July 21, 2014

Family Vacation: Rome

I'm back, ready to continue our journey through Italy… after a couple hours in Pisa, the Fam and I continued onward to the amazing city of Rome!

Hanging out in front of the Colosseum

Rome is quite the metropolitan area, and full of so much history. We definitely could have spent more time there. Everywhere you turn is a ruin of some sort. I think the Hubs and I will go back someday and explore more, but we were happy to see the major sights on this trip. Sadly, the tour we were on wasn't good at all (review coming soon!), but we broke away and enjoyed our time anyway.

The Pantheon
Being silly, and enjoying some gelato!

I find the Italian people as a whole to be extremely friendly. People were willing to help and offer assistance more than once. Our servers at restaurants were especially entertaining. One of them even FaceTimed with us as we chatted with family back in the States!

Joking with our server at dinner
A fitting end to our fun dinner 

The one major concern in Rome is the pickpockets. At least 3 times we were warned by the police to keep extra watch on our purses, etc. I highly recommend using an anti-theft bag, or a waist wallet. Often, the metro is so crowded you will literally be nose-to-nose with other passengers. This is a prime opportunity for pickpockets to grab your stuff. My mum had an issue at one of the basilicas… a small child attempted to unlatch her bag and put his hand in. Luckily, she had an anti-theft purse and he was unable to get in. So be aware, my friends!

Inside the Colosseum

Here are my best travel tips for Rome, with the little bit of experience I now have:

1. Use the metro - Take a little time before your trip, and study the metro map. The system is fairly simple to understand, and it is inexpensive. And it will save your feet a lot of hurt! Rome is quite large, and especially hot during the summer months. Make the most of your time by getting around quickly.

2. Buy advance tickets - The lines at most of the monuments and tourist attractions are outrageous. Buy your tickets in advance if you can, especially for places like the Vatican and the Colosseum. Also, many of these attractions have free entrance on the first Sunday of the month. We visited the Colosseum this way, arriving early and entering for free as soon as they opened. You can save a bit of money this way, if you don't mind waiting in line.

Outside the vatican

3. Appropriate dress - Though Rome is quite hot in the summer, many of the sites (such as the Sistine Chapel) require a dress code for entry. Research the sites you wish to visit, and plan ahead for this. It would be awful to arrive, tickets in hand, yet be unable to visit.

4. Shop for groceries - Rome is a very expensive city to visit. If you can, I highly recommend shopping for groceries. You don't need a full-size kitchen to do this. Although we stayed at a hotel, our room had a refrigerator. We purchased bottled water, yogurt, fruit, sliced meats and cheese, and bread. We tried to eat breakfast in our room, enjoy a large meal late in the afternoon, and then snack on our other purchases at night. This can save you a lot of money!

5. No photos - There are several places where you are not allowed to take photos, including the Sistine Chapel. Circumvent these rules at your own risk. Especially inside certain areas of the Vatican, the security guards have no problem confiscating your equipment and it will likely not be returned. You've been warned.

One of many beautiful ceilings inside
the Vatican… (don't worry, I was
allowed to take pictures in this area!)

6. Gladiators do not take pictures for free - Outside the Colosseum are gladiators, ready and waiting to pose for pictures. But these are not free! Ask first how much the price will be. If you take the photo without discussion, you are then obligated to pay whatever they ask.

7. Don't take the roses - Particularly around the Spanish Steps, people try handing you roses. The minute you take it, you've bought it. Don't be fooled by their comments, like: "Oh, just for picture. Take for the picture". As you can see, The Kid wound up overloaded with roses, even though we thought we knew better!


The next time I visit this city, I'll add more tips. Our time there was so short, I didn't learn as much as I hoped. If you've visited other areas of Italy, expect Rome to be different. I've seen many smaller towns, so Rome was a little overwhelming at first. It's quite a bit larger than I expected, crowded, and comes with the usual large city issues. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely worth seeing, but it is best to be prepared.

Until next time my friends, happy travels!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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July 20, 2014

Family Vacation: Two Hours in Pisa

Hi friends! I hope you've been keeping up on the Army Life Facebook page for the last few weeks, because you know I haven't been posting much here. Don't worry, I still love you! I've just been jetting around Europe with The Fam. My mum and kid sis are visiting from the States, and I couldn't wait to show them Europe.

We started off slow, visiting a few places nearby in Germany like the Dachau concentration camp. From there, we booked a trip with a local company to Pisa, Rome, and Florence. My review of the company will be coming later this week, but needless to say… the company was awful. I'm hoping to have a response from them soon, and then I'll have a complete review.

Despite the issues on the trip, we didn't let that get us down! I wanted to share some of the fun we had with you…

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Our bus stopped first in Pisa, home of the Leaning Tower. We only had two hours in this quaint town, so no time to hike the top of the tower. Next time, maybe! We wandered, took our photos, and snagged a quick lunch from a panini truck. On the walk back, we stumbled across the coolest little produce stand where we purchased the best grapes I've ever eaten, seriously.

Igor Mitoraj, Angels exhibition

Proof, we were there! 

Enjoying each other's company

The awesome grape stand, best I have ever
tasted. And such a cool set-up too! 

I'll be back soon with some pictures and tales from the next leg of our trip, Rome! Until then my friends, happy travels…

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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July 17, 2014

Forgetting Your Age…

Yesterday I realized that I couldn't remember how old I am. Seriously. I started subtracting numbers, using my birth year to figure out my actual age. Because I gotta tell ya, I think I stopped counting actual birthdays somewhere around 27.

I know a lot of people who focus on the years that pass them by, and I feel a little bad for them. Is that weird? Sometimes I feel like such a freak because I don't really care if I have grey hair or a couple wrinkles, or… ok, maybe a lot of laugh lines.

My grey hair starting to show! 

But dang it, I earned those!

Of course I've put on a few pounds over the years, and my skin is a little less elastic. Life has been happening around me. There have been sicknesses and hardships. There have been amazing moments and gloriously good times. I've become more healthy in some ways and less healthy in others. Isn't that how life goes? Constant change, constant growth.

I'm worried that society is placing too much emphasis on our age and physical appearance. I don't want the people I love to grow up with that kind of stigma in their minds. And I definitely don't want to waste my time wishing I was still 25, when I could be loving the fact that I'm having a grand adventure at 35!

Wait, maybe it's 36. Who can remember these things??

It's important to be healthy, but why is it so important to be forever young? I honestly wouldn't give up a single moment of life, even the bad spots. I feel like I'm growing into the person I was meant to be, and I don't want to hide it. I'm proud of who I am, and where I'm at. And I'm excited to keep working toward new goals in my future. So, I just want to say this, for those peeps who stress and worry about growing old and getting wrinkles and all that other stuff

It really isn't all that bad. In fact, it's kind of awesome. Here are some of the amazing things about growing "old" that I wouldn't give up for anything (in case you needed a little cheering up):

1. The Hubs and I grow closer everyday and we might finally be beginning to understand each other. It's beautiful and amazing, and I love getting to know him better everyday. Of course, tomorrow I might want dangle him by his toes out an upper-story window, but that's part of the fun.

2. I've built confidence over the years. I'm not the same mess of a person I was at 25. Heck, I barely knew what I would eat from one day to the next, much less who I wanted to be.

3. I have this cool, new relationship with my parents that I never had before. I was always the kid, and was treated as such. Now I'm a grown up, and I can actually be friends with my parents. I love it.

4. I've been traveling around the world for a while now, something I could barely even conceive of doing in my early 20s. There was no money for that kind of thing, you know? Now I see and do so much more, and it's opened my eyes to a whole different perspective on life.

5. I have the chance to offer things to my younger siblings that I never had a chance to experience at their age. Travel and adventure mostly, but hopefully they learn from some of my mistakes as well.

6. What they say is true… with age (and experience) comes wisdom. I totally didn't believe people when they said this, but it is most definitely true. As I've aged, I learned to handle my emotions betters. I control them, not the other way around… most of the time.

7. I don't sweat the small stuff much. As life progresses, you realize how unimportant some things are. Little things that seemed like such a big deal are small potatoes when compared with the bigger crises in life. I learned this lesson well during deployment. There was no greater fear for me, not even my own health issues, that has made such an impact.

8. I might not be working currently, but I've found work I love. When I was younger I tried so many avenues, constantly searching for the thing that fit me best. Well, now I have it! And several hobbies I love as well.

9. As I aged, I've learned to accept myself. Too often we spend time trying to be someone we're not. With age, we hopefully learn to be happy with who we are. This acceptance of self also gives us the compassion to accept others as they are.

10. Since I made LOTS of mistakes in my 20s, I figure I won't be making those again (hopefully!). Learning from all those screw ups has actually made me a much more productive adult. Who knew?!

11. My focus has both grown and narrowed. Contradictory I know, but still true. I've expanded my world view, which has actually allowed me to narrow my personal focus to those things I feel the most strongly about. You can't fix all the problems of the world at once, but dang if I didn't try in my late teens and 20s. As I grow older, I'm learning to focus as much at home as elsewhere. Real change starts with you, and those closest to you.

12. This might not apply to everyone as we all have varying beliefs, but I find myself in closer relationship with God as I age. This improves all aspects of my life, and is responsible for everything I've learned. I didn't have as much time for God when I was younger. I always believed, and I knew in my heart that God existed, I just didn't feel the need to pursue that relationship unless I was in trouble. Now, I rely on that connection everyday, not just in extreme circumstances. I can't even begin to explain how much joy that relationship brings me.

There are so many more benefits to the years as they come, I can't wait to discover them all for myself. So, the next time you're looking in the mirror and worried about your wrinkles or your saggy skin, or your grey hairs, remember this:

You are beautiful. You are wise. You are so much more than a grey hair or a wrinkle. The physical signs of aging do not define you. You define yourself. Choose what you want to be.

Until next time, my friends!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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