Sunday, March 23, 2014

Our Adventure is One-Third Over :(

Or, as you optimists like to say, another two-thirds left to enjoy. :)

A few more random thoughts at this point:

We're not on vacation. I know, hard to tell from what we've blogged so far. Our stay in Italy was a vacation. But Rob is still working, the kids are still have to study, and I still have to do the thousand things required to keep us all fed and clothed. We tried to settle into a pattern of exercise, then work, homework and housework, followed up by an outing in the afternoon, and an occasional three-day weekend. Still seems pretty cushy, I get that, but remember, this is the ideal, and the reality is that it takes way longer than it should to do the mundane but necessary stuff, so we've had to pare down our overly ambitious sightseeing list. Guess we'll just have to come back.

I will never, never, ever be "caught up." Not on this blog, not with laundry, nor with teaching my kids or studying myself. There's no so thing as "caught up" when it comes to exercising, reading, or being the mom. I know, this is a painfully obvious truth, and it's certainly not the first time I've had this realization. It's just that somewhere deep inside of me, I am a destination girl, not a "joy of the journey" person. I need to just get over it. And yet...

Procrastination never was happiness. Speaking of catching up, poor Robbie has spent the past week hunkered down, 10-12 hours a day, trying to finish his remaining online assignments before his finals on Tuesday. I don't think there was any intentional procrastination, just an underdeveloped sense of the time required to finish the work. He may come by this naturally, for which I sincerely apologize. It might even be genetic...my dad still makes lists that are pages long, and estimates that he'll whip through it by the end of the day. Sigh. Hopefully now we've got better sense as his parents, and won't put him behind with another two week vacation in Italy. Wait, did I just say that?!

People still trump places and things. I've said it before, and no doubt I'll say it again. We've seen some of the most beautiful countryside in the world here in the Loire Valley, and been on what we like to call the "Parade of Chateaux", but the highlight has definitely been the opportunity to reconnect with Pierre, Solonge, Christine and Cyril, and to meet Christine's family! She and her husband Lionel have four kids too, and her two oldest girls are Ellie and Ainsley's age. They LOVE Alexia and Emmeline, and Evane and ClĂ©ment as well! I'm so excited to see Magali in two more weeks, and meet her kids too! Much more coming on the fun we've had together, I promise! Long walks, playing cards, learning petanque, trying the rider mower, delicious meals, jumping on the trampoline, going to a movie, the playground, school...not necessarily "tourist" things to do, but a little taste of real life, for which we are so lucky and grateful. We have been here for three and 1/2 weeks, it'll be four before we leave, can you imagine what a huge disruption to have a family of six foreigners living with you that long?!! Details can wait, but thanks can not. If only I could say this half as well in French!

You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself to learn a language. Immersion is definitely the way to learn a foreign language, and the younger, the better. I think this may be partly because kids aren't worried about what other people think of them quite so much. It has been awesome to watch the girls try and communicate with their new friends. They haven't learned much French (not really an immersion experience for them, since we speak English), but they use google translate on their iPods, and plenty of body language, and have a great time. Junior high kids might be at a serious disadvantage, being at that awkward age when everything is embarrassing. I have done my best to demonstrate by example what it means to look like an idiot in pursuit of communication though. :) Once we were at dinner, and I was trying to remember the word for "duck" and I simply flapped my arms and said "quack" in order to make myself understood. Learning to speak another language is a great way to stay (or become) humble. There's no waiting until you've got it perfect, or even passable...you just have to jump in and try. Luckily most people are super understanding and helpful when you do this. There is certainly a life lesson here. Who knows what we can achieve if we learn to let go of perfectionism and the need to impress others?

Maybe I could even learn to enjoy the journey and become an optimist. :)




Tuesday, March 18, 2014

First Day in France

February 1, 2014

We left Cantu around 2:00 p.m. on the 31st, and drove for a little over four hours to Nice, France. It was dark when we got there, and as we drove through the maze of tiny, winding roads to find our hotel, we passed a few signs that led me to believe that I'd booked us rooms in the red-light district. Luckily the hotel was fine, and no one saw more than signs. :)

We had dinner at a restaurant across the street from our hotel and went to bed exhausted.

We got up bright and early for the hotel's breakfast and a quick walk through the park and down to the beach.

Everyone agreed that they could use more beach time, cold or not.



Rob, about to bite into the hamburger rock he found:


Ellie and Ainsley had pockets full of rocks and sea glass.








Here we are on the famous Promenade des Anglais:


Joey's got the hat and scarf look still going strong, and Ainsley is in star mode with her shades:



We took a different route back, so we got to see the main shopping streets and a few cool plazas.



Our drive to Fitou was a little stressful, first just trying to get out of a tight parking garage in the beast without a scratch (we didn't succeed) and then because although our credit card worked just fine on the toll roads in Italy, it did not work in France, so at almost every stop, we had to push the assistance button and wait for someone to come collect our cash, sometimes with a string of angry drivers behind us. Credit cards in Europe are more advanced than our cards in the U.S., they have a built-in chip instead of a magnetic strip. It's been an ongoing adventure to discover where our cards will work and where they won't. We've gotten used to carrying enough cash as back-up.

But I digress. We did eventually make it to our rental in the tiny village of Fitou, and were thrilled with the view and villa! Here's a tour, courtesy of Ainsley:


We unpacked a bit, then left the kids relaxing while we went to the huge Carrefour supermarket in a nearby town to stock up. It was great to sit down and enjoy a simple meal together, knowing that we wouldn't have to live out of our suitcases for a whole month!


More on Fitou coming soon...I'll try to enlist my more-colorful and entertaining guest bloggers. :)

Loving Lake Como and Cantu

Drumroll... because Ellie Marsh is at it again. Okay, here I am!!!!!! 
I know you're excited but, you don't have to keep clapping.

We finally reached Cantu after another one of those long car rides, and here we are at dinner with Mom's old friends. Starting in the front I will name the people I know: Ainsley, Me, Pino, Carla, Michelle, and though I may not know those two in the back well enough to know their names (yes, don't judge me) I do know they are the parents of Filippo (see below). Everyone was very nice. Pino took us all to dinner at this restaurant, and was letting us stay in his apartment which was very nice of him. Carla bought us a bunch of groceries, including a bunch of treats, like Smores puffed marshmallows, Kinder Maxis, and one of our favorite Italian foods...NUTELLA!

(Note from the editor, Michelle: we arrived the evening of Tuesday, January 28th. Pino was the assistant coach in Cantu when I was a nanny for the Mannions back in 1990. He is now the top basketball coach in Europe! Carla is his girlfriend of 10+ years, and we loved her immediately. Sergio is Pino's brother, another friend of mine, and we loved meeting his wife Loredena and their son, Filippo.)

And at the kids side of the table: Ellie, Ainsley, Filippo, Joey and Robbie.


And here we all are except for Robbie who at the time was taking the photo. And last but not least: SCORE- 1 for the adults because I'm happy!


Here we are enjoying the beautiful day in Lake Como. P.S. Don't look directly at my face I was car-sick.

(Another editor's note: This was Thursday, January 30th...on Wednesday, January 29th we spent the morning catching up on homework, and the afternoon visiting my friend Alex, but we forgot to take a photo.)


Another strained smile...

And this one is almost willing.


So is this one.



After the long car ride we all deserved a break and ate at this surprisingly good place I don't remember the name of.


And here we are at an amazing cathedral in Milan. Why they named it after a disney princess...well, don't ask me, I don't know.


I do realize fairly often that in Italy we always were caught with umbrellas, I'm curious who crossed with Mother Nature.


The girls in front of the mall.


In front of the mall are: Ellie, Ainsley, and the girly guys.


Take a look inside.


And take a million photos.


And here's me being just so cute.


And Ainsley too (she looks like a grape I'll just have to call her Grape Girl!).


Sometimes I wish there were seats on the metro but there never are, isn't it weird!!!!


Back in Cantu for now. This my Mom's friend Alex. He is really nice. we talked for almost two hours with him and he bought us pastries and coke! He was really, really, really, REALLY  nice!!!! Like everybody else!

(We stopped by just for a photo, since I'd forgotten to take one the day before. The boys were tired after the day at Lake Como and Milan, so they missed out on the photo, even though they were there for our visit the day before.)

Another photo but I doubt that surprises you anymore.


There always needs to be a photo of everyone so we had to take a selfie.


Last day in Cantu and we had a good dinner to look forward to. (If Carla and Pino ever invite you to dinner say yes!!!!!)


And Carla with me and Ainsley... I'm never going to forget her!!!! She's way too nice!! And, she is a writer! She works at a newspaper, but has also written books! When I told her I wanted to be a writer when I grow up, she gave me a copy of her book, and even said I could write an article for her newspaper!! I haven't done it yet though...maybe if my parents would quit making me do homework (hint, hint)!


Next to me are Carla's sister's daughters they are learning English.


Here's the one of everybody...


And another photo, I don't think my Mom can help herself.


We loved meeting Pino and Carla, I even said they were like a long-lost aunt and uncle! We will miss them!!


The next day we stopped at the basketball arena to say goodbye to Pino and give him the keys to his apartment and some gifts to Pino and Carla to thank them. After all, who knows when we'll see them again! :(

(Friday, January 31st)


And finally another good-bye. I've learned how hard good-byes are but I try not to think about it. We'll never forget you guys (Pino and Carla and Alex and so on and so forth...)

With much love,
Ellie Marsh



Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Night and a Day and a Night and a Half Day in Venice

Guest post by Rob.

I guess if no one else is going to write about what we've been doing, I might as well.

At the end of the last episode, our heroes had just left Florence, headed toward Venice. We got there just as the sun went down.

A small aside: we drove through bologna on the way and would have like to have visited the birthplace of Oscar Mayer, but alas, it was not to be.



Here we are on the first bridge leading from the parking lot into Venice. Our apartment was about a half a kilometer on the island, so we had to cross several bridges before we could unload our stuff.



Our apartment was in a great location, just off the main walking route. It had everything that we needed, but the hallway outside our rooms stank. It was awful. We had to hold our breath as we unlocked the doors to get in. So the first item of business was walking to the nearby grocery store for a bottle of Oust (thank you Proctor and Gamble for this wonderful invention). We emptied more than half the bottle in our apartment and the stench became almost bearable.

On our walk to the store (and to find something to eat):



We had high hopes of finding a nice restaurant that would make everyone happy. But it was a little late and no one could agree on what to get, so we ended up at McDonald's where the kids got chicken nuggets and fries.

I know, I know... it's sacrilege to stop at an American fast food place while we're in home of pasta and other Italian delights. But here's a secret. It's actually happened several times (not just in Venice, but everywhere we go). Though we don't usually order food.

Please don't judge us.

You see, McDonald's has clean bathrooms. And traveling with four kids pretty much means that we are looking for the next toilet as much as we are looking for the next tourist attraction.

Believe me, we wish it were otherwise.

Thank you Ronald, and Mayor McCheese, and Grimace, and Hamburglar for being there for us when we needed you. You guys are awesome.

Tonight the kids got food:



Then we hopped on a water taxi to find a place where the adults could eat. We found a place rated highly on Yelp, but then Michelle felt bad about taking in three kids who wouldn't be eating, so we ended up going back to the apartment and making a couple of pizzas. On the way she took a quick photo of Pont di Rialto, the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal:



The problem with having only two weeks in Italy is that there simply isn't enough time to see everything. We only had two nights here (and a day and a half) so we had a lot to go see today.

But it was cold. Rome had been beautiful but Venice was cold and wet. And some of us weren't quite prepared for the cold. Joey and I needed hats to keep our perfectly coiffed heads warm.

So we went in search of a merchant. (See what I did there?)

Looking... looking...



Found one.

Joey sporting the only hat that a "cool guy" could possibly consider.


Then we took the express waterbus around the islands (not the Grand Canal) and got off near Saint Mark's. It was raining off and on as we walked toward the cathedral and square.



Of course, this being Venice, there are plenty of opportunities for scenic photos. Unfortunately, another side effect of traveling with a big family is that we usually get in the way of the scenery. Like here:



Michelle and the girls stopped to look for a charm for their necklaces (sorry that important moment isn't memorialized with a photo), so the boys and I started window shopping—looking into the windows of this confectionery. Look at those yummy... fish.



Yep, those are fish laying there in the window next to the tiramisu. Yum, you say. We had to get one.


Marzipan never looked so good:



These next photos are a little out of order, because we didn't actually sit down to eat our delicious friend until later that night, but you can see the kids had a lot of fun playing with our "fish". First Ellie (this is one of my favorite photos from our trip so far):




Then Robbie:



Then Ainsley:



Why no picture of Joey here? Well, there seems to be a little dispute running about who has the "right" to post a photo to Instagram. Joey wouldn't let me take his picture because he didn't want me to post the photo before he could. So to see his photo, friend him on Instagram: @johansapapa

Back to our walk through Venice. We passed canals and bridges.




And gondolas. And canals. And bridges.




And the latest fashions. Love the veiled motorcycle helmet that is "in" this year at Dior.




Getting in the way of the scenery, or making memories... depends on whether you are a painter or a grandma:



Hey, check this out. Another canal:



Here we are in Piazza San Marco (or as the Texans call it, Saint Mark's Square). This is the biggest public square in Venice, in front of the Cathedral. The girls posing...



Now everyone posing, except we're looking the wrong way. We're all watching as a seagull swoops in and steals a sandwich out of the hand of a toddler in a stroller. Also notice the second seagull who sees the same thing and photo bombs us while trying to get part of the sandwich:



In front of the Doge's Palace:



Photos weren't allowed inside the cathedral or the palace, but I grabbed a little detail shot on our way in. This guy is carved into the top of a column in the entry way:




In the courtyard of the palace, looking toward the cathedral.



Standing under the portico at the palace, waiting for the rain to pass. These guys are cold, but having a great time.



In the background is the Bridge of Sighs—called that because it was the bridge that goes from the courts in the palace to the cold, dark, and foul-smelling prison across the canal. There are small windows on the bridge where the prisoners would get their last glimpse of the free world before being locked up. Apparently they sighed as they looked out.

Or maybe they caught a glimpse of this handsome bunch. Who wouldn't sigh?



Speaking of prison, these guys look like good candidates (taken in the dungeon):




The campanile. Notice the wet pavement and lack of tourists. We pretty much had the place to ourselves:



The clock tower:
 

Then we took the waterbus back to the apartment. Everyone was cold and a little grumpy, so we settled for a quick dinner and put everyone to bed.

The next day we took our suitcases to the car, then decided to take a last trip up the Grand Canal. The weather was a little better today. Still cold, but at least the rain had let up.

Ainsley and Dad on the waterbus back through the Grand Canal.


Everybody sitting in the open air on the waterbus and looking at the unique buildings. Michelle came out of the warm shelter just long enough to snap the picture and go back. It was cold.


A few more shots on the bus as we toured the Grand Canal one more time. One shot, three unintentionally goofy faces (usually this happens when they're trying):


A cool building on the canal. Venice is full of these:



Michelle makes a brief appearance in the open air deck on the waterbus:



I believe that is the Church of the Salute on the Grand Canal. Sadly, we didn't have time to pay a visit. Notice the smiles.:


The Doge's Palace from the Canal:




We stopped for a day-time photo at Rialto.



And because film is free, we took another.



And another from the top of the bridge looking up the canal towards the mainland.



Fun fact: My brother Jake was at the Rialto the day before someone set off a bomb there (a few years ago). Oddly he was in Boston the day before someone set a bomb off there too. Lesson: don't go anywhere the day after Jake goes.

We left Rialto and walked over to Grom for Gelato and hot chocolate. The best we've had so far. In fact, we regretted not going back for seconds as we left the island.




Love this shot Michelle took:



And this one. Blue sky makes a nice difference:



One of my favorite things to do when I get to a new city is to wander around, finding cool stuff that isn't in the tourist books. Or stumbling across a nice little restaurant, full of locals. Sadly it isn't always Michelle's favorite thing to do. After getting lost in the Jewish ghetto (everyone was getting tired and starting to whine about hunger), we stopped for a fantastic lunch at this place (forgot the name but could show you where it is on the map). The calzone was awesome. Important lesson: we wouldn't have found it if we hadn't been wandering...



Feasting with Joey and his new hat.



Then back to the car, which was parked on the roof of the parking lot, where I grabbed this last picture of Venice before we left for Cantu.


Venice was beautiful, but very cold. It was nice to have the place to ourselves, but I think we'd all like to return in warmer weather.

Let's face it. The blog is a little behind. If you want to see what we've done lately check out @marsh8 on Instgram. More photos, less witty banter.