You may know Gemelli as the short, corkscrew-shaped pasta made up of two thick strands twisted together. But for me, it is so much more. Hearing the word conjures up magical memories of Italy …
The square in Venice where an impromptu play date took place when Italian children started playing with twin American toddlers while their parents communicated through broken words and smiles.
An Italian hotel owner borrowing a baby cot from a neighboring hotel so that these twins could be squeezed in his small, European sized room.
The Italian lady walking her matching dogs and allowing them to play with the matching children.
An Italian chef making a special meal and an extra space at the table with a make-shift high chair in his BnB dining room where there had never before been a need to sit two toddlers at the same time.
A hotel receptionist reading an Italian bedtime story in an attempt to lull them to sleep when their jet lag prevented them from doing so.
The Asian tourist who wanted to take a photo with the twin toddlers in Piazza San Marco, but ended up with a photo of her with them and their father.
You see, gemelli is the Italian word for twins, and the word is music to my ears.
When deciding where we would travel internationally with our twins for the first time, Italy was a natural choice. Rob and I had gone there for his two week R&R leave during his deployment to Iraq, so it has a special place in our hearts as the place where we reconnected after being apart for seven months. We loved everything about Italy – the architecture, the natural beauty, the people, the food, and of course, the wine …
Do not get me wrong, I did not think we would be able to enjoy Italy as much as the last time, especially the wine! But despite concerns of a red-eye Transatlantic flight with two 22-month-old boys, we made Italy the choice for our first international trip with Bryson & Connor.
Did I mention that we did not buy airline seats for the boys? Children up to the age of two can fly for free on their parents’ laps. I think most people who take advantage of that rule have one baby between two parents who can switch holding the child during the flight. Many probably draw the line at an overnight flight.
We went all in, toddler on each lap all night long. It could not be that bad, right?
Wrong! It was bad. Really bad. Worse than I thought it would be. And we were lucky! The gate agent took mercy upon us and arranged a vacant seat in between us, but the boys were in awe of everything around them. It was all so new and exciting, and not being in a proper space for sleeping made them not realize it was time to sleep.
The boys did not even seem tired. Rob and I were exhausted. Eventually, the boys gave in and fell asleep briefly, waking up excitedly a few hours later to sunlight and breakfast being served.
I was so surprised that Rob did not immediately fall asleep when the boys did because that man falls asleep the second he closes his eyes. I once read a meme that stated: “forget sleeping like a baby, I want to sleep like my husband”. That meme was made for me. I do not fall asleep easily, especially on planes. In the end, the boys slept three hours, Rob two hours, and I slept for one measly hour. Despite the awfulness of the flight, I would have done it again and again, I do not just like to travel – I need to travel. At that time, we could not have afforded to buy four tickets, especially since it was long before I really knew how to shop for cheap flights. I did not know how long it would be until we could afford four tickets to Europe, so we went. My advice to everyone is to go when you can. You never know what the future holds, just go!
I feel this is a good place to segue to a theme that will surely repeat itself throughout my blogs. People constantly ask me how hard it is to travel with my twins? My answer is always this, it is easier than being at home. As a stay-at-home mom, I have the sole responsibility to keep them entertained all day. This has obviously gotten easier as they have gotten older. Now, they go to preschool for a portion of their day and are more independent. However, it is always easier when Daddy is around, and when we are on vacation, Daddy is always around.
Speaking of things being easier when Daddy is around, my husband gets things done. He does things with ease and no stress. Arriving at Malpensa International Airport in Milan that sunny morning in April of 2015 was like a dream. Not in the dreamy sense, but in the fractured state of “Am I awake or asleep, what is happening?” sense. After finding our way to the car rental desk with all of our bags, car seats, and two umbrella strollers that were supposed to connect when we were unable to each push one (but really did no such thing effectively), the nice man behind the desk suggested that we rent a bigger car. Not willing to be beaten at the upcharge game, I politely refused, and we soon had our keys in hand. We made our way with all the equipment needed by frazzled parents traveling with twin toddlers, and Rob started installing the car seats. After installing both seats and trying to cram the rest of our items into the trunk of the car, we soon realized that this car was indeed too small. The unpacking (sprinkled with some crying and snippy comments) began, and we dejectedly made our way back to the car rental counter. The nice man took mercy on us and quickly had us in a hatchback that really did not cost much more and was totally worth it. Lesson learned. The installation and loading began, and we were off on our two and a half hour drive to Sestri Levante, our base for visiting the Cinque Terre, with not much more than a light snooze the night before.
Barely able to keep our eyes opened, we quickly stopped for lunch as morning was already over and we had just begun our road trip. The Autostrada is a series of toll roads/highways that efficiently allow you to exit and re-enter in a very streamlined process. It is not like the United States where you exit the highway with ten restaurants and gas stations to choose from. In Italy, you get one restaurant choice every few miles so you decide to eat there or drive to the next one. We quickly became fans of Autogrill which is more or less the McDonald’s of Italy. Since you only had one choice when you exited the Autostrada, you needed to make sure you picked the restaurant brand with the most options. The first Autogrill we stopped at spanned across the Autostrada so that both sides of the Autostrade could access the same restaurant. What almost two-year-old boy would not love staring below as cars whizzed under their feet?
After consuming much needed sustenance, we were again on our way to Sestri Levante, but we did not make it very far. Our eyelids started getting heavier and heavier, so we zipped off the Autostrada for a cappuccino, then another and another … at some point, I resorted to straight espresso like a real Italian. Even though I was not driving and we had not paid the extra money to list me as a driver, I felt the need to stay awake for moral support and also because I did not fancy falling off the edge of some of the windiest roads I have ever traversed. Of course, during this time, the babies were snoozing, so we had no hope of a nap once we arrived at our hotel.
Many people say not to take a nap when you are jet lagged because it takes longer to adapt. I would happily nap on a normal day at home, so when I am tired and given the opportunity, I jump on it, no matter where I am. I do not find it hampers my adjustment horribly, the key when traveling with children is that you are all on the same schedule. As long as my kids are napping when I am painfully tired and also need a nap, then I do not mind them staying up later than normal as we adjust to our traveling norm. Sadly, a nap was not in the cards this first day of our trip. Although it was certainly a rough journey, it was all worth it when we arrived, settled in at our hotel, then found the perfect little spot on the beach with a playground for the boys and a bar for the grown-ups. We had the happiest of hours while the boys played and we recouped.
Luckily, we stayed at a hotel which offered a half board plan, so we did not have to think about what we would do for dinner that night. One of my favorite parts about traveling is dining at different establishments throughout the trip, but this family-run hotel had rave reviews for its dinner offerings and we knew we would be exhausted after traveling with young twins, so we opted for the half board plan on two nights of our four night stay. Boy am I glad we made that decision. Each night, our meal began with antipasti, followed by the primi plate which was a selection of either soup or pasta, then a secondi plate comparable to our mains, completed with a decadent dolci. Pair this food with the friendliest chef who kept our twins entertained every time we peaked into his kitchen and made sure they had kid-friendly versions of what we were eating, we could not have been any happier with our choice.
The perfect ending to the night was us all being in bed by 8PM so we could recoup for our outing the next day. And when I say we were all in bed, I literally mean we were all together in the double-sized while the baby cots lay empty.
We were so tired that it did not matter. Once we let the boys get in the bed with us, we fell asleep quickly. But that’s the funny thing about jet lag … despite being exhausted, going to bed at 8PM was equivalent the boys 2PM nap time at home, so after two hours, they were awake and ready to go. We got decked out in our street clothes, loaded the boys in their strollers, and hit the town. Luckily, it was Italy, so there was plenty going on at 11PM. We forgot to bring our wallets, so we mostly just people watched and let the boys climb statues in the squares, but it was enough to wear them out.
Bryson and Connor finally succumbed to their sheer exhaustion around midnight, and we all slept peacefully for the rest of the night.
We all slept late the next morning, hooray! So late that we almost missed breakfast, but again, we were lucky to be in Italy where everything is suited to being late. Definitely, my kind of place. I am infamous for my inability to manage my time. I am not late because I am primping, I am late because I think it takes 5 minutes to dress my kids and it actually takes 10 minutes or because in my head, it takes 10 minutes to drive to the kids’ school, but it really takes 15. But I digress, what is important is that after a rough first day, we were on track for our Italian adventure. Our itinerary was as follows:
Cinque Terre, Italy
Day 1: Arrive in Sestri Levante
Day 2: Portovenere
Day 3: Cinque Terre – Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, & Manarola.
Day 4: Portofino
Day 5: San Gimignano via Pisa
Day 6: San Gimignano
Day 7: en route to Venice
Day 8: Venice
Lake Como, Italy
Day 9: en route to Lake Como, Bellagio
Day 10: Lake Como ferry: visits to Bellagio, Menaggio, Varenna
Day 11: Day in Bellagio with a late arrival to Milan airport 1.5 hours away.
Day 12-15: Mykonos, Greece!
Day 16: Fly home
It may seem like an ambitious itinerary, but we did not try to fit too much in every day. In fact, we arranged for our boys to have a dedicated nap time most days. The fact is that if you make the trip with young ones, you need to spend as many days as possible since you will not see as much each day as you would without kids. It takes several days to truly adapt to the time zone and you will spend much of the first few days very tired. Of course, as a parent, that is your norm and you adapt quickly to less sleep!
Despite all of the hardships of traveling with young kids, it was absolutely worth the extra work. Being away from the norm, you connect with your kids more.
In researching this post, I re-read an email I sent to my dad during the trip telling him that the boys had picked up several new words while traveling. My hunch was that it was related to the extra attention they were receiving from Rob and me during the trip. Just having my husband around allowed me to focus on one toddler instead of two which allowed us to foster more of their speaking skills. This was especially important because our boys were in speech therapy for speech delays. At home, I would use the presence of dad to do an extra load of laundry or wash the dishes in the sink, but being away truly allowed us to focus on our children. It also allowed us to focus on each other.
Becoming parents, especially to two babies at one time, takes a lot of your energy away. After putting your kids to bed, you seek refuge on the couch and while you may be watching the same show and sharing the same bottle of wine, you are not really connecting. We made sure that everywhere we stayed on this trip (and all subsequent trips) had a balcony (preferred) or second room to ensure we had a place to connect and unwind from our day. With our Italian wine (or Prosecco) in hand, we talked about the day we had, the kind of day we wanted to have tomorrow, and anything else that came to mind.
Getting away from the everyday grind is so important. What better way to do it than in a foreign land where people engage with you warmly and pat your child’s head gently as they inquire“Gemelli?” To which you reply with a smile, “Sì, gemelli”.