Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back to the Rock Pile

We finally made it home yesterday evening around 8:30PM.  Our flight from Madrid was uneventful except for the constant barrage of movies...we had 4...all rated PG13 or R.  Thankfully, we had both laptops and our own collection of DVDs going for the kids to keep their eyes off the giant screen in the plane.  Our arrival in NYC at JFK was fine until we found out our plane was cancelled due to weather.  We were redirected out of Laguardia so we had to hoof it over there using a private driver.
The whole bit about taxis was a disappointment.  Legally most cabbies won't take more than 5 people in a taxi so we would have to use 2.  It worked out ok...very providential as this guy comes out of nowhere offering us a ride in his suburban for less than the cost of 2 cabs or the airport shuttle which was $13 per person.  I was praying the whole time and even spoke to him in Spanish...he was from the Dominican Republic and was very sharply dressed in a suit.  We arrived, went through security, and made it out of New York.
We touched down in Minneapolis around 7PM and went through the same trouble with the taxi situation.  We had originally hoped to take the light rail to downtown Minneapolis and then ride the bus back home, but the buses weren't running that late up to our stop.  Thankfully, Daddy had a number to a cab company he has used before that would take us home in a larger mini-van.
The next situation was that of Jane & Gabe who were still at their host family's home.  They offered to drive them home to us which was great.  It was a tearful reunion and a great chance to debrief with the host family.  All went well with the kids while we were away which was great to hear.
Now we are back to the business of unpacking, doing laundry, restocking the kitchen with food, and catching up.  It was a bit shocking that all the kids were up at 6AM this morning...still on European time!  But we do hope to put them to bed early tonight so they can get back on schedule.

I also wanted to list a few things that helped us on the trip....

REI Clothes Line

At certain points in the trip we would wash necessary
clothes items and hang them to dry over night.  Surely this
was a Godsend.

REI camp spork - 4 pack

These allowed us to eat anywhere, picnic,
and feed the baby when we lost his baby spoon.

Earphone Y-jack

This allowed two kids or even 4 kids
with one earbud each to watch movies
and not disturb others.


Rick Steves's Packing Cubes

These were great for keeping things organized
inside our backpacks.  Stuff was never lost
or just thrown into our bags.  Rick Steves's cubes also
priced out better than anyone else's.

Land's End Packable Navigator Rainjacket



These jackets were great for the kids.
 Layered over a polar fleece pullover,
they were very warm.

The jacket folds via a little pocket in the back
of the jacket.  The little loop was great for
hanging unwanted jackets due to
warm, sunny weather onto the
stroller handles.
Thanks for the prayers, everyone!  It's great to be back home, but we sure will miss Europe.  It was a great opportunity and learning experience.  We'll never forget it!

Grace





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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bumming Around Madrid

This morning we were on a mission.  We woke up, headed to McDonald's for breakfast, and went straight to a nearby convent.  The order is called Las Madres Jeronimas de La Virgen Carbonera.  We walked over to the convent and were prepared to ring the bell and say, "Dulces," in order to have them open the door to the convent.  Fortunately, there was another person there to buy some of their baked goods.  The nuns sell these cookies in order to support themselves.  We walked through the door and down a couple of hallways.  The gentleman ahead of us was already at the little lazy susan getting his box of cookies and paying for them.  Here are a few pics from our experience.


Walking over to the convent
through Plaza Mayor

Paul and Niko in the convent hallway.

Finding their way to the cookies!

Grab your box of cookies and
pay via the turnstile lazy susan.  Beggars
can't be choosers...only 1 type of cookie
was available today!

After buying the cookies, we went over to the church to see the image of La Virgen Carbonera.  Their is a story that says the image was found by some children who were playing near a pile of ash.  The image was bought by a gentleman for a small amount of money.  He then gave the image to the church since it was found nearby. Next we walked to the Royal Palace and took a snack break.  From there we walked to the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple that was a gift to Spain from Egypt after Spain helped Egypt restore antiquities including some ancient temples. Next, we headed back to our pension for a rest before heading out again.  This evening we will be picking up our laundry and visiting a french cookie shop to pick up a few gifts for friends.  There are also a few more souvenirs to shop for.   Phew!  It's been a long day.

In front of La Virgen Carbonera
In front of the Royal Palace.


Playing in the park during the siesta.

The awesome view of the Royal Palace
and the Cathedral of Almudena.

Kids in front of the Templo de Debod.

We fly home tomorrow, God willing!  Missing all of you and the States as well.:)

Ciao for now,
Grace








Monday, October 25, 2010

Back to Madrid

Yesterday we spent half a day in Granada which was fun and exciting.  Here are a few pics of the time we spent while there having lunch and visiting the grounds of the Alhambra.

Arrival at train station in Granada - Andalusia

Lunch at El Sultan, Arabic food...love the Montessori style tables.
They were so low that Daddy and I had a hard
time sitting at them!

Kids at the keyhole entrance to one of the parts of
the grounds at the Alhambra palace.

Kids having fun skipping along the aquaduct system
around the grounds.  Lucas liked sending flower buds
down the flowing water!

After visiting the Alhambra grounds, we returned to our tiny pension, headed out for dinner, and to buy a few souvenirs.  The kids picked up keychains, fans, and postcards before heading back to hit the sack.  This morning we woke up and caught a bus to the train station for our four hour train ride back to Madrid.  Upon arrival, we hopped on the metro and made it to Gran Via and Plaza del Carmen.  We are currently staying at a little pension on the plaza run by an elderly couple who only speak Spanish and who have had this home in their family since the 1800's.  They rent out 5 little rooms and luckily a neighboring pension has free wi-fi for its guests!!  The kids feel like they are visiting the grandmas!  The couple has a small yellow canary the kids love.  After getting settled, we headed out to look around at El Corte Ingles department store, Puerta del Sol, and Plaza Mayor.  We are in the heart of Madrid so the area is very lively.  Other big highlights for the evening were getting to go to confession in Spanish for me, Mass in Spanish for all of us, and hitting the tapas bars for dinner.  After grabbing a salad at KFC, my meal was complete!

Tomorrow we'll focus on the following:
  • ringing the nuns at a nearby convent to purchase sweets they make to support themselves.  They pass the goods on a lazy susan since they are cloistered!
  • visiting Los Romeros guitar shop
  • getting a bit of laundry done at Onda Blue
  • more souvenirs
  • visiting the Royal Palace and Templo de Debod
If all goes well, we head out Wednesday morning to return to the states.  The trip has been awesome!  I think we're all going to miss the European way of life, but it sure will be nice to get back home.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

GOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!

Spain scores again!  I have been so impressed at how Spain takes care of you when problems arise.  As I posted earlier, we were scheduled to leave by night train to Granada.  That was a reservation for 6 seats in second class...all we could afford when we made the reservations a month and a half ago.  I was nervous about this because we had a horrible night of sleep last night.  Another night sleeping in slightly reclining sleeps was not sounding appealing.  I quick ran to check the board of departures to check the platform number for our train...we still had a good 45 minutes before leaving.  I saw that the train was cancelled.  No French strike this time...some other crazy kind of strike with train workers only on this particular train.  It is not a general strike or anything like what France is experiencing.  As the agent at customer service said it was merely bad luck.  Frustration!  After a bit of regrouping, we took their option of taking a night train to Madrid and switching trains in the morning in Madrid to head to Granada.  That will put us in Granada at 1:30PM tomorrow afternoon which may affect our timed entry tickets at the Alhambra.  We'll have to see about that when we get there.

The good news:  they gave us a private 6-person couchette on the train tonight free of charge ensuring we'll each have a bed and the chance at a good night of sleep.  Furthermore, they put us in first class for the train tomorrow so we can be well rested when we arrive in Granada.  That also ensures that we will get priority in the event there is further bad luck with another random strike.

I'm pleased at the way the Spanish handle things.  They are primera clase!

Punting...Again

Yesterday was our last day in Rome so we left by train in the early afternoon for Milan.  That was a fun train ride.  The kids enjoyed the hospitality and the nice digs on the train.  We arrived in Milan with only 2 hours to spare.  That left us enough time to:

  • see the Milan Cathedral
  • take a picture
  • scarf down a quick bite at Ciao! Restaurant
  • have a near heart attack trying to get back to the train station and get our bags from the checked baggage area all in 20 minutes!
That was an awful feeling of dread on all our parts.  We were so fearful we would miss our train only to get up to the platforms and find that the train was cancelled.  Again, France had it's say with the train strikes!  After many tears, a very nervous couple of carabinieri, and all the hoopla of a cancelled train; we were escorted to customer service where we were informed a bus was being chartered for all those passengers with a reservation.  Thankfully, we boarded the bus and headed to the border, made it through France, and arrived in Barcelona this morning.

After a hectic night of sleep we were able to do a day of sightseeing to Park Guell and have a stroll down the Ramblas to enjoy a view of the port of Barcelona.  It was exciting to see the coast and the Mediterranean as we drove through the night.





Also, here are a few of our favorite back-logged photos from the two extra days we spent in Madrid and our time in Rome and Milan.

Kids in front of St. Peter's Basilica

Sightseeing Day with Legionary of Christ friends,
Br. Joshua Schmitz & Fr. Scott Murphy
I'm so glad I made it to the
Trevi Fountain with Paul...finally!

Milan Cathedral - relic of
St. Charles Borromeo inside


Making the most of it at Retiro Park in
Madrid after our cancelled Paris trip.


Thanks for the continued prayers, everyone!  We are so grateful.  Tonight we head to Granada on a night train, spend the day there tomorrow, and should return by train to Madrid on Monday for the last days of our trip!  We miss the US terribly.

Ciao,
G


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coming Home to Rome!!!!

We arrived in Rome two days ago...thanks be to God!  We flew in from Madrid after a severe day of hassle trying to get a flight out.  Arrival was a miracle and we hit the ground running.  So far the following has happened:
  • general audience with the Holy Father...we were seated so close!!!!
  • lunch at the North American College with our parish seminarian, Joe Kuharski
  • tour of St. Peter's
  • Vatican Museums including the Sistine Chapel
  • Night Walk of Rome...Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (yes, we threw in a coin for everyone who asked!), Spanish Steps
  • lunch with Legionary of Christ friends, Br. Joshua Schmitz and Fr. Scott Murphy
  • St. John Lateran, Santa Scala, Santa Croce
We hope to visit the Colisseum, the Roman Forum, and the Catacombs of Priscilla tomorrow, but do not know if we will get to do all of that.  Our train for Milan leaves tomorrow around 3PM.  Say a prayer our night train from Milan to Barcelona runs through France and is not cancelled.  Thanks for the prayers everyone.  For all of the special intentions given to us from everyone, we said them at the Adoration Chapel in St. Peter's and prayed also at Santa Croce before the relics of the holy cross, the crown of thorns, and the nail from the crucifixion.

Love to you all!
Ciao for now,
Grace

Monday, October 18, 2010

Punting

Well...we left El Escorial after an afternoon of catching lizards at the royal college. We also picnicked at the bus station before boarding to leave back to Madrid. I have pics to upload but can't right now. Long story short, our train to Paris was cancelled due to the French strikes. We tried renting a car or taking a bus but were advised by our French friend, Fabien, to not even attempt it. Meanwhile we are in Madrid until tomorrow. We will try to fly to Rome tomorrow morning in order to keep the rest of our reservations. Please keep praying, home based friends. Pics will come later at the hotel. It is a very modern hotel and we wish we were in a more traditional place. However, staying close to the airport has proved helpful. All is well with all of us. We are trying to make the most of it!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Feast of St. Theresa of Avila.....in Avila!!

Yesterday morning I approached the gal at reception to help me with organizing a quick jaunt to Avila with the kids.  I looked into this before, but I wasn't able to understand the spanish train websites.  I really needed her help to see how the rest of the rural world of Spain is connected.  We left our hotel at 10AM took a bus down to the rest of the town of El Escorial and waited there for an hour to board a train bound for Avila.  After an hour train ride with beautiful hills, trees, and lots of modern windmills (El Cid would be so disappointed! - Don Quixote de La Mancha reference).


When we arrived in Avila around 1PM we had to take a bus to the city center around the Cathedral which was very crowded with people for the festival.  This was fun!  The Cathedral is beautiful & huge. We didn't pay the 4 euros to go in so we headed to the convent to possibly see St. Theresa's finger.   That didn't work out so well as several processions were going from the square of the convent to the city center for more feasting.  We enjoyed several sights there...little girls in costume, older women wearing the traditional Spanish hair combs and mantillas, and the Carmelite nuns waving from up in their cells from their gated windows.  We waved at them from down below and asked if we could take their picture.  They shyly nodded, "Yes."  This was the best pilgrimmage I've ever been on!





El Escorial

This is the view from the kids' room.  El Escorial is beautiful anytime of day!


Please continue to keep us in prayer.  Tonight we leave for Paris on a night trenhotel.  God's Blessings to you all and thanks for the supportive e-mails and comments!  They help keep me going as I am missing the little ones so much and wonder if all the stress and tension of travel is worth it for the kids traveling with us.  They don't complain, but I wonder when I go to bed if they are just not saying anything.  Please pray for my peace of mind and the strength to keep a happy face so they don't worry.  Thanks much everyone!

Ciao!






Friday, October 15, 2010

Very Cool Concert

Yesterday afternoon we headed over for a tour of the royal basilica.  This basilica and monastery was constructed at the request of Phillip II, King of Spain, after a battle with France which was won by the Spanish on the feast of St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo).  I can't remember the name of the battle (it's too early!) but the basilica was impressive to say the least.  We made our way through the maze of tunnels...with the stroller!...until we reached the core of the basilica.

Standing in a walkway from the royal college to the basilica.

I loved the gardens.  I can't imagine how they keep them so groomed!

The kids posed so we could photograph the murals on the walls behind them.

We then sat in the choir loft where the monks would chant while an organist played.  The college prepared a special presentation for us.  A maestro who began studying at age 10 played several selections two of which were Bach and another famous one which is usually associated with horror films...I immediately felt like Count Dracula would come out to visit us!!  It was lovely to say the least...the music.  I told the girls that is the way Bach and the other composers meant for the music to be enjoyed...in a church performed by an organist.  We also met a kind Augustinian priest, the director of the royal college.  The Augustinians have been there for 100 years or so.  This was a very special concert meant for the attendees of the conference.  We were privileged to have been a part of such a special tour and organ concert.




Extra info.:  To answer a few questions people have had via e-mails....
  • the hotel is very nice.  It's located within walking distance of where the conference is being held.  Everything is very european...the manner of speaking, the quaintness of the buildings, the schedule...breakfast is after 8AM, lunch is after 2PM, and dinner is very late after 7PM or so.  It's been hard to adjust to the time.
  • Daddy's presentation is today at 10AM.  He was polishing up his slide show at breakfast.
  • The little roller bags the kids had in the photo posted from the Madrid airport is all the luggage they have for the duration.  Daddy & I have Rick Steves's backpack luggage.  No rollers!  That's very challenging.  We are packed very light.  I washed a few things yesterday in our bathroom sink & I plan to have our clothes laundered in Rome...the halfway point of our trip.
  • I found a couple markets where we've bought food to eat in the hotel.  Food has been tough to come by because of the time schedule (they're hours of business) and the cost.  I don't eat a lot of food anyway, and I don't eat sugar.  But it's still hard to justify eating what I do need when there are so many more mouths to feed.  I'm getting what I need, but I've had to make a few modifications in terms of quantity.  I have to drink a lot more water because of the nursing.  But I have noticed that the kids are eating anything that's put in front of them.  They just about burned through all the groceries we bought yesterday.
Thanks for the prayers & we'll check in later!

Ciao!








Thursday, October 14, 2010

Arrivals & Departures

We arrived in Madrid yesterday morning which would have been Tuesday evening around midnight at home.  We all tried desperately to sleep on the plane, but with 3 movies being shown, the constant barrage of lights flickering, and a bit of turbulence it was next to impossible.  Here's the crew arriving in Madrid airport.


After arrival, we loaded onto the metro and after a brief turn around onto a different rail line made it to Atocha train station.  There we validated our Eurail passes, checked the status of the train that would be taking us to Toledo, and Daddy and the kids had a small snack.


After the snack we waited for the train.  Atocha station has these unforgettable giant baby heads in the waiting area.  Crazy!  The kids loved them.


Next, we visited Toledo which is a 30 minute train ride on the very fast AVE trains from Madrid.  This town is a great example of the middle ages when knights roamed the area or at least when the Cid was battling windmills.  There are so many sword, shield, and metal working shops.  We almost bought a sword and shield for Gabe but decided to wait and get something in Madrid at the end of the trip.  We went to the museum that houses 13 of El Greco's paintings, but they had a special exhibit of tapestries, pottery, and sculpture.  The main museum was not accessible, but the tapestries were amazing.  We could read some of the Latin on them.  The sculpture exhibit was great.  There were several Roman and Greek columns and funerary monuments there.  Here are the girls posing next to a Roman funerary column.


Here I am with Monica looking very tired as we waited for the bus to take us back to the train station.  That large looking gut is actually my money/passport belt under my clothing!:)


Thanks for all the prayers for safe travels and arrivals.  Unfortunately, Daddy overslept and missed the introduction at the conference.  Oops!  I am here posting while the kids are all still asleep.  They are so tired, but this is their day to catch up on sleep.  I may get a cat nap in, too!






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