Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Did I mention Italy?

It feels almost neglectful to have a trip to Italy right around the corner and not to have really talked about it.  I've decided that I will try to blog it, to the extent I have time and the inclination.

In conversation with my little sister who was about to celebrate a milestone birthday late last year, I realized that she really did want to undertake a milestone birthday celebratory trip, much like I did to Russia.  Only she didn't want to go alone.  Lucky her, she has a built-in travel companion and one who loves to plan travel as well as take on the journey itself.  I asked Dear Sister (DS) where she was thinking of going and without blinking, this art fanatic said "Italy".  When I tried to get her to narrow that down, she said "all over Italy".

So I started throwing out possible itineraries, to which DS said yes.  Every stinking one.  Finally we narrowed it down to Rome and Florence, with trips out to Tuscany and maybe some other places.  I've been to Rome twice and Florence three times, so neither is really cutting new ground and things certainly don't change there much over time, but hey, who can say no to Italy in any form?

Then I started working out the logistics and to get around without really thinking about it and cover the ground we wanted to in a relative short period of time seemed like a challenge I just didn't have mental energy for.  Believe it or not.  So I did what I never thought I'd ever do for a destination as "easy" as Italy:  I looked for a tour.

Ultimately I found a tour that gives us the best of both worlds:  all logistics taken care of:  getting here and there, getting us into museums ahead of the queues, getting us between remote locations without my having to do anything but throw my bag on the bus and climb aboard.  Plus, we get half our time on our own and half our meals on our own, so I can return to places I remember fondly and we can break away from the tour.

Once the tour was booked, I cashed in some frequent flier miles to get us there and back.  Already, this is a cheaper trip with less headache than I imagined it would be.

We leave in 24 days.  We'll spend a day on own in Rome ahead of the tour, getting our sea legs and fighting off jetlag.  Then we'll see Rome, Volterra, Lucca, Cinque Terre and Florence.  We'll have three additional days in Florence after the tour to perhaps take day trips to Pisa and Siena and taken in more of Florence itself.  I've not been to Volterra, Lucca or Cinque Terre, so that's a nice balance for a repeat traveler, some old, some new.  Best of all, we're away for two weeks.  Two weeks of no work, no commute, no snow.  I can't imagine a better get-away.

I'm excited.  It's been just over seven years since I've been to Italy, so it's a long overdue return.  But I'm also excited to see Italy through DS's eyes and take advantage of her museum and art history mind.  I hope it's all she wants it to be and more importantly a milestone birthday celebration to remember.

Safari #3 is officially on the books

It didn't take too much deliberation.  This itinerary is most excellent and I'd be foolish not to sign now.  So I did.  And put down the deposit.  I just have to secure travel insurance now and a flight in March and the deed is done.  Hey, I'm going on safari.  Again!

I feel like I've just been able to reach that itch in the center of my back.  Relief, relaxation, sense of urgency relieved.  Now it's only about 355 days away.  It's so far off that airfare isn't even available for purchase yet.  Ugh.  Looooooong wait.

In the meantime, I have Italy in 3 weeks, and then a long birthday weekend in L.A. in July.  Still holding out hope for Amsterdam over Christmas.   And who knows what else we'll throw in there in the meantime.

I'm just so excited to go back to Kenya!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Back to the bush

I had the best of intentions, I really did.  After last year's safari, I thought that surely, I had gotten safari entirely out of my system and it was time to "move on" and "see the rest of the world".  So I tried.  I really did.

Over the course of the last 11 months, I saw more of southern California, parts of Texas I never thought I'd see, made a half dozen drives up and down Route 84 to NYC and even pulled off a triumphant return to my beloved Dublin with London as her companion.  But it wasn't enough.  It may never be enough.  I think that safari has ruined me.

All of these trips were wonderful, full of great fun, spectacular art, legendary concerts, sumptuous food and even some remarkable vistas (Zuma Beach and the PCH, I mean you).  Yet I was left at year end with a staggering list of travel stats that I posted to Facebook:

My 2014 in numbers:
I flew 30,964 air miles
Visited 5 countries and 8 states
Rode 876 miles on my bike
Saw 2 Tony-winning Broadway shows, 7 Morrissey concerts and 5 others ...
Took in 129 art exhibitions in 36 different museums
Said goodbye to one furry love and opened my heart to two more
Not sure what exactly is in store for 2015, but the bar is set high…

Yet I still had an itch, an insatiable hunger.  And then it happened, friends of  mine went on safari and came back.  And told me about it.  And when I saw the look in their eye, that sparkle that told me that they "knew" what it was all about, that they "got it" that aura that overtakes you that, unfortunately for rabid travelers is not very good news, means that safari has ruined them.  Nothing else is as satisfying.  I started to long for endless golden savannah with the turquoise sky with puffs of white cloud hanging out of them.  Longing for the roars and chirps and croaks and giggles (hyena, I mean you) that happen all night long. Longing for the gentle, sing-song "Good morning Amy" from the kindly camp staff that I hear coming up the path to my tent long before the sun comes up; he wakes me with a thermos of hot chocolate and cookies carefully left inside the tent flap.  And to hop out of bed, lather up in sun screen, bug repellent and dusty safari clothes to head out for a day of who knows what we'll find.  You don't get that anywhere else.  Not London, not Dublin, not Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin or even New York City.

And then I knew, I had to go back.

So I started talking with my last tour operator and she came up with a decent itinerary at a more than decent price, but something held me back.  It was a desire to explore a bit more, see a different part of Kenya, meet new guides, see new camps and learn about new animal personalities.  And so it was that I reached out to a different tour operator who put together a different, longer, more interesting itinerary, exploring a different park entirely and a different part of my beloved Maasai Mara.  I'm awaiting the final itinerary and price, but this feels good.

It feels like I've almost scratched the itch.