Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh, and one more thing . . .

Merry Christmas!

I am so happy that today is today!  I am SO excited for tomorrow!  (I almost feel like my kids!) : )

I LOVE Christmas, and I love my decorations, my trees (first year with a kids' tree and a "real" tree (aka, Mommy's tree)--I LOVE having all the decorations the kids made or picked out on one, and the fragile, pictures-through-the-years on the other!), the food, the snow (or lack thereof--very sad this year!), the lights, the secrets, hanging out with all of the family we love, the mysterious packages under the tree, but especially the Reason.

I hope you all have an incredible Christmas Season--enjoy every little moment!

Much Love!

Favorite Shopping Moment

Granted, this happened a few weeks ago, but it was funny then.

Still is.

So here you go:

Me: "Do these boots come in half sizes?"

Sales clerk: "What size are you looking for?"

Me: "9 1/2"

Sales clerk:  "I'm sorry, those don't come in halfs."


Seriously?

Thanks for the laugh, Random Sales Girl.  You've made my day lighter!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On our way home!

We had a few hours in the morning before our flight back to Barcelona (and then home), so we visited our favorite graffiti site:




The Colosseum again, of course (another good part about not being on the cruise!  Our excursion from the cruise would have given us a good fifteen minutes here.  On our own, we got four different visits, a complete tour, multiple angled pictures . . . . totally worth it!)

One more lunch at a sidewalk cafe, one more gelato eaten on the steps of Piazza della Republica, . . .


And it was arrivederci a Roma!



(ok, so this picture is really northeastern Canada, but I forgot to take pictures earlier!)


A totally incredible, amazing adventure that we will never forget!

Last Full Day in Rome!

On our first night here, after seeing the Colosseum, we headed off down a wrong road.  We saw this monument and wanted to document it in the daylight : )  It's a memorial for 9/11, which completely surprised and amazed me.  How incredibly cool of Rome to create a memorial for the Twin Towers, Roman style, of course!  The plaque in the middle reads (roughly translated):  

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  
Pro Memoria
In memory of the victims of the tragedy at 
New York and Washington 
on September 11, 2001.  
The city of Rome 
for the peace against every form of terrorism.




Cool, huh?

As this was our last full day in Rome, there were a couple little things on the list of major to-do's that we hadn't done yet.  We went across the street from the 9/11 Memorial to Circus Maximus.  Seriously cool.  To be walking on that ground, where 2000+ years ago were chariot races . . . awesome!!!  We went to La Boca Della Verita, to see if we got to keep our hands, back to our favorite gelato stop at the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain again, the Spanish Steps again . . . all beautiful and romantic and SO AMAZING!!!!  BAH!!!  Still couldn't believe we were in Rome.  ROME, BABY!!!!  awesome.

Roma (Day 6)

Today we took a tour of St. Peter's cathedral, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Square. (not in that order) : )  This was a very disappointing tour, but the Sistine Chapel was so emotionally overpowering for me that it all worked out!  We were actually in line for the Vatican Museum when we discovered (via deseretnews.com on Dave's phone!) that President Monson was in town, presiding over the groundbreaking ceremony for the Rome Temple.  Had we known where the temple site was, we definitely would have wandered over there.  As it was, we had no idea except for a general direction, and Rome being the sprawling metropolis that it is, didn't want to ask a cab to wander with us. : )

So, after entering the Vatican (who had a staircase that looked like the exterior of the Guggenheim--go figure!), we saw some cool views of St. Peter's, the Court of the Pinecone (including a larger-than-life-size pinecone! Ha!), some amazing original sculptures--Perseus cutting off the head of Medusa, Laocoon and His Sons, a room built around a swan bathtub (for Nero's Palace, of course), tapestries from the 1600s--seriously?  Can you believe they're still intact?  Let alone hanging? That's some seriously fine craftsmanship!

After eternity (albeit an awe-inspiring one!) we finally descended the stairs to the Sistine Chapel.  Words simply cannot express what it was like to be in that room.  It's smaller than I had imagined, even though the benches are taken out and it's completely open.  To be there, looking at The Creation, The Judgement; knowing that Michelangelo himself had been in that very room for hours on end, stretching his imagination and creativity to the breaking point, the ancient technology that had gotten him there, on the scaffolding . . . the concept, ideas, and philosophies behind why he painted what he did . . . it was truly incredible.  We were there for a mere fifteen minutes, and I was brought to tears three different times.  [Now, for future travelers:  ditch your tour guide here.  Stay as long as you want, they're not going to show you anything else of interest.  (ie, what we should have done!) : )  Oh well, it was wonderful!]

Our tour ended in front of St. Peter's, and we went inside to wander around.  I didn't realize that Michelangelo's Pieta was in the cathedral, so was taken aback when we turned right inside the entrance and there it was!  Absolutely incredible in person.  Beautiful and emotional in a picture, a hundred times that face to face!

St. Peter's was overwhelming again, and probably more to the size and sheer monstrosity of it.  The tombs of the Popes, the shrines dedicated to them, the altar . . . the absolute volume of it all.  Wow.



Oh!  We did find out the mystery of the padlocks--seems that if you are truly in love, and want to prove it, you write your names (or something romantic if you wish) on a padlock (or don't write anything, apparently it doesn't matter!), attach it onto something at a romantic location (such as the Ponte Sant' Angelo (Bridge of Angels), or a statue, or the fence at Fiesole overlooking Florence), and throw the key into the river (or olive grove at Fiesole), thus proving you are "locked" together for eternity . . . or the padlocks get cut off by local authorities . . . or whatever.  Google it if you want to see some serious dedication! : )


So after lunch outside St. Peter's, we found Castel San'Angelo.  A medieval castle with replicas of the battle armor, swords and weaponry, state rooms, and incredible views of St. Peter's and the Tiber River.  (For those Angels and Demons fans out there, yes, this is the secret lair for the Hassassin, and there is indeed a secret passageway to the Vatican from here.  It isn't underground, however--it's on top of a wall!  Not very sneaky, but I guess it served its purpose!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ROMA!!!

Finalmente, arriviamo a Roma!  Arriving early in the evening, around 5:30-ish, we decided to hit a cathedral just for fun, accidentally joined a mass, found my bookstore (who knew!?!) and had some delicious dinner (my favorite appetizer every--focaccia and a salad of arugula, baby mozzarella, and cherry tomatoes . . . yummmmmm!), were serenaded by an accordion player, then decided to walk towards the Colosseum.




Down one street, across to another, and as it rounds the corner, our collective breath was taken away!  Words simply cannot describe how incredibly AWESOME the Colosseum is.  And I mean that in EVERY sense of the word!  It is overpowering, amazing, and . . . WOW.  Honestly, I couldn't speak.  I was doing pretty well to just breathe.  Dave and I were both so astounded at the sheer magnitude . . . not to mention that it was all lit up and there was a full moon--AMAZING!!!  We wouldn't have seen it this way on the cruise!  We had a tour the next morning that went inside and around the Roman Forum.  We couldn't wait!



So, next morning we set off, find our tour, and head around and into the Colosseum.   And we thought you couldn't add any more superlatives to describing this amazing structure, we found more.  From seeing the senate seats, the second story, the animal cages, the spot where the Emporer's throne was . . . Ho. Lee. Cow.  It was SO INCREDIBLE!!!!  Definitely top ten of our favorite parts of this trip!


I know, we look super-giddy and not-a-little dorky, but please bear with us--we were a little excited. : )  So after the Colosseum, we went to Constantine's Arch (did you know most of the sculptures on that arch were stolen from other monuments around the city?  Apparently not having any sculptors you like living nearby allows you to "borrow" sculptures you liked for your archway . . . hmmmmm)  Palantine Hill was another incredible spot--the place where the Emporer's Palace once stood.  (Yeah, I live next door to the Colosseum.  The monstrous castle?  yeah, that's mine.  Want to come watch chariots race in my private rotunda?  We could hang out at my personal spa after . . . ) The Roman Forum was next, topped by a visit (and picture, of course!) of the alter where Caesar was cremated.

Yeah, we were there.

Non-stop amazement!!!

For those of you who want to hear the nitty-grittys, I'll tell you about my fountain obsession in Rome--not the big ones, mind you, although those are pretty famous too.  They have THE COOLEST drinking fountains!  I only took a couple hundred pictures of them, according to Dave.  They'll have their own spread in the photo book, just in case you're curious. ; )

Back to Rome:  There are some 20-odd obelisks made at this time period, and Rome has 13 of them.  Each is in front of a majorly important cathedral (Demons and Angels-style), or piazza.  I think we saw nine of them!  Not going to bore you with an obelisk collage, just know they are cool and some of them have hieroglyphics on them.  However, they don't say anything, just pretty pictures.  Funny, I know.  Welcome to ancient architecture!  Kind of like us, where if it looks cool, we don't care if it means anything. : )  We walked to the Piazza del Popolo to meet our afternoon tour.  (Note to future Rome-visitors:  This is the group to go with!  Both of our tours from this company were fantastic.  The other company we used was VERY disappointing.  Do not use "When In Rome."  blech. blech. blech.)  Our second tour was just six of us--sweet!  We went down the Street of the Baboon, so named for this hideous sculpture (also named, The Baboon):


Gross, huh?  Yeah, I think so too.  It's funny, though, because all the shops along this street are part of a Baboon Association, committed to preserving the legacy.  They even have signs:


So anyway, to make a long story shorter, we went on to see the Spanish Stairs (funny, because they were built by a Frenchman, made famous by Englishmen (authors like Byron and Shelly, Keats, and such--double bonus for us English majors!), yet somehow are called Spanish . . . go figure!), the palace of Barberini, the Trevi Fountain (yaay!!!), the Piazza Navona and Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), and last but definitely not least, the Pantheon.  Another amazingly incredible building--current architects still cannot figure out how it stands.  They have entered the data and measurements of the Pantheon into the AutoCad system (which as I understand it, is designed for structures and figuring out how to build buildings of certain proportions--you architects out there may correct me!) and this state-of-the-art, modern computer system says that a building of this proportions cannot stand.  The center of it is empty, the only support being the exterior walls.  The concrete that makes up the ceiling grows lighter and more porous as it reaches the top of the building, until the part right around the oculus is pumice.  It is exactly the same height as it is wide (142 ft), and Raphael is buried there.  Not surprisingly, there is a piazza outside with an obelisk.  : )



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Venice and Murano (Day 5)

Our first official day in Venice began pretty slowly.  We had planned to go on the glass blowing tour at 9:00 AM, but when we got there in the morning, the only available one was at 10:00 AM.   They explained that there weren't enough people to do a 9:00, which made sense to me.  Dave was suspicious that this was the "heavy-sell" type of tour we had heard about, but I didn't think so as it was through the hotel.  After our time being moved, I got a little more leery of the story.  We killed some time by reading Italian newspapers and booking a hotel in Rome.  (I heart Expedia!)  Our guide finally showed up and we were the only two going . . . hmmmm.  We got to Murano, and were able to watch the glassblowers in action.  There were about ten other people at the Furnace, all with other guides.  After about ten minutes watching him (with no good pictures, unfortunately--they move too quickly!), we were led into the showroom.  There were about six rooms of amazing sculptures, dish ware, vases, chandeliers, and every possible thing imaginable.  We spent way too long there, not sure about how to exit without purchasing a $20,000 sculpture (a boat-shaped deal that I fell in love with) or $1350 tumblers (six beautiful cups Dave fell in love with).  Turns out Dave's suspicions were correct--heavy-handed, hard-sell, super-pricey . . . we got it all!  We finally told our guide that we weren't in the market for such things, and with small children it wasn't very feasible, and exited rather quickly.  Why hadn't we thought of that sooner!?!  Ah well, we did learn quite a bit about how the glass ware was made, what techniques they use to make a mirrored surface or not inside or out, what different powders do to the different finishes . . . so while it was overlong, it was a fun educational experience.  Maybe not for our guide . . . but oh well!  : )  We wandered around Murano, had lunch at a little restaurant that is only open for lunch . . . (maybe that explains the "patate fritte" and frozen breaded pork chop.  So much for swank!), then headed back to Venice.

I have to say my absolute favorite thing about Venice is the architecture--so many gorgeous buildings!  I love the middle eastern-influenced windows everywhere, the window boxes with flowers in bloom, the little balconies, the every-colored buildings, the narrow waterways . . . it was amazing!









A little other-wordly too--it was so crazy to be driving by . . . I mean, floating by, or driving in a boat, or whatever--and look over to see a doorway half-submerged in the water.  Or, on our way out, the outdoor cafe seating completely flooded.  Good thing they weren't open!



We did get go on a gondola ride, which was amazing!  Part of the Venetian experience, for sure.  We rode by Marco Polo's house, Mozart's house, stopped by the Rialto Bridge for a bit (and under it too, as it was raining!), went by the Bridge of Sighs again, got to watch a garbage boat at work, delivery boats, and even construction boats!  Our driver got yelled at for going backwards on the route (apparently there's a set route every gondola takes), which was very cool (not that he was yelled at, but) because it was all in Italian and I understood the basic verbage. : )  He went backwards because we told him we wanted to see Rialto, so he went there first.  Sweet, huh?  He even let us use his personal umbrella when it was raining.  So, so fun!  I think staying in Venice for longer than two days would definitely require a limit-less credit card (that someone else payed off) for the major shopping available (Versace, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, etc!), and some water-proof boots. : )  But we had a great time while we were here!


On the way out, I took a picture of the bridge the train travels on--doesn't it look like a dinosaur skeleton?  Ah, I love architecture! : )



Ciao, Venice!  Ci vediamo!

My Studly Eternal Mate

How hot is my husband!?!

Ok, don't answer that really, just know that I think he is SUPER-HANDSOME and am still madly in love with him.

; )

Happy sigh.



And, for those of you who have to know, this is where that picture is going.  It hasn't been updated in about twelve years, so they finally decided to make it happen.

Dang, he's cute.

The Contraband

Let's just preface this by saying that I have no idea how wasn't watching when these pictures were taken.  I stumbled upon them in my inbox on the internet.  And will now post them for your envying pleasure.





WOW.  Right?  That's all you can say too, huh?

(hint: it's from a children's book)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Florence and Venice (Adventure Day 4)

Today we went on a tour of Florence that went to the Piazza del Michelangelo, and then would get us into the Galleria dell'Accademia, where the David is housed.  We saw the original location on Sunday, but this was one thing that was high on both of our "MUST SEE" lists.  We got in and were standing with our tour guide, looking at one of Michelangelo's Prisoners statues our guide was describing when I happened to glance down the corridor to my right.  I was totally speechless--all I could do was pull Dave towards me as we saw the immeasurable grandeur that is the David.  Another one of those moments where the pictures in my Humanities books had come to life, right in front of me!  Dave had no idea that the sculpture was over sixteen feet tall, so he was in double-wonder, if there can be such a thing!  We both just stared, trying to stay with our group but drawn like a magnet, towards the end of the hall.  It was so incredible to be in that place, to see the coffered ceiling that is always behind the photographs of David.  To actually see him in person!  Wow.  That's just about all we could say.  Wow.  (Name the book that comes from and you get a gold star!)

Anyway, pictures are not allowed of the David due to copyright laws.  That only impeded us a little . . . but since I haven't downloaded them from Dave's phone yet, you'll have to be satisfied with a legal picture : )



One of my favorite parts about seeing this was to be able to view him from all angles.  From the right side of the statue, you can see his face so much better--the only other place I've found his face is here, where we got the tickets the first time, but even that doesn't do it justice.  You never really see him from the backside, but we were able to walk all around, seeing the strap of his sling and the rock he holds in his right hand.  You could say we paid double for this opportunity, but it was worth it!  I'd totally get a little David for my house, or a big poster . . . if I didn't have small children around. : )

Another thing that was interesting to us was the fact that this amazing museum, probably one of the most famous museums in the WORLD, was almost hidden in the wall of a regular street.  If it weren't for the line of people outside, I would never have found it.  In fact, we probably passed it a few times in our wanderings the other day!  No portico or main entry, just a small sign and a couple doors.  Crazy!

After the Galleria dell'Accademia, we walked down the street just one little block to where Il Duomo was peeking out.  Yeah, right there.  Go figure!  I love Florence!!!  We got a little more history on the creation and the details, then left our group and went inside.  It's incredible that these places are as detailed as they are--every little aspect!  From the ceiling and the inside of the dome (obviously), to the wall clock (amazing and weird--still don't know how it works!), to the floor tiles even--they were so cool!  We wandered around some more, then ran to Santa Croce.  We had been here as well on our other tour, but didn't realize it housed the graves of some seriously famous folks!  Michelangelo, (Rafael is in the Pantheon), Gallileo, Machiavelli, and Dante, just to name a few!  There was a bunch of little rooms off the sides, one of which had some artifacts like part of St. Francis d'Assisi's robe and tie.  Ho. Lee. Cow.






We had to head out of there fairly quickly, get our luggage, and on the train to Venice.  I was excited because here was another chance to see the Italian countryside.  BEAUTIFUL!!!  We raced by vineyards, cities, quaint little towns, and always, cathedrals. : )  It was a perfect way to travel in a hurry--get to the city you want to see, but not missing out on the countyside!

Venice was a little unnerving when we got there.  It is THE STRANGEST place I'd ever been too--yeah, you go expecting the boats and canals, but to be there in person, trying to navigate it . . . pretty overwhelming!  It took us a while to find our hotel . . . a while and three bridges up and over and down, hauling our luggage.  At this point we decided that our favorite days are definitely the ones on which we aren't toting luggage. : )  We finally found our hotel, just as we were about to give up on our gps system (which had us going on streets that were actually stores . . . not helpful!), checked in, and went to find San Marco.  One of the things I had heard is that San Marco at night is a must-see.  It didn't disappoint!  It was beautiful, all lit up.  We found a little gelato shop in one corner and promised ourselves to come back after dinner.  We walked along the wharf, saw the Bridge of Sighs (under restoration . . . shocker!), then went back and found a little spot for dinner.  The front dining room was pretty packed, so we asked if they had any tables in the back.  They said they had the garden, but it was outside (it was a little chilly, but we decided to be weird Americans and try it).  We got some odd looks, but it was worth it!  Turned out the "outside" was actually an enclosed tent-like structure, and it was quiet and all ours.  I got some fabulous tortellini, and Dave had some spaghetti and meatballs . . . a sad sigh for not taking a picture of it. : )

After dinner we walked back to San Marco for our gelato and guess what?  The ENTIRE square was flooded!  Dave got his feet soaking wet by trying to run through it--apparently deeper than we thought!  The scaffolding parts we had seen scattered around the square earlier were set up now as raised sidewalks.  By inching next to the shop windows I was able to get halfway down the square, and we found a ramp and a raised sidewalk to be able to get back together.  Got our gelato, and laughed at how crazy this was!  Made it back to the hotel without getting soaked again and made reservations to go on a private tour from the hotel to Murano the next morning.  Perfect, I thought, that was what we wanted to do anyway!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fiesole (Florence Day 3)




The next day we decided to return to Fiesole and see it a little closer.  We took a bus up, and had so much fun just wandering around!  We went through a Roman Amphitheater that they still use, a Roman bath house, and an Etruscan temple.  We saw Salvatore Ferragamo's house, and got to go inside the local cathedral.  I got on a little bit of a door fetish and took a bunch of pictures of the beautiful doors there!  (It will get you excited for my fountain fetish when we get to Rome!)





We found an ancient monastery that had been converted into a restaurant, but wasn't open yet for the day.  Next to it on the hill was an INCREDIBLE view of Florence--too bad it was an overcast day, the picture just doesn't do it justice!  There were a couple of padlocks on the fences there--locked to nothing, just the fence.  Weird, but we didn't find out what those were until Rome, so neither will you. ; )  Fiesole was simply beautiful--probably more crowded in better weather, but we liked having it (almost) all to ourselves!  Afterwards, we went back to Il Duomo, went shopping along Mercato Centrale, bought me some scarves (so I could last through this trip--MUCH colder than I anticipated!), and stopped at a little corner cafe for dinner.  Then, of course, more cinnamon gelato.  I asked, but they don't ship gelato.  Not even for their favorite customer.





Florence: Day 2 of The Adventure

(I'm still not sure how I should count this--it's the first day in Florence, but technically the 7th day of our trip--maybe I'll just stick with counting the days of our "adventure," not including the TDOH, two on the cruise, one being stuck in Nice, and one in Barcelona . . . ok, we're going to stick with that.)

We finally made it to Florence!  We got checked into our hotel, and celebrated that we weren't dragging our luggage.  We were able to find a tour that went to many of the places we wanted to see, that same day!  The front desk helped me book it and I almost cried when they said we were good to go!  I told them our story, and why I was so emotional about a tour working out--they were really sympathetic and said it sounded like a movie plot!

Florence is SO beautiful!  I absolutely LOVE the tiny little streets, the gelato shops on every corner, the piazzas, and amazing architecture!  We went to Fiesole for just a moment on our tour, Palazzio Vecchio, Santa Croce, Piazza Republica, and the Uffizi Museum.  After our tour dropped us off, we wandered some streets and at one corner we turned and I almost died--there was Il Duomo, RIGHT THERE!!!  It, like most everything else we saw that day, is so much more amazing in person--the detail of the sculpture, the intricacies of the different colored marble, the size!  I was in heaven!  That night we went to Nerone's for dinner--I love that the food here is so beautiful and SO delicious!  We had fabulous ravioli and pizza for lunch too--Dave was making fun of me for taking pictures of our food, but I wish I'd taken more! : )  So good, it almost erased away any crazy transportation memories . . . 

We did get some gelato this same night--and just about every night afterwards. ; )  I got cannella, which is cinnamon--HOLY COW!  I could live here.  Just for this!  Maybe someday I'll live in Florence, be an English tour guide, and eat cinnamon gelato every day.  Yep, that would be the life! : )


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Commercial Break

We pause for a message from our sponsor.

Whilst I am posting these lovely pictures of the French Riviera, and scrolling through memories of Ancient Rome, the Italian Renaissance, and incredible feats of the human spirit, this is what my house looks like.





I'm just not ready for winter yet.

What We Shall Call Day One

It just sounds better than Travel Day of Ay-Chee-Ell-Ell.

(You have to tell me if you get that.  I think I'm hilarious.)

Early the next morning we got up and exited the ship, saying goodbye to our new friends and cruise group.  The PTB (Powers That Be) wanted all the baggage outside the rooms at midnight the previous night, so they could take all of it over and have it waiting for us at the dock.  Since we were continuing on in a different direction, had two big black bags (like everyone else on board), and I didn't trust the cruise line anymore, I opted out of that idea.  Dave doesn't like making waves, but this was my vacation and I was putting my foot down.  Hard.  There was NO WAY I was going to let them take my luggage and lose it somewhere when I wanted to catch a train first thing in the morning.  So, begrudgingly, Dave acquiesced.  And, begrudgingly, I let someone touch my bag to put it on the boat with me in the morning.  It was actually nice of them because my bag was pretty dang heavy.  (Not because I packed too much, I actually didn't pack enough of some items, but it was heavy because I had the little suitcase in there too!  Pretty impressive for someone who only brought three pairs of . . . well, never mind.)

So off we went to Nice, a very nice cabbie, and a train clerk who thought we couldn't make it to Florence by the end of the day.  Five stops, she says, and in broken English (which was way better than my French), here is where you go, get off at this stop and buy another pass, then get on another train here and get to Florence at some point.  To say I was a little nervous about this aspect of the journey would be an understatement.  Turned out to be unfounded nervousness because the train stopped in Villefranche (hello old friend!), Eze (my mom would LOVE it here!), then Monaco.  Got off in Monaco and purchased tickets to Florence.  No biggie.  Got back on our train after affirming that it was, indeed, the correct train.  Next stop was Ventimille.  A little fishing town (smaller than Villefranche) on the border of France and Italy--finally!  Some Italian signs!  A language I (used to) know well!

We had a three-hour layover here and decided to NOT spend it in the disgusting train station.  (Let's just say three toilets, one that flushes, two sinks, one with faucets, no operable soap.  Grateful for hand sanitizer in the purse.  And weird old men who stayed out of my bathroom stall, but not the women's bathroom.  We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's the janitor . . . )  Down the sidewalk we go, toting our super-luggage.  Ventimille is a charming little town--park in the middle, complete with carousel.  Boardwalk down the beach (no sand again).  We took a little bridge over the inlet and sat on a bench on the beach, watched local fishermen with their 20-ft poles stuck in the sand, wild swans swim in the inlet, HUGE trout next to the bridge (why aren't they fishing there?), and had a great time just wandering around!  (If it weren't for these blasted suitcases . . . )

We had lunch at a little cafe--my first Italian gnocchi, and sadly enough, it was the pasta-roni variety.  Oh well, better meals ahead, right? : )  Then stopping at a little market (have I mentioned how much I love the local markets?  Such awesome grocery shopping and the perfect way to get a feel of the city!) we got some bananas and oranges--THE BEST produce ever!  Seriously, if you want a good banana, go to Ventimille!  They were so so good, and not just because I'd had bad gnocchi for lunch--we actually didn't eat them until on the bus later, . . . but I'm jumping ahead of myself.  Back to the story . . .

Finally it was time for the train to leave Ventimille.  Since we had so many stops ahead of us, we decided to document them by taking a picture of us in front of the bus sign with the number of stops--Nice was #1, Ventimille was #2, and so on until we got to Florence.  About 20 minutes into our train ride out of Ventimille, we heard a loud crash, squealing brakes, smoke and sparks coming from the front of the engine (we were in the first passenger car directly behind the engine), and the train coming to a rapid stop.  Yes folks, the train broke too.  Cursed, you say?  Possibly.  My theory is that the Fates decided we needed to stop in one more city than we had planned.  After an hour wait on the bus, and seriously broken Italian on my part (why had I not studied more before we left?  Oh yeah, "broken train" wasn't in the plan!), we figured out that part of the track had malfunctioned, the engine had run over it, and we were incredibly lucky to not have jumped the track and crashed.  Thanks to the expert driving of the conductor, we didn't tip over or jump tracks as usually happens in this kind of scenario.  Lesson 1:  Be thankful for small miracles!  No Titanic events on the ship, no train tipping over = life is good!  Finally they disconnected the passenger cars (there were seven of them) and towed us back to the nearest station, which was the marina of Ventimille.  At the marina, we hung out at the train station and waited for the busses they said would come get us.  It started raining, then pouring, and we all squished into the tiny station.  We met a couple from Portland who were doing the same thing we were--hoofing it around Italy--except that's what they planned to do from the get-go.  As the downpour commenced, they both opened their tiny little suitcases and pulled out raincoats.  "Never thought we would use these!"  I was wishing for tiny little suitcases, advance knowledge of a travel plan, and the ability to pack appropriately.  Oh well!  One of the things I did pack was a tiny little umbrella, just in case we had days like this.  But it was somewhere deep inside my complex packing, and there was no way I was going to open it up and dig.  Nope.  I'll just get wet.

After a couple hours (we did eventually go back inside and squish with the other rain-coat-less few), the first of three busses came.  This one was going straight to Milan, which was the one we wanted.  The crowd that immediately rushed the bus door made the driver hesitate to open . . . not that I blamed him, but we were getting really wet here!  Dave told me to be a rude American and shove my way to the front, then save him a seat.  He took our luggage around to the other side while the crowd started chanting, "Allora! Allora!" Which, roughly translated, means "Now! Now!"  I totally elbowed my way past many nicer people, including two men, one of whom lifted me onto the bus, then tried to sit next to me.  Well, Italians are friendly, and it made me feel like my vanity had not all been lost in the rain. ; )  Two hours later we made it to the Milan train station.  Let's just say that although it was stuffy and recycled air for the entire ride, and although we were still wet and smelled lovely, we were so dang happy to have a mode of transportation NOT break down, that nothing else mattered!  We got to Milan around 10:00 PM, met a very nice lady at the Customer Service office who got us a hotel for the night, re-booked us on a train of our choice to Florence, and directed us to the correct exit so we could actually find the hotel.  We found it without any difficulty, laughed at the extraordinarily sparse room, and immediately crashed.  We were so tired!  The disappointment at not actually being in Florence (two hours prior) was washed in relief of actually being somewhere along the way, with means to get there in the morning.  Hopefully the bad luck of broken transportation was over, and we were together, in a free hotel, with tickets for the next day.



NOW the adventure begins, right?  Or should we stop hoping for an adventure?  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The "REAL" Adventure Begins!

This is a long one, but it's a good story!

So after our amazing day in Monaco and Monte Carlo, we went back with our group to the dock.  Realizing that this was the last day we were going to be in France, we decided to ditch the group and find a bakery, then head back to the ship later.  (How often do you get to eat French bread in France!?!)  The tender boats were going all day long, so we weren't worried about getting back any time soon.  (I learned a lot on this trip--one item being that to "tender" in to a port means that it's too small for the cruise ship, so we get on little boats off the ship which take us into the port.)

We convinced another couple to come with us, and found a little bakery right on the corner.  We bought a bunch of stuff (again Janet, I could have really used you there!!!) mostly annoying the French gal who kept rolling her eyes at these stupid Americans who couldn't make up their mind let alone pronounce anything correctly.  Then we wandered over to a park where it looked like a soccer game was commencing.  We hung out and ate our delicacies, then gave up on the soccer game ever starting and headed back to the dock.

Back on the ship, we ate dinner at the buffet since we were too late for our seating in the main restaurant.  We hung out in one of the lounges with the same couple, and thought it was odd that the ship hadn't moved yet.  (Cue ominous background music)  Heading back to our room, I decided to take a shower that night because we were supposed to be meeting our tour at 8:00 AM the next morning, which meant we had to be getting off the boat at 7:30-ish, and my hair was in desperate need of a wash.  While I was thus showering, a long announcement came over the loudspeakers that I couldn't understand.  When I got out, I asked Dave what the deal was that required such a long announcement.  He told me the ship was broken, the cruise was cancelled, and we were not going to be in Florence in the morning.  Very funny, I told him.  What's REALLY going on?  Now, if you know Dave, you know that I was pretty justified in this response.  However, he was telling the truth.

CAN YOU BELIEVE IT???

No lie, the ship was indeed broken (rudder problem), the cruise was not going to happen, and the Powers That Be had no idea what to tell us.  We'll work on it tonight, they said, and let you know more in the morning.  Sure, as if any of us could sleep after that!  Visions of "Titanic" were flashing through my mind, and as this was our first time on a BOAT, I had no idea what to expect.  "This never happens!" everyone kept saying, but here it was our first cruise and it was happening, so what next?

The Powers told us that we would stay there for the night, and the tender boats would be available for our use the next day from 7:00 AM to 10:30 PM.  They also had tours available for Nice and Monaco, should we desire to give them more money.  Ha!  They hoped to be able to give us more information the next night.  So we went to bed, with no idea what to do the next day except explore some more, seeing as how there weren't really any other options besides staying on the boat, and hey, we were still in France!

The next day we went to Nice with the same couple we had hung out with the night before.  We decided to just wander and find what we could find.  We went to their Flower Market, which was SO fun--I love seeing the wares and markets of other cultures!  What a fun way to shop for groceries!  We got some more bread (YUM) and some pastries.  Wandered some more and found a gelato shop next to the City Office building, where a protest was going on involving a bunch of college-age kids.  I asked one boy why they were protesting, and he said it was because the government had just raised the retirement age from 60 to 62.  Odd that they would worry about that, but it was interesting to watch!  We ate some gelato and watched them march away, only to find them later next to a park by the beach.  They had flares and some funky music and seemed to be having a great time!

We wandered through the park, taking some fun pictures and admiring the architecture and sculptures around it.  Crossed the street after the protest parade and went to the beach.  "Beach" being a loose term here--it was the weirdest beach I'd ever seen!  No sand, except for a few squares inserted in the rocks.  The "beach" was all rocks--various sizes, but all rocks.  They looked like river rocks, smooth and round, the little ones getting tossed by the tide.  (Found a few to commemorate the day)  We found a bunch of "sea glass" for our cruise director too (small pieces of glass made smooth and round by the tide).  She collects them, but was unable to come with us as she was spending the day on the ship trying to arrange travel for the group.  (No small feat as the phone lines were jammed and the internet service laughable.  With 2,000 people trying to make their own arrangements, it was pretty crazy.)  We then wandered around a medieval castle, took some pictures of the amazing view from the top, and eventually headed back to the boat.

At dinner that night we discovered that everyone in our group of 34 was planning on going home.  The cruise was offering busses back to Barcelona, and one night in a hotel there.  Then, we were supposed to find a flight home on our own.  The soonest they were able to fly home was the following Wednesday or Thursday.  Dave and I decided that since we had already been to Barcelona, the kids were taken care of and work was not expecting him back any time soon, we were going to stay and make the most of what time we had left.  We packed fast and furious that night, and were on one of the first boats off the ship the next morning.

Now, the "REAL" adventure begins--stay tuned for the next great escapade in the thrill of uncertainty!

Villefranche, Monaco and Monte Carlo

(Janet, I can't even count how many times I wished you were here!  My French is sadly limited to about three words, two of which are "hello" and "thank you," and one is the city we went to!) ; D

So, Day One into our cruise, we stopped in the French Riviera at a small fishing village called Villefranche.  It was gorgeous!  Beautiful weather, although a bit colder than I had anticipated.  Gorgeous water (also very cold), fun colored buildings, little old fishermen along the wharf, beautiful tropical plants . . . it was amazing!

Our tour didn't start until 1:00 in the afternoon, so we decided to get off the boat early and go exploring.  We followed the sidewalk next to the water around the bay, then up some steep stairs to a beautiful castle (really, it was!), around the city a little, then back down to the dock.  The bottom left picture is from the top of our walk just after the castle.  The top left picture is me where we saw some cute old fishermen.  Top right is Dave and I next to the old fort, where the modern city offices are held.  Bottom right is a picture of the city as we were coming into the dock.  Beautiful, and instantly charming!









































After our exploring adventure, we met our group for a tour to Monaco and Monte Carlo.  Tiny little countries inside France, much like the Vatican City in Rome, they have their own Kings, Parliaments, industry (mostly tourism, followed closely by gambling!), and beautiful coastlines!  We got to see the Palace, the first and only underground bus parking lot I've ever seen, the Grand Prix race track, and the Monte Carlo!






































We even got to gamble a bit in the casino--super cool, because I left my ID back on the boat. : )  I guess I look old enough now . . . not sure how to take that!  The best part about that was the TWO (yes, 2!) Ferraris that Dave won!  Couldn't believe it myself, but he won us a set!  Not really matching, but I'm willing to overlook that.  Sadly, the boat transporting them back to the U.S. was sunk by pirates.  Sigh.

Getting on the boat!


After our amazing day in Barcelona, we woke up the next morning on got on THE BOAT!
Cruise #1, here we come!



La Sagrada Famiglia

I cannot do Barcelona justice without a salute to its most incredible cathedral--La Sagrada Famiglia.  (The Holy Family) Started by Francesc di Paula Villar, it was to be a cathedral unlike any other.  In 1883, Antoni Gaudi took over the architectural reins and created a masterpiece so vast in scope and height, that he knew he wouldn't live to see it finished.  His philosophy of imitating nature (to the extreme) is evident in the small details--birds, fishes, and waves he included in his creations.  He was a geometry buff too--using parabolas and hyperbolas as his structural foundations.  In the museum, there was an upside-down model of the cathedral using string and weights.  This was how Gaudi figured out the angles, heights, archways, supports, and structural formulas for the entire building!

On the Nativity facade (top middle and bottom left pictures), you can see trees, leaves, and flowers among the Holy Family, Wise Men, Shepherd, and Angels playing music.  Every surface is covered with something, every inch painstakingly carved.  From a distance it looks very messy, but up close it is amazingly detailed.  On the Passion facade (bottom center photo), you can tell an entirely different sculptor created this side.  It is stark, angled, and abrupt.  The top right picture is a golden statue of Christ sitting on a bridge high above the facade.  This represents His ascension into Heaven.

The top left photo is a scale model of the nave of the building.  It is enormous!  I can't even begin to describe how overwhelmingly huge the cathedral is--let alone the multiple models created.  The cathedral is going to be dedicated in three days--November 11, by the Pope himself.  Everyone in Barcelona is so excited to have the Pope come to dedicate this amazing building.  Even after the dedication, however, work will continue on the towers until 2026, on the centennial anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Completed, it will have twelve "small" towers, one for each of the apostles, four "medium" towers (you can see them in the top middle photo behind me) for the evangelists, one tall tower for Mary and one over 525 feet tall for Jesus.  Those two are still being constructed, although you can see the Mary tower rising on the right-hand side of that same picture.  The plan is to have an elevator that would be able to take you to the top of the Jesus tower--what an incredible view that would have!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Grand Adventure

It all started about ten months ago, when my dear sweet hubby announced that we should take a vacation.  A "real" one, minus children.  Well, after some serious arm twisting, I was talked into it.  A month later we received an email about an incredible deal on a 12-day Mediterranean Cruise.

Me: "Honey, what do you think about this one?"
Dave: "Sure.  Let's do it."
Me: "Done." (before he could change his mind!)

So a reply email was sent, money was wirelessly transmitted, and voila!  We were on our way to my dream vacation!  Many months and much preparation later, we were on a plane to Barcelona.  We got off the plane at 8:00 AM after flying all night (I slept great on the plane--Dave, not so much!), and immediately boarded a bus for a tour of the city.  Some of my favorite sites and details, clockwise starting at the top left:

Me and Dave on the bus--happy to be off the plane : ), a cool street light with an even cooler apartment complex behind it. Notice how the wall of the building "peels" away to reveal the little balconies--awesome!  Next, some more cool architecture--the ground floor is boarded up and not open for the day yet, but the balconies above are beautiful!  Below that, some cool finishing touches on opposite corners, below that, my favorite sidewalk at a park we stopped at--all "found" mosaics, meaning they were made of gears, rocks, slabs, etc.  I want to try this on our back patio!  Next to that, the Maritime Museum--gorgeous building!  In the corner, the view from our hotel that night.  If you look closely, you can see the cathedral on top of the hill . . . next to the ferris wheel!  Above that is another beautiful cathedral, and in the center is us at the park I mentioned before.  It was cold and windy, but Barcelona is beautiful!

You know it's Fall when . . .

You're cooking your first batch of applesauce.  Solo.

It was awesome!

My house smelled so good . . . and the applesauce?  Amazing.  And totally easy!  I have been eating it right out of the jar, then feeling guilty because there are a limited amount of jars.  Sigh.  I guess one case won't be enough next year!

Anyone up for a day of applesauce, say, mid-September next year? : )

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yeah, I know

It's like, two and a half months late.  But I feel a motherly obligation driving me onward.

They.

Must.

Be.

Published!

No use fighting it.

Here are the school pictures for ya.





They're not really from the first day, either.

So sue me.


But this is pretty cool.

Our Neglected Canine

No one loves this poor thing.








It's really quite unfortunate.

Across the Border

Early in the month of August, we went to visit my little sister who had married a rancher last year.  They own lots of cows, bulls, (and more types of cattle--I learned a ton but regrettably, forgot most of it!) a dog, and most important and interesting, cats. : )  We stayed with her on one side of the hill, and the ranch was on the other side.  It was a good seven miles one way, but the kiddos insisted on riding it the whole time.  I think they put about 50 miles on their bikes that week!



Sophia and Ginger got to sit in the front--unheard of at home, but common practice in the middle of nowhere!


One day we went to Bear Lake.  It was windy, but the water was warm and we had a blast!  Livia showed off some dance moves:


. . . while Micah and our new friends challenged the fiercest of waves.  One of the things I love most about Bear Lake is that it is so shallow for so long.  At one point the boy band was so far away, but the water was just barely to their waists!  We had to corral them (like cattle--see, I did learn!) to "our side" of the lake . . . too bad for boundaries and protective moms.

Daniel and Daddy stayed home for the first couple of days because of some rigorous football training.  We have big starting-line-up-on-both-teams dreams this year, so practice was mandatory.  Too bad for them, but not all was lost!  Later in the week they joined us and Saturday morning Daniel "Biked the Bear".  This is no small biking feat, folks.  This was a true-blue scouting adventure that included a total of 55 or so miles, making a complete circle on one's bike around the ENTIRE lake!  Something mom had dreaded for a few months (like from when we signed up for the merit badge), but came out with flying colors!  "That was THE BEST RIDE EVER!!!" was mentioned a few (hundred) times.  Glad he made it without any injury, glad he was at the front of the pack the entire time (including have to wait 1 1/2 hrs for the rest of the troop so they could all finish together!), and awesome to have the medal, merit badge, and some serious bragging rights.