Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Buon Giorno!

Here's our journal from our trip to Europe. It's the email I sent to our parents while we were abroad. I didn't post anything online until we got back because our kids were here with a babysitter, and I'm paranoid about safety. I'll post the journal a few days at a time. More photos will follow later.

31 Jan 2011

Buona Sera (good evening)! Hope you are doing well. I’ll apologize right now for my strange English writing. My brain has been working overtime to translate things (Italian is far more like Spanish than I expected, so I’ve been the one doing the talking and translating). It has made my English a bit stilted, since I’m having to think in Spanish, try to relate it to Italiano, then change to English, and back to something coherent in Italiano. My brain hurts, but it has been so fun.

Sorry it has taken so long for us to send this, we expected Internet Access to be easier to find here. It costs over $10 for one hour of use at the hotel, so we waited until today to do all of our business online. It has been a grand adventure so far.

We took the red-eye flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia and were able to sleep for about 3 hours of our 4 hour flight. We got to Phili and hit the ground running, knowing we needed to beat the weather if we wanted to see the sites of Old Town.

I guess you already know of our excitement in Philadelphia. We saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, ate a Phili Cheesesteak Sandwich, and walked much of old town, all in the snow. We saw the Park Rangers use street sweepers to clear the snow, then use large push brooms to clear the slush off the sidewalk gutters. Everywhere we went people commented on how we looked so at ease in the snow, and would marvel that we didn’t seem cold or unhappy in the blizzard. One security guard even asked if we were from Minnesota. J I got to answer yes! He said, “I thought so. You look far too happy in the snow to be from anywhere else!” We had a wonderful day touring the city, and had a close call in getting back to the airport, since the snow and ice were accumulating on the tracks and the trains were closing one at a time. We sat at the train station watching one train after another be delayed or cancelled. We were very fortunate to get on one of the last trains back to the airport that afternoon. Then as we got back to our gate, we began to notice the cancellation of flights. When we asked at the info desk they said that the only flights being cancelled were those that originated in NY or NJ, since those airports were closed and the planes couldn’t get out. So our flight was “safe” since our plane was already on the ground in PA. So we got on board, relaxed in our huge Envoy seats, and were served drinks while we waited (it was very rough…hehe). We pulled out from the gate, got de-iced, pulled to the runway, waited, returned again to be de-iced, then back to the runway. After sitting on the tarmac for almost 3 hours, the FAA finally cancelled all flights for the night. By then, all Phili hotels were booked, the trains were not running, and we were handed a pillow and blanket, a phone number to call to reschedule our flight, and told “good luck.” So we found some food before the restaurants sold out, ate some dinner, got on the phone to reschedule, then found a wonderfully hard spot of ground to sleep on. About 6am, Trent noticed we were sharing our quarters with a small mouse who was gleefully dining on all of the crumbs left by various passengers. Never thought I’d be able to say that we shared a “bed” in Philadelphia with a local mouse. It sure makes for a good story, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. So we were able to sleep about 5 hours on the floor…a grand total of 8 hours in two nights. We found a family restroom and cleaned ourselves the best we could, since it had been two days since I had met a shower, and we had been in very dirty places.

We found the airport information desk for our airline and stood to get our boarding passes reprinted. She saw our tickets and asked if we had been to the Envoy lounge yet. I told her that the airline employees at our gate had informed us that it was closed the night before. She said it opened at 5:30am, and our tickets would give us free access. So we scooted up there and made some wonderful friends and sat for 14 hours in comfort. They had snacks and drinks, TV, Internet, locked storage for our baggage, and lots of interesting people. Our favorite people were an old couple (80 and 87 years) who were from Valley Forge. They were very well traveled, and told us stories all day of their adventures. He was a retired Navy Fighter Pilot. They were on their way to the islands south of Spain for their annual two month holiday there. She reminded me (in looks) of grandma Avalie, and in personality of MamaCarol. It was so fun to be with her. We sat and talked to them, watched their luggage while they ate, and then helped her find a wheelchair to get down to her gate. It was hard to say goodbye to them. I gave them our address and email, and I hope they stay in touch. We got to our second gate and were met by a huge mob of people, all as tired and stinky as we were. They were crowding the gate, and were not happy when the flight attendant called for Zone 1 and we began to push our way through. One Italian guy made some comment, and I looked at him and said “Envoy!” which I think sounded a lot like “I go!” in Italian, to which he laughed and said “Oi, Si!” (oh, yes!). Another older lady made a super rude sound when we passed her, probably assuming that two kids like us wearing backpacks could never be in First Class. I kind of wish I could have seen her face when the flight attendant kindly took our cards, scanned them, and was very gracious in helping us board. I can honestly say that if I never have to see the Philadelphia Airport again, I will be ok.

We slept about 6 hours on our red-eye flight to Rome. It was much more comfortable than our airport floor, that’s for sure. But the 6 hours was all too short, considering we had a grand total of 14 hours for the three nights. We deplaned, got out, and began one costly mistake after another with the phones in the airport. First we bought a map, but it didn’t cover the area where our hotel was. Then we tried to call the hotel, but couldn’t figure out the phone, then we asked for help and tried the phone again (turns out it wasn’t us, the thing was broken….we watched three other people try it without success). Then we tried to buy a phone card so we could make calls (thinking that would be better). The machine took our 20 euro ($30) and gave us nothing. We tried to call the help line, but the machine was supposed to give us a code to call if there was a problem, and we didn’t see it. We went to the Tourist Info desk and got instructions for the train, but it ended up being only 1 euro cheaper than the shuttle, so then we tried to call the shuttle (broken phone). I was ready to cry. We blew almost $40 just trying to get ourselves to the hotel. We finally went to the airport information desk, and a very nice lady there used her cell phone to call our shuttle. We ended up spending 20 euro to get to our hotel. But at that point, I was done and needed to get to a bed. It was a very expensive day of learning, which I had not budgeted for (and which stressed me out a lot). We got to the hotel and checked in, unpacked, took a shower, and decided to tour the hotel, eat lunch at the hotel restaurant, and find the nearest supermarket. We walked down the hill to Todis, the neighborhood supermarket. The prices were so cheap, we were thrilled. We tried sesame pretzel sticks, pear nectar, “Ranger” candy bars, flat bread, mozzarella, chicken deli meat, wafer cookies, apples, bananas, pears, breakfast cookies, and yogurt. It was delicious and cheap. So awesome. What a Friday. We slept very well that night it our comfy bed, and prepared for a day of touring.

Saturday came with a vengeance, and we were determined to conquer the public transit system. Hehe. In the morning we walked from our hotel to the nearest metro station, bypassing the bus stop because it was so unreliable. Route 128 is notorious for being late and unreliable. So we thought we were so smart and would hoof it to the station. Yeah, we won’t do that again. J It was a 40 minute walk, down narrow roads with muddy shoulders. We felt like missionaries. We got to the metro station and were so proud. Then, when the train came the door we were trying to use wouldn’t open (must have been broken like the airport phone…or it doesn’t like tourists). So we had to wait another 30 minutes for the next train. All together, it took us 2 hours to get from our hotel to the city. Another wonderful adventure in the world of public transit. We scrapped our plans for the morning, and headed straight to the Borghese Gallery (we had a 1 pm appointment). We saw Bernini’s great sculptures, amazing paintings by Boroque artists, and stood in the middle of one of the world’s most famous private collections of art. It was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. We stood in front of the sculpture of Daphne and could sense the softness of the pillow she sits upon, gazed upon Persephone and her captor from the underworld and witnessed how Bernini sculpted marble like most artists shape clay. It was truly a privilege to see it. Then we spent the afternoon in the well-kept (now public) Borghese Gardens. We watched a Saturday afternoon game of Soccer played by local teams (those guys with silver hair can really move!). We watched ladies pedaling by on rented carts (like bikes that seat 4), saw locals walking their prized dogs, and even a big brother chasing his “princess” 3-year-old sister around while carrying her Rapunzel Barbie doll. Our time in the gardens felt like our first glimpse into the everyday lives of today’s Romans. It was nice. On our way out, we saw two guys playing Bocce (lawn bowling), and it reminded Trent of his mission. So we pulled up on a bench and began to watch. They seemed to be father and son, and the white-haired father took the game very seriously, but was being badly dominated in the game by his adult son, who seemed to play to humor his father. It was so fun to watch. I got the guts to ask them if we could take a picture, and they agreed. It was wonderful. We hopped on the bus and began our search for Campo de Fiori, which we never did find. We tried to learn to read the Bus Stop signs, and use our city map to divine the bus routes, but it was almost impossible. After walking up and down Via Po, crossing the street, searching all the bus stops, we finally just took one and luckily it dropped us close to where we wanted to go. We were looking for Campo de Fiori, but we found the Piazza Venizia instead, so we began there. We strolled along the Argentinian ruins, witnessed the grandeur of the Pantheon with its massive dome (a 142-ft diameter ball would fit perfectly inside), saw Piazza Navona with its Egyptian Obelisk, threw coins into the famed Trevi Fountain to ensure a wish granted for each of us (“please help us find the right bus home” was what I was wishing!). We stopped at a little restaurant called Bar Orchidea near the Piazza Venezia for dinner. We ate Pasta Carbonara and Pizza Capriciosa (artichokes, pancetta, salami, onions, and mushrooms). It was delicious, and we had fun trying to communicate with the staff. I find more and more each day that my Spanish is extremely helpful in trying to get around in Rome. I understand about 30 percent, and in restaurants, the percentage is higher…maybe because I’m so hungry). A lot of people do speak English, but we’ve been touring and eating off the beaten path (cheaper and more authentic experience), so fewer people speak English away from the main streets. After our tour, we stopped and got our first gelato. Delicious! We stopped at a little gift shop and picked up a few things, and even saw some LDS missionaries running for the metro at the same time we did. It was a productive and fun day. We got safely from the metro to our bus stop, where we waited 45 minutes for our unreliable #128 to arrive, and we made it home “sin problema” (without a problem).

Sunday morning came early (once again), and we left for church at 7am. We got directions printed out at the Concierge desk (they have been SO helpful since we arrived), and walked out to meet the bus. We turned the corner to find it was pulling away…five minutes early. Aargh!! So we stood there, but were happily surprised when another bus came just 25 minutes later. We took the bus to Basilica San Paolo Metro station, rode the blue line to Termini, then changed to red line to Battestini station. From there we walked uphill (and what a grand hill it was) to the top of Via Bra, turned the corner, walked down the hill halfway, and saw the church. It was surrounded by a large fence, and is a split-level building. The entry is on the street level. Then you walk down a half-flight of stairs to the chapel (which also houses the baptismal font). The classrooms for Primary and RS/Priesthood are upstairs. We enjoyed Sacrament Meeting, which was about serving a mission. My brain hurt really bad after translating for Sacrament. So we found two missionaries from Utah, as well as two ex-pats from Colorado who volunteered to help us during our combined RS/Priesthood meeting. We sat in Primary during 2nd hour and were disappointed to find that they do not have sharing time or singing time. The only piano is in the Chapel, and they didn’t seem bothered by lack of music. So we sat in the class with all 6 Primary children (4 boys, 2 girls), and watched them be silly and squirrely, just like at home. You don’t need to know the language to watch kids misbehave and play. The funniest part of the class was when one of the girls sneezed and then coughed. She got them all giggling, and then suddenly all of the kids needed to cough. The teacher was good natured and had a sense of humor, but got annoyed after a few minutes and firmly said, “Basta! Stop!” I laughed at the English word thrown in for good measure. We showed them the video of our Primary kids and they couldn’t believe we had almost 200 children in our Ward. They watched the singing with almost confusion. Probably wondering why we were singing, since they don’t. They kept asking why we have so many children, and I kept answering in Spanish, “Tenemos familias muy grandes” (we have very large families). How else do you explain it to a kid halfway across the world? I realized I should have said we do a lot of missionary work. LOL. So I did, and they nodded. We also shared our salt water taffy, and the kids weren’t sure what to make of it. But the adults in Primary were thrilled to get some, and the missionaries and ex-pats were very excited for us to share. The lesson in third hour was on keeping the Sabbath Day holy, and as we returned to our hotel, Trent and I contemplated the meaning for us as tourists. We ate lunch and rode the metro and infamous bus 128 back to the hotel. We took a much needed nap, and now we’re here preparing for tomorrow, and another day full of adventure.

We’ve taken Flat Stanley with us everywhere, and he has inspired us to take a lot of silly pictures. It’s so fun to have him here. He’s the best travel buddy on the planet.

We love you so much!

Buona Sera (good night)!

Avy and Trent