Sep 6, 2015

Lutz Do Italy: Roma

Rome was hot. I'll probably mention at least ten thousand times that I was really pregnant on this trip, so, consider yourself warned.  Anyway, Rome was hot.  It made me appreciate the fact that my first pregnancy took place in a Kansas winter and my second in a Scottish summer (using the term "summer" loosely here).  But before we reached our swealtering destination, we first took our budget flight from Edinburgh to Rome (sike!) to Pescara, then back to Rome.  The flight would have been great: Eleanor fell asleep during takeoff and we reached Rome ten minutes early.  The plane was less than twenty feet from touching the ground when the pilot took us back up....and up...and up. Apparently there were high winds creating turbulence close to the ground and preventing us from landing.  We had to fly all the way to the nearest airport, located in Pescara.  We weren't allowed off the plane because the small airport didn't have customs/immigration, so we hung out in our cramped seats for several hours. Eleanor was wide awake by then, smearing chocolate from the only snack we had in our carry-on all over her increasingly sweaty mother, then attempted repeatedly to lunge herself from our laps toward the narrow aisles and to her freedom.  Finally, the pilot announced that the winds had died down in Rome and we departed for our original destination.  We were originally supposed to arrive around 10 am and planned to spend the afternoon sight-seeing, but after one delayed flight, two long bus rides, and one massive toddler meltdown, we didn't reach our AirBnB until 5 and decided to go to call it a day. We walked to a nearby osteria (restaurant) for dinner, then went home and crashed.  Every night we swore we'd wake up early the next morning to make the most of our daylight...but we pretty much always failed.  We slept in and took our sweet time getting out the door. And you know what? It was great.    

Edinburgh -->Rome

Aforementioned meltdown. Just keepin it real.
Roman Forum-- fascinating!

We downloaded Rick Steves' walking audio tours on our phones for several of the major tourist attractions in Italy.  He's a total cheeseball, and we had to constantly go "one...two...three...PAUSE!" so we'd be at the same spot in the tour as each other, but I do think it was a good move.  The tours were really interesting, and there were sooo many people all over the place, I just think reading out loud from a guide book while walking and pushing the stroller through crowds would have been a major hassle for us.  

Arc de Triomphe

If you visit Rome, and are near the Colosseum, do yourself a favor and find Zizzi Pizza. Get an entire box, maybe two, of the anchovy and zucchini flower on its perfectly thin crust. Your taste buds will explode and beg you for more.  

Church on Sunday was beautiful. We had to walk to the ward building, and were sweating buckets when we got there, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming.  Sunday school and sacrament meeting were obviously in Italian, but we were given headsets to listen to a missionary translate the meetings into English.  Neal and I made cringe-inducing attempts to sing the hymns in Italian.  


Spanish steps

Lunch!  I accidentally ordered tuna fish sandwiches an embarrassing number of times-if there weren't English translations on the menu, I'd just point to a panini that looked good, and groan when I'd open it after we'd left the cafe. I'm not picky, but I don't love tuna. Definitely not enough to order it four times in ten days. Thankfully, Eleanor Arden is even less picky than her mother and shared the fishy burden. 

Eleanor was downright scary about gelato. There was no casual-roaming-the-streets-of-Italy-while-savoring-gelato for us. As soon as we had a cone, she would frantically demand "more! more!" and cry loudly between we'd feed it to her as fast as we could in order to prevent passer-bys from staring. So a cone would last approx. sixty seconds until we could prove to Eleanor's satisfaction that there was NONE LEFT.  We eventually started taking turns discretely eating our ice cream far behind the stroller, one of us out of our daughter's sight, while the other pushed her ahead and pointed out dogs and birds to keep her distracted. I have zero problems with all the judging you're doing of us and our kid right now.  

Vatican City
Did a tour of the Vatican Museums--which we were told was a MUST--and it was kind of a nightmare. Long story short: we paid too much money for tickets to skip the three hour line and to follow a lightning-fast tour guide who we couldn't even hear because we were caught in the wall-to-wall crowd with our stroller. It totally turned us off of museums for the rest of our trip.  Which is a shame in some ways--I mean, we went to Florence and didn't see the David!--but we saved a lot of money and spared ourselves the headache.  And now we just have a legit excuse to return someday, sans toddler. ;)

We did love the Sistine Chapel.  Pretty remarkable.  You aren't supposed speak above a whisper inside the chapel, and there was a priest who would bellow "SILENZIO!" every few minutes to the hundreds of people crammed in there like sardines.  And when I say bellow, I mean bellow. It was both terrifying and awesome.

Bread + Pasta every night made for an exceptionally happy Eleanor (happier than she looks here, promise)
 Our favorite evening in Rome was spent in Trastevere, a trendy neighborhood full of shops and restaurants. It felt far away from all the crowds and we were able to enjoy a delicious desinare while listening to the hustle and bustle of locals preparing their own meals with their windows open.

We could have spent two weeks in Rome, but four days felt like the perfect length with our little rascal.  So with a promise to return someday, we bid our AirBnB host goodbye and hopped a train to the Cinque Terre.

Jun 24, 2015

Lutz Do Italy

Vernazza in all its grainy iPhone camera glory
When we decided the UK was the place for grad school, one of the most appealing factors was its close proximity to the European continent.  The months leading up to our move we would excitedly research flights on Kayak and Skyscanner from Scotland to...anywhereinEurope... and gawk at the disgustingly low prices.  We envisioned weekend trips to Prague, Amsterdam or Paris at least once a month. Ha!

The cost of living in Edinburgh is--get this--significantly higher than that of Wichita (can you believe it?) and we have a very limited budget because stay-at-home mom plus full-time grad student dad equals poor. We've been able to support ourselves through savings and student loans (gag), but haven't traveled on the continent as we hoped. The experience of living abroad has been more than enough--we know how lucky we are to be doing this. But! I have been dying to go to Italy for a looong time.  I took a semester of Italian my freshman year at KU and did less than stellar (8:00am class, every day? freshman year?) but fell in love with the idea of visiting a country known for pasta, ice cream...and a little bit of history.  So we made room in the budget for a trip to Italia last month and it was so, so worth it.

Thankfully, we didn't even have to make too much room.  Here are some ways we saved $$$ (really, £££. Though I guess in Europe it was . I digress.):

  • We flew RyanAir to Rome and EasyJet back to Edinburgh.  Both are well-known budget airlines and are just that...cheeeeap!  I was slightly terrified of flying a budget airline as we read in forum after forum of the crazy luggage restrictions, hidden fees, and sneaky ways they try to fine you.  We carefully read over all their policies and had zero problems with getting charged anything extra. Our luggage was even slightly above the weight restriction on both flights and they didn't care. 
  • AirBnB!! We booked accommodation through AirBnB in each of the four areas we stayed. We had an entire house with a furnished backyard in Rome and fully equipped apartments everywhere else. We weren't even that picky or necessarily trying to get a really nice place--we cared more about location and access to public transit--but fell in love with every place we stayed.  They were all so clean and even cuter than the pictures posted online.  The owners of each property shared advice and recommendations on things to do and places to eat in the area.  The owners of the house in Rome invited us to a party one night (though we were too exhausted from a day of playing tourist to attend) and we got caught up chatting with the couple in Florence.  Every location provided us with a crib for Eleanor and it was so convenient to have a separate room for her to sleep as opposed to staying in a hotel and needing to whisper/tip toe around after 8 PM each night. The best part?  All of our accommodations were way cheaper than a hotel! We didn't look into hostels--I know there are family friendly ones available--so I don't know how they compare.  We also had some credits for AirBnB and used them to completely cover two nights in the most expensive location (Venice).  We loved it! 
  • We were cautious about spending money on food.  We hit up a local market in every city to stock up on groceries for breakfast (though I do regret that we didn't go out for even one Italian prima colazione), and snacks to sustain a toddler, an 8 month pregnant woman, and my 6'3" husband throughout the day. We ate street food for lunch (slices of pizza, paninis, etc) and pre-purchased Groupons for dinner out on the town.  We also made dinner ourselves in our apartments a couple of times. Honestly, we didn't spend more on food than we do at home...though we did spend more on gelato than we do on ice cream in a month... or two... (which is saying  a lot because we eat a shameful amount of ice cream) but we had to follow the advice of getting gelato twice a day, so, no judging.
  • We limited our paid sight-seeing.  I'll elaborate (lucky you) on what we did in each city later, but we went to Italy with the mentality that we were just there to enjoy being there. We knew it would be unrealistic to try and do a hardcore Rick Steeves-approved tour.  Eleanor was just getting good at walking and had limited tolerance for the stroller/carrier, I had (still have!) a stress fracture in my foot and 20+ extra pounds in my abdomen.  So we went at a leisurely pace and just enjoyed the atmosphere.  Someday we'll return with unlimited funds and an empty womb and will do all the stuff the guidebooks tell you to.  But this was perfect for us (and easier on our bank account).
Our nice camera is still broken (it turns on and the menu/screen works, it just won't take photos for some reason. We have been meaning to send it in to Nikon for almost a year now), so we just had our phones and dinky little camera for the trip. Sad, I know. But I'd still like to share some photos and details about the trip because my journaling habit has decreased significantly since the birth of my daughter, and what is the blog for if not posterity?  So, descendants of mine, do stay tuned for highlights of each city. You know you're excited.

Jun 14, 2015

Visitors in Edinburgh: Nolan J and Barbara Ann

When I was first dating (and by dating I mean having marathon phone sessions with) Neal and he told me his grandmother (this gal) was born in Scotland, he shared with me one of his deepest desires: to take his mom to Edinburgh to visit and explore where her mother was born, which I thought was so sweet.  Obviously I didn't realize at the time his thoughtful plan would actually entail a transatlantic move, a masters degree, student loans, a foreign-born child...oh! and me. Didn't realize I'd be there too.  Anyway, last Christmas all the Lutz siblings went in together to send Neal's parents Nolan and Barbara to Edinburgh for a visit. (side note: things like this tempt me to try for a tribe of 9+ kids...awesome Christmas gifts? All the housework I wouldn't have to do? Yet as I type this I'm resting a bowl of ice cream on the belly that was just today accused of housing twins ("no, seriously, there must be twins in there!!"), while chasing said ice cream with TUMS....and all my senses are coming back. I'll be just fine with a coupon book for hugs at Christmas, thanks).  We were so excited to plan their trip and decided to do it in April over Neal's spring break.  They were here for ten days and made good use of their time: we drove up to Inverness, over to the Isle of Skye, back to Edinburgh, then down to England to attend the temple, and lastly up to Stirling.  As always I was terrible about taking pictures but here are a few from their visit:

Barbara Ann and her youngest granddaughter at the birthplace of her mother <3
Ran into a levitating Yoda on the Royal Mile
Hanging out in Perthshire, near Neal's great-great-great grandfather Donald Seaton's residence/probable burial site.
They came just before all the trees and flowers began to bloom, but at least we had some sunshine!

Outside Elcho Castle

View of Loch Ness

Tire change on the rental car...womp womp
Hotel parking lot--on the Isle of Skye (my favorite place in Scotland to date!)
Kilt Rock-- Isle of Skye

Because this Kansas girl can't see a hill without taking a picture.
Skye was a bit chilly...
...but beautiful

Neal said I had to share this because it was "the view in my review mirror for 90 percent of the drive"

Playing dress-up at Stirling Castle

A trio of highland coo, up close and personal

Jedburgh Abbey

Hadrian's wall

Eleanor loved, loved, LOVED having her Grandma and Grandpa Lutz around and was notably depressed when they left.  Grandma taught her how to climb stairs, played with her all day long, and was so helpful looking after her.  Grandpa sang her fun songs, made her laugh even when she was grumpy, and teased her just the right amount.  Nolan and Barbara are as good as it gets when it comes to parents, in-laws, and grandparents. They have dedicated their lives to service and family, and I admire them so much. We loved spending time with them and can't wait to see them this fall when we return home.