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My wife and I have some great friends.  We’ve been blessed to have them in our lives and enjoy every occasion we spend with them.  When our family began to expand with the arrivals of Iz and The Jakester, many of our friends were not far behind with little ones of their own.  Having people to share stories and compare parenting techniques with has been great for all of us.

Now, as the first of our friends to expand our family from two pair to a full house, we’ve found ourselves in uncharted territory.  But thanks to a dream-like vacation we took to Italy several years back, we are not entirely alone in the murky waters of being outnumbered by little ones.

I first posted this story as a guest post over at my buddy Mark – The Idiot’s – page many moons ago.  Today, for those who may have never gotten the chance to hear it, I’m posting it for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

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I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m pretty sure that people have a love/hate relationship with traveling abroad.  In other words, after spending time in another country and faced with the question of whether they’d do it again, folks tend to answer in one of two ways.

“OMG, it was the best time of my life!  I’d love to move there for a year, buy a beret, and paint landscapes.  I can’t possibly explain it to you, you just have to go.  You just have to.  YOU HAVE TO!”

Or

“What a dreadful place to live.  I spent one week and it felt like a year.  The people over there, they’re just weird.  They drive on the wrong side of the road, I couldn’t understand a thing they said, and I’m pretty sure I’ve developed…(cough, cough)…yep, I’ve got the plague now.  That’s just great!”

While these two scenarios may be a bit extreme, I think most people could say they lean towards one or the other.  For the wife and I, we favor the former.  After spending two weeks gallivanting through Italy several years ago with a tour group, there is no doubt that we enjoyed the trip.  There is also no doubt that a major reason for the success of our trip was the friendship we developed with another couple in our group.

It was the fall of 2007.  The wife and I had become “the wife and I” just a little over a year before and the idea of starting a family was gathering some steam.  Before taking the leap into parenthood however, we decided it was the right time to travel and so travel we did.  We booked a two week tour through Italy (the motherland of one side of each of our families) and on a late September morning, boarded a plane for Milan.  The tour was set up to spend 2-3 days in 5 of the major cities/regions of Italy; Milan, Venice, Florence, Sorrento, and finally Rome.  As we traveled from city to city, we were also scheduled to make stops in several historical towns along the way such as Pisa and Naples.  Our excitement was off the charts as we arrived to our hotel in Milan, but was somewhat diminished when we came to realization that we seemed to be the only people without membership in the AARP.

As we sat in the hotel lounge listening to our tour guide explain how the trip would work, we scanned the room full of Medicare participants in hopes of finding anyone not old enough to be our parents (or grandparents).  Alas, it appeared we were out of luck.  Then, like a beacon of light through a dark, cloudy sky, we spotted them.  His dark hair stuck out in the sea of grey; the sign that we had possibly found a peer rather than an elder.  The wife and I whispered quietly to one another trying to determine the best way to initiate contact with the couple.

I had an idea.  The “man nod”.  You know what I’m talking about, guys do it all the time.  One guy makes eye contact with another, then in a smooth but direct manner, raises his head up from position one to position two and back again.  The maneuver is then reciprocated by the second guy.  No words are spoken, as the nod essentially conveys the, “hey, how are you doing?” greeting.  I glanced in his direction as he did the same towards us, no doubt having just had the same discussion with his wife.  I initiated the move, executed it perfectly, and received the response we had hoped for.  After the group meeting, everyone headed back to their rooms to get a good night’s sleep as the next day would include an early morning tour.

Our first couple of tours and individual excursions were so in-depth and fast paced, we couldn’t even find the time to make verbal contact with the couple.  It wasn’t until the bus ride out of Milan and the short stop in Verona (home of the famed Romeo and Juliet), that we finally introduced ourselves.  Matt and Krissy were their names and for the next 10 days, we basically did everything together.  From making fun of fellow group members who annoyed the hell out of us, to attempting to find our way around the alleyways of Venice with the most confusing map I’ve ever seen, their companionship made the entire trip a blast.

Throughout the two week adventure, we collected enough stories and pictures to last a lifetime.  While I’d love to share them all, I’m not sure you’ve come here today to read an entire novel.  So I thought I’d share one particular story that ought to give you a few laughs to take with you once you leave.

We were into the second week of our trip and had arrived at our fourth of five cities we were scheduled to visit.  Sorrento, a beautiful city located south of Naples on a peninsula overlooking the Ocean, was our home for the next 2 days.  After a bus ride along the coast that included more twists and turns than a M. Night Shyamalan movie, we arrived at our hotel just before my breakfast from the highway rest stop made it’s encore appearance.  We settled into our room and joined the rest of the group in the lobby for our guided tour of the town.

After an informative and entertaining exploration of the city, we were left to our own devices for the evening.  Matt and Krissy joined Jen and I, as we had done each night since meeting them, and we ventured back into the city to find a place to eat.  Having spent much of the day trying to settle my stomach from the bus ride, I was not looking to try anything exotic this night so we all decided on pizza.  After walking several blocks, we located a quaint little restaurant off the main road with several tables outside for enjoying the beautiful evening.

The menu was a pizza lover’s dream.  Page upon page of different styles of pie with toppings ranging from simple pepperoni and sausage to French fires.  Each of us ordered our own pizza as they were proportioned for one person.  I chose to stick with what I knew, pepperoni, rather than venturing outside the box…or so I thought.

Our pizzas arrived, as did the wine we ordered, and we sat there sharing stories of our lives and getting to know each other better while we enjoyed the Italian cuisine.  That’s when I took a bite of my slice and noticed something very un-pepperoni in my mouth.  It was hard and metallic and I quickly and nervously spit it out onto my plate.  The others immediately halted their conversation and turned to see what surprise I had found nestled between the dough and cheese.  I picked it off my plate and cleaned it with a napkin, at which point we were able to identify the foreign object as a metal snap from a piece of clothing.  As we all chuckled a bit, relieved that I hadn’t bitten into a razor blade or something equally sinister, I signaled to our waiter to come take a look.

I attempted to explain to him what had occurred, but he was obviously having trouble understanding.  He took the metal object to a second waiter standing in the doorway.  We watched as several others gathered around looking at the snap, then over in our direction, then back at the snap again.  Finally, a different man came over to the table, perhaps the head waiter or restaurant manager, and graciously apologized.  He offered to have another pizza made for me, but seeing as the first one took quite awhile to come out, I declined and asked for it to simply be taken off the bill.

This is when the next incident of the ever-present language barrier came into play.  The man left the table looking rather confused and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.  A short time later, our waiter returned with our bill…and a second pizza.  At this point, arguing seemed pointless as neither of us could understand the other, so we simply paid our tab, took the pizza and left.

As we walked back down the streets of Sorrento, heading to the main square to catch a shuttle back to the hotel, we passed a stray dog.  If you’ve never been to Italy, here’s a little something you might not know; Italy is lousy with stray dogs.  Italy has more stray dogs than a Michael Bay movie has explosions (Hmm…two movie director analogies in the same post? Tighten up your game, Wordslinger!).  Anyway, being thoroughly turned off by the snap incident, I had no intentions of eating the second pizza so we gave it to the dog.  I hope he wasn’t injured by any other surprise topping that may or may not have been on it.

For the remainder of the trip, the “snap incident” as it became known, made for a fun story to relive after several glasses of wine.  We finished our tour of Italy in Rome before exchanging contact info with our new friends and heading home to the States.  I imagine it’s fairly common to strike up a friendship with people on trips such as these, only to arrive back in reality and never see them again.  Such was not the case with us.

Since that trip in 2007, our families have expanded at nearly the exact same rate.  We both have three children now, all of which are within 6 months of each other.  Due to their unwillingness to move to Baltimore, we don’t get the opportunity to see them as often as we’d like, but we exchange emails regularly; in fact Matt was one of my very first blog subscribers.  We’ll never forget that trip; not just for the great memories and stories we’ve shared, but for the friendship we made that continues to this day.  If you ever have the chance to visit Italy, I strongly recommend it…just be careful when you bite into your pizza!

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