Highway Robbery

As I mentioned eons ago, last October I went to Italy.

When we started researching and telling everyone about going to Italy, it seemed the one overall theme was thievery. Horror stories about people being pickpocketed and overcharged and taken advantage of at every turn started popping up everywhere and by everyone we told about our upcoming trip.

We planned and re-planned and over planned about how to deal with this and even had back up plans if this would happen or that would happen. We obsessed over travelers insurance, which handbags to use, how to spread out our cash, where to keep our passports and credit cards, and fastidiously reminded ourselves not to leave anything in the rental car. In hindsight, I think know we (all of whom have lived in New York City at one point), spent way too much time overthinking it.

Not once in our 10 days were we pickpocketed or overcharged and never felt taken advantage of–except once. By our rental car company.

Yep. Our rental car company. Ironically, I decided to go with Avis because of all the car options we were presented with while booking, it is one that I use quite frequently here, so I thought it was the “safe” choice. They offered a great rate and when our reservation had to change literally 2 days before the trip they were very accommodating.

Once we were there, the overly friendly Avis front desk man explained to us that we needed additional insurance for the car to “cover accidents and theft.” I thought insurance was included in the quoted price but of course, it was in the middle of the night in the USA when we landed in Italy, so I couldn’t get a hold of anyone to confirm exactly what my reservation included. We opted for the additional insurance, partially because we were in a foreign country and partially because we were still in the throes of assuming everyone was out to get us (yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds but trust me, the horror stories plus the jet lag plus the 9 hours of airplane coffee had us a little on edge!).

We pick up our tiny little car. TINY. TIIIIIIIIIINY. After a bit of finagling of luggage because only 2 suitcases fit in the “trunk,” we were off!

Thankfully our tiny baby car was perfect for navigating our way through Rome, where the driving style is best described as “just go, try not to hit anything, and hope for the best” (aka a chaotic clusterfuck). You think I’m kidding, but I am not. We encountered numerous intersections without any signage or lights and one lane exit ramps with five rows of cars across it.

Our tiny baby car, whom Cait named Luigi, wasn’t so great with the Tuscan hills. And by not great, I mean we couldn’t keep up with the locals taking the uphill curves at breakneck speeds. But we made it! Sometimes with a lot of encouragement for Luigi, that he could, in fact, make it to the top of whatever mountain summit we were trying to reach. And not without a fair bit of panicking and near-death experiences. Also, may I suggest not looking down the side of the mountain to see how far you’ll drop if the car suddenly careens off the road?

After 10 days of laughing, cursing the GPS, and a lot of u-turns, we safely returned Luigi back to Avis before boarding the plane back to New York and saying arrivederci to Italy.

And then? Then we got the finalized bill, which was nearly triple what we originally quoted. I called Avis to ask about all the additional charges, and discovered that the additional insurance was nearly double that of our actual rental charge. And was further informed that no, we didn’t actually need it, we had basic insurance that would have covered everything but the additional insurance just meant that we wouldn’t have a deductible. Since we agreed to the extra insurance at the counter there was nothing she could do to reverse the charges. I tried arguing that we were told that we didn’t have coverage and it was required. Had we been told it was just an upgrade from our already included insurance we would have declined, but she wasn’t budging.

Fine. We paid the additional insurance. Not that we had much of a choice, since it was already charged to the card. But we bitched about it at length and then chalked it up to a very steep learning curve.

Six short weeks later, I got another charge from Avis along with a letter in the mail stating that we received a traffic citation and [wait for it], Avis was charging us $50 in order to process the citation and they would kindly keep us abreast of how much the citation would be when it was processed.

JUST TO BE CLEAR, AVIS CHARGED $50 JUST TO PROCESS THE CITATION, NOT FOR THE CITATION ITSELF.

Yep. True story: you can’t make up this bullshit. Incidentally, we’re still waiting for the actual citation and fees associated with it. So after all the worrying about the thievery in Italy, the only time we came across it was with our American owned rental car company. Define irony.

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at least the views were spectacular…

Counting Down

It is always a bit surreal when a plan comes together.  I’m not talking an impromptu meeting of friends for Friday Margarita Happy Hour.  I’m talking about a big trip.  Like one to Italy.

At this very moment in just three short weeks, I will be at JFK airport, flashing my passport, handing over my ticket, and boarding a plane to Rome.  And in a rare occurrence for me, I thought I’d share this information with you beforehand rather than waiting months or even years (apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks!).

It’s been a few years couple of decades since I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the land of pasta, vino, leaning towers, and big fashion houses.  So I dusted off some old photo albums and found a few pics of my last trip.  My apologies: I’ve never been a great photographer, especially in the archaic times before digital when you just had to take the photo and hope for the best (at least that was my method, which probably explains a lot!).

Excited by the prospect of updating my photos and adding more cities to my list, my Italian bucket list was soon about 3 pages long–and not small notepad size, but large legal pad size!  Sadly, some hard cuts had to be made.  Although, to be honest, we’re still trying to finagle how to squeeze in a few more things because it’s just so damn hard to not want to do absolutely everything.  I know, I KNOW that’s not possible.  I’m always lecturing visitors to NYC not to over pack their schedules and leave some room for flexibility.  But here I am overpacking left, right, and center! The finalists are Rome, Florence, Venice, Parma, Bologna, Chianti, and a tiny little hat making town called Montappone.

At this point, I’m not sure what I’m most excited about–it keeps changing minute by minute.  I have always longed to see all the delights that Rome has to offer, but then there’s coffee and wine and pasta and gelato, and also a coastal drive along the Adriatic Sea, winding roads through Tuscany, a hotel with canal views in Venice, and we’re taking a parmesan cheese tour in Parma!

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Plus we have booked what might possibly be THE CUTEST Airbnb in the Chianti Hills for three nights with Giovanni, who promises to greet us with homemade wine and olive oil.   HOMEMADE WINE AND OLIVE OIL! I may have been stalking Giovanni’s Instagram, but I mean, really, look at this:

On my very first visit to Tuscany 24 years ago, I called my parents and joked that I wasn’t coming home.  I have a feeling this time, it might not be a joke…

Ciao for now!

Thirsty Thursday Luau Edition

In trying to find pictures for Throwback Thursday, I realized I have a lot of pictures of adult beverages (that is said with pride, by the way!). As such, I’ve decided that rather than share pictures of me with bad 80s hair and glasses that legitimately covered half my face, I could easily share glasses of a much tastier kind. So without further ado, I present to you: Thirsty Thursday!

You cannot go to Hawaii and not go to a Luau.  Even if you don’t like pork or BBQ or don’t eat [insert random item here]. YOU’RE IN HAWAII–GO TO A LUAU!

We went to the Smith’s Garden Luau on Kauai–I can’t remember exactly why we picked that one, other than the fact that the Smith Family also conveniently ran the boat tours to the Fern Grotto.

It was very much a touristy place and the luau accommodated a large number of people, but it was such a fun evening: the after dinner show was entertaining, the pork was AMAZING!, and the drinks were flowing–especially the mai tais!

Plus we got big chunks of pineapple in our Mai Tais….how can you go wrong with that?!?!

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We laughed. A lot. We got lei’d.  We saw hula dancing.  We learned how to hula dance (much easier after a few Mai Tais, btw!).  And there was a plethora of food items from which to choose (I mean, you know how I am about food!).  Also, if I didn’t already mention it–the Kalua pig was divine!  I may have gone back for thirds.  We were good little tourists and tried the poi–it was interesting, I’m so glad we tried it…but THE PORK! I’m drooling just thinking about it!

Yes, it was touristy and there were a lot of people–but it was such a great way to spend an evening.  Here are a just few more pictures:

Aloha!

Around-ish The Island

As previously mentioned, our last day we decided to put some miles on the rental car and see where the open road would take us.

Not this open road.

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But the one that follows this map (courtesy of Lonely Planet!):

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We started in Poipu (southern most tip)–as that’s where we stayed.  We drove to Lihue and then took the 56 (Kuhio Hwy) along the eastern and northern coasts as far as the road would take us.  Also since I have the map here, if you were wanting a visual for our snorkeling/boat trip: we departed from Hanapepe westward bound for the Nā Pali Coast–so I wasn’t exaggerating when I said we pretty much circumnavigated the island!

Cartography aside, if you find yourself in Kauai (highly recommended)–then you should carve out a good chuck of time to make this scenic drive along the Kuhio Hwy.  Estimated drive time from Poipu was about 3 hours roundtrip–more if you want to stop and take a shit-ton of pictures…which we did.

And of course, you need to allow yourself even more time if you want to tour the Kilauea lighthouse or snorkel along the way….which we did not.

Not that we didn’t want to but we were flying to the mainland that evening, so our first priority was to make sure that we had given ourselves enough driving/ogling/eating/drinking time to get all the way to the end of the road and back to the airport before our flight departed without us!

For the majority of our trip, the view on our east side was essentially something like this:

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Meanwhile, our western view was almost a 180°:

We soon found ourselves literally at the end of the road and had to make a u-turn (as demonstrated by the red truck below!).

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Okay, so “soon” is a relative term–the scenic views and frequent photo stops made the trip seem a lot shorter than it was (although, I wasn’t driving so perhaps Tracy has a different opinion about “soon”).

Of course, I know the real reason you’re here–the photos!  Obligingly, I have a small sampling of a mere 197 photos from our drive.  Kidding…just…kidding… 😉

Aloha!

 

Thirsty Thursday To A Tea…

In trying to find pictures for Throwback Thursday, I realized I have a lot of pictures of adult beverages (that is said with pride, by the way!). As such, I’ve decided that rather than share pictures of me with bad 80s hair and glasses that legitimately covered half my face, I could easily share glasses of a much tastier kind. So without further ado, I present to you: Thirsty Thursday!

On our last day in Kauai, we decided to take a drive–all the way around the island.  Well, as far as the road would let us go (although–we did see the parts we couldn’t drive to by boat, so technically I’d say we made it completely around the island!).

As usually happens in a road trip, we reached a point where we were eager to stretch our legs.  Conveniently, we found a roadside drink truck advertising pineapple tea.  How does one say no to pineapple tea in Hawaii? One does not. 


It was definitely a refreshing & tasty reason to get out of the car!

Aloha!

Third Time’s A Charm!

Despite my first two ill fated attempts at snorkeling, I was willing to try again.  I figured if there was anywhere in the world where I might have a good snorkeling experience, it was Hawaii.

Just FYI:  if you’re searching for snorkeling in Hawaii, there are a plethora of options.  We chose one that included more than just a boat ride to the snorkeling spot and back.  Instead, it included a boat trip up to the Nā Pali Coast.  April wasn’t interested in the snorkeling–just the boat ride, but promised to take lots of pictures of any shark attacks us snorkeling.

This extended tour was definitely the right decision!

The snorkeling was fun.  I saw lots of fish, I didn’t have a panic attack, and I missed seeing the shark Christi saw.  YAY me!

After snorkeling, we continued north up along the western coast. Along the way, we were joined by a curious tortoise and later by a pod of dolphins, who swam along with and played around the boat for quite awhile.

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As the boat sped along, we were treated with some of the most spectacular coastline views of the famed Nā Pali Coast.  As I mentioned before, some of the cliffs are over 2500ft high!


All too soon, it was time to turn around and head back–giving us one last good look at the coast on one side and the expanse of nothingness on the other.

 


It was a great excursion and I highly recommend that if you’re going to take a snorkeling tour, opt for one that includes a bit of sightseeing around the island–it does take up a bigger chunk of your day, but trust me, you won’t regret it.

Aloha!

Watch Me Whip…

…just don’t feed the nēnēs!


Yeah, I know it’s corny–but I have approximately 12 minutes to post something, I’m not even home yet, and my brain is a bit fried. Plus, every time I see this sign that song gets stuck in my head….

But since I’m also feeling the need to be educational: the nēnē is the state bird of Hawaii and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is found exclusively on the islands Oahu, Maui, Kauaʻi, Molokai, and Hawaiʻi. In case you’re wondering, we discovered these on Kauai:


Aloha!