My first tip for those of you considering European Travel with your family is to go for a long enough time that the first three or four days of jet lag, bad weather, intestinal issues, and disoriented children can be written off as "Just Getting Used To Things". I decided to make some use of myself during this problematic time by sharing my wisdom with all of you - the rest of my crew is at the Carrefour looking for car seats and Imodium. Ahem.
After I whined for a week straight about packing, we finally got on the airplane. And it wasn't terrible. Well only a little bit. When the lady at the gate yelled above the din of the hordes of travelers gathered that families with small children may begin to board, we had to beat our way through the dozen Older German People [Sans Small Children, Natch] who immediately got in line and I thought to myself, "Oh right! This!"
But the flight itself was manageable, if also very long and very boring and mostly uncomfortable. Molly was the only who got any sleep, seeing as how she scored herself a nice dark window seat and zonked out for the last three hours of the flight.
Frankfurt Airport, however, where we spent a brief layover, was the Absolute Pit of Hell. My parents had warned us of this fact via email and when I mentioned it during a conversation with a friend who frequently travels to Europe she said, "Oh. I'm sorry." But I am a patient and understanding lady when it comes to people I don't live with and felt certain that we would Carry On.
But I was the one tearing up with Unholy Righteous Indignant Anger in security because OH YES for whatever reason, after deplaning and riding a tram thirty miles to the other end of the airport, we got to go through security. Again. And these people. THESE PEOPLE. They were horrible and rude and without a drop of sympathy anywhere in their beings. Getting through airport security is an exercise is losing one's dignity in any airport, but Frankfurt has taken it to an entirely new level. I cannot adequately describe the scorn and contempt with which we were told to take out ALL our liquids and ALL our electronics and why yes INDEED the sleeping utterly-exhausted three-year-old would have to be removed from her stroller, PATTED DOWN, and walked through the scanner. And if her mother walked an extra two [TWO] steps to place her BACK in the stroller, ignoring the commands to HALT! HALT! from multiple venomous security agents because she herself needed to go through the scanner, she would INDEED be chastised like a child, and her fury made fun of by a man of Goering proportions who must have nothing better to do with his life than hassle mothers of small children who just got off a ten-hour airplane ride. "Ma'am, if you just LISTEN to us and FOLLOW DIRECTIONS everything will go SMOOTHLY," a prim and possibly possessed woman snapped at me. All I could do was Glower and Seethe, but trust that I did both of these to the utmost of my ability.
The tears didn't come, however, until a security agent, after cycling our carry ons through the machine another two times because we hadn't taken everything out properly, gazed upon our children's water bottles [Funtainers, for those taking note for future travel] with something like horror. THEY CONTAINED SOME WATER. Note! Of the three bottles containing scary water, only two of them were selected for closer inspection. An expressionless woman gingerly held the two bottles at length and took them to first a pair of uniformed men and then a manager type who then directed her to a Special Testing Room where the water in the bottles was to be tested for Top Secret Bomb Making Agents (I am assuming). At this point I fairly screeched, "LET THEM HAVE THE WATER BOTTLES AND LET'S GO" whereupon my clearer-headed husband responded, "Do you want these people to think we're GUILTY of something?!"
Eventually the offending thermoses were returned to us and we were told we were free to leave and BY GOD I AM NEVER GOING BACK. I actually really do have a VERY high tolerance for Bullshit and People Who Are Just Doing Their Jobs, but I have never been made to feel so stupid, so imbecilic, so utterly like a piece of human garbage. In relating this trauma to my parents my father said, "Not hard to see how those people became Nazis, isn't it?!" Which was said somewhat in jest and ordinarily I would have found it within myself to at least ACT like this was an indecent thing to say, but as it was EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING MYSELF, I congratulated myself on my observations and VEHEMENTLY AGREED.
Well! That's over with!
Now we are in Italy. And you guys. I am in love. The last time I was here I was pregnant with Jack and everything is totally different and exactly the same. When I think of this place I usually think of the time I spent here as an unhappy to moderately less unhappy teenager and all the ways my experiences here contributed to my Hated Anxiety Episodes, the things I didn't yet know about myself, the boys I had crushes on, how much I wanted to LEAVE and BE A GROWN UP and STOP BEING SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. I don't so much think about Italy itself, specifically this smallish suburbanish not-too-interesting-for-tourists part of Italy that was, for quite a while, the place I was "from". The way the houses look, how the stores close in the afternoons, the fish shop and the cheese shop and the meat shop and the bread shop, the language, the mountains (oh my God, the mountains, I cannot wait until the weather gets better so I can instagram the crap out of the mountains), the pace of life, the driving, the old buildings mixed in with the new, the way it is all so familiar and also so incredibly different from my own life.
Last night we went to a bar (so in Italy, the bars are more like coffee shops that serve drinks and also gelato and cookies, so basically the best places in the world) with old friends of my parents. And I used to go to this bar often in high school. It looks exactly the same. The same daughter of the owners was still working there (and has her own child and is probably the owner now) and she recognized my parents and we all had gelato (I had mango cheesecake TO DIE FOR) and it was twilight and the town was quiet, but also sort of buzzy like a proper Friday night, and I couldn't help being nostalgic. But I don't think it's JUST nostalgia, not least because I don't HAVE a lot of nostalgia for this place! I wanted to leave so badly! My parents lived here for THIRTEEN YEARS and act like I know all the places and people they know and I'm always, "Dudes. No. I was here for my angsty teenage years and ESCAPED ASAP. I remember none of this." But it appears that I remember the pace of life and the tastes and the views and apparently I have really missed it.
And thank God we're here for two weeks because the first few days haven't been ideal. Jet lag is doing its best to render my whole family useless, including myself. The weather is TERRIBLE. (It looks to get better right when Phillip and I go to Paris, and then possibly go back to terrible when we get back.) We wanted to go to Venice today, but the idea of marching around Venice in the rain sounded miserable so we headed to a larger city market this morning (not as big or busy as I remember - my dad says the huge influx of big American-style everything stores is hitting the markets and small shops hard) (this is where they're at right now) (I'm sad I'm not there). It was wet and gray and blah, but we made up for it with cappuccino and sweets at my parents' preferred pasticceria and a tour of the cathedral. My kids were enthralled with the church and it wasn't even the sort of church you'd make a point of visiting. Even this regular boring not-tourist-town church had frescoes and statues and oldness and I loved that they were so interested in all of it.
Tomorrow is supposed to be the only nice day for the forseeable future, so we're going to try it tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law and 10-month-old nephew fly in tomorrow afternoon and join us in this house - I haven't even told you about the house! That's for another post, I guess. Too much space wasted by the evils of the Frankfurt airport. We're also hoping to go to the beach one day and a small town on a mountain lake my parents particularly love. Other than Venice not a lot of "important" sight seeing and this is honestly fine by me. Just "living" in a town is its own experience. It's not like my kids are dying to do anything other than open every Kinder egg in sight.
I'm posting all my pictures to Instagram (/mighty_maggie) if you like that sort of thing. Unfollow if it's not! So far it's been a fun and stress-free way for me to document the trip. I used to collect every bit of paper and take a million pictures for scrapbooks that I never ended up making. Now I'm instagramming and the kids are writing in their journals every night (BLESS my former-grade-school-teacher mother for taking up this responsibility so far!).
I think I'm going to go take advantage of the rainy day alone time to sprawl on my bed and read... exactly what one should do on her European Vacation, yes?