Friday, December 9, 2011

What I Will Do Differently on my Next Trip to Italy

I learned much from this trip in terms of bringing a dog and how to pack. I would definitely bring Seymour with me again. His company was worth the time and effort to get him there.

Things I would do differently related to bringing Seymour with me:

1. I would have brought his toothbrush and toothpaste. Seriously! Because we couldn't find good food for him, his breath quickly got to smelling awful. I did see that Vets had the higher quality food for sale but there was no way I was going to carry a sack of dry food with me, along with tins of dog food. My shoulders are still recovering from the heavy back pack and Seymour in his sling.

2. I would have brought (or tried to bring) a big bag of his favorite treats, Chicken Tenders, with us. They are all meat and crunchy so they are good for this teeth and breath. When we came home, he could not get enough of those treats.

3. I might look for a different carrier instead of the sling. Although the sling was wonderful and easy to carry, Seymour would not stay hidden in it - he always had to see what was going on or if someone was going to fawn over him. Because of that, it was harder to sneak him into places that didn't allow dogs - like the churches. I just found a purse that would keep him totally hidden but I'm not sure it will fold up enough to carry it for travel. I think we could get in to more places with him in the purse than with him in the sling.

4. I will use "google translate" to carry around the following statements:
"Can you clip my dog's nails?" "How much will it cost to clip his nails", and "No, I don't have a dog in my purse."

5. I am glad I brought his muzzle, a copy of his health records, and a picture of him - they took up little space and although none were needed, I had them - just in case.

6. I am glad I brought Seymour's squirt bottle to stop him from barking at other dogs. It was just a small spray bottle that I filled with water and carried in my purse, so again it took up little room but was there if I needed it.

7. I brought 2 sweaters for him and I think that was probably all we needed - 3 might have been good, just for variety, but only if I had extra room.

8. After losing Seymour's crate on the train, I was lucky to find another crate that folded into a bag to use coming home. A folding crate was much easier to carry - and not lose.

For my own packing, next time I will:

1. Bring something to sleep in that I can also wear out, if needed. I need things that have double duty.

2. Bring underwear but only one change of clothes. I found so many markets where I could buy inexpensive clothes that I loved. I ended up having to leave clothes behind because I bought some clothes there that were better suited to my travel.

3. I might think twice about traveling through 2 different seasons because I carried summer clothes and sandals around in November and carried a winter coat and sweater all through September. It is not easy to pack light when you are traveling during summer and a cold fall.

4. I would definitely bring my own medicine next time; plenty of Advil, allergy medication, cold medicine and antacids. I cringe thinking about paying from 5 to 8 euro for 20 aspirin!

5. I would bring less travel books and see if I could download some on my iPad instead. Those books are HEAVY! Of course, I also had stacks of papers from my Italian class. It took me weeks to copy the important info from those papers into a notebook. That is one reason I had to buy a back pack.

6. I loved going over with just a carry on suitcase and Seymour but I found I just didn't have the room I needed for everything I either purchased or gathered along the way. I still hate checking a bag and going through the hassle of trying to find it at the baggage claim (or not). When you have a dog, you are only allowed one additional carry on, which is difficult. I haven't figured out the solution to this yet. If you don't have a dog, you can have a purse and a carry on, which would work much better.

7. I am very glad I had my iPad and could use Vodafone when I didn't have wifi. My Italian cell phone was also useful. In fact, the airbnb website required a phone number that could be verified, so I needed that phone number. I also liked having a Skype phone number. I could call people on their home phones for free. The phone number only cost about $10.00 and included minutes used when calling someone's cell phone.

8. It would have been nice to have had less electrical cords for all of my electronics. I don't know if there is a way to buy one cord that has interchangeable connections to the various devices, but that would have saved some space. I did find that my camera cord would work with my cell phone, so I would check next time to see which cords I wouldn't need to bring. I also brough a converter, that I didn't need. I only needed the electrical adapter.

9. My GPS was useless. I think it would be easier to just go online to google maps and write down directions instead of having to impatiently wait for the GPS to find a satellite and then still direct you the wrong way.

10. What I did bring that I would bring again included: small folding umbrella, inflatable neck pillow that doubled as a regular pillow when needed, folding slippers, thin gloves, quick dry bath towel and quick dry underwear.

11. What I did bring that I would NOT bring again included: silk sac which was a silk sheet in a bag (never used), pillow case (used it once and put it only neck pillow, but really didn't need it), folding shoes (never even took them out of the bag), hat (I ended up buying some scarves there and a few times put one over my head when it got cold), and 'Italian for Travelers" book. It was an interesting read but I ended up getting a small travel dictionary I used more. Maybe an electronic Italian Translator would have been a better choice - easy to use and lightweight.

12. I did carry a small map of Italy (as big as a 9 1/2 x 11 piece of paper) with me to help me decide where to go next. I used that all the time. It was especially useful when I would try to find a place to stay and they would show cities that were not my target city. I wish the map had more cities listed but I did not want to carry a real large map.

Lots of lessons learned - but I still had much more to learn. Next time!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Re-Entry After Italy Trip

One of the friends I met while in Italy returned to the USA a few weeks before I did and she talked about her "re-entry". She was also away about 3 months. I think "re-entry" is the right word. When I would come home from a regular vacation, I would be a little down for awhile but then back to my routine. As with this trip, often my luggage wouldn't show up, but would finally be returned to me. So, my luggage was delivered within 24 hours of me getting home. Seymour was really happy to be home and would run while taking his walk (as far as his leash would let him), but he also learned that when he didn't want to walk anymore, he could refuse to walk anymore unless it was to my arms - to be carried! But Seymour was thrilled to finally get his chicken tenders treat again. I surely would bring a package next time!

For me, after being away for 3 months, I got used to many things that I now miss and/or want to try to incorporate into my current life.

1. Believe it or not, I miss the language barrier I often had to deal with. I smile thinking about all of the gestures I added when trying to communicate. Most people then tried to use broken English to clarify and often we ended up with wide smiles. They did appreciate me trying to speak Italian and I appreciated when they would correct my pronounciation. It was actually a closer bond than one would have by just knowing how to speak the language. But it does make me want to get out the Italian language CDs I bought (and didn't use) before the trip.

2. I really miss the espresso. The first morning back, I tried using 2 different coffee makers and 2 different kinds of coffee to get that flavor back. Neither worked. My friend told me that there is an Italian Grocery in Austin, so I will have to stock up there.

3. I couldn't find anything I wanted to eat for breakfast the last 2 mornings. After 3 months of either pasteries or crusty bread and wonderful jam, nothing else sounded good to me. I finally made a loaf of French bread with my bread maker and got some jam. It's almost satisfying.

4. I did buy some fresh pasta and pesto that I will try out. I also saw that I can make pasta with my bread machine. Will I?

5. I found some olive oil imported from Italy as well as some Modena balsamic vinegar. I made a salad last night and it did bring back some of the memories of that wonderful flavor. Their best salad had tuna fish, fresh olives, tomatoes, and a little hard boiled egg. Not really any different from what we have here, except the olives are fresh. The olives I used last night just did not taste right. I'm sure I'll get my taste buds to ge used to them again, unfortunately.

6. I really miss walking for a purpose. I miss walking to the train or bus and walking around - even lost - to see the sites. I'm not sure how I can incorporate that back in my life here. We really do need to have better public transportation.

7. I miss walking past history - old town walls, beautiful churches, etc. Just the idea of heading to the small grocery store and passing 4 century building that are still intact or have been restored, is awe-inspiring.

8. I don't miss waiting in lines for long periods of time, but I think it has helped me be a little more patient. I hope that lasts for awhile.

9. I really miss taking Seymour in to most of the places I go and people smiling and talking to him, which opened up communication between us. I almost put him in his sling to go te grocery store here, before I remembered - - -

10. I appreciated that many people opened up to me about their feelings of world issues, including how they viewed the USA. I think it is important for us to know those feelings and then try to change them. I hope I left them with some more positive thoughts of Americans. When I saw signs like "American breakfast" and "ice" - although I sometimes craved both - it made me a little sad because I think that when you go to a different country, you should try to adapt to it.

11. I really miss the price of groceries there! I came back and had a hard time putting things in my cart because they were so expensive. $3.40 for a loaf of bread when I could get a couple crusty small loaves of bread for about 60 cents. Fruits and veggies there were also much less expensive, as was good chocolate and wine. What I did miss from the USA was the variety of foods and "stuff" we have here. And I actually missed being able to run into one store and get everything I need. I also missed finding a variety of dog food and treats in the stores. I did notice that the veterinarians sold some of the higher quality dog food. But, on the other hand, it is a bit overwhelming to go into big stores with lots of merchandise now. It is brain-overload. I think that we have too much and too many choices. It ends up that we never have enough "stuff" - and I am particularly guilty of that! I hope to change that.

12. I don't miss the stores being closed for 2-3 hours during the day. I invariably goofed around enough to finally get the shops by 1:15 pm - when they had already closed. They then opened again from about 4 pm to 6 or 7 pm, so the hours weren't that long. Some of the larger department-type stores did stay open, but those weren't the ones I wanted to shop in.

13. I miss the simplicity of life; going to the grocery store every other day or so to get what you need for the short term. Seeing people out in large groups in the city squares socializing in the evenings and especially on weekends. I saw a much stronger sense of community. You often saw young people pushing older people in wheelchairs, letting them sit in the sun and watch people. I know that part of the reason for that was financial since many homes are passed down from generation to generation and they probably all live together, but it still was nice to see. I did see one nursing home run by nuns. It was located in a very nice part of town. I personally wouldn't want to have to live with my kids, but I also wouldn't want to have to live in a nursing home, so I don't have a good solution for aging.

Overall, I have many thoughts running through my head, just trying to adapt my life to include more of what I experienced in Italy. I do hope to return.