I was never more certain about this fact than when I stepped off the airplane with Little B in tow onto the hot tarmac of the Parma Airport in Northern Italy.
It had been my goal to set foot on Italian soil while I still had the chance. My father's childhood home, now our family getaway awaits him every summer as he travels to Italy for 3 months. I myself haven't been there since 1994. A second crazed backpacking journey landed me closer to the south in Palermo, Sicily for 6 months in 1998. I was too mesmerized by disco's and the nightlife to travel North to visit family.
(just click on the photos to enlarge them)
Little B being the fantastic traveler that he is.
So the opportunity seemed too good to be true. Me; at home on maternity leave, Little B just shy of 4 years old would make the perfect travel companion. Little C and Daddy could guard the homefront. It would have been a hundred times the experience if we could have traveled together as a family, but work obligations, young baby, and the cold hard fact...$$$$$, kept us from creating that memory. Instead I decided that Little B and I would take to the skies. We flew out of our small airport headed for Vancouver International Airport to catch our connecting flight. Our goodbyes behind us, we were both brimming with excitement. Catching our flight to London Gatwick went by without a hitch, and we arrived on the other side of the pond at 7:00am their time. Little B having had a nap on the floor of the plane was rested. I on the other hand had been stuck in a non-reclining seat and had slept maybe 1/2 an hour. I arrived in London with a crooked sore neck, red puffy eyes, and a desperate need for sleep.
My cousin J opened her home to us for the next few days. Her patient son M gave up his bedroom for us and I am eternally grateful to him. Especially after he endured WWIII when he was forced to camp out on his little sisters floor. Sorry M:)
After some much needed rest we were taken care of wonderfully. Cousin J had boxes of her boys old toys brought down from the attic so Little B was in heaven. Loads of dinosaurs, oodles of train tracks, and boys toys galore kept him busy for the time we spent indoors. A good part of Little B's time was spent trying to coax his 3rd cousin out of his lair to play.
There's not to many 18 year olds who want to spend time playing with 3 year olds, so a huge thanks goes out to him for putting on a brave face and giving Little B some playtime. I'm sure it didn't make the hangovers any better!
Little B getting along famously with cousin A.
Cousin J being sneeky.
She knew my camera addiction was going to catch her sooner or later.
There wasn't much time wasted. We were off to Lego Land our second day there. Unfortunately I forgot my camera...eegads!!! So you must close your eyes and imagine rip roaring rides, boats careening down waterfalls into splashing water, foot long hot dogs, space ships and so much more. Sunday we ventured into London by train to visit my next cousin and his family. Cousin B and his beautiful wife have 2 angelic little girls. They put on a lavish spread for us and we dined and caught up on the past decade. After a long day sight-seeing in London and visiting we footed it to the subway. I was reprimanded over the loudspeaker for using my flash on my camera, and cousin J nearly got cut in half when she decided to stop the subway doors from closing in order to get Little B and me on safely. We guiltily stood there and gawked at her defiant struggle until her knight in shining armor, pulled her and her daughter to safety! He also piggy backed Little B around London when his little 3 year old feet got tired. Thanks B!
London sight-seeing. Visiting Cousin B's home.
Monday was a real treat. Urged by none other than me, my dear second cousin A decided to skip school and visit the English Seaside with us. On the look out for truancy officers the whole time, I don't really know if she ever relaxed. I suppose when she stripped down to her knickers and jumped into the ocean she was cutting loose a bit!! (No A, I won't post the photos of you in your undies, don't worry!) The absolute best fish and chips by the seaside was the crowing glory on an already perfect day.
Our day enjoying the English seaside. Fish n' chips and hovercrafts!
More visits from family as my cousin J and his wife and 3 children came over for a dinner out with everyone. My Little B met his match with his 3rd cousin little L. His growls and ferocious faces were met with her own wrath. I was indebted yet again when cousin J offered to drive me 3 hours north to visit my Aunt and Uncle. Off we roared in his miniature mini-van and arrived safely at our destination. Little B was in heaven as my Uncle C and Auntie N introduced him to their 2 tortoises, 2 newts, Rottie Inka, and Pointer Gabby. Another 2 Rotties were safely tucked away at the kennels to give us some more room!
My Aunt and Uncle drove us to the airport 2.5 hours away so we could catch our flight to Italy. Thank goodness for superb relatives! Bryce and I left rainy england with pants and sweaters, and when we walked off the plane and onto the sweltering tarmac at Parma Airport, I knew our vacation was headed in the right direction. Grandpa L was there in his lovely Panda 4x4 to drive us 'home'. 2 white knuckled hours later we arrived in Rovignalia.
A small cluster of homes just beside ours.
Different views of our home, both inside and from the outside
The Ferrari Museum...of course!
It's fair to say a few things about Italy. The people drive too fast. The pizza is the best you will ever taste in your life. The women are gorgeous. You take your own life in your hands when using a marked crosswalk. The coffee is out of this world. There seems to be no safety standard. People drive too fast! (did I already mention that?) Children are spoiled rotten.
About the driving. If you aren't going around every corner on 2 wheels you will most likely get honked off the road. My father seemed to adopt this ridiculous way of driving as soon as he landed in Italy. My nerves were slashes, fried, and burned every time I regretfully buckled myself into his little car. I offered to and did end up driving a fair bit here and there in order to save me from having a heart attack at the hands of a crazy Italian. I also informed my father on many occasions that he was driving too fast, was going to kill us all, and to pull the damn car over so I could get behind the wheel. Most of my comments where met with indifference.
My father and Little B and the Panda calling home to Canada.
The narrow streets of Pontremoli, Tuscany.
Various photos of Pontremoli.
The 2 weeks in Italy seemed to move by at the perfect speed. We visited castles, walked through ruins, cobble stone roads, daily markets, ate pizza, gelato, MORE pizza and gelato!! We suntanned, drove the countryside, visited with long lost relatives, played in rivers filled with tadpoles, visited private museums, peeked inside churches, chased lizards, read books, and even had time for some lazy afternoon naps. It wasn't until our last 2 days there that both Little B and I were terribly homesick.
More photos of our daily outings.
Our trip home was happily uneventful. We hopped a train downtown and 1 hour later arrived in Parma. The taxi driver thought I was insane as I fiddled with the carseat for Little B, making sure it was secure. Although I had seen many children unbuckled in cars, I had seen some carseats in vehicles so I figured I shouldn't be considered to paranoid. The wait at the airport proved to be a lesson in patience when after 5 hours, the plane was 1 hour late. we boarded and were held again for 1 hour on the tarmac. We finally lifted off and I bid a sad farewell to Italy, wishing desperately that I will visit again in 5 years with my whole family. The plane arrived at the airport in England and we boarded a bus for a very long 3 hour ride to London Gatwick where we stayed the night at the Holiday Inn. Bright and early the next morning we bussed it to the airport and after a 1.5 hour delay we boarded our flight home to Vancouver. Thankfully we made out connecting flight out of Vancouver by hauling some serious ass through the airport with the luggage dolly filled to the brim with Little B, a huge suitcase, 2 packsacs and the car seat teetering ontop! I have always wondered about those people you see frantically bolting through the airport...well, I was that person and I hope to never be again!!
Coming down through the turbulence into the Okanagan Valley was maybe the most beautiful thing I could have experienced. The anticipation of seeing my baby. Would she remember me after 3 weeks? Had she changed? Will she cry, laugh, smile?? I was nearly in tears thinking about seeing Big B and her and forewarned Little B that mummy may cry when we see daddy. He thought I was crazy and did not understand why someone would cry if they were happy. I guess thats something only adults do! I did end up holding the tears back, and was elated to see my husband had magically grown even more handsome. My darling baby morphed into a beauty queen and although she didn't give me the smile I had hoped for she didn't cry when I squeezed her tight. It took a couple days for her to settle into our 'new' routine and I seriously think she may have forgotten all about me had I not returned. I suppose babies and children are resilient that way. I joke about her thinking her daycare provider was her mummy after I left. She's all mine now though, and the recognition is back.
Now settled at home and reflecting back on my journey to a far off land I am reminded about what I love best about traveling. You can plan, anticipate, and absolutely love your vacation to death; wanting the time away, no obligation, stress free living, eating out, sight-seeing, lazy days, and no housework to go on forever...but the minute you step foot inside your home, or are held and hugged by those you had left while away, you positively feel that 'home is where the heart is'.