My Bucket List Trip To Italy – The Amalfi Coast

I apologize for the delay in between blog posts. I have been dealing with some side effects from the latest medication in my cancer treatment.

On our recent trip to Italy we spent four days on the Amalfi coast.

The Amalfi Coast was spectacular because of the amazing cliffs and how the land is used.   The views were breathtaking.

The owner/operator at the B&B where we stayed in Amalfi was such a impressive guy. His name is Gregorio, he is in his late 50’s to early 60’s. In addition to operating the B&B, he also maintains an organic terrace farm with chickens, cows and pigs. Every morning he would prepare our breakfast with the best cappuccino made with fresh cow’s milk. The flavor was delicate and slightly sweet. One day at breakfast he looked at me and Gary and told us our skin color was much better than when we arrived. He then gave me an orange from the fridge that he got from Sorrento. He instructed me to eat the entire orange. I did and it was delicious. He gave me another orange on our last day to eat. Gregorio’s simple, hard working life is something you don’t see much anymore. His wife Anna bakes like an angel. Everyday we always had something fresh baked from Anna. Most of the food they and the B&B guests eat is from his farm, including his homemade red wine! This was the most special experience of our trip.

We didn’t do the typical touristy things.  We went to the island of Capri on a day trip,  which is something I had wanted to do. Instead of taking the boat to the blue grotto or doing other tours, we spent most of the day at a cafe on the waterfront.  There we met a couple from Glendale Arizona, which is near Phoenix. They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, so I took pictures of them on their phones and camera and helped the lady post to Facebook. We had a great time eating, drinking and talking with these people. We also did some major people watching, too!

I am so grateful for this magical time with my husband, Gary, in Italy. After hoping and wishing for this trip for several years, and planning for it for months, I was so happy that we had such a wonderful time.

We saved the best for last. Next time I will tell you about our final night in Italy!

Ciao for now! 🇮🇹

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My Bucket List Trip to Italy – Venice to Amalfi

Our second day in Venice was great. Gary slept in then we had breakfast, walked around some more, did a little shopping, had some gelato, rested a bit then went for dinner. The travel author Rick Steves describes Venice as a city in elegant decay. That is a very good description. Some say Venice will be under water within 50 years. For now, it is a city full of rich history, art and great food. Because of my overpacking I had to limit any purchases I made to small items such as scarves and small trinkets. I  ended up buying a canvas bag (one more thing to lug around) to carry my purchases. The Italians love their scarves so it seemed only fitting that I would buy a scarf. I found one on a cart in the middle of a town square. Below is a picture of me wearing my scarf I bought in Venice. I loved all of the colors!

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On the third day we flew from Venice to Naples via Easy Jet, which is a European airline. The cost was about the same as taking the high speed train. The train would take about 7 hours to get to Naples while the flight was slightly over an hour. The choice was simple. Spend less time in transit.  Easy Jet does things on an ala cart basis.  I had purchased bag check for two bags in advance. When we got to the gate we were told we would have had to drop the bags at a bag drop as we entered the airport. Neither Gary or I saw a bag drop. The woman at the ticket counter was unable to apply the amount I had paid to cover the gate checking of the bags so we had to pay again. Getting the money back for the fee I had already paid appears to be unlikely. The airline people told us to request it online. We started referring to them as “Not Easy Jet”.

The other thing about these budget European airlines is that they sell stuff during the flight (other than food). The flight attendants actually have a cart that they go up and down the aisle with hawking things like cologne and gadgets after they finish the beverage service. We thought that was kind of weird. Then on the way home American Airlines started promoting their credit card toward the end of their flights. I guess it’s just another line of revenue for the airlines!

Once we landed in Naples we had to decide on ground transportation. The bus wasn’t running for 4 hours so Gary decided to rent a car. He had always wanted to drive in Italy and he had been wanting to drive a BMW.  It just so happened that the rental car agency had a BMW 1 series with a manual transmission for a pretty decent price. I told him that he could do all of the driving as I had no interest in driving in Italy. So I was the navigator, which was interesting since I had no idea where I was going. Thank goodness for navigation in the rental car! Sometimes it led us astray but often it gave us correct directions. I put together a video of our driving experience to give you an idea of what it is like to travel the winding, narrow roads with the crazy Italian drivers.  Here is a link to that video: Driving in Italy

Note: I recommend you turn up your sound to hear the music, conversation and sound effects!

Next time, I will cover the Amalfi Coast! Ciao!! 🇮🇹

My Bucket List Trip to Italy – Getting there and our 1st day in Venice

Our recent trip to Italy has been #1 on my bucket list for some time. My husband has been there twice but I had never been.  A couple of months before the trip I booked our flights. After many hours of searching various sights, looking at various airlines and routes I finally found one that was affordable and with only one stopover. Google is a great way to search for flights. You just enter where you are flying from and to and Google will show you airlines, rates and other information.

We flew American Airlines RDU to Philly, then Philly to Venice. I learned to leave about a 3 hour layover in between flights in case the first flight is delayed.  This is a good idea both ways because coming back involves going through customs which can take some time.

In talking with my friends who have visited Italy they all pretty much fly economy, which can be uncomfortable on an overseas flight. Unless you have a lot of points with the airline or on a travel credit card you are probably going to want to fly economy in order to stay within your budget. One thing I learned (the hard way) is once you book your flight don’t expect to be able to upgrade without great additional cost.

My husband wanted to fly business class so we could recline our seats in order to sleep on the overnight flight to Venice. The prices for anything other than economy were more than I wanted to spend on flights, even in off season, so I booked main cabin economy.  A few weeks later I called American Airlines to ask them about possibly upgrading to business class. I was told it would cost $2000 per person over and above the cost of the tickets. Once I picked myself up off the floor I politely declined.  I was given a couple of options. Lay across the middle 4 seats to sleep or ask for a “day of departure upgrade” when you get to the airport. I made a note on their advice.  At my husband’s request I called American Airlines again few weeks later to inquire once again about getting an upgrade. I was told the cost would now be $4500 per person to upgrade. Again, I was shocked and said thanks but no thanks. The day of our flight we checked with someone with American Airlines at the ticket counter and were told that we “did not qualify” for an upgrade.  The person could not tell us why we did not qualify and she wasn’t very nice about it either.  We decided to try again at the Philly airport.  In Philly we were told American Airlines doesn’t offer upgrades on international flights. When we called their Advantage membership number (of which we are members of) we were told it would now cost $8900 per person to upgrade and their were 4 business class seats available.  So, we stayed with economy.  In addition we had the crying baby across the aisle. We felt bad for both the mom and baby, but it’s a lesson to get those noise cancelling headphones if you want to get sleep on a flight.  We felt like we got the run around from American Airlines. I plan on giving them feedback on our experience but we don’t expect that American Airlines will respond, other than with the standard automatic response. I will let you know if I hear anything back from them.

It was my intention to carry on my bags, however, I “overpacked” which made the bag too thick to meet the airline’s guidelines so we had to check our bags at the gate. Because of this, and having to drag  2 bags around Italy and through the airports, I will pack lighter going forward.

We landed in Venice at 9:15am their time, which was 3:15am eastern time. Having had not much sleep on the flight over we were deliriously tired but charged with adrenaline about being in Italy. We were very impressed at how fast the Venice airport got our bags to us at baggage claim. It was much faster than at RDU International. Once we had our bags we then headed for the ferry or vaporetto. Remember, nothing with wheels is allowed in Venice, which is lovely but can also be a bit of a hassle. Expect to walk a lot!  We bought our tickets at a kiosk and did the 12 minute walk to the area where the water taxis and ferries dock.

It took over an hour for us to get to our stop as we were the last one of several. It was sort of like riding a bus except it was a boat. It was great to see Venice from the water coming in.  If you aren’t in a hurry and don’t mind sitting down below with a bunch of strangers, the vaporetto is an inexpensive way to get from the Marco Polo airport to Venice. There is also a train, but I believe you will have to either take a water taxi from there or walk.

We couldn’t check into our room until 3pm so we had some time. We dropped our bags off at the hotel check in desk and went to have lunch.  The people at the front desk are young, Italian, fashionable and friendly.  I think there should be a reality show called “The Young Italians”.  They are a force and they are fun to watch!

To kill time until we could get into our room we ate lunch at an outdoor cafe, then took a gondola ride (totally worth the 80 Euros!) walked and walked some more.  Below are a couple of pictures of the gondola we took. We went around lunch time when a lot of people go home for lunch so it was peaceful and quiet.  I am glad we did it. Just a note that many of the gondoliers do not take credit cards so have some Euros handy.

 

After the gondola ride we walked over to St. Mark’s Square.  Below is a picture of me getting some caffeine into my system at a lovely cafe with live music. St. Mark’s Basilica is behind me in this photo.

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When we finally made it into the apartment we had rented we were exhausted.  We stayed at a place called AD Lofts which we found on Expedia’s web site. It was nice because it was off the beaten path and had a kitchen with a fridge and a living room area.

We took a 3 hour nap around 4:00 so we could rest up for dinner. I got varied advice about whether to nap or not to nap that first day. Some people said, “do not nap!”. Others said, “take a short nap”.  In the end we decided to nap because we were crazy tired and wouldn’t be able to function without one.

The Italians eat late.  Many of the small businesses close from 1-4 in the afternoon so the owners can go home for lunch and a nap. Restaurants usually start serving dinner around 7pm.  Many people there eat around 9pm. We are used to eating earlier than that so we headed out a little after 7:00 to walk around and find a place to eat. There are many cafes in Venice.  We didn’t research them. We just found one that looked good and went with it when we were ready to eat.

Tomorrow I will tell you more about our time in Venice and include some tips I learned along the way.  Ciao for now!

My Bucket List Trip To Italy

 

‘\My husband, Gary, and I recently returned from a bucket list trip to Italy.  I hadn’t ever been to Europe or Italy and this is a trip I have been dreaming about for years. While mapping out my priorities for 2018 I decided that visiting Italy was #1 on my list.  I wanted to take this trip with Gary while we are still able to handle international travel and before he retires. In addition, I had overpaid on my taxes for 2017 so I got a little bit back to pay for the trip.

In preparation for this trip I talked with friends who have been to Italy to ask them for advice. That was very helpful. Thanks to everyone who helped me. Your advice was great. My friend, Tanja, suggested using Pinterest to research travel.  I had never  thought of using Pinterest to research travel, but it turns out that it is a great resource.  If you want to take a look at my Italy board feel free to search me on Pinterest.

Here are some takeaways from my research in advance of visiting Italy:

  1. Get your passport renewed early. It can take a while. Make hard copies of your passport to carry with you. Keep it in your room in case yours gets lost or stolen. I also took pictures of them to have electronically, too. In addition, I made screenshots of the addresses and phone numbers of the US consulates in Italy to have on my phone in case I would need to have the passports replaced while in Italy.
  2. Overpacking isn’t good, however, I am glad I had different shoes to wear. Italy is a lot of walking but my feet never hurt because I took several pairs of high quality, supportive shoes. Speaking of shoes, the Italians wear great looking shoes. They are all about fashion and style. I wish I could have photographed everyone’s shoes!
  3. Speaking of fashion, you have to step it up a bit in Italy. That means no yoga pants! I spent weeks planning my wardrobe and I had to add a few items to bring it up to Italian standards. The other thing is hats and scarves. The Italians love their scarves, including the men. I took several scarves and was glad I did. I would discourage wearing ball caps.  Get a good sun hat. It will serve you well.
  4. Coffee. The Italians do coffee much differently than Americans do. There are no Starbucks in Italy. They don’t do the fancy coffee drinks. Italians drink their espressos standing up at coffee bars. If you want to sit and drink coffee you will pay more and stand out. Just sayin’.
  5. Get Euros before you leave. I heard all kinds of opinions on this while preparing for the trip. I got 200 Euros prior to leaving and I wish I would have gotten 600. We took two private water taxis in Venice when we were heading to the airport at a cost of 120-130 Euros per trip (totally worth it). Plus the gondola ride was 80 Euros (again worth it) and they don’t take credit cards. My husband and I had a little difficulty with some of the ATM’s in Italy. Either they ran out of money or they didn’t work with our bank network. You can use credit cards in Italy, however, there may be foreign service charges. Call your credit card company to ask. We used one specific card whenever we could that didn’t have the charges.
  6. Let your bank and your credit card companies know that you will be out of the country before you go. That way they will know the charges and withdrawals you are making aren’t fraudulent.
  7. I got a 30 day international phone plan with data for the trip. It was only 1GB of data but it came in handy when we got lost in Venice. (And you will get lost in Venice)
  8. Things you may want to bring.  Many Italian hotels and B&B’s do not provide washcloths. I like to use a washcloth so I took a couple. The only problem was getting them to dry. At the B&B I put them out on the deck to dry in the sun. You definitely will want an adapter so you can charge your cell phone or other devices. I strongly recommend the aforementioned sun hat, too. There are plenty of pharmacies in Italy, but I didn’t want to spend precious time shopping for things like sunscreen, bandaids and lotion. Just make sure this stuff is in small containers of 3 oz or less and in a one quart bag so it will pass the TSA checkpoint at the airport. You might also want to take an empty water bottle with you. Tap water is fine to drink in Italy and it will save you money.
  9. Learn a few words of Italian. A few phrases like “good morning”, “thank you” , “excuse me” and “how much does it cost” go a long way with the Italians. Most speak English but they appreciate the effort and it makes you not look like an “ugly American”.
  10. When to go. We went the last two weeks of April and the weather was perfect. High season runs from May through the end of August and Italy gets very hot in the summer. My recommendation is to go in April, September or October. If you don’t mind paying high season prices, May is a good time to go as well.
  11. Pictures. Gary and I used our cell phones to take pictures. We didn’t feel the need to take a camera as smart phone cameras are really good.

I will be blogging more about our trip in coming days. Today I will leave you with a few images from our time in Venice (turn up the sound to hear the music).

Gary and Dianes Venice Video

Why does medication cost so much?

While we have been living our lives something insidious has happened with how our prescriptions are being handled.  It’s called pharmacy benefit managers or PBM’s.

Americans fill 4.5 billion prescriptions per year!  I have filled a good number of those during my cancer treatment which costs a lot even with health insurance.

So what are these PBM’s and how do they affect how much we pay?  These companies are the middleman between your company’s health insurance plan and the pharmaceutical companies.

According to Axios.com one of the primary functions of a pharmacy benefit manager is to negotiate rebates from the list prices of prescription drugs. In return for the rebates, PBMs agree to cover those medications and make it easier for people to access them. PBMs are then supposed pass along the savings to the employers and health plans that hire them, but they often keep a cut for themselves.

Pharmacies are being squeezed. PBMs pay pharmacies for each filled prescription, but pharmacists, especially those running independent stores, say the big players are squeezing them by paying out wildly differing rates.

Everyday we continue letting private companies have free reign over the healthcare system means that we, the consumers, will continue to be kept in the dark about the inner workings of how the industry determines how much we pay.  The federal government must take charge of heathcare and dictate to all providers and drug companies what they can charge.

If you would like to read more about how PBM’s work and how you are affected click on the link below:

https://www.axios.com/drug-pricing-contract-express-scripts-d536e8a9-a8a3-4bc9-8028-05453e617326.html

Mercury retrograde – let the games begin!

It’s that time of year again when things get crazy. I am talking about the astrological phenomenon called Mercury in retrograde.

Mercury entered retrograde, appearing to turn the opposite direction in relation to other planets within its solar system, for the first time in 2018 ast approximately 7:19 p.m. ET on Thursday. It will remain in that position until April 15th.

The planet is not actually moving backwards. It just appears to be skating in reverse. Though many scientists disagree that this is a thing, it gives you something to blame when your computer or cell phone messes up, communication gets fouled up or appointments are missed.  The best advice I have received about mercury retrograde to is triple check anything to do with communication during this time period.

 

Update on my cancer treatment

I am re-posting my latest journal entry from my Caring Bridge page, so that if you follow my blog or my Facebook page you will be in the loop.

My latest CT and bone scans revealed new bone tumors. In addition, my cancer antigen numbers are way up. Based on these results my doctors have decided to change course again. After 19 months on a clinical trial I will be moving from those meds to a hormone treatment called Faslodex.

Cancer adapts to medications and eventually becomes less effective. Like any chronic illness, changes to treatment need to be made occasionally. So is the case for me.

If you know me you are aware that I am a “glass half full” person, so here are some things I am grateful for right now:
-The wonderful care I am receiving and have received from Drs. Dees and Moore
-The fact that the clinical trial kept my cancer under control for 19 months
-That I am doing as well as I am and tolerating the medications well
-That I will be going back to Rex Cancer Center to see Dr. Moore and the wonderful staff and nurses there. They are some of the most lovely health care professionals I have ever met. UNC Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill does a fantastic job and the professionals there are very dedicated. I am amazed that they are able to treat so many patients and do such an excellent job.
-I am grateful for my wonderful husband, Gary, my sweet dogs, Stella and Rocky, my Dad and other family members, plus the best and most supportive friends ever. My heart is touched everyday by the kindness and caring of the people in my life.

I am happy to report that I will be doing some fun things on my bucket list this year, too!  Stay tuned for updates on those adventures!

Life is good and I am a very fortunate person.

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