A month ago today, we leisurely spent our last day on family vacation in Florence. Our kids wanted to spend some time reading that day and take in the outdoor atmosphere of a forum area where politicians once sat and debated. My husband and I spent some time in a nearby bookstore. We did some last minute shopping, had a lovely last meal, gathered our things, weighed our suitcases, and prepared to go home after our adventure.
We had a few vacations in the past when our kids were young – South Dakota/Mt. Rushmore, Disney World, and St. Louis. As our kids grew older it became very hard for us to take time to go anywhere due to busy year-round athletic schedules. Our last family vacation took place in New York at Christmas time in 2013. This ensured that no basketball practices would be missed. At that time, our son was in his junior year of high school and our daughter was in 8th grade. We stayed a block away from Times Square. We saw beautiful Christmas lights, took in a couple of Broadway shows, had some amazing food… It was a lovely time!
This was the first summer we have had as a family in a long time that did not involve softball. After all of these years, we decided it was time to get away. We had many discussions on where to go. Many were met with some degree of protest.
Washington D.C.? “That feels like homework.”
Denmark? “DENmark? What’s in DENmark?!” (By the way, almost my entire heritage, we WILL be going to Denmark.)
Al and I had been on a photography trip to Tuscany in 2011. We absolutely loved Florence and nearby towns! We had planned on taking our kids there someday. I guess we never really considered when that some day might be. Five years with no vacation? And me, now a two-time cancer survivor? Maybe it was time… The choice of Italy was met with great enthusiasm!
Eleven days is a lot of time for togetherness… I can’t ever think of a time ever in our lives that we had 11 days with JUST each other. Let’s also add turning off our cellular data, which actually, I am thankful for. This meant much more time that all of us were out of our phones and could concentrate on our travels and each other. A couple of times it proved inconvenient and one of us, including me, would exclaim, “Can we just turn on our data for a minute?!” But after a friend at U.S. Cellular notified me that someone came back from overseas with a $10,000 bill from roaming charges, for the most part, I was pretty diligent at reminding our kids to keep their data OFF.
This last month has given me time to really reflect on our trip and things I learned along the way.
#1 A son who is 23 (he had his birthday while in Florence) and a daughter who is 19 should not have to share the same bed.
Actually, I knew that when I booked our hotel room. In the past, when the kids were little, they always slept in the same bed. It’s just wrong now. During our last vacation in New York, once again, I made them share a bed. I knew I was really pushing it at that time and that decision was met with a LOT of arguing. But dang it! Vacation in New York is expensive and I did not want to get a second room. And don’t even think about a roll-away bed. (“It’s against fire code.”)
This time, by luck, we found a hotel that provided a “family room,” which had 2 twin beds and a king. Finally, a perfect sleeping situation!
#2 Four adults with one bathroom is not ideal.
We made it work of course, but when preparing to get ready, it would have been nice to have 2 bathrooms. Especially when your son accidentally breaks off the shower head. After being left with a hose hanging from the pipe in the wall with a hand-held shower head for a couple of days, (Emma-“I just have to say, I have never been so irritated with Bo…”), we were very happy when we got a “real” shower head back. (Although, the first shower head was SO much better… )
#3 Family vacation and photography excursion are two entirely different trips.
I thought I could do both, photograph family vacation and capture competition-worthy images. While the photos that I took are priceless and capture my precious family and some beautiful scenes, I just couldn’t quite put the same kind of concentration in that I do when shooting for competition. Two different kinds of photography require two different kinds of trips, at least I found that to be true for me. My kids have shared many of their pictures on their social media. I will eventually. I haven’t even looked at my images or downloaded them since we returned. I will share some in the future!
#4 A carriage ride for 4 adults is just not worth it.
Doesn’t a carriage ride sound fun? To enjoy the atmosphere of your destination with the clip clop of the horses hooves against the cobblestone? We went on a carriage ride in St. Louis and I remember having fun at that time. I am sure that there must be different sized carriages… But our carriage in Florence, equipped with seats facing each other, containing 4 adults was too cozy. Our legs were uncomfortably intertwined. Then add to it, a driver who barely spoke English. We were hot, uncomfortable, straining to hear, and thankfully for the horse, the ride was short. As we stepped down after our ride, Al mumbled, “Did you really like that? Was that worth 50 Euros?” The answer was obviously no.
#5 Seeing things is great, but sometimes you just need moments of rest.
My husband and I love to see things. When we have been on past trips, just the two of us, we have often explored nearby areas. We have easily put 8-10 miles on foot/day. It’s fun to see places you don’t see everyday and may never see again.
So, much of the trip I had planned for us involved tours, having a driver take us to nearby towns, lots of walking and exploring… I thought I had scheduled enough “down time.” One day, after climbing the Duomo and it’s 463 steps to get to the top, Al and Bo decided to also tackle the Bell Tower, an additional 414 steps. My daughter’s attitude was like “H__L No!” and I was fine sitting with her and enjoying watching the artists located in the street and listening to music. While enjoying a little wine (drinking age is 18 there) and a little food, I discovered my daughter’s idea of vacation. “I’m the kind of girl who goes to the beach with her book and sits. That’s vacation to me.” I really took this in. I wanted my kids to see some amazing things, but vacation should also be vacation. From that point on, we made a little more leisure time. We still saw many things, but we took the pace down a bit. In fact on the last day that I had scheduled our driver to drive us to two more towns, we canceled that particular outing completely and hung around Florence. I am much more aware about actually scheduling time to relax on future trips.
#6 Anything involving food is the best!
When I was scheduling our trip, I talked to my dear photographer friend, Amy. She is one of my talented friends who captured senior images of Emma in Des Moines a couple of summers ago. She excitedly said to me, “Are you going on a food tour?! You will love it! You sample different foods from the region, learn how to prepare them, and get some history. You HAVE to go on a food tour!” So, we looked into it. There was just the 4 of us walking around Florence and sampling wine, meat, bread, olive oil, truffles, gelato, biscotti, and chocolate. This was very fun and relaxing! There are food tours available all over the world. We will definitely be looking into this again in the future.
On another day, we decided to just go to one Tuscan town instead of the 2 we had planned. Our driver asked if we might want to sample some wine at a small vineyard. His suggestion was greatly appreciated and we had so much fun! We had 9 generous samplings of wine with different courses of food. The view was spectacular and the food and wine was wonderful! We had several bottles delivered home to share with friends. I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone!
#7 Making the time to travel or spend meaningful time with your loved ones is something to do NOW.
It was so hard to make the time for travel before now. Bo’s and Emma’s sports and their teams were very important to them and to Al and me. We wanted them to do their best and excel. I grew up thinking that the time to travel was after retirement. I have had health issues and back problems. I am guessing that these won’t get better over time. However, I work on taking the very best care I can of myself every day. Al is doing the same. By the time we retire, we might not be able to go out and experience the world. Now that our children have a bit of unscheduled time and we don’t have extended family, yet, we intend to make the most of these years. This trip was extensive. Our future travels will be in the United States, at least for a few years. Next summer is my daughter’s dream vacation to Colorado. We intend to keep making future travel plans for as long as we can.
#8 Time spent together creates an amazing bond!
I did not know it was possible to love my family any more than I already did, but I do! After spending many days together and relying on only each other, I have to say that the bonds we already had are stronger than ever. We are finding ourselves hanging out together even more and spending more time visiting and laughing together. I know that if I were stranded anywhere in the world and only had these three amazing spirits around me, my life would be complete. It would be filled with wit and laughter (Emma), determination and sensitivity (Bo), intellect and love (Al). And even though he truly doesn’t want to be a doctor at home, I’d have healthcare. 🙂
I am thankful for this vacation time with my family and I am ready for upcoming adventures!