Sunday, January 28, 2018

Holiday travels... 2017-18

January 2018

Nov 13 - Jan 12
We left Cyprus bound for the U.S. November 13, 2017 for a two month stay taking us to several states throughout the mid west IN WINTER!!! and a quick foray to Florida for Kathy.  

Getting from Cyprus to the US can't be done quickly or easily.  Our itinerary took us from Cyprus to Belgium (looong layover), to Dublin, Ireland medium long layover) then on to Chicago, Illinois.  

We parlayed the Belgium layover into 3 days / 2 nights.  Because we could.  Our room was very near the city center but far from the airport.  Traveling with 2 big bags and negotiating the public transportation was a challenge.  Sign postings were good and in several languages.   Attendants at gates, patient.  Locals helpful.

Arriving at the hotel, we crammed in the tiny elevator and rumbled our way up to the first floor and off loaded our bags… after dark and quite chilly, we set off to explore and find some eats.  It was quite early (7 pm) so not much was open yet for eateries… many places in Europe don't open till at least 8pm usually 9 for dinner.  We found an open restaurant serving american burgers (uggh) and ate; a few beers were ingested as well.  Back in our room we nestled into bed to discover… the bed had a high spot in the middle… causing the sleeper to feel as though you would roll out and off the bed if not on guard.  It was clean and the price was right so we made due.  

Breakfast was included with the room price,  very european and satisfactory.  Fresh croissants, good coffee, tea and juice.  Salami, jellies, cereal, hard boiled eggs…  

Bundling up, we headed out with a list of ‘must sees’ for a one day visit.  The city center was soon crowded with groups of tourists, their group leaders holding orange umbrellas for identification.  The old square known as the Grand Place was gearing up for the holidays, power washing the buildings and statues.  Hanging lights and banners.  Genuine imitation gold painted on prominent parts of the architecture (spires, crosses and statues) gleaming with the occasional cloud partings.  

Nearly every store front touted good eats (mussels and frites), beer, chocolate, Belgium waffles, chocolate, beer, chocolate, etc.  We sampled some of each!  

The ‘Manneken Pis’… the ‘small boy pissing’ tops all the tourist lists,  so we set out to locate him.   First impression… he’s really small, 24 inches / 61 cm!   The pissing boy is a national icon and treasure.  The original, there have been many over the years, dates to 1618-19… the current statue was made in 1965.  There are many legends associated with how / why he became a sensation, a google search will provide lots of info. What ever the reason, he is loved by the people of Belgium.  

Over the years his status has grown. He actually has an official dresser.  His official dimensions and ‘dress’ pattern can be found on line as well as the requirements for his costume, of which he has nearly 1000.  Around 100 hundred are on display in His museum.

  Costumes must be approved by His committee before being displayed.  Yes, the pissing boy ‘pisses’ so costumes should accommodate this feature.  His costume usually commemorates a special occasion, national holidays or honorary visiting dignitaries / countries.  

After touring several historical buildings and sites.  We had lunch featuring the locally famous mussels and  frites then on to an afternoon of beer sampling.  Kathy, not much for beer tasting and certainly not outright drinking the stuff…. found a few acceptable to her palette at the Delirium Cafe… 2 floors of beer, beer and more beer.  Their catalogue lists and describes their collection.  Over 2000 beers, in house… How do you choose?  You ask the bar keep.  Tell him your tastes, likes, dislikes and he brings you something.  Kathy discreetly explained her dilemma and his response … it’s my job to change that… and he did.  She now is a connoisseur of sour beer!  Much like a cider, it is tangy and crisp.  Jim stuck with the many stouts and porters available.  With so many selections, we easily sipped away the afternoon then wove out way back to the hotel where we promptly took a loooong nap.  
On to Dublin the next morning and a 5 hour layover, then a pleasant enough 8+ hour flight to Chicago.

We were met with chilly temps as we exited the airport, a precursor for what was to come… 

We spent over a week in Libertyville hosted by Rich and Mary (thank you!) prior to Thanksgiving.

Many family members and friends, around 35, descended upon their home for an amazing meal.  We spent a lot of time catching up with friends and  family.  The weather was phenomenal for the time of year and there were even several outdoor adventures.  Taking advantage of Amazon Prime, we started making our purchases for parts and goodies to take back to Inishnee.  Luci Lights, boat parts, galley gadgets and crafting / sewing supplies to name a few.  

Our next stop, Michigan.  Thanks to the many friends and family offering up rooms for us.  
We ate at a lot of our old favs and saw lots people we had dearly missed these last couple of years.  We squeezed in visits to doctors, dentist too. 

A short but lovely visit up north to see Kathy’s mom Helen.  Nolan (grandson) accompanied us.  Again the weather was unseasonable warm, the roads open and clear.  

A day trip around northern Michigan took us to Traverse City, Charlevoix and Petoskey before heading home to mom’s near Johannesburg… the edge to the Pigeon River Forest.  Turkey and deer daily visitors.  Occasionally bear and elk.  

Having spent no more than 4 hours apart on an airplane ride over the last many, many months, Kathy and Jim separated for 12 days.  Jim off to babysit in Minnesota, Kathy off to sunny florida and her sons and their families.

Florida seldom disappoints.  The sun shown most days, a few rain sputters and cool (60’s) temps.  But it was a blast to catch up with the family...Stephen and Amanda, Amy, Keegan and Ben.  

Several years had past since we were all in the same state / city.  Days walking the beaches or hiking local parks… sight seeing alligators, manatees, and birds.  Nights eating family meals and sitting around the fire pit. 

Stephen and Amanda put on a feast several times including a HUGE crab boil!  The turkey fryer boiled up the fixings in the back yard, the table covered in newspapers, the grankitties very attentive in hopes of a few scraps.  

Grandson Kegan was a delight.  Bright eyes and an ever ready smile he stole the show several times.  The holiday light show at the Osborn home in a nearby neighborhood, their entire property flashing and strobing to holiday tunes.  

Every few feet a different theme; traditional snowmen, santa and reindeer, the grinch! helicopters and sailing ships, mermaids and polar bears… Keegan's dance moves to the musical Christmas tree light show were impressive enough the owner presented him with a ‘light saber’ !  

Another night Keegan was made assistant to the neighborhoods amateur magician… when cued, Keegan's 3 year old version of ‘abracadabra’ brought on belly laughs from the attendees… while the magician was not quite ready to tour vegas, his side kick

Keegan, certainly livened things up.  By the end of the evening, Keegan was sporting loads of paraphernalia presented to him throughout the show.  Thanks Dondini.

Bestie Carrie and Kathy had a blast hanging out and being girl friends again.  Shopping, eating and lots of yakking.   Carie and her hubby Janis winter in Florida very close to Stephen’s home…

Meanwhile, Jim was chilling out in Minneapolis.  Seriously.  Temps holding below zero F daily.  Son Alex and wife Nicki welcomed Jim to their home.  Granddaughters Nora and Natalie took a bit to warm up to grandpa but his handsomeness and great nature won them over.  Kid duties followed, days filled with sledding, library visits, reading stories, playing in the cushion pit (couch pillows piled mid floor) and daily lunches.  

He even broke his vow to never EVER go…but went; not once, not twice… but 3 times to the Mall of America!  Military family day; breakfast and free rides, the Grinch in person and finally just to get out of the house; too cold to spend any time outdoors… 

Kathy’s arrival brought even lower temps and we became house bound.  Christmas around the corner made for a festive time indoors with talk of the “Grinch’ coming… Granddaughter Nora is enamored with him and HE brings the presents at this house…

What a treat it was to awake Christmas morning and watch the delight in the girls eyes, discovering their presents and seeing what cool things the Grinch brought.  A doctors kit, science experiments, a Princess Tent, gymnastics outfits and a glorious indoor trampoline;  perfect to burn off excess energy when grandpa and grandma need a break from hide and seek, dancing and twirling or…  just need a break!

We even got to celebrate Nora's 'practice' birthday #4... we would miss the real one by 2 days...

Kathy, having had a very persistent cough for MANY months, decided to see a doctor… We can NOT say enough about the Minnesota medical community and Park Nicollet Health Clinic in  particular.  In less than 2 weeks, spanning the Christmas and New Year holiday (8 working days) Kathy was seen (x3), tested (blood, breathing, lung, heart ((yes she has one)) and diagnosed (mild asthma / cough (cold) variant and acute allergies)… Meds prescribed, prognosis good.
After all these YEARS of hating the cold, she now has a medical reason to NEVER have to experience cold climates again!!!!  Best news ever (insert smiley face).  

Our time winding down, the holidays over.  We had to head back to Inishnee and Cyprus.  We said our farewells to our Minnesota family and drove south to the Chicago area.  

Our mail and Amazon packages were awaiting us.   The discarded packaging made a larger pile than the actual goods… we began the arduous task of packing for the long slog home.  A new check bag was purchased and goods were shifted from bag to bag until; 1. everything fit and 2. each bag met the weight restrictions.  We just made it… as long as ‘they’ don't count the 3rd (heavy) personal bag we are carrying…

Our mail shipment included Jim's renewal for his Captains license... Unfortunately the new wording excluded him from being able to captain a sail boat... yes, really!   A call on Monday to the 'right' people, several tests and payments Tuesday...  Wednesday the correct paper work was in the mail so it's was off to the international terminal for the crew of Inishnee...

Chicago: O’Hare - Dublin, Ireland - Brussel, Belgium… one of our bags got ripped during airport handling, contents peaking through but hanging on inside. Belgian duct tape to the rescue!  A short night in a hotel in Brussels.  and  then the final, very early flight to Cyprus. 

More pictures ....