Happy Hogmanay

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and the celebration that they put on in Edinburgh from December 30 through Jan 1.  When we planned our trip to Edinburgh, we had no idea this was such a big deal.  However, we quickly found out when we started doing our trip research that we would be in for a treat once we arrived.  You can see from our earlier post on Edinburgh that we got to walk in the city's torch light procession on the 30th, which was a highlight for us.  We have never seen or done anything like it before, which always makes for a good memory.  On the 31st, the city became more crowded, sidewalks were packed and so were the tourist attractions.  We ended up leaving for London that night and were able to watch some pretty spectacular midnight fireworks from the window of our flat.

The view looking down from Edinburgh Castle toward the Old City and Royal Mile...this is a mirror image shot. Arthurs Seat is the hill in the background, and you can see the coastline as well.  The Old City is just perfection.

More hot chocolate and the sun even came out for a little bit! Below is part of the Royal Mile, going up towards the castle.

Got a picture with guy playing the bagpipes...because you have to!  Such a cool sound to hear as you're walking the streets.  The girls were in awe at how he could hold his breath for as long as he did.  :)  

We took a tour of the 1100 year old Edinburgh Castle, which claims to be the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world.  The inside felt more like a castle village, which was super charming.  I love the cobblestone streets and the architecture they use here.  The next few pictures are all views from inside the gates looking down into the New City.

Waiting in line to see the crown jewels

This little cutie has sass to spare.  She tests our patience all of the time, but we love her to pieces.

After our tour, we decided to catch the next train home before dark (seeing as the sun sets at 3:30, we had to be on the 2:30 train). Because the Old City sits so high above the New, they are connected by these "closes"- narrow alleyways with tall buildings on both sides, giving them a canyon-like atmosphere with lots of stairs.  At night, they were lit up and really cozy.  We took this close to get from our hotel to the train station.

After our tour, we decided to catch the next train home before dark (seeing as the sun sets at 3:30, we had to be on the 2:30 train). Because the Old City sits so high above the New, they are connected by these "closes"- narrow alleyways with tall buildings on both sides, giving them a canyon-like atmosphere with lots of stairs.  At night, they were lit up and really cozy.  We took this close to get from our hotel to the train station.

We got reserved seats on the ride home (learned our lesson the hard way).  We love riding trains because you can get up and walk around and still see so much of the countryside as you go.  We made it into first class, so they would wheel down the alleys with food carts, much to our Harry-Potter-loving girls' delight.  This is a speed train too, so what would normally take you 8 hours to drive in a car, takes 4.5 in a train.    Gorgeous views from the train as we sped toward London.  This was a fantastic getaway for our family and we are already planning on going back in the summer, renting a car and driving even further north through the Scottish Highlands.  Scotland is one beautiful country.

We got reserved seats on the ride home (learned our lesson the hard way).  We love riding trains because you can get up and walk around and still see so much of the countryside as you go.  We made it into first class, so they would wheel down the alleys with food carts, much to our Harry-Potter-loving girls' delight.  This is a speed train too, so what would normally take you 8 hours to drive in a car, takes 4.5 in a train.  

Gorgeous views from the train as we sped toward London.  This was a fantastic getaway for our family and we are already planning on going back in the summer, renting a car and driving even further north through the Scottish Highlands.  Scotland is one beautiful country.

The Streets of Edinburgh

In the summer following my freshman year at BYU, my Dad let me, Beau and Claire (my little brother and sister) tag along with him on a work trip to London. The three of us would tour the city while he worked. I remember walking the streets of Mayfair as well as Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace.  We must have slept in a lot because, sadly, I don't remember much more than that.  After his work ended, we rented a car and drove north through the Lake District and ended in Edinburgh, Scotland.  And, I remember being totally smitten with this city even then.  I thought that "if I ever GOT THE CHANCE to live abroad, then I would definitely choose this place"...big words.  It is a spectacular place, seemingly untouched by time and filled with the best topography around.  I felt  the exact same way when we visited over New Year's with my own family.  

Tons of hills and winding streets lined with tall, stone buildings everywhere.  Calton Hill (below) gives a great view of the entire city and was our first stop after we arrived.  I love the distinctive blackened spires of churches and memorials poking their way through the buildings.

You can see the Edinburgh Castle in the background- this historical fortress dominates the skyline and sits on a 350 million year old volcanic plug.  This amazing edifice is visible from any point in the city and it is beyond stunning.

More atop Calton Hill. Thank you, Brian, for these pictures. ;) It wasn't necessarily that cold when were were there, but the the high winds were freezing.

Tessa has come a long way as far as walking around goes.   We've gone from full-blown meltdowns the moment her feet hit the pavement to running up big hills and walking for miles a day!  I have to give Kate all of the credit- she can always manage to get her to enjoy it by making it into a game.  I mean, just look at that face!

North Bridge links the High Street with Princes Street, and the New Town with the Old.  We stayed in the Old town, right at the start of the Royal Mile, which was a perfect location.  You really can walk most, if not all, of the city in no time at all. 

We took a train from King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley.  It was about a 4 1/2 hour train ride and it was gorgeous.  However, we didn't reserve seats, so the 6 of us were playing musical chairs with all of our stuff as more passengers boarded along the way.

After seeing Calton Hill, we walked along the famed Royal Mile, lined with several men playing bag pipes, one man dressed like a war-ready William Wallace (face paint and all!), and tons of woolen mill shops filled with cashmere and plaid scarves, sweaters, tweed jackets and kilts.  We weren't prepared for the cold wind, so we grabbed these cute hats that the girls wore the entire trip (always a bonus when you can put a souvenir to good use).  We then walked down to the incredibly charming and historic Grassmarket area to grab dinner.

And, we drank lots of hot chocolate to keep us warm while we were there.  

On a morning jog the next day, Brian and I ran through the Old and New Town and over to the awesome Dean Village.  Along the way, we stumbled upon this amazing Christmas market.  We had to bring the girls back later to check out all of the cute things for sale.  We tried a chocolate kiss (shortbread cookie topped with marshmallow foam and dipped in chocolate) as well as their fresh fried donuts (so good!).  

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I loved looking at all of the Nativities.  I also love this skyline above the stalls.  

We didn't realize that Edinburgh hosts one of the biggest New Year's celebrations in Europe, called Hogmanay.  They celebrate for days, starting with a huge (35,000 people!) torch light procession starting along the Royal Mile and winding through the New City up to Calton Hill on December 30.  We bought a torch and joined in the fun and loved every second of the energy we felt with everyone else walking.  Below you can see the torches snaking up the hill- the procession was huge!

Daddy and his girls!  Everyone took turns holding our torch, even Tessa.  :)

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Hogmanay celebrations to be continued....

Exploring Bath

Before Christmas, we decided to take a day trip to Bath- a quick 1.5 hour train ride west from London.  Once we arrived, we started from the train station and walked almost directly to the Roman Bath Museum in the heart of the mostly pedestrian city.  Across from the museum is the famous Bath Abbey, where a round of Christmas performances were happening all day long and the opera singer we heard on our way into the museum was incredible.  

The waters below were steaming hot, despite the chilly temperatures.  These have been used as baths since AD 60 and later in the 17th century, people would come from far and wide to "take the waters" (believed to have curative properties).  I definitely remember seeing visits to Bath on one of my favorite shows, Downton Abbey. :) 

The natural hot spring empties here in to the pool

The natural hot spring empties here in to the pool

Walking around outside town- this is the Pulteney Bridge over the river Avon.  The scene where Javert jumps off the bridge in Les Miserables was filmed right here.  There are definite similarities to the architecture in Bath and France, where the original Les Mis story was based.  

View of Pulteney from the other side- you can see the familiar weir below that Javert fell into.  Shops span both sides of the bridge and its totally charming and awesome.  Bath had a small-town and ancient feel while being quite a big city with most of the same stores you would find in central London.  We really loved it.

The famous Royal Crescent that you see in so many period movies.  Jane Austen lived in Bath in the 19th century and wrote some novels based on her relationships and time spent here.  The whole city has a very Jane Austen feel to it- like you've literally stepped in to one of her novels (take the modern cars away and you're totally there!)

See what I mean?? :)

See what I mean?? :)

After the Royal Crescent, we walked to the Royal Victoria Park so we could go ice-skating...

Because the ice-skating was sold-out for a few more hours, we headed back to the shops and grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at one of our favorite family restaurants, Nando's!

I love ice-skating and it was really fun (and extremely exhausting!) to show my kids how to do it.  Brian has had a bad ankle so he watched while Kate and I helped our 3 novices: Taylor, Lauren and Tessa learn how to handle the ice.  We got the penguins for Tessa and Lauren, but Tessa soon learned that all she needed to do was stand backwards on its feet and be pushed around...she had a fantastic time! ;) 

Lauren worked really hard and eventually got the hang of it, which was really fun for me to see.  I love it when my kids grasp new things and she was on her own before too long.  Ever since Taylor broke her arm when she fell off a horse a year ago, she's been terrified of anything with the slight possibility of the same thing happening.  She used Lauren's penguin most of the time and never really got the idea, but I'm still pretty sure she had a great time anyway.  

Bath was so beautifully decorated for Christmas...we loved wandering the lighted streets and admiring this new town.  I can totally see why this is such a popular place.

A Weekend in Rome

I've wanted to visit Italy for as long as I can remember.  My favorite food (all things carbs + gelato...how can you go wrong??), the golden colors, dreaminess, history, etc. have always put Italy at the top of my vacation bucket list.  So, Brian pulled off the ultimate birthday surprise when two days before we were to leave, he told me we were going to Rome!  He had been planning the trip for over a month and kept it a total secret- he sorted two different babysitters, purchased the plane tickets, and researched the most magical hotel for us to stay in.  We stayed at the DOM hotel on the famous Via Giulia, on the right bank of the Tiber River.  It was a 16th century monastery at one time, and you can still find tons of exposed brick walls, cathedral ceilings and ancient sacred marble inscriptions, but its been beautifully and tastefully modernized.  It was within walking distance of all of the Roman sites and all-in-all absolute perfection.  

We arrived late Thursday night, checked in, and then went for a quick walk down the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Rome.  I seriously could hardly take it all in- I have never seen so much amazing charm all in one place.  It was everything that I imagined Italy to be... times 1000.  The gorgeous architecture, ancient cathedrals peering out and commanding the narrow alleys, perfect shutters and colors on every building, slippery cobblestone walkways, Christmas lights strung on all of the streets- I could hardly stand how awesome it was!  

The next morning, we woke up and went on a run around Roma...it really is the best way to see any city- and this is one stunning city. We ran by the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill by the Piazza Venezia, and through the winding maze-like streets and hills of the right bank.  I could not get over how beautiful this place is and made even better by the sprinkling of ancient ruins that you would just happen upon.  This is definitely one of my favorite cities we've been so lucky to visit.

After we returned to the hotel, we sat down for our continental breakfast of breads and pastries, with nutella, ricotta and custard cream spreads (only in Italy!) as well as some fruit and yogurt for good measure. :)  Our first stop after getting ready for the day was the Pantheon, one of the best preserved of all ancient Roman buildings because it has been in constant use since its construction in 126 AD.  Inside is a massive circular domed room, with an oculus at the top for its only source of light.  The most interesting thing about the oculus is that it never closes, so when it rains, it also rains inside the ancient church!  

Next up was the Colosseum.  The size of it is incredible- it is so massive and entirely dominates where it stands in the city.  However, both Brian and I felt like it was far more impressive from the outside than the inside.  We followed the Colosseum with the Roman Forum across the street, which was also very interesting and really huge- the signage inside was almost non-existent though, so at several points we felt like we were walking through a maze to try and find the exit! But, the views from the top of the hill looking over the city were fantastic.

View from inside the Roman Forum looking toward Capitoline Hill

View from inside the Roman Forum looking toward Capitoline Hill

Il Vittoriano is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy and its location on Capitoline Hill as well as its sparkling white facade command the city.  The Italians knew what they were doing when they chose the colors to paint this city.  When the sun hits off the ochre architecture, the effect is incredible. 

Il Vittoriano is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy and its location on Capitoline Hill as well as its sparkling white facade command the city.

The Italians knew what they were doing when they chose the colors to paint this city.  When the sun hits off the ochre architecture, the effect is incredible. 

After a slow Italian dinner, we wandered over to the Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous in the world and the largest Baroque fountain in the city.  We had seen it earlier in the sunlight, but at night, it really is an unbelievable work of art.  The water is a gorgeous green-blue and it is all lit up so perfectly against the white backdrop.  Its a major tourist hangout, understandably so, and you have to muscle your way in to get a picture.  But, its totally worth it.  

We finished off Day 1 with some delicious gelato...they sell gelato here like the Texans sell donuts (on every corner!) and I am not complaining about it.  I have to admit, though, that the Italian gelato shop on our street in London is still my very favorite.

The church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in the Piazza Navona.  

The church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in the Piazza Navona.  

 

DAY 2 ... Crossing the Tiber to get to the Vatican.  How awesomely Italian is this car with this view??

We saw the new James Bond a couple of weeks before we visited Rome and Brian said it took every inch of his self-control not to tell me about the trip during the movie.  The car chase scene took place right here along the river.  

We saw the new James Bond a couple of weeks before we visited Rome and Brian said it took every inch of his self-control not to tell me about the trip during the movie.  The car chase scene took place right here along the river.  

St. Peter's Basilica was MUCH bigger than I anticipated.  We couldn't walk in St. Peter's Square, only along the outside, because they had set up a ton of chairs for a service.  Getting in to the Basilica was akin to the TSA security lines in an airport.

St. Peter's Basilica was MUCH bigger than I anticipated.  We couldn't walk in St. Peter's Square, only along the outside, because they had set up a ton of chairs for a service.  Getting in to the Basilica was akin to the TSA security lines in an airport.

The mezzanine of the Vatican Museum

The mezzanine of the Vatican Museum

The tallest dome in the world is St. Peter's (in the background) re-designed by Michelangelo in 1547

The tallest dome in the world is St. Peter's (in the background) re-designed by Michelangelo in 1547

Its a good long walk to the Sistine Chapel from the entrance of the Vatican Museum.   But, its a masterpiece without precedent, so thank you very much to Michelangelo.

Its a good long walk to the Sistine Chapel from the entrance of the Vatican Museum.   But, its a masterpiece without precedent, so thank you very much to Michelangelo.

Man's hand on left, God's on right.  I love the symbolism of God deliberately and wholeheartedly reaching for us while we often idly and leisurely reach for Him.  Lots of deep thoughts on this one.

Man's hand on left, God's on right.  I love the symbolism of God deliberately and wholeheartedly reaching for us while we often idly and leisurely reach for Him.  Lots of deep thoughts on this one.

The modern Bramante staircase at the Vatican museum

The modern Bramante staircase at the Vatican museum

There are tons of people in Rome on motorcycles...like TONS.  On our first day, I told Brian that we had to find a Vespa to rent and ride through Rome.  Perfection, right?! So, on our walk home from the Vatican we noticed a place right there that rented Vespas for 50 Euros for an entire day!  We just haaaad to do it.  I made Brian drive because last time I was at the wheel of a scooter, I had a major crash on Cozumel while 23 weeks pregnant (read the story here).  Donning our matching helmets, we raced around every part of Rome we wanted to, in the very best way you can.  We climbed the Gianicolo Hill for one of the most spectacular views of the entire city with its many domed cathedrals and orange hues and from there, the view at the Pincio is just as spectacular (especially at sunset).  We rode through the charming neighborhoods by the Villa Borghese as well as Capitoline Hill with its traffic-filled roundabout and over and around the Colosseum.  We ate the most delicious dinner nearby, and then took our scooter back when it turned dark.  We followed up our chilly ride with...another gelato!  

View from the Pincio

View from the Pincio

Looking like true tourists ;)

Looking like true tourists ;)

As we were driving into Rome on our first night, I had a lot of thoughts running through my head and wanted to share them.  To begin, we know our time in Europe isn't going to last forever and we also know and recognize that we are SO SO SO lucky to have this opportunity.  Those two facts make living "in the moment" much easier- its akin to a vacation that you know is about to end and you just want to soak up every moment and feel so grateful for every second you have. Thats what I've felt on every trip we've been on since moving to London (and in London itself!).  I know our time here is relatively short and I cannot help but feel like my heart might literally burst with gratitude almost every second- its hard to describe, but its a very real feeling.  I don't take any second for granted and am so appreciative of all of the things we are learning and places we get to see.  My emotions are all crazily heightened- I cry at almost every school function that my kids are a part of and I think its because I know it won't last forever; these life-changing experiences we get to have here are becoming such a big part of us.  We are so very, very blessed.  

The Acropolis and Athens

Mars Hill

Mars Hill

19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
22 ¶Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
— Acts 17:22

Climbing the rocks of Mars Hill ... incredible view of the city (below) and the Acropolis (above)

Sweetest tour guide at the Acropolis 

Sweetest tour guide at the Acropolis 

Temple of Athena

Temple of Athena

Walking through the Plaka to the Acropolis

Walking through the Plaka to the Acropolis

Several rescued statues now on display at the Acropolis Museum

The view of the Acropolis at night is stunning!

I know this may be super obvious to everyone, but they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in England.  :)  That Thursday is just another day in the city of London, but because we are at an American school, they give us the time off.   Its not a European holiday, and so its the best time to travel- low fares, no crowds, decent weather still... we decided to book a last-minute trip to Athens and take advantage of this!  We were all looking forward to sunshine and warmer weather and seeing Greece!  I've never been and was really excited to see and learn about this ancient city that you study so much in school growing up (thats what we kept telling the kids, "you will learn about this one day and you can now say 'I've been there- I've seen the Acropolis!'").    

We landed on Wednesday afternoon and drove to our hotel in the Plaka, the old historical neighborhood clustered around the Acropolis (also called the "Neighborhood of the Gods").  We knew it wasn't beach weather, so we splurged a little on a hotel with an indoor pool so the kids could go swimming too (which they loved because they haven't been swimming in 6 months!!).  I have to admit, driving through Athens is a little bit of a let-down...the city feels run-down, old, dirty, and not in the best upkeep at all.  I was worried that we were going to run out of things to do in the 5 days we had planned to stay.  But, as long as we are together, right?!? :)

On Thursday morning, we decided last-minute to head to Hydra (see those very entertaining posts here and here).

We finally arrived back in Athens on Saturday morning, ready for showers and clean clothes.  After letting the girls swim for a couple of hours, we got ready and walked the 15 minutes to the Acropolis.  We found a tour guide outside and she was this adorable, sweet older lady that used to live in St. John's Wood!  Crazy.  Anyway, she was a true veteran of all things ancient Greece so she gave us a great tour- it made it even better that we could hardly understand her through her thick accent, definitely made it more authentic! We loved it.  The ruins are incredible...I kept saying that I wish I could snap my fingers and just briefly go back in time to see what life was like 2,500 years ago when the Parthenon was finished.  

The views of the city from the Acropolis were amazing...you could see how people thought it was the center of the world with its rolling hills set right on the vast Aegean Sea.  The stories of the ancient Athenian Gods and their part in this history is always so interesting too.  We finished our tour with a delicious dinner on the roof of a restaurant under the eye of the Acropolis and in the heart of the Plaka before finishing up our night at the incredible Acropolis Museum.

The next morning, we were able to attend church right in Athens, directly across from the ruins of the temple of Zeus.  I seriously love going to church in different parts of the world- it really is one of my favorite things.  We flew out shortly after the meetings ended.  We left Greece with stars in our eyes- our initial hesitation about how the trip was going to go, all of its ups and downs and amazing sights packed those 5 days chock-full of memories that we hold so close- it was a trip we will never forget and we really just have the warmest feelings about our time in this incredible country.  It has been one of our favorite trips because of the unforgettable memories we made together.

 

Stranded

So, the next morning, Brian woke up bright and early to book a ride on the first ferry out at 7:30 AM.  However, he was quickly told that this ferry had been cancelled due to the big storm rolling in and we would have to wait to get on the final 2:30 PM ferry.  Then, 5 minutes later, he learned that this ferry had also been cancelled (its apparently only happened one other time in their history).  That meant our first chance out was not until the next day IF the weather cleared up, which it wasn't slated to do!  Remember, we only had the clothes on our backs and were crammed into a hotel room on a tiny island while still booked for our hotel in Athens.  We were stuck!  Lots of anxiety going on about now because we had no idea when we would be able to get off the island and back to our stuff and our original vacation plans.  

Day 2...climbing all the hills in town

Everyone knows everyone else on Hydra and now they know us!! ;

Everyone knows everyone else on Hydra and now they know us!! ;

 

By this time, we had explored every inch of Hydra and were worried about entertaining the kids when it did stop raining.   Lets add to this that Tessa pee'd the bed...so Brian and I were washing all of her clothes out (the same ones that had vomit on them) in the bathroom sink and drying them in our rooms with hairdryers so she wouldn't have to be naked for too long.  I have to admit that there was some freaking out going on between Brian and I- this stranded thing was definitely not in the plans.  When the rain would clear during the day, we would explore more- climbing every hill and seeing the island from every vantage point.  By this time, we were the ONLY tourists on the entire island (our American friends had to take a 30-minute ferry to the Peloponnese and a 3-hour taxi ride to Athens so they could catch their 6AM flight out the next morning).  The locals were clamoring for our business, but soon realized that it was time to shut their doors- almost everything closed down at like 2 pm.  It was sad and also funny (I can say it was funny now because we are home safe and sound).  We ate a delicious dinner as the sun set over the gorgeous island, and we were hopeful about getting out the next morning (even though every local/new friend we talked to had a different prediction of how it would turn out).  We had come to grips with our situation, whatever it may be, and decided to just go with it.    Brian bought some hygiene basics and we hunkered down for another night.  

Our last night at the yummiest restaurant in town (we tried several!)  No makeup, no problem. Appearances were definitely starting to deteriorate...haha- so many awesome memories with these people that I love so much!

Our last night at the yummiest restaurant in town (we tried several!)  No makeup, no problem. Appearances were definitely starting to deteriorate...haha- so many awesome memories with these people that I love so much!

Brian woke up early again and headed to the ferry office to book our trip back.  Despite horrible weather predictions for that hour, the ferry was going to be taking off!  We were so relieved!  We didn't have anything to pack, so we quickly headed out to the port and boarded our ferry, riding through the tiny Greek islands dotting the sea as the sun rose on Greece.  It was gorgeous.  We made it back to our Athens hotel and let the girls swim for a couple of hours, got showered and put on clean clothes (never taking that for granted again!) and headed out for the day to the Acropolis.

 

Hydra, Greek Island

 

Because the weather in Athens wasn't looking too great, we decided to board a ferry for the island of Hydra (pronounced EE-dra).  It was a 2-hour ride from the port of Piraeus (a short taxi from Athens) to the car-less island.  But before we arrived, the dreaded sea-sickness struck again!! It was a really rocky ride and the kids started throwing up (Tessa mostly, and she managed to land a good portion of it on Brian, who happened to be holding her).  It was a smaller boat, and there was another American family on there with us- they happened to have some seasickness gum that they shared with us and that curbed all but one remaining Taylor vomit.  We would get much closer to this family in the coming days. ;)

We landed on Hydra in the afternoon and seriously swooned at this place.  Brian and I immediately looked at each other and said we couldn't spend just 3 hours here (which was when the last ferry for the day left for the ride back to Athens).  But, first donkeys!  There are no cars on Hydra so the only ways to get around are with water taxis and donkeys- ooh the charm!!  Of course we HAD to ride the donkeys, who were lined up along the water with their enthusiastic owners pedaling rides.  Taylor was a little hesitant (last time she rode a four-legged animal, she broke her arm) but the rest of us were in dreamland.  Like, this is real life??  Riding donkeys on a Greek island...and a gorgeous, perfect, charming, did I say gorgeous island at that?  There were beautiful, tiny, maze-like alleys flanked by whitewashed homes with flowered arches overhead...so dreamy!  And, to add to the memory, those guys leading our donkeys were fighting with each other the entire 30-minute ride over who-knows-what because it was all Greek to us!  But, we couldn't talk to each other because they were so loud and stubborn and we were just seriously laughing about it the whole time. During the trip, when our girls weren't getting along we would say "don't be a donkey walker" so it reminded them of how obnoxious it can be to listen to. :)  Such funny, good memories.  Hydra is a tiny island so we ran into the only other tourists, our American friends from the ferry ride, around every corner.  They were the nicest.

Riding donkeys on a Greek island!! Taylor holding on for dear life...I love her! (Reminds Brian and I of her death grip riding bikes in downtown Paris, here)

 

Island of Hydra upon arrival...seriously beautiful.

Island of Hydra upon arrival...seriously beautiful.

 

We walked all long the paths on either side of the bay, mesmerized by the beauty and the clear, green, rocky waters of the Aegean Sea.  We had to stick our toes in too!  There is something about being on vacation, relaxing in warm weather and listening to water lapping against rocks (or sand, in other cases) that is so perfect.  I wanted to stay in that moment forever. 

We walked back and made the final choice to let the last ferry leave without us and get a cheap hotel room for one night and just sleep in our clothes.  The kids were pretty excited about not having to brush their teeth or get ready for bed!  After searching for a while (99% of hotels were closed due to off-season), we found two rooms at a hotel with two single beds in each.  The girls all crowded in 4 deep to their two little beds in their own room.  We found a yummy restaurant to eat Thanksgiving dinner- they even had turkey, but no worries, it tasted nothing like any turkey I've ever eaten.  ;)   And, halfway through our dinner, our American friends came to the same restaurant.  So, it was like eating dinner with a big group of friends on Thanksgiving!  We ate and talked for a couple of hours and then we headed off to bed for the night.

 

Probably just as many cats on this island as people!  The alleys here were gorgeous.

Trying to find a hotel...

Ice cream makes everything better

 

 To be continued...

The Lisbon Marathon

The Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major in old Lisbon on Friday before the race

The Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major in old Lisbon on Friday before the race

Just outside our hotel near Cascais.

Just outside our hotel near Cascais.

Collecting our race packets at the expo...the only thing we were nervous about right now was the weather (see video below)

Collecting our race packets at the expo...the only thing we were nervous about right now was the weather (see video below)

Lisbon's "Golden Gate" Bridge in the background (actual name is The 25 de Abril Bridge)- we would run under it in the morning

Lisbon's "Golden Gate" Bridge in the background (actual name is The 25 de Abril Bridge)- we would run under it in the morning

 

View from our hotel room the day before...crazy winds and rain that knocked down trees and covered the streets in branches with the forecast not predicted to change  

 

Fresh-faced still, waiting for the race to start

Fresh-faced still, waiting for the race to start

Nothing but blue skies on race morning! 

Nothing but blue skies on race morning! 

Running along the coast and seeing all of the beaches and homes was amazing

Running along the coast and seeing all of the beaches and homes was amazing

Had to document the potty break ... mile 6

Had to document the potty break ... mile 6

They had flag bearers from all of the countries registered in the race for several miles along the course.  I spotted the Stars and Stripes right at mile 13 and was so excited

They had flag bearers from all of the countries registered in the race for several miles along the course.  I spotted the Stars and Stripes right at mile 13 and was so excited

Brian's course map on his phone- we separated at mile 13

Brian's course map on his phone- we separated at mile 13

At the hotel in Cascais after showers and the best massages!!

At the hotel in Cascais after showers and the best massages!!

Brian and I decided to train for a marathon 5 months ago- right before we moved to London.  We did our first run together in Maryland at the Jewkes Family Reunion.  Let me begin by saying that this would be Brian's second marathon and my third time training for one.  I have been plagued by injuries in the past- on the weekend that I was supposed to run my first marathon, I ended up having to get my knee scoped and at the second marathon in St. George, my knee literally locked up at mile 7 and I could not even bend it, so had to quit.  That was an extremely emotional experience for me and I concluded that marathons just weren't for me- my body was telling me not to do it any more.  So, when Brian mentioned that he was going to train for one, I was excited for his goal, but didn't think much of it for myself.  However, I decided it would be fun to train together until it got to be too much, and then I would bow out and let him continue.  

During the move, it was so nice to have a reason to get up earlier and earlier every morning as our runs got longer and longer.  It was our chance to talk about life, catch up and just be together, which ended up being so valuable to both of us during such a crazy time.  Plus, there is something so magical about being outside when the sun is rising and getting to know your city when there are hardly any people or cars about.  And, I slowly got hooked on the running again- we never ran for speed, just completion- which was so nice... I never got too worked up about an impending long run- both because I knew I wasn't doing it alone and there was no pressure to finish by a certain time. 

One of the best parts of the training was doing it all over the world- Brian and I completed runs around Hyde, Kensington and Regents Parks exploring so many parts of this amazing city we live in.  We also ran in the States- Texas, California, and Maryland.  Brian ran during his visit to Singapore, we both ran 15 miles through the valleys of the Swiss Alps and 7 in the capitol of Bern, then 12 miles in the wee hours of the morning in Paris- by the Eiffel Tower and along the Seine River.  Short tapering runs were done in Falaise, Normandy as well as Cascais, Portugal.  Our most memorable, longest training (22 miles!) and darkest run was started at 2:45 am in Regents Park so that we could finish by 7 AM, enabling us to make it in time to the temple.   Runs that we will never forget and that we are so incredibly grateful for.  You get to see so much more of your world when you're on your own two feet, and especially in the stillness of the morning.  There really is nothing quite as exhilarating.

When we went to Portugal, we had the best babysitters ever for our girls (Elle's aunt and uncle, Charity and Ian).  So, we didn't worry for a second about our girls and I doubt they missed us at all.  We stayed in the coastal town of Cascais, where the race would start.  We splurged on a nicer hotel, so we could relax and go to their spa for massages after the race, and it was worth every penny.   Like the video above shows, the weather was looking brutal...a major storm came in Friday night and surged on most of Saturday.  We did a warm-up run Saturday morning and came back completely and totally drenched, spirits very low.  The wind was brutal and caused the rain to pelt at an angle that actually stung your skin.  It was pretty unsettling because the weather was slated to get worse.  We headed to Lisbon, picked up our packets, spent some time around the city and the sun even came out for a little bit!  By nightfall, it was gorgeous out and perfect for exploring, which we did a little bit of.  We carb-loaded at an outdoor Italian cafe by the Terreiro do Paço and then headed home for some rest.

When we woke up, it was lightly raining.  After eating a light breakfast, we walked to the start of the race, 5 minutes away.  It rained for a moment, which soaked our shoes, but we were so glad when the morning fog lifted and the skies were perfectly blue.  The race started nicely...the first half wound right along the coast, by the gorgeous beaches and through cute beach towns.  We quickly realized, though, that the conditions were still less than ideal.  We trained in perfect running weather- 40/50 degrees back in London.  The day was quickly turning warm- 70 degrees and very humid due to the rain.  And, it was still pretty windy. We drank at every stop and weren't starting out too fast, just trying to enjoy the course.

At mile 13, Brian's hamstring suddenly tweaked out of nowhere and he had to stop. He told me to keep running, so I did.  I did not like leaving him behind, not knowing if he would be okay, or if he would even be able to finish.  You can see in his course map above that he didn't quit, but he had to stop and stretch and walk in several places.  I'm sure that his body and mind were doing everything they could to keep him going and its absolutely amazing that he kept on when he was in so much pain for so long.  I don't know how he did it.

Around mile 20, after the Golden Gate Bridge, things got tougher.  I knew I had about an hour left and I wasn't going to quit.  I kept telling myself, "I can do this, I will do this".  I knew if I stopped running, it would be hard to start again so I didn't let myself take a break.  I had trained so hard for so long through so much, giving up was not an option.  I hit mile 25, right in the heart of downtown Lisbon, surrounded by crowds of people on all sides, yelling "Forca!".  This is when all of my emotions came to a head and I was just crying and totally overwhelmed with the accomplishment that I had dreamed of for so long and tried so hard to achieve.  I was about the cross the finish line of a marathon!  So many big thoughts were running through my head like all the places Brian and I had been so lucky to train in, the power and strength and determination of the human spirit, setting and reaching big goals, hard work, the gift of the human body and its incredible capacity, so much stuff.  I couldn't control my emotions as tears spilled down my face, I sprinted in the last quarter mile, wanting to finish strong despite the pain.  And, I did it...I finished and it was one of the hardest, best, most amazing things I've ever done.  It sounds crazy, but it was a very spiritual experience to push my body so far and to overcome pain and doubt and see my will triumph towards a huge goal.  It was just incredible to experience that feeling.  

Brian finished a little while later, and when we saw each other, we both embraced and no words were needed- just so much love and respect for each other, and awe for the race we had completed together in Lisbon.