Sunday, August 30, 2009

i forgot to tell you we went to barcelona!

well, as you know, a LOT has happened over the summer. and we've hardly had a moment to catch our breath, let alone find the time to blog about it all... i'm so busy with gracie during the daytime that sitting down to my computer for any longer than 5 minutes to check my facebook account just isn't possible. and in the evenings, adam and i usually cozy up around my laptop to watch some internet tv (god bless!), which means i can't be blogging at the same time. so i've fallen behind on the updates.

so, before any more time passes, i feel like i should at least mention that we went to barcelona in june. it was our last family vacation abroad before moving here to texas. it's crazy to think that it was only two months ago when we were there -- by now it almost feels like someone else's life, something that we might have read about in a magazine but something that we surely didn't experience for ourselves! time sure has a funny way of playing tricks on your memory!

anyway, here's what happened: as is typical of the briggle family, when adam gets invited to a fun european city, gracie and i inevitably tag along. (think salzburg, hamburg, athens, brussels, milan, etc... you get the point!) this time, it was in sunny and sexy barcelona. sign me up!!!

the timing for this trip was really strange: it was right after our friend shelby came out to visit, and right before our move -- basically, shelby came, a few days later we left for barcelona, and then by the time we got back we had just a little over a week to wrap it up and say goodbye. so in a way the timing was AWFUL, but in another way it was perfect -- with all of the stress of packing, bureaucratic paperwork, and going away parties, we NEEDED a holiday! and better yet, the apartment we rented for the week didn't have internet access so we were offline for eight solid days! nice!

we rented a flat, only 30 meters from the beach. and, a useful travel tip to you all: whenever going to a new city, especially if you're going to be there for more than just a couple of days, SERIOUSLY consider getting an apartment! we were looking at hotels along the beaches in barcelona, and everything was at least 180 euros a night and very small looking. but we got ourselves an apartment, very close to the beach, for 100 euros a night -- nice! we had our own kitchen to make breakfast in, a fridge for gracie's milk bottles, a washer/dryer combo, and no noisy drunk tourists running up and down the hallways. it was perfect! it was TINY, but perfect.

our apartment was on a tiny little street, not as nice as this one, but comparable. it was in one of those typical tenement buildings that you think of when you think of big european cities. we loved it! tons of grocery stores all just minutes away by foot, and as i said, REALLY close to the beach.

so this would be a typical day in barcelona: adam would wake up early, get ready for his conference, and leave before gracie and i would roll out of bed. we'd eventually wake up around 8:30 or so, sometimes as late as 9:00 (!!! -- I LOVE HAVING A GOOD SLEEPER! what a good girl!!!), and make some breakfast: usually some yummy roll or chocolatey pastry that we picked up at a bakery the day before, some fruit, and maybe some cheese or chorizo. then while she was watching dora the explorer in spanish (ever wonder what dora teaches if the show is in spanish? she teaches english -- naturally!), i would get us packed up for the beach.

i'd pack up a bag of the necessities: sunscreen, lots of water (had to buy it in giant bottles at the grocery stores in the area as the local water was NOT good), snackies, books, sand toys, towels, a blanket, camera, and a beach umbrella that was left for us by a previous renter. then we'd hit the streets!

before gracie and i got to the beach, we'd usually stop at another bakery, produce stand, or supermarket for snacks, waters, and stuff for lunch. one time we found a covered market where we got some lekker stuff for that evening's dinner. then we'd make our way to the beachfront. (and as soon as we turned the corner so she could see the beach, she would instantly scream and squeal and go "ooooh!" and point, in case i missed it and maybe forgot that she would want to go get a better look.)

we'd hang out for several hours -- i'd get us all set up in the sand, while gracie dug nicely in the shade provided by our beach umbrella. and she'd just dig! and dig, and dig, and dig. what a good girl! i'd lay next to her, reading a book (i plowed through "the kite runner" in about 4 days flat!), and then we'd get up and jump in the water. i tried to be aware of our stuff, since barcelona's beaches are notorious for pickpockets, but since gracie and i usually went to the beach in the morning, it wasn't as crowded. besides, i left my purse and most of my money back at the flat, and the only thing they could possibly steal would be the camera -- it would suck to lose our pictures, but it wouldn't ruin our vacation. so i was willing to risk it.

after several hours at the beach, usually around 1:00 or 1:30, we'd head back to our flat for a late lunch. i can't remember what i fed gracie -- it was probably something we normally would eat at home (like a hotdog and some veggies). since we had a kitchen of our own it wasn't hard to find something decent and inexpensive to feed her. while she was eating, i would be cleaning up and sweeping up all the sand, pouring it out of her beach shoes and out of our bags, and getting her crib ready for naptime. this usually took at least half an hour or more, and by the time she was ready to nap i was ready for one myself!

she was usually exhausted at this point in the day, with all the sun and sand and fresh air, so she'd fall asleep right away. then i'd get out my book, pour myself a cerveza frio and eat some chorizo and bread until she woke up.

funny story: one day gracie and i explored a different area of barceloneta beach. i kept noticing that there was this area way down along the spit that seemed much less crowded than the rest of the beach -- i didn't know why this was, i thought maybe it was just less crowded because there weren't any cafes or bars down there. so one morning she and i checked it out. and i walked almost all the way to the end, and down the sand dunes, with gracie and all of our stuff in the hot catalan sunshine... got us alllll set up, and i look around... and everyone's NAKED. like, not just topless (which is common on any public beach in barcelona), but full monty naked. they were kind of giving me looks like "what are you doing here?" and i didn't know if it was because i was a tourist, or because i had a child with me, or if it was because i was still wearing my swimsuit. but omg, i was so exhausted from the long walk that there was no way i getting us packed up again to head down to the other end of the beach. so i thought, when in rome (or in this case, barcelona), do as the romans (or the catalans) do. so i stripped down and gracie and i went skinny dipping all morning with the cute gay couples (this was also the gay beach apparently) and old hairy men. it was strange at first, but i got over my american modesty pretty quick.

the afternoons were always different: sometimes gracie and i would go find an old church to explore, or sometimes we'd find a street band to dance to. one time we took a bike ride to the gothic quarter and found our way to some famous cathedral, the name of which i forget now. the first time i wanted to go there, i was way underdressed (a common complaint by the catalans of the tourists), and the "bouncer" wouldn't let me in. this time i brought a shawl with me to drape around my shoulders, and they allowed me access.

this particular church had a pretty courtyard area with ducks and swans walking around, and a beautiful well which was said to have healing properties -- you were invited to drink from it and pour the water on the areas of your body which needed healing.

i lit a few candles before we left.

one afternoon we found a street band ("el tumbao de juana" -- they are awesome! check out their myspace page here!) which gracie LOVED LOVED LOVED. my favorite part was the handsome gentleman dressed in white, whose sole job it was was to get the beautiful ladies up and dancing to the tunes. oh, and he sold a couple of cd's as well. (we bought one!)

(trying to embed a youtube video of gracie dancing to the tunes -- if it doesn't load on your computer then follow this link to see gracie's video)

sometimes we'd just go sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch people walk by. i'd order a mojito or something fabulous like that, and gracie would sit in her chair drinking her juice, and we'd watch all the doggies and bikes and little kids run around. people watching sure is fun, isn't it gracie?!

eventually it'd be time to eat. usually we'd eat out at a restaurant, or order something to bring back to the flat. our favorite was to order the little pizzas at a cafe located on barceloneta beach. it was cheap, filling, and gracie liked to pick the sausages off her pieces, so apparently it was entertaining too.

we didn't spend all our time alone, though. there were a few days in there when adam was able to duck out early from the conference, and we did stay for a couple of extra days just so that we'd have time to explore barcelona as a family. one day we went to the picasso museum, which was really fascinating, but not necessarily the best activity to do with a toddler. :-)

here's another story: the day that we went to the picasso museum, we decided to try to get lost along the way to explore more of the city. we came across a church called iglesia santa maria del mare or something like that -- st. mary of the sea. and anything dedicated to mary is something i want to see! so we ducked in to explore this gothic beauty... anyway, we're walking around and we realize that gracie is insisting on some word -- "may mi. mi mi! mi mi! may may!" and pointing. sure enough, she was pointing to the beautiful statue of MARY up at the altar! she was saying mary! without any prompting or guidance from us! isn't that amazing?! it must be because when we lived in hengelo, we would always go to the big catholic church to light candles at the mary altar, so i guess she recognized mary, even though she looked different here in this particular church.

(and now, as i type this, i have an asterisk to add to this story: gracie will say "mary" for just about anything remotely religious: a cross, a church -- or a building that looks like a church -- any statue or big porcelain doll, any oval-shaped pendant on a necklace -- i wear a mary necklace frequently and she knows her from there as well! but i'll take it! i think it's awesome that she knows this word and knows mary!)

adam also got some beach time with us. (he kept asking me, "aren't you beached out? you guys go EVERY day." my reply? "NO! let's go hit the beach!") we were able to go in the morning once or twice with him during the week, but we made the mistake of going in the evenings a couple of times, and the beaches are CRAZY crowded after about 3:00 pm. but if you're prepared for it, it's okay. the beaches, i have to say, are not the cleanest ones around, but they're actually not bad. of course, we're not beach snobs or anything, and there was something festive and fun about having thousands of people, from all around the world, half naked there in the sunshine with us. there were vendors walking around selling "cold" beer (their words -- not mine -- i'd say "lukewarm" or maybe even "not quite chilled" if i was being generous), and lots of women selling massages... i almost signed up for one, cuz they're cheap and lord knows my feet were killing me after all the walking we'd been doing that week, but i wisely realized that these women NEVER wash their hands. no way did i want a part of that. imagine all the bodies they touched throughout the day, all the germs they picked up, all the sweat and alcohol and grime that they'd been collecting -- then PAY them to touch me with the same hands? no thank you! grody! but i digress -- my point is that even though the beaches were crowded, it was FUN! there were other little kids for gracie to play with, there were different languages all around us, there were beautiful people from every corner of the globe, and there was the mediterranean, blue and expansive and gentle. it didn't matter that we couldn't find a quiet patch of sand to spread out in -- it was one giant beach party and we were just happy to be invited!

(youtube still not synching up with my blogger account -- so follow this link to watch another video of gracie, this time she's on the beach with daddy!)

eventually it was time to go. back to our lives in hengelo, and back to the chaos of moving. it was a real treat to be on vacation in barcelona, without internet (yes, i somehow survived, and i REALLY loved it!), in the sun and waves, all sandy and sunkissed with gracie, seeing the sights with adam, painting my daughter's toes, eating chocolate covered churros... it was just what we needed, one final time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

aer doofus

this is a message i posted on facebook, telling my girlfriends back in holland all about our "less-than-perfect" trip back to the states. i realize now in retrospect how much i was really complaining about something that had a happy ending after all... i guess i just don't like transatlantic flights, especially ones where i'm MOVING WITH A TODDLER! it all worked out just fine in the end, but getting here sure wasn't much fun... read on:

first off, you all know the story of my tickets, right? that i ordered them in april, but didn't get them until june, and only after a week of constant phone calls and nagging them. and then they were PAPER tickets, not e-tickets, and they'd only send them to an american address even though my trip was STARTING in amsterdam. so fortunately my in-laws sent me the tickets in the mail, but what a pain in the butt!

so then we get to amsterdam airport and it is a ZOO! note to you all: NEVER begin a trip during the summer holiday season! go either before or after because EVERYONE is at the airport at the same time! argh!

and then i finally get up to the kiosk to print up my tickets. and we go through the WHOLE process and then we are told by the machine that it couldn't process our request. so we get stuck in the "misfits" line and wait and wait and wait forever to go talk to someone about our tickets.

so then we're in the line, we finally talk to someone, but our seats are all messed up. we paid extra to get these special seats on the airplane so that we'd have more room for gracie to move around and play, but they ended up just sticking us wherever, in the middle of the middle section on the plane, and we didn't have those special seats! so i told the lady that i either wanted a reassignment or my money back for that extra we paid for those special seats.

well she can't process it at that moment because aer lingus (who i am now officially calling aer doofus) needed to reassign seats to the people who were sitting in our special seats. so we can only get our tickets as far as dublin for that first leg, even though we're supposed to fly from amsterdam to dublin to chicago to denver. so we only get our first tickets, and our bags for some reason are only checked as far as chicago. don't know why, but whatever. we had to run to catch our plane at this point anyway so i didn't push it. and i figured we had a 4-hour layover in dublin to get it all sorted out.

but wait, there's more! while we are getting our bags checked in, the lady puts a sticker around the handle (you know, the one with the scanning code on it to know where to send the bags during the journey). well, one bag is almost onto the main conveyor belt when the woman NEXT to the woman helping me, all non-chalantly reaches behind her, rips the sticker off, and throws it on the ground. like it was a joke. so now one of my bags doesn't have a sticker on it, so there's no way to know where it's going! so i'm screaming, "WAIT, WAIT, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" cuz it's NOT a funny joke, dude. oh my god!!! so the woman checking me in (not the one who ripped off the sticker), picks up the sticker, puts it back on my bag, looks at the lady next to her (the one who ripped the sticker off) and smiles at her, then smiles at me apologetically and then continues to check me in. no one says anything more about it. and i'm thinking, dude, if that's a joke, you need to find something funnier. cuz that's NOT cool.

(ps, that bag did show up in denver finally, but my big pink bag with all of MY clothes in it did NOT show up! fortunately it was on the next flight, so we waited an hour for it and got it before we got home anyway. but by then gracie was SO TIRED that i felt really bad for asking her to stay longer to wait for my stuff.) okay, so now we get to our gate. nowhere to sit. the plane is delayed. the gate is changed. we finally get on the plane. then we wait and wait and wait, cuz someone left a bag at the security check at our gate. finally brings the bag onboard and someone claims it. it was a FLUTE. we had to wait for a stupid FLUTE. so we take off like an hour and a half late. so much for our 4-hour layover in dublin to get our new tickets!

the flight is fine, mg takes a nap, we get to dublin. then we get off, find our way to the new tickets desk, and wait. and wait. and i'm supposed to be next, but some douchebag from chicago budges ahead of EVERYONE and demands to see a manager to get his lost bags or something. argh!

so now i get my turn, and i'm talking to the lady (the one who just got yelled at by chicago douchebag), and i tell her the situation, and she says that we can't get our tickets at her desk but that we're going to have to go through security, back to the main check in desk, and then get our tickets there. i'm close to tears, and i say something like "i understand", and then i compliment her on her bracelet or something like that. then she miraculously realizes that she CAN print up my tickets after all. which she does. but we still don't have our tickets for our last leg from chicago to denver, because apparently that's a totally different airline (even though i bought ALL my tickets from aer doofus over the phone).

we make it to our gate, get on the plane which is on time, and this is the best part of our trip: no only do we have the seats we originally signed up for, but we have a WHOLE ROW to ourselves! the plane is in one of those 2-4-2 seat configurations, and we got the 4 seats in the middle right behind the bulkhead, so we could all spread out and play and lay down and relax together. the plane was only like 75% full and all the flght attendants were all really awesome. i watched a movie, ate decently, and gracie napped well. it was a really smooth, GOOD flight. thank god for something easy! we needed it!

now we land in chicago, go through customs, get our bags, and have to go to the transfer desk to get our final tickets and re-check our bags. we JUST make it in time, we get our tickets, but there are no seat assignments yet. strange, but whatever. we go through security again, rush to our gate, and see that our flight is DELAYED and there's like 35 people on the standby list. FORTUNATELY, we weren't on that list, but i did have to wait in a crazy long line to get our seat assignment.

so i get to the desk, get our seat assignment, and we board. and here's another good thing: we actually bought an extra seat for gracie for the whole length of our trip, but we didn't need it for this last leg because she was probably just going to sleep the whole time anyway. so we "give up" her seat so that someone on the standby list could get home that night, PLUS i get a free round-trip voucher for a flight anywhere in the lower-48 states. (SWEET since this was only a one-way ticket, and now i get a roundtrip ticket!).

gracie sleeps the whole 2-hours to denver, we land mostly on time even though we took off late, but then like i said my bag never showed. so we grabbed some food and came back and sure enough my bag was on the next flight so i did indeed get it before we drove home.

but then it was a 2-hour drive home. by the time we got here, it was midnight (8:00 in the morning in hengelo) so we were EXHAUSTED! gracie woke up at like 5:00 this morning, but we all took a nice morning nap and this afternoon i'll lay her down for another short one. then we'll be back on schedule.

wow. what a trip! but we're here, safe and sound with all our stuff, and it's hot and sunny and i'm about to run some errands and grill out tonight. it's good to be home!

thank you for seeing me off in style at the train station. you girls are the best. if i wasn't so damn tired i would have been bawling. but trust me, i have shed plenty of tears over this move.

i think this message is probably long enough so i'm going outside to play with mg and do some shopping. love you all and write back!


our last day in hengelo...

it's almost hard to remember everything, since it was already a month ago. but omg i've been TOOOOO BUSY to catch my own breath, let alone catch all y'all up on our stories! long story short: we're in texas now, ready to begin our new lives. but first i have to back up and tell you about our last day in hengelo, cuz it was just lovely and wonderful and sad.

we planned it all out pretty well for the most part: the movers and cleaners and shippers and all those dudes came on monday, and took all our stuff away. then we had a cleaning party. then adam and mg and i all spent the night in a hotel around the corner.

adam ran out to the bakery and got us some croissants and beautiful pieces of bread (oh dear lord how i miss good bread!) and we reorganized our bags -- we knew that we'd be cramped for space and time over the next 48 hours, so we wanted to have all our stuff together and in order. we packed one overnight bag for the three of us, which we would use in our itty bitty airport hotel room and again immediately after returning to colorado springs so that we wouldn't be jet lagged and searching desperately for saline solution and toothpaste in the bottom of one of our huge bags. the rest got organized into large suitcases, weighed, and zipped up tight.

after reorganizing, i took mg to the park. our last day in the park! sad! we have LOVED this park -- it was redone over the winter, and opened at the end of may, and nearly every day after that we spent it in the park, drinking rose' wine or sparkling water, pushing gracie on the swing, or splashing in the water and digging in the sand. we have a LOT of memories there!

while gracie and i were playing, adam was finishing up a few errands: returning our internet modem to the right people, and reading the meters. then he met up with us in the park and we went out for a lekker lunch at the twee wezen, our favorite restaurant in town. i was craving a really amazing sandwich, since i knew it was going to be hard to find something like that in the usa... we just don't have incredible cheeses or bread here like we do over there, so that's what i wanted. i got a wonderful tuna-fish sandwich, on this beautiful brown roll, with a wasabi mayonnaise and lots of fresh things on it. it was divine! adam got himself a big-ass meatball, which he shared with gracie, and she just mostly at a ton of fries since that's her favorite food and the dutch know how to do great fries! we watched all the "fietsers" (bicyclists) pedal past us under the clear blue sky, with the church steeple and bells ringing, and it was simultaneously exciting and depressing. we are so homesick already for hengelo!

as long as we were right next to the church, we thought it would be a good idea to go in and see mary one more time, light a candle, and ask for protection and guidance and support during our long, difficult transition home. i have felt comforted by my weekly visits to our big basilica, and i pray that i will also find a spiritual home here in denton. or, at least a place where i feel welcomed and calm, a quiet space in which to think and to light candles. i know nothing here will feel as big and old and mystical as sintlambertus kerk, but i do hope i will find SOMEPLACE out there where i will feel as peaceful as i felt when i walked in those old doors.

after lunch it was naptime, but since we had already checked out of our hotel, gracie had to take a nap in the park in her stroller. adam sat with her under a shady tree on a bench, looking at all the little baby duckies, and i picked up a few things at the hema and at the etos (one is a department store and one is a drugstore -- both on our street. or, rather, on our old street. sad!) then it was time for me to meet my friend, josine (pronounced "yo-see-nah"), who was helping me with our check-out procedure with the realtor.

the realtor was right on time, predictably dutch, and walked through our beautiful house. it was painful for me to be there, empty and echoing, looking around at all the memories that took place in every corner of every room of that amazing, loving, lovely home. i couldn't bring myself to even step one foot into gracie's room during the checkout, since that was always my favorite room in the house: her pretty yellow room, which adam lovingly painted for gracie before she was even born, and where i nursed her in the middle of the night, and laid her to sleep every evening, and met her in the sunny morning. i stood in the hallway and shouted out my answers as the realtor asked me about the keys in the door and the plaster on the ceiling. this is me locking up for the last time. i'm not even hamming it up for the camera -- i was really pouting this much! waaaah!

we passed with flying colors (though we STILL have not received our deposit, and somehow i'm totally not surprised even though i am pretty irritated), and to celebrate i bought ice cream cones for adam, myself, and josine. we didn't bother buying one for gracie since she never ate ice cream whenever we presented it to her, but wouldn't you know it, on our last day there, she was suddenly very interested in MY ice cream! i got mango and raspberry sorbets, and i think the colors looked really appealing to her (much prettier than the usual vanilla cone we usually buy for her!). so she pretty much stole that away from me and devoured it herself. way to go, gracie! i shouldn't have bought myself TWO scoops anyway! i was happy to share.

okay, now we had to swing by the hotel to pick up our heavy bags, and then walk to the train station to meet our train. and who did we see there? our friends! a group came with balloons and cameras, and hugs and kisses, to properly send us off on our way! oh, you guys! you are soooo sweet! it was just like at the movies, hugging and crying at the station, with balloons and a million bags, and a train approaching to take us off into the sunset...

we boarded the deutschebahn (got ourselves 1st-class tickets, too, so that we could relax in our own private cabin with all our bags, and it was worth every penny!) and rode west to amsterdam, where we got off at the end of the line: schiphol airport. we walked a few meters to our hotel, checked in, and called it a night.

check out this hotel, though! it's all one room! the toilet and shower are right next to the bed and have these circular walls that pull around them for "privacy." (though if i had to use the toilet, i don't think glass walls would make me feel like i had any privacy!) the hallway looked like a bunch of storage closets, cuz the doors were all so close together, but those were actually our rooms! amazing! it was actually really comfortable, and surprisingly quiet given that we were AT the airport!

off to bed, then up the next day to fly home. or, "home." or, ... back to america. where is home now? i feel so transient these days!