As the season nears its end, Greene County’s Accent is sharing stories about some residents’ summer vacations.
Several years ago, I ran across an interview with Harley Rotbart about his book, “No Regrets Parenting.” He caught my attention with some simple numbers, and I was hooked: 940 Saturdays.
Between birth and 18, you have 940 Saturdays to spend with your children.
By the time I read Dr. Rotbart’s book, my son, Brandon, was entering high school, and my daughter, Emma Kate, was a second grader. I feared we were running out of Saturdays.
As a parent, you start to realize the days are long, but the years are short — and everything feels like a time clock.
As a family, we have cherished our vacations, and those excursions have evolved with our children. We graduated from beach trips to meticulous spreadsheets outlining Disney vacations.
As the children matured, we became a little more adventurous. For the last seven years, we have taken extended family summer trips to the northwest, southwest, southeast, and northeast. Collectively we have driven over 20,000 miles on these vacations and visited 43 states and 24 national parks.
My husband spends months mapping out travel plans, and we usually have a general idea of our trip by December.
This year was very different. Our son was working on scheduling courses for his junior year at Rhodes College, and, over the Christmas holiday, it became clear he was not going to be available for an extended family trip. He was scheduled for a “Maymester” in Rome, Italy, and needed to fit two summer courses in as well.
We batted around a couple of short trips we could make as a foursome during the times he had available, but nothing seemed too exciting. Of all the emotional parenting milestones, few have been more challenging (thus far) than fearing the end of our summer family excursions.
I was desperate to find some way to travel together.
The best alternative we could come up with was meeting up in Italy and sharing some adventure. Eric began planning a route across northern Italy that would put our foursome together in Rome near the end of Brandon’s coursework. Brandon left for Rome on Mother’s Day; and the three remaining Waddells set out on the last day of seventh grade for Emma Kate.
We flew to New York City and enjoyed a few days of sightseeing before catching a late flight and traveling through the night, arriving — quite jet lagged — in Venice, Italy.
After a series of water buses and water taxis, we checked in to the Hilton Molino Stucky Hotel on Guidecca Island. The hotel had the most beautiful rooftop view of Venice, and we were tempted to call it a night and have dinner from our room. We decided to push through and make the most of our first evening.
One of our first encounters was a family asking us to take their photo on Rialto Bridge. They were from Nashville and, we assume, heard us speak and found our accents familiar. They were on a cruise ship docked in Venice for the evening. We chatted about watching a cruise ship heading into port and how the ship seemed larger than the canal.
A few days after we left Venice, a cruise ship rammed a dock and a tourist boat. The accident renewed calls from residents to ban tourist ships. The “No Grandi Navi” protests have continued since.
We enjoyed the evening strolling the canals, roaming Saint Mark’s Square, and indulging in fantastic cuisine. For the following days, we continued exploring the city. At every turn, there is a marvel of history and it is almost impossible to take it all in. Cruising up the Grand Canal was an early highlight and gave us a perspective of the city.
We enjoyed wandering to the Jewish Ghetto and stopping for aperitivo along the way. We literally stumbled upon The Bridge of Sighs, connecting Doge’s Palace to dungeons, named for the sighs of prisoners being transported to the dungeons, and having one last glimpse at the world.
More than anything else, we simply enjoyed meandering the streets and marveling in the complexity of the decay. It seems the tourism that is keeping the city economically vibrant is also expediting its demise. It is the most unique place we have visited and the only city that seems impossible to preserve.
On our final day in Venice, we took a ferry to the picturesque island of Burano. Famous for its handmade lace and colorful houses, the island was a quaint contrast to Venice. There were no crowds, and it felt like an old-world community.
We enjoyed the San Martino Bell Tower, one of the many leaning towers we encountered. We had originally planned to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa on our trek across Italy, but after a few days in Venice, Eric decided we could skip it because every tower we saw was leaning.
After a long day in Burano, we caught a fast train to Milan. The following day we set off for Lake Como. We caught a ferry in Como and explored much of the lake. We saw George Clooney’s lakefront home and Villa del Balbianello, the lake retreat from “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.” We visited the villages of Bellagio and Vareena and enjoyed a beautiful waterfront meal at Ristorante Mistral. While dining, a couple at a neighboring table struck up conversation, and we quickly realized the husband was a graduate of Rhodes College, and he shared fond memories of his time in Tennessee and his love for our son’s current home.
Following the lake region, we took a train to Florence. Everything in Florence is ancient and beautiful. We explored Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio, Duomo di Firenze, Piazzale Michelangelo, Cappelle Medicee. We spent the most time visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce. Emma was determined to visit the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo. One unexpected highlight was having aperitivo at the Oblate Public Library watching the sunset on the Duomo.
After several days, we finally arrived in Rome to meet up with Brandon. Though he had only been in Rome for 3 weeks, he certainly felt at home in the city. His apartment was a block from the Vatican, and he walked through St. Peter’s square and the Castel Sant’Angelo on his way to class each day.
He spent the first evening walking us through his routine and showing us his hideaways. He navigated like a tour guide and shared his favorite spots and tips. He was particularly fond of Trevi Fountain and the Vatican Fountain, but only after midnight when the tourists have disappeared.
We spent the next four days discovering Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums were filled with overwhelming opulence — every space overflowing with priceless art and relics. The Sistine Chapel was smaller than I envisioned. The Pantheon is over 1,800 years old and doesn’t look a day over 800.
The Spanish Steps were extremely crowded, and the climb to the top was a little tiring. We enjoyed “hiking” up Aventino Hill (the southernmost of Rome’s seven hills) and viewing the Basilica through the Keyhole in the Knights of Malta Square. Touring the Colosseum and exploring the Forum emphasized the immense history of the city.
By chance, we were in Rome for Italy Republic Day. The city was packed with citizens draped in the colors of the Italian flag, and the city’s historic center was shut down for a military parade. Italy’s Air Force, The Frecce Tricolori, flew over the city leaving trails of green, white, and red. The presidential palace was open to the public, and the streets were filled with celebration.
We were also in Italy during the European Parliament elections, and it was fascinating to witness the electoral process in another country.
As our adventure was coming to a close, we each had favorite locations and specific memories, but agreed on a few standouts: remarkable cuisine, wine, coffee, and gelato. Perhaps what we enjoyed most was simply the atmosphere and culture. The relaxed nature and focus on quality of life was a breath of fresh air.
Other than the major tourist attractions, most things get quiet mid-afternoon while Italians recognize riposo. During the hottest portion of the day, Italians slow down, relax, and re-energize. Most restaurants, stores, banks and businesses close so that workers can have an extended lunch.
There were a couple of days we found ourselves desperately looking for an open restaurant at 2 p.m., but mostly it forced us to move at a slower pace and take time to relax in the afternoon. Emma was thrilled and wanted to implement riposo at home. It became her summer tradition for 2019.
Even though we did not arrive in Italy as a foursome, we did depart together. We were grateful to sneak in one more cherished family vacation — and we hope Brandon will consider allowing tag-alongs for years to come.