3 days in London

When I realized I would be heading back to London for a quick 3 day trip, I somehow convinced JR that I should take Abby along. I’m so glad I did, because I don’t know when we would have an opportunity like that again and it was pretty cool traveling with just her on a girls’ trip to London. Well, cool and a touch exhausting. It’s hard to be set up for success for any trip when you have to wake up at 2am and leave for the airport by 2:45. Abby popped right out of bed (the idea of going to bed with her clothes on just thrilled her) but had a harder time than expected saying goodbye to her Dad. She perked up during the car ride and our first flight, but tiredness set in once we arrived at the Istanbul airport for our layover.


All smiles on the first flight

If you fly out of Tbilisi and connect anywhere, you have to go through security again. It’s a huge hassle and particularly awful in Istanbul, where the security line was backed up as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t even a line to join, as the spot where we were backed up was just a mass of people trying to get ahead of each other. It was hot, we only had an hour to catch our next plane, and Abby was already over it. Splendid. Luckily, I made eyes with an employee (I told JR that during this trip I really perfected a look of exhaustion and desperation coupled with kindness) and we were ushered ahead, skipping the ENTIRE line. Victory! I convinced Abby to take a nap during the second flight, and then had to cajole her along at Heathrow because it was a lot of walking. I debated bringing the stroller but figured it would be unnecessary and man, was I wrong. I hoped we could get into our room right when we arrived, but we were still too early and early-check in wasn’t an option. After a quick lunch I went to my favorite burger place that I insist on visiting each time I’m in London and then took her to get pasta. When we returned to the hotel the room was finally ready. Abby gets really excited about hotel rooms. Her face was priceless when we walked into the super simple room, she couldn’t wait to pick a side of the bed, pull things out of the backpack, and of course, jump on the bed.

Over the next few days we enjoyed the Big Bus Tour, the London Eye, and several great playgrounds. I like the hop on, hop off bus tour because you can see a lot at once, and it’s also a nice transportation option to get to the different sights and parts of the city. For the London Eye, if you enter the ticket office, go directly to your right and use the self-service kiosk to save time, as the ticket line was quite long when we arrived. I considered paying more for a Fast Track ticket, but opted for a standard which was still expensive. Fortunately, the line moves quickly and we probably waited a total of 20 minutes, and we were kept moving almost the whole time.

Jubilee Playground is located directly behind the London Eye and I would say it was perfect for kids 4 and up looking to let off some steam. There was another small playground just a few minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace, located in St. James Park. It had restrooms for children, picnic tables, and a small food vendor outside, and would entertain toddlers and more. The best playground in my opinion was located in Hyde Park, the Diana Memorial Playground – and is perfect for all ages. We absolutely loved this place and would have stayed much longer, but Abby had woken up around 5am that day and was in need of a nap. All of the playgrounds were fenced in and well-maintained.


Jubilee Playground


Playground at St. James Park


Diana Memorial Playground – our favorite!

On the way to dinner one night, I saw Hamleys Toy Store up ahead and made a critical parenting error.

Me: Abby, we’re about to walk past a super expensive toy store. We can go inside and look, but we can’t buy anything. Do you want to look or should we just skip it?
Abby: Let’s go!
Me: Okay, we can, but remember, we really cannot buy anything in this store, okay?
Abby: Mm hmm.

60 seconds later…


Of course I didn’t let her buy this! How would I even get it home? Plus it probably cost 200 pounds.

But then she saw this bear (wearing a purple dress and a crown) and gave me puppy dog eyes and I couldn’t say no. I’m weak.

We had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, and she was very entertained by the animals and sounds of the faux rainforest. Dinner was expensive and not particularly tasty, but she enjoyed herself.

From her point of view, the highlights were drinking hot chocolate, the playgrounds, ICE CREAM!, and staying in a hotel together. When we went to bed that first night she gave me her biggest smile and said “This is just like having a sleepover, Mom!”.

We were both happy to get home to JR and William, but I loved the one-on-one time with my sweet girl.

Marvelous Malta

While my mom was visiting, JR and I took a quick trip to Malta where we spent 5 glorious days lounging by sea, napping, and eating a lot of ice cream (mostly just me on the ice cream). Malta wasn’t really on our radar until some colleagues mentioned their upcoming trip and the short travel time. I found a good deal on tickets from Tbilisi and worked hard to convince JR that it was a necessity.

We stayed at a great hotel in Valletta, only a few minutes walk to the city walls. The Grand Hotel Excelsior was a bit dated on the decor, but the service and location were fabulous. Honestly, anytime I can order drinks and food from my lounge chair, I’m a happy camper. The proximity to the city center allowed us to walk there for most of our meals, and to enjoy the beautiful streets and views from almost every turn. The city is really hilly, one minute you are on a gradual decline, then you make a turn and have to walk up 100 steps to get to your next destination.

 

Anytime JR and I go on a trip, I have to remind him – constantly – that I can’t keep up with his pace. He could walk for days, uphill, downhill, carrying bags or children, sweating or freezing, it doesn’t phase him. Me? I like a casual stroll with my purse in 74 degree weather. In the shade. We signed up for a full day Game of Thrones tour and it was really great, minus the whole walking a lot in extreme heat thing. The tour guide, Malcolm, was an extra in several scenes in Season 1-3, so he had a ton of great inside info on the show and filming tvs and movies in general. Apparently Malta is really popular for filming. It was cool to see many of the places they filmed, not just because of the connection to the show, but the tour also took us around the island to see the ancient walled city of Mdina and other great spots. JR was delighted to learn they filmed Robin Williams’ Popeye there in 1980.

Valletta was full of shops, people, and outdoor cafes. We found a great spot for dinner one evening, complete with a nice little guy singing along to his guitar. Anytime someone is playing live music in front of me, preferably covers of my favorite songs, I’m content to sit and sing along. Even if the setting doesn’t really call for that, like on this particular night when no one else was singing and the guy was playing songs I didn’t know. After a few of those, he played Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis and I started humming along. When the song was over I whooped a little too loudly and JR shot me a look.  BUT THEN, he played Teenage Dirtbag and I just could not help myself. JR shrunk down in his seat and sipped his beer while I helped the guy out with my less than stellar vocals. Apologies to the rest of the restaurant patrons!

We loved our time in Malta but we were also happy to return home to the kids. Part of me looks back at my mom’s time here and I think, what did we even do while she was here? But then I can list off all the things she did with the kids – swimming, making crafts and Froot Loop necklaces, making popsicles, planting a small garden for Abby, throwing a princess party for the girls in the neighborhood, water balloon fights, face painting and more. To my momma (hopefully you still read these?) – we can’t thank you enough. We love you!!

 

 

 

It will be fun, they said

Actually no one said that, I just wanted to make sure my mom left Zurgovani at least once while she was visiting, so I made reservations for one night at Lopota Lake. JR and I took Abby to Lopota with some friends a few years ago, and I thought it would be a nice trip to make with my mom and both kids. And it really did seem like a nice idea – that is until we actually started driving.

(Important backstory. First, JR stayed home, for multiple reasons, so my mom was the navigator while I drove. Also due to a slight error in judgment, my cell phone spent some time in water last week and is on the fritz.)

We borrowed a phone from our friends for my mom’s visit, and I planned to use the Google Maps on it for directions. Almost immediately, we missed a turn. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a huge deal but in Georgia, you can’t really just turn around. You have to keep on going until you’re finally able to make a left, then you need to take about 5 more lefts before you’re back on track. When we corrected our mistake, I looked down at the borrowed phone to realize it had about 50% battery life left. Not great for the start of a 2+ hour road trip. And it didn’t bode well for us that we’d been on the road for about 20 minutes and had barely made it out of town.

The first hour was relatively fine. William slept, Abby watched a few shows on the iPad. Then William woke up and he was less than thrilled to be a) awake earlier than usual and b) stuck in his car seat. When he started crying, Abby started crying either in sympathy or just to torture me more, take your pick. This was also at the time the road turns into switchbacks that last forever. Both kids were terribly upset and I was regretting every life choice that led me to be in that car at that moment. Just then I heard the unmistakable sounds of vomit. Abby helpfully announced “William’s throwing up!”. Awesome.

I was panicked because there was no immediate place to pull over, as we were halfway up a mountain. Around one of the curves I saw what looked like a large space to park, so I pulled over and glanced around to see a truck, a van that looked deserted, and no one in sight. Just as I opened my car, my mom yelled “bees!”. Because the spot I picked to stop was a bee colony. Of course.

We drove a bit further down the road and pulled off at spot that was just large enough to get me out of the way of traffic. It didn’t feel all that safe but we didn’t have any other options at that point. I opened William’s door and wanted to cry. Mind you, he was chipper at this point, feeling pretty good apparently. But he was absolutely covered with vomit. The car seat was covered. And do you think I learned my lesson from Abby’s carsickness in Scotland last year, and had a spare outfit, paper towels, wet wipes and plastic bags ready to go for an easy clean up? No, I did not.

My mom and I carried him to the opposite side of the car and stripped him down, then cleaned him with wipes. My mom then did her best to clean out the car seat, but it was soaked. I decided to just keep him in his diaper because I thought he might puke again and we only had two other outfits for him for the trip that were conveniently buried at the bottom of our 27 bags in the trunk. We laid a thin pair of pants down between his poor little naked body and the wet car seat and when I started to strap him in, the screaming began again. I felt TERRIBLE. Abby also started crying – AGAIN – because she felt bad for William and had decided she no longer wanted to be in the car. We had a full hour left to drive and no end in sight to the switchbacks. I wanted to call JR and beg him to charter a helicopter and put me out of my misery. But we soldiered on.

Both kids fell asleep eventually, and we had about 20 minutes of relative peace just as we arrived at Lopota. The resort is spread out, so after you park you can walk down a little ways to the administration building to check in, and once you’ve done that, they have bellhops who drive trolleys and large golf carts around to move you and your things to your room. There was a separate small building before the check-in for the gift shop. My mom had William in his stroller, just in his diaper (come at me, bro), and Abby walked into the check-in area with me. She was bored quickly because there was a long line, so I sent her back out to wait with my mom. More waiting, more waiting, then Abby came back to show me the very overpriced but adorable hat she conned my mom into buying for her.

As she was coming in I saw a flurry of activity outside – I could see out the two large windows on either side of the door, which was also open – that a large 4×4 ATV looking thing had crashed into the building we were in, about 10 feet away from us. It had also very clearly hit or run over a person, although I couldn’t see that part because it was happening below the window, but I saw a small crowd gather to push the ATV back off the person and trying to offer help. It scared the crap out of me. In the split second it happened, I looked down to make sure Abby was at my side and that I could see my mom and William out the other window. I didn’t know if it was a child or an adult that had been hit, but I really feared the worst. Thankfully, the adult employee who was hit was okay except for scrapes and bruises, although she looked very shaken. My mom saw it all happen and said that two young kids – Abby’s age – were playing on the ATV which was parked on an incline with a rock in front of the tires to act as an emergency break. The rock moved, the ATV started rolling down the hill and no one could stop it until it hit the woman and the building. Ugh. Very glad no one was seriously injured.

Despite all of this, we actually had a really nice time once we settled down. The family size/triple rooms are huge. We requested a ground floor room which is perfect because there is a nice large patio and we were right in front of the main pool that we used (there are I think 4 at least on the property now).  We enjoyed a few long walks around the lake, stopping at the Kids Club which had some toys, drawing space, and a large sandbox.  Both kids loved feeding the ducks. Lopota’s food doesn’t impress me, and it’s expensive, so we packed a lot of snacks. I was dreading the ride home, but thankfully an Embassy colleague recommended a different route. It added about 20 minutes, but it was relatively straight so that was a huge help. No puking and minimal crying – I’ll take that as a win!

  

 

3 down, 1 to go

It’s hard to believe we’ve lived in Tbilisi for three years already and we have just one year left. Four years seemed like an incredibly long time to live in a country I knew nothing about and a city I could barely pronounce before arriving, but now I’m afraid our remaining time will pass by too quickly. Abby had just turned 1 when we arrived – now she’s four and we have added sweet William, so things have certainly changed for us!

 
Note that the recent picture above was taken at Carrefour. Yes, she wore a dress, a play tutu, necklaces, fairy wings and a tiara to the grocery store. I’ve given up. 

One of the best things about a four year assignment is that we haven’t had to worry about bidding in several years. Our grace period is over now and I’m already feeling some anxiety and stress about the bidding process this fall, our options, and the uncertainty ahead. I know there are no perfect posts, and I also know that we’ll deal with whatever comes our way.

Two weeks ago, Abby had her last day of preschool. Her class held a little celebration, singing songs and showing off their achievements for the year. We’re so grateful to Ms. Natela and all of the staff at QSI for instilling a love of school and community in our girl. Onward to the 4 year old class next year!

QSI has a summer camp program that Abby is attending for the next two weeks, but in July we’ll be spending more time at home because my mom is coming back! We are so, so excited for her visit. I’ve mentioned many times that it’s not easy traveling this far, but this will be my mom’s 4th trip to Tbilisi and we’re so thankful that she loves to visit us. I told her that I had a few simple tasks for her during her time: 1) teach Abby to swim, 2) teach Abby to use the brakes on her bike, and 3) get William to stop whining. She laughed and said “okay that’s week one, what else?”. We’ll see how that turns out!

Most of our summer days are spent playing outside and at the swimming pool. William in particular is loving summer – wearing what JR describes as “tasteful tanks”. Here are a few more pictures of our summer days!

 

 

 

 

FOUR

We have a four year old! Actually we’ve had one for a few weeks now but the fact remains, she’s 4!

For her party, Abby once again had a very specific cake request. She wanted a Minnie Mouse cake with bows. We browsed online and found a picture for the local bakery, and they replicated it exactly! Didebuli in Digomi does a fantastic job with cakes. Our bounce house is going on its 3rd or 4th year of life and showing the signs. Recently it popped a big hole (apparently 7 kids is the breaking point) that JR was able to repair before the party with some heavy duty glue and strips of canvas. Abby had a great time with all of her friends and was as thankful as a four year can be for all the presents.

We are excited to see what this year has in store for Abby and our family. Three had some really, really rough moments where we learned that Abby is fiercely determined when she sets her mind to something, whether that is staying up for hours at night and fighting bedtime or insisting on wearing not just one, but two skirts (tutus, as she calls them) every single day.  Dropping her nap six months ago made a huge difference for us and made our bedtime routine relatively enjoyable again. As for the issues with her outfit choices… I mean here is a sampling of what she would prefer to wear if left to her own devices. We’ve reached a sort of compromise that she can pick her own clothes on the weekends, and for school days she picks either a top or bottom and I do my best to convince her to wear a somewhat matching piece.

With this new birthday came a new haircut! I do miss those long beautiful curls but brushing it every day was not fun.

Abby loves school, her teachers, and playing with her friends. We’re trying to give her some independence to play outside by herself and she loves that. I’m very thankful for our neighborhood and all of the parents who let this wild group of kids run up and down the street, in and out of houses, without a care in the world. My heart aches when I think about leaving this place. For now, we’re soaking up every minute of laughter and fun!

 
Outside fun and a semi-orderly line at the neighbor’s house while waiting for water balloons

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Love those smiles!

La Dolce Vita: Wineries and San Gimignano

Thursday morning we had the free wine tour that came with booking our house on AirBnB. Truthfully I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. I was tired from traveling the day before, and since we were taking the kids I had doubts on how much I’d enjoy a tasting while entertaining them. To my surprise, we had the BEST morning at Villa Calcinaia with Vincenzo, our trusty tour guide/property manager/fixer. I say fixer because anytime we texted Vincenzo during our stay, he did more than just give us a basic reply, he would send multiple texts to ensure our questions were answered. When we asked him if we could buy diapers at the Coop, he first texted yes, then texted the location in the store, and then sent a picture of the diapers in the store, just in case. Can’t beat that level of service!

We met at 10:30 and enjoyed learning more about the history of the winery and a tour of the grounds. According to Vincenzo they have been making wine there for over 30 generations and we learned that the main house even held American soldiers at some point during WWII. I also thought it was awesome that they had a few random soccer balls in the main yard which kept the kids busy. It was cool to see our rental house, and the others they maintain, from the estate. When it was time to head inside, rather than taking the main entrance, he let Abby knock and enter through the old wooden door so she could fulfill some more princess dreams.

Inside, after learning a bit more about the aging and bottling process, it was time for our tasting. Wow. I can’t say enough about the wines he shared with us, or the fantastic spread of their own olive oil and local cheese and meats from Fornica. I won’t say how many glasses I “tasted” but when he asked if we wanted to buy a case to ship home I responded a bit too enthusiastically. JR was left to shake his head and contemplate our credit card balance while I selected which bottles we just had to have. Since we were uncertain if the bottles could be shipped to Georgia, we had the case shipped to my mom’s in Orrville to be included in our next consumables shipment (which we are now counting down the days until it arrives!)

Not content with just one stop, we dropped the kids and grandparents back at the house and then went into town to check out Enoteca Falorni. Reviews said this place was underneath the Coop grocery store and you could sample over 100 wines. What’s so interesting is that they had it set up as a completely self service wine tasting. Wines were organized together by type around the huge room, and placed in these automatic dispensers. You gave the cashier your credit card and she handed you a card back that you placed inside the dispenser, then you pick your wine, then you pick your size – a tasting, half a glass, or full glass. It automatically puts that amount on your card, and you return to do it all over again after you finish your first selection. Genius! While convenient and new-fangled, it lacked the personal service touch we’d received at every other stop during our trip.

Friday morning we drove to San Gimignano. It was about an hour, which was pretty much the max amount of time I was willing to travel with the kids during the trip. While we loved our trip to Scotland last year, we spent a lot of time on the road and I didn’t want to repeat that. San Gimignano is another “must-see” for its city walls, medieval towers and churches. We had a lovely afternoon exploring the town, chasing the kids around, and yes, more fantastic gelato.

  

That night JR and I enjoyed our last date night in Greve, first stopping at Santa Margherita winery for a tasting. We had the best server, Isaac, who picked perfect samples for each of us. It turns out Isaac is from Michigan but married an Italian girl and ended up in Tuscany. The appetizer he brought out was way too crazy for me – dried squid ink with an anchovy on top and then a dollop of cream of pea sauce, no thanks! I was worried about weight and how much we were allowed to pack in our suitcases so we only purchased two bottles, but there were several kinds I wanted. We had reservations at Gallo Nero for dinner where I ate the best steak of my life. It was so good. JR ordered tortellini which he said was perfectly fine, but he gave me sad puppy dog eyes every time I took a bite of my amazing steak.

Saturday was our last full day in Italy. I can’t remember what did that morning. After lunch, my mom stayed with the kids while we returned to two previous spots so JR could enjoy them –  Castello Verrazanno and Vicchio Maggio. We even convinced JR’s dad to take a sip of wine!

It only made sense to have our final meal at La Cantina back in Greve. It was bitter sweet – we were all ready to go home and return to normal routines, but you also never want a vacation to end.

I don’t want to do a whole separate post about our travel home, so just a couple quick things. The Florence Airport is the actual WORST. It’s very tiny, which okay, whatever, we knew that going in, so we ate before passing through security at the only real restaurant available. We had over 3 hours to wait, far too long for an airport of this size, but we would have paid a hefty fee to turn in our rental car late so we tried to make due. My biggest complaint is the complete lack of facilities for changing diapers. No where, in the entire airport, do they have either a changing table or a bathroom counter with space to change a baby. COME ON MAN. I was so heated about the whole thing that I wanted to change William’s dirty diaper in front of everyone, but I realized that wouldn’t really address the problem. What I need to do is write a strongly worded letter to their management, have it translated into Italian, and take the time to follow up. It’s not going to happen so I’ll just vent here instead.

The flight to Munich was a breeze, and we find Munich to be very manageable because there are plenty of food options and multiple play spaces. Munich is less maneagable when the airline forgets/misplaces, for the UMPTEENTH time, your gate-checked stroller. Apparently this happens regularly (and not only to us!) so the Lufthansa rep directed us to a service area where they had a loaner stroller we could use during the layover. Good to know for when that inevitably happens again.

We’ve been home for a few weeks now and jumped right back into work, school events and endless discussions with friends about children’s sleep patterns and attitude issues. Not quite as fun as Italy, but close.

Finally, a few of my very favorite pictures from this amazing trip.

 

 

La Dolce Vita: Rome and Pistoia

For several months, we planned for JR and his Dad to spend two days in Rome during our trip. My mom and sister wanted to take a day trip there as well, and I said I was happy to stay home with both kids for a day. Turns out, I lied. As I mentioned, the house had some quirks (a medieval fireplace you could walk into) that made it difficult to turn your back on William for even a second, and it was very hard to entertain both of them in the house for an extended period of time. Like for more than ten minutes. It was cooler outside than we expected, so my visions of playing outside with them all day faded too. A change in plans was necessary, so as of Sunday night it was decided that everyone would travel to Rome on Monday except for William and I.

That night my sister became incredibly sick. In the morning she said there was no way she could go. My mom didn’t want to go without her, so she drove JR and his Dad to Florence so they could catch their train to Rome, and then she returned to Greve for the day with me and the kids. A lifesaver was the Play Doh Drill n’ Fill dentist kit that both kids loved -thank you Mom! We spent some time at the playground in town and tried a new restaurant for dinner, Trattoria d’i Borgo. Once again, we enjoyed delicious food and great service. The weather was cool but not too chilly so we sat outside and relaxed as much as one can when dining with small children.

While we were having a low-key day, JR and his dad did a Walks of Italy tour of the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill. Their tour guide was excellent and they both highly recommend it. For lodgings while in Rome they stayed in a hotel near Piazza Navona, which is right where we stayed when we took our family trip in 2015. JR sent me several pictures from our favorite spots and I was pretty jealous to miss out.


This picture is notable for a few reasons. JR’s dad doesn’t drink – at all. He posed with this glass of wine sitting at our favorite spot in front of the Pantheon so JR could freak out his siblings!

Thankfully my sister woke up feeling better on Tuesday, so we loaded up the kids and drove to Pistoia, about an hour away, to check out their zoo. The drive was kind of boring because it was a fair amount of highway driving, but William slept the whole way so I would have gladly kept going. The zoo was fantastic. It was medium-sized, nicely laid out and had an awesome playground. When we visited the lion enclosure, the female lion was resting right near the glass and the male lion was pacing angrily beside her. He kept jumping up and growling at the glass, and I had some serious questions about Italian zoo safety standards compared to American ones. I didn’t want to test my suspicions, so I kept us moving along.  Later in the reptile house, they had an alligator in a raised enclosure with an open top that I definitely could have reached in to touch. Apparently two small illustrated signs showing a hand being bitten was supposed to be sufficient to prevent any incidents.

  

I was pretty tired when we returned to Greve that afternoon, but realized it was already Tuesday and we hadn’t been to a winery yet. My sister and I set off to remedy that while my Mom took care of the kids. First we stopped at Vicchio Maggio. The women working there were super fun, the place has a fantastic view, and the wine was awesome. One of my favorite stops.  They offered a separate tour of their nearby winery, but we were quite content with tasting. We also did a quick stop at Castello Verrazzano.  Just like the first place, they offered a full tour at their winery nearby, but we opted for the tasting only. Eating fresh bread dipped in olive oil while sampling wines and taking in the scenery was basically my vision for this trip.

On our way back we planned to stop at Coop, the small grocery store in town. We arrived during their afternoon break (closed every day 1-4pm!!) so we were forced to eat gelato nearby while we waited. In the store we bought food to make dinner at home, and Jamie prepared rosemary chicken, green beans and smashed potatoes while I ran back into town to pick up JR and his Dad (they’d taken the train back from Rome to Florence and then a bus to Greve).

We enjoyed dinner together while they filled us in our their trip. They were able to take a guided tour to the Necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Basilica where the Apostle Peter and over a 100 Popes are buried. This Scavi (Excavation in Italian) tour is open to the public but is extremely difficult to get because the few spots available per day fill up quickly (JR had to book it 6 months in advance! http://www.scavi.va/content/scavi/en/ufficio-scavi.html). JR and his Dad said this was an amazing tour and a highlight of their trip.  JR has tried to book the tour on previous trips to Rome and we were unable to when we visited in 2015. He said the wait was well worth it.

You might think we spent Wednesday reunited as a big group, but my mom and sister still wanted to see Rome. And since JR and his Dad were back, there was no reason for Abby and ME not to join them! We set off Wednesday morning for a girls’ trip.  Arriving in Florence in morning rush hour and attempting to park to get to the train station was not ideal. At one point my mom said “I just keep going straight here”, but I pointed out the various signs and flashing red lights that clearly meant do not enter. She shrugged and said “that’s the way I went on Monday”. We are waiting for a few traffic tickets to arrive in the mail any day now.

We parked under the central market and walked to the train station. It was a quick 1 hour and 20 minute fast-train to Rome. When we arrived we purchased tickets for one of the Big Bus tours. This wasn’t my preferred way to see the city, but we only had one day and Abby was thrilled about being on a double-decker bus.  We stayed on board for a few stops before getting off at Castel Sant’Angelo. We walked in the opposite direction to Piazza Navona. It was really cool to return to a place I’d visited with Abby just a few years ago. We made it a point to have gelato at the same place we had our very first gelato back in 2015. We kept a slow pace and walked to see the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. Both of those sights were closed during my last visit and I was glad to finally see  them, especially the fountain. It’s even larger than I expected and we took some fun pictures.


2015 and 2018 – she looks a little different, but I’m wearing the same jacket!

   

We met up with the bus tour a few stops later and enjoyed the ride while Abby slept. She really crashed hard, and was showing no signs of waking up even when we were ready to get off again. This led to me carrying her down the street towards the Vatican, a stop my mom didn’t want to miss. Abby stayed asleep in my arms at a cafe while they went ahead to look around.


What else am I supposed to do when she’s passed out on my lap?

By then it was almost 5pm. We were hungry, tired, and realizing we had a bit of a journey ahead. The bus tour only runs until about 6pm, so when we tried to board for a return trip to the train station, we were met with a large group of tourists with the same plans. No one wanted to make a nice, polite line, so you had to fend for yourself to actually get on one of the buses. My quick-thinking sister, who was carrying Abby at the time, reenacted the lifeboat scene from Titanic and began yelling “I have a child!” like Billy Zane.

This worked splendidly and we were all able to follow her on to the bus. Finally we made it to the train station, and unwisely purchased tickets for a train departing 20 minutes later. Because of course, immediately after the tickets printed Abby said she needed a bathroom break.

The next 20 minutes were hilarious. My mom and Abby went off in search of a bathroom while my sister and I stood in line to buy dinner for everyone. She bought us some sandwiches from a deli, and then while she waited in line at McDonalds (judge away) for my Mom and Abby, I was trying to figure out which platform we needed to be on. The cashier at McDonalds told Jamie they only had plain cheeseburgers, not hamburgers, and she looked at me to ask what to do since my Mom hates cheese. My watch told me we had 7 minutes left so I yelled “take the hamburgers!” We all met up and asked an employee for help finding out platform. When he pointed it out to us, he kind of shrugged and said you only have 5 minutes. I grabbed the food bags, told my sister to pick up Abby, and we started to run McCallister-family style hauling butt through this train station. With barely a minute to spare we made it and we laughed so hard on the way home about what close call we’d had.

Of course the comedy wasn’t over because we still had to drive home, and we truly could not make our way out of the train station area in Florence. Every other road is restricted from use, or one way, so we just zig-zagged back and forth, up and down these tiny streets making zero progress. At one point we turned a corner and we were staring at the Duomo. While beautiful at night, there was no doubt we were not supposed to be there. I have to give credit to my Mom because she stayed completely relaxed the whole time, convinced it would work out fine, while my sister and I were getting more and more frustrated. As she expected, we eventually figured it out and we made it back to the villa just fine. While this whole trip was memorable, a highlight will be spending a day in Rome with them.


Super sure we were NOT supposed to be driving there. Also realizing me posting this blog might make it harder for my Mom to deny any involvement when the traffic citations show up!