Levinsky Market

Levinsky Market

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Haitian International Aid Conference and Sean Penn

So here's a funny story.

Through the Diplomatic Spouses Club (I know -- fancy) I got the opportunity to go to a conference on what I was led to believe was international aid and disaster relief -- particularly what was done in Haiti and what we can learn from it for the future.  Given that I've been working with the refugee kids and my interest in the current refugee crisis, I thought it would be insightful and I was looking forward to learning about plans for inevitable future crises and what we can do to help.

Not so.  The conference started an hour later than expected, after I had been sitting at the embassy for an hour waiting to go to said conference.  But no matter.  I went with an acquaintance from The Club (that's what we call it here -- The Club -- kidding; it's not -- it just sounded more exciting) so we chatted and waited it out.

The moderator of the conference was someone whose name I can't find on the program, but he was something else.  He spent almost his entire time talking about how Israel has "Never Again" programmed in its DNA -- that they are bred to fight and to win.  He showed pictures of children in concentration camps in 1944 and then pictures of Israeli fighter planes flying over Auschwitz in 2003, telling us that Israel is the only country with the "chutzpah" to cross enemy lines to disable nuclear weapons, braver and quicker than the US (this came up a lot) and the UK and how they will, more or less, rule the world one of these days.  It was a giant line of propaganda, honestly not really aimed to the right audience as I think we were the only Americans in the room -- except the keynote speaker, Sean Penn (cliffhanger).  The Haitian Prime Minister was supposed to be there but canceled at the last minute.

He showed a map of Israel/Palestine in the early '90s with the Palestinian territories shown in green (the majority of the area) and the Israeli territories showing in white (a few small dots), then showed the same map in the mid 90s (far more white) and now (almost all white) and how they have conquered more territory than anyone in the last generation.  I, who have a few opinions on the incredibly complex issue of the occupation of Palestinian territory (shocking, I know) was cringing in my seat and forcing myself to keep my mouth shut, for safety and sanity.  But really I was thinking, "you really shouldn't be bragging about that."  But alas.  How this had anything to do with international aid, I have no idea.

At the end, after much showing of Israeli muscle, he said that Israel needs to do more to help others.  Even though the Bible says that they should be concentrating on building their own people and triumphing over all, somewhere in there it also says they should help others, so, yeah, more of that.  The end.

It was an odd beginning to an odd conference.  The next speaker was the Chief Medical Officer of the IDF and his speech was pretty factual and informative -- graphs on how long it took them to mobilize for the Haitian earthquake, transportation times, how many staff in which categories were required -- on point.  Didn't really discuss how they would do any better next time, what worked and what didn't, etc., but he ran out of time so maybe that would have come later.  Dressed in a suit and looking very official.

The next person was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, clearly a politician, engaging, Israel is great, we want to help others, we went to Haiti.  There to shoot the political shiz, dressed in a button down without a tie or jacket.

The last person of this particular panel was the head of IsraAID's delegation to Haiti, and he was a trip.  Dressed in Tevas and cargo pants, an orange t-shirt and a massive, excellent Jewish fro.  It was just so -- legit.  I think one thing I've noticed about Israel is, you get what you get.  There isn't a lot of pretense.  I just found these three men to be prime examples of that.  It's something I actually like about Israel -- people are straight up genuine.  You might not like it -- and chances are excellent that you won't -- but they aren't going to try to pretend to be something they are not.

Here he is looking a bit more dapper than he was yesterday.  Hair a bit more under control, collared shirt.

So he goes through some slides showing pictures of different places they have been and things they have done.  It, again, doesn't really discuss just what technically they have done or what they will do in the future, just a basic (albeit deserved, though possibly not in that forum) pat on the back to IsraAID.  And they have done a lot, and he personally has done a lot, so kudos to him.  Until the end.  In his last couple of minutes he says that, when they left Haiti, there were accusations of aid workers trafficking children and organs, and that IsraAID was accused of being caught up in it.  He flips to his last slide that says, in GIANT letters, "WE.  DID. NOT."  And says how he was planning to give this message to the Haitian Prime Minister when he was here, because this dark cloud has followed them for the last four years and he wanted to say it to his face.  And apparently put it on a big sign.  It was -- awkward.  Again, a message that has worth in being delivered, possibly not in that forum, possibly let's not try to publicly embarrass a high official from another country?  

Then we had a coffee break.  Now Sean Penn has been sitting about five rows in front of me the whole time.  I have been looking at the back of his head, more or less, for the last hour and a half.  He's a celebrity.  I get it.  But, poor man.  When I walked back in from the coffee break there was an older couple (I would swear they were American except they weren't -- he had been shouting random comments throughout the conference up to this point) and the woman is standing about a foot and a half behind Sean, and the man goes in front of his table and takes a picture.  It was super obvious, super awkward, and Sean is supposed to act like he doesn't know exactly what they are doing.  I felt for him and he must have to deal with it all the time.  For heaven's sake, just go up and ask if you can take a picture with him.  Don't be weird about it.

The next speaker is a woman who talks about gender based violence in recovering disaster areas and what they have done, and are continuing to do, in Haiti to help the problem.  They have different types of therapies going on, safe houses, schools, etc. and the help continues.  They are giving these women and children a chance at a real life.  It was inspiring, and what I had been waiting for all along.

So the last speaker is Sean.  They introduce him -- the longest introduction I've ever heard even though he's been referenced about 50 times up to this point, but he's a celebrity and people are super excited -- and they ask that, if people want to take pictures, they do it in the first minute or two of the speech so he can concentrate.  We take a few pictures when he first stands up, and he does give a really nice, engaging speech about why he went to Haiti, how he mobilized, the steps they took to figure out what was needed and fulfill those needs, etc., and people just keep taking pictures.  Not even trying to be discreet.  Like standing up from the middle of a row and walking in front of everyone, then standing in the aisle and taking pictures, like holding up a giant iPad in the middle of the room and taking 5 minutes worth of video and pictures, blocking everyone's view behind -- what is wrong with us, people?  The man acts for a living.  He's good at it.  I know.  But he's not here for that.  He has actually done some great humanitarian work.  And was actually talking about the topic, which hardly anyone else did, but somehow that was all covered up in a barrage of people all over the place taking pictures.  Again, I felt for him but I'm sure he's used to it.

In case you were wondering, he felt the need to help in Haiti because right before the earthquake his son had been in a serious skateboarding accident and he felt the torture of seeing his son suffer until he got medical help and pain medication.  When the earthquake hit he could only think of how he felt as a parent and how he would do anything to help other parents be able to help their children.  So he mobilized.  It's a pretty dramatic response to the situation but one he was connected enough to mobilize and one I can understand, parent to parent.  They did some amazing things and he argued that Haiti should continue to be helped because the Haitians really want to help themselves.  He said with every problem they solved as a team, the Haitians would come in and identify, then fix, the next problem.  They aren't looking for someone to solve all of their problems for them; they just need help to help themselves.

Here is a weak Sean Penn photo (didn't use the flash so as not to blind him):

After Sean someone from an Australian foundation spoke saying that they are pledging more money to IsraAID because of their good work, but was sure to add that they get money from Christians who know that the Bible says that this land belongs to the Jews (I had to mentally put my fingers in my ears at this point and sing "la la la la").  I'm not sure how that translates to aid, per se, but it went along with the rest of the conference. He also said to Sean that he was sure he had hundreds of emails and messages saying not to come to Israel, but he came anyway, and he was proud of him for that.  It was an odd end to an odd conference.

All in all, an interesting day.  I felt a bit duped as the conference was more a big pat on the back for IsraAID (again, deserved, but possibly not in this forum) and the Israeli armed forces than a real study in what was done in Haiti and what we can learn from it, but the on-point speakers were good, and, if nothing else, it was an interesting study in the human condition.


I have been dying to get to Jerusalem since we got here.  We haven't been able to go, as first we didn't have our car for a month and then there were constant attacks and we either weren't allowed or it just wasn't a good idea.

Corbin took off the week of Thanksgiving but the kids still had school the first few days so we took our chance to go.  We didn't want to bring the kids until 1) we knew there would be something there they would like and want to see and 2) we knew it was safe enough for them to be there.  Plus it's nice to do site seeing child-free.  If you ever done site seeing with kids, you know what I mean (cue the whii-iii-ning, I'm hungry, I have to go to the bathroom, I'm thirsty, can I have ice cream, I need to go to the bathroom, are we done yet, I need to go to the bathroom -- yes, let's do without).

We parked at the consulate (because we can -- three cheers for the diplomatic license plates) and walked through the "new city" toward the "old city."  We stopped in at Roladine -- my favorite bakery here -- and got a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate krantz cake.  Chocolate krantz is my favorite thing I've found in Tel Aviv, Roladine makes the best, and if I'm not careful I'll end up 50 pounds heavier by the time I get home [Corbin brought a whole one home for me a couple of weekends ago and I almost took care of it single handedly -- I shared, but it wasn't easy].

Then we headed into the old city.  Now mind you, things have settled down a bit but they are far from settled.  We have to alert the embassy guard when we walk into the old city and when we walk back out.

There is a definitive difference between the old and new cities.  I know it sounds obvious but the juxtaposition between old and new is much more pronounced in Jerusalem than I've found it to be in any other city we've been to.  It's as if the city was left dormant for centuries, and then one day in the last 10 years another city was built right around it.  It's odd, but also kind of neat (do we still say, "neat?"  I'm going with it.).

The first place we headed was the Western Wall.  It wasn't terribly crowded but there were still quite a few people there, and it looked like there were several Bar Mitzvahs going on.

I hate to say it but I was a bit underwhelmed.  I don't know what I was expecting but I was just expecting -- more.  It was kind of like when I went to the leaning tower of Pisa -- "Yep, that's a leaning tower."  This was kind of like, "Yep, that's a wall."  

I don't mean to diminish it.  Maybe if I was Jewish and had some sort of religious tie it would mean something to me.  Maybe if it were bigger (hello, American)?  I don't know.  It says more about me than it does about the wall.  Even the pictures excite me more than the actual wall did.  Anyway, I saw it and I'm grateful I did.

After the wall we walked around the quarters for awhile.  The Quarters are Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian.  Again, they are definitive and it was fun to walk through and see the differences.  But at the end of the day, it's kind of just a tourist trap open air market with souvenirs.  It wasn't that different or any more special than what you would see in any tourist-driven country in the world, but it was still nice.

As a little excitement to our day, we get posts throughout the day of any attacks or dangerous situations in and around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and right after we walked out of one of the quarters we got a text that said there had been a stabbing there.  So, there you go.  Glad we didn't take the kids.

A church in the Christian quarter

In the Christian quarter we did find a really cool olive wood shop.  This carving of the Last Supper was truly an amazing work of art.  I would love to own it, but it was price-y, so in the shop it stayed.  But I took a picture. 

The man that ran the shop was Russian and spoke perfect English.  He said he also speaks fluent Hebrew and is conversational in several other languages.  I am always so impressed by people who speak more than one language.  I have dabbled but am fluent in nothing except English.  And what really surprises me is that these people often work in odd places that can't possibly pay them what their language skills are worth -- i.e. souvenir shops, hotels, etc.  It is one of the mysteries of life, and probably only one that an American would really get caught up in, seeing as we generally only speak one language since our country is so big and most countries speak at least some English.  And we are lazy and make excuses for our mono-lingual ways.

But I digress.  

We went to lunch and had some excellent hummus, falafel, Arabic salad (basically the same as an Israeli salad with a different name -- a mix of tomatoes, cucumber and parsley or other green herb and some kind of olive oil dressing) and pita -- our go-to eating out meal.

In looking for the Western Wall and trying to find a few other things we had been through all the quarters more than once, and after lunch we decided to hedge our bets on our safety and happiness and head home.  This is the view inside/outside the Jaffa gate.

In the end Jerusalem didn't live up to the lofty heights I'd ignorantly assigned it, but it was a fun visit and I'm glad we went.  Whether or not we bring the kids remains to be seen, though I'd like them to see it as long as we are here.  We know where we are going now and what they really need to see and we can streamline.  But, safety first, so we'll see where the future takes us.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


It has long been on my bucket list to volunteer at an orphanage in a foreign country.  I've always lived in well off countries and have never had the chance to do it.

But I have had the great opportunity here to volunteer at a daycare for African refugee families.  In the last while there have been African refugees streaming into Israel, mostly from Eritrea, escaping the civil wars and atrocities that are going on in their countries.  They get here and have to make a new life, and of course have to accept any job at any pay that they can find.  Israel is incredibly expensive and these refugees are not always legal, so don't get the benefits that they may otherwise receive.  I will not pretend to know anything about the political refugee positions here and what all they get, but I do know that they get virtually no government help.  I get the feeling it's more of a don't ask/don't tell situation.

In response to the need for daycare (called "gan" here) for these families and single mothers (many of whom were attacked, which resulted in their children), some African women have put together unofficial daycares.  They cost significantly less than a traditional daycare and don't have the facilities or oversight that government sanctioned daycares have, but it's what these mothers can afford and they really don't have any other options.

A few years ago some Israelis were not happy about one of these gans being in their neighborhood, and/or the refugee situation, and started a fire that burned this gan to the ground, with kids sleeping inside.  Thankfully they were able to get all of the children out safely, but the gan was not saved.  News of this got to a journalist and she started a movement to help these families.  There is now a very, very small amount of acknowledgement and assistance from the government, but most awareness and assistance is raised through private donations and volunteer hours.  

I have been lucky enough to get hooked up with the gan that was burned and has now moved to a new location, and have been going to help out once a week.  I love it.

These kids speak different languages -- some African languages, Hebrew and English -- and don't all speak the same one.  The woman that runs mine -- Blessing is her name -- was the woman in charge of the gan that burned, and she is a lovely, selfless mother of a baby who has these kids in her home and watches them 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.  The gan is tiny and not well taken care of, in an old, run down apartment building in south Tel Aviv.  But these kids -- they are little angels.

I love going because the second I walk in the door they start screaming and cheering and clapping and chanting, and I get attacked from all sides with hugs and kids climbing my legs.  They are so happy to see me and to get some love and attention, and I love seeing them.  There is no having a bad day when you are around these kids.  They just love and love and love you.

On nice days, and if I can get someone to go with me, we take them to a little park up the street so they can get out and stretch their legs a bit.  The apartment is very tiny, with 35-40 kids in it every day, and there isn't room to do much of anything.  They have some toys but they can only get a few things down at a time because there just isn't room for kids and toys.

They keep the babies in one small room, with about 12 cribs lined up and a small space in the middle for the babies to walk around a bit.  The toddler/preschool age kids are in another room (the one above) and then the older kids, when they aren't at school, are most kept on a back veranda where they have a table to color.

The kids all eat the same thing every day -- couscous in tomato sauce -- and they just eat out of the same bowl with the same spoon.  They don't have much but these kids are clearly well loved and cared for.  They are sweet and healthy and fun, and forgive me for speaking barely any Hebrew or whatever language they individually speak, and just want to be held and carried and played with.

I got to bring Ian with me last week, as he didn't have school, and they LOVED him.  We had to pry one girl off of him when we left -- she was not letting go.

It's Corbin's good fortune that all of these kids have loving parents, otherwise I would come home with some extra children.  They are the best.


I think this is a house on the kibbutz

On Thursday I got to go on Asa's field trip.  For some reason I thought we were going to a farm, but indeed we were going to a kibbutz.  I had never heard of a kibbutz until I got here, and clearly I did not understand what that meant.  A kibbutz is a community, I was told.  So I was thinking, neighborhood.  Got it.

No.  A kibbutz is more of a commune.  They try to be pretty self sufficient, and tend to be fairly agricultural.  From my understanding, the main characteristic of a kibbutz is that they are communal, so pretty much everything is done together and pretty much everything is communal property.  They have a car that they all share, shared bathrooms, a shared kitchen prep and eating area.  Apparently kibbutzes (kibbutzi?  I have no idea of the plural form) are pretty common here, though they are shut to outsiders so, obviously, I had never been to one (though Corbin took Ian to a soccer game in one last week and came back saying he felt a little edgy the whole time).  I find the whole thing a little creepy and odd (I kept hearing the music from Deliverance in my head), but in America this sort of thing is associated with cults and teenage girls going missing in the night to be brainwashed, so that's fair.

We pulled in through a gate and could see that they had animals, so I thought we would possibly get a tour of the kibbutz and let the kids see and play with the animals, see how they run things, etc.  But alas, that was not part of the deal.  The kids had their snack in the communal eating area (below)

Communal eating area

and then went on a "scavenger hunt," gathering things that had fallen from trees around the commune.  That lasted a bit longer than they could handle and the guide was a little irritated that they were hot and tired.  They came back and had a puppet show, some lunch, and then made a little chia-pet sort of thing with grass seeds and saw dust in a sock.  It was fine and the kids had fun, but I really wanted to see how that commune worked and what was up with that.  I had seen animals coming in.  How does that work?  Do they slaughter them themselves?  How do they split up the goods?  There were a ton of toddlers running around.  Do they share the kids, too?  Wives?  Yikes.  I don't know and I guess I'll never find out, but there was clearly a lot to see there that they were not showing us.  I would like the non-kindergarten tour, please.  Inquiring minds want to know.

Hard to tell from the picture but that is a giant laundry hanger on the right, and who
knows what on the left.  I was afraid to take too many pictures, lest I be
wrestled to the ground.  It could happen.

As I said before, during the scavenger hunt people were watching us from their business in and near the other buildings, but not in a friendly, welcoming way.  And there was one guy with a backpack that followed us the whole time.  I was kind of nervous that he was there just keeping an eye on us and kept trying to get the kids to hurry along so no one was alone back there with him.

When we finally got back to the school and got off the bus, the guy got off, too.  It totally freaked me out, until I realized that he was...  a guard from the school.  Right.  I may be a bit paranoid.  And I haven't even really seen Deliverance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

And... I'm back. I hope.

So the ease of Instagram has killed my blog.  But after some wisdom from Shauna and some sound reflection I can see there is too much to tell to keep it to Instagram alone.  I mean, there are some serious stories that come from living in this crazy place, and who doesn't love a good story?  If nothing else, at least I'll have kept a better record of living here than I otherwise would have.  So, onward.  (And I need to get my pictures figured out so on this post you're going to get some random pics of TA.  But that's better than no pics at all; no?)

First off, this place is crazy town.  I have been around a bit and seen some things, but this place takes the cake.  I am not kidding when I say that almost every single time I am in public -- and this most often puts me in the grocery store -- there is a fight.  And I don't mean a little heated discussion, I mean screaming and hand gestures and the whole thing.  Every time I leave the house I prep myself to keep my head down and just get through that grocery store line and get it done before who knows what breaks out.

Parking?  We have parking.  Anywhere.  And I do mean anywhere.  Sidewalk, grass, whatever -- if there is room for a car (and even if there isn't), go ahead and park there.  That being said, I did park in front of someone's property (not even their house,  just their yard) once and got the cops called on me.  So nothing is certain.  But passengers will get out of their cars and stand in open parking spots until the driver can get around.  This was happening at Sorona Market, and there was a line almost a block long to get into the parking lot.  But the people in the front of the line couldn't park because passengers from cars down the line were standing in all the available spots, meaning those cars couldn't get in there anyway.  No logic, and one long line.  Thankfully we parked on the street so we didn't have to live to madness.

The same "anywhere" rule goes for going to the bathroom.  If you need to go to the bathroom, just go ahead and go, wherever you are.  Side of the road, side of a building, on a tree at the park -- just go for it.  I'd be lying if I said part of me doesn't love this, as Asa always seems to need the bathroom at inopportune times.  We have used this lack of decorum in our favor more than once (and not just for Asa, though we've kept it to the males in the family), and will again.  This is also super handy when I have the gan kids at the park.  More on that later.

Of course everything is in Hebrew.  And yes, I did learn my Hebrew letters and I was oh so proud, but the kicker is you have to then know the translation of what those Hebrew letters say to make them mean anything.  Right.  And the extra kicker is they just go ahead and skip any vowels in their writing, so you're just going to have to know what they were trying to say, and know that in Hebrew, if reading is going to do anything for you.  Needless to say, I'm not doing any reading anymore.  There was one time I was very proud of myself for having figured out that the writing on the blue container said "mozzarella" but then realized it was written in English right above.  *Sigh*  But there are a lot of signs that are written in English, and some other things, so I take what I can get.  Going to the grocery store is a game of guessing, so we have had some surprises, but a little mystery in life is good for you.

The people here scare me a bit.  Israelis are known for being "prickly," and that is putting a pretty nice spin on it.  I have had some interactions with lovely people but for the most part it's a tough crowd.  For instance, there is a little grocery shop near my house that I will run to in a pinch.  The checker there (and she is there Every. Single. Time I am there -- how???) hates that I am alive.  When I get to the front she speaks to me only in Hebrew (she knows I speak English and I know she speaks English, but she refuses to speak it to me), sneers at me, scowls, throws my groceries down the belt, throws my credit card and the pen at me when I have to sign, and then turns her back on me when I walk away.  It's a lovely interaction that I look forward to every time.

But last week I went there one evening with Corbin.  And she LOVED him.  She was speaking to him in English, showing him all the options for gum (seriously?), showing him pictures of her nephew and telling him stories, and when I would try to say her nephew was cute, or make any comment, she would turn her back on me and act like I hadn't said anything.  It was fairly hilarious and now we have a new rule -- only Corbin goes to that store.  Works for me.

There are plenty of other things to say, but we have time.

Now, the beach.

Yes, that is pretty awesome.  We are living four blocks away from the beach, and it is lovely.  I thought I would be there every day, but life gets in the way and it hasn't happened.  But I do get there pretty much every week at least once, and I love it.  We can see the ocean from the rooftop terrace of our house, and from our bedroom window (if I stand on my toes, but it still counts).  I love that it's close by and that it is ours.  And it's a really nice beach with nice sand and water that is bathwater warm up through October.  It's November and I would imagine the water is starting to get cooler, but we can still walk on the beach and be happy.  My kids are still in shorts and no one is sad about that.  I'm wearing pants because I'm sick of all my shorts and I tend to be cold anyway, but I do love that not a jacket has graced my body since we left England.  I hope that continues for awhile.

I love this picture.  It summarizes my kids perfectly.  Disappointed look on Ian, smile on Addy, crazy face on Asa

Just trying to figure out life here has been challenging.  I haven't adjusted as quickly as I would have liked, but the kids seem to be doing well and I'm working on adjusting, day by day.  Trying to get groceries or anything we need stresses me out, and I do have to order a lot of stuff.  More on all that later, too, but for now I have a story.

So there is a certain market here called "Half" by the English speakers.  It's supposed to mean that it's half off usual prices (it is scary expensive here -- and I just came from London), which it's not, but it's better than any local grocery stores and it's huge so it's a good place to go.  I can find most things I'm ever going to find here.

A lot of people use a navigation system called "Waze" here that will help you get where you need to go.  I spent the morning volunteering at school and needed to go to the store from there, which I have never done.  Actually, I'd never driven to Half by myself and I'm not very good at paying attention to how I get somewhere unless I'm on my own or really concentrating (which I'm generally not if I'm not on my own).

I had "Half" programmed into my Waze system, so selected it and off we went.  Traffic was terrible and it was taking me all these crazy places, but I had time and so I figured it would get me there eventually.  And get me there it did, an hour later, but not the Half that I usually go to.  Not the one by my house.  I pulled in and it was somewhere I had never been, in a place I've never been, and I had no idea where I was.  I called Corbin and told him that I was totally lost, but at Half, and he kind of freaked out and asked me if I had accidentally gotten into the West Bank.  I kind of thought I would know if I was in the West Bank (checkpoints, no?) but I was definitely not somewhere good.  But man I had taken over an hour to get to that store and I was going to shop, come Hell or high-water.

So I went in and started doing my thing, and immediately felt like I was a zoo animal.  Everyone was staring at me, I so clearly didn't belong.  Then I started getting really nervous that I was in Gaza or something and just started chucking things into my cart and racing around the store like a lunatic, with everyone watching me with suspicion the whole time.  I got out of there and put my home address into the navigation and got home, but I still don't know where I ended up.  If I had to guess I think I was somewhere in the South Tel Aviv area (not a lovely area of Tel Aviv), but the workers were actually on the pleasant side (a miracle) and I found actual shredded mozzarella, so it was not a total bust.

Oh, there is so much more to say, so I hope I continue on and document our lives here.  Motivation, help me now.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Roman Holiday

I am just giving up filling in the missing months -- just starting now.  We'll see if I get back to the others.

We just got back from six days in Rome.  It was fabulous.  It's one of my favorite family holidays we've ever had.  We loved it -- all of us.

We got there New Year's day.  We had to leave ridiculously early in the morning so we didn't get to stay up late the night before.  The kids were not happy about that.  Last year we missed it, too, because we were in Belgium.  Poor, poor privileged children.

The first day we were pretty exhausted from the early morning and from the travel.  We got to the airport around 12:45 Rome time and had to still go through customs and all.  We hired a car to pick us up (what have I been thinking all this time, not just hiring a car?  This was absolutely fabulous and I would do it again in a minute).  We got into our apartment closer to 2:30 when all was said and done.  We rested for awhile and then went out to roam around a bit and met some friends for dinner, the Seals.  That was a fun treat.

Their concierge had booked a restaurant for us all.  They asked him to book a family restaurant but he ended up booking a really high end place with an incredibly pushy waiter who was trying to get us to order a ridiculous amount of high priced food -- pasta as an appetizer at 22 euros, a whole fish to share at 280 euros, appetizers, wine -- it was crazy.  He also made it really confusing so it ended up being a bit of a hassle but we had a great time still.  We finally ended up with pasta for everyone and it really was delicious.  Even with the chaos it was my favorite meal of the trip.

The next day we had booked tickets to the Vatican.  It was a beautiful museum and the Sistine Chapel was amazing, though I had to admit I thought it would be much bigger.  I thought I would love it more. It was still amazing, just smaller scale than I expected.  No photos allowed, unfortunately.

We then waited in a very long line (hour and a half) for St. Peter's Basilica, but it was totally worth it.  I also loved the Vatican square that it was all on.

Dinner was pizza at one of the pizza-by-weight pizza shops -- the one that turned out to be our favorite -- and it was in a building called Friggitoria, much to Ian's delight.  Of course we had gelato, like we did every single day.

The next day we went to Piazza Navona and saw the Four Rivers fountain and the buildings there.  It was also full of carnival games, but we didn't play any.  We went to the huge outdoor market, Camp de Fiori, and got some vegetables and pasta and some other fun things.  Our favorite sandwich shop -- Chips -- was also near there.  Quite good paninis.  Then we made our way over to the Pantheon.  It was one of my favorite sites.

The next day was Free Sunday at the Colosseum and Forum so we went over there bright and early.  We were in line by 8:20 and got right in at 8:30.  Major coup for us.  We LOVED the colosseum.  So much history there, and it was amazing to see something you've learned about all your life.  We took a million pictures and headed over to the Forum to walk through those remains.

Since we had such an early start we still had quite a bit of the day left so we headed to Trastavere and saw the Santa Maria chapel -- beautiful.  Then we made our way back, had a rest, and headed out for yet more pizza.

Monday was our last full day there and we went to the Piazza Popolo, the Borghese Gardens where we rode a bicycle/cart for through the park (I think that was the kids' favorite thing our whole trip except the endless pizza and gelato), the Spanish Steps (not that exciting and under construction), and then went to the Trevi Fountain, which was completely under construction!  This was so, so disappointing for me since that was one of the things I had most been looking forward to.  We still and some time left and didn't want to go back to our apartment so we went to The Mouth of Truth -- if you stick your hand in his mouth, and you're a liar, he will bite your hand off.  Addy wasn't sure about that until we got in line and no one was screaming.  Then she decided it must not be real.  But we still had a look.  And we ran into the Seals there again, which was really fun, so we were able to see them one more time.

Our last day there, Tuesday, we had pretty much ticked all the boxes so we decided to go back to the Trastevere area and hike up the mountain to see a bird's eye view of Rome.  The weather was gorgeous and it was a great day of just walking around.  We actually had gorgeous weather every day except the Friday or Saturday.  We met some American college students and chatted with them, and then continued on our walk.  We went home and were picked up by the driver and had a wonderful time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Corbin's parents came out to see us in the spring.  They were here for two weeks and we loved spending time with them.

And we loved it even more because they let Corbin and I escape to Florence, Italy for a few days.  We celebrated our 15 year anniversary in February and took a minute to run away and tour Florence without any small legs to hold us back.  

It was amazing.  It was gorgeous.  The weather was wonderful.  It was a fantastic trip.  We walked and walked for three days, seeing all sites.

Our favorite was the Boboli Gardens.  There weren't any guides and people were just milling around so we did some exploring on our own.  The gardens are expansive so it was hard to know if we were missing anything.  At one point we came to some stairs and half heartedly decided to go up.  The view was spectacular.  We stayed up there forever, just enjoying the gorgeous landscape and the sunshine.

We loved it all:  The Ponte Vecchio, top of Michelangelo's Plaza and the city, lit at night,  Il Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, The Uffizi, The Academia,  Gelato, Pasta, Pizza.  

We went to the Accademia to see The David.  We could not take pictures of the original but there is a duplicate outside that we were able to photograph.  The original is exceptional and literally breathtaking.  It feels like he will walk off his podium.  You can almost see him breathe.  After seeing that sculpture, every other sculpture we saw (and there were many -- believe me -- so many) looked amateur by comparison.  It was one of the most remarkable things I've seen in my life.  

We also found a little family owned pottery shop near our hotel.  The pottery was made by the papa and the grandmother was literally painting the pieces in the back.  I went back to see her painting.  We bought a platter there that I absolutely love.  We went back several times because I really wanted everything in there, but I had to choose.  Poor me.

And last but not least, we ran to Pisa for one day.  One more thing down on my bucket list.

Fantastic trip and so grateful to have been able to celebrate our 15 years this way.