The Trouble with Podcasting in Italy

In which I complain – just a little.

Me Being Crafty

Let’s recap: For about eight months I regularly published the Me Being Crafty podcast, taking what I thought would be a short break when we were getting ready to leave France and make our way to Italy. There are fifty episodes if you would like to hear great interviews with a wide variety of quilters!

We arrived in Italy to a life in a hotel room, with the worst internet service we’ve been subjected to since I had dial up and lived at home when I was a teenager. Seriously, it was bad. Extremely slow, and often not working. That was in on base housing and as far as we know it’s still really slow, but not out as often as it was when we first arrived here.

When we moved into our own home I just figured it would be easy to get utilities in our own name, because it just wasn’t that difficult to do so in France. Well, we are in a whole new place. It took two months – almost to the day! – of living in our apartment until we got internet service. I know better than to just jump in and say okay service is here, let’s get to podcasting.

And it’s a good thing I waited! The service has left a lot to be desired. First of all, it’s ADSL. DSL. Phone line. *sigh* Okay I’m just happy to have service. Really I am. But it’s slower than a turtle when you have multiple devices connected, it still quits working at least a few times a week, and updates to an xbox game can take hours.

Now we move on to the time issue. We are still 6-9 hours ahead of the US/Canada. That means scheduling potential interviews with people starting in my mid-afternoon if it’s their morning, and then it just gets later for me.

The internet connection is the reason why I didn’t continue my podcast or start a new one. I really wanted to start a new one because in this day and age, I think we need more Native voices. I am hopeful that I can have a podcast in the future, but for now, it just isn’t going to happen. Oh and I’m writing this after about thirty-six hours of no internet service at the house. It’s just so sporatic! I am getting a lot of sewing done at least.

 

Seven Tips for Traveling Europe with Kids

We’ve been lucky to live first in France and now in Italy, so my list could be much longer than seven, but these are my most important when traveling while living here.

Oh and by lucky I mean the military had a job opening. 😉

My list was inspired by 10 tips for travel bliss with kids.

1. A kid* is a kid, not a short adult

Kids might need naps, they’ll definitely need to eat regularly, and bathroom breaks are a must. Adults can sometimes go for hours without eating, and while a good nap is a nice thing, it’s not really a requirement to go about our day. But take a kid to a new city and plan to be out and about from sun up to night and you will not be happy. Pack a few easy snacks and you will not have to stop to buy something completely unknown or worry about finding a grocery store.

Taking a break during the day can be as simple as a long lunch at a restaurant, or a stop at the park. Do something to sit and recharge so you do not end up with a grouchy kid who has no desire to sit during dinner. That long walk from one location to another might be seen as this lovely stroll you are taking, but to a little one it can be the worst thing ever. Oh and be aware that not every park with grass is for anyone to play on, it’s simply for looks, thank you very much. (I’m looking at you Paris.)

Your child will love being with you, but they might not love not speaking while you tiptoe around a museum. Depending on their age, let them help decide what to do and what to see on the trip. We love the Big Red Bus tours and take one in every city we visit, something our kids love and it might be our youngest son’s favorite thing. And who knows, that walk from place to place could be the best thing about their day.

*kid = human child, not baby goatfeet in the water

2. Plan your trip

We all love to be spontaneous. Scratch that – the idea of being spontaneous is fun, but when it comes down to it, traveling around Europe calls for a plan. Take the time to figure out what you want to see and where you want to stay. A lot of cities are very easy to walk so a car is not necessary, and many cities have really great public transportation.

Once you have a place to stay, take the time to read a few reviews for local restaurants so you aren’t disappointed with your first night out. Look up the closest grocery store so you can buy a few snacks to have in your room. Restaurants in Europe open much later than in the US so you can decide if you want to venture for dinner at 8PM with your little ones, or if you’ll have a great lunch and cook dinner at the Airbnb place you are renting. While you are at it, check the times that things open. Often restaurants will open for lunch from 11-2, and close again until dinner at 7. And if your restaurant is very popular you might need to make a reservation because they only have room for 20 people. Keep in mind that European restaurants do not have you in and out in an hour. Once you sit down, that table is yours until they close. You are, of course, free to leave when you wish, but no one will rush out so you can sit down.

Taking the time to plan your trip will make the time be that much more fun. If I have things I need to print I use a folder that is organized by date based on what we are doing. Tickets to various things can often be bought online, which can no only save you time but sometimes will also give you a discount. I also use the TripIt app, and I have various airline apps downloaded as well. I don’t know about every airline app, but few I’ve used recently show the boarding pass on the app.

I am reminded of a spontaneous stop to go up the Eiffel Tower. Since we didn’t plan we ended up having to stand in line – for over an hour. However, you can buy a ticket online and by doing so, you can typically walk right up to the front and go up the tower. We also waited in the (light) rain, which doesn’t drive away nearly as many people as you think it does.

Which leads us right to number three:

helsinki

3. Schedule one thing a day

Yep, I said it, one thing. “ONE thing! Only one? How can I plan one thing when I am taking my family to visit {insert name of your favorite or dream city here}!” I didn’t say do only one thing, I said schedule one thing.

When you schedule that one thing, you know you will do it. You can have breakfast and leisurely walk to the museum and maybe you pass a hole in the wall restaurant with great reviews on the way, or maybe you turn a corner and see a street market. You can take the time to walk through the market since you just have one thing scheduled and not four things. Maybe you decide to go down the narrow street with a small shop every ten feet and find your favorite souvenir. If you have a schedule to do six things a day, you could miss out on the fun stuff. Walking from place to place is at least half the fun.

If you are traveling to a major city such as Paris or London, you need to work in travel time from museum to museum and check the schedule to determine if it is quicker to walk versus taking the metro or tube. The maps will have walking travel time to help you decide. Sometimes there will be closures so be sure to double check this! Also check for strikes because that can shut down major transportation as well. And the person selling metro/tube tickets will not always volunteer this information. We had this problem when we finally went to see the Palace of Versailles – part of the metro was shut down for work, yet we were not told by the attendant. However, in Glasgow, we were told about the subway issues. Glasgow has a much, much smaller system, but it was still really appreciated that we were told versus having a surprise waiting for us.

Also keep in mind the times of opening and closing for a museum, or whatever attraction you are interested in visiting. If something closes at 5 pm and you are leisurely walking to the location, stopping at the hole in the wall restaurant, and walking through a market, you may arrive only to be told you can stay for one hour.

We visited London with a list of places to see and while we checked most (or maybe all) of the boxes on our list, it felt like we were walking or taking the tube for most of the trip. The mistake we made was staying too far outside the city. While it is cheaper to stay on the outskirts of London, versus staying in the city, it might be worth it to spend a little more to stay closer.

market

4. Entertainment

One of the hardest things for my family is figuring out any extra things to bring with us. We all read voraciously and it’s natural to want to take a book (or seven) on a trip. But that leads to heavy luggage, something we’ve dealt with while standing at the check in counter. For our trips this summer, I’ve given in and downloaded books to my Kindle app. I am also finding books for the kids and made a note in the calendar to download them to kindle the day before we leave. Download before you go, you never know the state of wifi where you will be staying (or if you’ve made a mistake and booked a place with no wifi like we did one time).

helsinki

5. Check the weather

If you are traveling Europe from October to May, pack a rain jacket. If you are going to Ireland or the UK, pack it regardless of the month. Packing for a trip is difficult – you want comfortable shoes, will you and your partner sneak away to a fancy restaurant that says no to jeans and sneakers? How much do the airlines let you bring? What about room for something you buy to take home? We go for casual because it’s vacation, no extremely fancy restaurants, and remember to layer our clothing. It’s easy to have little kids wear a shirt and a sweater, and take off the sweater once the weather warms up. The Big Red Bus tours will give you a poncho in case of spontaneous rain.

starbucks mugs

6. Admire the touristy stuff in the store

My kids are lucky to have Grandpa Dan in their lives. And Grandpa Dan once told them, “don’t buy the junk you see in the stores, it will be wasted money, buy something you will use.” I’m paraphrasing, but that has been really great advice. My husband likes to collect the Starbucks cups that have city names on them, yes even if he only stopped in the airport. I like to get a tea towel. It is so hard when you are young because you want everything – you want a keychain, and maybe a button, and oh look at this mini Eiffel Tower it is only one euro that isn’t much! It’s hard to not buy stuff because it really is everywhere.

But when our daughter took a school trip to the UK and came home with chocolate, I knew that Grandpa Dan was proud of her. She brought something she could use, something she could share, something she knew we would all appreciate, and it was edible so it didn’t collect dust on a shelf.

So look at the stores and smile at the touristy stuff. Laugh at the fact that you will see the same thing seven different times, with just slightly different prices depending on the area of town you are in. Remember you can buy that Eiffel Tower keychain at every tourist stop in town. And then stop in at the corner bakery and buy a box of treats to take back to your hotel. Take a selfie with the Eiffel Tower, or pretend you are holding up the Arc de Triomphe. It’s the memories we make, not the one euro toy that matters. Of course if you are somewhere like Quimper, France, and you need to buy pottery, I say buy two. We’ve also bought tshirts, which can scream tourist, but do get worn in our house.

chocolate

7. Relax and have fun! Traveling with kids can be stressful. Plans can change, metros can be closed, the weather can be just too hot/cold for you to want to enjoy anything. During a trip we will sometimes have packed days and other days we have little to do, either way it ends up being fun.

Life in Italy has taken some time to get used to and we’ve decided that we will make the most of our time here, but sometimes the best part is being able to travel to another place.

A Surprise Trip to Athens

My oldest son loves Greek mythology. His love started when he read the first Percy Jackson book, and hasn’t wavered since. He’s endured the movies (despite the comment that the books are so different compared to the movies) and reads the latest book the same day he gets it in the mail. So as a surprise, we arranged to take a long weekend trip to Athens.

The smaller airlines here offer great opportunities to travel. Naples is a large enough airport that you can fly direct to many places and the tickets are not very expensive. We flew with a Greek airline, Aegean Air, and managed to get seats in the second row. No first or business class on the small planes, I think your seat choice is made when you check in since it’s a budget airline.

We always stay with an AirBNB rental because hotels in Europe are small and would require us to have two rooms. It’s easier, and more fun and relaxing, for us to rent someone’s apartment for a few days and also have access to a kitchen if we desire to cook. I found an apartment with a great view of the Acropolis and walking distance to almost everything we wanted to see. But like many other European cities, Athens is laid out in such a way that walking to things is fine. We did the big red bus tour (a favorite of ours to do in every city we visit) and enjoyed walking the tourist strip and side streets.

Outside of seeing all of the sites, finding good food is a priority. We arrived very late and despite it being around midnight (or possibly later?), we were hungry so our taxi driver stopped at a place for us to get gyros. Delicious! And only a few euros each. We had three full days to explore the city.

Favorite museum: Acropolis Museum. Everything from the Acropolis is in here, save for what other countries stole years ago and won’t return. We also went to the National Archeological Museum (statue here is from this museum) which also had really a lot of artifacts from a wide variety of areas. The NAM was nice, and it was cool to be able to take photos (not allowed in most of the Acropolis Museum).

Statue of a kore
Statue of a kore

Favorite restaurant: Piatsa – we liked this so much we ate here three times! Top to bottom: feta w/ olive oil and herbs, chips w/ feta, feta wrapped in pastry and topped w/ honey and sesame seeds. I promise we ate more than feta. We ate at a couple other places that were huge disappointments, we feel like they thought, “oh Americans, give them the American type food” which was hot dogs in one restaurant. No thanks. three foods

Favorite drink: freddo cappuccino! A few euros and served everywhere. I loved these, especially in the hot weather. We paid no attention to the weather forecast when planning the trip.

freddo

Favorite thing about the Airbnb rental: the rooftop eating area and view of the outdoor theater next door. We watched The Godfather one night. It played in English with Greek subtitles.

outdoor theater

A tip about climbing the Acropolis: walking to get to the ticket booth takes the most time. I read review after review talking about the amount of walking you have to do, how steep the steps are, how many steps there are, one reviewer said there isn’t an escalator (we’ll just let that slide), etc. So I was nervous! We are used to talking, but it felt like everyone mentioned only the amount of steps and how steep it was.

And then it took maybe fives minutes. Sure it’s a little steep (but just a little) and the stairs are for sure slick/slippery (JW slipped once on the way up) so care needs to be taken. But otherwise, it’s a relatively easy walk. There were tour groups with older people in the group and they were going slow and doing fine. It’s not a site you would run up the stairs at, but it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time like many reviews suggest.

Acropolis

Year of Yes

It’s easy to take books in the primary language you speak for granted when you live in a place where you can shop easily. While we lived in France, it was easy to order online and anticipate getting the mail. We only picked up our mail every six weeks to two months so patience was definitely a treasured thing. The mail comes to us in two or three weeks here, which is great because things get here faster, but also not great because since things get here faster it’s tempting to order. 🙂

I appreciate the Kindle for reading what I call chick lit (is it still called that?), beach reads, or stuff I just don’t want to own. For everything else, I’m a book buyer.

One of my recent purchases was the Year of Yes, by favorite character killer Shonda Rhimes. Of course, reports say she does not do actor drama so people leaving the shows she created is because they have some drama. I’m on board with that, even if McDreamy was killed and his funeral not attended by his family and Meredith turned off the machine after moments, also without his family there.

Anyway – 20 pages into the book and I love it. I’m easy to love books though, so let’s get into this.

Year Of Yes - Shonda Rhimes

My word of/for the year for 2016 is YES.

Yes, I will make a quilt on commission.

Yes, I can sew that seam for you fashion designer friend.

Yes, I will make another quilt on commission.

Another quilt? Yes.

Yes fashion designer friend, I will meet your fashion designer friend.

Make something for you friend of a friend? Yes.

It’s almost the end of March, I really want to recap January because that was my “finish projects or get rid of them” month, but overall my year is YES and wow – it’s kind of awesome.

I am saying yes even though I am freaking out on the inside. Even though I am going to meetings completely unprepared, I get through it. Because even though I really want to do all of this awesome stuff – it’s scary. There are a couple of things that I am working on for other people outside of sewing that are making me really freak out and be scared, but I am going through with it anyway.

It’s Shonda Rhimes playing in the pantry, enjoying creativity and imagination alone, and loving it. Because I love to sew. I do. I sew every day – well, let me rephrase that – I am creative every single day. I am designing or quilting or sewing a binding or beading or organizing beads for a project. I love being creative and I feel less energy when I don’t have a chance to be who I am when I can create. I love writing and why wouldn’t a magazine submission be on my list. I want to podcast again so why not get back to doing something I really enjoy.

And it really is a powerful feeling when you say yes to the scary stuff. I hope you have someone who can push you to say yes.

Amalfi Coast and Sorrento USO Tour

In December we went on our first USO tour, to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. The drive – stunning, mildly scary, and super windy. Not wind like air blowing, but wind like wind a toy. Once we got across from Mt. Vesuvius the bus stopped so everyone could see the view.

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Our first stop was a factory that makes inlaid wood products. It was simply beautiful. We are always a little wary of a stop on a tour where you can buy stuff, it’s a set up, it’s just because of the tour, etc. But I don’t think about any of that stuff – we are in a new country and have the chance to visit some awesome places, just take advantage of that.

I wish we took pictures while we were inside! But all I got was a picture of the side of the mountain – white limestone.

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We were walked through their process from design to cutting, to how they dye the wood, how thin the wood is cut, everything. It sounds like a lot, but it was a quick explanation so we could get to the browsing and shopping. They even use some wood from Wisconsin, and the gentleman explained that he lived in San Francisco back in the 60s for less than a year, but he traveled the US for work so he knows the East and West Coasts well.

There was a beautiful desk that we all admired, but we couldn’t find a price that we could say, “yeah right” to. I did pick out a beautiful box – made of olive wood and the inlay on the top made up of a few different types of wood, cut very thinly into veneer. I’ll have to ask someone if they know how an olive tree ended up growing in my Grandma’s yard, but it was there for years and years, and now I have a box made of the wood. This area (and maybe Italy in general?) is known for olive wood products, I can’t wait to get a few more things!

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After that shop, we went into Sorrento. The city center is laid out in a grid so it’s easy to walk around and not get lost. We had about an hour and a half so we just explored. There were some great shops off the main street, but it was early and few were open. The area is known for limoncello, a liquor that is produced in this area of Southern Italy; and ceramics.

We stopped for chips (french fries) and a snack, and even though I read a little about the area I was still surprised that everyone spoke English. There is just so much tourism that it makes sense for them.

One of the shops we went into was huge and packed with inlaid wood products. Everything from small tiles on up to furniture. They offered a discount because of the tour (we basically wouldn’t have to pay the Italian tax – it’s called ITA here, in France it is the VAT), but everything was expensive. The same box I got at the factory was about 1/3 more at the store.

They did have a wider variety of products – including this crazy chess set.

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The board was wood but the pieces were porcelain. The set cost around 200 euros. The shop had quite a few sets – sailors, British military, animals, etc. We almost bought a small travel game set, but decided it was too expensive so we’ll just remember it and buy it in the future.

After Sorrento, we started the crazy drive to Amalfi. So there’s a funny thing – there is the Amalfi Coast and there is a town on the coast named Amalfi. Driving is simply out of the question. It is just a series of really sharp turns. The bus drivers are so talented, we decided early on that we were not coming back on our own. We stopped a couple of times for photos – the first stop we just pulled over on the side of the road and we weren’t allowed to get off the bus for safety reasons. The second stop was sort of a tourist stop – just a place to take a photo and a couple of small road side shops. JW was feeling sick so we were happy for a stop at that moment.

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We made another stop at a ceramics shop – both to shop and use the restroom. Oh that’s a bonus with the shops the tour stops at, they all have free restrooms. There are generally not free to use restrooms, there might be one public facility at the end of the street or near a beach, but otherwise that’s not the case, and they charge per person. What everyone does is buy a coffee or two at a shop and use the restroom there.

We made it to Amalfi around 1PM, in time to find something for lunch and shop. We walked up to the end of the shopping area and just happened to find a sandwich shop that Kevin Costner visited.

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Seriously delicious sandwiches. Another thing I should have taken a photo of! I got a simple tomato and mozzarella – they poured olive oil on the bread, added arugula, and the last piece of ham from making the other sandwiches we bought and it was so good.

At the end of the street we searched a ceramic shop for an olive dish. I saw one particular one that at the shop outside of Amalfi, but for some reason didn’t buy it. There are some beautiful ceramics available, but we didn’t buy anything. We have some time here, so no need to rush and make a lot of purchases.

We did find olive oil in tins! That is something we have been looking for (okay, we looked at two stores locally, so we haven’t been looking that hard) so we could ship it home easier. The store we were had had lemon everything – lemon candies, lemon salt, lemon sugar, limoncello, lemon soap, lemon candles, lemon everything.

The Amalfi Cathedral is in the Piazza del Duomo we were in and JW wanted to see it, but only to make it look like he was lifting it up. He was wearing Jake’s sweatshirt so he looks funny, and his hands are pointing upward, but he’s crazy happy.

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After our time in Amalfi, we got back on the bus to make our way home. Our tour guide said it was a one way trip, in the sense of the roads we were taking so the return home was over the mountain versus along the coast. It was still a twisty road, not as bad, but still there.

Once we got out of the mountains, it was a quick trip back. It was really a great experience. And we needed to do something fun. This trip was after a hectic few weeks of apartment hunting, living  in a hotel, and cooking with only what the hotel provided for us. A break was definitely in the cards, and it was a nice way to celebrate that we were moving out of the hotel very soon. We’ve been in our apartment for a few months now and are enjoying finally having internet service!

Weekend Adventures

We’ve been trying to get out and do something every day, it’s really no fun living in a hotel. This time we went to a mall that is near the base and then to IKEA.

The whole point of going to the mall was to get a cell phone. There are services on base, but we had such great service in France that I just knew we could get something just as good. A couple of locals told me about cell phone providers and I took a chance with one.

And I was right! I got a 10euro a month plan that includes 4gb of data a month. Yay! We use a map application on our phones to get us to anywhere, so we do use a lot of data. I turned off the cellular service for the majority of the apps on my phone until I figure out how much I end up using. The kids both need phone plans still, but it was a heck of a time to just get mine set up so we are waiting on them. Maybe this upcoming weekend.

Next up was IKEA! It’s the same everywhere right? Well, mostly the same. JW (and the rest of the family) loved the hot dogs at IKEA in France, but really who doesn’t like a grilled hot dog? So that was high on his list to eat for lunch. But the hot dogs, not the same. They were more like sausages, and they were boiled. They were edible, but we probably won’t do that again. We ended up buying just a few things and looking at beds for the kids. All the moving we’ve done and the taking apart/putting together has caused the beds to need to be replaced. Plus we had to have an ice cream.


I didn’t really believe Chris when he arrived before the kids and I did and he said there’s trash everywhere. I mean, really? I just couldn’t see it. But unfortunately, it’s true. Here’s a better picture of Mount Vesuvius, taken when the map took us on a wild way out of IKEA’s parking lot.

From the US to Europe

We managed to stay in the US for about two and a half months. Toward the end of two months I realized I just wasn’t ready to leave yet. I was not looking forward to living in a hotel for who knows how long, not looking forward to flying with a little person who gets airsick, not looking forward to trying to adjust to the time difference.

Leaving France was hard – for a lot of reasons including and not limited to plane tickets only arriving two days before we were scheduled to leave, and they were the wrong dates but I got them fixed – and so we did managed to attend my brother’s wedding in South Dakota, arriving the evening before. Nevermind that we arrived to a city about six hours away, so we had a very early morning getting up and driving. My husband performed the ceremony, which was short and sweet, and quickly two families were joined. My brother looks crazy happy in the photos, as does his new bride. She’s great, his new kids are good, and they’ve recently moved for their jobs. They were getting settled in as we were leaving to move back to Europe.

We did get to celebrate Halloween! Two years in France not dressing up and you end up with kids that were so happy to get to participate.

Thor wore his costume for days, it’s with us now but surprisingly he has not worn it. There’s a chance he forgot since we are in a hotel room and the suitcases are all stacked in a closet.

It’s hard getting settled in. Sure there are facebook groups and random people that I “know” who live here, but it’s tough. We are hotel living, and crossing all of our fingers that we’ll be in our own place by Christmas. That’s so close!

Some highlights – we will have a pool! And a great view. Plus an alarm system and locks everywhere. We will hopefully have decent internet service – in the hotel on base the internet *sucks* – it is seriously so terrible. A few days after our first arrival the service went out for probably a day and a half, and ever since we reset the router multiple times a day. We are not within walking distance of anything like a grocery store or market, but we’ve already bought one vehicle and we will more than likely have to buy another. It’s just so completely different than life in France. I’m working hard to remind myself that every place is different, nothing will be the same, and probably very little will be similar.

The sunsets are beautiful, and base reminds me of San Diego.

We are still on base so no great pictures, any errands we run are on base. We did go to a cool mall last weekend – it’s modeled after a volcano with parking around the outside, the stores in a circle, and the interior of that circle is a space that is used for things like concerts or mini carnival rides. It was kind of surprising to see a lot of mining on our way to the mall, but it’s the same kind of surprise you feel when you realize people are homeless in your town, or there are kids who only eat at school. It’s not really surprising – it’s actually happening every day.

Here’s to a new adventure. Oh and here’s a bad picture of Mt. Vesuvius. It’s right there!