Sunday, May 13, 2007

Look out Europe... Here I come!

Back in January I started my countdown for the trip of a lifetime: 16 days in Italy and Spain. I bid a tearful goodbye to Meredith, sobbing as I held her precious face in my hands while imploring her to have a great time. It seemed like an eternity before I would be joining her. But now my counter sits at 4 days! and on Thursday I will get the best Mother's Day gift possible, the chance to fly to Milan, reunite with Meredith, and travel with her through some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable.

As quickly as the past few months have flown by, they have been busy ones. I've spent countless hours planning every aspect of the trip: airline tickets, hotel reservations, Eurail passes and reservations, attraction tickets, shopping for a wardrobe, getting Euros (no small deal in a remote outpost like Portland!) and consulting with the experts (Meredith and my fantastic AAA travel agent, Chris) on every little detail. I've also worked hard to rehabilitate the ankle I badly sprained in February so that I can walk for hours and hours on all kinds of terrain.

...ok, maybe not ALL kinds. Bridges like that are just death wishes waiting to be fulfilled.

You see, I've never travelled to Europe. Unless you count brief forays into Quebec and Toronto, I've never left the United States. So, I am very excited to finally make the trip "across the pond." And getting to see my daughter after a four month separation is just about putting me over the top of the happy meter. It's a good thing the Italians are emotional people because there is going to be a massive PDA (Public Display of Affection) in the main Milan train station when I spot my little pookie-lou. They will need the Jaws of Life to pry me away from her!

We have a VERY busy two weeks planned. We will spend two days in Milan where she will introduce me to sights that she has come to love and know very well. We will then travel to Naples for two days, taking a side trip to Pompeii and visiting the tragic ruins of 24 August 79 A.D. Of course we will have to try Pizza, the culinary pride of Naples and unlike anything we have here in the states.

We then travel to Rome for two days. Two of Meredith's favorite movies of all time are Ben Hur and The Gladiator so we will visit the site of the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum so she can imagine herself back at the famous chariot race and mentally relive the bloody battle between Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. My contribution to that city's itinerary is a tour of the Vatican Museum culminating in the opportunity to stand in the Sistine Chapel and gasp at the glory of Michelangelo's breathtaking artwork. I know two days will only whet our appetites to see more but we will cram as much into that time as possible...and probably make a pact to come back again someday.

Florence is our next stop. Meredith has been there before but is eager to return. Our plans include trips to the Uffizi Gallery with its magnificent Renaissance sculptures and paintings and the Accademia where Michelangelo's David is displayed.

We also plan to climb the famous bell tower next to the cathedral. That will be the true test of my ankle and one of many points, I'm sure, where I will wish I had stuck to that weight loss plan I started in January! I'll be the one wheezing in the back of the group saying, "You go ahead... I'll catch up!" as I gasp for air.

Two days later we return to Milan for a night and, perhaps another chance to enjoy an Apertiva, an italian version of "happy hour" with wonderful finger foods. I think those have been one of Meredith's favorite experiences over there.

The next morning we board a train and head west. We will travel along the Gold Coast, through Monaco, spending a short time in Nice for lunch and trip to the markets adjacent to the train station, and then on to Montpellier, France for an overnight stay before we board the train the next morning for Barcelona, Spain.

We will spend two days in Barcelona and then travel to Madrid for two days. We have no set itinerary in Spain and will probably enjoy doing things at a slower pace after our busy first week. I do want to visit the Prado Museum in Madrid, see some Flamenco dancing and indulge in some tapas, a Spanish saucer shaped minisnack. We'll play the rest of the week by ear and see how the spirit moves us to play tourist.

Friday June 1st we will take a brief flight from Madrid back to Milan to spend the night and then fly home to the U.S. the next day. We will hopefully be tired but happy travellers, carrying back so many memories of a special mother-daughter journey together.

I don't expect to be able to blog from over there but I will be keeping a journal. So, it's arrivederci per ora, i miei amici. I promise many pictures and stories when I get back.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sisters, Sisters... We will always be such loving sisters...

I have two sisters and, as the oldest, I will confess to not always being thrilled about sharing my parents' affections and the family spotlight with them. I was 3 when my sister Lynny was born and, according to my mother, from the day she came home from the hospital I made it my life's mission to figure out how to send her back. I was 11 when my sister Betsy was born and in her case I decided, jointly with Lynny and our brother John, just to aggravate the hell out of her. We alternated between being her additional parents and teasing her to the point of tears (hers not ours).

But now we are all adults. Our parents are gone and their deaths have solidified our connection to the point where we can enjoy each other's company and have a civilized adult relationship. OK, that last part isn't totally true. Somehow when we get together, as we did last weekend, we do a certain amount of backsliding into the roles we played as children.

Our annual Sister's weekend took place in Boston, a location accessible to each of us in different ways. Betsy flew up from Orlando, I took the train down from Portland ME and Lynny talked her son Paul into driving her over from Albany (with a monetary bribe thrown in to seal the deal). Despite rainy weather we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and took Boston by storm.

We started Saturday morning with a trip on the hotel shuttle into town.

We are all wearing a pin that Lynny bought each of us for Christmas a few years back, a pewter "sisters" pin. Betsy and I have a tendency to forget our pins, much to Lynny's annoyance so the day before our trip I emailed Betsy and reminded her to bring the "goddamn sister's pin" so Lynny wouldn't be pissed off at us. Betsy printed out the email to show Lynny, who was shocked at my cavalier attitude towards such an important family artifact, but seemed willing to forgive me that irreverence since I had, in fact, brought my pin and had caused Betsy to do the same.

Our first stop was Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall where we shopped a bit, had lunch and bought pastries to eat out in the sunshine that finally made its appearance. Betsy and Lynny shared a miniature Boston Creme Pie.

...and we all sat and soaked up the sun for a few minutes before heading off to explore the city.

We decided to each buy the sisters cartoon at the beginning of the post after a brief argument over hair color ("NO, I will not let you choose SILVER, even if I am the oldest and do have the most gray hair.") and nicknames vs. real names. (I did let Betsy and Lynny put MeMa, my childhood nickname, on THEIR pictures but refused to put it on mine.)

We decided it would be fun to really play tourist and take a trolley ride around town. Our driver was a colorful but very knowledgeable character who introduced himself to us all as "The Colonel" and man, could he talk! (I guess that WOULD be a prerequisite to the job. I can't imagine riding around with an raging Introvert at the wheel!) When we got on, the three of us made a beeline for the backseat, something we always did on the schoolbus as kids. We could talk and laugh up a storm back there and, an an added bonus, it hit every bump like a carnival ride, sending us flying into the air.

I was amazed at how much I learned about Boston, a city I have visited frequently during my 25 years in Maine. The tour came with an additional 45 harbor cruise so, after getting off the trolley we headed for the pier to wait a few minutes for the next boat to arrive.

As we waited, little did we realize that the sun was about to disappear and be replaced with a drenching, steady downpour. Just after we got underway on the boat the skies opened up. We had fortunately chosen indoor seating since the temperature had dropped. Soon we could barely see out the windows of the boat for the driving rain. Our main entertainment became watching the people who had initially decided to sit outside scurry indoors and play musical chairs with the few remaining dry, indoor chairs. Even with reduced visibility it was so nice to just sit on the boat and relax.

Our next stop was dinner at Legal Seafood. We dashed across the street through the driving rain and managed to get seated immediately. A few drinks and some appetizers later we had a wonderful dinner. Legal Seafood can do fish like nobody's business. And we had a great waiter. Kevin was a riot and, best of all, he thought we were a lot of fun. We managed to laugh ourselves into tears not once, but at least three times during the course of the meal and he got right into it too. We decided he deserved a portrait with us.

My face was so red because it was so warm in there... and we had been laughing so hard... and because I had two gynormous Sangria's (at Kevin's suggestion!).

Next stop: the North End and some pastries, gelato and cappuccino. Maybe it was the Sangria and maybe it was the freakin' convoluted geography of the North End but it took us almost an hour to find a pastry shop. At one point, Betsy asked me if I knew where I was going. I knew it would freak Lynny out if I said no so I said something about walking off our dinner. (Sorry, Bets!) Ultimately, we did find a pasticceria and enjoyed some sweets. I had some Tiramisu Gelato from here...

Lynny and Betsy had a gorgeous Tiramisu pastry and we indulged in a traditional North End Italian pasttime, peoplewatching. Then we headed back to the hotel where Lynny zonked out completely while Betsy and I watched Saturday Night Live. Lynny has maintained for years that she doesn't snore. Betsy and I can now attest to the fact that this is complete bullshit. Payton Manning was the SNL host and it was one of the funniest episodes I have seen ev-AH! So there we were, Betsy and I laughing and snorting until we could hardly breathe, and Lynny snoring like a buzzsaw, forcing us to turn the volume up to drown out the snoring. I'm just surprised we didn't get a call from the front desk asking us to keep the noise down.

And then it was Sunday and time for us to go our separate ways. We pronounced the weekend a complete success and vowed to repeat the whole experience next year... except for Paul. I can imagine that he is already scouring his list of friends for an excuse to avoid making the trip next year. This picture says it all...

Can't you just read his mind by the look on his face?... "Lord, get me the HELL away from these crazy, bizarre women!" Don't worry, Paul... we'll work on getting your Mom to do something adventurous next take the train or the bus.

My sisters and me! Together we're weird, wild, wacky and WONDERFUL! I love you gals and I can't wait until next year!!!!! Smile and say, "Sisters WEEKend!"