sehnsucht

i came across this graphic the other day, and said - YES! that's what i'm feeling!

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the most frequently pinned topic for me lately, during my nightly scrolls through pinterest, is travel. places where i want to go and things i want to see, places we are tentatively planning trips to in the After. i like having something to look forward to, but without knowing when, exactly, the After will be, more often than not i find my nostalgia wandering back to places we've been and wishing to be there again.

sehnsucht, man. it's a legit thing.

foremost in my mind right now is our trip to newport, rhode island, for two reasons: one, i'm craving the eastern coastline and water views of my favorite places in new england, but two, we went three years ago over labor day weekend. the anniversary of being away has brought it back into my memory bank. especially after two years of not going anywhere.

in the Before times, marc traveled a lot for work. he always has, since we got married. while the kids were little, it was a serious bone of contention around here, but as they got older and we were able to take advantage more of frequent flier miles and hotel points, the travel had its upside.

newport was just such an upside.

marc was working in connecticut for the week, and knowing we had just dropped off our firstborn for his first year at college and i was feeling pretty blue, and our last born was about to start school the following week, he suggested we fly out to meet him for the long weekend. we tossed around the idea of heading to new york city, or cape cod, or maine, and then i said ... what about newport? we love checking states off the list, and neither of us had ever been to rhode island.

so newport it was.

elizabeth and i flew out on friday, he picked us up at the airport, and we headed to mystic, connecticut. we found a little, quick spot for lunch, googled "what to do in mystic, connecticut," and soon found ourselves at the mystic aquarium, with about two hours to spare before closing. it was just enough time to see every animal, watch a seal show, and hang out with some birds.

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a quick yummy dinner, and then we drove the rest of the way to newport.

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where we found ourselves in a hotel that looked like an inside-out sailboat.

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and it was really nice to have marc back.

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saturday, we crammed in as much newport as we could. because it was labor day weekend, the place was packed. we did manage to grab a table at the black pearl for some of their famous clam chowder for lunch.

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after that, we decided to get away from the action and head to the cliff walk. i would very much like to return someday, in the off season, and see so much more. the cliff walk and "cottages," alone, would take days to go through, and i want to see them all.

on this trip, i convinced my people to go through one cottage with me, and we picked doris duke's family home, rough point. the history is fascinating, and i wish i could remember it all, but here's a link, if you want to learn more.

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the kitchen! i was dying. it was so. good. i can't think of anything i want more in life than to be able to look out a window and see water. i totally could have been a kitchen maid at this house, and been very happy.

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after a long day of walking and exploring, we had a most amazing tapas dinner, filled our stomachs, and crashed into bed back at the hotel.

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sunday, marc and elizabeth got to do their picks, since rough point had been mine: the newport car museum, and time at the beach.

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can you tell how much elizabeth loved this place?

but then ... beach! and at the beach, overlooking the ocean: my literal, actual, dream house.

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we found her happy place. 

newport was just gorgeous. if you are a new england/history/old architecture nerd like me, i highly recommend a visit. i need to go back when i have time to just drive up and down each street, along the coast, taking it all in.

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we ended the day watching the kites fly and sun set over brenton point state park.

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and that was it. monday, we drove back to hartford and flew home to get ready for the new work week and school year.

these little random escapes fill the sehnsucht bucket, and i am so ready for the world to be a safe place to explore again. it hasn't bothered us to be home, per se, but we are very ready to stop having life on pause. there are so many more adventures to be had.

(full album here, if you need more pictures of doris duke's house or old cars ...)

 


i miss places

before everything went on hiatus for a year, we had two trips to seattle planned ... the first, to go see brandi carlile play at benaroya hall (which got postponed at the last minute when brandi had vocal chord issues, and was rescheduled for a time when we couldn't go, and i truly thought my life was over), and the second, taking elizabeth for spring break.

we love seattle. admittedly, we haven't spent nearly enough time there to get our fill or see and do everything on our list, but we love it enough to always have it simmering on the stove of "maybe we could live there." it has water and greenery for me, mountains for marc, and it's temperate enough that we're both happy. sounds perfect.

as i get antsy to resume travel, i drift back to wandering around seattle by myself while marc was in meetings just before christmas in 2018. we had three glorious, packed, and too quick days there, and now - having not left my house, husband, or daughter for 13 months - the idea of being alone in one of my happy places sounds heavenly.

(full album here)

the day we arrived, we took a walk to the pike place fish market and then the seattle aquarium. first order of business was beecher's mac & cheese ... that was literally the only thing we wanted to hit on day one.

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(seriously considered the blob fish.)

we got back to the room, which had a lovely view of puget sound, and chose to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant instead of heading back out.

i just need to say right here: i still think about that dinner. poutine with beecher's cheese curds and duck fat gravy. holy crap, you guys. no, it wasn't healthy ... yes, i should have made better choices ... but i wanted to lick the plate.

 

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the next day, i had a full seven hours to explore and wander and do whatever i wanted. i walked north to the space needle, the chihuly museum, and the museum of pop culture, after stopping by top pot for a chocolate glazed and an ovaltine latte ... which sounds more odd than it tasted.

 

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i chose to not go up into the space needle, knowing marc would want to join me for that on our last day, when he was done with work. but that didn't matter ... i was so in love with the chihuly museum that i wandered through it twice.

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the museum was also full of fun things ...

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i got a text from marc that he was back in the hotel, heading to the gym to work out, then we'd order room service ... the home team (the vikings) were playing the current location team (the seahawks), and that was the plan for the night. okay by me ... i was worn out from a full day of walking.

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the next morning, i met two dear friends for breakfast while marc had meetings, then he surprised me by calling to say he was playing hooky for the rest of the day so we could explore together. we found the living computer museum, which sounded like something he would enjoy. he did. when we got there, he was like a 12-year-old, all over again. when the guide was about five minutes into his spiel (to marc, who was the only person taking the tour), he whispered to me, "this might be more my thing than yours. don't feel like you have to take the tour." he was so right, and i so ducked out to explore on my own while he absorbed and geeked out over it all. he was as nostalgic looking at the old computers as i had been the day before at mopop, looking at helmets from "money python and the holy grail" or set lists written by kurt cobain.

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after the old computer place, we found a spot for pho, took an uber to kerry park for the iconic view of the seattle skyline, then wandered the queen anne neighborhood to look at beautiful houses (that was for me).

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dinner that night was a trip to the ballard neighborhood to meet one of marc's high school friends for thai at pestle rock. my trout tod yum knocked my socks off. after hanging out there for awhile, we said goodbye to mark and walked a block back to the ballyhoo curiosity shop, where we had poked around for a bit before dinner. it was full of fascinating, fantastic things and i wanted more time, but sadly they were closed for the evening. we drowned our sadness in some seriously tasty lava cake at hot cakes.

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day three was our day to explore together, and we started with a slower wander through pike place, starting with breakfast at piroshky piroshky.

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after a tasty lunch at an indian place, we grabbed a ride to the museum of flight.

(uber driver: total customer service. five stars.)

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(the concorde was so narrow ... my claustrophobia couldn't handle it, and i got off as soon as i got on.)

our last night in seattle, we had an amazing dinner at dahlia (which, i'm sad to say, has closed), then went on the underground tour, which was full of crazy, interesting stories. i wish i could remember them all.

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there was so much more ... it's amazing how much we fit into three days! the one thing that didn't fit: getting back to the space needle.

next time.

 


that time when we planned spring break in three days

we did something insane about a month ago, and i'm beyond glad we did.

my husband was in florida for a week for work, and as we were talking on wednesday evening, i lamented that spring break was starting on friday, and i was feeling bummed that we didn't think about harper and i meeting him for a couple of days at the end of his trip. something little, just to get away and get a little sun. i hadn't thought anything of yet another spring break at home, but then all of the pictures started to appear of friends on the beach with their family, and regret took over me that we hadn't ever prioritized spring breaks with our kids. sure, we took them to puerto rico once, and washington, dc once. and two years ago we all went to florida for a couple of days as a family before we left henry there with his team to swim at junior nationals. but that was pretty much it. and now he is out of the house and in college, the opportunity to go as a family had passed, and the number of spring breaks left with harp at home can be counted on one hand. and it started to really weigh on me that we hadn't done a better job of making the time and effort to get away more often.

first world problems, i know, but i was still sad. it might have been more the realization the the time of family vacations was gone, our kids are no longer little, it all want too fast, and the sadness of lost opportunity was nostalgia in disguise. whatever the reason, i was feeling it hard.

about two hours after we talked, he called me back and said, "what do you think about going to belize on sunday?"

i believe my initial response was, "belize belize? right. sure. we'll just go to belize." but then i asked why belize. turns out, once i told him how i was feeling about the spring break thing, he realized he felt kind of bad about it, too, so he started to look into last-minute trip deals and found one on delta that was too good to pass up. he suggested a week, and i told him harp had homework that was due right after spring break, so maybe four days would be good enough.

and we did it. he clicked "buy" and we just did it.

there were about five minutes of panicked "what did we just do??" but then 5 a.m. sunday morning came around, and we were on a plane. and a few hours later, after switching planes in atlanta, harper poked me in the arm and showed me a picture she took out the window: we were flying over the yucatan peninsula, and it looked like heaven.

 

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we followed the flight path on the seat monitors, and then harper would take a picture of where we were. cancun ... tulum ... chetumal ... and then belize.

 

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the tropical air hit us as we came off the plane, and it felt so right that we had made this crazy decision.

we stood in line to go through immigration and customs, then tried to find the representative for the connecting flight to ambergris caye, the island where we would stay for the next three days. it look about an hour to get that all sorted out ... because we'd planned so last-minute, our names weren't on the list for passengers needing to fly to the island. no sweat ... we were there, and it would all be fine, and life was good. the representative found our information and took us to the smaller terminal where our flight out would leave in an hour. we ate some fantastic jerk patties, and looked at some maps of where we were going and what we might like to do.

then marc was handed our boarding passes for the island plane, and he sheepishly told me, "oh ... i forgot to tell you: we take a pretty small plane to the island." and then he showed me a boarding pass that looked less like a boarding pass than a raffle ticket.

 

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as excited as he was about the idea of a "smaller plane," i knew the plane had to be pretty small for a ticket that homemade. i didn't freak out. i chose to trust that we were going to have an amazing three days and not die.

and then it was time to board the little plane, with eight other people who were also not going to die.

 

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it wasn't my favorite thing in the world, but it also wasn't nearly as bad as i feared. and the view was just beautiful the whole way to the island. i kept looking back at harp; her eyes never left the window, except for the one time when she looked at me with a huge grin and said, "i've always wanted to see water this blue!"

oh, my heart. this is why we're on this crazy last-minute trip.

after landing, there was one more short leg - the shuttle bus to the coco beach resort, which took the scenic route through san pedro, the largest town on the island, and the inspiration for madonna's "la isla bonita." san pedro looked full of things we wanted to see and explore and food we wanted to try.

but then we got to the resort, got to our "room" ... which was actually - to our surprise and delight - the top floor of a villa, with two bedrooms, a kitchenette, bathroom, living room, and balcony overlooking the resort ... and we were so happy there that we pretty much never left.

we vacationed our freaking brains out.

 

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that first day, as soon as we were checked in, we threw on our suits and headed to the pool. there was a smaller pool at the front of the resort, with graded edges that sloped into the water like a shoreline. we laid ourselves down on the edge and fought the urge to take a nap right then and there. but then we got hungry, so we took ourselves to the swim-up bar and ordered sandwiches and fries, and i got myself a rum drink.

we were giddy, and so relaxed.

we spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool. around 5:30 p.m., we went back to the room to shower and figure out what we wanted to do for dinner. but then harper fell asleep in her bed, and before it was even 7 p.m., marc and i agreed that she had the right idea. we all went to sleep without dinner.

monday morning, i was up early, but not quite early enough for the sunrise. the light over the resort was so beautiful - shades of blush and peach and lavender touching everything - that i promised myself i would get up to watch the sun rise over the ocean the next day. we again spent the bulk of our day in the pool, and again got sandwiches at the cafe by the pool. after lunch, we siesta'd in the room ... took naps, read, sat on the balcony and enjoyed the warmth. in the afternoon, more swimming ... more eating. harper ate four fish sandwiches in two days. we did literally nothing but swim and eat and rest all day long, and it was exactly what we all needed.

the next morning, day two of our stay, my alarm went off at 5:15 a.m., and i snuck out of the room and walked down to the beach. the resort was quiet ... no kids screaming in the pool, no reggae music coming from the cafe. the hotel staff was raking the sand and picking up loose palm branches and leaves and quietly skimming the pool. i walked to the beach, then out onto the end of the resort's dock to wait for the sun to come up. there was a cool breeze, and it was all so gloriously peaceful.

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once the sun was up, i went back to the room to read on the balcony until the other two were awake. we got some breakfast, then ... that's right ... back to the pool. an hour or so later, harper and i found ourselves in a water aerobics class with four retired americans who now live at the resort. we giggled our way through an hour of of exercises, getting stern looks from the russian instructor who seemed to not realize it was much easier for her to do the moves on land than it was for us in the water, buoyed by a noodle. harper and i were apparently not taking it seriously enough.

after the class, the retirees hung out awhile longer and we started to chat with them. they recommended a lunch place about two blocks down the road from the resort, so we opted to try that for lunch.

it was amazing how much hotter it got once we were away from the breeze off the ocean. we were sweaty by the time we'd gone to the two blocks to the tipsy lobster. but we sat at a picnic table under a thatched umbrella, and after we'd ordered conch fritters and more fish for lunch, the owner came over and asked if we wanted to see the alligators while we were waiting.

turns out, the tipsy lobster backs up to the lagoon, and most of the time there is an alligator or three chilling out by the bamboo fence. given the fact that the owners of the restaurant throw food to the alligators, it isn't such a surprise that they were so easy to find.

 

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after lunch, i was feeling the need to get out of the sun, but marc and harper decided to utilize the resort's kayaks and go for a paddle. for awhile, they stayed near the shore, paddling past other docks and underneath them, where they found lots of fish hiding out.

 

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but then they started to head out toward open ocean. they got smaller ... and smaller ... and smaller ... until they were just a dot, near a buoy a mile offshore.

 

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i began to wonder if i would ever see them again or if that was it ... they were just gone now. eventually, i gave up waiting for them and walked back to the pool area. an hour later, i went back to the beach to see if i could see them; in all honesty, i was getting a little mad that marc was not thinking about harper's skin and the sunburn she was going to have when they finally decided to come back.

they eventually returned, and i got to hear all about how they got out past the sand bar, where the water got so clear that they could see all the way to the bottom. they saw a ray swimming along the sea floor, and they both got out of the kayak for awhile at the buoy so they could swim and cool off. they had a great adventure, but were hot and tired and ready to jump in the pool.

(there is a theme to the first two days we were in belize, and that theme is "we rarely left the pool.")

that evening, we decided to try the restaurant at the resort and give ourselves a break from the sandwiches. but harper had gotten too much sun (yeah. i know.) and felt pretty crummy. so we sent her to bed and promised to bring back something for her to eat. then marc and i realized: date night! we opted to eat outside, under the patio lights, with the breeze blowing the tablecloth and the palm branches overhead. it all worked out quite well.

wednesday was our big adventure day. while there are a million things in belize that we would have loved to do, in the end we opted to just relax for the three short days we had and not go too far. but on wednesday, we took a four-hour boat excursion to the hol chan marine reserve and shark-ray alley.

after breakfast, we walked down the beach to the dock from which our boat would leave. we got there early enough to kill some time - what else - relaxing on some hammocks.

 

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then the boat arrived, and we all boarded, carrying our snorkels and fins and masks. we sped several miles south, to the marine reserve, where we donned our gear, splashed into the ocean, and immersed ourselves in part of the second largest barrier reef in the world.

all of the people on the boat were divided into three smaller groups, and each group had a guide who would lead us around, pointing out the sea life below us, and sometimes diving into crevices and small caves to chase out a creature. we were able to see so many kinds of beautiful fish, including a sweet-faced puffer and a fierce looking barracuda, three different species of ray, a moray eel ... too many things to remember.

we had handed harper the underwater camera and let her go to town, but i wish i'd had a camera of my own. i would have recorded the sight of her listening intently to the guide, then diving below the surface to see where he was pointing, then pointing nose-first toward the fish and swimming down to get as close as she could.

mama's little pisces.

and she got some great pictures.

 

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after quite awhile in the water, we climbed back on the boat and went another 15 minutes out, to shark-ray alley. there, the guides chummed the water on one side of the boat while we all dove off the other side. then we swam quickly around the back of the boat ... and there were hundreds of horse-eyed jacks, nurse sharks, and rays, swimming all over each other to get at the snack.

 

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and there was my girl, just diving into the melee, chasing after the sharks to get the picture.

 

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sadly, our adventure was over all too quickly and the boat took us back to the beach. i think we would have loved to spend the rest of the day out there, swimming happily, one with the fish.

but we did have the rest of the afternoon to ... shocker ... go back to the pool for a little while longer. i wandered around and took more pictures of the surroundings; the whole resort was not that big, but it was all so lovely.

 

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we took harper to the restaurant for dinner, since she'd missed out the night before. we ate inside this time, and were impressed by how lovely it was. apparently, we were early diners, because we were the only people in the place. harper and i both got fish, and marc got a filet flambe, and it flambeed like crazy.

 

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and then that was it. we took one last walk on the beach, and then it was time to pack up and go to bed. we had another long travel day ahead of us.

 

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it was hard to leave after only three days, and there are so many more things we would have liked to do. we decided that we will go back someday soon, and plan a longer trip that is mostly on the mainland. but we'll fit in a couple of days on the island, too, because it was just so beautiful and relaxing.

i'm not usually good with spontaneity, but it felt truly wonderful to just say "YES!" and throw clothes in a bag and go. i look forward to the next last-minute adventure, because it was magical in so many ways.


ecuador, part let's finish this

i need to complete this round-up of our trip to ecuador before the chaos of thanksgiving/high school swim season/christmas/end of school year/graduations/first grandchild hits. because yes, it will probably go that fast.

but first,

YYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS, CUBS!!!!!

just had to get that out.

okay: ecuador.

the last couple of days in ecuador were a mixed bag. we were exhausted, we all took turns being sick for a day, and our enthusiasm waned. because of that, some of our plans got altered, and things we wanted to do and see got nixed. but before we hit the wall, there were a few really nice moments.

during our first week, we were able to have dinner at the home of one of marc's closest friends. matt and marc grew up together, matt attended college about an hour away from where marc and i went, so the guys were able to keep in touch and i was able to get to know matt. he was the best man in our wedding, and before that there is a long story involving spring break, a ratty shack on the beach in florida, and matt literally saving the day for me and my dear friend by letting us crash on his couch for a few days. needless to say, we love matt. he married a few years ago, and he and his family now live in quito, and he teaches at the academy where he and marc attended high school. his wife is lovely, and his kids are pretty great. harper and his eldest daughter totally clicked.

 

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we also did a little grocery shopping with harp, and she had fun looking at all the strange fruit. she's the pickiest eater, but she'll eat any weird fruit you put in front of her. i guess that's a good thing.

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and she got her first haircut from aunt hannah.

 

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on our second to last day, we walked from the guest house to the academy, so marc and steve could show us where they went to school. matt was there, too, and gave the grand tour. harper's stomach was starting to bother her, so we missed most of the tour, but saw the best parts:

the gym ... where marc spent most of his waking hours and, apparently, was a god ...

 

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he said the locker room felt a little smaller, though ...

 

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and his locker is still there ...

 

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the last Must Do before we headed home was the teleferico ... a ski-lift/gondola-type ride that goes 1000 meters up, along pichincha. because harper was afflicted with stomach issues, and she isn't one for heights anyway, i stayed back at the house with her and hannah while the guys took the ride. i gave marc my camera and crossed my fingers. and being guys, about all i got from them about the trip was, "it was cool" and "the view was amazing." so just keep that in mind as you scroll through the pix.

 

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 (yes, this is what i was afraid of.)

 

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(with all those antennae, there MUST be a signal ...)

 

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(typical teenager move)

 

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(stiiiilllll looking for service ...)

 

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and then they were home. since the boys got to have an outing, hannah and i took one last cab ride to an artist market in downtown quito for a few more souvenirs, and ended up with some lovely earrings that we dubbed the "sister earrings." (hey ... if the boys could have their fun ...)

and then that was that.

our flight home didn't leave until 11:30 p.m., so we spent our final day doing laundry, trying to fit all the souvenirs (marc bought one suitcase-worth of snacks) into our bags, playing some final games. as the sun started to set, harp and i said one last farewell to cayambe ...

 

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and then it was over.

we boarded our plane, and soon everyone was asleep. well, almost everyone. i can't sleep on planes. which means i got to see panama ...

 

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and cuba, which i actually woke henry to see, because he did a school project about taking study abroad in cuba and now very much wants to go. and also, we could see cuba!

 

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then there was lightning over the florida keys ...

 

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a super quick stop in atlanta ... (like, 90 minutes to deplane, get through customs, get to our next gate) ... and then we were on our way home.

it was a wonderful adventure, i'm so glad it finally worked out to take the kids and let them see the culture in which their dad grew up, and i know it was eye-opening for both of them ... and for me, too. it was great to finally get to know hannah better, and for marc to have time with his brother. the trip was worth every penny, every tired day, every day we thought the altitude would kill us, every day we thought diarrhea would kill us, every day we thought harper would kill us ...

and that's the end of the story. thanks for sticking it out.

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ecuador, part 4

i'm almost done. i swear. but ... it was 10 days. that's a lot of stuff to cover.

the trip to otavalo was a really great day. the ride there was through some amazing topography ... we were coming out of the altitude of quito through these strange hills of the andes, so dry and desert-like, and many are covered with this odd industrial run-off material. it was such an unusual landscape that we were all captivated by what was out the window. half an hour into the ride, we pulled off the road at an overlook and took in our surroundings.

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another half an hour down the road, the landscape started to get more green. steve had heard from someone that there is a great place to eat just outside of otavalo, off the main road but near a lake. we decided to find it, and once we did, we were all so glad. to say "a little place by the lake" is such an understatement to describe what we found. the view left us all a little speechless and giddy.

 

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the restaurant, which was part of a resort of small cabins, was literally on the edge of this lake, with the hill directly across from us. as we sat and ate, all we could see was the water and this amazing hill rising up from it. at lovely as the hills and mountains of quito are, i'm a water girl, and didn't realize how much i need to see water until we got to this place. my soul was instantly happy.

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we reluctantly tore ourselves away after lunch, and finished our trek to otavalo so we could check out the market.

 

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when marc and i were dating, i would often hear his family talk about the "otavalo indian market," but i had no idea what to expect. the center of town fills with booths full of textiles and sweaters and crafts and art, and the storefronts surrounding the market open up to sell food and other home goods. the people are incredibly friendly, but they are also relentless in their quest to get you to buy something. i had gone into it with the thought that i wasn't going to haggle; the price they asked was the price they wanted to get. however, when a blanket at one stall is $25, and two stalls over the same blanket goes for $11, you soon learn to find out what their best offer is.

(though it blew my mind every time that i would refuse an amazing, silky alpaca wool blanket for $18. i mean ... i would have bought 20.)

 

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 i was glad we'd chosen to go on a week day, when it was way less crowded. henry had already decided this was his least favorite activity of the trip so far, and after an hour of looking through the same sort of items over and over, your eyes start to glaze over. but we all found a few things to make us happy - marc, a soccer shirt; harper, an alpaca jacket; henry, a wooden bowl with an indian head painted on it; and i did get a couple of blankets and a silver ring - so it was a successful trip. after a quick stop for water at a place with an actual bathroom, we got back in the van to head home.

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and that was otavalo.

one more part, and i think this story will be finished.

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ecuador, part 3

part 1 ... part 2 ... life intrudes ... part 3:

our next big outing in ecuador was to mitad del mundo ... the center of the world ... the equator.

there are two centers of the earth, apparently ... the first was determined in the 1730s by a french explorer, and the official second site was gps-verified and developed in recent years. the new one is only 250 meters from the old one ... those early explorers did a pretty good job!

 

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we started at the newest one.

there is a replica village, complete with history of the area and some of the indian tribes. included in that history is a legit shrunken head and instructional seminar on how one makes a shrunken head. (allegedly, tribes no longer shrink heads. but still ... they have the know-how.) the most interesting thing about the process is that after cutting off the enemy's head, pulling out the skull, and filling the skin with a rock, they then sew up the mouth because they don't want the enemy's "evil spirits" to escape. (they couldn't escape through, say, the nostrils or ears or, like, the neck? and the spirits somehow live not in the brain or the heart but in the head skin? okay.)

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we continued through huts and kitchens and where they kept the cuy, or guinea pigs. (more about the guinea pigs in a bit.) our guide explained the way the indians lived, different activities and rituals (did you know if your husband died, you got to be buried with him - alive but drugged - so that you could care for him in the afterlife? thank god for feminism.), what it's like to live in the amazon. (the 10' python model was super encouraging ... encouraging me to not go to the amazon.)

 

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then we reached the line marking the equator.

 

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while at the equator, the guide did various experiments - how water flows down a drain in different directions, depending on what side of the equator she places the basin; how your balance is better right on the equator, how you have better leverage and strength on the equator, and so on.

 

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then we got to try the famous "balancing an egg on its end because its on the equator" trick.

 

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while standing at the egg balancing station, we could see a monument off in the distance. i asked what that was, and was told that it is the original site. remember how i said they are so close to each other?

 

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after egg balance had been achieved, we got our passports stamped with "center of the earth" ...

 

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then drove 10 minutes down the road to middle earth number two. this was the equator marc remembered going to when he was a kid, though much had been changed and built up since the last time he was there. he said it was all very impressive ... and it was. this was our favorite equator.

 

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our first order of business was lunch, and there were shops and places to eat all around the grounds. steve & hannah had a favorite restaurant, and there was a porch with tables and a lovely breeze.

marc ordered yet another ceviche, henry started with a big plate of sausage and eggs and plantains, harp had another choclo and some chicken soup, and i had a plate of corvina ... an ecuadorean white fish that is so yummy.

 

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however, before our meal arrived, we tried an ecuadorean specialty: cuy. remember what cuy is? yes ... guinea pig.

 

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it was interesting. i wouldn't say it was terrible, but i wouldn't say it was all that great, either. definitely a check mark on the list of exotic things to eat, though.

when we had finished lunch, henry actually decided to keep eating ... a cheeseburger, and then something else. i don't know what, because the girls decided to head to some of the surrounding shops while the guys (*guy) ate. half an hour later, we were all ready to walk off our lunches and check out the area.

we headed straight for the monument and climbed to the top. there was a great view of the surrounding area. as we stood there, we watched clouds envelop a nearby hill, and a small dust tornado swirl around a little neighborhood. the view was pretty amazing.

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back on the ground floor, we checked out the non-equator, and then wandered through some of the small museums scattered throughout the park.

 

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before we left, steve & hannah took us to their favorite shop, run by an ecuadorean woman named elvira, and her son, whom steve & hannah have befriended and always visit when they take guests to the monument. elvira was just the sweetest lady, and couldn't get over how tall marc and the kids are. she has granddaughters harper's age, and didn't believe us when we said harper is 11. i tried to tell her that i, too, am "muy alta," but elvira just laughed at me.

she talked to marc for quite awhile about the last time he visited quito, his time there for school, all the while she and her son were helping our kids find the perfect souvenirs. harper got a stuffed llama; henry got whatever this is:

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(which, he says, will be worn at high school meets this winter. so stay tuned for that.)

it was so good to hear marc using his spanish. he's been more than reluctant to pull out that particular skill over the years, even though i have repeatedly begged him to be conversational with the kids so they will pick up some. he did a much better job that he thinks he can do.  henry also did a really good job understanding what he was hearing and responding to the best of his ability, having four years of spanish under his belt. i had four years in school as well, but that was a long time ago. still, i could understand more than i thought i would, and could offer very rudimentary replies. just enough to feel like i wasn't totally in the dark.

amazingly enough, for the first week or so after we got home, i found myself expecting to hear spanish, and thinking of spanish responses. it's very weird to try and switch brain gears. but it motivates me to try to learn another language. spanish would make the most sense, but i've always wanted to take french or italian ... who knows.

anyway, after the shop, we walked toward the entrance of the park to find the car and call it a day. along the way, there were about a dozen identical hummingbird sculptures and leaf seats, and all had been painted by different artists. harper loved these, and had me take a photo of her sitting in each one, with her camera. and i had to get a picture or two for myself.

 

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one last stop before we called it a day: there was a very cool modern building just outside the park, and it was surrounded by all these different flags. we were very curious about what it was, and discovered it's actually the united nations building for south american countries - unasur.

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and that was that. we drove home, cleaned up, and went to marc's favorite steak place for dinner to celebrate steve's belated birthday ... and marc had yet another ceviche. (count: four days, five ceviches.) it was a day full of information and sun and walking and food and spanish. we were all exhausted, but it was a really wonderful experience.

next experience on the docket: the otovalo market. and that will be part 4.

 

 

 

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ecuador, part 2

i left you hanging halfway through our bus tour of quito. but i did mention that our next stop was el panecillo, sooo ...

the drive from the basilica to el panecillo - the name of a 200m tall volcanic hill (called "the little bread loaf" - el panecillo) - goes through the historic center of quito, then is pretty much straight up to the statue of The Virgin of Quito, the tallest aluminum statue in the world.

the sights through the city were varied, from very third-world-esque block buildings, to really beautiful and intricate colonial architecture.

 

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(you can see the statue in the distance)

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(gringotts, quito branch)

 

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(ecuadorean construction scaffold)

 

once out of the busier part of the city, the road begins to serpentine up the side of the hill.

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and then we reached the part of the trip where the bus has to essentially u-turn on a two-lane road on the side of a hill ... see that blue bus going in the opposite direction and getting ready to turn toward the bus in the center of the photo? we're about to turn 180 degrees in the middle of the road and do the same.

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we just trusted the driver, that he'd done this before.

turns out, he had, and soon we were on top of the hill. the density of the city continued to amaze me throughout the trip.

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and then, there was the statue:

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the only statue of the virgin mary depicted with wings, from the Book of the Apocalypse. (which, i assume, is revelations?)

you can actually go in the statue and climb up four floors to look out, but our bus was stopped for too limited a time. instead, we walked around the park a little and took in the views.

 

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and we stopped by the vendors so the kids could have a snack - choclo, an andean field corn that is roasted and eaten on the cob. marc was eager to have it again, henry is always up for trying food, and harper - even though corn is on her list of top five worst foods in the world - tried a bite and decided it was amazing.

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we used the bathroom - which cost us 25 cents for six squares of toilet paper, and the toilet had no seat - and got back on the bus.

heading down the hill was just as nerve-racking, because this time we knew what was coming, and we were driving on the side of the road closest to certain death.

 

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but after the first tricky turn, we knew to trust our driver, and just enjoyed the scenery for the rest of the bus tour.

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the streets are so narrow that i literally could stick my hand out the window and touch the buildings. harper looked down at one point, and said the sidewalk had almost enough room for one person to walk at a time, with one shoulder on the building and the other shoulder trying to not get hit by the bus. those bus drivers are incredibly good at not running into a wall or pedestrian.

 

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we drove back through the historic center, and saw the presidential palace and a quick glimpse of the guards, and the plaza. it was so beautiful, and we made plans to return the following week to watch the changing of the guard and spend time on the plaza. sadly, by the following week, harp was sick and we stayed in. i would have loved to see more of the plaza area. next time, i guess.

 

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and there was the basilica again ...

 

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and more of those wires you don't want to hit with your head ...

 

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we drove by soccer fields the way we drive by baseball fields in the states.

 

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it was a long day, and we saw so much. harper was too overwhelmed by it all, and ended the day with a major meltdown. she was too overcome by all the traffic and noise and spanish everywhere we went. so we put her to bed and promised the next day would be quiet and home-based.

we all slept in the next morning. harp woke up in a better state of mind, and we all enjoyed a more relaxed day. i got laundry done while harp sat on the front steps, trying to take pictures of all the birds that were flying around outside.

 

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i joined her in between loads, and together we looked at all the beautiful flowers growing in this small front yard.

 

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the geraniums here have leaves that are more like those of a succulent.

 

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and harp loved being able to pick a fresh lime ... which is called a limon ... just like lemon ...

 

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... which explains why, after 42 years, marc still doesn't know the difference between a lime and a lemon. (we figured out so many of these little things on this trip ... it helped me understand his brain so much better. like, all of the lunchmeat is labeled "jamon de ..." or, "ham of ... something". ham of turkey, ham of chicken, ham of ... ham. ham = lunchmeat. now i totally get why marc, for years, called every single sandwich a ham sandwich, regardless of what was on it. i literally thought he was being simple. but no, he was being ecuadorean.)

while we were busy enjoying the garden, the rest of the group took a trip to the grocery store. steve and hannah are moving to the coastal town of manta, where their mission will shift from guesthouse hosting to earthquake relief. so henry, to earn volunteer hours for national honor society, was able to help buy all the groceries and bag them in individual relief bundles for the mission. he was a big help to get that done before the next group heads to the earthquake-hit area, and ended up packaging 31 separate care bags.

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(store shelves aren't quite as tall in ecuador.)

 

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it was good to have a restful day, especially for harper, so she could mentally and emotionally prepare for our next big outing: the center of the world.

and that will be part 3.

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ecuador, part 1

when i was a senior in high school, my mom decided to take a class at the local university. one night, she came home from class and said to me, "there is this boy in my class, and he doesn't say a whole lot, and he's from somewhere in south america, but you would make the cutest babies."

and i just rolled my eyes.

the next year, for whatever reason, i chose to go to said local university. and i got a nice circle of friends. and there was this guy in that circle who didn't say a whole lot, and mostly just went to the gym to play basketball. but he would eat at our table occasionally, and we got friendly. by the second semester of my freshman year, we had a class together and he would sit by me. one day i realized he was pretty handsome. so we tried going on a date. and it wasn't great. we tried another. and it wasn't great, either. and i kind of let that go. then he called me to play pool at the student union, and that was pretty great. then we hung out for a day. my mom worked on campus, so he walked me to her office after we hung out, and she took one look at us together, dragged me into a closet, and whispered, "that's the marc from my class!"

so of course i had to marry him.

but before we got married and made those beautiful babies, we traveled to ecuador (because he was from somewhere in south america) to visit his family. and that was 22 years ago.

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his family relocated to the states within a year of us traveling down there, so marc never had a reason to go back to his home. but he has always felt nostalgia for certain things - going to boarding school in quito, the perfect climate while living in the mountains, seeing the snow-capped volcanoes in the distance, and certain foods and fruit.

we always said that at some point we wanted to take the kids to ecuador so they could see where their dad grew up. i had found it very helpful in understanding why he was the way he was sometimes, and knew it would help the kids be able to relate, too. we had decided a few years ago to take this trip before henry left for college, and as luck would have it, marc's brother and his wife moved to quito about a year ago. so the timing was perfect: henry is halfway through high school, we now have family in the area and a place to stay, and harper is finally (maybe?) old enough to cope with a trip of this scale and distance from her comfort zone.

so in mid-august, we hopped a plane for 10 days in ecuador.

(hint: go potty now. this is a little long.)

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(still handsome.)

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(the cutest babies.)

we left the house early tuesday morning, had a flight to atlanta, and then a five-hour layover before heading south. lucky for us, marc had sprung for business class for the second, longer leg of our trip, so we could have some leg room and a bit more comfortable ride.

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along with the leg room, we also had in-flight movie options. henry chose "the man from u.n.c.l.e.," harper watched "zootopia," marc watched a superhero movie, and i? well, i spent some time with bing and frank and grace kelly in "high society," then moved on to "to kill a mockingbird." it's really lovely to be able to choose what to watch ... ahem.

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i also lucked out and got the best row-mates ever:

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this photo was taken before the plane even took off. they woke long enough to eat some dinner, then zonked back out. the older one was so sweet and helpful to her little sister. perfect little dumplings.

anyway ...

about five and a half hours later, we saw the lights of quito ...

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then we got through baggage and customs, found steve & hannah, and were on our way.

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our first full day there, we relaxed, let our bodies acclimate to being 9,000+ feet above sea level, and explored our home for the next 10 days. steve and hannah are running a guest house through their mission organization, and the guest house just happens to be the old boarding school dorm where marc and his siblings lived during high school. for the duration of our stay, marc and i slept in his sophomore year dorm room. he said the senior year room was the best, because the bars on the windows were loose and you could easily sneak out. but that room now has bunk beds, so ... no sneaking out for us.

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and the bathrooms were set up with three showers and two toilet stalls, so they were super spacious ...

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but marc said the house was much like it was back in the early 90s. even the groundskeeper is the same guy.

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(the room marc may have inadvertently set on fire 25 years ago ...)

 

out the front door, you can see hedge walls of lantana, as well as pichincha, a dormant volcano.

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and out the back is cayambe, a not so dormant one.

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also in the back is the basketball court where marc spent innumerable hours of his youth.

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once the tour of the inside of the house was complete, we hung out and made plans for the rest of the week. around dinnertime, steve recommended a great place to eat that would give us a great view out over the city. we grabbed two cabs and were off on what was the first of several wild cab rides. through narrow streets full of drivers with very little sense of actual traffic rules, we bumped along and watched the driver honk his horn through intersections, to let people know stoplights didn't matter, and the other drivers were just in his way and he was going to go, regardless. once we reached the hilltop where the restaurant - cafe mosaico - was, we could see that the ride was worth it.

the view was breathtaking.

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the food was wonderful, even though hannah's didn't come out until everyone else was halfway finished eating. and marc got his first of many ceviche de camaron.

the cab ride back was a bit more than harp could take. it was pretty much the party cab of quito ... fur around the mirror, music, a light show, a metallic ceiling, and a little hammock hanging from the visor, among other accoutrements. the thing that pushed her over the edge, though: no seat belts in the back seat. she was pretty much a nervous wreck the entire ride home. poor kid. all we could say was, "welcome to ecuador."

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day two: we headed out for a different kind of road adventure: a big red bus tour of quito.

now, we are big fans of big red bus tours. we've enjoyed them in dc, we've enjoyed them in san francisco, and we enjoyed the duck boat and boat boat versions in boston and chicago. we love tours. it's the best way to get an overview of the city, figure out where you want to spend more time later in the trip, or just hop off and spend some time exploring right then and there, and then hop back on the bus when you're ready to move on.

quito's tour was no different ... with the exception of the traffic being way crazier, the roads way more narrow, and the hills so much steeper that - at certain points in the ride - we may have put our hands in the air. because it felt like we were on a roller coaster.

in spite of all of that, it was a wonderful way to get a glimpse of this city that sits five miles deep and 31 miles wide.

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there is a lot of construction going on in quito, so these trucks lined the center of the street. their cargo? propane tanks for the construction workers.

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we realized that "watch your head" basically means "all the different lines across the road are going to be about 6" from the top of this bus, so ... watch your head."

the first stop along the way was at the centro de arte contemporaneo. i could have spent way more time here, but there were more places to go and things to see and do. what we did see while here, though, was fascinating.

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the above item was suspended from the ceiling, hanging at eye level. in the corner was a video, and over the speakers around the room was this eerie creaking, cracking, moaning sound, with echoing hums and whistles. as we read the information signs around the room and watched the video, we realized that the artist/scientist had taken a recording device up a volcano to where there was a glacier. then he lowered the recording device into a crevice in the glacier, and recorded the sounds of the glacier shifting and moving. those were all the noises from the speakers. the sculpture above is a 3d printer depiction of the sound waves.

so interesting.

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and this number ... the artist traveled all over the world to gather dirt and rocks, which he put into labeled metal canisters. then he created this balancing scale mobile, using the canisters as weights and counterbalances, until he achieved perfect balance across the mobile. on the wall was a schematic - a map, of sorts - of the mobile and where the canisters are from.

that was pretty amazing, as well.

 

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next stop after the museum was the basilica del voto nacional ... the largest neo-gothic basilica in the americas.

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this place is way cool. the architecture is absolutely amazing, both inside and out. see those gargoyle-like things hanging off the side? not gargoyles ... but animals. animals from the galapagos.

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personally, it bothers me when churches spend so much money on their own looks. however, seeing this place, the money seemed so worth it. i couldn't get enough.

for a small fee, you can tour the inside, and see the incredible stained glass windows and flying buttresses and all those other fabulous trappings. for a slightly larger fee ... well ... i'll get to that in a minute.

first: inside.

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while harp and i took in the amazingness that was the inside of the church, marc and henry and steve and hannah took the slightly different tour. it also went inside the church, in a manner of speaking, but it included a special look at the outside of the church.

 

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did you see the people on the gothic spire?

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yup. they went there. first, they had to go to the third floor of the church. then another flight or two to reach the roof, where there was essentially a ridge pole-type bridge spanning the length of the basilica, between the buttresses and the roof.

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20160816_130405 from michele skinner on Vimeo.

and then once they spanned the cathedral and climbed the vertical ladder at the other end, they emerged up in the spire.

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20160816_131925 from michele skinner on Vimeo.

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 and then they went back down, walked back across the church, then up into the clock towers.

 

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once they were safely back on the ground floor, we grabbed a burger across the plaza, and hopped the bus to our next stop: el panecillo.

and ... this is long enough. we'll get to the rest of the bus tour, and trip, next time.

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where does summer go?!

not that i'm complaining - heat and humidity are my two least favorite types of weather - but summers go faster each year. it's crazy.

one minute it's the last day of school ...

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and the next 90 days stretch before us like taffy, sticky and stretching longer the more we try to reach the end. then suddenly the days on the calendar are filled with events and camps and swimming and life, and the summer flies by.

every year, i tell you.

this year has been no exception. we just finished the first week of freedom that we've had since june. it was lovely and restful, but also included things like summer homework and dentist appointments and weeding the garden ... things that haven't fit into the schedule until now.

 

 

june

 

school ended, marc took off for a week in boston, and harp and her bff had picnics and bug hunts ...

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while henry and his guys hung out with a buddy who would be moving away by the end of the month.

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and then, two weeks into summer break, we headed to new england.

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the kids and i flew out to meet marc on friday. he was waiting at the airport with a rental car, then we grabbed our luggage and pointed to the seaport for a lobster roll and a summer stroll along the water.

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saturday, we made a list of the boston things we haven't done before, and set out to mark them off. first stop was the skywalk observatory at the prudential building. 360 degree views of my favorite city.

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(someday one of those brownstones will be mine. that's the dream, anyway.)

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(selfies.)

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(henry had to pretend to play because his podium wasn't working. he still kicked butt.)

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then we walked to the christian science monitor center so i could finally, finally see the maparium, which has been on my to do list for, like, eight years and every trip to boston. click on the link; photos weren't allowed in the maparium, but it was amazing. so cool. even the kids were wowed.

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(one of the country's largest pipe organs)

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we walked around a little more, got our favorite sushi, etc.

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sunday morning was rainy and cold ... perfect day to head to maine.

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we kept an eye on the weather and decided to take the scenic route. and by scenic route i mean spend the day in salem, mass.

first was lunch ... and a meltdown from miss harper, which is typical of a meal with harper.

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then we got passes to three museums - the witch dungeon museum, witch history museum, and pirate museum. the museums were very interesting ... little, and more than a tad cheesy, but also sad. the whole history of salem left me feeling horrified and outraged by how cruel people can be when they are so narrow-minded and led by fear.

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then we just wandered salem. very cool little town: brick streets, lovely homes, dunkin' donuts. and we found a stick installation from artist patrick dougherty.

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from salem, we drove the rest of the way to maine, checked into our hotel, then headed out to find some lobster and clam chowder.

monday morning was beautiful, and we had tickets for a whale watching trip out of boothbay harbor.

when i was pregnant with henry, marc and i took a vacation to maine and absolutely fell in love with the coast. it was so nice to be back among the quirky, sweet villages full of saltbox houses and fishing boats, and see a town we hadn't visited the last time. boothbay is charming and touristy and wonderful.

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the whale watch boat ride was after lunch, so i told the kids to not eat anything too heavy or greasy. hindsight: i should have picked up some dramamine somewhere.

the boat trip started off great ... it was windy and cold on deck, but the view was beautiful.

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once we got out of sight of the shore, though, the water became rougher, and the swells tossed the boat around more. harper wanted to give up on standing on deck and go below to sit down. for an hour, i watched her turn more and more green around the gills. another hour, and henry was below deck with us, also green. and below deck was where there was no fresh air, so the smell of boat fuel was stronger, which triggers marc's migraines, so he stayed above deck. to recap: two hours of bouncing and rolling with two kids who were on the verge of puking, while marc was up top. super fun family activity.

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but then: whales!

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it took longer than expected to find them - and we had to go about five miles farther out - but there were mama and baby finback. henry didn't want to get up, but harper was feeling a bit stronger, so we watched from the lower deck (just in case) while henry stayed in the warm, stuffy, smelly comfort of the table, sipping a ginger ale. luckily, he managed to see the whales through the window, so it wasn't a total lost cause for him.

the ride back was, thankfully, better. smoother, and tummies were more settled.

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once on land, everyone started to feel better. ice cream cones made all the difference.

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we spent a little more time exploring boothbay, finding the perfect souvenirs, having what was hands-down the best meal of our entire trip at the boathouse bistro ... a tapas bar, where marc discovered a blackened grilled shrimp with spicy honeydew gazpacho that he loved so much that he ordered two more.

the next day, tuesday, was all about lake winnipesaukee in new hampshire. i was really hoping to bump into bob wiley ... we could have gone sailing.

 we didn't find bob. but we did sail. or ... boat. we boated. we're boaters.

marc's aunt and uncle's boat is on lake winnipesaukee, and luckily they were staying on the boat while we were in the area. it was such a fun day, and the kids had a blast.

and the lake ... oh, my ... such a beautiful place. water, trees, mountains ... just breathtaking.

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the whole day was relaxing and wonderful.

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just blissful.

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after a perfect day, a yummy dinner, and a glorious night cruise, we headed back to the hotel.

the next day, we decided to detour through concord on our way back to boston. we took the kids to the concord museum to learn more about the town's role in the revolutionary war and the transcendentalist movement.

what else we learned? paul revere apparently looked like jack black.

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(ralph waldo emerson's study)

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(henry and his namesake, henry david thoreau)

after the concord museum, we took harper to the louisa may alcott museum. we've been reading "little women", so it was so fun to show her the house that inspired the story, and the rooms of the sisters who inspired jo and amy and beth and meg.

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(i may have sneaked a photo of louisa's writing desk. bad girl, i know, but what can you do.)

we also walked past emerson's house ...

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and then emerson's grandfather's house.

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the grandfather who had a first-person view of the start of the revolutionary war.

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the kids were troopers through this whole trip. we aren't exactly "let's go on vacation to relax" people; if there's something interesting to do or see or learn, that's where we go and that's what we do. i wanted the kids to experience where history and literature and philosophy happened, so that when they learn about it in school, it will feel more relatable and real to them. for the most part, they were curious and attentive about it all, and we had some great conversations.

it got too hot to keep wandering concord, though (we'll take them to sleepy hollow cemetery next time), so we drove back into boston, where we had a lovely hotel in cambridge and ate some yummy sushi ...

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which henry said looked like "sushi dipped in crushed cheetos", and the next day we flew home.

such a whirlwind, but totally worth it. it was a perfect trip.

and then it was

 

 

july

 

july was pretty much all swimming, all the time.

there was, though, the one day when marc drove a lamborghini.

i had gotten him a slot at a driving day for christmas, and it was finally time to cash it in.

the car wasn't exactly roomy for a big guy, but he didn't care. he had the. best. time. three laps around an agility course. the only downside was that he couldn't go as fast as he would have liked.

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but once that fun day was over ... all swimming. all the time. like, a meet every weekend plus two mid-week meets.

crazy.

but the kids did awesome and ended the season with some major wins.

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and one of the meets was an invitational, so the kids swam at the same time and were able to cheer each other on. which, of course, delighted harper.

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harper ended the season with best times, and a great position for making it to the finals meet when fall season rolls around.

henry swam a full roster of events at the minnesota regional finals meet, but struggled with the heat during the three-day outdoor meet. he dropped some of his times, though, and was the 50m free champ with a state-cut time.

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which meant the following week was four days of state - prelims in the morning, finals in the afternoon. he swam five relays and the 50 free ... he just missed the top eight in the 50, but he and his relay teams medaled in four of the five relays - an 8th, 7th, 4th, and a 1st place state champ finish.

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kinda fun that he's now a state champ in relays two summers in a row :)

i know he was disappointed that he didn't do better individually, but he still has one more year - and two more state meets - in the 15-16 age group, so he's going to do awesome next time. he's so close.

concurrently with all the swimming, harper also attended three camps: one was a "girls in science" camp at the zoo, the second was to lean how to create fashions and fabrics using technology (for which a picture of the back of her was in the newspaper, and she was interviewed for the article, so she's convinced that now she's famous), and the third was to learn how to sew, at the end of which she and her other campmates gave a fashion show to debut the lovely dresses they made.

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also during this time of swimming and camps (july was beyond insane), henry took driver's ed. i was doing really well not freaking out, then on the first day, henry got out of my car and there was one of his best friends ... the little boy who came up to henry on the first day of first grade, introduced himself, shook henry's hand, then said, "i think we should be friends" ... and off they went to drivers ed together. gah! heart!! tears!!

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and now we have to sign him up for the behind the wheel stuff. and - as luck would have it - he has wheels.

back in may, marc took the man car in for some work and some mods. yadda yadda yadda  ... he finally got his car back three days ago. so in the meantime, rather than throw money away with a rental, we went ahead and got a third car. cuz we were going to need one anyway for henry to drive.

so now we have a cute little safe, reliable suburu in the driveway.

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also, in the middle of all the camps and swimming and drivers ed and car buying, we got to spend three days with my sister and her family. they were driving back to indiana from fargo, and we just happen to be on that route.

their first day here, we found their personal heaven:

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i've never seen so much candy in my life.

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(seriously ... chicken & waffles salt water taffy?! chicken & waffles seems like a bad idea in and of itself, but to make it into salt water taffy?? that's just irresponsible.)

we let the kids run off their sugar high in the sprinklers ...

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(i don't know what this face is, but i totally recognize it.)

and also the park.

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(seriously ... nora's faces ... )

and i got to be the aunt who introduces her niece and nephew to a hilarious video of a corgi twerking; a video they watched about 500 times. (go search for corgi bubble butt twerk on youtube. you're welcome.)

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i won Aunt Of The Week with that one.

we also braved mall of america so wyatt could experience legoland ... a trek that about pushed my sister and i into claustrophobic, apoplectic wrecks from the sheer magnitude of humanity in the hallways.

but legoland was a hit, and then there was sushi.

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then they had to go home. [sad face]

and ... what else ... oh: we got a king-size bed after nearly 19 years of marriage and cover-stealing (marc) and knee-and-elbow wars (also marc) ...

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our garden is churning out monster zucchini ...

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i had to have a spot on my face biopsied ...

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and now it's august.

hoping for a month of breathing room before the summer is over and we re-enter the school-swimming-craziness routine. the kids head to indiana for some time with the grandparents later this month while marc and i go really crazy and ... clean out his office. should be awesome. and henry starts his first job on wednesday: teaching swimming lessons. i have a feeling our "breathing room" will be not so roomy, but we'll take it.


i forgot to put flowers in my hair.

there were lots of flowers, i just didn't accessorize with them.

but we DID go to san francisco.

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(i tell you ... i didn't travel much growing up. rode on a plane, like, twice. then we got married and STILL didn't travel much. more, but not much. then, in the past five or six years? crazy travel opportunities. so grateful for that.)

marc's company summit was in san fran last week, so he knew he would be gone for five days. about two months ago he said, "are your parents planning to come for easter? if they do, think you'd want to meet me in san francisco while they stay with the kids?"

um, yes.

so that's what i did. he left monday morning, my parents arrived thursday evening, and i flew out friday morning for the weekend. it was a whirlwind, so we packed in as much fun as possible.

when i got there on friday, i met marc at the hotel (the ritz carlton ... thanks, red hat!) and we walked to a little cafe for lunch. from there, we walked downhill to union square to grab a cable car for a ride back UP the hill. at that point, we took a cab to the wharf to walk around, and somehow found ourselves buying tickets to take a rocket boat ride. it had the potential to be really cheese or really awesome.

it was really awesome.

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(photo was pre-awesomeness.)

the boat company calls it a "bay tour," but that's a lie. what it is is a boat with 4,000 horsepower, let loose to essentially do donuts in the parking lot that is the bay. 30 minutes of donuts. and wake jumping, and hockey stops. then a really fast run back to the dock.

and this is all done to a loud soundtrack of bon jovi, ac/dc, metallica, pearl jam, the chili peppers.

again, awesome. we loved it.

once back at the wharf, wandering recommenced. we walked out to the pier where all of the sea lions gather ...

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then popped into a few shops, including this one ...

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which i knew would make my kids very jealous. so of course i texted a photo of it to henry. because i'm mean. he responded immediately:

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sadly (for them), we walked away empty handed.

it was then dinnertime, so we headed to a lovely-sounding restaurant, butterfly, and had some of the yummiest apps ever. eh.ver. specifically, the smoked salmon strawberry salad rolls and the trio of spoons sampler, with bites of tuna poke with wasabi, heirloom cherry tomatoes with ricotta, and bacon dates.

we sat at a community table and made friends with a gentlemen visiting from seattle. we became buds.

then it was time to head back to the hotel. where we forced ourselves to get dessert.

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saturday morning, we packed up and headed out to the marriott at the wharf (because the weekend was on our dime), then walked down to the water to wait for my friend ann and her husband to meet us for lunch.

we were early, and killed time by watching the fishing boats clean their catch and throw bits overboard to a waiting sea lion.

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we met ann and craig at scoma's for really yummy seafood, and hung out for two hours ... just chatting and having a great time. after lunch, we wandered a few blocks to the boudin bakery to smell the bread. at that point, ann and craig had to head home, so marc and i wandered through the boudin museum and learned the history behind their bakery. (fascinating, actually.)

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from there, we just kept wandering. having zero agenda or schedule, and no kids whose whims we needed to keep in mind, was really a lovely thing. we walked to ghiradelli, got cupcakes at kara's cupcakes, then walked down to aquatic park to watch the fog roll in and chat with a hippie who was out for a swim.

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after a few hours of wandering, we took a cab to a sushi place marc's co-worker recommended, ozumo. again: yum. especially, the dohyo, which was a tower of spicy tuna tartare, avocado, cucumber, edamame and tobiko on a puddle of ponzu and wasabi oil, with wonton crisps; japanese chips & dip, if you will. we ended up needing two of those.

the restaurant was right across from the bay bridge, so we took a little walk along the water before grabbing a cab back to the room for the night.

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sunday was our "tourist" day. we had tickets for the big bus tour, which we also did in dc, and planned to ride it around the city, and disembark in a few places if they caught our fancy. we started out riding around the wharf, then into the city, through various neighborhoods, out to the golden gate bridge, and back again.

the bus picked us up across the street from the gates to chinatown ...

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points of interest: 1) look up. the network of cables for all of the busses is really interesting and impressive.

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2) next time, i want to go up coit tower. i've seen three slightly different versions of its history ... regardless of which is accurate, it's a neat tower!

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3) san fran has really weird trees. these are all over, and they are so, so strange.

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the only stop that was a *must* for me was alamo square, so i could see the famous "painted ladies." i was feeling pretty optimistic when we got off the bus and were greeted by a block-long, wall-high mosaic, which included a swimmer ...

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however, the "painted ladies"? i thought there would be more to it. like ... a block or two of fabulous victorians surrounding this lovely park. it was a lovely park, but there were only, like, five houses that i would consider "fame-worthy." and even then ... meh. if we'd had more time (and i didn't have a blister on my foot), maybe more were out there to discover. still, the ones we saw were quite charming.

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we hopped back on the bus and it headed to the golden gate bridge.

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beautiful.

then back to the city, where we got off the bus and grabbed a cab to the alcatraz ferry pier for our ride to the rock.

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lovely on the outside ... creepy and sad on the inside.

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i can't imagine being imprisoned out there, with glimpses of life going on a mere mile and a half away.

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after alcatraz, we had yet another incredible meal - amber india ... the butter chicken was the best butter chicken i've ever had ever - then called it a night.

during all of our running around over two and a half days, we were taken right by lombard street a total of three times. and we couldn't see it three times. so monday morning, i google mapped to see where the world's curviest road was ... it was four blocks from our hotel. so that became the pre-flight home plan. we walked three blocks to a coffee shop, then another two blocks - straight up - to get to lombard.

i'm not kidding about "straight up": if marc had stood up straight, he would have tumbled backward down the sidewalk.

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so we took our time climbing. we "enjoyed the view." (ie went really slowly because we're woefully out of shape.)

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eventually, we got to the top.

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and then that was that. we flew home.

quick, but amazing.

big thanks to my parents for being with the kiddos so we could get this time away. it was appreciated and enjoyed on every level.