Puerto Rico and Italy: My First Visits Abroad
The first time I went abroad was with my mom and grandma when we visited our cousins in Puerto Rico. I was about 10 at that time and Puerto Rico was gorgeous. I don’t remember much except desperately wishing I spoke the local language and absorbing as many Spanish words as I possibly could. Spanish aside, Puerto Rico has Coquís. These are tiny little frogs that practically glow in the dark and instead of the boring old “ribbit”, THEY SAY THEIR NAME! Even 17 years later, I’m still obsessed with them. I wanted to take one home so bad, but my mom said no.
There’s also a fruit in Puerto Rico called Quenepas (Keh-nay-pahs), and they’re seriously the coolest things I’ve come across. They have this hard green shell and when you crack it with your teeth, the inside is orange and super flavorful! Sigh, another thing you can only find in Puerto Rico. We ended up traipsing through the jungle to visit my cousins, and my mom was harping on making sure to apply Avon’s Skin So Soft at all times (mosquitos hate it for some reason). My grandmother, being the stubborn, wonderful woman she was, refused the Skin So Soft and ended up mosquito lunch. I remember this because it was a huge point of contention when we got back to the hotel. My mom was smug and my grandmother refused to concede that she should have used the spray.
I definitely need to go back to Puerto Rico, especially since I have family and that always makes a trip 10x better.
Flash-forward a decade or so later, I didn’t get a chance to study abroad in college, which I HIGHLY recommend that everyone does! (Note: While I’m sad that I didn’t get the chance, I met my husband during the semester I was supposed to study abroad, so I’d say it all worked out.)
Anyway, I’m in my first adult job and quickly realizing that desk jobs are suffocating; I reached out to a travel agent and suddenly decided Italy was next. I booked two tickets to Rome and told Eric to pack a suitcase who remained shell-shocked until he stepped foot on the plane. (It was then I learned that this might be the best way to lure him to another country, booking first, asking later.)
There are some perks to working in the movie industry (if you can shut out the self-loathing and narcissism), people use any excuse to take time off. Hollywood shuts down essentially for two weeks at the end of December. I booked our trip for 8 days right before Christmas. We were going to hit up Rome, Florence, and Venice and try not to kill ourselves.
For some reason, it didn’t dawn on me to learn at least some Italian. That was a very fun lesson in itself. I’m Italian hence the last name, which I honestly thought would gain me brownie points, (it didn’t) and some Italians really don’t appreciate you showing up to their country uneducated in their language. Luckily, they have so many Americans visiting all the time, they all speak bits of English. My favorite part (read: sarcasm) was when we attempted to break out the guidebook with some Italian phrases and they decided their broken English was better than our pitiful attempts.
I mean, at least we tried to make up for our faux pas… Rome, I felt was the least friendly and we often went back to our hotel room dejected and lonely. When we packed up for Florence after 3 days, it was a sigh of relief. It was also at this time that I finally got a phone number for my cousins who lived in Milan! We arrived in Florence and one of the hotel workers was fantastic and translated to my cousin for me. So we made a quick side trip to Milan on our way to Venice.
We rode Italiarail and I truly wish we had thought to book ahead, another lesson learned. We ended up buying tickets at the window and it was terrifying because of that whole language barrier issue again. Luckily, the teller worked with us enough and got us to Milan. We miraculously found my cousin, despite having never seen her picture, and she was amazing. She was so excited to meet us and did her best in broken English to show us a couple places in Milan before we left for Venice. I had booked all our hotels beforehand, so we, unfortunately, couldn’t stay longer.
Happy note: With that visit, I started a trend! My aunt has visited them in Italy since our visit! And they even made a month long trip to Las Vegas to visit, where most of my family resides.
We made it to Venice and sadly only had about 36 hours there before we had to jump on our plane back to the US. Venice was by far our favorite place, but in fairness, we should go back and give Florence, Milan, and Rome a little more time since it was all so short!
There’s so much more to say about this Italy trip. My next post will be a follow-up about how we booked it, what we learned and where we went!