Thursday, July 30, 2009

Whirlwind Winddown

As our time in England drew to a close, we packed our days with farewell gatherings and other fun-filled events. Here is a smattering of happenings:

Noah's School Musical

The kids in Liv and Noah's school put on a musical, which consisted of 150 kids performing skits, songs, and dances. Parents queued early for tickets as there were limited seats, which consisted of sitting at a table and being served dinner family-style (including wine), while watching the kids perform for 3 hours. We actually didn't get a ticket for Liv, they were out by the time we got to the top of the queue. However, she did manage to see the show. Rachelle (the family law-abider) owes me (the family maverick) a hundred bucks for the feat of smuggling the youngest Cohen in. It wasn't a challenge because another ticketless youngster shuffled in with her. The musical was hilarious ... to the Brits. Of course there was the bread-and-butter Brit humor - boys dressed as girls (e.g., Noah and a pack of boys were dolled up for an aerobics routine - Noah is in orange). The rest of the show consisted of skits taken from 60's and 70's sitcoms - Brit sitcoms - which (no surprise to Rachelle and me) never made it across the pond. Nevertheless, we were proud that Noah had the guts to dress up, sing, and reveal his adorable midriff.

Rat Race

Roughly 6 months ago, I agreed to join Kevin and Miles in the Rat Race (http://www.ratraceadventure.com/bristol/), which is a 2-day adventure race through and around Bristol. We named our team '2 Yanks and a Limey'. Kevin convinced me to commit by letting me know we had 6 months to get in shape and we had Miles, a Bristol local who would guide us through the city. Well, with just weeks before the race, Miles let us know he was abandoning us for the Glastonbury music festival. Thus, we became 2 Yanks in a foreign land facing a grueling race. On each of the 2 days, we were given a large map of Bristol and the surrounding countryside and a list of clues for roughly 20 check-points. We were given 90 minutes to map out our course. Then we spent 3 hours on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday running and biking many, many miles; rappelling off the 6th floor of a parking deck; kayaking in the minging Bristol harbor with no paddles; racing through a mall looking for clues; jumping off of a 50-foot bridge into a river; and engaging in a number of other scary, difficult, humorous, and exhausting challenges to earn points. Phew! Although it was grueling and exhausting and at times frustrating, it was also an extremely fun time.

Final Travels

As Kevin, Janet, and Kaidyn moved to Stoke-on-Trent in mid-July, we drove up for a weekend to see them and their new abode. Rachelle really wanted to see Chatsworth House and gardens (the manor house/palace shown in Pride and Prejudice (Pemberley) and The Dutchess, as well as a few other films), so the merry band (including the Vowles family) toured it together. It was truly amazing, a sight to behold, and, according to Rachelle, the finest palace/manor house she saw during her year in England. The gardens were incredible, including the kids favorite maze. Liv was also quite fond of climbing in the rock garden. There were many waterfalls and water steps, which were created in the 1700s! We stayed with the Vowles for 2 nights and tearfully left our dear friends on Monday morning. We sure are going to miss the three Vowles. On our drive home, we stopped at Warwick Castle, near Birmingham. Rachelle remembered going to Warwick many moons ago (1980) and wanted us all to enjoy this largely intact castle. It was much more commercialized than she recalled, but nevertheless, we had a great time watching some live jousting and other reenactments.

The kids were thrilled that we finally got around to their long overdue Christmas/Hanukkah present from Grandma Andrea and Grandpa Jerry - a trip to Legoland in Windsor. The park had rides, shows, 4-D movies, cities made of Legos (fun fact: over 250 million legos were used in the park), and other fun-filled activities geared to the 6- to 13-year-old. It was actually fun for Rachelle and me too, and it is always great to see your kids gleeful over little bits of plastic.

Although we should have been packing, we decided to take a final trip on Sunday to Lyme Regis in Dorset. We drove through what have now become familiar little villages and made our way south to the coast. Lyme Regis was having a regatta festival, so the Brits were out and the little beach town was packed. After exploring the beach, Noah and I had what we figured to be our final fish and chips. We then headed home.

Farewell Gatherings

We have had a dizzying array of emotional filled goodbye events. The kids last day of school was July 22, and the school and parents organized a number of farewell events. There was a touching "leavers" ceremony at the church, with Noah and his cohort singing and then receiving candles and bibles. There were also class picnics and fortunately the weather cooperated for the full 2-3 hours we were in the park. Noah's class had yet another "disco". Finally, Noah and Liv had their own symbolic goodbye to the school and uniform by dying their hair blue when they got home.

We planned some goodbyes of our own, and had a dinner with 3 other families and their 6 kids, which was a blast. Only 2 days later we organized a 'Farewell Foreigner' party for 13 of Noah's and Liv's mates. This party involved a massive 4-square game (Noah and Liv converted dozens of Brits to the game and we expect it to take hold and spread throughout Europe); a capture the flag marathon; pizza and cake; and then a huge water fight with pistols, buckets, and water balloons. Needless to say, by the end of the party, the kids, Rachelle and me, and any unlucky undergraduate bystanders were exhausted and soaking wet.

I had 2 goodbye Belvedere football team gatherings with my mates at the pub, which consisted of lots of laughs, ales, pool, and dancing. Each lasted into the wee hours and the booze allowed these Brit footballers to open up by the end of the night/morning with hugs. The Belvedere pub presented me with some fab Bath Ale pint glasses, which remained unbroken through the night and will be making the trip home.

There were a few other pleasant gatherings and goodbyes, and each one was laced with intimacy and sadness. Liv summed it up when I picked her up from a sleepover at one of her closest friends. As we were driving home, she said, "Daddy, It feels funny to say goodbye. I wanted to really say goodbye but all I could say was the word goodbye." It is truly bittersweet as we will miss our new friends and experiences in England, but we also look forward to getting back in the groove in Atlanta.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Visitors

We had a fun and packed week with visitors. First, Rachelle's God daughter and her 2 friends came from Latvia for a week. We wanted them to see the best of what our area has to offer, so we took them to all our favorite Cotswald haunts (Bibury, Stonehenge, Avebury, Castle Combe, and Lacock) and then put them on a bus to London for 2 days. We enjoyed family meals followed by cards in the evenings.

After the Lat crew departed, the Tone family came to stay for the weekend. Erin (a colleague from GSU) and her husband John (Georgia Tech prof) came with their daughters, Sophia (one of Liv's mates) and Julia (1 year old). We spend some time giving the Roman Baths another look, as well as the Royal Crescent, the Circus, Sham Castle, and some local Bath faves.

Finally, thanks to Facebook, Rachelle was able to catch up with an old friend she hadn't seen for 15 years, Kristina Simane and her husband, Laimonds, who were visiting the UK from Chicago. We took them to a great little restaurant and broke bread and shared wine.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Noah's class trip





Rachelle here reporting on Noah's class camping trip. On June 10, Noah and his class departed for a 5-day trip to Abernat, a camp near Lianwrtyd (extra points if you can pronounce that one correctly!) Wells in Wales. He slept in a bunk room with his buddies Harvey (best bud), Ben, Alex, and Jack. According to Noah and Harvey, the class was divided into groups (Noah's group: Jack, Harvey, Wilf, Georgina H., Izzy, Cally, Clara, Adam, Theo and Michael; Miss Griffin was the group leader) and the groups spent pretty much all day outside doing various activities. For instance, Day 1 included orienteering and rifle practice; Day 2 included archery (a favorite), canoeing/kayaking, and abseiling (descending from a cliff with ropes). Day 3: obstacle course, raft design and building (out of plastic barrels and ropes), blind trail (obstacle course while blindfolded with your mates telling you what to do) and survival training (building shelter and fires). Day 4: zip wire, fencing and rock climbing. Day 5: Initiation exercises (problem-solving) and low ropes, home by 5:30 PM, exhausted and dirty! Noah and Harvey loved the fact that their raft broke and everyone got wet. They also took Alex’s towel while he was in the shower and got a real kick out of that. We parents are impressed that Alex was in the shower given that little soap or shampoo was used on the trip. Another highlight was the food. Noah said, and I quote, "No offense Mom, but those guys could open a restaurant." video

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Latvia

Our trip started on the wrong foot when I was picked out of the line at the Bristol airport because my carry-on was too big to be carried on. Not only was I annoyed to have to pay to check the bag, but I lost my spot and about 5 more Latvians cut in front of my family (I repeatedly learned on our trips that Latvians are polar opposites to the orderly Brits who always politely que up). The downsides to the cheap tickets on RyanAir is that there are no assigned seats and they make their money off of checked bags and other extra charges.

We were picked up in Riga by Gita and Anta, Rachelle's cousin and goddaughter. The kids and I used our Latvian 'hi' (sweiks) and 'thank you' (pauldies) and then let the 3 of them began yammering away in Latvian.

When we woke at Hotel Tia the next morning, Rachelle realized that she had left her carry on, with all of her clothes, on the plane. So, with Rachelle dressed in Noah's Real Madrid shirt and shorts, we enjoyed breakfast at our hotel, which was a great Latvian spread of dark rye and other traditional breads, fruit, eggs, and different dishes of veggies with sauces. Anta had the day off and served as our tour guide around downtown Latvia. Riga is an 800-year-old city with a variety of colorful and beautiful architecture. The city is a mixture of stone, earth tones, spires, bright wooden buildings, and bridges over the river. There are clear influences from the many years when Riga was under German and Russian rule.

After exploring Riga, we took a bus to the airport to retrieve Rachelle's bag - they found it on the plane and were holding it for her! - and pick up our rental car. After stopping by Hotel Tia so Rachelle could shed Noah's clothes, we headed to Lido, a combination restaurant and amusement park (http://ac.lido.lv/index.php?lang=en&sad=1). We found Gita, Anta, Toms, and Inese (Gita's son and his wife), picked out some food from the buffets, and found a table in the building that seats over 1000 people. After dinner, the kids, Toms, and I went to the amusement park. Liv enjoyed the rides that took her high in the air and Noah preferred the shooting games. All of us took part in the cannon room, where you are situated at an air gun and can shoot spongy balls at each other. There are 4 guns on each side of the netted room. Although the balls are soft, they do slightly sting, especially when they hit your face. One Russian boy let out evil cackles as he fired the gun until Noah repeatedly smacked him in the head with well aimed shots. The boy abandoned his gun, ran across the floor, and began pelting Noah with the balls. However, his throws were not as hard as the gun shots and when he was in the middle of the room, he was an easy target for all of the shooters on both sides.

The next day we joined Gita and Anta at the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum, which is a collection of old Latvian huts, houses, and other structures set in 100 hectares of open wooded land. It was a beautiful day for us to explore the buildings and enjoy some Latvian dancing, music, and food. We headed to dinner at Gita's, where Guntars (Gita's husband) cooked wonderful salmon and other dishes. The kids spent most of the evening playing with Gita and Guntars' new puppy, Dzane (pronounced Jane-uh), in the back yard while we grownups caught up. Rachelle was sweet to do some translating so I could join in the conversation.

On Monday, we met up with Anta and headed to the beach near Ragaciems, north of Riga. Lativa has some beautiful white sandy beaches, and the kids enjoyed making sand/snow angels. Liv and Noah built sandcastles and we had a picnic, having stopped at a local stand where we procured some excellent smoked fish. Later that day, we met up with Toms and Inese at Go Planet, a flashy indoor amusement center where we had dinner and played some high energy laser tag and other games. As Toms is a police officer, he easily outmaneuvered and outshoot us, even though he is a much larger target.

The next day we left our hotel very early and headed to Cesis, where Rachelle's other cousin, Gatis, and his family live. One of the reasons why we decided to go to Latvia when we did (and pull our kids out of school for a week), was to partake in the celebration of Jani, the summer solstace. Latvians get at least 2 days off (our relatives seemed to have 3 days) to return to their pagan roots. Most lativans seem to head off to the country for Jani and they try to stay up all night to ensure good luck for the following year. Gatis works at a sports school and was in charge of organizing a fun run over the holiday. We had signed up for the 6k road race, which had seemed like a good idea several weeks ago. When we got there, there were lots of fit Euros stretching and jogging around. We learned that there is a sports training college in town, and many of the students had shown up for the John's day race. Noah started the race with me, and I repeatedly warned him him to slow down and pace himself, but some things you have to learn the hard way. After a kilometer or so, he gasped that he would wait and run with Rachelle and Liv. I took off and enjoyed passing runners for the rest of the race as I had been able to conserve energy with Noah. I ended up 31st overall and 1st in my age group, which was a boost a day before my birthday. I waited in the heat with the growing crowd of sweaty europeans (yes, it was stinky), I was able to snap photos of Liv and Rachelle and later Noah crossing the finish line. We all enjoyed the post-race free food and drink and exploring the adorable quaint town and castle before heading to Gatis' house.

Gatis, his wife Gita (a different Gita), their 17-year-old daughter, Zane, and their 4-year-old daughter, Marta, live on an idylic spot of farm land on a pond. We spent

the rest of the day celebrating John's day by weaving flower and reed head wreathes, eating Latvian food, enjoying the sun, and playing. I had to excuse myself to Skype back to the U.S. to chair a student's thesis defense, which went well despite a spotty internet connection. Once I re-joined the group, I could enjoy Gatis' homeade beer, which he kept in a large metal vessel hung by a rope down a deep hole in the ground. Gatis' stoked up his sauna, where I enjoyed a traditional ritual cleansing session. This involved me laying down, Gatis' throwing water and incense on the hot stones to steam up and vaporize the room, and then whipping me with birch branches and leaves. He also did some swirling of the hot air over my chakras and whipped me some more until he and I were completely exhausted. We would then dash out of the sauna and dive into the cold pond. This process is repeated 3 times until I enter a nirvana-out-of-body-existential state, which is helped along by the Gatis' home brew. The rest of the day and night were consumed by a haze of eating, singing, and playing; everyone except Noah, Liv, Marta, and Inese (who is pregnant) woke to hangovers the next day.

After some strong coffee/syrup, dark Latvian rye, and other food, we all went on a hike in the Gaujas National Park. We waded in the cold Gauja river and enjoyed the view from the top of a hill. We returned to the home for more playing, fishing in the pond, and relaxing and napping in the sun. Everyone learned it was my birthday, and they sang 3 different Latvia birthday songs. I wish I had a recorded the final song, which was a heavily accented version Happy Birthday. We had a great lunch, including the grilled fish we had just caught. As the birthday boy, I enjoyed an especially big fish that Noah had landed. In the afternoon, we reluctantly said farewell to everyone and headed back to Riga.

On our drive, we decided to peak into Sigulda, a lovely village. As the kids slept in the backseat, Rachelle and I cruised the tree-canopied streets. We then noticed signs pointing to an adventure park of some sort (http://www.tarzans.lv/en). As we neared it, Rachelle whispered to me, "Should we go to the ropes course?" and Liv popped out of her sleep and said, "YES!"

The Tarzan ropes course is like your typical ropes adventure course, but on steroids. If this type of course were found in the U.S. it would be limited to adults who are under very tight supervision. In our case, we had some too-cool teens who quickly mentioned that we should make sure to always be attached by our caribiners to the wires and let us have at it. We were proud of Noah who is scared of heights, but managed to make it through the green and blue courses. As I have done ropes courses before, I watched very closely as Rachelle, Liv, and Noah clipped and un-clipped and moved through the obstacles (e.g., rope swings, climbing walls, widely-spaced wooden slatted bridges, zip lines), which swayed in the tops of very tall trees. Noah dropped off and repeated the green and blue course as Liv, Rachelle, and I moved on to red. Liv was disappointed that she was too young for black or super-black and Rachelle had no intention of moving past the red trail. Once I committed to the black and then super-black, I regretted it, but there is really no turning back. With the teen workers no where in sight and no one to instruct me, it was somewhat sketchy and quite scary.

Rachelle, Liv, and I left Noah and his book as we took the chair lift to the top of the hill for the final course, which consists of a series of zip lines and obstacles, with the final zip line being 150 meters. The teen who sat at the beginning of this course took a break from texting on his cell to watch Liv zip off on the first wire. He then told me to go ahead. I couldn't see Liv or the end because of the trees, but I hooked up and began speeding down the wire. As I picked up speed I saw ahead of me Liv suspended on the wire about 10 feet from the tree platform ending zone. Our eyes locked as we realized we were about to collide, and I barely had time to spread my arms and legs to cushion the impact before we slammed into each other. We were more freaked out then hurt, and one of Liv's shoes flew off into the woods down below. We realized that Rachelle would soon be zipping into us, so I managed to reach overhead and pull us along to the platform. Liv and I stayed shaken up, but finished the course, with some new rules (e.g., I went first to catch Liv so she wouldn't bounce off the tree and back into space, we would yell to the person behind that we were off if they couldn't see us). Despite our near-death experience, we had a great time. Rachelle experienced "flow" while sipping down and the views of the surrounding countryside from the lines were stunning.

As if our day at the ropes course wasn't enough, we decided to go to the water park (http://www.akvaparks.lv/en/) the next day. We opted for the all-day pass, which gave us enough time to explore the large facility. There were indoor and outdoor slides of every variety, a wave pool, a spa area (saunas, steam rooms, jacuzzis, massages, warm pool with a bar, etc.), restaurants, and a "river" twisting throughout the park. As I had repeatedly learned on our trip, especially at the ropes course, laws, rules, and safety are much more fluid and flexible in Latvia. So, I was not surprised when I saw some of the high speed and nearly vertical slides manned by cell-phone toting, gum chewing teens. For example, Liv and I went on a slide in which we had to learn the hard way that you should hold your head up to keep it from banging on the way down. Ouch. After 6 hours, we tried every slide, enjoyed relaxing in the spa area, and repeated our favorite slides a dozen times. No doubt all four of us had a blast.

We spent a low-key last day returning our rental car and hanging out with Gita and Anta. All in all, we had a great visit with friends and family in Latvia.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When the Mice are Away...

Noah and all of his classmates went on a camping trip this past week, so Liv enjoyed being the solo child. On Monday, I picked up Liv and her buddy, Bryony, from school and we headed to the Climbing Academy in Bristol, an indoor bouldering facility (http://www.theclimbingacademy.com). Bryony shares Liv's love for climbing and they were in heaven scaling the walls for hours. Bryony's dad surprised us by dropping in and the 4 of us grabbed dinner at Liv's favorite pub, the Globe. Liv said it was one of her favorite days.

On Thursday, Liv was going to a birthday party straight from school, and so Rachelle and I were kid-free from 8:40a until 7p. After dropping Liv off at school we headed to Blenheim Palace (http://www.blenheimpalace.com), the home of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill. The palace and grounds were exquisite and we enjoyed listening to the knowledgeable tour guide. We were particularly fascinated by the story of the 9th Duke, who had an arranged marriage to Consuela Vanderbilt. As both the Duke and Conseula were in love with others, the Duke was bribed (approximately 75 million in current currency) and Consuela was locked in a room until they were forcibly married. The marriage lasted 11 years before they went their separate ways, Consuela finding love in a second marriage and the Duke suffering a difficult and short-lived second marriage. We also enjoyed reading the numerous letters written by Winston Churchill, who played and lived in the house in his youth. One letter sticks in my mind, which was a young Winston's eloquent complaining to his father about his overly strict teachers at his school.

In the afternoon we headed to nearby Oxford to explore the small city and large university. It had much of the feel of a college town with bustling cafes and pubs full of lively young folks, with the occasional Oxford student standing out in the required black school robes. We marveled at the beauty and history of Christ Church as we wandered the grounds, buildings, and cathedral. Eventually we had to head home and pick up Liv from her birthday party. Although it was a fun week, we were all three excited to welcome Noah back home Friday evening.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Celebrate Good Times

FC Belvedere End of Year Do

The FC Belevedere had the end of season party at the Belvedere pub, and it was a night to remember. We had a room to ourselves, which suited the rest of the pub just fine, as we were loud and rowdy. After the pool tournament and some food, we turned to the awards ceremony. After the Most Improved and Top Scorer awards cam the Player-of-the-Year Award. Suspense was kindled by Brian, our manager, who read off the number of votes received by different players starting at the bottom. As we neared the top, some guys started patting my back as I had not been called out yet. When Brian announced that I had won the award, I was hoisted up and carried around by some of my teammates. I received a nice engraved trophy, with my name, the team, year, and the words "Players Player". The night wound on in the typical fashion of toasts, drinks, songs, and messing around. The owner of the pub left, which allowed us to make ourselves at home behind and in front of the bar. Unfortunately, our antics resulted in a toppling over of some players and a small table. When the dust settled, my trophy was found in bits on the floor. Bummer. I made it home in the wee hours with the little "Players Player" piece of the trophy in my pocket. When Liv heard the story, she took the piece and stole away. Later, she presented me with a trophy she had constructed (see picture).

Noah's Belated Birthday Party

Although Noah turned 11 on March 10, with all of our European gallivanting, we really didn't have a free weekend for the party until June 6! Noah had said he wanted the party to be a series of competitive games, likely inspired by our visit to Greece and talk of the Olympics. Well, Rachelle and I really rose to the challenge, and came up with the "Anglo-American Games". The Games consisted of 7 challenges tapping mental and physical abilities. The 3 3-player teams first squared off in a contest of creativity as they came up with team names and chants. They each rank-ordered their favorite, and the "Gambling Turkeys" took the early lead. Over the series of games, which included a campus-wide treasure hunt (the Silverbacks won with 16 minutes and only 2 of the 3 kids hobbled across the finish line with cramps). After pizza, veggies, and fruit, we jumped into Boggle, badminton, Wayne's World memory game, and Worst Case Scenario. The teams were within a point of each other with the Silverbacks in a 1 point lead. We then passed out the eggs, to be named, decorated, and packaged up to survive a 2-story plunge onto concrete. Unfortunately, the Gambling Turkeys broke their first one when they were trying to cram a balloon hat onto the top and then dropped their second one. They were out! Both the Silverbacks and Money make elaborate protective devices, but tied with the Turkeys as each egg contraption hit the concrete with a crack and a bit of tell-tale ooze. The final score, Money (15), Silverbacks (13), and Gambling Turkeys (13).

Centre for Pain Research Launch

Instead of "Grant Opening" the term "Launch" is used here, and it was high time for the University of Bath to host the launch of the pain centre, which has been in business since shortly before I joined it in August 2008. Sexy advertisement posters (see picture) were hung around campus and details were set. Chris Eccleston, the director, asked if I would give a talk. In his kind and sharp ways, he was able to combine my Centre talk with the David Parkin Public Address. We had a good showing with the auditorium fairly filled, and my talk went well. The food, drinks, and poster session following the talks was jovial and Rachelle and I were able to smuggle some of the bagels and pizza home for the kids.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Greece

















We had a wonderful 9 days in Greece, filled with sunshine, baklava, swimming, and dancing. We flew into Thessaloniki and spent 2 days there exploring the bustling city. Liv said, “This place is a mixture of old buildings and new buildings, loud people and cars, smoke, water…but it all seems to fit together.” Part of the reason for our trip was to attend the wedding of Christina Vlahou (a former student of mine, who returned home to Greece after earning her PhD) and Chris (her Greek fiancé who attended Georgia Tech). We had a wonderful dinner with the lovely Vlahous (see picture) and the next morning everyone drove to Litohoro, the village where the wedding would take place.

Litohoro is a cute little village nestled in the foothills of Mount Olympus, home to Zeus. One of the highlights was when we met two of Christina’s friends at a café, and they were introduced to us as “Nick and Nick”. We had recently watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding and flashed back to the scene when half of the wedding party was introduced as “Nick.” The day before the wedding, we hiked in the Mount Olympus National Park, and the kids and I had an intense and prolonged pine cone battle on the rocks along and across a small river.

The wedding was held in the mountains at a tiny adorable church. If you looked up you could see snow-capped mountains and the view down went to sea. It was quite a spot. The wedding was all in Greek with a sort of chanting like rhythm. The ceremony was a blast and the dancing was wild, partly helped by the pitchers of Ouzo on the tables. Some of the traditional Greek circle dances came easy to Rachelle and me who had danced a Jewish Hora or two. The best man told me that after our dancing we could officially be called “Cohenopolis”. In addition to the traditional Greek music and dancing, the DJ spun some excellent 70s and 80s tunes.

The next morning around 10:30 we popped into our rental, turned on Emily, and dialed in our destination in Volos to catch the one-a-day 12:00 ferry to Volos. Our mouths dropped when we saw that our trusty GPS Emily estimated our arrival at 12:17. Emily is incredibly accurate. As I took off and joined the other crazy Greek drivers, Rachelle repeatedly said that we could just sleep in Volos for a night. I was determined to make the ferry and before too long Emily’s ETA was 12:16 and then 12:15! Rather than say I was driving like a maniac, I will simply comment that I was driving like the average Greek driver. They are total whackos behind the wheel and take all laws, such as red lights and speed limits, as mere suggestions. Go Greece Lightning Go! We pulled into the ferry place at 11:58. I jumped out to the booth the purchase the tickets and the woman told me that they did not take credit cards and the ferry was leaving. I high-tailed it to an ATM across the street and back and she honestly thought I had not moved and had just pulled out the cash. We spun over to the ferry and the guys waved us on and the ramp closed just as we pulled off of it and into the ferry. Phew.

The ferry ride was beautiful as we cruised through the blue Mediterranean and among the island. We found a great little bungalow in Skiathos with a huge deck that looked out over the beach and sea, and allowed the kids to be able to monitor the deterioration of their sandcastle in the evening. Each day we either stayed at our beach and swam, snorkeled, climbed the rocks around to other coves (Liv and me), relaxed in our chairs under the big umbrellas, and played in the sand. Some days we explored other beaches on the island, which varied from secluded coves to larger beach stretches with taverns. There are supposedly 61 beaches on the 19 square-mile island. One day we took a boat cruise, which allowed us to visit some of the coves that are not accessible by foot as well as some nearby small islands. The island is lush and green and quite hilly, and we spent one afternoon hiking and exploring the ruins of the village, which was the town center when repeated pirate attacks sent the Greeks into the hills. Another day we visited a hilltop monastery, and enjoyed watching the chickens and roosters run around within the stone walls. We also spent some time in the downtown area, especially at one café that had WIFI. The owner, Yannis, was sweet and we enjoyed talking with him. We had several great dinners, with one being memorable for the view over the sea and another for the tunes from the Greek musicians. at restaurants that overlooked the sea

The trip home was a bit harrowing because we arrived back at our hotel in Thessaloniki around midnight in order to leave the hotel at 3 to catch our 4:30 flight. If paying the hotel for 3 hours wasn’t annoying enough, they had an incredibly loud and smoky wedding that was in full swing when we arrived and when we left in our taxi a few hours later. We did catch some zzz’s on the flight to Heathrow and then on the bus back to bath. Of course, a Sunday afternoon back in our own beds didn’t hurt.