Nancy's Top 10 Tips for a Blissful Journey Abroad
Recently I had the pleasure of sharing a two-week holiday in Italy with my eldest sister, Christine. Having flown for United Airlines as a flight attendant for over 40 years, she had come to know the Tuscany region as a second home, complete with an Italian lover. I suggested the idea of traveling together while I was privy to her buddy pass as we had not shared a long stretch of time in a long time.
We embarked on our plane out of San Francisco, and with her privileges enjoyed the comfort of business class seats on our flight across the pond. Travel Tip #1 For any overseas flight do what you can to get yourself into business class. I am now spoiled and have to figure out how to afford this on my own as it’s a whole different experience to have the pleasure of privacy and luxury with a fully reclining bed when spending 9 hours in the air. Though I never really slept, I was fully rested by the time we arrived in Rome. If you can’t get yourself up front, be sure to get an aisle seat so you can stretch your legs often without climbing over others. Movement is key to comfort on the other end of your flight.
Transitioning from airport to train ride to taxi, the countryside flew by and we arrived after 24 hours of travel to the medieval land of Firenze – Florence, the city of love. Over the next six days I was saturated in art, history, architecture, and Italian cuisine. Travel Tip #2 - wear flat, thick-soled, supportive shoes as you will walk miles on cobblestone streets. And the stairways to the top of the Duomo and Campanile Tower are worth every drop of sweat. My legs as stronger for it. Travel Tips #3 – keep up your Yoga lunges, squats and breathing practices on a regular basis so you are ready to take part in these physical excursions with glee. Then put your legs up the wall at the end of the day.
To balance out the heat and stone of Florence, we secured our own vehicle and headed out into the countryside. Driving the well paved highways was a breeze. It was the manner by which the Italian drivers like to tailgate and speed by you that can cause one’s sympathetic nervous system to run into hyperdrive. Travel Tip #4 Don’t worry be happy. You're on vacation. It’s okay to go slow, circle more than once in a roundabout and back track when a wrong turn is made. Lucky for me, my sister and I were born with the happy gene, so with every wrong turn (and there were many) we laughed and accepted the fact that adventure lies around every corner. (okay, I admit being a bit frustrated more than once due to my inability to follow the GPS correctly, but I brushed it off quickly enough to keep the peace in the front seat)
Nestled into an Agra Turismo farmhouse (Europe’s Airbnb) we found ourselves completely alone as the only guests. It seems that the first two weeks of September present a lull in the tourist season. (take note if you are headed there next year) This was both a plus and a minus for us. We did not experience our vision of sharing extravagant meals with a party of others at our garden table for 20. Nope, just me and my sis’ toasting to our health and happiness. We did enjoy strolling through the medieval hill towns of Cortona, Certaldo, and Volterra with less than the average number of tourists. Travel Tips #5 Sneak your vacation into off-season.
Due to the lack of company at our tiny organic hilltop farm, we switched gears by cancelling four of our seven nights at Nicodelfalcone - a place which we do not recommend. Though a lovely location, unfortunately we found the host to be overly opinionated on tourism and veganism. As visitors who are tourists and not vegans, we felt less than welcomed. So un-Italian of him! We left and headed north to a friend’s villa in the Valdelsa hills. Travel Tip #6 Be willing to change course. Although it offset our budget a bit, this was a once in a lifetime experience and so we willingly shifted in order to get the most out of our journey.
Another exciting drive took us north again where we were literally embraced with open arms and the warm heart of Susana, the jovial hostess of her family home turned boutique hotel. We highly recommend Le Boscarecce, located halfway between Florence and Pisa. There we immersed ourselves in the quiet solace of Dolce Far Niente – the Italian way of embracing pleasant idleness.
Travel Tip #7 Allow for down days (or at least a chunk of hours) to practice the art of doing nothing. Rather than cramming in all you can do, let yourself BE.
Still just two of four guests during this quiet window of time, we enjoyed warm conversations, creative cooking class, an endless list of recommendations to visit, and peaceful sleep. Now in two separate bedrooms, my sister could snore away while I finally found silence. Travel Tip #8 Pack your pratyahara essentials – tools to calm your senses. Be ready for unexpected sounds and lights with earplugs, eye mask, and sleeping aids to insure the need for deep rest. Luckily my sister provided the latter. Not one to partake in pharmaceutical sleeping pills, I gladly dosed myself to get through the night with her rather disturbingly loud “purr”. Rest is crucial for right attitude.
Our excursion was topped off with one 12-hour day in Rome causing a deep urge to return to this lovely country. So much to see, so much to feel, so much to learn. My well-skilled sightseeing sis’ provided not only the perfect itinerary and best guidance to Italy’s prominent locations, she encouraged politeness and kindness as a means for communicating when one does not speak the language. Travel Tip #9 Be kind. Learn the words “thank you", "I’m sorry" and "excuse me" in the local dialect and use them before launching into your own need for directions or services. Keep in mind, that a smile means the same in all cultures.
Wrapping up our trip with another easeful flight home, my final Travel Tip #10 is this…Start and end each day in gratitude. As I reflect on the journal entries penned with my morning espresso, I can literally relive all the big and little experiences with deep appreciation. Not only was this an Italian adventure, it was a sweet bonding with my sibling. I not only learned about the ancient history of Romans and Artisans, I learned to love and honor my sister more deeply, welcoming both our similarities and differences. It was a time to cherish her stories of days gone by feeling into the richness of the memories she holds. And now, we share a sweet memory of our own.
Molte grazie, Italy. Alla prossima.