Friday, November 26, 2010

Great Company, Great Smilees, Great Vacation

We’re back from a fabulous two-week bus tour of Italy. Kudos to our fantastic guide, Alfredo. Hubby and I saw and did things we no long thought physically possible, (keep your thoughts pure), and we ate every morsel put in front of us. My pants still zip—which proves daily walking the length of 10 football fields or more will keep weight off. A requirement for this trip was to have the ability to walk a football field without difficulty, but by the end of the first day, I realized the tour salesperson meant one field an hour, not a day.

My laundry is done and put away. Our pictures are developed—all 372 of them. Now the challenges are to mach the rocks in each photo to the correct ruin and tourist attraction, and what I should do with some of the stuff I brought home. (Next week’s blog will be about this.)

Every vacation we’ve gone on has had something that’s made it unique from all the others. This trip had two, and nothing to do with the amazing tourist attractions. One was the fantastic group of folks with whom we traveled. Within one day, our tour guide molded a group of strangers into a caring family, and he was the role model for all of us to follow. Not a dysfunctional “relative” was on our tour—and Hubby and I have been on some tours with passengers that made us yearn for the days of “walking the plank.” Our group picture is on my refrigerator along with my grandkids’ photos. Everyone knows that spot is reserved for “in” people— those you really care about and who care about you. It’s hard to believe 33 strangers rapidly morphed into a caring family and there was not one “nose out of joint” the entire trip. If everyone’s large, extended family holiday dinners go as smoothly as our peer relations did on this trip, our holidays will be beautiful.

The other unique memory for Hubby and me was Alberto’s name for the toilet. He didn’t refer to it by any of its common names such as “water closet” or “bathroom.” “When people, especially those who had great need, come out of the bathrooms, they smile,” he explained. “So I call them smilees.”

The new name caught on, and not just with our group. Evidently, the places he frequents with his tour groups use the name because when we walked into one establishment, the woman behind the counter took one look at my face and before I said a word, said, “The smilees are upstairs.”

There’s been a big change in European public smilees since our last trip to the continent. Our bus didn’t stop once at a glorified out house or unisex, minimum privacy, bathroom. The EU highway facilities in Italy accommodate the urgent biological bathroom needs and habits of pampered folks like me—plenty of free toilets and plenty of soft paper. Obviously, since almost everyone we told before we left that we were traveling abroad cautioned, “Bring your own toilet paper and make sure you have coins to pay to use the facilities,” I wasn’t the only one who has had a problem with European public toilet customs.

Only once was a relic from yesteryear sitting waiting for a tip, and I think the “donation” was given more out of pity for a person whose job no longer exists than out of a requirement to enter the smilee.

If anyone is planning a trip to Italy, remove toilet tissue from your packing list and forget getting the proper coins as soon as your plane lands. Finding smilees in tourist areas in Italy, be it highways, restaurants, or stores, is no longer a challenge. Take the roll of super soft American toilet tissue from your suitcase. However, make sure you pack the plug adapter for the camera battery charger. The concept of free smilees with plenty of soft paper maybe catching on in many European countries, but different electrical currents are still the cause of frownees for Americans who forget that plugs made for AC outlets don’t fit into those made for DC outlets. (You have one guess as to what I didn't put in the suitcase.)