Tag Archive | travel

We got lucky (or how we came to stay in a castle this summer)

When John and I took our trip to Switzerland this summer to see our girl Marie-Noelle (his daughter, my bonus), we got lucky in many more ways than one. I found fairly last-minute fights that were doable, and we flew both ways uneventfully – which is unusual for us, or at least me, air-travelwise.

The transcontinental jets were small enough that we had two seats alone – window and aisle, which was great.

Marie-Noelle fell into extra time off, so our road trip through the south of France and into Tuscany (which we’d counted on being a last-minute booking success, as it was) got extended by a couple of days. And Marie-Noelle had another surprise for us – she’d already booked one night at a “farm/vineyard” in Greve in Chianti, near Florence. It looked fabulous online and had a real castle on the grounds, so we decided to see if they could accommodate us for two nights since we had extra time.

Marie-Noelle called, and though Castello Vicchiomaggio didn’t have a room for three available for two consecutive nights at that late a date, the gentile signora offered to upgrade us to a junior suite for the same rate. We jumped at the offer.

The Monday our adventure started, John and I picked up our rental car, a cute little Nissan Micra, a brand-new hybrid that got 67 mpg – and we got a free upgrade to a GPS, plus an mp3/iPhone/iPad jack. Music blaring, we collected Marie-Noelle and headed out.

After our first two nights in France (Avignon and Aix-en-Provence), we headed to Italy. It was a long, white-knuckle drive for my white-haired white knight, and we were all a bit punchy by the time we arrived at the farm. We were also a bit awe-struck as we drove up the winding road to the top of the hill.

Could that possibly be it, we were thinking as we came up the winding highway?

A castle! It really was a castle! And we’d be staying on the grounds. Cool.

Check in was easy, and a tall beautiful signorina – she could have been a Disney princess – asked us to follow her to our room. She unlocked a huge door and told us to follow her up these stairs.

Stairs to the Giotti room.

Oh my gosh, we were all whispering. How cool is this? She told us we’d be in the Giotti room and grandly opened the door. We stepped into an enormous living room with oversize (and some antique) furniture and stood there like idiots, just waiting and staring at the grandeur.

Finally she asked us, “You like your rooms?”

Our mouths fell open and we stammered, yes, yes, we like them very much. She gave us a quick tour of the two large bedrooms and bathrooms and the spacious, fully stocked kitchen.

The Tuscan kitchen

Our “junior suite,”  the Giotti room, was an entire wing of the castle, not rooms in the bed and breakfast behind it as we expected. We were floored. We had our own floor.

Princess Marie-Noelle enjoys her room.

Every ancient Tuscan castle needs an eternity pool.


We got lucky. Real lucky.

The History of Castello Vicchiomaggio

My White Knight in plaid armor, also known as The Dude.


Come fly with me

I’ve always remembered it like it was yesterday, but with the commercials for ABC’s new show “Pan Am” showing every time I turn on the morning news, the time Pam and I decided we wanted to be stewardesses has really been on my mind.

We were in junior high and thought that would be the most exciting, glamorous thing we could possibly do in a few years – and it would be our ticket out of Arkansas. Granted, neither of us had flown anywhere at this point, but we knew we’d be naturals.

We practiced walking gracefully, dipping down with a pretend tray, and saying, “Coffee, tea or milk?” We knew we were naturals. (Um, actually, we were wrong. Knowing how we turned out, one of us, at the least, would’ve gotten fired for slapping a rambunctious man in those old sexist days, but we were young and naive at the time.)

But we also knew there were height and weight requirements, and I’d stalled out at 5 feet 3 ⅜ inches. We knew that was a concern because we’d heard the standard requirement was 5 feet 4 inches.

(I actually made it to 5 feet 4 inches sometime after I’d turned 18, but we were in college by then.)

So we spent the better part of one summer afternoon in Pam’s kitchen calling every airline in the book checking on requirements for stewardess training. I have no idea if 800-numbers or any equivalent were available back then, so I also have no idea what we might have done to her parents’ phone bill. Oops. We even called Quantas in Australia.

Remember these were the old sexist late ’60s when women were still expected mainly to conform to certain standards of pretty and compliant – and we struck out at every airline. I was too short. And there ended our dream of seeing the world as stewardesses. Pam would never have done it without me – we were a team.

Because I'm too lazy to go up to the attic and find the junior high picture I want, this recent one will have to do. (And actually, makeup-free, we don't look that different from when we were 13.)

As I said, it probably turned out for the best because both of us would be better at flying the plane than putting up with crap from travelers. But it was a great dream while it lasted.

We’ve both managed to travel to faraway places and travel is still my favorite thing in the world. Truth be told, the whole memory still makes me a little wistful.

How cool to make a living saying, “Come fly with me me …”