Archive | happenings

#everlyabroad (entries from my journal 7)

blog photo-room service

The next morning, we did a quick tour of Juliet’s home and museum and got pictures on THE balcony, but the courtyard was already flooded with tourists by then. We had breakfast via room service at tables in our rooms, which was delightful. More pretending to be princesses ensued!

blog photo-juliet's courtyard

The hotel agreed to store our luggage while we explored the city (awesome!) and Daddy checked out while I signed the guest book. We then set out to see the fair city for ourselves. I hadn’t realized Verona is on a river, but our time walking along the river over bridges was some of my favorite. We had lunch at an outdoor pizza bistro and then found our first gelato! They served our drinks on ice, which this American really treasured after our days of lukewarm beverages. Our whole day in Verona, the weather was perfection.

blog photo-river in verona

I bought Jeweliet a little bronze magnet that looks like the statue of Juliet. I mailed my letter to Juliet, we browsed shops, took pictures and generally enjoyed ourselves. We also went to The Arena and gave ourselves a tour, which was awesome. The Arena was a precursor to the Roman Colosseum, and construction was started at a mere 15 A.D.It was used for sport, music and gladiator games and has maintained it’s glory. We enjoyed walking up and down the huge steps and finding fossils in the stone.

blog photo-letter to juliet

We saw Saint Anastasia’s church from every angle as we explored the city, so we finally bought passage and toured inside. Wow! It was incredibly ornate and glorious, but almost equally creepy. It is very sad to me to think some people believe gold and silver and art and candlelight cause God to hear our prayers. We also saw Saint Ferma’s from outside, and I thought it was really lovely.

blog photo-the arena

It was near Saint Ferma’s that we had to catch our bus to the (big) train station to catch our train to Venice that evening. Thanks to a friendly nun, we caught the correct bus! We took a short ride from Verona to Venice and watched the vineyards go by. As we were boarding, guess who we saw hop on? Veriato, of course! He was like the little bug you look for on each page of a picture book. ;)

blog photo-pizza in verona

All of the bathrooms on this train were out of order, so several of us were anxious to get off! WE spoke to Veriato when we all got off and he asked if we had been at the right stop when we made our dramatic exit. He had tried to tell us this was not “the right Verona” but didn’t have the chance! Veriato was meeting up with some friends in Venice, so we again parted ways.

blog photo-first gelato

At the station in Venice, I took Dorothy and Phoebe to the restroom (which cost me a few Euros!) Dorothy never locks the stall door in public bathrooms, because of a fear that was soon to be realized, so I had to stand outside her door and hold it shut and make sure no one intruded. While I was performing this service and waiting on my own turn, I heard a faint sound.

It was very loud in the bathroom, and I almost disregarded the sound all together, but then I was sure I could hear an American voice saying, “Excuse me? Excuse me ma’am!”

I decided it was coming from the stall across from me, so I got Dorothy decent, let go of the door and approached the voice. This poor girl, about my age, was trapped in the bathroom stall! There was no handle on the door and she had been trying for who-knows-how-long to get free. She asked if I could pass her something she could use to unlock it. I couldn’t think of anything! I looked around, but there was no possible way she could get out from under the door or into the next stall.

I asked if I a coin would work, and she didn’t think so. I walked to the exit and looked for an attendant, but found none. I didn’t want to leave the bathroom because Phoebe and Dorothy were still in there, I had yet to use the restroom and didn’t have enough money on me to get back into the bathroom if I walked out!

I came back to the girl and she said she thought a pen might help. I didn’t think I had a pen handy, because I had packed my journal and art supplies elsewhere. I dug around and—thank God! I found my Central College Ministry pen and passed it to her.

She was able to use it to unlock the door and get free! The poor girl’s hands were bloody and my plastic pen was all torn up. She thanked me in the sincere, quiet way only exhausted people who are late for trains can thank their hero (I know this tone well by now) and we all ran out of the bathroom to get to where we needed to be.

blog photo-my favorite things

When we finally got back to the parents, they were helping their own young, American girl. This girl had lost contact with her friend and her phone was not working, so she asked if she could use one of our phones. After several minutes on Daddy’s phone, she got a hold of her friend and gave the phone back. When it comes to European travel, Americans just need help.

We caught a water taxi and saw the canals of Venice for the first time. I hesitate to use this word yet again, but it was all very surreal. Even as I write this, with my torn up Central College Ministry pen, I’m not sure it’s all sunk in. We found our hotel (an 800 year old house, turned hotel) and checked in. Our room was up 75 stairs. There were no “lifts” in Venice, 800 years ago!

It was a humble room we all shared with big, shuttered windows that overlooked the red-tiled roofs of Italy. There was a fresh fruit market and some busy night-life restaurants in view. We dropped our bags and headed out in search of dinner. After walking around for a while and getting very hungry indeed, we stopped at little restaurant and ordered spaghetti and gnocchi.

The next day would be our only full day in Venice, so we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep in preparation for this momentous occasion…

blog photo-italian street


#everlyabroad (entries from my journal 4)

blog photo train travelers

Little sisters at one of the many train stations we visited that day. Tired but ready to ride!

April 9, 2015 8:30 PM *Milan to Verona*

We had to run to catch our train to Verona…just like we’ve had to run for every single train so far. “Milano” didn’t get the chance to impress us—we really didn’t see it at all, but the lady who got us on the train earned one point for Italy! Apparently, we didn’t have tickets after all (don’t know where the break in communication was) but we do have proof of purchase, so she talked to the ticket man and they decided to let us on. Phew!

So we are finally on our way to Verona. Fair Verona! I can’t wait!

April 12, 2015 *Moscow to Riga*

(there is a perfectly good explanation for the missed time…)

Wow, wow, wow! When I’m too busy to journal is when there is SO much to journal about! I am on a plane from Moscow to Riga. I have the row all to myself, I just inhaled a cheese sandwich because travel makes me so hungry, I am writing with a Central College pen that saved a girl’s life—but I am getting ahead of myself.

Russian airlines are not keen on announcements, but I think we are already about to land, so I will get as much down as I can before then! When I lat wrote, I said I was on a train to Verona, and that was both true and false. after a very long day (about twenty-seven hours on trains,) we were finally on our train from Milan to Verona. I wrote that I “couldn’t wait.” Well, I would have to!

Our train rom Milan was booked through Expedia and there was some sort of mix up. (See last entry.) The ticket man, whom I am tempted to kiss* later in this chapter, allowed us on board without a real ticket and we headed toward Verona. (*or create a national holiday in the honor of.)

We were on a very fast train from Milan to Verona, and  all feeling SO ready to be in our hotel and get showered, etc. After so much running and lugging and confusion, we were relieved that Verona was our final destination. Zurich had been quite the adventure, and we thought that might be the biggest story of the day, but looking back, losing Daddy in Switzerland and having him run up and down countless flights of stairs in search of us before barely making it on our train, was a small part in our crazy day. Missing the next train due to construction at the station, having to bus to a new station with a bunch of skiers…all of that seems like a vague memory already.

After a few minutes on the train from Milan, Daddy said we were almost to our stop, but we didn’t need to rush because the buses ran every thirty minutes and this was our last train. Rushing was really difficult with our big packs, and my poor father was often carrying multiple bags (including his extremely heavy camera bag) and running full speed ahead in search of each train. Every time we’d board, he’d strip his scarf and coat off and sit there sweating and panting! We definitely made a scene…

The train stopped, announced “Verona,” we got up and began to gather our things. People were already hopping off and on and I said  something to the affect of, “Well, we may not be in a hurry, but we don’t want to be sent to the next stop, either!”


April 13, 2015 *Riga*

To continue our adventures…

It was at this moment we realized that trains that move quickly also stop and start quickly. As we grabbed our luggage, a woman came up behind us to take one of our seats, and in a moment of chaos, we rushed to the door, only to find it closed. We pulled and pushed and tried to get off, but the train took off with all of us still abroad, in the direction we were already heading.

We passed Verona, where we had a very nice hotel reserved for only one night and had already called ahead and told them we’d be checking in late—and headed toward Venice, where we weren’t supposed to be until the next day! Before we could say “mama mia,” the train was whizzing down the tracks. In a panic, we sat down in the nearest available seats, which happened to be First Class, and began to assess the predicament.

We were probably going to to lose our reservations and have to stay somewhere else. We were going to spend about 100 euro more on this unexpected First Class ride. We told the ticket man what had happened. He told us that you have to pull the red lever to open the doors once they’ve closed. We had never been on a train that didn’t have automatic doors, and the lever certainly didn’t look like something passengers were supposed to touch!

We felt a little less stupid now, and all agreed it was just a mistake anyone could’ve made, but one that would cost us dearly–especially if we never got to see Verona. The ticket man told us what stop (more like pause!) was next and that if we wanted to catch the next train to Verona from there, we had one minute to go under the platform, to the Verona-bound train and board.

If we did our very best and ran our hardest, we might have been able to make it onto the train in sixty seconds, expect for one thing: we did not yet have tickets for that train! The next Verona-bound train wouldn’t come for close to an hour. We were getting way behind schedule and continually more at risk of of losing our reservations. We sat on this first class seats, too frustrate and nervous to take our packs off. Daddy rubbed his temples and Mommy used to her phone to try to find the hotel’s contact information in case we needed to cancel. The girls sat behind us and played quietly. I was tempted to cry—after all, I had been looking forward to Verona more than anything and even if I got over it—Mommy and Daddy would never get over “letting us down” like that after so much anticipation. All because of a stupid lever!

Instead, I swallowed my emotions and pulled my Bible out of my bag. I prayed that somehow, we’d still get to Verona safely that night and that by some miracle, we wouldn’t have to pay the extra money, even if that meant we found a hundred euros on the streets of Verona!

blog photo plane to moscow

Plane selfie on the way to Moscow :)


#everlyabroad (entries from my journal 3)

April 7, 2015 11:00 PM

I am writing this entry by electric light on our houseboat. Tonight will be our last night on the canal. Then it’s more lugging of backpacks and hopping of trams. Today we had breakfast at the Thissen Cafe across the “start” from our boat. Phoebe and Dorothy went ahead of the parents and I and got a table, ordered and ate while we prepared for the day. They were finishing up when we came over and ordered, broke fast, caffeinated footed the bill. *Side note: we scarcely fit at a single table during our whole European adventure. People kept commenting on what a big family we had and the five of us totally overwhelmed every cafe. Once we had to leave because the waiter didn’t think the chef could make pancakes for all of us at once.

After that, we caught a tram (our main hobby!) to the museum district and wound around the construction site which will be the new entrance to The Van Gogh Museum this summer. Once we got to the correct side of the mod-squad building, we discovered and extremely long line and tourists from all over the world almost as anxious to see Van Gogh “oog im oog” (face to face) as we were!

blog photo scarf

We waited outside in a line for almost two hours before finally showing our City Cards and gaining free passage. Once inside, we rented the headphone sets for the audio tour and began to explore. It was delightful! We saw some of our favorite Van Goghs and chose some new favorites.

We saw several self-portraits, the sunflowers, the almond branch, the wheat fields, the irises, lots of peasants, boats, windmills, flowers, the yellow house, his parents’ house, a Parisian street, still lives of a kingfisher, a vase, a horse statuette, and various fruits and vegetables, not to mention birds’ nests and his father’s Bible.

We also saw “the tub” by Degas, a Dutch scene by Monet and a portrait of Vincent by Gaugin, all of which were lovely. We also got to see “peasant woman nursing her child,” by Jules Dalou, which is an incredible sculpture.

blog photo yellow house

All in all, it was wonderful and we had a great time exploring, learning, eating and shopping at the museum.

At the gift shop, I bought a postcard of Van Gogh’s still life of his late father’s Bible and a modern French novel. I want to hang it near my desk as a reminder that there is to be no segregation of spiritual and secular in the believer’s life. Maybe I’ll elaborate on that more in a blog post one day.

After we got kicked out of the museum, we walked to a nearby “Markt” and bought a few snacks for tonight’s meal. I ate some potato chips, pretzels and had a vanilla Coke! We were back on board by eight o’clock and have been organizing train tickets, munching, showering (finally got to wash my hair!) and the girls watched “Despicable Me.”

Still not sure what we’re doing with our last day in Holland, but it will probably require me to be awake…

I didn't journal about our last day in Holland---we were too busy checking out The Rijks! It was an incredible museum and another fun day.

I didn’t journal about our last day in Holland—we were too busy checking out The Rijks! It was an incredible museum and another fun day.

April 8, 2015 *Germany*

I am writing this entry from a train in Germany! I need to write–and sleep–but I am just soaking in as many German scenes as I can from our cabin window. When I wake up, Germany will be behind us and we will get off in Switzerland. It is nice to be going through so many urban areas, because the street lamps give us a glimpse.

I can’t believe I am really on a train in Germany and tomorrow we’ll see The Alps!

I didn't have a chance to journal about the alps, but they were one of my favorite things from the whole trip. GORGEOUS.

I didn’t have a chance to journal about the alps, but they were one of my favorite things from the whole trip. GORGEOUS.

April 9, 2015 *Italy*

I am in Italy! We are on a dingy, old fast-moving train, somewhere between Torano and Milan. Once we get to Milan, we have to run to catch our train to Verona. It will be 9:30 by then and we’ll grab our luggage once again to hop a bus to our hotel. I am SO excited for our hotel because,

1. It is a hotel. So far we’ve been staying in rented apartments/boats. This will, presumably, have room service, a nice shower, etc.

2. I really, really need a shower. I haven’t had one since our last night on the houseboat in Amsterdam, which was like a week ago. Or night before last.

3. Our hotel is inside Juliet’s Courtyard! We will have access when no other (non-hotel) tourist do. Awesome!

blog photo train cabin

By the time I finally take a shower tonight, I will have been on several trams, six trains (or was it seven?) and two buses. Ew. Some of our trains have been very nice. Others, not so much. I imagined having our own little area to sit, maybe with a pull-down table where we could draw, play games, etc. It has been much more like being on a city bus, but nothing too awful.

Our night was interesting. Mommy hardly slept at all, and said it was one of the most miserable nights of her life. I, for one, would rather sleep a week on a train than another night on a plane! It was not the best sleep I’ve ever had, (after all, I was wearing exactly what I had worn all day and am wearing still–jeans and a bra and three shirts!) and I was on a very small bunk with very little padding on a loud, moving train which was hot, and my bedding was like a sock made of sheets and a pillow which was entirely flat in the middle, BUT, I was too tired to stay awake, so I slept hard.

A German woman knocked on our door in a  very German fashion around six o’clock this morning for a customs check, in which she came INTO our tiny cabin with a flashlight and questioned my dad with a spray of queries about who were were and where we were going. Sadly, this was our only German experience!

In Milan now—more later!

blog photo train faces


#everlyabroad (entries from my journal 2)

blog photo 1

April 6, 2015

I am writing this by candlelight, on a boat, in a canal and I’m eating butterscotch chocolate while I do.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?

Well, even though everything I described is true, our circumstances aren’t quite romantic. We are on a houseboat in Amsterdam and all was going well until Daddy pulled a chain in the bathroom which turned off most of our electricity. (I believe he was looking for a light!) It also set off a very loud, high-pitched alarm. That was about an hour ago and we have yet to remedy the situation.

Therefore, we have no heat, very little light and permanently ringing ears. After several phone calls, we got a hold of Alexander, bicycle repairman who offered his assistance. Most sadly of all–Alexander is neither handsome or jolly. He just arrived on his “moto,” cigarette in hand. I don’t think he’ll be much help with the (missing) key to the breaker box…

Which brings us back to me, sitting in the captain’s quarters, eating butterscotch chocolate and writing by candlelight. It’s a good thing we bought this Amsterdam cigarette lighter at the gift shop today! Since I do not plan on going to bed until we are rid of both Alexander and this awful noise, I might as well this this opportunity to give an account of our day.

We woke up in our cozy, modern apartment around nine o’clock again and packed up, cleaned up and checked out. We picked up our backpacks and walked out, across the canal and to the tram stop. We then took a long series of trams to Pancake Corner, where we got coffee and pancakes (all mediocre.) From there we hopped on the tram again and found our way to the rent-a-bike and rent-a-boat office and got our houseboat key.

A short walk from there, we found our new home (The Agada) and hopped aboard, happy to finally unload our backs. We got settled in (it’s quite quirk and quaint and OLD,) and then headed back into town on foot (no luggage!!!) and in the direction of the Rijks Museum. On our way, however, we decided we really didn’t have time to explore all the great Dutch masters this afternoon, so instead we popped into some souvenir shops (score!) and then a nice little pizzeria where we had pasta, gnocchi and grilled chicken. After that, we caught a short tram to Rembrandt Plein to resist the huge, wonderful Starbucks we found yesterday and enjoy some coffee and wifi.

We actually stayed there quite a while, (the girls enjoyed their frappucinnos at their own table, then played around the statues with Daddy.) We checked social media, email and texted a bit with stateside family before bundling back up and heading “home”.

blog photo 2

“The rest is history”–as they say! We were settling in (I was actually painting a little sketch of the canal) when Daddy to tried to turn a bathroom light on and turned off our electricity instead. I’ve moved to the kitchen table now (bringing the candles) and Mommy is here writing in her own journal and drinking wine. We stopped for a while to do laundry, which meant scrubbing our panties with dish soap in the bathroom sink and hanging them in our stall-sized bathroom. Of course, our lovely bike repairman (who is still here and is slowly winning me over with his determination to be of help) soon had to start walking in and out of our bathroom, past our lingerie display, and pulling the Famous Chain of Doom repeatedly, for reasons beyond the female mind.

In other news–my little watercolor set and aqua brush I bought for this occasion work quite well. I had a lovely few minutes on the “roof” sketching the canal by the heat of the fresh air exhaust pipe…

WE HAVE POWER! The boat is starting to warm up. We are under strict instructions from Dear Alexander to “don’t touch again.” Roger that.

blog photo 3


#everlyabroad (entries from my journal)

dot waiting to boardApril 3, 2015

from the journal

Traveling alone can make you feel very grown-up, but nothing makes me feel quite so very “ten” as traveling with my family! The train of people, holding hands, passing the hand-sanitzer and snacks, sitting together and visiting the bathroom together–almost nothing has changed! 

I am at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, sitting in one of those wide, leather seats that come in threes. We are indeed about to embark on a intercontinental journey! Daddy, Mommy, Dorothy, Phoebe and I are about to board a flight to Amsterdam. And from Amsterdam, we’ll take a train, through the alps, then on to Verona and Venice. A flight from Venice will take is through Moscow to Riga for a few days. From Riga, we’ll fly to Stockholm and then back to Amsterdam (layover) and then home. Our trip will be a total of nineteen days.

I am so excited to see Europe, but i am in a state of disbelief. Until tomorrow, Europe is a made-up place. You might as well tell me I’m flying to Mars or Narnia or ancient Greece. How am I to know if it will really be there when I land, if this is indeed not a dream?

I just drank a vanilla latte from a Starbucks dad to hike to. We board in just a few minutes and we are already surrounded by Dutch!


April 4, 2015

a note on public transport

This ticket (taped above) took me from the train station inside the Amsterdam airport to Central Station where we bought “city cards” and boarded a tram. You scan your city card to pay for each ride. I literally don’t know how we would’ve safely and successfully boarded and demounted so many trams today if we had to buy a ticket with Euros each time!

At one point, we got on the wrong tram without realizing it and it was just us and one other guy on board. After several blocks and stops, the tram came a halt and the guy went to jump off. Before he did, he looked back at us with a look like, “hello?!” and said, “End of the line!”

We had to grab our things (so heavy!) and and jump off. The tram driver jumped out too and lit up a smoke. We told her where we were trying to go and she told us we were headed the wrong way. When we asked how to get there, she said to go “over there” (several yards away) and wait at that stop and she would come get us. So in the cold rain, we walked with all our luggage to the next stop and waited while she took her smoke break and-a few minutes later-came and got us and brought us back into town.

Another time, Dorothy was almost hit by a tram that appeared to have no intention of slowing for us. I had to grab her by the coat and pull her out of the road as the driver silently accelerated toward her! We also hear them announce what stops are coming up next on the intercom and have barely missed The Red Light District a couple of times, which makes me paranoid! Our last tram was os full, I had to stand on the middle section which bends when the tram turns. The floor is like a “lazy Susan” and there is no wall, just an accordion-like siding in which my legs would get pinched as we turned. There is a “no standing” sign above this area, but there was nowhere else to stand. Trams are scary for a number of reasons!


April 5, 2015

“Happy Easter!”

We had a good holiday in Amsterdam, though it was weird being away from home and family. Amsterdam is a very popular Easter destination and “half of Germany” is supposedly here today. We had some trouble finding tables to eat at and fitting on trams! We slept until about nine o’clock this morning (it’s 11:30 PM as I write) and then got ready for the day and went (by tram) to Rembrandt Square. We had breakfast at a place there and tried one kind of Dutch pancakes–like a crepe, almost. 

From there, we meandered the art gallery set up around Rembrandt’s statue before attending a service at Hillsong United, Amsterdam. Hillsong has only had a church in Amsterdam for three years and only for a few months have they been in this location: The Escape; which is a a notoriously raunchy night club Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday “it’s ours” one of the church leaders told us.  Apparently, over fifteen years ago, some Christians saw The Escape and prayed that it would someday be used as a church. Last June,t heir prayer was finally answered!

The church service was wonderful. Afterward, we walked across the square to the largest Starbucks I’ve ever seen and got yet more coffee, some hold-me-over pastries and a spot of wifi for updating the stateside family. From there, it was back on the tram to get to the loading dock for the canal tours. After some typical goose-chasing, we found a tour we could use our city cards for and hopped aboard. 

It was a round trip which took us out to the area which feels like the sea but is actually a dam-made lake. We used headphones to listen to some very hokey folks talk about Amsterdam for about an hour. Cheesiness aside, we learned some things and saw some pretty sights. At the end of the tour, we found out Dorothy’s headphones had never worked and she had been sitting there in silence the whole time. “Were you hearing something?” she asked, rather late. Oh dear…

After that, we tried to eat at Hard Rock Cafe (per Daddy’s request) but the wait was going to be an hour-and-a-half, so we meandered around a bit more, got very cold and finally ate at a Big Nick’s style restaurant called Rancho. Dorothy got the “best spaghetti of her life,” Phoebe got pizza, and the parents and I all had chicken fajitas. It was kind of an Italian/Argentine restaurant run by an Egyptian man in Holland. You know–your usual place! 

Half-way through the meal, Phoebe (who had barely recovered from a terrible stomach bug before our trip,) began to feel very nauseated, so we spent a while fanning her, dabbing her and trying to figure out how to get back to our apartment with a gravely ill girl in tow. Finally, we had to go (it was after nine at this point) so we bundled Phoebe up, brought some water along and did our best. On our way home, while waiting for yet another tram, the nausea finally passed! 

We took two trams and a long walk and got “home” quite chilly and worn out. Everyone is bed now but me. Seeing as it’s nearly midnight, I better get my shower…


More journal entries from our European adventure to come…


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