Strike!

Strike!

You can’t come to Europe during an economic crisis and expect perfect sailing — or a perfect bus, subway or train schedule.

The day before we purchased our tickets from Interlaken, Switzerland to Venice, Italy, we learned there was a rail strike in Italy. Because of this, the Swiss ticket clerk suggested we only purchase a ticket to the Swiss border, since he couldn’t guarantee that the trains in Italy would be running for us when we arrived. Great.

In fact, he had no information about the train strike, except that it would last for 24 hours. Apparently the Italian government announces these strikes in advance, and the railroad determines which select routes it will operate. As Gracie said, “then what is the purpose of the strike if they tell you about it in advance? Isn’t a strike supposed to make things hard?” Not in Italy, which posts all strikes well in advance on the rail website. Very helpful.

All we knew is that we needed to get to Venice BEFORE the strike started at 9:00 pm on Saturday. And of course we were traveling on Saturday.

Best to take the earliest train on Saturday then, considering the 6-hour train journey to Venice. No surprise, the early train is sold out. We can only get seats on the 1:00 pm train. And only as far as Milan, Italy. We purchase these from the Swiss clerk.

Since the Swiss clerk doesn’t want to sell us tickets past Milan, we purchase train tickets from Milan to Venice online that night. We’ll have 45 minutes to change trains in Milan, and should arrive in Venice at 8:00 pm. One hour before the strike begins.

When we board the train bound for Milan, the sign says that service across the Swiss border may be disrupted and this train may only go as far as Domodossola. I cross my fingers and pray this is not true, because Domodossola is nowhere near Milan, let alone Venice. And we have booked accommodations Saturday night in Venice.

We happily sail through Switzerland heading south, and surprisingly don’t hear one more word about a train strike or a stop in Domodossola. We arrive in Milan 20 minutes late, but with enough time to easily make our next train. And before you know it, we have arrived in Venice, met our host at the train station and are settled into our apartment for the next 4 nights. Phew!

Come to find out, Greece isn’t much different than Italy.

When we arrived in Athens, we knew how to catch the train to our hotel. But wait — there’s a strike in Greece today. All trains, subways and taxis are on strike.

Only the bus is operating — and it will not go all the way into the city center, Syntagma Square, which is where we need to go to make the next subway connection to our hotel.

Since all arriving passengers are in the same predicament, we cram onto the public bus with our luggage — standing room only — and take the 30 minute ride into the heart of Athens.

Well, almost the heart of Athens. The bus driver refuses to drive his bus to the center of Syntagma Square because it is too dangerous. He offloads all of us just east of the center. Now where do we go?

All us travelers are in the same predicament. The poor bus driver acts as a defacto tour guide operator and gives directions as best he can with his limited English. I wait patiently for my turn, point on my map, and he points down the road and down a path. Ok, that will do.

Lucky for us, the bus stayed there for a while with all the commotion because when we picked up our bags off the sidewalk to leave, and counted the number of bags we had, we were short one. One very important daypack that held the computer and ipad. I run to the bus, bang on the door, and point wildly to the one backpack I’m holding and then point back into the bus. The bus driver understands, finds the backpack and opens the door to hand it to us.

This is the second “save” of the trip. The first save happened on the very first stop of our trip: Frankfurt. After the all night flight from Seattle, we arrived, very groggy, and had to figure out how to take the subway to our hotel. We put down our bags to make plans. We picked them up again and walked down the corridor and down the escalator, before I realized I had forgotten my small bag upstairs which had my wallet, passports, credit cards, iphone, camera — just a few important things — in it.

I almost threw up. I raced back down the corridor and in the distance I could see my bag sitting there all by itself. No one around. Like a little waif searching for its mother. “Are you my mother?” Yes I am.

But I digress…Now that the kindly Greek bus driver has retrieved my precious technology backpack, we head to the subway. The strike doesn’t allow subways to operate outside of the city, but it’s fine for them to operate inside the city. Don’t ask me why.

But it’s not this easy. It never is. Now we have to change from the subway at Monastiraki Station to the aboveground train to Omonia Station. Sounds harder than it is, but the killer is how HOT we are. It’s 80 degrees outside, and inside the subway station it feels like it’s 100. We are dying. My pack starts to feel very heavy.

We connect from the subway to the train, which is also able to operate only inside the city during the strike — and pop out at Omonia Square, a stone’s throw from the Acropolis.

Now….how will we get to our hotel? The printed receipt for our hotel shows no map. We have an address, but of course we have no map of Athens to show us where the address is. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle we’ve made it this far on this trip. Who travels like this anyhow?

The nearby kiosk vendor sees us standing there with blank looks on our faces and comes to our rescue. I point to the address and phone number on my piece of paper. He calls the hotel but gets no answer. He grabs a beautiful, large, multi-faceted Athens map from his kiosk, spreads the whole thing out on a ledge, and dutifully studies it before Opa! there’s our hotel.

He calls the hotel again — someone answers. They confirm his find on the map. He gives me detailed directions using the 5 English words he knows: Here, 2, Left, Then, There. He also counts to 13 in Greek.

We trudge up the road, get lost in 2 short blocks, and have another Greek man come to our rescue, “I am a driver, I can help. I must put my glasses to see the map. I am now a 52.”

Ah yes, it’s 13 blocks UP to our hotel. That’s why the kiosk man counted to 13 in Greek. I don’t complain (outwardly), I just continuing walking and walking and sweating and sweating. The most awesome part is that there are 44 large, steep, cement stairs at the end of the road, and our hotel is at the very top.

I love Athens.

Advertisements

Why you should never take a night train from Budapest to Zurich – or anywhere else

Night trains seem like a good idea when you are well rested.

You say to the train ticket seller, “I’d like to buy four seats on the night train from Budapest to Zurich.”

He asks, “Would you like a cabin with 4 beds?”

You hesitate, ponder this idea, and politely decline the offer. Even though it is a 12-hour journey.

Oh how I wish that ticket seller had grabbed me by the collar, pulled my head against the plate-glass window separating us, and knocked some sense into me.

Remind me never to take a night train ever again. You can easily recover from a night train experience when you are 23, but when you’re 48 and traveling with your family, no one recovers.

Our train compartment held 6 tight-fitting seats, 3 seats facing 3 seats with not nearly enough leg room in between for anyone over two feet tall. The four of us shared the compartment with a really old man from Hungary who kept his big suitcase on the floor (unbelievable!), and a big-in-a-football-linebacker-kind-of-way Hungarian guy. Thank God the elderly many got off an hour into the ride. That left 5 of us to jockey for space in our compartment.

Now, years ago night trains seemed to have ample room and the seats always slid down to make a bed. In my mind, I thought this would be so on our journey to Switzerland. But oh no, our seats didn’t budge one inch.

I have a very distinct memory of train seats sliding down to make a bed. I was on a night train through Italy while traveling with Kim – and two Italian boys had seats in the compartment too. When it got late, we all put down our seats which made 4 beds. One for each of us, presumably.

I woke up in the middle of the night to find one of the Italian boys trying to hold Kim’s hand while she was sleeping. As a good friend, I really should have done something. But of course I didn’t. I just rolled over and laughed myself back to sleep.

Truly, I would rather have had an Italian boy trying to hold my hand while sleeping than be in my Budapest-Zurich compartment with the 5 of us.

Curtis, always willing to roam, found lots of room in the compartment next door, so spent most the night in there. Until the super angry Swiss police boarded the train at the Swiss border and had issues with a young guy in Curtis’ compartment. Curtis quietly slipped out of that compartment after flashing his USA passport, and none too soon. The next thing we knew, the Swiss police dragged the guy out of the compartment, and threw him and his bag off the train. Yikes!

I barely remember any of this because I had drugged myself and the kids with super-sleepy Dramamine. I was desperate for sleep. I would have taken the whole bottle if I could’ve stayed awake long enough to take more.

We arrived in Zurich at 7:20 am, groggy, grumpy and bleary-eyed. We bought a Swiss Rail pass for 4 days, and boarded our next train on the way to Interlaken. It would take a transfer in Bern, a transfer in Spiez, and a transfer in Interlaken before we would land in Lauterbrunnen at 11:20 am.

Man, we were exhausted.

So, I’m just sayin’. DO NOT TAKE A NIGHT TRAIN. EVER. Unless you’re under 25 and you have a cute boy in your compartment trying to hold your hand.

A Swiss Homecoming: A return to my “roots” after 25 years

There is only one way to have a Swiss Homecoming – eat fondue. Twice.

But let me start way back at the beginning.  When I was in my early 20’s, I graduated college, worked for a year, and saved up all my pennies. Then I purchased my 12-month, open-ended airplane ticket, strapped on my backpack, and traveled the next year with friends.

The journey began in June 1987, and my first traveling partner was Kim. Europe treated us well for the next 2 months, we did our Eurail Pass proud, and traipsed through as many countries as possible. Kim left me in Europe to start Law School and I continued up to Sweden to visit friends.

After Sweden, I ventured down to Switzerland to meet up with Kristina, another friend from Seattle. Kristina was working at a Christian chalet in Iseltwald, on the shores of Brienzersee in Switzerland. When I visited Kristina there in the fall, my funds were close to depletion and I knew I couldn’t last much longer before I needed to head back home.

Priscilla, the chalet owner, suggested that I take the cog train up to nearby Wengen, a car-less village in the Swiss Alps, and look for work for the winter. My German was painstakingly poor, my confidence level was low, but my determination to stay in Europe was high. So up I went.

I queried hotel owners and restaurant owners for three hours about working over the winter, and was greeted with every Swiss German, High German, and French version of “no.”

Deflated, I noticed a chapel on the edge of the cliff and walked towards it. No, not to throw myself off of it. A bench stood at the far edge, and I sat down and prayed a simple prayer. “Lord, I want to be here for the winter more than anything. I don’t know where else to look for work here, so if you want me to be here for the winter, please show me where to go. And if you can make it quick that would be great, since the last train down the mountain is in 30 minutes.”

I stood up, walked down the same village street and noticed a new street that I hadn’t seen previously. Looking at my watch, I figured I could head down the hill and still make it back up for the train. I stumbled upon Hotel Edelweiss, and ventured inside. No one was there that afternoon. But as I looked around, I saw a bible (in German) and thought, well, maybe God DID lead me here. I wrote a note in English with my phone number at the chalet, explaining I wanted to work in Wengen for the winter.

Running back up the hill and hopping on the last train, I sat down with little hope. It looked like I would be using my 12 month return trip ticket way before the 12 months was up.

Back at Iseltwald that night, the phone rang. It was for me. It was Hotel Eledweiss! I couldn’t believe it. They needed another person to work at the hotel for the winter, and could I come back to Wengen tomorrow and meet with them? YES!

The next day I trundled back up to Wengen, met the Baertschis and the rest is history. I spent the next 5 months cooking, cleaning, and skiing nearly every day in the Swiss Alps. It was the kind of magical experience that even now I have to pinch myself about. It was a dream come true.  Even better because Kristina found a job at a restaurant in Wengen for the season too – so I had an English-speaking buddy to boot!

Fast forward 25 years, and I’m on a pilgrimage back to Switzerland, this time with my family in tow.

After our recent stay in Budapest, our family headed to Switzerland, via night train from Zurich. Then we traveled from Zurich to Lauterbrunnen, finally arriving at 11:20 am. We hustled to our place quickly. We had to check-in by noon or wait until 3:00 pm and we were way too tired to be waiting around anywhere for 3 hours. Luckily, we made it in the nick of time.

Day 1: Lauterbrunnen. In the valley, boasting 72 waterfalls from sheer cliffs that line the valley, the beauty is overwhelming. Our special accommodations for the night: Valley Hostel. I have to admit, I was not looking forward to staying at a hostel after that train ride. But this is where lack of planning on your trip absolutely pays off. The hostel wowed us. We booked into an 8-person bunk bed room and the kids reveled in the “loft” bunk beds – way up high, like their own secret enclosure with a small window boasting a priceless view of the valley. It was their own personal tree fort without the tree – and they LOVED it!

Too exhausted to eat out, we grabbed supplies at the tiny grocery store and what could be more perfect than cheese fondue? We cooked it up at the hostel, along with a pizza for Zack, mixed a big green salad, and sliced bread, cauliflower and green apples for the fondue. Heaven!! The dining room full of windows faced the Alps and blessed us with a great view.

Day 2: We hopped the train to Wengen, still as stunning as ever. There is nothing like climbing from the valley floor to the middle of the Swiss Alps, and leaving most of civilization behind. Just quaint mountain villages and true Swiss chalets dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. I felt like I was home.

Hotel Edelweiss was home for me for 5 months long ago, and now it would be home for one more night. The Baertschis sold the hotel 3 years ago, but still live nearby. Daniel, who now runs the hotel, greeted us like family and reserved two rooms on the top floor, right next to the room I had lived in.

Our balcony faced the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau glaciers – the same view that left me speechless 25 years ago now made me cry. I was so happy to be back, I couldn’t believe I was really here again. I was so thankful God made a way for me to return, especially to share this with my kids and show them this part of my life.

Lucky for us, the weather gave us a nice, big break. It was raining when we arrived in Wengen, but the next day opened to glorious sunshine and an Alpine view for miles and miles. We boarded the cog train from Wengen (4,000 ft) to Kleine Scheidegg (6,000 ft), my old skiing stomping grounds. Kleine Scheidegg sits in the shadow of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau glaciers – a kind of “in your face” experience with them. The sheer size of them will knock you on your knees. A sense of majesty – about nature, about the power of God – takes over. You stand there awed by it all.

We were also awed by our picnic lunch “surprise.” I packed big salami and cheese sandwiches, yogurt, apples, carrots and chocolate bars. We sat down at a bench in the face of the glaciers and unpacked it, hungry and ready to eat.

But wait, where are the sandwiches? OMG. I forgot to pack them! Somehow I had left the sandwiches back at the hotel…..oops! Oh well, we loaded up on chocolate instead.

We spent the afternoon hiking around on those fabulous Swiss hiking trails, sunshine at our heels and vistas for days. An old, mountain man served us hot chocolate and coca-cola from his shack. We bought a postcard.

Just before the train was to leave, I decided I just had to go on one more quick hike, since it seemed to go right into the glacier. I promised, only 5 minutes up, and 5 minutes back. Up I went, huffing and puffing because at that altitude, it’s not like you run up these hills, unless you’re Zack. I wanted to get to the turnaround in 5 minutes. Zack and I snapped pictures hastily and turned to head back down.

We were late, it was time to run to the train station! Down we went, running as fast as possible, all the way to the train poised to depart. I could hear Curtis yelling to us. We hopped on the train, sat down exhausted and sweaty, and the train took off. Phew!

Back at the hotel we sat out on the balcony watching the sunset over the Alps. Picturesque!

That evening we wandered through town and visited the little church I sat at 25 years ago to pray for God’s help in finding a job. It was special to have this moment with my family, and share the story with them again, as a reminder that God hears, he answers, he loves us and gives us the desires of our heart.

Was it coincidental that I sat there at the church on this day, October 11, the same day as my last official day of work at World Vision? It was a sobering reminder that I can trust God in the leaving of my job. In the same way that he provided in a big way for me 25 years ago, he will provide for me again. And he just may give me a desire of my heart that today I know nothing about.

Of course we needed to have more fondue that night – so we did. At Bernerhof Hotel, sitting at a table in the greenhouse, seated by a matre d’ who was also our waiter and our chef. In low-season, there’s not many tourists and most places are closed down for an extended holiday for the owners. It makes for a nice, quiet stay with lots of opportunities to connect with the locals. When we left a nice tip for the matre’ d/waiter/chef, it made his night.

Back to the hotel to snuggle down under the big, feather down duvets that are the signature for all Swiss hotel stays. So comfy good, you never want to get out of bed in the morning.

But we finally did. The pouring rain had returned, but we didn’t care, we had our glorious day the day before. It had been an extra blessing from God – a brilliant day of unbelievable sunshine sandwiched perfectly between 2 days of rain.

Day 3: On to Wilderswil (next to Interlaken) to meet the Baertschis. Werner picked us up at the train station. I was worried he wouldn’t recognize me after all these years, but I shouldn’t have. He gave me a nice, big hug (well, it was a big hug for a Swiss person, they are usually very reserved). I thought my heart my burst, it was just so good to see him.

We loaded our backpacks into the car and Werner shuttled us home, where his wife Vreni was waiting for us. Truly, they are the nicest people ever. They treated me so well when I worked for them, and here they are treating us amazingly well again after all these years.

They put on a full spread for dinner with the Swiss favorite, raclette. Raclette includes using a cheese melting cooking device. Each person gets a small tray in which you place fat slices of raclette cheese, then put it in the raclette thingy. The cheese melts and gets crusty, then you scoop it out and pour it over small, boiled potatoes. Total deliciousness! Even better when you throw a piece of bacon into your cheese tray, cook it for a while and then add your cheese on top. Zack ate so much I thought he would explode!

So while were were initially drowning in fondue, the raclette really pushed us over the edge.

Over dinner Vreni explained that Werner was diagnosed with leukemia 18 months ago, and spent 4-1/2 months in the hospital beating back the disease. Thankfully, he is now in full remission and doing well. They are now 65 years old and retired, living in a 3-bedroom “flat” in Unterseen which is next to Interlaken. Their “kids,” the ones who were teenagers when I was last here, are now 39 and 40 years old! And Werner and Vreni are still faithful Christians, fully engaged in their new church of 3 years. They lived in Wengen for 30 years, so the transition of actually leaving was hard, but Vreni said once they left, she hasn’t missed it at all.

On that last Saturday morning in Switzerland, we enjoyed breakfast with Vreni and Werner, then headed off to the train station for our journey to Venice. Thank God, it’s not a night train.

As Werner drove us to the train station, we could see the Jungfrau shining down on us. Werner said, “Bye Bye Jungfrau,” speaking English with his typical Swiss German accent, and Zack has not stopped imitating it since. It brings a little bit of Switzerland with us wherever we go.

Killed by Polish Food in Krakow

It actually may be possible to die from Polish food in four short days.  Especially if your menu looks like this:

* Pierogies for breakfast

* Deep fried potato pancakes for lunch

* Sausage for dinner

Repeat the next day, except add in:

* Thick, hot chocolate between meals

* Tunnel-shaped crusty, doughy pastry after dinner

When I say deep fried potato pancakes, I mean DEEP FRIED potato pancakes.  The kind of deep fried I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in my life. We’re talking about a shallow 6-inch stainless steel counter filled with hot oil.  They pour the potato pancake batter into it, while it crackles and fries.  They cook it 5 minutes on one side, then 5 minutes on the other.  When they take the crunchy goodness out of the oil, they shake it and shake it because the oil is d-r-i-p-p-i-n-g off it. Then they slather garlic cream sauce all over it.  It’s at that moment you understand you will die in Krakow.  You begin writing your will and testament that night.

You will wake up on day 3 sure that your heart has stopped.  But then you will go out and buy a pastry in the morning.

The pastries are deceiving.  They look soooo good, but actually, they don’t taste that good. This is only accentuated by the fact that we spent 10 days in Paris, which is the pastry capital of the world, so we for sure know how delicious a pastry can be.  Nevertheless, we keep trying different kinds and are never quite satisfied with the taste of the pastry versus how good it looks in the pastry case.  The good thing is, since I am traveling with 3 other people, I can try a variety of pastries without having to eat all of them myself.  Anything I don’t want just goes to Zack, and he finishes it off.

This is true except for the one “pastry” I bought at the open market.  It looked so different than a usual pastry, a smallish type treat that is shaped like an eye and could fit in the palm of your hand.  With spiky pastry points all over the top of it.  Cooking on an open grill suspended in the air. Looked delicious, so I bought a handful.  Watching Gracie’s face after she took her first big bite of the “pastry,” I realized, hmmmm, that is not a pastry, and whatever it is, it does NOT taste good.  It definitely wasn’t dough.  It tasted like fishy, super smokey, cheese.  The taste was so horrible we threw the whole bag out, even though the Krakovians all around us were munching down on those things.

But amazing hot chocolate from Lviv Chocolate Shop saved the day.  On the main floor is the chocolate store, and upstairs is a tea room, or should I say a chocolate room.  On the main floor you can find all sorts of chocolate creations – high heel shoes, VW bugs, dragons (the town mascot), and every sort of delectable truffle you can dream up.  But upstairs is where the action is.  Gracie and I sampled the hot chocolate, lingering over our cuppa and whiling away the afternoon.  We ordered hot chocolate with cinnamon, clove and amaretto. It arrived at our table in a cute white cup emblazoned with the chocolate store logo, and sporting a full cinnamon stick to stir it.

You needed something to stir it – it was thick, in all the right kind of ways. When we were ordering, we noticed on the menu that there was an item called “melted chocolate.” When I asked the waitress “what is “melted chocolate?” she answered, “it is melted chocolate.”  “Like, only melted chocolate? Does anything come with it, like milk?”  “No, only melted chocolate.”  So our hot chocolate was just shy of being official “melted chocolate” but it certainly tasted like it.

Needless to say, by day four we were screaming for lettuce, just a little lettuce, please!  Which is a good thing, because we were flying back to Budapest that night and wouldn’t be faced with the decision of what to eat for dinner: more pierogies, more sausage, or to try our hand at a big slice of thick, rustic bread slathered with lard.  Yep, lard.

Flunking homeschool on a trip around the world

We had grand ideas about homeschool.  Or rather, I had grand ideas.  All the things I would teach them, all the things they would learn.  How culturally appropriate they would be at the end of this journey, what children of the world they would be.

I don’t know what I was thinking.  Because clearly, my children are flunking homeschool.

We spent 3 glorious days in the Swiss Alps, staring at the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau glaciers, hiking around them,  gazing at them, visiting the waterfalls near them, and discussing at length the beauty of especially the Jungfrau mountain (pronounced yoong-frow).

So, when we landed in Italy following our Swiss excursion, we were constantly making reference to the Jungfrau which was fresh on our minds.  Then out of the blue Gracie asked, “What does Jungfrau mean?” I nearly fell over.  It was then I knew that my children would flunk homeschool.

She was not to be outdone by Zack, who, the next day, while surveying a map, exclaimed, “Israel’s a country??”

Dear Jesus, help.

Now, granted, Zack explained he had only mixed up Jerusalem with Israel, but it is enough to give a mother pause – or a heart attack.  Especially when you are on a trip around the world and your normally bright students seem to have no idea about, well, the world.

Where have I gone wrong?  Should I make them draw maps and color them in for a week?  I force them to journal, to blog, to repeat Rick Steve’s historical information. They patiently listen as I drone on from brochures explaining miniscule, detailed information about a waterfall, a cave, a mountain.  We rent audioguides in cathedrals. I drill them on facts about sites we visit.

And yet, I worry.  I do have to give them a report card at the end of all this.

The one silver lining in homeschool – Zack can teach himself geometry.  I don’t have to touch a ruler or God forbid, a protractor.  And Gracie gets facebook posts about the algebra homework she needs to complete each week.  Good thing, because when I had to help her with a “box plot,” I thought it meant a garden.  Instead, she had to figure that one out all by herself (which, thankfully, she did).

My other brilliant idea?  Downloading library books written in first person narratives from the countries we visit.  To instill more learning.  And won’t they love to read them?  No, they will not.  Instead, I ended up reading the one about the girl in Greece.  Gracie said it was poorly written and had no plot.  She refused to read it.  So maybe I need to homeschool myself on appropriate literature.

I hate to admit that I learned that Nike is the Greek goddess of victory from that book.  Of course, my kids already knew that information.  Before the trip.  Swoosh.

There was a ray of hope today, though.  While visiting the Acropolis, we walked by an English-speaking tour guide spouting historical information about the site to her overly large tour group.  As we passed by, Zack leaned over to me and said, “I already knew that.  I learned it yesterday.”

Finally!

I flushed my iphone down the toilet in Budapest

Truly. I did. I flushed my iphone down the toilet.

I should explain. When planning for this trip, I began to realize I was going to have to quit my job. And for as much as I loved my job, I loved my iphone more. It is truly the best travel companion – the virtual swiss army knife for travel needs. It emails, searches the internet, takes photos, captures notes about your travel plans, uploads video to youtube, post tweets to Twitter and manages photos on Flickr. What more could you ask for? Oh and yes, it also serves as a cell phone, even though I didn’t need that function for this trip.

So when I had to quit and turn in my iphone 4S, I knew, I just knew, knew, knew in the deepest recesses of my heart that I needed to get myself another iphone. And Curtis knew, knew, knew in the deepest recesses of his heart that I did not.

Isn’t marriage great?

And sometimes you can try to persuade, and make your case, and do all you can to convince the other person – and then you must act. Alone.

So I did. And here was my rationale: I wasn’t buying a fancy new camera or videocamera for this big trip, so that money would just go towards a camera and videocamera that was already on the iphone. Logical, right?

I hate to say I was right, but I was right. My iphone has been a very handy tool to have on the trip. Saving my bacon during the first 3 weeks and increasing the ease of travel.

So you can imagine my horror when Curtis called from the bathroom one afternoon in Budapest and said (very agitatedly), “LORI, COME IN HERE!” I dutifully did, and found him pointing in the toilet. All he said, in a very, cool tone was, “There’s a phone in the bottom of the toilet.” Like this kind of thing happens every day.

And there was my iphone, staring back at me from the bottom of the toilet. And it was still on, I could see it through the water. It was 3:54 pm.

I, was of course trying to remain calm. I gasped but did not utter a blood curdling scream outloud.

How did this happen? Oh yes, I remember. I went to use the bathroom and my phone was in my back pocket. Apparently that is not a good choice. Apparently iphones fall into the toilet like that. And then you flush them down the toilet. A full flush, a good cleaning as it were for all the little technological parts inside my iphone. And the blessed iphone is so heavy that it does not leave the bowl of the toilet, it merely sits there waiting for you to come rescue it.

So I swiftly reached into that (clean) toilet bowl and rescued my iphone. But then I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t panic and thereby show my husband how deeply committed I was to this technological device. And I couldn’t panic and say OH MY GOSH I SPENT SO MUCH MONEY ON THIS IPHONE. Because I bought it off Craigslist at a pretty good bargain. Granted, you can’t get them 2 for $1, but still.

I set it gingerly on the table with a towel underneath it. And then I literally had to run out the door – not because I was upset about the iphone. We were on our way to see the High School Musical production rehearsal for Ben’s middle school. He is starring as “Troy Bolton” and you cannot keep a star like that waiting just because of a soggy iphone. I secretly prayed during the 2 hr rehearsal that God would intervene and deliver my iphone the way he parted the Red Sea and delivered the Israelis from all that water.

When we returned from rehearsal, there was my phone, still working, flashing 6:15 at me. I smiled – but I did not touch it. I let it rest, wouldn’t you need a rest too if you were almost drown by a giant woman?

That night Ben, 13-yr old all-wise Ben, said the best way to get water out of a cell phone is to put it in a bowl of rice and let the rice soak up all the water out of the phone. I don’t know why but this seemed right to me — now I am taking advice from a 13-yr old in Budapest. So we got a big bowl, dumped rice into it, and I kept my phone submerged overnight. Of course, in the middle of the night I woke up in a panic thinking, now rice is going to get into the part where I charge my iphone. I lay there stricken.

In the morning, I nonchalantly wandered over to my bowl of rice and retrieved my iphone. It’s a miracle! The camera had dried out and worked perfectly. Yeah!!!

I did a little praise dance. And then Zack took the phone, tested a few things, and said, Mom, your speaker doesn’t work anymore. Speaker? Is that all? Oh wait, that also includes all audio which means I can’t listen to music either. But who cares? Really, who cares? I still have all the photos I haven’t downloaded for over a week!

Now a few weeks later, my iphone still works great, even without sound. This just makes things more interesting when I force my children to listen to me read Rick Steve’s auidoguide script aloud to them in the middle of a crowded street while standing in front of 16th century baroque cathedral, instead of listening to his audioguide on my iphone with their headphones.

It’s just more time for family bonding…..

Backpack Love

Is it possible to be in love with a backpack? Because I’m in love with mine.

If truth be told, it’s not really mine. It’s Matt Drape’s. I wasn’t supposed to be using this particular backpack, because it’s small, and was used by Matt when he was in the 4th grade.

Remember when I said I had trouble making packing decisions when it was time to leave for this trip? Well, apparently I didn’t check earlier all the details of our backpacks like I thought I had.

It’s 4 hours before our flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, and I’ve packed all the backpacks (almost) and am zipping up Curtis’ backpack. Well, I think it’s a backpack. I’ve borrowed it from my friend Miyon. I stuff everything in it, and I mean everything. It’s a big bag. In fact, it’s too big and I’ve put too much stuff in it. But it’s too late to do anything about that now.

I turn it over to have a look at the backpack straps. They are not there. What in the world? How could I have overlooked the essential part of choosing a backpack — the straps of the actual backpack! I feel a sense of panic coming on. Think Lori, think.

Ok, my neighbor Amanda is the only person on my block who probably has a backpack that I can borrow. For 5 months. That shouldn’t be a problem, right? Hopefully she’s not going anywhere for the next 5 months.

I run up to her house. Time is ticking away. I bang on the door. No one is home. I run back home. I do a frantic mental search of all the bags I own. None will do. And then I remember Matt. My favorite boy, Matt.

Matt’s family went on an adventure like ours 5 years ago. His mom, Chrissie, loaned us all their family backpacks for our trip — yep, 4 backpacks. But I chose to use only 3 since they were bigger, and Matt’s was too small.

This means Matt’s backpack is still free for the taking. Better yet, it’s still at my house, which is nothing short of a miracle.

But how in the world can I get all of Curtis’ stuff in that little backpack? I can’t. Instead, I do a fantastical, gymnastical feat of unpacking and re-packing the contents of 4 backpacks all into different backpacks in 30 minutes.

I toss out things deemed unnecessary using only my lack of common sense as a gauge. Which is why in Paris, Curtis asked exasperated, “Where is my belt? I can’t find it anywhere in my pack!” And also why he asked in Budapest, “Where are my flip flops?”

I randomly discard items to make it all fit. I sit on the bags to zip them. I pinky promise myself that I won’t buy any souvenirs on the trip.

Fast forward 3 weeks to Budapest. Our Budapest haven. I offload 20 pounds of stuff we don’t need, and some souvenirs we’ve purchased. Yep, Zack bought a 2012 London Olympics hooded sweatshirt, just a small souvenir. I thought he was going to have it wear it every day over his red Cleveland High School sweatshirt that he’s already wearing every day. But Wini came to my rescue and is sending it on to America for me.

Our bags were so much lighter!

We breezed through Krakow, we blitzed to Switzerland. Where we promptly purchased 20 pounds of Swiss chocolate.

Oh well.