Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Padova and Venice

After riding the train for five hours or so we arrived in Padova.  It was pretty late, around 7:30pm.  We decided to hit the grocery store for some items before trying to find our bnb.  Mark and I went in and left the kids outside with most of the bags.  We entered the checkout line and because I didn't understand the woman I said NO when I should have said YES to needing bags.  We started filling the bags with groceries and she totally flipped out on us.  She started yelling at me and talking to the customers behind us about us.  It was so humiliating.  We finally figured out that we needed to pay for the bags.  (No one mentioned that in the guide books!)  Mark gave her the money, but I was so upset that I had a really hard time letting it go.  It has been a long time since I haven't understood a language in a new country and that feeling of helplessness that comes with it.  After thinking about it all night, I think that next time it happens I will calmly talk to the person in English and tell them that they are being mean and do not have to treat us like that.  I tend to internalize things for a long time, so that will help me to not carry that kind of negative baggage around.  (pun intended) 

Last night we went back to the same store and guess who was there?  When we got in line Mark and I both screamed FUNDAS! at her!  LOL  I don't think she initially recognized us, but then she sure did.  She was very nice that time.  I think she realized later that she was acting totally inappropriately.
I don't forgive her.

Finding our bnb was quite the adventure.  We did not have a SIM card in our phone and trying to find a wifi hot spot was tricky.  That was our only way of communicating with our host, Nunzio, so we had to walk around trying to find one.  Eventually we made contact, but we sat outside in a dark square waiting for an hour or so.  We were tired, but happy to finally get somewhere.

On Sunday we went into Venice and if you've seen our pictures, you know it was a magical day for us.  The sun was out and the city was sparkling.  We opted to take the #1 vaporetto down the Grand Canal to St. Mark's square for the best bang for our buck.  I had forgotten that day to bring the Relief Band I had bought for Finn's seasickness, so this was going to be a good test as to whether he had outgrown the horrible seasickness that has afflicted him for so long.  He did get a big queasy, but once he stood on the rails outside he felt fine.  I am happy I bought the Relief Band, but I'm even more happy that he has finally outgrown it.  Now, maybe we can go whale watching again and this time he will actually get to see a whale!  Poor thing was barfing his brains out not five minutes from shore and saw not one whale even though they were breaching only meters from the boat. 

St. Mark's square was just wonderful.  The energy was amazing.  We could have sat there all day, but decided to explore the island by going where our feet took us.  We were surprised by how many shops and restaurants there were.  It is very commercialized.  That did not appeal to us.  But, we did love the quiet skinny alleyways and tiny squares we found while walking.

We had bought a vaporetto pass for all five of us that lasted for 48 hours.  I'm glad we did because even though we were exhausted the next day, it pushed us to get going and head back to Venice to take advantage of the money we had spent.  We decided to go to the island of Murano to see the hand-blown glass. Venice was a different place on Monday.  The crowds were gone and a blanket of fog now coated the city.  It made it eerie yet beautiful at the same time. 

We took the vaporetto over and spent about two hours walking the quiet streets of Murano.  The glass art was beautiful and when the lights came on in the stores it shone through the fog.  Very enchanting.  The vaporetto ride back in the dark in the fog was eerie and exciting at the same time.  I loved it and was so glad we had made ourselves go.

We have really enjoyed our stay in Padova.  We stayed in a lovely neighborhood with regular Italians.  The woman across the street sings and talks to her Australian cattle dog every day.  She always smiles and laughs and waves to us with a Buongiorno!  It is those little moments that makes traveling like this so special. 

We have learned a few things about staying/living in Italy and hopefully those things will translate across Europe.


     We had ridden the train six times, I think, before this happened.  This last time we were traveling from Venice back to Padova.  It was evening.  We were tired.  All of a sudden a huge wave of Italian police storm the car and start asking to see our tickets.  We fish them out after a bit of a struggle.  The officer very slowly looks through them like he is contemplating something.  He looks at us.  He looks at the tickets.  After many minutes he tells us the tickets are invalid.  That we will have to pay a fine.  He says the fine is 30 euros.  I'm kind of upset because we had never seen anyone else validate their tickets and we didn't know how or where to do that.  Again, that feeling of helplessness.  It is clear to everyone in the car that we are tourists and have no idea what he is talking about.  He discusses it with his other police friends and then tells me that we will have to pay the fine.  Ok.  I pull out my wallet and start to take out 30 euros.  He says no, it is 30 euros per ticket.  WHAT!!!!!  150 euros!  Oh, hell no.  So, I snap my wallet shut and tell him to take us to jail or throw us off the train.  I sit back and wait to see what they will do.  After 15 minutes or so of discussion and kind of just standing there, he sits down and validates our tickets.  HA!  What this guy doesn't know is that I am from Ecuador!  I have waited out all kinds of cops in both Ecuador and Peru and he is not going to take me down.  LOL 

Listen, I would have gladly paid the fine if I thought it was fair.  Yes, we did make a mistake and not validate our tickets, but it was very clear that we were tourists.  Now we know.  But, 150 euros?  That is crazy.  Maybe we are missing something, but why would ANYONE in their right mind not validate their ticket.  The tickets have the date, time and train listed on them.  How can you scam that?  We must be missing something.

3.  Buy your groceries and cook at home.  Even sandwich shops are astronomical.  We have spent $80 to $100 for just dinner at a sandwich shop.  But, we have not done that often I am telling you!  We are looking forward to staying in one place in December for the month and hunkering down to save some money.  We are also spending a larger span of time at the end of this month in Sicily to try to save money.

4.  Buy a family tram ticket instead of individual tickets.  The family ticket costs only 3 euros and lasts for six hours vs. the individual tickets that cost 1.50 euros and only last an hour and a half.

5.  I LOVE the Italian language.  I get it now.  When people say that they travel to Italy just because they want to learn the language, I so get it.  I'm grateful for my Spanish base because it has allowed me to pick up Italian very quickly.  But, Italian is much more fun to speak.  I love the ups and downs and musical quality to it.  Even listening to the tram lady say the names of the stops sounds like music.  Bellisimo!

Tomorrow we are heading to Florence.  Things we hope to do in the next week are to visit and tour the Ducati factory in Bologna, and take side trips to Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Florence and maybe the Cinque Terre region.  We originally thought we would stay in Cinque Terre, but since we are trying to cut costs we have decided to skip that region.  If we can rent a car we still may do it for a day trip, but we are not sure at this time.  We are excited to be moving on.  The fog has moved into Padova and shows no signs of letting up.  It has been covered the last three days.  Maybe if we go further south we will see the sun again.  Ciao, for now!


How cool is it that I am sitting on a train writing this blog watching the Italian countryside go by!

We have arrived in Italy and luckily without any mishaps.  Well, maybe a couple.  We flew Norwegian from New York to Rome with an almost eight hour layover in London.  Originally we had talked about going into the city or to Brighton, but after walking around Manhattan with our backpacks the whole day prior and after a long night on the plane, we decided to just hang in the airport.  Unfortunately, there was no wifi access and all, literally ALL, of the plugs did not work.  That is so bizarre.  We found one plug near the toilets, so we sat on the ground next to the plug for an hour or so.  I'm sure people thought we were nuts. 

Our first mishap occurred getting off the plane in London.  Mark thought Patrick had grabbed Tali's bag when he got off ahead of us, but he had not.  We didn't realize that until we were almost to the next departure gate and had caught up to Pat.  So, Mark and Pat headed back up the gangway to get the bag.

Written by Patrick...
"Retracing our steps back to the plane we were greeted by several doors. The first one opened with a green button, so naturally the second would too. WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP we trip an alarm but no one comes. We push the door open that leads down to the plane and greet the crew and a few police officers. "YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE HERE, HOW DID YOU GET DOWN HERE? We let them know what we had done and they were quite friendly about it. Since we had broken the law there was "protocal to be followed" consisting of taking down our names and a brief story as to why we felt it was okay to do what we did. By the end of our appologies they were laughing and so were we.  If this had happened in the USA we would without a doubt have sat in a dark room being questioned for a long time. -MY bad my spelling and grams are horbs..."

So, I guess you could call that a mishap with a happy ending.  What wasn't a happy ending was that I left my awesome travel pillow on the plane!  I am still lamenting the loss.

Our last flight got us in Rome around 8:00pm. It was very nice being U.S. citizens as we were able to bypass all of the long lines for the Italian citizens. We walked right up to the immigration official and she stamped our passports lickety split without any questions or even a look at us.  Going through customs was a breeze as well since there was no customs!  What's with that?!  We walked right out the door to the taxi stand.  We took a 30 euro ride to our BnB near the airport.  I was freaking out when he dropped us off because it looked super shady.  I kept questioning him to make sure we were in the right place and he assured us that yes we were.  Much to my surprise the flat was very nice with ridiculously comfy beds.  The owner, never got his name, was very sweet and helpful.  He called
around to a bunch of pizza places trying to find us some food.  Thank you airlines for not feeding us anymore!  Or giving us a blanket or pillow during a transatlantic red eye flight! But, I digress. 

So, the owner drove Pat, Mark and Tali to the nearest McDonalds for food.  I have to say, it was not very good.  The bread was dry and the meat was questionable, but we were hungry, so... 

I woke up around 6:30am feeling pretty good, but looked forward to relaxing some more in bed.  I decided to get on Facebook and review our itinerary again.  Good thing I did!  For some reason I had  it in my head that we were leaving at 4:00pm, but NO, we were arriving at 4:00pm and leaving at 10:30am.  No more sleep for me, or for anyone else!  We quickly took showers and the owner graciously came over to pull together a quick breakfast and call us a taxi.  We had to take a taxi to
the airport in order to get a train to the train station.  With a little help and a bit of flubbing around, we managed to get ourselves on the right train to Padua (Padova in Italian).  We will be arriving in an hour after five hours on the train and I have really enjoyed the experience so far.  We are looking forward to arriving in the city we will call home for the next five nights.

Family, Friends and Fall in Ohio

This blog is more for myself honestly.  I want to keep a journal of our journey and this is how I am going to do it.  So, some of what I write may be uninteresting to you.  I won't be offended if you don't read it or skip ahead!  :)

For some reason I cannot load pictures anymore.  I will keep looking into it, but for now you will have to be happy with words and no pictures.  I will place all pictures on my Facebook page until I figure out what is wrong.  Sorry!

We had four weeks in Ohio to visit with family and friends.  First stop was my sister's house in Columbus.  We had a few days together before Amanda and Chris went to New York.  Chris was speaking at a conference and then they spent a few days exploring the city.  The kids and I stayed behind to be with my niece, Hannah, and my nephews, Ben and Leo.  I really enjoyed seeing them and spending time with them when they were around, but with school and soccer it wasn't enough time.  We were lucky enough to find a cabin Halloween night at Salt Fork State Park and spend some more time together.  More on that and pictures to follow down below.

Next stop was my mom and stepdad's house.  We stayed there for a week and while I didn't see my mom and dad as much as I would have liked, we enjoyed ourselves very much.  Finn turned 13 and we celebrated with a bonfire, Smores and peach cobbler.  I took the kids to what used to be my favorite hiking trail.  I was really missing big trees. 

The next day the kids and I went to the zoo and had a blast.  It was a cool day so all of the animals were out and about.  We especially liked the lorikeets and the kangaroo with a joey in her pouch.

We also went to the beach and even though the weather was too cool for me, the kids still went swimming.  We found a waterlogged monarch butterfly floating in the water and brought it out.  We were hoping it would be okay once it was dry, but as the day wore off it stopped moving and was listing to the side.  Right before we left, I picked it up on the leaf it was sitting on.  To my surprise, it slowly opened and closed its wings a few times and then flew off!  We were so happy!

Our third week in Ohio found us at my dad and stepmother's house.  We spent a nice week hanging out with my dad during the day, going to Amish country and visiting Eileen at her office for lunch. 

I also can't forget visiting with old friends in Cleveland.  I went to lunch with two of my former students and while I really enjoyed seeing them again and loving on Evelyn's baby, Liam, it was difficult to hear about the increase of violence in the area.  Both of the young women would like to go somewhere else and do something with their lives.  Knowing those two, they will make it happen.

I got together with friends from my former school as well.  It was great seeing everybody!  Cathy and I had about half an hour together before everyone got there.  It has been two years since I've seen her.  When she came in, we both grabbed each other and started crying.  It was so emotional.  That was a great night and a lot of fun.

Our week in Columbiana was very nice.  We stayed in a cute, little motel surrounded by big trees and corn fields.  The room had two double beds and not much else, but it was cozy.  We did have a fridge so we bought some cereal and yogurt for breakfasts.  We went to see Grandma Franklin every day.  Some days were good for her and some were not so good.  She is 95.  She does not get out of bed anymore and so they have her on an air bed.  Most every day she did not know who we
were when we came in, but after a few minutes she would remember.  I don't think she ever figured out who I was.  She did seem to remember the kids though.  She liked to reminisce and talk about her sisters and brothers, but every day  had to be reminded that they were dead. She is very frail and now that she has seen Mark I am not sure she will hold on for much longer.  I am really thankful that he made it home in time to spend the whole month with her.  (Mark's mom died one week after we saw her last.
We had decided earlier in the month that we wanted to get together again with my sister and her family, so we rented a cabin at Salt Fork State Park for Halloween night.  We had a great time sitting around the campfire drinking beer, eating Smores and telling ghost stories.  Props go to my sister for scaring the crap out of all of us.
We went to the lodge for breakfast.  It was another gorgeous day and the grounds of the lodge were very pretty.  Unfortunately, the service at the lodge was terrible. We waited for 45 minutes for our food and finally asked our absentee waitress if it would be much longer.  She shrugged and said that she had no idea.  We had heard enough.  Even though we felt bad because it was a huge waste of food we got up, paid our drink bill and left.  We decided to head for Cambridge and look
for something there.  The only thing we could find was a small shady-looking bar/restaurant that had a sign out front saying "Sunday Brunch".  We were all worried heading in, but we were very happy to find inside an adorable restaurant with a great buffet.  We left satisfied.
We spent two more nights in Ohio with my mom and dad finishing up our odds and ends.  On Tuesday morning the kids and I took a taxi downtown to meet Pat and Mark at the bus station.  This time I bought tickets for the MegaBus and it was much nicer than Greyhound.  It took a couple of hours longer, but I think it was worth it.  We sat on the second floor and had panoramic windows along with free wifi and plugs for charging our devices. 
We arrived in Manhattan around 8:00pm and got on a train to Brooklyn.  We stayed in a loft apartment a few blocks off Jay street.  It was okay.  Higher cost and very artsy in a better neighborhood, but I would rather have stayed in the earlier one from a month ago, which was cheaper and had nice comfy beds.  Artsy does not always equate with comfort.
The next morning we put on our packs and headed to a place on the pier under the Brooklyn Bridge.  Patrick has used Uber a lot in the past and we found that it saved us quite a bit of money and time.  We found a nice wharf close to pizza and ice cream.  Patrick had heard about a place called Juliana's and was told that we had to try the pizza there.  We didn't realize that the place was quite shwanky.  In we walk all carrying big backpacks like we own the place.  Ha!  The guy looked at us with an
expression on his face like he had swallowed a lemon.  It was pretty funny.  But, he let us park our packs in the corner and we enjoyed some very tasty pizza. (I lost almost all of my pictures from that day! Poop!)

After that we headed to the Manhattan Public Library to print some things out for our trip to Italy.  Then it was over to Central Park.  Finn has been wanting to go since our first trip five weeks ago.  That time we saw the park from the outside walking along Central Park West.  It was raining so we   had decided to go home.  This time we were only able to walk in a few hundred feet before darkness fell.  What a bummer!  Maybe next time we will actually get there during the day so that
we can enjoy the place.
We took another metro to the airport and began our long trip to Italy.  We are finally on our way!!!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

New York or Bust

You know how you brace yourselves these days for international travel?  For the long waits, delayed or canceled flights, mean customs agents.  Well, I do.  I hate flying into Miami and I really dislike flying American.  But, we had the perfect travel day!  And it was a full 24 hour day, but it went like clockwork.

Spending the night in the Quito airport isn't all that it's cracked up to be, and the first customs agent we ran into was a real jerk, but the rest of the agents from immigration to customs were fantastic.  And all three planes we were on had more legroom than I remember on any plane.  It was great.

I do want to thank the French fĂștbol team.  You guys have great fans.  They chanted and stomped and sang for a good hour plus.  And even though they were one floor below us, it was deafening and enough to keep all of us awake.  Great job, guys!
Waiting for the plane in the Cuenca airport.

Tali had a headache.  Poor baby.

Good friend, Jack Abercrombie, seeing us off in Quito.

And we're off!

I decided to fly into New York instead of directly into Cleveland because it would save us a boatload of money.  And we really needed to catch our breath and get some sleep. I found a cute Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn for $100 a night and it has been great.  So, even though we stayed for two nights in NYC along with two days of sightseeing, we still saved almost $1000.   We leave on the 10:00pm bus tonight and arrive in Cleveland at 7:00am.

We arrived in New York half an hour early, grabbed a cab and headed to Brooklyn.  The apartment is in a very diverse area.  From the neighbors to the shop owners to the people on the streets, everyone has been kind and helpful.  I have also noticed that my polite factor has increased since living in Ecuador.  I always thought that I had good manners, but after living in Cuenca for three years they have greatly improved.  Now it is hard to walk into an establishment and not greet every person in the place.  Or every person on the street. My fellow expats, you know what I'm talking about.  

We slept in very late on Wednesday because we didn't sleep very much at all in the past 24 hours. Finally we got ourselves out the door by 1:00pm.  We headed to the subway two blocks away and requested the help of the subway manager.  She was very funny.  Chided Mark when he said good morning since it was actually afternoon.  When she found out Finn and Tali were both eleven, she asked if he took all the food from her.  Lol. Very nice lady who sent us on our way with all that we needed.

We headed to Battery Park first to see the Statue of Liberty.  It was cloudy and quite blustery near the water, but it felt good.  I was glad the sun wasn't out.  We thought about taking the ferry to Ellis Island, but Finn still has motion sickness pretty badly and the water was quite choppy so we opted to go to the American Indian Museum instead.  That was a great museum.  They had a ton of stuff from Ecuador and Guatemala.  It was fascinating.  And free!

We stopped for lunch at a sandwich shop and then went to the 911 Memorial.  I think they did a wonderful job making it a peaceful and serene place.  It was very hard not to get teary-eyed.  We decided not to go into the actual building, but it was still very moving and I think the kids got a lot out of it.  

Our last stop for the day was Times Square and Rockefeller Center.  That was fun!  We ended the night with a Guinness at the Pig N Whistle.  The perfect ending to a great day.  One more day of sightseeing and then on to Cleveland!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Odds and Ends

It's pretty calm here now that the house has closed, but we still had and have some odds and ends to clear up.  A big one was to travel to Guayaquil for the night and do a few things...renew Tali's and Finn's passports (theirs were set to expire in October of next year and most countries will not allow you in unless you have a six month gap before expiration), get new pages added to Mark's and mine, and get a replacement cedula, which is our national ID card.  I had lost mine.

All went very smoothly.  On Wednesday we tackled my cedula with our facilitator, Dana.  I had to obtain a migratorio movimiento, which is a paper that tracks your exits and entries into the country, a colored copy of my passport page and the same of my visa page, and my passport.  After a short wait all of my documents were submitted and ok'd.  My cedula will be ready this Tuesday.  Very nice.

We finished around 3:00pm and tried to find a pool for the kids as our hotel did not have one.  I had tried to book a hotel with a pool, but there were no hotels available in Guayaquil that night.  It was crazy!

We had been told that the Hilton allowed you to use theirs for a fee as well as the Grand, our favorite hotel.  We first went to the Hilton as it was closer.  OMG, the woman at the counter was so snooty.  It really busted my chops.  She told me in a very quiet voice that "the pool is only for the hotel guests."  Whatever!  Lol

Same thing at the Grand, but they wanted to charge us $30 per person.  We were so pissed.  What a bunch of a&$holes.  We've stayed at the Grand several times and we love it.  However, one time Finn cut his foot pretty severely on a large chunk of glass in the pool.  Medics were called, etc...Did we make a big fuss?  Nooooo.

I wish I would have tried to talk to the guy more, but when people treat us like that I just shut down and walk away.

So, we glumly went back to our hotel all sweaty with no fun pool time in sight.  Next time.

Thursday we got up early in order to make sure that we were at the U.S. Consulate on time for our appointment at 8:45.  There was a long line of Ecuadorians, but we were ushered to a shorter line for U.S. citizens.  After three bag searches and two scannings and wandings each, we were finally allowed in.  We waited about five minutes and were called up to the window.  After about fifteen minutes we had our paperwork processed, and about another fifteen minutes later Mark and I had our new passport books with extra pages in hand.  Tali's and Finn's books will be ready in ten days to two weeks.  Much faster than the U.S.'s four to six weeks!  We were very happy with the process and everyone at the Consulate was very nice and accommodating.

We drove to and from Guayaquil, but while in the city we used taxis.  It is too hard to drive there and Mark hates it.  I don't blame him.  It's crazy.

We had the best taxi drivers!  Our most memorable driver was Juan Paul.  He was a young guy and he loved older "American" music.  He played for us all of his favorites...Billy Joel, George Michael, The Beatles, Lionel Ritchie...He loved the melancholy songs that reminded him of his girlfriend who broke his heart.  I almost thought he was going to start crying as he sang to the songs and reminisced about the good times they had together.  It was too funny.


We are leaving two weeks from tomorrow.  Yikes!  I went through all of our clothes today and purged a ton.  We have two huge bags of clothes to give to our friend, Rocio, and her school, CETAP Lucy.

We have decided to go to Italy in November.  We haven't heard from our friend, Robert, who had offered his villa to us, but we are going to go anyway.  I hope he is okay.  After that will be Israel with side trips to Jordan,  China and maybe Turkey and Egypt.

With the refugee situation coming to a head we are rethinking the rest.  I had a pretty extensive, but flexible, itinerary worked out, but I think now we will wait to see how the situation unfolds and plan accordingly.  We are hoping by March, when we were supposed to head into Bulgaria, that things will have settled down, but time will tell.  As of today, Germany has closed it's border with Austria, and there is a rumor that they may be shutting down the Schengen Zone.  It's going to be an interesting trip, but as I told Finn today...if we get tired of it, we will just come home.  No worries.


Here are some photos of our Ecuadorian penthouse.  It was nice and the kids had a great time playing on the terrace, but we were on the fourth floor and the traffic going by shook the entire building all night.  I thought we were having a constant string of earthquakes!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

We bought our tickets for the U.S. today.  I spent all day working out the flights.  We wanted to fly into New York from Guayaquil or Quito and then take a bus to Cleveland because the savings are huge!  So, after a lot of back and forth I finally found an itinerary that would work.

We are flying to Quito the night of the 28th and then hanging around the airport all night.  The flight to New York leaves at 7:00am and we will arrive in New York City at 5:00pm.  I booked a great little apartment through airbnb in Brooklyn for two nights for only $105 a night. (Still waiting on confirmation of this.). There was no way we could survive these two flights and then hop on a bus for a ten hour ride.  So, we opted to stay in New York and show the kids the city.  I have to admit I am kind of excited about this part.

We leave on the bus to Cleveland at 10:00pm and will arrive at 7:00 in the morning.  Perfect.  Even with staying over two nights in New York and sight seeing for those two days, we saved $980 over flying directly from Guayaquil to Cleveland.  You can't beat that!