Lake Garda

day 26 (9/27)

another day on lake garda . . . and today we drove up to the city of Garda. i was there on bike yesterday and there were vendors everywhere, but today there weren’t any other than the shops in the city, and there are quite a lot of those. Paula and the kids shopped and then found a school playground (not realizing that the kids actually go to school on Saturday mornings here — ah well). they played and found a rope slide thing that was loads of fun. they took me back to this playground to show it off after i finished . . . doing laundry. i did a few loads to get us all up to date as we prepare to move on. we drove back to the castle (Lazise) for lunch.

in the afternoon we walked back to the hotel. i took a nap while Paula took a walk and the kids played with their toys. for dinner, we decided to make reservations at Midieval Times for dinner and a show. this is set in the year 1096 or so (i read it and forget the specific date now). you are given a crown as you enter and your crown has a color — 4 total colors. we had blue on our crown and we sat in the front row of our section. they adverstise that it’s all you can drink — pepsi, beer, water, or wine. i chose the wine and drank 1 glass and didn’t even finish. same with Paula. they don’t give you a small glass of wine, they fill a king and queen’s cup. and they would have brough more if we had finished. the kids had pepsi. they star by placing your metal plate and very sturdy plastic mug in front of you. people bang their mug on the plate and plate on the table very loudly and it’s quite the commodation. Ellie and JD weren’t sure what to think as this noise was taking place. but then the show starts and the food starts arriving. the show has 4 Knights competing for the hand of the princess (to marry). they compete in various events while riding horses around the arena and dressed in costume. for jousting, they had a ring that was just about 5′ in front of us and the ring was only about 2″ in diameter, yet these 4 guys could be going full speed on their horses and get the ring on their joust stick. i think they got it about 10 out of 12 times between them. i was amazed. they also competed in archery (many bullseyes) and sword fighting, etc. the show was quite elegant . . . and interestingly enough, they announced everything in Italian, then in English, and then in German. so just about everyone could listen in.

well, the food started arriving and it started with a bowl of soup — no silverware. you just tip the bowl up to your mouth and drink/eat. they also provided a piece of bread with toppings. but you should have seen JD’s eyes when the big part of the meal showed up. they actually gave each person his or her own chicked that had been cooked, obviously. the whole chicken. they weren’t large chickens, but for kids like JD and Ellie these things were giant. they also threw down some fries and squirted some ketchup if you wanted. an apple topping and ice cream desert finished things off (and Italian coffee for Paula and me — not American coffee, mind you — they’d laugh at our weak coffee). but the show is what Ellie and JD loved (here’s a youtube video if you want the gist of it). they really got into cheering for “our” Knight and booing the other 3 Knights. they were standing and yelling and raising their thumb and then lowering it, etc. they really got into it. the whole show and dinner lasted about 2 hours so it was quite the experience.

JD cheering
 

 

i am up late trying to figure out where we’ll go tomorrow. probably Switzerland or maybe back to Innsbruck, Austria. if we go to Innsbruck then we’ll probably hang out a few days and then head over to Prague in the Czech Republic. if we go to Switzerland, we’ll hang there a few days and then up to Luxemborg or something (i don’t know). it’s really getting hard to find lodging for a family of 4. 2 double beds like you find nearly everywhere in the USA is very, very uncommon here. many families who travel end up taking longer “holidays” (vacations) and they rent an apartment for a week or so, which we’ve done a few times when i had more time to research. we might try a youth hostel again to try and save money??? i hope we’ll know more when we wake up tomorrow. heh.

Northern Italy

day 23 (9/24)
Padova again and we spent the morning learning the metro bus system so Paula can reach her meeting tomorrow. i bought a Swatch watch so i could be more like the kids . . . i got tired of asking Paula for the time — or maybe she got tired of me. heh. we had to be out of our youth hostel by 9:30 AM and we couldn’t return until 4:30 so we kept ourselves busy shopping and exploring. we returned to do a load of laundry and work on some school work stuff. we met some people from Holland and a guy from the USA staying at the hostel. they were older like us whereas most of the folks at the hostel are closer to 20.

day 24 (9/25)
paula had her big meeting at the University of Padua (Padova) and the kids and i explored a bit and walked a lot. we all met at the huge Piazza after Paula’s meeting and grabbed lunch before jumping in our car and heading to Lake Garda — a giant lake in north central Italy. we found a hotel near the castle city of Lazise. you’ll have to check out our photos to see the castle — the entire old city is in the walls of the castle so it’s pretty cool. it’s right on the lake as well and has shop after shop after shop. big plans for the kids tomorrow.

day 25 (9/26)
Gardaland Adventure park. Paula will have to fill you in on the details as she took the kids and it’s a lot like Disneyland. i rented a bike and rode and rode and rode along the lake. they have a bike path around it, i assume as i only rode about 50 kilometers today (i am working on my metric system for all measurements as that’s used here). i had a job of finding a new hotel for 2 nights that has internet access and is affordable as last night we spent too much but it was getting late and we couldn’t spend time searching. i rode all over asking hotel after hotel about this stuff and found one that’s quite nice and reasonable right across the street from the castle town. we all spent the evening in Lazice eating dinner and enjoying gelato and walking.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

day 19 (9/20)
we woke up at 5 something in the morning to catch the 6:30 bus to Rome, which is about 2 hours away by bus. we jumped off the bus and bought a super 4 Euro ticket for riding all public transportation for a day — great bargain. we took a bus to the Piazza del Campidoglia. this is a beautiful area and left us with a short walk to the Roman Colosseum and ruins along the way. we found a line of about an hour to get into the Colosseum already, so we purchased tickets for a guided tour in English. this was just a few dollars more than the cost of admission and we got to skip the line and go right in with the tour. cool. the tour also filled us in with lots of facts and history of the Colosseum so it was well worth it. and, when it was finished we were allowed to stay in the Colosseum as long as we wanted to take all sorts of photos, etc. we then headed over to the Arch of Constantine and decided to find some lunch. this took some time and a lot of walking, but it was a beautiful day and we did finally realized success at a nice sidewalk cafe.

after lunch we found a bus to the Pantheon. whew. we jumped on . . . little did we realize, but the bus went about 1 block and we were at our stop. i am serious — it was 1 little block. heh. ah well, we jumped off to a few odd stares and we were soon staring at the Pantheon, which is the oldest building in Rome dating back in the B.C. days. Paula and i grabbed a coffee at the Caffe Sant’ Eustachio as they have the best coffee in Europe because of the spring water they exclusively use. mmmmm.

we then walked over to the Piazza Navona and had some other things on our agenda, but i decided i’d rather see the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. we figured out buses to the Vatican and decided to first head to Saint Peter’s Square and then into Saint Peter’s Basilica. beautiful place. to get to the Sistine Chapel, there was about a 10 minute walk. we arrived to find that it had closed just a few minutes before we arrived. DOH! so we explored around a bit and decided to take the metro subway to Piazza della Repubblica. from there we walked to the Piazza dei Cinquecento — the train station. we asked around and figured out where to catch our bus back to Perugia so we jumped on a different subway and found the bus station and we were able to get one of the last seats on the last bus back to Perugia. whew! what a long day it was, but it was exciting to see Rome and the various sites. if all roads lead to Rome then this isn’t a bad place to end up — well worth it.

The photos from Rome are available here (well, some are uploaded, but this internet cafe isn’t working well for uploads so i may have to wait for better connection in the days ahead — there should be 12 from Rome).

kids at Roman Colosseum

Perugia

day 16 (9/17)

we headed off to Perugia, which is in a region just below Tuscany and is about 5 hours from Milan. very pretty driving. going through Tuscany was mountainous but they provided tunnel after tunnel to get through the mountains as easily as was possible, it seemed. Perugia is a sister city to Grand Rapids so Paula had visited the sister city office in Grand Rapids who got us acquainted with the sister city office in Perugia. they set us up with an apartment for 5 nights and it’s located right in the city center (again, no cars allowed). this city is amazing as it sits on top of a hill just short of a mountain and the panoramic views are incredible. incredible. parking is at a premium but the person who rented us the apartment had private parking down the hill where our car was locked away. she had a small car so she loaded up our bags and me and we delivered things to the apartment (she has a pass to drive there) and then she went back to get Paula and the kids. i mentioned she had a small car . . . well, it was necessary as the roads to the apartment were incredibly small. my old Jeep could not have fit. not even close. the biggest vehicle you’ll see on these roads is a Mini Cooper. but, our apartment is right in the thick of things.

day 17 (9/18)

we headed up to the nearby Piazza (an outdoor square area where people hang out) and found a tour bus that provides tours of Perugia to get acquainted. it is actually a convertible mini bus so that it can fit. we were provided with headphones and we turned the dial to English and it gave us a guided tour as we drove. perfect little tour to learn the city better. we had lunch at a Ristaurante and then met up with Loretta — a woman from the local sister city office. she was Very helpful to us. she provided us with tips and tricks for staying in Perugia and she also helped Paula with the business she has to conduct here in Perugia. she also gave us maps and literature. i wasn’t feeling well so i went back to the apartment and took a nap while Paula and the kids headed to the museum of Archeology. they say it was awesome. afterwards, we all headed out to explore some more. JD bought some star wars figurines and he was content to sit in the Piazza and play with his characters on the steps of buildings, etc. Ellie played with him and Paula and i took turns exploring the city. i heard 2 girls speaking English and asked them about an Internet cafe. they weren’t sure but they were able to give me the login name and password for their university wireless network and told me to go to their Piazza to try it.

addendum, i took off after the kids went to bed but i was unable to locate the Piazza and i never did ask which university they attend — there are many here. doh. so asking people was futile. perhaps tomorrow night i’ll break down and buy some time at a cafe if i find one.

day 18 (9/19)

rain! Paula woke up early to head off and meet with teachers. the kids and i slept in. i felt much better today so the kids and i took off exploring again and tried to find the museum of Archeology. i let each kid lead the way since they’d been there, but the end result was that we walked in a very large circle up and down stairs. heh. ah well. we did find a cave area which was developed inside. it scared Ellie so she stayed close by my side. i’ll have to go back and take photos as it was a neat area. the kids were troopers in the rain, but we had rain gear so it wasn’t a big deal. after we gave up i bought a cappuccino for 1 Euro. the same drink at Starbucks would be $3. who needs Starbucks, eh?

after Paula’s meeting at the school, she walked back with Loretta from teh sister city office. she let Paula borrow and umbrella and also said that i could use the internet in her office, which is how this is now being posted. she also gave us some high definition poster photos of the city. like i said, she has been very, very helpful to us. well, it’s time for a late lunch. more to come . . .

okay, we had a decent lunch and the woman who served us grew up in Colorado near Aspen (Carbondale). we decided to take the mini metro, which is a small subway like car but it’s a single car instead of a train. we rode it to the end and then nearly back and we jumped off a stop short of completely returning. we then took escalators up the hill and walked part way to discover another part of town. we shopped a bit and i bought some English books for late at night when we have no internet and no television — i like staying up much later than everyone else so this is good. i also bought a 5 disc set of the best of Buddy Guy — less than 10 Euro — for the car. whew! for dinner, JD wanted a hot dog, which we found. Ellie got some sort of panini sandwhich and Paula opted for Middle Eastern food. i went to the Italian restuarant nearest to our apartment to try it. whoa! it was incredible. i decided to get the full 3 course meal. first came Penne pasta in a spicy red sauce. then i had a steak. and then the mixed vegetable salad arrived, and it was big. add some bread and olive oil, etc. and this was a real meal. all for 12 Euros. i will be taking the whole family back in a few days . . . and that’s because we have HUGE plans for tomorrow. stay tuned.

Check out the updated photos here.

Milan

day 14 (9/15)
our hotel had a terrific included breakfast. they also have a coffee bar included and my cappuccino was one of the best — the barista will custom make any kind of coffee drink you want as part of the breakfast — like having our own Starbucks.  we headed into the city centre of Milan and shopped a bit and then visited the giant Duomo (Massive Cathedral). the detail and ornamental structure of this building is incredible. after lunch, i took the kids shopping while Paula and her parents went to the top of the Duomo (it’s her parents’ last day as they fly out tomorrow AM). the kids and i visited a Mercedes apparel store and then back to the Ferrari store. JD couldn’t resist. and he bought another Lego thing with his money. I even bought myself a shoulder sling pack with a Ferrari logo on it for urban hiking (e.g., to hold my camera and a light jacket, etc.).

Elsewhere, Ellie bought some back to school outfits even though the kids first day of school won’t be just just over a month. but, even i thought the outfits were quite cute and how can a little gal visit Milan and not get caught up in fashion? towards the end of the day, i also bought some Ray Ban aviator glasses as my prescription glasses i had brought cracked. JD refused to go shopping for clothes for himself . . . i think that once he bought his Ferrari Lego thing, it was all his mind could think about. heh. oh yeah, when you buy 2 things at the Ferrari store you can sit in one of the Ferrari Indy cars. both Ellie and JD got to sit in one and i took their pictures. i’ll post photos soon, i hope.

day 15 (9/16)

Paula’s parents take off early today. i drive Paula to the American school of Milan. we all go in but JD, Ellie and i leave to head into the middle of Milan. i have a woman i met online years ago who has invited us to stay with her family. i end up driving into parts of Milan where only locals with permits are allowed. ah well. we finally figure out how to find my friend’s apartment in the city and she directs me to park my car in their garage space. Ana introduces us to her two little boys and takes us up to their apartment — very nice. this apartment has 4 bedrooms and JD and Ellie get one and Paula and i also get one.

Ana gives us a key to her apartment and the kids and i take a subway into the city centre. we explore around a bit and then meet Paula who has take a subway from the American school into the city centre. i should point out that a bunch of Africans are waiting on the steps up from the subway and they grab JD’s arm and put on a string bracelet before he knows what is happening. they’re yelling “free” “free” so i let them put one on me, too. that’s when they then ask for donations. i say, “i thought you said ‘free'” but they’re too busy asking for money . . . and they are much bigger than me. so i give them 2 Euros. this upsets JD and he rips his off.

after another fun day in centre and around the big piazza we take the subway back to Ana’s house for dinner. we had planned to take her family out but Ana decides to make dinner at her house (she uses a Bimby — Paula wants one, badly). we feed the kids and get them to bed and then stay up eating and talking late into the night. Ana’s husband, Gianni, is in advertising and had a big meeting with a new client earlier today. the new client was an expensive Brut maker and gave 2 bottles to Gianni. he opens one after our dinner and we all taste a very nice Brut — not my favorite kind of drink, but it’s still good. Ana’s English is pretty good and Gianni’s is even better. we spend time talking about the differences in our countries and life and our personal histories. this is a very fun evening. even though we’ve all just met today, i felt like we were hanging out with longtime friends. of course, Ana and i have known each other for a decade in online forums, so there’s that.

Cinque Terre

day 8 (9/9)
we drove to Cinque Terre today. specifically, we drove to Monterosso today, which is town #5 of the 5 villages along the coast. i have our GPS programmed to get us to locations using the shortest route. BIG MISTAKE! i should have it programmed to use the main roads even if they are a bit longer. why, you ask? because it took us on a shortcut that we’ll never forget. picture finding a shortcut down a road no bigger than bike path. our 7-seater car is hugging both sides of the road. then, we enter a tiny village on the way up the mountain (we have to go over the mountain to reach Monterosso). so i pull into this village with a few townspeople sitting out on their steps and watching in disbelief as we pull into town. the piazza (town square) is a bit wider, but the road curve and heads steeply up a hill between buildings. i put the car into first gear and head up the slope. the road narrows. we encounter a guy on a moped and there is no way the two of us can fit on this tiny road. he pulls up to a door and opens it and drives in somehow. i pass by him and he pops back out and continues on. the road narrows more and we’re still heading up. then the road turns slightly and it appears as though we’re going to hit a dead-end because there are stairs ahead. dang. i have 2 choices, the obvious is to go in reverse slowly back down this little road and hope i can make it. choice 2, which i decide to take, is to proceed ahead and hope like heck that the stairs are not the only option. sure enough, we pull ahead — very slowly because the car barely fits. and then we see it, just as we turn toward the steps, we see a little outlet to the side of the steps — the road continues. it’s really narrow here and my “too close to an object” alerts are sounding loudly on both sides of the car. the side view mirror on my side of the car even hits the wall a bit. i have no choice. there is absolutely no going back now. fortunately, this narrow path widens a few inches and continues about 50 more feet before the road opens up a bit — still, the guy we encounter on the bike has to move off of the road as we approach. we made it and emerged on a main road again. whew.

we pull into Monterosso around lunch time and park down near the beaches. the car isn’t moving for the next 5 days as cars aren’t allowed in these towns except to go straight to parking, when it’s available. this is a slower season so there was parking. i call the women to check us into our apartment. her English is very bad and the background noise is terrible. i have no clue what the address is for our apartment or how to find this woman, but she told me to head down the main road. there are many people on this road shopping and getting lunch and strolling, etc. but somehow this woman walks up to Paula’s dad and me and says, “sean?” whew (i think Dave and i were badmouthing this woman for hanging up before we knew how to find here and she probably heard us. hopefully her English was so bad she didn’t know what we were saying). we head down the road to our apartment and get checked in. i can barely understand this woman and she’s talking a hundred miles and hour. never the less, the apartment actually has 3 bedrooms; not 2. awesome! the kids have their own room and they’re excited. we also have a living area, a kitchen and two bathrooms . . . plus 2 balconies with views of the sea. it’s just a few meters from the beach as well. perfecto! we explore a bit and then hit the beach. the water is warm — this is the sea of Liguria, but it’s part of the Mediterranean sea so that’s why it’s so warm.

day 9 (9/10)
today we decide to explore. we get on a train and take it to town #1 (Riomaggiore), which is the most southern of the 5 villages. i think it cost us about $1.50/person and the ride between towns is about 4 minutes. we explore a bit and then decide to hike to town #2 (Manrola) — i have some neat photos of this town, which is very pretty on the cliffs. this hike took about 20 – 25 minutes and is pretty flat along the coast overlooking the sea. we then hike to town #3 (Corniglia). this hike takes about 35 minutes or so and is rougher and not paved. a bus takes us from the edge of town to the town center where we have lunch and gelato. we get back down to the train station and Ellie realized she’d left her sunglasses up in town. so Paula, Ellie, and JD get on a train and i run back to find the glasses. the bus driver is taking a break and i didn’t want to wait so i ran back to town. i should say, i run UP to town. there were 364 steps up and i ran up all of them. i found the glasses and ran back down 364 steps. wow. and i just missed the train. so i have to wait over an hour for another. but at least if found the glasses. back in our village, we go swimming again and then decide to head down the beach and eat at a diner on the beach. second best meal we’ve had. and then Ellie and i head over to the old town part of our village to spend some time together and find some gelato again. heh.

day 10 (9/11)
we got out and about and bought boat tickets. we took a boat to town #4 (Vernazza). this is a cool town that we explore before taking a boat to Corniglia and then another boat to Manarola (town #2) where we have lunch and explore. we decide to just take a quick train back to Monterosso and hit the beach. the waves are much bigger today and that adds to the kids’ fun. instead of going out for dinner, Dave, Paula, and i head out and buy a bunch of pizzas and some other stuff and we eat back at our apartment. pizza is really cheap over here. the 6 of us eat for about $25 and we have enough left over for lunch tomorrow. today was a leisurely day and that was quite alright. i think Paula and i will do some serious hiking tomorrow.

day 11 (9/12)

Paula and i decided to hike to the next town. wow! wow! this took us over 2 mountains and the hike had no paved paths — all dirt and rock and a few bridges. up and down and up and down. we were drenched after the few hours it took. but it was incredible fun with amazing views. JD and Ellie stayed with Paula’s parents having fun and then we all hit the beach for the afternoon. a guy at the beach waded out and reached down and caught a fish that was as tall as Paula. it was a skinny and long fish but he caught it bare handed and walked away with it. incredible. the kids just love the beach. they love the waves and using their snorkel goggles and seeing the fish under the water — the water is already very, very clear here. JD and i swam out to a rock formation that sticks up out of the sea and we could dive off. neato stuff.

Happy new year!!

Ellie now talks in complete sentences most of the time. She even uses some Spanish words at the appropriate times (I think she learns it from watching Dora the Explorer sometimes) — Paula and I do not know Spanish.

Ellie had a wonderful Holiday season. She loved opening the presents and helping Josh to open his presents. She also loved playing with all of her relatives and friends. I think the neatest thing was watching her put on a show for everyone who came to see her. It wouldn’t take long before Ellie was singing the complete ABC’s or various other songs. She loves to perform.

Ellie playing with Joshua\'s toys

Colorful gal

Wow, I taught a class down near Ohio for the past week. I return and find out that Ellie can identify and say many colors. While taking a bath, I ask her to look at some colored cups and she knew yellow, blue, and purple (that is all there were). I’ll try other colors tomorrow — this just amazed me. She also can whistle (not really, but she tries and makes a blowing sound). She can count to 3 without any prompting. Maybe it is just me, but I am sure she is the smartest baby in the world. Paula commented recently that Ellie is great at playing by herself — she likes exploring and understanding her own little world. Paula also thinks that Ellie will be much better off on her own without our intervention (I wonder if that is a knock on me). 😉

ellie swimming suit

Ellie talking

This is a little out of order, but I just finished it. Ellie can count to 3 and has been doing so since she was 13 months. This is an mp3 file I saved…You’ll have to listen closely for her voice (best to turn up your volume). I count to 3, but she is doing so a bit ahead of me. Click here to hear it.

Ellie’s b-days

Ellie celebrated her first birthday 3 times in the past few weeks. We were in Kansas for her birthday on the 18th of April. Paula and I had to present at the International CEC conference. While there, we had a party at our friend Gwen’s and another at Grandma and Grandpa Cook’s. Last week, we had the final party at Grandma and Grandpa Mehochko’s.

Ellie got a radio flyer red wagon for her birthday from Grandpa Mehochko and LOVES to take rides around the neighborhood showing off. Ellie is saying “cool” and “daddy” and “Ellie” and can pick out the cow and say “moo” when we are reading books. She can also find the duck and say, “duck” and knows many other animals. She is growing very independent at times willing to spend long periods with her own book or toy. We bought a new minivan (it is Paula’s – I swear) a few weeks ago and it has a T.V. and VCR built-in. Ellie loves watching Winnie-the-Pooh and Bear in the Big Blue House. Sesame Street with Stomp is her favorite video right now because of the awesome music. Mommy and daddy can’t get the darn songs out of our heads! I am not sure what parents did before VCR’s (oh yeah, I can remember it now…”are we almost there yet?”).

I shot a lot of video while in Kansas and in Michigan. I hope to add some great photo’s or even a short movie or two in the next week or so. We should have some great footage of Easter on the digital video tapes if I can ever find the time to edit it.