La Spezia and Florence Explorations and Experiences

Well the halfway mark is here – my daughter has been in Italy and is thriving.  I’m at home and looking forward to her daily posting of pictures to the ICloud folder.  We are both hitting our stride.  She has found some friends, gets along well with her roommates and is enjoying her time.  She is an endless and inexhaustible explorer, I have been on trips with her when I was just dragging but she just keeps going…….like the energizer travel bunny……she is hungry to see all she can.

Yesterday we had a Facetime call and she had so much to tell me.  I asked her about a few photos she had taken and she had so much knowledge.  For the weekend visit to La Spezia she did the research, figured out the train to take, recruited the other 3 girls to go with her, found the hotel and booked rooms, researched the  “lands” to hike  and restaurants to visit.  She hiked 4 of the 5 trails with a friend and has some great stories to share when she comes home.  In Florence when she went to the Duomo and exploring the museums around Florence, I asked who went with her.  She said – Mom, I just went by myself because I like to look at everything…….Yep – she’s the energizer travel bunny.

Some photos from her explorations-

A little cliff diving
After the jump…..ahhhhh
View of La Spezia from above
Hiking near La Spezia
Italian Coast
Hotel she found and booked
Nice statue……
The city in the dome’s shadow.
Top of the Dome!

Beautiful!!!!! – The interior of the Dome

The Dome – Florence
Last piece by Michelangelo – unfinished
Finger of John the Baptist
Mary Magdeline by Donatello
Baptism of John the Baptist by Jesus
Original doors to Baptistery

The time is flying by – and I’m sure she will feel like she did not have enough time to do everything she was hoping.  I enjoy getting all the pictures and hearing about her adventures.  It is an amazing journey – I hope that some day we can go back with her as our guide.

Dear United Airlines Customer Service……….

Dear United,I was a passenger on United Flight #786 on July 13 from Atlanta to Chicago. I am writing to tell you about the flight crew on this flight.

There was a medical emergency on this flight. The emergency was in my row just one seat away from me. The woman is fine but it was a very scary situation. The flight crew handled this emergency with calm direction, focused energy to get her help, and exceptional kindness and compassion to all involved. 

I have flown a lot – on many airlines (3 this week) – and never witness an incident like this. It brought me and that entire community of passengers on the plane a new understanding of what the role of flight attendant is……and it is not to bring snacks, soda and cocktails.

Flight Attendent is a role of responsibility and authority and not all passengers understand that.   We have all witnessed passengers behaving badly, acting rude by saying inappropriate things and openly defying flight attendants. As a passenger we must remember that our life is in the hands of these professionals for the next several hours as we move through the sky together. 

My praise, thanks and appreciation goes out to this fine crew  – especially Paulo- give him a raise!  In addition, the nurse that raised her hand to push her call button.  There was a collective look of relief on many passengers faces when she moved quickly to assist.  

 This letter will not be splashed across the media – or be mentioned on the nightly news, the crew will get off that plane and get on another one to serve the passengers, take abuse and keep the sky’s friendly. But I will remember the fine people that stepped in to help the girl one seat away from me and will keep flying flight crews in my prayers.   

Making good choices and balancing mama emotions – Why API Study Abroad?

Daughter Alone in Italy ……..My Sweet Girl is my youngest child.  I have three other children that are in their 30’s.  They have jobs, homes and families. There was a twelve year gap between them.  Each time I have watched one of them set off in to their life I have had those mother pangs of extreme fear, overwhelming love and dread for all the things that could potentially go wrong.  The world is a scary place and it can be overwhelming to think about a young lady alone on a street in a strange city – it can be downright debilitating to think about if that girl is your daughter. My older children had taught me something about my parenting.  The key is making good choices.  My sweet girl is pretty good at choices.  In my earlier post Survival Day I talked about the way she plans, considers and thinks ….a lot.  

She has wanted to travel for years.  As a young girl she would march confidently through the airport pulling her child size wheelie bag.  Once she heard that she could travel abroad in college she was sure that would be her plan.  The first semester at her university she visited the travel abroad office and attended informational sessions about the programs available.  It was there she found the API Study Abroad Program.  It was a good choice.

This is not a commercial for API – I am not being compensated, I am feeling very thankful for this program.  I’m hoping that other parents that are anxious will read this and know that finding the right program not only thrills your student, but it also calms your parental jitters about watching your child literally and figuratively walk out into the world.  API had communicated throughout the entire process.  They have sent me emails with extensive information as any parent would want, but their communication with the participating travelers is where much of the parental relief is found.  The have been very clear with the students about where they are going, what is expected and what the students should be doing to prepare for the trip.  The API on-site contacts in Italy are helpful, patient and fun.  The students have a resource with them to advise and guide – but not hover over and watch these “adult” students at every moment.  There are many activities offered from walking tours of the city and campus to cooking classes and group dinners the first week.  The program is well thought out, engaging and has put my mama emotions at ease. 

This past weekend the group went to Rome. They rode a train passing sunflower fields along the way.  My sweet girl said it was very crowded, very hot and she loved it and will return someday.   She visited the Vatican, stared at Michangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and walked the streets visiting fountains and piazza’s.  She is wandering the world – She is happy – She made a good choice her first solo trip abroad. 

Sharing a walk through Rome  in the pictures below.  Enjoy.

Survival Day – Walk around campus and Now we are cooking…..

She is organized, she takes comfort in having a plan and thinking through what she will do.  And at times she over thinks things.  Orientation week has a “survival day”  a day that she was looking forward to attending. It was a way to get her bearings, understand her surroundings and mentally go through what her week would look like once class started.  She attended with the group – and at the end the trip sponsor offered to walk them around campus.  

There was only one student that took her up on the offer – My sweet girl.   She was able to find where her class will be, see spots on campus that are in the “must visit” category and understand more about life on a campus in Italy.  All provided by her own private guide giving her valuable information, helping her understand where she is going, and explain who she will be getting to know as the culture unfolds around where she is. 

When we talked she had just returned and was resting before heading out with the group to a cooking class that would be their  dinner.   Take a look at all the deliciousness …….


Dessert with Chocolate and Cream
A cooking lesson

I am feeling so happy that she has so many activities to participate in.  She wants to try everything and attend every activity and event.  She will be starting her history of Florence class on Monday, but at this moment she is headed to Rome and the Vatican.  And I am looking forward to more pictures, stories and fun.

Morning coffee with my sweet girl

Did not hear from her yesterday.  No Facetime – No texts – No email – and THAT is perfectly OK with me!  The I-cloud photo sharing did bring me some beautiful gifts though.  Take a minute and scroll through – have a walk through Siena Italy this morning through the eyes of a young woman exploring the world.

Breakfast of Sweet Girl’s

I sent her a text at about 11pm her time saying I hope she had a great day and that I love the pictures.  She texted back – “Love you too I had an AWESOME day – I would call but I’m tired”. Told her to go to sleep – but write in her travel diary so she can remember all she saw and learned…….

Exploring Florence and Italian Pizza 

My Sweet Girl
View from the apartment

The first week is meant to help the students get to know each other.  She and her 4 roommates moved in to their apartment.  We got a Facetime tour first thing this morning.  It is on the river and the apartment is not air conditioned, but the floors are marble and there are several electric fans.  At night they were told to open the windows as it cools down nicely.  The kitchen is modern, and there is a washer to do laundry in the apartment.  Pretty luxurious for a college student.  

After moving in the groups went for a walking tour and some real Italian pizza.  A text came after dinner it read: “I had italian pizza – I can never eat American pizza again – It was so good, I even ate the cheese!!!”  This from a girl raised on Chicago Pizza!  
She is learning about the area where she will be living and finding her way to and from the market, grocery store, post office and most importantly the ATM.  She said that July is “sale” month in Italy, the tour sponsor told them that shops have 50-70% off during July.  That was very exciting news for her – she packed lightly so she could bring things home Oh boy, this is going to be interesting.  From the pictures she is sending it looks absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait until her class starts as it is about the History of Florence.  What a great place to learn about the city as you stand in the place that the lesson unfolded. 

I am so thankful for modern technology and the ability to be in daily contact with her.  I love that I can see pictures in almost real time, and I am blessed that I can see her face smiling back at me.  She is having fun, learning, making friends and she is becoming a traveler that appreciates where she is and the moment she is in. 

Crossing the globe on an award ticket in coach.

My sweet girl is traveling to Florence on a 33 day educational adventure through her travel abroad office at her university.  For this program students pay tuition, room and board and travel separately. Booking flights was up to the student. We had some miles that had accumulated from travel and credit card points and we wanted to help her defray some of the flight cost by using an award ticket. She needed to fly from Chicago to Florence, Italy. 

We looked at flights and tried to figure out the best route while meeting the expected arrival times set by the hosts. The only way to make it work would be doing several flights. The itinerary was Chicago – Cincinnati – New York JFK – Zurich – Florence.  Staying true to my motherly ways – I worried, checked flightview regularly through the day watching over each travel leg of the itinerary as it was completed.  

The first 2 flights went by quickly and easily – all is going great.  Her layover at JFK was 3 hours – where she had her “last cup”  of Dunkin Donuts coffee – posting on Snap Chat and sending us a text to announce this fact.  She boarded her plane to Zurich, took her economy seat and watched a circus of other travelers follow her boarding to economy.  

The texts started just after her – “we are boarding!” Message.   It read – I’m going to be late .  My message back – Why?   She explained that there were about 50 people in a group that were making the flight late.  They would not sit down in their assigned seats, could not get their luggage stowed and the flight attendent even looked at my daughter and said she had been flying for 10 years and never seen it this bad.  

Next message – What if I miss my flight in Zurich – Next message – Can I call you?  Of course the answer is yes .  The crazy tour group had delayed the flight long enough that some of the crew had timed out – so there was a need for them to wait for new crew.  This was going to cause the plane to arrive at 9:30 in Zurich – vs the original planned 7:55am.  I had Hubby (the international travel pro) talk to her.  We had booked the Zurich to Florence flight with 5 hours time between them. She was scheduled to leave at 12:15 – so she should make the connection with no problem.  He explained in the voice he saves for moments just like these.  He said she was talking it through in a calm way, was not rattled by all of this.  He told her to text when she landed in Zurich, but don’t worry about communicating once she was off the plane – just get to your plane to Florence.   Just as they were saying goodbye the pilot announced they were leaving the gate.  We did the math – and knew she would be just fine.  But of course I did check flightview about an hour later – just to see where her plane was in its journey.  

During the night I woke up twice – checked my phone and when I did not see a text I visited flightview again and saw that her plane had landed on time in Zurich.  At the time I checked I knew she was collecting her bag, going through customs and finding her gate for Florence.  It was 3;30am. 

Arriving in Florence
Flying to Florence from Zurich
Swiss Air Breakfast

I fell back to sleep and woke at 7:30 – a notification came through before I even got down to the kitchen to make coffee.  She was there and sharing her ICloud photos folder.  I was relieved, excited and happy.  Let the adventures begin!

And she’s off……….

She is caring, smart, organized, careful and she is still my youngest child – in some circles she would be called “my baby”.  But to me she is my sweet girl.  The innocence of a young girl is melting away, and a young woman is emerging.  I see all of these qualities and I feel proud and happy.  I have watched her sisters grow in to beautiful young women, succeeding in their chosen paths.  Mothering their own families – and watching their “baby” sister follow them down a path that none of us can know where it will eventually lead.  I am sure that my sweet girl has all that it takes to make a trip across continents and oceans, but I’m still her Mom and I want to help and protect her.

I swore I was NOT going to cry when she left.  I had talks with myself every morning for the past 2 weeks, I said – “You will not cry” – ” You will smile and encourage her” – “She will be fine” – and for the most part I was succeeding.  Until we got to the check in point and I saw a young girl standing near us.  My first thought was – Oh that girl seems to be about the same age as mine.  And I turned my attention to my girl going through the check in process.  As we waited for the machine to spit out her boarding passes and stood and waited to drop her bag I noticed the girl again.

There was a man that walked over to her – he was handing her money.  He said I heard what happened, I want to help you and pay for your baggage charge.  She was on the phone, and she just started crying.  She said No….but it was clear it would be a huge help.  He said, “Please don’t cry, Just let me help”.  She finally accepted, but was crying harder.  I decided to do what I would want someone to do for my sweet girl – I stepped over and put my hand on her shoulder, and asked, “Are you OK?” – She turned toward me and I just gave her a good hug and said “Its going to be Ok, you’re going to be fine”.  She smiled and started gathering her things – walking toward the desk to start her check in process again.

I turned and looked at my girl – she had tears, I had tears and I knew that I had lost my battle against those tears I knew would be there when I said farewell.  My feeling is that the Good Lord put me there to show me that in this world there are kind people, and other mothers that are willing to notice and reach out.  We said one last goodbye before she left as she stepped in to the TSA lane.  She is loved and about go out on one of the best adventures of her life.

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