Archive for February, 2007

another macciato, please

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Today started with a tour of the heart of Ancient Rome. Our guide is an American I found online. Daniella graduated from UNC Chapel Hill so when I told her that is where Kaitlyn was born, she liked us immediately. She doesn’t have a tour that is specifically kid oriented, but this is the one she suggested for us. And she seemed to make an effort to include Kaitlyn and point things out to her just for her.

                She started us off at the Spanish Steps then walked us over to Trevi Fountain. I liked both a lot more in the day without being harassed! Daniella showed Kaitlyn how you can actually drink the water out of the fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps… and how to drink out of the drinking fountains along Rome’s streets. When I tried, I managed to spray water all over, including on Bill’s camera.

                Daniella took us into the Pantheon, which was great. We had wandered in on Sunday, since it is across from our hotel, and it was far more meaningful with her explanations. Around then Kaitlyn started begging for gelato (she’d gone maybe 12 hours without having any!). So Bill and Kaitlyn went to find some and Daniella took me into a great coffee shop right by our hotel. I’m glad she took me in because I would never have figured out the whole order at the cash register then take your receipt to the barrista (is a man a barristo?) thing. She also pointed out another coffee shop around the corner she said is worth a try. The nice thing is both seemed to attract as many locals as tourists, if not more.

                I was right, Piazza Navona was part of the Tuesday tour with her. She pointed out different things, though. Then she took us to a talking statue.

                We ended up having to pay her with a check, because we are limited on how much cash we can take out of “other” banks every 7 days… and we feared that giving her cash would leave us euro-less by the time we leave. So we wrote her a check. It’s in euros which should make it easier. But when I turned to Bill for help spelling the numbers out in French she said “oh, just write it in English.” I hope it’s ok!

                For lunch we returned to the first restaurant we’d eaten at in Rome. I wasn’t so impressed with it the first time (remember, I got full-bodied shrimp) but Salvidore said they had good pizza so we went back to try it. I ordered a “white” pizza with broccoli. But it ended up to be the part of the broccoli I don’t like – stems and leaves. I tried to eat it but just didn’t like it. During our meal, a kid who couldn’t have been more than 15 started to play his accordion on the street. When he came around the restaurant holding out his hat, I gave him a euro. I felt bad for him. Plus, every time I hear an accordion, I think of my dad and my Grandma Murphy. She’d have loved Rome because you hear accordions all the time.

                Kaitlyn woke up grumpy so Bill and I decided after lunch to let her take a long nap. I set out to do some shopping. I didn’t want to stray too far from the hotel, since I’m so lousy with directions. I got some postcards (and a pen) then sat at the second coffee shop Daniella recommended and drank some very delicious coffee and wrote some cards. I am never ever going to be able to drink coffee at Starbucks again. Luckily, I have a Tassimo machine at home or I’d have to give up coffee entirely after drinking really incredible coffee like that in Rome! I didn’t buy anything else. I just can’t seem to find the perfect souvenir.

                For dinner, we walked to a place near the Spanish Steps a friend in North Carolina recommended. She said it is near the Disney store, so we went there first. We bought Kaitlyn a new nightgown and she picked out a stuffed doll. It is Wendy from Peter Pan, which she has never seen, but she knew who Wendy is. I don’t know how.

                Dinner was ok. I skipped the shrimp, but Bill didn’t. Tonight, he was the one stuck performing surgery to eat. I went with roast chicken which was good, although a little heavy on the lemon for me. When he brought Bill the credit card receipt to sign, the waiter told Bill there’s no place to write in a tip, we’d have to pay him in cash. Then he hovered over us so we couldn’t discuss it. We both thought we’d seen on the menu a note that a 15% service charge was included. So we left there feeling ripped off.

                Kaitlyn had to have some gelato, so we got some at the place next door to our hotel. Then we went into the hotel bar to have some hot tea, because Bill was starting to feel sick. The bartender was great. He made a special cocktail just for Kaitlyn (it tasted like Hawaiian Punch). He fussed over her. She laughed. It was nice. He isn’t the only one at the hotel making a big deal over Kaitlyn. Everyone at the front desk addresses her whenever we come or go. The bellhop who helped us to our room Sunday is going out of his way to try to befriend her. Italians do seem to really love children. (It’s a nice change of pace)

My apologies, Rome!

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Ok, so this is the Rome so many people fuss about. I’m starting to understand why millions flock here each year.

            We started our day early… at 8:30 our taxi dropped us off for our Vatican tour. (we were 15 minutes early. I have never been early anywhere. Ever.) The taxi driver pointed out the line of people waiting to get in. An hour and a half before it opened to the general public and the line already stretched for blocks. And this is the off season! Bill found our tour guide at the front of the line for the 9am groups. Since we were so early, he got us in with the 8:30 bunch. I splurged on a private tour guide I found online that promised a “Vatican for Kids” tour. Now, I realize that a Vatican for Kids tour is a pretty tall order. Salvidore was a very nice and knowledgeable guide. But not one minute of the tour seemed to be directed toward Kaitlyn. I’m glad we had a guide, but I could have saved a bundle on a group tour.

            I’d go back to the Vatican only for one thing: the Sistine Chapel. I was stunned. I simply cannot believe how taken I was with it. I could have stayed for an hour just staring at the ceiling. Pictures of it or descriptions just don’t do it justice. You have to see it to believe it. Salvidore told us all about how Michelangelo put up the scaffolding and did the fresco… how it tells the story of creation… the restoration process… the size of the people’s heads to make it look right to someone standing on the ground. Oh, and maybe the most useful piece of information he had: how to find the bathroom down the hall. There we are standing in the Sistine Chapel looking at this marvel and Kaitlyn announces “I have to pee pee.” Naturally, there was a line in the women’s room. But it was very clean. (If a nun uses it, would that be a case of holy shit?)

            Outside in St Peter’s Square, Kaitlyn had a great time. She chased birds. It kept her busy and helped her release some energy while we learned a little more about the Vatican. It was fascinating to see it after watching on tv last year when the new Pope was elected. As I stood there looking around, it seemed impossible to imagine the tens of thousands of people crammed into the square.

            The last stop on our tour was supposed to be of Rome’s weapons museum. Bill suspects that is the part of the tour the organizers thought would appeal to a kid. They may want to start to check their calendars. It is closed on Mondays. So we stood around and tried to figure out what to do next and settled on walking over to Piazza Navona. I think it is part of our Tuesday tour.. but I couldn’t be sure so I just went along with it. It isn’t like I had another suggestion. Bill had to carry Kaitlyn from there the rest of the way to the hotel. She was so worn out (I guess from her personal “free Rome of pigeons” campaign) that she fell asleep on Bill’s shoulder. I don’t think she’s managed to do that since she was a baby.

            After her nap we followed my itinerary and headed out for the Colosseum. Unfortunately, Kaitlyn was cranky and the weather was drizzly. She again insisted on being carried. We finally found a place to go in for lunch. At first, it looked like all it had was coffee and pastries, but by that point I’d have eaten the napkins. And I knew Bill couldn’t carry Kaitlyn much farther.

            My next concern popped up when the waitress came to our table. She only spoke Italian. I didn’t bother to learn even a few polite phrases before coming; my head is swimming with French I can’t remember when I need to so I figured there was no way Italian stood a chance anyway. But unlike some French who get snippy if you can’t speak their language, she didn’t seem to care. It was as if she made it her mission to take care of us. The pizza was great. The crust was so thin and crispy! I ordered a pizza with hot peppers and it was perfect. After downing her pizza, Kaitlyn indulged in some gelato. I think it’s already her third one since we got to Rome. While she and Bill enjoyed their frozen treats (Kaitlyn got strawberry. Bill had pistachio. Yuck.) I got a cup of the hot chocolate I’d heard is not to be missed. It was like a cup of melted chocolate. It was superb.

            On the way out, the waitress made a big deal of getting a bottle so Kaitlyn could take her leftover milk with her. I heard her in the back telling someone she needed it for the bambina. She came out with a juice bottle that had been washed out. She filled it with Kaitlyn’s milk, put on the lid and sent us on our way. She really took care of us.

            We felt much better after eating and walked the rest of the way to the Colosseum. Unfortunately, we got there too late in the afternoon and it was already closed. We figured that out after walking all the way around it trying to figure out how to get in. When there was no way in, we assumed it was closed.

            Salvidore told us that we just had to go to the Travestere district. He said it wasn’t a long walk from our hotel. So we figured we’d walk there for dinner to try to find a restaurant I’d read about. I had the address but the street isn’t on our map. Even with our map we got a little turned around and it took quite a while to get there. Poor Bill ended up carrying Kaitlyn part of the way. Once we found the neighborhood it did seem charming. Less touristy, although I’m sure it was filled with them. We walked around and around, managing to keep Kaitlyn from seeing the McDonald’s.

            Somehow, we managed to find the restaurant we were looking for. La Cisterna. It was pretty good. There were only a few people in there eating and we were all tourists. I ordered the shrimp, because I’d read a review that said they had great shrimp. They came with their heads on. (So did the shrimp I got yesterday. No more shrimp for me, thank you very much) It was a lot of work and Kaitlyn kept eating off my plate, so I didn’t even get much. But the first course of antipasti the waiter brought was good. The pasta course he recommended was very good. After dinner, the waiter takes you into the basement of the restaurant which they call a “museum.” There is an old well down there on what used to be the street. Then he poured us each a glass of champagne and we toasted to a return to the restaurant.

            We ignored Kaitlyn’s plea to take a car back to the hotel, because Salvidore had been so insistent that Travestere is not a long walk. It was 8:45 when we left the restaurant – I happened to look at my watch because we passed a church that was ringing its bells and we noted what a strange time it was for bell ringing. On the way to the hotel we took a wrong turn somewhere. Then the drizzle turned to pouring rain. It took an hour to get to our room. All the while, Bill had Kaitlyn on his shoulders. We should have listened to her when she begged for a taxi.

Some Welcome to Rome

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

If Rome is the Eternal City, I think I could have gone an eternity without coming and missed nothing. You are supposed to toss a coin into Trevi Fountain to ensure you return one day to Rome. Kaitlyn tossed in a coin. I nearly jumped in to get it back.

            Everyone warned us about Rome and it’s notorious pickpockets. We were told about being ripped off at every turn – every vendor and restaurant is allegedly out to cheat you. No one told us about the constant harassment you face walking down the street… and that those harassers target children. Pick on me. Don’t pick on my daughter.

            Our hotel is in a great location. It’s next door to the Pantheon and has a pedestrian square (piazza) in front of it. The piazza is filled with men selling everything from counterfeit handbags to sunglasses to bubbles. At night, the routine changes. No need for bubbles in the dark. They have light up disks they shoot into the air and little marbles they toss up to make chirp like annoying little bugs. And every one of them thinks that Kaitlyn needs whatever they’re peddling.

            At Trevi Fountain, they abandon toys and use roses. As we walked up, some dude pushed roses into my hand ,told me they were a gift. Then he turned to Bill and told him he wanted money for them. When Bill refused, the guy ripped the flowers out of my hands. Another guy tried. I said no. He handed the flowers to Kaitlyn. Then when Bill wouldn’t pay, we had to wrestle the flowers from her and shoved them back at the guy. As he walked away leaving Kaitlyn crying Bill shouted “I hope you’re happy now!” A third guy (or maybe it was the same guy all three times, I was trying to avoid looking at them to avoid being bothered) tried to shove some flowers at me and Bill shoved him away, yelling at him to leave his wife and daughter alone. By the time we were done being harassed, we were done with Rome. We’d already pushed our way through the crowds through the shopping district to the Spanish Steps then over paid for a horse drawn carriage ride to Trevi (for Kaitlyn). The carriage guy first told us he wanted 150 Euros for a ride. That was three times what we paid the private car to take us from the airport to our hotel. We finally reluctantly agreed to 80 Euros and when we did expected the ride to last more than 5 minutes. What a complete rip off.

            Hopefully Kaitlyn will sleep in her bed at the hotel. I found a place with a triple room… I hope that doesn’t turn out to be a big waste.

a new direction?

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

The smallest things make the biggest difference all of a sudden.

                Today on the way to the mall with Kaitlyn, I stopped to fill up the car. I had a quarter tank, but figured since I was passing right by the good gas station, I’d stop. While pumping my petrol, I overheard a man asking for directions. He was clearly speaking American English (you hear a lot of the British variety here). And he was clearly getting nowhere.

                When my tank was full, I went over to offer assistance. As I walked up I heard him saying in English “is your English any better than my French?” Oh, he was struggling. It was an all too familiar struggle.

                “I’m not good with directions, but I speak pretty good English,” I offered. The lost American was holding a print out of a Mapquest map with a star where his hotel is. Downtown somewhere. The French man told me that we were standing well off that piece of paper. I translated. He waved his arm and said “tout doit.” I translated. Then I asked him a question about the road we were on… we debated whether or not to send the traveler on the highway. Finally, that became the route of choice. The French man offered up directions and I translated into English for the American. Look for the exit marked centre ville. Grenoble? No – centre ville.

                I tried to explain to the lost man how very confusing driving in Grenoble is. The streets are not well marked and they go every which way. I neglected to warn him that the exits are not marked with street names, but with vague references to places or landmarks you might find by going that way (but probably only if you already know how to get there). I did remember to tell him to look at the signs at intersections, they point out where hotels are. I hadn’t taken my gps along since I know how to find the mall (of course). If I had, it could have helped. But probably would have insulted the French guy who was trying so hard to direct the traveler.

                Before heading on our ways, we thanked the French man. He shook our hands and said “bon journee.”

                I don’t know if the poor guy ever got to where he was going. I got to the mall. And I was so excited… it was as if I’d turned a corner… and never even gave it a second thought when I was doing it. The good feeling of knowing my French lasted until I tried to buy shoes.

I must be nuts!

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

So, the announcement hit my email box about the next snowshoeing, uh, adventure. It’s March 2. Not too far away (not enough time to get whipped into shape) and yet here I sit actually trying to decide if I should sign up or not.

                I need my head examined.

How do you say FLOWBEE in French?

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

Bill has completely lost it.

                He hasn’t had his hair cut since before we moved. So, the last time scissors touched his locks was September 30 or so. He has completely given up on finding a place to go get his hair cut, because he doesn’t want to have to ask for a haircut in French.

            Today, he found his solution. At Carrefour. He bought a razor. For his hair.

            Right now, I can hear the bbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz coming from our bathroom upstairs. I’m sort of afraid to look.

            Sure, there are plenty of people who cut their own hair at home. How else do you explain the phenomenon of the Flowbee? I’m not one of those people. I remember as a kid, sitting on the toilet in my grandmother’s itsy bitsy bathroom with pink hair roller tape on my bangs to mark a straight line. (it didn’t work) I trimmed Kaitlyn’s bangs a couple of months ago. I didn’t have any pink tape, I had to wing it. They are still crooked. I gave up on fixing them for fear she’d end up like Betty in “Father Knows Best.”

               BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Bill has a lot of hair to trim up there.

            My concerns are not even touching on the fact that there will now be little gray hairs in our bathroom for weeks to come. I hope he’s keeping it away from my toothbrush.

            Ok, I just went to check. Man, there is one big pile of hair on the bathroom floor. I was recruited to help trim the back of Bill’s hair. I think I got it even. I don’t think he’ll mind the little “M” I carved into his neck. (just kidding, Bill!)

            Ah, Saturday night in France. C’est la vie!

Elle est malade!

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I’ve been meaning to call and make doctor appointments for Kaitlyn and myself to get check ups, so that we’d have each gone to a doctor one time when well. I pushed that off my to-do list* too many times and today I had to find a doctor to examine a sick little girl.

            Yesterday afternoon, Kaitlyn felt warm to me. While she always feels warm to me, this time it seemed more so than usual. So I took her temperature and – voila – I was right. She had a fever. I had some children’s Tylenol I brought from the U.S. so I gave it to her and waited to see if that worked. It did but the fever came back. And she woke up this morning burning hot. Bill took her temperature and reported it to be 102. But on his way out the door to work he told me it was up to me if she should go to a doctor.

            In the United States, going to the doctor is a hassle. But I know how it works. You call, you beg for an appointment today because your child is sick. No, her regular doctor doesn’t have any openings until April. How about this other doctor? Fine, as long as he or she has a medical degree. Ok. Be at the office at 11am. You show your insurance card that they’ve made 106 copies of so they can make the 107th. You sit and wait. A nurse calls Kaitlyn’s name, you go in and she gets weighed and measured. You go onto the actual exam room where you sit and wait. They know what they are doing when they design doctor’s offices. There is no clock in the exam room. You now have no idea how long you have been sitting there, except that you have read the same insect book a dozen times. Finally, the doctor comes in. There’s some pleasant small talk. You tell him what Kaitlyn’s symptoms are and answer his questions. He looks at her, listens to her with the stethoscope, looks in her ears and at her throat, writes you a prescription and sends you off to the cashier to pay. $25 please. After hours? Make that $45. Another $10 or so per prescription and you’re done.

            In France, I’m lost. I don’t know the system. Oh, sure, I found out in Paris that you can call 15 and they’ll assess your problem and decide what you should do. (In my case, they sent a doctor to our hotel. It was the night after I fell on my arm getting off the elevator. He told me to hold my arm like Napoleon then gave me a shot of morphine and left with his 100 euros.)

            I knew there’s a doctor in Uriage (at the bottom of the hill) who speaks some English and some of the other ISE’s use him when they’re sick. I called someone for his name, but just got her answering machine. After calmly leaving her a message, I called Bill and freaked out. I broke out in tears. The idea of figuring out the French non-emergency medical system was more than I could face alone at 7:45am without my morning coffee. He promised to ask around the office for help. I’m thinking, that’s nice but dad’s just don’t know this stuff so he’s going to ask two people, get frustrated, and go back to working at his actual job. Luckily, I got a call back with the information I needed. And even luckier, Fridays is one of the days that Dr. Fortier doesn’t accept appointments; it’s all done on a walk-in basis.

            Thank goodness I’d been given a good description of just going to the office. You have to walk around back of the building… find the outer door with his name on it.. press the buzzer to open the door (why have a buzzer if pressing it automatically opens the door in the first place?)… then his office is in the back. Go in but be careful which door you chose next. There is one that says “interdit” that is his actual exam room/office don’t go in there. There’s one that says “salon de something-er-other” that is the waiting room. Kaitlyn and I got to his office a little after 9. He opened at 8:30 and the waiting room was already full.

            No one took a number or sat in the order in which they came in. Everyone just remembered who was next. When the doctor would finish with a patient, he’d walk down the hallway and open the door to the waiting room, whoever’s turn it was would stand up and go with him, shaking his hand and saying bonjour as they went. A basket of legos and plastic horses along with some children’s books kept Kaitlyn fairly entertained for the hour and a half or so that we waited. I flipped through a couple of magazines but, still not having had any coffee, I just wasn’t up to trying to translate enough to really get anything out of it. The second one I picked up which was about skiing in the French Alps had some real potential for handy information, until I realized it was two years old.

            Finally, the doctor opened the door and it was our turn. Everyone else was ready to go when they were supposed to. I, of course, had to fish around for our coats and my purse and put junk away that Kaitlyn had been playing with. We followed the doctor into the room behind the door marked “interdit.” It was an office – bookcases, a desk, wood floor. I sat in a leather chair and, after explaining “je ne parle pas bien francais,” I tried to explain the problem. Kaitlyn est malade. Elle tousse. Elle a une fievre. I dug in my pocket for the piece of paper where I’d written the temperature in Celsius (I’d googled the conversion from Fahrenheit before leaving home), but it was gone. I searched my memory for the answer… trente huit point huit. He had to help me out with that one. Then he asked me something. I just shrugged my shoulders and looked confused. He tried English… he wanted to know if she has the sniffles. Ah. Un peu. He typed in his computer.. asked our name (which, thankfully, I can spell in French) and our phone number (which I struggled with not just because I had to say it in French but because I just have trouble remembering it). I thought that was the weirdest examination ever. Just some questions with answers in bad French and now he wants his money to send us on our way? No, I was wrong. He stood up and told Kaitlyn to follow him into the exam room. I hadn’t even noticed the big opening in the wall next to his desk. So in we went. I took off her shirt and she hopped up on the table. She was just calm as a little cucumber. He looked in her ears, looked in her throat, listened to her chest with his stethoscope, pounded on her little back. He told me it’s “la grippe**.” I gave my patented shrug/confusion look. He said “pas grave.” Well, I sorta guessed that all along. He told me she needed cough syrup, two fever medicines and something for her nose. He wrote out the prescriptions along with the form for insurance. All the while I sat trying to remember how to spell 24 for the check. (vingt-quatre. He finally realized I was struggling and he told me. In French. I am now ever so thankful for the lesson spent going over and over and over the alphabet!)

            I  took our list of medications to the pharmacy. The pharmacist asked me if I speak French… I said “un peu” so she explained each one to me in French. It was good practice and she was kind enough to speak slowly. In the midst of that, Kaitlyn hopped up and hollered “I have to pee pee!” There really is a horrible lack of public restrooms in France. I wasn’t sure what I would do with her. The pharmacist said “follow me” and took us behind the counter (In the US that’s probably some federal offense that would have the D.E.A. combing the place) and downstairs to their bathroom. It’s good to know that at least people understand that when a four year old makes that kind of announcement, time is of the essence. Kaitlyn liked it because we went past a display of children’s sunglasses that had apparently been put away until spring; she thought we were on a special shopping excursion on our way to the toilet. Once that was done, we went back upstairs (on our own, she didn’t wait for us to make sure we didn’t pocket any medicines or sunglasses) and I paid the 12 euros for the four medications.

            At home, Kaitlyn took her medicine no problem. She said the cough syrup tastes like waffles. The fever medicine is strawberry flavored. So that was like having dessert, I guess. She didn’t even fuss at the nasal spray. She kinda thought it was fun. She is so bizarre sometimes. I’m guessing it was the cough medicine that had her nodding off in her bowl of noodles. She was so tired she actually told me she wanted to go lie down in her bed. She’s been asleep for three hours now. Normally, I’d be freaking out that bedtime will be a nightmare if I don’t wake her up soon. But I’m figuring the night-time dose of cough syrup will take care of that!

*I found out at the language exchange this week that the French do not have to-do lists. The idea of such a thing struck them as odd. You make grocery lists, but not to-do lists, heavens, no!

** the flu

No School

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

There’s no school today for Kaitlyn. No, it isn’t some strange mid-week holiday. I didn’t keep her home because she’s sick (although as the day wears on, that seems to be the case). The snow is melting, so that’s not the reason. (Which makes me wonder, do they have snow days?)

            There’s no teacher.

            Tuesday the school sent home a note with all the students in her class. The regular teacher has been out since November with a broken foot. She will be back on Monday. The substitute (who Kaitlyn knows better than the regular teacher at this point) either could not or would not stay through this week. (I’m not sure how it translated, but I got the idea that it was more would not) So the note begged that if you could watch your own child, please do so. That way the working parents could still take their children in and the assistant would not be too horribly overwhelmed.

            There you go. Instant holiday.