Trip review — Rome & Spanish Basque Country

by Fred MacMurray

I thought I’d share my experiences on a recently completed trip to Rome and the Basque Country of Spain.


Hotel Teatro Pace
Via del Teatro Pace, 33
(just west of Piazza Navona on a quiet street; excellent location to walk pretty much anywhere in the areas tourists will want to visit)
Price (euros): 250/night double room; 140/night single room, breakfast included

Very good accommodations on the European scale. Quiet, clean, rooms, firm beds. Breakfast is served in the room, choose what you want from the menu the night before. Worked very well. I’d stay there again.

Some restaurants:
Campo di Fiore: Il Mercato. Kind of typical tourist restaurant, but pizza, pasta, salads, grilled vegetables were good. I had eaten there in 2009 and went back. Probably one of the better “touristy” places you can eat at for a reasonable price

Il Forno: pizza to go. Excellent.

Navona (about 4 doors down from the hotel): La Pace del Palato. Via del Teatro Pace, 42. Not a touristy menu at all. Very nice service and food. Recommend as a more upscale place when you’ve had enough regular pizza/pasta.

Gelato: not that you can really go wrong, but a couple we liked: Ice Crome and Frigidarium, both on Via del Governo Vecchio.

For the Vatican, I used . This was very good; I had also used them in 2009.
For Roman Forum & Colosseum, we went with The Rogue Historians. We had a private tour with Ian, but there are also group tours that are less expensive but also a mile wide and an inch deep.

Spanish Basque Country

Stayed in Bilbao
Hotel Miro Bilbao (5 min. walk from the Guggenheim Museum)
Price (euros): 200/night junior suite; 180/night deluxe king including breakfast and a complimentary snack bar in the lobby.
Modern hotel; would fit right in the US.

Serrantes III (right next to the hotel) Great seafood, especially the Fish Soup and the Fish Salad. Tremendously fresh food and good service

Pinxtos (Tapas) Bar
Casilda. Pinxtos are the Basque version of tapas. Much more elaborate than typically found in Madrid and other parts of Spain. There are plenty of other bars offering similar pinxtos; this place had the widest variety and best price (1 euro each).

Note: while there is plenty of English spoken in Rome…I think you could do it without knowing a word of Italian, English is much less common in Bilbao and the rest of the Basque Country. I happen to speak good enough Italian and I used to be practically fluent in Spanish, so my experience may have been atypical.

Happy to answer anybody’s questions, whether in the comments or privately.

Totebaggers, what places can you recommend to other travelers?


145 thoughts on “Trip review — Rome & Spanish Basque Country

  1. Please note: for today only British Airways is offering a flash sale that’s has business class to London for $2k round trip for travel November 1 to August 31. For those of you with an AARP membership (note AARP has no actual age restrictions) you can apply the $400 AARP discount brining the total down to $1600.

  2. A quick follow up – yesterday I decided I was fine with the price for the car & wasn’t going to follow up further with the dealership. This morning they left a message saying that their agreement with USAA required them to honor the new certificate and therefore would be sending a check for the difference. So I guess for whatever reason, they really did need the certificate, and they must have strict terms with USAA.

  3. That’s awesome, Lark. And I guess they have to adjust the sales tax.

    It’s possible that USAA has changed the way they’re doing business with their buying service. Previously, I would get price quotes all the time without them submitting the info. to dealerships. Now, I’ve gotten at least 20 emails and several calls from many dealerships. Our nearby dealer called DW at home this morning inviting us to come look at the Pilots they had in stock.

  4. I’m amazed to realize how much I’ve forgotten from my three-week trip to Italy during high school. Right now it’s all just a blur of churches.

  5. Really Risley? It totally made my morning.

    I say you convert that check into a business class ticket to London this summer

    I wish!!

  6. Where is everyone today? Second day of conference lectures — need some diversion, please!

    (Also, Grace, just sent another proposed post).

  7. Sounds like an amazing trip. I’m so jealous; I love Rome. Thanks for the Rogue Historians recommendation. They look really interesting. What were your favorite sights?

  8. Fred – that trip sounds amazing! Did you include the boys as well?

    I want to return to Italy and enjoy it as an adult – I was there when I was 16. Like Milo, I don’t remember too much, though I do take out my photo album periodically. Luckily I took a metric ton of photos (in the days of film, so you can only imagine what my carry on luggage looked like).

    Lark – congrats! Use that found money wisely – or just go nuts. Whichever.

    My only recommendations are probably places all y’all have already visited… Charleston, Savannah, Key West…

    My friend and I are planning a girls’ weekend to a tropical location – we are thinking one of the Saints… Maybe John or Lucia… any suggestions?

  9. I will post an update on DS, and thank you to those that were so kind with their thoughts last week.

    We basically backed off completely for a week, I spent most of my time biting my tongue, and sort of ignored the fact that he took a week off of all sports/activities. In that week he slept a ton and ate a ton and got his first real zit (!) and grew about an inch overnight it seemed. Then this week he announced that although he’d like to take a month or two off of swim team, he wants to play tennis 3 times/week instead, and that’s where we are.

    All’s well that ends well. Knowing when to back off and when to intervene is one of the trickier parts of having a tween (teens too maybe?), so I appreciate the advice here.

  10. There was an anon who had undergone some sort of preliminary investigation with the local CPS. An update to that story would be interesting.

  11. Rhode,

    St. Martin? You could go to the beach at the airport!

    Than again, that might be more fun for me than for you :-)

  12. I’m waiting for a flu shot. Thinking about warm vacations because it suddenly got cold here today.

    I love to visit Australia. I know it is far, but I really love it there. I’ve been to Sydney several times and I would go be happy to go back any time. The reason is that I’m happy to explore cities on vacation. I know some people don’t want a city vacation, but Sydney is the best of both because the beaches are amazing too.

    The people that I’ve met all over Australia are friendly. I’ve had dinner in a BP station and met some great people. They’re genuinely interested in the rest of the world since its so distant for them to travel.

    I’ve visited the Great Barrier Reef and a few different small islands. I don’t have a favorite because they’re gorgeous.

    I really enjoyed Melbourne, Gold Coast and Ayers Rock. I never had time to see the Penguins south of Melbourne.
    I did stop in New Zealand on one trip. If I had to do it again, I would just go there because I didn’t have enough time to explore the South Island and it is very different from Auckland and the north.

    I’m just starting to plan that Italy trip for next summer. The only real obstacle is figuring out where to visit. I don’t want to spend a lot of time in cars or trains. There are so many places I would like to see, but I have to pick soon.

  13. “My only recommendations are probably places all y’all have already visited… Charleston, Savannah, Key West…”

    I’ve not been to any of those places.

  14. “In that week he slept a ton and ate a ton and got his first real zit (!) and grew about an inch overnight it seemed. ”

    The first two things probably have a causal relationship with the last.

  15. Finn, I haven’t been to Hawaii yet.
    We want to wait to go with DD. She is willing, but she doesn’t want to skip sleepaway camp. We just have to find enough time with school and camp to finally visit.

    Our California friends treat vacations in Hawaii as we would with visits to Aruba or other Caribbean islands. I just wish it wasn’t so far (and expensive!)

  16. I’ve been caregiving for my mom after a fall and wish I could book British Airways business class today! Someone else needs to buy tickets so we can live vicariously through you. I enjoyed Fred’s post.

  17. Family wants to do Asia this summer (Bali, Singapore, etc.) I’m hoping for the Galapagos Islands. DH and I visited when we were newly married, but now we’d like to take the whole family.

  18. I finally broached the topic of spring break with DH. I told him of course I wanted him to get the time off, but in the event he didn’t, as he said he might now, there was no way I could sit around here with the boys for all week – we’d all kill each other, so would he mind if we did something like visit San Fran or a Disney cruise without him. He said absolutely no problem, he totally got it, we should do whatever we wanted. And then the next day came home and announced he had secured Saturday – Wednesday off, so he could now join us. :)

    So now we are also trying to decide what to do for those days – must be warm. No Disney Cruises line up with Sat – Wed, so that’s out as an option.

  19. Lauren, we’re a lot closer to you than Australia is. Maybe you can stop here on your way to or from there.

    I can understand the distance thing. That’s probably why WDW has become so much bigger than Disneyland (in addition to the lack of undeveloped land in Anaheim), and why most people here are much more likely to travel to Europe than I.

  20. Lark: We went to San Fran 2 years ago for Spring Break. It’s not warm–fleece weather, but Sat-Wed is the perfect length of time. The highlight of the trip was the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.

  21. This thread is making me want to go on vacation, not sure if it will even be in the budget next year

    We went to Clearwater FL and Colorado Springs this year (repeat visits) didn’t go anywhere “new” this year

  22. I’m trying to plan something for spring break next year. We usually go to Amelia Island, FL and the kids love it but DH and I are wanting to do something different. Maybe a different beach in FL combined with Disney. Can’t decide if I want to do Disney with a two year old, but my four year old has been begging to go.

  23. I haven’t been to the new location, but for anyone with any nerdly inclinations going to SF, the Exploratorium was great.

    The Lawrence Hall of Science is another suggestion, for the views as well as the museum itself.

  24. Lark, any thoughts to you and kids staying a couple days after your DH needs to get back to work? Perhaps that would be an opportunity to do stuff you like a lot more than he does.

    If DW and I had a similar situation, I don’t think she’d hesitate to send me back to work while she stayed a couple more days to shop.

  25. Finn – I recommend all those places. They are my favorite repeat destinations.

    I’d love to get to Hawaii and Australia. It’s just so darn expensive. We will one day…

    Because it’s time for Halloween, and this movie series is more funny than scary, and I really enjoy laughing at people (I’m horrible, I know)… here’s a little diversion…

    Next spring we are going to Idaho to visit a friend. We hope to take a few days to go to Yellowstone. DH thinks I’m nuts, but I’ve never been and I think it will be fun to go Big Sky Country! Anyone been out to the Boise area?

    Rhett – that is downright terrifying… They could offer the pilot a boat drink!

  26. Thanks for the tips, Fred. Rhett, it is such a short flight to Heathrow from Boston that I wouldn’t bother with business class. If I were going farther into Europe if a change of planes is required for my final destination, I’d take Icelandic economy plus.

    I get an entire 7 hours solo with the 2 year old today since she has a sniffle and mom can’t take her on a Rhode Island visit to a new baby. Heaven on earth for me, despite the fact that somehow even with a parental controls pin she managed to buy a 5 book set on my Kindle Fire. I guess the pin only controls the download. I got them to undo it with chat.

    Speaking of Rhode island, I remember going to the Providence CC in 1999 men’s bball UMass vs URI simply to behold a young Lamar Odom in action. I think that is well before your time in RI, Rhode. I know celebrities and athletes implode all the time, but this one stood out to me.

  27. Wine, how about a staycation? Given your location, aren’t there a lot of low cost travel options, e.g., packing up the car for a few days and car camping or Motel 6?

    When I lived on the continent, I did quite a few long weekend trips. There were a lot of interesting places within several hundred miles.

  28. @Anon — congrats, that’s awesome. Good job with the tongue-biting (easily the hardest part of daily parenting IMO).

    I am really looking forward to next summer for another big “us” vacation — it is memorable birthdays for both of us + a memorable wedding anniversary, so I have already told DH that I am planning 3 weeks. This year was almost overwhelmingly family stuff, with lots of memorable birthdays and such, but our quick Scotland trip had me hankering to get away more with just the four of us (#firstworldproblems, I know). I am planning Italy again, both to go back to the house we love so much in Tuscany and to go back up to Emilia-Romagna and the Piedmont to take the kids to the prosciutto and parmigiano factories/get more balsamic/show my mom the wines (it’s a big birthday for her, too, so she is planning on joining us for the wine part). I am hankering to buy tix and block out the time, but I want to make sure to hit Barolo night again, and as of a week ago, the date/location hadn’t yet been posted, sigh.

    Of course, I also emailed DH with Rhett’s link (him: “don’t tempt me”; me “I’m *trying* to tempt you”). Just too many awesome places to go, and not nearly enough time or money to visit them all. Sigh.

  29. As for vacation, DH wants to do the big island complete with observatory and volcanoes but I know he won’t get the doctor’s okay. So we are booking a paddlewheeler on the Columbia river in early Sept and will see what we can pick up on short notice for April or May.

  30. I am thinking of a beach/ island vacation but as always there must be something else other than the beach see – historic sights, museums etc. Of all the islands, I was thinking Jamaica would be closest to what I had in mind. Anyone been there ? or does anyone have other suggestions ?

  31. Rhode, if you’re a skier, that may be a good time to be in Idaho. You could stop at Sun Valley and/or Jackson Hole on the way to or from Yellowstone.

    I’ve never skied at Jackson Hole, but have a lot friends that have, and have heard very good things about it, even if you’re not into really steep stuff. I’ve been to Sun Valley twice and really enjoyed it both times. It has great long, cruising runs.

  32. Finn – how early can you get kids on skis? DS will be about 14-15 months old. DH has never skied and I haven’t skied since HS. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to give it a go… or at least go snow tubing or something family oriented like that.

    Meme – a little before my time in RI.

  33. Louise, I assume you’re limiting your search to Caribbean islands — otherwise I know a place that fits the bill ^_^.

  34. We’re thinking no summer trip next year, and instead do a fall break trip to Japan. There’s some kid travel likely in the summer though (musical group planning a tour).

  35. Rhode, I’m not the best person to answer that. DW and I didn’t ski until we were adults; DD was the youngest when she first tried, and she was 10.

    That said, I’ve seen a lot of really small kids on skis. My guess is they’re old enough to ski if they can stand up on their own.

  36. Rhode, it depends on the kid but 4 is probably the youngest I would try for skiing. My kids were 7 and 5 when they got into it. We tried when they were younger and it didn’t work out very well.

  37. At the Colorado ski resorts they definitely have lessons for pre-schoolers.

  38. DD has actual lived experience. I think we took DSS to the slopes when he was about 8, and he was only interested in snowboarding, so that’s what he did. He stuck with it til his late teens, and he’d probably still go boarding if he had a chance.

  39. Wine,
    Mammoth Cave is a great destination for a short trip. It is an all weather destination. We have also done Marengo Cave and Blue Springs cavern (includes a boat ride) as non driving alternatives. I am thinking your child is a boy and caves and rocks are popular. We also went geode hunting with success in the road cuts in US 37 south of Bloomington.

  40. So if we head up to the foothills or mountains for snow, I think we will definitely stick with family friendly activities. Which means no skiing for now.

  41. Rhode, DS loves to get in his snowsuit and just play around in the snow, build a snowman, sledding, make snow angels, etc

    I’ve never been skiing

  42. More…and thanks for your comments. It was a great trip.

    3 of us…my parents & me. Some, reading between the lines without squinting too much, might understand why only three.

    I got a lot more out of our visit to the Roman Forum because we were on a guided tour with someone who appeared to know what he was talking about and could tell the story in an interesting way. On other trips I did the self-guided thing with guidebooks. The baths of Caracalla in Rome were interesting. Kind of outside the usual Roman highlights of Colosseum, Forum, Vatican, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (currently under repairs), Spanish Steps (meh), Villa & Galleria Borghese, but someplace I had never been and I’m glad my Mom had them on her list.

    We flew from Rome to Bilbao. There’s one nonstop daily, takes 2 hours. Cheaper, faster than the train.

    I really like Spain, having spent a year + there as junior year abroad and then working there, but hadn’t spent more than an day in the Basque Country, so I really enjoyed both Bilbao and San Sebastian.

  43. I agree with Rocky re young’uns and skiing. As long as they are potty trained, they’ll be fine. My youngest started at 3.5, but with two older brothers and a dad playing ice hockey, he was able to skate and stop shortly after turning 3, so snow skiing was pretty easy for him by the time he got to that.

  44. Rhode, we took DD for the first time when she was 5 and she loved it / picked it up right away. The boys really got into skiing when they were 7-9 age range. I highly recommend putting kids in ski school. It costs a small fortune but it’s worth it. You get to ski, they are happy hanging out with cool college kids (the ski instructors), and they learn much, much faster. You can ski with your kids for an hour or so at the end of the day when the lessons are over.

    Our vacation plan is to visit DD in France over spring break. On the other hand, we will have two kids in college at the same time for the next four years and I feel like I really need to clamp down on our spending.

  45. The Yellowstone part of our trip this past summer was done through one of the Yellowstone Association’s Lodging and Learning packages, which meant it was our family plus another family, and we had a guide for the four days. It was, of course, more expensive to do it that way than self-guided, and I kind of went back and forth in the planning process about whether that was really the way to go. But looking back (I just finished our two-volume photobook of the trip), I realize that we got a lot more out of it, saw things more deeply, understood the place better, doing it that way. And of course it meant that neither of us was trying to drive through bear/bison jams, which was not inconsiderable.

  46. Rhode, you might be able to do some snow play in Yellowstone and/or Grand Teton NPs as well.

    When your DS is a little older, and you go to visit your friend in Idaho again, you might consider Dollar Mountain, near Sun Valley, to take some lessons.

  47. My vacations to Australia were before DD. banks used to have a mandatory two week off, and I was able to go with friends or DH. I went back for business trips. I didn’t tack on the extra weekend travel with my colleagues because it was too long to be away from home.

    I always fly through LA or San Fran. I know Hawaii is closer, but we want to go as a family. We waited until our daughter was old enough to travel with us to Hawaii. She is interested, but we want to find a block of time that doesn’t conflict with school or camp. There are direct flights from Newark, but we want to have at least 7 or 8 days on the ground. We would probably visit two islands. One of my colleagues grew up in Honolulu. She just got back from a two week trip. They went back for a wedding. She has two young kids and they go at least once a year because her whole family is still there. She thinks that we should just pull out of school, but her kids are much younger.

  48. Ginger, is your DD working or studying abroad in France?

    Fred’s review reminds me of when we traveled to Rome when our kids were about 13 and 9. We also stayed near the Piazza Navona, which was very convenient. I’d love to return. I probably won’t start thinking seriously about next year’s travel plans until January. I *think* we’ll be able to travel more over the next few years now that the kids are older.

    Our oldest kid LOVES to travel, and spends most of his discretionary funds on trips. (He just returned from the World Expo in Milan.) He has an interview with a company that offers 15 vacation days the first year, which has him very excited. It’s a London-based firm, so maybe that explains the relatively generous vacation benefit. Have any of you found that to be the case, where European based employers offer more vacation days?

  49. Where’s a nice place for a single 40-something woman to go for a solo-vacation? NOT looking for “romance.” I like to relax & read at a beach or pool, eat good food, and see history & art – nothing high-adventure or athletic.
    I used to have fun traveling with H and that was something I looked forward to doing in retirement. My parents have been taking the whole family on trips since they retired, but they helped both my brother and me with financing houses this year so I’m not sure when funds will be available for the next trip.

  50. RMS. I almost responded, if we have to change planes, I try to do it in Denver. O Hare is bad in winter of course, and also in summer because of thunderstorms. I tend to use it only on a return leg if I must from the vacation destination, because there are so many flights a day to Boston. Ifor my destination is less than a 2 hour drive from a larger airport, I’ll fly nonstop and either rent a car or take the intercity shuttle rather than change to the infrequent short flights

  51. I highly recommend Costa Rica. Surprisingly affordable, and not a bad flight from much of the US. Great combination of a beach vacation with some culture and active options like surf lessons, snorkeling, zip lining, and seeing volcanoes. A great place to go with a big, diverse group, because there is something there for everyone.

    I also think French Polynesia is worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime type trip. You pay through the nose, but those views are worth every penny. Don’t waste time in Tahiti, go straight to Moorea and Bora Bora.

    I think Paris is by far the most overrated place I’ve ever been. The museums are great, but it’s dirty, very expensive, and consider yourself warned if you don’t speak French. I also thought the food was mediocre; maybe my budget was just too low. I loved Marseilles though- beautiful, friendly, more affordable, and a fascinating mix of cultures.

  52. CoC, is that 15 vacation days or 15 days PTO? The 15 days of PTO is pretty much the norm for NYC area tech companies, and doesn’t go very far if you like to travel, unless you are willing to go to work even when very sick.

  53. We had been planning to go to Paris this summer with my sister. Unfortunately, our back shed collapsed during the winter, and we need to put up a new one – and want it to be a tad nicer than it was. In particular, we want it to have electricty for a number of reasons. So it is a bit of an expense and now we are trying to figure out if we can afford the trip this summer. I hate to put that trip off though – we have been planning it for two years.

  54. Rhett, that place is lovely, but probably a little too pricey for me, especially when you add the airfare, car rental, etc. Plus it’s too close to H’s extended family. Got anything similar in the $200/night range and closer to the east coast? :-)

  55. I just saw Rio’s comment on Paris! I have to say that I totally disagree. I have been to Paris many times, in fact, probably more times than any other tourist destination city. It is one of my favorite cities in the world. It has a lot in common with NYC although the Parisians are much more reserved. I love the food, and just walking around. We took DH1 when he was 18 months old and had a blast.

    I tend to like most places I visit. The only cities I have visited that I honestly did not like were Dallas and Los Angeles. I do find both San Francisco and London to be a tad overrated. I don’t know why. I just find them to be bland.

  56. Rhett, before kids I had PTO so of course I always went to work sick. I found 15 days to be really not enough time. When I worked in the healthcare IT sector, we had something like 25 days of “ChoiceTime”, which sounded amazing until I realized that all holidays including Christmas came out of ChoiceTime, and even taking an hour for a doctors visit meant losing half a day of ChoiceTime.

  57. MM — For the new job it specifically says 15 “vacation” days the first year, increasing to 25 (they don’t say when). It sounds like legit vacation days, but of course he won’t know until later. Currently he has 15 PTO days, 10 vacation and 5 “sick”.

    I agree with you that Paris is a wonderful city to visit.

  58. “Charleston (SC) sounds right up your alley.”

    Perhaps not so much in the very near future.

  59. We took our daughter to Spain when she was about 18 months, but I didn’t have a blast. It was fine, but having a toddler restricted our activities.

  60. Rio: I also thought the food was mediocre; maybe my budget was just too low.

    I have found it much easier to get a lousy, even bad, meal in France than in Spain, Italy, Portugal. The only food mishaps I’ve had in those three was really my own fault…I didn’t know exactly what I was ordering and ended up with food I didn’t like.

  61. I actually have had far more bad food experiences in Italy. There are so many bad pasta and pizza places in Rome. And I really disliked the food I had up in the Alto-Adige region – very bland and heavy. It was an area for tourists, which probably explained it. Now, Naples, you can’t get bad food there. Naples is one of my very most favorite foodie destinations, right up there with Chengdu and Paris

  62. If by LA you mean the entire SC area, including places like Orange County (Disneyland), I’m not sure if I agree or disagree about it being overrated, but I enjoy traveling there, and did so often when I could drive there. There are a ton of interesting things to do there, although getting around can be problematic.

    This brings to mind a friend who grew up in Oakland. His dad would take him and his family to Disneyland every summer. They’d leave home around 1am and drive there, with his dad driving and everyone else sleeping. When they arrived, Dad would sleep in the car while everyone else spent the day and night in the park, then on the return, again Dad would drive while everyone else slept.

  63. The reason we had so much fun in Paris with our toddler was probably because DH and I had been so many times before. So it was like a totally different way of seeing the city. We went to the zoo, we went on a carousel, we hung out in a funny little playground by the Musee de Cluny that had playground equipment based on the medieval animals in some of the collections at the museum (and we did get to see the museum too – we timed it for out toddlers nap time so he was zonked in the stroller)

  64. I love LA. (Cue Randy Newman).

    I’m having trouble coming up with places I really disliked when I visited. I have no special hankering to go back to Stockholm, Oslo, several fairly large but comparatively insignificant cities north of Madrid. Some places I was only in for business left no impression on me either way, simply because my time there was limited to airports, taxis, hotels, conference rooms.

  65. Completely OT. Junior got into a high school! You all don’t know how happy I am. And we even like it, and he should graduate and get a real diploma, although I am sure that is many new gray hairs away.

    Of course, it’s about an hour and 45 minutes away in Miami traffic, and Lord only knows what it is in rush hour, so we will have to move. I dread that. The new neighborhood is either double wides or castles in the sky on The Beach, which we can’t afford. It will be an interesting summer. I actually have put down a lot of roots in the area we live in now.

  66. COC, DD will be spending her spring semester in France. She’ll be there for five months. I like London. Like Meme said, as Europe goes, it’s a quick flight. And there’s no language issue.

  67. Congrats PTM! I wish you well finding suitable housing. Can’t leave the Lincoln and Coors or Genny just anywhere… :)

    I haven’t traveled much, and really don’t have a list of places I disliked. Maybe Seaside Heights when it really was sleazy… I think, like in the rest of my life, I just have really low expectations. Can’t be disappointed that way…

  68. Congrats, PTM and son!

    And don’t fret about the gray hairs. DS automatically got into his HS, so there was no stress with the selection/admission process, but I’ve still added a lot of gray hair.

    But as a former boss used to say, better gray than none.

  69. I have no special hankering to go back to Stockholm

    I loved Stockholm. I was shown around by locals so maybe that helped? But that combination of the old European architecture and culture and history that so many European cities offer, with the natural beauty and wild places just outside the city, was striking.

  70. PTM,

    Maybe it would make more sense to keep an apartment there vs. selling for 4 years and presumably moving back?

  71. Yay PTM!

    Finn, your friend’s Disneyland story cracked me up. I would be that father because I don’t have much interest in amusement parks.

  72. PTM, that is great news. I hope there is a way to some how hang on to your neighborhood friends.

    I don’t like Vegas. It is better now that there are so many restaurants etc. it’s not just about the casinos. I just can’t stand the 15 or 20 minute walk every time I want to get from my hotel room to fresh air.

  73. Congratulations to Junior! I can’t tell you how many gray hairs I’ve gotten in the high school/college admissions process, because I color my hair every four weeks. I can recommend that as a strategy.

  74. Wonderful news, PTM! Does Junior’s new school have a Mother’s Club? Please tell us there’s a basket auction in your future.
    I think renting a double wide during Junior’s high school years will give you an excellent set up for Part 2 of this memoir I’m counting on reading someday.

  75. Any ideas for the optimal amount of time to spend in Rome? DH and I are planning to go in December for a week but wonder if we should split the time maybe between Naples or another city and Rome.

    Prague has been our favorite European trip this past year. Zurich, not so much – although we only went there to meet up with friends.

    Here’s are some of my most favorite places that I’ve stayed at:

    1) Coffee plantation/mountain lodge in Matagalpa Nicaragua – great coffee and beautiful scenery and a lovely stone chapel where my husband and I got married

    2) The ryokan next to the Snow monkey reserve – really great food and hot springs with monkeys who want to join in a bath with you.

    3) Hotel in Longsheng/Ping An village with the rice terraces – Nice reprieve from all the crowds in China.

    4) Small lodge high up in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. High altitude and beautiful glacier fed lakes

    Although as I write this post I keep remembering other great places that I’ve traveled to and want to list.

  76. Oh, PTM, how awesome!! Congrats!

    Re: skiing: our experience is that the only requirement for ski school is that the kid be potty-trained. But even before that, DH did some runs down the super-bunny slope with DD or DS held between his skis (and he was far from the only dad doing that).

    Trips: I think it is all about expectations. We were SO happy with the food in Portugal — probably in large part because we had been told it sucked. Same with our Scottish Isle this summer — DH thought he was humoring me, we all expected it to be cold and wet, and instead the hotel was charming and friendly, it was sunny and warm, and they even had awesome local beer. Which is also how we had an awesome trip to Germany when DD was maybe 3-4 — we didn’t want to go, but SIL was there for 2 years and desperate for company, so we went one winter and largely did kid stuff (local markets, local train to next town over, sledding hill), and had an absolute blast.

    OTOH, you go to Paris after hearing raves about the food and gorgeousness of the city and end up in a generic cafe with cars whizzing by, and it’s not bad, but, man, overrated.

  77. Rhett, thank you! I’m not quite sure what to do with my new Continental in the new neighborhood, but we’ll see. Actually, the cost of the machine might just go to an apartment in the sky, although that might break my heart. You know, one can only love a kid so much.

  78. PTM – Double-wides are really nice these days. And congrats to the lad.

    SWVA – agree with Lark about Charleston. You can drive there, too.

  79. “OTOH, you go to Paris after hearing raves about the food and gorgeousness of the city and end up in a generic cafe with cars whizzing by, and it’s not bad, but, man, overrated.”

    ITA. I remember running through the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa (meh), and we went to the same generic cafe where they put a fried egg on my cheeseburger. Who does that?

    I liked the French restaurant in Paris, Epcot so much better.

  80. PTM, can a double wide be considered a luxury small house?

    Congratulations to your son. I was pretty sure he had it in him…

  81. Thank you all, so much, for your good wishes. Of course I’ll move and I’ll do so cheerfully. The doublewide will be good preparation for The Villages. And if I leave my car out in the sun much longer (you all knew my garage was filled with crap) it will be perfect for the new neighborhood.

    I think the school will be perfect for Junior. It is very, very small, but it is a real high school. He and I will have to perform. And, yes, there is a mother’s club. The kids– for high school ones– seem pretty nice. I don’t think my son will get eaten up. The principal was not phased at all with Junior’s learning disabilities. I was told he will get the help he needs and perhaps I should start looking for colleges. I guarantee you I’ve never heard that before.

    Anyway, all this is good news at my little house. When I heard the news, I actually put my head down and cried (sorry Milo, Rhett, Finn and Fred). I have said all along that my kid is going to be okay and damn it, he is!

    Tonight we are celebrating. We are going to Junior’s favorite restaurant. It is horrible.

  82. Oh, and this being Florida, to keep up with the Jonses, the cat will be left behind (sorry Meme). We’ll get the obligatory pit bull.

  83. The Mona Lisa is actually the most boring thing in Paris. I saw it as a kid and have skipped it ever since. I feel the same way about the Sistine Chapel, btw. At the Vatican Museum, they herd all the tourists into the Sistine Chapel and you have to be creative to escape.

    Go to Ste Germaine des Pres in Paris. Or take the little suburban train to Chartres and see one of the architectural marvels of the world. The stained glass in Ste Chapelle is so stunning that even my 18 month old was thrilled. Hang out in the late night bookstores and eat couscous at midnight. Be a tourist dork and ride a bateau mouche.

    My first time in Paris was when I was 10, with my family, but I went again with French friends when I was 15. We stayed in a little garret apartment that belonged to one of the families. I had never been to NYC at that point in my life, so I had never seen a truly late night city before. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could buy books at midnight, and that we could go to a club and stay there until 5am.

  84. PTM – congrats. No worries about the cat – We’ll detour down to Miami to pick it up when we visit the World Champion Mets in Port St Lucie next spring.

  85. Meme, don’t you worry a bit.! That cat and I are fused at the hip. We actually talk to each other. I understand him, but he, as a cat, chooses not to understand me. The cat will most likely get his choice of places to live. I love him dearly.

  86. Congrats PTM ! I am so happy for you and for Junior.
    Today was a wonderful fall day and I am glad we have gotten back to nice weather after all the rain.

  87. Checking in from Disneyworld. Joining family friends and my brother, so party of 12. We tried very hard to hit the low season (only terrible parents pull their kids out of school this time of year). The crowds are still kind of overwhelming. But things are mostly magical. As magical as any trip could be with 5 kids, the oldest 8 years.

  88. Hooray for Junior!

    PTM, I was showing DD pictures of double wide trailers because she was reading a book that mentioned them and had never seen one here in Totebagland, and the Google had some very cute ones from England.

    Maybe you could special order one? They looked like the Airstream of trailers, so if you grow a beard and put out some beehives and a Williams Sonoma chicken coop that would be fabulous.

  89. I’m gonna need a car for somewhere in the yard. My current car will do when I get the Lincoln. I’m going to need four cinder blocks which I’ll find somewhere. Rhett, do you know how to get the damn car up there? I don’t care how to get it down. The grass and abandoned shopping carts will eventually cover it.

  90. Congrats PTM and Junior!

    We are doing our first real trip with kids to Puerto Rico at Christmas. Kids will be 4.5 and 6. Anybody have any favorite sites, restaurants, or other things to do?

    Kids really want to go to Germany. I don’t want to go quite yet but not sure what the right age is for international travel. Thoughts/recommendations? We probably need to go when we can catch a soccer game or two.

  91. Congrats to Junior! Be open to accommodations – they can make all the difference in making the workload manageable. Life is good!

  92. “only terrible parents pull their kids out of school this time of year”

    Hahaha! My BIL and SIL are taking their kids out of school to go to Disney for Halloween. They do this yearly. Their kids really shouldn’t leave school. Ever.

  93. PTM – congratulations to you and Junior!

    SWVA – I also think Charleston sounds like a nice trip for you – it is definitely on my list.

    Lark – if you end up coming to SF let me know – I can suggest some things you might like to do and/or restaurants (and we can even meet up if you want to!).

  94. SWVA, if you go to Charleston, eat at Magnolia’s. It is wonderful.

    “Rhett, do you know how to get the damn car up there?”
    PTM, you use the jack, of course. Jack up one tire, slip in the cinder block, lower jack, repeat around the vehicle. Removing the tires is optional. Bonus points if you have a broken washing machine to sit on the porch. Don’t y’all know anything??

  95. SWVA – My first solo trip after my divorce (I was 45 or so) was to Cooperstown – Baseball Hall of Fame – about a four hour drive perhaps May before school got out. The drive part was fun, and it was good to have a destination with an primary attraction that could occupy a single traveler for an entire day, and there were other side attractions for a second day. IIRC I spent two nights. It was a toe in the water sort of trip, just getting used to being on my own.

    I think Charleston is a good destination – I am just talking about structuring your time when get wherever you go, and making the first trip short so you don’t feel so blue at the fourth night’s solo dinner in a sea of couples and groups. If there is a particular type of activity your husband didn’t like so you had to do without during your marriage, maybe you could pick a trip where that is a feature.

  96. HFN, what’s a jack?

    Do you suppose I could call Triple A? I wonder if they would service that neighborhood.

  97. Yes, Charleston! The only time I have ever been there, I was on crutches and couldn’t do much. Savannah is going on my list too.
    Good points from Meme too. I went to Asheville for a wedding back in the spring but didn’t have time to see the Biltmore estate or do other touristy stuff, so that’s a good driveable destination that can be structured.

  98. Fred, don’t they speak a language other than Spanish in Basque Country? Can you get by with Spanish?

  99. I thought that in certain neighborhoods, if you just leave your car parked long enough, eventually someone will provide you the service of putting it on blocks so it can be stripped of all parts having value.

  100. Everyone speaks Spanish in the basque country. No one expects any non-basque to know any of the basque language (unlike in Barcelona, where shopkeepers, etc will say thank you in catalan (merci) vs Spanish (gracias) and they appreciate it if tourists try it a little).

    Schools are in Basque at least thru elementary school.

  101. SWVA – my suggestion for whatever destination you choose is to take a really terrific book. Eating alone can make you feel sad, whether you’re single or not. But reading a really great book at an unhurried pace in peace and quiet while you nibble on a salad and sip a lovely red can feel sooooo luxurious. Same for coffee and a croissant in the morning, etc. I’d load a few on your Kindle and stick it in your purse, or take a few paperbacks along.

    Some unsolicited suggestions, since I’m thinking about it:

    Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan would be a fun trip read. Out Nov. 1 but you can get it now if you’re in that Kindle Select program.
    The Race for Paris (historical fiction) by Meg Waite Clayton is getting terrific reviews. (I haven’t read it but don’t believe it’s dark. I’m leaving off some recent WWII and others that might be a little sad/disturbing)
    The Interestings by …. forgetting her name at the moment (Meg Cabot maybe?) … is long but keeps you interested and that can be a good kind of trip book, I always think.
    Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a light one (all of hers are, but they’re highly entertaining).
    Sweet Forgiveness and/or The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman are also light but good.

  102. I too recommend charleston or savannah.

    Magnolias in charleston was amazing. We did lunch there and I loved their pimiento cheese. I visited Charleston at 7 weeks pregnant so I wasn’t totally there if that makes sense. I did enjoy Fort Sumter though. And the market was fun.

    I did savannah solo the first time. I’d totally do it that way again. The Gryphon Tea Room is great. I also wandered Forsythe Park and took in the scenery. The historic district is great for wandering and people watching. I also did a few house tours solo.

  103. Congrats to Junior!

    Do not recommend Savannah right now. Is in the midst of serious gang activity. 180 shootings so far this year.

  104. Jury duty today. It took me an hour and a half to get here, leaving at 6, but the thought of being away from instant messaging at work for a day makes it worth it. I’m hoping to not get picked and to get to sit here with my book and cold soda for a few hours then go home.

  105. Risley, Reading a good book over a leisurely solo meal is one of my favorite things to do already. Nice to get recommendations from a famous author! I enjoyed Big Little Lies, and The Interestings has been on my list for a while. I’m thinking of taking myself on a little “spring break” long weekend in February or March, so I’ve got plenty of time to plan. I just feel silly sometimes driving a long way to sit and read a book in a different setting, so I’ve got to go somewhere that I’ll want to do some other things alone too.

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