The next morning I called our travel agent and told her what I had in mind. She said she would email me a proposed itinerary by the end of the next day. When I told the boys where we would be spending our summer holiday, they were excited. The only thing missing was our passports which should be coming in the mail in the next few days. I remember the time when all you had to do was go to a passport office, have your picture taken, show your birth certificate and you have a passport within 4 hours. Now it's done through the mail and takes forever.I was surprised when the package arrived in two days.It seems Miss Brown had the judge put a little pressure on the passport office to give top priority to ours.
The itinerary was in my email later that evening. I printed off a copy for Cody. Over coffee, we discussed the proposed itinerary. We would fly from London to Madrid, and then drive to Barcelona, stopping at Toledo. We would stay in the paradores on this trip. Then fly to Rome. From there we would go to Venice, Florence, then Naples to visit Pompeii. From Italy, we'll take a cruise ship to Greece where we'll visit Athens, Santorin, Thessalonica and Patras. From Greece, we fly home to New York and then to Pittsburgh.
“That’s a lot of traveling, Alan. We'd need the old steamer luggage for all of that traveling.”
“No, except for me, you just need to pack comfort clothing. We'll stay at hotels that will provide laundry service. I’ll have the agency pick hotels for us that give one day turn around on laundry.”
“Great let’s do it.” I called the agency in the next morning and agreed to the itinerary they sent and mentioned about booking hotels with one day laundry service. The next day at breakfast, I informed the boys of the trip. They were excited and you could see their smiles, stretching from cheek to cheek.
“We need to go to town and order some suitcases and possibly some traveling clothes. You’ll need clothes to dress up for dinner, some light weight clothes and swim suits. Cody go through the boys clothes with them and see what we need to buy.”
I called Mary and told her I had our itinerary but not the hotels where we'd be staying. "As soon as I have that information, I’ll get it to you.”
By the next evening I had the complete package from the agency along with the tickets. I made copies of the itinerary for Mary and Rich’s parents. I asked Mary to have Andy’s and Rich’s clothes sent to my place so I can check to be sure everything is included. What I didn’t tell Mary, I'd buy the boys additional clothes and suitcases to match our boys.
The following week-end, was shopping day. We drove to Pittsburgh and shopped at Horne’s and Kaufman’s.I picked out 5 rather large suitcases, all the same style and of good quality. Cody and the boys carried them to the car in the parking garage. While they did that, I browsed the boys clothing floor. I looked at light weight clothes, a couple of sport outfits they could wear to dinner, shoes and swim suits. When they returned, I led them to the clothes department. I told them if they didn’t find what they needed in this store it was ok because we'd go to the next store. Stepping back, I watched as the boys shopped. One would pick out a pair of shorts and then they would all either agree or disagree. Finally they all settled on the clothes they were going to take on the trip. I noticed Rich hung back a little, “Rich, if you're planning on enjoying this trip you'll need the same type of clothes that the boys have. Think about this as an early Christmas gift.”Andy must’ve sense the reluctance as well. He started to pick out clothes for Rich.
The car was really loaded as we headed home. Of course, we had to stop for dinner. I drove to the Olive Garden in Greentree and the boys filled up on pasta. The rest of the trip home was very quiet. “This will be a great trip Alan. We’ll need to buy some cameras.”
“That will be my trip present to the boys. Do you want a camera as well?”
“Of course, where are you going to buy them?”
“In New York, I’ll have Robert pick them up and he can give them to Dave who will be traveling with us.”
The day for our trip was here. With the suitcases packed, we left early in the morning to catch our flight to New York. At Pittsburgh, we checked our luggage to New York, we had time to claim the luggage and then take a taxi to JFK for our flight to London. Arriving La Guardia, we had a 4 hour wait until our flight left for London. This was plenty of time to retrieve our luggage and take a taxi to JFK.
When we arrived at JFK, we check in at our airline and then we went to the lounge. There I met Brad, he gave the boys and Cody a digital camera. Since there were all the same, I took the chargers except one that Cody kept. I also had a converter in my briefcase, that would be needed to use the electrical plugs in foreign countries.
I watched the boys look around the lounge, “Cody, there are free drinks and snacks over at that table. Ask the boys if they want anything.” I have traveled so much over the last 30 years that I'm always amused at the children on their first visit to an airline lounge. It was no different with the boys. I have seen a lot of kids sit next to their parents while their eyes looked toward a snack bar. The kids that have been there before, automatically headed toward the snack bar. My boys will do the same thing on the other flights.
Nels came back, “Dad, would you like for me to get you a cup of coffee?”
“Thank you Nels, that would be very nice.”
With a big smile, he went and got me my coffee. When he came back, I sat the coffee down and gave him a big hug. “Don’t you want a snack? They have cookies and bags of peanuts. You should take some, it will be a couple of hours before we board the plane. Go ahead, see Andy, Rich and James are taking some snacks.”
He smiled and went to help himself. “Alan, what made you decide to be a foster parent.”
“First you need to know that Cody is my partner. When I saw how he acted with Andy, I knew he'd be great with children. So I looked into fostering a child, I got two instead of one and I couldn’t be happier. I'd like to adopt them, I’m not sure if that's possible. That'll be my Christmas project and if it's possible, it’ll be my Christmas gift to Cody.”
“I saw your itinerary when I went to pick up my tickets. You really are going to make this a long vacation.”
“I’m looking forward to it. I visited those countries on business and never took the opportunity to sightsee. Now I will enjoy them as a vacationer. My advice to you is to take an extra day on a trip to do some local sight seeing.”
Soon it was time to board our flight to London. The kids were excited and because of that I was getting a little excited as well. I had the seat assignments, so I gave each kid their assignment, Nels asked if he could sit with me, so I gave Cody Nels seat assignment which meant he'd sit with James. I saw Cody showing James his seat which was by the window. “Sit in the seat next to the window Nels, watch the men outside on the tarmac.”
Everything on this trip was an eye opener for the boys. Dinner on the flight, movies on the flight, even when we hit a little turbulence, that was really an eye opener. Arriving in London and going through customs was an experience. I handed each boy their passport and let them walk through customs. I watched as they politely answered the custom officer’s questions. Then with a smile, he stamped their passport and told them they could go ahead. When we all cleared customs, we had to pick up our luggage and clear customs again. But this time Cody pushed the trolley with our luggage straight through without the custom’s officer stopping him. Sharing a cab with David, we drove from Heathrow to our hotel in London. I stayed there many times so when I went to check in, the clerk recognized me. I introduced him to Cody and the boys. “Maybe you shouldn’t have stayed away so long. Look what happens when you aren’t traveling.”
We had two adjoining rooms, each with a double bed. “Andy, if you and Richie share a bed in the same room as James and Nels, please don’t do anything that would embarrass them or Cody and me.” Andy knew what I meant and said he understood.