After 5 weeks of adventures together, it was time to start the journey home. The messy, ugly-crying goodbyes of Chimay were followed by 8-9 hours of driving (and more listening to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) until we reached Chambéry, in the French Alps. It would have been shorter to cut through Switzerland, but Scott has a beef with the Swiss after we were charged €40 to drive a mile on their highway back on my 40th birthday when we went to Basel. He never got over it.
We picked Chambéry because Scott studied abroad there, and we'd never been there as a family. This city is a vibe! It is situated in the Haute-Savoie, is tucked into a valley in the Alps, which makes it feel both cozy and majestic, and was once the capital of its own sovereign state. We stayed in the charming old town, and spent the late afternoon/evening exploring & shopping as it was our last night in France. With the fountains, and the streets festooned with colorful banners, it looked like something out of a Disney movie. Charlotte picked up some nice school supplies in a bookstore (we love bookstores!) and we picked up some last gifts and French non-perishable groceries to bring home. It felt like you could wander those pedestrian streets, squares, and tiny alleys for hours and still not see everything, even though Old Town is a small area. I admired the castle and the elephant fountain, though Charlotte seemed unimpressed. Scott showed us his old stomping grounds around campus, and got took his walk down the proverbial memory lane.
For a late dinner we picked a place that seemed to be populated by locals (look for old guys sitting drinking with a dog at their feet.) Dinner started with escargot at Charlotte's request, as the sun finally started to dip behind the mountains. Scott had the local speciality sausage. It was going to be an early morning as we needed to drive back to Rome the next day, so we settled into our huge, comfortable family room (with a kitchen and dining area!) at the Kyriad Chambéry-Centre. It may be a chain, but it was a really nice stay, start to finish, and the staff was lovely. I'd definitely stay there again.
A very early start got us on the road through the mountains, which were lit up in shades of pink as we watched the sun rise. I kept thinking that Julien, who loves the Alps, would have really liked visiting this area, and wondered if his travels might bring him this way.
(This was the first time on a European road trip where Scott wanted to return the rental car to the same country where we had rented it, because the cost of returning it in Brussels, where we had planned to leave from, was much too high. It also gave us an excuse to visit Chambéry!)
The rest of the drive was uneventful, other than seeing the charred remains of the recent forest fires, and then a fire burning right in the median next to us - likely from someone tossing a cigarette out the window. We had a flight the next morning, Rome to Dublin, then Dublin to Boston, so we stayed the night right near the airport in Fiumicino. It was a bed & breakfast on the pier called Le Boutique Luxury Resort, which was was nice, but not a resort. I don't recommend it if you can't do stairs - there's no lift and it's up a few flights of stairs to get in. We had a bit of a hiccup/miscommunication with them over the reservation that I had confirmed for 4 people (Julien was supposed to be with us) in the quadruple suite, which had only been made up as a double room, despite my emails, which I had with me clearly telling them there would be 4 of us. They ended up charging us extra to set up another bed, which was annoying, but not exorbitant. The room was actually quite nice with an antique wood ceiling, a four-poster bed with romantic gauzy netting, triple-glazed windows for soundproofing, air conditioning, and my breakfast cappuccino the next morning was good. While we were not offered the arrival glass of prosecco, they did offer us iced tea and arranged a shuttle to the airport.
|A walk along the pier
|Loved the ceiling in our room
The pier area was lined with restaurants, some shops and hotels, and in the evening was lively with restaurant & bar tables full of people. Our friend Gabriele from Rome arrived on his motorcycle and met us for dinner, which was pizza with mini octopus! Charlotte hung back and worked at the desk in the hotel room writing a paper for school, but we had brought her back dinner from our walk earlier. I couldn't end my last night in Italy without gelato, so we made a stop on the way back to the hotel. I was ready to repack my bag, but Scott was ready to go out and sample the nightlife on his last night, so out he went to have drinks and make new friends. It's what he does. I don't even know what time he came in.
|Grazie Gab for coming out to see us off!
|My last gelato in Italy
Travel Tip: We always give ourselves extra time at airports to avoid the stress of possibly long lines or traffic. Once settled at the airport, while Charlotte worked on her AP US History assignments on my iPad. I was really tempted to do some shopping. Like Charles de Gaulle/Roissy Airport in Paris, Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino has great high-end shopping. I spent about 30 minutes trying to justify a work bag purchase, but in the end I chickened out. (I already have a bag I really like.)
|Hard at work at the airport
Aer Lingus got us safely to Dublin, where after checking in for our next flights, we had lunch then went through US Customs before leaving. I love this about Dublin Airport. They make it so easy for us. You go through customs there, and then when you land in the US, you just walk right out of the airport - easy peasy! Even better that a couple of weeks ago Aer Lingus reinstated the non-stop flights to/from our local Bradley International Airport. It makes travel to/from Europe so much easier, and is the reason why we consider Dublin our gateway to Europe! Our flight back to Boston was fairly easy with just 1 little glitch due to the major airline delays going on back in the states, so Aer Lingus solved the problem by getting us another flight crew. (People warned us that all flights were going to be horribly delayed, and were shocked we'd chosen to fly to Europe this Summer - but of our 4 flights only 1 had a hiccup.) We landed just a little bit late and were met by Julien's friend who we had hired to pick us up and drive us home.
Now for some gratitude...I feel so grateful for the time & adventures we shared as a family, even when things weren't perfect. 5 weeks is a long time to spend together. Life is messy, we don't always agree, tensions can rise, things can go sideways...but even when we're not at our best, there is always unconditional love there. I'm such an optimist that I don't mind so much when things go wrong when we travel, because I want the kids to learn how to handle those situations when they travel without us. I did learn that at these ages, this might be too long of a family trip. I know Charlotte agrees.
I am so grateful for our friends who made this Summer so special. It was so good to spend time with them making new memories! I am grateful to my real estate broker & friend, Carl Guild, who covered my business so it ran smoothly while I took a much-needed break, and to my clients who worked with him in my absence! Spending over a month living an active, outdoor lifestyle, walking everywhere, eating fresh non-processed foods, connecting with friends, and feeling inspired by art, history, culture, architecture, nature and beauty is so very good for me.
I am grateful to my mom who took in our beloved cat while we were away, and to my brother who mowed our lawn. I am grateful that my kids have a great friendship and genuinely enjoy spending time together. The moments of them being goofy together, singing together, dancing, exploring, enjoying the wedding, making each other laugh, or just playing on the beach are some of my favorites from our trip.
When Charlotte made the comment that this was probably our last big family vacation together, it hit me pretty hard that she was thinking that way. It's definitely harder to get all of us together at the same time, (and Julien plans to head overseas again soon) but I hope that into the future, we can still make time for more family adventures!