Sunday, April 21, 2013

Happy Birthday Sydney

Sydney spent most of her birthday at school.  But at 4:00 pm she came bursting in anxious to open her gifts.  She was very pleased with everything she receieved.  Justice gift card, smencils, dreamlight, American Girl books, Toys R Us gift card, cowgirl boots, duct tape, slip & slide.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


We had a full day of sightseeing planned for Rome.  There is just so much to see and so little time.  We only had about 4 hours in Rome so there was no way to see all it had to offer. Plus it was Good Friday and the first of the newly appointed Pope.  The crowds would surely be exorbitant.  Number one on everyone’s list was the Colosseum.  We took the train into the city from our cruise port in Civitavecchia.  A quick transfer to the Roma subway line and when we walked up the stairs to ground level there she was right in front of us, the grand Colosseum.  It is a magnificent structure with intricate architecture for its time in history.  Thank goodness, for Matt’s preplanning.  We already had tickets purchased and bypassed an extremely long line.

Afterwards we made our way to the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill before settling on Piazza Navona for lunch at an outdoor café.  The piazza was full of painters & artisans.  I spotted a beautiful painting while I was eating and after lunch we decided to purchase the piece as a reminder of our day in the piazza.

Before heading back to the train station we made a quick trip to pass the Pantheon & Spanish Steps.  I wish we could have seen more but given them time allotted and massive crowds in the city I think we accomplished a lot.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Happy Birthday Andrew


Happy 8th Birthday Andrew!!!

Andrew opted for a birthday lunch at 5 Guys Burgers and fro yo at Menchies.  Then decided to forgo the afternoon plans of a movie to head back home and play outside since the weather was a beautiful 70 degrees today. 

Saturday, April 06, 2013


Tunis, Tunisia would be our family’s first visit to an Arabic country.  Tunisia is in the southern Mediterranean on the continent of Africa.  This would also be Matt & the kid’s first visit to the continent of Africa.

Unfortunately, there had been recent civil unrest in the capitol of Tunis.  Many economic protests and protesters setting themselves on fire. 

We ventured into the small market place near our ship.  The kids spotted the camels right away and the high pressure, no questions asked sales tactics had them both up on top of the camel in seconds.  In the end it turned out fine since we were the first riders of the day they got an extra-long ride so the other passengers could get a good look.  Sydney of course loved her camel, Ali Baba and would take him home if we could. 

We strolled through the market where more high pressure sales ensued.  We told the kids that here if you touch it that means you buy it.  Which did the trick; they kept their hands away from every trinket handed to them. 

Later that afternoon we returned to the market without the children and did some shopping and had a snack in a nice little café.  When we returned I showed Sydney a drum I purchased for Andrew and she asked “who touched it”, remembering my earlier warning. 

Valencia, Spain

Valencia is home the largest aquarium in Europe the Oceanografic Institute.   Only a couple miles walk from the ship which our kids (bambinos) now consider a short walk.  Along the way we met a Chinese student named Jin who attending university in Italy.  
Afterwards we made our way to this huge playground.  Its an over sized replica of Gulliver's Travels.  The kids managed to find a playground in just about every city we visited. 

We came upon several bull fighting arenas like this one during our time in Spain. I do appreciate the architecture of the building itself.  However, we did not venture inside to partake in the festivities.  I am just not  a fan of idea of bulls being baited & slowly killed in a bullring for the entertainment of the audience. 

Thursday, April 04, 2013

MSC Splendida

After another high speed train we arrived in Marseille, France where we boarded our ship the MSC Splendida.  This Italian cruise line caters to an international clientele so we met travelers from around the world.  I actually didn’t come across another American until our final day onboard.  The kids loved participating the kids club and made lots of new friends despite the language barriers.  Sydney made friends with Chantal from Italy and Gaya from Israel.  Andrew made friends with Christopher Choi from Hawaii. 

Matt and I met a lovely couple from London; Trudi & Luke.  They were great company and were more than happy to indulge me in a Kings English vocabulary lesson.

Our first port of call was Barcelona, Spain.  Montguic Castle was our destination.  We planned to take a cable car ride but found a much more economical city bus along the way.  The castle was very well maintained and several large cannons which Andrew enjoyed. 
We also visited the Christopher Columbus statue, the Magic Fountain which turned out to be not so magical that day.  We happen to visit on the day the fountain was not running :(   But we did stumble upon a fantastic produce & butcher market which I love because it gives you a such a sense of true resident living.
Sydney was over the moon with excitement by all the french bulldogs she spotted.  Europeans take their dogs everywhere; in stores, restaurants, trains, everywhere.


We booked the TVG high speed train from London to Paris.  Sydney was a bit apprehensive about traveling underwater through the Chunnel.  However, she was so busy on her IPad it was nearly over before she realized we had entered the tunnel.   We all noticed that our ears pop in tunnels at high speeds similar to the experience on a pressurized aircraft.

Paris, Oui E Vie!  We transferred over to the Paris subway line from the TGV which are not so easy to maneuver with 4 large suitcases.  Within seconds someone was already trying to hustle us, pulling us out of line and taking us to a different ticket machine and giving Matt lots of bad information.   Thankfully, he followed his gut and I never turned our back on baggage listen to his advice at this machine. 

We checked into the Novotel and headed out to find the Notre Dame.  The look and feel of Paris was quite the opposite of London.  Not quite sure how else to describe it.  The kids indulged in some gelato and crepes while we explored squares filled with people eating cafes and watching street performers.  We nearly got tackled by a man who wiped out and fell over some bicycles running away from someone.  With what we have learned very quickly hear there are many thieves, scammers and beggars who will be happy to take your money. 

The following morning we awoke early and headed off for another whirlwind city tour.  We saw the Louvre and Champs Elyse sees.

We could not help but notice the sickening smell of urine everywhere.   Public restrooms are few and far between but public urination is quite common place.  We witnessed this quite regularly so the obviously explains the smell.  So we quickly learned to avoid any standing puddles of water.  Not cleaning up after your pet is another custom I guess I must just have to get used to.

Thankfully, Matt’s high school French skills were still programmed in his brain.  We needed them on more than a number of occasions.   

Our afternoon plan was a picnic at the Eiffel Tower so we headed to this area called Rue de Cler .  This street has lots of lovely little fruit stands, flower markets, cheese stores, deli, etc.  We collected our groceries and took lots of pictures. 

We found a nice bench with a great view of the Eiffel Tower to enjoy our lunch right next to the dog park.  Everyone was very pleased.   We laid out our spread of cheese, baguette, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currents, coqulet (small hen).   It was delightful.  Sydney was paranoid about the pigeon that was circling closer and closer.  But that is not unusual, her fear of birds is quite ridiculous.  But, little did we know this pigeon would not be our last unwanted visitor.  The next was a woman who wanted us to sign a petition, we turned her away and she swiped some of our strawberries. 

Then more beggars came asking for food.  We turned them away empty handed this time.  

In between we tried to enjoy our picnic but now were a bit thrown off.  Our next visitor was an older man trying to return a gold ring that he says I lost. Trying to convince me to take it.   I’m sure he would have wanted money in return.  Matt gave him the smelly cheese he didn’t like to get rid of him.  J  The man begged for the leftover hen carcass too.  By that point nobody felt like picnicking anymore so it was his lucky day. 


After much planning we decided to take this kids on whirlwind trip of Europe for Spring Break.  We have been planning planning this trip for many months now and Matt has established an Amazing Race style of itinerary. :) 
After a relatively short fight we arrived in London about 5:30 AM.  We dropped off our bags at our hotel and headed out on the town.  We hopped aboard The Tube our first stop was Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abby.  The wind was wickedly cold which made photo ops extra challenging. 

Sydney was jazzed about our next scheduled stop, The Royal Muse.  This is royal stables of the queen which houses the carriages, tack and horses for the changing of the guard and special events.  We arrived shortly before 11 am so many of the horses were out preparing for the next guard changing but we did get to see several horses being worked in the training arena which Sydney & I very much enjoyed. 

A very frigid changing of the guard ceremony was next on our agenda.  The kids were begging us to skip the event in exchange for the comforts & warmth of the hotel.  The hundreds of people crowding about were not leading themselves to seeing much anyway.  Too bad they didn’t provide much shelter from the wind either. 

After lunch which Andrew opted to sleep through.  The 3 hours of sleep the night before just wasn’t enough for him. J  We headed over to the London Eye.  It’s quite a spectacular structure and provides wonderful views.

I personally love all the old architecture of London and Europe in general.  That is just something we don’t have in the US.  We don’t take the time & money to create these ornate structures and whenever something is 70 + years old we want to tear it down and create something new. 

My favorite remark of the day was Andrew....  Dollars are called pounds and coins are centimeters.