Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer staycation: Week at the Lonsdale farm

We moved out of our apartment on June 30th, but don't have a "permanent" place to live until the 17th, so we are spending a few weeks hanging out with friends around Madison. After one night at the McKay's house, we headed out to the Lonsdale's farm. It's about 25 minutes west of Madison, and we were planning on camping in their field. After we arrived though, and realized that thunderstorms were anticipated, we decided to set up camp in their beautiful, spacious home instead where we stayed for the remainder of the week. Atticus was supposed to share the bunk beds with Donovan, who decided he didn't want to sleep in there if Atticus was on the bottom, and used the opportunity to take up space in his parents' bed. So much for a sleepover...

Anyways, besides a beautiful, large home, they also have a lot of wild land and pasture with sheep, llamas, chickens, and two tiny hogs. We did a lot in a short week, which included playing outside with the chickens, going to the children's museum, swimming at the local public swimming pool and pond, playing at FUS, and Tim and I even managed a date night to Andrew's community theatre production of Rent and dinner at Hubbard's diner, a local Middleton favorite. We spent a lot of time eating delicious food and sharing in great conversations. The kids spent a lot of time playing in their monolithic basement play room and watching too many movies. The little boys were loving playing together (they are currently watching Beauty and the Beast, adorable) and the little girls knew each other existed and played nicely most of the time. I loved cooking in the big, gorgeous kitchen, looking out the huge windows with the rolling, green Wisconsin hills outside of them.

Moving the hogs to a new feeding ground. Alice and Beatrice are clearing the land for a playground.

Lu and Luka the llama

It was a great week, and we are thankful to have such amazing friends living the homesteading dream in rural Wisconsin.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Eurotour 2014: Zagreb

The day after Sarah arrived, we headed out in the morning for Croatia. We planned on hitchhiking, and so headed to the spot our hostel had looked up for us that was ideal for getting out of Budapest. After accidentally buying alcoholic pear cider (it was delicious), we split up and started to look for a ride. Sarah and I were picked up within five minutes, by an older man driving a minivan who was heading all the way to Zagreb. Score. He didn't speak very much English, but it was an enjoyable ride. He asked if he could stop off to visit a business associate, and so we headed off the freeway for a few miles to a little resort type beach place on Lake Balaton. There were so many cute naked Hungarian children digging in the sand, I wished for about 25 seconds that my kids were there. Then I remembered I was riding in a minivan with only one seat in the back and remembered that being there would have been impossible with my kids, so I added the site to my future to-do travel list when my kids are around. Our chauffeur bought us wine, ice cream cones, and a coffee; we tried to turn down all three, but he insisted and we eventually felt really rude and relinquished. His business friends were equally as hospitable, and after the quick 30 minutes he promised, we were on our way. We were both nervous that a "30-minute trip" to see friends might end up being hours but it really was a quick stop-off and we were in Zagreb before too long. He walked us right to our designated meeting spot and we sat down and prepared to wait for Dana.

Our driver: he was maybe an architect, who was working in Zagreb on something having to do with an oil pipeline, or he invented dog food...

Ice cream, more ice cream.

Zagreb was so beautiful, and so clean.

A picture of what this will look like when it's completed.

The pillar on the left is what happened during communism when the leaders were more concerned about everyone being fed and having work/free childcare/etc. and not about what the old religious buildings looked like.

I found free public WiFi (it's everywhere in Zagreb!) and we received a message from Dana that she was stuck in a gas station somewhere in Hungary, had a run-in with the Hungarian police that ended in a 30 euro fine, but was traveling with a new Finnish friend, Evelin. She told us she wouldn't be making it for a few hours, and we should go ahead and find a hostel for the night. We walked to a few before we found one that had room for four -- it was called the Swanky Mint Hostel, which is awesome.

Dana and Evelin's triumphant arrival to the meeting spot.

The Swanky Mint was by far the cleanest and fanciest hostel we stayed at... for a hefty $20 each.

Evelin and I spent several hours in the bar chatting while Dana and Sarah collapsed into bed. Evelin then disappeared, and we later found out, went to a party and stayed out all night. We were all worried like "omg, did she get kidnapped or something??" like naive American girls that we are. And she's all like, "dude, I'm European, we stay out all night sometimes, stop freaking out." We planned on leaving very early in the morning, but ended up missing the earlier bus and so didn't leave Zagreb until around 10 am.... next post... Plitvice, aka Heaven on Earth.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Return of the Mommy

After a short phone call to Delta, I was able to change my plane ticket (for free) to get home a day earlier from New York City (even though the agent at the airport told me they couldn't change it, and it would cost "at least $150"). The kids and Tim came to the airport in Eliza's minivan and had a very cute sign they made. It was a nice reunion, and the after party at home after the kids went to sleep was even better. Of course, not five seconds later the tornado sirens started sounding. We debated going to the basement, threw on clothes, and checked our iPhones for updates. We saw the storm was moving towards Madison, and decided to head down there. We picked up the kids from their beds and went to the basement. Of course, none of our neighbors were there and after a few minutes we went back upstairs. Another louder siren sounded right after we got back up, but since we had barely put the kids back down we decided to wait it out upstairs. It turned out to be a nasty storm, with a tornado touching down on the east side of Madison, one on the south side, and one in Verona (the worst one). Glad we were spared; when the sun came out the next day you couldn't even tell we had a storm.

Minimalist traveling at its best: that's all I took for three weeks.
The days after my return were filled with the children's museum, the Milwaukee Zoo, and lots and lots of playing outside at our playground and with our neighbor friend, Antonia.

Walking down the street wearing his "goggles"

Atticus fell into the stream on the roof, luckily he can fit in Lulah's pants.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Eurotour 2014: Rome

I left Tunisia early on a Friday. The night before, I planned to go out with my friend Ahlem, and then go back to spend the night at Salma's, where I had been staying for two weeks already. Ahlem offered me a bed to sleep in at her friend's house, so since we'd be out later, and it was a little far, I figured why not. Sleepover! We went and met up with the two law students and their friend, and then we went to grab pizza and chat. It was already getting late, so we bid adieu to them and went back to Ahlem's friend's house. Her husband works somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa as an oil engineer, so it was us three and her two kids (who are the same age as mine, and remarkably but Arab-typically awake at 11 pm). We at strawberries and whipped cream, tea with macademia nuts, and chatted.

I finally went to bed, knowing I had to wake up at 6 am to catch my flight, but couldn't sleep at all. Probably one of my worst nights of sleep ever, not sure what it was (maybe the late night tea, I think it's caffeinated). It was fine though, I woke up and got to the airport, which was only a few minutes drive, and checked in to my flight. We boarded the plane and then sat then what seemed like at least an hour. Turns out there was an elderly women who could not walk up the stairs to the plane, and so they needed to get a special lift for her. And that takes an hour, apparently. I wasn't feeling terribly confident in the airline, and then the pilot said "Arabic Arabic Arabic I can't understand... inshallah." I had never heard a pilot say "inshallah" before take-off before, but if you speak Arabic, you can understand that's not terribly comforting. Inshallah literally means "god-willing" but Arabs often use it to get out of social arrangements... like "of course I will there, inshallah!" It's used in plenty more contexts than that, and I'm sure pilots say it all the time, but I never noticed it and for some reason that simple word made me a nervous wreck the whole flight. I'm a nervous flier anyway, I have fairly bad anxiety on an airplane, and could not focus on anything else. Knowing that I had five more flights ahead of me, I was full of dread. Luckily, the four of the five I have taken were without incident and I am safely in New York.

Since our flight was coming from Tunis, and there is a big problem of illegal immigration, as soon as we stepped off the flight we were brusquely corralled into an hallway where we were questioned and security scanned. I have never gone through SO MUCH security as I have on this trip, despite having gone to the Middle East several other times. I caught a bus from the Rome airport after waiting in this crazy mass of people trying to go through immigration. Apparently, Italians don't believe in queues. It took over an hour to get through.

On the way to the hostel, hello Rome!

I found my hostel fairly easily, and was greeted by the strong smell of cigarette smoke. Apparently it's a "non-smoking" hostel, meaning there are huge signs on the bedrooms that forbid smoking, but that doesn't apply to the front office staff who smoke right next to the rooms. They were also the least friendly hostel staff I've ever encountered. Oh well, I was only there one night anyways, and wanted to see as much of the city as possible in that one day so did not plan on spending too much time there. I freshened up and headed out. As to not bore you on everything I saw, here is a series of photos:

Coliseum selfie
Tiny church, where I was completely alone.
Roman Forum

I was honestly so impressed by Rome. I didn't really have high expectations, and thought it might be overhyped, but it was pretty dang incredible. The coliseum from the outside was huge, bigger than I ever imagined. I didn't pay to go inside anywhere, because of both money and long entrance lines with little time, but I thought I saw a good portion of everything from the outside. After eight hours of nothing but walking and a short eating stop, I arrived back to the hostel. The other women staying with me were really cool. I was feeling brave about traveling alone until I met a 19-yr-old Australian girl who is traveling solo for three months in Europe. My few days alone suddenly didn't look nearly as impressive. I woke up thinking it was 8 am, but since my iPad didn't adjust automatically it was actually an hour later, and I needed to grab breakfast and be at the airport by 11. I rushed to a cafe where our free breakfast was being served and grabbed my croissant and cappucino, to go. I'm pretty sure the Italians were disgusted by my eating on the run. Sorry, guys.