traveling like a vacationer

I make a great traveler. I make a terrible vacationer.  If this is what planning a trip feels like for most people, than I don’t blame them for not traveling very often.  I had no idea. Honestly.

This April my mother (blessed saint that she is) is taking her husband, Jeff, and my Grandma, Anna, to San Ambrosio, Italy, to visit our Sicilian Family.  (On a side note there seem to be an excessive amount of commas in that sentence but I can’t seem to ditch any of them.)

They all really hoped I could come along.  I really hoped I could too.  At first I thought I couldn’t. April is a busy month for me, because I am a vendor at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival.  Last year I ran the tent by myself and barely had a helper to take a pee break, let alone an epic international family adventure. But through a clever and convenient series of events it seems I actually WILL have the opportunity to go with them.  I have a great employee whom I am fully confident in leaving alone for extended pee breaks, and even for epic international family adventures.  And I have a booth. With real walls and a real roof under which my awesome employee can work with ease.

So with excitement and a slight feeling that I was somehow playing hooky, I visited my trusty travel site, Kayak.com, and began searching through options.

My initial instinct was to drive up from Texas to Maryland and fly from Dulles International Airport. Mostly because I was going to be vending at a Renaissance Festival in Virginia in May and it was a good excuse to drive the tent and some stock up early.  It also seemed to work out because flights from D.C. to Rome were the cheapest I’d seen (around $850).  But then I really started to think about the details.  Details”, I am learning, are a traveler’s worst nightmare. The more needy, clingy, bossy “details” you have to entertain, the more stressful and less pleasant travel seems to become.

First there was the details of timing.  My flights weren’t on the exact same days as the rest of my family’s because I needed to leave time for the drive north and I wanted to try to be away from the festival in Texas for as few weekends as possible.  But once I factored in flight time, lay overs, and extra time spent taking the train from Rome to Cefalu (the nearest train stop to my Sicilian Family’s tiny village of San Ambrosio), I realized that I would only really have 5 days in Sicily at the same time as my family.

Back to the drawing board.

It was right about this time that I realized how many more details were secretly latched onto my first “traveling as a business professional trying to fit in a little family vacation time” trip.  Like tiny leeches you don’t notice at first, suddenly these details had gorged themselves on my stress and grown to massive pulsing blood thirsty little buggers.

There were departure times to consider.  If I flew from Dallas instead of D.C. I could cut out the drive north and depart a few days earlier…but then who could take me to the airport?

There were arrival times to consider. If I flew directly into Palermo instead of Rome I could cut out the extra time on the train up and down the Italian coast. But it was still a two hour drive/train ride to Cefalu where my Sicilian Family could pick me up in the car.  But that meant an arrival time that allowed time to take a bus to the train station and catch a train…that arrived at a reasonable time for a “young girl” traveling alone to arrive.  Similarly, all flights home from Palermo seemed to leave at 6:00 am, which would require taking the train into the city the night before. I felt a headache beginning to throb just thinking about trying to convince my Sicilian Family to let me spend a night in The Big Scary City all alone.

Let me catch you up to speed. In 2006 (2007 maybe?) I visited San Ambrosio by myself.  And when I left, my Uncle Sarro somehow got a hold of my mom’s work number and called her to find out why she hadn’t called yet to tell them I had arrived at home safely.  She hadn’t called yet because I was still in the air! They miscounted the time difference and literally expected me to arrive home before I was physically capable of doing so.  I can only imagine how much they worried (needlessly of course, but worry and guilt are an Italian’s greatest talents) while I traveled that time, and how much more they would worry with every step that kept me alone and in transit this time. Explain to them that I had traversed continents alone with nothing but a backpack and, well, a backpack? No. NOPE. Not even going to go near that with a 10 foot pole wrapped in rosaries.

Convincing them to “let me” fly in and out of Rome instead of Palermo and take the train in and out of Cefalu was a fight I was leaving to my mother. (Did I mention she was a saint?)

What blood thirsty details am I leaving out? Train time tables, hotel and hostel reservations probably, my awesome employee and her sufficient stock of inventory, oh right and price.  Flying DC to Rome was coming in at $850 or so, where as flying Dallas to Palermo was coming in at around $1400.  And that wasn’t even for a great flight that kicked all those other nagging details to the curb.

ARGH! Is this how hard it is to plan a trip for a vacationer? I like the trips when all I need to know are sort of kind of the days I have free, a starting point, and and ending point.  I now truly appreciate the family that has gotten used to me coming and going, and at this point just hopes for a list of addresses and a copy of my passport.  I will never snicker at those I consider homebodies when they admit they’d rather just stay home and relax when they have holiday time off from work.  If THIS is the gauntlet they have to fight through just to get on the plane than I really don’t blame them.

I still don’t know what flight I’ll end up on. I know I have to book something soon. I’d just like to throw a tantrum a little longer first.

With grumbles and pouts,

Aeri

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good buddy

“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

 ~Henry David Thoreau

And nothing makes the world seem so cozy as to be visited by friends from afar.

I’m sure Thoreau just forgot to add that last bit.

This fall I have enjoyed the new sensation of having friends visiting me. How delicious it has been!

First, a friend from Pennsic War decided to work at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and we have had the delightful opportunity of spending out weekends together.  How wonderful it is to discover a new kindred spirit!  Whether sharing ciders and laughs, or cheesecake and knitting projects, or weekends have been a hoot!

Then, a friend who has been working in China had work that brought him to Pittsburgh, PA.  And compared to China a five hour road trip didn’t seem too far to travel for a good friend.  So a visit to Pittsburgh was made! And I have to admit I was impressed with that ol’ city.  I expected smoke stacks and coal mounds, and even sought them out for a photo shoot with the new Rainbow Rampage collection, but it was a tough search down by the river’s edge to find the grit and grime.  Downtown Pittsburgh was clean and trendy and full of art and life.  The tourist center even has a sweet little book detailing all the outdoor art installations throughout the city.  If I only had had time to explore more of them!

I did find the time to stay an extra day and attend the Mumford and Sons concert at the First Niagara Pavilion.  Which was so awesome! They were great.  And the adventure that took us from the Lawn to the third row was awesome too!

Mumford and Sons August 29, 2013
Mumford and Sons August 29, 2013

Then Sandra, my Swiss friend with whom I have shared many a travel adventure, came to Boston with her new beau; and I just had to head north again for a visit. It was one of my first road trips with Shelly, my big white van, and I was excited to test out the comfort-ability of the bed in the back.  It was great!

On the way up I stopped off in Delaware for a few hours to visit with a friend from my Drexel days, and we caught up with each other over glasses of white wine and dainty cheese plates.  Oh Wilmington how I underestimated you!

That night I stopped to sleep at a rest stop in Connecticut.

Lets pause for a moment and talk about rest stops, and deciding which ones to stop at.  Not all rest stops are created equal. As a solo traveler it is important to trust your gut and look for clues.  I was let in on this little tip at a Denny’s when I shared a midnight meal and a counter with a group of truckers on the I-10 West of Dallas.  Straight from the lips of professionals, I took their advice to heart.  I like to remember the three S’s:

1. Shakes

2. Semi’s 

3. Shadows 

Shakes, as in restaurants like 24-hour diners and fast food chains, create traffic and energy at a rest stop.  It may seem bright and noisy, but it is much better to stop over at a place busy with people and frequented by patrol cars.

Semi’s, as in tractor trailers, are usually a good sign that a rest stop is well used and on the beaten path.  If the stop is split between car parking and trucker parking…park with the trucks.  I like to tuck Shelly in between two monstrous truckers and find myself gently lulled to sleep by the deep growling idle of a monstrous diesel engine.

Shadows aren’t necessarily your friend. But the light sources that create them are.  If you are just plum exhausted and can’t bear the thought of traveling a single mile more in search of a bright glowing island of coffee and gasoline than pull into that dodgy looking blue sign rest stop off the highway. If you must park, at least park under the light.  Though it was the consensus of my trucker angels that if you have to choose between pulling over under the light on an exit ramp and pulling into a dark and shadowy abandoned rest stop, choose the exit ramp!

In all of my cross country adventures I have to say that Pilot and Love’s are pretty great truck stops. They have 24 hour restaurants and mini-marts, gas pumps, lots of lights, lots of trucks, and lots of parking.  You can always see them from the highway well before their exit because they have monstrous electric signs with the current gas prices printed in green and red which is a great beacon of hope when groggy highway fatigued eyes are searching for answers. And in the morning when you wake up in the front seat with your legs over the steering wheel and your feet stuck in the dash the cashier won’t look at you funny when you brush your teeth in their bathroom and pour yourself a 24 oz cup of steaming hot, incredibly bland, amazingly rejeuvinating coffee before hitting the road again.  Ah the life of a modern gypsy.

But I digress. Boston.  And then Houston, with another old friend and another new adventure.  Perhaps those stories should be saved for another day.  Each deserves its very own post I think, complete with catchy title and a photo that hints at stories yet to be told.

Over and Out,
Aeri

its just a little snow

After Boston I went home to heal. I laid low, got a few simple jobs, and waited for my arm to catch back up with the rest of me. I had a great season at the Maryland Renaissance Festival selling Roses. So great in fact, that I’ve decided to go back on the road for a while. Until something more interesting and inspiring comes along. Seems I made the decision to go back on the road just at the time of the year most people are getting off of it. Winter is slow. So what’s a girl to do? Go back to Europe of course!

After adding pages to my passport…just in case…and talking a friend into going on a little adventure, I was ready to head back across the pond. Backpack packed, our first stop after a 24+ hr journy was Amsterdam. EJ, formerly known as Angelina, South Korean and former St. Mary’s exchange student, was studying there. We popped in to visit her, stayed for a day, and then ventured into Belgium. Well, we overshot Belgium and ended up in Lille, France. We stayed long enough to ride the ferris wheel and drink some vin chaud, before again heading over to Gent. Gent is nice, it rained, but we pub hopped and drank a lot of great beers. In the morning we tried to get back to Amsterdam and what should have been a three hour journey took eight because of snow. After endlessly delayed trains, and a 30 minute hike through a winter wonderland, we made it back to Angelina’s house. We only stayed a few minutes before heading back out into the elements to meet up with Chris, Sandra, and Peter (from the GEP) and their friends. The next few days were a wonderful Gepper reunion. Chris and I have decided Amsterdam should be an annual tradition- after all we’ve made it 2 years in a row now. That smells like a tradition to me!

From Amsterdam we went (back) to France, to visit Andrea and her fiance Brett in Pont Audemer, France. They live in the MOST ADORABLE place. It is a cottage behind their landlord’s home, with a kitchen (complete with operational wooden stove), small living room, bedroom, and bathroom. It is just the right size, the town is adorable, and their landlords friendly. I am so happy for Andrea. We left when they did, parting ways in Beauvais, France- they to Poland and we to Spain for Christmas. After all that snow, Spain and its sunny warmth has been wonderful. We spent one day wandering Barcelona, one day in a little village near by called Sitges, and today- Christmas- we spent relaxing on the Hotel roof and eating Tapas on Las Rambalas. Tomorrow morning, extreme morning, we fly to Portugal to visit with Jose, another Gepper.