Italy. What a wondrous place!
After spending the first few days of our break in Oman (read about that adventure here and a resulting very New Griswold Adventure here), we flew to Italy. When we pondered where to spend our first Christmas overseas, we wanted a place that would be “Christmasy” enough, but not too cold. It would have to be easy enough for daughters who are still in the States to get to, and be within our budget. We settled on Rome.
Jim, the boys, and I spent 3 days in a lovely Airbnb in Ostia, a cozy town on the coast. We explored Ostia Antica, an archeological area and had our first tastes of authentic Italian pizza, gelato, and latte.
At the end of our time in Ostia, we headed to the airport to pick up our daughters and then to Casa Mike al Vaticano, our home for the remainder of our stay in Rome. What a wonderful location. We could walk to may of the major attractions and everything else was easily accessible by bus or the metro (located 500m away).
We packed as much into our time in Rome as possible. The first night we had our traditional Hard Rock Cafe meal (we always go if there’s one in town). The next day, Christmas Eve, we took a tour of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. There really aren’t words that adequately describe the beauty and magnitude of the Vatican. It’s unreal. Even the photos don’t really do it justice. We had a delicious lunch (pizza, panini, and wine), followed by a walk through St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, and the neighborhoods near our flat. We hadn’t made a dinner reservation, but we were lucky enough to wander into a restaurant that could seat us. It was a bonus that they were doing a traditional Italian Christmas Eve menu of fish and seafood. Delicious!
After the excitement of gift opening on Christmas Day, we explored the city by bus and foot. We visited the Piazza Navona, Pantheon, and wandered down several side streets just to see what was there. We had a delicious lunch (more pizza), walked some more, and then found a hotel near our flat that had a restaurant open for dinner. Our boys were especially excited to be served without even ordering (they had a set menu). We ate our way through each course, with the exception of the vegetable… cooked spinach. Ewwww. None of us will ever be mistaken for Popeye!
Boxing Day, December 26, our ‘New Griswold Adventure’ really got started. On Christmas Eve, Jim mentioned he was having some trouble with his left eye. By this morning, he could barely see. He had only a small circle of vision left. Fortunately, there was a hospital just a couple of blocks away. We found what we thought was the front door. It was locked. We walked around the side of the building and found an open door. We wandered in…and the hospital felt deserted. We couldn’t find anyone. There was no noise. It was creepy! Finally, we found our way to the lobby area near the door we first tried. We found 2 people there – an older priest and a younger man. Neither spoke much English. They tried directing us to the right area. After a couple more dead ends, we finally found our way to the ER (of course we walked all the way around the building to get there!).
Navigating medical care in a foreign country is interesting, to say the least. First, there’s the language barrier. Luckily, the nurse Jim saw could translate for the doctor, who did his best but did not know a lot of English (and I knew even less Italian!). Second, we didn’t know the cost of the visit or if we’d have to pay upfront (we ended up not having to pay at all – wow!). Finally, we didn’t know what to do if the situation ended up be serious.
Which it did.
Jim was diagnosed with a partially detached retina. It was a severe case. The doctor said he would need surgery as soon as possible, and suggested he be admitted to the hospital immediately. As the doctor was discussing options with Jim, a myriad of thoughts went through my mind…
How can we manage if he has to stay in Italy?
What if he flies home and that causes more damage?
How do we get the girls where they need to be if we have to end our vacation early?
What if Jim loses all vision in his eye permanently?
I had to sit down and take a few deep breaths.
Jim and I walked back to the flat to talk about our plan. The doctor ordered him to bed. He didn’t want him up walking around at all. So, as Jim laid there, he started making phone calls to his doctor in Bahrain. It took a day to get in touch with doctors and finalize a plan. After weighing all the possibilities, we decided it would make the most sense for Jim to return to Bahrain to see the doctor and schedule surgery and the rest of us would stay and finish our vacation in Rome. It was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make. I was terrified of him traveling. He was worried about leaving me with all of the kids in Italy.
Now, you’d think suddenly becoming mostly blind in one eye would be enough of a ‘New Griswold Adventure’ for one trip. However, we live by the adage, “go big or go home.” Well… one of was going home, but…
As we were working on changing flights and making arrangements for Jim to return to Bahrain, I discovered charges in our bank account that we did not make. Back in Minnesota, someone was going on a spending spree using one of our debit card numbers! I sent a message to our credit union right away (I wasn’t able to make calls in Italy or use cellular data at all – yet another blip in the New Griswolds Adventure). Fortunately, they quickly locked down the card. Unfortunately, they quickly locked down the card! Fortunately, we had one backup credit card with us and we had cash that could get us through the trip.
The kids and I continued sightseeing while Jim rested. It was hard to not feel guilty about getting to experience all the wonders of our vacation while Jim was flat on his back. He encouraged us all to enjoy the remainder of the trip, but it was a very difficult goodbye when he left for Bahrain knowing this was the only time we’d have with our daughters in 10 months, and he had to cut his time short.
Though one of us was missing, we did make the most of the rest of our trip. The afternoon after the doctor visit, we took a tour of the Coliseum, Forum, and Trevi Fountain. We all made wishes as we threw coins in the fountain.
The next day, we took the train to Florence. We had only one day there and one day is definitely not enough. We were all amazed by Michelangelo’s David. I knew it was big, but I had no idea it was that big! And so detailed. As an anatomy teacher, I appreciated the precision with which the veins were sculpted. Who could imagine such a thing of beauty in a piece of stone? Speaking of beautiful stone, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was incredible. Beyond words. We spent a good deal of the day near Ponte Vecchio. The sky was sunny and bright when we arrived, but we watched the fog come in over the bridge later in the day. That was quite a sight.
We spent some time at the Spanish Steps, Trinita dei Monti, VIGAMUS – a very unique and interesting video game museum, returned to St. Peter’s Square to see it lit up at night, and continued to enjoy the 5 Italian food groups: pizza, pasta, gelato, latte, and wine.
Our last few days went smoothly. Jim landed in Bahrain with no further damage to his eye. He was able to see his doctor and make arrangements for surgery, which would happen a couple of days after my return. We had no further issues, until…
On our way home from our final exploration of the city, the kids and I found a place for dinner. As usual, an employee was standing outside inviting people in. We entered and ate a wonderful meal. When it came time to pay, I handed over our credit card. The server immediately said, “Our machine isn’t working. you must use cash.”
That wouldn’t normally be an issue, but this wasn’t a normal situation. I didn’t have enough cash on me to cover the bill.
When I told the server this, she pointed to the ATM and said, “We have cash there. Use that.”
I couldn’t. I was using that card because my other card had been cancelled. The card I had was my husband’s card and he was now in Bahrain. I did not know the pin number. There was no way for me to get the pin number. I couldn’t use the ATM.
I explained all of this and showed the server how much money I had (enough for about 75% of the bill). She brought the money to the owner of the restaurant. She returned saying, “That’s not enough. You can go across to the bank.”
As if a bank will just hand over money to anyone. Sure.
I explained the situation again. She said, “You’ll have to talk to the owner.” I replied, “Please send the owner over.” The owner never came. She just sat at the counter watching each interaction between the server and me.
Finally, I was done. I was tired. The stress of the week had gotten to me. I told the kids to put their jackets on. I placed the money I had on the table. We headed towards the door.
The server looked at me apologetically and told me it was ok. As calmly as I could, I told her, “You should mention to your guests that your machine isn’t working when you stand outside and ask them to come in. Also, you asked me to talk to the owner, but she never came over.” I added a thank you for the delicious meal.
We just had to have one last ‘New Griswold Adventure’ before we said arrivederci to Italy.