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!


Jayne Leighty said...

I was gonna say, "why on earth would you want to go THERE after everything that happened to you?!?!"

Kelly Polark said...

You must really love it there if you want to go after that experience!
Happy Birthday, KellY!

Suzanne Casamento said...

I don't even know how to respond to that. What an AWFUL experience.

I agree with Kelly, you must really love it if you want to go back! :)

SY said...

ouch.. doesn't sound like a pleasant way to go to such a wonderful country.. The room did sound very romantic to me.. I don't know why I just adore things that are so old they need to be remade...

but vacationing is about experiencing and you can definitely say that you had an experience.. bravo!

- Sy

Anonymous said...

Oh no - fleas are the worst! Here's hoping you finally make it to Venice - and have a flea-free time.

Oh, and happy birthday!

Paul C said...

My retirement vacation included Florence and Tuscany without the fleas. We did enjoy Florence and all its rich cultural and historical legacy. The flea references remind me of all the talk about bed bugs these days. I am not sure which would be the more worse scenario.

Unknown said...

Eee...I itch all over just reading this post.

Terra said...

Oh my, that really was Flearance! My husband and I spent a lovely few weeks in Florence and Rome flea free I am happy to say. The blisters sound awful. Did you know that if you spray a bit of Off or Repel on your socks, fleas stay away. Those are sprays that my husband uses when he mountain bikes, to repel ticks, but it works for fleas too.
For you birthday did you have a fancy Italian meal?

Unspoken said...

I had NOOOO idea. I' better wait for winter if I ever get there :).

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Whoa! That does NOT sound like a dream vacation! LOL. :-)

Janna Leadbetter said...

Bah! Yeah, that makes it seem okay you're not going back. :)

Happy Day! I hope you have a wonderful day. :)

Unknown said...

It's funny, the most unpleasant turn of events (such as your fleas) make memories so much more ... memorable. Although you obviously wouldn't relive it for anything, it does make a great story ;)

ethelmaepotter! said...

Wow, that's a serious allergy! You are one brave lady to want to return to the scene of the crime. but I certainly hope the next trip is FABULOUS!

lotusgirl said...

Yikes. I had no idea that Italy has flea issues. Our oldest goes to Rome in April. I'll have to give her a heads up.

C.R. Evers said...

Happy Birthday! I hope it's fabulous and flea-free. :0)

but wowza! What a horrible experience. Yikes!

Sarah Laurence said...

Happy Birthday!

It’s good to see this post again while I’m in the midst of booking our family vacation to Italy in June/July. I’ve had many trips to Italy on various budgets, and the best time to go is April, but the summer is what worked for an extended family vacation.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...


Nora MacFarlane said...

And you want to go back???

CC said...

Stop it!! I want to go to Italy one day. And my 40th bday sounds like a perfect time. But I don't want to hear horror stories!!