What I Learned from My European Vacation

Eight hours. That’s how long it takes to fly nonstop to Rome from New York. But after you factor in packing, traveling to and from the airport, and going through customs, it feels more like eight days.

Is it worth it?

Yes.

Even though the customs agents ask a million times if you have any goods you’re going to sell, it’s worth it. Even with people pushing and shoving, cutting you off, and trying to sell you useless crap, it is totally and completely worth it.

Then after a day and a half in Rome, the flight to Lisbon, Portugal is another three hours. A car ride to Porto, yet three more.

Worth it. For so many reasons. One being the beauty. Two, spending time with people you adore. Three, the experience.

Anyway, when you spend an extended amount of time with the same people, you can pick up some habits from them.

I am a definite habit-picker-upper. I cannot go to North Carolina to visit my parents for even a day without coming home sounding like an Appalachian pageant queen.

So, the habit I picked up from one of my travel mates (who shall remain nameless)?

Let’s just say it’s never a good idea to respond to a “hello” from a colleague by saying “hey hoe” in a staff meeting. “Hoe” as in not what you garden with. That will be 1% off my raise come appraisal time. If I keep that up, I’ll be owing the company money. Or begging for it in the street.

Packed like sardines in a tin can. No one cared. “Push push shove shove.” That seems to be the theme song over there.

Europeans are unaware of the term, “personal space.” I am the type of person who, if you are not at least arm’s length away from me, I am offended. These people will not only enter your personal space, but they will take it. And with no apologies. As someone from New York, this is an offense of colossal proportions and people should be thrown in the clinker for stealing another’s space.

The street peddlers in Rome are a force to be reckoned with. If you don’t buy what they are throwing at you, you are a “cagna.” It’s nice to know I am a bitch in another country. I felt right at home.

I pretty much can’t eat anything fried, processed, acidic, or fatty because I suffer from GERD. During my visit I didn’t have one single bout of it. Do you want to know why? Because they eat the way people were intended to eat, and not like an African bush elephant. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything processed. Everything is fresh, and the portions are small.

Fresh spaghetti, fresh sauce, small portion

Dinner isn’t until at least 9PM. We didn’t eat before 10PM. The streets are alive, people can actually walk around in public with wine, the joy was palpable. I wanted to stay forever just to be able to experience this every single day.

The breakfast that we are accustomed to does not exist. Unless you go to a touristy area. The sign outside a restaurant that says, “American Breakfast here” will make you feel at home like the African Bush eleph…er, I mean, American, that you are. Otherwise, you need to be accepting of croissants, fresh breads with jam, fresh fruit, and cappuccino. Forget about a normal cup of coffee. It doesn’t exist.

Chocolate croissant. Heaven.

Since we’re on the subject of food, there is no need to tip at a restaurant (or anywhere for that matter) because they have an actual salary and don’t get paid in peanuts. Also, you can sit and enjoy your meal for hours. The servers will not bother you and will not bring the bill unless you specifically ask for it. And when you do ask for it because it’s been six hours and you have things to do, you know, like go to bed, they will respond by saying, “Are you sure? There is no rush.”

As someone who is always rushing, it was a little off-putting at first. But by the end of the week, I realized this was something I want to do for the rest of my life. I enter a state of calm when I even think about it.

No, your eyes do not deceive you. That is indeed a wine truck.

Drugs are legal as long as you are carrying 5 grams or less. The smell of marijuana was everywhere. I believe I got a contact high from it. And guess what else? There is no Heroin epidemic over there. Let that sink in.

The Sistine Chapel is a glorious site to behold. As long as you have the patience to get to it, that is. You have to walk through a maze-like museum first. We felt like beef cattle on the way to a slaughter. It was terrifying. The ten thousand signs on the way let us know we were on the right track. And once we entered the Chapel, I didn’t realize it. “Why are all those people standing in the middle of that floor looking up?” Oh. Right. Michelangelo.

The cattle and the signs, signs, signs. Everywhere there’s signs.
Stained glass and chandeliers. In McDonald’s

Even the McDonald’s was breathtaking. And instead of a plastic three inch princess, you get a beach towel. That actually absorbs water. Amazing. The plastic princess doesn’t do that.

You’d think they were drinking camel urine

I discovered I like port wine a little more than I thought. Not enough to partake in it on a regular basis, but enough to sit through a tasting. The “children” in our party — don’t worry, these children are both of legal drinking age — did not appreciate it. Youth is wasted on the young.

How could you not appreciate port wine with this view?

And the piece de resistance? The afternoon “siesta.” Or in Italy, a riposo. Businesses (apart from the touristy areas) shut down. Like, close and lock the doors, for up to two and a half hours, every single afternoon. This is called self-care. And we should take a page from their book.

In a nutshell, we all need to drink wine in the streets, take two hour naps daily, eat healthy foods, and slow down. I know I would be a better person for it. Wouldn’t you?


The Getaway Part III – The Conclusion

If you need to catch up, click here for Part I, and click here for Part II.

Ready?

Needless to say, we didn’t go to Fire Island. The idea of us walking in the dark in a place we’ve never been to didn’t really appeal to either of us. Lord knows I love food, but I didn’t need to work that hard for it. Ocean or not.

DH remembered a restaurant someone recommended…an over-priced italian place right on the sound. We decided that sounded like a nice place to celebrate our anniversary dinner, so he called to make a reservation.

Unfortunately, the only open spot was at eight, but at that point we were pretty happy with anything so we took it.

Since we had so much time to kill, we decided to go into town to see if we could find a cute place where we could have a cocktail on the sidewalk. Well, not ON the sidewalk exactly. That would be weird and probably illegal or something.

We quickly settled on a trendy little spot (with some tables outside) with THE BEST margarita with muddled cucumber. Don’t knock it ’till you try it. I raved so much about it, the server actually got the bartender to write down the recipe for me.

But I totally digressed there.

When the maitre de showed us our street-side table, I noticed a woman leaning over the fence/wall, right where we were going to sit. I maneuvered myself around her bobbing and weaving body and sat pretty much right under her. I didn’t ask her to move because I don’t like confrontation. I was fine with her hair hanging down into my plate. Really, I was.

At first I thought she had an impairment. A disability of some sort. But then the stench of alcohol permeating from her pores was so intense I almost didn’t have to order a drink because I was beginning to catch a buzz off her breath.

After about five minutes, the man she was with was able to finally pry her off the wall/fence and into a waiting car. Just in time too. My blood alcohol level had most likely reached .08%. And that was before I ordered a drink.

We slowly drank our cocktails, but somehow we still had some time to kill. We stopped into a liquor store and picked up a bottle of wine to share for a nightcap later on our private balcony, then ducked into a dollar store to purchase a couple of wine glasses, and headed off to dinner.

img_0556It was dark when we pulled into the parking lot, but the restaurant was lit up like a Christmas tree. It was beautiful. There was a wedding going on and the atmosphere was lively. The way I like it.

DH spoke to the hostess and explained it was our anniversary and asked for a table out on the back deck. We were led outside to a table “on the rail” except the rail was a solid concrete seawall that came to my neck.img_0544

I know there was salt water on the other side because we were told so. I just couldn’t see it. Unless I stood on tippy toe. Even then it was so dark out, I would not even have known there was water out there save for the working lighthouse a mile or two out.

DH ordered a beer, I the house wine. My wine tasted like swill. I had barium better than that. Somehow I was mistakenly under the impression that the house wine in a fancy italian restaurant would be good.

Not sure where I got that idea from.

For dinner, I had the clams as an appetizer and the spaghetti and meatballs as an entree. Simple, sure. But I wanted something comforting for some reason. Besides, we were in an italian restaurant. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to order?

Needless to say, half the clams wound up in my napkin. They were so chewy, if I didn’t actually take them from the shell myself, I would have thought I ordered cow balls.

And the meatballs? My Irish grandmother made better. I made better and I don’t even make meatballs. As for the sauce, I was pretty sure it was taken right out of Chef Boyardee’s kitchen.

Sorry, Chef B.

We had a nice time though. It’s about the company, not the meal. We laughed it off. Anyway, it seemed to be par for the course that weekend.

After we got back to the hotel, we uncorked our bottle and sat on our plastic adirondack chairs on our private terrace, and sipped wine out of our dollar store glasses while overlooking our little piece of water.

But it doesn’t end there.

On the other side of the shore, there was a building. We didn’t know what it was because it was dark, but we did see a couple of cars pull into the parking lot and turn off the headlights while their vehicles were still in motion.

We immediately went into Magnum PI mode. Trying to crack a crime that may or may not have been happening. A couple of dark figures got out of their cars and walked into the shadows. Was it a drug bust? Disposing of a body? A heist?

Most likely just a couple of kids sharing a joint, but it was fun to imagine something sinister.

Fast forward to the next morning (because you don’t need to know the in-between…wink wink). That long-awaited spa-like shower I was looking forward to taking was not to be.

The faucet was broken. The water temperature couldn’t be regulated nor would it turn off once it was turned on. The water was hot and getting hotter by the minute.

Well, there was always breakfast.

After we got dressed, we made our way down to the 5×6 foot lobby to eat.

img_0561On our way down, we saw a lady come out of the front door with a package of Pop Tarts. I turned and made a joke to DH about it.

When we entered and made our way to the “buffet,” we saw that our choices were stale bagels, three types of cereal, and frozen Leggo My Eggo waffles.

I was desperately searching for the Pop Tarts that suddenly didn’t seem so bad, but the early bird catches the worm, and I lost out.

I settled on the bagel and cranberry juice when what I really wanted was a diner and a stack of pancakes. DH had the same but with a cup of coffee.

We took our Top Shelf breakfast back up to our balcony. Across the way, where the night before the Crime of the Century was going down, we saw was actually a fire training center.img_0564

Yes, a building on “mock” fire with firemen trying to put it out with big hoses, and all the works. It was cool, but just the topper to the end of our weekend.

As we were leaving, DH told me how much he enjoyed our little room. Anyone who knows him, knows he is not a traveller and especially abhors hotels. His comment was worthy of a heart attack, but made me happy nonetheless.

Long of the short, but long story…I discovered that Long Island does not mean The Hamptons. After all that it was a great anniversary celebration, Hamptons or not.

img_0559
Cheers from our Dollar Store wine glasses!

The Death of a Habit?

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I was on Facebook today and I saw that a friend posted this article about the dangers of drinking. Here is the headline:

Even Moderate Drinking Linked to Increased Cancer Risk

Oh dear God.  If this is true, then I am a dead woman.  Basically, the article talks some shit about how even having a glass of wine a day can increase your risk of getting cancer by, well, a lot.

I am one of those people who has a glass of wine every night.  Ok, maybe not EVERY night.  Let’s say the average month consists of 30 days.  I drink wine about 28 days a month.  And about 22 of those days I have more than just one glass.  The odds are not in my favor.

So here I was using the excuse to drink red wine because it was really good for your heart and since I have high cholesterol I thought it was great because I would just have a glass of wine with my steak (total run-on sentence — sorry).  Except now the cancer risk outweighs the heart healthy part.

It’s funny because my mom has been telling me for years about this cancer/alcohol link.  I pretty much just roll my eyes and open a bottle of my favorite Cabernet.  You have to understand something about my mom.  She reads everything and watches CNN like it’s the only show on TV. So, every “new” development that comes up, which is pretty much every day, I’m sure to know about it.  The most ridiculous thing like breathing can cause lung cancer.  Ok, I’m kidding.  But shit, everything gives us cancer these days.

If I listened to everything my mom told me, here are the things I would have to give up:

  • Cooked meat  – Have you ever had an uncooked hamburger?  Yum.  Watch out for those tape worms though.
  • Sun  – An oldie but a goodie.  Slather on that lotion.  Or be pale and cold.  Your choice.
  • Mouthwash – In lieu of the recent study, this one should be a no brainer.
  • Vitamins  – Yup.  This is a new one.  Those antioxidants are serious bad boys.
  • Body lotion – Yes, even body lotion.  It can cause breast cancer believe it or not.  So, do we slather on lotion to avoid skin cancer, or go out in the sun without it to avoid breast cancer?
  • Alcoholic beverages – I have nothing to say except it just sucks.

So anyway, now that I’ve actually seen it in words, I’m suddenly freaked out.  Like, really freaked out.  I even went out to lunch with the family today and didn’t order a glass of wine.  That’s unheard of.  For some reason, I think any time I sit in a restaurant there is this rule that I have to drink wine.  So, I ordered water and I didn’t actually die.

Ok, so I can give up body lotion and mouthwash.  But wine?  There are no words.  I think I’m in mourning.  I’ll start my mourning on Monday, with my New Year’s Resolutions.