Playing catch up

We left for our vacation in Italy on Friday, February 22 around 6 in the evening.  We took the overnight train, arrived in Rome on Saturday morning, left for Venice on Wednesday afternoon, left Venice late in the evening on Saturday the 2nd of March and arrived back in Vienna the following morning.  We were on vacation for about 8 1/2 days, which was time well spent.  We’ve been back for about 5 days, and I’m just now starting to catch up.

I’m just *starting* to catch up.  Meaning that I’ve opened the mail we accrued when we left, washed a few loads of laundry (although the pile is still large enough that it tipped over and covered half the bathroom floor this morning), almost caught up posting blogs and emailing and backing up pictures, and, today, for the first time since we’ve been back, I was fairly certain I knew what day it was, all day long.  By Monday, we’ll probably be pretty much back on a normal schedule, and life will get back to business as usual.

Considering that I also started doing laundry and packing 2 entire weeks before we left on our trip, at this point I’ve devoted much more time to executing the details of the trip and organizing everything afterwards than we actually spent on vacation.  (And that doesn’t include the time it took to actually plan the trip, find the hotels, buy the train tickets, etc.)

I’m sharing this, not to complain, but to acknowledge that travelling (and even more so with kids) is a ton of work.  I think it’s easy to get caught up in the fun, and forget to mention how much work goes into making a family vacation happen.  I think it’s one of those things that we (all, collectively) think should be easier than it is.  And it just isn’t.  It’s a lot of work.  And there isn’t a way around that (at least, not that I’ve found).  And I just want to put that out there, along with the highlight reel of idyllic pictures of cruising the Grand Canal in a gondola, and the stories of how great the food was and how well the kids behaved.  Even though we travel (a lot) and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at making the whole thing work, from reservations to packing to scheduling to actually enjoying the trip, there is just so much effort that goes into doing it.  And I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture and give the impression that, when it’s hard, something is wrong.

As a parent (especially one that stays home with the kids), vacation is just doing your normal job, off of your schedule and without all of your stuff.  Dan usually says that after a vacation, he goes back to work to recuperate from the intensity of our trip.  It’s a completely different concept of “vacation” than we once had.  Now that I’m used to it, and that’s what I expect, it’s really wonderful, but it isn’t the same as sitting on the beach sipping margaritas (which, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever did while I had the chance).

It is hard.  I’m exhausted.  I need a vacation to recover from our vacation.  It was totally, completely, 100% worth it, but it’ll still be a few days before we really get back to normal around here.

Dreaming of England and Ireland

Of all the places I’ve been, there’s nowhere I’ve loved more than England and Ireland.  Everywhere we’ve travelled has had its own appeal, and I have yet to go anywhere I didn’t enjoy a great deal.  But England and Ireland have a special hold on me.  I started thinking about when we’d return before our plane had even landed in Vienna.

842Most specifically, it is the Lake District (most particularly, the Newlands Valley) and County Antrim in Northern Ireland that I feel so drawn to.  It’s possible that my infatuation with these places could be attributed to simply spending a wonderful few days there last year, but I don’t think so.  I feel a real connection with both of these places.  I want to go back, to explore and experience them again.  I want to see what they’re like in different weather and different seasons.  I want to know what they’re like at their best and at their worst.  I want to discover the hidden, off-the-track places you don’t find during one brief visit.  I feel attracted to these places.  I want to know them better.  I’m invested.

I know we’ll go back.  We will most likely go back this year.  I’m itching to start planning our trip, because I know exactly what I have in mind.  For financial and logistical reasons (I can only manage to have so many trips in various states of planning before my brain and my bank account start to explode) I haven’t actually started the planning yet, but I can’t wait.

1319Last year, we saw a little bit of many things in England, only a tiny bit of Scotland (which, I suspect, may be nearly as captivating once I spend some time there) and a little of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  We’d never been before, and there was so much that was “not to be missed”, so we drove ourselves all over the British Isles (and we drove ourselves a little crazy) trying to see it all.  Now that I”m hooked, though, the pressure is off.  I know I’ll go back, so I don’t feel the need to “see it all” on this next visit.  We’ll certainly spend a few days in the Newlands Valley and in County Antrim, but we’ll add in a few new things, too (including some more of Scotland, for certain).

The details remain to be worked out, but I’m dreaming of this trip already.  I can’t wait to go back and visit with the sheep that wander the roads in the Newlands Valley, to drive on the steep, narrow roads and set the kids loose to run around another valley lake.  I miss the coastline of Northern Ireland — the green steadfastness of the land and the immense, wild sea.  I cannot wait to go back.  Just the thought of going back brings me joy.  I think I’m in love.

Italia with a side of Mina

Italy is a place I’ve always dreamed of going.  Even back when the thought of travelling outside of the US was scarier to me than it was exciting, Italy was on the (very short) list of places I knew I wanted to go . . . someday.  I think my enthusiasm grew from my interest in the Renaissance and Reformation eras of history and a fascination with the art in and from Italy (even though I really know nothing about art).  That, and pizza.  It seemed like if all that good stuff came from one place, it would be worth checking out.

But, after spending our first summer here in Vienna, I was pretty certain I was not going to venture any further south in the summer months, unless it involved sitting on a beach somewhere.  The European notions of handling summer heat, largely without air conditioning, don’t work very well for me, and I figured that if I couldn’t handle that at a northern latitude, venturing to Italy during warm weather didn’t make a lot of sense.

Our initial plan had been to see Italy this past December, so we could enjoy the festivity of Rome and the Vatican once everything was done up for Christmas.  Though when I sat down to plan that trip, back in the fall, I realized that December is one of my favorite months of the whole year HERE, so why would I want to leave?

But now, we’re really going.  The trip to Italy has been planned.  We’re going in February (cool weather, few crowds).  We started off (as we often do) with an overly ambitious wish list of destinations:  Rome, Florence, Siena, the Cinque Terre, Venice.  From experience, I’ve learned that trying to manage that in a week, with the kids, would be miserable for all of us.  So, we narrowed it down to three, and then decided to limit ourselves to just two, so we can really enjoy them, slow down, relax and have a great time, with no pressure.

So, we’re going to Rome, and then to Venice.  Because I can’t imagine a trip to Italy that didn’t include Rome, and Venice seems so beautiful, and so romantic that I didn’t want to miss it (not to mention we literally have to travel through it to get anywhere else in Italy).  We’re taking the train the entire way — the overnight train (our first) from Vienna to Rome, a train from Rome to Venice and then the overnight home to Vienna.  We have plans to see a lot of the sights in Rome, to ride on a gondola in Venice, and to eat a ton of Italian food.  (Benjamin is overjoyed that we are going to the country that invented pizza.  We’ve promised him pizza and gelato every day.)  I am super excited.

And, we get to bring Jo along with us on this adventure.  And then, to make it all even more exciting, my sister, Amanda (or “Mina”, to the kids) is coming over to join us for our trip.  We are all so excited.  The kids did a happy dance (quite literally) when I told them she was coming.  Seeing Italy is a dream come true, and being able to do it with my family makes it even better.  Looking forward to Italy!