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Out of the Bag: Traveling abroad

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I have told you a lot about my trip to Italy, but I haven’t gotten into the details of what it was like traveling abroad with an ostomy. I was a little nervous beforehand because, even though I have flown a few times, they have mostly been short flights and were all within the US and I knew in Italy that toilets and such might not be the same as what I am used to here. And I know things are very different in other countries, but this was my experience in Italy.

Our flight to Italy was around 8 hours and we were given two meals and a snack on it, so I knew I would have to empty it at least once on the trip over. I tried the first time to use the bag suggestion I had received when I first posted about flying with an ostomy. I have to be honest, it was not as easy as I thought it would be. I used one of the opaque trash bags that I get with my ostomy bags each time I order. I tried tucking it into my waistband, but knew I would not be able to rely on that supporting it once it got heavy. Basically, I really needed a third hand: one to hold to trash bag and two more to empty the pouch. Plus, since the output was going into the trash bag, it was hard to empty the bag without getting stuff on it. It was a mess. The next time, I did what I usually do with new toilets and put down some toilet paper to empty onto and it flushed just fine with that. Once it didn’t flush all of it, but was good after a second flush. If emptying your pouch into a trash bag works for you, I say ‘go for it,’ but it did not work very well for me.

bathroom travel italy rome florence venice stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd blog ostomy gelato husband vacation bathroomI was pleasantly surprised to find that the toilets in Italy are not much different from the toilets we have here, the water level was just a bit lower. Again, I just laid down some toilet paper before emptying and I never had a problem. What I like to refer to as the “flush force” was on par to what I am used to.

There were several times that I was very thankful to have an ostomy, because honestly, I’m not sure how it would have gone without it. Most of the day we were out walking around, usually at least 20 minutes away from the hotel. It is not easy to find a public restroom in Italy, in fact, I remember coming across one in a store that was available and another that you had to pay over $2 just to use. But not once did I have to return to the room simply to use the bathroom.
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The beauty in doing nothing

Trip to Italy, Part 3

Our final stop in Italy was Venice. We had a bit of a long train ride up to the city built on the water. Of course, once we arrived at the train station, we had to figure out how to buy passes for the “bus.” Of course, this bus is a boat. When they say that the only way to get around Venice is on the water, they aren’t joking. Once we finally arrive on the side of the island where our hotel is located, we set off into the most confusing maze of streets and bridges and canal passageways I could ever imagine.

boats grand canal travel italy rome florence venice stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd blog ostomy husband vacation wine tasting chiantiThere are no cars at all in Venice. There would be no room for them in the streets, since many of them are able the size of a hallway in your home. Plus, there’s a bridge with stairs you have to climb about every 200 feet. The locals get things around town on these carts that they have to take up and down the stairs constantly.

The city itself is a little sad. It doesn’t have the same bustle and life that Rome and Florence had, even though it’s just as crowded. However, nearly every person I saw who wasn’t working in a store or restaurant was not Italian. It’s literally a city of tourists. I had heard people say this before, but I didn’t quite understand until we were there. We actually had a tour to take just a couple of hours after we arrived. I thought it would be nice to hear more about the city and how it came to be. Unfortunately, we were really disappointed in the tour. We took a quick gondola ride, which was fun, but the waterways were so crowded with other boats at that time of day. And the walking tour merely showed us a couple of sites around town and didn’t get into much about the history of the city. I would have been happy skipping this tour.

gondola boats grand canal travel italy rome florence venice stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd blog ostomy husband vacation wine tasting chiantiAnother thing we had heard about Venice is that, since it is such a tourist town, there are basically no authentic restaurants. They all have converted to catering to the tourist crowd with inauthentic, often overpriced meals. One of my main goals of this trip was the make it through without getting caught into any tourist trap restaurants and to find truly authentic food. So we heard that in Venice, the locals do a sort of “bar crawl” and stop at a couple of different restaurants and get small dishes and small glasses of wine at each, and make their way through a couple of different places. So we decided to give it a whirl… it didn’t work out so well. The first place we stopped at, well, let’s just say that neither of us have any idea what we ate. The server spoke no English and the food was some weird spongy/jelly consistency and honestly, I don’t think I want to know what it was. So we moved on to the next place and here we found really good paninis. So we stayed there, where we knew the food was good.

We did not do a whole lot of sightseeing in Venice, other than that initial tour. We only had two days there and by this time, we were both pretty tired from the constant walking every day. We decided to take it easy and to do some shopping. We made the plan to not try to get anywhere in particular, so that way, you can’t get lost if you don’t have somewhere you’re going. It made Venice much more enjoyable.

To sum it all up, it was a wonderful, potentially once in a lifetime (even though I hope not!) experience and I am so glad that we went. I loved having this opportunity to get away together before… we have other responsibilities that will likely make it more difficult to do so. I also feel that I learned some things on this trip. The Italians, I feel, have a better view of life than those of us in America do. They don’t spend so much of their time and don’t find so much of their identity in work. The start late and take a large break in the middle of the day, they spend time enjoying their food. They are a very “stop and smell the roses” kind of people. I wish I knew how to do that. But I am doing my best to learn how. I want to take more time for enjoying each day and not rushing through it all. In Eat, Pray, Love, she talks about the Italian ideal of “il bel far niente” which means “the beauty of doing nothing.” Basically, this come down to working hard and enjoying the time that you aren’t working and not having to constantly be doing something in order to feel validated. I think there is beauty in doing nothing. And I don’t mean in a lazy way, but in a savoring and accomplished way. That is the one souvenir I hope I brought home with me.

Leather, wine and 2 1/2 pounds of steak

Trip to Italy, Part 2

After three days in Rome, we boarded a train for Florence in Tuscany. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip more than any of it, because of almost everyone I know who’s been to Italy, they nearly always say that Florence was the best part. I also enjoyed the train ride over, as we got to see some of the beautiful countryside along the way.

tuscany countryside view travel italy rome florence venice stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd blog ostomy husband vacationWe arrived midday on Monday and were thankful that our hotel was literally across the street from the train station. We took off immediately in the direction of the shopping district and to see some of the sites. We both had been looking for some real Italian leather to bring home and had heard that Florence was the place to get it. And yes it was! So many beautiful items displayed along the streets. On our first afternoon there  Jarrod picked up a pair of leather shoes and I found myself the most beautiful leather jacket. (I only hate that it’s now 90-degrees back home and slightly too warm to wear it.) We grabbed some lunch nearby, and I tried to lead us through some gardens as a scenic route back, but I ended up just getting us lost in some neighborhood. But on the bright side, we had some French tourists stop us and try to ask us in Italian how to get somewhere! We got mistaken for locals, score!

The next day we had advance passes for a couple of galleries. The first one was a very large gallery, with a ton of pieces of art in it. There were some very significant ones by Botticelli and Michaelangelo and even Rembrandt, however, by the time we were done, we were both a little galleried-out. But we had tickets to another museum and had to be there at a certain time and I didn’t want to not go when we’d already paid. Plus, I knew that Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David was at this one and I wanted to at least get to see it. So we finally get inside and start looking at some more art. As soon as we’d passed through the first room, we turned a corner and there was David standing at the end of the hallway. This is the only piece of art that I will go into any detail on because it was the most significant of any that we saw. I don’t even know what it was about this piece of marble, but something about it is just mesmerizing. We literally sat on a bench for about a half-hour just staring at it. The detail and perfection of the whole thing is simply incredible. It’s even more amazing to think that it was made over 500 years ago.

In Italy, every meal is a big to-do. You don’t drop in for a “quick bite” anywhere. So every night, we knew we were in for a presentation, and we decided that we wanted one night to go all out. So this night in Florence, we decided to go to a restaurant right around the corner from our  hotel which I had read really good reviews about on travel blogs and review sites. We arrive at 7:30, assuming that by being early it’ll be easy to find a seat. We walk in and the entire place is empty except for one table of ladies. We ask the owner for a table for 2 and he asks if we have a reservation. We say we don’t and he shrugs and says they don’t have any availability. I forgot to mention that on the way over there, the strap on my shoe broke, so I was having a little trouble keeping it on. I knew I wouldn’t be able to trapse all over town trying to find a place like we’d done before. I asked the owner if he had another recommendation in the area and he mentioned some name and pointed in a general direction, so we thought we’d at least head that way. Thankfully, it was literally around the corner and we walk in and are again asked if we have a reservation. We say ‘no’ and the lady hesitates, but then takes us to a table that is two 4-top tables pushed together. There are already 4 people at it and I know they’re going to cram us in plus find 2 more to seat next to us. But it really wasn’t so bad and we quickly realize that everyone at the table is American, so they apparently banish all the English speakers to one table.

I ask the server for a recommendation on food and he said he’d be happy to bring us a little bit of everything and one of their famous ‘bistecca alla fiorentina,’ which we thought was a perfect idea! We also got to chatting with the others at the table who are from Kentucky and Pennsylvania and New York and Indiana. Two couples are on their honeymoons. All the while, we are eating proscuitto and liver pate and pasta with bolognese and tomatoes and then a 2.5 pound steak! They follow this up with 2 desserts, plus biscotti and 3 drinks. That’s not to mention the 2 bottles of wine we drank tuscany countryside view travel italy rome florence venice stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd blog ostomy husband vacation wine tasting chiantiduring this meal. But we had an awesome time hanging out with our new-found American friends in Italy. Even if we were forced to eat enough food to feed a 5-member family. I don’t know how the Italians do it all of the time!

Our final day in Florence, we actually left the city and traveled into the Tuscan countryside for a little wine tasting. We stopped at 2 wineries and sampled not only the Chiantis, but the homemade olive oil and balsamic, as well. We had to pick up a few of these things to bring home with us! The trip out there took about an hour or so, which was a great opportunity to really see what Tuscany is like. If I was going to settle down somewhere in Italy, this is where I would do it. Surrounded by the hills and good wine… you can’t go wrong!

A dream that was Rome

Trip to Italy, Part 1

I love traveling. If I won the lottery and had millions and millions of dollars, I would spend a good part of it on traveling the world. Plus, then I would have enough money to fly first class and pay for people to take care of things and, thus, bypass the worst part of traveling — the actual travel part.

The only negatives I brought back from my husband’s and my trip to Italy occurred during the traveling, such as airports and flight delays and security checks. But once we arrived in Rome, made our way through customs, met up with our driver and arrived at the hotel, everything else just feel into place. (Okay, I’m being overly romantic here, but for the most part nothing to complain about.)

We decided to take this trip about a year ago. Being the money-management nerd that I am, I had been stashing away a little every month for the past few years, hoping for a chance to get away with my husband. We know that starting a family will be in the not too distant future for us, so we wanted the opportunity to do something fun, just us, before we have to deal with all of the responsibilites that come with parenthood. Our original plan was to do Disney World/The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, since you can’t enjoy it in the same way when you’re with a bunch of youngins as when you’re adults by yourselves. But once I started crunching the numbers, I realized that for the same price of doing that, we could do a real trip. I realized this right around the time I had my first surgery in 2012 and I was spending a lot of time at home watching movies, including Eat, Pray, Love, which made me want to jump on a plane right then and head to Italy. So this trip was a long time in the making. And there are so many stories I want to tell, but I will try to keep this brief. Even so, I have divided it up into three postings. (Sorry, I’m not being very good at editing today.)

travi fountain rome travel italy rome florence venice stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd blog ostomy gelato husband vacationWe started off our trip in Rome. We stayed in a hotel right in the heart of the city, just a block away from the Trevi Fountain. We quickly discovered just how busy and crowded this city is — and how crazy the roads are! Seriously, you have to just walk out in front of moving vehicles or else you’ll never make it across the street. They’ll stop, but it takes some getting used to to not worry that they’ll run you over. We flew overnight and arrived at about 8:00 in the morning. We had limited time in the city, so there was no time to rest and we got straight to exploring. We saw the fountain and the Pantheon and meandered our way down some back roads in search of our first Italian meal.

I am very thankful that I had a friend who had been to Rome just a few weeks before us and I had asked if he could provide some recommendations of places to eat. Well he sent me this amazing list of all of the restaurants he visiting, plus information on what kind of food and atmosphere he found at each one. This was a life saver! Especially starting out, since we had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. We found a place he mentioned though and had a delicious first meal of pasta and wine at 12:30 in the afternoon. We also found that the Italians eat at different times. Lunch is usually 1-2:00 and they don’t do dinner until 8:30 or 9:00. Our first day there, we tried to go out at 6:30 only to find that everywhere was closed for at least another half-hour.

We had what I think we both consider our best Italian meal in Rome, at one of the places recommended by my friend. It was back by Campo de’ Fiori and had a woman sitting the window hand rolling pasta. We were literally the only people in the restaurant who didn’t speak Italian, and our server knew very little English. Thankfully, I’d been doing some studying beforehand and was able to bring out enough to glide through the meal. I got the pasta carbonara and my husband had tortellini with tomato and basil and it was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had. I would definitely go back next time I’m in Rome (which I hope I actually will happen at some point).

rome spanish steps viewWe tried to stay away from too much touristy stuff. There are so many amazing things to see in Rome that you could easily spend every day jumping from one tour to the next. But you know that old saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? That’s how I feel about tours. I feel that you’re walking around having all of the “significant” things pointed out to you, but meanwhile, you miss the beauty of the culture and day-to-day life of Italy. Our favorite memories are simply walking through the streets with gelato (which is a must and you eat it twice a day!) and becoming a part of the city ourselves. But we did take one tour while we were there through the Vatican. I am glad we did the tour for this because the line was wrapping around the building and it was getting pretty hot out. We were able to just check in with a group and he guided us through the complex. Plus, there are so many amazing things in this museum that it’s hard to know what are the most important pieces to take in, so I did not mind having someone there to guide us through. Everything there was so beautiful. Seeing these paintings and sculptures from hundreds, even thousands of years ago was incredible. I laughed to Jarrod at one point that it didn’t seem real. It almost looked like we were on the set of a movie, rather than seeing the real thing.

At the end of the tour, we were herded in to see the Sistine Chapel. The artwork really is incredible and it’s so surreal to think that you are in the presence of such amazing art. Unfortunately, it stays so busy in there that it’s hard to take the time to really appreciate it, since you’re being pushed and bumped into and stepped on. And I get fairly claustrophobic in those situations. The Vatican would be a great place to visit in the offseason, when you really have the place more to yourself and can take the time to enjoy it and take it all in.

coliseum gladiator rome travel italy rome florence venice stephanie hughes stolen colon crohn's disease ulcerative colitis inflammatory bowel disease ibd blog ostomy gelato husband vacationOur last day in Rome we spent doing some shopping and visiting the Roman Forum and the Coliseum. The Coliseum is one of the more dramatic things that you will see there, mostly because of what it stands for and what you know when on there in the past. (Plus, I had a mild obsession with the movie Gladiator when it first came out. At one point, I’m pretty sure I could quote that entire script.) It is the height of irony to see the building now adorned with crosses and to learn that some of the stones from the Coliseum were used to build St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Jarrod mentioned that it was sad that something so significant is crumbling and falling apart, but I actually think it is very appropriate. Anything that signifies something so brutal and terrible does not deserve to stay standing untouched. In my mind, that building deserves to crumble, if only to remind us that evil will not win.