Saturday, 21 December 2013

It is Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas.

We left Spain and Portugal on the ferry bound for the UK.  We were anxious to head back north, as it just didn’t seem like Christmas in sunny Portugal.  Sure, it was warm and tropical, but nothing like we were used to.  Where were the Christmas lights…the snow…the trees – not palm trees…Christmas trees? This was about as close to Christmas decorations as we got!
We saw these hanging Santas all over Spain and Portugal.
We waited on the pier for our ferry to England to arrive. It was five and a half hours late departing and this was the first sign that our journey would be a long and memorable pilgrimage.  It was bad news when the ship started rocking and rolling five minutes after pulling out of port.  There was a silver lining in all of the waiting though, as we met some people on the pier.  Everyone was out of their cars socializing and Chris, Roger, Bernadette and John happened to stroll up to our GB (Great Britain) licence plate. They were part time residents in Spain and were headed back to England to spend the holidays with family. Chris and Roger had followed Meg’s pink Lug bag down the highway from Madrid, losing it as we pulled off for gas then spotting it again as they rejoined the highway after a coffee break.  As our journey continued throughout the day we would pass one another and they found themselves noticing the pink Lug crammed in the back window of the CRV – yes we were that packed!  Our trip to Africa is going to require some major adjustments to our luggage.  Stay tuned for the packing mission part 3 installment, to appear shortly.

Bernadette and John were another couple we met while waiting to board. They were such a positive and happy couple and despite the long wait, there was not one complaint.  They were such a pleasure to be around and it was nice to have the time to get to know one another.  Thank goodness we had a good visit and exchanged contact information before getting on the ship, as we barely made it out of our cabin during the twenty-four hour crossing.  The Bay of Biscay is known for its treacherous waves and despite praying for calm seas, we had anything but smooth sailing.  The boat rocked and heaved through the swells the minute we left port.  As long as we remained horizontal, we could keep OUR heaving in control.  So much for the complimentary breakfast and lunch they had provided for our delay.  Bread in bed was all we could manage, as we all turned a pale shade of green, every time we tried to get up.

By dinner time the next day we had made it to the English Chanel and the seas had calmed.  Halleluiah.  We finally got out of our cabin and made it down to the restaurant to enjoy our complimentary dinner.  We must have looked like ravaged animals as we wolfed down our meals.  We were sad to say goodbye to our new friends, but were anxious to get back on dry land.

OK, so maybe it wasn't so dry…but this sleet will probably be the closest we get to snow!
The weather cleared and we stopped off at Stonehenge.
It felt more like Christmas the minute we got off the ferry.  The streets were decorated in lights, the store windows were filled with Christmas goodies, and Christmas songs were playing on the radio station.  The skies were cloudy and the rain poured down, ahhh we were back in England. We made our way to Cardiff, Wales where we would add another wonderful travel friend to our list.  Lisbeth was one of the most amazing women we have met.  After suffering a stroke earlier this year, and spending months in hospital, she wasn’t going to let anything slow her down.  You would think hosting four travelling nomads, she had never met before, would be a lot for someone, but not Lisbeth.  Not only did she host us, she threw a Christmas soiree and invited all the neighbours over to enjoy some drinks, goodies, Highland dancing and bagpipe music.  What a memorable evening, with food conversation and a lot of laughter. It was a party that we would have enjoyed this time of year at home, but never thought we would experience, half way around the world.  The evening was great fun and we tucked in to bed that night with our hearts filled with joy.  Lisbeth is an inspiration to us.  She is headed to New Zealand in February and we hope our paths will cross again.  Lisbeth, thank you does not convey our appreciation for your hospitality.  You have touched our hearts and allowed us to experience the real meaning of Christmas. 
What great company, and all of them lived on the same street.  Many of these wonderful people
 had lived there for more than forty years - Amazing!
Our musicians.

Lisbeth took us out to the Farm Shop where we purchased some goodies for Christmas dinner, I'm
going to try to make Smoked Garlic Stuffing this year!

We stopped in at the local church and saw a live production of the Christmas Story,
the performers came out and met the audience afterwards.  We became the celebrities as they added
us to their website as 'international' guests!
Our Christmas will be light on presents and material items this year, but there has been no shortage of early gifts.  The people we have met along our journey have enriched our lives, and the memories will last longer than any gift-wrapped package imaginable.  
Manchester didn't know what hit them when we arrived in high fashion and full of festive spirit.
We made lots of anxious shoppers and salesclerks smile, and that was exactly what we were after!
This photo was taken in Morocco.  We thought it could serve as our Christmas photo, certainly memorable
if nothing else!
 Merry Christmas and much love to you all.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Visit From Grandma and Papa

The last two weeks took us to Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco and Portugal.  It was a busy couple of weeks with the highlight being a visit from Grandma and Papa Mitchell.  There is nothing better than living with your parents again, to remind you of the importance of independence, getting a good job and moving out on your own.  More importantly, there is nothing like living with your parents again, to remind you just how lucky you had it living at home, and how much you are truly loved!  This visit from Grandma and Papa was a big deal. It was not easy for them to travel half way around the world via planes, trains and automobiles.  Their visit also reinforced the importance of taking this trip around the world now, when our bodies and minds can handle it, not later, when finances and time allow it.

Our visit to Barcelona was spectacular and it has moved to the top of our ‘favourite city’ list.  After coming from Rome, a clean and active city was a welcome change.  There was little graffiti, and despite the tough economic times in Spain, everyone seemed busy. There were even people cleaning the street lights, and it was encouraging to see all of the youth involved in organized sports in the evenings.  Perhaps it was the influence from hosting the Olympics, but whatever it was, it was fantastic to see such an active, vibrant, community.  The waterfront was amazing, with the roads hidden underground, long boardwalks and green space.  The city planners for Barcelona certainly knew what they were doing.  Although we loved Barcelona, there was anticipation in the air to move on to Marbella, Spain, where we would pick up Grandma and Papa, from the airport.
Barcelona, Spain.  We took Meg to the circus for her birthday and
visited the Sagrada Familia Basilica.
We were thrilled to see Mark’s parents, and the girls were over the moon with excitement.  We knew how special this visit was.  The mere fact that they actually made it to Spain was amazing.  You see, Papa really doesn’t like to travel, although you can’t tell from the look on his face in the pictures! He is content and happy in the comfort of his own home and bed, in South Cayuga.  He doesn’t even like to sleep at the cottage, which is just ten minutes away from home.  He is truly the poster child for ‘home body’ and ‘stay-cation’.  He has even been known to suffer from terrible accidents before heading out on vacation.  Before they left for an Arctic cruise last year, he fell down the bank at the cottage, and banged himself up pretty badly.  Even before we left for our trip, he toppled off a chair and needed stiches. All to avoid a trip to the airport, pretty extreme measures to avoid travel, I’d say!  We wondered what shape Papa would arrive in.  Would there be crutches, casts, stiches…would he even make it? 
Yippy, Grandma and Papa are here!
He made it safe and sound, but make no mistake, it was only to see his grandchildren, which we had taken away from him.  If he had thought of it before Grandma booked the flights, he would have just paid to fly the girls home for a visit. Grandma, on the other hand, would venture to all ends of the world.  The fact that we were away for a year was the perfect excuse to get Papa on an airplane, and I think she had her flights booked before we even left!  The unfortunate part about travel for both of them now, is that it is quite hard on them. They must consider their health, medical insurance, medication, routines, energy levels, transporting luggage, customs, mobility, comfort and the list goes on.  Sure, we considered some of those things when venturing out on our trip, but in a much different way than our parents might.  There is also risk and change involved in travel.  We thought of it as adventure; to others it is scary, uncomfortable and not worth the stress. 
He could fool anyone that he doesn't like to travel!

The real reason for Papa's visit!

But we squeezed in a little adventure too!

Despite all the worry, trouble, inconvenience, and upset that travelling to Spain may have caused them, ‘love’ won.  If there is one thing for certain, Mark’s parents live for their family, and their grandchildren are at the top of the list.  They would do anything for them, including suffering through two days of travel just to see them.  We are fairly confident, ‘love’ was the only thing that brought Grandma and Papa to Spain, and we sure were thankful for that. 
At the beach!
We quickly realized that our routines would need to change a bit, and we wouldn’t be able to pack into a day what we were used to.  That was just fine, we could slow our pace down a bit and relax.  The only priority on our list, while in Spain and Portugal with Grandma and Papa, was to spend time together.  That we did, and enjoyed every minute of it. 
Relaxing and enjoying lunch at the resort.
We worked out in the pool!

Meg even went in the pool outside, and it sure was chilly!  She didn't want Ally to miss out.
After a couple of days, Grandma and Papa had their energy levels back up and the jet lag had subsided.  We ventured off to Gibraltar and spent the afternoon with the monkeys. Who knew there were monkeys on Gibraltar? They were cute and adorable.  Well… that was until one jumped on my back, stole my prescription sunglasses and ran away! I chased after him, put my teacher voice on, and believe it or not, he threw them back at me!  (I guess I still have my teacher voice HSC friends!) Meg and Grandma had a turn with a monkey on their back too! We also enjoyed a climb up to the peak of ‘the rock’, what an impressive view! It was a marathon getting out of Gibraltar, as they checked the trunks of each vehicle and scooter at the border.  After a two hour wait, they finally let us back into Spain.
Our adventures in Gibraltar!
We also ventured to nearby villages, to the beach, to the markets, out for dinner and to a cork factory.  We celebrated Papa and Meg’s birthdays and got caught up on everything that was going on at home. Grandma spoiled us while she was here.  She is a mom, through and through.  Although she was on vacation, she found comfort in the routines of home, the things we call luxuries now… like laundry!  I think we did laundry everyday.  Another luxury was maid service – no Grandma was not the maid! We were living the high life in our timeshare resorts with Grandma and Papa.  We had traded our Florida timeshare for a week in Switzerland, Spain and Portugal, and still had some time left over for New Zealand.  Our accommodations had moved to 5 star, golden crown ratings, probably not the best thing to do right before heading to Africa for 5 weeks!  Although, we did get a taste of what to expect in Africa, during a day trip to Morocco.  What an experience and far too much to tell you about in this post!
The market.

Grandma, trying to steal the oranges in downtown Marbella!  The orange trees were everywhere.

Papa and Ally enjoying a game of tennis.
Papa's birthday lunch - check out the fish!

Meg's birthday dinner. She was serenaded by a trubador!

We said goodbye to Papa and Grandma, two days ago, and it has taken a couple of days for us to recover.  The hardest thing about travelling around the world, is saying goodbye to our visitors.  None of us want to give up on our trip and head home early, yet we ask the question regularly to make sure everyone is still happy.  The answer is always a quick ‘no’, but Mark and I have to wonder sometimes, especially when we see the girls suffer through a day or two of tears.  We know we are doing the right thing with travelling around the world, right now.  Our bodies and minds are in the right place to handle whatever the adventure throws at us.  Sure it has some consequences, like missing our family and friends terribly, but it just makes us realize how lucky we are to be loved, as we are.

Thank you Grandma and Papa for making our trip around the world even more memorable, we love you so much!  And…. no we are not coming home yet.

The Mitchell's were here, and we certainly were grateful!

Monday, 2 December 2013

The DaVinci Code Part 2

I was standing in awe of the Trevi Fountain, in the centre of Rome, when Mark inspired me to return to Dan Brown’s book, Angels and Demons.  I had started it a number of times following the DaVinci Code, but couldn’t get past the beginning.  This would be the third and final time.  The book, Angels and Demons, takes the reader on a treasure hunt around Rome, in search of a villain and the stolen antimatter.  What better time to read this book than while in Rome. 
The girls making a wish at the Trevi Fountain
During our first day we explored the hidden treasures of the Forum and the magnificent Coliseum.  It was incredible to walk down into a 2000 year old city which had once been buried underground.  The tour explained the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and we saw where Julius Caesar’s ashes were buried.  We were impressed by the grand scale of the Coliseum and in awe of how it could have been built, so many years ago.  Robert and Vittoria only saw these amazing sites from a helicopter, on their way to the Vatican, but we were able to experience them the way they should be, from the ground level.
Mark and the girls at the Forum.

To live or die….that is the question...

Outside the Coliseum, spectacular!

Our next day took us to the Pantheon and the tomb of Raphael, believed to be the first element, Earth, that would lead us to the Illuminati.  It only led us to Giolitti, which happened to be the most spectacular wonder we ever set sight on.  What could be more magnificent than five thousand flavours of gelato, topped off with a dollop of fresh cream?  On our second visit, we discovered you could order your cone filled with cream!  This must certainly be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, definitely not Earth, but perhaps… heaven!  Funny that Dan Brown never mentioned this site in his novel, perhaps he wanted it all for himself.
Demon's hole at the Pantheon

Raphael's tomb.

Heaven on Earth!

I'm not sure if this was taken during our third or fourth visit!  Oh my...
The angels pointed us in the direction of Piazza Nuova, where we saw The Fountain of the Four Rivers, and the element of water.  It turned out this was the famous fountain mentioned in the book, not the Trevi fountain, but regardless, both were spectacular.  Although we did not witness the demise of a cardinal, we did see the police take down a purse peddler, which was quite entertaining.  While we toured around Rome looking for the other elements, the antimatter remained at large somewhere in the Vatican, ready to destroy all of Christianity.  Unfortunately, we did not make much headway past the water element, due to torrential down pours, thunder, lightening and power outages. 
Mark and I at The Fountain of the Four Rivers.
After two full days, we emerged from the trailer to the outside world, we felt like Noah leaving the arc.  Finally, the rain had stopped.  Pope Francesco I was presiding over the service in St. Peter’s Square, and we were excited to be in attendance.  The masses of people were overwhelming and we were thankful to have arrived early enough to get fairly close to the alter.  Although the service was in Italian, we were able to follow along and take part as we would at home (on the rare occasion when we actually made it to church).  I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back to the events in Angels and Demons.  I imagined the smoke rising from the chimney during conclave, the crypts where the previous Popes were buried, and the secret archives.  It just so happened that Pope Francesco I was presenting bone fragments of the late St. Peter, during the service.  They had found considerable evidence to suggest that the bone fragments belonged to the first Pope, and were more than 2,000 years old.  I wondered if Dan Brown knew they existed.  Regardless, we didn’t have much time to find the other elements, and locate the antimatter before it destroyed Vatican City!

Vatican City, Rome.
Mass at St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Rome. And we were close to the alter if you can believe it!

Pope Francis - Francesco the First

We got to see the Pope mobile right up close, Mark took video.

The Pope's Swiss Guard.
Our final day in Rome took us to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.  We were in awe of the frescoes, glass mosaics and stunning sculptures.  I couldn’t imagine all that we saw, being lost in the name of Science.  Thankfully, our tour of Rome ended well, as do most fictional books, and Vatican City remained standing. For how long though, was the question, as Mark made it through security not once, but twice, with his Swiss army knife.  I suppose a knife does not pose much security risk to the city, but those numerous pairs of little scissors on the scanner – now they were the real threat!  The girls have added Angels and Demons to their reading list, and we all headed off to Barcelona, Spain.  I wondered what adventures would await us there. 

St. Peter's Basilica - so grand!

The Vatican Museum.

Ally's illegal shot of the Sistine Chapel
On the Spanish Steps in Rome, kind of neat that we are actually headed to Spain next.

We thought this indoor snow part was so funny in Rome, they charge admission, rent out snow boots
and the kids get to play in the white stuff.  

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What not to do when in Rome

We have been on the road for four months now, and other than crazy driving adventures and the run in with the Czech police, our travels have been pretty un-eventful.  We have seen some pretty spectacular countries and sights, sure - but no real ‘Lisa’ stories that would embarrass me for years to come.  I’m sure you have heard some of them like, serving raw strawberry pie to my in-laws, burning my hair before the Christmas dance - with peek-a-boo heals and nylons that would fit a giraffe, or the time I made a million batches of tea-biscuits for a retirement party at school, only to realize they 'may have contained nuts' – you know those kind of ‘Lisa’ stories.  Everything had been going pretty much as planned on our trip….until this morning, that was!

Yesterday, we reluctantly packed up the CRV, said goodbye to Sarah and Fabio, and the beautiful Tuscan countryside, and headed for Rome.  I am always a little apprehensive on travel days.  We have stayed in some beautiful spots and I am waiting to arrive in a not-so-beautiful one, it will come I’m sure, but not in Rome.  We arrived at our cozy little trailer in a gated community, greeted by our lovely hosts, two baby Saint Bernard’s, and a delicious Italian lunch, what a treat!  We got settled and headed to the grocery store.  Again, nothing too eventful, except for the fact that we noticed the parmesan cheese and coffee had security tags.  Similar to the exploding ink thingies attached to the clothing at home.  We thought that was kind of weird.  Both items were only about 11 euro, so why such high security?
Thanks Franco and Maro for the delicious welcome lunch!
High security seems to be the way of life here in Italy.  Everyone has gates, dogs (usually big, loud, and more than one) and stone fences around their property.  Even our trailer sits on the corner of a lot, which has a locked metal gate.  You need to use the key to enter the property and to exit.  The windows and doors also have metal bars, decorative ones, but still bars.  After seeing the security tags in the grocery store and reading some notes from our hosts (to watch our pockets and not to venture into some areas at night), we were starting to realize we would have to be a little extra cautious, while in Rome.  We were prepared for that. We knew this trip would take us to places where we would need to be more aware. 

Having taken all of this into account, we still felt quite safe in our neighbourhood, and this morning we all ventured out for a run.  It was spitting rain slightly when we left, but nothing we couldn’t handle.  It was fairly warm, and since we were not venturing into the city today, we needed to get some form of exercise.  After a half hour, we circled back to drop the girls off while Mark and I continued on.  The roads were quite something, lined with large trees and huge country homes.  We passed the horses grazing in the fields, the heard of sheep munching away on the fresh grass, and woke up every dog there was in the neighbourhood. 
Mark enjoying Franca's tiramisu…yes he ate it right out of the dish! 
About fifteen minutes from home, I realized I had to go to the bathroom.  Now for me this usually means trouble.  There is nothing like a good run to get things moving, if you know what I mean.  I had been in this situation before, and it usually didn’t end well.  Mark knew the signs right away, he picked up the pace and headed back to get the car, to pick me up.  I figured with Mark’s quickened pace, I should be back at the trailer in about 11 minutes.  I could hold it for 11 minutes, surely.  I continued to walk on slowly.  After what seemed like eternity, I checked my watch, still six more minutes. 

“I can do this, walk slowly, breath deeply, he will be here shortly.”

I turned down the road towards our place, and continued walking…still no Mark.  I had heard a car alarm in the distance, maybe he had trouble with the CRV.  He should be here by now.  As I walked further, I started to think that my surroundings were not familiar. Surely, I would have noticed this ornately decorated gate. My heart started beating a little faster as I realized I was on the wrong road.  The rain also decided to pick up and was now a full-fledged down pour.  How long had I been walking down this road?  I checked my watch, it read 0. I hadn’t reset it after the last 10 minute increment.  It couldn’t be that long, could it?  Oh boy, I really had to go to the bathroom now.  Where was Mark and where was I?  I didn’t even know the address of where we were staying.  Our hosts had lead us to the trailer from the train station by car, in the dark, as the road was not marked on the GPS.  I didn’t even know the last names of our hosts.  As I tried to quicken my pace to the main road where I had turned off, a man in a jeep passed me.  I could see the brake lights through the pouring down rain, then the reverse lights.  As the car wheeled back beside me he asked, in Italian, if he could give me a ride.  Sure, I thought to myself - if I knew where the heck I was going!

Before you continue reading, I must let you know that I was raised with caution, not to accept rides from strangers, especially in foreign countries.  But all of your brain cells stop working, after you have been trying to hold off going to the bathroom in your running tights, for well over 20 minutes, in the pouring down rain.  I hopped into the jeep and told the fellow that I was lost (what was I thinking?)  Then I asked if there was another road that looked like this one near by.  He told me that all of the roads looked similar, but in a matter of minutes I was safely back at the gates to our trailer.  No harm done, right?  Except for the fact that Mark was still out looking for me, and the slight problem with the key mentioned previously.  You know the key that you need to get through the gate, both IN and OUT!  The key that Mark had! I couldn’t believe my luck, I could see the bathroom a few feet away, but could not reach it.  It started to thunder.  Mark would be wondering what had happened to me.  Surely he would know that I had made a wrong turn, he’s been married to me for seventeen years already!  I wondered how long he would continue looking for me.  He was a patient man, I could be standing outside the gate with my legs crossed for another twenty minutes, easy. 

The girls explained that Mark had already been back twice by this point and was out combing the neighbourhood again. We started to run through options as I was doubled over in pain, outside the gate.  Did Dad take his cell phone?  No.  Was there a ladder in the shed that I could use to climb over the gate? No. 

“Mom, are you OK?”

“Yes, I’m fine honey, (Oh my GAWWWWD…I'm totally NOT fine!) I just have to go to the bathroom, very badly” – breath, breath, breath.  I hadn’t breathed like that since labour and delivery…please Mark, come back soon, please…

The time ticked past slowly as I practiced everything I could remember from Lamaze class.  I tried to distract myself by having a snack of fresh berries from the tree, as the girls kept calling over the gate to me. Probably not the best thing to do while I was waiting, but I had to keep busy.

“Mom, we are making you a hot chocolate to warm you up, do you want a sweater?”

No, I want a toilet, a port-a-potty, an outhouse, ANYTHING, I thought to myself.  “No girls, (breath breath breath), I’m OK, (panting as my face turned blue), Dad will be here soon (where on earth was Mark!) thanks, though...”

Finally I saw the CRV in the distance, Halleluiah, Mark was back.  I didn’t have any time to guage his mood or to apologize, as I raced through the gate into the bathroom.  Mark listened to me through the bathroom door as I explained what had happened.  He had gone back to where he left me, circled around, headed back to the trailer once already, couldn’t find me and headed back out looking for me.  He wondered if I had been picked up, I had certainly scared him.  He even started to check out port–a–potties in the area! 

“What…?  There was a port-a-potty out there? You are kidding me… right?”

He grabbed the camera to try and capture the weather; it had started to hail.  Thank goodness I was in the shower and not still wandering the streets of Rome!

“Really…there was a port-a-potty a half a block from where you left me, and I ran right past it?”