2019 European Vacation: Day Eight in London

As promised, we made sure the boys set their feet in London before flying back to the States. A quick Easy Jet flight from Milan made that happen.

Honestly, I got teary seeing the land from overhead. I love England. I love it. I love being there, I hate leaving it. I’ve had a crush on Britain for decades and now I’ve been twice within a year. I’m already planning a third trip.

For our final day of sight-seeing, we grabbed dinner at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush (where I had the most amazing BBQ Jackfruit quesadillas!) and then hopped on the tube for Piccadilly Circus so the boys could have that “Times Square” London experience (i.e., all tourists, no locals). That’s where the LEGO store was, after all.

It was there that I saw the most exciting LEGO set ever: Stranger Things!

I didn’t take a lot of photos during our afternoon and evening in London because I’d already taken 700 throughout the trip, and frankly, I just wanted to walk the streets and enjoy myself. We got out of Piccadilly Circus as quickly as we could (because people!) and strolled through St. James Park and Westminster. Both boys wanted to see Buckingham Palace.

Union Jack Heaven!

The Royal Standard was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was home! (When Chuck and I visited in October, the Union Jack was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was not in residence.)

When our evening in London ended, I started pouting almost immediately. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep going – head to Wales or Cornwall, maybe drive to Yorkshire and the Lake District. There’s so much more I want to see.

For now, this trip will have to tide me over, and it definitely will. We all agree that Monaco was our favorite day on the trip, and the day after in Antibes and Cannes is a close second. Italy wasn’t what we expected, and I can’t say that I’m in a hurry to go back.

France, on the other hand, has me more curious than ever. I’ve been to Paris and now Côte d’Azur, but there’s a whole lot of countryside in between. ??

2019 European Vacation: Days Six and Seven in Milan, Italy

The weather was a bit gray when we left Levanto, an indication that the remainder of our Italian experience would likely be overcast or rainy. I was so grateful the rain held off so that we could enjoy Cinque Terre.

Before leaving our AirBNB, I snapped a photo of the neighbor’s dog who barked whenever he heard people. Just look at that face:

The drive to Milan was uneventful, particularly as we got closer to the city. (The Italian gas stations remain our favorite gas stations of all time.) The first part of the drive was breathtaking because it took us through the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian and Parma, home to Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano. I wish we could’ve pulled off the highway a few times to take pictures, but everyone just wanted to get to Milan. It was lovely to gaze out the window and see the countryside roll by.

Our AirBNB in Milan was phenomenal. It’s run by Superhosts, so no detail is left undone. We opted for a loft with three sleeping spaces and upon arrival realized it was quite close to a supermarket and metro station. It even came with a secure parking space (i.e., not on the street).

Jackson loved the loft room!

We cut to the chase and hopped the metro for the city center, and right away we were overwhelmed. Milan was packed. As someone who doesn’t handle crowds very well, I was immediately put off. We did our best and maneuvered around the Piazza del Duomo, which was currently set up for a large concert. (That explained the massive crowd.)

The Dome Cathedral was lovely though. We decided to tour the inside of the church the following day when we knew it would be raining.

Ironically, all of the high-fashion, ultra-expensive shops are situated around the cathedral, which also contributed to the mess of people. Everyone was shopping, particularly inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which had everything from Louis Vuitton to Prada.

(Not my photo. There were too many people inside to take good pictures.)

Of course the only store we visited was the Mondadori Bookstore, which was three floors!

After wandering around the city center, we heard live music booming from the piazza. Chuck said, “I think that’s Sting,” to which I answered, “That’s someone who sounds like Sting. That’s not Sting.”

It was Sting.

So THAT’S WHY there were eight million people in four square blocks in Milan! We couldn’t believe it. A quick Google search told us that Sting was in town with RadioItalia to promote the local orchestra (or something to that effect). What luck!

Eventually, we went inside La Rinascente, a ten-story shopping center full of – you guessed it – the highest possible name brand stores you can imagine. On the top floor are a couple of restaurants with open-air seating, so after checking the menus, we found a few things we recognized and decided to eat outside with a great view of the Duomo.

The top floor also had an incredible dessert selection.

We were tired and still a little star-struck from seeing Sting, so we grabbed some sweets to-go and headed back to the loft.

Also, this is the best macaron I’ve ever had: vanilla and apricot. ?

By morning, the rain had definitely arrived, so I decided to leave my camera in the loft and only use my cell phone. I wish the following photos were of better quality, but oh well!

We slept in a little, made breakfast, and took the metro back to city center to buy tickets for the Duomo.

Of course, then I really wished I had my camera. The Duomo is magnificent.

The stained glass was exceptional!

After exploring the Duomo, we found a proper football shop where Jeremy bought an AC Milan jersey and had his name printed on the back. Immediately after that, we went to the three-story Ferrari store, where Chuck drove a simulated car.

It was a nice way to round out our Formula 1 experience in Europe!

The rain eased a bit, so we walked to the one place I wanted to visit in Milan: the Starbucks Reserve. There are only five places in the world where Starbucks roasts its coffee beans, and Milan is one of them. In addition to being a roastery (and supplier to European stores), the Reserve offers select drinks and treats that aren’t offered elsewhere.

When I told Jeremy we were walking to a Starbucks, he was unimpressed. Yet, when we walked in, he understood.

This is a Starbucks?” ?

Chuck and I ordered specialty coffees while the boys enjoyed gelato made right in front of them with liquid nitrogen.

We also talked to the one of the roasters who explained the process to us. He was from England, so there was no language barrier!

After our midday treats, we walked away from the city center to see what else Milan had to offer. Finally, I found a part of Milan I enjoyed and there were so few people! It was great!

Green spaces!

We made one last stop, this time in a men’s shop called Gutteridge. There, I saw my two favorite flags.

It was in Gutteridge where we knew our time in Milan was over. We were all exhausted. We made a quick walk back through the galleria, which still had a mess of people in it.

We stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the loft for dinner things and spent the rest of the evening lounging. In the morning, we were headed to London.??

2019 European Vacation: Day Five in Levanto and Cinque Terre, Italy

It was hard to leave France, if I’m honest. We had just found our stride with the neighborhood and language, and we felt like we could stay for days longer with no problem. It was only the pull and appeal of Cinque Terre that made it okay to pack up and drive east.

Before we go any further, you need to know that Italian gas stations are phenomenal.

In addition to their clean and tidy bathrooms, Italian gas stations are part specialty shop, part delicatessen. Some of the boys’ favorite foods they ate in Italy were enjoyed in a gas station. Go figure.

Our AirBNB was in Levanto, a cozy seaside town on a hill in the province of La Spezia. On the drive to Levanto, tucked away in the mountainside, we saw little communities of stacked, colorful buildings.

They were little hints of what was to come later that afternoon in Riomaggiore and Manarola, the two (out of five) villages we visited that make up Cinque Terre.

In keeping with the steep terrain, our apartment in Levanto was situated on a hill and gave us an incredible view of the water.

We settled in quickly and headed to the train station. Originally, I thought walking through all five towns of Cinque Terre was doable over two days, and I still think that’s a plausible plan. However, we were already tired from the previous four days that we decided to stick with the two towns we wanted to see the most and forgo the other three. In the end it was a smart move because Riomaggiore and Manarola were swarming with tourists, and we’d heard from family members who just visited the area that the other towns were even more touristy.

Still, I wanted to see these towns with my own eyes, especially since I’d already seen them in pictures AND in a puzzle.

When we spent Christmas in Wisconsin in 2017, my family and I spend a week putting together a puzzle of the Italian coastline that Chuck and I bought from Target. We chose this puzzle for Jacob, who loves all things Italy, and it looked beautiful when it was completed.

Truth be told, I wasn’t altogether convinced this was a real place.

In December 2017, Cinque Terre, specifically Manarola, didn’t mean anything to me, but as we researched this trip and put Cinque Terre on our itinerary, I realized we’d be walking right into that puzzle.

We went to Riomaggiore first and realized that everything we heard about Cinque Terre was true – small streets, stairs everywhere, a maze of walkways. The weather was perfect, so everything sparkled.

It wasn’t long after arriving that both boys wished they’d brought their swim trunks.

We kept walking up since we had the stamina to do so!

We made a pitstop for rosé, as one does in Italy.

And then my boys posed for a photo by choice, not coercion:

Love, love, love!

If I lived in Riomaggiore:

Welcome to my plants.
The Wine House, Riomaggiore

The back wall of The Wine House in Riomaggiore was an actual wall of rock. It was the literal mountainside!

We hopped the train to Manarola because that’s where I wanted to be at sunset for the best lighting, where the low sun would cast a soft glow on the building fronts.

Italian cat!

I pulled up a picture of the puzzle on my phone so we could identify WHERE in the puzzle we were standing.

We grabbed dinner near the water and rested our legs. Then it was time to walk to the other side for that evening photo with the perfect lighting. Jeremy and I headed to one side, Chuck and Jackson to the other.

This was our view:

Manarola, Cinque Terre

That’s Chuck and Jackson in the green and blue shirts.

Once the sun was tucked behind the mountainside we headed for the train station and rode back to Levanto.

Good night from Manarola

In the morning, we headed back to Milan. Little did we know that we’d run into Sting that evening.

2019 European Vacation: Day One in Kingston-Upon-Thames and Brighton

Last year, when Chuck and I flew to the UK, we opted for an overnight flight so we wouldn’t lose a day of sight-seeing. A quick nap upon arrival gave us enough energy to power through the jet lag.

This time, however, remembering how rough it was on the boys when we flew to Iceland, we decided to surrender a day of sight-seeing for a day of travel. We flew out of Chicago at 9 a.m. and landed in London close to 11 p.m. By the time we were settled in Kingston-Upon-Thames and had eaten our room-service pizza, it was time for bed. Despite the incredibly long day, I think it was easier for the boys to acclimate.

I love Kingston-Upon-Thames and couldn’t wait to return, particularly since we had plans to visit Hampton Court. It’s southwest of London, perfectly situated on the river as the name suggests, and entirely walkable.

Before heading to Hampton Court, we stopped by All Saints Church, where the earliest kings of England were crowned. They still have the coronation stone inside.

The 30-minute walk to Hampton Court took us through the town and over the Thames, and it made me love the city all over again.

I’m tempted to draft a long history of Hampton Court’s significance, but I won’t torture those of you only came here for the photos. In short, Hampton Court was Henry VIII’s favorite place to be. It was transformed from a stately home to a true palace under the eye of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who failed to secure Henry’s first divorce from Catherine of Aragon and therefore secured his fateful death.

It was also where the Protestant King James I (of England) and VI (of Scotland), who reigned after Elizabeth I died, held a conference to discuss the translation of the Holy Bible into English for the faithful to read. (Spoiler alert – he had the first English translation named after him.)

The great kitchens of King Henry’s reign produced meat pies and delicacies literally fit for a king. The Tudor Royal Court was known for its exotic, fantastical dining.
The king’s wine cellar

Hampton Court is essentially two palaces in one – the rose-brick Tudor palace from the 1500s and the baroque palace of William III from the 1700s.

This staircase leads to William III’s apartments. It marks a noticeable shift is style and architecture.

At various points throughout our tour, I kept thinking certain places looked familiar as if I’d seen them before. Sure enough, a quick Google search reminded me that certain scenes of The Favourite were filmed here, as Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch and spent a lot of time at Hampton Court.

I couldn’t wait to get my eyes on The Great Hall, which is practically a shrine to Henry VIII. My photos of the stained glass don’t do them justice.

If you’re able to zoom in on the stained glass, you’ll see all the wives’ names and their subsequent mottos.

Aw, poor Jane. She is buried with King Henry at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. Henry considered her his true wife. She was wife No. 3 and the only one who bore him a living son, Edward VI.

My favorite, however, is Anne Boleyn. Her motto was “The Most Happy.” My sweet husband was such a champ to endure my Queen Anne fandom last October when we visited Hever Castle, her childhood home. It ended up being one of our favorite things on that trip.

It was Anne who gave us Elizabeth I.

One area where photos weren’t allowed was the Chapel Royal. (Below is a photo from the official website.) It was in this chapel where Henry’s son and future king, Edward, was baptized. It’s important to note that it was Henry who commissioned the vaulted ceilings in the 1530s and the blue starry sky was painted by Sir James Thornhill for Queen Anne Boleyn. She didn’t enjoy the ceiling for very long since she was executed in 1536.

Here’s a better view of the starry ceiling:

That’s Chuck walking out of the right side of Hampton Court into the gardens (note the baroque style from William III’s contributions).

The grounds were phenomenal and largely attributed to King William III and Queen Mary II.

The great surprise of Hampton Court came to Jackson, who loves ALL THINGS related to Guinness World Records. At the far end of the gardens is the largest grapevine in the world and there’s even a plaque there to prove it.

He wept a little, unprepared to see a Guinness World Record in person with his own eyes. He wanted to take his own photo of the certification.

We walked back to the center of Kingston to catch a quick look at David Mach’s 1989 sculpture “Out of Order” and grab some Cornish pasties. Thus began the carb-loading portion of our vacation.

With plenty of time left in the day, we took a quick drive to the seaside to visit Brighton, a Myrtle-Beach sort of vacation spot. It gave us an opportunity to show the boys the English Channel.

It was on this pier that we got ice cream cones. However, only three of us finished our cones since a seagull swept down and stole mine right out of my hand. I thought they were only interested in french fries. Alas, no! Beware the seagulls!

If you’ve been to my home, specifically my home office, you know I love bunting. England has bunting in spades and Brighton is no exception. Everything looks happier with bunting! Hang ALL THE BUNTING!

After our walking tour of Brighton (you can see more on Instgram, including our dinner at a local pub saved on the UK Instastories), we drove to a hotel connected to Gatwick Airport. The next morning, we were flying to Milan.

So we went to Europe.

At some point during winter, Chuck and I started talking about where to take the boys on a summer vacation. We like to travel as soon as we’re done with school, which ends at the onset of Mother’s Day (a lovely gift I give myself). Also, traveling before Memorial Day weekend tends to save a little money and definitely cuts down on the crowds.

Our original thought was to take the boys to California since they’ve never been. Rent a car, drive the coast, venture into L.A. so Jackson can marvel at the Hollywood sign… It sounded like a good idea.

But then we started seeing unbelievable fares out of Chicago, which is where we planned to fly out of since we were going there for Jacob’s graduation. When a fare to London showed up at $398, we decided to jump on it. We’d fly roundtrip from Chicago to London and see what could happen in between.

Leaving Chicago

By mid-March, we’d made loose plans. We knew we didn’t want to stay in the UK since Chuck and I just did that in October, and we knew Easy Jet could take us almost anywhere in Europe for cheap. When a fare to Milan popped up for $67, we decided Italy was as good a country as any.

Milan, Italy

Then we started researching where we could drive to from Milan. The Mediterranean Sea was a four-hour drive from Milan. We thought, let’s go there! Why not! Let’s go to France! Is Spain too far away? Where else could we go?

Antibes, France

At the same time, Chuck and I had discovered “Drive to Survive”, a Netflix docu-series on Formula 1. On a whim, we googled races. Most of them happen in Europe, so maybe there was a race when we were already scheduled to be there.

Sure enough, the Monaco Grand Prix was scheduled for the exact week we planned to be in the French Riviera. We researched logistics and bought tickets for the first two practices. Unreal.

We had seats directly across from pit lane.

Our trip started to take shape by the end of March, but it was on the road to Nashville for the Mumford & Sons concert when Chuck and I wondered when the Cannes Film Festival was – because wouldn’t that be funny if the Cannes Film Festival was during the same time as our vacation to southern France!

Sure enough, it was.

After France, we went back to Italy and explored two towns that make up Cinque Terre’s five towns. Stunning, stunning.

We finished the trip with an afternoon in London and caught a flight back to Chicago the next day. We wore ourselves out, but every second was worth it. Yes, we are already talking about where to go next.

Outside Buckingham Palace. Yes, the Queen was in residence. No, she didn’t wave to us from the balcony.

I took an obscene amount of photos (of course I did!), so it will take a week or longer to sort through them and upload posts that fully describe the trip. Since this blog serves as a scrapbook for our family, I will include all the highlights. I did the same thing with our Iceland trip in 2017 and our UK trip in 2018, and I still enjoy going back to read those posts.

Stay tuned!

Video of our trip to Iceland

It took the bulk of my day to finish this video, but that’s only because iMovie is trial and error for me. If I would just fork over $300 for Final Cut Pro, my video-making could go more smoothly.

At any rate, I gathered all of the photos from our trip to Iceland, including a few videos, and compiled them into a nearly 12-minute long slide show/video. It’s lengthy, I know, but it serves as a scrapbook for our family. Please feel free to start it now and finish it later. Or feel free to watch it all in one sitting.

Or skip it. Whatever, y’all! You do you!

Enjoy 

Adventure in Iceland – Going home

We were all sad on Friday morning. Though we’d done and seen so much in three full days, we were just starting to get the hang of life in Iceland. We weren’t speaking the language, but the place had gotten comfortable. None of us wanted to leave yet.

Once we were all packed and ready for the airport, Jeremy took a moment to say goodbye to the neighborhood soccer pitch. Oh, the hours he could spend there.

We also said goodbye to the house cat. Since the cold snap ended, much of the snow melted near the coast and it was a comfortable 43 degrees with low humidity.

Unlike our flight to Iceland, which was entirely in the dark, we chased the sun home to the States. It was particularly nice since sunlight meant we could see Greenland.

One of my favorite photos from the whole trip was taken with my phone from the plane. This is UNEDITED. I took it with my cell phone.

Once the sun was dim, the moon showed up. She, too, was glorious.

I’ve spent the last week discerning my overall thoughts of Iceland. When people asked me what it was like, my first inclination is to respond with, “I don’t know,” not because I’ve lost my memory but because I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it. It’s an island made of volcanos and glaciers. It’s hot and cold at the same time. It’s confusing and mysterious. It’s vast and open. It’s impeccably clean and efficient – seriously, even the public restrooms. (As an American, I was embarrassed that we can’t be as considerate.)

People were friendly enough, but not in your face about it. To each, his own seems to be the Icelandic way, and I’m libertarian enough to appreciate it.

But what was it really like? 

Well, I’m not a fan of its tax code on matters of economic principle, but Icelanders seem okay with it. As long as we could grocery shop and make wise choices financially, the priciness of traveling in Iceland wasn’t a bother.

The little churches everywhere? Love.

The language? Gosh. It would take months to get a handle on basic conversation and years of immersion to speak it fluently. Our AirBNB host is British and he said it took him three years to learn Icelandic. For purposes of travel, though, the language wasn’t a barrier because much of the signage was in Icelandic and English, and everyone we encountered spoke English. (Google Translate helped with the rest.)

I can’t say much about Icelandic cuisine because we didn’t patron a true restaurant with Iceland food. Sure, we ate at IKEA twice, but that doesn’t count. Since we were traveling with the boys, we opted out of authentic restaurants  and instead chose to grocery shop and save our money. (That wouldn’t be the case if Chuck and I had gone without the boys. Choosing restaurants to try is a favorite part of our travels together.) That being said, grocery shopping was still an adventure for all four of us, and it’s there where we relied on Google Translate to identify basic items such as coffee creamer and yogurt. For three days worth of breakfast and lunch items, we paid $63. Compare that to ONE MEAL we had our first day in Iceland, which was $101, a poor decision we made in fatigue and hunger.

But these things – food, language, budgeting – are secondary, peripheral matters. The long term affects of our trip to Iceland are rooted in the moments when we watched a geysir explode from the earth, when we slipped into a geothermal bath while our eyelashes collected snowflakes, when we stood in the place where two plate tectonics meet…

Waterfalls and frozen streams and Icelandic horses. 

A lava rock beach on the North Atlantic coastline. 

Five hours of daylight with the longest and most vibrant sunrises and sunsets of your life.

On our drive home from the airport we remarked that it didn’t feel real. Did we really just go to Iceland? I mean, who does that? Who chooses to vacation near the Arctic Circle, on a whim, no less, because we found some cheap airfare and had the days to spare? Who decides to take a chance on an adventure and go to a place where everything seems uncertain?

Well, I guess we do.

 

 

Adventure in Iceland – Day Three

One of the best pieces of advice we got from our AirBNB hosts was to avoid the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa trolling with tourists. It’s likely you’ve seen an ad for it, and it was mentioned in nearly every video we watched and every blog post we read while researching the trip.

However, as our host said, you won’t find Icelanders there. It’s a tourist trap, complete with high prices and required reservations made well in advance. Instead, we were encouraged to find a local place, and that’s exactly what we did. We got up early Thursday morning, before the sunrise, and drove north to Krauma Geothermal Baths.

Boiling water coming from the frozen tundra – Iceland really is the land of fire and ice.

Of course, before we arrived, we warned the boys that they’d need to shower before getting in the baths, and we didn’t mean showering with swimsuits on. Nope. Fully naked. In open showers. Because Europeans don’t care about nudity the way Americans do.

Jeremy wasn’t pleased.

Fortunately, we were the only ones there, minus a couple of Icelandic women who were leaving just as we arrived.

It was… a dream.

There are five baths at varying temperatures, including one cold bath that’s pure glacier water. Everyone except me dipped a toe or leg in that bath and reported that it was pins-and-needles cold.

But the warm baths? Delightful.

This photo is currently the screensaver on my phone:

Though it would’ve been a quicker drive to the Blue Lagoon, Krauma was well worth it and confirms what we always believe about traveling: do what the locals do. 

Another perk of driving north to Krauma was being able to go in a different direction than we’d already gone (south to Reynisfjara Beach and east to Gullfoss).

The weather wasn’t all that clear north of Reykjavik, so I wasn’t sure what we’d find once we got back to the city. Fortunately, again, it was perfect!

Spotted: Church cat

Finally we could see Leif Eiriksson and Hallgrimskirkja in the daylight.

The views from the tower in Hallgrimskirkja were breathtaking. So thankful for a clear(ish) afternoon!

I approve of Iceland’s love for color!

Back on the ground, we walked around a little longer since it wasn’t raining. I think I’d like grass on my roof too, please.

Spotted: Bookstore cat

Next we drove back to our little town of Hafnarfgjordur to visit Pallett, the coffeeshop owned by our AirBNB hosts.

I ordered a Flat White, which was the best Flat White I’d ever had in my life. I wanted a second one, but it was getting late and caffeine-induced insomnia is not my friend in other time zones.

Our final stop on Thursday was a local mall, mainly out of curiosity.

Prices at the LEGO store were significantly higher than in the States. We definitely window-shopped.

We grabbed dinner for the second time at IKEA and headed home to pack. As expected, the trip flew by. Boo.

Next: Friday and going home. 

Adventure in Iceland – Day Two

When we got back in town Tuesday night, after our excursion to Reynisfjara Beach, we went to a local grocery store to buy food for the rest of the week. We had already made a mistake by eating on the fly Tuesday late-morning, jet-lagged and un-researched. This is a huge fail when it comes to visiting Iceland on a budget and we resolved to be better the rest of the week.

(I think I’ll make a separate blog post about traveling to Iceland on a budget, so if you’re interested in that, stay tuned.)

Since we had eggs, toast, cereal, and milk in the house, breakfast was a cinch. Once they boys were dressed and fed, they went outside to the backyard to pet the cats.

The first stop on Wednesday was along the Golden Circle to Thingvellir National Park, which you can see noted on the map below:

Thingvellir is important to Icelandic culture and history, as well as its geological and ecological significance. It is literally where the North American tectonic plate and Eurasian plate meet.

Iceland is notoriously vibrant and green in the summer, and despite the snow, you could still see the beautiful moss growing everywhere.

If you continue on the path you run into Oxararfoss, an up-close magnificent (frozen) waterfall.

One of my favorite photos from the trip – this is my whole heart right here:

I can’t emphasize how clear the water is. I mean, if you want to drink from it, go ahead.

Oxararfoss is right behind us. We walked across frozen water to get to it. I’d love to see it in summertime!

After climbing out of the crevasses, we got back in the car and headed to Strokkur/Geysir. The Golden Circle is a heavy tourist area, so unlike much of our experiences on Tuesday, we were among fellow travelers most of Wednesday.

Imagine boiling water bursting out of the Earth and running down a frozen tundra. That’s Geysir.

This is Strokkur, a reliable hot spring that erupts every four to eight minutes.

Even with steaming hot water erupting from the Earth, there is plenty of frozen bright blue water to be found.

The last place we visited along the Golden Circle was Gullfoss, Iceland’s largest waterfall. Of course, it was mostly frozen so I’d love to return in summer to see it in full color and motion.

Our five hours of daylight were fading fast, so we hoped in the car back to Reykjavik to explore the city at night.

But first, sunset.

Icelanders take their Viking history seriously, so Thor is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

It was foggy on Wednesday night, so we knew we’d have to come back to Hallgrimskirkja Church the next day and hope for clear skies.

Next: Krauma Geothermal Baths and Reykjavik in the daytime

Parasailing and Fishing in the Gulf

After two full days on the beach we ventured into town so the boys could go parasailing. At first they acted nervous, like what they were about to do was dangerous, but then I reminded them that last summer they rode nearly every roller coaster at Hershey Park with no fear whatsoever.

In no time they were hooked up and taking off.

The boys felt much better about parasailing once Chuck got a last-minute invite to join them at no extra cost.

I’ve been parasailing before. Actually, Chuck and I went parasailing back when we were teenagers. Since I had my camera, I was happy to stay in the boat and document their experience.

And then, dolphins!

Wednesday was our last full day in the area and Chuck had yet to fish, which was the one thing he wanted to do. Originally the boys and I set up our spot on Navarre Beach, where I laid reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and the boys went off to swim, but the lure of pier activity was too great. Within a half hour both boys had joined Chuck on the pier and I laid in the sand finishing my book (which was fantastic).

It may look like the boys were bored, but they weren’t. They were busy counting sea turtles.

By the time we left Navarre Beach, they’d seen somewhere in the double digits.

Our vacation in Destin was exactly what we needed – lots of relaxation, a couple of fun activities, and, most importantly of all, time together. The Gulf was breathtaking, and it bolstered Jeremy’s continued interest in marine science. Honestly, when he wasn’t eating, sleeping, or parasailing, he was exploring.

Jeremy had a hard time saying goodbye to the water, especially since I don’t know if we’ll return this calendar year. On our way out of town we stopped at the last pier before turning northward. We got out of the car for one last look. This place is so easy on the eyes.

Luckily for me, there was one more thing to look forward to: The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery. More on that tomorrow.

 

First Romp in the Gulf at Miramar Beach, Destin

Our life feels crazy sometimes, but after nearly a decade into Chuck’s job, I’ve learned to go with the flow. Our original plans for family vacation didn’t involve Destin, and then the back-up plan to Destin didn’t include Chuck. All the whiplash in the planning phase came to a head two days before our planned departure.

Long story short, we spent four days at Miramar Beach in Destin and it was perfect.

The boys had never been to the Gulf of Mexico, but they knew the water would be bluer and clearer than the Atlantic.

Jeremy, our ocean-loving son, couldn’t believe it.

It was chilly on Sunday night, and the wind was steady, but that was no deterrent for two eager boys ready to swim and explore.

They were so happy. Instantly. All at once. They, too, have learned to live at the whim of our unpredictable schedule, not knowing how one thing or another may pan out. But at this moment, with feet in the sand and bodies in the water, they were happy.

We had an hour or so until sundown, but that was fine since we had days of bright sun ahead.

The next morning we reserved a set of chairs with plenty of shade and planned to spend the entire day on the beach. It was a Monday morning. We had nowhere to be and nothing to do. The water was calm and clear.

The perk of traveling before schools are out for the summer is having a lot of space to ourselves. Homeschooling for the win!

Jeremy brought a collection of jars and containers to gather specimens and whatever Gulf treasures he found.

This was our view at lunch… We suffered through it.

We spent a little bit of time in the touristy areas of Destin, but not a ton because the beach was so perfect. Whenever we were around water, this was Jeremy:

We were thankful for the weather, thankful for the thin crowd, and thankful we could all be together.

And we still had a few days to go. More pictures later!

Summer Road Trip 2016

We got home last night from what felt like a long and short family vacation. Long in the car, short with the family. The usual.

Sunset on Friday June 24

This is how it is when you don’t live near family, or when any of your family members live near each other. My side is sprinkled across the country, primarily on the east coast, but still. Seeing my people includes long-distance travel almost every time.

But it’s worth it, you know?

Me and Mom at Hershey Park

Most of our time was spent in Philadelphia with my parents. We went horseback riding, spent an evening at Hershey Park, and Chuck and I were able to spend a whole day alone. We wandered around not knowing what to do with ourselves!

Date night in Philly

We’re home now, happy to be reunited with our home and beds and space. I missed my pets, missed my routine, and missed eating my own home-cooked meals. Vacation is always fun, but so is coming home.

Nearly home from family vacation

These are just a few photos from my phone. Sit tight for the ones from my camera. They are fabulous.

Amelia Island

We spent the bulk of last week on Amelia Island, specifically Fernandina Beach. Essentially, it’s the first little beach you run into when you cross the Georgia/Florida state line on I-95. It’s a delightful little town with shops and restaurants, and when we were there, it wasn’t crowded at all.

I know you just want to see the pictures, so I’ll hush.

Big ocean

 

Beach fun

We are zombies today after a long drive home from Amelia Island in the pouring rain. It’s been a gloriously sunny week of strolling the beach, jumping through waves, and eating seafood. I have more than 600 photos to show how much fun we had.

Moonlight

We also made a stop in Savannah and Jesup, Georgia, to do a little research for my novel, but more on that later. Y’all, it was perfect. SO perfect.

Today is all about catch-up. Laundry, grocery shopping, picking up Major from doggy camp… As I do all of these tasks, I’ll dwell in place of gratitude for the time we had together. This will be a busy summer, but at least we’ve started it out right.

Fernandina Beach 2014

 

 

A quickie vacation

Instead of that two-week cruise to the Bahamas (which occurs in my dreams), we chose to meet up with our extended family in Cincinnati, or more specifically, the Great Wolf Lodge. Everyone had to travel since none of us live in the same city or near the same city or even in the same state. But at least now we’re all on the same side of the country. That’s progress!

Now that the boys are older, we no longer have to hyper-supervise them while swimming. They just all jump in and try to drown each other, which means all the adults can chat casually under the shade of a patio umbrella.

You can see Jeff, Chuck, Becky and Mom in the background, right? We figure if one kid starts to drown another kid will save him, so we just sat back drinking our iced coffees and wondering how much longer until we could move our old bones into the air conditioning.

After a couple of days in a regular hotel, we drove over to the Great Wolf Lodge in Mason to join our grandmother, aunt and uncle, cousins and second cousins. All 17 of us!

Have you ever been to a Great Wolf Lodge? It’s about a million dollars per night but loads of fun!

I would’ve loved to get a photo of everyone together, but instead I settled for a photo of all six boys. Out of the 15 photos I snapped very quickly, this was the best one. Cameron and Jackson (on the bottom step) were over it.

 

From 3 to 12

Another whirlwind weekend landed us in West Virginia to visit the Treadway side of the family for July 4th. The picture below, which feels like it was taken a hundred years ago, shows three little cousins who used to play and antagonize each other.

Add three spouses and SIX little boys, and now we have 12 cousins who like to play and antagonize each other.

Much love to my sweet family. Thank you for putting up with us for three compact days, for the amazing food, and the new memories. We now know that six boys cannot be left alone with an air mattress.