I was beginning to feel uneasy again, I spotted Laura and Marianne, giving them a huge hug. I was so happy to see them. Sharon had walked to another part of the room to look for me, but we found her, hugged, and scooted our luggage outside to begin our trek to Florence.

There is supposed to be a special train just outside Fiumicino Airport, also known as Leonardo da Vinci Airport, that takes travelers directly to Termini train station. We never even saw this aforementioned train, so we opted for a taxi to take us to Termini. We are beyond ready to tackle this Italian adventure, which will begin with our train ride to Florence--that is, whenever this taxi actually delivers us to Termini.

Stay tuned for the next segment!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Suddenly I Find I'm Going to Italy

An Unexpected Trip:
At the end of March, 2011, I found that in the very near future, one of my bucket list items would soon become a reality. Two years ago during my annual "girlfriends only" sojourn to Cape May, New Jersey, we all thoughtfully developed our bucket lists--things we would love to do before we depart from this earth. The great thing about a bucket list is that it can be filled with dreams, realistic desires, and even goals that may seem impractical or unreachable, but they are uniquely yours. Several of the Cape May Girls had indicated a trip to Italy as a worthy entry on their bucket lists as we carefully annotated our choices.

By a strange twist of circumstances, here I was in April, 2011 suddenly planning a trip to Italy that would begin on May 16, 2011. It seemed more like a dream than something actually in the works, and there was some important preparation in order. Marianne, Liz, Sharon and Laura had spent several months and countless computer hours researching and plotting the details of this excursion. Now Liz was faced with a medical issue which required immediate attention and treatment, and it was necessary for her to cancel. I am the substitute for Liz as the fourth person on this journey, and so this Italian series on my new travel blog is dedicated to our dear friend, Liz, along with many prayers and much love! When I told Liz that I would be her replacement for the trip, I promised to document our entire experience so she would feel as though she was right there with us. The other girls were extremely helpful to me in recalling the highlights of each day, and I would journal about the details each night.

Liz, this is for you. And very special thanks to my husband, Fred, who wanted this trip to be one of the best events of my life.


May 15, 2011:
I must be crazy. I signed up my husband and me for a couples member guest golf tournament the day before my flight leaves for Rome. Our guests, Mike and Kathy, will have to forgive me if I have no level of concentration for my golf game today. My mind keeps wandering. Have I forgotten anything of great importance for European travel?

1-Valid passport-Check. Valid is a key consideration here. The passport can't have expired or be expiring during the trip. This sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised what some folks forget to review.

2-Cell phone-Check. I had paid a visit to my carrier, who was of no assistance whatsoever in my quest to be sure I would have coverage in Italy. After much Internet research, I resolved the issue by locating For a very modest price, they sent me a phone, battery, SIM card, charger, and a supply of converters to use in virtually any country. The phone is mine forever, and there is no rental or per day fee. The only charges will be for minutes used, and if one doesn't plan on lengthy, numerous calls, it is a great way to go.

Laura, Sharon & Marianne are flying to Rome from Newark, NJ because they live in upstate New York, and I am taking a short flight from Myrtle Beach, SC to Charlotte, NC to fly directly to Rome. Our flights are a couple of hours apart in arrival time, so we need to be able to connect. I have studied all of the directions on the use of this new phone and am ready. I want to be able to occasionally touch base with my mom and my husband, Fred, just to reassure them that we are fine. We have heard numerous accounts of gypsies and pick pockets in Italy, so I will want to be able to put their minds at ease. We will have email access, so I will be able to keep in touch regarding important business matters and also with my relatives.

3-Cash-Check. While we are accustomed to using our credit card to multiply points from which we have enjoyed some great vacations, I know that there will be situations where cash is easier for managing cabs, splitting the cost of meals, etc. so we are bringing some cash for that purpose. My bank recommended requesting Euros four to five days in advance, but the package of cash arrived much faster than that. The conversion rate stinks, however.

4-I-pod-Check. Charged and filled with my favorite music.

5-Nook-Check. Charged and stocked with several books I have yet to begin reading.

6-Camera-Check. Charged and all photos saved to CD. Memory stick is cleared.

7-I-pod-Ditto on the photos.

8-Packing-Oh, dear. This is really a problem. Marianne has advised us to pack lightly. We must be able to easily maneuver everything in our possession, as we will be taking trains from destination to destination throughout Italy. I've tried very hard to comply, but what if it rains? What if a cold front comes through? It's mid-May--anything can happen, and I am the queen of advance preparation. Also, I'm not very good at re-wearing any clothing without laundering.

My favorite suitcase, which you push rather than pull, wouldn't hold even half of the items I have placed on a guest room bed for packing purposes. I must re-group and bring a larger suitcase. Shoes are in issue, but I believe I have conquered the difficult decision making process by limiting my colors to black and brown. Sounds simple, yet I will need two pairs of sneakers (1 black, 1 brown), two pairs of casual shoes (same), 1 pair of cutesy flats (1 black, and I'll look for a brown pair in Italy), one pair of brown sandals and 1 pair of black Fit Flops, which are sparkly so they can be dressed up or down. Imagine if I hadn't limited my pants, capris, shorts, leggings and dress to black and brown? Yipes!

9-Notification-Check. I have notified family and friends of my itinerary and have given everyone Fred's cell number so he can be reached in case of emergency. I also notified my credit card company of the dates I would be in Italy so they will not think the charges on my account are suspicious.

10-Bills-Check. All bills that could possibly be due during my absence have been accounted for and are paid for the month.

11-Meds-Check. All vitamins, supplements, blood pressure medication, and requisite baby aspirin have been carefully counted and placed in my Monday through Sunday container, with the following week's supply in a Ziploc bag, enhanced by a few extras in case there is some bizarre delay. As mentioned above--queen of advance preparation.

12-Document storage-Check. I bought a small soft pouch from Totes that hangs around the neck and is easily tucked under the clothing. This is where I have placed my passport, credit card, driver's license and cash. The pick pockets will have to do battle with me for my shirt if they want to access my important valuables.

13-Jewelry-Check. I am leaving my good jewelry at home. No sense in tempting the gypsies!

I think I am ready to go!!!!!!

A new day in the journal, along with photos, will be posted each Monday beginning June 13, 2011. Be sure to follow so you won't miss anything exciting. There is much to tell!