Sunday, March 27, 2011

First Free Travel

We only had three short class days at the facility before everyone went their separate ways for their first free travel (travel where they left in groups to see as much of Europe as they could in a week). The students left us itineraries showing what trains they were taking and destinations and what hotels/hostels they were staying in. Now I had to be just like the rest of the parents. Becky was taking off with 5 of her friends to London and Scotland. We were headed to the south of France and Barcelona, Spain. It is scary and wonderful at the same time. Knowing she will have to figure things out on her own but so exciting as it will make her who she is supposed to be as she learns and grows. So off she went with a new excitement and independence in her eyes and I knew she would come back different and a little more grown. Was it really so long ago that I stood in her shoes?

We left for Avignon, France with the McLaughlins on Thursday morning. We had separate hotels as we had shifted our plans to here when we couldn't get a train to Nice. We stayed in the Hotel Alizea which quickly became known as the A'Sleazia Hotel. Not the best place I've ever stayed but we stayed anyway. Friday was spent with the Mclaughlin's at Pont de Gare which is the largest Roman aqueducts still standing today. It was one of those lovely days for hiking, strolling, picnicking, and photography which is exactly what we did. We had stopped at a grocery before we left and got bread, cheese, fruit, and goodies and ate our lunch at the foot of the gigantic structure. French elderly hikers passed our picnic with friendly shouts of "Bon appetit" and smiles. There was also a fabulous children's interactive museum that the boys enjoyed. We returned and had a lovely dinner at a really nice restaurant. We said our goodbyes as we would go our own ways in the morning. We left our hotel the next morning with high hopes for our next one.

We rode the train to Carcasonne, France. Then took a taxi to the hotel and started smiling as we drove up. We opened the door into the spacious lobby to hear a hearty welcome from a bright and smiling desk clerk. She spoke English well and made us feel so welcome. We walked up to our room to find a spacious apartment! Kitchen, dining area, living room with fold out double bed, bathroom ( actually one toilet room and one bath and sink room) plus a nice bedroom. It was squeaky clean, had working free Internet, friendly staff, a spacious sunlit patio with tables and chairs for lounging around. Ideallic! It was only 2 euros more a night than our last hotel. Hard to believe! Only drawback was it was no where near stores or restaurants and we were starved. We walked around forever and then Cliff sent us back to the hotel and walked to the old city way up the hill and brought back some sandwiches. Later that evening we went into the old city (by taxi) and ate a fabulous dinner at one of the restaurants. I had a real creme brûlée and french onion soup and steak and some flaky potato thing. JM had pasta with salmon and shrimp and Cliff had cassolei.

We slept wonderfully and after a nice breakfast at the hotel, set off to explore the old medieval city. We walked across draw bridges and stood on the walls and shopped the touristy shops. When it got rainy, we bought a whole quiche for lunch and dinner and some sweets and walked back to the hotel. We spent the afternoon napping, reading, knitting, card playing and just relaxing. We had our own church service as the nearest church was almost two hours away, one way. It was very special. We ate our dinner, finishing off the quiche and spent the evening outside on the patio playing cards and knitting. The rain returned and we retreated inside. Tomorrow we leave for Barcelona, Spain! We have heard from several of the kids who have had fun and eventful trips including one engagement! Becky's group is staying with our sweet friends, John and Arlene Galloway in Scotland and says she feels at home. Cant wait to see everyone in a couple of days!

Versailles and Meeting the Mouse

The last two days in Paris flew by. We spent Friday at the Palace of King Louis 14th in Versailles. It was so fascinating to see the grandness and opulence of the palace. The hall of mirrors was spectacular and what I could see of the gardens were grand.Jon Michael and I ran out of time before we could get to the gardens. We listened to an audio guide and time flew. We ended up waiting on one of our students for another 45 minutes as she was waiting at the wrong place. This put everyone in a bit of a foul mood but it all worked out in the end.

Saturday I took Jon Michael to Disneyland Paris! We made the trip with about 8 college kids and had a blast! We all rode Peter Pan together upon entering the park as JM had promised two of the girls that he would ride a ride with them. Then we all split into groups and tried to make the most of our time at the parks. JM had wanted to visit the new Toy Story Playground in Walt Disney Studios so we spent the last three hours of our day there. Pirates of the Carribbean was closed as was a couple of other rides but we still had a great time. JM really wanted to ride the RC Car ride which is basically like one of those big swinging pirate ships except with the toy car in toy story. With warnings to give your bags and belongings to someone to hold and we were alone, I tried to talk my rollar coaster hating son out of it. He pleaded and so I stayed in line outside the ride and waited for him to go alone (a rather scary thing for me to let go). The wait said it was 35 minutes but I was getting really worried when an hour passed and he did not come on the ride. Then I saw him and he strapped in. He made it through the ride with all courage but learned he was much more comfortable with his first assessment of roller coasters! We then went to a live stage production of Stitch Live of LILO and Stitch fame. We realized after waiting in line and about to go in the theatre that it would be in French. We were totally lost! Good cultural experience, though.

We left the park in time to make the hour long train ride back to the hotel to join Cliff and Becky for a cruise down the Seinne. It was still freezing but luckily we were inside the windowed boat and only braved the cold to take a picture or two. It was beautiful and a great way to end our last night in Paris.

What I will take with me from Paris (besides great buys from the market!), is the sound of music the streets, the metro, the restaurants, on the lawn of the Eiffel
tower, everywhere....and I will miss terribly the view of the Eiffel tower blinking and winking at me out of my hotel window.....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Paris-Day Three

After our Parisian breakfast, we hopped a metro over to St Chapelle to see the beautiful little chapel know for it's explosion of color and elaborate stained glass windows depicting stories of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. Absolutely breathtaking! It was chilly and threatening rain so we switched our schedule for the day so it was more indoor friendly.

We walked "just 3-4 blocks", which turned out to be several times that, over to the Orsay museum to see impressionist works by such masters as Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and Dagas to name a few. After the long walk, Jon Michael, Cliff, and I opted for a quiet lunch in the cafe to rest our feet. Following lunch, Jon Michael and I walked around and I showed him famous pieces he would see in art class in college, told him a little about the artists and the style of art. We made our way back to the hotel for a rest. All the walking and stair climbing entitles us to eat what we want but also encourages little periods of rest to keep up.

Debbie volunteered to keep Jon Michael while Cliff and John and I went to a concert with some of the college kids. It was a chamber ensemble that performed in the intimate space of the small stained glass chapel of St. Chapelle. They performed Adagio by Ablinoni, Pachelbel's Canon, and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It was magical! Lead violinist Paul Brie was excellent. I bought a signed cd afterward. Cliff and I ate dinner at a quiet little restaurant nearby and then came on back to the hotel. Just two more full days left in Paris...

The Louvre

March 16
The day started a bit colder than yesterday. We had our little Parisian breakfast of juice, tea or coffee, croissant, baguette with butter and jam and then off to the metro for our trip to the Louvre. The former palace was huge with painted ceiling and inlaid marble floors in addition to the impressive collections it housed. Jon Michael and I saw the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, nd the Venus de Milo, among other works of art. After a morning of fine art, Jon Michael and I ventured out for lunch. We took thhe metro back to the hotels where a street market covered the area around our hotel. We out off lunch a while linger to shop the market. Jon Michael bought me a beautiful necklace with blue beads and I bought assorted other things including some yarn for my friend and I. We bought some pears for a snack later and then went in search of lunch. We settled for a restaurant close to the hotel and split a pizza. Then we just HAD to stop at a little pastry shop for something sweet and delicious. Jon Michael learned he loved eclaires and I had a yummy little pastry filled with whipped cream.

We rested for a while at the hotel and actually both fell asleep for a little nap. We met up with Cliff and the McLaughlins for dinner. We went back to the Latin quarter and enjoyed another wonderful dinner (French onion soup, steak and fries, and chocolate mousse). Then we wandered over to Shakespeare and Co. minus the paparazzi and Cliff and Ethan bought books.

Another wonderful day in Paris!


March 15
Springtime came when we arrived in Paris. The weather was absolutely gorgeous! We dropped our heavy coats and luggage at our tiny hotel and set out on foot for the Eiffel tower. We enjoyed the warmer weather as did most of the French and tourists alike. The grassy lawn at the base of the tower was littered with picnicking families, playing children and couples in love. We took tons of pictures and then decided to do other exploring rather than wait the two to three hours it would take to ride up the tower. We have 5 more days in Paris to ride the lift. So we walked over to Notre Dame and sat for a while in the cathedral listening to the beautiful music and being in awe of the intricate surroundings. It was one of the most peaceful moments I've ever experienced.

We left the cathedral and walked the short distance over to Shakespeare and Co., a famous English bookstore where Earnest Hemmimgway and others used to frequent in days gone by.however, we could not get to it because it was being used today to film Emma Watson in a new perfume commercial for Lancomme. We watched for a while and caught a few glimpses of her. We then wandered over a few streets to eat dinner in the Latin quarter. I had onion soup, chicken kabob with fries, and a wonderful Chocolate mousse! We shopped a little in the stores and then took the metro to the Trocadero stop to see the tower all lit up at night it was so beautiful! At one point, Becky and I were walking through the Eiffel tower when the crowd made oohing and saying noises. Becky said "Mom! We're sparkling!" I looked up and the entire tower was full of twinkling lights! It twinkled for a few minutes and then stopped for a while.

As I lay in my bed at the hotel, I watched the tippy top of the Eiffel tower out my balcony window as it sparkled and shone while I drifted off to sleep.

I lay in my bed and

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I'm sitting in a shop near the Grand Place sipping a hot tea and having a nibble on the complementary dark chocolate in Brussels. We caught the early train here this morning and saw the Grand Place, Mannequin Pis (yes, the statue of the little boy doing what little boys do) and several in the group got massive waffles piled with chocolate, strawberries,white chocolate and the like. Then we shopped in the inside art deco 1920s mall called the galerie St. Hubert. We are planning a visit to the musical instrument museum here and then the group is going to the European Union to watch Parliment. Children are not allowed so I'm taking the younger boys on an adventure. After three days of cooking and teaching at the facility, a day out is nice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Home to Verviers

March 6

Home to Verviers!

We were awakened at 6:00 a.m. And off the train in Munich by 6:30. We stopped for breakfast in the station and boarded a train (sitting up this time) for Cologne. The trip was about six hours but very pleasant. It also helps that anyone over 26 has to ride in first class so our students were in second class (which was actually very nice) and the two families sat in first class. It was very relaxing and I caught a nap or two and then worked on catching up with my blog.

When we got Cologne, we stopped for a quick lunch at the food courts then boarded a train for Aachen, Germany. It was only a bit under two hours. In Aachen, we ran for our last train to Verviers with only minutes to spare. The train from Aachen wasv20 minutes late so that caused a rush. 30 minutes later we were walking toward the facility in Verviers.we had hoped to run to the store for groceries for supper but everything was closed so we made due with what we had and had a very tasty vegetable beef soup with crackers. There was hardly a serving left and the kids were very complementary. We had our own church service that was very meaningful and then the students studied and pretty quickly went to bed. We were all worn out! Many fond memories of our time in Greece and Italy.


March 5

The plan was to go to Venice today. Cliff found out that the train we had intended to take was sold out and we could leave at 4:30 a.m. (is there a 4:30 a.m.?) which was unacceptable or 12:30. Cliff bought his ticket yesterday but wasn't sure we wanted to go since we would only have two hours there before coming back. When we went to buy our tickets, the 12:30 was sold out and since we have to travel together on our Eurorail pass, we stayed in Florence. We shopped the market and stores, ate ice cream, and rode the bus home. I remembered well the stop we got on at this morning. We took the bus all around the city and ended up back at the train station never passing our stop. It was a nice view but we were still far from home.

We got off and bought another a ticket (which I found out later we didn't have to do but the were only about $1.50), got back on and rode all around the city again....not coming to our stop! I then showed the bus driver where we were trying to go and he said, "you ride with me thirty minutes! I take care of you! Sit! Sit!" so we began our third trip around the city. I stood up after thirty minutes and he shook his head, "no, sit, sit! I tell you!" so I sat for about another 10 minutes where he said, "next stop". At the next stop, he motioned us off and said "now, you walk". I looked at the unfamiliar surroundings, said "gratzi" (thank you in Italian), and got off with JM in tow. Luckily, he and I were able to use our mapskills (homeschooling in practice) and see we were only a couple of blocks away. We got back to the hotel hours before we were to meet and hung out in the lobby since we had already checked out of our room and they were storing our luggage. We did some homeschooling, read books and JM watched a movie. Once the students started arriving, I left him in the care of a couple of great kids and went in search of something to eat for dinner. I came back with sprite, a pizza slice, crackers, and something that looked like a huge pig in a blanket. We shared it all and it was actually quite good.

Our bus came for the group and we rode to the train station (JM and I's fourth time to be there) and boarded our night train. It was quite confusing because we had our numbers worked out (male and female and family car for the two families) only to find out that the three males that were in a car by themselves were going to have to room with a strange woman. So we reshuffled and ended up with three girls in with her and JM, Debbie, and I with another three of our girls.

What were the sleeper cars like?  Imagine a walk in closet just barely big enough to be called a walk in. You open the glass door and there is a narrow standing place. On either side are three bunks with not enough room to sit up and a ladder on the window wall. Yeah, I'm discovering I'm getting a bit claustrophobic in my old age. The bunks are kind of the comfort of covered church pews with a pillow and sheet and blanket. I slept a bit, waking up at every stop and then convincing myself I was not in the tiny coffin sleeping. It is not an experience I'd want to repeat any time soon.

Last night in Rome

March 4
Rome to Florence 

Our bus picked us up at the hotel at 7:00 a.m. We then traveled to Florence. Our bus driver was the same one we had had yesterday. He will never win the friendliest prize.  We made one stop on the way and then completed the three hour trip. Florence was beautiful! We checked into our hotel and Cliff and I had a quaint little suite with bedroom, living room/kitchen, nice roomy bathroom with marble tile floors and walls, and a cobblestone patio with a bistro table and chair set. We could look up from our patio and see Becky's balcony. It was quite charming!

After a brief stop at the hotel we took off walking, very quickly again in hopes of finding a quick take out place for lunch (for 33, right). We were walking toward our museum where we had an after lunch appointment. In the rush on the narrow cobblestone streets and sidewalk, Jon Michael tripped off the sidewalk and fell right on the same knee he had fallen on coming down from the Acropolis. The wound broke open and he began to bleed. We had to pass the word up the line but he kept walking. Finally we stopped and got Neosporin and bandaids on it.  Shortly thereafter, we stopped for a 20 minute grab some food so we can go lunch. We sat on the steps of a church in the little city square we were in and warded off pigeons and beggars while we ate our lunch.

Then it was off on a run again where we arrived at the Academea museum in plenty of time. Early in fact! Inside we saw Byzantine art and the incredible statue of David. It was magnificent! We also visited the wing of the museum that held musical instruments including a Chinese bell. It is a large basin of water made of copper with two handles. You wet your hands a d rub the handles and it makes a humming noise, You can change pitch and timber by pressure and pace. Jon Michael loved it and the rest of us did too.

After we left the museum, the students were going on a walking tour of Florence. It was getting colder and I knew Jon Michael needed to get his cut cleaned up and see exactly what the damage was. He and I took a taxi back to the hotel. I was glad we came back. His bandaid had come off and we had to pull the fibers of his sweat pants out of the wound and rebandage. He ended up cleaning it himself and was amazing.

About 5:00, we set out to find some dinner. The lady at the desk was surprised that I asked about dinner places. She kept saying, "It's 5:00". Then she sent us to a bakery. We didn't want sweets so kept looking. Every food place was closed. We returned to the hotel empty handed. She explained that no place opened for dinner until 7:30. We went back to the room a d JM took a nap while I listened to a book on tape. We went out at 7:45 and found a restaurant but the were just opening up. We were the first customers. JM had pasta with ham and a cream sauce. I had linguini with lobster thinking it would come with tiny chunks of lobster, especially with the low price. WRONG! Here came my plate with the pasta and sauce with a lobster sitting right on top, eyeballs and all! I cracked it open and got out the meat with the plate of tools and such they brought me and then ate an incredible dish! With both pasta dinners, plus our drinks and bread it was only 24 Euros. Not bad! JM had his first taste of lobster. 

By the time we got back from dinner, parts of the group were arriving back. We chatted and shortly went to bed.

Last night before we left Rome, I had gotten the message that my mom had fallen and broken her hip and was in surgery. It was agony being so far away. I did manage to get a call through but the connection was terrible. All I got was that she was out of surgery and doing well. Her room was full of friends and they sounded like they were having a good time. She was still on her magic drugs from surgery and so was in no pain. She is hoping to come home on Friday or Saturday. Prayers would be appreciated.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Vatican museums and catacombs

I found out yesterday that mother had fallen and broken her hip. She had surgery before I ever knew it had happened. It is so hard to be so far away when I need to be with her. She came through the surgery well and God has blessed her with many good friends who were taking care of her. Please remember her in your prayers and say an extra thanks for friends who treat you like family and good doctors.

We began our tour at 8:00 am and headed to the Vatican. We toured the museums, the tapestries, statues, paintings, mosaics, and of course, the Sistene Chapel. It was all breathtaking! Then we ate some lunch, shopped in the gift shop, and then boarded the bus for the catacombs. The catacombs were narrow and winding and fascinatinating as we wound through the tunnels. Following that tour, we dropped some off in the downtown area and I took the tired young boys back to the hotel so that John and Debbie could have some child-free time. The boys and I ate at McDonalds again and then came back to the hotel so they could play video games and I could pack. Tomorrow we leave for Florence. Caio!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


March 2, 2011


We were up and on the bus at 7:30 am this morning for the 3 hour bus ride to Pompeii. It rained all the way there and back but quit while we were walking around the ruins. The ruins were amazing. We went into a couple of houses that had been almost palaces and the detail paintings on the walls and mosaic tile floors were awe inspiring. We visited the bath house and the "house of ill repute" where there were small rooms with stone beds and pictures painted on the walls of the "menu". First time I've ever been in one of those establishments. We saw many houses, the marketplace, the buildings for civic leaders of the day and of course, Mt. Vesuvius. This has been a story that always fascinated me and I got to walk through history today. 

We drove through the coastal city of Napoli (Naples) and stopped for pictures and gelatos. We were swarmed by roving street vendors who would not leave us alone. We moved four times and they followed us. Finally, a police officer came and they scattered. We saw the Isle of Capri in the distance and took pictures. We then rode back in the rain. Cliff and John went to get pizzas for dinner and we ate and got in bed. Tomorrow, the Vatican and catacombs.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1st in Rome

The tour bus picked us up this morning and drove us through the city and to the Collusium. We toured the Collusium then walked over to the Bascilica, the Forum, and the main square. It was hard to believe we were walking on roads over 2000 years old where chariots rode, gladiators fought and Christians were persecuted. I actually have a picture of my foot on the stone road.

Following that tour, John led us to an area to pick a place for lunch. More pizza and pasta and bread for a great price. Then we walked over to the Pantheon which was beyond gorgeous! Then on to the Piazza Navona where the artists sell their work. Absolutely beautiful paintings, waterspouts, and charcoals. Then what had been a drizzle all day became a major rain and though some chose to go on to other sights, several of us decided to go back to the hotel. We walked forever to the metro station in the freezing cold rain. I wasn't sure we were going to make it but we did. We still had a ways to walk to the hotel after we got to the closest metro station to our hotel and it was still raining so our group decided to stop at McDonalds and eat. It was nice to get out of the weather and eat some warm comfort food. It was still a light rain that followed us on to our hotel but we were soon inside and in warm, dry clothes and extremely proud of our perseverance today! Now it is time for bed!


The same day that I finally reach Italy, my long awaited bucket list location, I receive word that my sweet friend, Donna White passed away. I am overwhelmed with sadness. We traveled together, worked together, cried together, laughed together, and embarrassed my children together. Ah the memories! She had sent me a message just a few days ago on my 50th birthday and we were making plans for her to come to Henderson to visit when I returned. I felt a sense of guilt in my grief to be where I was, doing what I was doing as I knew she would have loved to be in the middle of this trip. But I also knew she would demand that I do everything and enjoy it all. After much processing, I have dedicated this trip to her memory and will continue to embrace it the way she did in her life. Live, laugh, love! This is for you, Donna!

The bus picked us up and took us to the airport where we caught a flight to Rome. After checking in at our hotel (a very nice older hotel with suites, lots of room, and lovely balconies overlooking the city), we set out to see some sights and find dinner. We had our first experience on Rome's fairly new metro (subway) and made it to the Spanish Steps. The area around them were beautiful and, since it was still Carnival, we got to see men on stilts and musicians performing in the streets. We finally settled on a restaurant that gave us a great price and we ordered things like gnocci in tomato sauce with mozzarella, lasagna, pizza to die for, cannelloni, and calzones. We passed it around and enjoyed it all. Best Italian food I've ever had!

We topped off the evening with a trip to the Trevi Fountain which was breathtaking and gelato! It was one of those moments you know you will always remember. We have already gotten so close to the kids and the mood was so joyous you couldn't possibly be sad. And this day of sadness and joy was my first day in my long dreamed about Italy!

Last Full Day in Greece

We started early again today. We walked up the hill to the foot of the Acropolis and then started the climb to the top. All 201 steps NOT including inclines. I'm getting better at this. Maybe I should keep up this walking and climbing when I get home. We stood on Mars Hill where Paul talked to the great philosophers of Athens and it was an emotional moment. Cliff read from the book of Acts about the event and then John McLaughlin lead How Great Thou Art. It was hard to absorb the fact of where I was standing. We went on to the Parthenon and Temples and then made our way down  to the Theater of Epidirus. We finished our walking tour with the new Acropolis Museum with all the antiquities found in the ruins.

We ate lunch in a charming restaurant in the Plaka where we had bread, greek salad, macaroni pie and fries, and finished it all off with ice cream. Then we shopped and spent the rest of the afternoon (only an hour or so) relaxing until we met Barbara, a guide, who took us to the tram and to the other side of Athens to meet with the Church of Christ that meets there. When we got there, we were met by the studies abroad group from Harding University that had friends and acquaintances of some of our students. And I met my college photography teacher and his wife who are now living here and managing the program for Harding. It was good to see Mike and Beth James again. The service was wonderful and we even sang two songs in Greek (poorly since we don't know Greek but we had the tune right!). It has been a long time since I have been so blessed by a service. They treated us to juice and chocolate cookies afterwards. Then we rode the tram back to the Plaka and everyone grabbed dinner and shopped until the stores closed orj went back to the hotel. What a great day! Tomorrow, Italy!