Going Home

I had the best of intentions of updating this blog at least every few days while on our wonderful Umbrian vacation. Unfortunately as I sit here in the Swiss Air lounge in Zurich I have failed. But better late than never. We had a wonderful vacation. Last Saturday I met Caz and Sally at the rental car agency in the Rome airport and we got our little Fiat and headed north to Umbria. Our destination was a fabulous house in the town of Molina Vitelli, just outside of Umbertide, that Caz had won in a charity auction.

After about 2 hours braving the Italian roadways, which would be wonderful if not for Italian roadsigns and Italian crazy drivers (or to be fair, maybe those were all tourists), we stopped for lunch in Perugia. Basically all of the cities in Umbria and Tuscany are at the top of a hill or mountain with thick stone walls around them but Perugia is truly in a class by itself given that it took 4 very long escalators (think DC metro) to get to the top. They also had some sort of laser beam exhibit thing showing, where if you ran something through the beams of light it made sounds like the strings of a guitar. Very cool.

We called the woman who was going to meet us at the house and she told us good luck getting out of Perugia. Not a very auspicious sign! Fortunately after going around in circles for maybe 15 minutes we did make it out of there. We stopped at the Coop grocery store in Umbertide and got enough provisions to last us just in case the end of the world did come this week and we had to stay for a month or two, then headed for the house.

The house was amazing. Located high on a bluff overlooking a valley, it was 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a beautiful Italian kitchen and lots of balconies and patios. we settled in and made some pasta for dinner and slept very well that night.

The next day, Sunday, it rained. We slept in then headed out for brunch – you may notice a recurring theme here of food and drink. You have to love a country where the wine is less expensive than than the soda! the brunch was in a local trattoria that served organic food mostly from their own garden. It was fabulous. We sat in the restaurant which was all windows on one side drinking cappuccino and watching the rain come down. That afternoon we hung by the house drinking wine and tea, reading books and watching the rain. That night we had arranged for an Italian chef to come to the house and cook us dinner. One of the highlights was a pecarino cheese served with homemade sweet and sour figs. Mmmm!

The rest of the week the weather was pretty terrific, sunny and high ’60’s and ’70s for the most part. (sorry mom weather in denver couldn’t have been worse!) We developed a pretty ambitious itinerary. On Monday we went to the town of Gubbio where Sally and I rode in a little furuncular, basically a chair lift in a little cage high up the mountain. The views were amazing. We encountered what would be one of our little issues on the trip which was the Italian schedule. Being that we were on vacation for the most part we were in no great hurry to get out in the morning. We would amble out around 9 or 10 am, stop somewhere for coffee, and get to our destination around noon ready to see things and shop. Well the Italians shut things down at noon to 2:30 so they can have lunch and a little siesta, so we ended up doing mostly window shopping. Then when we were ready for lunch around 3:00 or so, the lunch places would all be closing. I am sure they thought we were really messed up tourists.

So over the next few days we toured most of the highlights of rural Umbria and Tuscany. Having a car was the only way to go to see these places and we put some serious miles on. Fortunately our little Fiat got good mileage since gas is EXPENSIVE in Europe! We went to Montepulciano, probably our favorite town, had a fabulous dinner in Montone (thanks to Chris for that tip), and Caz and I went horse back riding one day near Citta’ di Castello.

On Wednesday Jamie and his friend Aaron joined us. We had a fabulous dinner cooked for us in the house on Wednesday and visited Todi and Orvieto on Thursday. Note to self, never try to park in Todi. The Duomo in Orvieto was unbelievable. All I could think of was how it would have looked to a peasant in the middle ages living in a hovel with nothing. It you have not, you must read Pillars of the Earth.

Our last day before we had to drive back to Rome was probably our best day. We got up (for us) relatively early. Jamie and Aaron made us a fabulous brunch and then we headed to Cortona. The town was great, steep as they all are and incredibly beautiful. Hopefully I will be able to figure out how to post some pics here from my iPad! We then headed to the town of Ossaia and visited a little winery called Il Castagno (wine is labelled under Fabrizio Dionisio) for a fabulous wine tasting. We sat among the vineyards drinking a new Rose’ that isn’t even on the market yet, as well as two Sangioveses, one of which just won a bronze medal from….. can’t remember who but it was a great wine! They gave us a huge spread of bread and cheese, salami and proscutto as well. It was amazing! But wait, not done yet! Then we headed to Il Falcionere, a place Caz had found that is a hotel, spa and winery, where we had massages and hung out in their hot tub with borrowed swim suits (don’t ask) watching the valley. They had amazing wine as well and I bought a bottle to take home as well as some of their EVOO. But wait – not done yet! On our way home, we stopped for dinner at Il Falconierie’s sister restaurant in the town of Montanare, called Locanda del xxxxx. They were having live music with a ’70s theme! We had appetizers and Pims cocktails on the patio and then went in for a terrific dinner. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the live music would be essentially us but I am sure the other dinner guests really enjoyed us singing through our entire repertoire of ’70s songs. 🙂

Yesterday our week in Umbria was over and we had to head back. We stopped in Assisi on our way back to Rome and were wowed by the basilica there.

Last night we returned the car and just hung in the hotel too tired to head into the city. Just to show what a small world it is, at the hotel we ran into Bill and Joanne, whose flight to Denver had been cancelled. As Neal said, all roads lead to Rome!

Today I had to catch a ridiculously early flight to Zurich, where I am now waiting for my flight to DC, then to Denver. Not the most direct flight home but I got here and back on miles so the price was right. I can’t wait to see the babies who I am sure have grown 2 inches in my absence and have a new mouth of teeth! A huge thank you to my parents, Vilma and Ellen for watching them while I have been gone. I have missed them but jeez do I love to travel!

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Rome

I have a terrific life. I love my children and I love being a mother. I have a good job, amazing friends and a wonderfully supportive family. But there is a part of me that is only happy on the road.  It is here that I feel most myself, most at ease and frankly the most joyful.  I have friends who have this same wanderlust – you know who you are.  

I am in Rome.  I have been here for the past day and a half by myself, and I can’t tell you how happy I have been.  There is something about being on your own in a strange city with no responsibilities or obligations, no one else to please, no one to take care of, that is freeing like nothing else in the world. 

I flew in yesterday on United.  I used a mileage ticket to fly first class, although I have to tell you, first class international on United is mediocre at best – they are where coach class was on many Asian airlines a decade ago!  I was supposed to meet my friend Kathleen but because her mother is sick she wasn’t able to join us.  

I took the train into the city and found my hotel, a very nice (if expensive) place close to the main train station. After relaxing for a bit and cleaning up, I headed out and walked the length of the city, seeing the Parthenon, see pics, and many other sights, ending up at the Piazza Navonna where I sat in a cafe and got some dinner.  I walked back via the Roman Forum, which was beautiful at night. 

Some Ambien and a good  night sleep later, I got up and had a fabulous breakfast at my hotel and started out for the day. I had downloaded a Rick Steves app into my new iPad and had loaded several Rome waking tours.  Today I walked the Jewish Ghetto, Traverne, and about 10 more miles of Rome, ending up at the Coliseum. Since y feet were dead at this point, I took the subway back to my hotel. I rested for a while and then had wonderful dinner at a restaurant I found on my “trip advisor” app. Anyone who thinks you can make do without technology any more has not traveled recently or seen all the wonders technology can provide!  

Closing with my favorite “lemoncello” brought gratis by the cute Italian waiter, I am struggling to write this update before collapsing into bed. 

Tomorrow I will meet Caz and Sally at the airport and we are renting a car to drive up our wonderful house in Umbria. 

I couldn’t do this and wouldn’t be here without Brutus. The past 2 years when I couldn’t travel much or leave the country have been far harder than I would have ever expected. Thank you Sarah and Brutus and a very happy 43rd!!!  

43…

That’s how old Brutus and I are today. I imagine Brutus had a stellar day, it caught a ride to Italy with a new owner. The last time overseas, it (he? She?) was forced to do a full marathon in Greece. I don’t think Lisa has anything so strenuous planned. So – sure – guess that’s a better life. Me and my un-named right kidney – we walked the dogs twice, spent an hour with our personal trainer, mowed the lawn, went to Lowe’s… Seems like the right kidney got kind of a raw deal. But the highlights – my mom and I went out to breakfast and I’m pretty sure I ate all my weight watchers points by 11 am. Had dinner this evening with mom, Kris and a bunch of friends. If you ever come visit Albuquerque, make sure we go to St. Clair Winery and Bistro – great dinner. Scrumptious desert. Great conversation. Fairly good wine (for NM!). And gobs of great wishes from family and friends on Facebook. Oh, and definitely a highlight when my little friend Belita Martinez sang happy birthday to me into my voicemail. At 4 ½ this kid is great! As I write this, I’m enjoying a little nightcap of Fulton’s Harvest Pumpkin Pie Liquor… not a bad day at all!

I will now readily admit that I had some fairly significant anxiety around my 6-month post donation check-up. Since October, I’ve had little to zero interaction with the health care system, and no interaction surrounding the actual kidney donation. However, as a living kidney donor I’m expected to have lab work and a brief physical exam to assess my current health status. The national transplant requirements are that these occur at 6 months, 1 year and 18 months post-donation. While I could have chosen to see my primary care provider in Rio Rancho (New Mexico), since I had plans to be in Denver last week – I saw the nurse practitioner (Vonnie Bagwell) whom had been my donor coordinator during the early process. I am pleased to report that there was no need for worry! My blood pressure is 120/80 – which is in the normal range for a 1-kidney human. The majority of my lab work was right on track. My creatinine remains elevated, but it’s holding steading since donating and not a concern to the transplant team. As a reminder, the things we are watching closely are my blood pressure and creatinine levels. Blood pressure, because hypertension impacts overall renal health. And creatinine because it’s a measure of kidney function.

Animal life on Buckskin Loop has settled down a bit. The most expensive free dog in the world (Gabby) was at the vet again yesterday. While she’s fully recovered from the pit bull encounter, she now has an ulcer on her cornea. Kirby goes to the vet tomorrow for his annual check-up – can’t wait to see that bill! Oh, and for those of you who don’t know – we added a new feline. I was just too worried about Kirby to be alone when I travel. So, Miss Outlaw “Josey” Wales joined us a couple weeks ago. She’s a kitten. Which for the inexperienced – means awful. She’s beyond high energy and starts at 5 am. Sort of like having a Tasmanian Devil in your bed – or so I imagine. When she’s sleeping, she’s super sweet. Kirby is slowly warming up to her (he doesn’t beat the crap out of her every time she walks by anymore), the dogs fear her. Kind of funny since she’s a twerp!