Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Destinations of My Dreams

Sitting in the water bus, I watched the dock at the Venice airport disappear from sight. Anticipation grew as I wondered what was in store ahead of us. Would I gasp from the beauty as I did the Duomo in Florence? Would I be disappointed because my expectations were too great?

I knew that there were those who found Venice to be old, dirty and crowded. I had read that in the heat of the summer, the water could get smelly. I told myself that none of that would matter. I told myself the beauty and uniqueness would be enough to make those things unimportant. What if I was wrong? It was so important to me for me to love Venice? Why? Because it had become the destination of my dreams.

Unlike the Duomo which suddenly appeared out of nowhere, the outskirts of Venice gradually appeared from the distance. As we cruised closer and closer, I grew more delighted. It was just as I pictured and I loved each colorful facade that came into view. Yes, the buildings looked tired and worn in real life, but that's because they were old. That's what made them so special.

We disembarked from the boat at our stop unsure of our next move. Armed with a map and the hotel address, I pointed us in the direction I thought our hotel to be. By this time it was mid-day, hot and crowded. Most of the streets were really alleyways, making it difficult to maneuver around with our suitcases. I was glad that we just packed for the night and left most of our things in the car.

The map was difficult to follow as the alley ways were more like a giant confusing maze. Somehow we were headed in the right direction because just when I was about to give up we stopped to ask some one for help and we were told to go one more block where we come to a courtyard and our hotel should be there. As we walked down the block before us, we were greeted with buildings that looked even more run down than the others, sprayed with graffiti.

My stomach lurched nervously. I turned to apologize to Liz for booking a hotel in such an undesirable area when I stopped in surprise. There in front of us was the little courtyard as promised and the buildings surrounding the area now looked normal again. Well, as normal as anything could look like in Venice.

The door to the hotel was locked, but opened when we rang the doorbell. Cool air immediately greeted us, a much welcome relief from the heat.

Still unsure of what to expect, we made our way to a little office to check in. The young woman behind the counter was friendly and sweet. Our room was not yet ready but we could leave our bags as we explored our surroundings. The place looked clean enough. My nerves were beginning to calm and my excitement grew again.

As much as we wanted to explore, our first order of business was to fill our rumbly tummies. The hotel clerk gave us a few recommendations, the first of which seemed to be the easiest. Cross over the bridge right outside the courtyard and there would be a restaurant called The Mamo. As we began to walk away, I stopped and asked the clerk, if we were to get lost, was there a landmark that we could name that would help someone know where we were.

She smiled and said that our little courtyard was the Campo de la Flava. I loved how she referred to it as "our little courtyard". I took the business cards, she handed me with the hotel name, address and phone number and gave one to the girls and one to Liz.

And our exploration of Venice began.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Little Bit of This and That

Been playing with my camera again shooting wide open.

As the days stretch longer, the light gets prettier.

And shooting wide open makes normal things look prettier.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Wonderful Weekend

I feel so blessed. My second wonderful weekend in a row.

Friday was spent relaxing with a good magazine and a creamy mocha, getting my creative juices revved up.

Saturday was spent with Brie and my little family out in the Desert at the Riverside County Fair. We stopped at In-N-Out on the way for nourishment. For me it was a photo op because who doesn't love the light that is abundant in every In-N-Out restaurant.

Brie made a comment later on that I am always taking pictures. Made me wonder if I'm too over the top, but hey, I'm not asking anyone to pose, stop what they're doing or otherwise directing them for a shot. And I did stop once I got a few cute pictures.

The fair was sooooo much fun! Most of the time was spent at the children's ride area which made this little guy very happy.

Almost as happy as the cotton candy that he was able to talk me into buying him. That's what grandma's are for (with mommy's approval of course).

I did good at first walking around, but after three hours, I pretty much hit the wall. It brought the fun to an abrupt end. Fortunately the babies were tired, too, so I didn't feel quite so bad about being a party pooper.

Brie and I ended up driving straight home which was probably a good thing because the rest of the evening I spent recuperating. Much of the drive home was spent in happy silence broken every now and then as we remembered something happy from the hours before.

This morning, I woke feeling rested and ready to start the day. I didn't have anything on my calendar other than church so the day was mine to do as I pleased. Words cannot express how much I enjoyed the day.

I spent the morning reading my bible, puttering around the house, cleaning my room and then I went out to Old Town Orange, where I did some walking, enjoying the weather, working on my laptop at a local coffee shop, taking pictures while window shopping and eating lunch at a restaurant I never tried before.

I seriously wish I could rinse and repeat....over and over again because this weekend was wonderful.

Friday, February 22, 2013

North to Venice

At the back of my head every night and every time we got into the car, for that matter, was the drive that we would make from Tuscany to Venice. On our map, it looked like a pretty straight forward shot. I had done a little research and knew that we were going to have to find a place to park and then find a way to get from where we parked to Venice itself, That's the part that scared me. If I thought too long about it, a pit of fear would grow in my stomach.

Thankfully, things have changed a lot since the last time I was in Europe. Our little villa had free wifi. Every night before I went to sleep, I would google parking and driving advice. One night while googling advice on where to park for the 3rd or 4th time, I came upon a recommendation that made the most sense to me. Park at the airport in Venice. Seemed brilliant to me.

The airport should be clearly marked, making it easy to find. There should be no need to worry that the parking lot was full. Those two reasons alone seemed good enough to me.

So on the early morning of June 17, 2012, we loaded up the car and headed north to Venice. For the first couple of hours, we settled into an easy quiet. The girls promptly fell asleep after having stayed up late the night before. Liz and I enjoyed the scenery and the way the surroundings changed as we moved further and further North. Soon, we began to see signs for the airport and train station and my anxiety began to build.

Remembering my conversation with my dad who had just come back from Venice, I talked to Liz about changing my plans and parking at the train station instead. Dad had told me that it was at the entrance to Venice and for a moment I doubted my idea of using the airport as our parking lot. After some discussion back and forth, I decided to stick with my plan and we continued to follow the signs to the airport.

As we drove to the entrance we were greeted with signs in Italian and English guiding us to a long term parking lot. I was amazed at how easily everything fell into place. We parked the car, gathered our bags and walked to the terminal not sure of what we were to do next. Once at the front of the terminal, we asked someone how to get to Venice and we were quickly told that if we kept walking in the direction we were headed, we would come to water taxis that would take us to Venice.

I still could not believe how easy this was. The one place I was most worried about getting to was turning out to be the easiest place to get to. The water taxi area was alive with tourists coming and going. A private taxi was ridiculously expensive so we opted for a water bus where a roundtrip ticket for the four of us was cheaper than a one way private water boat.

Before I knew it, we were on the boat heading to the destination of my dreams.


Greve by Heat of the Day, Florence by Night

After lunch, Liz and the girls decided they wanted to go to Greve so off we went. I felt confident the second time around especially with my navigator back in the passenger seat. Once again we parked in the first lot we found and walked in the direction of the city centre.

It was hot and sticky. If I had been by myself, I probably would have turned around after the first block.  But we continued further and happily we found a little piazza filled with shops. Because it was in the heat of the day, there weren't too many people around. After the crowds of Sienna, Florence and Piazza it felt good to walk about without throngs of tourists.

While Greve would never be on my list of places to visit, I still enjoyed it more than Pisa. As we were driving back from Greve, Acki asked if we could go back to Florence so we could see the Ponte Vecchio at night. My heart jumped at the idea. Why hadn't I thought of it myself? The idea was so much more appealing than spending a long evening at the villa even if we (I) needed the rest.

We drove back to the Villa to rest up and then made our last familiar jaunt towards Florence. As we drove down the winding road, I pulled the car off into the vineyard at the bottom of the hill just as I had been dreaming of doing since we first arrived for a few pictures.

I must admit I was a bit nervous at first, wondering if the policia would come and take us away for trespassing.

But no one came. I'm so glad we took the chance. I wish we would have done it more than once. I wish I would have taken more pictures. If I had it to do over again, I would have.

Once again, we parked at the little parking lot that had become a second home for our car and walked to the city. No longer wide-eyed tourists, we were still filled with excitement.

Somehow this trip felt different. Perhaps it's because we knew this would be our last trip to Florence.

Perhaps it was the familiarity we felt with Florence now and we were about to see it in a new light.

Whatever it was, we were not disappointed.

Without any agenda on our minds, we were free to go where our hearts and feet took us. Florence was beautiful bathed in the falling sunlight.

And in the cover of nightfall, the streets took a different feel. We ended up in the piazza drinking coffee in an overpriced cafe. It was the best night of the trip.

We didn't get back to the villa under almost 11pm. With an early morning ahead of us, we packed up and fell into bed happily exhausted looking forward to the promise of Venice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Under the Tuscan Sun

As we headed back from Siena, we talked about what we would do on our last day in Tuscany. A week into our trip and already the weather was changing. The days were getting noticeably warmer. The heat brought with it blood-sucking mosquitoes. Thankfully, unlike previous experience, the mosquitoes left me be, instead feasting on Liz, Brie and Acki. To add to their woe, the bothersome bugs attacked at night making it hard for them to sleep.

The heat, the lack of sleep and being on the go was taking its toll. I gave everyone two options. We could go to Verona which was on our list of places to go (yes, we saw Letters to Juliet) or we could have a day of rest. Everyone could sleep as late as they wanted, there would be no one waking up anyone else and there would be no agenda to the day at all. The girls and Liz overwhelmingly voted for a day of rest. While there was a part of me disappointed that we would not be going to Verona, there was a part of me that was relieved.

I had to admit that I was tired too. That night we went to bed with our alarms turned off. Like every other morning I woke first. The villa was still with everyone else asleep so I took the opportunity to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast in the courtyard.

Even after a week of being in Italy, I felt like pinching myself. In the quiet solitude, I reflected on where I was, what was coming next, what I had come through.

After several hours, I was ready to move. The household was still quiet so I grabbed the car keys with a sense of adventure in my mind.

I had no idea where I was going other than I was going to explore my surroundings. I ended up in San Casciano when I saw a marker for Greve 8 km ahead which was one of the towns I thought I had read about. In that moment I decided where I was going. 8 km took me longer than I thought. The road narrowed at time as I passed little villages and acres and acres of vineyards.

Soon I found myself sharing the road with cyclists which only added to my delight.

When I finally got to Greve, I was both excited and nervous. It had taken me longer to get there than I thought it would and I was worried about driving back without my navigator. Without my guidebook I really had no idea of what I was doing there so I decided to turn back around. Somehow I missed a sign to San Casciano. I knew I was on a different road than what I took there, but there was signage for the A-50 so I figured I could keep on driving and I would be okay.

With every minute that passed, I grew a little more anxious. I finally found the A-50 which took me to the A-1. It was soon apparent to me that I went in the wrong direction. The next exit wasn't until forever. By that time my heart was pounding. It was already lunchtime and I was worried that Liz and the girls would be worried. Somehow I managed to find my way back home. I raced into the villa ready to apologize and, much to my relief, found everyone still in pajamas lazing around.

After everyone got dressed, we decided to go back to San Casciano for lunch. We meandered about trying to settle on a place and ended up in the little restaurant in the center of town with menus that were all in Italian and hard to decipher.

Luckily hamburgers were clearly on the menu so Acki and I ordered this. Unfortunately, a hamburger in Italy is not always the same as a hamburger in America. The four of us immediately burst into disbelieving laughter when we were served a raw hamburger patty. As I told Liz, I would have cried had the french fries not looked so good.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Kind of...

Last weekend was my kind of weekend. Practically perfect in every way. Even if it turned out a little different than I thought.

You see, the plan was to spend Saturday and Sunday at Laguna Beach with my cousin Arleen. Which is exactly what happened.

The weather on Saturday was in the upper 70's, lower 80's. Sunday the weather was a bit cooler, in the mid to lower 70's, but still beautiful. Just like the weatherman predicted.

The hotel was lovely. In a wonderful location, right on the beach, Mediterranean style, reminding me so much of Greece. We had an ocean view and I slept with the sliding glass door open with the sound of the waves lulling me to sleep. Just like Trip Advisor promised.

All our meals were so delicious. Lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch all eaten outside within sight of the ocean.

We had planned to write, journal, take photos and we did just that, but we did more talking then anything else. I took five cameras with me and only took one out the whole weekend. I didn't even feel bad about it. I learned so much about my cousin. I learned of her love for her family and for our God. I learned of her strength and compassions. I learned of her hopes and dreams.

She encouraged me in ways she will never know.

It was my kind of weekend.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love is...

Even the most bitter person can't help but think about Love today. I admit when I was that bitter person. There was a time when Valentine's Day was a bane to my existence. A reminder that I was single, there would be no bouquet of roses, no boxes of candy, no intimate love note.

I missed many a wonderful opportunity to focus on the love I did have, which was all around me. Thankfully those days are long gone. Oh, I'm still single, but I choose to focus on the love that I have. And there is so much love in my life. I am so blessed.

I wish I could say I'm the perfect lover. There are times I think I am, until I think of what Francis Chan suggested, that we take I Corinthians 4-7 and replace the word "love" in the verses with "I"...

Love is patient with I am patient.

Love is kind with I am kind.

Love does not demand its own way with I do not demand my own way.

And I am convicted every time. And while I think that Frances Chan has a good point...we need to look in the mirror and love better. I also think that we need to acknowledge that we will always fall short. It doesn't mean there isn't love.

Love is a wonderful gift from God.

Love is up to us to give freely and up to us to receive.

Love is not perfect, but it is the best thing in life.

Love is worth the effort (and sometimes it is effort)

Love is the answer.