ARUBA for the first time – but are we cheating on our true love!?!

ARUBA for the first time – but are we cheating on our true love?

Writing this at 6am on a plane headed south from Chicago. Hubby and I woke up at 2:30am to head out and do one of our favorite things, which is quality time on a beach, snorkeling, exploring and disconnecting. We have stayed on Puerto Rico, St Thomas and St John. All three islands have beauty, but we have progressively fell more in love with St. John on every visit. Read about one of our favorite adventures in prior posts St. John the three R’s

In October 2016 we traveled to St. John for our 3rd stay. We decided on the Westin – a departure from our usual quiet villa stay – but wanted to experience the hotel vs. a self catered villa stay. As we enjoyed the properties beauty, different kinds of villas and amenities and we pondered -Was it time to think about a long term commitment and coming back to our happy place year after year or even permanently? Knowing that buying our own home may not be an option at this point we decided to look at what other kinds of accommodations we could consider or invest in and decided to take in the timeshare presentation. We did not buy – but took them up on an offer via a pre-paid stay and come back in 2017 as we research and think about it a bit more. But in a minute the world can change……

Hurricane Havoc

We watched You Tube videos of the destruction, saw Facebook posts about the devastation and tried to do some small act that could help from our safe harbor near Chicago. Hurricane season 2017 is one that will never be forgotten on these islands. Islanders discovered that one hurricane beat down is bad, a second one is simply horrific. We have followed those stories of dread, devastation and destruction along with the resilience, recovery and love. Sharing from all parts of the world including celebrity’s and common people – All with one mission – Be Love.

We felt a bit guilty putting together a plan for a December trip this year. Our only solace came from posts by NewsofStJohn and the frequent sharing about recovery, hope and coming back. We are committed to heading back in 2018 or early 2019. We will bring more family and spend more than we have in the past. We may go twice once things are up and running.

This year we decided to head a little further south to Aruba, once upon a time this was an island I had at the top of my travel bucket list – The anticipation in discovering a new destination is building, but our thoughts do turn to our love for Puerto Rico and the USVI as they were truly the places that put this love of the Caribbean in our hearts.

Aruba for our first time. We have fun to chronicling our first visit to any destination as it is a way to share insights with other travelers, and have a written record of our meanderings. As we board the plane and get closer to Aruba, we are somewhat melancholy. Happy to be going away together, but missing the usual anticipation that goes with our giddy joy around visiting St. John.

In St. John we know the curves and switchbacks, the bumps and pot holes, the smell of the mangroves as you drive through Coral Bay. We remember the smiles from the staff at Skinny Legs and the laughter rolling out of the doors of bars in Cruz Bay. The furry donkeys, beautiful fish and coral, stingrays, turtles and perfect beaches. Trails through national parks walking us through time and history. The memories that used to fuel our excitement about seeing her – now bring worry and anticipation about how she may be recovering. But we are keeping watch – waiting for her and the sweet people there to feel ready to see us again. We are coming back, our trip to Aruba is a detour not a departure from our first true island love. Aruba has some very stiff competition to win our hearts.

Tags:#STJ #HurricaneIrma #HurricaneMaria #NewsofStJohn #ARUBA #StJohnUSVI


The world is yours Sweet Girl

She left Florence on Friday, there were tears, and laughter and hugs.  The new friends she had met were going their own way too.  She made a special trip to the API office for one more request, help with getting a taxi at 4am for her trip to the airport.  She asked for a picture from the wonderful API advisors that had brought joy, organization and guidance during her time there.  Memories were made with people she did not know 34 days ago and she was feeling lucky to have met them and shared this short snippet of her life together.  Her social media posts have been a farewell love letter to Italy and it warms my heart to see her happiness and enthusiasm for more travels.

I was given a gift from this experience as well.  I saw my youngest child grow into a woman that is acting upon her dreams and planning her next adventure.  I found that API as a travel abroad company is a great investment.  The money she used did not come from me, it came from her own hard work the previous summer.  She included me in discussing her choices around what company to go with, what country to visit, how much time she should spend (a semester vs a summer) and how much will all of this cost.  She made the decisions and I am proud of the planning, thinking and choices she made.

My homecoming gift to her was a poem I wrote her and printed on one of my favorite pictures of her in Florence, her apartment in the background.  I thought she could hang it in her college apartment this fall to remind her to follow this dream as she fulfills another dream of becoming a nurse.  She is happy and that makes me happy too.

Your beauty is your soul

Never lose your love of wandering

There are vast experiences that await you on this blue ball we call home.

Getting to know past and present people who change your mind – about good, evil, beauty and history.

Swirling -Skipping -Twirling -Tripping 

The world is yours sweet girl.

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!

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