Halloween

We had managed to make it to 3rd grade with nary a word from Robert about Pokemon. It’s always just been about cars and he flirted a bit with Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers in his younger days. But then Ali came along. Ali is a year younger than Robert. They ride the bus together and both of them are the only kid in their grade in the gt class they attend one day a week, so they’ve become really close.

Ali would bring his collection of cards to the bus stop in the mornings to show Robert, who was fascinated. And then Ali kept giving Robert cards. I finally decided that Robert should reciprocate, so we got him a set. Oh my goodness! I had NO idea what I was unleashing! This boy is obsessed. I think he literally cannot think of anything but Pokemon because he’ll just randomly start telling a story and we sit there confused for a bit wondering what on Earth he’s talking about until we say, “Wait, is this about Pokemon?” And inevitably the answer is yes. I finally told him no Pokemon in his writing homework because every sentence was about Pokemon.

But because he is my son and I dearly love him and I know that this isn’t the end of the world and eventually I will look back fondly at these days, I have fully indulged him. He was having a hard time deciding on a Halloween costume, but when I suggested Ash Ketchum, there was no more debate. His destiny was to be a Pokemon trainer. I made his costume and I even took him to Build a Bear to get Pikachu as a treat when Clara and Chris were at the church father/daughter retreat one weekend.

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Halloween was a bit of a bummer again this year. I took Robert to a Trunk or Treat at the high school the night before because thunderstorms were predicted Halloween night. We hadn’t been before, so I don’t know if it’s always that crazy or not, but it was packed! People may have been thinking the same thing as me. The lines to play games and get candy were all soooo long and it was shoulder to shoulder people. We just hung around for a few minutes, he got a little bit of candy and we called it a night. There were lots of high schoolers there and I kept hearing them yell, “Hey, it’s Ash!” all night. I think he was enjoying the attention.

Halloween was on a Wednesday, so I let Clara walk Robert around to a few houses before we left for church. It was still early, so only a few people were home. He mainly just got a handful of Chinese cough drops from the neighbors. Ha! I love them. When we got back from church, the rain was just about to start, so they ran to a few more neighbor’s houses and right when they got back to the house, there was a downpour.

There are no pictures of Clara’s costume, because she decided she didn’t want to dress up this year. :( They can even wear costumes at the junior high but she wasn’t interested. Makes me sad.

Day 6- Robert’s Very Venetian Birthday

We woke Friday and Robert couldn’t wait to open presents. This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve opened gifts in bed with Daddy not feeling well. Both kids got their birthday presents early on the way to the airport. Robert got a Kindle and Clara a camera. So he just had a couple of gifts from grandparents to open. Right now Robert is a pokemon crazy man. Our world has been invaded by pokemon and he has a hard time telling a story or even writing a sentence at school that doesn’t involve pokemon. It’s a little out of hand, but man he loves those things, so I’m resigned to the fact that this will be a birthday and Christmas filled with pokemon and shared gift ideas with grandparents. He’s wanted the t-shirt for awhile. From top to bottom is the trash panda, danger noodle, sea flap flap, formal chicken, boople snoot, tiger pony, murder log, leather bird and death floof. He also got a case to hold his cards and more cards.

The kids and I headed downstairs for a lovely breakfast buffet and Chris joined us a little later. Robert chose a pink sprinkled donut for his birthday breakfast. It was about 9:00 and checkout was at 11:00. I guess I had it in my head that Chris would be feeling better by morning like Robert had, but alas, he had me ask for a late checkout (12:00 was as late as we could get) and sent us on without him. :( Clara was being a little moody as well, so I was feeling pretty bad that Robert’s birthday was looking kinda crumby.

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You couldn’t tell by looking at his face here though. He’s had bad luck on a few of his birthdays and yet he always manages to keep smiling. It takes a lot to ruin a birthday I guess.

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There’s not just a whole lot for a 9 year old boy to do in Venice, so all along I had kept Venice flexible so we could let Robert help decide. Neither of them really wanted to take a gondola ride, which surprised me. I kept mentioning it and letting them know we needed to be heading to our airport hotel in the afternoon and it was supposed to rain later, but nope, didn’t want to. I also wanted to see the Doge’s Palace which is right next to the basilica. We scratched off a trip to Murano when Chris started feeling bad. The one thing he did want to do was walk to the top of the bell tower. Oh, and chase pigeons.

The line into St. Marks was really short, so I told them we should go ahead and get in line. They weren’t too interested, but it’s free to walk through and it only takes a minute. Turns out it didn’t open for another 15 minutes so we waited on the raised walkway as the acqua alta slowly raised all around us. It was pretty cool to see it rise. You can see in these pictures that the water covers the marble entrance. I think it’s like that a lot of the time now. They were working on a project to protect the basilica. They had terrible storms at the end of October and Venice had the worst flooding it’s had in 50 years. Click here to see pictures of the recent flooding. Pictures aren’t allowed inside. Clara said she liked this one better than St. Peter’s. The mosaics are just incredible. I just can’t wrap my head around all of the amazing art and architecture that’s been around for so long and that people hundreds, if not thousands of years ago saw and experienced the same sights. I think it’s particularly hard for Americans since our country is so new and when something gets old you throw it out and build something new. I’m grateful for all of the hard work these countries do to keep these historical places renovated so that they can be appreciated by people from around the world. So, thanks Italy!

We spent those 15 minutes goofing off and taking some pictures from where we were perched on the walkway.

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Here’s another look at the acqua alta. The water comes up on either side of the piazza with a dry strip down the middle. I think it rose until around 10:00 and then was mostly dry again by about noon.

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There weren’t a ton of people out and yet the walkways were pretty crazy. Acqua altas mainly hit during the fall and winter months, but it must be nuts to deal with one during the height of tourist season. I felt for the people hauling luggage on them trying to get around people and on and off different walkways. They’re only a couple of feet high, but you just have to jump off when you want off. At one point Clara had gotten a little ahead of me and had just stepped off of the walkway. An older lady put out her hand and asked Clara to help her off. I held my breath hoping Clara would be able to help steady her and she had no problem. A lot of people thought she was older over there. As we were getting our tickets for Pompeii, our guide going back and forth in Italian to the ticket seller and then she asked me to show her Clara’s passport. Under 18 is half price and thought we were lying about Clara’s age. Ugh.

We walked over to the bell tower and gosh darnit, there was a sign that said we couldn’t take the stairs. Robert was bummed, but grudgingly agreed to go up in the elevator. I let him spend 2 euro in a commemorative coin machine as we waited for the elevator and that made up for it a bit. The kids know I’m a pretty big pushover on their birthday, especially when things aren’t going quite as planned. I even put a euro in the binocular machine for him. Not for Clara though. It wasn’t her birthday.

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The view from the top was amazing. It might have even been worth taking the stairs. :)

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I took the kids to a shop called Ca del Sol. It’s a true Venetian handmade mask and costume shop. There are a lot of fake made in China masks in all of the souvenir shops, but I wanted to make sure we went somewhere to support a local artist. The shop was awesome and we loved looking at all of the masks. There were signs saying don’t touch, but the worker told the kids they could try on anything they liked. She didn’t have to tell Clara twice. She was back and forth to that mirror a dozen times. There were many beautiful, ornate masks that were over 100 euro, but I steered the kids to the little more reasonably priced ones and these were the ones they ended up choosing. Robert found a fox and Clara’s has a pretty shade of blue with some bars of music.

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On the way back to the hotel, we came across this restaurant. It would have been a fun place to have his birthday lunch, but when I skimmed the menu posted outside and saw that the appetizers were 18 euro, we just kept on a walkin’ and settled for a picture.

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We went back to the hotel to collect Chris since he was about to overstay his welcome. We had to unwrap the mask that the lady had just painstakingly packed for our trip home to show Daddy and then we grabbed our bags and headed downstairs. We left the bags while we headed out for some lunch.

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We stopped off in a candy store (for a second time in 24 hours). Google Captain Candy. The shop was filled with huge barrels of over-priced self serve candy sold by weight. We may have spent a bit too much on candy, but it was Robert’s birthday, so I couldn’t say no. And then we stopped in a shop for some gelato. And then lunch. It was just about to start raining and we had to get back to the hotel and get our luggage across the piazza to an airport vaporetto, so we headed back. That’s when Robert said, “But I wanted to ride in a gondola!” Seriously kid?! I was just slightly peeved and had zero sympathy. I had really wanted to ride in one myself and was sure the kids would love it, but I wasn’t going to force him to when it was his birthday. It was only around 2:00, but we needed to get Chris to the hotel and we still had an hour long boat ride to the mainland, not to mention the rain, so I was a bit peeved at the boy for not taking me up on the offer earlier.

Getting to the mainland from the island isn’t cheap. I searched for the cheapest option, and a one-way vaporetto seemed to be the cheapest you could get at 15 euro a person. Yikes. There were a lot of stops between St. Mark’s and the airport, but at least we got to sit. It docks right by the airport and our hotel wasn’t too far. It was something like 6 euro a person to get on the bus, so we decided to walk to the hotel. But then the sidewalk ended and we were on a road with about a 45 mph speed limit and an almost non-existent shoulder with three suitcases, two carry on duffles and kids backpacks for a couple hundred yards. Oopsie! Chris may have been a bit frustrated with my frugalness at this point. But come on, we just spent 60 euro to get across the water! You want me to shell out another 20 to ride a half mile? And then the rain picked up a bit, so 20 euro was sounding like a deal. (But don’t tell Chris I said that.)

We made it to our room at Best Western only mildly soaked. It was a nice enough room, but I was right. It was NOT an ok substitute for staying on the island. If you ever find yourself in Venice, you HAVE to stay on the island at least one night. The front desk pointed us in the direction of a restaurant for dinner, but it didn’t open until 7:00. Some of us napped and the kids and I showered before dinner so we could get straight to bed when we got back.

We walked a block to the restaurant in the rain and it looked to be packed with tourists either just arriving or like us, getting ready to fly out of Venice. Getting out in the cold had aggravated Robert’s cough and I hadn’t given him cough medicine since that morning. He was still having occasional fits if he got worked up laughing or running or got out in the cold. As soon as we sat down, he started coughing like crazy. I moved him between me and the wall and tried to get him to cough into me to hide him away from others, but I was really embarrassed. I know people were wondering why we would bring him out with a cough that bad. After a few minutes it settled down and he was able to enjoy what would hopefully be our last meal of pizza or pasta for awhile. (We had just about had our fill by this point.) Robert chose one more birthday dessert because he hadn’t had enough sweets that day and then we got to bed early in preparation for a really long day on Saturday.

Day 5- Thanksgiving Day in Venice

Thursday morning came and there wasn’t a turkey nor a “Happy Thanksgiving” greeting to be found. It felt really weird and didn’t feel like a holiday week the whole time we were there. Oddly enough though, we saw signs advertising Black Friday or Black Weekend sales in windows all over Rome.

Robert woke looking well rested and seemed to be in a good mood. Thankfully his cough had mostly subsided as well. I went ahead and dosed him up with meds for the train ride just in case. I really didn’t want a replay of the coughing carnage from the night before on the train. Our train to Venice was leaving at 8:55 so we were able to take our time that morning. We were packed up and showered the night before and were taking a taxi, so it was nice to not have to rush for a change. Of course, Chris was starting to feel puny at this point, so he drugged himself up to make himself more comfortable on the 3.5 hour train ride. He was really plugged up so his ears were bothering him with all of the pressure changes. It was worse than on the plane and would just happen randomly throughout the trip. I take that back. I just googled it and it’s not random. It apparently happens when the train goes through a tunnel. Who knew?

A man and his grown son rushed onto the train out of breath with only a minute to spare as we were about to leave the station. Dad was very concerned and wanted to make sure they were on the right train. He showed his ticket to the attendant on the train and asked if it was going to Florence and he nodded. They had just flown in from New York and were on their way to visit his college aged son who was studying abroad. He just wasn’t convinced they had gotten the right tickets because this train was headed to Venice and his ticket said Firenze. I showed him on the screen that it was indeed a stop and said maybe that’s the name of the station in Florence. I’d heard that before, perhaps it’s the region or state or something. I finally googled it and Firenze is Florence in Italian. :) I showed him that and we had a good laugh and he was finally able to relax. Oh, and we wished each other a “Happy Thanksgiving”.

We got to Venice around 1:00 and Chris went straight to the ticket window to buy our vaporetto (or water bus) passes when we got off the train. That’s a vaporetto behind the kids in this picture. And just like a bus, you can hop on and off and there are different lines, some only going down the Grand Canal and others go to outlying islands or the airport. Chris was feeling worse unfortunately, so he didn’t want to dily-daly and mess with pictures. He just wanted to get to the hotel to rest.

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The kids were amazed when they walked into the Piazza San Marco and got their first view of St. Mark’s Basilica. They gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up. It really is an incredible sight to behold.

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As Chris was about to take the obligatory family selfie, a man asked if he could take our picture and have us take one of he and his new bride who were there on their honeymoon.

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When planning the trip, Chris said, “Why don’t we just make it easy and stay both nights at a hotel near the airport?” <Insert “not amused” emoji here> Now, anyone that knows me knows that I’m not real picky about a lot of things. I let a lot of things slide 1) because I’m a people-pleaser and 2) because most times I just don’t care one way or the other. And Chris is able to talk me in to a LOT of things, but not this time. I told him that we were not taking our kids on a once in a lifetime trip to Venice and staying on the mainland at a Best Western! We needed to stay close to the airport on Friday night because we had a 7:15 a.m. flight Saturday but he figured out pretty quickly that I had put my foot down and we were staying a night in Venice. He’s not used to me planting my foot so firmly and I think it legitimately scares him a bit, so we stayed at Hotel Dona Palace, which is where Chris and I stayed last year very close to St. Mark’s. :) Had I’d known he’d be sick, I might have relented and made it easier on him. I did convince him to fit all four of us in three carry-ons for this trip to make Venice easier and just in case we had to carry our suitcases during an acqua alta, so I was looking out for his best interest then.

When we booked the room, I asked if we could have the same one as last year. It was an awesome corner room on the 2nd floor with views of the canal. The room was huge and it had a couch that was probably a sofa bed in a separate sitting area, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem. They said that room was only for 3 people max. :( The only room that had occupancy for 4 was their Executive Suite on the top floor that was a converted attic with a rooftop terrace, but no canal view. I was bummed, but we really wanted to go back there since we were familiar with it and Chris thought the kids would love the rooftop view, so we splurged. This was the kid’s beds and the stairs led to the terrace with a hot tub. It was very cool with sky lights and exposed beams and the kids loved the shower. It “rained” from the ceiling and you got to choose between several colors of light coming from the ceiling. You can see the top of St. Mark’s and the bell tower behind us.

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We had pizza across from the hotel and that was probably the highlight of Venice for the kids. We watched two pigeons just saunter on in looking for crumbs under tables. We had a view of the kitchen door way, actually, I think it was just a room where they were making pizza crust and you could watch from outside. Anyway, we watched these pigeons just mosey on over and walk inside like they owned the place. A few seconds later they’d come half running, half flying out of the doorway as they were shooed out, peck around under the tables a bit and then turn and head back that way. We never saw or heard the employees, just the bird’s reactions. We were doing a play by play of what the pigeons were thinking and watched them try to get in that kitchen probably half a dozen times. It was pretty funny.

Chris put on a brave face and we walked around a bit, eventually making it over to the Rialto Bridge. We found where Marco Polo lived, but there’s nothing to see. Just a plaque on the wall.

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It was cool to see the Rialto bridge with all of the shops open. Chris and I walked over early in the morning last year before they were open.

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Chris was pretty miserable by sundown and I knew Robert didn’t need to be out too late, so we sent them back to the hotel while Clara and I shopped around a bit more. We really wanted to find charms for our bracelets. She doesn’t like to shop typically, but she was enjoying finding souvenirs during this trip. We checked out this upscale mall near the Rialto. It was four or five stories tall and all decorated for Christmas.

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Clara wanted to take a picture of this dress to show Chris that someone stole his design.

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This is the hotel’s private dock that’s on a pretty little patio.

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We brought back some fast food pasta to the room and then Clara and I ventured back out to walk around for a little while longer. It’s fun to just start walking and get lost. You eventually will run into a piazza and be able to look at a map to get back. I understand Venice is a very safe city, but I was a bit overly cautious without Chris and it being after dark, so we stuck to streets that were well lit with people walking down them.

Day 4- Sick Day and Pantheon

Robert woke up coughing and I’m pretty sure had a temperature Wednesday morning. He had been coughing a bit since we got to Rome, but the coughing fits were getting worse and he was obviously worn out.

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Chris called up his old co-worker Cascone, who lives in Rome, and asked him for advice. He got all of Robert’s symptoms and sent a text with what to say and ask for at the pharmacy. He was very kind and said to call him when we got there and he could talk to them if we needed him to. I just showed them the texts and they got me all set up with pain reliever and cough medicine for a “fatty” cough, which is their word for a wet cough. That just sounds so much grosser to me. I was a little concerned about what to do if he got worse or if it turned out to be an ear infection. We had train tickets to Venice the next day and would be flying on Saturday. Thankfully a day of rest did the trick.

Chris stayed with him in the hotel room while Clara and I ventured out on our own and it turned out to be a gorgeous day. Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain to see it when with the water flowing.

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If you turn your back to the fountain and throw a coin over your shoulder, you are sure to return to Rome. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch her in time and she didn’t turn her back. I guess only time will tell if it counted or not. Around 3000 euro are thrown into the Trevi Fountain every day and given to the needy.

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From there it was a short walk to the Pantheon.

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One of the missions in Robert’s book was to take a picture trying to wrap your arms around one of the columns of the Pantheon, so Clara took care of that for him.

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We then started walking toward the Piazza Navona, stopping in at a tea shop on the way since it was around lunchtime. They had sandwiches, but we didn’t really see anything on the menu that we wanted, so I just let Clara choose a pastry. The waiter showed her into the next room to choose from an assortment inside of a case, so I didn’t see what she picked. He brought out a huge piece of cake and I just had to shake my head since that’s not exactly what I meant.  She also got a massive cup of cocoa that was so rich she couldn’t even finish. When we got the bill, I tried to contain my surprise when I saw that she chose a 9 euro piece of cake! She got a raised eyebrow and a “Seriously, Clara?” once the waiter was out of earshot.

And then she somehow talked me into gelato when we got to the Piazza Navona.

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We then walked over to the Castel San’t Angelo. I really wanted to take the kids here. Neither Chris nor I have been and it looks really cool, but we decided to skip it. It just felt weird doing stuff without the guys.

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You can see St. Peter’s from Castel San’t Angelo and it was a quick walk to get there. I wanted Clara to see it in the daylight.

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We were feeling guilty about leaving the boys all day, so we headed back to the hotel via the subway and bus and got back around 2:00. We grabbed take away pizza to eat on the walk back from the bus stop. I took a picture of Clara on this steep subway escalator. It was sooooo long. This was about halfway up already. I saw a video from a few weeks before our trip where one of Rome’s subway escalators malfunctioned. It was completely full when it sped up crazy fast, several steps collapsed and people were just piling up at the bottom. I believe someone’s foot had to be amputated. That’s all I could think about every time we stepped on one. Go watch the video; it’s crazy.

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So Robert was feeling a bit better when we returned. He and Chris had left the hotel to find some lunch and Robert tried the hotdog and french fry pizza. Crazy enough, he wasn’t a fan. We just laid around that afternoon and then I went back out for another piece of pizza. We had dinner reservations at 8:00 with Cascone at a restaurant near the Piazza Navona that had been set for weeks. His daughter was also sick, so his wife wouldn’t be joining us and I decided Robert should not go out either since it would be a late night, so Chris and Clara kept the dinner date and it was just the three of them. I was bummed that we had to miss it, but glad Chris was able to catch up with his old friend.

Chris and Clara took a bus to the Trevi Fountain and then walked to the Pantheon and on to Piazza Navona, so Clara got to experience Rome by night.

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As for me and Robert, we just laid around watching tv. As I was finishing up my shower and getting dressed, I could hear him having a coughing fit. I saw that he couldn’t control it and was about to toss his cookies. I didn’t get there in time and the first bit landed on our bed (lovely). I tried to get him to hurry to the toilet, picked him up from behind and there was another splat on the carpet by the bed. I had barely gotten him over the threshold of the bathroom and onto the tile when the rest of it came up. It was a lot. Seriously. Just would not stop coming. The poor guy felt so bad and when it finally passed and I was cleaning up, he just kept saying over and over how sorry he was. And then he was famished, but it was late and I didn’t want to take him out in the cold and the hotel only serves breakfast and has no vending machine. So I gave him a few cookies and convinced him he could wait til morning.

I forgot to mention, on Sunday or Monday night, he and I went down to the lobby where they have a tea and coffee service and pastries. He wanted some tea, so I had just poured us two cups. He took a bite of a croissant that was filled with Nutella and immediately felt sick. We’re just discovering that he’s got a nut allergy, so I could tell right away he was about to throw up. I rushed him back upstairs and sat a minute with him. I thought it had passed, so I went back down to drink my tea real quick and clean up our mess since we just up and ran without saying anything. I told Chris but I guess he didn’t hear me. Apparently Robert finally puked it up right after I left (into the sink mind you) and Chris thought I was in the bathroom with him the whole time. Oops. Poor guy wasn’t feeling the love from us that night.

Day 3- Pompei

I had been watching the weather forecast since before we left for Italy and Tuesday was the one day of our trip that was concerning to me. Forecasts were showing thunderstorms all day and I had booked a tour (rain or shine) and train tickets to Pompeii that day. :( So we grabbed our rain gear and were off! Our tour had contacted us to let us know our guide was sick and we would have Maria instead. I mentioned the weather and they said it looked like there might be a break in the storms late morning. I asked if we could move our tour up from 12:30 to 11:00 and they obliged. Our plan had been to get to Naples and do some sightseeing for an hour or two before taking the train to Pompeii, but this change in plans meant we needed to head straight to Pompeii.

We took the subway to Termini, which is the train station in Rome. Our train was leaving at 7:55 and I had planned on us eating a little earlier, not knowing at the time that the breakfast buffet at the hotel didn’t open until 6:45. We ate breakfast really fast and then hoofed it over to the subway station. We had to wait a few minutes for the subway and it was getting close to 7:30 at this point, so I was starting to get antsy, thinking we’d miss our train. I knew the ride was only around 10 minutes and the metro station was close to Termini, but wasn’t sure how close or what platform our train would be at. The subway stop turned out to be very close and we just hopped off the subway and walked (very quickly mind you) a short distance underground to get to Termini. Popped out above ground, found our platform and made it on board our train with no more than five minutes to spare. :)

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We were on a fast Trenitalia train to Napoli Centrale station. The ride was about an hour. Once we arrived in Naples, it was a quick walk to the Circumvesuviana ticket windows to buy one way tickets to Pompeii out of the Garibaldi train station. The Circumvesuviana is a regional, old and run down train that takes you to the cities around Naples. It was about a 30 minute ride to Pompeii with about 20 stops in between. We stood almost the entire time. I believe the trains do not have a/c, so I imagine it would be terribly uncomfortable in the summer. It was packed even though it was not peak tourist season.

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I had also booked this tour through the same tour company as the Vatican tour because I wanted to make sure the kids got a good understanding of what we were looking at. Our guide Maria was great! She was friendly and was continually quizzing us on what we thought we might be looking at, calling us all by name the entire time. She was a little hard to understand sometimes and I kept getting a hint of an accent that I just couldn’t place. Turns out she learned English from a British person, so she had a thick Italian/British accent.

The grand theater is well, grand. It could seat 5000 people. It’s huge and just so impressive to think about how long it’s been here. The original marble VIP seats are still intact.

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From the top of the theater, you have a great view of Mt. Vesuvius.

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Next to the grand theater was a smaller, more intimate theater that could hold 1,000 spectators. Clara wanted a picture of this statue of half a griffin.

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One of the homes we went into had just opened to the public about 20 days earlier. It’s incredible to see the frescoes that have survived all these years. And only around 2/3 of Pompeii have been excavated. They’ve mainly turned to trying to conserve what they have uncovered. Tourists and exposure to the elements has caused a lot of damage to existing structures and some of the buildings have crumbled.

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Trying out the crosswalks. The stones were raised so that you didn’t step in the sewage that was just thrown into the street to be washed downhill. They were placed a certain distance apart to allow for wheels of carts to pass through and you can still see the indentions left by the carts.

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Here Maria is explaining that this counter with it’s sunken terracotta bowls was a take-out restaurant. There are lots of them in Pompeii because most people were too poor to have a kitchen in their home.

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I noticed this older gentleman was lurking around for awhile. I believe he was soaking up some free tour guide info from Maria.

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Here are a few pictures from inside the men’s and women’s bathhouses. The cutouts are lockers in the changing areas.

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Here we are in the Forum with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

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And a selfie before heading back to Naples.

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Notice anything about these pictures? Like the first day we’re not wearing coats? It ended up being a picture perfect day and the rain stayed away all day! It did look dark off in the distance, but we didn’t get a drop!

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We probably could have easily spent a couple more hours there, but we were hungry and had a 30 minute train ride back to Naples, so we went on. Had pizza in a shop on Piazza Garibaldi just outside of the train station and then headed back to the station via an underground shopping area that connected the piazza to the station, popping in to a few stores on the way.

Our train was leaving around 5:00 and I booked us a little bit nicer seats for the ride home since I knew we’d be tired and wasn’t sure when we’d be eating. It was nice to get a drink and snack on the ride home, along with a bit more comfy seats. Chris was impressed that I would splurge. We paid maybe $5 bucks more per person than the cheap seats. Hey, I’m a generous individual when it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. 😉

We took a bus from Termini back to the hotel, but I can’t remember what we did for dinner that night. I think we were all full from our late lunch in Naples.

Day 2- Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Vatican City

We started out our day a little late on Monday. We had a private tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica with a family friendly tour guide scheduled from 2:00-5:00, so I didn’t want to start out too early in the day. We left the hotel mid-morning of what would be a drizzly, overcast day and took the bus to the stop nearest the Trevi Fountain. The plan was to just slowly make our way over to Vatican City where we would get lunch and sit in a cafe for awhile before our tour.

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Wouldn’t you know it, they had the water shut off for cleaning. :( Workers in yellow rain suits were crawling all over it. We managed to get a couple of photos without them in the background. We planned on coming back on Wednesday anyway, so we didn’t linger.

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We popped into some of the shops in the streets around the fountain. Clara was dying to buy a warm hat, so she got a cheap hat in a souvenir shop and was a happy camper from there on out. We walked the short distance to the Spanish Steps and only got turned around once.

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The rain had picked up a bit by the time we got to the Piazza di Spagna, but we still managed to make our way up to the top of the steps. We went all the way up thinking the subway station was up top. There was an entrance, but it was closed. Someone pointed us back down a side way which took us down a windy, fairly hidden away passage. For a minute I thought we were being scammed and his friends were going to be waiting to mug us, but eventually we found the entrance and hopped on to the next stop, which was the Piazza del Popolo.

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We just walked around for a few minutes and checked out the fountains, the obelisk and some surrounding shops. Clara was our resident Roman god and goddess expert, so she filled us in on who we were looking at each time we came across a statue.

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Back on the subway to the next stop, which was near Vatican City. For blocks around the Vatican you are bombarded by people trying to sell you on their tours. They are so annoying and even though we were ignoring them, they kept yelling at us that we were going the wrong way. Dude! How do you know where I’m going?!

We had lunch between the metro station and Vatican City, at a busy little pizzeria called Ottavio’s. We sat for as long as we could because the rain was supposed to get heavier at any time and we still had a few minutes before we were to meet our guide. I went to the restroom which had a sink in a tiny room with two doors to a men’s and women’s toilet, each no bigger than a typical bathroom stall. As I was washing my hands, a couple had come in to change their baby’s diaper. It was comical to watch. They were behind me, just about touching me. He had stepped back into the women’s room, holding the baby against his chest facing out. Mom was stripping the baby’s bottoms off and just doing the change mid-air. They all had their winter hats and coats on, bags in tow. Oh my goodness, no. Just no. I could not handle changing a kid in an Italian public restroom. What if it was a dirty diaper? I don’t think I saw a single diaper change station in a public restroom, aside from the airport.

Just a short walk and we were at the city walls. Our guide Simone met us at the entrance to the Vatican Museums and walked us quickly through security and right up to the window to get our tickets.

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This tour agency is geared towards kids, so we were going on a scavenger hunt around the museum. We decided to be on the same team (good thing because there’s a ton of Roman mythology contained inside those walls and Clara would’ve kicked our tails). Simone would show us things on her tablet. Each time it was something done by Michaelangelo, first she’d show a pic of the ninja turtle and then the real Michaelangelo. You can see Mikey on her screen in this next pic. :)

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I thought the tour was very informative and she was very nice. We saw areas that I didn’t get to see last year. Tour guides have to talk about the Sistine Chapel before you go in since there is no talking allowed. She tried to let the kids sit on some stairs while she explained what they were about to see, but security shooed us away. She was trying to get them to make an exception for the kids, but they weren’t having it and the bench that she said all of the guides fight over was occupied, so we got to stand.

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Here we are with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

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And outside of the Basilica before going in.

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We couldn’t get good pictures from inside. It is amazing. Upon entering, all Robert could say was “Wooow!” I kind of wish our tour had been earlier, because I think the kids would have loved to go to the top of the dome.

 

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It was dark out when we finished with the tour, so we didn’t get good pictures. I kept thinking it’s ok, we can swing by on Wednesday after going to the Castel San’t Angelo next door and get some good pictures from outside.

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We walked to the subway and took it and then a bus back to the hotel, so it took close to an hour total to get back. We were pretty tired from a full day of walking so we stopped in at a burger restaurant near the hotel. They had some interesting burger toppings. Their fries and onion rings were pretty good after several days of nothing but pizza and pasta.

Day 1- Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill

I made an awesome, color-coded itinerary in Google Sheets for our trip (which is totally unlike me btw). I just needed a good visual, especially with the kids, so I could tell if we were going to be over-doing it. I wanted to build in rest time back at the hotel and I wanted to make sure I knew which buses and subways to take and names of stops to get off at because I don’t think clearly under pressure and didn’t want to rely on the phone. My itinerary quickly went out the window that first morning when I let the kids sleep in. They didn’t sleep in too late, but we got a later start than I wanted. The Colosseum opened at 8:30 and I wanted to get there right around that time to avoid lines. Chris was up early and had been waiting for us down in the breakfast room that he spent many an early morning in during his travels. A wonderful American/English breakfast was included in our room rate which made mornings quick and easy for us. It included bacon, eggs, baked beans and weenies (we stuck with the eggs and bacon), as well as a number of pastries, cereal, fresh fruit, etc.

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Robert wanted to be a proper European and have hot tea with cream and sugar with his breakfast. He liked it and requested it most mornings.

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We consulted with the front desk as we were leaving and asked where the nearest “tabaccheria” or tobacco shop was where we could purchase bus/metro tickets. I knew Jenna and I had bought them from a shop near the hotel last year but wanted to be pointed in the right direction. We were out of luck since they’re closed on Sundays. Grrr. My well-laid plans were slowly unraveling. I also wanted confirmation that kids were free and she said that was not the case. (I looked just now and sure enough, kids under 10 can ride for free so we could have saved 24 euro.) Anyway, our best bet was to walk to the nearest subway station and buy tickets from the kiosk there. Rome’s subway system isn’t very extensive, especially outside of the city center, so it was about a 15 minute walk for us from the Hotel Panama Garden where we were staying. It wasn’t too bad. It was chilly, but the sun was shining and the kids got their first look at Rome’s streets. We made it to the station, bought our 7 day passes that are good on buses and the subway and were on our way to the colosseum.

When you walk out of the subway station, you’re standing in the shadow of the colosseum. You and all of the other tourists and toy and selfie stick hawkers and tour hawkers. It was a little chaotic. Chris had to give the kids the same talk he gave me to just completely ignore them, don’t slow down and for goodness sake don’t smile or look in their direction or they’ll be following us for an hour. Y’all, that’s really hard for us native Texans. :) They caught on quickly though and were just as annoyed by them. It doesn’t take long.

Because we slept in, we got to the colosseum about an hour or two after it had opened, so we had a long wait to get in. Jenna and I got in really quickly last year and it was still packed with tourists then, so I expected the same since the lines didn’t look that long. Nope, it was a long wait, maybe 45 minutes. In the shade with 50 degree temps and a breeze. There may have been a little bit of whining involved. We should have gone over to the Roman Forum to get our tickets because the lines are supposedly shorter and the tickets get you into both, but I really thought the line wasn’t going to be too bad and looked to be moving quickly. It turns out they only let a certain number a people in and close it off for 15 minutes before they let another large group in.

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After we exited the colosseum, we headed over to the Roman Forum by way of the Palatine Hill entrance. It was kind of the scenic way to get to the Forum. We totally should’ve gotten our tickets there. It was vacant. Here’s Robert in front of the Arch of Constantine right outside of the colosseum.

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I bought a book for Robert called Mission Rome. It’s a scavenger hunt for kids that covers all of the major attractions. It was great and helped all of us gain a little bit of perspective and even I got excited when we found something in the book. One of the things to be on the lookout for was “nasoni”, water fountains that can be found all over the city. There are over 2,500 of them. He got an extra point for trying to drink from one without getting wet. The water runs continuously and most of them have a small hole on top so that if you block the flow at the end of the spout with your finger, water flows up through the top like our water fountains and is easier to drink from. I didn’t attempt a drink since the temps were in the 50s. I’m sure it’s great on a hot summer day though.

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The Forum is really amazing and you just can’t convey the sheer size and scope of these buildings in pictures. Everything is massive.

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One of the items we were looking for in Robert’s book is the plaque just beside his shoulder next to the Arch of Septimus Severus. It reads “Umbilicus Urbis Romae” or “Navel of the City of Rome”. It “was the symbolic centre of the city from which, and to which, all distances in Ancient Rome were measured” (Wikipedia).

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I had us going in a certain direction because I was sure there would be an exit at the end, but alas, we had to backtrack and figure out how to get out of this massive complex of ruins. We ended up in front of the Alter of the Fatherland and it was way past lunch time, so we walked around the streets surrounding the Piazza Venezia looking for a place to eat. We stumbled into a place called Rudy’s and it wasn’t so great. But it gave us a place to sit and rest and use the restroom. I’ve always said I wanted to take the kids out of the US to get them out of their comfort zone and experience different cultures and ways of life. I want them to figure out public transportation and how to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English. Anyway, one such new experience happened when Robert came out of the restroom in this restaurant. His hands were covered in soap and he whispered that he couldn’t figure out the sink. :) The waiter overheard him and said it was a foot pedal. So I waited with him outside the restroom, which was now occupied, to help him find and work the foot pedal.

After lunch, we had just about had all the sight-seeing we could take for the day, but I convinced everyone we should at least try and find the statue of Remus and Romulus since I knew we were really close. We walked over to the Alter of the Fatherland, which is HUGE btw. The stairs in the second picture go up to a church between the alter and Capitoline Hill, which is where the statue is located. The kids saw the steps and asked if they could climb to the top. We said “knock yourselves out” while we waited for them at the bottom.

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The picture spacing is all off on this post and I can’t seem to easily create space between some pictures, but we’re just not going to spend a lot of time worrying about formatting. Next we walked up Capitoline Hill to the Piazza Campidoglio. Robert is pictured above with a statue of Tiber with Romulus and Remus and the She Wolf playing by his elbow. And below is a replica statue of Marcus Aurelius outside of the Capitoline Museums. I would have liked to go in, but we were pretty tired by this point.

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We continued our mission to find the statue of the She-Wolf with Romulus and Remus and knew it was around here somewhere. We turned a corner and found this small statue on top of a column. Not exactly what we were expecting. :) I think the original is larger and is located in the museum.

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And Robert found another fountain to try out. If you look closely, you can see the tiny statue in the background above his head.

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When we rounded the corner, the view that greeted us was of the Roman Forum below. The Arch of Septimus Severus with the Umbilicus plaque that I mentioned earlier is in the foreground of this photo. I was wanting to get to this spot earlier in the day and I knew we were really close, which we were, but I just didn’t know you couldn’t access it from the forum below. We ended up walking a loooong way to get to this spot, but it was worth it for this amazing view.

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From this point, it was a short walk to get to this side of the Alter of the Fatherland and to find a bus stop that would get us back to the hotel for some rest.

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It was late afternoon by the time we got off the bus near the hotel and probably only around 55 degrees, but the kids hadn’t had gelato yet, and they didn’t think they could go any longer without, so everyone but me got gelato to eat on the walk back to the hotel.

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That night we had a nice dinner at one of Chris’ favorites near the hotel, Ristorante Mangiafuoco. It was still empty when we got there after 7:00. Robert got to sample some wine. He insists that he took a drink, but I’m pretty sure a drop never made it past his lips. :) And they finally got real pizza. Robert had diavla, which is kind of like our pepperoni and Clara had a four cheese calzone while Chris and I both had the Spaghetti alla Carbonara and we had an appetizer of proscuitto and mozzarella di bufala which is soooo good. And creme brulee for dessert :) This was our “splurge” meal while in Italy.

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Italian Thanksgiving– Getting There

Chris and I have been talking about taking the kids to Italy ever since our trip there last September. Chris and his co-worker Vance were in Rome for two weeks and his wife Jenna and I flew together and joined them near the end of their trip. The whole time I kept saying how much fun it would be to bring the kids. Fast forward a couple of months and Chris had lost his job and spent several months job hunting. All of a sudden, a European vacation wasn’t looking very feasible.

Chris’ new job is remote and our finances had stabilized, so at the end of August we decided to just do it. Chris’ airline perks like priority boarding and usage of the lounge expire at the end of the year, so we decided Thanksgiving would be a perfect time to travel. Plus, it’s not Thanksgiving in Italy, so we wouldn’t have huge crowds to contend with. We decided to surprise the kids, so they had no idea until we picked them up from school and headed to the airport. Since we had talked about a trip to Italy possibly next summer, they didn’t question why we were getting their passports. We just told them it takes a while to get them. They should have known something was up when we were rushing to get them as soon as possible since we’re massive procrastinators. Side note: Being born outside of a hospital, in say, a birth center like Robert, means that you can’t just use the short form birth certificate. They may not be able to actually tell you why it will be rejected, except to say that it doesn’t have an “I” on it like your other child’s birth certificate (which looks identical except that it has an “I”). You can ask what the “I” means, but they either are telling the truth and don’t know or they enjoy watching you become increasingly frustrated because you made sure you crossed every t and dotted every i before you came in and you just want to know what the “I” stands for! Google nor the US Dept. of State never mentioned an I! So then you will have to leave your appointment until you can secure the long form (which could take up to 25 business days if ordered online) or go into the vital statistics office. And then proceed to make another appointment and possibly have to check your child out of school early for it because passport processing hours are not at all convenient. Sigh. FYI- The “I” on the short form stands for institution, aka hospital. Any birth at home, on the side of the road, or a birth center will not have an I and will require the long form for a passport.

On Friday the 16th, we were set to leave on a 7:15 p.m. flight to Rome with a four hour layover in Frankfurt. Not wanting to cut it too close on time since it was the Friday before Thanksgiving, we planned to pick the kids up from school at 2:30. Boy am I glad we did, because we got in the car to go get them and it wouldn’t start. Lovely start to the holiday :) Took the Jeep to get both kids, got home, jump started the Rover and drove to Auto Zone. The guy was great; checked it out, found out it was bad and had it replaced very quickly. We got checked in to our flight right at two hours early so we were able to relax for a bit in the United lounge. The kids enjoyed all the perks that come with having a dad who’s a frequent flyer.
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Thankfully the flight was uneventful. I don’t think Robert slept a wink. The rest of us just dozed a bit here and there. Clara’s screen wasn’t working, but we had brought a handheld console and she had her Kindle, so it wasn’t complete torture. The flight attendant even came over and praised her on being so understanding and then gave us some frequent flyer miles for the inconvenience. There was an occasional lament from Chris over being stuck in economy. He’s become a bit spoiled from all of the years flying business on international flights for work.

We were so tired when we got to Frankfurt. Chris was only allowed to bring one person in the Lufthansa lounge, and he knew better than to ditch me with a kid, so we found a comfortable booth in a restaurant where we could all sit together for lunch.

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After a short one hour flight, we landed in Rome around 5:45 p.m. on Saturday and it was about a 45 minute taxi drive to the hotel. Robert finally conked out in the taxi after around 15 hours of travel. We stayed in the same hotel that Chris has stayed in for work these past few years. When we booked the room, they recognized his name and even gave us a discount. Since it was late and we were exhausted, we dropped our bags and then walked a couple of blocks to get some take away pizza and a “coca”. Had to get pics of their first Italian pizza even if it was just fast food. We ate it there, but they’ll cut you a large rectangular piece (you pay by weight), warm it up, fold it in half, wrap a paper around it and you can eat it as you walk down the street. We had it several times because restaurants don’t open until 7:00 or 8:00 in Italy, but after a long day of sight-seeing, you just want to get back to the hotel and not have to get back out.

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After showers and full bellies, we all slept really well that first night.

 

Judd Family Christmas Vacation- Part 4

We wanted to leave Pecos really early on Monday, but we ended up sleeping in a little. I had meant to raid my parent’s pantry Sunday night and grab cereal so we could just eat a quick breakfast before hitting the road, but I forgot. So, it was almost 9:00 when we pulled into McDonalds on the way out of town. The kids sat down as we were ordering and then Clara ran back up to tell us she found Pawpaw :) He was at the table next to them having coffee with a neighbor. So he sat and chatted with us as we finished up our breakfast.

Chris was feeling ok when we left and we had a long, 5.5 hour drive that day to our final stop at Inks Lake State Park near Austin. As we got closer, he started feeling worse and worse. By that evening, he felt terrible and didn’t sleep much at all he was so congested, blowing his nose non-stop with a killer sore throat. Turns out juniper was through the roof there and I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s highly allergic to juniper.

I headed into town the next morning to get meds and kleenex. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to help much. He was a trooper though and managed to hang out when Dan and Linda arrived for our belated Christmas celebration around lunchtime. Linda graciously offered to bring out an entire Christmas dinner so we had roast with all the fixins and pasta salad and green bean casserole of course with apple crisp for dessert. We had lunch right away before everything got cold.

Before Dan and Linda arrived, the kids were and trying out a couple of their gifts they got in Pecos, including their rc cars. Robert got a pogo stick and Clara got stilts. She was doing pretty good on them after a few minutes. Robert couldn’t quite get the hang of his pogo stick though so after falling off one time, he angrily told me that he wanted me to throw it in a lake of lava :)

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After our yummy lunch, we opened gifts. It was a beautiful day, minus the juniper.

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Several months back I had the idea of painting these little wooden dolls for the kids when they first started watching Gilligan’s Island. They were making scenes out of legos and making mini figures to resemble the characters so I thought they’d really like these. I let Linda in on my idea and asked if she’d like to make them since she’s a painter and all and she said yes :) They turned out so cute and the kids love them.

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This is his “Why?” face. He loves his big Why? book he got from Uncle Tim.

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And a couple more Modarri cars to round out Robert’s collection, along with a case to carry them all.

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Grandpa is known for his creative gift wrapping skills. This flag holder required three boxes to get it wrapped just right. And she got an owl flag for all seasons.

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I’m glad they could join us, but I hate that Chris was feeling so horrible. He went through about 3 boxes of kleenexes those couple of days. Linda’s allergies flared up when she got to the park too so it wasn’t quite the picture perfect holiday we all hoped it would be.

That night before bed, we decided to go ahead and leave the next morning to come home, which was a day earlier than we had planned. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to get better until we got him out of there and would probably be dealing with an infection soon. It was a bummer because our last excursion was going to be hiking at Enchanted Rock, which I had really been looking forward to. But that’s ok. There’s always next time. We just needed to get him home.

So that night and the next morning I tried to do as much of the packing up as I could so he could save his energy and not go outside until he absolutely had to. I’m a total wimp and haven’t pulled the camper, nor have I ever pulled any type of trailer in my entire life, so I was sick with worry with the thought of me having to drive. Pulling a camper that I can’t see around. Through the hill country. And Austin. Both of which I am unfamiliar with. Turns out I’m a terrible person and Chris drove :(  I have done all of the unloading and camper cleanup, washed about 10 loads of laundry and bagged 6 bags of pine needles though so I hope that at least makes up for some of it. He was able to breathe better as we got on the other side of Austin, but then he started feeling worse and by the time we got home around 2:00, he was running a fever :( He is slowly improving and has been fever free all day, but he’s still feeling pretty puny.

And so ends our 2016 Christmas Vacation. Hoping we start 2017 illness free!

 

Judd Family Christmas Vacation- Part 3

Moving right along…..

Chris was feeling better during the day. We had lunch at my parent’s house and then he left me and Robert to do laundry and lounge while he and Clara headed out to the farm to get the camper set up. That evening, everyone met out at the farm to roast hot dogs and s’mores while kids played and adults chatted.

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The next day was Christmas Eve. Tim and Linsey and the kids got to town and we all went to Myrt Myrt and Joe’s house around lunchtime. We played a couple of games, like this one called Googly Eyes.

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And the kids played Pie Face. I think it would be funnier to watch adults that don’t want to actually get hit in the face with whip cream play. As it was, all the kids just kept turning the dial until they got hit in the face.

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It was really nice outside, so the kids were in and out all day long jumping on the trampoline and the dads took them down the street to ride their bikes at the skate park. I knew I’d be a nervous wreck watching them, so I opted not to go. Clara had a pretty bad wreck only minutes after arriving.

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We had dinner then donned our festive hats and got down to business after it got dark.

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After the kids got done with it, the birthday girl got to take a whack at the snowman.

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Here Cody is stuffing his jacket with candy alongside the kids.

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Wyatt and Clara posed with their kill.

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We headed out front to sing Christmas carols and Santa must’ve heard us, because he and Mrs. Claus  came around the corner with their bag of presents. The Grinch showed up though and took off with the bag. Thankfully Clara managed to get it back and we could get on with the festivities.

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The Grinch was still lurking as Santa was emptying his sack.

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I looked down and this lovely sight greeted me. Ewww! Don’t think he wore shoes at all that day.

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James, a friend from church, joined us for dinner and fun and Santa even had a gift or two especially for him. I’ve only met James a time or two, but I can honestly say I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who is so filled with joy and love as this guy. He loooooves everybody and lets them know it. Just can’t keep it in :) I think he enjoyed himself.

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I was sitting by Clara and Linsey and Tenley were in front of me, so I pretty much only took pictures of them.

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I had to capture Robert’s excitement upon receiving this monstrosity of a toy that he really really wanted. It’s a Power Ranger Super Charged Dinosaur Mega Something or other and he LOVES it.

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Tenley is really into horses, so she went nuts when she opened this gift. She was clawing at it trying to get it out of the package and then started kissing it. It was so sweet.

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It was after 10:00 when we got back to the farm but I forced the kids to take a quick shower anyway. They were not happy with me. Everyone else had decided to open everything on Christmas Eve, but my kids were pretty disappointed to not have anything to open on Christmas morning, so we saved the gifts they made for each other and also their gift from us and then got up early and drove into town to see what Santa had brought.

Santa brought Robert three more Modarri cars and a car hauler and Clara got a Kindle, not to mention an overflowing amount of stocking stuffers.

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We got both kids rc cars. Chris really did a lot of the gift buying this year. He researched cars and went with real hobby shop ones that we can replace pieces on. He also helped choose both of their bikes for their birthdays.

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On top of that, on his own, he decided to help them make gifts for each other. He came up with the ideas, purchased what he needed and helped them make it. Clara got a string art owl to hang on her wall and Robert received a clock painted with all of the racing flags, with a picture of his favorite race car driver’s car at the bottom. He’s a good daddy.

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I had packed a bag to bring in to town with the kids and my shoes and some of our clothes so we could just jump in the car in our jammies and get ready for church at Bia and Pawpaws. Wouldn’t you know it, I left the bag in the camper. So after breakfast, Chris made the drive back out to the farm to get my bag. We had church, lunch at Myrt’s and then back out to the farm for rest and to figure out how on earth we would get all this stuff packed into the camper. We went back into town for dinner and to say our goodbyes because we were leaving early the next morning for the final stop on our Christmas tour.