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I just got back from a wonderful few days in South Carolina. It was a solo trip for me, leaving the family at home in order to spend some quality girl time with my cousin and her kids in a condo by the sea. It was my first trip to South Carolina. I’ve visited all of the states around it, but somehow had missed this little, but awesome, state. Here are some observations I made this week.

  • In April, the trees are green in South Carolina. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but to those of us who live northward and have been craving something besides bare branches for the last five months, it was a welcome sight to see actual leaves.
  • It’s warm. That being said, warm is relative. The day I arrived, it was 82°. The next two days were in the mid 70s, and while the day I left was a chilly 55°, it was still better than what my family was dealing with in Michigan: cold, grey, and rainy. (Or in the case of Oldest Son at college, snow flakes.)
  • The ocean is, and always will be, awesome. If you can stand next to the ocean and not feel in awe of its power, there’s something wrong with you. Even on a tourist beach, with very few April tourists, the pounding of the waves and the sheer endlessness of it can make one feel very small. I adore the ocean. When my cousin dropped me at the airport and I went through security, the lady giving me the pat-down laughed because my jean cuffs were still damp from my goodbye visit to the water. (Just for the record, it wasn’t a creepy pat-down and the lady was very nice, which was good because it was my first airport pat-down.) For the first time, I went for a run on the beach and I’m pretty sure it was the most satisfying run of my life. The sound of the surf, the sunset, and even the whipping wind made it perfect.IMG_20170406_194334160.jpg
  • Jellyfish have death wishes. I’ve been to a lot of beaches in my life, but this was the first time that I have seen jellyfish committing mass suicide. Seriously, there were dozens of dead jellyfish lined up along the beach, in different places, since any part of the tide cycle is apparently a good time to wash up on the shore. Before this trip, I had no idea that this was a problem. Perhaps they need a support group, but then again, they don’t have brains, so what good would it do? I’m glad that I’m not a jellyfish.
  • There are a lot of things in South Carolina that can kill you. Enough said.IMG_20170406_124728604.jpg
  • Hearing a three-year-old say, “I yuv you”, with her tiny little voice will melt your heart, unless you don’t have one. No, that has nothing to so with the state of South Carolina, but that happened this week and I’m still floating about it.
  • Thunderstorms right next to the ocean are freaking awesome. I mean, the lightning alone was just incredible Wednesday night. Quite the light show. Highly recommended.
  • Myrtle Beach is deliciously touristy and I’m really glad that we were there during a non-peak time. If you ever have the chance to go, you absolutely have to stop by The Gay Dolphin Cove store. Just trust me on this.
  • Calabash-style shrimp is a thing. We did not know this beforehand, but I finally looked it up when I got home after seeing it on every other restaurant sign. I’m going to leave you wondering and to look it up for yourself.
  • Hushpuppies are actually good. I thought I hated them all these yeas because I had them at Long John Silvers and they were awful. Real hushpuppies, as I found out this past week, are little deep fried bits of heaven, which is why I can never eat them again.

Of course, there were a lot of other very cool things about South Carolina, such as Spanish moss, piers, and tons of mini golf, but I wanted to give you just a few of the highlights. Would I go again? In a minute. There’s a lot more I want to see, such as more of the Gullah culture, Charleston, and old plantations so South Carolina has now been added to the travel list that is on the refrigerator, joining other illustrious locales like the UK, Virginia, France, and Boston. I’m very thankful to my cousin for the invite and happy to satisfy my wanderlust a little.

Don’t just sit there, go somewhere new.

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Middle Child leaves for Europe this week. It’s the same kind of trip that Oldest Child took two years ago, a few days in France, a few days in Spain, but Middle Child will be going to different cities than his brother did. The same teacher is heading up the group and it’s a good, responsible, group of kids, so I’m not worried about logistics or crazy behavior. Of course, I am very jealous because I am a ridiculous Europhile, but I am genuinely glad that he’s getting this opportunity, the same as his brother did.

I had my first out-of-the-country experience when I was sixteen. Of course, I’d been to Canada several times before that, but as it is for any Detroiter, going to Canada was so not a big deal. No, I had the opportunity to go to Australia and Hawaii with the Michigan Lions All-State Band and it was a fabulous time. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go on about it too much, but that trip was a pivotal time in my life. It was on that trip that he realization sunk in that the U.S. was not the only place in the world, that there were other realities for other people, and that the places where they lived were just as important to them as mine was to me. Granted, Australia isn’t shockingly different from the U.S., and Hawaii, while culturally different, is a state, but it was just enough to give me a hunger to see what else is out there, not just in my own backyard. This isn’t discounting anything that is here in the U.S., there are some pretty amazing places in my own country, but I think for people to have a balanced view of the world, they should see more of it with an open mind, not with the expectation that everyone should be like us.

That is what I hope Middle Child takes away from his experience. His first trip overseas will be different than mine, however, because it will be to two countries where English isn’t the first language, and he’s in for a real eye-opener. Even if you take the time beforehand to study the language, using the words around native speakers for the first time is a scary thing. Of course, in the big cities, many people do speak English because there are so many tourists, but I found out that even a little effort to try the native language is appreciated by most people. Middle Child hasn’t done a lot of studying, so he may be in for some surprises.

I said that I wasn’t worried, and I’m not, but there is that part of me that is nervous about letting my baby go for an extended period of time over the ocean without me. It has nothing to do with the threat of terrorism, that’s a risk that we take anywhere we are today, unfortunately, but more of the I’ve-taught-you-everything-I-can-now-you’re-on-your-own kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and he’s going to be just fine, but I think every mother would feel the same, at the least the first time. When Oldest Child went back to Europe this last summer for work study, I wasn’t concerned at all because he did so well when he went to France and Spain.

All in all, it’s another sign that my kids are growing up. They are moving on to make their own wonderful memories, and that’s a very, very, good thing. Middle Child leaves in just a few days and it’s taking a lot for me not to jump on that plane with him. Maybe sometime in the future, one of them will let me tag along.

 

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Remember in the old movies when people always took the train or the bus to places? So romantic, right? Well, that’s coming back. Public transportation is the way of the future for the big cities and even not-so-big cities. I make no secret that I am in love with the Tube in London. You can be across the city in just minutes: no parking, no traffic, no problem. Sure, it can be crowded and even hot, but the trade-off of not having to hassle with a car is fabulous.

After spending the last few days using public transportation again, which is a wonderful thing when done right (Way to go, Chicago!), I have a few tips for when you ride that bus or train to or around one of our great cities. These are also useful hints for airplanes.

DON’T

  • Have a long cell phone conversation. Trust me when I say that no one wants to hear it. If you have to answer your phone, keep it short and sweet. Your fellow passengers will appreciate it. Better yet, just text.
  • Watch videos on your phone without earbuds. Maximum irritation. Just don’t.
  • Lace your conversation with profanities. I’m no angel myself, but when you’re out in public and around other people, especially in an enclosed environment, have a little class and watch your mouth.
  • Put your feet on the seats. You know that they don’t clean those very often, if at all. Don’t make it worse.
  • Eat a feast. Snacks are fine, usually, but leave the meal at home.

DO

  • Be nice. So many bad situations can be avoided by not being a jerk.
  • Keep your conversations at low volume. Our entire train car had to listen to two early-twenty-something young ladies broadcast their Chicago weekend plans for an hour or so on the way in, punctuated with annoying vocal fry (look it up) and “like” about 500 times. There was nothing wrong with their plan, I just didn’t care to hear them. I know that I was probably just as silly at that age and I will now apologize to every person that I annoyed then with my nonsense talk. Please forgive me for being an airhead.
  • Bring something to do that won’t disturb others. Phones with earbuds are good, a BOOK is a nice thing, an e-reader. Heck, bring a coloring book. Pacing up and down the aisle will not make the trip go faster, I promise.
  • Share the seats.
  • Know how to get off the vehicle. We almost didn’t get off the train at the right stop yesterday because the outside doors on our car weren’t open. I don’t know if we messed up or if the doors were supposed to open, but we almost ended up in South Bend instead of Michigan City. Next time, I’ll check on that before it’s time to get off. Lesson learned.

Obviously, having great public transport is a wonderful thing. If you are fortunate enough to have a good system where you live, use it. Enjoy it. It cuts down on pollution and traffic congestion, making it a greener option when traveling. I really wish that Detroit had reliable buses and trains; we’re moving in that direction, but it will be a long time before we’re up there with Chicago, London, New York, Boston, and others. I would give up my car in a heartbeat if there was a safe train or bus that would take me where I needed to go.

As the use of public transportation is coming back, our need to remember the manners of the past becomes more important. We live in a very “me” oriented world, which can get sticky in a public situation. Be nice, be respectful, and enjoy the ride.

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I don’t know about you, but I can more fully understand an experience after I’ve had a while to process it. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of something, good or bad, and try to assess right then, but I’ve learned that better understanding comes after an experience has had time to stew for awhile. I had the incredible opportunity to visit Italy last summer, exactly a year ago, and so I’ve been going through everything that we did there as well as the photos.

A year ago yesterday, my mom and I spent our last night in Rome. We had had a long, hot, day visiting Pompeii and Naples (mind-blowing, by the way) and wanted to spend a relaxing evening before driving to Florence the next morning.

At the time, I was eager to move on to Florence, excited to see what would come next. Rome was overwhelming, but in a good way. There was just so much to see and I knew we’d never do it a bit of justice in just three days. I think to truly experience Rome, I would need to stay for a while, sit with a glass of vino at a sidewalk café day after day, wander the streets with no goal in sight, and just feel the rhythm, the pulse, of the city. Being independently wealthy would help with that.

I love big cities; I adore the energy that they hold. They have personalities all their own and Rome is no exception. Rome is just so big, in so many ways. There is some sort of order, but not the kind that’s in London, Dublin, or Sydney. The centuries of tumultuous history that have made it into what it is today are still there, everywhere you look. Scooters fly by the ruins that mark the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Egyptian-influence mixes with Greek. Morning and evening rush hour zooms under the magnificent Roman wall still surrounding much of the city. Modern life goes on, but pays its respects to the events and buildings that have been the foundation of the Eternal City since its very beginning. It’s a crazy paradise.

Roman wall

Roman Wall

 

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The Coliseum and Roman Forum

Rome was patient with us. My mother had had to fight jet lag for the first time ever, an unpleasant experience for even the most jaded traveler. We had a fabulous guide, though, Lynne, who provided us with equally wonderful local guides during our time there and that made it all the better. We learned to walk boldly into the crazy traffic to cross streets, (Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, no eye contact with the drivers, and GO!) to see Vespas that tore down sidewalks and zipped in between the throngs of tour buses and cars as the norm, and became accustomed to the constant beeping of horns.

I learned particularly quickly how to dissuade all gypsies, some aggressive, with a hand up and a firm, “No, grazie”, before walking past them and holding my bag close, hand on the zipper, nothing in my pockets. (“Gypsy” is sometimes seen to be a derogatory term, but it includes all of the scammers that hang out to pick pockets or swindle people, especially tourists. The term used to be used to describe only the Roma, but there are many different nationalities of people whose main occupation is to steal in Europe. “Gypsy” seems to cover them all in Italy.) We had successfully navigated the bus system, getting off at a stop relatively close to the Coliseum, walking the rest of the way, and then making it back to our hotel the night before. We paid the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café Rome to eat and get a t-shirt for Oldest Child. We saw many of the treasures of the Vatican Museum, walked through and prayed in the stunning Sistine Chapel, and began to make friends in our tour group. Our first three days had been busy, to say the least.

 

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Basilica

Visiting the Vatican, its own independent country but completely within Rome, walking over the spot where St. Peter is reportedly buried (THE Peter, the fisherman, the one who walked with Jesus, who saw him risen, that one), standing in St. Peter’s Square, the place that’s on my television every Christmas Eve for midnight mass even though I’m not Catholic, yeah, those experiences still floor me. I can’t believe I was there, in the middle of all of that history. Religious or not, the volume of the priceless art alone is enough to give one shivers of glee. Throw in the religious significance and it can reduce you to a puddle of joy.

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View from the Vatican

 

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Remains of a temple in the Forum

Anyhow, on that last night, we found a nice little outdoor café/restaurant for dinner. Outdoor cafés are all over Italy, some are expensive, many are very reasonable, and I really think that’s a fabulous way to experience the country. The people-watching is spectacular. We had quite a bit of free time to do as we liked, something that I think is important on a tour. I’m learning from the Rick Steves’ philosophy of going where the locals like to go in addition to the popular tourist hangouts, a very rewarding experience.

The night was warm, but not too hot, and the waiter was very nice. I tried ordering completely in Italian (I had been getting bolder with my language skills) and laughed when the waiter repeated my order back to me in English. I teasingly shook my finger at him, chiding that I was practicing my Italian and that he wasn’t helping me. With good humor, he graciously listened to my broken Italian and spoke slowly the rest of the time so that I could understand. I found that to be the case in many places, especially in our hotel in Roma. The front desk staff all seemed to be amused by my attempts, but not in a mean way. If I was struggling with a word, they would gently say the English version and then the Italian after to help me along. I’ve always tried to be helpful with those who speak English as a second language here in the States, but that experience has taught me to be even more mindful of the language barrier.

The wine came, the food came. Everything was delicious. My mother and I talked for a long time, a luxury with our normally busy lives at home but in Italy, everyone makes time to talk, everyone takes the time to visit, especially in the evenings during the passagiata. The passagiata is the walk that people take in the cities and towns, usually around a piazza, or city square. People visit, have an aperitif before dinner, (Italians eat dinner late.) and generally relax after a day of work or play. It’s a lovely idea and a wonderful time to watch people. The entire evening was spectacular and although I was ready to leave for Florence, I felt a stab of regret that I had leave Roma so soon, just as I was getting to know her. The sensory overload that descended on me when we first drove into Roman traffic that first morning was just starting to make sense. I wanted more, I wanted to wander without a schedule, to accidentally find treasures that I hadn’t read about and I plan to go back one day and do just that. Well, with a Rick Steves guidebook and map.

Now, those who know me know that my true love is London. There are places where people know that they belong and London is it for me. but Rome and her sister cities have so much to offer that I want to keep coming back. I don’t think I could ever live there, I crave order and timeliness on a daily basis and while Roma has its own sense of order and time, it would be too overwhelming. I would need to take breaks from the energy, but I know that Rome would always leave me wanting more, never running out of marvels. It’s like a rich dessert: a little bit will satisfy, but you will keep making it because it’s so good. There will always be a reason to return.

Pieta

Pietà

This is just the beginning of my memories of Italy. I condensed Rome into just over one thousand words, no easy feat, especially when I could have filled a small book with just those three days. For such a short time there, it planted a long root in my soul that will continue to come back long after I think it to be gone. Well done, Roma, well done.

A presto.

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