We approached our three-week odyssey with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. S had taken both kids to Italy in November, but there she had had her parents’ help, which was absolutely necessary for managing Munchkin’s difficult moments. Also, S and her family had mostly stayed put in one place. This would be our first trip just the four of us – our first time taking both kids on an extended journey, and we packed a lot into each day.
Watching the small island nation where we had spent the previous week grow ever smaller as the plane rose above the Indian Ocean, we experienced a familiar mix of emotions. The reservoir of relaxation we had built up during three weeks of R&R started to recede somewhat as we contemplated the long, difficult trip home: multiple flights and long layovers with two small kids in tow. We arrived back in Kigali late Sunday night, the uncertainty of our government shutdown adding an unpleasant wrinkle to the end of our vacation. And yet, we felt buoyant.
S has visited the Netherlands several times: first on a full day layover on her way back from study abroad in Ghana; then again for a two-week research project for her college thesis; and finally with her parents for a week-long vacation when she was pregnant with Munchkin. Over the course of our six-and-a-half years in the Foreign Service, Amsterdam has become our transit hub of choice, especially considering the dearth of flight options into East Africa. Instead of simply flying through on her way to and from Tuscany, S decided to tack on a one-day layover in Amsterdam to see a close friend and explore a bit deeper one of her favorite European capitals.
Every once in a while we like to look back at the bucket list we threw together at the beginning of our first Foreign Service tour, a few months into our marriage – to check if we can cross off any items and add a few new ones, but also to reflect on the time that has transpired and how it has changed both us and our goals.
Tuscany’s richly deserved fame as one of the world’s premier art, food, and wine destinations draws millions of visitors every year. While adults flock to Florence, for young travelers, one of the region’s highlights is hidden away in the tiny town of Collodi, roughly halfway between Florence and the Ligurian coast. Carlo Lorenzini, the Florentine writer who created Pinocchio, had family in Collodi and adopted the town’s name for his pseudonym. Modern-day Collodi is replete with all things Pinocchio, and its quirky amusement park dedicated to the famous long-nosed marionette is a must.
Old habits die hard, and the temptation to venture out from the cozy Tuscan farmhouse to explore the Italian countryside proved too great to resist. S and her family visited San Gimignano, Lucca, Siena, Pisa, and Florence, the hour-long car rides proving perfect for Junebug’s naps.
After being involved in a dispute, it’s advisable to let the dust settle and one’s emotions cool before mentally revisiting it to identify lessons learned. Having thus allowed some time to elapse since our months-long dispute with the State Department, we thought it might be instructive – as much for ourselves as for other FSOs who read this blog – to dissect the incident. Read more