BootsnAll Travel Network

My foray into the Twittersphere

April 22nd, 2010

I had to see what the fuss was all about. I joined Twitter for the first time about a year ago and just didn’t get it. So I deleted my account. I tried again a few months later; I still wasn’t getting it. But then I noticed that so many organizations and individuals I have an interest in were saying, “find more information on Twitter,” “get updates on Twitter….” I figured the third time would have to be the charm and, sure enough, it was. I finally “get” Twitter and I’ve become an active participant. I’ve realized, too, how useful it is in keeping up with the latest information from and about, say, my favorite sports teams and animal welfare organizations. But I’ve also realized that there are a whole lot of self-important people out there, seemingly self-proclaimed experts, compiling numbered lists of the “best of”, and dictating “the dos and don’ts” of this and that. But my favorite (sarcasm) tweets or tips of all are the ones that outline how to tweet and what exactly to tweet about. The explanation most provided is that your followers don’t care about petty details, or you shouldn’t clog your followers’ feeds with stuff that doesn’t matter. Well ya know what, followers? It matters to me, and if you don’t like what I’m tweeting or how often I tweet, then unfollow me. I don’t take myself that seriously. My bio lists that I’m a working mom, travel nut, animal advocate, and sports freak; I don’t keep any of that a secret, and that’s what I’ll be tweeting about most of the time. If that’s not what you’re into, then, again, unfollow me. It won’t hurt my feelings.

And, yes, I do follow Alyssa Milano on Twitter. #dontjudgeme

Posted by Francesca

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Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn

April 6th, 2010

During our brief visit to the Grand Canyon, we stayed overnight at the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn, right outside of the Park. We definitely recommend it to everyone we know; it is the perfect place for families.

The location of the hotel is mere minutes from the South Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. The hotel itself is huge and clean and every employee we dealt with was extremely helpful and friendly. We had a standard room with two queen beds. We originally reserved a room with one king bed but none were available when we checked in. We arrived prior to the 3:00pm check-in so we didn’t complain. The room was enormous! There was plenty of space for us two adults, our one-year-old daughter, her Pack-n-Play, and all of our luggage. The room also had a small refrigerator which really came in handy for us. We were able to refrigerate all of our daughter’s bottles and jars of food.

The hotel does cater to families with children and there is plenty there to keep the young ones busy. Of course there is a pool, but there also is an arcade and a bowling alley! I know I would have liked that as a youngster… When we checked in, we were given coupons for the continental breakfast the following morning. We were a bit reluctant to try it, expecting just pastries and coffee, but we did end up checking it out and were surprised to see that it’s a full-on hot breakfast buffet. We were quite impressed.

The price of our stay was $125 for one night (weeknight at the end of March). The cost was well worth it: we were close to the Park entrance; the hotel is clean, quiet, and safe; hotel personnel were wonderful; and breakfast was included. Lastly, guests do have the option of buying a Park entry pass at the hotel. It costs the same at the hotel as it does in the Park; it’s just more convenient to buy the pass ahead of time. Park entry passes are good for seven days from date of purchase.

The Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn was the perfect choice for our stay at the Grand Canyon. We would definitely stay there again.

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Brief visit to Grand Canyon National Park

April 3rd, 2010

We spent only a day and a half at the Grand Canyon but it probably is one of my favorite places on Earth now. We all have seen gorgeous photos of the Canyon, and everyone has heard how magnificent it is, but I still was not prepared for the grandeur and majesty of it upon catching my first glimpse in person.

At this time of year (the end of March), only the South Rim is open and accessible to visitors. Since we were visiting with our one-year-old daughter, I knew we wouldn’t be able to do any heavy duty hiking, that our time would be limited to the paved trails just off the parking areas (which were easily navigable for our umbrella stroller). The views from those trails proved to be sufficient. When we initially arrived at the Park, we walked from the parking lot, past the Visitor’s Center, and over to the viewing area. I was surprised to see so many people there at this time of year. My husband even commented, “I’d hate to see this place in the high season.” But I was more surprised by my reaction when I saw the Canyon for the first time. It was literally breathtaking. When I finally recovered and was able to breathe again, the only word (sound?) I could muster was, “Whoa.” My words here won’t do it any justice, and now I believe that many photographs don’t, either. In fact, I found it very difficult to capture, in photographs, the grandness of that canyon. I tried, though. My photos can be seen here (the set includes photos from our entire Arizona trip).

On our way out of Grand Canyon National Park, we drove east on Highway 64 towards Cameron. We stopped at most of the scenic viewpoints along the way, my favorite being Navajo Point. There, we were offered a view of the Canyon from a different angle, and at a different time of day, and the results were quite stunning. Furthermore, a park ranger happened to be there on duty and was happy to take some time to talk to us about the geology, the Colorado River, and other interesting facts about the Park. We also stopped at Tusayan Ruin and Museum, a spot within Park boundaries that offers visitors a glimpse of what Pueblo Indian life was like 800 years ago. The museum itself is quite small in size but largely interesting, and we thoroughly enjoyed walking around and observing the ruin. Admission to the museum and ruin is free.

Soon thereafter we were on our way out of the Park, but not before we were already planning a return trip. Next time, we want to actually get into the Canyon. Lucia will be older, too, and we’ll be able to do more active stuff with her. That’s what I look forward to the most.

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An inspiration to other families?

March 28th, 2010

Lucia was not exactly 100% perfect on all three of our flights out to Arizona. On the first leg, which was Chicago to Minneapolis, she got a little cranky. She cried a bit but nothing too crazy. There was a man sitting directly in front of me; he looked to be a few years younger than Mark and I. He kept turning around and looking at Lucia. I thought he was giving one of those can-you-please-shut-your-kid-up looks, and that was making me anxious.

We landed in Minneapolis and as we were taxiing to the gate, the guy in front of me turned around and said to Mark, “How old is your little girl?” Mark told him that she just turned one, and he said, “My daughter is 16 months old. I enjoyed listening to your daughter, talking and stuff. It reminded me of my little girl.” That’s when I started feeling really awful for thinking he was upset about Lucia crying. Then he said, “My wife refuses to travel with our daughter. She thinks she’s too young. Now I’ve seen firsthand that it is possible to travel with a baby.” I wanted to hug him.

A short time later, Mark and I were in the terminal trying to figure out to which gate we needed to go for our next flight. The same guy from our flight came up to us and said, “Hey guys, I have one more question. Did you need to buy a special car seat for her for the airplane or anything?” Mark and I explained to him that we used Lucia’s regular, everyday car seat on the plane; no special seat is needed. Judging by the look on his face, I’d say that bit of info made his day. He thanked us profusely and said he couldn’t wait to tell his wife that it really is okay to travel with a baby. That made MY day.

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Three flights in one day with a one-year-old

March 25th, 2010

When United Airlines announced an awards travel sale last summer, and we realized it would cost us only 60,000 frequent flier miles for three round-trip tickets, we thought it a really good idea to book flights to Arizona for Mark, Lucia, and me.  The regular “price” of one round-trip ticket from O’Hare to Phoenix usually is 50,000 miles.  So 60,000 miles for three tickets?  We couldn’t pass it up.

There is always a catch, though.  Neither leg of the journey would be non-stop.  We learned we’d have to stop twice on the way to Phoenix, and then once on the way back home to Chicago.  Still not bad, though – right?  It’s free, after all.  Not costing us a dime.

Did I mention that Lucia (our daughter) would be one year old at the time of travel?  Honestly, what were we thinking?  We would have to strap in and then undo her car seat three times.  Three flights, two layovers = a long day of travel.  We would have to pack a small feast to make sure she was properly fed throughout the day.

Still, last July when we booked the flights, it all didn’t seem so bad.  But as our departure date grew nearer, I became more and more anxious.  Again, what were we thinking?

Turns out, Mark and I are awesome planners and Lucia is an exceptional traveler.  Our extended day of travel could not have run more smoothly.  Even the weather cooperated.

My greatest concern was that we would not be allowed to carry on a sufficient amount of food and milk for Lucia to last throughout the day.  I checked the TSA’s website and found nothing helpful at first.  Then I looked a bit more closely and found exactly what I needed to know; this link was extremely helpful.  We breezed through security at O’Hare.  The TSA did test the milk in the bottles we had prepared ahead of time, but that was the only “delay” we experienced.

Lucia was comfortable and relaxed throughout the day.  We had enough food and bottles for her, and, equally important, enough snacks (especially her favorite, HappyMelts [highly recommended by this mom]).  Of course, we had toys and books for her – enough to keep her occupied for hours.  The flight times also worked well with Lucia’s nap times, so that was an added bonus.

Despite the long hours, it was a perfect day of traveling, and I am elated that my daughter is such a good little traveler.  Actually, she’s a veteran now; this was her third airplane trip since she was born a year ago!  She is – we are – on our way to what we hope is a long history of happy travel tales for this family.

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Thanks for sending us to Tuscany!

March 18th, 2010

I’ve given up trying to be “deep”.  I thought there might be a way for me to write something detailed and eloquent about the people who helped us win the trip to Tuscany.  But that will take too long, and I think too much time already has passed.  So here it is:  I am deeply grateful for all of the help offered and provided by so many during the contest.  Several days later, I am still completely overwhelmed by the number of people who spread the word in an effort to get more votes for us.  During a time when I was feeling really down about how mean and disrespectful some people can be, there were plenty of others who stepped up and proved there still are good people in this world.  Friends and family members I have not seen or talked to in years were posting the contest details on Facebook, asking their friends to vote.  Friends of friends – people I’ve never even met – were doing the same thing.  My co-worker’s son’s basketball coach (follow that?) even posted it on his page.  Our entire Taylor Street neighborhood (save for a few rotten apples) rallied behind my family and did what they could to make sure we won this trip to Tuscany.  And what would these people get out of it?  They knew it would be nothing monetary or material, just the knowledge and satisfaction that they helped someone else.  These people are good people.

Thanks again for the help, support, encouragement, and votes.  You know who you are 🙂

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We’re going to Tuscany!

March 17th, 2010

We won the photo contest, run by Ciao Bambino!, that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Well, we’re co-winners, but we still get to go to Tuscany. What a wild ride!

The contest started out friendly enough: fifty photos in the running, the photo with the most comments come Friday, March 12th, is the winner. I never thought in a million years that we had a chance of winning. But after a few days, it became clear that this competition was going to come down to two photos, ours and that of another family (who seems to know everyone in the world). They moved out to a commanding lead, and I was about to concede victory, when some suspicious comments were made about the contest on the Ciao Bambino! Facebook page. The gist of the comments was that the other family deserved to win the contest more than we did. The girls in that family lost their father a few years ago to lung cancer, and this trip would help them with their grieving. Ok, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent, nor do I want to know, so I definitely feel for those young girls. But then this person went on to say that the winning family should be one with children old enough to appreciate a trip to Italy. This person didn’t need to name names or point out specific photos, but we heard the message loud and clear: vote for the other family, not mine, because Lucia is too young to go to Italy, therefore we’re undeserving of winning the grand prize. That’s all my family needed to see to get us fired up! Felicia and Frankie rounded up all of their friends, who got their friends on board, and so on. It was on!

Before I knew it, we had over 500 votes; the other family, about the same amount. We were neck and neck for a few days, then we took the lead! It was the first time during the whole competition that I actually got excited about possibly winning! We were up by almost 200 votes and I went to check on the other family’s photo, and that’s when I knew something was wrong. Within minutes, the other photo gained almost 500 votes. I took a look at the comments they were getting and discovered they were spam, serious spam. Not only that, those spammers were leaving 10-20 comments apiece. That was clearly against the rules. The contest was getting out of hand. To make it even worse, some of the comment spammers were leaving nasty comments about my photo, and about Lucia specifically. I began emailing Ciao Bambino!, and found out my friends were doing the same. Others were calling for the disqualification of the other photo. It was turning into a big mess. Long story short, Amie from Ciao Bambino! phoned me the next day. I let her know how upset I was over the whole thing and she made me feel a ton better. Amie also let me know that the spam and offensive comments had been deleted. By the end of our conversation, I once again had conceded victory, and began thinking about the cool GPS we would win for coming in second place.

The contest was scheduled to end the next day, Friday, March 12th, at 2pm CST. I had the day off work and knew I wanted to be nowhere near the computer at 2:00, so I scheduled a massage for that time. Even after the massage, I couldn’t bring myself to log onto Facebook and check the results, though I figured we’d probably come in second. Hours later, we were at Mark’s parents’ house, and I received a call on my mobile from my friend Jenny in Detroit.
Jenny: “So, are you excited?!”
Francesca: “What the hell are you talking about???”
Jenny: “They decided to give the prize to both families!!!”
Francesca: “SHUT THE HELL UP!! No way!!”
That’s when I jumped to my feet and ran to my in-laws’ computer to log onto Facebook and see for myself that, yes, Ciao Bambino! worked it out so that both families could win a week in Italy! I was in shock; more than a week later, it still hasn’t sunk in. With this move, Ciao Bambino! proved itself to be a class act. Amie and the other staffers didn’t let the comment chaos ruin an otherwise awesome contest, and maintained a high level of professionalism throughout. There is no doubt in my mind that Ciao Bambino! will be my first stop when planning future travel, and I encourage my friends and family to do the same.

Stay tuned for more posts about this contest and about our upcoming trip!

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Send us to Tuscany!

February 26th, 2010

How, you ask?  Well, first you need to visit the Ciao Bambino! page on Facebook, become a fan, then vote for my photo of Lucia & Mark by leaving a comment.  If you do not have a Facebook account, you must first create an account in order to vote.  I am BEGGING everyone to please vote for my photo!  You all know how important travel is to me and my family, and how we love Italy and being Italian-American.  We want to pass this on to Lucia.  Thank you!!

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Singing our National Anthem

November 16th, 2009

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My adorable niece, Lucia

November 2nd, 2009

My adorable niece, Lucia, originally uploaded by *SuperstarSinger* Felicia Folinazzo.

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