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Last fall my thirteen year old grandson surprised me with a reminder that I had given his sister a trip anywhere she wanted to go with a friend for an eighth grade graduation gift before she started high school in the fall. Alexis and her friend Haley had chosen a trip to Ft Lauderdale for the week before school started in August. Giuliano would graduate from eighth grade the next May and join his sister in high school so it was his turn.

“Oh that’s right,” I said,  never dreaming what would come next. “Where would you like to go ?”

“Italy,” he quickly replied.IMG_3621

I was stunned. My mind awhirl, I swallowed hard. As the shock began to wear off I warmed to the idea. I had been thinking about another Italy trip for the last couple of years since mom had died. Why not one with the kids?

“Sounds great!” I said , “but we’ll have to include your sister.”  I had told her about her trip gift in June when she graduated and she never thought of anything outside the US. Neither did I. It would only be fair to include her now.

“Sure,” he said. He and his sister had always been as close as a brother and sister could be.

So it began. I had seven months to put it together. I knew I wanted the trip to be long enough to make it worthwhile and allow them to truly experience the beauty and depth of Italy.

A few weeks later I was talking with, Joan, my sister in law and told her what I was planning. She was excited and wanted all the details. The more I told her about my tentative itinerary, the more involved she became.

“Would you like to go with us.” I asked, “how long could you be away from your work?”

“I’d love to, I could probably be gone for three weeks,” She said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Padova. You know St Anthony  is from there and has been my patron saint for a long time. I remembered how over the years Joan had always called on St. Anthony whenever she needed or lost something. “Have you been to Venezia or Roma,” I asked. “No, neither one, but I’d like to.” I cautioned her and asked her to give it some serious thought on what it would be like traveling with a 14 and 16 year old. She had always been great with my kids and grandkids one on one but this would be an intense three weeks living intimately together. “That will be okay,” she said. “We can share some of the expenses and it will be fun.”

It was settled, we would leave as soon as the kids got out of school in May 2016.  I dug out all my old Italy travel books and took them to the kids to peruse and choose things they wanted to be sure and see.

The first thing I discovered was that airfares went up dramatically after May 15th. The prices started over $2300 apiece. I was shocked. I hadn’t dreamed it would be that expensive. When I had gone the last time it was $8-900. roundtrip to Milano. I’d definitely have to work on my budget with three tickets to buy. I had always traveled off season in the past.  I started checking all the angles including fares from major cities. I could save a couple of hundred per ticket going from NYC, Phoenix or even Denver. Phoenix would be the most practical since it was only a 6 hour drive and I wouldn’t have the second airfare leg. These flights were all on foreign airlines and I checked their safety ratings online but install left me feeling a little nervous. I decided to wait to book anything until we got closer to May. We still had six months.

I started thinking about an itinerary and accommodations. I wanted to move as infrequently a possible. Packing and unpacking are my least favorite activities when I travel. Joan agreed and I began looking for central locations to areas we wanted to visit. If we stayed in Padova we could do day trips to Venezia, Verona and. Bologna.

My previous trips in Italy with my youngest son when he had graduated from high school and later with my daughter when she finished her Masters degree  had been road trips. Thanks to my son who was adamant that he wouldn’t go on an organized tour I learned how to plan and organize  an itinerary that suited our interests and allowed for flexibility for when we wanted to linger and when we wanted to move on quickly.

Hotels were costly and only included breakfast. With two teenagers meals would be my biggest expense after airfare. I started looking for timeshare trades through RCI, a timeshare organization I am a member of through my timeshare ownership. Although I’d had friends who had done these types of trades I had no luck. Then I thought of extended stay apartments like we have here that include a small  kitchen and living area. I found a website, http://www.Booking.com  that had a filter for apartments and quickly found just what I was looking for. There were numerous ratings to read from other travelers that were very helpful. I searched for ones that had no complaints about the things really important to us. For the grand teens WIFI was number one since they wouldn’t be able to use their cell data while we were gone. We had to have parking for a rental car and I was also hoping for availability to laundry facilities at our later locations. We would be packing light in order to fit the four of us and luggage into a reasonable sized rental car and a laundry would be essential at least once in three weeks and preferably twice.

I checked the school calendar and saw the last day would be May 25th. My airfare searches revealed that the cheapest day to leave would be Sunday, May 29th and that would give everyone a chance to get packed and see friends after school let out without unnecessary pressure.

The first accommodations I booked was Apartmento Rosa in Padova for May 30-June 4.  It was a two bedroom with a kitchen. I was a little nervous but the website advertised no charges in advance and no cancellation fees if cancelled a week before our scheduled arrival. I scheduled it for five nights since we had several places we wanted to visit nearby.

At this point I decided to check in with the kids to see if they had found any “must see” places. It was like pulling teeth. The only thing I could get out of them was that they wanted to attend an opera and they wanted to see the leaning tower in Pisa. My work was cut out for me.

I started checking opera seasons near the areas we would be visiting and  places to stay. It looked like Rome would be our best bet and we would be there the longest since there was so much to see in the vicinity. The next challenge was to find a place close enough for a day trip to both Pisa and Firenze.

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Our trip would begin at Malpensa Airport near Milano. Most flights I’d found would arrive in the morning so we’d have plenty of time to pick up a rental car and head to our first stop in Padova. From there in the days that followed we’d be able to take a day trip to Venezia after exploring Padova and Verona nearby.

With our first stay booked and the next stop near Pisa and Firenze planned I chose a wonderful location on the west coast in Castiglioncello. It was a short walk to the beach and had a swimming pool. The kids will love this. I thought. Villagio Mietta was a complex of duplex style apartments and we found out when we arrived, it even included a garage for the car! It was a two bedroom like Apartmento Rosa and, of course, wifi was included.

I was on a roll and decided to move ahead and make the reservation for  our stay in Roma. There was a lovely apartment building near the transportation terminal that looked , in the pictures online, like a great location and included parking. This was a real premium since parking could be as much as $25+ a day in Roma and of course,it had wifi. With the the booking completed I decided to email their office and ask about proximity to the opera theater. Laura replied “you’re so fortunate, La Traviata is being performed NOW! I’m sending the online ticket link.” I jumped on it and immediately went to the site. There were some excellent seats still available in the sixth row from the orchestra at a great price. June 5th was the last performance until July and I snapped them up. This was going to be such an incredible trip. I sent the confirmations and opera ticket news to Joan in California.

The tickets were sent UPS and arrived in THREE DAYS. I was blown away and re-ignited to finish up all the reservations. I wanted to make a stop in Ravenna to see the Mosaics again. I remembered how amazing they were when my son and I had visited twenty years earlier. When I went online to research what else was in that area that we might like to see and do I discovered that the Ferrari Museum, track and factory  was less than a hour away. The kids would love that. There was even a driving simulator available!  One of the resorts was a short drive outside Ravenna on east side of the peninsula on the beach. After a week in Roma it would be great to get away from city life and be near a beach again. This stay would be at Lido Adriano, Aurora Residences,  also a nice two bedroom, kitchen, parking, laundry facilities and wifi.

That left one last booking. I wanted to be close to the airport to keep our last day as stress free as possible. In searching Booking.com I found an Agriturismo site just 15 minutes from the Malpensa airport.

Starting in the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s, small scale farming in Italy became less profitable, and, as one might predict, farmers abandoned many farms to search for work in larger towns. But Italians value highly the traditions and produce of small scale production of food, and by 1985 a law defined Agriturismo, and many abandoned buildings and estates were restored, some for vacation homes, and many for agritourismo.  These aren’t just B&B’s or rural restored accommodations. They are active farms of many varieties. The one I booked near Oleggio, Cascina Aguzza, is a working farm that grows all sorts of berries and other produce as well as chickens for fresh eggs. It had wonderful reviews and I decided to book it for two nights and allow for a possible day visit to Milano before our trip home.IMG_5563

The snow covered Alps could be seen in the north in photos of the farm. It looked like the perfect end to our trip that would allow us to relax and breathe before the long plane trip home.

About two months before the trip I finally booked our air reservations. It totally took me by surprise when I discovered the ticket prices had dropped to just under $1400 apiece on American Airlines. No need to drive to Phoenix or fly with a little foreign airline. I was really delighted and relieved with the news and immediately booked our flight for May 29th returning on June 21st. I also booked the car on rentalcars.com and chose one that was advertised to hold 5 passengers and one large and one small bag. It was $357 for the three weeks and a day including  unlimited miles. For four of us that was a bargain as opposed to train fares. Of course we’d have to add gas to that.

The anticipation was delicious over the next two months. Finally the day came for us to go. We had an early morning flight to Dallas, a connection to Miami and then the flight to Milano to arrive at 9:30 AM on the 30th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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