Category: Travel Adventures

Italy Day 2: When in Rome, eat like the Romans

In truth it was a 1/2 day in Rome (because we woke up at 1pm)! And that was only because Amir woke us all up. This jet lag is no joke. Especially with kids. Fortunately there’s great coffee. And wine.

Lots of sunlight and sounds from the street

We reserved a 3 hour walking food tour from 5-8pm but had a few hours to kill beforehand. Fortunately with three kids under 6, getting out the door clean, dressed and fed is guaranteed to eat up at least an hour on the best day when everyone cooperates. At least they weren’t ready for breakfast yet – likely because they ate every strawberry and drank a liter of milk somewhere around 3am this morning.

First stop: Piazza Navona which is built on top of the Stadio di Domiziano, the only known brick Roman sporting venue (circa 80 AD). In its prime, it seated 30,000 spectators. It’s been described as a scaled down version of Circus Maximus. Today there are three fountains sitting in the “field” while the footprint of the stands is now occupied by apartments and shops.

We walked to a small restaurant guaranteed to have pizza and a decent house red… to our delight they had high chairs and a closet to store our stroller. I’ve been amazed lately back home at all the facilities advertising to families then not having high chairs or changing tables. While we haven’t seen many families with multiple kids, Rome does a good job welcoming our circus.

After breakfast/lunch, we completed our traditional stop at a local toy store. We’ve had luck in the past with buying a few toys while on vacation rather than trying to bring them. European toys are higher quality, made of wood not plastic, and built to last for generations. Across Italy there’s a culture of reuse and minimization of waste. I’ll have to save my explanation of the trash collection system for another post… perhaps if I can snag a photo of the tiny trash trucks.

We booked the food tour through AirBnB. As I’ve mentioned before, we typically book our lodging there and have come to love the “Excursions” offered through the site as well. You have to sort through them to avoid the super tourist-trap type stuff, but that’s not hard to do when your husband is essentially a travel agent.

Toys are arranged by ages

Alessandro (Alex) was our esteemed guide for the day. Single and living alone in Rome, he made a point to tell me most Italians don’t think he’s Italian thanks to his bright blue eyes gifted to him by his grandmother. He’s a charmer – a good fit for the role.

Taste 1: Porchetta & Wine We entered a small shop with a roast pig in the window and 1000 red wine bottles lining the walls. Alex knew the guys working there, and with the wave of a hand, 10 half sandwiches appeared. The pork is stuffed with rosemary, cooked all night then gently shaved and sandwiched between the fresh bread. A solid first stop.

My hand is hiding the pig head

Taste 2: Suppli Typical of Roman cuisine, they are balls of rice with tomato sauce, stuffed with a chunk of mozzarella in the middle, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Everyone loved these. We wanted seconds.

Taste 3: Potato Pizza He ordered margarita pizza for us as well, but the potato pizza was the real winner. Consisting of crust, thinly sliced potatos, olive oil and just enough cheese, this hit a perfect savory balance.

Unveiling of the pizzas

Taste 4: Friend Artichokes (Carciofi Alla Giudia) Unique to the old Jewish Quarter, you’ll find them on the menu of every restaurant in this little area. Crispy on the outside – there’s a taste reminiscent of potato chips. Bite deeper in, and everything is soft and juicy. It’s a tactile experience as much as a taste adventure.

Fried artichokes

Taste 5: Gunther Gelato I was delighted to reach this last stop, not just for the amazing flavor selection, but to finally stop hearing, “When are we getting ice cream?” Pro tip: Don’t tell the kids there’s gelato on the tour, especially if it’s not happening for three hours. I picked coconut in a cone but ended up eating #1BigBrother’s chocolate after he experienced a meltdown due to his melting gelato.

Rome is almost better by night than by day thanks to the smart lighting that brings these ancient ruins to life. To close out the day, we headed to the Pantheon which closed hours earlier, but had a full piazza of on-lookers, hawkers peddling glowing toys and teenagers singing. It was a great way to close the tour. We said goodbye to the other family in our group (Americans stationed in Roda, Spain), and thanked Alex for his hospitality and expertise.

The Pantheon at night

I have to admit that wearing #1LittleSister most of the day did a number on my back (getting old sucks), so tomorrow we’re considering a golf cart tour of some outer areas of the city. If you remember from Jamaica, #1BigBrother just loves a good golf cart. I can’t wait to see his excitement tomorrow.

Buona notte,

~Steph

Italy Day 1: The (long) Road to Rome

Believe it or not we’ve made this trip before. It was May 2018, and it was the last trip we took before I started blogging about said trips. The original purpose of these posts was to create a sort of digital scrapbook – goal achieved. But they also create a handy record of trip details – favorite restaurants, hidden softplays (I’m looking at you Heathrow). So alas, despite having visited Rome and Florence previously, we’re doing this from scratch. I can’t remember anything from last month nevertheless 2018.

Last time we did a transatlantic flight, we were Team Louka Party of 3. Now, as if infertility was never even a word in our household, we’re Party of 5. Kids ages 6, 3, and 15 months). And while we got to skip packing any formula this time around, packing for this trip still required some legitimate planning.

We ended up adding a few new pieces of gear to our travel arsenal. A GB Pockit+ collapsible stroller can fit in the overhead bin and ensures we can make it through security and fit it in our rental car for the (spoiler alert) Tuscany portion of our trip. And while the GB Pockit isn’t nearly the workhorse of our CitiMini, we still got some stroller clips for attaching small bags.

Add to that arsenal a TOBIQ family travel bag (separate compartments for each kid), and we were more mobile than you’d expect.

I also dug out the good old Boba baby carrier – 6 years and three big babies later, it’s still going strong. That gave us some added flexibility for when #1BigBrother decided he was over walking.

She was more thrilled than this, I promise.

All of us enjoyed not having to share our tv screens with anyone else. I particularly enjoyed 2.5 glasses of champagne as #1BabySister slept in the bulkhead chair for 3 beautiful, consecutive hours. On British Airways and many other airlines, you can reserve a bassinet for your baby.

Well that’s about all I can muster tonight. I can barely keep my eyes open and need to make sure I get to bed before everyone wakes up in the middle of the night. Wish us luck as we explore Rome tomorrow!

~Steph

Jamaica Day 7: Deep Sea Fishing (sans catching) & Preparations for Returning Home

Amir and I went to Belize for our Honeymoon in October 2013. We didn’t have a traditional wedding registry with china, silver and home goods but rather a honeymoon registry where people could gift us a romantic dinner, snorkeling and other expeditions. One of our most infamous outings was deep sea fishing in the boat “Mojo.” We brought in a huge haul of mackerel, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, conch and more, but it wasn’t without a price. Amir had terrible seasickness for the first and only time in his life.

On our way out, full of optimism

We only had to go a half mile off shore to reach depths of 2000 feet and ultimately ended up about 6 miles off shore. The shelf drops off much sooner here than at home in Va Beach where deep sea trips take you 20-30 miles offshore.

We had four of these bad boys in at once

The local fishermen share tips and sightings of schools of fish across the radio. We listened to those reports of “Bonita” sightings and followed the birds to try and find out fish. There were at max two other charters out where we were, attempting the same maneuvers. Unfortunately for everyone NOTHING was biting. Our best catch was seaweed, and no one else had a bigger trophy.

Headed toward the bait ball

Our trip lasted 4 hours and while we didn’t get even a nibble, we did get to see 10-15 dolphin jumping waves in synchrony and a handful of flying fish take flight. We returned to Sea Glass empty handed but fulfilled.

Hide and seek

Back at Sea Glass, #1BigSister and I took advantage of our remaining pool time. We played hide and go seek. Her favorite spot was within the ring floats.

Amir gets his COVID test

At 3pm the nurse stopped by to administer our required COVID-19 tests for return back to the US. Ages 2 and up only. We are all negative.

Snail friends on the gift shop sidewalk

After establishing COVID negativity, the moms wanted to do some last minute shopping for gifts. There’s not too much here to be honest, just a few stalls with seashell jewelry and some Bob Marley t-shirts.

Before dinner I took a last walk of the property to snap a few more photos of the flowers. When I look back at our annual photo album at each of our trips, it’s always the close ups of nature that set the tone and bring me back to that place. Vacationing is always imperfect, and this one marked by the shooting in Texas, as our oldest starts kindergarten this fall.

I used to have my guard up on vacation to not fall in love with each place, chasing a mirage of perfection, as vacations are by definition manufactured bliss. I’d remind myself how home is home, the home we know and love. But lately home doesn’t feel like home. At least not my home, and it’s possible that home was the mirage all along, the ugly truth unfolding in loss of freedom, loss of innocence, loss of life.

Amir and I often fantasize of moving abroad (both his brother and my sister live abroad with their families). We’ve researched which countries accept our medical training, which value social liberty and freedoms we hold dear. We’ve said before we’ll use a vacation as a scouting mission to find that special place. I think the pursuit is on.

~Steph

One last look at Sea Glass Villa

Jamaica Day 6: Villa Tours & High Tea at The Great House

Today was a combination of all my HGTV dreams come true. Thursday is the day that Tryall Club opens up the unoccupied Villas for house tours to other guests.

Karma Bay Villa

First up, Karma Bay, which coincidentally is the Villa where our coworker that recommended we come to Tryall Club comes every year. The square footage is less than Sea Glass, but oh my oh my the bay front views are breathtaking.

She first starting coming here for one week each year. Then clearly the serenity took hold, and one week turn to two, two turned to three, and later as her career afforded, an entire month each year. Now I understand why she has such a tempered disposition at work. A month here surely goes a long way for ones mental health.

All he needs is a fishing pole

After Karma Bay, we headed next door to Oceans 8, a sprawling villa we recognized from all the marketing materials for Tryall Club. The Villa is owned by the owner of Sandals Resorts – someone just a tad accustomed to lux Caribbean living.

The staff said the owners “rarely” come to this amazing house they custom built. In case you are interested, you can rent Oceans 8 for $40,000-$60,000/ week depending on season.

Flower in our fish pond that blooms 3 hrs/day

After our house tours, we headed back to Sea Glass Villa to touch base with the rest of the crew. Only Amir, Julia and I had gone on the house tours – everyone else was team kid back at Sea Glass.

The reading room near check-in

#1BigSister had been begging me for Caribbean hair braids since our arrival. I lucked out and booked a last minute 3:30 appointment to get her hair braided, and with any luck, a proper haircut to correct my errors earlier this week when I, out of frustration and desperation, used the house scissors to cut 6 inches off her hair after an hour spent trying to detangle a mess of wannabe dreadlocks.

$30 for 10 braids

After the salon, we met the rest of the crew at “The Great House” for high tea. At 4pm every day the resort hosts a free high tea session with finger sandwiches, fresh fruit and scones.

The entrance to the tea room

At 5pm the bar opens for happy hour, featuring half priced drinks. I was happy we decided to check it out as the views from the top are well… spectacular.

Tomorrow Amir and I will go deep sea fishing. We took an amazing trip on our honeymoon, but as luck would have it Amir suffered severe seasickness for the first time in his life, and never since then, which of course limited his enjoyment of the experience. Tomorrow is our do-over. We set off at 7am. Wish us luck.

~Steph

Jamaica Day 5: Fishing & Snorkeling Trip plus Naps! Naps! Naps!

Top of my list for excursions was snorkeling, while Amir desperately wanted a fishing adventure. Egem, my mom and #1BigSister joined us too.

The Captain caught a red snapper

We started our 3 hour expedition bottom fishing with the shoreline still in sight. Everyone got immediate nibbles on their lines and quickly reeled in fish, except me of course.

After about an hour of fishing, we reeled in our lines and all agreed we were ready to snorkel. Usually fishing and snorkeling are separate bookings, but since it’s the low season and not as many tourists here, they were able to offer us a combined expedition.

Steph and #1BigSister snorkeling

#1BigSister still hasn’t mastered swimming yet, so you’d think she wouldn’t be able to snorkel. Fortunately they now make a full-face mask with built in snorkel. We ordered one on Amazon about two months ago and have been practicing in the bathtub at home for just this moment.

“Lazy swimmers”

The crew gave us the option of snorkeling with or without a life jacket. They call those that use the life jacket the “lazy swimmers.” We happily accepted that moniker.

Back at Sea Glass Villa, we all got hit with the simultaneous urge to nap. I slept 1.5 hours, a much needed reprieve from the sun and endless eating.

Flowers from the grounds of Sea Glass Villa

After naps, the daily thunderstorms rolled in. One of my favorite aspects of indoor/outdoor living is the all weather experience, sitting in the fresh air while rain pours down, lightening thunders, the air fills with mist – you are outside in the experience, but with a cover above you keeping you dry.

Boat launch

Tomorrow is Thursday, and that’s the day that any unoccupied Villas open up to tours to the other guests at Tryall Club. Think of it as Homearama of the Jamaican resort world. We won’t know until the morning which villas are open for tours, but that almost adds to the mystique. After all, the boxer Lennox Lewis lives here – this is where they filmed “How Stella Got her Groove Back” and the Obamas visited just last year.

We’re also deciding between “Swimming with Dolphins” and deep sea fishing, but first order of business is to secure more size 2 diapers and formula, as we’re almost out of both. Feels like home, but without the formula shortage.

~Steph

Balinese Dragon outside the Villa Bali Hai