July 1, 2019: Firenze

Monday. GT2 Day Twenty Three. Montecatini Terme, Italy.

Last night’s test of careful sleep technique, combined with Dominica monitoring me closely, and using the nasal strips from the pharmacy was successful (at least for one night) and I got a full night of sleep. The most sleep that I have gotten since being in Tuscany, for sure. I slept for a total of nearly eight hours, with nearly two hours of that being deep sleep. That’s not bad for just any random night. For sleeping with a huge level of stress, using nasal strips for the first time, without my CPAP for white noise and Pavlovian Effect, on the floor with an insanely uncomfortable mattress, and being too warm it was amazing. And to add to that, when Dominica got us to use the bathroom in the night (she is sleeping on a couch just above me) she fell on me and woke me up, so I was full on awake for thirty minutes right in the middle of the night. If that had not happened, I might have had quite a bit more sleep, perhaps.

Bottom line, last night was about as successful as it could possibly have been. According to Dominica, she never heard me snore a single time, and never heard me stop breathing. I would know if I had stopped breathing – that either wakes me up, or it doesn’t, and either way we’d really know. But snoring I only know about some of the time. I know that I snored once, but it was while I was awake and changing positions and I moved immediately. So it sounds like this really worked. A large factor is likely that I lost a bit of weight before coming to Europe, about twenty five pounds, and from what I can tell I think that I have lost a little more, maybe five pounds, while here. We have no scale, so I am just guessing. But I have been eating healthily for the most part, in much smaller than usual portions, spread out over the day more, with very little dessert, while exercising quite a lot.

It was six thirty when I woke up, having gone to bed quite early. Dominica woke up a little after me. We assessed the situation with my sleeping and decided that we are safe and I can go with the family to Firenze today, all day. The plan now being that I will shower and get ready, while Dominica who already got ready will do one last load of laundry before we go, then we will wake up the girls who claim that they only need fifteen minutes for both of them to go from woken up to ready to walk out the door (I am going to time that this morning), and then we will drive to Villa di Costanza where we will park the car and pick up the Firenze city tram at its farthest point and ride it into the heart of the city. Then it is bus touring and pasta making today! By eight Dominica and I were fully ready having had our coffee, bags packed, camera ready, batteries prepped, daily update made, Instagram posted, showers done… all we have to do is throw on shoes and we are ready to go.

It should be noted, that when Dominica and I say that we are ready, we mean that we are ready to start the day and head to whatever we are doing. When the girls say that they can be ready, they mean ready to start getting ready and need to them start discussing what they want to do for food and need to go do food activities before being ready. So the actual amount of time that it takes them is longer between their “ready to go out the door” and “ready to start doing things” than Dominica and I have to get ready in total. So it is a bit misleading.

Laundry is a big deal on any trip of any length. For us, Montecatini is one of, if not the last, place where we have access to do laundry. We have a washing machine as part of our apartment, there is a big garden in which to dry the clothes, and there is enough time in one place for things to get washed and have time to dry. That’s pretty hard to have come together as a combination and why the last few days have been so much rushed laundry every time that we are at the house. Europe almost universally does not use dryers, which is great for the clothing and the environment, but really bad for timing. We need to have a drying rack full of clothes outside in the breeze at all possible times of day. At night, things do not dry outside. We have to have all of our clothes ready tonight to make it for the next full week. We have one week of Europe left and no guarantee that we can wash anything again for all of that time.

We woke the girls at eight fourteen to get them up and ready. We will see how well their fifteen minute claim holds up.

While waiting for the girls to get ready I got caught up on SGL blogging, and did some system maintenance for the company while I had the time and just a tiny, itty bitty, bit of Internet. Rodrigo was sick over the weekend and just two hours ago had five feet of hail fall on his home city, so he is going to wake up to being completely buried in ice. Doubtful that he will be online today.

They did not make their fifteen minute claim. The final time when they claimed that they were ready was eight fifty three. But they weren’t actually ready to go out the door at that time, that’s just when they thought that they could say that they were ready thinking that we were not ready, not realizing that we had been totally ready before even waking them up. They didn’t even have shoes on yet at that point nor had considered food, nor were ready to leave their room. Actual time that they were ready having gotten water, shoes, left their room, grabbed food was eighty fifty nine. Forty five minutes, three times as long as they thought that they took. They’ve been claiming that they are always waiting for us, but I don’t think that that is true.

I kicked off an upload of a video giving an update to the CPAP status to go to the YouTube channel that over a hundred people are watching to keep up with our travels. Fingers crossed that it actually updates while we are out. I set it to publish when uploaded and to add to the channel. So if things go well it will post while we are traveling into the city.

We piled into the car and were on the road by one after nine. I was on a mission to get us out to Firenze and get this day going. We drove to Villa Costanza which is a highway exit directly into a giant parking lot with the Firenze city tram stop. It could not possibly be easier. Anyone wanting to visit Firenze needs to know about this. It was just one Euro and fifty cents each to ride the tram from Villa Costanza all the way to the downtown train station. And you get ninety minutes of municple transportation for that price, so we could have gone much further or switched to another line or taken the bus or whatever. Really nice system. Comfortable, cheap, quick, and easy.

We got to the central railway station and found our way to the City Sightseeing bus stop to start the hop on, hop off bus tour. For the four of us it was like ninety two dollars for twenty four hours. We got on at the beginning and rode around for the full route. The route that we were on was just one hour long, and for us that was quite long enough. None of us were happy with this tour. The bus was super uncomfortable for one thing, especially for me. The seats were set up in such a way that I either had to sit upright in a really awkward manner that required me to constantly hold myself up, or else I would slide down and my knees would not even come close to fitting. Either way, it hurt to sit there.

But the bigger deal was that the tour audio was not very good. Or maybe the route was no good. Or maybe Firenze has nothing worth seeing? But basically the tour took us past a bunch of things that we didn’t care to see, and the audio told us basically nothing of interest, and what little bit it tried to tell us, the bus operator talked over and the audio did not pause. Often the thing that we were being shown did not line up with the audio and we never got to see the thing. And then, after a really long, boring ride with nothing of importance being able to be learned, there was a really long and detailed explanation of a bizarre and wholly uninteresting foot fetish museum that was irrelevant. We were so unhappy that we immediately decided to skip the longer two hour route because if it is anything like this, we will be unable to sit through it.

So we rode to the famous bridge in Firenze and got out to look for an early lunch before our pasta making class this afternoon. Dominica has been in the mood for Chinese food since yesterday, so that is what we are looking for. I am the only one who isn’t tired of Italian yet, which is odd being the only non-Italian of the bunch.

We found a nice Chinese place called China Town. The people were great. The food was quite good. Dominica and I both got vegetable fried rice. I asked for mine very spicy, it was spicier than Dominica’s, but not enough that I could tell that it had spice if I hadn’t known to look for it. Everything in Italy is so bland. Even spicy foods totally change what they make for the market. You can’t buy hot sauce here, I can only imagine. People would have a heart attack. I know that they do this for the US market, too. But the degree to which they do it for Italy is just crazy. Emily got pineapple fried rice that came in half a pineapple. Madeline got sweet and sour chicken.

After lunch we did some walking. We had a bit of time to kill before our class. The temperature today was not nearly as hot as it has been, but still hot. Walking around was pretty sweaty. We walked the famous bridge, and while it was neat and historic, it’s also white trash central – nothing but tourist and the trashiest, overpriced tourist shops. Dangerous, crowded, uncomfortable, and pointless. Sad, because as a structure it is really cool. But I wanted to get away from it as quickly as possible.

We got away from the tourist zone a little and found a nice gelateria and got gelato for everyone. Dominica and I both got ricotta with pear, so good. Madeline got fruity stuff like peach and mango. Emily got a sorbet, so non-dairy. It was all really good and refreshing.

Our pasta class started at three thirty. It is an AirBnB Experience with Vivanda Firenze. We started across the street from the restaurant. There were two classes going on. We were in the one that turned out to be with the restaurant owner and we learned to make lasagna, ravioli, tortellini, and spaghetti, all by hand. It was awesome. We had such a good time. There were eight of us in our class, the four of us, plus a mother and daughter from Seattle, and a couple from Washington, D.C.

First we learned to make the fresh pasta by hand. That was really cool and I feel really comfortable making my own at home already. It takes a bit of work but is not complicated. This is something that I really hope to do all of the time. It tastes so good, and you can make anything.

It was really fun and we learned so much about pasta. And we learned how to make some of the sauces. Once we made the pasta, which probably took between an hour and a half and two hours, then our hosts ran it across the street to the restaurant where they prepared it all for us. There was not time for us to do everything outselves and this was only a pasta making, not a pasta cooking, class / experience.

We all then went over to the restaurant, and had our pasta creations, wine, and desserts (that we were not involved in making at all.) It was all so excellent. We had so much fun. Definitely one of the best things that we have done on our entire trip. Really, for me, the only thing that we have done this entire time that is in the running with this is the Folk Dancing Night at Cretan Corner on Crete a couple of weeks ago. Those two things really stand out as far and away our best things of the trip. I am not sure what else would even be in the running. The wine tasting yesterday was fun, but not on par.

After our pasta experience we went and did Rick Steve’s walking tour of Firenze to make sure that we got to see the most important things before calling it a day. So that took us until around eight thirty and we were all done. Just exhausted.

We went back to the train station, got our tram back to our packing, got the car, and drove back to Montecatini Terme. It was around ten when we returned. We cranked up the air conditioning. We re-opened the bottle of wine that we had started last night. Dominica packed. I caught up SGL and copied over the media from the camera to the hard drive. The girls hung out in their room and ate some cheesecake.

Tonight we learned that Gray’s arm injury cannot be repaired. His nerve damage is at his spinal column and will never heal. He’s permanently lost the use of his one arm.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day. We have to be up super early. Then we drive from Montecatini Terme to the Firenze Airport where we drop off the rental car. Then the tram to Firenze Allimani Station. There we are grabbing the train to Milano where we will have about a one hour layover before catching our next train to Lucern. We will be in Lucern for a few hours so that Emily can see Switzerland for just a little bit. A mad rush for food, pictures, and shopping. We have so little time that if luggage storage is not really obvious, Dominica is kind of looking forward to just sitting with the luggage for a couple of hours and having some time to read and do nothing while Emily, Madeline, and I make a mad dash around the city. Then we catch the train out of Lucern to go to Paris, where we are spending tomorrow night and the next two nights after that. I am super excited to see Paris, it is the one place on this trip that I have never been.

Our Internet is super bad this evening. We cannot load any web pages or anything. I really can’t even talk to anyone. I am unsure if I will be able to post the SGL update before going to bed. We are all really hopeful that Paris will be better than this. It has been more than three weeks with only two days of all of that time having good Internet. It gets very tiring and very stressful. The girls are on a constant search for working wifi anywhere that we go so that they can get a moment of connecting to the world. They are super disconnected since they are stuck on useless Verizon that has no Internation coverage. Our T-Mobile means that at least we get messages regularly, if nothing else. And often we can at least do basic things. But in the apartments, we often have no wifi. So the laptop is often offline or useless. And the girls go huge periods of time with nothing, which certainly colours their view of Europe in a way that does not affect us or our kids. To them, Europe is disconnected and slow Internet. This kind of travel, and traveling without supported 4G service leaves you essentially stranded in a world where everyone around you has Internet so good and fast that we can’t get anything like it in the US. So for them, they are seeing Europe in so many bad ways.

Things that are skewing Europe for them unfairly include: only seeing it with cheap rental cars or no cars, never getting good Internet because we are in AirBnBs where good Internet is not expected, not being prepared with working phones, not doing research and expecting something different than exploring new cultures, backpacking all the time, moving place to place so quickly that there is only time to see tourist centers and highlights and never seeing actual life or treating it like a normal place, super early morning moves day after day, etc. The way that we are traveling means that nothing we see in Europe is seen in any way like we would see the US, so the impression of it is totally different. Yes, it is full of monuments, museums, famous things, sights, etc. but it is also more like an amusement park than a real place. It gives essentially no sense of what it is actually like here.

Speaking of exhausting early morning transfers: we have to be out the door at five thirty tomorrow. That is crazy early. Tomorrow is going to be such a long day. It is going to hurt. We have to manage our luggage without a car for about twenty hours. We are going to be so unhappy by the time that we are done with everything tomorrow. And then, once we are done with all of that moving and work, we are in an apartment for three days with no air conditioning, in which we are expected to be totally silent – which is going to present a huge problem as we have to talk to the girls every hour or two about being too loud here in Italy, where being quiet isn’t normally an issue. It’s like the US here. The apartment in Paris is nothing but continuous warnings about how we have to be completely silent at all times. I don’t know what we are going to do and the girls are already mad about the prospect.

I am very excited to be giving up the car tomorrow. Having been the sole driver for almost twenty days of time during this trip has been exhausting. I have to be involved in everything that we do, no matter how trivial, and every spur of the moment activity involves me having to drive three to six hours unexpectedly as if that were nothing, and doing so in Europe is not casual like in the US. So the surprise expectations are really fatiguing. I can’t wait to be carless and everyone does decision ramifications equally. It’s harder to do crazy, exhausting things when the decision isn’t made by someone different than the one that has to do the work for the decision. All of the driving has really burned me out. That, plus the CPAP situation.

Heading to bed around midnight. I’ll be lucky to get any sleep tonight. I am torn as to when to shower, tonight or tomorrow. I really don’t feel like it tonight, but I think that I have to. We have to be up SO early tomorrow. So tonight is my second night of attempting to sleep with just the nasal strips and no CPAP. Fingers crossed, again. I really need a few hours of sleep tonight. Tonight is one of the examples of huge risks that come from scheduling too much during a trip like this: if something goes wrong like the CPAP situation, then we are trapped without enough sleep and there is nothing that can be done about it. We have to be up late tonight in order to have time to be ready to go tomorrow. And we have to be up ridiculously early in the morning to make it to our train. So I have no choice but to lose even more sleep. I’ve only had one moderate night of sleep in the last three. Having little to no sleep tonight will be really awful, and a bit dangerous. Maybe, if I am really lucky, I can nap on the train just a little. But realistically that is not something that I can do.

June 30, 2019: Chianti Wine Tasting

Sunday. GT2 Day Twenty Two. Montecatini Terme, Italy.

If you read yesterday’s update, you will know that my day started with being up all night worrying about what to do today. At three o’clock this morning my CPAP blew a capacitor or something and gave up the ghost. So for the first time since February, 2005, I have no CPAP to allow me to sleep. Nearly fifteen years! And we are in a small town in Tuscany. This is unexplainably bad. This is a nightmare scenario that we knew could potentially happen someday. And here it is. Now what do we do?

Dominica’s alarm went off about five thirty and so she learned of the news then and went into rather a panic, as you can imagine.

She contacted everyone and did research, but mostly discovered the same things that I had through the night. That there is essentially nothing that can be done.

My first order of business was to get blankets and try to sleep now that Dominica is awake. When she was asleep, I would have a full panic attack anytime I began to drift off so I could not even attempt to see if sleep was possible. Now that she is awake and can be in the same room to make sure that I keep snoring or breathing, I am more relaxed. So I bundled up with blankets (in the dark last night all I had was a tiny sheet that didn’t even cover me making sleeping so much harder) and tried sleeping.

If my watch and snoring are to be believed, it appears that I got about ninety minutes of sleep and thirty of that being deep sleep. Enough to survive on, if necessary. And I didn’t die or have any obvious lack of breathing moments. I am managing my position carefully, and I have learned over the years how my head can be held in my hands to increase the air flow. So I am far better at sleeping with this condition than I was fifteen years ago, at least. And I have lost some weight, which helps a lot.

Dominica actually woke me up, so I might have slept more, to let me know that our hostess, Barbara, had been contacted and that she was coming up sometime soon to get me to take to the hospital.

Barbara, our host, came to the apartment around ten thirty and explained that she had run around town, talked to a local nurse, and had the local healthcare looking into what could be done for us. She got the nurse on the phone so that I could talk to her. But she did not have any positive news. She is going to continue to search for us, but she said that they really don’t sell CPAPs in Italy because they are free from the national health service so stores have no reason to carry them. She is going to try, but she is sure that our best hope is to look up stores and be ready to buy one when we get to Paris in a few days.

After that it was time to run out to Chianti to take the girls wine touring. It was only like a one hour drive or less from our apartment to Chianti. Dominica and I have never been to that region before, so this was cool for us, too.

We got lucky and found a really awesome winery to start off with. It was five Euros per person and we got to taste four wines each, plus olive oil, and balsamic vinager. We had the enoteca to ourselves for the whole thing. It was a gorgeous setting and really fun. Dominica and I loved the wines. The teenagers, not so much. They kind of liked some, but were not thrilled. Their palletes are very basic, still. But it was fun, a really good experience and one that was at the top of Emily’s to do list.

From there we drove on to another wintery that turned out to be a central showcase enoteca for a winery group that operates all over Italy. This was a higher end, and more expensive experience, but far more complete. We got a table in a really fancy restaurant and we got five wines each to try. The girls did a samply of two proseccos (champagne by another name), two whites, and one rose. They quickly learned what I had warned them just an hour previous, that they would not like champagne. Dominica and I did two peninsular reds, then three amazing and super unique Sardinian reds. It was a great wine tasting.

While we were there we got a lead on a way to get a CPAP from Barbara. So we had to call it quits at that point, although we had to anyway because Emily had had as much wine as she could take by that point.

We drove to Pistoia where, supposedly, there is a pharmacy that can get a CPAP for me. But we got there and discovered that they did not know what a CPAP was and had no idea how to order one. They tried very hard to be helpful, but in the end there was nothing that they could do. It seems that CPAPs are not regularly used in Italy as a solution and there is realistically no way to get one. We’ve been trying every avenue that we can think of all day and this is going nowhere.

Dominica really wanted me to talk to the clinic again that I spoke to this morning when Barbara was here, but the phone number for them was back at the apartment. So we drove back there and I called them. This time they were super rude and unhelpful and told me that there was absolutely nothing that they could do, not even tell me the name of what a CPAP is called in Italy. Super helpful this morning, useless this evening.

We skipped going out for dinner tonight. The girls are done with Italian food, it is not their thing. Dominica is a little tired of it herself, but not because she doesn’t like it but because of the complications caused by her onion allergy as everything in Italy has onions in it. So instead we are going to the grocery store tonight to just buy whatever we want to eat.

We looked up on Google and there was a EuroSpin not that far from us. We had actually driven past it earlier today. So we went there, but they were closed for inventory. Loads of other people were going there too, so apparently it was “the” place for Sunday night grocery shopping. We searched for a while and found a small super market across town to try. We drove there and it was a mad house. Presumably what happens when the one big grocery store in town is closed unexpectedly and everyone needs food. So this small super market was so packed that there was a waiting line to get into their parking lot and the streets around it were full of cars.

We shopped for maybe forty five minutes. Then came back to the apartment to cook. In reality, doing this got us the most unique Italian meals that the girls have had all week. Emily had some Italian “tomato pie with potato topping” and Madeline had Italian “pigs and fruit in blankets”, while Dominica and I split a penne salad in pesto and tomato, and some spinach and cheese pasta. This is way more “how Italians eat” day to day than restaurants would lead you to believe. The girls got chips and cookies and brownies and cheesecake and other stuff, too. Lots of snacks. More authentic, more educational, and quite a bit cheaper.

That was our night. It was almost nine by the time that we were done eating. The girls went in their room to chat with friends. I worked on SGL updates. Dominica read, then took a shower.

Luciana found Staxle on the Steam Summer Sale and let me know about it. She has been waiting months for it, so I just got it for her.

That was our day. Crazy and insane and absolutely nothing that we had planned. Since we missed going to Firenze today, the attempt will be made again tomorrow.

So as to the CPAP and sleep situation, here is where we are:

I slept successfully for an hour and a half this morning with Dominica watching me. I snored some, but not all of the time, and never stopped breathing. This is a very good sign. It does not mean that I do not need a CPAP, but it does mean that I might be able to get by without one in a pinch. In 2012 I was able to travel Europe without one, because I had lost so much weight. So, in theory, I might be able to “get by.”

There is no reasonable chance that we are going to find a CPAP in Italy. I had to talk Dominica down from an all out fruitless hunt for one that never ends. We aren’t going to find one. The nurse this morning, the pharmacy this afternoon both made that clear, as has online searches. No one sells them, no one else in this situation has found one. If I am going to find one, and that is unlikely, it will be in Paris and nowhere else. It’s that simple. No way around it. None can be shipped because we don’t have a stable address to ship to, nor a place to send them.

The pharmacy sold me the nasal strips that are commonly used here in Italy for snoring. They are absolutely not a solution to my issue, but I do have dramatic issues with the volume of air that goes through my nose when I sleep on top of my other sleep apnea issues and we know that fixing that does improve the other, so the thought is that if we eliminate that point of problems, or make it less, that at least I will improve the otherall situation. Better than nothing. So that is something we have not tried before and will be testing tonight.

I have to avoid total exhaustion, or I will pass out and that’s when I will suffocate. Attempting to rest and sleep as much as possible each night that we travel is the best possible scenario at this point. It is what it is, trying to pretend that there is another option will make us stressed and just make things worse. The situation is bad, we need to mitigate, not pretend that reality isn’t what it is.

When we get to Paris, I will make an attempt to find a CPAP there. That’s the only possible place. But the assumption is that I have to get one once I am back in New York.

As for tomorrow: we are going to play that by ear. If I am able to sleep tonight and we are not terrified for tomorrow night, then I am going to go with Dominica, Emily, and Madeline to Firenze for the day. It is Monday so the museums that are expensive and that I did not want to do are closed. We will go in in the morning by train from Montecatini station, which Dominica and I used seven years ago, and do the hop on, hop off tourist bus. And that might be all that we do. It will still be super hot tomorrow, but we should be able to manage it. On the bus it is not that bad. There are not any sites in Firenze that anyone is really interested in stopping at specifically.

In the afternoon we have our pasta making class scheduled. So that takes three hours from three thirty to six thirty. So that, plus the bus tour of the city, is all that we are going to be able to handle for the day. And that is if things go well.

If sleep tonight goes really badly, well we will deal with that triage in the morning. I might just hang back after the girls go to Firenze to hit a clinic in town since they will be open tomorrow, and to seek out an electrical supply shop. Worst case scenario I need to find a way to get back to New York early.

Tomorrow is our last day in Tuscany. We sleep here again tomorrow night (or I lay here without sleeping, as has been the case thus far) and then we turn in the car in Firenze in two days, and take the train from Firenze to Milan, then from Milan to Luzerne. Spend the afternoon in Luzerne, then take the train on to Paris. So tomorrow we sleep in Tuscany, the day after we sleep in Paris.

I am posting a little early tonight because I am done for the day and heading off to bed. Fingers crossed that I will actually get some sleep. Three hours would be enough to make all of the difference. I am very thankful for my Huomi AmazFit Stratos that tracks what is going on with my sleep so that I know that I actually slept or not and how it was and when. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of this. So yes, for those keeping tabs on the time zone, I am posting before ten o’clock. It has been a while since I was feeling this tired. And a really long time since I was this worried. But it is what it is. Time for bed.

June 29, 2019: Errands in Montecatini

Saturday. GT2 Day Twenty One. Montecatini Terme, Italy.

Today is our second day in Tuscany, in Montecatini Terme. Not much sleep for me last night, the lumpy mattress on the floor made for almost no sleep. Dominica at least managed to get good, if not comfortable, sleep. Emily got up by ten, sweating from how hot their room is as it has no air conditioning and they slept with the door shut.

I checked again this morning and there is basically no Internet. I can’t even browse web pages most of the time, let alone try to upload anything. So we are pretty limited on what we can do. I have to write the SGL updates to a text editor in the hopes of putting them up on the site sometime in the future. So it is that bad, no way could we post pictures or videos, we can’t even use the Internet access to check email or post blog updates! This is how I remember Tuscany, very antiquated. Beautiful and wonderful, but living in the 1960s.

I had maybe two hours to work on things this morning before Emily and I were ready to head out to look for a nail salon. Google gave us some direction, so we drove out west of town hoping to find something there. Dominica and Madeline stayed home to relax, read, sleep, and do laundry. We ended up having to drive around quite a bit and went to three different places. The first was on a back street, up a flight of stairs and they never answered the door. The second was tiny and let us in, but when they heard us speak English they claimed that they did not do nails. The third place was bigger and the lady was nice and spoke no English, but she had a client there who did and translated and Emily was able to explain what she needed and the woman fit her in for two thirty this afternoon, two hours later than when we were there.

We texted Madeline to let her and Dominica know that they had ten minutes before Emily and I would be back there and would pick them up to run to McDonald’s for lunch, so that we could get them back to the house and get back to the nail salon.

McDonald’s is just a little south of town, there is a Burger King right next to it as well. These are not common in Italy, but you can find them every so often. Madeline got chicken nuggets. Emily got a double cheeseburger. Dominica got an egg McMuffin without the meat. And I got the fillet o fish. This McDonalds did not have electronic ordering, which I think is a first without it in Europe for me in a very long time. Must be a very old store.

After lunch we dropped them off and went right back to the nail salon getting there fifteen minutes early, which is about right because we definitely did not want to be late for a last minute appointment, and she got Emily right in. Emily figured that we would be there for about half an hour.

I tried waiting outside, but the temperature was in the hundreds and my phone was overheating. I stood outside for maybe twenty minutes, but that was all that I could take. Then I got into the car and turned it on and cranked up the AC, and plugged in my phone to charge. It is a good thing that I did, Emily ended up taking over two hours to get everything done! They did not have acrylic nails like we have in the US, nor could they even figure out what the people in the US had done, but they did an awesome job of making Emily’s real nails look way better than the acrylic ones. So she is very happy.

We drove back to the house then. It was four thirty. A full day of just running errands. Now we have a little bit of time to relax at the house before heading to Montecatini Alto for dinner tonight. While at the house I did some real work, and made some travel videos. But all of that stuff will be uploaded later because we do not have enough Internet to post even pictures. I did a bit of blogging, and I am hoping that that is able to post. It takes hours to get enough data through to be able to just post a single blog post on SGL! So I am writing the updates in a text editor in the hopes of getting to upload those later, too. Keeping everyone at home up to date with what is going on here is much harder than it seems.

At a quarter till eight we walked to the funiculare which is very near our apartment. Dominica, Liesl, Luciana, and I all rode this up to Montecatini Alto in 2012, it was very cool. Tickets are now seven Euros for adults and kids over ten, for round trip up and down. So that was twenty eight Euros for us. And for those wondering, it is cash only.

We were at the perfect time, as we bought out tickets, had a maximum of five minutes to wait, and were riding up the hill. I believe that this is the first time in a funiculare for the girls. Something you almost never see in the US. Or most of the world, in fact. They are so efficient, though, it is too bad that they are not more common.

The walk from the funiculare to the piazza in Alto is nothing, just a couple of turns. And it was just as we remembered it, but a bit busier. Dominica and the girls walked to every restaurant on the piazza and looked at the menus for a very long time. I just sat by the monument waiting for them to figure out where we could eat. Eventually, after much arguing, it was decided that we would eat at the same restaurant that Dominica, Liesl, Luciana, and I ate at in 2012 and they still had the “Francesca” on the menu. Dominica got that, in fact. I got a tuna, rocket, and bean sprout dish that is a specialty there. Madeline got spaghetti pomodoro again, her fifth of the trip I believe (that’s just spaghetti with tomato sauce), and Emily got ravioli in a meat sauce, which she devoured quickly. I got some Chianti with dinner, which was very tasty.

After dinner we went down the hill and stopped into a place that did crepes for Dominica and the girls to get crepes. I really do not like crepes much, certainly not enough to waste calories on them. This works out well as it discourages me from eating desserts, something I do not need. I was suprosed that both Dominica and Emily ate more than me today! Emily had a bigger lunch than either of us, and they both ate more and bigger dinners than me. That rarely, if ever, happens.

It was dark when we rode the funiculare down the hill again. I had forgotten how awesome the lights of Montecatini Terme were from Alto. We were surprised by this view seven years ago. Just fantastic.

A short walk back home and everyone was ready for bed. Emily has decided that they want to get up at about five thirty and head into Firenze (Florence) first thing so that they can get into the museums and see the city on the hop on, hop off bus tomorrow. Tomorrow is supposed to be record temperatures and of all places the Firenze museums are not on my list to see. They are expensive and often house just a handful of important works so that you spend a ton of time and money and get to see very little. And the city’s most famous work is one I do not even like, the statue of David. So my plan is to drop them at the outer tram stop and return to the apartment for the day and get some rest while they explore the city in record breaking heat. Everyone has gotten lots of time to relax that I have not gotten on this trip because I am the driver. They nap in the car, go to bed earlier, get up later, Dominica has had two whole days and nearly a third where she has taken the day off, Madeline had today off, etc. So I am way behind on “getting breaks” by comparison so this seems like the perfect, and likely only, chance that I will have on this trip. And unlike everyone else, I have to be working during the trip as well, and being home alone makes that easier.

Last night I got no sleep, the mattress on the floor just did not work for me and I was up all night. Getting in late tonight and having to be up at just after five tomorrow means that I will be sick with lack of sleep while trying to stave off heat exhaustion. So just the thought of it scares me a bit. I’ll be lucky to pull off four hours of sleep tonight. If I do, I’ll be okay overall, but still a bit tired. But I will be lucky to be able to get that much.

Liesl and Luciana both talked to me a bit as I was getting ready for bed. Ciana talks to me just a tiny bit each day. Liesl has only spoken to me once or twice so far. I’m really missing them. Being away this long is really hard and I am very sad being in Europe without them.

Before falling asleep tonight, about the worst sound that someone with sleep apnea can ever hear, happened. I was really close to drifting off to sleep, finally, when I heard a loud pop and my air stopped. Yup, my CPAP blew a circuit and no longer turns on or recognizes having power in any way whatsoever. This happened about three in the morning. Dominica has to be up in two hours, so I figured that there was no reason to wake her. There is nothing to be done in the middle of the night. So here we are. This is a full on emergency for which there is no gameplan. We have more than a week left to go, I’ve already lost a night of sleep and now I am losing a second, and it is dangerous for me to fall asleep. You can’t buy CPAPs in most of Europe because they are just free for residents from their national health plans. Stores simply don’t carry them, no one would buy them. And we can’t get one from the US. And we can’t order one because we don’t have enough time. So I have no idea what the next move is.


June 28, 2019: Pisa and Manarola in the Cinque Terre

Friday. GT2 Day Twenty. Tuscany and Liguria, Italy.

We had to really get up and get moving this morning. Our time to be checked out of the apartment was ten in the morning. We had thought about going to tour the duomo today, before leaving town, but once we really thought about the situation of having to have shoulders and knees covered, and having to lug all of our luggage way down to the parking garage to put it in the car, then having to hike all the way back to the duomo, wearing dangerous levels of clothing (we are under Italian red alerts for heat – and the church demands we not stay cool – talk about a lack of priorities) is not just unpleasent, but actually reckless. So we skipped that idea.

It was probably ten when we pulled out of the parking garage. Twenty four Euros for two nights there. It’s easy, at least. And covered. On our way out of Ovierto we swung into a roadside cafeterria to get breakfast for the girls who have to eat before starting the day. Dominica and I are still not very used to this emergency need for food first thing in the morning, at home we both often go until lunch before even thinking about eating and I will often go until dinner before really noticing.

Breakfast was good. I got a tuna sandwich since they had them, figured something healthy with protein was better for me than sugary bread. From breakfast we drove a couple of hours north up to Montecatini Terme, where Dominica, Liesl, Luciana, and I stayed for a few days at the beginning of our time in Italy in 2012. Our current apartment is super close to where we used to be and town looks so familiar. It is neat to be back to not just a region but right to where we stayed so long ago. But I am really missing the kids and being in a place where they were makes it that much harder.

We navigated to our apartment. It is super old fashioned like a 1980s movie in Florida. It’s got a 1980s Italian style, with a big garden (that is too hot to go into) and old fashioned pre-EU Italian power outlets, just like we had to deal with here seven years ago. Our hostess was waiting out front for us to open the gate and let us in. The street approaching the apartment and the parking lot are very tight, very Italian.

The apartment is decently small, just one bedroom, but there is a pull out couch. Luckily there is air conditioning as the Euro-heatwave is hitting Italy today (and France broke their all time heat record today, too!) but it is solely in the living room and there is nothing for the one bedroom or bathroom. So those rooms are extra warm. Likely Dominica and I will end up sleeping in the living room.

As we came into town, Emily saw the sign pointing to Pisa and suddenly realized that we might be really close to it. We figured out that Pisa was only about an hour and a half away, so Emily declared that we were going to jump right back into the car and drive to Pisa, do pictures, then drive on to the Cinque Terre!

Our easy drive day suddenly became quite a long one. We drove to Pisa and surprisingly found it all to be very simple. We parked, walked into the square, did a load of pictures, left, got some gelato at crazy prices, did some souvenir shopping, got back in the car and drove on. And that is all the more than I ever need to see of Pisa, I’ve seen it, it was interesting, I’m over it. The town was disgusting, the crowds a bit heavy (but generally quite polite as everyone was vying for selfie position), and the souvenir sales and local businesses just awful. A terrible place that I never want to see again. Tourist spots are things I generally hate in the first place, this was especially bad. The tower itself is super cool, it’s a gorgeous tower on its own, the grounds are beautiful, but it is just one amazing lawn and three neat buildings and only remarkable beacuse the tower leans so much. So I am glad that we saw it, but that is all that I ever need to see. Ever.

The drive to the Cinque Terre was tough because of construction or an accident and Google Maps directed us into a long, terribly winding and challenging drive through the national park. That was not fun at all and made the drive take far too long.

We drove into the Cinque Terre at Riomaggiore and ended up parking in Manarola, which I’ve heard from a few people is their favourite spot in the five lands, and figured out, after about half an hour of stressful searching and debating about buses, to drive as far down the mountain as we could, park the car, and make the best of the long hike down. It is crazy hot today, but we don’t want to miss this.

Manarola is truly one of the most breathtaking places that I have ever seen. The village spilling down the mountain crevase to the sea is like nothing else anywhere. A little stream runs down the crevase and houses are built around it with little bridges and such. It makes for the most pleasant sound and it makes the whole place so much more magical and seem like something you would expect to be populated with hobbits or elves. It doesn’t seem real at all.

The walk down takes a long time, but is not all that hard, really. We went down through town looking for a place to have dinner. Surprisingly there are not very many places to really eat there. It took us a while to even find a restaurant. We had to go very far down, nearly to the water, before we did. We finally found Da Aristide, which is, it turns out, recommended by the Rick Steves guide books. Dinner was excellent, although I accidentally made the mistake of ordering seafood forgetting that the seafood would just be thrown on top of the dish rather than cooked into it. Something I will never understand about European cuisine. About the only thing that I prefer in the US. So some of it, like the prawns, I could not eat. But other than that, it was really good. Dominica’s meal was something like a pesto pasta with potatoes and beans which doesn’t sound all that special but was super amazing. Emily got lasagna and devoured it, this was her favourite lasagna so far. Madeline got spaghetti pomodoro.

After dinner we were all tired. So it was a quick march back up the long hill. The very, very long hill. The girls all waited at the village gate where cars can not pass while I climbed back up to the traffic circle above town, got the car, and drove down to pick them up. So they got to skip a lot of the last part of the climb.

The drive back home took us through the beautiful port of La Spezia. I wish that we had time to hang out there, it is really cool. Back to Montecatini was only about an hour and a half, not bad at all. We got in and right off to bed.

The girls ended up taking the bedroom while Dominica and I slept in the living room. We tried using the pull out cot but there is no way that Dominica could sleep on it without hurting her back. I tried it and it was ridiculous, so I put the mattress directly onto the floor and tried sleeping there. It is going to be a long four days sleeping like this.

June 27, 2019: Orvieto and Heat Exhaustion

Thursday. GT2 Day Nineteen. Orvieto, Umbria, Italy.

The girls were tired this morning. So Dominica and I got up ourselves and went out for breakfast in Orvieto on the main shopping street. We looked around a little, but found that the place that we got sandwiches from last night seemed to have a nice breakfast. So we went there. We both ended up getting omelettes. Dominica got just cheese and I got veggie. These were some of the best omelettes that I have ever had. It was so good. Breakfast was out on a back garden, too, which was so beautiful. A great setting for a relaxing breakfast. It was already getting pretty warm, though, even at breakfast.

After breakfast we returned to the house and got the girls and brought them out for breakfast as they both need to eat first thing in the morning, more or less. Because everything was done with breakfast by then, except for the place that we were, we returned there for the third time in the last two meals. The girls got breakfast, but the garden was full or bathed in sunlight, so we sat at a table inside while they ate.

After breakfast, they decided to go straight to do St. Patrick’s Well (or properly Pozzo di S. Patrizio) which is probably the top thing for tourists to see when in town. This is a five hundred year old well that goes down nearly sixty meters (yes meters, not feet) with a double helix stairwell so that you have a continuous flow of “traffic” going down, crossing the well at depth, and climbing back up, all in one directly. It is huge, deep, incredibly historic, and an engineering marvel of its age.

On our way to the well we stopped at a little automat along the main road to get bottled water. It is so hot out already. Dominica grabbed me an aloe vera drink as well as my bottle of water. I drank the aloe vera quickly so that I would not have to carry it, along with the water and the camera, down into the well.

It was rather a long walk down the hill to get to the top of the well. A really long, hot walk. We did a little shopping on the way. Souvenirs and such.

When we got to the top of the well I suddenly got a really bad stomach cramp. But it was so far away form anything and it was time to go into the well.

St. Patrick’s Well was really amazing. First of all, it got nice and cool almost instantly. That was great. The whole thing is a continuous, slanted stairwell meant for donkeys to climb down which was pretty hard to walk down without stopping a bit. It was super neat. I highly recommend doing the well.

At the bottom of the well I was starting to feel sicker and Dominica recommended that I just head back on my own and not wait for them. I hesitated, but thankfully decided that she was smart and decided to do that.

It is worth noting here what we learned later. First that desalinization is one of the two forms of heat exhaustion. Second that aloe vera is a natural laxative. Over the past week or more it has been incredibly hot and I have been sweating non-stop all day, every day and intaking an incredible amount of water, but not really all that much salt.

It was a long climb sixty meters up out of the well. But that was not so bad. Much, much longer was the long hike up through town, which was all steeply uphill, not just to the top of the shopping district, but higher still to our apartment which is near the very top of town! I walked so fast that first I was drenched in sweat, but second I beat Dominica and the girls back to the apartment by a full forty minutes!

It took a few hours back in the air conditioning, and several cold showers, to get me feeling better. From what we can tell, I am experiencing heat exhaustion triggered by too much water and too little salt, exacerbated by the heavy hiking and the aloe vera. I felt quite sick for about four hours.

Once I was feeling better we decided to set out to go see the Orvieto Underground, as today is out day for seeing Orvieto and that is the next big ticket item to see. The girls announced that they were starved and needed to eat lunch before we got there. But there wasn’t any time to feed them, it was already pretty much a rush to make it to the last tour while we were in town. We rushed them out the door and down to the street of food as quickly as we could. We’ve been warning them days in advance about how all food decisions have to be made within the Italian eating schedule or else food won’t be available, and remind them at each meal about the next meal.

We really struggled to find any food for them and the only thing that they wanted were French fries, which requires going to a sit down restaurant and having the food cooked for them. Europe in general, and Italy more than anywhere, is not a “fast food” culture and in a leisurely tourist zone like this, just getting French fries is likely to take forty five minutes, when all we have is five.

They just couldn’t find anything to eat. Dominica finally found them some sandwiches and got them things that she thought that they would eat and fed them on the way to the piazza di duomo where we had to get to buy our tour tickets.

We got to the ticket office as they were issuing the last tour tickets of the day. We were technically three people beyond tour capacity, but we looked exhausted and they were nice and sold us four tickets, even though only one slot was left for the tour. We really did make it at the very last possible second. One minute later and we could have missed the tour and technically we did miss it and they just took care of us.

Once we had our tickets, we had about twenty five minutes to kill before the actual tour started. There was a little bar on the piazza that was convenient and had a view of both the duomo, which is awesome and we have not really gotten to see but I know it well from Rick Steves, and of where the tour would start. I got an Aperol spritz, which was very good. Dominica tried it and loved it. It is now one of the drinks in her drink rotation.

The tour got started at five thirty and was all walking. We walked down into three or four caves under Orvieto. It was really interesting and fun. A great tour and well worth it. It was not very long and you only saw a little bit, but it was very educational and cool. Something that you rarely get to see anywhere. Altogether there are like twelve hundred known caves under the city! We got to see real, underground dovecotes, too.

After our underground tour it was time for dinner. There is plenty of time since the tour was done a bit before it was really time to eat. So we used our available time to walk pretty much all of the streets of Orvieto where there are restaurants so that the girls could go over each of the menus. We did the entire town, then some again, before they settled on a little homey place with almost no one in it.

We got a table inside under a fan and were able to stay cool. This ended up being the first really authentic Italian meal that the girls have had of the trip. Madeline got a sort of spaghetti in meat sauce. Emily got lasagna. Dominica and I split a variety of bruschette. Dominica got gnocchi. And I got ravioli spinachi. Then Dominica and I split a pear salad. It was a great dinner. But we shut down the restaurant.

After dinner we wandered a little and then took the girls out for drinks to a neat little bar that we had found on a back street. There Madeline got some wine, Emily got some kind of fruity cocktail, Dominica got an Aperol spritz, and I got biscotti with wine to dunk it in.

We were all very tired by the time that that was done and walked back to the apartment to go to bed. Tomorrow we have to check out of our apartment here and drive up to Tuscany where we are going to be for several day.