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June 2015

LONDON [WITH CHILDREN]

Before Phillip and I were married and my parents were still living in Italy, we traveled with two of our best friends (not another couple) to Europe just because we could. We flew into Rome and drove our way up to my folks' house north of Venice. It was, quite possibly, the worst vacation of my life because I was caught between the needs and wants of my very VERY good friend and my future HUSBAND. Very Good Friend's goal was to spend as little as possible while seeing as much as possible. Future Husband's goal was to...hmm. Eat? See a few things? Be comfortable while enjoying himself? Oh, and buy stuff. 

The worst part was when we reached Florence and our hotel reservation was messed up (probably my fault, everything felt like my fault) and it turned out we'd all have to share a tiny room and Very Good Friend declared she would sleep in the bathtub before paying for another room and Future Husband was sick and tired of slumming it and grumping around and I called my mother in tears from a payphone because OMG WORST TRIP EVER. 

My travel style was, and still is, much more in line with Very Good Friend, but I ended up MARRYING Mr. Comfortable. KEEP THIS IN MIND. 

So London! One of my very absolute favorite cities in the WORLD. A bajillion things to see, a crap ton of history to delve into, AND A MUSICAL EVERY NIGHT. Okay, maybe that is my ideal London trip, if it were, you know, just me. 

I spent weeks agonizing over where to stay, the area being mainly dictated by the location of Phillip's company's office. NOW. If I were doing this OVER. I would not NECESSARILY go along with trying to find a place as close to the office as possible because London has an excellent public transportation system, especially if you are riding solo. But without the benefit of hindsight, we were trying to find a place close enough for Phillip to walk, and which would also be relatively near a tube station. 

Those parameters in mind, and the discovery that there weren't a lot of apartments available to rent in that area plus the stomach sickening price of hotels sent me a bit farther out, but I thought I found the perfect spot. A two-bedroom apartment with an amazing view, walkable to the office, smack in between two tube stations, seemingly close to restaurants and sights. Also it was the best price I could find. 

And you know what, it worked. IT WORKED. But it wasn't quite as walkable as I'd hoped. The walk to Phillip's office took more like 20 minutes and while the walk to the tube bordered on 10 to 15 and not THAT horrible, I had not factored in my unpleasant-when-forced-to-physically-exert-themselves children and how that 10-15 minutes started us off each day on a Tired Foot. 

It wasn't even a very NICE walk, since our area was pretty residential and absolutely packed with people trying to get back and forth to work. Also construction. CONSTRUCTION EVERYFREAKINGWHERE. 

Phillip's mom and dad stayed in a more tourist-friendly spot about 15-20 minutes away from us and would often meet us at the Shard, the easiest halfway point between our two locations. The thing was, the first few days I was still thinking we would walk and tube everywhere and it would have been smarter if I'd just admitted defeat right off the bat and walked/tubed/cabbed/Ubered from the beginning. My default should have been: "What is the EASIEST thing to do right now" instead of "What is the FASTEST" or "What is the SMARTEST" or "What would a Smart and Seasoned Traveler like myself approve of right now?" Because those answers were always wrong. The fast thing was never fast and the smartest thing always made me look stupid. You know how I feel about looking stupid. My personal stupid standards were extra stupid for this trip, but then again, even the easiest thing wasn't always easy. I don't know WHY getting around London was so hard when there are so many WAYS to get around London, but we had a difficult time of it. Next time: live next door to a tube with at least four lines. The end. 

THAT SAID. Here is the list of things we did (or, rather, things I dragged everyone along to):

  • The National Gallery (we saw Van Gogh's sunflowers and Monet's water lily bridge, both paintings we studied in homeschool art class
  • The Museum of London
  • The Tower of London
  • Greenwich and the Royal Observatory
  • Wicked
  • Matilda
  • Hamley's the amazing toy store
  • playgrounds everywhere
  • Westminster Abbey (might be my favorite thing I did with the kids in London)
  • river bus rides on the Thames
  • catching the Horse Guard ceremony near St. James' Park
  • Clink Museum
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • eating fish and chips
  • eating terrible English food
  • Borough Market
  • Trafalgar Square
  • dim sum in Chinatown
  • watching weirdos perform at Leicester Square

That's some good stuff! A lot of good stuff! I don't know why I was always so down on myself in London for "not doing it right" when we did get to do SO MUCH!

Phillip was anxious about work, so I did most of the planning and sightseeing on my own and with his folks. After his first day he was a lot less nervous, so it was okay that I'd bought tickets to Wicked that night (I CANNOT HELP MYSELF AROUND DISCOUNT TICKET STANDS.) London was hard for Phillip - too crowded, too much, too hard to get places. He really loved the morning we spent in Greenwich ("I feel like I can breathe!") and was fairly unhappy with me for nagging everyone to get back to the boat in time so we could see Matilda that afternoon. 

Oh Matilda. 

I am only going to tell you this story because I have been praying for more humility and what is more humbling (humiliating?) than telling everyone the Matilda story? 

I love shows. I LOVE SHOWS. I see absolutely no reason why a trip to London shouldn't be sightseeing during the day and a play at night. Every night. So I was FOR SURE taking my children to a show in London and one of you Kind Readers suggested Matilda and I looked it up and HELLO, PERFECT. And then I spent hours - HOURSSSSS - mulling over dates and times and seats and ticket prices and going back and forth with Phillip about how much and when and OMG I decided this thing to death. I wanted it to be AWESOME. So that is why I paid full price for the second-most-expensive seats you could get, right by the aisle on the floor because I'd read there was a lot of action in the aisles for this show. It was totally worth it to me to spend that much money and I was so excited. I looked forward to it the entire trip. THE ENTIRE TRIP. I booked it for the last evening we'd be in London, so even if the rest of our London trip was terrible, at least we'd have that last night at the theater to look forward to. 

On the train from Stansted Airport into the city, after a nightmare experience with Effing Ryanair out of Treviso, I got out my London With Families guidebook and wrote out the days we'd be there and started planning our stay. And that is when I realized that I bought our Matilda tickets for the evening we were flying OUT. Our flight home left London at 1pm June 9. Our Matilda tickets were for 7pm June 9. And then I threw up. 

Well, no, I held it in, but I WANTED to throw up. And I didn't tell Phillip right away because 1) I'd ALREADY made a similar mistake with our Paris airfare WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME and 2) he was exhausted from not trying to kill Ryanair reps and 3) he was really nervous about work and 4) we were looking at a complicated and unpleasant tube trip with 3 kids and suitcases to our apartment.... IT WAS AWFUL.

Much much later that evening I shut my eyes and blurted what I'd done. And he didn't run screaming into the river! With a very large sigh he told me he'd call and see if anything could be done. 

GUESS WHAT. Nothing could be done. Nothing. Our only option was to try and sell them online (which you are not supposed to do, I am such a rule follower, GAH.) I felt terrible. Did I mention we were reading Matilda each night during the trip and I'd been talking up the show to the kids? 

So then a few days later we were in Leicester Square where all the discount ticket shops are. And I went into every single one of them asking about Matilda and in every single one of them they looked at me like I was crazy. "You know that's a very popular show," one ticket seller said. "It's very HARD to get tickets for that show." 

As we were heading OUT of Leicester Square and as I was trying to figure out how to tell my children how badly Mommy had messed up, we passed one more ticket stand and Phillip said, "Do you want to try that one?" (HE ASKED. HE SAW IT FIRST.) Of course I did, so I went in and MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, someone had just returned a set of 8 Matilda tickets for the next afternoon. AND DID I WANT THEM? 

They wanted nearly as much for those tickets as I paid for my original tickets. Phillip couldn't do it. Then he said, "So we have these OTHER tickets..." and I died because RULE FOLLOWER and we're not supposed to make deals with those and of course they'll scold us and now they know I'm an idiot!!!! But it turns out you CAN make deals sometimes? I KNOW. She was willing to knock 100 pounds off the price of the five tickets we wanted if we gave her our tickets. 

This was a hassle because we didn't HAVE the tickets and Phillip had to be escorted to some print shop to get into my email and print them out and he was UNHAPPY and ANNOYED and FEELING BROKE AS WELL and I tried to look properly chastened, but it was hard because I WAS GOING TO GET TO TAKE MY KIDS TO MATILDA!!!!

Okay, so there is another loooong story about why we were a half hour LATE to Matilda, but that makes Phillip look bad instead of me and we are only humiliating ME on the website today. (LONDON WAS HARD)

Matilda was so great. It really was. Even from seats in the second to last row in the theater. And I LOVED taking my big kids to Wicked (they knew all the songs, we HAD to go). I LOOOOVED taking them through art and history museums, especially if there was an audio guide. They'd listen intently and then rush over to tell me what they'd just learned. Westminster Abbey was TERRIFIC with kids, and the docents there are SO kind and SO happy to chat. We loved every park and every playground and we generally found good things to eat (if very expensive) (the Borough Market is definitely worth a look). The Tower of London was difficult with a three-year-old who finds uneven stairs unfriendly and a YeYe who didn't want to climb stairs at all, but we were very interested in the armory and the gory story of the little princes in the tower. I even found the Crown Jewels interesting because Molly was there to gape at them. 

We wish we would have spent a whole day at Greenwich. We wish we could have figured out where to catch the buses we wanted to catch. The Clink Museum was too yucky and scary, even though someone's mother told him EXACTLY how yucky and scary it would be. We did not get enough pictures with street performers. We should have gone directly to the ground floor of the Museum of London where the cool Victorian street is (and Molly's reaction to a photo of a little boy during the Blitz ensured we would not be going to the Imperial War Museum). Yours truly could have spent many more hours in the Churchill War Rooms, but the big kids were tired and kept asking me who the man in the big coat was, wait, who is he again?

One of the best things we did was meet my 9th grade BFF and her husband for fish and chips in a random street off Oxford Street, which was not anything that had to do with London itself and serves to remind me that I don't HAVE to go go go go go go go go all the time. Although I like to. Ahem. 

If you are going with kids and have questions, email me, I will try to say more than JUST TAKE A CAB. (I really really wish I was one of those people who are all NO SWEAT, JUST HOP ON A BUS, EASY PEASY! but man, it just did not work that way for us.) 

But it's okay, I'll be back. I did not see NEARLY enough war stuff OR shows. Yay London! 

Next installment: Paris, In Which I Am Forced To Ride A Bike.

 


In which I ramble a lot before I get to the Thumbprints part

It's Father's Day. I saw my own dad on Thursday. I gave him an unwrapped book of Churchill quotes and pictures from the Churchill War Rooms gift shop and as I was leaving I said, "Happy Father's Day!" and he said, "I don't believe in these ridiculous Hallmark holidays" and I said, "Oh, then can I have the book back?" and he said, "No." So that's my dad. 

And then Phillip got what he most wanted for Father's Day, which was a day full of shameful lazing about. The kids stayed with his parents last night so we could see The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, or should I say so Phillip could see The Bad Plus Joshua Redman and I could sit next to him and drink cocktails. I have nothing AGAINST jazz, it's just that most of it sounds like a mess (TO ME). I need my jazz to be a steady stream of Gershwin standards, preferably with a singer. But anyway, the kids stayed away and Phillip and I did a whole lot of nothing until it was time to pick them up. Then they all played a Lego Xbox game (their gift to him) and we grilled hot dogs and burgers and now Phillip is out with the big kids at a MAGIC SHOW. A big one at the fancy theater downtown - we kept seeing billboard advertisements for it and Phillip kept saying he wanted to take the kids, but when we realized this was the last night of the show, an impromptu ticket buying commenced. Emma and I are home by ourselves, reveling in the quiet and the sunshine and the advent of summer. YAY SUMMER. 

I should tell you more about my trip, but the parts of the trip I need to tell you about next require the sort of blogging I used to reserve for the Parenting Post. As in, attempt to write coherently, have a point, share actual information, etc. Tonight's more of a tipping my head to the side, knocking my temple, and seeing what spills out of my ear style of blogging. Also I don't feel well. It started last night when my friend and I had left our husbands for the second set of the jazz show while we caught up on each other's lives in the lobby of the Westin Hotel. (Pro Tip: The Westin Hotel lobby is my favorite downtown place for lounging when you don't exactly want to buy anything.) 

HOWEVER I started to feel Queasy and it turns out you can't use the Westin hotel lobby restrooms without a key. I basically stalked someone who had a key and then I felt REALLY unwell and when I came back I asked my friend to take me home. But her husband had her car keys and my husband had my house keys and while I would have LIKED to suck it up and let Phillip watch his favorite musician's second set, I DID NOT HAVE A KEY TO THE RESTROOM. Ahem. 

I was not going to tell you this story. It's slightly embarrassing. 

Anyway. I felt terrible because 1) Phillip and my friend traded places which was sad for both of them and 2) I FELT ACTUALLY TERRIBLE. Jack had a fever a few days ago, Emma had one today, I am wondering if I am getting something too or what. Blargh. I had grand plans for wine and perhaps a chocolate ice cream bar on my deck for when Emma goes to bed, BUT NOW WHAT.

Oh, I remember, I was going to tell you about Thumbprints. 

After what seems like our 47th Come To Jesus conversation, Katie and I made some decisions. Chiefly: Thumbprints is going to become a macaron factory. With a few custom sugar cookies thrown in. After a year of this selling cookies and cakes nonsense and a whole lot of Learning From Our Mistakes, what seems WORTH IT is selling macarons and sugar cookies. I think if you were to pick our least favorite things to eat, macarons and sugar cookies would top the list. But these are the things that appear to bring a profit. And are the things that we can easily store, easily deliver, and easily manage the details of. If we were a STORE, things would be different. But we are not a store. We can't even concentrate on this endeavor full time. Today I picked up a Seattle Magazine and read about a few different food people selling ice cream and other things - they're doing it in a shared kitchen downtown, they have pop up shops, they have dreams for a permanent location. That was me for about 4 months. But Katie moving and the reality of We Both Have Small Children have really put the brakes on Ambition. 

That said, neither of us want to QUIT and we want to do something that MAKES SENSE. Streamlining down to macarons and sugar cookies makes sense because if we just do those things, getting approved for a home baking license will not be quite as hellish as our attempt last year. SO WE HOPE. The bureaucrats of the State of Washington could still be bored and sadistic and make our application process dreadful. But getting Katie's kitchen approved is the thing that makes the most SENSE. Paying for a kitchen that is too HARD for us to use, plus insurance, is expensive and annoying. So we're going to start that process and, in the meantime, ask our old kitchen if we can go back for a weekend this summer so we can sell stuff at the street fair in August. We're still not totally legal, as our license is about to expire, but WE ARE DOING OUR BEST (@$#*$)!(#%&!!!

I do not want to be a Quitter and you all know that Failure is basically the worst thing that can ever happen to me, but DUDES. Getting a food business going is... I mean, we finally have customers. We occasionally have to turn things down, even. I do enjoy putting money in the bank account. It is FUN to do something new and grow something from nothing. I love doing this with my sister. But everything else is SUCH A FREAKING SLOG OMG. 

Okay I'm going to read my fever baby some stories and put her to bed and reconsider that chocolate ice cream bar. 

 


Phillip's company needs to open an Italian office

We listened to the Matilda soundtrack on the way home from dinner out tonight and I thought Gee, I should probably write something about our trip! BUT WHAT. HMMM.

People keep asking me what the best part was and the best part was either going to the theater in London, which is something I could do every night for the rest of my life, or just "living" in our Italian town for two weeks. Which I honestly didn't expect. When we first were planning this trip I didn't want to spend that much time near where I used to live. I thought maybe we could use it as a base to go to the beach and for taking the train to bigger more exciting places. I even thought maybe we'd take a jaunt down to Sicily. I was nervous about maybe having to see all my parents' friends, or old teachers of mine (because when your parents are teachers all their friends are teachers), and high school wasn't the funnest or anything and I wasn't nostalgic and didn't ever need to go back - 

AND IT WAS SO LOVELY. It happened as soon as we'd landed and made our way through the airport to the rental car parking lot. I felt mysteriously comfortable, at home-ish. I was so happy to be there. I texted some friends right away: I AM SO HAPPY TO BE HERE!

And it stayed that way, fortunately! The house my folks rented was absolutely perfect, with more than enough space, five minutes from cappuccino and a pizzeria and the train station. It took us at least a week to get over jet lag and I think it rained every day. And my mom and dad kept asking us what we wanted to do and we always just felt like THIS. We wanted to do THIS. Have our cappuccino and brioche at the bar. Buy fresh bread in the morning. Stroll through town. Get gelato in the afternoons. Think about what we'd eat for dinner. Why yes everything DID revolve around what we would eat next. And it was fabulous. 

We did see some old friends and we did drive the kids past my old house (they were more interested than I thought they'd be!), but for the most part we spent our days traipsing around the town and eating things, or doing little day trips here and there - Venice, Padua, the beach, markets, and this town called Aquileia, an ancient Roman city with some pretty great ruins. It also happens to be one of my dad's favorite places in the world (the favorite?). Any time anyone from the States came to visit, the next day they'd be on their way to Aquileia with my dad as tour guide. It became a running joke in my family, and when my in-laws arrived later on in our 2 weeks, we couldn't NOT take them to Aquileia. 

One of my favorite memories is taking my in-laws to one of my parents' favorite restaurants. It's the kind of place where there is no menu and the waitress just tells you what they have that day. And you're supposed to order all the courses and you sit there for hours enjoying your meal and if it's summer you're outside on the expansive patio looking out at the kids playing on the lawn. The food was fantastic, the pace was heavenly, and because there was a huge family party happening inside the restaurant, lots of kids kept coming outside to play and Jack ended up playing soccer with them. I LOVED watching this. I loved watching them try to communicate, how the older boys were so nice to Jack, how he wasn't too shy to play with them. It was such a great moment and I hope he'll remember it. In case he doesn't I did take one million pictures. 

I was not ready to leave Italy. I really was so happy being there. It helped having the perfect accommodations - oh wait, let me tell you about the house. So it belongs to a Belgian family who rents it out to mainly, I think, Germans on holiday. Anyway, it was spotless, comfortable, spacious, and very Italian with the entrance hall and the four giant rooms of equal size off the hallway that could be anything you wanted - just stick an Ikea kitchen in one and there you have your house. The bathroom was tiled up to the ceiling and contained an itty bitty washing machine. The windows were all shuttered, the floors were cold and hard, it had an echoey stairway up to the second floor. And the owners did not pay for trash pick up. The house information sheet, clearly posted in the hallway, instructed renters to tie up their garbage bags and place them in public garbage cans. "You'd better do this daily," the sheet warned. So every night there was this surreptitious leaving of the house with secret bags of garbage to dump in the cans along the sidewalks on the streets nearby. We weren't supposed to let the neighbors see. One night I went out with my purse full of plastic water bottles, dumping one in each garbage can I came to. It was actually sort of stressful, thinking about how much garbage you were going to have to take out that night and if it would fit in the public cans. I was so happy to note the four dumpsters outside our apartment in London PLUS a garbage chute on our floor. 

Venice was insane. I kept reminding myself that I hadn't been to Europe in the spring/summer for years - I mainly came to visit at winter break or for Carnevale in February. I'd forgotten what the Dolomites looked like without snow and how everyone has hedges of jasmine and the smell of jasmine on a hot evening. (I smelled it and immediately flashed back to high school.) So it had also been a while since I'd been to Venice in the summer and OMG THE PEOPLE. On the plane I'd overheard a pompous young man discussing how touristy Venice is, he just can't go there anymore, and MAN, that is so annoying. Almost all of us are tourists, you know? But WOW, the tourists. The people. For the first time Venice felt like a sort of Disneyland, where this amazing place has been built just for people to visit and no one actually lives there. Scary, actually.

Of course I loved it anyway. Crowds rarely bother me. Except for when I thought I might get squished to death on the Paris metro. I'll tell you about that later. 

Padua was my favorite. I'd been, but I wanted to go again, and even though half the things we wanted to see closed before we could get to them, and even though the kids were so tired from walking and it was hot, it was so beautiful and St. Anthony's basilica is so amazing and I won't forget browsing the market stalls with Molly. In 10 or 15 years I might go travel with just Molly. You say, "Molly, what do you want to do today?" and she says, "EVERYTHING!" Girl after my own heart. 

The beach. I was the only grown woman not wearing a bikini. Not wearing a SKIMPY bikini. And still I was so self conscious, so wanting to hide. I envied these ladies their bikinis. 

The food. The last time I went to Italy I remember feeling panicky that I wouldn't get to eat and therefore remember all my favorite things. This time I had more than enough time to indulge. I ate all my favorite things and then some. Some of it wasn't as good as I remembered, some of it was entirely new and maybe THOSE are my new favorite things. And it wasn't just the food it was the process of eating it - the wine and the bread and the taking all the time in the world. I could live that way. 

And I was exceedingly obnoxiously proud of how much Italian I could understand and speak. Not anywhere near an impressive amount, or enough worth my obnoxious pride, but I was terrifically pleased with myself anyway. I could tell you every single time I had to bust out my Italian and spoke grammatically correct sentences. By the end there I was even thinking I should download an app or something and learn it for real. I was terrified when I went to France and could speak NOTHING, relieved to go back to Italy, and for real disappointed to go to London where I wouldn't have to translate anything at all. I weirdly liked trying to speak a foreign language. 

I was so sad to leave. I wasn't ready. I don't quite understand it... I didn't live there THAT long, and the time I spent there was definitely not the best of my life. But there's something about the PLACE and the SCENERY. There's something about those mountains, how everything is flat flat flat and BOOM: mountains, and how the towns we lived in were nestled into that right-angle corner where flat and mountain meet. It was foreign, but still so familiar. I felt like I could be there a long time. I felt like I could learn it and become it, you know? I didn't miss home at all. 

Paris was different. London was really different. I have another million things to say about those places, and another million about the logistics of our trip. How we managed things, all the mistakes I made, what things actually did work, all that. The helpful trip recappy things. I guess what wanted to come out tonight was how much I didn't realize I missed Italy. And how I would go back, over and over, at the expense of going other places. Molly suggested we go again tomorrow and I said, "Why not?"