Dec 30, 2012

2012: The "Newsletter"

2012-- In Quotes

"I'm not going to get married. I'm going to live by myself and have a dog and a horse. And, I'm going to buy a yacht. And a yacht for my horse."
-Mia (9), either formulating big plans to become the world's first nautical equestrian, or someone is a little bitter that she didn't get the dog, horse, yacht, and horse yacht that she asked for for her birthday. 

"I don't think I've ever been pooped on by a bird."
-Donna, at the Eiffel Tower in February. I'm sure I don't have to tell you what happened at precisely the next moment. Which proves that even the birds in Paris are rude. 

"I don't care."
"So what, I've seen it before."
-During our trip to Paris, Mia and Sam react to seeing the Mona Lisa in person. Also, Notre Dame got a big thumbs down from Mia. Tough critics.

"So as it turns out, the key to a good vacation is consuming large quantities of ice cream." -Mark, reflecting on the odd success of our road trip around the Netherlands this Spring. 

"Wow, Mommy, you have a really big bum!"
-Nate (4), while sharing a bathroom with me in Portugal this August. The thing that really stings is that Nate only speaks the truth. 

"Ooh, a foot cleaner!"
-Sam (7), upon seeing a bidet for the first time in a hotel this Summer.

"I actually like castles now. And I'm not just saying that to get an ice cream."
-Mia, in one of the more shocking revelations of the year, at the  Castelo de Jorge in Lisbon. 

"Nate, when you grow up, you're going to realize that everything you say is wrong."
-Brotherly advice from Sam.

"I can't believe how happy I am that French women do, in fact, get fat." 
-Donna, during our second trip to France in October. In full disclosure, we were sitting at a McDonald's. So thank you, imported unhealthy American culture-- way to do your thing. 

"Is that a baguette vending machine? It is, it's a vending machine just for baguettes. France is so awesome!"
-Obviously I was very hungry (but I still think it's pretty awesome).

Mark"Nate, what do you miss about America?"
Nate"The Eiffel Tower."

"Het is zo vervelend als mensen ons vragen om Nederlands te spreken."
-What Mia and Sam say when asked to say something in Dutch. (Translation: It's so annoying when people ask us to speak Dutch.)I thought snark would skip a generation, but apparently not. 

"Oh, look! That guy is throwing up!" 
-Nate, just yesterday, pointing to a huge picture of a boy drinking out of a bowl at our favorite Japanese noodle place. This quote perfectly encapsulates our Christmas vacation so far, as all 5 of us were struck down with norovirus this week, which we most likely spread to my brother John and his family, who were visiting from England. It was a week of cozy living conditions (11 in our little apartment!), public transportation mishaps, lost children (rather, one lost Sam on Amsterdam's busiest shopping street), and lots and lots of throw up. Merry Christmas to us!

"Gelukkig Nieuwjaar--
we missen je allemaal!"
(Happy New Year-- we miss you all!)

Wherein We Sweat Our Way Through Portugal

OK, so I fell off the face of the earth for a while, and this is only 3 months over due. But I simply can't be a bloggess extraordinaire and a connoisseur of funny YouTube videos, all at the same time. And when people take videos of their loved one's post wisdom-teeth-extraction, and put them online for me to laugh at, well, I take that obligation seriously.  So here it is, finally-- the last installment of our epic trip.

Portugal: sweltering heat, colorful tiles, grit and graffiti, stunning coastline, stucco and red roofs, monuments, custards, and castles. It's been so long, I had to go back and read my journal, because about all I could remember was that is was so unbelievably hot. Try to keep that in mind, because pictures do not convey temperature very well. We were melting I tell you. In fact, I had all these plans of bike riding and hiking in the Algarve, and we pretty much immediately realized we would be doing none of that, and instead would be in, or very nearly in, water as much as possible. Here are a few interesting tidbits from my journal, that I'd almost forgotten about: 

1. The worst argument with Mia occurred within 30 minutes of landing in Portugal. We were in our rental car en route to our hotel, and the cause of the fight was over how many times I could handle being asked "how much longer?" Turns out it is no more than 3 times in 5 minutes. 
2. We got lunch for the whole family at a food court in a mall for 10 euros. 
3. My favorite quote of the trip, on the beach in Lagos-- Sam: "I wish we had some water floaties." Mia: "I wish we had some snorkeling stuff." Nate: "And I wish I had a remote control train that can shoot at things." 
4. Quote from my journal: "Day 19: More fights/conflict with Mia. Maybe someday I'll learn how to handle them? My current approach of passive-aggressive belittling is pretty ineffective."
5.  The beds in our hotels in Portugal were rock hard, every single one. However, all but one hotel had a bidet, which our kids thought were foot baths. So, our take-away is that in Portugal, that clean, fresh feeling takes precedence over a good night's sleep. 
6. That's all I can remember, now on to the pictures.

One of my favorites-- the seasoned travelers en route to Portugal. 

FYI: in case of an emergency landing on Ryan Air, there are no dentures, jewelry, high heels, or eyeglasses allowed. So too bad, old people. 

I don't even remember the name of this town anymore, but here we are somewhere in the Algarve. So different from Norway already. 

First day at the beach. Warning: I am not responsible for any naked people in the background. 

Sam begged to rent this slide boat. Guess who wouldn't even go down the slide? 

Oh, it was an amazing coastline.

On a boat to explore some grottoes.

Yes, that man is as naked as a newborn. Zoom in at your own risk.

We stayed in this tiny village near the Southwestern most point of Portugal. Almost all the old homes had been turned into vacation rentals, and it had a fantastic little pizza place that served the best chocolate mousse I've ever had. You must go sometime. 

It was insanely hot. The fact that, after taking this picture we did not jump immediately into the water, was considered a form of child abuse by some members of the family.

Instead we walked down to the Southern-most tip of Portugal: the end of the world. And to Mia, it was. 

But she was willing to take a break from complaining to pose for this picture. That's my girl.


We spent 4 days at the beach. By this point, we were actually a little tired of it. Almost.

While waiting for our train up to Lisbon, we encountered the film crew of "Top Chef Portugal." We were definitely filmed in the background, so now we're pretty famous in Portugal, I imagine. 

From what we gathered, they were preparing a meal on a train station platform. Why? Because it's "reality" TV, that's why. 

We made it to Lisbon. We did not get screwed over by their public transportation. 

Everybody cheered.

Yes, the hop on/hop off buses are a rip-off and super hokey, but our kids LOVE them and actually sit quietly listening to the prerecorded tour guides. They think the cheap head phones are the best and rave about how nice it is that they give them to us for free(!).

If you ever make it to Lisbon, go to the Aquarium! One of the best I've ever been to. That turtle is swimming under a glass walkway.

On our way up to Castelo de Jorge, a medieval castle site in the middle of Lisbon, and the site where Mia told me (exact quote): "I like castles now. And I'm not just saying that to get ice cream." 
I know. 

Look who likes castles now! 

OK, this meal started off nicely enough, until our food arrived.  And see those accordion players in the back ground? Yeah, they were just the beginning of an all out attack of hyper-aggressive street vendors. Eventually, our refusal to buy the world's cheapest (and I don't mean least expensive) glow-in-the-dark piece of garbage resulted in nothing less than a full-blown existential crisis for Sam. He left in tears. I left hungry. But luckily Nate never noticed that the "hamburger" he ordered was actually a ham sandwich. 

 My sister-in-law told us about these little custard pie things, and oh my. Salvation! If I was eating those, you could probably sell me a hundred glow-in-the-dark overpriced pieces of crap. They are that good.

The next day we took a day trip to Sintra, which boasts not just 1 but 3 castles. Mia's favorite! Though at some point during that day, she may have reneged. I'll let you skim through the pictures of everyone having a wonderful time. As far as I remember correctly. 

Our very final leg of the trip was Porto, a city in Northern Portugal. It was a lovely city, but honestly, we were so tired, we mostly walked around and found places to sit and stare. We arrived on Sam's birthday, so for dinner we went to Europe's fanciest McDonald's. And I'm not kidding either.

This crappy photographer didn't capture it, but there were chandeliers, stained glass, 20 ft ceilings, and probably an original da Vinci fresco (maybe not that last one). It almost tricked you into thinking the food tasted good too. Nice try McDonald's. 

We came across an animal market, and these pictures do not even come close to capturing the number of public health violations going on there. 

And with that, we said goodbye to Portugal. 

At the airport, heading home. It'd been a long, long trip. On our plane, Mia actually said, "thanks for planning a great vacation mom!" Seriously people. I can't decide if she was sincere, or if it was PTSD.