Toscana Bella

Day 3 of the Italy trip found us heading north from Rome into the beautiful region known as Tuscany. Our first stop was the medieval town of Lucca with its defensive wall originally built to keep out the neighboring feuding village of Pisa. 

Toscana Bella
Although entirely different from Rome, we loved this ancient city with its warren of narrow streets. The original village was founded by the Romans in 180 BC. The 4 kilometer wall that encircles the city center was built during the Renaissance era and remains intact. No longer used for protection, the top of the wall is now covered in grass and planted with trees. It is a popular place to walk and ride bicycles. 

Our group dispersed as soon as we passed through the massive gates, everyone free to wander about, shop, and find lunch. Elissa, Dayan and I veered off to the left, in search of a cafĂ©. Dayan wanted to try an Italian pizza. We found a delightful ristorante that offered great choices for all three of us. 

Dayan’s assesment of Italian was that it was “interesting”. He declared it fresh tasting. And found it more difficult to eat than US pizzas. The crust was not crispy and he ended up folding the slices up to make less of a mess. 

Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
We were captivated by Lucca. Elissa and Dayan climbed one of the many towers within the city, the tallest one actually, with trees growing like wild hair on the flat roof. I remained below to take a pic. They had a great view of the town with its piazzas and cobblestone streets lined with three and four story buildings. Shops occupy much of the ground level spaces with living quarters above. 

In spite of the antiquity of Lucca, the little shops offer a wide assortment of goods for sale, including name brand clothing, electronic gaming systems and everything in between. We enjoyed our time in this town that offers a peek into the distant past, while providing everything its citizens need to continue living in a thriving community. 

Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
The highlight of our evening was visiting a Tuscan farm, with vineyards and groves of olive trees. Fattoria Il Poggio produces a dozen red and white wines and extra virgin olive oil. We toured a vineyard, inspected 50 year old olive trees that are considered young, and learned how olives are cold pressed to create the oil. 

We were then led to beautifully prepared tables set up outdoors in long rows beneath a protective roof, and served a five course dinner, made from fresh local ingredients, and accompanied by wine, olives and olive oil from the farm. We sat with our “family”, the 43 members of our tour group. 

Toscana Bella

Toscana Bella 

The night became magical. 

As the food was brought out, course by course, and the wine was consumed freely, shyness with each other disappeared and we chatted and laughed together, like family members reunited after scattering around the globe. Dayan tried his first glass of wine, a dry white, and wasn’t impressed. He decided wine takes getting used to. He sipped on a small amount. This young man doesn’t need alcohol to lose his inhibitions about talking to people. He is naturally good at that, and conversed easily with our table mates. 

However, some in the large group who have been extremely quiet or constrained opened up tonight and the meal was a merry event. And the food just kept coming. Our gracious tour director contacted the farm ahead of time and the chefs prepared the most extravagant five course plant based meal for me, offering gluten free bread and spaghetti and wonderfully flavorful veggies.While the others ended their meals with rich desserts and a sweet red wine, I had a delicious bowl of freshly chopped fruit. I was extremely grateful to Fattoria Il Poggio for the extra effort it took to make sure I dined healthily and well. 

Day 3 ended with a bus full of talkative people headed back to our hotel, discovering how we are different from one another, and what we all have in common. Our desire to tour this gorgeous country is what has brought us together, in time and space, and that shared interest is forging connections that feel familial. 

Tomorrow this newly forming family heads to Cinque Terre, five villages on the western coast most easily accessed by boat. It promises to be another glorious day in beautiful Tuscany…Toscana Bella. 

Toscana Bella

Toscana Bella

Conquer Your Own Space

Today, day 2 of our Italy trip, was full and so much fun. Although we arrived late last night, after travel delays and diversions, the only thing we missed on day 1 was a welcome dinner. We quickly got up to speed this morning, after a few hours of sleep, meeting our tour director and the rest of our tour group. At 7:30 am we were on the bus, headed to Vatican City.

Conquer Your Own Space
I didn’t know what to expect within the massive wall that surrounds the Vatican. A quiet, holy atmosphere? Religious artifacts? I was surprised by the museums, full of Roman statues, mosaics, tapestries and paintings. And by the number of people present. Crowds and throngs and masses of visitors milled about. Patricia, our Italian guest guide today, explained that 24,000 people a day visit the Vatican. Every day. 

She gave each of us a radio to wear around our necks and an earbud. That way we could hear what she was saying as she led us through the museums and cathedrals. Patricia also carried a multicolored flag so we could visually keep her in sight. She advised us to stay with her today at all times. Nevertheless, one member of our group had a tendency to wander off, and get lost, much to his wife’s chagrin. 

We toured the Sistine Chapel, with its paintings by Michelangelo. We were strictly prohibited from taking photos. The chapel is smaller than I imagined it to be. However, it was very moving to stand there quietly, and take it all in. I am familiar with those paintings on the chapel’s ceiling, but to stand beneath them carried such an emotional impact. 

Conquer Your Own SpaceWithin the Vatican museum. The architecture was stunning. 

Conquer Your Own Space            This is a tapestry! 

Conquer Your Own SpaceSt Peter’s Basilica, which is so huge and ornate that it boggles the mind. 

We had time for a quick lunch and then we were on to the colosseum. This was another familiar place that wowed me and carried an emotional charge. There was such strong, interesting energy there in that ancient place where entertainment was held…entertainment that often resulted in death. 

This monument is enormous as well. It gave me chills to see the labyrinth in the center of the colosseum, and the stone hallways that gladiators ran out of, uncertain of their fate. 

Conquer Your Own Space
Conquer Your Own Space
Conquer Your Own Space
After a two hour nap this afternoon, Elissa, Dayan and I headed back out into the city on foot, eager to explore during our free time. Dayan took the lead, guiding us to the Castel Sant’Angelo. Unfortunately it was closing as we arrived, however we enjoyed snapping a group selfie with the castel in the background. We strolled down cobblestone lanes, crossed over the Tiber River on ornate bridges, and found a delightful little street lined with charming ristorantes offering outdoor seating. 

I sampled roasted potatoes with rosemary and olive oil, and grilled peppers, zucchini and eggplant. Elissa and Dayan both tried a short spaghetti dish with a cheese, egg and bacon sauce. All was delicious! After a leisurely dinner we walked down the street to a little cafe. Dayan tried a gelato. Elissa and I picked out sorbets made from fresh fruits without dairy products and I believe without added sugar. 

Conquer Your Own SpaceCastel Sant’Angelo as dusk fell

Conquer Your Own SpaceThese massive statues are everywhere. 

Conquer Your Own SpaceRome night life

It was a magnificent day, getting acquainted with Rome. I learned much about the history of this beautiful city and her architecture and culture. And walking this evening gave us an accurate view of her friendly people and bustling commerce. 

One phrase from the day really resonated with me and replayed in my mind. At the Vatican, Patricia was telling us how crowded it would be inside the museums and cathedrals. She didn’t want us to get lost. “Conquer your own space,” she advised us, in her lilting Italian accent. 

What powerful words. Conquer your own space. Surrounded by people and massive statues and ancient ruins and a multitude of cars, busses and scooters, attain and hold your space. Stand your ground. Occupy your space. Be you, confidently. Don’t be pushed and pulled by the energies around you. 

I love that. We honored those words as we walked around the city, learning to say “No” with a shake of the hand to sellers of cheap merchandise and beggars. I watched Dayan conquer his space as he immersed himself in Rome, from the moment he awoke and hung out the third story window to greet the day, to leading us  expertly through lanes and piazzas this evening. 

Conquer Your Own Space
I observed Elissa conquer her own space as she stepped out of her comfort zone, unafraid of trying new foods and experiences. She used the word “magical” several times to describe the day she was having. 

It was a magical day. It was a day to conquer our own spaces and be fully who we are. We all three love the quote, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” That is our mantra during our Italy trip. We are experiencing life, together. 

Tomorrow we are off to the medieval village of Lucca, in the Tuscany region. Our adventure continues. 

Conquer Your Own Space

Red Nose Day 2017

When Elissa, Dayan and I decided to pack our red noses, in honor of Red Nose Day this year, we thought we would be taking selfies of the experience in Rome. After storms yesterday diverted our plane and then greatly delayed our arrival in Charlotte, our travel itinerary changed. We missed our international flight from Charlotte to Rome. Thousands of other fliers missed their connecting flights as well. 

It was not a happy place last night at the Charlotte Airport as weary travelers struggled to find flights out. 

Through an incredible series of miraculous events, which I will write about when I am not so exhausted, we were placed on the “sold out” last flight out of Charlotte, bound for London. They even delayed the plane until we were onboard. Numb with fatigue but grateful, we arrived in London late this morning. This evening we will catch a connecting flight from London to Rome, arriving at last! 

Red Nose Day 2017
And London happens to be the perfect place to take a Red Nose Day selfie, and wear our wrist bands. We popped on the noses just long enough to take a pic. It is really the donation made to purchase the red noses that is important. 

Because Red Nose Day isn’t just about sporting a clown nose. Begun in England in 1988, Red Nose Day raises funds to help impoverished children around the world. The US joined the yearly event in 2015. Billions of dollars have been raised to date, to keep kids safe, healthy and educated. 

Celebrities and the entertainment industry have supported Red Nose Day for years, using their influence to bring in donations. We certainly aren’t famous, me, my daughter and grandson…however, we believe in this cause, and improving the lives of children globally. 

In a couple of hours we will board a plane for Italy. The tour officially starts in the morning. I am grateful we have made it this far, and we will arrive only a bit behind schedule. I am grateful to wear a red nose once a year too, to donate funds and raise awareness about a worthy cause. 

My next blog post will be from Rome…minus the bright red nose!

Red Nose Day 2017

The Real Deal

A month or so ago, I tried out several packing techniques, to see if I could get 11 days of clothes and toiletries into a carry on bag. I was successful, however I discovered that the carry on luggage I owned was 1/2″ too tall to meet the guidelines for international flights. 

I ordered a new, slightly smaller carry on. When it arrived, I was a bit concerned! The bag looked so small. When I compared the two pieces of luggage, side by side, I could only see a slight difference. Perhaps it would be okay. 

With less than 48 hours before Elissa, Dayan and I board a plane bound for Rome, I decided to do another practice pack tonight, using exactly what will go with me. 

The Real Deal

In the last month, people have questioned me about the feasibility of packing for 11 days in a carry on. I felt determined to try. And I am not the only one. My daughter and grandson are attempting to do the same. And this fall, four other family members will see if it is possible as five of us travel to Ireland, Scotland and England.

I like the idea of  traveling light, with a suitcase I can easily manage. The Italian tour we are joining in Rome only allows one piece of luggage per person. And there is less chance of losing my luggage with a carry on, plus I can by pass waiting for my suitcase to appear at the airport pick up area. 

But could I do it, for real? I was about to find out. 

The Real Deal
The Real Deal
My new plum colored carry on has a collapsible handle that tucks into a zippered pouch, making the suitcase an inch shorter than my previous bag. With soft sides, rather than rigid ones, and a more streamlined shape, this carry on looked smaller than the older bag. Doubt was trying to crowd in. 

The Real Deal
The Real Deal
All of those clothes needed to fit in a 21″x14″x9″ carry on. I also had travel sized toiletries, makeup and miscellaneous items such as electrical adapters and supplements. 

My first HUGE concern was discovering that all liquids and gels must fit within a quart sized (6″x9″) clear ziplock bag. I was thinking I’d have a gallon sized bag to use, but no. I thought I had  accomplished that near impossible feat until I remembered contact lens solution. I hope the Italian hotels have shower soap! I had to swap out my Bath & Body soap. 

The Real Deal
I created my own travel hack. All of my socks, that I’ll wear with my walking shoes, tucked into my sandals, making use of wasted space. Looks dorky but it works! 

The Real Deal
First layer, which includes capris, sock stuffed sandals, pjs, a lightweight wrap and eight tops. Rolling each piece of clothing tightly makes an amazing difference. 

The Real Deal
The next layer added four more tops, a lightweight sweater, two bras and 11 pairs of undies. I rolled those tightly too. I’ve found they tuck in easily among the rolled clothes. I also packed my nose and several wrist bands for Red Nose Day, which is Thursday, May 25. 

Hey, it is looking doable!

The Real Deal
Lastly, I added travel documents, the tiny baggie with liquids, a clear make up bag with non liquid toiletries and the four supplements I’ve chosen to take along. 

And you know what?

It all fit! I’ll carry a journal, a phone charger and earbuds in my purse, but there was room to spare in my suitcase. I zipped it closed without a problem and popped the whole thing on the scales. 14.8 pounds. 

I’m packed. In a carry on. For an 11 day trip. I am so glad I tried it this evening instead of waiting until tomorrow night. It is one less thing to think about.

I have a full day tomorrow. And then Wednesday, a dream literally takes flight. My year of inspiration blog will become a travel blog while I explore Italy with my daughter and grandson. And yet, I know inspiration will find me, invite me, tap me on the shoulder, no matter where I am. 

I am open and ready to receive. 

The Real Deal

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