Monday, November 27, 2017

Italy--Day 3: Rome

Rome--May 31

This morning we ate breakfast--mostly leftovers from food we'd brought and bought last night--and then met up with the rest of our group out on the street. Casey tried to get some cash but was rejected by the corner ATM. Luckily Rex's card worked, so he bought bus tickets for everyone at the news stand across the street. We wandered through a market on the way to the bus stop and tried another ATM, but it rejected our card, too.
We got to the Colosseum pretty early--the ticket office was just opening. Casey had bought us tickets online but we had to exchange the printed reservation for actual tickets.

Right away we were approached by several people offering guided tours. (Because we hadn't bought our tickets early enough, we'd missed being able to buy the ones that included guided tours already.) We ended up paying separately for a guided tour, and it was okay. But we probably would have gotten as much or more out of Casey's downloaded audio tour. Our group ended up being large enough (our 10 plus 4-6 more) that it was hard to hear our guide sometimes. Plus she (Patricia) had a strong Italian accent. (Yes, I know--English speakers are spoiled and expect to be catered to around the world. Still, the people who approached us were native English speakers, so we had certain expectations before we were handed off to our Italian guide.)

The Colosseum is awesome. If I remember right, it used to be faced with marble, especially the inside entrance gallery, but all the marble was later pillaged for other buildings.  It was never used as an auditorium--the acoustics weren't that good. It was used as a sports/battle arena. They could even flood the arena and enact water battles with scaled down, flat-bottomed boats. And while that sounds cool, the reality is that lots of people died for the entertainment of the upper classes. So we enjoyed this architectural wonder with some modern compunctions.

It was already baking hot by the time we left. We were supposed to meet up with our tour group again at noon to be guided through the Forum but we had an hour or so to kill so we walked around looking for water and souvenirs. We also tried another ATM and then, because we were getting nervous about having cash, we exchanged some at a money changer in a Metro Station. DON'T DO THAT!! If we'd known how badly we would come off after the unlisted fees, we would happily have let the others in our group keep sharing their cash with us until we got it straightened out with our bank.

So we walked to a little grocery store, where some of us bought snacks. Throughout our time in Italy we used the nasoni (street fountains, sometimes shaped like noses--literally means big noses) to fill our water bottles and never had any trouble. 

At the appointed time we went back to the Colosseum for the second part of our tour, which failed to show. Somehow, we weren't all that surprised. We stood in line to get into the Forum and while we waited we chatted with some people from England who had also been in our tour group for the Colosseum. 

Casey gave us highlights of Forum as we walked around it. There is a ton of history in this mall-sized area. I'm not going to share any of it. Okay, except for one thing: Vestal virgins could retire after 30 years in the service of the Goddess Vesta. They would be between 36 and 40 years old if they made it that long and then they were allowed to retire with a pension and marry. Who knew?

We left the forum around 2 p.m. then walked past Trajan's column. 

More places that we walked to this day:
The Church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola

The Pantheon. (Photo bomb cred.: Rex Harris)

Outside the Pantheon. On the left side of this square is a shop where several of us bought sandwiches priced by the pound. They were delicious. We only ate lunch so that we could then eat gelato.

The gelato shop. First of many. I ordered mango and chocolate mousse and was surprised when it was actual chocolate mousse, not chocolate mousse flavored gelato. (Later on, one of us ordered nutella, thinking it was going to be nutella flavored gelato, but nope.) Luckily, I love chocolate mousse! And mango is my all time favorite flavor of gelato.

We also walked to and through the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Then to a TIM shop to set up phone service on Casey's phone, which enabled us to call our bank and ask them to clear our ATM card for use in Italy (we'd pre-authorized our credit card, but not our debit--bleh). 

Then the Spanish steps. 
 Not really sure why this place is so popular. It is a lot of steps. That's something.

If you climb to the top, you can get to the Villa Borghese gardens. There's a nice view of Rome from there. But first we had to shake off the rose seller who had attached himself to Lissa. The rose is "free" but then he tried to guilt Rex into paying something for it, as the nearest man who might feel responsible. Lissa eventually got him to take it back. There were a lot of different people who tried to sell us things on the street. Roses, splat toys, water bottles, elastic flingy helicopterish LED toys, etc.  
We were tired by then, so we found a couple of benches on either side of a shady road through the gardens and sat down for a while. People jogged by. People ran by. People rode segways by. Probably tourist people. We just sat there and rested our feet while the time went by. 

Then we pulled ourselves together and set out for the Trevi Fountain. On the way we bought groceries. Should have bought those after, probably.

It was very crowded there. We threw some coins in, of course. The last ones worked, after all.  (You know, the legend says that if you throw in a coin, you'll return to Rome someday. Plus, they remove the coins each day and use them to fund a grocery store for the poor.) 

Then we had our second round of gelato for the day. If we hadn't walked around 10 miles a day, we probably would have gotten really fat in Italy.

On our way back to our flats, we went through the Piazza Navona and watched the vendors fling their tiny LED whirlycopters (I don't really know what to call them) as high as the obelisk in the middle of the square. We bought a couple to take to the kids at home. 

Back at the flat we ate fresh fettuccine with two kinds of sauce. Star made one sauce with sausage, zucchini, onions, and marinara that was to die for. I made a sauce with Asiago and cream and butter that was also to die for, because of the artery clogging richness of it. We tried to recreate this food experience at home, but it just wasn't the same.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Italy-Day 1-2--Getting there

Epic Italy Trip--2017
How did this epic trip come about? Well, you may recall that we essentially promised each of our kids a Senior trip. Lissa really wanted to go to Italy, despite me dangling Japan in front of her, and when our friend Star bought herself and Sophie tickets to Italy during an awesome Black Friday sale, we all piled on. Our group consisted of: Casey, Lissa, and me (Songers), Rex, Jenny, and Megan (Harrises), Star and Sophie (Primms), and Jan and Hannah (Hubbards).

I will skip over the meetings and the hours of pre-planning and planning. In the end Casey basically had to cut through our mob-think to do the organizing and he bought all the tickets for venues, etc. When you travel it's nice to have someone like Casey along.

We left Utah Monday morning and got to Rome Tuesday night. Why does it take so long to get from here to Italy? Well it's 5,748 miles away. And we had to go to Los Angeles first, which is in the wrong direction. And we stopped in Dusseldorf on the way. So yeah, getting there is not half the fun. It's a pain.
But did these girls have fun anyway? Yes they did.

And Star bought them Kinder Eggs. The kind that are illegal in the U.S. (Because children in the U.S. cannot be trusted not to choke on the toy inside the egg, apparently.)

We left the morning of May 29, after giving Rosalie her traditional birthday breakfast in bed.

Yes, we left on her birthday. Did we hear about it from her, despite taking her on a birthday date on Saturday and giving her all her presents plus cake and ice cream and grandparents on Sunday? Yes we did.

I don't sleep well on planes. Except that one time we were in business class seats that turned into beds. Those would have cost around a $1000 dollars more and were just not worth it. Especially considering that we'd be getting to Rome around 10 pm Tuesday and going to bed again.
I did try a new thing that worked better than anything else I've tried: I tied my head to the headrest with a scarf. Yeah, it looked awesome. But no head falling forward to snap me awake every few minutes. Those travel neck pillows never worked so well for me.

We had arranged for a company to pick us up at the airport so that we wouldn't have to hassle with inflated taxi fares. It took a few minutes to connect with them but then we divided into two vans and drove through the city to our two flats. The driver pointed out sights to us as we passed (the lit-up dome of St. Peter's, the Castello San Marco) but it honestly meant little to me at that point. The vans had to let us off a few hundred feet away from our doors because they were in a pedestrian zone. It was dark and disorienting for me that night, but by day we realized what a cool little corner we were in.

Our rental manager led us through the smaller flat first. We went through a street door and then down a hallway toward an open courtyard with (am I remembering this right?) statuary(!). But before we reached that we turned (and ducked) left through another door, down a couple of steps, and then up more steps and through a final door. Hubbards and Primms stayed there. Above is a view of their window from the street.
Our flat was around the corner to the left of this through an outside door, then a hallway and stairs and then the flat door which opened by turning the key around 5 full rotations, with a heavy click on each turn.
This is a view of our other flat, by daylight.

Beginning a theme for us in Italy, the air conditioning didn't work. When we tried to turn it higher, the fuse would blow. But the windows cooled us pretty well for the three nights we were there. (I think Casey would disagree with me on this.) Casey wore ear plugs after the seagull mewling in the air shaft woke us up several times that first night. I relied on my old trick of sleeping on one ear while an audio book played in the other. It was a non-fiction account of the men who worked to save the art of Italy during World War 2. Put me right out.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Way down south where the missionaries grow . . . .

On Monday, the 21st of November we took Anika to the airport so she could fly to the MTC in Sao Paulo Brazil.

Even though it was hard to say goodbye, we did it at least three times each and also several times all together. Lots and lots of goodbye hugs. Lots.

And then we watched Sister Songer enter the security line and we left. (The way you do that is the same way you jump off a cliff into cold water--just do it quickly before you can really think about it. Otherwise it gets too hard.)

We knew she wouldn't be taking off for a couple of hours after we left her and that it would be the middle of the night our time before she got to Brazil. Throughout the day we thought about her and where she was in her journey. Casey pulled up the flight map so we could see exactly where she was at that moment. It doesn't make you feel better when your daughter's airplane is suspended over the vast expanse of the ocean. Nor is the ground much better.

When I woke up around 5 a.m. (as I do) I wrote her a quick email from my phone to welcome her to Brazil. (They are 5 hours ahead of us there. (Only in our modern world can you welcome someone to someplace you aren't.))

Happily, they let her send an email the day she arrived so that we'd know she was safely there and when we would be able to hear from her next. Here is her letter:

Ola familia, Estou aqui! I´m here, I´m safe, I´m taking forever to write this email because the keyboards are different. 

First news: Other than this letter, you won´t hear from me until next Wednesday (not this Wednesday but NEXT Wednesday!!) 

The unexpected: (They always tell you to expect the unexpected, and my only question is--how?!) 
...okay, the news is: I am flying solo. No other sisters came down with me, so I´ll be companionless. There are other solo sisters, but they are farther ahead than I am, so I can´t join them. 

This last sentence I will keep the errorsÇ /today I saw my first cockroach/1 and they are even bigger than i thought don~t underestimate Brazil!

I love you lots and next Wednesday (not this Wednesday but next!!) I will send pictures. ]
Just me and the elders
Sister Songer

(sorry if I come across oddly, I´m tired. Thanks for your letter!)

We are so excited for her! We miss her! We can't wait to hear more! 

Queen of the Bee

Hale-lujah, Rosie got First Runner-Up (i.e. 2nd Place) in the Valley Elementary annual Thanksgiving Spelling Bee!

 We are pretty proud of our 4th grader for beating out all the sixth graders.

The first place winner was a boy from 5th grade and third place went to another 4th grade girl.

We watched Rosie go from pretty subdued during the whiteboard portion, to more and more excited with every successful round.

She had to stretch her neck up to speak into the microphone. 

She was so excited toward the end that she was high-fiving the girl next to her and talking to her. I caught her eye from the audience and gave her the "shhh" sign, but I couldn't blame her, really. I would have done the same thing at her age--I remember that fizzy nervous feeling of being on the spot in front of an audience! Makes me feel a little sick remembering . . . .

(Look how flushed she is!)

She told me she was going to win a turkey for us and she did. Me of little faith, I'd already bought one (but only because they take so long to thaw in the fridge.) We'll be eating hers come Christmas.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Cruise Day 6 and 7--The End

The last at sea day was just a chance to revisit the stuff we'd already done before--swimming/waterslides, ropes course, climbing wall, exercising, eating....

Anderson slept in till 11:00. Later he and Lissa did some stuff with the teen group. I walked around the "Waterfront" deck for the first time and saw a rainbow over the ocean while the rain spat sideways into my eyes. I also saw the library for the first time. Everyone else saw these that first day while Rosie was napping.

We did try to get our stuff partly packed because we knew we had to be off the ship pretty early the next morning.

Anderson was invited to the goodbye party on deck by that girl, Reagan. We only let him stay out until 11:00 p.m. and the deal was he couldn't wake up his sisters when he got back.

 It was a struggle to get out the door the next morning. All the passengers were having breakfast in the Buffet at the same time and it was so crowded. Then we hadn't heard which floor the exit was on (it changed according to the kind of dock) and got stuck in the elevator for a while as it went all the way up to 15 and then back down again.

Eventually, we got off with all our stuff. Then we went to church. We hung out in the ward building for a couple of hours before the English speaking branch started. Church was just like at home--the air conditioning was too high. The Relief Society President handed out blankets before her lesson.

Our trip home wasn't quite as murderous as the one out, but we were considerably more sunburned and not nearly as exited. We got to Salt Lake about midnight, waited forever for our one checked bag, drove home in a daze, and went straight to bed. Hooray, home sweet home!

Cruise Day 6--Cozumel

Today when we got off the ship we had to walk through both levels of an outdoor mall in order to exit the terminal. Then we got a taxi van to take us to a resort Casey had researched where they had a whole bunch of inflatables to climb around on. The taxi driver tried to sell us on some other place but we decided to stick with our plan.

 We thought the kids would have had enough snorkeling so we only brought three of our sets. They used them a lot and had to keep trading off. They saw a few new things today--a tulip shell, tiny crabs on the posts of the dock, and some kind of puffer fish squirting water at the sand to uncover food.

I made Rosalie wear her capris swimming today to cover her burn and I didn't feel like being in the sun today so I stayed in the shade under the trees. And reapplied 3 or 4 times, along with making everyone else do the same. And I got a light burn where my tee-shirt scooped down because I forgot I wasn't wearing my rashguard. This despite the cloud cover, and even rain, that we had about half of the day.

When we got back to the terminal/mall we went into a tourists' dream megastore and Rosalie bought two sailboat replicas, because everything was buy one get one free. Casey got a couple of tee shirts, and Anika got a couple of braided headbands because she admired the one I got in Belize, though they weren't quite the same style. 

As we approached the ship it finally rained for real. It took one minute to get totally soaked. It only rained for two or three minutes but it took the rest of our cruise to dry out all our stuff in our rooms. 

I wish I'd taken a picture of our cruise ship from the land. Those things are so enormous. Ours just loomed over the pier and you could see it from miles away along the flat coastline, especially in Costa Maya. The Norwegian Getaway is three times as large as the Titanic by weight. And 300 feet longer. And it still feels small in the middle of the ocean.

We finally ate at the Shanghai Noodle Bar after waiting for 45 minutes. The food was good but Rosalie wouldn't eat it. Meredith took her up to the Buffet for her daily cheeseburger and fries. Then we went to the comedy club. It was mostly clean but not that funny. The little girls and I left early. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cruise Day 5--Costa Maya

This morning we had breakfast at the Flamingo, another buffet style restaurant that is very small and all Latin America themed. Meredith left her room card there, but we didn't know that until later. This morning Meri didn't want to go on shore. We tried to get her to come but she just really didn't want to and even reminded us that she had never wanted to go on a cruise in the first place, but we had made her. In the end, after a frantic search for her room card and getting a new one issued from guest services just as Lissa found her old one, we left her on board with instructions to stay in her room or the library or the buffet for lunch. 

The pier is so long at Costa Maya that they have shuttles to take you from the ship to the shore. 

We didn't want to wait for one going or coming, so we walked. Then we had to get a taxi/open bus out to the beaches. We had planned on going to one that was closest to the good snorkeling, but a salesman for a different resort offered us access to kayaks, paddleboards, shade, etc. at such a good price that we went there instead. 

It was a fair swim to get out to the good snorkeling, but there was an old dock along the way where a log of big fish were hanging out.

I followed Rosalie out to the dock and we snorkeled for a little before heading back. The rocks were really close to the surface if you headed for the beach too soon and at one point I scolded Rosie for not paying attention to where she was swimming. She headed for shore so quickly that before I could stop her, she beached herself on shell encrusted pokey rocks. I couldn't swim to her and with flippers on I couldn't walk to her. She squatted on some rocks and glared at me while I stood forty feet away in eight inches of water and glared at her. For ten minutes. Then I calmed down enough to walk to her backwards. She showed me the urchins hiding in holes in the rock above the water line--the waves refilled them every few seconds. And I showed her there were hermit crabs everywhere. We carefully picked our way out to deeper water and went back to the beach.

And this is where my brain let us down big time. Rosalie wanted to go try out the kayaks, so I said we should reapply sunscreen first, but I only did our faces. What? And Rosalie had brought her short sleeve rashguard instead of her long sleeve one. 

So first we tried a paddle board, but it was taking on water, so we got a kayak and headed out. Ani paddled out with another Kayak and we tied them to the old dock. When we reached the others they excitedly showed us what we thought was a skate, but later learned was a yellow stingray. We also saw barracuda.

And Lissa saw a porcupine fish hiding under a rock and swam away yelling into her snorkel because she remembered that we'd said puffer fish were dangerous. ( They are, if you eat them.)

We had a great time. I really love snorkeling. I could do it all day. 

Casey and Anderson took the kayaks back and then Rosie and I headed back snorkeling. After reeling her in from heading out to sea for the fourth or fifth time I linked arms with her. We noticed little hollows in the sea grasses where there were collections of conch shells, mostly long dead. And we saw a sand dollar, also dead. I'd have taken it as a souvenir but for the sign in Roatan saying "Preserve our National Parks. Don't take our shells."

Relaxing in the shade. One problem with underwater cameras is you forget they might have water droplets on the lens afterwards.

It took us a while to rinse off all our gear in the low pressure shower. Rosalie headed down the row of vendors and bought a tiny stone toucan. Anderson bought a bracelet like he had at the two previous ports. We considered buying woven name bracelets simply because it's so rare to see "Anika" and "Clarissa" in personalized items. And then as we were finally ready to head back and the cooling effects of the water had evaporated, I realized I was burned. Badly. And so were Rosalie and Clarissa. Regret! Especially for Rosie, who had leg burns like Clarissa and me, but also arm burns. And I was going to be so careful! Bah.

When we got to the long pier Rosalie was discouraged, so Anderson offered her a piggy-back ride and ran her halfway down the pier before it got too jouncy for her. Then he held up a towel to shade her legs while she walked the rest of the way.

I had to take a cold shower this time. We used a lot of aloe vera gel but it was from last year and over the next few days it didn't seem to help me any. 

We went to another sit-down restaurant for dinner but left without dessert to go see "Million Dollar Quartet." It was awesome! But I was squirming the whole time from my super heated legs. We all enjoyed the show except for Rosalie, who opted to stay in the room and watch movies.