Day 310 (6 May 2011) – First Class

That’s right. Nothing is too good for Melinda’s family. When she bought our Paris-CDG to Nantes train tickets some time ago she was able to score first class tickets. Today’s photo was taken on the train tonight as we made our way home. We had our own little compartment for the 3 hour trip.

I took this picture to try to capture the first class splendor. You can see me there on the right with my cell phone camera, a reflection of me in the glass that helped enclose us. Chloe is busy reviewing the 1000+ photos we took on our vacation (expect some of these to show up on her Facebook page). Melinda is following along with her. Ella, also in reflection, is re-familiarizing herself with the Internet capabilities of her French cell phone now that we are back in France. She is reading fan fiction and has been ever since we landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris from Milan.

Speaking of our travel, today has been a tiring day. We sat in the Milan airport for several hours, our flight to Paris having been delayed by nearly two hours due to a strike in Italy. We had hoped to arrive in Paris in time to take an earlier train home to Nantes, but that hope went out the window with the delay in Milan. That gave us three hours to kill at Charles de Gaulle. We spent it telling each other how much we love France.

It really is remarkable (hence these remarks) how comfortable we have gotten in France. Being in Italy, where we spoke and understood no Italian, helped us realize that we really do know *some* French. What we really know is how to get around in France. What we REALLY know is that we love France.

We also like traveling first class, especially after a long day of sitting in airports.

Day 309 (5 May 2011) – In Milan

We arrived in Milan by train from Florence mid-afternoon. Our first order of business was to check in to our hotel, from where we then traveled on foot for several hours, mostly for the purpose of shopping. We were on what is known as the biggest shopping street in Milan, Corso Buenos Aires. I think Chloe’s head actually exploded. Over the last few months she has been shopping in both Paris and Milan.

At dinner tonight, however, while putting Chloe’s head back together, we were able to point out that Ella, her little sister, in the span of the last 13 days, has breathed the air of both Paris and Milan, as well as that of London. I think that straightened Chloe out well enough. It’s a little humbling for her to know that her sister has been to London, one of the world’s fashion centers, and she hasn’t. I like to point out that I’ve not only been to Omaha, I was born there. That doesn’t seem to impress them.

Anyway, we likely ate our last Italian gelato today, too, given that we need to hustle out the door early tomorrow to catch our flight to Paris. This one may have been the best. I ordered something a little different this time, what looked like a chocolate covered ice cream ball. The kicker? Not only did it have vanilla gelato inside, there was a shot of whiskey.

Today’s photo is actually the last one I took, just a few minutes ago, in fact. The girls and Melinda are in front of Milan Centrale, the train station, as impressive of a train station as I’ve ever seen.

Day 308 (4 May 2011) – Full Day in Florence

First, to set the record straight, let me just say that we REALLY did meet Rick Steves yesterday. The photo I posted is legitimate. It was neither Photoshopped nor a cardboard cut-out. It was the man himself who just happened to be at the exact same place in Italy (the tiny train station in Vernazza) as the four of us. Read about HIS Italian adventures on HIS blog.

Oh, I made up the stuff about trading Melinda for Rick Steves.

Now about today… Last night Chloe created our To Do list. It involved seeing David (alas, the line was way too long so we skipped it), eating lunch, shopping (Ella & I each scored two scarves, Chloe bought a purse, while Melinda, like Charlie Brown, got a rock), eating gelato, climbing the Dome at the Florence Cathedral (did it, all 463 steps each way — Ella & I got dizzy at the top), eating dinner (very good pizza), and various other times to eat (the cannoli was good and the desserts we bought at an Italian bakery were delicious).

Today’s photo is on the walkway at the top of the dome. If it’s a little fuzzy it’s because I was dizzy.

Day 307 (3 May 2011) – In Which We Trade Melinda For Rick Steves

I’m excited to report that today we traded Melinda for Rick Steves. Melinda gets to do something she’s always wanted to do, which is to live the life of Rick Steves, complete with all the world travel, while Rick is joining Chloe, Ella and me as the girls’ new mom. He commented that the whole travel and guidebook writing thing had finally gotten tiring. Melinda mentioned something similar about my sense of humor. So this morning at the Vernazza train station, the exchange was made. The Rick Steves team insisted on a first round draft pick and future considerations. I got us train tickets to Florence, from where I am writing right now, and 4 cups of gelato (I admit, only single scoop…).

Rick’s first act as parent was to get a complete stranger to take our picture together. He seems really at home in train stations and has no trouble talking to people about things like travel and transportation. He saw Chloe lugging around a heavy bag and made some suggestions that not only miraculously made her bag lighter, but created space for all the new clothes she wants to buy in Italy. I can’t wait to get him back home to Seattle where he can organize the closets.

As Melinda skipped off we heard her say something about a new concept to the Rick Steves travel books, something about adding a microchip that automatically provides updates on things like ticket price changes and train schedules. She’s so 21st century.

To Dwight & Michele back in Seattle, Rick says he’s okay with changing his birthday to May 13.

Day 306 (2 May 2011) – Roaming Wasn’t Finished in a Day

Today was our last full day in Cinque Terre. Melinda and I left Chloe and Ella to gather up some slight sunburns on the tiny beach in Vernazza, taking the train to Riomaggiore, the first of the five towns in Cinque Terre (Vernazza is considered #4). We walked around Riomaggiore for a while, along the way picking up some produce (from boxes all labeled “Melinda”) at a small market. We walked to the next town, Manarola, along what is called “Via Dell’Amore” (Pathway of Love). It’s a breathtakingly beautiful walk and the day was perfect for it.

At Manarola Melinda & I ate lunch at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, having a fish soup that was delicious. We then caught the train at Manarola back to Vernazza, rescued the girls from the sun and then relaxed together for the rest of the afternoon. Highlights included watching a little boy kick a soccer ball with his grandmother and climbing the castle once used by city residents to spot invading pirates (I think Barry Bonds had already defected to San Francisco).

I took today’s photo as we were returning to our attic, the girls pausing on the final few stairs. There are 83 of them (I counted), though not all are circular like this.

Day 305 (1 May 2011) – Monterosso

We spent the day today on the beach in Monterosso, about a 6 minute train ride from Vernazza through a tunnel bored through the mountains. The round trip is 3,60€ per person, fairly reasonable, especially once you see Monterosso. It’s absolutely incredible, the largest of the 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre. It’s also the most touristy, which is why we chose to stay elsewhere, but if you are ever looking for a place in Italy with an incredible sandy beach, this is the place for you.

Chloe got to the beach, put in her earbuds, turned on her music and announced that she was in heaven. We stayed in one place on the beach for two hours, left it to get our RDA of gelato, and then claimed another place. Today’s photo was taken less than an hour ago (we’re back in our Vernazza attic rooms at 5:25pm as I write, rinsing off in preparation for taking a glass of wine at the harbor) as we waited for our return train at the Monterosso train station.

Let me just say, a person could get used to this.

Day 304 (30 April 2011) – In Italy Our French is Fluent!

We have discovered that our French comes much easier to us now that we are in Italy. For instance, last night as we were sitting at an outdoor table at a pizzeria reviewing the Italian menu and anticipating we’d have to order in Italian, we were sure we could speak perfect French. Ella summed it up best then when she said, “I think we’re fluent in French in every country but France!”

That’s exactly right, and her summation made me laugh out loud.

Still, we managed to order a caprese salad and three pizzas. We even ordered a dessert and some wine. As it turned out, the server, the cook, and everyone at the restaurant was happy to assist us in spending money at their restaurant. It helped that they all spoke English and that we had a couple of pages of Italian phrases for travelers in our hands. Okay, it helped that they all spoke English.

I took today’s photo last night just after dinner. We went for a walk (we had three pizzas to digest and walk off) and stopped at the harbor for a little rock climbing. The girls crawled out onto this big rock and I got into position to snap this picture (and about a hundred others that didn’t work so well…).

Day 303 (29 April 2011) – “Italian” Sabbatical

Now that we all managed to get Kate and Will hitched we can properly focus on more important things. Although if you are Chloe, there are few things more important. She was lamenting the fact that we left Nice this morning and our apartment’s cable TV system set up to view channels from England. The wall-to-wall Royal Wedding coverage captivated her. We had to pry her away.

So, yes, we left Nice this morning and traveled for 5 hours on a series of trains that took us through great towns like Monaco/Monte Carlo and Genoa before arriving in the Cinque Terre region of Italy, which is where we will be spending the next four days. Specifically, we are staying in the town of Vernazza. Today’s photo was taken shortly after we checked in to our rooms, two that are in the attic of a lovely building overlooking the harbor. We checked in, got unpacked, and then went for a short walk along the beachfront. We then walked away from the beach into the small town itself, stopping for the obligatory gelato along the way. Chloe & Ella have suggested that we try every gelato shop in town in order to determine the best one. Clever thinking.

This is an incredible place, absolutely gorgeous, and I’m not just talking about the gelato. Every time you turn around is another incredible photo opportunity. And I’m not just talking about the gelato.