Thursday, July 19, 2012

European Vacation- Part III

Like I said earlier, once Elliot took her bottle everything was pretty much smooth sailing for the remainder of the trip The staff on the train came around at 10:30pm to help us pull down the beds for the night. Elliot and I slept on the bottom while Grant took the top. And she slept pretty well on me. Which meant scarce sleep for me, but luckily Grant got a good nights rest. (My rule in our house has always been that only one of us is allowed to be sleep deprived. So, as long as one of us has a full tank of gas, we'll be okay!) And it proved helpful for this trip.

 Mama, if you put me in this ONE more time...

We arrived in Milan at 5am where we had to stop and change trains for Florence. We finally arrived in Florence around 9am and were so relieved. For me, it is a very familiar place and I knew that I would be fine if I needed to veer off from the group. Good thing, because we literally stepped off the train, loaded our things onto a charter bus outside the station and the group headed straight for the Uffizi Gallery for a tour. Elliot and I packed all the things we'd need for the day and left everything else on the bus. We made our way to the Boboli Gardens where I knew Elliot would be able to get down and be free for awhile.

Unfortunately, we were in Florence on a Sunday and fairly early in the morning so some of the shops we had hoped to visit were not open at all this day. We stopped for a picture on the Arno, drooled over some jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio and spent a lot of time in the gardens. We met back up with the boys in the early afternoon and had lunch together. Elliot and I found the gelato place our friends took us to the year before and it was everything I remembered. It's one of the best in Florence, for sure! (Thanks Stephens!).

Despite our presence for less than 8 hours in Florence, we managed to do a lot and capture some of our favorite things in this great city.

 In the late afternoon, we hopped on the charter bus and headed for Montecatini Termi where we stayed a few days. This town is known for its spas and is a place where many tourists come to serve as base for the remainder of their travels throughout Italy. The hotel was so nice and had a gorgeous pool. Unfortunately, it rained the majority of the time we were there but Elliot and I had a great time together, despite the weather.

Well, there were a few moments of blue sky :)

The day after we arrived in Montecatini, Grant and I celebrated our 7th anniversary. Well, he celebrated in Cinque Terre with the boys while Elliot and I celebrated in Monetcatini :). After all the train travel the day before and the knowledge that we'd be back on a bus again several hours to the coast, we opted to stay in town.

concentrating on their sketches in Cinque Terre
while we stroll the streets. I might be the only one having fun in this scenario.

And after a late night of festivities in Montecatini we packed up (again!) and headed to Siena in the morning. We stopped in Vinci on the way to tour the Leonardo da Vinci museum and the town that he was born.


Just a short bus ride away and then we were off again for more adventures. I was in Siena briefly as a college student but didn't stay the night. After a little group touring, we were able to spend some family time together in the city and found several treasures here for our home.

 And then we hit our second breaking point around 1am that night in Siena. After dinner, I headed back to the hotel to put Elliot down for the night as she was especially fussy while Grant and the guys stayed out late. I fell asleep at some point but was sitting on the edge of the bed when Grant walked into the room. Because I found this guy in our bed, along with a few of his friends (cringe).

Long story short, we were pretty sure we killed them all and due to the fact that we were packing up and leaving Siena in less than 6 hours + a sleeping baby, we decided to sleep on the bed without any covers and I covered every inch of my body in as much clothing as possible. We didn't sleep very well but were glad to see morning so we could get out of that place! We were clear of bites and thought everything was okay (we didn't get comped for the room, of course. all fault was denied by the hotel). And things were fine until 2 days after getting back to our house. Grant woke up covered in bites. I mean, covered. All over. I know what you're thinking- we brought them home... but we had an expert come out and he ruled that out. According to a little google research, bites can show up, up to a week after received. We hated to see Grant go through that, but Elliot and I were thankful we were spared!

Okay, back to our last leg of the trip. From Siena, we headed to Rome. We had a great time showing Elliot some of our very favorite places and she was so well-behaved. We kept her out pretty late here, too and she did wonderful.


The Borgehese Gallery

She learned to nap just about anywhere, thank goodness!

Our favorite place to enjoy gelato, the Trevi Fountain
We enjoyed our last dinner in Europe, just the three of us. And it was perfect. We were the only ones eating inside, Elliot slept in the stroller for awhile while Grant and I enjoyed a nice quiet meal together. And it was the best meal of the trip, too. Perfect end to our time in Europe!

We've been home over one month now and we truly miss being there. We are so thankful to have had this opportunity and blessed to have had 16 young men with us to help keep Elliot entertained :). She sure did enjoy their company and I think they enjoyed her, too. (Of course, I never got a picture of them-awful!).

I've loved our trip Momma, but get me home!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

European Vacation, Part II

The night before we left the chateau we met our tour guide, John who was with us for the remainder of the trip and essentially in charge of what we did for the remaining 9 days. So, from the chateau, we hopped back on the charter bus and headed to Paris!

On the way there, we stopped in a small town, Chartres to visit a church. And I couldn't tell you the name of it or its significance to save my life. This pit stop is a blur to me, considering it was pouring down rain the entire time. And I mean, flat-out monsoon. Right when the bus dropped us off. And then picked us back up 3 hours later. AHH! But, this is where it comes in handy to be traveling with an experienced guide. Because John led us to a small cafe that made the most delicious sandwiches. Essentially a grilled cheese and ham with melted cheese on top. Genius! Elliot had a bite of her first french fry (more like a steak fry vs our fast-food version) and she loved it!

We made it Paris in the early afternoon and after throwing our bags at the hotel, we moved right into sight-seeing with John. This was the beginning of something completely new. Where we had to actually carry ALL our bags several blocks to the hotel and up 3 flights of stairs to our room with Elliot screaming in the stroller. And where we were no longer had the luxury of making our own schedule but adhering to one designed for people nearly half our age. I'll admit, it was here that I began to worry how this part of the trip would turn out!

Lesson 1: When traveling for hours at a time in Europe on and off the metro trying to keep up with teenager-speed, do NOT carry a diaper bag that is made for your shoulders only. Sure, it's cute and holds a ton. But, you will hate yourself after about 15 min!

Lesson 2: Plan to carry your little one on you instead of lugging your stroller around the metro when traveling away from your hotel for a number of hours.

In preparation for this trip, I read several blogs of parents that traveled to Europe with a child under 1 years old. I found several great tips and one consistent warning that I did not head- strollers are not metro friendly and a pain in the rear. But you see, I'm stubborn. Real stubborn. And I thought- "they don't know what they're talking about. I'll just get Grant to lift it up when I need it. No biggie." 
Just trust me on this one. Don't do it!!!

Once we figured out the right way to do this walk-all-over-creation thing with a kid, we were all pretty happy.

There were times that we carried our stroller (collapsed) knowing we'd be out late but made sure Elliot was strapped into the carrier WAY before we got to the metro. Because let's face it, there were times we were glad to have the stroller. Like here at dinner. We only encountered one restaurant throughout our travels that had a high chair and the stroller proved handy while we ate and allowed Elliot to feed herself finger foods. Eating in Mom/Dad's lap doesn't work for long!

After dinner the first night, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. It was around 11pm. And this one was WIDE awake!
The second day, the guys headed to the Notre Dame and the Louver and left us girls behind. We had a lazy day of shopping, crawling around the hotel room and napping. I needed a pick me up and Elliot needed some boiling water for oatmeal, so we stepped into this cafe across from the hotel. And this is where I found the fanciest cappuccino I've ever seen. And rightly so. I looked at the bill after- 5 Euro. That's worse than venti Starbucks when converted. Oops! I started looking at menus a lot more after this :)

Elliot and I met up with the boys later on for dinner and another trip to the Eiffel Tower. The weather was perfect and we had such a great time! And something I forgot to do in part I and even the first post of part II is give a big THANK YOU to my sweet friend, Anne who loaned me her daughter's fall clothes for the trip. You saved us so much money, Anne! And here's little E in one of Emery's cute outfits :)

After another day of rest for the girls and more museums for the boys, we loaded up all our gear again and headed for the train station that night. We waited right here for about an hour until our train was to board at 730pm. During this wait, Grant and I came up with the perfect plan for getting all the bags on board in a timely manner with the least amount of stress for all. And by golly, when it came time, it was executed perfectly. 

We were nestled in our little couchette. 7 bags on 2 racks above our heads. Elliot's screaming for her bottle, so I began unpacking the diaper bag and making the bottle. Elliot gets her first sip and we hear a knock on the door. It's four of our guys. "This is our couchette." Slight panic, but no big deal. "They're mixed up. In the wrong place", I thought. Grant calmly agrees to triple check (already doubled checked with tour guide prior to boarding and upon boarding). Grant returns quickly with the bad news and more panic. "This isn't it. They've screwed it up. We're 5 cars down. All bags have got to go outside. They've already locked the inside cars. Get up!!!"

I have no choice but to take the bottle out of Elliot's mouth because I have to pack the diaper bag and all the rest of our crap and get the heck out of dodge before this train tries to leave! I have never, ever seen Elliot scream like this. We reach the real couchette (much nicer, thank goodness!) and get settled in. But in the process of getting there, Grant takes a dive into the concrete outside with all the bags while Elliot and I watch from inside the train. I thought, "oh no, if things weren't already crazy, this is going to send this man over the edge!". He later told me he did it on purpose. Hmm. Okay, babe. :)

After about 1+ solid hours of Elliot screaming, she finally took her bottle and we were on our way to Italy. 

And this, ladies and gentleman, this whole event was the breaking point for the Burkes. Our 12th day traveling, sleep deprived, etc. No tears were shed, but pretty close. Instead, we shared a few laughs at our idea of the "perfect  plan", Grant's tumble on the concrete, his "accidental" right hook into the door of the couchette (oh, I forgot to mention that? Yeah. Ha!) and Elliot's gut-wrenching screaming for over an hour. No really, we literally laughed. And it felt good! We knew the trip would have at least one major stressful moment. And we were glad it was over! To this day, I like to tease Grant about his mini fit of rage. And we start rolling on the floor laughing.

 Oh yeah, it was a thousand degrees in there, too. So clothes came off!

 From here on out it was smooth sailing!
 See you in Italy next.