Adkins At Large

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Tag: travel

Some Hurdles Have Happy Outcomes, Part 2

Link to: Part One

Italy.  Until a few months ago, we had never been there. After Tim’s retirement from the Fire Department in June of 2016, his wish was to celebrate together as a family by taking a trip to Italy. As for annual vacations, we were typically tent campers or couch surfers. The fanciest family vacation we had taken to date was to Waikiki and that was when both kids were still in elementary school. School and summer job juggling left us with the Summer of 2017 for our family trip to commemorate both Tim’s retirement and the realization that our little family of four was about to be spread across the country. Getting together for even a dinner was going to be difficult for several years. We saved and saved for this trip and with advanced planning, were able to go to Italy for two weeks and wrap up our trip with a few days in Santorini, Greece.

We were able to visit Venice, Florence and Rome for a few days each and hit all the hot tourist spots. And I do mean hot. We were in Rome during July of 2017, the hottest in recorded history. So yeah, by the time we got to Greece all we could do was eat and lay in the sun. Perfect, actually.

After our all-time-greatest family vacation, we came back to San Diego just in time to get both kids organized and into their respective dorms on each coast. For our eldest, it would be his first time living away from home, as he had attended two years of community college in town and would now live on campus in Northern California. It also meant that for the first time since becoming parents, we were back on OUR own. The nest was empty.  We no longer needed the big (rental) house and fresh off our fabulous trip to Europe, we were ready to really see the world. As mentioned, we had planned on relocating to the wine country of California, but the Napa Fires essentially gave us the nudge we needed to really step out and try becoming global citizens. The search was on!

Since we were doing this move to Italy on short notice, we decided to first go for only a few months. Make sure it’s something we really want to do before going all-in. Fortunately for us, our next door neighbors had lived in Greve, Chianti for a year. They were encouraging and happy to share tips, websites and the essential guidebooks. Simultaneously, a friend of ours had announced his plan to become an expat and retire with his partner to Portugal. This might be doable!

Our family trip though Italy was amazing but it was also pretty brief and during peak tourist season. The temperature was high and the crowds extremely large. Everywhere we visited was lovely, we wanted to see more. We did not get a chance to visit  Italy’s famous lake region, the beautiful Amalfi coastline or spend much time in Tuscany, outside of Florence. We realized that it would be easy to fill our days exploring the regions of Italy we had not yet visited if we were to find a centrally located apartment near the rail lines.  After weaning down lists of gorgeous villages, we settled on the ancient walled city of Lucca, in Tuscany. Shortly thereafter we found a fabulous loft inside the ancient walls a short walk to everything. The rent per month for a furnished loft is a fraction of what our rent would be in California. The time we spend on this extended stay in Lucca will help us determine if, when and where we will return to Italy on a more permanent basis. The countdown is on, we leave in less than six weeks!

Wine Tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley

June 2016 was a pretty big month for the Adkins clan. Our daughter graduated high school and Tim retired on the same day!

Dad retires, daughter graduates on same day!

Dad retires, daughter graduates on same day!

After the graduation festivities with friends and family, Tim and I took our first “untethered” trip together to kick-start his retirement. To be honest, he has been away at work for 24-76 hrs at a time when he was a firefighter, so hanging out together without a tight window of time is a new experience for both of us. So far, so good!

Tim is a winemaker and loves trains so we took Amtrak out of San Diego direct into Santa Barbara, then rented a car and drove to the Santa Ynez valley. We bought business class seats — it was worth it! This is a busy route, particularly in the summer months. The train was completely full and every seat in Business was reserved.

Boarding Amtrak in San Diego

Boarding Amtrak in SD

You get a little extra leg room, complimentary newspapers, coffee, juice and pre-wrapped pastries in the morning and a “snack pack” with munchies and one free water, wine or beer delivered to your seat.  The route is mostly along the coast and is quite a lovely ride. The nearly 5 hour journey goes by faster than you think it will.  Leaving San Diego, sit on the left side facing north to get the best oceanfront views as you roll north through Del Mar, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and eventually Ventura and Santa Barbara. We went the week that the Sherpa Fire was going and we didn’t experience any smoke or ash, just a whiff of smoke, once in a while. From the Santa Barbara train depot we walked .3 miles to Avis and rented a car. It’s a 40 minute drive to Santa Ynez.

santa-ynez-innWe stayed at the surprisingly upscale Santa Ynez Inn in the center of the small town of Santa Ynez, within walking distance to wineries and less than a mile from the Chumash Casino Resort where there is a very nice spa and casino. Mid-week has great discounts and most of the local tasting rooms are open 7 days, but check first as some are not and others are reservation only. Our first floor room had extra-high ceilings, a quaint courtyard patio and very large bathroom with jet tub and a gas fireplace in each room. Also included are daily breakfast, happy hour with tastings from local wineries and a dessert bar.

A friend from Solvang (yes, people really are from Solvang) gave us a short list of her favorite tasting rooms and also a few nice spots for dinner.  A great local tip she shared was heading first to the fantastic El Rancho MarketPlace where you can pick up snacks and picnic supplies. Try the BBQ Tri-Tip sandwich!

We took our time meandering through the various wineries and will cover our favorites in future posts.  Cheers! — Cynthia


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