Tag: Globetrotting


Color and Light

 My first day back at work after our drive across Europe this summer, a student leaned forward in his seat with the telltale flush of the travel-bitten and asked, “Which city was the most beautiful?” The grin he tacked onto the end showed that he already knew the answer:

All of them.

When experience weaves itself into memory, places become a sort of beautiful you can’t quantify, and here on an October morning packed with damp cotton, I only remember the color. Porto beamed with it, rippled with it, sang from its rooftops in bold chromatics, and if that’s not beauty, I don’t know what is.

Sophie wandering the Ribeira

The River Douro flows into the sea there, carrying barrels of port wine down from mountain vineyards to hibernate in cool cellars. On one side of the river, wine glimmers secretly in labyrinths of dark wood; on the other side, blue-tiled balconies greet the sun face first. In the rippling in-between, teenagers dive off an arched bridge and swim laughing in the wake of flat-bottomed river boats. There are no guard rails, no prohibitions. It is utterly refreshing.

Boats on the Douro - 2

That’s really what our time in Porto was to me—refreshing. Just soaking up the vibrancy of the riverfront, noticing how a glass of ruby Port caught the same hue of sunlight reflecting off of glazed brick buildings, wandering and tasting and appreciating, let me breathe deep. Even four months later, my windows pressed in with gray, the memories bring color and light. Quantifiable? No. Beautiful? You betcha.

Collage - Port Wine


More from our summer campingstravaganza:

Who’s Ready for Summer Vacation?


The Rest Laid Plans

My calendar says I’m at work teaching businessmen the future tense right now, but in actuality, I’m stretched out on our living room couch with a post-cappuccino buzz and a glowing sense of… survival? victory? impending insanity? Whatever it is, it’s much more pleasant than I would have anticipated Friday afternoon when this all started…

Our trip had been going almost too well. The girls and I had pulled out of the driveway a full minute ahead of schedule, ready with our individual lunchboxes and sun-dappled tunes, and the traffic gods had smiled on us. I’d been nervous to do the 4 ½ hour drive solo with the girls, but just past the halfway point, I was finally relaxing into the easy rhythm of the road, daydreaming about my upcoming date night.

That’s when the alarm went off. I didn’t even know our car had an alarm until it was shrieking at me and pulsing bright red letters on the display: “STOP! STOP! STOP!” I stopped. Hoping it was just a glitch or maybe something easily solved with violence, I consulted our car’s manual. “Low oil pressure—Do not turn on the engine!!!” Well poo.

I had never arranged for roadside assistance before, much less in a foreign language, but two hours, twenty-five phone calls, and one entirely justifiable crying jag later, the girls and I found ourselves high atop a car carrier exiting to The Middle of Nowhere, Emilia-Romagna. “We’re having an adventure!” I cheered while secretly wondering if we’d have to spend the night fighting off wild boars and vagabonds in the surrounding forest.

Collage - Atop the car carrier

“All the mechanics are closed for the weekend,” the roadside assister chided as he deposited our car in a parking lot, strongly implying that a more responsible driver would have broken down during normal working hours. “I’ll take it somewhere Monday,” he concluded, taking off his work vest and getting halfway into his own car before pausing. “Want a ride to the train station?” Oh yes, thank goodness, yes.

The train station was tiny and already emptied out for the weekend, but I had enough coins for the automatic ticket machine, and the girls nearly launched themselves onto the tracks for joy. I have to admit, trains are fun. They’re relaxing and exciting all at once, and passengers have no responsibilities apart from reminding their overly delighted daughters to tone down the shrieking and jumping please for the love of all that is holy and sane. We read stories and ate chocolate muffins and weren’t stranded in the forest, and for the entire duration of our ride to Bologna, I felt nothing but optimistic.

I might not have been so glib had I realized that the Bologna train station is basically a mile-long zoo dotted with ticket machines that don’t work and shifty-eyed loiterers and train conductors that slam the door in the face of desperate mothers running up with two young children, four bags, and assorted accessories. Thanks in part to Ms. Conductorzilla, we missed our connecting train by a matter of seconds, and in the process, I mysteriously cut my hand and managed to strew objects all over the platform. It was not the brightest moment of my life to date.

However, I pulled it together, found a bandage, purchased tickets for the 9:45 train to Milan, and took the girls out for a leisurely dinner at McDonald’s. Date night plans were pretty much shot at this point, but at least the girls and I had plenty of time to relax over Happy Meals and maybe do a bit of sightseeing before catching our train. We settled down at the table with our food, and Natalie asked me to check the tickets. I obliged, but they said exactly the same thing that they had every other time I’d checked: “Arrival – 9:45.”



Oh no oh no oh no oh no. There on the other side of the ticket, the side I had somehow managed not to see up until that point, was clearly stamped: “Departure – 8:40.” I didn’t breathe as I checked the time on my phone.


Well damned if we were going to miss a second train that evening. I dumped everything I could from the table into my purse without bothering to zip it, grabbed every bag and child in sight, and began to run. Mercifully, the restaurant was only a block away from the station, but once we got in, there were crowds of people to navigate (while shouting “Excuse me!” in whatever language came to mind) and then two separate flights of stairs. I was dragging Sophie along at top speed and trying not to cry from desperation when it suddenly registered that the girls were laughing. Not just laughing but guffawing. Sophie was laughing so hard that she doubled over, and that’s when I realized she had lost two rather important items on our dash down the stairs: 1) pants, 2) underwear.

Both girls promptly fell over from laughing so hard, and I couldn’t tell whether I was laughing or crying as I sprawled on the floor trying to get Sophie presentable again, and it felt like an eternity before I had collected both children and luggage (my bearings being long gone), and we lunged onto the closest train without checking, and it hurt to breathe, and I didn’t see how I’d survive if we had gotten on the wrong one after all that.

Miracles were on our side though. Not only were we on the right train—and with a generous thirty seconds to spare—but we were on the right car and standing directly in front of the right seats. The entire way to Milan, the girls and I dissolved into giggling fits while I fished individual fries out of my purse and reminded my brain to stuff the What Ifs. We got plenty of looks from other passengers, but when one has just done the impossible and gotten her hysterical, semi-clothed  children and their dinners from a restaurant onto a train in two minutes and thirty seconds, one doesn’t tend to value dignity quite as highly as she otherwise might.

Collage - Making it to Milan

I dropped the girls off with their beloved Uncle Mike and caught the last train of the night up to Lake Como, arriving at the banquet just after midnight in smudged jeans and who-cares hair. It wasn’t exactly the Cinderella evening I had envisioned.

But then again, I hadn’t envisioned how deliciously relaxing it would feel to hold hands with my husband under the stars with a good glass of wine and the whisper of water over rocks… or how luscious it would feel to sleep the next morning away in a king size bed… or how perfect a simple carpaccio would taste for breakfast lunch on the waterfront… or how complete I would feel the next evening when the four of us were together again, walking hand in hand along Milan’s navigli.

Collage - Loveliness

The only thing that really cast a damper over my weekend was knowing I’d have to get up ridiculously early this morning to take public transportation to work. It felt especially overwhelming last night around 1 a.m., having just arrived home and wanting nothing so much as to put a hold on responsibility. Here too, though, the chaos of upended plans rearranged to reveal miracle, because when an all-day bus strike was announced for our city, being car-less and reliant on public transportation got me exactly what I went to Lake Como to find in the first place: a day of rest.


Who’s Ready for Summer Vacation?

The season is in tear-down mode outside our windows with digits collapsing and clouds corroding, jack hammers on the wind. It all falls (ha!) tomorrow, and my daydreams are scrambling for an extension. Nothing sounds as wonderful right now as putting time on hold, loading up the car, and setting off for someplace new. In fact, why don’t we?

Let’s start with Barcelona at sunset. We don’t have much time before an overnight trek across Spain, but there are just enough moments of terracotta sunlight left to illuminate cranes and fruit baskets on the gaudiest cathedral conjured up by a mere mortal. We’ll try and soak up all the details but resign ourselves to head-scratching wonderment in the end.  Even though we don’t mean to linger so late, it’s worth watching shades of sandstone cool to ghostly pewter, lit green from within like a witch’s stronghold. As our footsteps sizzle away on Catalan sidewalks, we erase Barcelona from our penciled-in dream list and rewrite it in pen.

Collage - Sagrada Familia

Let’s drive now into the sunrise over endless fields of scrub brush, wending our way alongside modern-day pilgrims on old paths. Spain is only a means to an end this time, but we pass the miles by plotting future summers in Basque orchards and reminiscing about a nearly-disastrous layover in Madrid two years ago. Mountains suddenly sprout up through the earth, green and dizzying, and just like that, we’re in Portugal. They plunge back into the ground just as suddenly, and we’re finally there, where mountain river flows into ocean deep.

Collage - River and sea

There is only one way we can possibly begin a stay in Porto, of course—set our alarm clock next to the towels and head to the beach on a morning breeze while magic still shimmers in the shallows. We’ll soak it up through the soles of our feet, saltwater packing it into our skin until even our fingertips thrill to its touch. Somehow, this translates into sand being flung like live grenades, but the resultant giggling recalls a long-lost truth: that getting grit under our nails and behind our ears is the purest kind of fun. There is nowhere else we need to go, so let’s run straight into the heart of incoming waves and then dash away again with foam-flecked surf nipping at our heels. If the only thing we do today is remember how to play, our souls will have reimbursed every travel expense a hundred times over.

Collage - Morning at Lavadores Beach

If you care to join me next time, we’ll take a tour through the colorful riverfront and maybe even charm Sandeman into supplying the drinks. What do you say to a few more weeks of vicarious summer?


Unknown v. 2.0

August 3rd slipped by this year without a hint of fanfare (unless you count a dirty house as a celebratory tradition); it was a normal Wednesday in a normal workweek in a normal summer, and it completely slipped my mind that this normal was once the sheer unknown gaping underneath.

Four years ago, we packed our lives into a motley assortment of boxes and tracked a thing with feathers across the Atlantic. Through miracle and determination, Dan had found a job here that fit his abilities perfectly, and the opportunity to finally, finally take on our dream was marvel and terror at once. Some nights, we danced in a buzz of ideas, lit from the inside out with the champagne-glow of adventure. Other nights, we lay creased in thought, my hand resting on the precious variable in my womb as the whens and hows circled like vultures overhead.

There was no gingerly edging off the beaten path, no feeling out each new step from the safety of solid ground, no road signs assuring prosperity in 4,500 miles. All we had was the blank expanse of possibility and the faith to leap, spurred on by knowing our options boiled down to courage or regret. We took the leap, and on August 3rd, 2007, we landed on Italian soil to begin forging our new normal. In the four years since, we’ve settled into the comfort of friendships and routine, language becoming ever less of a barrier and the Italian culture sinking ever deeper into our bones. It’s more than we could have hoped for when we boarded the jet back in Philadelphia…

…which makes this new drop-off all the more dizzying.

Dan has turned in his job resignation. It was necessary for a variety of reasons, and it was time, but oh. We’re here again with the buzzing ideas and circling questions, minus one occupied womb and plus one meticulously written business plan, and while there are possibilities that make our heads spin with goodness, they’re still only possibilities. Our now-normal has a windblown pang to it. I keep taking mental inventory against my better judgment and trying to work out which facets of our life—home? church? friends? money?—will still be in place come Christmas. My heart balks as the calendar pulls us forward.

Never mind that we wouldn’t be here in the first place without that leap off the edge of reason; I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want that momentary weightlessness above the dark pit of my imaginings. I don’t want to have to rely so completely on a divine intention I still have difficulty trusting (and sometimes believing at all). I just want someone who can peek into the future and put a stamp of guarantee on our steps before we plunge into them. I would like the risk eliminated altogether, thankyouverymuch.

But if I’m honest with myself, it’s only the narrowest bit of my mind that’s clinging to the notion of safety. The broader scope of who I am recognizes that ours, like any good story in the making, runs on the cogs of adventure. These tenuous days swinging between doubt and hope are paragraph spaces in an unfolding work of art that teaches us to live as protagonists rather than as background filler, and the process is nothing short of exhilarating.

It seems clear that August 3rd has served its time as a memorial to our story and is now ready to pass on the honor to a new date, a new landing—whenever and however it may be.


I Want S’more

It’s a good thing today is a holiday because we’re all still in a sun-stupor. Breakfast was so late that we decided to count it as lunch. Naptime was non-negotiable—for any of us—and a homemade chocolate frappuccino courtesy of my ever-thoughtful Dan was the only thing that pulled me upright afterward. We’ve skipped almost all socially recommended forms of getting ready for the day (read: clothes) and gotten straight to work lounging away the afternoon. Time consuming, that one is.

While I wish I had something more profound or provocative to write today, truth is that my mind is still back at the campground doing cannonballs into the pond and swinging two-by-two in hammocks and cheating at Crazy Uno to help the little ones win. My thoughts are still soaking up purple mountains at sunset and the happy-making mess of s’mores, s’mores everywhere. I’m still cocooned in a sleeping bag nest with my husband and exclaiming over fish (as only true city dwellers do) with the girls and piling around a picnic table with friends. And I’m going to go ahead and say that’s okay.

The splash formerly known as Bethany

What were your favorite moments from the weekend?


Law-Abiding Weekenders

Just because it’s Saturday

and because our week fancied itself a trampolinist

and because sunlight is dripping jewel-toned off every leaf

and because scrambled eggs are best eaten outdoors

and because Monday is Ferragosto

so we are pretty much bound by law to do so,

we’re gallivanting off for the weekend to do this:

 Daddy and Natalie brave the pond first

Catch ya on the flip side.


A Clumsy Apology

Hello there, neglected little blog.
Hello there, neglected friends.
Hello there, neglected pages, fingertips, heart.

We’re home from a rather dizzying eight countries in three weeks, and I’m still stumbling around on disoriented feet, tripping over an unpacked suitcase here or there. Not having written in even longer, my sense of direction is totally shot. Everything feels unfamiliar… fingers on the keys, the transference of inklings into ink, even (wince of pain) Facebook.

I’ve had to do more on-the-fly prioritizing the last few months than ever before in my life, and of all the mosaic tiles that make up my days, writing feels the most expendable. Make an appearance in the blogosphere or accept the translation project? Work on my half-finished book or run the weekly errand gamut? Journal or attend the girls’ school dinner? Respond to emails or clean up our natural disaster of a kitchen? Even during our vacation, I made a daily decision against snuggling up with my laptop and instead ventured out to experience new places with my family. I wouldn’t have chosen any other way.

But damned if I don’t miss this.

(This being my neglected little blog, my neglected friendships, the neglected passageways from my heart-tips to my fingertips, and the simple pleasure of snuggling up with my laptop despite the kitchen’s resemblance to Mount St. Helens.)

Please to forgive? And to stick around until I regain my footing again?

P.S. – No time or energy for a birthday list this year… but if I can show up around here a little more often [than my current trend of never], I’ll consider every moment of it a gift. Ribbons optional.


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