Mediterranean Cruise Part III – {Nice, Monaco, Florence and Rome}

I’m going to fit in the final three days of our cruise into one post so I can move on and get caught up with current stuff.  It was a complete whirlwind looking back on all the ground we covered.  No wonder we collapsed from exhaustion by the time the vacation was over!

 Day 6: Villefranche, France – Nice, Eze and Monaco

Our tour began in the picturesque port of Villefranche, France.  We had a fantastic French tour guide for the day to take us around the area.

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Deciding to skip Nice due to time constraints, we drove along the stunning Cote d’Azur (azure coast) and up the winding, steep hills to Eze.  Our guide showed us the start of the Alps, which I didn’t realize began in Southern France.  The views of the Mediterranean Sea below we breathtaking and unforgettable.  That’s our cruise ship in the distance below.

 

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On our way, Tyler spotted an ancient Roman ruin which is the Trophy of the Alps.  Built in 6 BC, it was constructed in honor of the emperor Augustus and his victory over the many Alpine tribes.  It was destroyed by Louis XIV in 1705, along with all the other fortresses in the area.

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Eze, France

Eze was first inhabited over 2000 years ago.  We chose to explore a medieval village perched high in the hills 1,400 feet above the blue sea.  The boys loved exploring the narrow, steep cobblestone walkways and peeking in the quaint little stores and art galleries.  We made sure they didn’t stay in them long enough to break anything.  Not necessarily kid friendly inside!  The village was so enchanting, peaceful and beautiful– like stepping into a different time.  Walt Disney was known to spend a lot of time in Eze.

 

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Tyler’s becoming a fan of escargot!

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After climbing many rocky stairs, we saw the ruins of a 12th century castle that met its demise with Louis XIV.

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Monaco

Not far from Eze, we made our way to Monaco, the second smallest country in the world.  It is the most densely populated country, with over 35,000 people in less than .80 square miles of land.  Our guide told us all about its elaborate history from the unusual way the Grimaldi family gained control 700 years ago to the way it has evolved into a mecca of “lifestyles of the rich and famous.”  Monaco has the world’s lowest poverty rate and the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world  – which were on full display with every exotic car, yacht and mansion.

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We made it just in the nick of time to see the changing of the guards at the Prince’s Palace.  It was quite small, but fun to see.  Prince Albert II and his wife had just recently announced their pregnancy news, which means Monaco now has an heir.

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We learned of Princess Grace Kelly’s terrible car accident on the hairpin curves of Monaco and saw where she was laid to rest in St. Nicholas’ Cathedral below.

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The entire area is so pristine and lovely, we had fun just wandering around exploring little shops, villas and gorgeous views.

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This whole are is on the Rock of Monaco, which has a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean below.

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Our guide showed us Paul Allen’s mega yacht “Octopus” anchored at sea, which was the world’s biggest when he bought it ten years ago.  A full tank of gas costs nearly $800,000.  A Saudi Prince has him beat with his billion dollar ship at port – with bowling alleys, disco floors, helicopters and other extravagant features.

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The Oceanographic Museum is in a beautiful site on the edge of the water.  If we had more time, we would have gone in to see all the sea life.

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Ready for lunch, our guide took us to a cute little restaurant where the kids got pizza, and the adults got delicious French food.

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It wouldn’t be complete without the daily gelato.  Nutella and Pistachio – yum!

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Monte Carlo is where the world-famous casino, theatre and ballet is, as well as many deluxe hotels and shops.  Very James Bond feeling.  The main source of income for Monaco comes from the casino.  I found it interesting they don’t have income tax, and very low business tax – but they don’t allow their residents inside the gaming hall.

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I was able to peek inside the Hotel Paris and it was about as fancy as it gets.  In the lobby is a bronze equestrian statue of Louis XIV, with the horse’s tarnished knee from all the gamblers’ belief that rubbing it will bring good luck at the tables.

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The boys thought it was cool to be driving on a section of the Grand Prix.  We could still see tire marks and bleachers set up from the race just two weeks before.  It’s amazing they transform this little country every year into the most difficult of Formula One Championships.

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Back on the ship, we raced to clean up for dinner and really enjoyed the ice skating show afterwards.  The skaters were so talented, especially performing on a moving vessel, even if there were a few falls!

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Day 7: Pisa and Florence, Italy

We made a strategic decision to leave the little boys on the boat to play in the kids’ club since they were pretty worn out touring the day before, and let’s face it–eight hours of exploring Italian architecture, churches and art isn’t too thrilling at their age.  We had a full schedule and several hours of driving to see everything we wanted to.

Our Italian guide, who had a British accent, whisked us off to Pisa about two hours away.  Along the way, we learned a lot about the area.  Tyler’s inquisitive nature lead to all sorts of questions– which the tour guide eventually found frustrating at times.  He quizzed us on certain things and we felt like very uncultured Americans not always knowing the answers.  Not our favorite guide.  The drive through Tuscany was beautiful though.  Lush vineyards, country farm houses and cute villas tucked in the hills and valleys.  We passed a massive quarry that sparkled with white marble and limestone – the source for many of the famous buildings and statues.  It’s hard to imagine how they transported such heavy, massive amounts of stone in ox carts centuries ago to far away places to build.

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The Piazza dei Miracoli (Plaza of Miracles) has four sacred structures inside its walls.  Most famous is the Leaning Tower which was originally built as a bell tower to attract people to the nearby cathedral.  Built on unstable ground and interrupted by wars, it shifted over time.  Overcompensating for the shift, they added more height and reinforced the ground to make it safe.  They decided to keep its tilt since it is such a popular tourist attraction.

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The Pisa Cathedral, dating back to 1063, was a massive and amazing sight constructed in a Romanesque style with the unique white marble that is only found in this region.

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The Pisa Baptistry, the largest in Italy, was also stunning with white marble, but in Gothic style.  It has a slight lean as well.

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Finally, the Monumental Cemetery was built originally as a church on sacred soil brought in from Golgotha in the 12th century.  Its construction changed to that of cemetery, where a large collection of Roman sarcophagi are contained.

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Florence

Traveling on to Florence, we enjoyed the picturesque landscapes and were brought to the hilltops above Florence to take in the city’s view before heading in to see everything. The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is rich with architecture and art by the most famous artists–Michelangelo, DaVinci, Botticelli, Donatello,Raphael, Titian and many others.   The city center is entirely enclosed in defensive  medieval walls built in the 14th century.

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The famous Ponte Vecchio bridge is the only one in Florence to have survived WWII.  It is lined with little shops, mainly jewelers, that are held up by stilts.

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We saw the famous Fort Belvedere – where the Kardashian/West wedding had taken place a few days prior.

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We were first shown the Basilica of Santa Croce, which is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and also the burial site for Florence’s beloved Michelangelo,  Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini  and others with a memorial for  Dante as well.

 

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I love all the intricate and amazing doors that invite you into these grand structures.

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Our guide pointed out the star of David, which is not normally found on Christian churches–but he explained that people from Florence are Florentinian first and their religion or race second.  They have extreme pride, unity and love for their homeland.

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Florence’s main church is the spectacular Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo.  Beginning in 1296 and spanning over 200 years to complete, it has the largest brick dome in the world and a most intricate, beautiful display of pink, green and white marble.  One of the Renaissance’s greatest achievements, the Duomo dominates Florence’s panoramic view day and especially lit up at night.  It is so massive, I could not fit the entire cathedral in one shot.

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I was actually surprised how simple the interior of the cathedral was considering its ornate exterior.

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Inside the dome are beautiful frescoes of the last judgment.

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Giatti’s Campanille is a very tall bell tower and part of the Duomo complex, matching the unique marble design. At 278 feet high, it provides fantastic views of Florence’s city.

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The boys love petting all the horses in every city.

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At an authentic Italian lunch with no English on the menus, we weren’t sure what we were ordering, but loved every bite!  The bruschetta was delicious as was Tyler’s house special pasta.  We all left happily stuffed.

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Continuing our daily gelato fix, our guide promised to blow our minds with the best gelato in the entire world.  He took us to Grom and he was right – authentic, intensely amazing, and the best I’ve ever tasted!

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Once again, Nathan and Jace had more fun on the boat than touring with us.  They even wanted to stay in the playland longer, but it was time for dinner.  On our way through the main lobby of the ship, Jace ran his hands across the velvet rope next to a classic car on display and “clunk!”  The rope had unhooked and banged the side of the car.  He was so nervous!  I was relieved to see it wasn’t the first dent but he was worried security was going to jump out and bust him!

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We tried to make the most of our last night dining together.  We’ve had the best time every night as a family around this table and with our awesome server!  Many nights we were her only family in the dining room so we got taken care of really well.

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We splurged and got a bunch of lobsters for these seafood lovers.  Boy, can they eat!

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Tyler and Cade made sure to thank her and had fun delivering her tip.

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Saying goodbye to our last sunset at sea was hard.  It’s been an unbelievable week as a family and the time has flown.

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Tyler doesn’t miss a sunset, even if it means rushing out of dinner to see it.

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Day 8: Rome, Italy

Coming full circle, we ended our cruise back in Rome.  Our guide whisked us off for our final day of sight-seeing with a full day planned.  We were all pretty tapped out at this point, but mustered up the energy to tour around one of the world’s most interesting cities.

The Coliseum was our first stop.  It’s unbelievable to view ancient structures from the 1st Century, though it is just a shell of what it once was, having been damaged by earthquakes and robbed of its white marble exterior to build new structures nearby.  The brutality of what occurred within its walls to cheering spectators is hard to comprehend.  Still the largest amphitheatre in the world, seating up to 80,000 people, it was used in Roman times for gladiator contests and all sorts of public events.

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This is the entrance for the gladiators to make their grand entry.

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Cade was so excited to find a cool souvenir.  Hope he can make it through security to take home!

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The Altare della Patria, or “Wedding Cake” as the locals call it, is one of the more recent monuments in Rome.

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The oldest, most complete structure in Rome is the Pantheon. Once an ancient Pagan temple dedicated to all the Gods, dating back to the 1st Century, it was later given to the Pope in the 7th Century and transformed into a Christian church.  Now dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs, it has been in use ever since.  It’s really remarkable to witness a 2000 year old structure such as this! Michelangelo studied its dome before working on St. Peter’s dome.

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The only source of light comes through the opening of the dome, which miraculously does not allow water in when it rains.  (Photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

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Inside, the walls were lined with marble and there were many memorials for well-known Italians, including the tomb for Raphael.

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An ancient Egyptian obelisk and fountain sits outside the Pantheon, a symbol of triumph over Paganism and power of the Empire.

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The Trevi Fountain, or Fountain of Love, was wonderful to see, but was surrounded by a large gate so it made getting a good picture impossible.  Neptune, the greek God, Tritons and shells depict the “Kingdom of Oceans” as a gift for the Pope in the mid 1700s.  Throwing a coin in the fountain means you’ll return to Rome one day.

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Thanks to the web, I found a full picture which still doesn’t capture its magnificence. (Credit: Planetware)

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Time for lunch!  We never tire of Italian food and found a cute little recommended place that had delicious bruschetta and pizza for the kids.

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The boys had to greet a few more horses along the way.

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We spent some time walking the quaint streets of Rome and shopping for souvenirs.  I couldn’t resist buying a new leather purse and the boys had fun with birds on their heads.

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Taking a little rest with Pinocchio.

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We finished up our day at the smallest nation in the world–the Vatican.

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Only 100 acres in size, the Vatican is home to about 600 citizens–all clergy, cardinals, security,and of course the Pope at its head.  I was surprised to learn they print their own euros, stamps, license plates, passports and have their own national anthem and flag.

We got tickets inside the Pope’s Palace and walked through the long, ornate hallways, amazed by all the art from floor to ceiling.   I don’t think there was a blank spot to be seen, it was incredible!  Especially the ceiling.

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I wish we would have had more time to spend in the museum because it was massive and had the most interesting artifacts.

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Tapestries lined the walls depicting different scenes from the bible.

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Winding through the vast halls, we finally made our way to the Sistine Chapel.  I didn’t attempt to sneak a forbidden photo, but added one from the web.  It’s hard to visually take in everything, Michelangelo’s masterpiece of the Last Judgment was superb.   I wish we could have stayed longer to decipher and appreciate it more.

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St. Peter’s Basilica was probably my favorite part of our tour.  Considered the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture, it still remains one of the largest churches in the world.  Much of the white marble used here was taken from previous famous buildings, such as the Coliseum.

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According to Catholic tradition, the church was erected on the burial site of the Apostle Peter.

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Incredible artistic pieces of  sculpture and art are displayed here, as well as three of Italy’s most renowned masterpieces: Michelangelo’s Pietà , his fascinating dome (the tallest in the world), and Bernini’s baldachin (canopy) over the papal altar.

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There were so many phenomenal sculptures.  This is St. Andrew.

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St, Peter’s Square is the large open area crowds gather to hear the Pope.  It was designed for the largest amount of people to hear the Pope’s blessing.

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The Swiss Guard protecting the Pope.

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At this point we were completely wiped out!  What a day, what a week!

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If you want the largest gelatos in Europe, go directly across the Vatican’s exit.  This is the regular size!  Jace got through only the top scoop before we had to toss the melting treat to his dismay.  I can officially say we have reached our limit of gelato for a very long time!

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Roberto, our guide, drove us up in the hills to catch a glimpse of the city’s landscape, pointing out all the landmarks we had seen throughout the day.  We covered a lot of ground in just several hours.

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We barely scratched the surface of this historically rich and beautiful land.  This week has been an absolutely incredible experience for our family that we will treasure forever.

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Cruising Part II – {Barcelona, Marseille, Avignon}

Sleeping in felt like heaven.  We were so glad to have a relaxing day ahead on the ship. After the breakfast buffet, the boys jumped in the pool and had a great time swimming and goofing around. The wind picked up and it got a little breezy so they warmed up in the hot tubs.

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Cade and Tyler rode the Flo Rider again with Lynn while I took the little boys to the 3-D movie theatre.

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After lunch we played a little competitive round of miniature golf and spent the rest of the day lounging around.

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We ate in the dining room again since the food was much better than the buffet.  Thankfully they were great about not making it last too long since we wanted to check out the variety show.

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A world record holder for balancing stacked crystal glasses amazed us, especially since he was performing on a moving ship.

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Sprinkles, the cupcake shop, was our late night treat.

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Another beautiful sunset and we were done for the day.  The boys were surprised to find towel animals in their room.

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Day 4: Barcelona, Spain

I’ll admit, I had high expectations for this day since I’ve heard so many rave reviews about Barcelona.  We had opted not to do a formal tour since Lynn had been before and we were pretty sure we knew what we wanted to see and could navigate the area.

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We should have known things weren’t going to go smoothly from the start.  They wouldn’t let us off the ship until after 9:30 am since it was a transfer day for most the people on board.  We were one of the few families that boarded in Rome.  Long story short, the lines at the port to get a cab were a mile long with everyone trying to get to the airport.  We couldn’t get our group out of the port until we wasted enough time to desperately jump on a random city bus not knowing where it would take us.  Thankfully we were dropped in the city center and took some time to wander down the streets while trying to flag down a cab large enough to fit six people.  We love admiring the different style and architecture of each place we visit–it’s all so unique to each region.

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The city was extremely busy and finding a taxi was a challenge.  Finding one large enough to fit us all was impossible.  We finally gave up after wasting so much time and got two cabs to take us to the Sagrada Familia. This was the one sight I absolutely had to see while here.

Under construction for the past 132 years, this grand Roman Catholic church is unbelievable.  Gaudi was commissioned as the architect and his unique Gothic style only completed about one-fourth of the project.  Since then, many architects have continued with the project and you can see the different styles as you walk around the massive church. I couldn’t wait to go inside, so we joined the lengthy line of tourists wrapped around the building (cursing myself for not getting tickets online), but willing to wait it out as long as it took.  Just as we were nearing the entrance we were informed that they had sold out for the day.  What?  It wasn’t even noon!  Being a Sunday, they had to close early for a special event.  I couldn’t believe it.  I did my best to get tickets, but there was no use.  So completely frustrating.  Looks like I’ll just have to come back again.  They’re estimating it will be finished in 2026.

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We got two cabs again and decided to head down to the beachfront.  Something crazy was going on that afternoon because the traffic was ridiculous and our taxis got lost trying to take side roads.  It was rough.  We finally made it to the beach and just walked along the sand trying to make a new game plan.  The beach was packed with people.  We noticed a few too many topless sunbathers and decided it was time for lunch.

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Wanting a true Spanish lunch, we found a little restaurant that served seafood paella.  The kids weren’t big fans, but they did enjoy the gelato afterwards.  It’s been interesting to see the different ways they serve it in Europe.   IMG_0187   IMG_0188   

We spent the rest of our time strolling down the beautiful, tropical boulevard and shopping for souvenirs in the little outdoor markets.

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Back on the boat earlier than normal, we watched the Madagascar welcome party for all the new guests that joined the ship.

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Our favorite part of each day is around the dining table–reminiscing and sharing our favorite parts of the day, laughing and trying new foods (except for Nathan who eats the same meal every night here).

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As if they haven’t had enough ice cream all day.  Don’t worry, they can’t finish it all!

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The little boys claimed their favorite part of the entire cruise was staying up til midnight to watch the Lego movie on the outdoor big screen while sitting in the hot tub in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

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Day 5: Marseilles, France

With the debacle in Barcelona, we opted for a new strategy for the day.  The little boys weren’t too excited to sight see again, and we didn’t have a tour lined up and worried about fitting in a cab.  So they were thrilled to stay back on the ship in the kid’s club while we took the older boys out for the day.  I had a list of all the places I wanted to see, so we took our chances and found a cab driver willing to drive us around for the day.  He spoke about as much English as we spoke French, but we somehow were able to communicate.  Thankfully he had a book of Marseille sights and we pointed while he drove.

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Avignon

Our first excursion was out to Avignon, which took about an hour.  I was hopeful it would be worth the long drive and it ended up being one of our unexpected favorite places. The lovely Pont d’Avignon bridge was the first thing we saw when we arrived.  Built in 1177, this medieval bridge once connected the Pope’s territory to France and was the inspiration for the nursery rhyme “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (On the Bridge of Avignon).

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There is so much history here with the earliest settlers dating back 5,000 years.  The entire city is enclosed by many different enormous, ancient stone walls–even from the 1st century.  Here’s Lynn right outside the city wall’s entrance.

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The Palace of the Popes, a 14th Century Gothic palace has quite a story.  During the 14th century, Pope Clement wanted to leave Rome and eventually chose Avignon as his permanent residence.  Avignon’s popularity and population multiplied to 40,000 people and became one of the largest cities in Europe at the time.  Over the next 100 years, many Popes resided here until the Great Schism which divided much of Europe to choose between the Roman or Avignon Pope.

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The setting was complete with the most beautiful music played by a street performer.  We would have loved to spend more time wandering throughout the village, but time was ticking and we had to move on.

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Provence

Next up was wandering the charming streets of Provence.  We stopped for a quick snack of quiche and salad and made a loop around the main city area.

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Marseille

Circling back to Marseille, which is France’s second largest city, we found a tiny little bakery across the street from the incredible Longchamps Palace. Longchamps Palace was absolutely stunning!  I love the symmetrical, perfectly manicured grounds, sweeping staircases, sculptures and fountains.  Built as a celebration of the Canal de Marseille in 1839, it took over 30 years to complete and once housed French Royalty when they visited Marseille.  It now consists of museums and parks and remnants of the zoo that once existed.

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The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde was our next stop.  It is THE symbol of Marseille.  Built on the city’s highest point, it is known as the Lady of the Guard, protecting the city.  Partially a lighthouse, a fortress, and sacred church, it can be seen all throughout the city.  This year marks the 800 year anniversary of the first church built in this spot that once served as a lookout for Romans.  In the 16th century, a fort was constructed here to further protect the city – now the foundation for the church.

I love the unique contrasting stone colors, similar to those we saw in Florence.   Bullet marks and shrapnel scars are still visible on the northern parts of the church from the intense Battle of Liberation in August 1944 as well as the remains of a tank that was struck halfway up the hill.

August 15th, Assumption Day, marks the annual pilgrimage that still takes place here.

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The upper interior has the most ornate, decorative designs, intricate  tile work and art with an abundance of gold leaf.  Most interesting to see is the maritime story telling of its history with little boats hanging from the ceiling and a lot of nautical art throughout the church.

 

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Atop the  bell tower stands a 30-foot tall gilded Virgin Mary, admired by locals as “the good mother” who continues to protect their city.

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The 360 degree views of Marseille were amazing from this vantage point.

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In the distance, we saw the island of Chateaux d’If, once a prison and the setting for the famous book The Count of Monte Cristo.  If we had more time, we would have taken the boat tour out to it, something the boys would have loved I’m sure.

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Feeling guilty to have left the little boys on board, we rushed back expecting them to be ready to join us, but they both said, “We’re not ready to leave–come back in a couple hours!”  With face paint, crafts and tales of fun games and ice cream–they had more fun there than they would have with us.

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Jace wasn’t happy about washing off his super hero face for dinner.  We ended the night with a pretty good magician’s act and geared up for more adventures in the morning.

 

Mediterranean Cruise – Part 1 {Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii}

Once we made the decision to stay in London longer, we started planning a Mediterranean cruise.   There are so many places we want to visit in Europe and thought this would be the best way to see as much as possible without all the hassle of flights and hotels.

This was our first cruise and it was bitter-sweet considering my parents were planning on joining us and had to cancel due to my dad’s health.  We weren’t prepared for how rigorous and exhausting it would be so it was probably a good thing they didn’t try to make it this time around, but we sure missed them!  We scouted out plenty of wonderful places to take them to when they come to visit though.

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Rome was our starting point.  We boarded the ship and checked in to our state rooms.  The boys were anxious to explore every inch of the enormous ship after they hit the buffet line.  The little boys pretty much had the water zone to themselves since there were very few kids aboard (one of the perks of going when most kids were still in school).  They loved running through all the spraying contraptions, swimming in all the pools and warming back up in the hot tubs.

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We were greeted by characters from DreamWorks movies – Madagascar, Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda – which was fun for the little boys.  They had parades and appearances throughout the day.

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The self-serve ice cream machine was stationed right next to the kid’s area which was dangerous.  I stopped counting how many they consumed.  I was glad when it ran out of cones for a while.

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The older boys were anxious to see all the cool activities on board.  Their favorite was the Flo Rider, a surfing simulator that was fun to ride and hilarious to watch others wipe out on.  Cade was a little too light and the water kicked him back pretty quickly, but it was fun while it lasted.

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There was no shortage of entertainment.  With a giant rock wall to climb, 3-D movie theater (we saw Sherman and Mr. Peabody), miniature golf, basketball, karaoke, ice skating, an arcade, kid’s club, and all the pools – the trick was finding enough time to fit everything in.  We only had one and a half real sail days to take advantage of everything since we spent the majority of all the others sightseeing at different ports the entire day and came back just in time for dinner and evening entertainment.  My biggest complaint was not having enough down time to enjoy the ship and just relax.  I just didn’t want to waste our time at port to do it.

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Nothing like starting the first day stuffing our faces.  We had Johnny Rockets all to ourselves for dinner with endless amounts of burgers, fries, onion rings and shakes.  Jace was so thrilled to have root beer and a chocolate shake at the same time!

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After dinner, we watched the beautiful sun set on the Mediterranean Sea.  Then we checked out the main pavilion of the ship, which makes you forget you’re actually on a ship, and listened to some live music  before checking in for the night.

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Day 2: Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii

First thing in the morning, we met our private tour guide, Fabio (who was Fabulous!) in Naples and were whisked away on an extremely packed adventure.  We opted to book private tours at each port so we could customize our sights and have flexibility with children.  It’s the only way I’d do it!

Capri

We boarded the hydrofoil and boated out to the island of Capri.  The beauty of the Marina Grande was incredible – like stepping into a fine painting.  The lush mountains, colorful stacked architecture lining the cliffs, warm ocean and Italian charm was picture perfect.  It was my favorite stop of the cruise.  Truly stunning!

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From there, we hopped into a convertible type taxi to make our way up the most narrow, winding and steep roads to the top of Capri.    Here’s a look from above at how crazy the roads are here.  I don’t know how drivers maneuver the way they do.

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Once we got to the top, our tour guide talked us into taking a single person chairlift up  the steep mountain to the top of Mount Solero.  I held Jace tight on my lap and we all made it up to the top of Anacapri to take in the most breathtaking views ever.  At nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, the view of the Faraglioni (famous arched rocks) and water below was amazing.  The blue grottos are a big attraction here, but we didn’t have the time to see them this trip.  Just another reason to come back!

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The boys spotted a lizard and we later learned about a rare blue lizard that can only be found on the Faraglioni.

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I could have stayed and enjoyed the view all day, but we were on a time crunch and made our way back down, taking in the picturesque views as we ascended down to Capri again.

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Cade and I took a moment to explore and shop while the others stopped to get a little snack.  There wasn’t enough time to do everything we wanted, but we had fun in all the little shops and bought some lemon candies, lemon soaps, a scarf and marveled at the beauty all around us.  Inhabited since the Roman era, there’s so much more to see and learn about.  It’s an awesome place just to walk around and explore.

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This part of Italy is known for their Italian limonis, which are the hugest lemons you’ve ever seen!  More like the size of a cantaloupe.

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Cade found a stray dog before meeting back up with the guys.  We loaded up on a funicular, which is like a trolley train that took us straight back down the mountain.  We’re experiencing all sorts of transportation today.

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The Piazetta is Capri’s famous square, or heart of the island with darling cafes, a small cathedral, town hall and other quaint structures overlooking a gorgeous view.  Though difficult to say goodbye to Capri, it was time to load up on a ferry boat to check out Sorrento next.

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Sorrento

Our tour guide had a taxi van waiting for us to take us around Sorrento.  We were ready for lunch and he picked a terrific Italian restaurant for a quick bite.  Nathan has been begging to go to Italy, just for the food and he wasn’t disappointed in the pizza.  Tyler started his seafood linguine kick here after having one of the “best meals of his life!”  It really was so delicious!  This is where we fell in love with Italian green olives.

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We took a few minutes to browse around and explore the Piazza Tasso and all its beauty.

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Can I retire here please?  It’s all so romantic and charming.  It made it hard to leave, but we had one final destination for the day.

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Pompeii

Our taxi driver drove us down the Amalfi coast to our last stop – Pompeii.  I knew Tyler would love this since he has a fascination with history – the older, the better, and this is such a unique piece of ancient world history preserved like no other.  Our guide led us throughout Pompeii sharing its unusual history and pointing out what everything was.  Once an ancient Roman city founded in the 6th or 7th century, it was completely devastated in 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and completely covered the city with over 20 feet of ash.  It’s believed around 2,000 people died from ash, extreme heat and collapsing structures.  The city was basically abandoned and forgotten for 1.500 years with no evidence of its presence until it was discovered in 1748. The first excavations were to extract valuable art for the king.  Many decades and excavations later, the city was uncovered, much of it intact and preserved all this time.

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We walked through the oldest surviving Roman amphitheatre where performances and gladiator games drew crowds.  The original markings on the stone seating were still visible.

 

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We walked through several homes, all having a large water collection at the entrance with an open roof to catch rain water.  Many homes had original frescoes and beautiful, intricate tiled floors.  Knowing the lack of technology at that time made it that much more impressive to see their skilled architecture and artwork.

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Our guide showed us the skeletal remains of early scientists who were poisoned by toxic gas they released when opening a sealed room centuries later.

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Seeing the remains of some of the victims in their original form was disturbing.  The people were quite a bit smaller than average adults today and you could see their reactions or efforts to save themselves.

 

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We walked through the bulk of the 44 acres that has been uncovered.  Twenty two still remain under ash, not likely to ever be unearthed.  It sure made me wonder how many hidden civilizations are underground throughout the world.  We saw bakeries, homes, gardens, restaurants and so much more.

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This is a typical “snack bar” that would sell different food in the large ceramic pots.  Their “McDonalds” as our guide joked.

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The boys (and Lynn) had reached their limit.  The sun was hot and Nathan was happy to find what appeared to be an ancient Lego block to rest on.

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Our awesome tour guides dropped us off just in time to take off on our next adventure.

 

 

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Though completely worn out, we cleaned up and decided to try the dining hall for dinner.  Our waitress was so incredible and it felt fantastic to be waited on and brought course after course.  The boys LOVED ordering whatever they wanted off the menu.  Thankfully they are adventurous eaters – even trying escargot (and liking it).

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After way too many calories consumed, we finished off the night watching the phenomenal sunset and called it a night.  Good thing tomorrow is just a cruise day because we have zero energy left.  What a day!

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Mother’s Day Weekend

It’s not technically Mother’s Day here in England today.  That happened back in March, but we decided not to celebrate it then since it fell on Nathan’s birthday.  Plus we were all really sick.  Well, Lynn went back to the states for a few weeks and we realized he’d be gone over Mother’s Day after he had left.  So the boys were on their own.

Cade was so concerned about making it a special day for me that he went out shopping all by himself (thankfully you can do that right outside our door) and used all his money to surprise me with gifts, flowers and chocolates this morning.  He had Tyler join him to make sure all the boys could get me something and they were so sweet picking out my favorite coconut lotion, earrings, and other things.  They couldn’t wait to have me open everything before church, which made us really late.  Oh well.

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I was so touched and amazed at their thoughtfulness.  They knew all I wanted was homemade cards and really good behavior for one day.  I now understand why my mom used to ask for that too.  We’re serious!  They even managed to make sure I got a nap this afternoon. I should give my husband credit for teaching these guys well.  I love these boys of mine with all my heart.  Even when they’re driving me nuts and draining all my energy and patience, I’m so blessed to have them in my life.  When I think they’re not listening to a word I’m saying, often I’m surprised that they’re taking in so much more than I could imagine.  My heart is overflowing with gratitude for the joy and love they bring me.  Being a mom means everything to me.

At least Lynn is back home able to see both our moms this weekend.  I’m jealous.  We have two incredible moms we love and honor so very much!  Living this far away brings a new perspective to how magnificent and important their influence is in our lives. Our kids have been blessed to have such devoted grandmas live so close and we are feeling their absence here.  We miss them dearly and can’t wait for a few short weeks to see them both!

Friday night I decided I wanted to go to a show so we lucked out and got second row tickets to Wicked at the box office.  The boys hadn’t seen it, but it had been a few years since I had in Seattle.  I was completely blown away at how good it was!  I think it’s my new favorite show here.  Being so close to the stage made it that much more powerful.  The facial expressions, music, costumes and set drew us in.  We learned the lead who plays Glenda the good witch actually goes to church at our building.  She was fantastic!  She just finished filming the new LDS bible videos as Mary.

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I was worried it might not appeal to my boys, but they all loved it.  Jace tried his hardest to stay awake to see the tin man and fell asleep on my lap right before he appeared at the end.  Poor boy was so wiped out after his long week at school.  All the performers were phenomenal – if you’re in London go see it!

Saturday I took the boys out to the aquarium.  We’ve attempted to go several times, but the lines have all been ridiculously long.  Though it was packed, we all had fun seeing the sea life.  It’s such a beautiful building with some great exhibits.  Of course, the boys loved the sharks best.

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Jace pretending to be freezing in Antarctica

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The penguins were so cute.  Nathan said, “Mom, I can control them!”  And he made the penguin’s head follow his hand’s every move.  They felt sorry for the lonely looking one in the back that just stared at the wall forever.  He misses the glaciers, they guessed.

 

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The lonely penguin

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They dragged me into the arcade for a few minutes to play a couple of games.  Cade and Tyler rode the simulated roller coaster as their worried little brothers watched them on the monitor.

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This past week the little boys have been attending their new school to get used to it. Since they’re not on the shuttle bus yet, I’ve had to take them out there each day, which takes an hour traveling by bus, then coach, then taxi.  And then and hour back, the same way.  Oh how I miss my Suburban.  It was worth it because they can’t wait til fall to return to friends and fun there. Four hours of travel time to and from every day has worn me out, so it was wonderful to get to spend a fun-filled weekend together with the boys who made me a mom.  I will cherish these days always because they’ll be grown before you know it.

Wishing a very Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms and mother figures who impact the lives of all those around you!  You inspire me daily.

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The new school

 

Olympic Park Grand Re-opening

A few weeks ago, the boys and I ventured out to the newly re-opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.  Finally complete, the
park was originally built for the Olympic games in 2012. The sunny weather brought out droves of families all wanting to see the
new area.

The first thing we noticed was the new aquatics center which looked amazing.  Jace asked if I brought his swim suit – he was ready to jump right in.  We only peeked in the windows, but hope to try out their swimming pools sometime.  What a cool place for lessons.

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In the distance we saw a funky twisted tower which is called the ArcelorMittal Orbit.  It’s the tallest art sculpture in Britain now at 376 feet high.  It serves as an observatory of the expansive park grounds and London skyline and is a lasting monument of the games. The initial desire was to create something as iconic as the Eiffel Tower, and it has been described as the “Eyeful Tower” by many that don’t like the look.  We didn’t bother paying to go in this time, but hope to soon when it’s less crowded.  Supposedly it can accommodate 700 guests an hour, but I’m not sure we’ll hike the 455 stairs to the top!

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There were plenty of structures for kids to climb and play on.

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The playground was full of little kids. The sand pit had a water feature that made for a very messy bunch.  Jace ripped his socks off and joined them. Some friends from church recognized us so they had fun playing.

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The grounds were blossoming with spring flowers and really lovely. There’s something wonderful about English gardens.  We wandered around and tried to get in the main arena, but it wasn’t open yet.

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Jace wanted a picture with this solo orange poppy. The only boy who actually asks me to take his picture.

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We found the iconic Olympic rings representing the five continents coming together.  Walking around, I could imagine the excitement and energy of being at the actual games.  I’m  not sure I could have handled the crowds though, so we’ll just enjoy it after the fact.

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Further away was another playground with the most unusual tree house.  The little boys had fun climbing the extremely narrow bridge to get to the top.  Somehow I don’t see this passing code in the states, but they loved it.

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Nathan’s new meditation slide – wish it made him calmer!

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After all the exploring, we were starving and found a nearby Mexican restaurant (which is hard to come by) named Wahaca.  The kids loved swinging in the bird cages out front and driving the little truck.  Though the atmosphere was cool, the food wasn’t terrific.  We’ll keep searching for something to fill our Mexican cravings.

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I’m sure the boys will want to return to this awesome park since we only scratched the surface and didn’t even see many of the buildings.  With over 250 acres, there’s only so much you can fit in a day.

 

Spring break in Lagos, Portugal

Our lives have been on hold for a couple of months not knowing if we were staying here or going home.  With so many factors and complications, it took a lot of consideration and time.  Once we finally made the decision to stay here another year, we thought we should take advantage of the kids’ flexible schedule and do spring break a little late to avoid the crowds.  With Lynn and I being apart for the next five of eight weeks, we needed some real family time.

We looked up the warmest spots in Europe, trying to find beaches and sun, and chose Lagos, Portugal – the most southern tip of Europe.  We booked the trip a week before leaving and hardly had a chance to do any research beforehand, besides getting a recommendation on a nice place to stay near the beach.  So we went into it blind, hoping we’d like it and set out on the two-hour flight to Faro.

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I was grateful Lynn was up for renting a car after last time’s disaster.  At least they drive on the right side of the road.  So we got our little minivan and Lynn refreshed his stick shift skills as we started on the long, winding roads through the Portuguese countryside.  Every once in a while, you’d see remnants of a fort or small castle from centuries ago, but most of the drive was very rustic and green. Before we were more than 5 minutes out, Lynn realized the car’s gas tank was virtually empty.  I guess they don’t have the same standards of leaving it full for the next guy.  So we frantically searched for the nearest gas station and thankfully didn’t have to push our way there, considering how infrequent they were.  This gave the boys a chance to see the convenience store offerings of a new country.  Tyler found Ketchup flavored potato chips (he can put ketchup on anything) and the others got drinks and unusual candy before we ventured back out.

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In less than an hour, we found the Belmar Resort and Spa, where we were staying.  It was perfect for our group – we got a three bedroom apartment with a kitchen, family room and washer/dryer.  Everything was new and modern and made life comfortable (except for the extra firm bed!).  We were right across the street from the beach and couldn’t wait to head down to check it out.

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The Porto de Mos beach was so picturesque, it felt like we stepped into a postcard.  The warm,perfectly fine white sand between our toes and the crashing waves of turquoise Atlantic ocean set against massive cliffs of interesting red rock was quite a sight to behold.  It didn’t matter that the water was freezing and the temperature outside was a bit breezy, the boys were in the water in no time.  Being a bit early in the beach season, there weren’t a ton of people at the beach or resort.

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We walked down to the edge of the beach to see how far it went, exploring in the rocks as we went.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make it the end because it seemed the further over you went, the less clothing was on.  I was annoyed and surprised given it was barely 70 degrees.  I was hoping we could avoid that issue coming so early.  Thank goodness the little boys were oblivious, can’t say the same for the older ones.  Pretty shocking.

 

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So we spent the rest of the day swimming, exploring and getting as much sun as possible.  The little boys liked the indoor pool best because it was the only warm one.  No hot tubs for kids here – given how hot it gets in the summer I can see why.  We wore them out and thankfully they all went to bed within minutes and slept for 12 hours.

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Day 2

Even though the clouds were rolling in, we wanted to take a tour of the Algarve grottos.  It’s a must.  We loaded up into the small boat and our driver took us out to see the most incredible rock formations along the coastline.  Over thousands of years, the landscape has mysteriously changed, forming stunning caves, and sea arches that we were able to drive through.  Our guide pointed out the various shapes the rocks now look like, from elephants, to camels to pirates and cathedrals.

We learned of the destructive 9.0 earthquake in 1755,  followed by an enormous tsunami that devastated much of this area.  The dark lines on the rock was where the water line used to be, but the rocks were shifted up out of the sea.  We saw amazing, secluded beaches in between the cliffs and the lighthouse atop Ponta da Piedade.  The boys were amazed and entertained as they felt like pirates exploring new territory.  It was a wonderful time out together and we were grateful it didn’t rain on us as expected.

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This one is the camel taking a drink

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This one is the elephant

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Since the weather wasn’t wonderful, we spent some time exploring the little city with its ancient walls, churches, cobblestone roadways and little shops.  We bumped into the sister missionaries – one was even from Eastern Washington!

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After gelato, we stopped by a grocery store to stock up on some breakfast and snacks.  The fumes of salted fish stacked in heaps around the store about knocked us over.  The boys checked out the octopus and I was glad they didn’t try to talk me into trying to cook it up!

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We had the pool to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon while the older boys hit the waves with Lynn.

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Day 3

With the sun out, we all headed to the beach for the older boys to try out their new boogie boards.  The little boys had fun racing around trying not to let the waves touch them.  Jace got a little too daring and had a wave crash on his head, which killed his desire to be at the beach.  I took Nathan and him up to the pools to play with their pool noodles and water guns while the older boys stayed to ride the waves.  Sadly, Cade injured his foot coming back and hobbled around the rest of our vacation.  Poor guy.

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We went back to the Marina for lunch and were pleasantly surprised at how good the Chinese food was.  It’s been a while since we’ve had decent Chinese so everyone was happy.

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On a whim, we chose to drive down the coastline to the most south-western tip of Europe – to Sagres.  Ancient settlers believed it was the “end of the known world” and deemed it a sacred place, and it’s not hard to see why.  Henry the Navigator created his school of navigation there in the 15th century and many navigators developed cutting-edge boats and went on to discover new routes to countries and even the country of Brazil itself.

We stepped out to the edge of the landscape not knowing how vertical the steep and sharp 170-foot cliff below was.  This whole area is an enchanting promontory high above the beauty of the sea below.  Scooting back a little, we watched the huge waves crash on shore and just took in the incredible scenery all around.  Cape St. Vincent’s lighthouse ahead is one of Europe’s most powerful.

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To our left was the Fortress of Sagres, a castle from the 15th century that the boys just had to explore.  Having changed over many centuries, natural disasters, and restorations, we walked all throughout the wide interior and saw the church, massive wind compass, cannons and defensive towers.  Cade has been studying Spanish and Portuguese explorers this month and the history of those events came alive for him to experience the very settings and places he and Tyler have read about.  They all thought it was awesome.

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We drove back down the coast again and stopped at a remote beach, Praia do Martinhal, and had it all to ourselves.  The kids rolled down the sand hills and collected new treasures.  We watched a few windsurfers jet with amazing speed across the water near a small island.

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Back at our beach with warmer temperatures, the little boys lasted a lot longer.  They had fun burying Cade in the sand, digging holes and collecting shells.  Nathan found a seahorse that washed up on shore and they buried it in a little grave at the base of the rocks.

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We all swam til we turned into raisins and got cleaned up for dinner.

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Day 4

Blue skies and sunshine makes everything prettier!  Back at the marina, we boarded another boat to take us on a tour to see the dolphins.  We lucked out that we were the only ones on board – our own little private tour.  It sped us out to the middle of the ocean and the guide somehow knew right where to find a pod of beautiful dolphins who gave us a show jumping and swimming all around us.  The boys were fascinated and so thrilled to see them up this close in their element.  We learned all about dolphins and their behaviors.

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Somehow the boys talked us into the same Chinese restaurant for lunch again and we had gelato for dessert.  Sometimes you just stick with what works.

We returned back to our beach and were so shocked to see emergency crew and crowds of people.  A dolphin, which happened to be the third one of the day, washed ashore and was being whisked away.  It was disheartening for the boys to see after our great day out seeing them so lively and happy.

It was starting to feel more like summer with hotter temps and we enjoyed playing at the beach.  Nathan and Jace entertain themselves.  They’re the best of friends.

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For our final dinner, we wanted to have a true Portuguese dining experience.  Lynn found the best little restaurant nearby that had delicious, fresh catches of the day, traditional appetizers of marinated carrot salad, bread with sardine paste (which Nathan was the only fan of – and a big fan that is!), olives, and other questionable appetizers we couldn’t figure out.  Everyone loved their meal, especially Tyler with his pork tenderloin and clam bake.  Best meal he’s ever had he said.  We ate by candlelight as we were serenaded with live music from a local talented guy.  The whole place lit up with people clapping and singing along, including ourselves.  It was a great experience to participate in.

 

Day 5

No one wanted to leave, but it was our last day.  Cade was pretty much out of commission with his foot so the other boys and I walked along the beach to the opposite side and tried to soak up the last few moments we had.  The little boys ran along the shore trying to stay dry.  Good intentions at least.

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We had our last meal at the restaurant on the beach with more local fresh fish (stone bass is excellent), pina coladas, sardine paste on bread for Nathan, and the like.

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Besides Cade’s injury and Tyler’s Nike sandals being stolen at the beach, it was the most wonderful time spent together in the most beautifully stunning place we’ve ever been.  We will miss you Portugal.

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Trina’s in Town!

Two days after Crystal and Kevin left, we were happy to have another visitor – Lynn’s sister Catrina.  The boys were excited to see her!  She came bearing gifts of Legos, books, a frisbee for the park and candy for the boys.  She was so generous to fill her suitcase with some American food we’ve been craving and can’t seem to find (or refuse buying at such ridiculous prices!).  Peanut M&M’s, Oreos, Kraft Mac n Cheese and Hidden Valley Ranch Mix – yes, nice and healthy I know.

Amazingly, Trina didn’t display a drop of jet lag so we were off and running!  I took her down to Westminster to walk around Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and all the traditional tourist sites there.   We met up with Lynn and got dinner at our favorite little French restaurant nearby.

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Nathan spun around 50 times while waiting for the tube without getting dizzy!

 

My dad had his brain tumor surgery the day before she arrived and I still hadn’t heard the results given the 16 hour surgery and time difference.  I was so anxious for him to wake up and know he was okay.

Having the love and support of family has helped us feel closer to home during this incredibly stressful time.  I’ve never been so relieved than to hear how successful his surgery was and the positive prognosis for the future, though the recovery would be long.  We are grateful for technology that connects us across oceans and lets us see each other.

Day 2

Surprisingly, we’ve never been inside Westminster Abbey so we loaded up the kids and took the tour.  It was extremely packed, but absolutely incredible inside.   We were greeted by a delightful and accommodating man, Martin, who was happy to lead us on a little personal tour to find an ancestor Tyler had recently discovered in our family line.  Somehow we are related to the first Duchess of Gloucester and were shown her tomb in a special room.  Tyler had all sorts of questions, which Martin was pleased to answer and welcomed him back to the library for more genealogical research.

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I have learned to look up when touring any old structures in Europe.  It’s simply fascinating to see the intricate, ornate and beautiful ceilings.  These photos from the web display a small peek inside this fascinating structure.  Westminster Abbey is the tradition place of coronation for English royalty.  It’s difficult to take in so much visually at once while learning the elaborate history as you go along.  A few interesting things I learned was that King Edward the Confessor began its reconstruction, formerly known as St. Peter’s Abbey, as a grand burial site for himself.  One week after its consecration in 1066, he died and was buried there.  It took another 25 years to be completed.  Also, the saying “robbing  Peter to pay Paul” refers to money donated to St. Peters that was diverted to pay for St. Paul’s Cathedral.

This is where all coronations of Britain’s kings and queens have taken place for the last nearly 1000 years.  In most recent history, it is where Prince William and Kate were married–only a very small handful of royals have that privilege.  Over 3,000 notable people are buried there as well, including many monarchs, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles, Dickens, Charles Darwin and many, many others.

 

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We went to the Chapter House there which was encased with amazing stained glass windows, each telling a story.  We loved seeing the windows about the discovery of America.  Below the windows are a series of special paintings from the 1400s that are the best preserved example of “International Gothic Style” in England.  Though quite worn, they once displayed 96 scenes or visions of the Apocalypse from the book of John.  Descriptions of each scene were once labeled on parchment beneath them, now gone.

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The little boys knocked on Britain’s oldest door (from 1050), but no one answered.

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We walked all around the Westminster area, trying to avoid the crazy demonstrators that were picketing the area.

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With fantastic spring weather, we trekked over the bridge for some lunch.  Trina was introduced to her first Bento Box.  We all had one and loved it, the kids’ were the best I’ve seen.  I miss Japanese food from home.

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Next up was Trafalgar Square where we stopped for Tyler’s favorite historical artifacts shop.

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We walked around Picadilly and shopped at the Swatch store on Regent Street for some souvenirs for her kids.

The night was finished with delicious crepes in South Kensington.

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Day 3

Sunday morning was spent at church.  After lunch, we left the kids for a bit to head down to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  The doors were open so we went in to check it out.  They were preparing for an evening service, but we had a few minutes to stare in amazement at the grandeur and awesomeness of everything.  I can’t even imagine how, or who, could have painted the ceiling of the dome so high up at its construction so long ago.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most well-known sights, as the church of England’s cathedral that dates back to the design of Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century.  For 250 years, it was London’s tallest building, once the same location as the original church dedicated to the apostle Paul in 604 AD.  It is definitely a place that needs to be seen to appreciate.  Incredible.  Many notable events have taken place here, including Princess Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s II Jubilee celebrations, funerals for Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and peace services at the end of world wars.

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Crossing the bridge to Southwark, we stopped in at the Tate Modern Art Museum with high hopes of being amazed.  Art is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  While there were some nice pieces, we saw a lot of unusual displays such as this galvanized metal construction that reminded me of something I might see in my garage.

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Once they move the Tate to their newly constructed building, I will give them another chance to impress.

We stopped in to show her Lynn’s office and made our way back to the kids.

 

Day 4

Changing of the Guards is always fun to see if you’re new to London.  With crowds of people, and many warnings of pick pocketers from police, we squished together to catch what we could see of the royal guard marching in.

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We lucked out with front seats on the double-decker bus headed back to Kensington.  Jace wanted to show Aunt Trina his favorite dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.  We checked out a few other exhibits before heading out for lunch.

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We had to show Trina the Aurora Collection – all of the world’s natural colored diamonds and how some glow in the dark, since her husband is in the diamond business.

Cade watched the little ones so Tyler could take Aunt Trina to a true British pub from the early 1800s right around the corner from our flat, named Britannia.  Of course we had to show her traditional fish and chips with mashy peas.  Tyler loved his bowl of mussels and can’t wait to return to his new favorite pub.

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Now it was Cade’s turn to come to Kensington Palace with us for a little tour.  This is where Princess Diana raised her boys for the most part and where William, Kate, baby George, Harry and others live today, in a separate part of the building.

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Seeing some of Queen Elizabeth’s and Princess Diana’s dresses they wore years ago was my favorite part.  I remember loving this low-waisted, blue dress on Diana and getting a similar style for my 6th grade graduation.  Completely 80s.  Cade asked me, “Why would you want to make your legs look so short?”  Good question.

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The most depressing part was reliving the anguish of Queen Anne’s heartache as you walk through rooms learning about her 17 unsuccessful pregnancies and the boy she lost at 11 years of age who was in line to be King.

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Queen Victoria’s family once lived in the palace as well, and we learned more about her large family and the adoration she had for her husband, Albert.

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A stop by Harrod’s was a must.  Cade helped pick out a souvenir for his cousin in the Lego section of the elaborate toy department.

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Trina and I had a girl’s night out at a show.  We had so much fun at Mama Mia, I’ve never been to such a high energy show where everyone is on the feet dancing and singing along at the end.  Now I can’t stop singing all my favorite ABBA tunes!

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Day 5

Since the boys and I had our oil painting class, Lynn had Trina come out to his office to meet up for lunch.  He took her down to Borough Market where they ate and explored.  We shopped a little more and hung out with the kids.

We finished off the night with Lion King.  We’ve been wanting to see it for a while and finally got the chance.  The costuming and sets were so creative and captivating.  The kids loved all the animals and music.

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Day 6

Tyler and Trina left early so he could show her around the Tower of London.  It’s his favorite place here.

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We met up and switched off so Cade could take Trina to lunch at Nando’s, his favorite place nearby for spicy chicken and endless frozen yogurt.

With drizzly weather, we adjusted our plans to see a castle and opted to go on a boat tour to see the city from a different view.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to see much since the kids wanted to stay dry inside the boat.

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The boys had to point out their favorite ship – the HMS Belfast

 

It’s always hard to see family go.  The time flies way too quickly.  We absolutely loved spending the week with Catrina and making unforgettable memories.  Thank you to her awesome family for making it possible for her to come out to see us!

Happy Easter!

We wish all our family and friends a very Happy Easter today!  We had grand plans of taking family pictures in the beautifully blooming parks, but the rain storms never let up this afternoon so this picture will have to do this year.  One I took while waiting for our bus to church this morning .

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We had to adjust all our Easter traditions quite a bit this year.  Little did I know how hard it would be to find essentially everything I needed for Easter egg hunts and filling their baskets.  I couldn’t even find a single Easter basket anywhere.  Maybe I need to venture out of the city more or perhaps they don’t do things quite the same as in America. Or maybe I should start earlier, but life has been so hectic I feel like I’m constantly throwing things together at the last minute.

So this year will be known as the Easter bags.  All they care about is what’s inside anyway, which was very underwhelming this year too.

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I wanted to do our annual egg hunt, but finding plastic eggs to fill was a big fail as well.  Where do people get things here?  And where’s all the jelly beans?  The holidays always make me miss Target and Costco…and home.  We had our own little version of our traditional dinner with ham, potatoes, broccoli and rolls – none of which were homemade or with our usual recipes, which kills me.  I’m having to get over not doing things exactly like home.  I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who cares, but I should just be grateful for all the time I’m saving not baking rolls, making pies and frosting cookies.

Truly, none of that matters because we were able to spend the day together as a family and reflect on the incredible gift of the Savior’s life and atonement and what it means for each of us.  And that is a tradition we will never change.

Nathan’s Nine!

It seems each year my kids turn older, I have a hard believing they’re growing up.  Nathan turning 9 the end of March was definitely that feeling – where has the time gone?  He joined our family as a sweet, mellow baby with a full head of thick hair and we instantly fell in love.  Though there were days (many) that I didn’t think I could keep up with his energy and strong will, I am so proud of the caring, intelligent, sensitive boy he has become.

Our whole family has been so sick with bronchitis, ear infections and the flu and Nathan was the only soul to escape its wrath.  The pictures are pretty telling how the rest of us are feeling!  We mustered up the energy to go see the Lego Movie yet again since it’s his favorite movie ever and he hadn’t seen it with me yet.

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After the movie, Nathan was dying to open his gifts.  Having shaken them, he was feeling confident they were his favorite toy.  No need to be creative this year.  All he wants and plays with are Legos.  I mean, hours and hours of Legos.  They are worth every cent for the amount of creative play and joy they have provided this boy!  Lynn and I are in constant amazement with what this boy can build, whether he’s following elaborate directions or building creations on his own.  He has recruited his little brother in his passion, which makes for a very messy room most days while they’re constructing and playing.  He calls it his burglar alarm to ward off potential robbers.  Man they hurt to step on in the night!

The boys each took turns giving him their gift, which brought a big smile to Nathan’s face. Both grandparent’s gifts arrived too, which he loved.  He’s been having championship tournaments with his new game.

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Nathan specifically wanted banana splits instead of cake and made his wish.  Within a minute, the ice cream was inhaled and he was busy building.  I don’t think he stopped for 2 days.

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We’re so used to sharing a celebration with grandpa Jenkins (having a birthday the day after), it felt weird not to be near him this year.  But we got to call and facetime with him and sing him “happy birthday” in his hospital bed.  How blessed we are to have more birthdays with him!  We’re pretty lucky to have Nathan a part of our lives too.  Happy birthday buddy!  We love you.

 

 

The Clinger’s Visit

Timing is a funny thing.  Wanting to return home immediately upon hearing about my dad’s health, and being advised not to, I was grateful that my sister Crystal and her husband Kevin were able to carry out their plans to come out to see us.  It felt like a piece of home with them here during this rough time.

This was both their first time to England and we decided to pack as much in as we possibly could. The weather could not have been more glorious all week, blue skies and sunshine near 70 degrees!   With Jace now having an ear infection and horrible cough and Cade still on the mend, they stayed home to recuperate for a few of our outings.

Wednesday

First up was Big Ben of course!  It’s a must to get pictures in the perfect spot with the telephone booth, even if we have to wait in line a bit.

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We walked all around Parliament and arrived just after they closed the doors to Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, but admired it from the outside.  There’s no way to capture the magnificence of the architecture here, it needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate and grasp its scale.

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With jet lag kicking in (at least with Kevin!), we forced them to stay awake a little longer and took them on a stroll through Green Park.  The park was absolutely beautiful.  I’ve heard how lovely spring is here and I can see why now. Tyler attempted to make friends with a nearby goose, nearly losing a finger in the process!  We got double ice cream cones and made our way to Buckingham Palace.

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Because the changing of the guards schedule didn’t jive with our plans, we decided to just show them Buckingham Palace without all the fan fare.  It’s definitely not as exciting and easy to see why the Queen loves Windsor Castle in comparison.

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We briefly showed them Trafalgar Square before the sun set and walked down Oxford and Picadilly.  I think they crashed pretty quickly back at our place and caught up on sleep for another packed day.

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Thursday

Crossing the Westminster Bridge over the Thames River has the most spectacular views.  I just started my first oil painting of this very scene, I love it so much.

 

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Clear skies made our view from the London Eye perfect.  Inside the largest ferris wheel in the world, we were able to see a magnificent skyline!  We’re still learning what the majority of the buildings are, but it’s so vast and beautiful just to take it all in at such a height.  We felt on top of the world up top!

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