Monday, July 16, 2012

Feels a Little Bit Like Home...

The month of May was full of events, and I am months behind in our posts. 
Our calendar was crammed with field trips, end of year school & sport events, an 80's prom (yes, big hair, Bon Jovi tunes, &"like"...tons of fun!), and a highly anticipated visit from both my sister's family (from GA) AND my the same time.  A full house no less with seven more to add...but only eager, happy faces await.  One being the birthday boy, Nick...he's now 8 and willing to have just about anyone follow him around the city!

Starting things off, Kate had a fourth grade overnight field trip to Hastings and Canterbury, England, while Jack headed toward the coastline of Devon, England for an entire week with the fifth grade. They each packed and were thrilled to be staying in hostiles with their peers.  No resorts this time.:)   They've really become great little travelers and are always eager to go...just about anywhere.

With school ending, it was time to say goodbye to classmates and friends whom we've had the pleasure of sharing time and experiences with, but not before the all school events that lead up to the very last day.  May can make your head seriously spin!  I think it's the fastest, busiest month of all.  The challenge of being an expat meet new friends who become an integral part of your everyday life, and in what feels like no time, you're having to say goodbye, hoping and believing your paths will cross again. 

Months have now passed, and the kids witnessed an entire school year come and go in an entirely new country...and...they did it, we did it.  Whew!  I think we all felt a sense of pride...corny, but true.  We are grateful for having been part of such a welcoming and nurturing school with so many great families.  We are fortunate to have made lifelong friends through this unexpected journey...So many fond memories to carry along with us...

In the midst of all the goings on, we were anxious for our family to finally arrive! This was surely the best part of May!  It was a big trip for everyone, and we were thrilled to host each one of them.  We toured ALL of London, biked to Windsor (be careful of the broken pedal Sean), learned some English culture, walked Savill Gardens and Virginia Water Park, dined at pubs, sipped on pints, shopped the high streets, had our own "jubilee" party in the garden celebrating Sean's graduation and 18th birthday, and toured Harry Potter WB Studios...all while surviving the "Hotter than Hawaii" temperatures...! (That was truly a newspaper headline that very week...rare, but I'm being 100% honest!)  It was an eventful week of laughs and fun...tired legs and jet lag never got in the way.
Cheers to these special family times that will hopefully serve as lasting memories for all of us!
 Jubilee Parade in Windsor
The Great Walk...Gail and Stephen
"The Punchbowl" Virginia Water Park...with my Mom & Dad

Mark, Amy, & Sean...the Bulldog

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bonjour from Paris!

With the kids spring holiday being over two weeks long, we decided not to waste any time. Our party of five was now off to France. So moving right along...we arrived at Orly Airport heading to Paris. A city also on our lists of must sees while we're living here in Europe. 
We stayed in the Saint Germain District which is a very fun and lively part of the city. Our friends, the Sobran's, were meeting us here...all the way from Boston.  So excited for their arrival and our week ahead.  The forecast called for rain & chilly temperatures, but we didn't let the perfect get in the way of the good... We visited typical tourists sites such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Luxembourg & Tuileries Gardens, Sacre Coeur (girls...did you see the movie Monte Carlo?), and finally took a Seine River boat cruise....the Eiffel Tower looks even more amazing at night when all it's lights are blinking.  Our agenda was full to say the least.

Feet touching the "centerpoint" of Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral

Again, we needed to immerse into the culture so "oui, oui" to pastries, croissants, red wine, crepes, and macaroons...The calories were endless and euros were flying from our pockets...c'est la vie, we're only here once!  Pains au chocolats were the kids favorite start to their day.  We walked miles each day touring hopefully that offset a few of the delicious foods we indulged in. 
We went on our first Metro trip (train rail system) to visit Versailles...a gorgeous and enormous palace.  Unfortunately, this was a wet day, so we opted (without any hesitation) to skip  the garden tour, although they were absolutely meticulous & gorgeous even from a window's view.  So much history in just one place and our journey was with no regrets.  Amazing site.

Paris was a city I would love to return to.  All the cafes, shopping on the Champs-Elysees, quaint corners, old buildings, bright flowers, museums, fashion, relaxing parks, etc...are all so unique. 
Still excitement lies ahead...especially if you're a young kid.  They've been waiting with much anticipation to ride on the Eurostar ever since we moved here.  We purchased our one way tickets back to London and they were all smiles. This train goes under the ocean and the kids loved the entire two hours of it!   It was a great way to end our trip.  Au revoir Paris!  
Nick holding the Lourve's Pyramid...clever guy!

A full 360 degree view of city
So great to see you Roberta!

Monday, April 30, 2012

March: Staying Put...

The month of March was spent in and around London.  Lucky for us the days are getting longer...aka more daylight. :) We started the month off by attending our school gala...a fundraiser with a live and silent auction.  This was a lot of fun, raised money for school, and we were able to snag a few being Nick's artwork of a Union Jack flag.
Next up was "Supah Quiz American Showdown" hosted by our friends...lots of competitive players here, and thankfully all USA trivia for us.  "Quiz Night" is a very common weekly theme at most local pubs here. Kyle and I randomly ended up on the same team..."Team Beefeater".  Unfortunately, our brain power didn't quite perform so well against other American peeps.  Really...have we been gone that long..?!  Oh well, lots of fun had...and a terrific night out with many laughs & good friends. 

As far as St. Patrick's Day, plans were made well in advance.  Kyle, along with a crew of others, bought tickets to the England versus Ireland "Six Nations" Rugby game at the nation's ruby stadium, Twickenham.  This is a hot ticket least for the men.  England gained their revenge this year and took the title from Ireland.  Kyle sounds British when he says there's no better sport to watch. He has become a big fan.

As far as daily life..the boys started London Youth Little League.  Kyle helps coach and so far the boys are enjoying it...different from home, but we've learned to roll with what we've got.  Kate is still playing her year round soccer. School's going well, keeping them busy, and fieldtrips keep coming...

We've been in London several times and covered the Borough and Camden Markets, and also strolled the streets of Notting Hill.  I have to mention that it's nice being able to spend the day in the city and get a different experience every time.  The kids are learning to navigate their way and are understanding the tube sysytem...pretty good for country kids from GA.:)
Camden Market

Borough Market

All Roads Lead to Rome...

Taking a trip back to Italy..."Roma" is next up..  Not slowing down our desire to travel, our European adventure continues and this one is on our bucket list.  Let me just say that it wasn't difficult getting any of us back to Italy...the food, the culture, the language, and beautiful land all make us wonder if there's really any need to travel elsewhere.
We landed early in Rome, so we were able to get off to an early start.  We strolled the streets without an agenda.  These days always seem to be the most fun.  We explored around and found the Monument to Vittorio, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and of course a delicious cafe, gelato place, and ever luring boutiques.  So much to's hard slowing down, but Italy...isn't eating considered immersing oneself into the culture?  When in Rome...gelato is a daily requirement.  (I think that goes for any part of Italy.)  Our kids have overused the Italian gelato "flavor"words such as stracciatella, menta, caffe`, etc...and have a new found confidence ordering like a local.  As for me, I'll stick to a cappuccino and enjoy the view.
The roses Kyle was forced to buy for us...Oh well, any way a girl can get'em!
Custom says that throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures one will surely return to Rome and that your wish may come true.  Needless to say, we all threw euros into the Trevi Fountain...I threw two.
Stand backwards, toss a euro, and make a wish!
The next day we scheduled a half day tour of overall Rome...the Colosseum (built in AD!), the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Navona Square, and other fun sights.  The Colosseum was such a huge, amazing place to see.  Isn't it hard not think of the movie Gladiator?? 
The Colosseum
Pantheon at night

Piazza Della Rotonda...Pantheon
A day after, we toured the Vatican City...the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. We scheduled an early tour (7am...yikes!) and were able to get into the Sistine Chapel very soon after.  We were standing in the official residence of the Pope and because it was so early...we basically had the place to ourselves.  The architecture and decorations were amazing.  The kids were able to see Michelangelo's famous painting on the ceiling, along with several world famous sculptures and mosaics. They had seen them in books...but now they were in true form.  Crazy neat. I am being brief here, but this day being inside the Vatican was truly special and a time we will not forget. 
Michelangelo's Pieta 1499

St. Peter's Basilica

"Veni Vidi Vici"...We came, we saw, we conquered. Rome was fantastic.     

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Adventures in the Middle East

The kids were on "February holiday" and we planned a trip to Dubai.  Our quest was to journey to a faraway place that would be less likely traveled to, if we were living in the US.  We packed our bags, and headed to Heathrow...flew Virgin Atlantic through the night and seven hours later, landed safely in the United Arab Emirates.  Wow, we were really in the middle east and our first sights in the airport confirmed it.  The UAE flag (did you know the black stripe is for oil?), the burqas, kanduras, Arabic language, turbans, dirhams, etc.  Forging ahead...American passports in hand...we were ready to learn about a whole new land.

Our hotel was the Atlantis The Palm, basically paradise.  Just as beautiful as in all the pictures.  Enormous fish tanks, white sandy beaches, and those crazy water slides...which by the way include a conveyor belt to bring you to the top of the more standing in lines and dragging a tube in tow AND some rides can last up to an hour.  We were quickly upgraded to a suite, thanks to our dear friends the Sasso's.  Bring on the fun, the sun, and all the good stuff! 
Within minutes, Jack catapulted from The Leap of Faith, which is a 28 meter steep slide.  The rest of us choose option wait until tomorrow. And yes, all five of us absolutely took the challenge and survived.  Lots of fun was had around the pools, slides, ocean, and cabanas.  Many leisurely hours drifted away...
We decided to leave paradise for a bit of culture.  We headed to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.  This mosque was pretty incredible.  It had 80 domes, but the main outer shell dome is the largest in the world.  The materials, crystals, gold, and architecture would stun you.  It really was massive.  We were able to tour it as it wasn't "prayer time" yet.  Now here's the interesting part...before entering, all shoes must be taken off and women needed to put on a burqa.  Say what?  See below...don't laugh at me.
Our next outing was to go "behind the scenes" in the grouper tank and to the fish hospital in the Atlantis.  Kyle, Kate, and Nick took part in this.  There are over 65,000 marine animals throughout the aquarium.  The kids loved their tour, fed the groupers, and learned a lot.  Jack and I had an adventure of our own awaiting...I somehow found myself boarding a helicopter with one very excited kid.  We saw "the world" (man-made islands) from above the Atlantis, The Burj Khalifa (world's tallest bldg), and many other amazing sights of Dubai.  I must say...VERY COOL.  We could have stayed up there all day. 

Now comes Arabian Adventures.  Our highlight to our trip.  This was about four wheeling in the desert.  We had our family and a driver in a Tahoe SUV.  (Yes, a little piece of America)  The air was quickly drained from the tires and before we knew it we were flying around the middle of what seemed to be no where. Thick sands and lots of dunes.  Everyone loved every second.  We even got stuck at one point and needed a tow, but we were back in bounce motion in no time. can take a toll on a stomach...mine at least!  At sunset we stopped for an Arabian dinner, camel rides, henna tattoos, belly dancing....(not us...them) and lots of pictures.
Lastly, if you're still following, (I realize I'm going on and on, but I promise I'm leaving a ton out!!) our final excursion was swimming with dolphins.  As you can imagine, the kids were more than a tad excited.  With the help of Sol, a male dolphin, we all had some fun rides and lots of interaction with him.  I know that memory will stay alive a long time xo!
So...that was Dubai, but believe it or not, there was much more I didn't mention.  We saw the gold souk, the Dubai and Emirates Malls which are CRAZY BIG & busy, the Marina and walk, and even a sandstorm. Kate and I had a tour of the penthouse suite where many of the royals and celebs stay...aka Kardashians.  The resort was so accommodating, had loads of fun stuff for everyone, and we enjoyed some delicious restaurants.  For being so far from America, Dubai shares so much of what we have.  Every sign seemed to be written in both Arabic and English.  Can you just picture the three littles begging to go back?  An unforgettable week spent in a new land very far from home. Fondest memories Dubai!  (Oh yeah, gas...dirt cheap.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Curtain Call

Well, we're back in the swing of things here in 2012 and feel more comfortable than ever.  I guess things are becoming "old hat" as they say. We started out this month with celebrating my birthday...I swear January seems to come faster than any other month.  I lunched and shopped with friends, had a special birthday cake here with the kids, and then we headed to Lyceum Theater in London to see The Lion King.  The kids really enjoyed the show and it brought back memories of watching that movie over and over in days past.  Incredible actors and fantastic opening scene.  I hope to see more shows soon...

Next, we were off to watch Kate perform in her class play, "Once Upon a Hundred Years Nap" and she took on the role of Sleeping Beauty.  She impressed us and more importantly, she loved every minute of it.  The drama class deserved a big hand that night!  I believe they all felt like stars! 

And lastly, to stay within this drama theme...I feel compelled to share a photo with you of Kyle in costume.  And selfishly, I wanted this to be documented in our blog of Europe. (I know you're thinking...would you really forget an American dressed like that???!...hmmmm)  He attended a dinner in Scotland and a kilt was required and (rented).  Now this should bring on a good chuckle to clearly speaks for itself. :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lapland UK...and a much anticipated trip across the Atlantic

Early Saturday morning, December 10th, the kids received invitations to visit Lapland in Bewl Water Estate, UK, which is a magical place where "Father Christmas" (aka Santa Claus to all of us) has a whole village...elves included.  The eight reindeer (Rudolph was on an errand) , Husky dogs, Mother Christmas, a toy workshop, a gingerbread cookie kitchen, skating rink, post office, and a lodge with cocoa and goodies were all fun stops along our way.  We spent the day with elves and finally...met the big guy himself...the real deal...Santa Claus.  He knew everything about us and gave us a holiday book as a souvenir.  The entire village was covered in fake snow although it looked very real.  All in all, we had a fun day out and it added to our Christmas spirit. 

Reindeer Parade, Windsor

There were many more holiday events that kept us busy in December.  From cookie bakes, chorus performances at school, holiday parties, parades, and getting ready to board that non-stop plane to AMERICA!  We were ALL pumped with excitement to arrive back to our home, family, and friends. Plenty of empty space in our suitcases was allocated for Santa's gifts that were sure to arrive shortly.  My parents headed from Boston to Atlanta to visit and "play dates" were starting to be scheduled. 
Turns out the trip was a whirlwind.  I mean two weeks went by in a flash...we visited with family, saw many friends, adjusted to the time difference, stocked up for our next six months, and rang in the New Year.  I can't even begin to tell just how much that trip meant to all of us.  A very warm welcome home from so many.  It felt great to see so many familiar faces, sleep in our own beds, eat US food, pay with dollars, and drive on the "right" side of the road.  It was also fun telling about our own adventures and hearing about all we missed. We didn't however, get to see everyone we intended to due to life's hectic ways.  We were far busier than we had imagined.  We all returned to London quite tired, but very happy from our visit back home. It sure was a memorable Christmas.  Wishing everyone a very happy and healthy 2012!  Lots of fun awaits this year!