A Travellerspoint blog

A Stray Traveler Part I: The Brady Bunch Does Europe

Family Visit: Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Caen, Normandy Beaches, and Paris


View European Travel Map on jwinitaly's travel map.

Happy Valentines Day, and Happy Olympics! I’m sorry that it has been so long since I’ve written. I miss you all. I feel guilty like I need to explain where I’ve been or something. I have done a lot, and it has taken me a long time with minimal opportunities to write about my recent adventures. Now that I have started to write and I have time, I’ve broken the seal. I have provided two version of my family’s visit: one a brief sort of itinerary version, the other a much too long and detailed version. I won’t be offended if you opt for the short version. You have more important things to do. We did so much that it ended up being quite an epic entry.

Also, I will be posting my Ireland entry very shortly as Part II to the Stray Traveler, so you don’t have to check back and waste more of your important time.

Enjoy!

The Short Version:

Day 1: Milan – Missed the Last Supper, Flight Delay, Pizza Supper and Catch-up
Day 2: Milan – Castle, School, Duomo, Home-cooked Meal
Day 3: Milan – AC Milan Game!
Day 4: Venice - Lost the whole day
Day 5: Florence – Day Tour
Day 6: Rome – Vatican, Trevy Fountain
Day 7: Rome – Colliseum, Palatine
Day 8: Normandy Landing Beaches/Caen – tour by car
Day 9: Paris – Pantheon, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tour
Day 10: Milan – Goodbye Supper

The Too Long Version:

When my brother called to tell me that my family would be arriving in Milan five hours past their expected time, I felt nervous. It was not because of the copious amounts of Italian coffees that I had recently consumed, or even the fact that we would be cutting it close to the time we were to see Leonardo Davinci’s “Last Supper”-it was because I was worried!

Over my time alone in Europe, I have learned to fend for myself and become independent. Well more independent. Now that I was bringing my family over to visit, I felt responsible for them. I knocked off some years worrying about my family in the Malpensa airport, or at least years off of the tiles which I paced up and down trying to work off my caffeine buzz.

When they landed I was the first one at the arrivals gate with a cheesy sign, “Ciao Wallace Family!!”. I had so much time to kill that I bedazzled it with little graffiti hearts and waited patiently as several other faces passed by.
I began to feel like they were doddling for dramatic effect….

My family!!!

I started crying immediately. I’m sure all the professional somebodies stared at me as I attacked my family in hysterical happiness, but I didn’t notice. I didn’t even notice the smell of 20 hours of travel on my exhausted family- not for a few minutes that is.

I was bouncing all over the place like a little kid proud to post their noodle-art on the fridge. I wanted to show off my new-found Italian “skills”, I wanted to show them my pizzeria, my apartment, Italy!

Unfortunately, the delay in flights had caused us to miss our viewing of the Last Supper. It was a bummer, but I’m sure that I couldn’t have cracked the code in the fifteen minute time frame we were granted anyhow.

As energetic as I was, my family was just beat. Nonetheless, they were hungry, so after showing them around my homey little apartment, we stumbled across the street to get some pizza.

Hungry? Even my brother couldn’t finish a whole pizza to himself. This did have me rethinking the size of these pizzas though and got me a little worried about the Italian effect on my wasteline.

The dinner was kind of surreal for me. Not the food itself, but the whole situation. I had spent so many nights with my roommates at that pizzeria, had so many different feelings, and in many ways it was our safe haven. To have my family there, well it was really wonderful. I was also happy to add a Canadian bill to the wall of currencies at the pizzeria thanks to my dad.

I gave my brother and my parents some little gifts that I had bought them in my travels, and to me that night had made up for my lack of holidays this season. We all slept well that night.

We were thankful for that the next, as I gave them no mercy with my over-planned schedule. Day one included the tour of Milan as I saw it: riding tram #14 by my house (after waiting forever for it) to the castle, then to my school, the huge Saturday market, lunch at my favourite sandwich shop, and an inside-outside tour of the Duomo.

The top of the Duomo was unbelievable. The intricacies were more vivid as we walked through the pillars of the enormous structure. For my dad, the attention was on all the places that were under construction, as we walked on the roof of the largest gothic cathedral in the world. Now I know that my fear of heights is genetic.

Our first day was exciting. My family, like me, had never been to Europe before. For me, it was amazing to witness their “oh’s” and “awes”, and I felt proud being able to show them around… in Italy!

My favourite part of the day though was my moms home-cooked meal. After searching through the meat isle in my local market, we found some edible looking chicken among a full bird, beak and all just looking at us beneath the plastic wrap! Ew!

Baked chicken, boiled potatoes, salad, and fresh bread. It’s like I had never eaten before – no one cooks better than my mom.

We finished off the night with a few rowdy beer pong games, where my brother and I ended up losing to our underdog parents. There Mom and Dad, I said it, but don’t expect me to say it again!

Early the next day, we found San Siro Stadium to see AC Milan kick Siena’s butt. We got there early to get good seats, and as we waited to be let into the stadium, my dad bought us all a couple rounds of beer. With the language barrier, the venders didn’t understand that my dad was trying to tip them, and it was quite a display of misunderstandings that ended in a good laugh and a big smile on a couple vendors faces.

My mom was fully equipped with a red and black AC Milan scarf, and being a sporty family, we were into it from the beginning. The opening song was so corny that I couldn’t believe that it could be a pump up song! The announcer’s voice was quite exuberant as well like the ringmaster at a circus. My mom and I mentally took notes about the team’s warm-up for our team back home, but it was hard to concentrate with David Beckham there!
It was his third game back to AC Milan. It’s like it was meant to be…

The play of the game had to be when David (yes, we’re on a first name basis…) was about to take a corner kick right in front of where we sat when a substitution took place. He had some time while his team subbed, so he picked up the ball and lifted up his jersey to wipe the ball with it. The highlight was that he turned toward us to do this.. lifted up his shirt…wow… haha. Anyway, he then ever so casually put the ball down, crossed it to Ronaldino, and Ronaldino scored. Best play EVER.

Apart from David Beckham’s skill at being utterly gorgeous, Ronaldino is the best soccer player I’ve ever seen. He can literally volley the ball on his body before shooting the ball directly at the crossbar and aiming it SO perfectly that it comes back to him again where he continues to volley it. That got me super pumped for soccer season I tell you. Just, wow.

I was again thankful for my mother when she was the one who decided to bring blankets. It was absolutely freezing in that stadium! Maybe if there was fighting in the sport the stadium would be warmer- my withdrawal from the Canucks talking…

When my mother and I dismissed ourselves to use the ladies room, we realized we could have held it. My mother’s face when she turned back to me after seeing that hole in the ground, I’ll never forget it. Also, there was little room for error because there was no soap or paper towel or toilet paper. She was getting the full European experience!

When I said we had a busy schedule, I meant it. We went straight to my apartment after the game to pick up our packs and head to Venice by train. I even mortified my mother by forcing us into eating McDonalds by the train station. It’s the only thing open on Sundays anyway – not that I didn’t enjoy a BigMac haha.

The train ride was unlike the many uncomfortable situations I’d been in before. I wasn’t trying to avoid touching a strangers leg, or cranking my neck into my book to avoid eye contact with someone. It was relaxed and actually one of my favourite parts of the trip! We drank wine and played crib, and before we knew it we were in Venice at eleven pm on that Sunday night. The three hours really went by in a flash for me, and I enjoyed every minute of my family’s company. It was also extremely nice to have my brother and father there to lift my heavy pack on the rack for me. I was beginning to wonder how I ever did this alone.

We didn’t walk too far before we found the narrowest street that our hotel was on. You could lean on one side and put your leg on the other side of the street. My dad didn’t think I knew where I was going, and truth be told I rarely do, but we made it!

We woke up and had a great breakfast before entering the next season of “Lost” featuring us and set in Venice. I was livid when we took the water taxi because instead of taking us straight through the Grand Canal, we went completely around the island into the industrial area! Now why would we want to do that? If you ever travel to Venice, MAKE SURE that you are going through the Grand Canal and not around it. My brother did seem to enjoy my pain as I growled at my parents for taking photos of sites less beautiful- I’m still a little huffy about it.

We spent the day lost in Venice! It was just as gorgeous for me the second time around. We wandered through the narrow streets, and my family seemed to love it too. I got a little grumpy about finding an internet café, and then my brother took over with navigating. Hallelujah! He didn’t know it then, but he locked himself into a full time position for the rest of the trip.

We took a gondola ride with a funny little Venetian man and had the best meal I’ve ever had to the best of my memory. My lord! That is the reason that people should go out for dinner- the quality. I mean wow, pesto ravioli, and smoked salmon and lagostino appetizers to share. Of course there was also vino. The center of our table was high traffic. We anxiously poked our forks across to try everyone’s knowing each would be as amazing as our own.
My family really did spoil me on that trip.

We had a little more time than we expected before our train, so we popped inside this church near the train station. There was mass on. We went in and sat at the back and quietly listened. I was proud that I could understand the priest pretty well.

We hopped our train to Florence a little holier. When we arrived, we arrived at the wrong train station and had to take a taxi to our hostel, and the driver totally ripped us off! We weren’t far from our hostel but he drove all over the city! I was a little bummed because I was trying to talk to him in Italian and be friendly with him, to no avail apparently. My dad didn’t seem to mind because we were all so tired.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get the greatest sleep that night because we stayed in a legit hostel. I loved the idea of my family all sleeping in bunks, but my mom wouldn’t touch the blankets and the shower leaked water all over the floor. Let’s just call that an experience.

In the morning we found more optimism when we were served hot breakfast – to order! Very unusual for a hostel. We signed our names on the gratified walls of our hall then took advantage of the free tour of Florence.

The tour was not of the typical Florence. There were two tours and we were there on the day that toured around the palaces and churches of Florence. It was wonderful to be shown around. Our tour guide’s English was hilarious. Her vocabulary wasn’t very extensive so she kept telling us that this was “veRRRY imPORRRRtant for the people of Florence”. We went on to quote her the rest of our trip.

My favourite part of the tour was this tiny window on the side of this restaurant. It was a tiny little arch that you wouldn’t have noticed unless someone pointed it out. Back in some day, it was a wine walk-through! They would just knock on the door and order a glass of wine and stand around and drink it! That’s my kind of fast food!

After our tour, we were able to find the main attractions fairly easily. We admired the rolling hills and the sun on the buildings. The Duomo was massive! I didn’t expect it to be so large! The shades of orange that made up the exterior seemed so natural under the sunlight. The inside was simple but grand. It really made you feel insignificant among the high ceiling and large pillars. The painting on the dome left me feeling dizzy, but I felt a deep respect for whoever could paint so beautifully that high up in such awkward positions. I can’t even paint in the most ideal situations.

Next we stumbled on the museum that contained the famous Michelangelo sculpture “David”. It too was much larger than I would have imagined. He was flawless. I imagined myself completing something like that and then chipping the nose off at the very end.

We rushed to the train station that same night to literally hoover down some canteen food only to find out that our train was running nearly an hour late. I guess that meant that we could have taken the time to actually taste our food.

The high speed train was brand new. One thing we noticed was that there were no sketchy looking people on this train. These were the people I could imagine saying “time is money”, and thus we felt the need to inconspicuously pour our wine while among them. The train really did save time though: it cut 3 hours off of our travel time going 350 km/hour, and it didn’t feel like we were going that fast at all.

In Rome, my parents had a nice little private room in the hostel, while my brother and I bunked on separate ends of a smelly 8-person dorm. I don’t know why I was so surprised to be greeted by six unpleasantly potent and messy Australian guys, but I guess I had been used to the royal treatment for the past few days, and this was back to reality. I wasn’t ready for reality yet!

My parents let us shower in their room and we really only slept there, so I was in a hissy for nothing. It just felt weird with my brother on the opposite side of the room from me I think.

The following day we were happy just to not have to pack up all of our stuff. We had a base for the next couple of days. We had been doing little one-day whistle-stops which meant that we arrived in the night off of the train, then woke up and showered and packed up, stored our luggage in the hostel storage room, toured around for the day, picked up our bag from our hostel, then left on the train for the next place. Thinking about it right now makes me exhausted! In Rome, we were settled in, and our backs appreciated the rest.

We made it to Vatican City just in time to “Meet the Pope”. The court yard in the world’s smallest country was magnificent, and the sun added to its splendor. We had some communication issues when asking where to see the pope, and it could be blamed on my dodgy Italian, but I think that it was because we had too many cooks in the kitchen. We were all roaring to go and trying to help, and with the time speeding closer to 11 am, it felt like an episode of 24, but with too many Kiefer Sutherlands.

We ended up on every side of the Vatican, and went through too many security checks before it was past 11 am. We were so frustrated thinking that we had missed the Pope’s little window wave.

When we were finally going the right way, we saw people coming toward us and they told us that they had seen him. Since they were leaving, we thought it was over.

It wasn’t. And it wasn’t what we thought it would be either. We were actually ushered into this large auditorium where Pope Benedict XVI sat on the stage with several cardinals at each of his sides.

We sat and watched, and tried to understand what was going on what with the many, many languages that were being spoken. When English finally came, we realized that he was welcoming everyone.

Then, groups that had come to see the Pope were called on by a cardinal one by one. Many of the groups stood up and cheered like they were at a pep rally, but some had prepared hymns to sing and it was truly beautiful the way that they respected him. One group even had a band with their choir. We were never called because we didn’t book our tickets in advance. With my luck, he would have looked at me and demanded an exorcism with my brother yelling “I knew it” in the background.

We explored the Vatican Museum next and were pretty overwhelmed by all of the treasures that it held. The Sistine Chapel was absolutely gorgeous! We just sat at the back near the exit and tried to understand it piece by piece, while the presence of the whole room absorbed us.

My dad got mad at me when I took a photo in the temple. However he was mad that my flash went off and not that I was taking the actual photo haha. He then proceeded to show me how to do it without causing a scene. My father and I have more in common than I thought.

After, we went for a wonderful lunch which came with a show. We didn’t realize that the place was closed when we walked in, but they served us anyhow. The whole staff of the restaurant came out and joked with us. They were eccentric and extremely attractive, and they were clearly targeting tourists, but it was fun and the food was excellent.

We visited the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain after lunch. We posed for photos throwing coins into the fountain, then immediately after, read about the fountain in my lonely planet book. We had thrown the coins in wrong! You are supposed to face away from the fountain and throw the coin blindly over your shoulder, and if you do you are supposedly going to return to Rome. We did it right the second time, but our luck’s not looking so good.

The hostel itself had a little bar in the basement with cheap happy hour and free pizza at around eight every night. This was a brilliant marketing scheme by the hostel. The pizza shows up much later than they tell you, so you sit around drinking and waiting for it. In the meantime, everyone’s getting drunk and when the pizza arrives it’s a chaotic free-for-all by the rowdy hungry people at the little amounts of pizza that there are.

My brother ran up to the bar to get some, and then a lady came out with another box and plopped in on my table because of the proximity to the center of the room and the fact that it was just me sitting there. I had become an immediate target, and it was one of those moments that kind of plays in slow motion where my brother who was at the back of the line up at the bar came toward me as I quickly snatched a couple pieces while moving out of the way. I ate one, my brother two. Victory.

Later, I chatted up this tiny little Asian girl who had been waiting for dinner. She wasn’t quick enough to get any pizza. I felt so bad for her! That’s survival of the fittest my friend.

The following day we visited the Coliseum and Palatine Hill. It wasn’t hard to visualize the gladiator fights by walking around the rings of the Coliseum, and even more so after listening to an audio-guide describe how it’s built and how the games worked. Palatine Hill was beautiful under the sunlight. Something that stuck with me was how the ruins were numbered in what looked like a Sharpie felt pen! It made them seem unnatural. The trees and the views from the top were gorgeous.

After chatting up some Americans who talked hockey, we were in bed early. We had to get up at 3:30 to take our 7 am flight to Paris the following morning.

My parents were relieved that their first Ryan Air experience went smoothly. We had a chuckle because we were all sleeping and then woke up to what felt like a bounce landing just in time to hear the Ryan Air jingle “Dah dah dah dummm de dummmmm You have ARRRRRRIVED from another on time Ryan Air flight”. What an alarm clock.

We had rented a car and planned to drive along the north of France and visit the Normandy landing beaches of World War II. The drive made me wish that I could have driven on more of my trips because I really got a great feel for the landscape of Northern France.

We stopped in Caen to find our hotel, and to see the flashy World War II museum, but it was closed! We soon found out that most of the museums were closed for one month a year, the one that we were there for. Murphy’s Law!

Well good thing my brother is a history buff because he just narrated for us in the car as we GPS’d our way to each beach. Juno beach was the most touching, for the more obvious point of the Canadian contribution, but also because there was a very intimate commemoration site set up.

We were absolutely exhausted after our early flight and driving around literally all day, so we headed back to Caen and sought after a good meal. We walked around Caen searching for a restaurant, and it sort of reminded me of the equivalent of Kamloops but French style.

We made a loop back to square one, and ate at the restaurant in our hotel. When we walked in they asked us if we had a reservation, and then took our coats. That is my new gage for a nice restaurant. The food was fantastic! They only had the whole 5-course ordeal, so we had a wonderful French-cuisine experience. And when they brought out the Amuse Bouche, I was proud to know what it was-“Amusement of the Mouth” to cleanse your pallet.

The food came out on slabs of tile and designed for presentation. They could have slopped it in a dog dish, and it
still would have tasted amazing! I didn’t even feel bad ruining the designs on my plate. The kicker was a cheese course that came after dinner. How can they expect us to eat cheese after three courses! I needed coffee and that’s it!

The next morning we got up early and drove into Paris. We had just one day, so we had to prioritize.

We saw the Pantheon, but the most interesting part is the world’s largest pendulum inside, and it was under construction! The crypt in the basement included Voltaire, Jean Monnet, and Louis Braile’s tombs, but it was a little too creepy for me. Next, we saw the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and I could tell that we had seen too many churches in the past ten days because the “ohs” and “awes” were fading. It was as beautiful as I remember though. Finally, we went up the Eiffel Tour! I never thought that I would get to go up it again, and I realize that I am very, very lucky. But the very top was closed too.

France seemed to hate us, everything was closed or under construction. Luckily, you don’t need to go to the top to be scared from the height of it. It was a little disappointing though. I guess we didn’t pick the best time to go to France, what with the construction/closures and the poor weather. I think I can speak for my family and say that Italy was much lovelier at this time of year.

Leaving Paris turned into an adventure all in its own. Imagine Paris on a Saturday night. Now imagine the Brady Bunch in a car going around four-lane roundabouts without a clue where to go. My brother was fiddling with the GPS trying to figure it out while my dad grew some grey hairs, my mom yelled, and I took it all in from the back seat.
I swear there were ten different exits on these roundabouts. People were coming from the inside lane trying to exit and nearly hitting us, and by the time my brother had figured out where we needed to go my dad had already taken a random exit because it was so hectic. We all ended up slap-happy when we realized we were out of Paris safely, far, far away from the traffic.

In Beauvais, the boys went to gas up and grab snacks, and before they were back I passed out in all my clothes in the hotel. What a trip! I was exhausted. I felt a little stressed the entire time trying to be a good organizer/tour guide, and when it was time to sleep, oh did I sleep.

After flying back to Milan early the next morning, we were home with time to rest. I really thought that after all of that, I would have warn out my family, but they were ready to go out for dinner and shopping that night too! I guess that they wore me out instead!

We grabbed a cheap bag downtown because my darling family took home a lot of my junk for me, very kind of them too. When we got home, we played a variation of crib called Scribbage and drank wine. We turned on my
television, something that had been done like three times the whole time I lived there, and tried to find the AC Milan vs. Inter results. The game had been postponed until 9 pm, and we were in time to watch it!

We flicked through the ten or so channels that was my cable, and found about three different channels broadcasting it. We stayed on one, though it was in Italian, and they didn’t show the actual game. It ended up being hilarious! There were two announcers, one cheering for each team. When AC Milan had the ball, the AC announcer would get excited and slightly stand up while yelling into the mic. Meanwhile, the Inter announcer would occasionally look at the screen and interject with some little snarky comment. It was almost satirical. When someone scored or did an interesting play, they showed a man in front of a magnetic board with coloured magnets linging them up and pushing them along the board to show the play. It was funny to watch because he would quickly arrange the magnets in an overdramatic frenzy, and then It would be something anticlimactic like the ball just got kicked out of play. I could NOT imagine watching hockey this way. How would they demonstrate the fights?

Around 11 pm, we realized that we should probably pack my things. We may have let time slip by with the contents of our wine bottles. Then the stress piled on because we had to fit everything. Then I realized we should probably call a taxi for the morning, which led to us realizing we had to have a 3:30 am taxi – oops we had too much fun.

I was red in the face (and not from the wine!) trying to explain to the taxi company that I live in Milan and needed a taxi in the morning. I had already been hung up on once, and I thought that the minutes on my phone were about to run out, so it was a big panic. I was skeptical that it would show up in the morning.

It did show up though – thank the lord-on time and everything. We got to the bus stop fourty-five minutes early in the cold. We wanted to leave time for calling a new taxi if it didn’t show up. When the bus came, we said our goodbyes, shed some tears, and I didn’t want them to leave.

I walked home at 4 am despite the fact that my parents expected me to take a taxi and even gave me money to do so. I needed to work off feelings of anxiety, but I intended to walk and find one. I wasn’t in the mood to try and phone a taxi again anyhow. A couple blocks from my house a car stopped to give me “a ride home”, and I knew that my dad would have been pissed if I were abducted when he gave me cab money. It was fine though because I was only two blocks from home. I just gave him a heinous death glare, and all was well.

When I got home, I walked into my apartment and it felt emptier than ever. My brother’s Pringle tube and the scent of my mom’s perfume told me that it wasn’t all a dream- they really were there for that short wonderful time.
I couldn’t sleep! I stayed awake all day until I finally fell asleep watching a movie.

I woke up to a message from my family that they had been delayed in Milan for hours just sitting on the plane not taking off. Naturally, they missed their second flight and were put up in a hotel overnight in Frankfurt. Everything was fine, but I was worried and felt guilty nonetheless.

In the meantime I was trying to book a flight from Dublin to Milan, but Ryanair seemed to be down. I had a day to be out of my apartment, drop my unneeded things at my friend Angie’s place, print off my flights for my Ireland trip, and I couldn’t get a ticket back to Milan online and I still hadn’t heard from my family. It had been almost two days – WHAT THE HELL!

Eventually I called Visa, but my minutes ran out just as they told me that I had to be transferred to security. Great, they probably thought that I was a con because it seemed like I had hung up on them in that convenient moment to stress me out even more.

I ran to my grocery store through the Wednesday street market getting yelled at by salesmen. They did NOT want to mess with me at that moment. I successfully put minutes on my phone, only to have a semi-nervous breakdown to the operator on the phone explaining that I hadn’t heard from my family and I needed a flight. He fixed everything with my card, and I remembered why RBC is the best… (Do I get royalties for plugging them?)

My flight worked out, and I lugged my stuff to Angie’s house, still so worried about my family that I didn’t want to go out with her that night. My family would have messaged me right when they got home, so I just didn’t understand what was going on.

After googling “plane crashes”, I called home. I was clearly going crazy. I couldn’t leave for Ireland until I knew that everything was ok. It was 4 am Kamloops time, but they picked up. Instant relief.

The next day I gave them an earful about not telling me they made it home. They said that they got home and fell asleep on the couch before turning on their computer. It felt like role reversal, and they apologized with a chuckle.

You can see the way that my mind was while writing my last blog. I was a little stressed out!

It all worked out though, and after, I was worry free, homeless with my backpack, and off to Ireland- even with a flight back!

Love and Miss you always,
Jess
ox

P.S. I won't be able to get the photos up until the end of the week because my internet connection isn't very good.

Side-note: Woah! Did I get all that? It makes me tired just writing it! It was a super busy trip, and it was always exciting. However, it wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t recommend booking off ten days and expecting to see as much as we did. It took understanding the way that the local transportation works, what sort of accommodations would be best for each situation, and in some cases, already having been there myself to cram all of this into one trip. It also took a lot of research and planning, and some of the plans didn’t even pan out the way that I expected. I just wanted to say that this was an unusual exception to how well it worked out, seeing so much in such little time. On the other hand - be ambitious, and if you have questions or anything I would love to help!

Posted by jwinitaly 07:32

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