Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Heading Home

7 am London time and heading (via taxi - our first since Milan) to the Victoria Train Station to catch the Gatwick Express to the airport.  We are heading home after a long, extremely fun, amazing trip with our family!  The morning went smooth as it could be - got to the airport with 2 hours to spare.  A nice 7 hour 40 minute flight and we were home!  Weary and tired - we managed to unpack (well, the bags were NOT allowed in the house since the LICE episode - so we unloaded on the porch and put all our clothes in plastic bags to wash) and got settled.  Dogs happy to see us.  Kids happy to have their 'space'.  Back to the real world.  School in 4 days.  Orientation the same afternoon we arrived home.  School supplies.  New tennis shoes (you should see the worn and torn shoes from our travels!).  Grocery store.  Cook dinner?  Ugh - not yet!  Here we go!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Last Day in London

Well, I have a few minutes before we go to dinner and I thought I would share the last memorable moments of London.  We had another packed day in London - There is SO much to do here and so little time.  I am glad now that we had five days.  We went straight to Westminster Abbey and had a guided audio tour for a few hours.  Ford was given a scavenger hunt "The Children's Trail" with questions to answer...some pretty tough questions because I had to quit my audio to help him find the clues!  Very interesting and fun to do!  It was amazing to be in a place where people have worshipped God for the past 1000 years and where Kings and Queens have been crowned since the time of William the Conqueror and where many of them are buried - that was wild seeing all the tombs.  Catherine seemed to breeze through on her own and for about 15 minutes she was 'lost' (in my mind) and I panicked - we all stopped and searched - and in the masses of people we could not find her!  Finally she 'appeared' around the corner - saying 'what?' 'I was following the audio guide!'  From then on we were in pairs - I just cannot deal with the MASSES of people and having my chickens get lost in the sea of them!
We finished up and Ford got a huge gold coin for finishing his 4 page paper - I wanted one too since I had to help out so much - the moms I would see helping their children would all say - 'this is hard!!'
We left there and had a 2:30 tour of Parliament with Philip which was very informative - they are only doing these tours for 2 months while everyone is on 'holiday' and we had a wonderful tour with about 15 other people.  That was fascinating - we started the tour in the Robe Room where the queen gets dressed in her crown and royal robe and then proceeded to house of Lords and the house of Commons - the girls were itching to get out and shop - but faired well during the tour.  Ford stuck right by the side of Philip - I think he really enjoyed it.  
Finally around 4 - the boys and girls split up for 2 hours.  The boys were going to the War Museum and the girls to Covent Gardens to shop the streets!  The girls and I went straight to the Underground and - as we have done for the past 5 days - Taylor does not have to have a ticket and goes through the electronic gates with and adult - however, a VERY MEAN man looked at me and asked me where her ticket was and I explained that we have a week Oyster pass and she has been getting in on our pass (that is what the man who sold us the passes said - Ford and Taylor go free!)  He basically yelled at me and said "SO - that is NOT THE RULE and do you know the fine for that is 50 pounds - and you better go get her a ticket"  I am telling you he was R U D E...we huffed off and did not get her a ticket because I had not one pound on me and we decided we would W A L K!!!  We managed - feet weary - but had fun shopping.  We did get some pounds for our ride back - I was not going to take the chance of being fined - and entered into our familiar 'Covent Gardens Underground'.  Before I bought a ticket - I asked a man guarding the post if she needed a ticket and he said NO.  HMMMM...the other man just was having a VERY bad day!  We got home and are packing - going to have our final meal and bed early - up at 6 am to get our flight at 10!!!  
I praise God for the weather we have had - in 30 days - not one day of rain.  London has been exceptionally COOL - they were calling for a heat wave and I went out yesterday with a sundress/bare shoulders and the high was about 78 degrees!  Everyone (the Londoner's) were saying it was HOT and I was Cold!!  Anyway, it has been beautiful every step of the way!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

There is No Place Like Home

Well, we only have one more day left of our journey!  I will have to say that I could have gone on for another 9 months - Clark said that he could too - the kids however, are ready to come home...I am not sure that I could have taken on the 'home schooling' for the Around the World journey - It is difficult to keep their attention in museums and the girls are ALWAYS wanting to go to the next clothing shop - we have done well though - not indulging in trinkets, souvenirs or extra clothing!  We have had a GREAT 30 days of togetherness - eating EVERY single meal together, sleeping 3 to a bed (well, up until the Number Sixteen Hotel) being together 24/7, laughing, walking everywhere we go, figuring out the Metro system for each country we have visited, eating new foods, getting lost, dealing with lice (ugh), trying to learn new languages (Ford's favorite is the English accent - he has gotten quite good at it!)  experiencing the Eurail system - We get back with only a few days before our oldest begins High School, two in middle school and Ford starts Third Grade - WOW - our year begins!  It makes me sad - but all day today, I was planning our next trip for The Traveling Six for next summer (I am hoping for 2 months!)  I know that the girls LOVE Greystone Camp - but I just think that these years together are priceless!  My idea is to explore more countries - but MOM - we can always have a family reunion in the Villa in Italy!  
We had a full day today - hitting the streets around 11 am.  Our first stop was H&M (original) and then we toured the entire floors of Harrods - wow - what a place!  We found a cool lunch spot (kind of like a LARGE Dean and DeLuca) had a sandwich and was on our way to the London Tower.  That was FUN!  The CROWN JEWELS!!!  Ford looked at me and asked - "How do you get that sword and that crown??"  I told Clark - "I want to be the QUEEN!!"  That was a sight to see all the jewels, the Star Of Africa, the crowns, the chalices - all adorned with many beautiful jewels!  It was a sight!  We strolled back - OH - we actually took a double decker bus back - and it was SLOW stopping at each stop.  We did get a good glimpse of London but home just in time to shower, hope back on the tube and meet our old (well, she is very young) babysitter - Jasmine Stephenson - for a yummy Mexican dinner at Wahaca - It was AWESOME!!!  We are home and will pack in another full day tomorrow - Westminster Abbey, The War Museum, Covent Gardens, and whatever else we can fit into the day - I probably will not blog because I will be packing - sad to say - we leave London at 6 am Thursday morning (via the tube - NOT taxi) to the airport!!!!  Can't wait to see everyone!  
This has been an incredible journey - please pray for safe travels as we journey home on Thursday - Blessings and LOVE to all!

I couldn't resist this photo!  So far - we have been bug free since we got the big BUZZ!  Keep praying!  We set out for day three in London.  Had a GREAT breakfast in 'the garden' and went to the Natural History Museum for a few hours.  That was a fun adventure for us all - a little warm in the museum and a lot of people - but we managed to stroll through all the events.  Left there and hopped on the Tube to Piccadilly Circus to grab our tickets for the play (we were still a bit weary about these tickets - but in the end - they were GREAT seats and it was a GREAT show!!!) We had lunch at a little sandwich shop on the way to the National Museum which I was dying to get to - AWESOME exhibition of Manet - Corot - Cezanne - Renoir - Degas - OH it was an eyeful! They  had a great bookstore in the bottom of the museum where we spent some time (I bought some new art books that I can't wait to dig into).  Strolled a bit on the streets of London - hopped on the Tube (we are getting to love this kind of transportation - and Taylor seems to know how to navigate us to the right line!) Got home to shower and head to the play...which was fabulous!  Got back to our area around 10:30 and were all starving - so we stopped at our favorite restaurant where we had our first dinner in London - Carluccious - and had some snacks before bed!  My favorite - a YUMMY mushroom risotto!  It was a late night - going to bed and looking forward to day four in London - the London Tower!  

Sunday, August 16, 2009

London day Two

Woke up to continuous steps above our head – back and forth – back and forth – AH HA – We must be right below the kitchen!  We were – but that did not matter – we had the most incredible nights sleep.  Wonderful bed, clean, quiet (well, until this morning) and just felt great!  Went and had a wonderful breakfast in the English Gardens (MOM – you would LOVE THIS PLACE!)  Got out on the streets around 11:30 (running a little behind because we went to bed so late) and got on the Big Tour Bus (the only way to do London!)  We were on the bus for about 3 hours (wow) you could get on and off at each stop – but we found it so fascinating since we have never been to London (well, Clark was here when he was 9)  Saw museums, Big Ben, The London Bridge, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, The Financial District of London, The Aquarium, The London Tower, The Marble Arch, Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and ended up in Piccadilly Circus where we got out and bought six tickets for Wicked tomorrow night!  Now our bus tour guide told us that we could get tickets (half off face value) here and we walked into a very large tourist trap shop that had every kind of trinket known to man and was playing some pretty funky music to buy these tickets (there was a cardboard sign outside that said ‘Theater Tickets Here’.  The place was crawling with people!  We talked to a nice man in a corner booth (who was not like all the other sales people who were obviously from India – there were even a few people guarding doorways)   Anyway – the ‘nice’ man assured us that these were GOOD tickets and he gave us the ‘best he had’ for $40 pounds each instead of the face value of $70 pounds…we purchased them (well we have a receipt and will go back in the morning to get the ACTUAL tickets – again, he assured us that he would be there)  Clark made the comment – “yeah right we will come back and this will be a liquor store – and you will have changed your identity!”  Just kidding – but we HOPE that we have tickets for tomorrow night!  Blakely was her usual VERY CONCERNED self – and the guy just was laughing assuring her that she will get to see the play and that he has given us the best tickets!  Stay tuned!

We are home now lounging in our luxurious room…getting cleaned up to go have a great dinner at an Indian Restaurant!  Last nights meal was fabulous and VERY reasonable!  We are still on the European budget – or trying to be!  Only 3 more days L  NOW I could go on for another nine months J  But this has been a good end to our adventurous travels!


Saturday, August 15, 2009

London is LOVELY

WOW – What an incredible day we have had.  The Euro star ( as I stated earlier was FANTASTIC with the Champagne and incredible meal)  We arrived in London around 3:30 pm and got on the Tube to Hyde Park – that is where someone said we would find a hotel.  We got to the park and did not see anything BUT my trusting daughter who needs to be a travel agent has been dying to stay at the Number Sixteen Hotel.   We called and they gave us a good rate.  So, we set out on foot, rolling our bags for about an hour looking for this hotel.  We finally found the hotel – from the looks of it I was a bit upset (It looked small and I was not really impressed so I sent the rest of the family in to go see a room)  They came out and said it was great – I followed inside and was AMAZED at the beauty and the homey feeling!  We have landed in PARADISE in London – this is yet, the BEST HOTEL – you should see our rooms and the furniture – and the SPACE (it is about the size of my bedroom at home!)  They even gave us a better deal because we were staying for five nights!  I am GRATEFUL and THANKFUL – we have endured many nights not sleeping well – dealing with NOT the greatest of surroundings.  We are now hanging up our clothes – packing them away in some beautiful pieces of antique furniture – Clark and I are putting all the kids in their room (right next door) and for the first time we will get to spend the night together!  There is a drawing room, a tea room, a garden and terrace – I am not sure that I will be leaving this hotel – Sorry to go on and on about the hotel – but for the past month – I have endured some pretty rough stuff!  OH I am HAPPY!  Blakely just said that this makes up for our horrible train ride and that she would go on it again if we could come back here – Clark is muttering – NO WAY – that train ride was the pits and I will NEVER do that again! 

On the red double decker bus tomorrow to get familiar with London – More to come!

Blessings to all!

The Eurostar (The BEST EVER with Champagne and a wonderful fresh meal!! J )

Saturday – Got up early this morning and strolled my little black bag, filled with dirty laundry, down a few blocks to the laundry mat.  I am getting used to doing laundry the European way!  This morning took a little longer because the washers took 45 minutes in Pairs rather than the usual 30 minutes in Italy…but got it done and strolled back with clean clothes – repacked and stored our luggage while we strolled the streets of Paris one last time.  We all concluded that we LOVED Paris and wished we could have stayed longer.  We walked our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags and Ford asked “How long does it take to get to London?”  “3 Hours”, I replied.  Ford responded – “Why don’t we just ‘walk’ we have walked MORE than 3 hours on this trip!”  He is right – we have walked many hours – many miles!

Arrived to Gare Du Nord (train station) and worked our way to the Eurostar – through customs – through inspection – through crowds – and to our ‘Business Class” car that served us a glass of champagne and the kids a coke WITH ICE!!   We arrive in London around 4:30 and will stroll our bags to a hotel of our choice – not sure yet!  The ‘train stewardess’ said we could stay at her flat with one bed and 2 sofas!J 

On a side note – please excuse all the mutilation of words in this blog – I mean to go back and correct my mistakes but sometimes (due to lack of WiFi) can’t do it – I am sure that you understand some of my words!  The only time I have to blog is usually on a train with no WiFi and then upload late at night…stay tuned for our London adventures and then HOME on Thursday.  Home Sweet Home!

From Clark - Paris is difficult to consume in just 4 days but we gave it the old college try.  We made it to Musee de L’Armee (the Army museum),  Versailles (which took most of our day yesterday) and had an opportunity to shop some.  Our first night’s  hotel Concorde Lafayette was minimally adequate given our usual accommodations during this trip.  Although advertised as a 4-star, it lacked in both aesthetics and service.  In other words, they talked a big game about both but Trip Advisor tells the truth on this one.  One great thing was the view of the Eiffel Tower from our window (also not In walking distance to the usual tourist attractions—is more of a business man’s hotel that the Arabs have taken over!)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Versailles – what a place to live!

We arrived – thank goodness we had our pass because the ticket line was incredible.  We got our headphones – a little wigged out about wearing them – had to ask if they are cleaned (which they are – even the earpiece is replaced) and we set out to explore the Palace room by room.  It was amazing – beautiful – gaudy – ornate – about the 20th room I was done…too many people…way too many people!  We finally weaved our way out of the sea of people and on to the beautiful gardens.  Walked all the way down where you can rent little row boats (did not do this because the max people was 4 and we did not want 2 boats – but it looked fun and the price was reasonable – much better price than those gondolas in Venice!)  We got a little ice cream at the bottom and geared ourselves up for the long hike back up through the gardens and to the exit!  It was a great day in Versailles.  As I write this – the kids are upstairs watching their first TV/movie in over three weeks (Indiana Jones) and I am out on our Terrace typing…Clark has gone to the train station to see if he can change our tickets to London (we are supposed to leave tomorrow morning) so that we can stay one more day in Paris.  EVERYONE loves Paris – we went through the Musee De L’Orange but still have a few others we want to stroll through – the Louvre – we will probably do tonight since it is open late!  Our journey is almost over and it has definitely been an incredible trip!  Despite the LICE and all the bumps!  I would not trade one moment!

Update - could not change our tickets so we leave tomorrow around 1 pm to go to London - SO SAD to leave Paris but had a GREAT dinner at the place we thought we were going to last night (steak and frites) turns out we were at the WRONG restaurant last night and this one ironically was right across the street from our OLD hotel!  Le Relais De Venise - they don't bring you a menu just ask how you want your steak and bring you the best steak and frites with some famous homemade green sauce - YUMMY!  They keep bringing back more food - we were stuffed!  Got back on the subway - we are really getting good at the Metro system (after I said I would never set foot back on them!) and headed back to the Tuilleres - where there is a fair going on - We all hopped on the VERY LARGE ferris wheel (at 11:15 pm) and took a ride that lit up Paris!  Beautiful!

We are sad that we might not make the tour of the Louvre - going to try in the morning - but I need to do some laundry!  And then we are off to LONDON!  Home on Thursday!  Missing everyone and sending our love and blessings!




A Buzz Cut in Versailles

Another day in Paris!  Woke up itching!  (just kidding – but did dream about it)  We all got up around 9 am and started to plan our day.  I sent the boys out to find a place to get Ford’s haircut and we were going to meet them at Starbucks an hour later.  The girls showered and got ready for the day – trying to pick through clean clothes – believe it or not – it is time for me to do laundry AGAIN J  We ventured on to Starbucks and the boys followed shortly after we arrived – NO HAIRCUT – everything was closed for the month – OR – they just did women’s hair…anyway…I was determined to get Ford’s hair cut one way or another.  We got on the subway train to Versailles and got there about 30 minutes later…not a bad ride…the train was OK.  We got off and starting walking (well we did not know where we were walking) but I did see a young man who spoke some English and had a NICE BUZZ cut and asked him if he knew where we could get Ford’s hair cut – He said he cut his own hair (I wanted to flash him some Euros to see if he would do Ford’s) but he directed us down the streets to a GREAT place – perfect for what I wanted done!  The lady spoke absolutely NO English – and I had to show her a picture (Ford had resigned to the fact that he had to have it ALL cut off – he said “mom, I guess I really had too many bugs!”)  She got the razor out and I about died!  I told the girls that they were not to SAY  ONE  WORD – except that it looked good!  He did look good!  I was HAPPY!  We paid and skipped on our way to get some lunch at a little sandwich shop – jambon and fromage on French bread – YUM!  We headed on to the Palace.


Paris Day Two

Woke up ready to get out of dodge – Our hotel was the pits – we all decided that we would start a show ‘Where Not to Stay’!!  We have seen it all on this trip.  We got our bags packed an checked out rolling our bags to the Metro station.  We had already found a great (so we thought – not bad) hotel right across from the Louvre – Le Jardin Du Saint James - when you are trying to do Europe on a budget for one month – you just cannot expect too much.  The lobby of our hotel looked promising as did the patio bar/restaurant AND they had a SPA downstairs – OH how I would love a MASSAGE!!! We checked in and left our bags with them (our rooms were not ready).  An overcast – cool day we left around 11 am to go get some breakfast at Starbucks – a favorite for everyone!  After a small snack and a decaf Mocha – we set out to do some shopping while our Concierge got our museum tickets together (a pass for two days)…around 1 pm – we headed back to get our tickets and set out for our educational tour – first stop – Musee De Armie as promised! OK – we have one OOPS moment – We are in the lobby – Clark is getting the tickets (it is a pass for all the museums) and he says  “I don’t have any money – do you?”  I do – so I hand the guy my money and go about my business – Clark and Ford go to the potty before we leave – return and we are on our way to the Musee De Armies -  Half way there I ask – “Do you have the tickets?”  HMMMMMM – No he does not – He thought I had them – Long story short he had to trek all the way back to get them – we trekked all the way to the museum to wait for him (18 mins – we all took bets and Catherine won) and we were on our way into the Musee de Armies – Clark and Ford were psyched – the girls and I wish we were shopping!!!  BUT we did tell the boys that they could have about 2 hours in there without us complaining – UNTIL I saw Ford CONTINIOUSLY SCRATCHING his head – YES they are back!!!  And today with vengeance – BUGS!  I cannot even begin to tell you how upset I was – Clark was cool as a cucumber as he was looking and describing to Ford all the ammunition used in WWII and the tanks…and the bombs…etc…I would find the girls off to the side inspecting each others head of hair like little monkeys picking at each other – I had had enough!  I was wanting my RUBY RED SLIPPERS and wanted to GO HOME!  There is NO PLACE LIKE HOME – I kept telling myself on the steps of Napoleons Tomb!   I will not go into all the details – but from 5 until 8 I was washing hair and combing out bugs (Over 50 in Ford’s hair!)  We did regroup – take showers and stumbled upon a great Japanese restaurant (the famous one we were hoping for – steak and frites – we arrived at the door and they were CLOSED for renovations!)  AH – but we did good when we sat on a bar table top for 6 and watch the little color coded plates of sushi go by – you could just pick one out and enjoy!!! It was a great meal!  We headed home walking via the Arch De Triumph and Chanse De Lyse – saw some interesting sights and getting tucked in for a good nights sleep!  Tomorrow – Ford gets a BUZZ cut!  Not too happy about that!  Despite all our mishaps we are thankful and happy and never have laughed as much as we have – We read a devotion today about contentment – Despite of all the nasty things that try to get in our way – we are contempt with our circumstances – thankful that we can be together as a family and experience all that we have experienced…Our God is A MIGHTY God – He will go before us and show us the way!  Blessings to all!   J


Paris Wednesday, August 12th

We arrived in the Percy Train Station around 8:30 am and debated whether or not to take a taxi to our hotel – THE GIRLS all wanted to take the Taxi – yet the “old man” wanted to take the Metro – we followed.  Down MANY steps and around the corner – found the entrance to the Metro – pulled our bags along the side and let Clark try to figure out (in the long line) how to get our tickets.  He arrived to the box – to purchase tickets – and some how jammed the ticket booth – hmmmmm – someone who spoke broken English sent him up and around the corner (100 meters) to the main box office to get the tickets.  We stayed down guarding our luggage – was just too tired to move!    15 minutes later Clark was back with specific instructions on how to get to our hotel…we get on the subway (ugh nasty and crowded) and look up to see that our stop (according to Clark) is the VERY LAST stop!  We get off after about 18 stops and realize that we are NOT in PARIS anymore but in some far out funky modern city – the outskirts of Paris or the business section!  We came up for air – out of the station – look around like “where the heck are we???”  Ask a few people who spoke NO ENGLISH and finally realize we got off at the WRONG stop!  Some nice man who spoke a little English told us we should have gotten off several stops back – that made me feel better.  I was shooting darts at Clark (again) that we had “Pricelined” our way out of Paris!!

We get back on the Metro – and got off right in front of our hotel – a VERY LARGE TALL hotel that one could not miss!  We check in about 11 am and I am standing there listening to two people complain about the hotel – one lady was complaining about how she had lost (I thought I heard her say $4000 dollars or something to that effect) and the hotel people were just saying ‘sorry’!!  Another man was saying that this was a 4 star hotel with a 2 star service – we were in for a treat!!  We were checking in and the man directly said to us – ‘Do not touch ANYTHING from the mini bar unless you want to buy!”  Apparently it is electronic and if you touch it – you are charged for it – Now for the past several weeks, Clark has been giving the kids Cokes and water from the mini bar and has replaced them with cokes and waters that he has bought for about 3-5 Euros cheaper….but this man said YOU touch YOU PAY!  No replacing – YOU have to understand that the entire hotel looked as if it was run by the Mafia – NO LIE!  We could not get out of there fast enough!!!  We rinsed off and were out exploring on the streets of Paris hoping that our luggage was safe. 

We arrived over near the Louvre and found some quaint hotels and we all agreed that we will move the next day.  We walked along the streets of Paris – had a great lunch of Steak and Frites (cannot remember the name of the restaurant) toured the Eifel Tower – walked along the streets of Saint Germaine – ducked into some cute shops saw the Musee De Armies where we promised Ford we would be back first thing the next day (it was 5:30 pm and they were closing)…it was a great day!   We ended up eating at a little restaurant across from the Louvre and headed back home for a hopeful good nights sleep!  We had a GREAT day!  A few bumps along the way – but all and all a GREAT day!  It is so much fun just being with my family!


The Seven Things I Hate About This TRAIN

Good Morning

Well, as you can see from my girls point of view – the overnight train was not the highlight of our trip.  Mom agrees.  Dirty, cramped, NO AC, loud, bumpy, scratchy seats, only got 5 sheets for the beds – so, got inventive and tore one in half so that we had six, little sleep, Ford fell out of the top bunk at 4 am, no shower, room right next to the bathroom so we had many smells L…but we had A LOT of laughs!  I don’t think we will forget the night.  In Paris and claiming that ‘This is the DAY that the LORD has made and WE ALL will rejoice and be glad in it!”


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Sleeper Train

Now it is 8 PM and we are in our snug and cozy coachette for a 12 hour train ride to Paris.  It has 6 beds in a 6’wide x 6’ long and 8’ high volume but the only real discomfort is a little (a lot) of complaining from those under the age of 15.


We have gone from a wonderful 5 star, luxurious hotel to a 0 star sleeper car that has itchy seats and sheets that smell like vinegar (that is a direct quote from the kids)  For those of you who know my ‘roach’ phobia – Taylor just pulled a joke on me as I am writing this – she is on the top bunk that is a few inches above my head and started to freak out about seeing a roach – we all fly out the cabin and she starts to giggle – ‘Just Kidding!’   I think we are all a little claustrophobic right now and pray that we will get at least a few hours of sleep tonight – not too sure about that.  We arrive in Paris at 8 am and fortunately we do have a hotel thanks to and my husband.  I keep thinking about if we had gone around the world – right now I am not sure we could go another 9 months…this was a good ‘test’ to see what we could endure!  We have endured a lot and I am proud of my kids – and me for letting go of control and walking in faith each step of the way!  We have little to NO AC in our tiny cabin – so our windows are open as well as our door to the hallway and the outer window is down so that we can get a ‘CROSS BREEZE’ J  We have 10 stops before we get to Paris! 

Clark has made all the beds – one on top of the other – Cat and Tay called middle – Ford and I called top ( a little more room ) and Clark and B are on the bottom – it is HOT as heck in here…you get ONE ripped sheet that smells not so good and WOOL BLANKETS as your other cover – WOOL – not a cute white coverlet – WOOL and they look like they have NOT been washed!  Are you imagining this – I am very quiet and silent right now – but UGH – no more over night trains for me unless it is the Orient Express!  I know now I am sounding a little spoiled – I will get over it once everyone quits complaining.  It’s 9:30 pm and I am closing my eyes and going to say a prayer! J


Our Last Day In Venice

AHHHHH a good nights sleep!  Woke up and repacked for the hmmmm – lost count – 10th time?  Stored our bags in the lobby until we had to leave at 6:30 pm and set out for the day.  I am telling you again – there were SO may people in Venice – we all came to the conclusion that we did NOT like Venice – The only thing we liked is when we found a quiet alley and a good restaurant!  Around 2 pm we were tired of fighting the crowds and went back to the Westin Lobby – to the sitting area – to play cards and take a catnap J We regrouped and were on our way around 3 to find a good Gelato place!  Experienced more of the streets of Venice and stumbled upon the Hard Rock CafĂ© in Venice – Guess what we were all thinking – FOOD – a good place to stop for a few hours before we had to leave and we were all craving a good large coke with ICE!  We got back to the hotel around 6:30 to get a ‘private’ water taxi (at the tune of 70 Euros for a 15 minute ride!!!)  I refused to take the waterbus that was CRAMMED PACKED with tons of people!  We are on our way to another country and another adventure!  Goodbye Italy – Hello France!!! 

Highlights of Italy – Rome and Armando our tour guide, Florence and Barbara – another great tour guide, being with friends in the most magical place in Tuscany, kayaking and boating around Capri, hiking to the five towns in Cinque Terre, the Margarita pizza…


Monday, August 10, 2009

Where's Waldo In Venice

I just wanted you to get an idea of how many tourists are in Venice right now!  I am NOT good with crowds - hate them!  It was around 12:30 pm when we ventured over the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice and I could not get out of there fast enough!  Venice is charming IF you can find quiet canals and alley ways!  I am very happy  now that I have a place to lay my head tonight!  I was checking out the alleys earlier today thinking we would have to find a clean one to lay down our heads!  The kids are doing great!  Better than mom - they just go with the flow!  Thank goodness for cards!  We played many games of Crazy Eights while we waited for Clark and B to find us a place to is a bit fancy for our adventures - but heck - I am HAPPY!

Dateline : Venice, Italy, August 10, 2009

After waking up from the first good night’s sleep in 2 days at the Carlton Grand Canal Hotel (faces the Venice Tren Stazione across the Grand Canal) around 8:45, I stumbled down to Anne’s room shared with Blakely, Cat and Tay.  As promised, Anne had gotten up real early (had been gone 15 minutes according to B), to go do our laundry.  We had found the Laundromat the night before on our way to dinner.  I woke up the girls and my bedmate, Ford and we all headed down to a grand (canal) breakfast.  The best yet with eggs and bacon and the works!  Anne quickly arrived to down some herself leaving our clothes in the rinse cycle—sure that no one would want them.  Of course they were safe and our assumptions proved correct. 

Our second job of the day was to find our accommodations for our 2nd and last night here in Venice as the Carlton had told us when we checked in that they could only promise our 2 rooms for one night.  Our job proved to be a difficult one as it was not until about 4:30 that we secured a nice place to stay.  Apparently, Venice is no secret to tourists.  Despite the building panic Anne was experiencing, we were able to tour about 1/3 of the city on foot and check out the Venetian culture while stopping at every 4 star hotel we passed which were all booked.  Finally, we gave up and went back to the Carlton where our luggage was stored and sat down to plot our next strategy. 

The Plan

Blakely and I were to go to the nearest internet kiosk/shop and buy some internet time and do the Priceline thing that we had gotten pretty adept at during our trip.  Success was achieved in about 30 minutes when we bid $275 per room for a 5-star hotel and the Westin Europa accepted the bid (darn it-should have bid $250 instead!)

This was a coo as we had to pay more for 4-star accommodations on previous nights.  The Westin proved to be luxurious and even had a small workout room in which to sweat a little more.  Taylor was immediately crestfallen when she examined the posted menu and saw that a grilled cheese sandwich was 20 Euros or $30.00.  She almost started to cry cause she knew her dad would not be to amenable to honoring that request.  As it turned out, we headed out after showering and primping to a nice inexpensive trattoria/pizzaria (Ristorante Piccolo Martini) and Tay got her favorite menu item (plain spaghetti pasta-no tomato sauce, no butter, no olive oil—I really mean plain, but she loved it.)  Ford had a Fanta and after I examined the can and found out that it had more sugar and calories than a coke per ml, I realized why he was speaking intelligible fake Italian to our  Bangladesh waiter who did not know Italian and told him so in broken English.

We concluded our evening with an enjoyable stroll through a magnificently well-lit San Marco Piazza where we found 3 separate symphonic musical bands playing along its long colonnades.  Home to bed and a good night sleep in the 5 star Westin J

Our last day tomorrow in Venice and then on to Paris for a few days…Going to check out Priceline now for our hotels!

Sunday, August 9, 2009


OK we had a great 5 hour train ride.  We were a bit weary waking up at 6 am  -  have not done that this entire trip!  We had about a 3 hour train to Milan and then got off and transferred to another train (had a little delay in the SMOKEY train station – EVERYONE in Italy smokes!) and then boarded for another 2 hour ride to Venice!  Again – we played cards – I blogged a bit – and then we all crashed!  You should see the way we are so protective of our ‘hair’ and the seats on the train!  The girls pulled out their scarves and wrapped them around to ‘protect’ themselves J  The trains for the most part are pretty clean and so much fun to travel!  Clark and I even got a few games of ‘Speed and Gin’ in…

Arrived in Venice – tired and sore from our day of hiking – and entered into the unfamiliar train station.  NOT KNOWING WHERE TO GO!  NO HOTEL – NOTHING!  We started at the window for tourists and hotel reservations and a man came up to Clark asking if he needed a place to stay – Clark simply asked if he ‘represented other hotels’ and they went back and forth not quite understanding each other.  Finally the man said to Clark – “You are not a nice man!”  and walked off.  I sat there stunned – because my opinion of Italians is that they are NOT NICE – especially to Americans – but we have put on our smiles and move on!  Anyway – we walk out of the train station NOT knowing where we will go and see a bridge ( I am thinking the kind of bridge that a car can go over – SMOOTH – but NO there are a million steps!)  We muster up the strength to get our bags up and over the bridge and start walking to where we think hotels will be???  Clueless!  Venice is tricky – there are not straight paths!  I was appalled when I walked past an alley (on the main canal) and saw a man standing there – pants unzipped (you will have to get the picture) I was SHOCKED and my girls were right there with me!  When I motioned to Clark – the man disappeared!  I was angry – and tired and wanted somewhere to put my bags!  I WAS NOT happy with Venice at that point!   We went around another corner and let Clark go and do some searching and about 10 minutes later came back with a great hotel!  I think it is the best yet!!!!  Our room tonight has two twin beds and a king – all the girls get to spend the night together and the boys have their room with consists of a king bed!  Only one problem – they are fully booked tomorrow night – which means we will be out searching again!  BUT – I am trusting a believing that we will be able to stay here!  It is quite pleasant.

We got settled in and got familiar with our surroundings!  We were all so tired that we came home and read and napped for about 2 hours – AHHHHH – that felt good!  We got refreshed and set out on the town to find a place to eat dinner and stumbled upon a wonderful restaurant – it was packed and tucked back up in one of the narrow streets!  Yummy food and we were happy!   I have taken a million pictures of the boats, the canals and the quaint buildings – I CANNOT wait to come home and PAINT J  This is a charming place – if you can stay away from the perverts!

Tomorrow is another day – I have found a laundry right around the corner!  I will be up bright and early washing about 5 more loads of laundry!  That will make me VERY happy J

It’s 6 am and we’re moving again!

Well, after a very hot night in our hotel – not sleeping so great – we got up at 6 am to catch the train to Venice.  We will have to change trains in Milan – but hope to arrive sometime around 1 pm.  Cinque Terre was beautiful and well worth traveling to if you do the HIKES!  On to bigger and better things in Venice!  I am getting VERY inspired to come home and paint once the kids go back to school!!!  I cannot wait to get my hands in my paints!  There will be a lot of information forth coming – but I am going to have an art show in October where 50% of the proceeds will go to The Allegro Foundation…We are going to have it in a space in Elizabeth (the new area near the Hospital) for four days.  Wednesday night will be the private party for patrons (if you want to attend Wednesday night – please email me so I can put you on the list) and then will be open to the public Thursday, Friday and Saturday…Should be a great event!  Stay tuned!