Thursday, January 17, 2013

Diversion from my latest obsession

I think I've become obsessive about our debt, our income, money, fiances and the like.  This comes to NO surprise to anyone who has known me at all.  It is my M.O.  I am just programmed to have fits of obsession that wax and wane.  This one really hasn't waned.  Ever since I read the Total Money Makeover in the summer of 2011 I've been in high gear.  GJS has watched my Twilight obsession come and go, my diet crazes and work out plans, my chore charts and television marathons.  But this is different.  I have to admit that I've been convicted of late that I need more balance in my life.

Enter my thoughts on appreciation.  When I keep track of what I'm thankful for it sure makes me more content.  I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere that this has been scientifically proven.  When you take stock of the blessings in your life, the negatives and not-there-yets (debt freedom, a baby, perfect skin/hair and body) don't seem so significant.

So to honor the idea that I can find balance in focusing on my blessings and not always my money concerns....I give you one of the greatest happinesses of my life.  One Italian honeymoon.  I have mentioned my love of travel, right?  For your reading pleasure, my travel journal from our honeymoon.

Honeymoon Day #1
We woke up at the English Inn and enjoyed a quick dip in the hot tub before packing up and heading to the in-laws to unload and pick up my Dad.  We got a quick bite at Subway for breakfast and continued on to O’hare.  We were very early.  We had a light lunch and waited to board the first flight of the day.  We were in some tight seats – very little leg room.  But the flight entertainment was impressive.  I got to watch Eclipse.  Both GJS and I napped a little – me more than he.  Dinner was pasta – salad with chicken – bread and some dessert I gave to GJS.  When we arrived in Amsterdam we sailed through customs and GJS slept quite a bit before we took a bus to the plane.  It was chilly.  Second plane had a bit more room and we both fell asleep.  Oh, we had breakfast of o.j., pastry and bread on the 1st flight and yogurt and bread on the 2nd flight.  We landed in Venice and figure out a ride.  We took a water bus from the pier into San Marco Square.  The place was bustling but not packed.  It took a lot of twisting and turning through tight alley ways to find our hotel, Residenza Casa San Marco.  Our room is the first room on the 1st floor.  It has a king sized bed with gold and brown linens.  The carpet is dark blue with a gold diamond pattern, pink, floral painted furniture including a desk, armoire, two side tables and a luggage rack.  The bathroom is more modern with a shower stall and bidet, which we haven’t used yet.  We got into our place and showered.  Afterward we got dressed and wandered about Venice and took a few pictures.  We had a very late lunch of rolled up pizza that they called gondolas and later our first gelato.  Mine was caramel and GJS’s was pistachio.  Both were excellent!  We also each had a glass of wine at a small open bar onto a piazza.  It was fun, romantic and we enjoyed the architecture and canals and little cute shops and restaurants we stumbled upon as we wandered.  We returned to the room and I more or less passed out and GJS joined me a little later and we slept until 8:00 a.m. the next morning.

Day #2
We had our first Venetian breakfast this morning around 8:30.  I had granola, some fresh seeded green grapes, a roll with strawberry jam, a plain yogurt with honey made from Italian flowers, water and fresh hot chocolate waiting for me in a carafe just like the coffee drinkers.  After our breakfast we headed out to our gondola ride.  100 Euros and worth every penny.  Tiziano was our gondolier and he gave us a little history as he guided us through the canals.  We saw some gorgeous architecture including Marco Polo’s house and Casanova’s.  The oldest building on the Grand Canal is 1000 years old!  GJS had planned out our itinerary for the day.  We walked over to Chiesa Di Santo Stefano which was a church with artwork.  After that we saw the Gallerie Dell Accademie which was huge and took a lot of time to see all the religious artwork.  Next we found a café and had pizza and salad to share – it was a nice sunny spot and I sipped water and GJS had a Bellini.  We waited a bit for the Chiesa Di Santa Maria Della Salute to open again for the afternoon crowd.  It was a large circular church with paintings – the sacristy had a collection of Titians.  We walked back to the Piazza San Marco to tour the Basilica Di San Marco.  First time we had to wait in line but the art and mosaics were very impressive and glittery.  We went on the roof and saw the four horses – which represent the four gospels.  Then we had a bit of a rest at the hotel and changed for dinner.  We wound up having a fancy dinner all of fish courses at I Rusteghi.  The bar tender said we just had to trust him – it was a unique dining experience but we both left feeling guilty for dropping so much dough on one meal.  We had purchased tickets to see some opera earlier in the day and so it was 8:30 before we knew it so we headed out for some culture.  There was a small orchestra, all dressed in period costume and 3 main opera singers – it lasted about an hour and a half and was pretty entertaining.  That concluded day two.

Day #3
Time say goodbye to Venice and hello to Florence.  We got up and had another lovely breakfast at our hotel.  GJS tried to double check on how to get to the water bus – but alas the hotel employee only spoke Italian.  We found our stop without incident.  The ride was brief and we had a bit of time to have hot cocoa and cappuccino at the train station.  The train was very nice and we were seated with a New Zealand couple there on holiday.  We saw some beautiful countryside and some not so impressive stuff as well.  It had rained when we arrived in Florence so it was a bit puddly trying to navigate the old Roman roads made of cut stone.  The hotel is very convenient, right at the end of Ponte Vecchio.  GJS and I headed out to visit the Doumo and climbed 463 stairs to get the top and the panoramic views of Florence. The church itself was magnificent as well.  We wandered and had yummy panini and white wine.  Later we had a classic Italian dinner.  I had baked lasagna, chicken and roasted potato and later we shared a huge gelato.  We also secured tickets for tomorrow’s activities and window shopped for a purse for me and a jacket for GJS.  I had a wakeup call of stomach discomfort and took a nice hot bath while my husband read and we turned in early.

Day #4
First full day in Florence, it was a blue sky and no hint of rain.  We were dressed for a day of museum walking.  Breakfast was nicer than the last hotel and much busier.  I had some berry yogurt, water (no gas), some cereal and an apple.  Our 1st stop of the day was at 10:00 for the Galleria dell’Accademia where we saw the breathtaking David – this status was so impressive and lifelike.  We also saw more Renaissance art, statuary and musical instruments.  I have to admit this stuff is impressive but is getting repetitive.  Same subject matter over and over again.  P.S. before the museum we had a photo op at the Santa Crocce.  Back to the day, we window shopped and also souvenir shopped, got some scarves for Beth and Lisa and a shawl for GJS’s mom.  I also found my purse for E23.90.  That was exciting.  We again stopped for Panini and I got spicy salami and sheep cheese while GJS tried the wild boar and a lard sandwich for the road.  We ate and rested at the hotel a bit until our 2:00 appointment with the Uffizzi.  This was the most amazing museum housing works from some of the most famous artists in the world.  I preferred the Botticelli’s including the Birth of Venus while GJS dug the Da Vinci’s.  My back and feet were killing me by the time we left.  We did a bit more shopping pickup up candies for my co-workers, truffles in jars for Ben and ourselves, a bottle of Pinot Grigio from Venice and a E10 bottle open.  We also got a calzone, salad and tortellini with cream sauce and ham which we got to go and ate in our hotel room.  GJS had also gotten some water colors and tried them out painting a portrait of me.  We are enjoying our cultural adventure but stressing a bit about money.  We’ve already spent over $700.  We’re ready for Rome and plan to be thrifty.

Day #5
We had another sunlit breakfast in Florence – which was yummy but for my dried out orange.  GJS led us straight to the train station where we seemed to wait forever for our train – which we had about 5-10 minutes to board.  Our four seat section housed a young man on his laptop watching Resident Evil and us.  We saw some lovely Tuscan countryside as well as the inside of dark tunnels.  Luckily our hotel was super close to the train station unfortunately our room wasn’t ready yet so we left our bags and sought out the metro to start our day in Vatican City.  The train station also housed the metro stop so we navigated through and were fairly quickly swept away to the outskirts of the Vatican.  We had a bit of trouble finding the Pizzarium for lunch but well worth the effort.  I had the ham and broccoli sauce pizza which was flaky and delicious and GJs had turnip and sausage with a cheese crust top.  Impressive and the hole in the wall was packed but we snagged a little bench with a round green table.  Afterwards we found the entrance to the Vatican and entered the Vatican Museum.  We more or less made a bee line to the Capella Sistina passing many gorgeous works of art as we walked through corridors and courtyards.  We saw statues, tapestries, paintings, painted ceilings and walls and mosaics.  The chapel itself was truly awesome and there was an aura in there I can’t describe.  We exited and found St. Peter’s Square which was another impressive sight to behold.  After a little wait we made it into the Basilica which again just blew me away with sumptuousness.  After a bit of wandering there we took a little rest in the square before seeking out the metro and our way back to the Hotel Impero for a map and most needed removal of shoes.  We left around 7:00 for dinner on an Italian rooftop garden terrace.  Service was excellent and the food and wine yummy.  I had pasta pomodoro and GJS had pork scallopini.  We had a great time over our bottle of wine and then walked over to Trevi fountain which has been my 2nd favorite thing to see in Italy.  The vibe was electric and romantic and alive with people.  We threw in some coins and took a few pictures before ducking into a cafe for a cannoli for two.  It was creamy and delicious and I want MORE!  We wandered back and turned in for a wonderfully restful night’s sleep.

Day #6
Today was the most ambitious one yet I’d say.  We had breakfast at the hotel discovering the yogurt dispenser.  No hot chocolate though.  GJS led us to the metro and we had quite a wait to get self-serve tickets.  Our adventure started at Grand Circus where we saw the old Roman racetrack and a very new graffiti-style art contest setting up at one end of the arena.  We walked past the different displays of art and took a few pictures before entering the Palatino, which was free for the day.  It was a huge complex encompassing many ruins of grand ancient buildings including the House of Augustus, Temples to Saturn and Romulus, the forum and tons of broken columns and stairways and arches and whatnot.  It was sad though but the addition of trees helped.  We had had enough walking for the morning but toured the Coliseum before heading to lunch.  It was indeed massive and I enjoyed the time we were there however brief due to my need to eat.  Our lunch spot Cavour 313 was delish!  The best meal yet with moscato wine, bread and the most flavorful prosciutto, cheese, honey and hazelnut rolls. I was in heaven and hope to recreate this meal at home.  The atmosphere was cozy and all in all I left a very happy camper.  Next we walked to the Pantheon but stopped to see the elephantino, an elephant statue with an obelisk on top – it was cute and whimsical.  We also walked by Trajon’s column before arriving at the Pantheon – which was stunning but under construction and teaming with people.  The dome was unique and the building was very well preserved.  Then I asserted my influence to procure a stop at the Piazza Novona for gelato and a break around the beautiful fountains.  I had hazelnut and Garrett went for pistachio.  Then we headed towards the Spanish steps – which was super crowded and really didn’t impress me much although we had a nice view from the top.  On the way back to the metro we picked up some gifts for Katie and Audrey and got back to the hotel for some rest.  We changed shoes and went across the stress for pizza and salad.  Then onto find another cannoli for desert.  We were ready to get off our feet so we did joint foot massages and went to bed.

Day #7
And then we had travel troubles.  Another Roman breakfast at Hotel Impero before we left for the metro and our departure for the Spagn stop.  We had a bit of difficulty finding the Hertz office due solely to the failure of our maps.  Once we found our way to an underground garage and the office we had keys in hand in short order.  Our little Ford Fiesta would whisk us from Rome onto the rugged coast of Sorrento.  Navigating through Rome to find the GRA, the loop of highway circling the city, was most disagreeable.  We got lost and turned around several times.  The scenery; however, was worth the stress.  I had no idea that the countryside around Rome was so mountainous dotted with colorful small towns.  The highway was a smooth ride and the tolls were quite reasonable.  We accidentally stopped for lunch at a hotel restaurant instead of the autogrill on the highway.  It was pretty reasonable and the pasta el dente and flavorful.  Then we had a slight accident bumping into the wall when we started up again for the next leg of the journey.  Finding Sorrento was also tricky although driving through the mountain tunnels and emerging on the other side to see soft shafts of sunlight on gorgeous vistas of sea, shore and vegetation was wonderful.  We eventually found Sorrento and a sign indicating our hotel.  Up a Cliffside we went and were free of our harrowing ride.  The hotel was more upscale and the room has a seaside patio and gorgeous views from all sides.  We caught a bus to town and did some shopping and walking around before the heavens opened and drenched us in rain and we without my trusty umbrella.  We sought shelter at a restaurant where I enjoyed pizza with tomato sauce and GJS had the seafood spaghetti.  Next we had a mini cannoli, GJs also had a cappuccino and another gelato, Nutella flavored this time and me with the richest hot cocoa ever.  We found a row of shops still hopping on a Sunday evening and procured a few more gifts before walking back to our bus stop and the drive to the Grand Paradiso.  We sampled the lemoncello and found it quite strong.

Day #8
The best day yet!  We awoke to a rather depressing sight of rain and cloudy skies but we didn’t let that deter our plans.  We got ready and I wore my long black and white dress with my black wrap and boots down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  The spread of food laid out was quite impressive as was the dining area overlooking the sea.  I had yogurt, bread, salami, ham, hot chocolate, chocolate granola with a partial slice of some custard and chocolate pastry.  A brief shuttle bus ride got us to the train station where we picked up tickets for a bus heading to Positano.  We were in a long line and just barely made it on the bus but had to sit separately.  The Amalfi coast is both rugged and enchanting with citrus trees, olive groves, small rows of grape vines and precariously perched houses, hotels and trattorias.  The cliffs are high and steep and the roads hug their edges in hairpin twists and turns.  I bus driver honked his horn at almost every bend in the road to warn other drivers.  We got dropped off in a small square of town and started winding our way down towards the beach where we hoped to catch a boat to Capri.  The rain had let up and the sun began shining. We explored our surroundings and snapped some pictures as we walked and descended stairs.  The beach was rocky and the waves crashed up on the cement shore with vigor.  We had lunch at a restaurant night by the beach.  I had delicious ravioli and GJS sampled the seafood pizza.  We couldn’t go to Capri because the weather was no good.  I found a cute little navy blue dress for E20 and decided that would do in lieu of the black dress I had hoped to buy.  We also got a t-shirt for Ben and a hat for GJS’s dad and another bottle of lemincello to replace the one we had opened the night before.  We found a tiny gas station selling bus tickets and journey back to Sorrento.  The hotel shuttle was oing to be a bit so we did a touch more shopping getting Daddy a sweater, me 2 pairs of tights and GJS some socks.  Later at the hotel GJS took a nap while I had a cosmo with a cat on the back patio.  It was a very strong drink.  We ate a late dinner at the hotel enjoying our leisurely meal of salad, wine, white bean soup (pasta for GJS), veal with zucchini and potatoes for my main course while GJS had a mix of seafood.  To top it off we had a cheese plate for dessert and a night cap in the lounge area where the bar ender kindly made me an Irish coffee with hot cocoa instead of java.  GJS’s was a black Russian.  We have to leave tomorrow…

Day #9
Today we headed home – a long, long day of travel that spills into tomorrow.  We got up and checked outside and saw rain falling again so we knew there would be no Capri.  We packed up our belongings and went down to breakfast.  GJs navigated us down the Cliffside and out of town towards Napoli – we had no trouble until we needed to find the exit to the airport.  Not fun but we eventually found the car rental office and took a shuttle to the terminal.  After a bit of confusion we got aboard the Alibus into Naples.  Dirty, dirty city with insane drivers.  At the bus stop we walked around ‘til we found the metro and took it down to the stop we were taking to get to Gino’s Pizza for lunch.  It was packed, but warm and efficient getting us water, a beer and a yummy margarita pizza in no time flat.  We ended our meal with small portions of cream and chocolate pudding before taking our same route in reverse to return to the airport.  GJS read aloud from his book about the Templars and we waited for our 9:30 flight to Milano.  We also had a nice little Italian airport meal (pasta, salad, water and breadstick) to share which was sweet eating from the same plate and bowl.  The flight was unremarkable and at Milan we found a spot to hunker down for the night since our flight to Amsterdam wasn’t scheduled until the morning.  GJS kept us entertained by reading aloud, getting us hot cocoa and coffee and occasionally slipping me Andes mints and kisses.  It was not ideal but we were troopers.


  1. Now I'm hungry and want to go to Europe!

  2. Get out of your debt and go! Just make sure you bring the most comfy pair of shoes you can find. And have no fear of calories.

  3. Me too! When do we go back? Can I start packing?

  4. Come up with $100,000 to pay off all our debt first, then come up with another several thousand dollars for Italy, and sure. Pack on dear heart.

  5. That was really nice to get more detail on your trip. I would love to go to Italy for a couple weeks or more!

  6. Just think, one day, when the debt snowball is over, you'll be able to!