19 May 2016

the train ride.

we used to travel spontaneously.  a cheap fare alert would pop up on my phone, like an invitation from the universe to come and play.  i’d pack my well-traveled carry-on roller, a gift from my parents for my high school graduation, and stash some books in my purse.  grab my passport.  make a playlist for the plane.  we’d take red eyes to maximize the amount of time we’d have in our city of choice.  new york.  paris.  santa monica.  boston.  crash with family and eat out for every meal.  stroll the beach.  drink the evenings away.  talk late into the night with friends and family.  take our time.

but this trip is different.  now, it takes days to pack and plan.  nothing is spontaneous with two kids.  there is adventure of a much, much different sort.  days of laundry.  packing for every eventuality.  there could be a fever.  a stomach bug.  constipation.  a fire.  no eventuality is not accounted for, no horrifying possibility left unimagined.  not traveling is not an option for us.  to sit in our house, wait to be visited, every day and weekend the same would be a death, of sorts.  we pack up the kids and go.  take advantage of the rule of lap infants and sign the older one up for frequent flyer miles the day after his second birthday.  he already has his own backpack and pulls his roller through the airport.  he insists on doing itself.  fellow travelers think it’s all very adorable.  until we sit next to them.

today we are taking a train ride.  along the eastern coast, we will be heading south by the shore.  it’s not more than five hours, but it’s over nap time.  i’m armed with a fully charged ipad and every single sort of snack my toddler will eat.  

it feels like my journey through parenthood, this train ride.  it starts out easy enough.  one baby is sleeping so i only have to worry about the other.  there is some frustration early on, but we get past it.  it almost feels like it’s going to be easy, this four-hour train ride with two littles.  and then the other wakes up.  they’re hungry at the same time.  i throw cheddar bunnies and an apple juice box at one and my boob at the other.  but despite our best efforts, before long we’ve descended into utter chaos.  the baby is screaming out of tired frustration, and the toddler is eerily quiet.  moments later, we learn he apparently gets motion sickness.  this fact is now all over him, me, my phone, and the train seats around us.

life has not always been like this.  there was once more romantic train rides.  through the hills of tuscany and along the bosphorus.  playing cards and reading books.  sneaking wine on board.  long and late nights in exotic sleeper cars. laughing and flirting and flipping my hair.  backpacking and drinking and ordering one of each of the tapas. today is not like the train rides of my past life. today looks different.  today i am covered in throw up, spit up, poop from a diaper blow out.  from time to time, i notice looks of pity thrown my way.  looks of frustration.  looks of annoyance.  please don’t let her sit next to me, they seem to say with their eyes as i carry my sick toddler to the bathroom.  

i remind myself it will all be ok.  like everything in life, this train ride will not last forever.  we have a destination.  as the train rocks back and forth, our circumstances change.  

when we finally reach penn station, the struggle is almost over.  i stand with the kids as my husband pulls every piece of luggage off the train.  and unbelievably, i feel grateful.  every simple thing felt like a small miracle, a sign that things could always be more difficult.  

i’m thankful for amtrak workers who assure me they clean up toddler vomit all the time, and train cars with bathrooms that are semi-clean.  for taxi cab vans that fit the stroller, traffic jams long enough to nurse a baby in and hotel bellmen to carry our bags.  for toddlers fresh out of the shower and laundry bags that tie up tight, keep the smell of sick inside. and especially for the kindness of strangers on the street who grab your arm and whisper, “you’re doing a good job, mama.” 

when we finally arrive, we discover a small sliver of our previous lives before all these things, travel cribs and diaper bags.  we’ll drink wine out of juice glasses and put on the fluffy robes.  order room service.  the babies will sleep when they’re tired enough.  we’ll binge watch our favorite show, sharing one set of earbuds between us, and sneak glances across the bed in the flickering light of the laptop.  it will all be ok.  

i’ll go to sleep and dream of a surprise train ticket, where i pack my suitcase and board the train and don’t find out where we are going until the train leaves the station.  life will once again be lived spontaneously and filled with the unknown.

until i wake up.

29 April 2016

dear finley: four months.

hi chunker.

it just hit me the other day that three months is over.  someone asked me how old you are, and i said 'three months!'  and then, realizing the date and spinning around in the kitchen to double check the calendar, i realized you were actually a couple days away from four months.

how did this happen?  the first three months -- if i'm being really honest, fins -- kind of dragged.  they were challenging.  we were so tired, so, so, so tired.  i've said it before, but i pinned all my hopes and dreams on three months.  i was so hoping that's when things would get easier.  and they did.  once that three month marker came, you started sleeping at least 5-7 hour stretches every night.  sometimes even longer.  you've gotten less gassy, getting used to that digestive system of yours.  you're growing into this body of yours, and you're so much bigger than i ever thought you would be.  when vanessa first placed you on my chest, i knew you were tiny.  but under six pounds? that's not what we were expecting.  these days, you'd never know you were born that tiny.  you're hardly fitting into clothes made for a six month old baby.  the other day i had to peel pants off of you.  your big round belly was sagging over the waistband and i'm sure was cutting off circulation to vital organs.  we talk constantly about how chubby you are.  it's one of my favorite things about you.

maybe my other favorite thing about you is how happy you are when you first wake up in the morning.  you stare up at the fan, wiggle your body around and stretch out, and turn your head over to see who's in bed with you.  it's always me staring back at you.  and you smile as if you've been waiting all your life to see me, as if my face is the face you wanted to see the most.  it makes me so happy.  because that is how i feel about your face.  your face is the little one i never knew i always wanted to see. you kick your legs, stretch out your arms, and coo at the ceiling fan.

in this last month, you learned how to laugh.  you don't do it all the time, but you can really let out a belly laugh occasionally.  i'm so looking forward to when you start laughing all the time, because i have a feeling you will constantly laugh.  you're also rolling over, back to belly right now.  the funniest part is that you always get your arm stuck under you, and then you kind of look at me like, what just happened? before crying out for me to help set your arm free.  it's kind of funny.  your brother is so excited for you to roll over that he's helped you a few times... he rolls you across the living room floor or his bedroom floor.  luckily, you think it's all very funny.  you're only four months old but the two of you are already getting into trouble.

i had this thought the other day about these days.  when your brother turned three months old, it was after that point that i started saying to your dad, this is my favorite age.  every month i would declare my favorite month.  it just got better and better.  and i was thinking that we are at that point with you, where ever week is a more fun than the one that's just passed.  these are going to be the days we look back on.  i'm getting so excited for summertime.  i can just imagine us all in the backyard on a picnic blanket, your brother splashing in his pool and you munching on some watermelon when you start solids, the juices dripping down your big belly, sitting up like a big boy.  it's going to be so good.  it is so good.  i'm so excited for what's to come, and what's here right now.

though we still have our occasional struggles -- why do you constantly insist on being held? -- i have never been happier.  i'm thankful, every single day, that you came to join our family.  you're the best thing that's happened to us.

and it's just going to get better.

i love you, my little big chunker.

your mama.

26 April 2016

travelogue // the amalfi coast

so it dawned on me the other day that i haven't shared my photos and recommendations from the amalfi coast.  our trip was nearly a year ago, but now that our days are once more drenched in sunshine, i was thinking back to our sunny days in italy, dreaming of our photographs.

stopping in italy was the last leg of our trip last summer.  we first flew into split, then drove down the coast to dubrovnik, and then headed over to italy.  we knew when we booked the tickets [in to split, out from rome] we were going to go to italy somewhere, but even when we flew to croatia we weren't yet sure where we wanted to go in italy.  we've both been multiple times before and knew we wanted to try and explore a new area of the country for us.  our first thought was the rent a car and drive [our original plan for a trip back in 2013 before we decided on thailand] and were going to stay on the eastern shore.  but while we were in croatia and i saw on instagram a favorite internet friend of mine was spending her spring holiday along the amalfi coast.  when i floated the idea to philp, he was totally on board.  so before long, he was looking into hotels and i was jotting down every restaurant recommendation liz had to offer.

t u e s d a y  / /  d a y  1

it was beautiful and warm when we woke up on our little prison-cell-like room on the ferry.  we took the jadrolinija ferry line from dubrovnik to bari.  it was an overnight ferry that took around 10 hours, leaving at about 10pm and arriving around 8am.  if this is something you do, prepare for the ferry.  we booked the nicest room they have, which was a room with two single beds and a private bathroom.  you still would not want to use the shower.  it was a bathroom on a ferry... it's about as nice as you'd think it would be.

we were able to rent a car from hertz at the bari airport.  this was about as organized and took as long as you would think it would to rent a car in italy [read: multiple hours].  it was a bit of a hassle to get a car that wasn't a manual, but we got it all to work out.  it also took us quite a few tries to leave the airport -- we kind of did a few laps thanks to confusing signs, no GPS, and the many, many roundabouts.  we finally stopped at the airport terminal out of frustration, hunger, and my pregnant need for a bathroom twice an hour.  while philip talked to someone about how the hell we could leave the apparent gravitational pull of the bari airport roads, i grabbed us some coffee and focaccia from a cafe.  i can still remember the taste of that focaccia and i swear it was one of the best things i've ever tasted in that moment.

finally, coffee in hand and focaccia in belly, we drove across the entire country of italy.

which took about three and a half hours.

italy is long and narrow, obviously.  so it wasn't exactly a problem to make our way from the east coast to the west.  not to mention the gorgeous scenery we encountered along the way, and the fantastic italian radio we got to jam to.  i monitored my liquid intake to ensure we didn't have to stop at all, and before we knew it we were in salerno.

we did encounter miserable traffic once we reached salerno and before we made it up the mountain to ravello.  the roads were winding, with views you can't even imagine.  in places the road was so narrow they would let cars travel in one direction only at a time.  we pulled over on the side of the road with other travelers making their way up to ravello and waited our turn.  but oh my gosh was the pain-in-the-ass drive worth it.  

on elizabeth's recommendation, we went to cumpa cosima for lunch.  we split the caprese appetizer and each got fettuccine bolognese.  it's my hands-down favorite italian dish and if it's on the menu i can very rarely skip over it for something else.  cumpa cosima was well worth the drive... even if the windy road and my pregnant hormones did finally catch up to me while we were there.  after lunch we wandered around ravello for a little bit in the drizzling rain.  i found it to be a lovely little village and was happy it was our first stop in italy.

after stretching our legs, we made our way back to the water after once again waiting for the road to open in our direction.  philip had found a hotel for us sort of last minute [since we hadn't even decided where we were going until we were already in croatia].  luckily we weren't really particular about where we stayed along the amalfi coast.  we only had to book for one night, and we knew we wanted to go to amalfi but since we had the car, it didn't matter where we stayed.  we were going to drive it all either way.  so we picked the loveliest little hotel -- the hotel belvedere in conca dei marini.  our room included breakfast [take on the terrace overlooking the water, of course], a parking.  if you are going to drive along the coast -- i can not stress this enough -- get a hotel that has parking!

conca dei marini is tiny, and there wasn't much by our hotel that was walking distance, and we were not getting back into the car.  after wandering down the road a ways, we found a little path with some stairs with signs for restaurants.  we ventured down.  

and oh my gosh were we happy we did.  not only did we see some of the most gorgeous scenery of our trip -- hidden little doorways, overgrowing flowers and the most amazing views of the tyrrhenian sea.  we ended up dining at a small, family owned restaurant called l'ippocampo.  and when i say 'family owned,' i mean literally the woman that was cooking and waiting on us was also sitting a ta large table in the back that was overflowing with laughing family and children.  our table was less than a hundred feet from the water, and a small garden with fresh basil and tomatoes was within reach.  i ordered the gnocchi alla sorrentina and watched the basil get plucked from the garden and placed atop my bowl.

with full bellies and happy to be out of the car, we fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves outside our balcony door.

w e d n e s d a y  / /  d a y  2

we woke up just in time to take advantage of the breakfast included with our room.  hot coffee, chocolate croissants, fruit salad, and fresh meats and cheeses were served outside on the terrace overlooking the water.  it didn't suck.

once we checked out, we loaded up our little car and drove along the coast ahead to positano.  there were lots of little towns where we could have stopped, but we chose positano for a few reasons.  it was on our way north to naples and rome, and it was where some of the dreamiest beach scenes in the talented mr. ripley were filmed.

if you're driving to positano... good luck finding parking.  it's nearly impossible.  we found a little parking lot where we felt trusting enough to toss our keys to a stranger and hand him an ungodly amount of euros to make sure our rental wasn't stolen.  it was quite a walk down to the beach but it was our only option... and the scenery wasn't all that bad.

after slowly making our way down to the water [and stopping nearly every cute little shop we passed], we checked out the beach scene.  we decided to pay €10 per person for a beach chair and umbrella.  it seemed a little annoying at first, but once i saw that it included a place to change, and that the black sand was so hot it was burning my feet, i decided it was well worth it.

the water was warm and clean and clear, picture perfect and everything i'd hoped it would be.  i am not the kind of person who can just go to the beach and get some sun.  no way.  i gotta get IN that water.  and once i got in and could see the view from the water, splashing around in the soft waves, the weight of pregnancy lifted off me, there was no way i was getting out until it was time to eat.

there was a wealth of restaurants near the water, and even more back in the main village of positano.  we saw some lovely shaded outdoor seating at la pergola ristorante, right near our beach chairs.  i had more bolognese -- which did not disappoint -- and we had the local specialty of grilled lemon leaves with caprese salad.  it was amazing, and this little beachy pasta shop ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip.

after we ate, i dragged philp back to our beach chairs for a little while longer.  i wasn't going to leave that water one moment before i absolutely had to.  we didn't have too long of a drive ahead of us to sorrento, but we knew we didn't want to get in too late.  along with the afternoon sun, we packed up, used the changing stalls to peel off our wet and sandy suits and hiked back up to our car.

before too long we were in sorrento.  but once we got there, it took us just as long to find our hotel and park as it did to actually drive from positano to sorrento.  it was a mess.  and we got into a huge mishap with our rental car.  no bueno.  let's just say we returned it short a side mirror and with a couple love-dings in the door.  not so bad.  our hotel, the palazzo guardati, turned out to only be accessible by foot and had no parking, despite what the website we booked on said.  and it's not as if italy is ripe with parking lots and garages.  but other than that, the hotel wasn't bad.  it had a lovely bathroom and a decent enough breakfast [so philip said, my morning sickness didn't really care for any of it]. 

for dinner that night we stumbled on pizzeria aurora, mostly for their lack of a wait time and outdoor seating.  a friend of mine had recommended a restaurant next door to it [can't remember the name] but the menu didn't appeal much to us, so we stopped in aurora instead.  it was ok.  i had ravioli, which was a change of pace.  it wasn't the best meal i had in italy, but still better than nearly all the italian restaurants back home :)  afterwards we wandered to gelateria primavera for gelato.  the inside is plastered with pictures of the pope with the chef, which i kind of got a kick out of.  then it was back to our hotel for some rest before our long drive north the next morning.  i have to say, i wasn't a huge fan of sorrento.  we were there less than 24 hours, so it's not a fair judgment to make.  but it was bigger and more industrial than the small towns we'd been through before, and i missed them.  the quaintness, the water.  the crashing of the waves.  but that was the last we'd see of the water for a while before we went north to rome.

t h u r s d a y  / /  d a y  3

we had over a three hour drive north to rome, a bit shorter than our drive across the width of italy just a few days prior.  we passed mount vesuvius and pompeii, which would have been awesome stops if we had more time.  i'd been to both before and didn't have a strong desire to stop again.  instead, we opted to stop off quickly in naples for some pizza [it was lunch time, after all], which was right on our way.

naples isn't too far from sorrento, so it was an easy stop to make.  except for the nightmare-ish traffic in the city itself, it was a great stop.  we stopped off at piazza dante, and walked down via port'alba for a bit.  there were lots of book shops, and i had to stop every couple feet for photo opportunities. 

 there were so many places to eat down via lombardi, including gino sorbillo -- supposedly the best pizza in italy, and where it was first created, so the story goes.  we took one look at the line and rolled our eyes as my pregnant belly did a backflip.  i mean, we were in naples.  how good could that one pizza place possibly be over anywhere else?  we stopped instead at pizzeria attanasio where i ate an entire pizze siciliana [with eggplant] and could have licked the plate clean.  it was fantastic.

then we hopped back into our little rental for the drive to rome.  though we didn't fly out until the next morning, we opted to return our rental car at the airport.  the reason for this was twofold: [1] we were staying at the airport hilton, and [2] you can't drive in the city of rome unless you are a taxi or a local as designated on your license plate.  the hilton, which we were able to walk to after ditching what was left of our rental car, also had a hotel shuttle leaves every 2 hours and goes right into the center of rome.  but being the impatient people we are, we decided to take a direct train from the airport for €11 per person.  easy and cheap.

eager to stretch our legs from the long car ride, we decided to take our time wandering from the termini to osteria romana di simmi.  this, again, was liz's recommendation and i could not agree more.  it was a phenomenal meal and the service was perfect.  i, of course, had more bolognese [i'm not sorry] and we split a few appetizers, a well as dessert.  our server was quite the charmer, and between courses gave us a tour of the private museum underground.  just ask jean pierro about it when you visit.  tell him i sent you! [kidding.]

rome is my favorite place in italy.  i don't know what it is, but it is the place i'd live if i could.  it's a big city, and what a history.  the people have a fire in them i feel like you don't find anywhere else. i've been three times now and i can't wait for my fourth visit.   i think i could just slip into a crowd there and be lost forever, in a good romantic sense, not in the weird, sad way that sounded.  
since it was after midnight when we finally were ready to head back to call it a night, we had to take a taxi.  the train to the airport stops running at midnight.  for the record, i do not recommend doing this.  it was obscenely expensive and it was sheer luck we got a cab that would take a credit card, but, what can i say?  it was our last night in europe and we weren't done with rome when the trains were.

the italy portion of our trip was my favorite.  it's one of those places we will keep returning to, again and again, no matter how many times we've been.  it holds a certain special magic for us, and i know it always will.  if you haven't been, please, make this your next trip.