Saturday, January 31, 2004


Okay, where was I? Oh yeah…at Frank and Shannon’s. While we were there we met several of their friends and neighbors. One of his neighbors was a guy from Louisville named Kevin. Although he and Frank went to different high schools, they knew each other because they both wrestled, and Frank’s uncle had been their paperboy for many years. How strange that they should both end up in the Marines, AND on the same base, AND on the same street!

Saying goodbye to Siobhan wasn’t easy. We may not see her again until next Christmas, and I just hate the thought of being just a “picture” Grandma…one she only knows by a picture! I would love to be able to visit them again in May, but who knows what might happen. I keep begging Frank and Shannon to get a computer with a webcam so that we can at least have conversations with them and with Siobhan. I’ve even volunteered to spearhead a family collection to help with the cost, but so far, they aren’t interested. Anyway, we left North Carolina on Sunday and returned to Louisville.

For the next week and a half, nothing particular sticks in my mind, other than we were both busy every minute of every day. I had bought some passes for the gym at Christmas time and I was able to work out on a fairly regular schedule. With all the eating out we did, I really needed to! I think I ended up gaining about 2-4 pounds, but I think that was at the very end of our trip, so I am hoping to get rid of the extra weight before it starts to feel at home.

On January 15th Angela and Duffy celebrated their anniversary by flying to Cancun, and we took off for Orlando with Nicholas. Our destination was Universal Studios. I had seen a special about the new Spiderman ride a while back, and really wanted to check it out. This was my perfect opportunity. Nicholas had a long weekend due to parent/teacher conferences combined with the Martin Luther King holiday, so we had plenty of time to explore each of the two parks at a very relaxed pace.

We had booked the vacation as a package, and stayed at the Holiday Inn just across the street from Universal. I had checked into the possibility of staying at the Portofino, but WOW!, are their prices high! We settled for a visit one night with dinner at their least expensive restaurant. It was pretty, but we didn’t spend enough time at our hotel to justify the higher cost. As it was, we had quite a time with the Holiday Inn. Nothing major, but lots and lots of little problems. We ended up changing rooms not once, but twice, and the hotel bought us breakfast and refunded us one night’s cost. I think the property is just in need of a major update and we were just unlucky. The hotel staff was very nice and tried to be helpful. They were never condescending or impatient with us, but things just didn’t seem to get done like they should have. My biggest complaint was that when the moved us the first time, they put us in a room right next to a yippy dog who was left alone A LOT! Why they didn’t move us to a suite, I don’t know, but after the dog barking got the better of us, they did move us to a one bedroom suite for our last night.

As for Universal itself, we really had a god time. Let me mention that the Mythos restaurant has really good food, and the chocolate sampler dessert was everything I had dreamed about! We rode most of the rides, but not the ones Nicholas deemed too scary. We rode Spiderman six times, and during two of those rides, it broke down. The cars stopped, the lights came on, and we got to see up close what the building looks like without the special effects…that in itself was kind of cool.

The weather was a bit cooler than we would have liked. We decided to ride the River Adventure ride, and got the bejeebers scared out of us with the highest, steepest drop of any log flume ride around. We also got a little wet, despite the promises from the attendants that we would not. After that, we learned that these people will lie through their teeth to get you on the rides, and proceeded with caution! Later, when the people at the water ride by Popeye’s boat told us to put our shoes in the container in the middle so we wouldn’t have wet shoes for the rest of the day, we knew they meant business! That ride is REALLY a soaker! I decided to buy a rain poncho, and was very glad I did. Many times, if you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you got water dumped on you…and then there are always the people on board Popeye’s boat who are trying to squirt you with the water guns! This ride would be so much fun on a hot summer’s day, but in January, when it’s barely 70 degrees and cloudy, it’s not nearly as fun!

The park was really empty on Friday, our first day there, and even on Saturday and Sunday, the waits weren’t too bad. We bought an express pass for Saturday which allowed us to go in a special, first loading line. This pass is included when you stay at one of their hotels, but cost us $15 each. Although we weren’t in a big rush, the idea of standing in line for thirty minutes to see Shreck or Jaws was not what we had in mind. We rode Men in Black, which I thought was over way too quickly. Back to the Future was very jerky…I rode this one by myself, because Nicholas didn’t want to ride it, and I told Art that I thought he would find it much too jerky, and not worth it. We all liked the ET ride, complete with bicycles, and the Cat in the Hat ride was cute. Out of all the things to do there, besides the Spiderman ride, I think our favorite place was the prehistoric playground, complete with caves, rope bridges and tunnels, water guns, dinosaur remains, and, the coolest thing of all, dinosaur footprints that generated roars when stepped on!

We ate lunch at Mel’s dinner one day and at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville another. Dinner at the Hard Rock Café was too damn noisy to be enjoyable. They did have some cool Beatles stuff, like the original doors from Abbey Rd Studios, and a drawing that Stu Sutcliffe did when the group was in Hamburg back in the early 60’s. The drinks were also extremely weak. When I don’t even get a buzz after a daiquiri on an empty stomach, you know the drinks are REALLY weak!

We tried not to push ourselves too hard or too long, but we were all worn out at the end of each day. It would be possible to cover both the parks in two very full days, but three days and no schedule just let us enjoy ourselves. Nicholas had his picture taken with Spiderman, and Sponge Bob. He got to play a game at the Nickelodeon Studio, just like you see on TV. We flew home on Monday…Nicholas had to go back to school on Tuesday, and we were all ready to sleep in our own beds! Angela and Duffy got home later Monday night too. Their vacation was much more laid back than ours, but that’s what they wanted…just a chance to veg out and relax.

Since we were planning to drive to Atlanta on Thursday, our last two days were hectic. We spent an entire day packing everything we had bought…and even leaving some of the stuff behind! I guess we went a little crazy, but we both needed some clothes, and I bought a lot of stuff for the house. I bought small things like Tylenol and kitchen gadgets, and larger things like a winter coat and a 48 oz plastic jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise!

On Wednesday morning we got up early to say goodbye to Nicholas, then picked up our rental car and drove to Atlanta. We were going to stay with a couple that Art went to high school (in Jacksonville, FL) with. We also planned to visit with Art’s cousin, who lives in between Mike and Angela’s house and the airport. On Monday we would fly out of Atlanta, direct to Rome.

Our visit with Mike and Angela was so much fun! The have a great house just outside of Atlanta, and of course the three of them had a ball catching up! Angela and Mike have kept up with the old gang since Angela lived in Jacksonville until four years ago, and also helped to plan all the reunions. They made us feel so comfortable and welcome, it was as if we were all old friends.

One night they invited two other classmates and their spouses over for dinner, and the other night we went into Atlanta to see Bette Midler. It seems like all we did was eat and talk, drink some wine, talk some more, eat some more, then have another glass of wine! A thoroughly enjoyable vacation within a vacation!

We had lunch with Art’s cousin Bernice on Monday. It’s been several years since we had seen her, and this gave the two of them the perfect opportunity to catch up. We had a nice lunch, and before we knew it, it was time to head for the airport. Although wed had a great time with everyone, we were both really ready to go home!

The flight home was slightly bumpy, but the turbulence was never to harsh or too long-lasting. We all had a scare when from behind us, someone let out a LOUD gasp…everyone in the cabin turned to look. I never did hear what the problem was, but whatever it was, the person must have recovered eventually. You hear stories about people having a heart attack, or a baby, on a plane, but this was as close to a medical emergency as either of us has ever come.

On a lighter note, we did have something interesting happen to us on this flight. As Art was standing in the aisle, he looked up to see a man standing there and thought “I know this guy from somewhere, but where?” About that time, the man said, “Hey, Art, right? I’m Frank’s neighbor, Travis!” He was one of the dad’s who had been at Siobhan’s birthday party, and was headed to Gaetta, which is where Frank was stationed for two years!

Once we landed in Rome, all our luggage came off the belt in record time…of course it did, since Wendy was held up in traffic and was running about 40 minutes late! At least our flight was direct, and it was only 10 in the morning. Once she arrived, we made our way very slowly back to Umbria…an accident had traffic reduced to a crawl for about an hour!

As Wendy brought us up to date, she told us that the work on our house had been completed, except for the garage door. And she told us that our living room had even been painted! At last we could start to move the furniture in, and take measurements for the shelves to hold the television, stereo, etc. Then she mentioned that the room was yellow. But no, didn’t she mean peach? (You know I wanted terra cotta, but I’m trying to get over it) Well, even though I had told Rolando over and over, somehow he got confused, or just forgot, and now we have to wait to him to return to paint the right color. Hopefully by the end of next week can move the furniture back in from the hall and start figuring out exactly what will go where.

So, except for all the small details I’ve forgotten and will have to write about as they come back to me, that’s our vacation in a nutshell, albeit quite a LARGE nutshell. Although six weeks was too long to be away from home, I’m sure when we go back in May, we’ll say that three weeks is too short a visit. The bottom line is: there’s no place like home.