Traveling with Stanley, pt 5

When you travel with people, you learn a lot about them. When you travel with people internationally, you learn almost everything you need to know about them.

Do they get stressed easily? Can they go days without showering? Do they need personal space?

Spending every waking (and sleeping) moment with Stanley turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. I learned a lot about my grandfather – more than I ever thought possible – and gained a deep level of respect for his temperament, sense of humor and ability to turn stressful situations into memories and strangers into friends.

While the first half of our European adventure was filled with hiking, living with strangers and being perpetually cold, our time in Italy was spent tasting gelato, drinking espresso and Stanley screaming at the waiters that “[HIS] PASTA WASN’T AL DENTE!”

Florence was beautiful. We had rented an apartment a little outside of the main tourist area, and when we walked outside, our neighborhood was lively. At any hour of the day there were locals strolling through the streets, people drinking and eating, and kids playing soccer.

After two weeks, 4 cities and a lot of laughs, I have more memories that I know what to do with (which is what inspired this blog series). I’ve tried to capture them all, but there is one that will forever be my favorite story of our trip in Europe.

Let me paint the scene.

It was our second to last night in Europe and we were exhausted. We decided to take a quick snooze in order to gain energy for our dinner reservations that evening. Missing our alarm, we woke up around 8 pm with grumbling bellies. Knowing that most of the restaurants would be packed on a Friday night, we decided to wander around our neighborhood to see where we could dine.

We stumbled into a fancy little restaurant called Il Cibreo. Upon entering, we realized we were extremely out of place.

HOSTESS: Do you have a jacket?

STANLEY: Well yes, I’m wearing my Nautica jacket right now!

Realizing that the hostess meant a sports coat, Stanley apologized and begged for food and told them that it was my birthday. We were seated in the back (near a couple from Florida) and decided that we would splurge tonight.

The waitress was a very kind elderly lady who sat down at our table and read the entire menu in both Italian and English. We ordered six (yes, SIX!) courses and even tasted their braciole. Note: My Noni’s was WAY better, and we made sure to joke with the waitress about this.

Three hours and a bottle of wine (solely consumed by me) later, we were saying goodbye to our new friends and trekking home for the evening. All was well until we got to our apartment and the door wouldn’t open. Stanley’s phone was completely dead, and mine was at 6%. Naturally, I decided to videotape the fiasco happening.

45 minutes later and we could not get the door open. Realizing that we were stranded in the middle of Florence at midnight, I made the executive decision to bang on every door in the neighborhood to enlist help. A door opened slightly, and I excitedly asked, “DO Y’ALL SPEAK ENGLISH?”

And this is how we met our sweet neighbor-friend, Giancarlo.

Giancarlo had just arrived back in Florence from a stint in Peru, and he was extremely groggy and jet-lagged. He decided that we should probably call our landlord. Why didn’t I think of that?

We then learned that said landlord was in the countryside of Italy and wouldn’t be back until 9 am the following morning. At this point I screamed into the phone, “BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE HOMELESS!”

Sweet Giancarlo then said, “But what if I walk you to a hotel?” SURE, THIS SOUNDS PROMISING.

While walking to this no-name hotel in middle of Florence at 1 am with a stranger that could easily save our lives or kill us, I thought to myself, “We don’t have a phone, we don’t have Stanley’s heart medication; this is the end of our lives.” Stanley on the other hand INVITED GIANCARLO TO DINNER WITH US THE NEXT DAY. Okay.

We got to the hotel, and asked them if they had any vacancy. By the grace of God, they had one available room and I pulled out my credit card faster than the speed of sound.

We got to our hotel room and realized that sleeping in our dress clothes would have to suffice. I said some prayers that went something along the lines of:

GOD – I PROMISE TO GO TO CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY IF YOU CAN PROMISE ME THAT STANLEY WON’T HAVE A HEART ATTACK TONIGHT. LOVE, DEVIN.

The next morning, things were going well. We woke up, ate the breakfast in the lobby and ordered a cab to take us back to our apartment. The cab driver arrived and asked us where we were headed.

Uhhh, I didn’t remember our address.

ME: By that really large farmer’s market.

CAB DRIVER: It’s Saturday morning … Which farmer’s market do you mean?

STANLEY: The one in the square!

To say that things were going well was a complete overstatement. And to add to the hoopla, I realized that I didn’t have any money. We ended up recognizing a street, hopping out of the cab, and giving him all of our coins.

When we finally reached our apartment, our landlord was waiting on us with a very annoyed grimace. Wonder why? He couldn’t get the door open either, and ended up calling the fire department. They also did not understand why our door wouldn’t open and why this was now their problem. We finally were able to get back into our apartment, and we decided that maybe we shouldn’t tell Noni what had happened. In case you’re wondering the cause of the stuck door, the deadbolt was broken.

And, here is the five-minute long video that I took instead of preserving my battery:

**This is the last post in the Traveling with Stanley series. Thank you for following along, and be sure to check back for updates!

Traveling with Stanley, pt 4

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Vicariously in Venice (day 5)

Imagine walking around a city that was built on water — you almost feel magical. And that is exactly how Venice made us feel. 

I knew that I was supposed to meet a girl named Rebecca to obtain our apartment keys at certain points within the city, but I had no clue what she looked like and we couldn’t connect via phone. Within moments, I see a girl running towards me with her arms extended saying, “Ciao, Devin!”

Upon meeting Rebecca, an instant connection was made and I felt as though I had known her for years. After many twists and turns through the narrow Venetian streets, we finally arrived to our apartment.

We were greeted with cookies and candies. We exchanged stories, and Stanley drew Rebecca a lineage of our family history and explained that our family came from Atessa (which is nowhere near Venice.) Stanley then called my Noni and more stories were shared, including all of my Noni’s recipes.

Rebecca laughed and shared her family stories, and at one moment, Stanley started singing her karaoke. I thought to myself, “An actual Saint is standing in front of us.”

Rebecca then walked us to a local restaurant and her beautiful Italian words got a table near the window. I’m not sure if I was famished or tired of German food, but that was the BEST. LASAGNA. I. HAD. EVER. TASTED.

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Waking Up in Venice (day 6)

The next day happened to be my 25th birthday and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We decided that a visit to the Rialto Bridge would be appropriate, and along the way we stumbled upon a restaurant that overlooked the Grand Canal. Yes, this was absolutely touristy and a bit overpriced, but the pasta was actually delicious and the view was to die for.

If you ask me what my favorite part of the trip was, I would tell you that I enjoyed the challenge of getting from one city to the next. I loved meeting people from different cultures and getting to know them.

If you ask Stanley what his favorite part of the trip was, he will more than likely tell you that he enjoyed singing Dean Martin in a gondola.

As soon as we stumbled upon the gondolas in Venice, I knew our afternoon was over. With the gondolier dressed in the traditional striped t-shirt, this was a scene out of a movie. What made this experience even better was that Stanley taught the gondolier every Dean Martin song that he knew. Spectators could hear us coming, and most of them would stop to watch wondering what in the heck was going on. To paint the picture an even more elaborate color, Stanley would scream in his best Italian accent, “GIVE ME A THUMBS UP!” and would then snap a photo of each person we passed.

This went on for two hours.

A Day with Rebecca (day 7)

Our new friend, Rebecca, had blocked off her entire day to take us sightseeing and show us the more local side of Venice. She met us and brought her mother, Bonita, along.

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Words cannot describe the day we had, but at the end of the day we had new, true friends. We walked over 10 miles and ate like locals, learned the dialect, and taught each other about our cultures.

I have tried to write a post about our time in Venice, but didn’t feel as though I could adequately describe the amount of love that we felt from this city, which is all due to Rebecca.

So Rebecca, thank YOU for extending your love of life and vibrant attitude to us for this day. You helped us fall in love with Venice and all it has to offer. We cannot wait to come visit you and your family again.

Pictures from this day (and the rest of the trip!):

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Fleeing to Florence (day 8)

 After an incredible adventure in Venice, it was time to travel to our last city: Florence. We went to the train station and settled for a relaxing journey through Tuscany.

We were finally accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle and couldn’t wait to meet the people of Firenze!

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Traveling with Stanley, pt 3

 

Staying with Strangers in Salzburg (Day 2 of our trip)  

We arrived in Salzburg, Austria on May 21 with jet lag in full effect. Upon exiting the plane, we were greeted with snow-capped mountains, green grass and a blue sky. We (aka: me) decided the most cost efficient way to travel through Europe would be to stay with families.

Our host family, the Schweinbergers, had arranged to let us stay in their finished basement. We arrived in the afternoon and were greeted by the patriarch of the family, whose name I never picked up. He politely showed us our quarters and asked if we had any questions.

“It’s a bit chilly in here,” Stanley remarked.

No Name Schweinberger said, “We don’t turn the heat on until October.”

“You realize it is 43 degrees Fahrenheit?” I asked.

If you know my grandpa, you probably know that Stanley is the most even-tempered, easy-going person on the planet. That was until No Name refused to turn the heat on for a man his elder who was on blood thinners.

The next thing I knew, I was abruptly awaken from a short slumber by a shouting match in half-German half-English.

NO-NAME: YOU ARE BURNING MY HOUSE DOWN.

STANLEY: I AM NOT!

NO-NAME: WHY DOES IT SMELL LIKE GAS IN HERE?

STANLEY: BECAUSE I AM COLD!

NO-NAME: YOU CANNOT USE MY STOVE!

STANLEY: WATCH ME!

Stanley had decided to turn the gas stove on with hopes that it would radiate heat in the kitchen. Six hours later, we not only had a warm kitchen but also had probably been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

To make matters worse, Stanley then proceeded to call every single person he knew in America to tell them how rude the Austrians were. In front of No Name. Along with a thousand dollar cell phone bill, we were more than likely going to get murdered in our sleep. Great start to our trip.

Locals (Day 3)

I had planned an extravagant 8 hour adventure to Berchtesgaden, Germany to see the Eagle’s Nest on our second day in Europe. With the fiasco that happened the night before, I thought this might ease the tension a bit.

However, Stanley woke up with the flu and could not walk, let alone go to Germany for the day. For a moment, I almost bought a plane ticket back to America but then thought, “I can find a drug store in Salzburg!”

After walking an hour, I found a grocery store and bought everything that I could identify, including bananas, protein shakes, cough drops, a ham sandwich, ginger ale and a bottle of wine.

Forcing Stanley to eat the above (sans wine) seemed to help and within 12 hours, he was ready to leave the apartment. With his current opinion on the locals, Stanley decided we should dine where they can understand us. And that’s how we discovered Trattoria Domani.

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Upon entering, Stanley belted, “CIAO! Sono Italiano!” (Translation: Hello! I am Italian!)

Confused, the waiter brought us English menus and asked us where we were from. Once he found out we were actually American, he hated us even more and was not amused by our loud antics.

That was until Stanley invited him to sit down and eat lunch with us.

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And that is how our first friend was made, and the pattern of Stanley taking pictures of the waiter at every restaurant we went to.

Stanley in Salzburg (Day 4)

 We woke up at the crack of dawn with hopes that we would finally be able to hike. The temperature wasn’t rising, which worried me quite a bit. However, Stanley said that we just had to do this and we could go really slow if needed.

After getting ready, we met in the living room and I noticed that we both dressed extremely opposite. I was wearing UnderArmour leggings, tennis shoes and a sweatshirt. Stanley was wearing slacks, a Ralph Lauren half-zip and brown dress shoes. Sure.

We started our journey not really knowing where we were going, and made it to the top of the mountain just fine. We took in the views, and decided it was time to descend. Somehow, some way we got lost on the way down. Not only did we not have a GPS, but we also didn’t have rain jackets. And then it started to pour.

When we finally found our way into Salzburg, we realized we hadn’t eaten all day. Continuing with the trend of not eating authentic Austrian food, we decided to stop in a Mexican restaurant.

Also following trend of making friends with every waiter, Stanley started teaching our waiter English and this is when said waiter decided that WE ALL NEEDED TEQUILA!

Side note: Stanley does not drink.

One shot and “one tiny beer” later, Stanley decided that the tequila was amazing and that maybe the Austrians were O.K. people.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Day 5)

The last day of our Austrian adventure arrived. Despite previous stories, we did eat at local joints. Stanley was not a fan of Wienerschnitzel and thought the tequila was a much better option than the Hefeweizen.

While Salzburg was beautiful, we were ready to move on. We packed our bags, called a cab and headed towards the train station. We had a two-hour train ride to Villach, where we would then catch a bus to Venice. Words cannot describe the beauty captured in this train ride through the Alps.

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Once we arrived in Villach, we had approximately 15 minutes to catch our bus that would depart for Venice. We ran up the escalator with our suitcases in tow, and stared at the 25 buses that lined the curb wondering which one was ours.

With no description as to which direction the buses were headed, we both sprinted in opposite directions to figure out this mystery. I found our bus with 5 minutes to spare, and we hobbled up to the top deck.

We were headed to Venice.

More photos here:

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Traveling with Stanley, pt 2

The Last Time I Was Here . . .

Fun fact: When Stanley was in the Navy in the early 60s he spent a majority of his time on the Mediterranean at different ports.

As you know, Frankfurt is not located on the sea, so it came to my surprise when Stanley started our morning by telling me that he just hated this city.

Stanley then proceeded to tell me that the last time he was here, he was having an appendicitis attack and had to have emergency surgery with no sedation – a week before his wedding.

To say that he has strong feelings against this city is putting it lightly.

We then decided that coffee would make this feeling of angst a tad better. After seating ourselves at the nearest airport café, Stanley realized that we weren’t in America anymore and drip coffee is non-existent.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where his love affair with espresso began.

Stanley in Frankfurt

Though the espresso was strong enough to kill a horse (which is great considering Stanley had a triple bypass surgery a year before), the layover was almost too boring. We heard a shriek of terror and witnessed a group of men screaming in German while covering their nose and mouth.

More people started coming out of the woodwork and running to the police with their hands covering their face. The police were unfazed, the local spectators were unfazed; therefore, I was unfazed. Stanley, on the other hand, did not appreciate this act of nonsense.

STANLEY (while standing up in a crowded restaurant at 4:30 am): With ISIS being on the rise, I told you flying to Europe was a bad idea!

Note: We still aren’t sure what happened, but I’m assuming someone in that German group passed really bad gas.

 

To read part 1, click here.

Traveling with Stanley, pt 1

It was the middle of March, and I was sitting in bed preparing to hibernate for the evening. My phone rang and I hardly had time to answer before Stanley proclaimed, “I want to hike the Alps before I die. Let’s go to Austria!”

Within a week, I had an itinerary set, had communicated with Stanley’s cardio team to make sure that it was safe for him to climb a mountain in Europe, and had talked with a few families in each city that had agreed to host us during our stay.

It was official. We were going to Europe for my 25th birthday.

The reason it has taken me so long to write this post is because there are literally no words to describe the adventure we had. However, we are now planning our second trip, so I figured I should document the first great adventure that my 76-year-old grandfather and I had before the details slip my mind.

With fear of leaving important stories out, I figured it would be best to break this down into multiple posts.

Take Off, Day 1

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When I tell you that I had every single detail planned, I am not exaggerating. I knew that traveling with my grandfather might be a tad slower than usual, so I allotted extra time to get from point to point, and even took into consideration his love for coffee shops and conversations with strangers.

We had an evening flight out of Baltimore, and in my mind, the easiest way to get from DC to Baltimore during Friday evening rush hour would be by taking the Amtrak train from Union Station (which is approximately one mile from my house).

Stanley had other plans — a great indication as to how this trip would go.

We left 4 hours early for the airport and decided to Uber because carrying a suitcase is just hard. As we were leaving, sirens were wailing and something in my gut told me, “This isn’t normal DC traffic.”

As the saying goes, my gut was correct in the sense that some man had tried to jump the fence at the White House and was shot on the front lawn. Casual. Luckily, our Uber driver was wizardly and knew every back road to get us into Baltimore. PRAISE THE HEAVENS.

Once checked in, it was time to go through security.

Some of you are going to know this story before I even begin, and the rest will seriously question my family and how we have survived on this Earth for a few generations.

A few years ago, my Noni and her girlfriends went on a cruise to Europe. They avoided pirates on the Mediterranean, getting seasick on the boat and becoming stranded on an island. All was well. That is until Noni decided to do something to really piss TSA off, which resulted in her being questioned in a private room for an hour and almost missing her flight back to America. **We still aren’t sure of the details, but Noni claims that she was an angel while going through security.

Since this has happened, the Sears family has been cursed while going through TSA and, this trip was no exception.

I made it through security fine. When it came time for Stanley to walk through, the alarms went off. Not being bothered per usual, Stanley walked back and took his belt off thinking this must be the problem. That, along with the stash of medication he didn’t put aside (and the cell phone, and the stray money and the hairspray) caused the issue. Instead of putting his belt in a bin, Stanley ever so gently laid it on the conveyor belt.

While walking to the terminal, Stanley realized that his pants were having a hard time staying put. The cause: a missing belt.

We walked back to security and noticed a rather large line, TSA agents that were crawling under the scanner, and a whole lot of confusion taking place. Stanley looked at me, looked back at the mess happening before us, and loudly screamed, “MY BELT! I think my belt is stuck in the machine.”

Sure enough, it was and once received, we tracked back to our terminal with our pants in place.

It was finally time for take off.

As we boarded the plane, Stanley assessed each person entering the aircraft and determined the chances that they might be a part of ISIS. Once he felt comfortable that we would make it safely to our destination, he looked at me and asked, “How much longer?”

Lord bless us, I thought. It is about to be ONE. LONG. FLIGHT.

In case you are wondering how we passed time on a redeye to Frankfurt, we discovered a free radio station with 50s music. See below:

Three naps, two meals and one long flight later we were about to land. Being extremely proud that Stanley hadn’t offended a soul on the plane, I thought that this was about to be an uneventful trip, until the following conversation occurred:

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Hello! It is time to fill out your customs papers. Are you German?

STANLEY: We haven’t gone that far back in our genealogy; I MIGHT BE.

 

Part 2 will be coming soon – Check back or sign up for updates.

Time Given

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I find myself choosing to be alone. I like to stroll through neighborhoods and glance into windows, looking at either meticulously planted shrubs, or noticing that the residents of a certain home haven’t quite shoveled the steps since the snow started. I like to be alone because you are able to notice things that you haven’t before; you get to wander and observe the details that make up the minutes in our lives.

Yesterday I found myself walking to church in the middle of the day. Now, it was Ash Wednesday, so it wasn’t out of the normalcy to go to church during the workday. But, I went alone. I was able to sit in the wooden pews of an old stone structure and stare at the kaleidoscope of colors coming from the windows. I was able to dedicate myself to a community for an hour to simply listen.

This year, I’m trying to focus on myself. I want to learn more of what makes me happy, grow as a person, disconnect from the lenses of society and wander into the unknown. I find that each week has become predictable, and I simply want to notice new details.

Through this challenge, I’ve decided to reconnect with my faith. The past couple of months have tested me beyond belief – through family illness, death, divorce, and heartbreak. It’s easy to be frustrated, to question the sequence of events, and to stray. And, I did that. All of the above.

And then I realized that everything in life is out of my control. Whatever His plan is for me, I must accept and have faith in the bigger picture. I’m taking these challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow and reflect. And the only thing that I can control is how I make others feel and the service I give back.

But, back to church. As we talked about Lent and the sacrifice that we are willing to make, I used my “alone” time for greater good. I usually give up soda, sweets, coffee, or anything else that gives me a slight addiction. One year I gave up cereal and I had actual WITHDRAWAL. People, I ate two boxes of Special K on Easter and threw up grains for days.

But I digress (because you probably don’t want to hear about my bodily functions).

This year, I am giving up an intangible object with the hopes of learning more about myself. I’m giving up my time.

We all know how much I love grandpas, so I am going to give my time to the elderly in need, whether it be cooking them meals, taking them to the doctor, or simply listening to their most coveted stories.

It only took time alone to realize that time given is invaluable