Attempting Italy in a week – Florence


My parents came to Italy for a visit last week…they were in the country a grand total of 11 days (two of which were spent in the airport, en route and headed home). Since it was their first visit, we packed in a lot…the list of things to see was long and we didn’t even scratch the surface! Frankly, I’m not even sure how to encapsulate everything in the blog, so I’m breaking the city visits up a bit.

We knew that we wanted to see Venice, Florence and Rome and anything else would be an added bonus. Luckily, we live in Udine, where there isn’t much to see, so a day of adjustment/visiting Udine would be just that— a day.

If you ever get a chance to visit Italy, make sure to spend more than 9 days there. But if you can’t, and you want to see as much as possible, here’s what we did, but fair warning: if you do choose to roughly following this same agenda, you’ll probably be exhausted by the end of it and for the love of all things holy, bring/wear comfortable shoes. Throw style to the wind. Trust me.

But onward to Florence!

Tuesday (arrival day).
Wait at airport for London fog to clear so my parents could get here. Have pizza for dinner/announce we’re engaged. Cheers!

Wednesday (adjustment/lounge day).
This day was basically for seeing Udine and to allow my parents to sleep in. We ate delicious pastries from the bakery around the corner, grabbed lunch out and saw some of what the city has to offer (comparatively speaking, it isn’t much). We have a castle and some pretty gardens, so there’s that. We capped it off with a nice dinner out and then straight to bed because we had an early train to catch.

Thursday (travel to Florence and really start the trip).
We actually spent only one full day in Florence, but luckily from a travel perspective, we had the half day when we got in and then another half day on the way out to Rome, too. The only agenda item I had planned for the first day in Florence was a visit to the Duomo. I had purchased tickets in advance, but if I had to do it over again, I probably would opt for the Firenze Card, which not only is like buying tickets in advance, but card holders also get to move to the front of the line. Huge bonus.

The Duomo was pretty magnificent. But we worked for it (climbing the Duomo, that is). There are a lot of tiny, narrow stairs in that bad boy. It was abundantly clear when climbing that people were much shorter in the old days. At 5’4", I might have been considered the Yao Ming of their time. But the view was pretty spectacular. We actually didn’t go into the Cathedral itself, because the lines were long and it closed earlier than the rest of the Duomo “sister-properties” (the Dome, the Baptistry, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Crypt of Santa Reparata, and the museum). Side note, the Cathedral itself is free. It’s the other parts for which they charge. Still, we had an idea of the inside because we saw it en route to the Cupola (dome) and since our schedule was packed, we figured that view would suffice.

Since we were staying in an airbnb apartment, we had a kitchen at our disposal and so we opted for lunch to be our big meal of the day. We stopped at our neighborhood grocery store on our way home at night for a dinner of antipasti: prosciutto, olives, baguette, fruit, salami, cheese…the usual spread. This was a solid way to go, not only from a budget standpoint, but most importantly, it could be eaten in our pajamas, as we were feeling exhausted already.

Friday (full-on Florence).
This was our only full day in Florence (and it rained) so we tried to make the most of it. We were up and at ‘em early with coffee, of course, the first stop. Our apartment was overlooking a traditional farmer’s market that was nestled next to a building that housed all the permanent market stalls. We wandered in for coffee and pastries and cruised through the market before heading to Basilica of Santa Croce. This basilica was huge and a lot of famous Italians are buried here, so we were wise to carve out two hours or so.

Following Santa Croce, there was more cappuccino and then it was off to Ponte Vecchio. We actually had some big plans on this day (Piazzale Michelangelo, Boboli Gardens/Pitti Palace, Ponte Vecchio then the Bargello…all before lunch!) but we quickly realized that was lofty. So after wandering up and down Ponte Vecchio, we walked by the Pitti Palace to see it from the outside, before stopping for lunch. Our spot of choice was where Dave used to go when he studied in Florence; it was also the same place that my cousin, who also studied there more recently, listed as her “I-can-only-have-one-meal-in-Florence” restaurant choice. Quattro Leoni was definitely delicious (they have cinghiale and I love cinghiale) and the perfect stop on our route before heading to see Piazza Signorina, which was right near the Uffizi, for which we had 3pm tickets. The Uffizi is huge, with some of the most beautiful works of the Renaissance (bonus: I saw works from three of four ninja turtle namesakes). The rest of the afternoon was spent there, which wasn’t too far off from our original plan of seeing both the Uffizi and Cappella Brancacci. Sadly though, it was a photo-free zone so the documenting was limited. Then it was our in-house dinner and bed for our final day in Florence and travel day to Rome.

Saturday (a morning in Firenze with some rest travel in the PM)
Saturday morning in Florence was again an early one. We decided to make coffee at our apartment since we had 9:00am tickets to the Gallery of the Academy. On our agenda was also the Galileo Museum afterwards, before having to check out at 2pm. A tall order, indeed. The Gallery is most known for The David, which is incredibly huge in real life. By this time in the trip, my dad had taken to Netflix and begun watching documentaries on each of the places we’d be going to the next day, so he was fully prepared to brief us on The David. The theory is that The David illustrates the man right as he spies his nemesis Goliath and he is about ready to strike; a theory I believe, given the look of determination carved into his face. The other part of the gallery I found fascinating was the partial sculptures Michelangelo was working on…they are large marble pillars with only partial sculptures carved. I thought it was incredibly interesting to see the “half-way” point because in no way did I see the vision that these artists had just by looking at a marble pillar. And the detail they used is incredible. It’s a really interested perspective.

After the Gallery, we opted for lunch and seeing about an earlier train to Rome. Honestly, by this point in the trip, we were exhausted and were looking forward to just sitting on a train for an hour or two and by our Saturday evening arrival into Rome, that rest would prove incredibly beneficial to our feet.

More to follow, but for a (small) peek at our Florence trip:



Something to remember


I will always remember February 24. I’m writing this on February 25. I don’t know when I will actually post this, but I want to make sure I capture it while it’s most fresh in mind.

Though I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

I was getting ready for bed and Dave still had some work to do for a presentation. As I was clearing off the bed, putting some laundry away, Dave called from the hallway and asked if I wanted to see what he had gotten for his birthday, which was just the day before.

Confused, I walked out, thinking he was going to pull out some chocolate for us to share. I have no idea why I thought that was what he wanted for his birthday, but that’s what I was expecting.

As I walked up to him, he pulled me to him so we were both facing the jig-saw puzzle mirror in the hall.

“I got you. For my birthday. Forever.”

Puzzled, I looked at him at the mirror, and then just assumed he was being sweet; he would often tell me how much he loved me for going on this crazy, back-to-school adventure with him. Lately we’d had a helluva time dealing with the (ever-changing) timeframe of his program in Italy and how the Italian professors seemingly couldn’t get on the same page. I knew he was ready to be done with school and get on with our “adult lives,” as we called it.

So I just assumed he was being sweet.

But then I turned around to look at him face to face, and he pulled out a paper box and told me he couldn’t imagine spending his life with anyone else…

Truthfully, the rest is a bit blurry. I heard the words, “will you marry me” through his sure-yet-nervous voice (as if he didn’t know the answer-ha!), and his voice telling something about me saying yes would be his birthday present, as he lifted the lid of a folded paper box and inside was a perfect paper ring.

my ring 212x400 Something to remember

My “first” engagement ring

I was still in a bit of shock (I still am, as I write this), so he took it out of the box for me and handed it to me so I could slip it on my finger.

It fit perfectly.

Then he told me that, because we’re a team, he wanted us to pick out a real ring together. But he did, however, want the proposal to be a surprise. I just kept hugging him tightly in the hallway and kissing him between bouts of crying happy tears.

He said he’d planned to ask me on the night of his actual birthday, the day before, and how he’d cooked up this plan before we’d even arrived in Italy, but on Sunday…his actual birthday, our evening was interrupted by police activity on our street. And since there is nothing romantic about dead bodies outside your balcony (talk about a buzz kill), he’d held off.

Then he told me he’d been working on that paper ring and box for weeks, until he got it just how he wanted. It had been hidden in some cabinets in our apartment and I never even knew! He’d work on it in the early mornings before school, while I was still asleep…watching YouTube videos on origami and making different versions to get both the ring and the box just right.

Since I couldn’t seem to stop the tears from streaming down my face, he got me a box of tissues and we sat down on the couch so he could show me his ring research and what he had in mind for me, but had wanted me to see to ensure it was something I would love.

We agreed to hold off on telling our families, because unbeknownst to us, my brother was also planning a February proposal and it was just the week before. With everyone still celebrating that, and since my parents would be coming in April, it would give us plenty of time to find a (non-paper) ring.

But I still love my original ring.

I love that he bought colored markers to try and color it in and that he searched all over Udine for nicer paper (to no avail, because he learned that “paper stores” are more like toy stores. Weird.)

I love that he thought up this plan for over two months.

I love the whole story.

I love that it’s perfectly us.

I’m going to go practice doodling my name with his last name now. Because I can. Because that will be my name now. And I can tell our kids what a sweet and perfect proposal their dad and I had…when we lived in Italy, without a lot of money, the day after his birthday, in 2014.



How American Airlines is missing the boat (err, plane) in customer service


In an effort to make sure this blog doesn’t turn into a Pinterest board of my wedding planning, I thought I would shift my focus to something business-related: customer service.

For me, it seems pretty simple: customer asks for service, I provide service. If I can’t provide the aforementioned service, I explain why and offer up an alternative to keep them rolling along with their project.

It isn’t that hard.

It’s important to me to make sure my clients feel like they have a partner in me. They are going to spend time and money, so in my mind, that’s an important investment on their part and a big responsibility on mine.

From a personal character perspective, it is extremely important to me that I deliver when and what I say I will, or give a heads up at the earliest possible time if I foresee any hiccups along the way. That’s my fingerprint (and possibly, more overtly, my name going on their project) and that is something of which I am most proud, so I’m not about to muck it with poor communication or false promises.

Now with that said, American Airlines continually drops the ball in this area. I refuse to fly with them anymore (sadly, they are getting so large some of their partner airlines are hard to avoid) but my parents rack up miles via purchases and have been customers of theirs for a long time. In fact, I think it’s the only airline membership they have and actively use.

So when they decided to make their first-ever trip to Europe to visit us in Italy, using their accumulated miles, I was appalled by the flights American Airlines set up for them.

It included an overnight layover in London on the way over and and overnight layover in Portland (after another layover in Philadelphia) on the way back to SFO.

That’s two overnight layovers which translates to two extra hotel nights.

Terrible.

I would also like to note that their flight in London was horribly delayed (they sat on the tarmac for four hours at LHR) but this was due to fog. Unfortunate, yes. But because I’m also of the belief that the customer should also understand that somethings are out of the vendor’s control, I absolutely don’t fault American Airlines (their partner British Air, actually). And I think that if you have earned a good reputation with clients, and your explanation as to why something can or cannot happen is sensible, they will understand.

So back to my parents return flight. After doing the whole overnight thing in London on the way here three days earlier, my dad found a flight from Philadelphia departing to SFO at the exact same time as his scheduled flight to Portland (where he will spend the night before going back to the PDX airport and boarding a plane to head home- because that is just how one would want to spend their time trying to get home after being gone a long time.)

So I took to Twitter to see if the American social media team could help move he and my mom to the direct (read: non-overnight, double layover) flight.

At first, they made him use Twitter, because I was a third party. I get that. Annoying, but ok. He still has an egg for an avatar profile pic, but whatever.

Miraculously, right before my already jet-lagged parents went to sleep, we got a direct message (DM) from American saying the changes had been made and he would get an email with the changes confirmed.

Hooray!

Then, we woke up this morning to a message basically saying, “oops! Just kidding!” They reneged on the change because, despite the fact that we can purchase two full-price tickets online right now, they were unwilling to accept passengers using miles or “awards” for seats on that flight.

I find that reason to be nonsense. But I also value customer service over profit (silly me). While both are important, a business won’t have a profit without customer service. The reverse? Not necessarily so. You tell me which one carries more weight?

This is the worst example of customer service I’ve seen from them since they “baited-and-switched” our flight from Europe home, last summer. In that stellar example, Dave and I purchased tickets online, selecting from they choices they displayed. We entered our credit card info, clicked submit, and when we hadn’t received a confirmation email an hour or so later, I called to confirm. They informed me that my connecting flight from Madrid was no longer available (because it must have magically been cancelled in the little time that had passed since they advertised it to me) and we would have to rebook and oh, by the way, we were responsible for the change fee.

Returning to my parent’s case, I am appalled that this is how American Airlines conducts business. Especially with someone who has been a member of their loyalty program as long as my dad has.

There is absolutely no way a small business like mine would ever survive if I treated customers the way they do. And most importantly, I would never dream of running a business that way. It just doesn’t even make sense! They can certainly put my parents on the flight from PHL to SFO. But they seem to refuse to want to serve a current customer because they would rather bank on the possibility that a new customer will pay full freight for the seat. Disgusting.

At its face value, it would seem the only employee for American Airlines who had any sense was the social media person who clearly saw the customer’s need (to get on the PHL-SFO flight) and the ability to solve it (available seats on said flight). My assumption is that they saw the need and solution, fixed it and shared that news with us via Twitter, then some supervisor who probably had to sign off, saw my parents had flown on miles and nixed the whole idea. Because what other sensible reason could there be???

And the end result? At least two lost customers in Dave and me and probably two more in my parents after this. And hopefully he cuts up the credit card and takes that business elsewhere too.

Good work, American. Keep working to serve your customers.



The One with Lots of Big News


I have abandoned my blog lately. Shame on me. But the good news is that I haven’t blogged because I’ve been busy. Busy with work (yay). Busy learning Italian (sto ancora imparando). Busy trying to figure out the best way to get back to California to spend some much-needed time with the grandparent(s) (yay).

So right. All the news.

Well, Dave and I have decided that now would be a good time for me to get back to California for a visit. His school is almost done, but his thesis research will find us here until November(ish) so, no time like the present! He and I will both be heading back to the States later next week, where we will spend some time with his family (spoiler alert: I’m baking his mom a snackin’ cake for her birthday when we get there!) then I will depart for California for a month and he will head back to Italy after Easter to get started on his research for his thesis.

So yay, a trip home!

And since I promised LOTS of big news and me coming home for a month only counts as one piece of news, I should probably keep with the headline here (this might be what my high school journalism teacher called “burying the lead”) and let everyone know that while we are in New York, Dave and I will also be picking up…my engagement ring!

Hooray!

Dave asked me to marry him (actually back in February— can you believe I was able to keep it a secret this long??) and I said yes and that will get a whole post of it’s own, but we’re so happy and so excited to “make it official.” Everyone always asked us if/when we’d get married and our answer has always been that we’re trying to get through one life milestone at a time and as soon as we got through his Master’s, we’d get married. In our minds, we always knew that meant sometime in 2015, but you can’t plan a 2015 wedding without an engagement!

I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together. Truly, as exciting as this news is, for both Dave and me, nothing really changes in our world. We’ve always known we’d be spending our lives together, and have always felt like we were “engaged” anyway, but I suppose a ring provides the visual evidence for our families’.

I’m looking forward to all the our future holds and I’m thrilled to be able to spend some QT with my family in California.

But first, we’re going to get my parents’ vacation under way! They are in London on an overnight layover as I type this, but by the time I post it, I imagine that we’ll be just returning from a celebratory dinner, since we held off on telling them our engagement news until they arrived. Stay tuned for lots of Italian vacation photos!



Two Days in Udine


My cousin came up from Venice to visit Udine this weekend. We went exploring while the menfolk studied. There was much food, coffee, wine and park/garden visiting to be had.

Full disclosure: I stole some of Kela’s photos from instagram