Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beware the Fleas of Italy

Friday marks my 40th birthday ... and, I must admit that I'm a bit in shock that - in response to the 'What is your age?' question on surveys - the box I'll need to check is in an entirely different decade than before.

Five years ago, my hubby and I each shared what we wanted to do for our 40th birthday. I decided I wanted to celebrate it in Italy. Fast forward five years ... with school and work and extracurricular schedules and a pesky lack of funding for such a trip, it is clear this particular wish is not going to be realized. Maybe we'll aim for 45.

Anyway, I've been feeling a bit wistful for Italy ... and, so, felt the need to remind myself that the last time I was there, it wasn't all glamorous. I posted the story below a couple years ago, and thought this would be the perfect occasion for a re-post.

Thanks to the creative mind of blogger/author/illustrator, Douglas Florian, this time around we'll rename the post, "Flearence"!
Some might find it surprising that I have such an obsession with Italy considering what happened to me while vacationing in the beautiful country a few years back. Hubby and I learned, after our trip, that the weather we thought to be normal for the late May/early June timeframe was very much non-typical. In fact, they had been experiencing a somewhat unusual heat wave. And heat waves can, apparently, bring on infestations of certain pests, namely fleas.

I should note here that I have an allergic reaction to flea bites. There’s a back story to that … I’ll share it at another time.

Our first stop was in Rome. There, I accumulated five or six flea bites. Thinking it to be a fluke, I grinned and beared the bites as they grew into large blisters. I was slightly miserable, but thoroughly enjoying the historic and culinary experience that is Rome.

Florence was the second stop of this dream vacation. In an effort to be frugal, I had found a wonderful Florence apartment on-line, boasting a gorgeous view of the Duomo. The owner was going to be traveling while we were in town, and had made his flat available for a reasonable price to gullible travelers such as myself.

The flat, with its musty stench and jungle-like plant arrangements did – in fact – have a view of the Duomo. Yes it did. If you went into the bathroom, which measured approximately 3 feet by 5 feet, and stood on your tip-toes to look out the 1 foot by 1 foot window, you could see the peak of the Duomo perfectly. (See that little bug, strategically located on the picture above? That's the bathroom window of our flat, as seen from the top of the Duomo! :-))

The bathroom – view or not – brought me to tears. Upon arriving in sizzling Florence, with my ever-so-itchy blisters, all I wanted to do was wash away the itchiness with a shower. After standing on my tip-toes to view the Duomo, I turned my attention to the task at hand. Unfortunately, a shower did not appear to exist in the 3 by 5 foot bathroom space.

Sink? Check.
Toilet? Check (sort of).

Oh, wait … there is a water tank mounted over the toilet; a floor drain in the middle of the room; and a hand shower of sorts propped near the tank.

Super … the bathroom is the shower.

I had exactly four minutes to wash, relax, and get my mind off my growing, itching blisters before the tank of lukewarm water emptied. Certainly, though, things would start looking up soon.

The next morning, I awoke to oodles of new blisters. It was then that we pulled back the covers to find fleas dancing on the sheets.

Day’s Agenda:
1) Visit the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria;
2) Buy hydrocortisone and bulk supply of Band-Aids; and
3) Eat lots of gelato to numb the pain and itching.

That night, in the midst of an Italian heat wave, I went to bed wearing socks, sweats, and a sweatshirt. Certainly they wouldn’t be able to attack me through so much clothing.

They did.

Our dream vacation was quickly becoming a flea-infested nightmare. Second only to my hubby, Lenirit Idrocortisone Acetato became my close and constant companion. My main goal as I dressed each morning had become attempting to disguise the increasing number of Band-Aids and hideous blisters under the diminutive selection of warm-weather clothing I had brought along for the trip. “Certainly, I can make these capris stretch down to my ankles!”

In a heroic effort to keep his bride from going insane from the incessant itching, hubby suggested we ditch our next intended stop – Venice – and head north to the cool, fresh air of Zurich, Switzerland. Forget trying to be a good sport … I jumped on that bandwagon and, with a sigh of relief, concurred with the suggested change in travel plans!

By the time we left Florence in a mad dash to escape the heat-seeking fleas, I had 32 blisters lining my body from neck to foot … most of them concentrated on my legs, some measuring the size of a dime.

At this point, frugality was a distant and silly thought. I found and booked a room at the Zurich Best Western, where - upon arrival - I wept with joy at the beautiful tub and shower, and the gorgeous, fluffy down beds. We emptied the entire contents of our luggage into the bathtub, ensuring no fleas had hitched a ride north with us.

Dream vacation saved, though bite scars still remain as a bittersweet reminder of our time under the hot Italian sun.

We do plan to eventually make it back to Venice …this time, however, we’ll be a bit more mindful of timing, in the hopes that we don’t arrive during an Italian flea-infested heat wave!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Neighborly Love ...

We were the first house built in our subsection of the neighborhood ten years ago.

We had no idea who would be our neighbors.

We also had no idea what we needed in a house, given that it was the first for both of us after years of apartment living and we did not yet have children.

While we could use more space and maybe a bit more yard, our little house has served us well and we treasure it.

As for our neighbors … if we had it to do all over again and – this time around – knew about each of the families living in the homes surrounding ours … we would buy this house in a heartbeat.

Our neighbors are our friends; our children are all friends; we watch out for one another’s homes and families.

And, as if that weren’t enough ….

In the days leading up to Christmas, wonderful treats arrived on our doorstep … from a gorgeous poinsettia to scrumptious plates of beautifully-decorated cookies.

Around Halloween, our dear friend and neighbor was taking a cake-decorating course. And, brought over these amazing cupcakes which I didn’t even want to touch, for fear of ruining hours worth of work in one bite!

Before the craziness of the holidays even arrived, this lovely plate of gingersnaps was delivered ‘just because’ … and on a day when we REALLY needed it, given a homeowner’s nightmare scenario that concluded with us finding – under the house – both a leak in our main water line AND a dead possum being eaten by maggots {no joke … the smell was horrid!}.

Then, there was this little tea party … Hello Kitty-themed as you can see. Thrown for my daughter by a talented, former-professional-caterer neighbor who happens to be the only female in a house of boys. My daughter had lamented that she was sad that she never got to go to their house and play with the boys like her brother, so our neighbor kindly offered my daughter her very own tea party. Imagine my awe and my daughter’s squeals of delight when we walked in to find this waiting for us (not pictured ... a nice little spread for the boys too!) …

It is true … you can’t choose your neighbors. However, even if we could ... we would choose no differently.

Are you blessed with fabulous neighbors that you treasure?!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Missing the Glow ...

{click on picture to enlarge}

I must admit ... I'm missing the lights and sparkles and warm glow that Christmas brings.

I adore the month of December, when homes - inside and out - are so bright and cheerful.

Don't get me wrong ... once all the lights and decorations are packed away, I love that my house seems, suddenly, bigger and cleaner and more open than before.

But, I do miss the lights.

So, I thought I'd reminisce with photos of our annual trip to ZooLights ... so spectacular!

Is there anything about the holiday season that you miss?