TRAVEL

Five Devices, One Foreign Outlet... No Problem!

Whenever we travel, power cables and adaptors become my responsibility. Fortunately, I love this stuff. When we travel internationally, it can take additional planning, but I have found a few gadgets that should be on everyone’s list. I’ll focus on one of my favorite go to power adapter here, the Zendure Global Travel Adapter. Amazingly simple yet packed with sophisticated circuitry such as worldwide compatibility plugs and 4 USB ports for all of your technology tools.

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The Global Adapter has 4 “Press and Slide” buttons that allow you to choose the plug that’s right for the country you’re visiting. You just choose the right button for the right country you’re in and “slide” that plug forward. Then plug in your appliance of choice into the All-in-One plug on the back. Because we spend most of our international time in Italy these days, we primarily use the EU button. However, when Violet was entered into the Young Fashion Designer's competition in London, it was great to know that I had the UK power option with the slide of a button upon arriving at our hotel in London.

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Often abroad, I find that outlets are in limited supply. Knowing that I can plug in my laptop to the power adapter, plus 4 USB ports to cover all of my family’s smartphones, tablets, and power banks, all of which only takes up one wall outlet, is both efficient and reassuring. And, because it has a self-resetting fuse, you never have to worry about overloading it.

It comes in black or white. It’s stupid simple. And it helps you avoid the jockeying for outlets that can happen when traveling with your family or other companions. Walking out of your hotel or vacation rental with a full battery is one the mandatories to having a successful day in a foreign city. The Zendure Global Travel Adapter makes sure that it happens with ease.

Bruce Somers

Table with a View, Venice Italy

Since we’ve been frequenting Florence on our transition as empty nesters, there’s been one stop that has made it into every visit… Venice.

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From our apartment next to Piazza San Lorenzo, we’re only a 5 minute walk to the main train station of Santa Maria Novella. What I really love is that you only have to arrive about 10 minutes before your departure. Having flown so much in the US with the need to arrive 2 hours before your flight departure, the train just makes so much sense and feels so easy. Upon boarding our high speed Frecciarossa train, it’s only a two hour ride to Venice through Tuscany into the region of Veneto. Like every view out every window in Italy, watching the beautiful Italian countryside slip by at close to 200mph is mesmerizing. Round trip tickets are around $75 per person. Caroline and I usually pop for the extra $10-$15 to sit in business class. You get a large leather seat and an included snack… your choice, “Sweet or salty?” Basically, one consists of biscotti, the other is a bag of chips.

Upon arriving in the train station of Santa Lucia in Venice, we start our short hike to our hotel. Because of the small paths and multiple bridges over canals, Venice is one place where we tend to put one to two night’s worth of clothes in a some sort of backpack. Venice is the Angel of Darkness to the usual rolling luggage. That said, when we’ve arrived for longer stays, we venture to the boat taxi stand and have the exciting, albeit pricey, journey through canals that cut through to the Grand Canal. We put on our sunglasses, stand up in the back of the boat, and emulate our best George and Amal smiles for the 15-minute ride.

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In a country filled with so much beauty, Venezia, in my opinion, is the most picturesque city of them all. I am constantly struck by every canal, bridge, and alley. This tiny city is so dense that each street and canal represents a long narrow view to something beautiful. As a photographer, I am awestruck by the beautiful converging lines that seem to join water and sky in harmony. Every wall has layers upon layers of historical plaster that emits a patina that is simultaneously unique and unexplainable. The only challenge is stopping just enough to compose my pictures, but not enough to get the evil eye from Caroline. If I didn’t exercise some restraint, we would never get to our intended destination.

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Of course, one way to get around is by the famous gondola. They are plentiful and gondoliers will do their best to cajole you into a ride. However, personally it’s not our thing. I feel too ‘on display’ in the gondola and they are quite expensive. I would suggest doing it once to say you’ve done it. However, when we arrive in Venice, if all we do is just walk and get lost, it stills goes down as supremely memorable.

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Our favorite activity consists of lunch at the table with the best view in Venice. It’s not that the lunch is so spectacular (however the Pizza Diavola is pretty amazing), but the table itself sits in a corner of the restaurant in the outdoor area of Bar Foscarini in the shadow of the bridge, Ponte dell’Accademia. We request and wait for this corner table next to the small gondola parking. Once seated, we are mesmerized by the bustling Grand Canal with water taxis, gondolas, speed boats, and small commercial boats all servicing this unique city. Additionally, the stunning Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute serves as an awesome backdrop welcoming visitors at the mouth of the Grand Canal. Every time we visit Venice, we sit there for a couple of hours drinking a Rosé or glass of champagne, eating a simple Insalata Mista to go with our Pizza Diavola with the spicy pepperoni. I can’t emphasize enough how special these hours have been for myself and Caroline to take in the constantly evolving and constantly engaging view. Sometimes we sink deep into conversations, sometimes deep into thought, and all times deep into gratitude for the present moment.

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After lunch we venture to Piazza San Marcos and feel like we’ve been cast in some evolving Italian play with street merchants, couples kissing and taking pictures, waiters in bow ties serving bottles of champagne, and orchestras playing everything from Vivaldi to The Godfather theme. It’s all staged. It’s all touristy. And it’s all fun eye candy. From here, we’ll often head north with no agenda. Most roads will point you to the famous Ponti di Rialto, a bridge packed with merchants selling bags, scarves, and leather goods. It’s a beautiful vista to grab a sunset shot. On either side of this part of the winding Grand Canal, restaurants cater to more tourists. However, we exercise patience because we are heading to our favorite restaurant for dinner…

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Trattoria Antiche Carampane. We discovered it on a website that indicated, “Where Venetians go to Dine.” It’s hard to find, and the proprietor likes it that way. In fact, the first time we went, we used Google to navigate the walking streets. At one point, the street was so narrow that Caroline and I had to turn sideways to squeeze through. She was convinced that we were lost. I love getting lost so it was pure fun for me. And then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves at the door. This restaurant is, hands down, our favorite dinner in Venice. After finishing a wonderful meal of soft shell crab, we told the owner that it was the best dinner we’ve had in Venice. Because it was so hard to find, I asked him, “Would you like us to tell people about your restaurant?” He replied, “Only nice people.” We both smiled broadly.

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Venice. A sublime sinking city. Home to the bi-annual Biennale art festival. Historically one of the great Italian city-states. In present, a jewel not to be missed (except maybe in the height of Summer when the crowds are actually too thick). As I sit here looking out the window of our apartment in Florence with the sun rising, I am already looking forward to yet another visit within the next few weeks.

Bruce Somers

 

Abroad! Your child's safety in another country

In Camelia's junior year of college she was eager to travel abroad, and it made complete sense for her to choose Shanghai as her destination since she is a Chinese major.  While her friends were making plans with other students to room together in Paris, Barcelona, or Rome, Camelia was on her own headed to China.  Of course we were proud of her for making such a bold choice, but would she be safe in China on her own? Would we have access to communication? Cell service? What would happen in the case of a medical emergency or a natural disaster? It's easy to let your head spin with all the ways your child could potentially be injured, abducted, harmed, harassed, or compromised in a foreign country.   Add China as the destination and you are bound to feel even less in control.  

Bruce and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to take to explore her new city and help her get set up in her dorm at East China Normal University.  Before her move-in date, we spent a week at a lovely hotel near the French Concession area called Twelve at Hengshan. It was an easy location to navigate the many attractions of this fabulous high-tech modern city with ancient historic culture. Our favorite feature was their spectacular breakfast, especially the wonton soup. With all the adventurous eating ahead of us for the days in China, we knew we would start each day with this amazing soup with fresh vegetables, broth and dumplings, as well as a spectacular array of breakfast foods to please travelers from any country.  

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On the Bund you overlook the Pudong district across the water with buildings that look straight out of the space age;  towering architectural masterpieces with outrageous shapes and color that light up the night sky. 

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The Bund (along Zhongshan Road) is the European district and walking down the shopping streets, you could be in Paris with the Neoclassical and art deco buildings and familiar designer store fronts. 

One of our favorite outings was to the garment district, where our friend Diane recommended a local tailor to make beautiful cashmere coats for a fraction of what you would pay in the states. We also loved M50, the art district at 50 Mogansha Lu, with contemporary and modern art from small local studios. We spent an afternoon walking through and meeting local artists, had an incredible lunch at a noodle restaurant, and meandered through bookstores.  Definitely worth a visit, especially for these soft, spicy pork noodles.

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On the more tourist route, we explored Yuyuan Gardens with its ancient architecture, koi ponds, and cherry blossoms. Unlike the more metropolitan areas of Shanghai where there are many travelers from around the world, Camelia was more conspicuous as that blonde American in this densely populated area with Chinese natives. She likes to listen to people talk about her in Mandarin, of course they assume she can’t understand.  Taxi drivers here will not pick up Americans unless you have an address written on a card. At the beginning of the trip, Camelia acted as our translator was able to converse with our driver. She stumbled here and there as she was getting up her confidence, but we always arrived where we were supposed to and she our driver formed a sweet friendship. 

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I expected to feel incredible censorship everywhere we went.  I didn’t.  I expected to only meet families with one child.  They all had numerous children. I expected to feel like life was restricted for these 1.3 billion people. They seemed happy.  The realities are that I missed having international news on TV and found it fascinating that CNN was mostly pre-recorded programming with a few snippits here and there of what we would call regular news. Bruce showed me how to access the internet in a familiar work-around using VPN so it appears my computer is logging in from the states. (His favorite is Express VPN, but make sure you download and install it before arriving in China.) This allows access to all my regular sites and social media that are not available to Chinese citizens.  Camelia was settling into these new norms and she’s got a lot of street savvy because she’s traveled extensively.  She opened a We Chat account, which is the most popular social media site in China.

People in China do not have access to guns and there is security everywhere. This dramatically cuts down on crime and makes the streets extremely safe.  Camelia was well aware of this bubble and in many ways said it made her feel safer in China than at home. She was beautifully naïve to the freedoms and rights she has always had as an American, but felt that because she was born into a culture with those rights, she could enjoy the safe guards in China – knowing she had her American citizenship with all her privileges.

Our wonderful Chinese friends, Catherine & Kevin Chan, introduced us to a small circle of surrogate parents in Shanghai who promised to watch over Camelia when we left. How incredible to have these kind, compassionate, connected, and caring people nearby so that if Camelia needed something, she had resources.  They also opened many doors socially for Camelia who found herself at private clubs, Shanghai Fashion Week, and the birthday party of our new friends, Anya and Richard, who happens to be the 78th direct descendant of Confucious! Diane, whose friends lovingly refer to her as The Martha Stewart of China, gave us incredible recommendations for food and shopping. They also took us to beautiful restaurants and provided resources for whatever Camelia needed while she was there. 

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Camelia already has several food allergies, but she managed to navigate the strange and wonderful cuisine of Shanghai – with a few exceptions.  One night Camelia called me from the Top of Shanghai Tower and told me she had such bad food poisoning, she didn’t know if she could get back to her dorm.  She became quite friendly with the bathroom attendant in her 90 minutes of horror.  When the observation deck was closing at 9:30pm I told her she better get downstairs before she got locked in the tower! She was so weak and didn’t think she could walk the 15 minutes it took from the drop off point for cabs at her school to her room. This is where it helps to have local friends who say, “Seriously, call us if you need anything.” It was serious, and I didn’t know where else to turn! I called Catherine & Kevin, who live part-time in Hong Kong and part-time in Shanghai.  They insisted on sending Camelia to their residence at a hotel and had people standing by to bring her soup and Chinese herbs to help her stomach.  Suddenly Camelia felt like the luckiest girl in the city to have food poisoning! Some soup and a little TLC was just what she needed. 

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By the end of Camelia’s four months in Shanghai I expected her to be aching to return to the states.  No, she was sad to leave! I was on the phone with her and listening to her rattle off (no stutters) directions in Mandarin to her cab driver. She was arriving back at her dorm after a late night out and leaned out the cab to speak to the attendant at the school gate.  I asked what she said to him and she laughed, “I told him I just got in from the airport and have heavy bags with me so I needed the cab to drive me all the way to my room.  I couldn’t bare that walk in heels tonight!“  The cab driver laughed and told her she was smartest foreigner he’s ever met! 

Now that she’s about to graduate from USC, there is no doubt she will be spending more time in China and we can’t wait to explore more of this fascinating country. Camelia's time in Shanghai was her transition to adulthood. She came back for her senior year with notably more maturity and focus on her career. When our kids are abroad, of course we worry, but the life experiences and independence they gain by not having us there are unsurpassed!

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New Beginnings... Florence, Italy

It actually happened. In 2017, we moved to Florence.  Both of my parents are Italian, yet I only made it to Italy two years ago. Now, for at least a few months of the year, Bruce and I will find ourselves sitting in our beautiful apartment looking out this window. This photo was captured at dawn’s first light and reminds me of the divine intervention that manifested our fantasy into a reality. It was easier and much more affordable than you might think.

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Change is always a little daunting and I have been mentally preparing for this new phase of life as an empty nester for the last few years. Well, it’s here. The kids are both in college, now it’s time for us to fly!  Camelia is a senior at USC and Violet started her first year at Polimoda, a 4-year fashion design program in the heart of Florence. It was the perfect excuse to rent an apartment in one of the most fabulous cities in the world.  Magical Florence provides discovery around every corner - the food, the people, the sites, the sounds, the architecture, and the art. Florence captured our hearts and we set up an office here so we can seamlessly work and travel between Los Angeles and Italy.  

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While we are relatively new at empty nesting, it has not been a quiet time for us. We are busier than ever, but there's an emotional transition from being parents of young kids to raising healthy independent adults. After 25 years of marriage we are facing this transformative time and exploring the vast and incredible options to fill that wonderful space we held for our kids. I refuse to be melancholy - I will not sit in my empty house drinking coffee and longing for carpool runs, school plays, or dance competitions. We did that and it was awesome. Now is time for us to engage in our own personal projects; those passions we suppressed due to lack of time. It's time to spread our own wings and travel, with beautiful Florence as our European home base. Yes, we are empty nesters and 2018 begins with incredible gratitude for the adventures that lie ahead! 

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