mercoledì 30 maggio 2012

First Full Day in Venezia


Gondolas

Since our tour book was outdated and we didn’t have the whole weekend planned, we decided we would “get lost” in Venezia since many different people suggested it! We traveled during the “low season” but there were still TONS of people everywhere, except during riposo (between 2-4). We decided we would wander around the city and see all the different things.  There were a few things we wanted to see:  The Wake House (Casa Astrom), Piazza San Marco, Murano, and the Rialto Bridge.  We also wanted to ride on the canal.  Matt wanted to see the fish markets (stinky smelly fish markets J) and we wanted to see all the different carnival masks.  So we loaded the baby in the ERGO and put on real shoes (no flip flops), and took all the warm clothing we had, and just started walking. We headed towards the Rialto Bridge (which was around the corner from our hotel). 
Rialto Bridge


View from the Rialto Bridge


After we hung out on the bridge and took some pictures, we had to make a choice of left or right!!  We chose to go to the left.  The next goal was to find breakfast or something similar!  There are not a lot of “breakfast” places and we ended up finding an awesome coffee shop with mini quiches and wonderful breakfast pastries, and cappuccino!  One thing that is very different than American coffee shops is that everyone stands at the bar and drinks the coffee quickly.  It is not as hot as American coffee and you can’t get a Venti!! After our breakfast we continued our walk. While we strolled through Venezia, we saw a variety of interesting things.  I saw a random man carrying an arm (mannequin arm but still weird).  There were lots of dogs throughout the city which I thought was odd because of all the water! The dogs were wearing coats! We saw an Irish Pub (Matt was super excited) run by Chinese people. There were very few garbage cans throughout the city.!We found lots little piazzas in the middle of buildings.  One of the little piazzas had an awesome market with delicious cheeses so we bought a block.  In this same piazza, there was an ice skating rink.  It seemed so out of place.  Probably the coolest part of the ice skating rink was the penguin helpers!  The little kids held onto the penguins to help them learn to ice skate.  We left the piazza and we found a Coop, local grocery store.  The stores are very small and jammed packed! We bought some meat, clementines, and bread to go with our cheese.  And some water because water cost $0.35 for a 2 liter but on the street it cost 2 euro! We walked until we got to the end of the city!  We ended up at a point that was the perfect location for a picnic.  So we sat and ate our bread, cheese, meat, and clementines while looking at the Grand Canal.  The only thing missing was a bottle of wine!! 

Our Lunch View

After lunch, we had to back track a little since we reached the “end.”  We decided we would have a direction in mind this time and headed to see Peggy Guggenheim’s collection (which coincidentally was located near the Wake house which I wanted to see!).  We went to the museum and saw lots of neat artwork: Picasso, Polluck, Dali, Kadinsky.  The baby LOvED looking at the artwork, especially all the colorful works. 
Sculptures at the Guggenheim...can't take pictures inside!


When we left the museum we decided to look for the Wake house. Wake Forest has a house on the Grand Canal for students who want to study abroad.  Unfortunately with my major, you had to study abroad first semester sophomore year (who is ready to leave all the wonderful new friends and freedom of college)or second semester senior year (who is ready to leave all the old friends and carefree last semester of college??.  All I knew about the location of the house is that it is on the Grand Canal and near the Guggenheim….little did I know it was right next door to the Guggenheim!  We walked out and started to actually look for the house and it was literally right there!  The visiting hours were only Wednesdays (it was a Saturday) and the rule follower in me was very disappointed.  Luckily, my husband knocked on the door anyway!  We were given a tour of the house and a little taste of what it would have been like to study abroad! 






The Courtyard of the Wake House!
 After the Wake house, we decided to head back towards the hotel.  We found a little restaurant for dinner, which had fantastic calamari.  As we got closer to the hotel, I convinced Matt that we needed to have a banana and chocolate crepe!  And it was delicious! First day of Venezia was wonderful!

There is actually some grass in Venezia!

Narrow Alleyway

Fishheads...yuck
Carnivale Masks


venerdì 11 maggio 2012

Venezia

Even though we were in TLA, we decided to take a trip for Martin Luther King weekend.  Matt, the baby and I went to Venezia for a long weekend.  This was our first “real” trip while living in Europe (real means more than a day trip, one that requires a suitcase and a dog sitter!).  We got a good deal on EasyJet (although the baby cost 24 euro to sit on our laps).  Matt found a good deal on a hotel that was right near the Rialto Bridge and we our friends agreed to dog sit.  There is even free parking since the base is right next to the airport.  Everything seemed perfect!
Our flight was at 18:00 so Matt took the bus to work that morning.  The baby and I were going to meet him at 14:00 for a Hail and Farewell and then we were going to be off on our big trip!  Everything seemed right on track so I checked my email to make sure Matt didn’t forget anything (his phone doesn’t work in his secret security office) and read an update from the Ombudsman (person who is supposed to keep all the spouses informed about all the important information).  The email told me that there was an airline strike from 12:00-16:00.  Yep, that is right!  An extra stress in the form of a strike (I am already a stressful flyer.  I have this irrational fear that I will miss a flight even though (knock on wood) I have never missed a flight.  I have only come close once and that was flying with Jay and Tracie who are always delayed.)  I decided there is not much I can do about the strike…maybe our flight will be delayed but at least it won’t be cancelled since it was not scheduled during the striking time. 
I dropped the dog off at our friends’ hotel room and loaded the baby in her car seat.  Everything was in the car and we were ready to go!  I realized this was the first time I had driven by alone in Europe AND the first time I had driven to Capodichino.  Hmmm…this may or may not be a good idea!  Luckily, I was able to find Capodichino in the recent destinations on the GPS.   And you don’t have to drive too far in “downtown” traffic, if you go the right way. Which of course, I remembered Matt saying something about not taking the first exit and taking the second one labeled Capodichino so I was good to go. 
Driving on the autostrada for the first time was a bit exciting.  I am not going to lie, when I got to 100 kph, I felt hardcore.  Granted, 100 kph is only 62 mph but seeing the number exceed 100 was pretty exhilarating.  I came to the Capodichino exit with signs towards the airport.  And I didn’t take the first one, even though the sign said aeroporta.  And the GPS told me to take it.  I decided that my memory of the conversation with Matt was correct even though the signs and the GPS were contradicting me. Tip-listen to the GPS and the signs instead of confused mommy memory. At least, I got to experience my first scary Italian driving moments!  I ended up in a very very congested traffic circle with cars and mopeds going every direction.  Luckily, I was able to pull a Clark and go the full traffic circle to head back towards the aeroporta.  And I survived a really crazy driving area. 
I finally made it to the base and parked where Matt told me to park and then walked to meet him.  Little did I know, the walk was pretty far.  And the baby gets pretty heavy.  And the diaper bag is awkward.  And shoes don’t stay on her feet.  When I finally got to the restaurant, I was ready to give Matt the baby!  It is a good thing he is a baby hog!  Of course, he says, why didn’t you bring the ERGO, and reminded me that I was supposed to take the second left not the second exit!  Oops.
When the Hail and Farewell was over, we did the hike back to the car to get all the luggage and head to the airport.  This time he carried the baby.  Our luggage was one suitcase, and two carry-on bags (diaper bag and Matt’s backpack).  Yes, you read that right, we packed ALL three of us into one suitcase!  And I packed our travel bassinet in the suitcase because we were not sure the hotel would have a port-a-crib. I was impressed by us! 
Now that we were headed to the aeroporta, we started to actually think about the strike and wonder what it would be like.  But when we got there at 15:45, there was nothing going on. I guess it was over.  Or not that big!  Thank goodness, I didn’t stress too much about it.  I actually thought it would make my story more interesting! 
Time to check into our flight and drop off our bag, which you think would be simple.  EasyJet has a bright orange logo.  But for some reason, the kiosks for the airlines were not clearly labeled and there were several bright orange signs throughout the airport!  We asked for directions to the kiosks, checked our bag, and headed to the gate.  EasyJet is similar to Southwest in the first come first serve idea but since we had the baby would we be allowed to board first.  Unfortunately, we were allowed to board the shuttle first!  Along with 60 other people.  When the shuttle unloaded, it was a mad house!  The Europeans were serious about getting on the plane first!  One man shoved me and the baby out of his way.  Both the front and the back of the plane are utilized for the boarding of the plane.  We chose the back and got a row towards the back.  As we got on, the flight attendant handed me the seatbelt attachment for the baby and we got settled.  The baby seat belt slides onto the adult seat belt and wraps around the baby’s waist.  It is the most ridiculous thing ever because if the plane crashed, the baby would slam into the seat because of the seat belt.  And it made it awkward to move the baby and get her comfortable.  But I am a rule follower so I used the seat belt.
The flight was uneventful which is what I like for my plane flights!  There was a couple who was next to us who were very clearly American.  We ended up having a casual conversation while waiting to de-board the plane.  The woman, Katherine, was sharing with us how to get to Venezia using the waterbus or the taxis. 
After we got off the plane, we headed to the baggage claim.  This was the first thing I saw:

If you know my family (mother really) you know we like to gamble.  And if you knew my Uncle Bobby, you know that gambling in our family has to be consistent.  Everyone has four numbers that are “their” numbers which are used in roulette and/or keno.  Bobby even played his numbers in a certain order every time.  I saw the baggage carousel and immediately took a picture.  I was amazed and excited that the impromptu picture captured Bobby’s numbers. Made me feel connected to him even though he is no longer with us.
We found our luggage carousel and got our bags and went to the kiosk to buy our water bus tickets.  Somehow we ended up chatting with Katherine and Brandon again.  Katherine was a girl that you want to hate when you see her.  She was incredibly stylish, cute, knowledgeable, organized, a firecracker if you will!  She had every detail of the weekend planned out and an itinerary printed.  I had a book I checked out from the library which ended up being worthless.  The book was so old that the currency was lira, not euro!  We ended up deciding to split a water taxi (100 euro) and if we couldn’t get a water taxi, the waterbus was at the same dock.  Brandon apparently was a really good negotiator. When we got to the dock, there were two water taxis waiting and Brandon tried to get one for 100 euro.  The guy wanted 120 euro (the water bus is 30 euro per person).  We decided to wait and see if we could talk him down or if he would decide we were better than nothing but another group came and jumped on the taxi.  As soon as the taxi drove off, another one pulled up.  They make it look like there are no taxis and you must take the one there because it is the last one, but they wait just out of view for the taxi to leave!  Anyway, Brando tried to talk to the next guy and somehow it went from 100 euro to 160 euro.  So we decided to take the waterbus. 
This was the baby’s first boat!  It was a 20-30 minute boat ride and you couldn’t see much because it was dark.  The boat took us to the Rialto Bridge stop and we jumped off. 



Now to find the hotel!  Using your smart phone GPS is difficult in alleys of Venezia because the buildings are made of thick stone and you can’t get a good signal!  Matt seemed to know where he was going and we wandered a few blocks.  We found a little advertisement alley.
We found a little piazza and a little canal and bridge.  Although we were pretty sure we were close to the hotel, we could not find it so in the open area of the bridge, we double checked the GPS and ended up in an alley.  That didn’t seem right to use so we cut down another alley and ended up back at the piazza.  We wandered a little more and I was starting to get a little worried that maybe the hotel didn’t exist when we found the hotel door, which we had passed at least twice.  After checking in (you MUST bring your passports when you travel and the hotels make a copy of them when you check in. also you must pay a room fee in cash when you check out), the hotel manager walked us to our room; which was out the front door, around the block towards the bridge, and down the alley that we first wandered along.  There was a random door with no label that we used the key and went up the stairs.  There were about ten rooms and we were room number 2.
We have a baby.  In Italy!

As I mentioned before, I packed a travel bassinet which probably took up at least a third of our suitcase.  This was a big debate before we left and Matt finally said that it would come if we had room, if not, she could sleep in a drawer.  For future reference when traveling in Europe, there are NO drawers in hotel rooms.  This makes since when you think about the fact that Europeans use armoires instead of dressers. So we were both very glad that we had her little bed so we didn’t have to share the two twin beds pushed together.  Our hotel room had a canal view, a private bathroom, and a big bed.  The bathroom had a towel warmer and a hairdryer.

Two twin beds pushed together to make a king. The thinest pillows ever!

Armoire

Weirdest looking hair dryer!

View from our room
Our balcony (picture from the bridge by our canal view)


We put our stuff down and let the baby fidget on the bed for about twenty minutes but then we had to go find something to eat.  It was 22:00 so there was not much opened.  We found a little restaurant that had panini and pizza in the window so we ordered a panini for me and a piece of pizza for Matt.   Matt loves to eat on the go from little shops like this.  I prefer to sit and eat.  This might be because I am a messy eater.  Or maybe it is because at little shops like this, they just micro-waved the food in the display!!  So needless to say our first meal in Venezia was less than stellar.  We wondered a little bit on our way back to the room to eat our microwave meal but ended up going home so the baby could get out of her ERGO.


Stayed tuned for the rest of the adventure!!

lunedì 7 maggio 2012

Cleaning

I am not the neatest of people.  I don’t really know how to stay organized.  I think part of the reason is I am cheap therefore I don’t like to spend lots of money on shelves, baskets, and other organizing tools.  I have learned that to be organized everything must have a place but that doesn’t happen in my house.  I am working on this problem a little at a time but its even worse here with no storage!! 
It would surprise my mother that I am really working hard on being neat.  As my husband says, I try to “tidy then chill.”  I run the vacuum multiple times a week.  I do laundry and fold it the same day (MOST of the time!!).  I unload the dishwasher when it is clean, not when I need the dish! I sweep (and actually enjoy it!) often and mop once or twice a week.  I put the baby's toys away every night, even though I am just going to get them back out the next day. I even make my bed! If you have met me, this is a BIG improvement.  In previous apartments, I would vacuum when I moved out and maybe once every three months.  I am pretty sure I did not mop in any of my apartments.  I would just spot clean when I spilled on the floor.  And an occasional swiffer.  I know this makes me sound really gross but I am not.  I am messy, not dirty. 
In Italy, I am feeling like things are ALWAYS dirty.  I am not sure if there is more dirt or dust in the air, if it’s the tile floors, or if my cleaning abilities are seriously subpar.  I feel like immediately after mopping, the floor looks dirty again.  Or after dusting the tables, there seems to be another layer of dust that reappears.  It’s like the trick birthday candles that go out and immediately re-light.  You clean and immediately its time to do it again.
One area of cleaning that I know is not my fault is the dishwasher.  Italians don’t typically use dishwashers so they don’t work as well as American ones.  We wash the dishes by hand (where they are probably clean enough to be dried and put away) before we put them in the dishwasher.  And somehow, they still aren’t necessarily clean when the dishwasher is finished!  How do your dishes get dirty in the dishwasher??? 
Even if you clean the bathroom, it doesn’t seem to get clean.  Part of the problem in the bathroom is the water is so harsh and leaves calcium deposits on everything.  I mean, we have to clean our showerhead with vinegar once every three months.  I clean the bathtub after every bath and it still seems to have a feeling of a layer of calcium.
I hope that guests who come to my house don’t feel like the house is as dirty as I feel like it is.  It is a hopeless case!

venerdì 4 maggio 2012

Gardening

I am the worlds’ worst gardener.  I actually have a black thumb as opposed to a green thumb. My father on the other hand is a very talented gardener.  We grew up with fresh fruit and vegetables every summer.  Of course, I didn’t realize how wonderful it was until I moved to California and was no longer able to enjoy the wonderful crops.  Dad grew cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, blueberries, potatoes, lettuce, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, zucchini, radishes (yuck), peas (double yuck), corn (not in several years), pumpkins, black eyed peas, and raspberries (new, I haven’t been able to have them).  He also grew lots of beautiful flowers. I am pretty sure I am forgetting something. 

Matt and I have talked about having a garden for several years.  In Pax River, his house had the perfect area that was already tilled and ready for planting.  Of course, we never planted anything.  In California, we lived in a community that had a HOA so our land was common area.  We couldn’t really plant anything but we focused on rosemary.  Matt actually brought the rosemary from Hash House A Go Go (they give you really big sprigs as a garnish) and was able to make it grow.  Unfortunately, we had to leave the plant when we moved.  Since we moved here, Matt has become more determined to actually start a garden. 



After several weekends of talking about it, shopping for supplies, we finally decided to start our new hobby (seriously, a new hobby with a 7 month old, what are we thinking).  We spent the entire day weeding the area which would hopefully become our garden.  This was a difficult task because our yard has been pretty much been overtaken by weeds.  After several hours of weeding, it was getting dark and we were not finished.  I decided to plant some of the seeds in the planter to give us a head start.
This was my first time ever mowing the lawn.  I am SUPER excited about my manual mower.  Although, I am glad we don't have a huge yard and no "real" grass!
Of course since we didn’t finish the first weekend, we were worried that it would never.  Ideally, I would finish weeding during the week but realistically I have a seven month old.  Surprisingly, I was able to weed for about a hour every day but did not finish.  So guess what our plans were the next weekend??  Gardening!
Lucy was really excited to be able to help with a family project!
video

We finished weeding the garden and then it was time to plant!  Of course, that is not as easy as you would think.  All of our seeds, fertilizers, and soil were all in Italian so we had to translate the packages first.  Second issue, we had a small garden and lots of things we wanted to plant.  We wanted to plant tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers, and cucumbers.  Who knew that plants needed to be a certain distance between plants and rows??  And did you know that squash and cucumber take up a lot of space? 
Roses-we don't get credit for these but they sure are beautiful!
After probably two hours of planning, we finally figured out the plan of our garden!  We started with onion, then tomato, peppers, cucumber, and then squash.  Each row has between 2-3 plants.  I was a little sad that we won’t have more quantity, I mean only two cucumber and two squash plants?! 

Now we are in the waiting game.  I am optimistic even though I have the black thumb. But, we have some growth in our planters! 
GROWTH!! Hopefully, it will produce lots of vegetables and fruit!

giovedì 3 maggio 2012

Pompeii

When I was in fifth grade I participated in Odyssey of the Mind.  Our project was focused on Pompeii and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Now, I have a pretty decent short term memory but my long term memory is not so great.  One of the few things I remember about OM, besides the topic, was that we made a statue that was supposed to be like one recovered from Pompeii and we made a mosaic.  I also recall we had some performance on stage for the competition.  And I am pretty sure we did not do very well in the competition part of it.
I was pretty excited when I found out we were moving to Napoli because we would be able to visit Pompeii.  And it was actually a place in Italy besides Roma, Venezia and Firenze that I had actually heard about.  There are lots of places that people said we should visit which I had never heard about.  European geography was not something I was studied well because I honestly never thought I would ever go to Europe!    
Mount Vesuvius
For the first two months, we would try to go on trips since we were in TLA and Matt’s job was still pretty limited.  Every time Matt asked me where I wanted to go, I would say Pompeii or Mount Vesuvius.  Of course, when the weekend came around something would prevent us from going.  Sometimes it was weather (too cold, too wet) or we would sleep too late or we would have houseguests or we would spend the weekend getting the house ready, or another trip to another Italian city would trump the day trip to Pompeii.  After several months of wanting to go and not being able, I got the feeling that it would be something that NEVER happened.  Or it would be in the last couple of weeks before we returned to the United States.  I was pretty disappointed that we just couldn’t get it together but I tried not to let it show.
Silly picture
FINALLY, in February, we had our second round of houseguests (Jay, Matt’s brother came to visit the week after we moved in and again in February with Tracie).  Jay is apparently just as big of a nerd about Pompeii as I am and was really excited about going.  In the back of my head, I still thought it would fall through or we would get too late of a start (you need at least 4 hours to really enjoy Pompeii).  Our neighbors were also interested in going to Pompeii so we decided we would leave Saturday morning (mid morning).  Of course, by the time we got ready and left, my breakfast was running out and I was ready to eat again. Luckily, they have an 8 year old boy who is always hungry as well so as soon as we got there we stopped for lunch.  After lunch, we were trying to figure out where to buy the tickets and how to get to the entrance as well as how to keep Jay from shopping!
Ode to the Lost Golf Club
Pompeii is a city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius but for some reason, I didn’t think that it would be very large.  But it is about the size of a downtown city.  We wandered around for several hours and probably saw about half of the city.  We are cheap so we didn’t pay the 10 euro per person to have a tour guide and we only got two of the electronic tour guides to share between 7.5 people.  Of course, no one wanted to be the one holding the information because you had to listen as well as share everything you were learning.  Jay was surprisingly fantastic at listening and sharing the information at the same time (he was also a good kangaroo carrying the baby).  I can’t really explain how amazing it was to see how advanced some of these structures were and to realize that they were created thousands of years ago!  Some of the houses had multiple rooms and were large.
Amazing marble mosiac floors
The brothel had beds made out of stone, two stories (both which were preserved) and an indoor toilet (hole in the floor).  The stones were elaborate and some of the floors were marble mosaics.  It was amazing.  Another thing about Pompeii that surprised me was that there were very few artifacts.  Most of the artifacts are in the downtown museum.  On site, there were lots of pottery pieces and a few casts of victims.  There is one cast that is a man crouching next to his goat.  It is pretty amazing.
Brothel bed
Brothel indoor toilet
I of course had a mood swing during part of the day.  When I have my mood swings, I get quiet and not pleasant to be around.  I try to keep it to myself and hope no one else (besides Matt) notices.  My mood swings (post partum and breastfeeding not just pouting!) are usually because I need to drink more water or I need a snack.  Unfortunately, I only had one bottle of water and a cereal bar.   This held me for a little bit but fortunately, the Pompeiians were so advanced they had a coffee bar right in the middle of the ruins! 
One of the cast of the victims
There were also lots of random dogs wandering around Pompeii.  Matt decided we would bring Lucy the next trip (I am not sure you are allowed to bring dogs, I think the dogs were strays).  And for the next visit I wanted to bring a tour book or get the tour guide, bring more water and snacks.  Make sure you allow lots of time, wear good shoes, and do not bring a stroller!
Tracie looks like a movie star
It is an amazing experience.   I am glad we finally made it and excited that we will get to go back several times to see even more.  Who is going to be our next guests to take to Pompeii?






Pottery Room







This is a picture that I took when I had camera duty. I like to think it is very artistic and award winning



Pictures (mostly) by Jay Langley