Italy: What to know before you go

Italy has Western Europe’s richest, craziest culture. This is perhaps why I feel so at home there. It is also very diverse, stretching from their German- flavored Alps through hill towns to sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches. It was the cradle of the Roman Empire, bringing “civilization” to Europe by way of Africa, India, and Greece.

Here are CityGirl’s tips for having an amazing Italian vacation:

  • Go with an eye open to both the Italies of the past and Italy of the present. I say “Italies” because until the 19th century the peninsula was made up of independent city-states. So each region has its own distinct character and history.
  • Engage with locals. Italians are very social and want to connect with others. Show warmth even when you don’t understand everything and you’ll get a lot further. Embrace the melodramatic, go with it, use your hands when you talk. I live in New Orleans so this is a natural thing for me to fall into.
  • Exhibit la bella figura, a positive public persona/ appearance. Dress elegantly, miss the bus instead of getting sweaty running for it, always order the bottled water, never take a doggy bag, skip packing shorts or graphic tees unless you’re going to the beach.
  • Take part in the ritual evening stroll, the passaggiata. Put on a sophisticated outfit, dazzling accessories, gorgeous shoes, and go out… not for the destination, but for the journey.
  • Nowhere in Italy is more than a day’s journey away. There are 12,000+ miles of train lines and 4,000+ miles of autostrada, their expressway. Go explore.
  • Typical daily diet here includes two servings of pasta, a half pound of bread, and two glasses of wine. Just so you know the norm. You’ll be walking a lot, thank goodness.
  • Food here is not fast food, it’s slow food. Bought daily, prepared with love, enjoyed with friends and family. In season foods are the centerpiece and a three-hour meal is common. First comes the aperitivo (prosecco is a perfect choice), then the antipasto plate of cold sliced meats and veggies, then pasta (primo), then the meat entree dish (secondo), then salad, then dessert with coffee or a digestif. Pace yourself!
  • Italy is the number one wine producer of the world. Find out which wines are from the specific region you’re visiting, drink them. I love Lambrusco in Emilia-Romagna, Soave in the Veneto, Chianti in Tuscany, and Frascati in Lazio. Don’t order French wine!
  • Italians take a siesta called reposo or riposo. It’s a three-hour break from about 1pm. Shops will be closed, especially in small towns. Yes, even the post office. Use this time to do as they do; have lunch, socialize with friends and family, enjoy window shopping or walking the area.
  • Embrace il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing).
  • Savor your cappuccino, walk aimlessly, imagine the past, ramble through the countryside in a rented Alfa-Romeo, dangle your feet over the ancient waters of the Venetian canals or interior rivers of Florence, Rome, or Milan.
  • Accept Italy as Italy. Savor the fine points. Don’t dwell on the problems. Enjoy!

 

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Montana Hi-Line: Highway 2 Across MT & ND

From Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs we traveled east on Hwy 2. After Hinsdale, MT look on left for dinosaur figure statues by Buck Samuelson.

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Next is Glasgow where you can get gas, fast food, or shop at Albertsons. Glasgow and west on Hwy 2 is called the Montana Hi-Line. Glasgow begins gentle rolling hill country.

Wolf Point, MT has Exxon gas, McDonald’s, Carquest, and Homestead Inn. It gets hilly and lovely after Wolf Point. About that time the sun set so it was too dark to see. Really, though, I wouldn’t recommend driving at night.

The names of the waterways along this Highway were fun. For instance, there was Big Muddy Creek and Little Muddy Creek 🙂

Highway 2 gets bumpy after Culbertson.

This is about where we started listening to the radio. 101.1 out of Williston played an eclectic mix of music that I really enjoyed. within a couple hours I heard Kenny Chesney, Garbage, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, the Black Eyed Peas, R.E.M., Billy Joel, Collective Soul, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, and Gnarls Barkly. Crazy, right? I loved it!

We crossed the state line into South Dakota and Hwy 2 became a 4-lane highway with a large median. I still would refrain from driving at night due to poor visibility (It gets super dark).

Williston, ND is officially the city of the truck… I saw like 1 car. We stayed overnight, or in RV lingo we boondocked overnight, at the Williston Walmart. A security guard patrolled the parking lot all night, which was nice. We also boondocked overnight at the Walmart in Grand Forks, ND.

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“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end”

Next up, Minnesota!

 

Avenue of the Saints

Avenue of the Saints is a highway system that goes from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Saint Louis, Missouri.
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When we left the Chippewa National Forest from Walker, Minnesota we headed towards Waterloo, Iowa. We didn’t know if we would make it in one day of driving but in our haste to get back home to Louisiana so our dog could get treated for the ACL tear he suffered while in Sleeping Buffalo, Montana we had to try.
Heading to Waterloo our trip meter read 7289 miles (on 7/21/17). So 7,000 miles in less than 3 months for the #transamericanroadtrip !!
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The Mississippi “Great River Road National Route” is what we drove for a bit of the way after Saint Louis. The “Great River Road” is a well-marked series of different roads and highways that roughly follow the winding course of the Mississippi River. All along the Great River Road, travelers will find white signs displaying the green pilot’s wheel logo. The familiar pilot’s wheel symbol denotes which roads are part of the designated route. The route has been selected for its natural, cultural, historical, recreational and scenic properties.
Illinois River Road was marked from about from Quincy, Illinois to Hannibal, MO. We could see corn and bean crops everywhere along the routes in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. On July 22 we hit 7550 miles!
From Hannibal, MO to St. Louis, MO on Hwy 61 there is a Mark Twain Cave and Campground. We will likely visit there next time we drive that route.
We stopped at Cozy C Campground in Bowling Green MO. It was good for overnight. Clean restrooms/ showers, plus ice cream in the office.
We had to make a pit stop in Ste Genevieve, MO to visit The Cave Winery and it was worth it. They have seating for 100 down below the main buidling in a cool cave.
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Escape PTSD With Travel?

Escape? Well… maybe. Not escape, exactly, but just like literal medicine helps lessen or alleviate physical symptoms of an illness, travel can help with mental health. Just being outdoors among the trees (a Japanese public health practice called forest bathing or shinrin-yoku) has been shown to lower the heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being. Mind and body are connected, so when one benefits the other does, too!

In this post, I want to share a how we use travel, spirituality, and mental healthcare to deal with our PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Both my husband and I have felt the words in the graphic below and we have begun to rise above them with the help of our new lifestyle.

if you could read my mind youd cry

Travel – I don’t have as many panic attacks, flashbacks, or nightmares when I’m traveling. It doesn’t cure me but it serves as a very effective grounding tool. I’m not in my own head when I’m hiking Mount Ranier, walking the streets of Venice, planning our next RV Campground stop in the US, or navigating the intricacies of a different culture or language. It’s mindfulness in action and I love it. It refreshes and recharges me in both an intellectual and spiritual way to see magnificent sights whether in the US or abroad. Spiritually I see the wonder of Jehovah God’s creation and it solidifies my faith that there is a source of life and love bigger than anything I can imagine. Intellectually it challenges me to understand and push myself to go outside my American CityGirl comfort zone.

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Spirituality – Many addiction programs ask you to work with the concept of a higher power. There is a strong correlation between addiction and trauma. So those who suffer from trauma based disorders like PTSD can also benefit from asking their higher power for help. I can attest to the fact that developing a relationship with my creator, living according to His standards, and communicating in prayer with him regularly helps me greatly with the ups and downs of life. To read more on how the Bible can help you if you are depressed, read this article for some encouraging scriptures.

The references below (1, 2) on spirituality and mental health affirm that “aspects of spirituality are associated with positive outcomes, even when trauma survivors develop psychiatric difficulties such as PTSD or depression. Research also indicates that healthy spirituality is often associated with lower levels of symptoms and clinical problems in some trauma populations. For example, anger, rage, and a desire for revenge following trauma may be tempered by forgiveness, spiritual beliefs, or spiritual practices.”

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Sunset over mountain range, Colorado, USA

Mental health maintenance – I have and use a medical team for my depression and anxiety. So does my husband, who suffers from combat-related PTSD. Just like you need treatment for diabetes or heart disease you need treatment for mental health disorders. Sometimes that means treatment in hospital. In general, a good daily routine of positive self-talk or affirmations, grounding/ mindfulness techniques, and using adaptive coping responses like journaling when needed. When the fear overtakes me, even before I realize I’m having an anxiety attack, I start grounding, try a coping response, and then take medicine if needed – in that order. Sometimes I still succumb to the overwhelming fear, sometimes I cry, sometimes I dissociate. But, as soon as I’m able to get myself grounded again I utilize the skills I’ve learned in treatment to keep moving forward.

Mental Health

 

 

REFERENCES

  1. Hood, R.W., Hill, P.C. & Spilka, B. (2009). The psychology of religion: An empirical approach. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, p. 179.
  2. VA National Center For PTSD. “Spirituality and Trauma”. (Website). https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/provider-type/community/fs-spirituality.asp
 love is greater than ptsd cbcg

Travelista Packing For A Month In Italy – Travel Tips and Packing List

Italy is SO beautiful and is a must for anyone inspired by art, food, or history. It’s where Romans ruled, Boticelli painted, and Da Vinci changed the way we see the world. It’s where Gucci, Ferrari, and Fiat originate. It’s the place that showed the rest of us what “la dolce vita” truly means.

There are so many places to go in this country (I use that term loosely as until less than 200 years ago they were all their own city-states and still have yet to get over the fact that they are “unified”) that I cannot cover them all in one post. So let’s just cover travel tips and packing!

Travel Tips

  • Look out for pickpockets and scammers near tourist attractions (don’t take any roses on the street!)
  • Understand that you are now on “Italy Time” (take your time, enjoy the moment)
  • Don’t eat near tourist attractions if it can be avoided (here are some other “don’ts”)
  • Take the train (instead of flying or renting a car)
  • Go off the beaten path (visit neighborhoods and countryside where real Italians live)

What to Pack

Don’t forget these essentials…

  • a scarf that can be worn around the neck or double as a shawl for cathedrals where you need to cover bare shoulders.
  • a pair of knee high boots that are comfortable for walking
  • an umbrella
  • a tote bag and easy to carry luggage (no elevators and escalators at hotels and transportation hubs so you have to lug everything you bring)
  • Clothes you can layer
  • pepper spray (just kidding, it’s illegal in Italy)

CityGirl’s Travelista Packing List For Italy

I like to have options, but when you deal with airlines nowadays you have to either have a ton of money to waste for a second bag, or a Delta AMEX card so you can bring up to 9 bags for FREE. Either way, that’s not me. When you have to pack your whole life for a month plus into a carry on you need to be realistic about taking your favorite cashmere sweater that has to be hand washed and hung to dry. Not happening. Be practical. Be radical. But still be fabulous.

Mixing and matching is key. With this packing list you can be stylish and versatile while still packing reasonably light. I’m traveling for 40 days in September and October so I need late summer cool and early fall warm all in one bag. There will be sunshine, fall leaves, rain, and maybe snow if go up the Dolomites.

For this trip you could absolutely just take a carry on… but since I’ll be volunteering and attending a history conference I need a few more options that are good for not just touristing around visiting museums and enotecas. My extra stuff is not on this basic list and this packing list could be packed in a carry on 22″ and weeknder tote/duffel.

I’m taking (a 27″ Atlantic Luggage roller bag to check with my specialty stuff) and a 22″ Diane von Furstenberg carry on roller bag. I’ll also have an extra large Sak tote for a water bottle, scarf, snacks, eyemask, charger, tablet, and my Gucci crossbody handbag for the plane (because… priorities!).

Like I said, this list could fit just into a carry on and weekender tote/duffel, or for backpackers a 70L or more backpack.

All of my items will be packed in stuff saks or packing cubes. One for tees and pajamas, one for tops, one for bottoms, one for dresses, one for underthings and socks, and another one for things I buy on the trip.

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 pair of leggings – one black and one grey
  • 1 pair of workout capris and a workout tee (in case I go hiking)
  • 2 skirts – one knee length and one maxi
  • 1 pair of Spanx tights
  • 2 tank tops with lace edging
  • 2 v neck shirts
  • 2 tunic sweaters
  • 2 meeting blouses and 2 meeting skirts (for the Kingdom Hall)
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 coat (warm but not bulky)
  • 1 scarf
  • 3 bras
  • 7 panties
  • Socks
  • 1 pair of pajamas, top and bottoms
  • 2 purses – a crossbody Gucci and a tote bag
  • Shoes
    • 1 pair of boots
    • 1 pair of flats
    • 1 pair of Birkenstock sandals
    • 1 pair of heels
  • Toiletries
    • Shampoo/Conditioner
    • Face wash
    • Lotion for body and face
    • Face mask
    • Deodorant
    • Tooth powder
    • Razor
    • Detangling comb and brush
    • Elastic hair ties and bobby pins
    • Prescription medicine
    • Vitamins
    • Makeup (eyeshadow, eyeliner, remover wipes, brow stuff, lip glosses)
    • Lunette Cup
  • Electronics
    • iPhone
    • iPad /Tablet
    • Camera
    • Chargers
    • Earbuds
    • Adapter for Europe with USB port
  • Other
    • Bike lock (for rental bikes)
    • Laundry bar for washing clothes in the sink
    • Umbrella
    • Flashlight
    • Travel book/ map
    • Journal/ pen
    • Water bottle
    • Eyemask/ neck roll
    • Money belt (I’m taking it but I doubt I’ll use it)
    • Sunglasses
    • Jewelry – to make your simple mix and match more stylish
    • Wine opener (just saying)
    • Passport holder and organizer

Have a fabulous trip!!

City Girl Travels to Italy

I’ll be traveling to the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna for 40 days this fall! I will be blogging and vlogging about it, so if you want insider tips on European travel, click the follow button on the right. Also, follow my Instagram @countryboy_citygirl

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I thought I might use this post to share my travel experience with you, so you know I didn’t fall off a cabbage truck yesterday. I have a lot of experiences and tips to share. Really, what good is all this knowledge if it’s not shared?

Traveling for me began early as it was a vital part of my schooling and job. In both undergrad and graduate school I interned for the USDA and traveled to conferences all over the US and Territories for recruitment and research presentations. Once I started working (in the middle of nowhere) full time after grad school, I traveled monthly for training, meetings, or shopping. I’ve been to almost every state in the Union and to several of our Territories. I have visited both Canada and Mexico for extended periods of time. I’ve also traveled extensively in the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe. I’m a complete Italophile, so since about 2006 I try to get to Italy every other year.

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Traveling monthly for work (for the past 17 years, especially the years I traveled for two weeks of every month) I got really good at carry-on packing and perfected my travel routine. I recommend that anyone looking to travel develop their routine. Mine, for example, consisted of my using preferred airline/ hotel/ car rental agencies rewards programs for ease and perks. Using TSA pre-check was an integral part of my routine because it got me through security super fast. Have your travel outfit planned for both comfort and style in case there is a delay.

Travel Routine

  • Travel Apps: I use the TripCase app to save all reservations and itineraries. You just forward the reservation emails to them and they do all the work. Use your airline app as they notify you immediately if there is a change. Same with car rental and hotel. I also use the Uber app.
  • Earn $$: Pay for your travel and related items with a credit card offering cashback or miles. I’ve used (Capital One) Quicksilver and Venture, and I prefer Quicksilver.
  • First class treatment: Enroll in TSA pre-check to get ahead of the line. If you travel often in the US it’s worth it. Make sure to enroll with your airline as well or you might get snubbed.
  • Choose wisely: Choose a hotel chain and car rental agency with locations EVERYWHERE (I use Hertz and prefer Marriott over Hilton but have rewards cards with both). Another thing to remember when choosing is how important a free breakfast will be. It can really help your budget to choose a hotel like Hilton’s Hampton Inn. They have eggs and bacon 🙂
  • Skip the lines: Booking ahead and using your hotel and car chain apps make it a breeze to check in remotely. With Hertz, I have my car with keys in it waiting for me when I arrive, as they text me the stall number. I just get in and go. With Marriott I check in from my phone and use a Mobile Key to go straight to my room, skipping the check in line entirely. I use UBER as much as possible (some airports don’t allow it) so I don’t have to wait for a taxi in the line at their airport.
  • Dress for success: Proper outfit + crossbody bag + tote bag + carry-on luggage = success. I usually wear flats & sock liners, leggings, and a tunic. I take a huge scarf that doubles as a jacket and blanket. I wear a crossbody bag that fits in my tote so I only have two items when I walk past the ticket counter. I carry-on to avoid delays waiting for my bag. In my tote I carry rosewater spray, sleep mask, empty water bottle, tablet, charger, and snacks (yes you can bring food through security). No matter what happens, I’m ready.

See you in Italy. xo

I’ll be using #CBCGblog and #CityGirlTravels to tag my posts on traveling well in the future. Search for them on Google, Instagram, or Facebook.

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