#Europe2017: Day 21, The Roman Colosseum and the Roman Forum

Today the plan had been to start the three day city pass, skip the line, and hop-on-hop-off buses. There’s a lot to see here, and we don’t want to waste time (a) walking, and (b) in line (already did that for the Catacombs in Paris).

But when I looked it up I realized that the hop-on bus isn’t that great…. it apparently only goes on the outskirts of town, and compared to seeing them all over London, we haven’t seen them that much here. So it’s not like it’s super easy to get on and off anywhere… to few, bad routes, and too crowded. Furthermore, we weren’t sure we’d make use of the pass and actually see everything on it without rushing too much… So we opted for Plan B: Let’s go see “one thing” but spend a lot of time there.

Of course, one of the epic things to see is the Colosseum. I got skip the line tickets (wasn’t necessary today as the normal line wasn’t big) and we got there by 1ish. Yes, another lazy morning (lazy = sleeping in, blogging, etc.). All the walking and looking we are doing really is exhausting, and getting up at a reasonable hour seems impossible.

What’s been awesome here is the metro… it’s a short jaunt from our B&B, and the Colosseum stop is directly across the street from the Colosseum, so not city walking. The outside of this fantastic building is still pretty awesome, even though we’ve seen it like a dozen times.

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We went to the ticket booth and after getting a lecture about William, who is a “child” (and pays a lot less for tickets) not having any documentation of his age, we finally get our tickets and get in line. The couple in front of us just got off a cruise from Atlanta and is spending one night here… so they are trying to see all they can in less than two days. That’s a mad dash, for sure.

We got audio guides (five euros each, which is totally worth it) and went to the second level of this history-rich facility. The first thing we do is split up. We didn’t mean to, but it happened… and we were split up for a LONG time. Again, we didn’t have a meeting place, and no way to contact one another, but hey, how hard is it to get really lost in the Colosseum? (really easily, actually)roma_4_col_insdie

Everyone had their own walking around time (I think William and Ellie were together the whole time)… I went around the entire second level looking into the center of the Colosseum. It’s amazing to think about all of the death and destruction and heartache there.
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I guess not everyone is happy to be here :/

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Two things from the audio guide:

1. One time, there was a battle or whatever they called it (event?)… there were 10,000 men fighting, and 11,000 animals. Can you fathom that? 21,000 bodies, fighting against one another? The amount of blood, and gore, and stench, and pain, and screams, and horrid? What an amazing way of life (or death). The Colosseum was open to anyone, and the poor people sat at the top while the rich were nearer the action… it’s really quite disgusting.

2. Someone saw or heard about a beached whale and thought “man, we should make a fake beached whale to put in the Colosseum!” So they did. A huge fake whale, and when the mouth opened, fifty bears came running out to fight to the death. These guys were not short on creativity!

I went inside the covered area of the second floor where there are a lot of exhibits – paintings, relics they have dug up, original pillars, etc. I found it interesting that even hundreds of years ago, I think in the seventeen hundreds, the Colosseum was already ruins, and they regarded them as ancient ruins. It’s crazy how old this place (and all of Rome) is.

I overheard a tour guide saying that in some language “arena” is sand (it is for sure in Spanish), and that is where we get “arena”… the battleground, or competitive field, from. “Let’s go to the arena” was probably “let’s go watch sweaty bleeding guys kill eachother on the sand.” Interesting.

I went down the elevator to the first floor… going down stairs is not fun for my ankle (up is fine), and the stairs here are (a) too high, and (b) all uneven. I was hoping to find any of The Trio, but they were nowhere to be found. Darn… how were we going to get together?? I walked around in the lower level… the most striking thing to me was that there was no “floor” in the middle of the Colosseum… at least, the floor that used to be there, where battles happened. Instead, they had removed it so you could see the tunnels that men and beast would navigate to find the right trap door to go up for the battle. the amount of planning and design in this facility really was amazing. roma_4_col_maze

Finally, I found Sam (or she found me) and William and Ellie weren’t far behind. We had been there for two or three hours by now, heard all the audio, seen all that we could, and it was time for our first meal of the day. But first, just one more picture… with a splash of color, this time!
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About a half block from the Colosseum was a restaurant that looked good, so we go in for a pretty great meal. Appallingly, the bill was $90. Ugh. If you are ever in Rome, realize there are hidden fees at restaurants. First, they say in Europe you don’t have to worry about tipping… well, you don’t because they put it in the bill. They don’t call it a tip… one place called it a cover charge, and it was way more than 20%. I don’t know what this place called it, but it was very high. They also charge for water… they bring out these bottles the size of a wine bottle with four very small cups… in my party that goes in about four seconds. We went through four or five of those… and they don’t sell those for cheap. It’s one reason why we are only eating a real meal on average once a day. This is just in Rome… in other places we haven’t found meals to be this ridiculously expensive, or to have the hidden fees that surprise the heck out of you when you get your bill. The restaurant name translates to “A Piece of Brain,”

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I asked the waiter what his name was… “Giovanni,” he replied, “or, Johnny.” No, no, no… I didn’t come to Italy to talk to a Johnny! I want Giovanni! After lunch I asked him where we should go next and he said there was a really, really cool thing to see about twenty minutes away…. you walk up here, then around there, and turn this way and that, and you’ll be on a hill where you are in the ruins of a church. Look through a certain keyhole and you’ll see, across Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica. Huh… a true Roman treasure, in a keyhole. Sounds cool.

We started out to do that, however, we realized what time it was and that we had a dinner appointment with my publisher again… so instead of making that trek (and then another 20+ minutes back to the metro, which would put is there about an hour late), we decided to see the Roman Forum… this is across the street from the Colosseum, and our ticket for that included the Forum. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia:roma_4_foru

This is the place next to the movie set we saw yesterday… I didn’t know we’d be here today, wandering around! The cool thing about the Forum is that you can walk all around this place… to almost every corner of it. The history of this place is simply unfathomable. Also, it’s a good 10ish meters below the main Roman streets… why was this place so low, and how and when did the earth get higher? Too many questions.roma_4_forum_old

Here’s a repurposed pillar… now a bench for wary travelers:

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Sam asked “Can you imagine finding this… like digging around, and discovering part of this?”

Lots of headless statues and picture opps here… notice some of the ruins are surrounded by even older ruins:roma_4_forum_statue_headlessroma_4_forum_williamroma_4_forum_statuesroma_4_forumroma_4_forum_statue_headless_2

I really wanted to see what was behind these doors… probably some old stuff….roma_4_forum_doors

The Forum is actually quite large… you can easily spend a few hours walking around. It was basically like the village where people lived and did business… and there is a super old road where traders traveled to different areas.roma_4_forum_old

Here’s a bit of tourist or roman culture… the fashionable ones of the group (everyone but me) have noticed that having “popped collars” is pretty popular here… like this: roma_4_forum_popped

After exhausting the Forum we set out to the metro to get to our dinner (“come over for cheese?”). It was dinner time and the line at the ticket kiosk for the metro tickets was long and slow (normally there is no line). We pieced together money (they don’t take credit card or anything over 10 euros), got our tickets, and were off! We’re getting the hang of the metro system and really like it… it’s a lot cheaper than anything else, and very efficient.

We walk a few blocks to Mitchell’s “flat,” which is a three bedroom, spacious apartment on the fifth floor of a building, and relax and get hydrated. As with the night before, the conversation was fun… Alex had prepared a great spread of cheese, fruits (pears, cherries, apples) and vegetables (some eggplant with cheese thing, really good), beets, I don’t remember what else, chocolates, and sliced meats. Very European….! It was a great meal to end the day.

After nine we left for their favorite gelato place (you can’t really go wrong with any gelato place around here). I ordered chocolate for one scoop and pistaccio for another scoop, but I said it in Italian. What I learned is that my Italian stinks… because I didn’t get either chocolate or pistaccio…. I got some white thing with another white thing… ugh. Oh well, I either get better, or I switch to English tourist language :p

Here’s the underground view that has become so familiar to us: roma_3_metroroma_3_metro2

Around eleven Mitchell, Alex, and Duncan walked us to our metro stop where we hugged and said our goodbyes, and then we were off. The metro was pretty empty so we got to sit down. I sat by a college-aged kid who, I was sure, would speak some English. I leaned over, “do you speak English?” “Yes.” “What does ‘bushy tomato mean??”

You see, on the metro, the announcer says “blah blah blah bushy tomato [stop name].” We think she’s saying “the next top is [stop name].” But sometimes it sounds like “bushy tomato” and other times it sounds like “bushy gelato.” I was sure this young chap could help me!

Instead, he was like “I don’t know what you are saying. Bushy tomato??” We did this about three times, and then he got up and left. Was his stop coming up? NO! He went down about 20 seats, where a dumb tourist wasn’t going to bother him, and sat there in peace!

And that was the night I compelled an Italian student to let me have my whole row of seats, all to myself. This is me after my new almost-friend left :/roma_4_subway

I need to learn this language if I’m going to spend much time here!

We got off the metro, and popped out in a different place than the other two places we came out before. We are kind of disoriented at our own metro stop… but we quickly figured out which way to go and made it to our B&B. I called the family because Kaisie said Kim was missing me terribly… and got to talk to each kid and Kaisie. I had to talk quietly, though, because two nights earlier when I was talking the neigbors banged on the wall to tell us to quiet down. So much for being loud and expressive in Italy :p

And that was it… a long, busy day, seeing a lot, taking a lot in, enjoying friends, and getting to bed exhausted. We’ve officially been out for three weeks now, and we’ve been running hard this entire trip. It’s amazing to think about where we’ve been, and try to remember what happened where. Just a few more days in Rome, then almost a week in Barcelona, and then we’ll go back to Utah to try and figure out what “normal” is. We miss our families back home, and are grateful for the cool technology we have to do voice and video calls.

Tomorrow is a loose-ends kind of day… we have three things we want to do. We’ll see how it goes!

#Europe2017 Day 20: Lost in Rome (and dinner with friends)!

Today we got up after a solid night of sleep (aka, we slept in again), and went to the metro station to make heads or tails of where we would go. We don’t have a city map (yet) and are not sure where everything is, but I figure we’ll get to the metro and pick a stop and then start walking. On the metro the stations have little text by some of the stops to indicate historical highlights (like: Colosseum)

What do you think… adventurous, or a waste of time? Would you be more planned?

We were going to get a three day skip-the-line and hop-on-hop-off pass, but most of the reviews are bad… so today we walk around to get oriented and get our feet on the ground. Interestingly, we didn’t see very many hop-on buses, which means we weren’t in tourist areas, or it means the system here is not very good.

We got off of the metro half way between our B&B and the Colloseum, and just started walking. Priority Numero Uno was, you guessed it, food! We walked this way and that, past this shop and that, and past a few restaurants where they have a hawker out front trying to lure you in, until finally we found “the one.” This was “the best food in all of Rome, at the lowest prices, with big portions!” That was the claim from Claudio, a boisterous local who owned this restaurant, but according to him next year will move to Wisconsin with ten or fifteen cows and make the best cheese in the cheese capital of the world.

What does boisterous mean? Look it up… Claudio was born to be a restaurant street hawker, with his booming baritone voice, calling out to anyone who walked by his street to come in for lunch. There was only one other small group there when we went in, and not many people on the street, so we got to chat with him. I asked “Was Mussolini good, or bad?” You see, I love to ask local people about big names in their own countries, to see what the difference is in my American history text and their local (in this case Italian) history text. School is interesting, isn’t it? One of my favorite quotes is “the victor writes the history.” It’s not a favorite because it brings us closer to the truth, but because it frames “history” to help us figure out how truthful it is.

Claudio loudly claims “He was the BEST! Is Trump good?? Was Roosevelt good???” I think I had crossed a line (or, was invited into the intense Italian “discussion”)… but it was clear that he didn’t want any negative Mussolini talk (but might be up for hours of negative US leadership talk :p).

Fortunately, I was with three cute teens, two of which are girls… and that became the theme for the rest of the lunch, kind of. I should say, the food was excellent… totally made up for the day before at the restaurant by the beach (spaghetti-os, remember?) William and I had a terrific pizza, Sam had fettuccine and spent most of the time picking out mushrooms, and Ellie had a salad which was a strip of sliced tomato, a strip of (lots of) mozzarella cheese, and a strip of arrugula (tastes like peanuts, and very spicy aftertaste). roma_3_lunch

The highlight, though, was Claudio. At one point he walked past our table singing an Andre Bocheli song … one of the girls in my party melts when guys sing… and then, he swept her up and they danced while singing into her cheek. It was really quite entertaining for three of us (not sure how Ellie felt). Here’s the song he was singing, after declaring “I AM A TENOR!”

Lots of laughing at our table… He asked all of our names but some things got lost in translation… Sam was Sam, but Ellie became Hammie, I became Trump (because of my question), and William became Jason. Here’s us, enjoying our Italian host (notice how his smile changes based on who he’s with):

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“Where do we go from here?” we asked. “Let me show you…. (going outside) you go up this street, see that big thing that you can’t miss at the top of the road? You go there… that’s the (unintellible). Go there!”

So we go there… up hill, a few blocks, and get one of many great views of this hilly city.

It was a church, of course, and where at the Spanish Steps. We went in the church (amazing) and then down the steps, to the “Fontana della Barcaccia, or Fountain of the Old Boat”. Seriously, if you like churches and fountains and statues, you aren’t going to go wrong in Rome (or Europe, for that matter).

Here’s a rare shot of the four of us, from atop the Spanish Stairs. A street vendor took this, gave the girls roses, and then before he left asked for some coins. Unfortunately, he didn’t take credit cards :p roma_spanish_stairs_foursome

Where to from her? Um… how about that street? Turns out to be the street with super duper high end shopping … the girls led us into one of the shops that was out of my league… I kept thinking “if you have to ask (about the price) then you don’t belong here.” I also thought “why come to Rome to buy super expensive stuff?” This wasn’t my thing, but it was interesting to be in a store like that. We kept walking, turning down this street (aka, alley) and that, and came to a plaza with this fascinating pillar:

From afar: roma_3_pillar_wow

Look at all the detail up close!roma_3_pillar-wow_closeup

Right there was a gelato shop, which of course we patronized. Is it okay to say that I love gelato, but can’t eat much of it? It’s crazy rich… maybe I need to get some fruit flavors, instead of chocolate and nuts… but they make it so affordable! Two euros for a small, which they fill to overflowing.

From there we kept walking and found a really, really old building… super old. So old it made the other things we’ve seen in Europe seem modern. Turns out this was the… hold on, let me check google: “old roman church with hole in the roof”… oh yeah, the Roman Pantheon. Wowzers. This is about 2000 years old (started during the reign of someone, A.D 14, dedicated in the AD 100s. Oldest building I’ve ever been to, and super impressive.roma_pantheon

After spending quite a bit of time there, walking around, looking at the huge hole that was designed in the ceiling (and finding some of the holes in the floor to handle any rain that came in the ceiling hole… interesting planning)… check this out:

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And here’s an inside shot… the art here is 2,000 years old????roma_3_pantheon_inside

… we went outside and sat on a side wall that overlooked the Pantheon. Seriously, this building is so old it makes Europe look young! I loved this shot of my laughing Trio: roma_3_laughing

There were plenty of street vendors… one came up and charmingly tied bracelets on William’s, Ellie’s, and Sam’s wrists, and then gave me some kind of rocky ceramic figurines (an elephant and a turtle), and just as he was about to leave pulled out his phone and showed us “his newborn daughter” (“aaaaweee, she’s so cute!!”), and then the invitation “I’m having a party at my house for her birth tonight, with some friends… can I have some coins? Just any coins… ” he asks each of us. This is like guilt-trip selling, after giving us “gifts,” tugging at our heartstrings with the baby picture, and then appealing to the “i’m throwing a party and I’m short on wine and cheese…” This went on for a good five minutes… I only have a credit card, so that’s my easy answer. Finally, he leaves… short 3 bracelets and two figurines, to find the next tourists who will support his party. It wasn’t us.

Oh yeah, by this time we were in touch with my publisher, from Silicon Valley, for dinner… but our internet access was really spotty (we went hours with no access, and found the best place for wifi was underground in the metro). We kept walking and ended up going up a huge flight of stairs to a church, where we spent at least 45 minutes, and then out the back happened upon on some crazy amazing ancient ruins… they were blocked off, but we were able to walk around and pretty much see them all (from the outside). Remember, we’re just wandering around Rome… getting oriented, with no map (and no wifi), and the city lacks signs saying what you are seeing. But it’s still fun, and AMAZING. roma_3_ruinsroma_ruins_4

We wanted to get closer to these ruins, which was about the size of a neighborhood… multiple city blocks:

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Here’s a bird that landed two feet away from William… beautiful animal (and great shot): roma_ruins_bird

“Dad, stand there and let me get a picture of you with the bird!” “Sure son, no problem. I’m a professional bird model… get it NOW!”roma_ruins_bird_jason

We went down some stairs and William said “It’s like a movie set!” “I know… all of Rome… all of Europe, is like a movie set!” “No, I mean, a real movie set!” Turns out, we walked into a movie set, set in 1950s (my guess) France (or, Rome, with a bunch of French people and old cars). What a trip. We stayed watching for a while and I was reminded that movie filming is 99% waiting around and 1% action. But we watched a few rounds of filming… people walking, the 3 kids playing… no talking… that was it. roma_movie

We left up the same stairs we came down (everything else was blocked off for the filming) and stopped to hear a tour guide talk about this area, where Peter (or Paul?) was imprisoned, and the stuff that was happening in New Testament times. It was really fun to hear this history, as he held his bible… we are here, where it happened. So crazy. He might have been famous… there were two really nice cameras there:
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We kept walking and were in the old, old part of town. City of ruins on the right, statues and amphitheater on the left, and street performers up and down the street. Here’s a horse statue… I said it needed to lay off the high fructose corn syrup, William said it was a horse on steroids :p
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We turn down another road and are in a quiet area when all of the sudden ancient ruins that are being refurbished are in our path… this place is amazing. It’s a mix between “people live and work here” and “here are ancient ruins from 2,000 years ago!”

More walking, more wandering, and we’re in an area with a lot of “argentine” signs… that means silver, apparently (so, Argentina was named because of silver??), and there’s this super old plaza-sized area that is totally blocked off with pillars and foundation. “What is this?” we ask a street vendor (painter). “Its the Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar was supposedly killed.” Oh my gosh! Why didn’t I pay more attention to history in school???roma_3_argentia

I’ll tell you what, we’re tired of all the walking, but around every corner is like a gift. Getting lost in Rome is fun! Here’s a funny sight, no matter how powerful the man, how majestic the statue, this and many other birds have gotten the last laugh:roma_3_statue_bird

Somewhere in all of this was a shop that had a lot of replicas of ancient rome warriors… swords, helmets, coins, and penises. I’ll rename that to spanish: pene… so anyway, there are baskets of penes… with wings, of all sizes. I have to ask: “What’s the significance of these… why are there so many all around?” (It’s not like many of the statues are clothed, but these little artistic things all over? Where they earings or decorations or good luck charms, or what?? He replied “in ancient Rome family was a big deal, and having a lot of kids would ensure you could have a legacy and leave things (property) to your kids. It’s all about fertility. It was very common, until the church came along. They ruined everything.” Oooooooh, that makes sense. It was to celebrate fertility. Okay… moving on.

We keep walking and… wait, seriously? Could it really be? The Colosseum? THE Colosseum? “What’s the historical significance of this?” “Well, this is were the gladiators fought, and the prisoners died… man against man, or man against Lion… it was pretty gruesome.” It is probably what we would have more of if we didn’t have TV, the Internet, or Netflix.roma_3_col_army

We walked towards the Colosseum, getting lots of pictures, walking around the military barricades, and chilled for a while outside, just taking in the amazingness of being there. roma_3_col_close

Then, it was time to figure out where we were supposed to be for dinner. Reservations were for 9:15, but we didn’t want to be late (we were meeting at 7-something at some place… where was that, and how do we get there?). We went down the metro stairs (directly across from the Colosseum) and VIOLA! We had internet! We could get and send messages! We could figure out where to meet!

We were just a few stops away (kind of, we had to change metros) to the People’s Plaza, or Piazza de Popolo, which was right by the Davinci museum (we hope to go there… it is small and doesn’t look official). I’m not sure why it’s named the People’s Plaza… but probably because everything is named for or after a saint or city (world) leader. So this one was for the regular people?

We got out of the metro and sat on some stairs to try and orient ourselves. We were a block away, but in which direction? Hard to tell. There was a young university-aged Italian guy there, so I asked him: “Do you speak English?” Yes… all younger people seem to speak English. “Where’s the Piazza de Pop_____?” (I slaughtered the name). “I don’t know, I’m from up north!” He was just off the metro, waiting to meet some friends. Turns out he is a violist in an orchestra up north… having studied in Venice (or Florence?) and Russia. This might be our first celebrity sighting here. He was very nice and after looking on Google, pointed us in the right direction.

We passed this lady… I saw her from afar but didn’t realize the pigeons were crawling all over her.

Talked to some people eating American servings of french fries – turns out they were here from the Philipines because there’s more work here. Lovely people.

We went down and alley and found the People’s Plaza, where we waited for Mitchell Levy and his wife and son… and then the night was about to begin! Until then, we are tired, and glad to be resting in the shade:
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Finally, they come, our hosts for the night!roma_3_levy

Here’s us, for our first picture (when we are still friends):
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This is the pillar-thing we were by… Duncan explained that this was pillared from some other country and brought here as a decoration: roma_3_hyro

Alex, Mitchell’s wife, is great at details and she loves the city and exploring… we had a couple of hours before dinner, so she had some plans for us! We walked down to the famous Trevi Fountain (trivia: apparently tourists toss in three thousand euros worth of coins in this fountain EVERY DAY. I need to build a fountain like this…!)roma_3_trevi

Then, we went to the Magnum ice cream store, which is an experience not to be missed while in Rome… roma_3_magnum

From there, we wound our way through the streets and alleys to this fountain:
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The funny thing is, this is the first thing we saw off the metro… this is where we started the day, and now it’s where we are ending it!

This was a cool shot… the moon was better than what you see in the pic, and the tunnel glowed green:roma_3_greentunnel

Right up the street was the hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, from the outside it looks normal and small, but you go in, and downstairs, and you are in a luxurious restaurant, that is practically by reservation only. The food was well-priced and very, very good. This, so far, has been our best food experience yet. And we were with Mitchell and family, so it was a great night of fun and conversation.

At 11:20 Alex asked “What time is it,” then we asked the server “when does the metro close?” Long story short, we had 10 minutes to hobble on the cobblestone to the metro stop, or else we were in for an expensive ride home!

We made it, with minutes to spare! Safe and sound… rolling in around midnight, and exhausted!

Is tomorrow the 3 day pass adventure… or what? Time will tell, but the plan is to wake up EARLY and get out the door quickly!

Buenas noches, desde Roma!

#Europe2017: Day 19 at the Mediterranean Sea outside of Rome, Italy!

Today started off like any normal European Holiday Vacation… late. We had gotten to our hotel (bed and breakfast, actually) at 2am, after a long day of mostly waiting, then travelling, and what seemed like an eternity waiting for our luggage. But finally, we’re in our hotel at 2am, and we can rest.

The plan for today was to go to the Italian beach. I’m a bit of a beach snob, having lived four years in Puerto Rico and going to many a Caribbean beach. This beach was not anything like the Caribbean (what is?), but it was still really nice. But first… the journey.

I got up at about 10:40, which was great because the “breakfast” part of the B&B closes at noon. We got a ticket/voucher for our entire trip to get a croissant + coffee from a bakery about a block down the street. at 10:50 Sam and I walked down the street and got to the breakfast place, showed them our voucher, and then got a lecture that we really need to get there at 10 or 11am because there’s no guarantee that after that there will be croissants.

I wasn’t expecting a lecture… we were told at the B&B that as long as we get there by 11 we would be fine. But whatever… the main message was really “we might run out, and if we do, too bad.”

Lecture over, we picked out our croissants and asked what coffee we wanted. None of us drink coffee… “can we get some juice?” “No, but you can have milk.” None of us drink milk…but maybe if we keep it up we can get juice. “Can we get some juice?” “No…” so we walked away with a bag of croissants.

We head to the bank (which is just across the street) to use the ATM. After a few tries, and finally switching it over from Italian to English, the card/ATM failed… so we walk back towards the B&B and what luck! There’s an ATM right outside of our B&B, with a bank name that I recognized! This time it worked, we got our cash, and went back to the room to wake the sleepyheads.

“Let’s go!” We had an hour travel ahead of us and I wanted to get in as much non-hotel time as I could, even though we had a late night. While everyone is getting ready we break into the croissants. Now, I’m not much of a bread/carb guy. To me, that’s not a proper meal… but holy cow, this was the best croissant I’ve ever had. If you dressed up a really tasty donut as a croissant, that’s we got. It was superb!

I got instructions from our B&B host and we were off! Today we would try the metro, since Uber is apparently rotten in Italy (it’s not the normal Uber… all Uber drivers are limo drivers, which means they are licensed or whatever, and perhaps as expensive as a Taxi), and the metro is just a block or two from our B&B. So we get on Line A and go to the very end, where we’re supposed to get a bus to the beach. Total travel time: one hour.roma_beach_torvaianica

We get off the metro, Line A, at the end, and then go to the bank of buses. I couldn’t make heads of tales of it, except I could see there were Italians waiting by certain buses, or where buses would park, and I finally found someone who worked there. “Which bus do we take to get to Torvainanica beach, er, playa, or spiaggia from here?”

Try to say “torvainica” or “spiaggia” without any proper training… you say it about six times and the Italians laugh :)

“Oh, no, you need to go back on Metro A, to Termini, then get off, and go up the stairs, then down the stairs, and get on Metro B (another line), to the very end, and then take a bus to the spiaggia.”

OH. MY. GOSH. Should have done the uber for $45. We would have been there by now. But we were only into it $6 so far… we’re trying to be frugal and get used to the metro system.

So we hit the little flee market, get free beach bags (shopping bags, but we used them later at the beach), Ellie gets some pants, and we reject all the bathing suits (William and I both need real swimsuits), and go to Metro A. It was easy enough to get from A to B (just follow the hordes of people), and then … go outside and try to make sense of the buses. I’ll tell you, there’s no making sense of them. At the kiosk you pay by how far you are going (10 kilometers? $1.60. 20 kilimeters? 2 whatever.) I have no idea how far we are going, and by the looks of it, the next bus is in one or two hours.

It’s like 3:00 by now and we’re tired of this figuring-out thing. We miss uber, and we’re hungry. So, we take a taxi. The most expensive thing you could do. It was $45. See the irony here? (if not, reference the uber price a few paragraphs up)

We finally get to the beach but Job #1 is to get some FOOD. This unusual vending machine we saw right out of the taxi didn’t quite have the food we were looking for:

roma_beach_pringles

Unfortunately, everything with real meals is closed. What the heck, Europe? So many great places, most of them closed! The whole Appleby’s until 1am thing is looking pretty great right about now!

We go to a swimsuit/prom dress store (it had a weird variety of clothes) and me and William get our sweet European swimsuits (not that style, of course! He could pull it off, I couldn’t). While there, two girls walk in and the owner is like “English! English!” Turns out they are diving board divers brought in from Romania and Texas, and the owner thought they would interpret for us. But the Texan (who had great English, I might add) didn’t speak a lick of Italian… she has only been here less than a week :p We buy our clothes, and four towels, and are off.

We then walk to find a place to eat… and everything, like I said, was closed. Except the gelato place. Now, I’ve heard of gelato before, but wowzers. Seriously, gelato in Italy is all it is hyped up to be. Here’s an interesting article on the difference between gelato and ice cream. There were about 30 flavors… we each got a small cone for two euros and they piled on about three scoops… much more than I thought would fit. It was really nice to get any food while we were on the hunt for lunch-almost-dinner.

About a block down the road we say a miracle: a food place that was open. We went in and passed the glass showcase with the pre-made pizzas… those have not looked good to us at all yet. On the other side were various foods we didn’t recognize and that didn’t look appetizing… but there was a pan of lasagna cut into very generous portions (about 4 servings per portion!). The Trio each got a plate of that, and I opted to try some fish thing that looked good. The total price was only 22 euros… not bad! Oh yeah, add 1.50 for a big bottle of water, and we’re good.

We open up the water, as we were all super thirsty, and pour it into our tiny cups (every place we have gone in Europe, the drink cups are tiny. I think Europeans drink little at the meal (unless it’s beer) and then get home and drink a lot… who knows?), and very quickly realize this is not “still” water… this is bubbly, or gassy, or, as we call it, mineral water! YUCK. Ugh. No amount of thirst will be satisfied with mineral water :/

So I buy another bottle, after a three minute English-to-Italian (with some Spanish mixed in, and hand gestures) conversation with the lady that no, we don’t want her delicious mineral water, we just want still water. Normal water… normal without gas… oh heavens getting water is hard!

Victory! We got normal, non-gas water, and I went back to the table only to find The Trio is not impressed with their $5 lasagne. “It tastes like it’s out of the can of spaghetti-os.” This is not a complement. I try a bit and indeed, it looked amazing, but it certainly tasted like it was right out of the can. Either this restaurant was rotten, or the spaghetti-o company was right on the money with their Italian food!

My fish wasn’t much better. It was too breaded, not enough fish, and a huge lasagna noodle on the bottom, just to remind you that when you are on the road you eat a lot of carbs. Bleh.

But at least we had our water. Mind you, it’s probably 4pm now and we still haven’t been to the beach! Let’s get going! We buy two more water bottles and go down an alley and we are at the beautiful Mediterranean beach. What happened on this beach, I wondered? Anything with WWI or WWII? Trading from early Roman times?

The Trio immediately set off for the water and played in it for a super long time, I stayed with our stuff. Anyone steals the wallets or phone and we are in a world of hurt. They come back and I walk down the beach to look for shells and see the sights… I was surprised at how empty this beach was.

I come back and the Trio sets off for a walk, and at about 8pm they come back… and we figure we better go figure out how to get a bus back to the metro before everything closes down. But, surprise! You are in a small town, and things are starting to close down! The bus system was weird (not like my experiences in Mexico, or Sam’s in the Dominican Republic)… and we couldn’t figure it out. What’s more, each bus that went by was PACKED, and we weren’t sure we were going to get on any of them!

We try Uber… from the beach to our B&B is eighty Euros… UGH. But that’s the price you pay, I guess. It was late, and we were getting desperate (anyone up for sleeping on the beach?)… no taxis were passing, no buses made sense… and then our Uber driver cancelled. Get another one… he cancels too. NOW WHAT?

We try to download the Rome-Taxi uber competitor, but that is taking too long. I ask a local and he tells me to go down this street, then turn the other way, then look for a sign of a business, and there I’ll find a number for the taxi service. Remember, small town. On our way, and not trusting any local’s directions anymore, I think “the hotel!” Every hotel deals with taxis, and surely a hotel guy can help us!

At least the sunset is beautiful… right?roma_beach_sunset

So I go into a little (LITTLE) hotel and the guy is like “oh yeah, my friend… er, the taxi driver, he’ll do it.”

We just needed a ride to the metro, 14 miles away, before it closed. By now we are all having visions of beach sleeping, and I’m remembering how annoying sand fleas are from when I was a teen sleeping on the beaches in the Virgin Islands… “he says $70 to the metro… just wait out here on the chairs!”

We have no other choice… we wait on the chairs until 9, when he should come. That gives is two hours before the metro shuts down in a town where transportation is rough. At 9:07 I go back to him and ask where the driver is… we’re okay but a little nervous. “Faith not fear,” this is going to work out!

His reply?

“This is Italia!” Meaning 9pm doesn’t mean 9pm… it means 9 or 10 or whenever the driver wants to show up! “And, everyone here is in the mafia!” Not sure how to take that part… I forgot about the mafia thing in Italy.

Turns out our driver, Johnny (yep), is just two minutes away. He pull sup in an older BMW station wagon and we load up and head out. “You speak English?” “No.” “Spanish, French? Polish?” “No, only Italian.” Johnny, pure Italian. Definitely mobster, I figure.

Johnny was an interesting driver. His headlights weren’t that powerful, and he was sweating profusely… I honestly wondered if he was having a heart attack! And if your driver has a heart attack outside of Rome, what do you do? Do you drive, how do you call 911… what’s the protocol? I had a good twenty minutes to think through this on our way to the metro. It’s amazing where your mind can go with a sweaty mobster driving you super fast through unlit roads.

We get there… 70 euros… here’s my card. “No card!” Ugh… I have thirty euros, and it’s getting late (the metro shuts down when??) Luckily Ellie had gotten some cash, we paid off our Johnny, and we were off! We go get tickets and wind our way down to the underground and get on a train. Getting on that metro felt really, really good! We were going to make it!

The rest of the metro ride was uneventful… we go to Termini, switched to Line A, and then got to our stop… after a few minutes of disorientation, figured out which way our hotel was (there are like 5 streets that all come into this one intersection, and we were on the wrong side of familiar), and then started off, planning on a trip to the 24 hour grocery store on the way. Yes, 24 hours… it is a miracle. And they had a lot of good stuff. Problem was we were hungry, which is not the best time to buy.

Finally, we get home, have some cereal and cookies (carbs, carbs, more carbs!) and get to bed. As we’re settling in my family calls and we get to chat for a good 30 to 45 minutes, showing them the room we are in, telling jokes, making faces, and just staying in touch. It’s so good to hear their voices and hear about what they are up to.

We find out on the news that there was a bomb or something at a Roman post office (we need to find a post office soon!), and that we had just missed the second bridge terror attack in London, and a British airways shutdown, etc. Luckily we have avoided any of that stuff… !

And that was it… our beach adventure… tomorrow, we hit ROME!

Con amore, da Italia!

#Europe2017 Day 18: The Most Boringest Day of All (Travel to Rome TONIGHT)

I wonder how many people have been following along on our journeys and thought “Oh my gosh, that is so fun, all the time… how amazing… dream come true, almost like Genovia!”

Don’t get me wrong… this trip has been EPIC. We’ve seen, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, and experienced Europe. We’ve been to famous landmarks and eaten famous foods, and we have fun stories to tell.

But, there are plenty of downtime. Like they day we didn’t get out of the hotel until noon, or the time we got back at 9, and had hours to not be a tourist, but to be a hotel occupant. And then, weird days like today.

We are about 8 miles outside of Paris, in a smaller town called Creteil. It’s plenty nice here, but it’s just a city… hardly anything to do (a park down the road, a few restaurants (but nothing French), some fruit markets (very small stores)… and lots and lots of apartments. There’s hardly anyone out on the streets… so it has a somewhat vacant feel to it (although we are on a main road, and there’s plenty of traffic).

To make matters worse, today is a holiday here (Whit Monday, related to Pentecost Sunday)… so about 3/4 of everything is closed. The plan was this:

1. Get up, do laundry
2. pack, check out (by noon)
3. store our bags at the receptionist desk, then go grab some breakfast/lunch
4. walk around town, and check out the graveyard/church thing half a block down,
5. start going to the airport around 7pm
6. fly to Rome from 10 to midnight
7. uber from airport, about 30 minutes, arrive at hotel by 1am.

Here’s how it really happened:

1. Get up, get laundry going (ugh, someone else was using the washing machine, so I had to go down every 20 minutes to see if they were done yet… not fun. Left my clothes on the washer to claim my spot in line, hoping no one steals the clothes)
2. Get wash done and switch to dryer. Luckily notice that dryer wasn’t working before I ran upstairs… otherwise I would have come back an hour later to wet clothes :/
2. Get everyone else packing by 11:35 (some were already awake, some weren’t (not naming names… teens have a capacity to sleep a lot :p)
4. Check out of hotel, check bags in with front desk, and put clothes on a second dry cycle…. still not dry.
5. Walk to the restaurant street, with about four restaurants, and hope that something is open.
6. Get fruit and candies from the small market,
7. Go to chicken fast food joint, get burgers and fries (while Ellie eats a quarter watermelon with her bare hands (until she asked for a spoon) and same ate a naan-bread-looking thing from the p√Ętisserie.
8. The Trio goes to hang out at a park down the road and I go back to get our clothes out of the dryer before someone else does, and do some JibberJobber work.
9. Got clothes out, packed what was dry, and hung a few things over our luggage (ugh).
10. Started to do some work (pay bills), and then the Trio surprises me by showing up (like 10 minutes later). Bored? Nope, had to pee.
11. Now we are sitting in the hotel foyer, essentially camped out until 7ish. It’s 3:30pm right now. I have plenty of work to do.

So there you go… like I said, any trip is going to have downtime. We’ve been able to talk about our plans for Rome… here’s what we are thinking:

Arrive tonight at 1am and if everything goes well, get in our Bed and Breakfast fine. I overlooked the fact that they close early and you have to make arrangements with them to check in after ours (which is like 8pm!!).

Tuesday: Go to the beach. Haven’t done that on this whole trip, and Sam just got back from the Dominican Replublic and thinks that life is always better at the beach.

Wednesday through Friday: Get hop-on-hop-off, skip-the-line passes to everything, and do the Rome tourist thing.

Saturday: open, probably beach

Sunday: Church, if we can figure that out

Monday: open, at night we fly to Barcelona!

Like I said, this trip has been epic, but for all those at home doing chores and all that, just realize that we are here doing chores and having downtime, too.

For now, I’m hoping that we have no problems getting into our hotel tonight, otherwise we’ll sleep on some park benches in downtown Rome.

From France, for the last time, au revoir!

UPDATED THE NEXT DAY

I wrote that about 3:30, thinking we’d have a pretty standard travel day. It wasn’t exactly “standard.”

After waiting until about 6:30 pm we finally decided to get an uber (earlier than planned) to the airport. We got dropped off and checked in, then were on the hunt for food. We wanted a sit-down, and NO SANDWICHES. By now, we are tired of sandwiches. There were only three options, and the whole “pay $20 euros for a hamburger” just wasn’t setting well with us. In disgust of the options, we finally choose the most Paris-y looking restaurant and sit down. It really was the most parisy environment we were in… super cute. The sliders were only $27. UUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH.

Our meal wasn’t too expensive only because I didn’t order a $27 plate and just shared with the others. “How do you like your steak?” Me and William had ordered a plate with three little burgers. “Um, are they burgers, ground beef, or steak? Are they on buns?” No sir, these are three steaks. “Oh, well in that case, medium.” A while later, he brings out three sliders, which are little hamburgers, not steaks, cooked with too much pink in the middle. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

We finished our meal, not in love with the food, and head to our gate. So, a little bathroom talk… the bathrooms at this airport were some of the nicest looking I’ve ever been to. That’s why I was struck at this crazy sign… it’s a sign I’ve never seen over a urinal, anywhere:
paris_toilette_non-potable

I also have never, ever, ever seen anyone trying to drink out of or fill a water bottle from a urinal :p

After a while we get on, row 4 (I’ve never been so close to the front, except when I got lucky on Southwest), and took off. Flying over France at night was beautiful… we saw the Eiffel Tower from above (that was cool), and then flew over a bunch of sleepy French villages… really beautiful.

After two hours, we arrived in Roma! But, the airport was not staffed well enough, and we had to wait for a team to bring us the stairs to get off the plane. Finally, we get off, get on a bus, and get to the terminal. The lady from the B&B is waiting for us, and WhatsApping us wondering were we are (we made “late accomodations and will you pick us up” arrangements just 24 hours earlier and I wasn’t positive she’d be there… and we needed her to get us into the B&B, which doesn’t have a 24 hour reception desk!).

I left the Trio at the luggage carousel while I went and met her, to chat and make sure she would stay until we were all ready! She was great, but it was getting late (now after 1am). I asked “what is the latest you have picked someone up?” She replied “you guys.”

With WhatsApp (a texting app) we were communicating… I told her to say “where’s Jason???” to freak the kids out a bit, then shortly after we messaged this picture… obviously we were together :p
roma_arrive_alina

Finally, the Trio comes out with our bags and we go to her 2-door mercedes and we’re on our way! She is a gracious hostess, with all kinds of information and advice. She let’s us in, instructs us on the keys (“black is for the street entrance, green is for the inside entrance, silver is for our room”) and the bathroom (“yours is the one of the left… don’t use the one on the right, other rooms share that one”), and we’re alone.

It’s 2am. We’re exhausted. But we are also in beds, in Rome!

#Europe2017 Day 17: Catacombes de Paris (France)

Today is our last full day in France. What do you do on your last full day? “Everything else,” of course!

The plan was to go back into Paris (about ten kilometers away) and do three things:

1. Catacombes de Paris,
2. Go inside the Notre Dame cathedral (we haven’t been inside yet), and
3. Go inside the Pantheon, where a bunch of famous people (including Marie Curie!) were and/or are entombed.

We had a bit of a late night (no reason, really) so getting up this morning didn’t happen until around 11:00. We had a quick uber ride into town and got dropped off right at the line to get in the Catacombs. I was excited to wrap up our Paris experience, and these three things seemed like the right way to do it!

The line to the Catacombs was ridiculously long and slow moving. I tried to find some “skip the line” tickets but you have to buy those before you get there (darnit!!), at least for the ones with guides. How long do you sit in a line to visit this place? Apparently more than three hours! Ugh. But it was worth it… not only did we get three+ hours of bonding time, this was a highlight of the trip. William said “that was the best museum that we’ve been to.” Win!

The line was long enough that when we got in, it was about 3/4 of the way around the block… and seemingly not moving at all! Here’s the view we had for a solid 3+ hours:paris_cat_line

How do you stand to stand in line for that long, even when you are with people that are fairly cool and generally fun to be with? By getting these monsters!paris_cat_macaroons

You’re going to want to mentally hang on to that image for a while… the next few photos might make you squeamish.

We finally got to the cashier and bought tickets ($12 + $5/each for the audio tour) and started our descent to the catacombs. This is 130 steps down… let’s say that is 10 stories… down and down and down a spiral staircase that seemed to never end! Finally, we get there and…. NO BONES!

The first part of the catacombs self-guided tour are tunnels. We are now below the subway and the sewer systems (think Les Mis)… and I learn that this is where a lot of the rock used to build the buildings around here came from. “Ideal” for building buildings, they say. Can you imagine (a) being the worker who cut out big blocks of ideal stone, or (b) being the worker who got said blocks 10ish stories up to street level? Probably a gazillion times? WOW.

This whole walk is, I think, 1.2 miles… so we still have a ways to go before we see bones. But finally, there they are… stacked neatly, and with designs. This was really fascinating, and we all left wondering “where did all these bodies (bones) come from? Why? Where are the rest of the bones?” what we see are mostly leg bones and skulls.

Before we start off with a collection of macabre pictures, here’s one of a pretty flower. On bones.paris_cat_1

Everywhere there was light, there was growth… like in the picture above, but mostly just green (moss?).

Here’s my somber look by a wall of bones… actually, that’s my I’m-In-Pain look, since I’m kneeling on rocks (the ceiling was about 6’2 to 6’5 in most places):
paris_cat_2

Here’s a pattern… my guess is this is a cross. People had jobs to move and then restack the bones… interesting, huh?paris_cat_3

Here’s another pattern… there were lots of patters to find: paris_cat_4

The front of the walls are meticulously stacked, but on top the bones were just scattered… in some places the went ten or fifteen (sometimes more) feet deep!paris_cat_5

Here’s another pattern… remember, this is a 1+ mile walk, so that’s a lot of bones (and we couldn’t even go through all the hallways):
paris_cat_6

Do you ever get the idea that the bones stackers had fun?paris_cat_7

We ascended from the catacombs, spent a few minutes in the gift shop (just looking), and then figure we have about a mile walk to the Pantheon. We’re hungry, but we somehow mentally muscle our way through the hunger so we can get to the Pantheon with enough time to go inside before it closes! I didn’t factor 3+ hours of line waiting in our plans!

Oh yeah, another way to help you not stop at every restaurant you go by is that most of them were closed today…!

On the walk to the Pantheon we passed a guy on a bench drawing… I thought “how Paris!” I wanted to get a picture of him, so I went to ask: “Do you speak English?” “Yes,” in an obvious American accent. “Oh, you are American? Where are you from?” “Kentucky!” He’s a professor here for a month with a study abroad group of students. Okay, so he wasn’t a local Parisian, but it was cool to see this artist in the city of art!paris_cat_drawing

Also, yesterday I mentioned that we use the word “pompis” instead of butt in our house, which is a word I got while living in Mexico… so I had to get this sign for my kids at home :pparis_cat_pompis

Finally, we get to the Pantheon. Read up on this… it’s fascinating. When we got there it was almost closed (darn line at the Catacombs!), and it was 9 euros… we weren’t excited to pay that to go in just for a few minutes… so we walked around, gawked at the building, and then headed to a cafe. Here’s a picture of the columns in the front… they were pretty awesome:paris_cat_pantheon

The restaurant we went to was some crepe place almost right across the street. It was crowded but that was because pretty much everything else we passed was closed. It pays to stay open :p Here are two of my travelling companions… these are the faces of two people who have walked and walked and walked and hadn’t had much food or water all day: paris_cat_food

The restaurant was Paris-cute… charming. Our waiter’s name was Jean-Jaques (he said that was an unusual name)… here’s my view from where I was sitting, with the Pantheon in the background. Notice the books… there seem to be books all around this place… bookstores, a whole row of stands/vendors with books, and books lining the walls in restaurants… a very booky place!paris_cat_pantheon_food

After eating we knew we couldn’t go inside the Notre Dame because it was closed… we walked across the street to the souvernir shop (William is looking for something very specific), got some things, and then called our Uber. Here’s what The Trio looks like when we wait for our uber: paris_cat_uber_waiting

I thought this was a super cool shot… right on the corner where we were waiting… not much of a gallerie, right, but the colors of these rusted shutters were neat, contrasting the green paint:paris_cat_galerie

Right after I got that shot I had a model jump in… funny how that happens: paris_cat_galerie_ellie

Our Uber came… we’ve scene this scene a bunch of times on this journey. They ask “Are you Ellie?” (we’re using Ellie’s uber account)… the funny thing is Ellie is like Eli, which is a guy’s name here… so they aren’t expecting Ellie-the-girl to be the one who is Ellie :p We ask their name, and then we hop in.paris_cat_uber_arrived

That was it… our last day in Paris! Tomorrow we have some laundry and other housekeeping stuff to do, then catch a very late flight to Rome!

Goodbye Paris, The City of Lights, The City of Love, you treated us well!

paris_cat_flag

#Europe2017 Day 16: Monet’s Garden and a “Sick Day” (France)

This morning I got up and my ankle wasn’t feeling better after resting all night :( Darnit. Also, my left calf was really sore, probably from compensating for the ankle… so I declared a sick day for me to get a bit of rest from walking.

The Trio was headed out to Monet’s Garden, which has special meaning to Ellie because of some show she used to watch… this was near the top of her list of things to do in France (I, on the other hand, had never heard of it… remember, failed out of humanities? :p).

I hoped it was all she could ever want… and when they came back that evening around 8pm they said it was AMAZING… after they went through Monet’s house and gardens they walked around town and all have said that of all places that we have been to, the town of Giverny, France, is where they could easily see themselves living. Here are some pictures of their journeys (including Ellie with her bridge :)):

paris_monet_1paris_monet_2paris_monet_3paris_monet_4paris_money_5

I loved this picture they got of the dad/grandpa with is kid…. the kid’s face shows love and trust, and the gpa’s hand on his body shows love and protection… in all parts of the world we can find this love :)

paris_monet_6

Here are pictures of the town they fell in love with:

paris_monet_7paris_monet_8paris_monet_9

They got home and we realized we better go out and look for dinner before all the restaurants were closed. Everything closes early here… it’s not easy to find a restaurant if you are hungry at 9 or 10pm, that’s for sure!

From our hotel/apartment we turned right and went to the end of the road… this is where the post office is, a much bigger grocery store than the little corner store that we’ve been going to, and hopefully a few restaurants that were still open.

Before we found food we found a p√Ętisseries (pastry store)…. we were hungry, and so we were like “one of those and one of those and one of those and one of those and ….” That went on for a while… and only twelve euros later we had a good sized box full of all kinds of good looking pastries. The interesting thing is that only three of them tasted good… the others were beautiful but didn’t agree with our palette.

“Where’s a place we can get dinner?” “Oh, down the street, over there…” So we go out, turn to the left, and immediately (right next door) was the restaurant he recommended. We thought we were going to walk a block or two or five, but it was just next door.

This little restaurant sold gyros, burgers, pizza, and probably other things… we agreed on a pizza and learned that if you buy one to eat there, you can get one to take home… so we did that. We ate a “curry pizza” which is a pizza with curry stuff (sauce, chicken (?), potatoes) and lots of cheese… it was good, but definitely different (potatoes on pizza? Really, not too bad).

This s what a curry pizza looks like:paris_curry_pizza

We ate that there with the Spain/Italy soccer game on the TV, and about eight guys sitting in this tiny restaurant (with us being the only ones eating). We asked the server, the only person who spoke English, which team they were cheering for (Madrid Real), and then enjoyed our local sporting event with “the guys.”

Funny story… I saw an older (maybe 40ish) guy come in and start watching the game… he was standing at the counter and was more serious that the others, who were younger and very chatty. Another guy walked in and patted him on the butt (or as we say in my house, pompis (which is from Mexico)… he immediately turned around and was like “what the heck are you doing? Are you crazy???” The younger guy who did it very quickly pointed to the guy behind him and was like “Dude, why did you touch his pompis?” It was very playful, and very funny… to me. The older guy was mad, and went on a soliloquy that I only imagined the meaning of (this was all in French), and I was reminded of me as a teenager who would have done the same thing. LOL… boys will be boys :)

We finished our pizza and our tiny bottle of water that we all shared, then walked back home (with a box of pastries and our carry out pizza (“vegetarian with pepperoni” :p). It must have been nine or ten… the sun was still out, the clouds were beautiful, and it was just lovely.

We got home and settled for bed, and I got to talk with my wife and kids back home for a while. They all sound great… we’re about half way done with this trip, and it will be nice to settle down into “normal.” But, we’ve got a couple more countries to enjoy before we do that.

Tomorrow, we have big plans! Back to Paris to go to the Catacombs, inside Notre Dame, and the Pantheon. For now, rest!

#Europe2017 Day 15: Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Statue of Liberty (what??)

Today was laundry day…. I went down early to get our laundry going (three euros for wash, three euros for dryer, each load, plus two euros for soap! Ugh…). Luckily, there were two washers and two dryers, so we should have been able to get our laundry done pretty quickly… BUT, one of the washers was broken, which meant we spent too long doing laundry this morning.

But it’s part of the deal… “backpacking” across Europe has some downtime, rest time, and administrative (aka laundry) time. Long story short, we got out at 2:00 pm! Poor William, he was ready to get out of this blasted hotel room earlier than two!

The last load came out of the dryer and three minutes later we had called an Uber…. which was one minute away! Our drivers have been awesome, but this guy was AMAZING. He was chatty, stylish, super fun, and playful. He sang, and interacted with all of us. The whole experience might be summed up in this shot:
paris_uber_driver

This guy was the real deal, and started our Paris day off on the right foot!

He dropped us off at the Eiffel Tower, in a downpour of rain, but hey, less tourists, right? There were no lines, and we got right in. The tickets were only seven euros to climb up the stairs by yourself… as opposed to riding the elevator (aka lift). Heck yeah… let’s do the whole Paris experience! We’ll ride the lift when we are eighty!

We climb up to the first floor, which is 187 feet up. That is like 18 stories! Just to the first floor! It was a great climb, but the good stuff was on the second floor… which is 377 feet… that’s about 37 floors!! Lots of stair climbing, which felt really good (Yes, I was quite winded when I got to the top).
eiffel_tower_heights

Here’s the view from the first floor (18 stories above land):paris_tower_floor_1

There was one more flight of steps (just about 15 steps) to the second platform of the second floor… The Trio went up but honestly, I was just fine where I was. They walked around, took gobs of pictures, and I waited. I actually listened in on a bunch of tour guides talking about various points of Paris, history of the town and tower, etc. It was really cool to listen in. I waited, and waited more, for The Trio…. finally, I went up and looked for them. I walked around the platform three times, then back down to the second floor, another three times, and thought “well, they must have gone all the way up to the tippy top, or down to the bottom, but I can’t find them at all!”

What do you do? Stay in one place, right? Nope… I figured at some point they would go down (I was kind of tired/bored of waiting for them on the second floor) to the bottom, and we would meet there. Remember, I’m without a phone… and we hadn’t talked about a central meeting point (we haven’t needed it so far), but I thought “okay, Plan B is they Uber back to the hotel, I grab a local hotel and get on Facebook or Google and chat to Ellie and figure out how to meet up.” Not ideal but I thought we might be getting to that point. Ah, the logistics of travelling in a group :)

I went down to the first floor (again, 18 stories up) and walked around three times.

Here’s a view of the sprawling “suburbs” of Paris from the first floor:
paris_tower_suburbs

Here’s a really cool picture of The Travelling Trio… see them all? tower_all_three

Finally, as I was about to go down to the bottom, I spotted William at the other end of the platform. Victory! Reunited! Whew! I think we were all relieved to be back together.

This is a picture of four happy, reunited travelers, from the ground:paris_tower_four

We were starving by this time and decided to go check out the Statue of Liberty (more on that below), but first had to eat! We went a few blocks down, then a few blocks to the left, to try to get away from tourist food and tourist prices… but we didn’t do too well. We found a “pizza bar” which means pizza and a bar, not a buffet (oops). William and I shared a pizza (first one on this trip for us) and the girls shared pasta with four cheeses… the problem was that one of the cheeses was goat cheese, and Sam doesn’t eat that (picture a girl gagging). So, she pecked at a few things but really didn’t get lunch.

Next we were on a hunt for macaroons, which are over-priced french cookies. They are about as big as one or two oreos, and cost one to two euros each. Seriously. Who comes up with this pricing. We didn’t find any right away (we did but they were fourteen for fifteen euros… I was sure we’d find some for cheaper!) so we kept walking. Surely we’d come across a pastry store, no monsieur?

We then set off on a long walk to the Paris Statue of Liberty. Here’s the three of us doing stretches… I bet we are easily averaging 5+ miles each day, sometimes more. Not too bad, but it’s a lot considering I was laid up for a few months this year!paris_walk_stretching

Here’s a cool picture from one of the three bridges we had to pass to get to the statue: paris_tower_background

Never heard of the Paris Statue of Liberty? I hadn’t either. Apparently it was a gift from Americans who were French (or however you say that nowdays)… it is actually really cool. They faced it west, directly at the big Statue of Liberty off of New York.
Here’s a view of her from the bridge… facing away from the bridge because that is west:

paris_statue_liberty

Right before you get to the statue you go from the middle of the bridge down a ramp, then down some stairs to the island-thing that the statue is on, and of course, you go under the bridge you were just on. What do they have under bridges in Paris? Well, a workout place, of course! This was really quite impressive… the Trio were all like “why don’t we have this in America??”paris_statue_under_bridge

Here’s a picture of the statue from the front:paris_statue_front

From there we were, how do you say super duper exhausted in French? We called an uber to get a ride to the Louvre Museum. It was about 1.9 miles away and I don’t think I would have made it on my ankle. The driver got us there in about 20 minutes and we went to the iconic glass pyramid thing… it was pretty cool. More impressive than that is the surrounding building, which is the actual Louvre. Apparently, this was a palace, and honestly, it made Versailles look and feel a little small (at least the single, main building, not all the Versailles buildings + gardens + location). The Louvre is huge… amazingly huge and majestic. This is supposedly the largest museum in the world… and once you go in, it’s easy to believe that no other museum compares.

Here’s a picture from inside the famous glass pyramid, looking out: paris_louvre_inside2

Our main goal was to see the Mona Lisa… cliche, I know, but hey, that’s what we were after. After 2+ weeks in Europe we’ve seen a ton of old buildings, paintings, statues, etc., and it’s not as impressive anymore. Sorry to all the educated, lettered people, but hey, I basically flunked out of my humanities class in college :p

Here’s William in front of one of the “smaller” paintings: paris_louvre_william

After a few false starts we finally got on the right path to the Mona Lisa. They know that is what you are after at the Louvre, so they put her up a bunch of flights of stairs… I felt like I was climbing the Eiffel Tower all over again :p

She was in the Italian section and, even though I said it’s not impressive anymore, the paintings were amazing. The size of some of them, and thinking about the artists making their own paint, and what their inspirations where, etc. was really just super cool.

We found her, the Mona Lisa, and just like I’d read, there were a bunch of people there… but it’s not as bad as the whiners say. Be patient and you can move your way close to the front… and then you’ll come to the realization that the painting (which isn’t very big) looks exactly like it does on Google Images :p Here’s our own picture of her: paris_louvre_mona

From there we slowly made our way out of the museum… this cool wall with all of the languages was on the way out:

paris_louvre_musee_languages

When I say “slowly made our way out” it’s because we had to figure out how to get back down (not as easy as you would think… imagine a maze of stairs with not-very-good signs), and then once you get out you are in a mall-like thing with all kinds of high end stores… again, it’s not super clear how to get out of the shopping area. This palace/museum was so big it’s almost incomprehensible.

We finally got out and our next task was to figure out how far away the Notre Dame was, and how to get there (uber? Walk? Train?) It was only a mile away and for some reason, we were (almost) all up for another mile :) So we set off, in a drizzle of rain (it had mostly been a clear, beautiful day, except for when we got dropped off at The Tower). It was a nice walk, really, through the charming/gorgeous streets of Paris (with a pause for Sam to get a chicken sandwich on a baguette, since she really didn’t have lunch). This walk really didn’t even feel touristy…. and finally, there we were! Facing the famous Notre Dame!paris_notre_dame_ellie

Here’s a great shot from William’s camera… above the three ground doors there are a bunch of pillar-looking things that spans this side of the building… those are lifesize+ statues of people (not sure who, there are more than 12 of them): paris_notre_dame

I think it was around 8pm by now, and it was closed, but we enjoyed being there, and looking at it… it was really quite something. I wish I knew more about it before we got there… Ellie says “tell us the history of this,” and I said “I honestly don’t know anything about it, except for the Victor Hugo book, and the Disney movie…” and she said “Oh, I thought you knew everything.” :p LOL Far from it! But I’ll study up on this. This whole trip has been a lesson in What Jason Doesn’t Know About World History.

Again, it was time to look for food…. dinner time! We were headed away from the Notre Dame but there was a street vendor selling these super neat things (called Lotus Flowers see images here on Amazon) that he made, and he was demonstrating it for someone. We were all struck with how amazingly cool these things were… we bought four of them! The Lotus Flower is an ancient meditation thing (toy? device? fidgity thing?) from India, and just too cool for words. We spent at least a half hour with this guy, who hails from Poland (but spoke great French and English), and has been making these by hand for, I think, 27 years. William is totally interested in learning how to make and sell Lotus Flowers… stay tuned! I think they are way more fun and intriguing than fidget spinners! paris_toy

We crossed the bridge and then went up two streets to an alley with lots of neon lights… it was like a market with food and souvenirs.

paris_alley_lights

I know, very touristy, but the price were GREAT! Instead of fifteen euro plates, they were like five. The first stop was crepes (haven’t done that yet) for four euros each. We got three with Nutella and coconut flakes… they were DELICIOUS. Across the alley was gyros for five euros… that was our next stop. Finally, were were well-fed and ready to conquer the rest of Paris (which was mostly getting home!).

paris_dinner

We walked down the alley a bit more and finally found what we were really looking for: macaroons! Oh yeah, and it happened to be a gelato (ice cream) shop, too… it had everything we were ready for. We spent about thirty minutes there eating and eating and eating… and then walked around the alleys more. This was not just one alley, it was multiple. Lots of eating, lots of tourists, and lots of shops. It was really fun.

When we got to the end we got our uber, a guy who spoke no English, so we didn’t talk to him, but the Trio was playful and chatty… we finally got in at 11ish, and pretty much went to our beds. I got to talk to my kids at home, and Kaisie… that was really nice. It’s always nice to hear their voices, and what they are up to.

So that’s it, Paris is done… tomorrow we are planning on going to Monet’s Garden, which has been Ellie’s dream (I’d never heard of it before). We are either going to the beach after that, or we are headed back home to explore this neighborhood a bit. We’ll see what the day brings!

Au revoir, mis amigos!

#Europe2017 Day 15: Palace of Versailles (France)

Wow. Amazing. Over the top. Extravagent doesn’t even begin to explain this place. Castle, palace… none of that seems appropriate. How about other-worldly? I don’t even know. Seriously, it was overwhelming to think about the life and lifestyle of this place, not to mention how it was built, financed, run, etc.

The palace had servants quarters for the 10,000 servants it took to run the place.

Ten thousand.

That is a small city, just in servants!

Do yourself a favor and read up on this place. Wikipedia is a fine place to go for info, but there are documentaries on youtube (might not be appropriate for kids, you know, with all that french romance and stuff).

We left the hotel around 11am, and ubered to the Palace. Well, actually, we ubered to some place in the middle of the city of Versailles. The uber driver was like “this is where you said you wanted to go…” So we got out and thought, maybe we could walk to the Palace? Google Maps wasn’t coming up on Ellie’s phone (bless Ellie’s phone!!), so we were like “well, let’s get another uber to take us there.”

We call up another uber and this really cool kickboxer guy comes and is like “where you want to go?” And we’re like “the Palace…” and he says “you mean the Chateau?” “Uh, yeah, the chateau… whatever it’s called.” Mind you, we haven’t even started driving yet… he goes about 15 feet to the intersection and points one block away, and says “You want to go there??” Uh…. yeah, that’s it! We were one block away, but didn’t know it :p So he drives us around a few blocks, we have a fun conversation, he gives everyone candy (except me because I’m already too fat), and tells us it’s his style to to give candy, and have the sun roof open, and whatever else… this guy is really high energy and very cool, and he drops us off like three minutes later. Shortest uber ride ever (for us) :p

This is a statue of Louis the 14th (or Louis XIV), who was 27 when he went through the swamps and said “this is the place” LOL. I think that’s right, correct me if I’m wrong. There are tons of pictures and busts and stuff of people, probably a lot of him. This is outside the main courtyard, off of the street. Funny trivia: there is a hornet’s nest on his head… you can’t see it in the picture, but if you look up you’ll see lots of hornets buzzing around his head/cap :p
vers_louis_xiv

We walk towards the grand, amazing palace, with hundreds of other tourists (there must have been fifty tour buses parked there already). The line to get in was really long, so we got in and I sent William to see if we had to get tickets somewhere… he didn’t see it but by that time I had the girls stay in line and hobbled over the cobblestone (this was the most uneven cobblestone yet) and found a sign that said tickets. We go in, get in line, and when we get close enough the ticket lady was rejecting most everyone… I put up my card and said “do you take card?” No, not today… Even though the sign said they took all major cards)… cash only. “Do you know where an ATM machine is? NO! These people were not customer oriented… might this be the Paris attitude we’ve heard about from everyone?

We go out to the city to a bunch of old buildings, hoping we can find an ATM. There was a tourist office and I asked them and they very cheerfully told me it was right around the corner. Great! Two hundred Euros in cash and we are now on our way! We go back and there is NO LINE! It was crazy… one minute we are waiting forever, the next minute there is no line. We get tickets, go in the Palace, and begin our tour.

After you pass through the massive, huge, gargantuan outer courtyard, and the line for people who bought tickets, you go in an entrance and then out to the inner courtyard, which is HUGE, but not as big as the outer courtyard. This is a picture from the inner courtyard, looking at the gates to the outer courtyard. Notice all the gold? There is plenty (tons) of gold all around this place, from the outside (top of the palace) to the inside, the gates, and most of the fountains outside.

vers_gate

Here’s more ornateness and gold from the outside, in the inner courtyard. The cost and detail is mindboggling (supposedly it took around $2B to build this place).vers_outsidefront

Here’s the chapel, inside the palace. This shot is from the second story, you can see the organ is also on the second story. We hit it at just the right time to hear someone playing it (it had an eerie sound to it):vers_chapel

Here’s a tiny bit of the garden… I’m guessing the garden spans more or less a hundred acres (it might be a lot bigger). Those cone trees are way taller than me.vers_garden

This room is about 390 feet long… and now houses a bunch of busts and pictures of famous wars where France was victorious. One was the Battle of York Town (or however you spell it) and had George Washington in it.vers_war_room

Here’s another bust room… this was all of the famous “lettered people,” or scholars. I recognized one name here :p Seriously, the amount of art, busts, paintings, etc. is crazy.
vers_bust_room

After maybe two hours we made our way through the palace tour (with audio guides, which was nice). We just had to visit the gardens… but we were hungry! Instead of eating at the restaurants at the palace we decided to go into town… and found a super yummy french buffet! It was small but very, very good (and not a chinese buffet :p). It had things like cheeses, baguettes, chicken, ribs (delic!!), salads, and then some desserts…something that looked like angel food cake but was really like a tasteless meringue (with some goat cheese stuff to put on it – we all opted to NOT do that – as well as some berry jam stuff), flan (it was excellent!), some apple pie like thing, and more. And, unlimited real ice cream… I think Ellie had more ice cream than real food… it was that good.

Here’s me and Sam, well-fed and ready for a siesta (wrong country though :/)vers_food

Here’s William and Ellie with the street in the background: vers_food_willellie

Well-fed, we head back to the gardens. My ankle was bothering me and I was thinking about staying behind to not walk, but I opted to go. I’m glad I did. “Gardens” doesn’t really cover it. The hedges must have been 30+ feet high, fountains and ponds everywere, and even a canal system where they brought Italian gondolas (and gondola drivers :p) in so the royal family could gondola in their backyard canals. My heavens.

Here’s a picture at the beginning of the garden tour, of a small garden off to the side (not the big one in the back). Crazy, huh?
vers_gard1

Here’s a super shot William got of the same garden, but different angle: vers_gard1b

This is down the back steps (which are majestic), to the first fountain (I think those are golden frogs, but might be koi or some other creature)… and in the back you can see way the heck down the canals to float on. vers_gard2

Here is a view from the garden, looking at the palace. We haven’t even reached the Italian canals yet! Massive!vers_gard2

This must be the border, right? No, it’s “Little Venice,” where all the canal and gondola and all that jazz lived and operated out of. Did I mention the servant’s quarters housed the 10,000 servants??vers_gard_venice

Walking back up the garden, to the palace (we didn’t walk down the canal!), you see this majestic view of the back of the palace…. crazy:vers_gard_back

Here’s a sneak peek of the dance the Trio is doing in every country… just a snapshot, but what a background, right??vers_dance

Here’s where the first uber driver dropped us off… definitely not the palace :p
vers_not_vers

So here we are, exhausted, close to our original uber dropoff, having gone through the tourist shops, and ready to go home. We call an Uber, get home in about 45 minutes, and me and William relax and chill while the girls go get some food (and pizza, which was successful tonight!). It’s 11:16pm here… and we’re all ready for bed. We tried to do laundry in the hotel but apparently you need to by a special token, and the front desk closes at 8, so we will do that tomorrow. It’s time for clean clothes :)

What’s going on at home? Well, my wife told me that she fed the snake… this cracked all of us up here… here’s what she chatted:

paris_kaisie_snake

We’re all going through new experiences!!

Tomorrow, Friday, should be laundry, then we go to the Eiffel Tower and do inner-city Paris stuff.

Avec amour de paris!

#Europe2017 Day 14: Travel from London to Paris (Under The Sea!!)

NOTE: Will load more pics when I get them from The Trio.

So today is the big, epic day that we get on a train that goes under the sea. WOW! Technology is so amazing, especially considering how old this technology is.london_to_paris

We had to be out of the hotel in London by 10:30… I spent about 45 minutes blogging in the stairwell (by a window, on a chair, it wasn’t *that* bad, but this place was certainly lacking for room, like all big city accommodations), then, at about 10am I went to get the packing going. Everyone was up and packing… it is easy to pack when you are on the road, have a system, and the hotel room is a little bigger than a thimble :p

We checked out and walked a couple of blocks in search of breakfast. Pasta? No thanks. Fish and chips? No thanks. We found this deli that seemed good and oh-my-gosh it was the perfect culinary way to say goodbye to London! We sat at a huge table with other people, El Camino style. The menu was on the chalkboard/wall, and somehow we found room for all our luggage in this tiny cafe.

We got eggs + Spanish chorizo on toast (Spanish chorizo is just a normal not-breakfast sausage… think salami but actually tastes good… it’s nothing like Mexican chorizo), sweet (not savory) french toast which was very thick (like two inches thick) with LOTS of cinnamon (it was actually very good to have that much), and some egg/small tomatoes/toast/avacado/pesto concoction. Really nice way to start the day… and we had plenty of time to be at the train station for our 1:30pm train to Paris.

aren't we cute?

aren’t we cute?

William and Ellie and the menu:london_will_ellie_bfast

After breakfast we got an uber and took a 30 or 45 minute ride to the train station… our driver was William, again. The first driver, the one who has my phone (maybe has it on ebay by now) was also named William. This William was AWESOME too. Super cool guy. The first part of the chat was okay/normal, but then we got him laughing and telling stories… he told us about a time when he got into a fight (“pulled the guy from his car…!”), and that led to a better story of when someone accused him of cutting him off in traffic, and opened HIS door, and he was like “why did you open my door?” Long story short, he taught us the art of the fight (in his London accent): “You have to give two good pops to the nose!” And then told us how a bystander thought he was going to get marmeladed (think jam… think beat up really bad), but instead he marmeladed the other guy, who was a lot bigger than him.

The whole car was laughing… this guy was awesome.

He dropped us at the St. Pancras International doors, which was great… and across the street from Kings Cross. Have you ever heard of Kings Cross? It’s where platform 9 3/4 is, from Harry Potter. This was too good to pass up… I stayed to watch the bags because we only had about an hour before we should have checked in, so The Trio made a mad dash to look for Platform 9 3/4. They made it, but the line to take pictures was too long, so they just gawked and then came back. Said there was a person there waving a scarf to make it look like whoever was in the picture was running :p

Not my picture... line was too long :(

Not my picture… line was too long :(

We went through the train security, and then French customs, then waited to get on our train. While waiting, a group of guys for a professional sports team stood by us… they were HUGE. MASSIVE. I have no idea what sport they played, but it’s amazing to be around people who are so massive.

Finally, it was time to get on the train… we made our way to Coach 6, seats 83/84 and 93/94, and settled in for a very long, tiring train ride. The part under the water is only about 50 kilometers, the rest is either English landscape (grass, fields, warehouses) or French landscape (lots of fields and farmhouses)… it was beautiful, of course, and very green, but man I was tired. Sleeping on a plain/train is not as fun as it sounds, especially if you are as tall as I am (and I’m not very tall).

About three hours later we pulled into the Gare Du Nord station in Paris!! We made it! Wow… another country, another adventure. This was significant because it kind of marks the half way point in our trip… we’ve been to three of the six countries! We still have 19 days to go, but it’s kind of half-way.

Not my picture... and we didn't arrive at night :p

Not my picture… and we didn’t arrive at night :p

The girls go off to find a bathroom but when they come back they said “you have to pay to use it.” Boy how we miss free bathrooms. Here, in many tourist areas, it is “Pay to Pee.” I should trademark that in multiple languages.

We go outside and try to find a place without taxis, or at least a place that is somewhat calm, so our uber driver could park and pick us up. This was nearly impossible. We went from the super busy train station entrance to a super busy little island in the middle of crazy busy roads… there really was not a good place to have this guy pick us up! Luckily he called and said “meet at the xyz hotel. It’s right where you say you are!” We looked and looked and saw various hotels, but not the XYZ hotel. Turns out, it was on the sign right above us :p So much for being good at looking!

Finally, we see him waving us down from across the street and have a great feeling of relief… whew! We are on to the next leg of this travel day! We get in the car, confirm the address, and head out for an our drive. Big towns are really quite a pain. And, they aren’t as beautiful to drive through as the travel brochures make them out to be :)

This guy was from Morroco, and has been in Paris for almost twenty years. He was a professional volleyball player, and was very, very cool to talk to. His English was good enough, but we have now entered the part of the trip where we find ourselves saying “sorry, do you speak English?”

He dropped us off at the apartmenthotel and we went in… only to find out that this was not our hotel :( :( :( In my haste to get out of the home office, I noted down the wrong hotel (the one I didn’t choose), as where we should go. So after a very long day of travel, and driving through Paris for an hour, we were still an hour away :( Darnit. That was my bad, for sure.

Another uber driver…. this one was nice but spoke no English. An hour of quiet… sleeping kids in the backseat, and driving through the non-beautiful part of Paris. I was in and out, and finally we go to the hotel address… but there was not signage that was obvious! So we drove around in a circle, he called the front desk, and eventually ended up in the same place, only to finally see the signage. This is like a hotel/apartment… it’s really nice (two rooms… a queen bed and a pullout bed, and a door to close of the foyer and a bathroom. Also, we have a kitchenette… first time, so that’s nice! Alas, we are just glad to be here, and not travelling!

But we are hungry. Maybe a little hangry. We haven’t eaten since breakfast in London, and travel sure wears you out. The front desk lady said to walk down five minutes and there is a pizza shop. Pizza in Paris… whatever, we were starving. We pass a Chinese restaurant (no temptation there) and go to the Pizza shop. The restaurant part is empty, and no server or anyone is there, so we go up two stairs to the bar section and the bartender (owner?) says “we don’t have pizza.” “Do you have any food?” “We have meats and … ” who knows what else… English isn’t a big thing around these parts… he says “go down more and there’s a place with pizza and everything!”

No pizza at this pizza shop.

No pizza at this pizza shop.

So we go down more and see a restaurant that has a sign out for pizza. Never in our lives have we wanted pizza more than now. We go in and talk to the lady, who speaks no English but is happy to seat us… we chose a seat outside because we are in PARIS(!!) and then look at the menu.

Here’s how you read a menu in Paris: Pull out your phone and google translate everything. It was very confusing. Ellie and Sam regretted not listening to the French tapes they got right before the trip… now were were totally unprepared!

Pizza… yeah… um, what? You don’t have pizza? (“doesn’t the sign say pizza on it, in big letters?”) Okay, we’ll need to look at the menu…

They bring out the appetizers… bread (of course), hominy beans, red super spicy sauce, and golden raisins that were half-grapes-half-raisins. They were SOOOO good, and served warm.paris_appetizer_one

William and I went “safe” and got burgers and fries, Paris style. This was very elegant, with blue cheese that had all kinds of coloring (what are those blue and gray colors anyway? Don’t answer that!), and some canadian bacon (aka ham-like stuff) on it.
paris_burger

The girls got chicken couscous, which was the most amazing thing. First comes a big bowl of tiny couscous (smaller than in the states), and then a huge bowl of some AWESOME red-based vegetable soup… apparently that goes on top of the couscous.

paris_couscous_soup

About ten minutes later they bring out a plate with chicken, and some north-African sausage that didn’t pass the taste test by anyone (it was very lamb-y, and to me, tasted like lamb jerky).

This is their food without the chicken:paris_couscous_sans

Ellie had an okay view :pparis_food_three

Overall, the food was very different, and VERY, VERY good. Of course. What else would you expect from Paris? We ate, and rested, and sat, and wondered when the bill would come. Finally, we got the bill and were on our way (without doggy bags, unfortunately. I don’t think they do that here).

On our way home we found a little market where we bought some snacks and food for the hotel. Check out these pringles cans… this is futbol country!
paris_gooooooals_pringles

We went home and pretty much crashed. It was a long, long, long day, and we’re excited to get it all in while in Paris.

Travel days are my least favorite part of this whole thing… but we’re here, and we’re safe, and ready for Versailles tomorrow!

#Europe2017 Day 13: Is it Friday the 13th? Regrets and Frustrations (and more good memories)

Today started out GREAT! It was our last day in London, and there were still some things we hadn’t seen yet. We’re still feeling the sting of the cost of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and not super anxious to pay for everything that you can, and there’s plenty to pay for in London, but there are also plenty of free museums and exhibits to see.

The plan was to see the things The Trio hadn’t seen yet, including The London Tower (whatever that is… there are towers all around), Buckingham Palace (they didn’t really get to see that yesterday… there’s got to be something cool there, right?), and I guess whatever else we happened upon.

First, though, was food and a little bit of business: we have post cards to send, and we have had a hard time sending them. Each day we’ve walked past the post office, which looks like this quiet little thing with no activity, but when we’ve passed by it’s been closed. Today it was priority Numero Uno (in English: Number One) to get these post cards in the mail.

We get there and go in and… um… it’s like a very small DMV. That is, you go to a kiosk and get a number, then wait (and wait and wait) until your number is called and shown on a screen over a cashier. No problem… I get my number (155), notice they are on 60-something, but also notice they are calling numbers in the two hundreds and seven hundreds… no problem, it’s a random number, and I’ll soon go up. After all, there aren’t sixty-plus people here, are there?

Apparently there were. The two hundreds was for passport/visa stuff, the seven hundreds was for business (high priority), and the zero to two hundred were the peons (in English: peons). Holy cow… what I thought would take ten minutes at most was at least a 45 minute wait… maybe an hour or more (no phone, so I couldn’t check the time). All the while, The Trio decided to sit on a cement ledge outside so as not to be in the crowded post office.

Finally… finally! It was my turn, “155 to counter G”. You had to go fast because some cashiers would push the button for the next person if they didn’t see you get up, and I didn’t want to lose my spot! I go up, ask for postcard stamps, and she says “Oh, I’m zorry… I have run out of postcard stamps… you have to go over zere and stand in zee line, but it’s really fast. Zere is really no wait. That man will help you over there,” at the self service kiosks. And with that, adieu!

I didn’t go to the self-service kiosks earlier because they weren’t moving, and the line was long. And now, the line was still long, and they weren’t moving. UUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! I am not a fan of standing in line. But these post cards need to get in the mail! I am so close…

So I get in line. The super slow line that is not as gratifying as the bubblewrap ice cream line from yesterday, and various nationalities are there not understanding the kiosks, and asking the one guy for help, and there’s a lady really nervous about everything, asking “where’s my change going to come out? WHERE’S MY CHANGE GOING TO COME OUT??” Finally it was my turn, after about a half an hour (this is not how I planned to spend my time in London!), and I went to the kiosk, tapped the right buttons to get nine post card stamps, and put in my card.

Declined.

Put in my business card (I hardly ever do that)… declined.

Put in my other, and last card. DECLINED.

In total frustration I leave, without stamps, vowing to not pay the Queen my postage money, rather to send them from Paris. Hopefully I can buy some meager stamps in Paris! Bleh, this day is not staring off right… although I will admit, I wanted the whole Europe experience, and standing in line for stamps for a couple of hours was part of it.

To my surprise The Trio was still patiently waiting outside the post office… for some reason I thought they might have gone on to see one (or seven) sites of London. They had enough time. We set out, no in search for what should have been breakfast, then became brunch, and was shortly going to be a late lunch.

What to eat? So many options… but for some reason we chose a chinese buffet. Seemed like the right choice at the time… it was satisfying, but nothing special. No more chinese buffets for me on this trip… seriously.

Then we walked by the pelicans (a gift from some king to the king of England in the 1600’s), and tons of ducks and duck-like birds at what I think is Duck Island in St. James Park (across from the Churchill War Rooms). Unfortunately you can just walk by and gawk… it’s closed to visitors :(

From there we walked around the corner and went to Buckingham Palace, which is big, and majestic, but nothing was there… no guards, not even tourists. So we kept going around, turned right, through some kind of majestic gates that must have been about four stories tall, and started to head to The Shake Shack. But first, through the plaza area, in front of the free museum. There was a protest from Nigerians saying to uncolonize it, and let the country split back into two. there must have been a hundred people there for that. There was another guy from Sierra Leon who was making these bracelets… cool right? But when he finished, tre cool! Look at this neat British design… he made one for Sam out of scratch, and then pulled one already done for Ellie. We told him we didn’t have any cash so he said to just keep them.london_last_bracelets

Wait… didn’t we already eat? Yes. Was Shake Shack really that good? Yes, apparently (William said he had a burger with a big mushroom in it… the patty and mushroom were deep fried and so good)! But we weren’t going there to eat… we were going there because Ellie paid for dinner there yesterday and then noticed that they double charged her! Almost $50. Okay, that was worth enough to walk there (1.9 miles, it is right by the Queen’s Theatre)… and of course, the Trio wanted to get the Bubblewrapped ice cream.

I, now, was frustrated that all three of my cards were declined, and was concerned about the next three weeks with card problems. So I borrowed Ellie’s phone to look up my bank phone number… but the internet was so painfully slow (like, not working at all) that it wasn’t going to happen (for while).

We go to Shake Shack, where they had free ice water in a pitcher (THANK YOU SHACKERS), and the manager was super duper kind and said he’d take care of it right now, and that she’d see it resolved on her card in about three days. Great… mission accomplished! Now, the next most important thing was bubble icecream! It was literally right around the corner and interestingly, the line there was bigger than the line the night before (with more tourists). These must have been the introvert tourists, who didn’t want to do it in front of large crowds, but got up early (okay, noon isn’t early) to get their bubble on. They have a weird system, apparently, where you go in, pay, then get in line to get your grub. Looked like we’d be there for a while. This only cost 6 pounds each… here’s what they got:
bubblewrap_icecream

I borrowed Ellie’s phone again and went down the street to a hotel with free wifi to get the number of my bank. Called them, they said to do Option A or B, to let them know that I was out of the country. Rookie move, I know, to not do that before I left, but I had a gazillion other things to do before I got on the plane from SLC, and I figured I could take care of that from the road. No… I had to have my wife go in to the branch and put a “travel note” on my card so that when I went to buy stamps, or pay a taxi, or whatever, I could. Thankfully she was able to do that pretty quickly.

I also called my credit card company and that was a nightmare. Hard to understand English, and the guy was nice “I’m sorry, we’ll get this resolved today,” blah blah blah. Mind you, I’m standing outside of this hotel on a busy London street with gobs of tourists, but I found a pocket of quiet where I could divulge my password, social security number, credit card number, secret three digits on the back of the card, and anything else that an identity thief would want… if you think that’s easy to say outloud in London you probably haven’t been here.

Again, I found my quiet private place and had the conversation. “We have to text your phone to give you a code, so we know you are you.” “But my phone is in a uber car… it’s really stolen.” (at this point that’s my story, since Uber is not responding, and we are leaving London soon) “Oh, well then answer this question and that one, and then we’ll call you back.” “What number will you call me back at, since you won’t call Ellie’s phone? My phone is stolen.” “I can’t tell you that, but we’ll call you back… ” “I’m in the middle of London, my card isn’t working… and you say you’ll call me back on my stolen phone that I don’t have??” “We’ll call you back or we’ll send you a letter…” “A LETTER? I’M IN LONDON!!”

The rest of conversation was short, and not worth repeating. Plus, it wasn’t family friendly. My heavens, I get the fraud and theft thing, but send me a letter while I’m out of the country? (deep breaths, deep breaths)

Okay, Plan D is, I guess, use Ellie’s card for the next three weeks. Not interested in that.

By this time it seemed like more than half the day was gone… and it was. Let’s head out to the London Tower, get some pics, and who knows after that. Go with the flow.

Instead of walking a couple of miles we opted to spoil ourselves and get a taxi. Couldn’t be that bad… it’s only a couple of miles. The taxi driver was an awful lot like the actor for the innkeeper from Les Mis the night before… tall, very tall. The car looked like it was from the fifties (it was apparently only 15 years old), and the two miles turned into at least thirty minutes. “I’m sorry it’s so slow… they took a lane away from us (the drivers) and gave it to the bikes… so now this whole area is very slow.” That’s progress for you.

We finally got there and the lane was blocked by tourist buses… the driver wasn’t sure where to park so he pulled in behind the buses and blocked at least one lane of very busy rush hour commuters. Long story short, everyone was honking at him, waiving at him, he was yelling “something wankers!!! What do you expect me to do??” It was all very entertaining although I have to confess I was glad that the semi didn’t hit our little tin can of a car.
london_wanker_defined

He let us off and we walked a couple hundred yards to The Famous Bridge… which really was quite beautiful and majestic. We were also at the London Tower, which isn’t a tower at all! It is a medival castle, a palace, it was a prison for a few hundred years, and had all kinds of amazing, rich history.

Of all my regrets in London, it’s that we didn’t spend a full day there! It was huge and awesome, but we got there at five and the very nice lady who worked there (from Florida) said “I really don’t recommend it now, you’ll only have 30 minutes before we close.” DARN!!! This is what we should have done first thing today!!

That’s okay… go with the flow. But I’m not missing another chance like this on the rest of this trip… we’ll have to be smarter, and plan better.

So we walk to and across the bridge… here’s proof:
london_last_bridge

Here’s proof we were there (not photoshopped, promise!):london_last_bridge_meWilliam

From there decide to look for Shakespeare’s Globe… or the replica of The Globe (the original burned down, then a few years later the rebuild was demolished, and the replica was moved to the water). We walked through the wharf vendors area, which was a lot of crooked streets with fish salesmen… the smell was stenchful. Not sure how else to put it. There were lots of little pub-like things with people drinking, and vendors where tearing down their shops… we walked through and finally got to I think the financial district… found a Waitrose store and went on the hunt for bottled water (still, not sparkling).

We found Waitrose brand water bottles for 17 pence. SEVENTEEN? Is that a type-o? Does anything in this expensive town cost just 17 pence (pennies)? Not a type-o. We got two and hit the road… on the way to The Globe!

We finally found it and the girls saw that Romeo and Juliette was on at 7:30… and yes, of course we were up for a Shakespeare play in THE PLACE that it should be shown. But… they were sold out, and the standby line was (of course) too long. So we opted for an uber (only $8 to get home) and waited. Where we were waiting was a poster that showed info about the play… they did it gothic style. Would have been interesting, I’m sure, but gothic isn’t my thing.

The uber driver pulls up in his nice Mercedes and off we go, headed for home. We hit the beds (there is literally no room to be anywhere else in the hotel) and rest a bit. I catch up on my blogging and the kids decided to start a contest on Instagram… tag two friends and we’ll send you a postcard from London!

Oh yeah, I got up the nerve to call my credit card company again. I really didn’t want to have the same frustrating conversation with them… I took a good twenty or so minutes to call them. Fortunately, I talked to Lyn, and she treated me the way you should… within a short period of time she had me all taken care of! Balance restored!

At about 8:15 I say “we have to go eat! They are going to shut down soon!” So, we jump up and head out, with no direction, just walking around the area of our hotel… surely there is a good restaurant here somewhere. Of course, we passed by a half dozen that didn’t grab our attention (we’re not eating Italian until we get to Italy), and finally find a pub that had dinners for $7 or $8 each. Hey, last night in London, might as well go traditional, right?

Turned out to be one of the best meals we had in this town. William had Shepard’s Pie (and was disappointed when it really was Sheppard’s Pie, and not Pie of the Day) which was lamb stew with mashed potatoes on the top, Sam had chicken curry (green – it was meh okay) and I had prawn curry (red – it was awesome!) and Ellie had Mac & Cheese.

Let me tell you something about Ellie. She LOVES Mac & Cheese. She’s on a quest to find the best in the world. This isn’t the first time she ordered it. She shared a bit with me last night and wowzers, English Mac & Cheese is GOOOOOD. It was the best I have ever had.

Our waitresses were really cool… one was from Italy, near Venice, and the other was from Spain. We had fun chatting with them, and we had one of the best discussions at our table about England colonizing most of the world, and the impact it had, from language to culture, and the cost of colonizing (on the locals), etc. It was deep and fun.

We walked home, again enjoying a beautiful walk in London at night. The Trio did their dance (once in each country, remember), and it was comical. They did it twice… first time there was a couple walking during the dance, and then stopped and practically faced the wall. I said “I’m doing a social study, and wondering why you didn’t watch them?” The Trio cracked up and the validity of my study was ruined :/ The second dance was right outside our hotel, and there was this older English lady that kept walking, and finally realized she was (a) about to be in a dance, and (b) in a video. It was hilarious to watch her maneuver around the Trio while they danced.

We got got home around 11 or so (I think), well-fed, after the nice walk, and were ready to call it a day! I updated the blog for the two days before today, and called it good.

Tomorrow is travel day – ugh. This is not my favorite thing to do… but it’s part of the journey. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong!

RANDOM

Here’s a random picture of what William looks like in London:
london_last_william_random

Here’s a picture of our London hotel room from my bed. This place didn’t win any awards from the Trio, but it was only $80 a night, which is a lot better than $270/night. This room was tiny… last night we figured out that the Chicken Coop I almost finished before leaving was bigger than this room! LOL.

Clockwise, notice the light switch (this is how they all were in London), the bathroom that you had to step a foot up to get into (not easy for me to get out of :p), notice the walkway… very small. The internet was spotty, and we had the window open all night which meant breathing a lot of second hand smoke, and the floors creaked like nothing I’d ever experienced. We were on the third floor… no elevator, and the steps were narrow… getting luggage in and out was a feat. In fact, getting me in and out was a feat :p But, the price was RIGHT, and we spent very little on Uber or taxis because we were withing walking distance… score!london_last_room