Friday, April 30, 2010

World Traveler

Just call me a world traveler these days. You know about our recent trip to London and the adventure we had trying to get home. My hubby and I were home here in Rota for about 5 days before we were off flying the "friendly" (?) skies again, this time without the boys.

We visited Cairo, Egypt, where he had business. We've only left our kids a handful of times in the past, when we lived stateside and could leave them with family. This was a big step for me... going to a foreign country and leaving my kids with someone other than a family member.

We had a great visit and saw some incredible sights, but I want to back up and show you some of the highlights of our London trip before telling you about our time in Egypt. Stay tuned for updates after I've had a chance to catch my breath and do a few loads of laundry.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Oh, and a Ferry!)

During my last post I mentioned that we were unable to fly home due to the ash cloud from the volcano eruption in Iceland. Here's one of many photos you've probably seen on the internet...
We spent 3 more full days in London after discovering we couldn't make it home by plane. The hotel didn't have the same room available, but they did offer us adjoining rooms, which gave us more space, at a higher cost of course. We took it though, as we were grateful to have a place to stay. We'd heard that hotel rooms were nearly impossible to find and many people were forced to sleep at the airport.

The remainder of our time in London found us seeking free entertainment (The British Museum as well as the Science Museum) and doing laundry since we'd run out of clean clothes. How could we know we'd be spending 6 extra days away from home when we packed our suitcases? I had one pair of comfortable walking shoes for the entire trip, thinking that's all I really needed. I got so sick of wearing the same pair of shoes for nearly two weeks... I'm seriously thinking of burning them.

So the hubby and I made the "walk of shame" to the launderette, not once, but twice, since we had no idea how much longer we'd be away from home. The boys stayed in the hotel room just a block away and watched a movie while we went to do laundry. We threatened them within an inch of their lives if they opened the door to anyone while we were gone. They had a cell phone to call us if they needed anything and were told only to leave the room if there was a fire.

It was naturally a bit expensive to do laundry, but not as bad as we thought it would be. The washers were terrible though in that the powder detergent just ended up caked on our clothes. Fabulous! While waiting on the laundry, we slipped across the street to an Irish pub and shared a drink or two (or three, but who's counting?). It had been quite a long time since I'd been in a real bar atmosphere. If we heard the F-bomb once, we must have heard it 500 times. Hearing it in both British and Irish accents was very entertaining too.

Our flight was rescheduled for Sunday, however, the volcanic ash was still wreaking havoc and no planes were flying. My hubby, being the resourceful person he is, decided we needed to make alternate travel arrangements. Many of our friends were sending us email and Facebook messages, suggesting we travel across the English Channel, rent a car and drive to Spain. That would have been an option, if only thousands of other people hadn't already thought of it. There was no availability on any trains or boats heading that direction, nor were there any rental cars on the other end. We decided to take a train out of London and head south to Portsmouth, England, to hop a ferry ride to Bilbao, Spain. At least we'd be back in Spain and we could limp our way home, little by little. We were able to book a reservation on the ferry and managed to get a cabin with 4 beds, however, when my hubby attempted to confirm the reservation later, he discovered the website was down due to the massive number of people trying to access it. We couldn't reach them by phone for the same reason. All we could do was take the train to the ferry terminal and pray our reservation would be honored and that we wouldn't be turned away.

The train ride to Portsmouth was about an hour and a half. We took a taxi to the ferry terminal and could see it was very busy. We arrived around 3:30pm or so, if I remember correctly, and the ferry was scheduled to depart several hours later, like around 7:30pm. My hubby waited in the incredibly long line at customer service, while the boys and I located seats in the terminal. I'm glad we found seats when we did, as the place filled up quickly. I have no doubt the number of people in the building exceeded what was allowed by fire code, if there is such a thing in England. This photo doesn't even begin to depict the large crowd, as I snapped it before things got really crazy. If claustrophobia was a problem for any of us, we'd have been in trouble. There simply was no personal space. Perhaps this next photo will help give you an idea of what I'm talking about... The blue jean legs and the khaki leg you see were right in front of me (I'm the seated black legs in the photo). I didn't zoom in on this at all. This was exactly how packed the crowd got at one point. We were like sardines! To say that the ferry terminal was loud is quite an understatement. With so many people in one room, that would be expected, however, it was beyond loud. I've attempted twice to add my own video here of the crowded ferry terminal, however, Blogger doesn't seem to think I should do that right now. Maybe later...

There was a nice woman traveling with her father and her 4-year-old daughter who sat behind us. The little girl was precious, but she was a busy bee and got on my last nerve. She jumped up and down in her seat, and since my seat and hers were back-to-back, I could feel every move she made. She sang, she yelled, she poked me, she laid on me, she went under the seats... You get the picture. The mother would try to get her to stop, but this child was simply like the Energizer Bunny. She kept going and going and going... I found myself wanting to scream, "Serenity now!"

And trust me, it was a people watcher's dream, as there were some real characters in that room. I didn't want to be too obvious in taking photos of people, but I did manage to snap one of this gentleman, who reminded us of Austin Powers.

So we're finally home, 6 days after our scheduled return date. Here's a step-by-step rundown of our trip to get here...

Train from London to Portsmouth, England = 1 hour 30 minutes

Wait in ferry terminal = approximately 4 hours 30 minutes

Ferry ride from Portsmouth to Bilbao, Spain = 35 hours

Taxi ride to Bilbao Airport = 30 minutes

Wait in airport = approximatley 2 hours

Flight to Sevilla, Spain = 1 hour 10 minutes

Drive to our house = 1 hour 20 minutes

Later I'll share photos and memories from our vacation. We truly enjoyed London. We just didn't like being held hostage there. It was like that Eagles song about Hotel California... "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."

Friday, April 16, 2010


We're spending our boys' school spring break vacationing in London, England this week. We've had a blast taking in all the sights... Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard, London Tower, Greenwich, Tower Bridge, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, etc. Photos will definitely follow. Until then, allow me to share with you a few things I've learned while here in London...

1) The Underground is an underground subway system, not a big entertainment complex with shopping, restaurants, etc., like in Atlanta.

2) The British say, "Mind the gap" when getting off the subway, which essentially means "Watch your step." Oh, and there are no "EXIT" signs here... only "WAY OUT" signs.

3) The Underground users are just like the ones in the DC area... rude and inconsiderate. It's as if no one has ever heard the words "excuse me" before. Seriously... manners are becoming a thing of the past.

4) Drivers drive on the left-hand side of the road, which would totally confuse me if I were driving. Thankfully we've been using the Underground and/or the train system, thus we haven't had a need for a rental car.

5) Our original hotel room didn't have a shower, only a bathtub, which is rather inconvenient, however, some rooms don't even have a bathroom, so we're feeling blessed.

6) Most rooms don't accommodate a family of 4, but we've been fortunate in that ours does. We each have our own twin bed (The hubby and I have had a good laugh over that).

7) One must sell a kidney in order to pay for a family of 4 to go to the movies in London. It's THAT expensive!

8) London is very much an international city in that we've seen (and heard) many, many different nationalities represented here.

9) Fish and chips rock!

10) The history in this city is astounding!

11) It's truly a small world. When one can run into friends, not once, but twice, in a city the size of London, it's a small world indeed.

12) There are cafes where people smoke these things called "shishas" or "hookahs," where they're inhaling fruit-flavored tobacco. I'll post a photo later. I'd never seen anything like this before and found it quite interesting.

13) It's difficult NOT to speak with a British accent while visiting here.

We were supposed to go home to Spain yesterday, and made it all the way to the airport, only to discover the volcanic ash from the eruption in Iceland had made air travel impossible. Flights scheduled after 12:00 noon yesterday were cancelled (Ours was scheduled to depart at 1:10pm), and the airports have remain closed ever since. We're fortunate that we were able to book a room at the same hotel and that we have the means to pay for it. There are many travelers who aren't as fortunate.

So we're spending more time in London than we expected. It's all good, but I'll have to admit, I had my heart set on sleeping in my own bed last night, and so did the boys. Our youngest quipped, "I hate Iceland," after learning we wouldn't be able to return home for at least a couple more days, as if Iceland could have prevented the eruption from happening. It's fun, but very expensive here, so we're going to be doing more things that are FREE, like the museums and window shopping. Cheerio for now!

Friday, April 9, 2010

An Unexpectedly Perfectly Beautiful Warm Fun-Filled Day with Friends

I love having an unexpectedly great day, don't you? You know the kind of day I'm talking about... one that begins completely unplanned, but ends up being so much fun and making for some very memorable moments. The boys and I recently experienced one of those days.

One girlfriend called and asked, "What are you doing today?" Does that sound like an invitation or what? I sure thought so! The boys and I were game, and before we knew it, we were venturing out into town with three other moms and their kids. We had no real agenda other than just enjoying the beautiful sunshine, which had been missing for quite some time from our little patch of paradise.

Here the kiddos pose together as we begin our walk on the Rota boardwalk.

My girlfriends and I took a turn posing with the beautiful ocean waters behind us. I still have to pinch myself from time to time to make sure this is all really happening. I do live in southern Spain and the ocean is just right there!

Sidebar: I ended up sitting in gum at the end of the day. Fabulous, right? I didn't want to run the risk of getting gum stuck on the seat of my vehicle too, therefore I took off my sweater and sat on it for the ride home. Um... yeah... probably not the brightest idea I've ever had. Long story short... the gum came out of my jeans, but I had to throw out the sweater.

We always see fishermen whenever we pass by this area. That was the longest fishing pole I believe I'd ever seen. I wonder what kind of catch they had that afternoon.

We'd intended to go to our favorite little sandwich shop on the boardwalk, which had been closed during the winter months, and was scheduled to re-open the end of February. Even though it was more than a couple weeks into March, the restaurant was not open. Bummer! We searched and searched for open restaurants, but weren't finding anyplace. Our decision was to backtrack and stop for some quick tapas, but before we did that, we surprised our kids by suggesting ice cream first. Are we cool moms or what?

One of my girlfriends was feeding her little boy this mini-popsicle. We initially had difficulty figuring out if he liked it or not.

He'd take a break from eating the popsicle, as if to let us know he'd had enough, but then he'd want more...

... and then he'd make that adorable face again.

Another girlfriend's little boy decided he needed a mini-popsicle too.

The kiddos were all too happy to pose for another photo on the beach.

Here we go, playing follow-the-leader, on our way to find some "real" food so the kids don't go home and tell their dads that we moms only fed them ice cream for lunch. ☺

We did find some food, and some entertainment to boot. Score!

From the look on M's face, I think you can gather we had an unexpectedly perfectly beautiful warm fun-filled day with friends. When can we do this again?