Thursday, March 31, 2005

A blast from the past 

You just never know who you're going to stumble across out here in the cyberhood, do you? I woke up this morning to find the following comment had been left on my blog:

I don't know who you think you're fooling, but none of these gowns look *anything* like your prom dress. Hoop-skirt girl. Jas
I nearly fell off the couch when I read that! Jas? As in Jason, my prom date from 1983? THAT one?

I must admit that Jason speaks the truth about the hoopskirt. What is prom if not a young girl's first opportunity to get in touch with her inner Scarlett O'Hara? I got in touch with mine in a big way when I chose that dress, and now that the truth has been revealed, I'm afraid I have no option but to post a picture. So here it is (wow, photos from 1983 have NOT held up very well, have they?):

Scarlett O'Hara might have had her share of problems, but I venture to say that she never tried to stuff her hoopskirt into the Mighty Maverick Moose Mobile:

Funny prom story: I had a real fight on my hands that night with gravity. Perhaps, in hindsight, a strapless gown was not the best choice for someone with bigger shoulder blades than boobs, and the dress seemed determined to head south. So every 15 minutes or so, I would grab it in the front and Jason would grab it in the back, and we would hike it back into position. Then Jason would give a wicked grin and say, "I psychically willed it to fall." Sure you did, Jas, sure you did. Aren't you just Uri Freakin' Geller? We repeated this little scene several times, and on the final time, just as Jason finished delivering the punchline, my fake pearls came undone and slid down the front of my dress. Gasp!

Not so funny prom story: My mom still has that dress in my closet at home. I could always wear it to the JAG prom, I suppose. I'd just have to lose 35 pounds in the next 4 weeks first.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Raining cats and . . . well, mostly just cats 

I was actually happy today to see the rain coming down, because it gave me an opportunity to take the world's coolest boots out on their maiden voyage. When I bought the boots in Copenhagen, I realized at the last minute that they came with a matching raincoat. I couldn't decide at the time whether I liked it or not, but I bought it anyway because I didn't want to face kicking myself somewhere down the road for letting it slip by me. I still can't decide how I feel about it. I look at it out of my left eye and think it's kind of cute. I look at it out of my right eye and think I look like I'm wearing a condom, complete with reservoir tip:

I topped off my black-cat ensemble today with the earrings my mom sent me for my birthday. One ear is Eddie; one is Willis:

If you think it is easy to take a halfway decent photograph of your own ear, you are sadly mistaken.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

My life is one big Monty Python sketch 

First thing every morning, I get online to check my email, catch up on my web board, and see if anything new has been posted to my favorite blogs. It's my quiet time alone, and I cherish it.

For some reason, Mike got up earlier than usual the other day and decided to visit with me while I went through my online routine. He has huge plans for our downstairs video game room, and he wanted to tell me all about them. I'm sorry, but the internet is my morning cup of coffee, and frankly I just wanted him to leave me the heck alone, but he wasn't taking my subtle (and not so subtle) hints. Jabber jabber jabber he wants more seating space down there jabber jabber jabber we need a console for storing the video games jabber jabber jabber it's just too crowded in there with that foot locker and those storage bins jabber jabber jabber if only we could move them into the other room jabber jabber jabber.

There is no quicker way to get rid of one of my children than to suggest a cleaning project, so I say: "OK, well, here's what you can do this morning! Drag out the box for the K'Nex ferris wheel that has been sitting down there partially assembled FOR OVER A YEAR and take it apart and put it away!!!" So take that! Oddly enough though, he doesn't melt away like the witch in The Wizard of Oz after she gets the bucket therapy.

Instead, he nods and says calmly and perhaps a bit reproachfully, "You know, if you're trying to make that sound dreadful, it isn't working."


Mike (fearfully): "And eating a pickle?"

Me: "YES! And eating a pickle!!!"

Flash forward to this morning. We are doing one of our rare days of "real school," and Annabelle's geography lesson is all about the rotation of the earth and its revolution around the sun. I decide to get creative, so I get out our globe and a flashlight.

"Here, Annabelle," I say, handing her the flashlight. "You can be the sun!"

Mike reaches for the snap on his pants and pretends to unfasten them as he turns around and bends over announcing, "And I shall be the moon!"

Smart ass.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hoppy Easter! 

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

And the shopping continues 

Hmmm . . . there's a serious chance I could wind up in a 12-step program before this dress-shopping thing is finished. I ordered 3 dresses today, none of which are any of the dresses I showed you yesterday, and one of which I will admit up front that I have absolutely no intention of either (1) wearing to the dance or (2) sending back to the store.

Now this doesn't mean I'm turning my back on yesterday's choices. They're still all serious contenders, with the possible exception of Dress E--it's starting to look more and more like a nightgown to me. But my sister's fiance's mother (are you following me here?) sent me a link to SmartBargains.com, and I simply went mad. It's like TJMaxx, only online. Part of the pressure to buy, buy, BUY is that they tell you when only a few are left. Two of the ones I snagged, for example, were listed as being the last one available . . . and in my size! What's a girl to do?

Here's the one that isn't going to the dance. I just love it. And it loves me:

Now for the prom contenders! They're both long and flowing, one in teal:

And one in red:

The really cool part is that I bought BOTH of the prom gowns for less than what any one of yesterday's dresses would have cost. Fred likes to say that I save him money by buying more and more and more stuff (always on sale). Sweetie, I saved you hundreds today!

Keep the comments coming, whether by email or by using the comment section below! I love getting as much input as possible. Dress A is doing really well in the polls, but I'm not sure it's my color, especially given my current winter pallor. It's interesting to see that there are apparently 2 types of people--those who love the pink and black dresses and those who don't.

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Spring has sprung! 

I'm probably jinxing it by saying this, so if central Germany wakes up tomorrow to a blanket of snow, everybody can just blame me. But I think that spring is really here, and my flowers seem to think so, too. I've had crocuses popping up throughout my yard for the past several weeks, but now my hyacinths are starting to bloom, as are some of my tulips and daffodils. I went outside this afternoon to admire the flowers and was delighted to see the first bee of the season:

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Let's go shopping together 

The JAG prom is coming up in early May. I'm still not 100% certain that I'm going, but I figure it can't hurt to look at dresses. Since it's so much more fun to shop with your friends than to shop alone, I've assembled a few likely candidates here for you to examine.

Dress A, an embroidered georgette dance dress, comes to us from Talbots.com, which offers this description: "A layer of georgette, embroidered allover with ribbon, overlays satin. Fitted scoop-neck bodice, back zip, satin ribbon belt, bias-cut skirt." The length from the natural waist is 26 inches:

My invisible friend and shopper extraordinaire Dawn M. introduced me to Overstock.com, where I found Dress B, which features a black velvet bodice with removable black floral corsage, pink tulle mesh over a pink stretch lining, and black velvet trim. It measures approximately 31 inches from bodice to hem:

The next 2 dresses come from Nordstrom.com and are identical except in color. They both have "iridescent beading and a figure-flattering ruched bodice." The skirt is approximately 28.5 inches long.

Dress C is aqua colored:

And Dress D is red:

Dawn gets another shout of thanks for setting me on to Bluefly.com, where I found this next dress. Dress E is by Betsey Johnson and is made out of flowing, sheer pleated organza with a pink satin bow in back. The skirt measures approximately 25 inches from natural waist to hem:

There you have it, the top contenders! Offer me feedback, criticism, whatever. Also, feel free to send alternative suggestions if you have any. Just keep in mind that I would prefer not to wear solid black and that I have set an arbitrary budget of $200 but less is always better. My plan is to order 3 dresses in the next few days, try them on here at home, and then return the losers.

So get shopping! And hey . . . let's be careful out there.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Cue the banjo music! 

It's official. We will be moving to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, sometime this August.

It's truly remarkable, the progress I've made since Christmas, which was the first time anybody ever said Ft. Knox to me. I can say it and type it without crying, for one thing.

Before you tell me that Kentucky is beautiful and that the people are so nice, let me assure you that my beef has very little to do with Ft. Knox or Kentucky and everything in the world to do with the way the assignments process went this time. The JAG Corps likes to talk about how they "recruit soldiers but retain families." They have lost this family. We are on a 3-year countdown to retirement. Now we just have to figure out what we want to be when we grow up!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I first saw the musical Cats in the spring of 1983 when I went with my high school drama club to New York City. I saw it again in London in 1987 and dragged Fred to it when we went to London in August, 1989. Last night made the fourth time, when the kids and I (and, of course, a few rodents) traveled to Düsseldorf to see it auf Deutsch. We're back home in Mannheim tonight, and our travels are OVER until my sister arrives in mid-April, but I am pleased to report that Cats was a smashing success.

Our trip got off to a rocky start when we went to the theater from our hotel to pick up our tickets and to scope out our path for that evening. We were walking under an overpass when we got to see (and hear!) an unarmed pigeon take on an automobile. The poor little guy was strolling across the street, and I honestly thought he was going to make it. In fact, that's why I let us continue standing there, staring in horror. I just knew that we would see him hop up the curb on the other side of the road, and we would not then have to go through the rest of the day wondering whether or not he made it. He didn't make it. That's when I decided that we would be taking a taxi to and from the theater that evening, so that we didn't have to risk strolling by his poor little smooshed carcass.

The kids posed with the rodents outside the theater when we stopped at the box office for our tickets. You can see from the look on Annabelle's face that at this point she was still pretty traumatized by the carnage we had just witnessed:

Annabelle is holding Pellet, who apparently fears nothing, and Mike is holding Ears the rabbit, who fears only sock puppets (you would have to ask the kids about this). Cheezer is hiding his head in Annabelle's shirt. According to Mike and Annabelle, when asked who his favorite cat was, Cheezer said, "Macavity, because he makes all the other cats go away and then he disappears!"

We spent the remainder of the afternoon strolling around Düsseldorf. I took this picture of a church, but I couldn't tell you which church it is. I just thought it was pretty:

We returned to the hotel for a nap and a quick bite of supper (sandwiches of rolls and lunch meats that we bought at the train station market) before hailing a cab back to the theater. We were delighted to discover that our seats were smack dab in the middle of the third row. When the lights went out and the music started and the cat eyes started blinking in the dark, Annabelle stage whispered to me, "This is amazing!"

We all enjoyed the show, but Annabelle was especially impressed. I think she has a bit of a crush on the Rum Tum Tugger. She spent most of last night and this morning mooning over his picture in our souvenir program, which now automatically falls open to his page.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark! 

As part of our ongoing quest to kill time while seeing as much of Europe as possible, the kids and I journeyed north last week to Denmark. We have friends from Texas who moved to Copenhagen the same time we moved here, and for almost 2 years now we have been talking about getting together. I'm glad we finally did, because it was the most relaxing, laid back trip we've done thus far.

The kids all got along wonderfully. We spent most of Sunday, our first full day there, just hanging out at home. Mike and Christian went down to the World Health Organization to skateboard in their parking lot, and Annabelle and Avery talked American Girl stuff. Finally, as the afternoon wore on, Leah and I took Mike, Annabelle, and Avery and ran out to the statue of the little mermaid, which was the one item on my "must do" list:

On Monday, Christian and Avery went to school, and Leah took me and my kids into town on the train. We walked up the main shopping street and were unexpectedly treated to a small parade, as the soldiers made their way to the palace for the changing of the guard. If you click on the photo, you can watch a short Windows Media file of the action:

After the parade, we hurried on to have lunch at Restaurant Ida Davidsen, which is world famous for its smørrebrød, the traditional Danish open faced sandwiches. Nothing on the menu appealed to Annabelle, but Mike, Leah, and I enjoyed our sandwiches. So did the rodents:

The waitress was so charmed by the rodents that she called THE Ida Davidsen from the kitchen to come admire them. We all got our picture made with Mrs. Davidsen, and were positively starstruck.

On our way home, we walked through the square in the middle of the palace grounds, and the kids (and rodents) got their picture taken with a guard:

We went with Leah to pick up Christian and Avery from school, and then we dropped all the kids off at their house so that Leah and I could go grocery shopping unencumbered. I found this rodent cousin in the dairy case:

On Tuesday, we took the train across the bridge to Sweden to the town of Lund so the kids could add a sixteenth country to their list. We wandered around town and changed just enough money to feast on Thai food for lunch and do a little souvenir shopping afterwards.

One of the main attractions in Lund is the cathedral. There is a wooden model of it inside, so here is a picture of the rodents in Sweden:

The most amazing thing about the cathedral is the astronomical clock (click on the picture to see the full-size image; the detail is incredible):

When we left the cathedral, we found that our beautiful weather had turned ugly on us, so we made an early return to Copenhagen so the kids could have more time to play with Avery and Christian.

Wednesday morning, Leah and I went shopping, and I found the all-time coolest boots on planet Earth:

Admit it, those are indeed the coolest boots in the entire universe. I thought about them for the rest of the day, and Thursday morning Leah and I raced out so that I could get them. As it turns out, they're magical boots--we haven't had a drop of rain ever since I bought them.

After Christian and Avery got out of school for the day, Leah and I took the kids to the Experimentarium, which is a marvelous science center. On our way to the Experimentarium, Mike noticed the Microsoft building and asked Christian, "Dude, what sort of job opportunities are there at Microsoft here in Copenhagen?" For some reason, that really cracked me up.

For supper that night, we headed for the Hard Rock Cafe. Here are the kids modeling the bunny masks that came with their menus:

As we were getting ready to leave Thursday morning, it occurred to me that I didn't have one single photo of all the kids together WITHOUT bunny masks, so everybody (including Doc the dachshund) piled onto the couch for a farewell portrait:

Our ride home on the train was uneventful. Mike and Annabelle keep talking about how much fun they had with Avery and Christian, and we're all looking forward to having them come visit us in May.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Crocodile tears 

You know how some songs bore their way through your eardrums and eat slowly away at your brain? Songs such as the theme from The Brady Bunch or the thinking music from Jeopardy? These songs are called "ear worms," a term that is translated literally from the German word Ohrwurm. It seems somehow fitting then that the newest ear worm should be sweeping through the Vaterland, not unlike an aural STD. I'm talking of course about Schnappi, the little crocodile.

Believe it or not, the hottest song out there in Deutschland today is a ditty about a crocodile and is sung by a little girl named Joy. Really. I am not making this up. It's being played at dance clubs. It's on MTV. You can even download it as a ringtone for your Handy.

Let's take a moment and listen to a brief clip, shall we? If that's not enough for you, click here to see the video.

I found very little written in English about the Schnappi sensation, so I took the liberty of translating die Schnappi Story into English. (My apologies in advance for any errors.) For those of you who are too busy bleaching your ears to click, I offer the highlights:

The success story of the little crocodile reads like a fairy tale . . . cute, curious, and fresh--Schnappi, the little crocodile has taken the hearts of young and old listeners by storm! In December of last year, the magical song about the adventures of a little crocodile, sung by 9-year-old Joy, hit the German charts and reached double platinum on the first try.

Besides first place on the charts in Germany, in the beginning of February Schnappi also reached platinum status in Austria, gold status in Holland and Switzerland, and the top position in Belgium--and its release in Great Britain, France, Scandinavia, and even Japan lies shortly ahead.

The world can't get enough of Schnappi, and the language barriers are no problem. Completely the opposite: The Schnappi-fascination is borderless! The German-speaking hit touches young and old!
Of course it's not all wine and roses for the Schnappster. Numerous sendups of the song appear all over the web. Some are done in the tradition of great artists such as the Village People and Falco. And some are done in the tradition of famous politicians, such as Gerhard Schroeder and George Bush. Here's a sample of the Bush lyrics with my amateur attempt at translation underneath:

Ich bin Bushi, der King vom über‘n Teich
Komm grad aus Brüssel, die Hauptstadt von Frankreich!
Hab tolle Waffen, mach mir ne freie Bahn;
Denn Morgen schnappe ich mir den Iran!

I am Bushi, the king from 'cross the pond
Come straight from Brussels, the capital of France
I have great weapons, with which to clear my path
Because tomorrow I'm going to grab Iran
Everybody sing!

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Friday, March 18, 2005

From Fred 

Traveling in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan can be tiring sometimes. I have been known to sleep in some pretty austere surroundings. I have napped in cars, on the ground, in hangars, and in office chairs. When presented such fabulous accommodations, especially in a combat zone, how could I not take advantage of the over-stuffed chairs and couch, INTERNET access, and TV to catch a nap before continuing my journey?

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Confessions of an unfit mother 

We are having some unbelievably gorgeous weather here in Mannheim. Neighbors are working in their yards, and Mike and Annabelle have spent all afternoon playing outside with their friends. Yes, it is indeed a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

I have been enjoying the peace and quiet afforded by having the kids out from under foot and have spent the afternoon tweaking my Denmark (and Sweden!) photos in the hopes of starting to blog them tonight while we watch Survivor. Mike popped in a few minutes ago to check the time and inquire as to my plans for dinner.

"Well," I said, "I was thinking about making oatmeal!" Oatmeal seems (to me anyway) to be the perfect ending to a lazy day like this one, and frankly there's not much else in the kitchen.

Mike's face fell a good 6 inches. "Oatmeal?" he snorted in disgust. "Everybody else is having cookouts and barbecues, and we're having OATMEAL?"

I need to redeem myself and fast. I think there might be a pizza in our future.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Getting ready to leave again 

You know how it is the night before a trip. You pack your bags. You gather your tickets, passports, and other important papers. You make little viking costumes for your rodents. Or wait--maybe we're the only ones who do that.

The rodents are ready for Denmark:

Let the pillaging and plundering begin--on a very small scale, of course.

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When in Rome, do as the rodents do--Part III 

We were blessed with some truly fine weather for our third and final day in Rome. Since our plane wouldn't be leaving until late that night, we left our bags at the front desk of the hotel and went out for one last day of sightseeing.

We went to the tobacco shop around the corner, and I bought day-passes for us to use the bus and metro system so that we could cover lots of territory with minimal walking. We smooshed our way onto the over-crowded Bus 64 (infamous as a haven for pickpockets) and headed for St. Peter's, whose huge size amazed Pellet and Cheezer:

We opted to take the 6 euro trip to the top of the dome, which includes an elevator ride and then some 300+ steps, instead of the 4-euro trip, which is steps all the way. When you get off the elevator, you go inside the dome where you can look down over the church:

From there you start climbing what has to be the world's skinniest staircase to get to the top of the dome. As you get closer to the top, the curve of the walls forces you to lean inward as you climb. The view from the top is breathtaking, but it was cold and windy up there, so we didn't stay for long:

After we visited the top of the dome, we went into the church to look around and then started making our way over to the Vatican Museum. We stopped on the way for a lunch of authentic (expensive) Italian food. My lasagna was really good, but the kids were not impressed by their pizza. It wasn't nearly as good as the cheap stuff we had eaten in Naples the night before under the watchful eye of Staring Man.

If there is a prize given for fastest tour of the Vatican Museum, we deserve it. In good tourist fashion, we blasted past centuries of art in order to get to the Sistine Chapel. We admired the magnificent ceilings and then decided to use what little remained of our energy reserves to take the rodents to the Colosseum:

The kids were excited to find our old friend Nero hanging out in the sunlight:

I swear, I fantasize about hopping in my car and driving down to Rome to get that cat.

We couldn't resist one more visit to the Forum:

With the clear blue sky as a background, the Forum seemed even more magnificent than it had on Sunday. Here, for example, is the Temple of Saturn in front of the dome of Santi Luca e Martina:

And here is the Temple of Antonius and Faustina:

We still had several hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so we headed back toward the Hard Rock Cafe, stopping by the one souvenir stand in Rome that had the calendar I wanted, which featured photos of Roman cats. I know it probably seems rather weak to go to Italy and eat at an American restaurant, but after our disappointing lunch I wanted another successful meal. The Hard Rock was indeed a success, especially the hot fudge brownie sundae we enjoyed for dessert. The rodents were pleased:

Rather than re-live in reverse the frustrations we encountered getting into the city by bus, I decided to splurge on the 40-euro cab ride. We collected our bags from the hotel and set off via taxi. Our driver took us past the Forum and Colosseum; getting to see them lit up at night was worth the cost of cabfare!

Our flight home was uneventful, and we landed in Germany shortly before midnight. I was horrified to discover that it was snowing pretty hard, but I managed to get us home 2 hours later without going into any ditches or falling asleep at the wheel.

Ever since we arrived home, I've been busy doing laundry, working on my pictures, and . . . packing. Tomorrow at noon we leave for 5 nights in Copenhagen!

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

When in Rome, do as the rodents do--Part II 

We set off from our hotel Monday morning and walked to the Termini railway station to catch our trains to Naples and then to Pompeii. As we crossed through the Piazza della Repubblica, we noticed a lot of activity. There were even more police than usual, for one thing, plus the front of the church there was covered with floral arrangements. I asked an Italian woman what was going on, but I understood only 2 words of her response. Those 2 words, however, were funerale and Iraq, which led me to conclude (correctly, as it turned out) that they were getting ready for the funeral for Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence officer shot to death in Iraq last week. As we continued on our way to the train station, I took this shot of the scene on the street:

The train ride from Rome to Naples was uneventful. We passed some beautiful scenery, including the remains of aqueducts and the coast of the sea.

I know that I have mentioned the rodents several times before. They are an ever-expanding collection of Beanie Babies that Mike and Annabelle have endowed with personalities and personal histories. Ratzo the purple rat, for example, invented the apartment building; his friend Rizzo the pink rat invented the condo. Flinch and Rosa, the guinea pigs, are both afraid of rubber bands. Ears is a flying rabbit (are rabbits even technically rodents?).

Mike and Annabelle can amuse themselves for hours with these critters, and the night before they had inducted me into the ranks of the rodent lovers. I had had them in stitches as I manipulated Pellet the hamster and Cheezer the white mouse (the 2 rodents who were selected to accompany us to Italy) and had them singing Broadway hits. They decided to carry the rodents along on our trip to Pompeii, and I took this picture on the train:

The kids decided that from that point forward, we would spend our time documenting the rodents' travels in Italy.

We changed trains in Naples and continued on to Pompei (the modern town, not to be confused with double-i Pompeii the ancient town) on a regional train. We took a 10 euro taxi ride from the train station to the Porta Marina, one of the main doors to the historical site.

For almost half of the time we were in Pompeii, I was trying to use a map that I had bought off a souvenir vendor outside the Porta Marina. The numbers on my map, however, didn't match up with the numbers on the signs, so frequently we had no idea what we were looking at. Eventually though I got an official map from a kindly pair of British tourists, and that helped a lot in figuring out where we were going and where we had been. It was generally too cold and windy though to mess with either map very often, so we just wandered through the ruins enjoying the wonder of standing in the middle of an ancient city and looking for new places to photograph the rodents:

This picture shows the scene looking down Via Vesuvia:

Doesn't the mountain look peaceful? Hard to believe it was responsible for so much destruction.

The streets in Pompeii are "paved" with huge rocks. Periodically there are lines of even larger rocks that apparently served as pedestrian crossings way back when. Here are Mike and Annabelle (and the rodents) resting their feet on one of these larger rocks:

When we left Pompeii to head back to Rome, I decided to forego the 10 euro taxi ride back to the train station where I would have been able to use the 3 euro ticket I had already purchased on the national railway. Instead, we went across the street from the Porta Marina and purchased new tickets for 7 euro on the Circumvesuviana line, a private railway connecting Naples with Sorrento. We had a little confusion in Naples, as the private railway comes in on a different level of the main station than the national trains do, and we managed to overshoot the station by 2 stops and had to get on another train for the short ride back.

Once we got back to Naples, we found that we had over an hour to wait for our next train. We went into the pizzeria to have a bite to eat and get out of the cold. The pizza was delicious, but I noticed a middle-aged man staring at us as we ate. A beggar came in and insisted I give him money, and Staring Man came over and chased him away. I thanked him, and he sat down with us and started jabbering away in Italian.

Have I mentioned that I don't speak Italian, except for a few dirty words I learned back in college? And no matter how much you might WANT me to speak Italian, I will not suddenly learn Italian in 15 minutes if only you flood me with it. Staring Man had trouble with this concept. I understood that he thought I had beautiful children, and I said thank you. I understood that he wanted to drive us around Naples in his car, and I said no thank you. I THINK I understood that he has a villa in Sorrento that he would love to show us, and again I said no thank you. He just wouldn't leave, and I didn't want to leave the warmth of the pizzeria.

Finally though I pulled the ol' oh-my-would-you-look-at-the-time trick, and we went back out into the cold station. I found the railway customer service office, and we hid out there, safely away from Staring Man, until it was time for our train to leave.

That was honestly the only bad experience we had with the stereotypical Italian man on the whole trip. Overall I found that traveling with a couple of kids was quite the vaccination against unwanted sexual attention.

I can't help but wonder about Staring Man though. Annabelle wanted to go to the restroom right after we left the pizzeria, but I refused to split up either by leaving Mike alone to escort her to the bathroom or by sending her in alone (both things I would never think twice about doing here in Germany). It dawned on me that I really didn't know which of the 3 of us he had his eye on, which was good for a major case of the ick.

We arrived back at our hotel a little before 10 that night and had no trouble falling asleep. Tune in again later for the report on our final day in Rome, in which the rodents visit the Vatican and we meet up with an old friend at the Colosseum . . .

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

When in Rome, do as the rodents do--Part I 

Mike made up the title for our Rome trip report, and I promised him that I would use it. You'll see why later.

We set off for Rome on Saturday. The drive to the airport in Hahn usually takes about an hour and a half, but I left with plenty of time to spare because we had gotten a fair amount of snow that morning. I was glad I had the extra time, as the parking lot at the airport was a snowy mess, and I was able to take my time in finding the perfect parking spot (after having to use my ice scraper to dig myself out of a less-than-perfect spot). Our Ryanair flight left at 8:00 p.m., and we were in Rome by 10:00.

There are several ways of getting to and from the airport in Rome. Of course, there are always taxis, but that can be expensive. Ryanair operates a shuttle bus service for 8 euro per person. Or you can take the COTRAL bus to the end station of the metro line and metro in to the city center--one euro for the bus, one euro for the metro.

I opted for the cheapest route, which left us standing in the cold for close to an hour while we waited for the COTRAL bus to arrive. We were surprised to find out upon reaching the metro station that the metro closes down at 9:00 p.m. these days due to construction, so we had to take yet another bus into the city center. By the time we reached our stop and made it to the hotel, it was close to midnight, and our nerves were frazzled.

Crossing the street in Rome is scary business. Here in Germany, if you stand next to a pedestrian crosswalk and look as if you might be pondering crossing the street sometime in the future, cars screech to a halt. In Rome, however, you can stand with your toes hanging off into the street, and cars whiz by. They do tend to stop, however, if you simply dash out in front of them, but that calls for a tremendous leap of faith. The kids and I eventually got quite good at glomming onto crowds of other street-crossers and found that women with baby carriages made particularly good cover. That first night, however, I was afraid that we would be able to see only the sights on one side of the road in Rome, as that maiden voyage across the street was rather traumatic.

I decided that first night that we would have to strike a balance between going and doing and taking time to relax. More B-ness, less A-ness! Accordingly, we opted to have our breakfast each morning at 9:30 and to take our time getting into our daily activities.

On our first day, Sunday, we headed straight for the train station to make arrangements for Monday's trip to Pompeii. As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped at the fountain in Piazza del Repubblica and posed for our one and only group shot from the entire trip:

From there we walked down Via Nazionale and headed over to the Colosseum. Walking out of modern day Rome and into the heart of ancient Rome will remain at the top of the list of the coolest things I have ever done. Here are the kids in front of the Colosseum:

Rome has a bit of a stray problem, and there are oodles of cats wandering the city. We fell in love with this cat and named him Nero. Unlike most feral cats, who tend to be fairly skittish around humans, Nero is a Class A suck-up and knows how to work the crowd. We saw at least one tourist feeding him, and I'm sure that plenty more do the same:

The Arch of Constantine was on the top of Mike's list of things to see, and we saw it from just about every angle possible:

My friend Lisa gave me a valuable tip--the entrance ticket for the Colosseum and the Palatine are one and the same. While there are usually long lines at the Colosseum ticket window, there is generally no wait at all at the Palatine, which is where we went to get our tickets. We enjoyed strolling along the Palatine hill, where legend states that Rome founders Romulus and Remus were brought up by a wolf. The view from the hill looking out across the Forum was amazing:

After the Palatine, we stopped for lunch from a sandwich cart before visiting the Colosseum. Here are a couple of panoramas I made from the Colosseum; if you click on the smaller image, you can see the full-size panorama. This one shows the interior of the Colosseum:

And this one shows the view from the Arch of Constantine to the Forum:

After the Colosseum, we wandered through the Forum. It was unspeakably cool to stand literally smack dab in the middle of so much ancient history. Here, for example, is what remains of the Temple of Saturn:

And here is the Arch of Septimius Severus, which we walked underneath as we exited the Forum:

From the Forum, we found our way over to the Pantheon and walked quickly through. After the Pantheon, we stopped by Sant'Ignazio di Loyola. We slipped into a pew to rest our aching feet, and I encouraged the kids to look up into the dome and tell me what they saw. "Um, a dome?" they answered. I urged them to look closer, and they did:

Finally I let them in on the secret: Although a dome had been planned for the church, one had never been completed. The space where the dome would have gone is covered by an illusionist painting of the interior of a dome:

Our energy supplies were running low, but no trip to Rome would be complete without seeing the Trevi Fountain. Here are Mike and Annabelle, getting ready to toss their coins into the fountain, thereby assuring their return one day to Rome:

From the fountain, we headed over to the Spanish Steps, which proved to be an excellent spot to sit down for a quick break:

After we left the steps, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for supper and then back to the hotel, where we were asleep by 9:30, a new record for us.

Tune in tomorrow for more exciting Roman adventures! I promise the whole rodent thing will soon make sense.

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