Europe Trip

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.

 


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?"

 


How we've kicked off the big trip. [Cliffs Notes: We're TIRED]

My first tip for those of you considering European Travel with your family is to go for a long enough time that the first three or four days of jet lag, bad weather, intestinal issues, and disoriented children can be written off as "Just Getting Used To Things". I decided to make some use of myself during this problematic time by sharing my wisdom with all of you - the rest of my crew is at the Carrefour looking for car seats and Imodium. Ahem.

 

After I whined for a week straight about packing, we finally got on the airplane. And it wasn't terrible. Well only a little bit. When the lady at the gate yelled above the din of the hordes of travelers gathered that families with small children may begin to board, we had to beat our way through the dozen Older German People [Sans Small Children, Natch] who immediately got in line and I thought to myself, "Oh right! This!" 

But the flight itself was manageable, if also very long and very boring and mostly uncomfortable. Molly was the only who got any sleep, seeing as how she scored herself a nice dark window seat and zonked out for the last three hours of the flight. 

Frankfurt Airport, however, where we spent a brief layover, was the Absolute Pit of Hell. My parents had warned us of this fact via email and when I mentioned it during a conversation with a friend who frequently travels to Europe she said, "Oh. I'm sorry." But I am a patient and understanding lady when it comes to people I don't live with and felt certain that we would Carry On. 

But I was the one tearing up with Unholy Righteous Indignant Anger in security because OH YES for whatever reason, after deplaning and riding a tram thirty miles to the other end of the airport, we got to go through security. Again. And these people. THESE PEOPLE. They were horrible and rude and without a drop of sympathy anywhere in their beings. Getting through airport security is an exercise is losing one's dignity in any airport, but Frankfurt has taken it to an entirely new level. I cannot adequately describe the scorn and contempt with which we were told to take out ALL our liquids and ALL our electronics and why yes INDEED the sleeping utterly-exhausted three-year-old would have to be removed from her stroller, PATTED DOWN, and walked through the scanner. And if her mother walked an extra two [TWO] steps to place her BACK in the stroller, ignoring the commands to HALT! HALT! from multiple venomous security agents because she herself needed to go through the scanner, she would INDEED be chastised like a child, and her fury made fun of by a man of Goering proportions who must have nothing better to do with his life than hassle mothers of small children who just got off a ten-hour airplane ride. "Ma'am, if you just LISTEN to us and FOLLOW DIRECTIONS everything will go SMOOTHLY," a prim and possibly possessed woman snapped at me. All I could do was Glower and Seethe, but trust that I did both of these to the utmost of my ability.   

The tears didn't come, however, until a security agent, after cycling our carry ons through the machine another two times because we hadn't taken everything out properly, gazed upon our children's water bottles [Funtainers, for those taking note for future travel] with something like horror. THEY CONTAINED SOME WATER. Note! Of the three bottles containing scary water, only two of them were selected for closer inspection. An expressionless woman gingerly held the two bottles at length and took them to first a pair of uniformed men and then a manager type who then directed her to a Special Testing Room where the water in the bottles was to be tested for Top Secret Bomb Making Agents (I am assuming). At this point I fairly screeched, "LET THEM HAVE THE WATER BOTTLES AND LET'S GO" whereupon my clearer-headed husband responded, "Do you want these people to think we're GUILTY of something?!" 

Eventually the offending thermoses were returned to us and we were told we were free to leave and BY GOD I AM NEVER GOING BACK. I actually really do have a VERY high tolerance for Bullshit and People Who Are Just Doing Their Jobs, but I have never been made to feel so stupid, so imbecilic, so utterly like a piece of human garbage. In relating this trauma to my parents my father said, "Not hard to see how those people became Nazis, isn't it?!" Which was said somewhat in jest and ordinarily I would have found it within myself to at least ACT like this was an indecent thing to say, but as it was EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING MYSELF, I congratulated myself on my observations and VEHEMENTLY AGREED.

Well! That's over with!

Now we are in Italy. And you guys. I am in love. The last time I was here I was pregnant with Jack and everything is totally different and exactly the same. When I think of this place I usually think of the time I spent here as an unhappy to moderately less unhappy teenager and all the ways my experiences here contributed to my Hated Anxiety Episodes, the things I didn't yet know about myself, the boys I had crushes on, how much I wanted to LEAVE and BE A GROWN UP and STOP BEING SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. I don't so much think about Italy itself, specifically this smallish suburbanish not-too-interesting-for-tourists part of Italy that was, for quite a while, the place I was "from". The way the houses look, how the stores close in the afternoons, the fish shop and the cheese shop and the meat shop and the bread shop, the language, the mountains (oh my God, the mountains, I cannot wait until the weather gets better so I can instagram the crap out of the mountains), the pace of life, the driving, the old buildings mixed in with the new, the way it is all so familiar and also so incredibly different from my own life. 

Last night we went to a bar (so in Italy, the bars are more like coffee shops that serve drinks and also gelato and cookies, so basically the best places in the world) with old friends of my parents. And I used to go to this bar often in high school. It looks exactly the same. The same daughter of the owners was still working there (and has her own child and is probably the owner now) and she recognized my parents and we all had gelato (I had mango cheesecake TO DIE FOR) and it was twilight and the town was quiet, but also sort of buzzy like a proper Friday night, and I couldn't help being nostalgic. But I don't think it's JUST nostalgia, not least because I don't HAVE a lot of nostalgia for this place! I wanted to leave so badly! My parents lived here for THIRTEEN YEARS and act like I know all the places and people they know and I'm always, "Dudes. No. I was here for my angsty teenage years and ESCAPED ASAP. I remember none of this." But it appears that I remember the pace of life and the tastes and the views and apparently I have really missed it. 

And thank God we're here for two weeks because the first few days haven't been ideal. Jet lag is doing its best to render my whole family useless, including myself. The weather is TERRIBLE. (It looks to get better right when Phillip and I go to Paris, and then possibly go back to terrible when we get back.) We wanted to go to Venice today, but the idea of marching around Venice in the rain sounded miserable so we headed to a larger city market this morning (not as big or busy as I remember - my dad says the huge influx of big American-style everything stores is hitting the markets and small shops hard) (this is where they're at right now) (I'm sad I'm not there). It was wet and gray and blah, but we made up for it with cappuccino and sweets at my parents' preferred pasticceria and a tour of the cathedral. My kids were enthralled with the church and it wasn't even the sort of church you'd make a point of visiting. Even this regular boring not-tourist-town church had frescoes and statues and oldness and I loved that they were so interested in all of it. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be the only nice day for the forseeable future, so we're going to try it tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law and 10-month-old nephew fly in tomorrow afternoon and join us in this house - I haven't even told you about the house! That's for another post, I guess. Too much space wasted by the evils of the Frankfurt airport. We're also hoping to go to the beach one day and a small town on a mountain lake my parents particularly love. Other than Venice not a lot of "important" sight seeing and this is honestly fine by me. Just "living" in a town is its own experience. It's not like my kids are dying to do anything other than open every Kinder egg in sight. 

I'm posting all my pictures to Instagram (/mighty_maggie) if you like that sort of thing. Unfollow if it's not! So far it's been a fun and stress-free way for me to document the trip. I used to collect every bit of paper and take a million pictures for scrapbooks that I never ended up making. Now I'm instagramming and the kids are writing in their journals every night (BLESS my former-grade-school-teacher mother for taking up this responsibility so far!). 

I think I'm going to go take advantage of the rainy day alone time to sprawl on my bed and read... exactly what one should do on her European Vacation, yes? 


I need to go this far away

My parents are already in Italy. They are poor travelers (and freely admit this, not breaking blog policy here, HI MOM!), but it sounds like the flight went mostly well and getting the car and driving to Practically Podunk, Italy went ok too. My mom's email this morning said they spent most of the first [rainy] day at their favorite coffee shop where the owners remember them and want to see the kids and I'm feeling sort of sad about that. My mom and dad lived in this town for 13 (I think?) years, and only moving back to the US when Jack was born. I know they want to be near us and their now hordes of grandchildren (I already can't imagine living far away from MY hopeful future grandchildren!) but I sort of feel like Practically Podunk is home for them. My dad, I think, would disagree. He always says he's American and feels most comfortable in America, but there are no Italian-style cafes where they live now. No good bakeries with fresh bread, no weekly markets, no lifestyle of evening strolls and cappuccino in your regular bar. I can still see my parents living there and being happy in their Italian farmhouse, my mom's flowers, my dad's weekend road trips, the dinners out, the knowing how to get around Venice, the friends they still have there. I feel bad (sad? mournful? wistful?) that they moved. (And happy too.) 

I finally got out the suitcases. I packed a week's worth of underwear for every family member in a ziploc bag. I divvied up the activity books, crayons, markers, and stickers amongst three backpacks. I've almost found sandals for everyone. I'm doing laundry. I have a general packing list. We have kid headphones and car seats and as of this morning we have a will and health directives. Not a necessary item, perhaps, but one we've been meaning to do for YEARS and now we have it and if our Paris plane crashes into the Eiffel Tower, at least our family will know what to do with the millions of dollars we have hidden under the mattress. 

I haven't flown overseas since Jack was born and I'm starting to dread the trip. I hate small closed spaces. I hate confinement. Everyone does, I know, I am not a special snowflake. At least the way the seats are situated we are only sitting with each other, no strangers with whom to bump elbows. Although I can see scenarios where I might prefer a stranger to my own kid. 

I bought tickets to Matilda. Thank you, wonderful London reader, for your recommendation and instructions on how to get from Stansted to Southwark. I have printed out every single airline and hotel and otherwise logistical confirmation email, boarding pass, and ticket. I wrote down how to get from the Paris airport to our hotel. Phillip SAYS we will have data plans for the phone but WHO KNOWS. I'm very much a Have A Folder Full Of Everything I Could Possibly Need sort of person. I'm super fun. 

I think... finally, after the insanity that has been our Spring, I am ready to get on a plane to anywhere. I want to go away. I want to not think about school or the bakery or what's going down on Twitter or my church obligations or who I haven't emailed or talked to or where I'm supposed to be tomorrow or what I'm supposed to buy or pick up or mail or clean or ANYTHING. I want to stop THINKING. I want to get on the stupid airplane and get myself to Practically Podunk and then *I* want to spend a full week sitting in an Italian bar drinking cappuccinos and listening to people have conversations I don't understand and don't need to worry about. I will be a tourist in England, but in Italy, at least for that first week, I want to relax my shoulder muscles for the first time in months. 


A few thoughts on Pants, Fit Of and the chances of losing children in the London underground

The FPC is here because we have a wedding cake tasting tonight and another tomorrow night and there are a lot of little cakes and bowls of fillings on all of the surfaces. And between this (passionfruit curd!) and the crazy meds and running errands instead of going to the gym, oh and also PLAIN TIRED, there is a lot of angsty sighing when it comes to choosing a pair of pants to wear each day. Oh, pants. PANTS. Or should I say "pants". What's really working for me these days is a nice sack on top and something soft and stretchy on the bottom. Like... pajamas.

But then this morning I saw a tall, slender, elegant looking lady in the Target underwear section, holding up a piece of shapewear and eyeing it critically. And I thought, Well. There's no hope for ANY of us, is there. 

I have probably never been in a more confident state of mind, happier with who I am and who my people are, how things are with my family, really, and my PANTS. MY PANTS have the power to take all of that confidence and happy-with-self-ness and make me want to crawl into a hole of shame and doubt. How does that even WORK? 

WHATEVER.

Katie has... (wait I have to ask, hang on...) Chocolate cake with a whipped ganache filling and chocolate sour cream frosting OHMAHGAWWWWWD. Cookies and cream filling. Passionfruit curd. Coconut frosting. Cream cheese frosting, raspberry filling, carrot cake, white cake, lemon cake... YOU WISH YOU WERE HERE DON'T YOU. EFF THE PANTS.

Europe is only going to exacerbate the pants problem, but I'm finally in the place where I can't wait to go. I need a VACATION. Right now it's a big spin of what we need to buy and what to pack and all that, but it will be SO NICE to get away from the stupid calendar for a bit. No bakery deliveries or pick ups to worry about, no back and forth to school, no homework, no piano practice, no who's working late or who has a dinnertime meeting... We've been go go go since the end of March and NOT going sounds SO NICE right now. So nice. (Except for the part where I GO to Paris sans children. Yes.) 

Thanks for the Matilda recommendation - I am totally buying those tickets ahead of time. HAVE MY HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS, WEST END! I AM COMING FOR YOU!

Oh, and Phillip told his parents the other day that if we were going to Syria, say, their level of panic over theft of both money and children would be appropriate, but since we are NOT, maybe they could dial it back a bit. Because they are wonderful wonderful people, his dad just sighed and smiled sheepishly. I shall still mentally prepare to ask my in-laws to allow my children to run free at London playgrounds and for regular anxiety attacks (THEIRS) whilst managing the kids in the underground. 

(I told my FIL this story about my brother getting "lost" in St. Mark's Square - he lost US (too busy feeding pigeons), but my dad had an eye on him and watched him feed pigeons while throwing up his head every few minutes or so to shout, "MOM!" Basically letting him get good and nervous until my dad "found" him. But my FIL did not think this was funny AT ALL. "You need to get LEASHES!")

Excuse me, I believe my tasting services are needed (PASSIONFRUIT CURD).

 

 


Packing, Planning, Blathering Recovery

I'm trying to put my life in order which is pointless considering that we're going on vacation in 3 weeks (THREE WEEKS) and when we get back it will be summer vacation and there's never any order during summer vacation. Does it really matter if I organize the art supply bins? Does it even matter if I put them back where they're supposed to go post-Blathering? What about putting the winter coats away? Or organizing my desk? WHAT IS THE POINT. 

I cleaned and decluttered for the kitchen designer to come on Monday and he ended up canceling and seriously, I should just make myself a t-shirt that says I HAVE STOPPED BOTHERING.

Things I Still Need To Do For Our Trip About Which I Am A Little Bit In Denial

Buy another Bubble Bum

Borrow the Rider Safe Vest from our friends

Get powers of attorney for the time period when Phillip and I will be in Paris and my parents will be road tripping with the kids

Rent a car for Italy

Figure out the best way to get from the Stansted Airport in London to our Southwark apartment 

Think about what I want the kids to do during our trip and buy the appropriate supplies (keep a scrapbook? write a blog? Write reports?)

Make packing lists (I do not want to do this. I do not want to do this. I do not want to do this.)

Make sure everyone has appropriate shoes

Research tube tickets for London 

Find out how much WWII-related stuff I can do in England without driving my family insane

Figure out if we have any money left over to see a musical in London

Emotionally prepare myself for my beloved sainted in-laws having hourly anxiety attacks about losing children in London (quoth my FIL this weekend: "You need to buy LEASHES for the kids!")

Find someone to housesit and/or pick up mail and water plants

Worry about all the things I'm forgetting

I feel like I can't throw myself full force into trip planning because there is STILL big stuff happening - Jack's first communion is Sunday and there's a lot involved in that. Saturday we have to go to the rehearsal and then make a banner for our family's pew the day of - who knows how long that will take. Sunday is the big day and after Mass we're having a lunch at our house. It will also double as Jack's family birthday party because his birthday is the FOLLOWING Sunday (Mother's Day.) And because I'm kind of big on birthdays, I feel like he should also have a FRIEND party so I have to figure out how we're going to do that next Saturday (day BEFORE Mother's Day...) I was going to throw money at that problem, but all the options are so MUCH money and have so many restrictions with how many people and times and all that... it just doesn't feel worth it. 

That's a lot of stuff, right? 

I DO feel recovered from the Blathering, which, well, I wasn't sure there for a while. I am not a young lady drinking too much wine in someone's back yard anymore! My age is showing; also my introvert. Man, my poor introvert was silent screaming by the end and I had to give her a few days of intense solitude. Thank goodness that's over - I'm sort of a BAD introvert and can't stand spending days on end by myself. I can tell I'm all better because I spent the better part of the morning trying to find someone to hang out with Emma and me and feeling MOROSE when no one was around. 

I didn't even tell you about the Blathering, did I? Maybe I'll write a proper post, but for now I'll just say that I was so stinking proud of Seattle, you can't even imagine. The weather was DIVINE. The views were GORGEOUS. The food was YUMMY. The party bus did NOT get stuck in my cul de sac and none of my neighbors have dropped by to interrogate me about the horde of women who showed up that Friday night. I was so so happy with the way everything went off. I was beyond delighted with the sunshine. I did my best to spend time with individuals and small groups - I'm best via email, but if I must be endured in person, it's best to endure me in small groups - and I felt like I got to talk with a few more people than I usually do at this event. I'm just PLEASED. And proud of my city, which is dorky I know, but you know what I mean. 

Feeling like I've outgrown blogging/Twitter/the Internet is a frequent topic here (sorry, also how meta, also eye roll), but oh I would missssss yooooooooou. 

 

 


The finer details of hauling one's husband and three children across the seas

It occurs to me that there are, like, ONLY TWO MONTHS until we go on our big trip. 

*breathes into paper bag*

Okay, so ALL the airfare is purchased. To Venice, to Paris, to London, and back home again. I booked our Paris hotel last night so now all of our lodging is booked. (THANKS MOM AND DAD AND ALSO PHILLIP'S WORK!) 

Now: everything else. Ack.

CAR RENTAL: I have done some cursory investigation into renting a car big enough for five people and their ten tons of luggage. I don't THINK we have to rent a van. I don't WANT to rent a van on account of how much gas is going to cost in Europe. We'll need to pick it up at the Venice airport, drive it to the house my parents are renting, and keep it until we fly to London from the Treviso (near Venice) airport. It's small town Italy and while we can take the train to Venice, if we want to go to the beach or visit old friends or go pretty much anywhere, we need a car. 

CAR SEATS: After MUCH investigation I think we're going to buy those BubbleBum things for the big kids and borrow a Rider Safe vest for Emma. I cannot bear the idea of BRINGING Emma's car seat and while we could rent (sketchy) or buy (expensive) seats while we're there, these options we can bring with us without sacrificing a lot of space and since we hope to borrow two of the three, save us some cash. 

LUGGAGE: I am totally overwhelmed thinking about this. Seriously. We have some suitcases, but are they too big too small too old falling apart manageable for two adults with three kids in an airport I DON'T KNOOOOOW. Chances are, even if they're exactly what we need, Phillip Cheung is going to want to get new ones. Maybe I should put this on HIS list of things to figure out. 

CARRY ONS: I'm thinking each kid will have a backpack with snacks, activities, water bottle, and a change of clothes. Emma's certainly big enough to carry her own little backpack. But I need a carry on for ME which will hold everything ELSE. Phillip will have all the important stuff - documents, tickets, money, and probably his computer, probably the iPad - but I have been stocking up on Stuff To Do for a few months and I need something to hold it all. All the extra snacks. All the pull ups and baby wipes and first aid stuff and kleenex. A place to hide the activity books I'll need to bust out on hour seven of the plane ride. Oh, and I would also like room to bring a book and a chocolate bar for my own self! Does such a bag exist? It needs to have a messenger bag strap, not be too huge or too small, double as a bag I could take on a day trip (it'd be NICE), and preferably have nine zillion pockets because I'm THAT kind of lady. MORE POCKETS MORE HAPPY. I should not spend all the money on ANOTHER Ju Ju Be bag, I should not spend all the money on ANOTHER Ju Ju Be bag...

PACKING: What? I have to do this? People need clothes? Shoes? Huh?

BEING A TOURIST: I THINK I have convinced my dad that we will not hit the ground driving five hours to Pisa. I figure we need a day or two to recover from flying and honestly, just walking down the street for gelato will be enough entertainment at first. We will take the train to Venice more than a few times, I want to go to the beach, and there are plenty of day trips to take. When Phillip and I go to Paris my parents will road trip the kids to Austria - that is enough big trip driving for them. Florence et al will have to wait for another trip. That said, I do want to make a list of things to do in Paris (for me) and London (for the kids and my in-laws). Those will be the more Go Out And See Everything parts of our trip. The Italy part is probably going to be a lot of Going To That One Place My Parents Liked To Go On Field Trips With Their Classes and tons of Having Dinner With My Parents' Friends. Both of which are TOTALLY fine with me. 

I'm forgetting something, aren't I. 

UMMMM.

What do I do with my house for 3 weeks? Get a house sitter? 

Still thinking about what kind of project/journal/scrapbook type of thing I'm going to have the kids do while we're away. 

Packing. Omg. (Our London apartment has a washer and dryer. This might be my favorite part of the London apartment.)

We saw some friends the other night who went to Europe earlier this year and after talking to them I felt like I needed to make a separate list of Things We Should Eat. So perhaps that is coming to the blog as well. Stay tuned. 

 


The cure for jet lag is gelato

My mom and dad keep asking what plans we've made for our Europe trip, have we figured out what things we want to do in Italy, and I keep saying DEAR GOD, Parents, I am only SLIGHTLY aware of what I have to do NEXT WEEK! 

Which isn't very nice, since my parents are fronting a large portion of our Europe trip (HELLO, LODGING!) and "we'll tag along with whatever you're doing!" is not anyone's favorite response to "What do you want to do?" Right? I hate those people. 

AND YET. I want to block out a day or two for Airplane Ride Recovery and then a week-ish later when Phillip and I go to Paris my parents are taking all three of my kids on a road trip to Austria and Bavaria (I KNOW, THEY ARE THE BEST) so it's not like I'm going to immediately pack them in a rental car and zoom off to Florence or Pisa or something. I figure the local surroundings plus plentiful train rides to Venice plus a beach trip will be more than enough. They will get museumed within an inch of their lives in London, might as well spend our small town Italy days hitting the markets and eating gelato. 

When we moved to Sicily when I was 10 years old, we flew from (and I remember this OH SO CLEARLY) Seattle to Detroit. Detroit to Philadelphia. Philadelphia to the Azores (where I spent grades 7-9). Azores to The Base Where I Eventually Graduated From High School in northern Italy. That base to a naval base in Sicily. (This was on military flights which were 1) free, but 2) shrouded in cigarette smoke and 3) stopped absolutely everywhere). AND THEN when we finally landed in Sicily, someone picked us up in a rental van and drove us either 2 or 4 hours, this part I DON'T remember) to the base where we would actually LIVE and 25 years later (omg 25 years) I can STILL smell the sickly sweet smell of SOMETHING (this is what rural Italy smells like - gas? sewage? rotten SOMETHING) and feel the nigh unbearable heat and experience the intense car sickness intensified by the smell, the heat, and the windy wackadoodle rural roads HELLO CULTURE SHOCK. 

I have no idea what my kids are going to think or feel and I'm VERY CURIOUS! Maybe it will be no big deal! We will have a MUCH easier flight and northern Italy in May is no Sicily in August. But that first time flying to Europe (age 10) and the time I flew to Asia (age 25), those were the most mind bending moments of my life. The time is not what the time is supposed to be! The air is different! The sun is different! (Or, in the case of Beijing, non-existent!) EVERYTHING IS STRANGE AND FREAKY AND WHAT IS GOING ON. 

Ooooh, I am so excited. At some point I will even start planning. 


Blue chair + plane tickets = cheery disposition

I want this chair.

Bluechair

I spent this evening figuring out how much money we can pay ourselves after Macaron Madness Month. With my earnings I am going to buy this chair. I have been wanting A Chair for my living room and I like this one quite a lot. It is my favorite color. And every time sit in it - no, LOOK at it - I will think to myself, "Macaron Madness Month purchased this chair" which will, hopefully, fill me with a sense of Satisfaction and Contentitude. 

Also it is on sale. 

Thumbprints Baking Company is in a bit of a holding pattern, mainly because Katie is looking for new digs. It would be difficult to run an online bakery when the baker is, say, 45 minutes away from the packer/shipper/deliverer/picture taker. I am happy to wait and see and in the meantime I shall buy this chair. 

Also in the meantime I shall plan our trip. Today I 1) responded to the nice English lady whose Southwark apartment we want to rent for a week and 2) bought plane tickets from Venice, Italy to Paris, France. Dudes, those tickets were CHEEEEAP. I don't think I can fly to SPOKANE for what I paid for Venice to Paris. I mean, the Paris hotel will more than make up for whatever we saved on cheap airfare, but I feel like I'm going to need to do a lot of financial brightsiding on this trip.  

So far, the trip looks like this:

  • Fly to Venice. 
  • Spend 6-7 days in small town northeastern Italy in a vacation rental house with my parents and Other Sister, her husband, and impossibly cute baby. We plan to take the train to Venice a few times, head to the beach, day trip to my parents' old favorite spots, but also drink a lot of cappuccino, eat a lot of gelato, and walk around the town. For a while I was thinking we'd drive up to Austria or even Bavaria, but you know, I have a LOT of cappuccino drinking to do. 
  • On day 7 Phillip and I will leave the kids in the vacation rental with my parents and fly to Paris. Two nights and nearly three full days. Phillip said, "I'm realizing this isn't going to be a relaxing vacation." YA THINK, PHILLIP?
  • The day after we fly back from Paris, Phillip's PARENTS are flying into Venice. We'll spend yet another day in Venice with them and hopefully direct them to our small town via train and show them the small town sights. It probably sounds super obnoxious that I want to take Phillip's dad to the small town Chinese restaurant, but I honestly think he would get a gigantic kick out of it AND become besties with the owners. He is just that kind of guy. 
  • THEN we are flying to London. With Phillip's parents, though it remains to be seen if they are tagging along so closely that they're picking the same flight, or if we'll just meet up again in London. Phillip will work a few days while I try to maintain a nice balance of Culture, Art, Playtime, and iPad time. I'm not SUPER sure what the must dos are with small children. The Tower of London, a museum or four, Hamley's, Foyle's, the changing of the guard. I am GOING to the Imperial War Museum with or without my family. And we are FOR SURE going to see a musical. Well, quite honestly, we will attend as many appropriate-for-children theatrical productions as I can afford and manage. THOUGHTS? 
  • We'll be there over a weekend and I am PRETTY sure we will attempt Stonehenge. Jackson is suuuuuper into Mysteries Of The World and had a whole week of Stonehenge obsession this summer. I THINK it'd be fun to do that? Maybe find some kind of tour that will bus us there and back? The Salisbury Cathedral on the way?
  • Phillip works the Monday after the weekend (THANK YOU, PHILLIP'S COMPANY, YOU ARE LOVELY PEOPLE) and we fly home on a Tuesday. Sadness.

You know what else I'm thinking about a lot these days? The SEATTLE Blathering. Yep. So much to plaaaaan! 

Now I have to go clean in preparation for my cleaning people tomorrow morning. You know how it goes. 

 

 


I clicked Buy: THE EUROPING

I'm not sure how long we've been talking about going to Italy with my parents, a few years at least, I think. But the whole time I have STRESSED and STRESSED about how much airfare was going to cost. Even though I knew that everything ELSE about the trip was going to be horrendously expensive as well, maybe I felt like I would have some measure of control over plane tickets? Maybe? That seems silly, but you know subconsciouses, they don't always make sense. 

Anyway, today I finally clicked BUY. [Insert Appropriate Shriek or Dry Heaving Sound Here.] I went through this big long process last year where I read about how to work the frequent flyer system and I signed up for a bunch of credit cards and I actually DID amass a crap ton of miles. Plus Phillip still has a bunch of miles from his Traveling For Work days (REMEMBER THOSE? HOW ABOUT LET'S NOT.) But you guys, I could not figure out how to make those miles work for us for this trip. I can see how they would have worked if it were just Phillip and me, or if we were taking our whole family somewhere stateside, or wanting some kind of vacation package, but the frequent flyer gods were stubbornly against letting us use our miles for Europe. The best I could do with our combination of miles was getting us a one way flight to somewhere in Europe, but with RIDONKULOUS fees. Like so many fees it didn't make sense to use the miles at all. Not when the fees were ten times smaller to go somewhere like HAWAII. (Look out, Honolulu! You are going to improve my seasonal affective disorder come Winter 2016ish!) 

Today I purchased a one way flight from Seattle to Venice on Condor Air, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, with a layover in Frankfurt, for less than half of the price of roundtrip airfare to Venice. And then I purchased a one way flight from London to Seattle on Icelandair, with a layover in Iceland, for less than half the price of roundtrip airfare to London. It was still a quiver-inducing chunk of change, but a chunk that was about two grand less than I expected to pay. So. NOT BAD, ME!

Should you be interested, when I went to the actual Condor and Icelandair websites, the prices were even lower than what was quoted on Kayak and Expedia because CHILDREN'S TICKETS ARE LESS. I KNOW. Kayak sent me directly to the Condor website to book, but I'm not sure about Expedia - I might have done the whole booking process THERE. I paid $400 per kid to fly home from London. That's crazy! The roundtrip flights to London were like $1200! AIRFARE IS SUCH A PAIN IN THE YOU KNOW WHAT!

At one point during this process I found roundtrip flights to London for $4045. Total. I mean, it came with terrible times and layovers and extra stops, but still, when you're expecting to pay something like EIGHT thousand dollars, seeing that price helps you keep hope alive. 

I chose to do the one way flights mainly because of the Venice to London situation we'll have to do in the middle. A round trip to London would have involved a round trip (or two one ways, depending) to Venice, but the layovers, the possible overnights, and traveling between different airports in London was not worth the couple hundred dollars I MIGHT have saved. So. 

We fly to Venice on May 20. My parents will pick us up and take us to their rental house in Sacile. The only for sure while-in-Italy plan right now is to go to Venice on the train as many times as we can stand. Which is probably a lot. But we'll also probably rent a car (I am expecting the car plus gas to cost as much, if not more, as our plane tickets, sob) and take the kids to see castles in Austria, maybe go as far as Munich. Also Phillip and I recently watched Band of Brothers and Phillip might need to see Berchtesgaden (as do we all.) 

I mentioned the just-us getaway to Paris, right? Yeah. I mean, we'll see. But we have GRANDPARENTS. IN EUROPE. THINGS NEED TO BE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF. 

And guess what. The OTHER set of grandparents are coming too. I know. Maybe the universe is all, "Poor Maggie had a REALLY shitty July and August and we need to make it up to her." I know some of you aren't big on your in-laws, but mine are pretty spectacular and also retired and big time travelers and HEY, WHY NOT. My mother-in-law's sister lives in France, so they're thinking they'll go visit her, then spend a few days with us in Italy (our parents get along! They like each other! It's adorable!) and then spend probably the whole week with us in London. SO YOU KNOW. I don't have to fret too much about taking 3 kids around London by myself while Phillip's at the office because I'll have Fantastic Grandparents tagging along. I am seriously giddy, you guys. Right now I cannot wait to take FIL to the Chinese restaurant in the small town my family lived in Italy, not because he'll like the food (I can pretty much guarantee he will not) but because he is Mr. Outgoing and makes friends wherever he goes and he will be delighted to meet the Chinese family living in Small Town Northern Italy. 

Also! Also! Phillip's work, when he asked them if he could work, say, a Wednesday/Thursday/Friday, and then, say, come back on Monday, thereby requiring a WEEKEND STAY, was all, "Sure!" Which means we have a whole weekend! With Phillip! To do stuff! By which I mean spend more money! 

Oh man I am so freaking excited. 

I wonder what it means for the bakery that I'll be gone for three weeks. 

OH WELL!!!! 

Actually, tomorrow is cookie subscription mailing day so I, uh, better get on that. Instead of yammering on here. You are probably super annoyed with all of my stars aligning I'M SORRY I'M JUST SO HAPPY FOR ME.