Venice, Italy

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The winding streets, the Grand Canal, San Marco's piazza, the gondola's....yeah, it doesn't get much more romantic than beautiful Venezia. 

I was fortunate enough to have visited this lovely city once before with the hubby on our one year anniversary.  We had heard mixed reviews about it and we weren't sure what to expect.  Well, we loved it.  Only three days, but it was just right.
Therefore, I wasn't hesitant to return when I knew my mom and stepdad would be in Italy with us.  With the help of the amazing owner of my house in Mennagio, we were able to book our train travel to Venice from Como.  Through Hotels.com I found a nice room for the night.  We were set to go.
Up early, walked down to the ferry landing.  Took the ferry across to Varenna and walked to the train station.  Caught a train to Milan, then from Milan to Venice.  The train ride was nice, the girls played on my iPad and mom, stepdad and I played Scrabble on mom's iPad. 
We arrived mid afternoon.  Not sure where the hotel was located, my stepdad decided to just hire a water taxi.  The man was very friendly, called the hotel, got directions...and off we went.  The ride was so fun...if we'd been on the Strip in Vegas, we would have been those goofy tourists with their heads sticking out of the top of the limo.  Snapping pictures along the way....and just 10 minutes later we were at our hotel.  

The girl who worked the front desk was so nice and upgraded our room.  We walked into a mini palace.  It was something!  Black walls, red and white Murano glass chandeliers, red covered bed...lets just say it kept us talking for a few hours!  We were in a nice location close to San Marco's piazza. 
Dropped off our bags and headed out! 
Found a nice restaurant to eat lunch...but ended up costing us $200 Euro...okay, so THAT was not a fun bit.  We headed to the piazza and since my stepdad had a bum knee, mom, me and the girls headed to the clock tower.  Well, stepdad could have gone with us...the stairs to climb up were closed, so everyone had to take the lift.  The girls were so disappointed (so were me and mom!).  Ah, but the view was incredible...just breathtaking.  Such a small city, but so unique.

The kids and stepdad went back to the hotel later that day and mom and I went for a quick drink so we could see Venice at night.  So pretty.

The next day mom and stepdad headed off for some couple time and I took off with the girls.  We took a gondola ride...which they totally loved.  The got the giggles every time the guy had to duck under a bridge...so, yeah, they were laughing every minute along the way.
Then we took the ferry along the Grand Canal.  Found the same restaurant where Matt and I had dinner one day and sat down for a nice lunch.  

The up side...it was tons of fun sharing this with my family and the girls.  The down side...it was really crowded...and hot.  I totally recommend going when it's not peak season.  But would I go back again...you bet.  :)

What is your favorite thing about Venice?



Friday in Ikea in Saudi...

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A couple of weeks ago we went to Jeddah just to hit up the Ikea there.  It was a Friday...we left that morning and got ourselves to the underground parking at about 4:15pm.  Since it's Friday (holy day), Ikea won't ope until 5pm.  We had a problem with the car that caused it to overheat and spit radiator fluid all over the ground.  (that got us some looks)  Matt headed off to find an auto parts place and left me waiting with the girls for the doors to open.  
Let's just say, I'm never going back to Ikea on a Friday again.  It was chaos.  Pure chaos.  There were so many people...at one point I lost Lily in a sea of black...and about 5 mini heart attacks till I saw a figure draped in black holding her hand and walking her over to me.  How did she know she belonged to me?...yeah, we were one of a handful of families that were westerners.  (that should have been my first clue)  I was near tears when Matt finally showed up.  It was insane trying to get through the store and actually get what you needed.  Top that off with the fact that we were all starving...and the damn restaurant was closed.  It took Matt over a half hour to run downstairs and get 4 little wraps.  In the end, we managed to get what we came for and after a 30 minute wait to check out, we were back on the road. 

everyone waiting patiently to get into Ikea...


Bellagio and Varenna

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I'm am going through my photos and I'm overwhelmed....I can't believe the amount of things we crammed into 6 weeks!  We were a busy family, that's for sure!
So, here's a quick post about two of the most famous towns on Lake Como.  Bellagio is infamous of course...the movies have made this place glamourous.  It truly is a lovely little town...lots of little alleys to take you up and down.  Restaurants and shops tucked here and there.  The town is small, and it doesn't take long to see the whole of it.  Unless of course, you stop at all the shops along the way! (or for a glass...ok, bottle...of wine)  We found an amazing little wine bar tucked away along one alley...floor to ceiling wine and beautiful stone.  The wine was fabulous with a side of salty Italian cheese and prosciutto.  I had been to Bellagio once before with the hubby on our one year anniversary trip.  We had a blast wandering around.  This time, I had so much fun with my girls...we sat outside at a little cafe where they ate a delicious risotto and mommy sipped white wine and used the cafe wifi to message daddy...then we'd stop for gelato and wind our way back to the docks to catch the ferry home.

Visiting Varenna was just as beautiful.  Personally, I think the view of Varenna from the water is the most stunning on the whole lake.  The colorful houses, the church, the flowers...stunning.

When the girls and I first went, I had no idea where I was going.  I assumed it would have a piazza near the water like Mennagio.  So, we when got off the ferry...well, we just started walking.  We found our way along the road and then through back alleys and ended up in the piazza.  Which is not located near the water.  But it was a beautiful area with large trees and a stunning old church.  After some water and gelato we headed off again.  We cam upon a path that led us along the water and past quaint little restaurants.  We picked one, parked ourselves outside, and sat down to enjoy a lakeside lunch.  It's beyond peaceful.  We went back twice more with my mom and stepdad and when the hubby got there. Each time we ate somewhere new...but always near the water.  
It made for such fun times...just hopping on the ferry in the morning...a 20 minute ride across the lake and then just getting lost in the narrow paths throughout the towns.  Can't wait to go back...


Teaching in Saudi Arabia

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Well, I mentioned in a previous post that my life has taken a monster turn.  I accepted a job at the international school and I am now teaching 2nd grade! (oh and assistant coaching girls volleyball!)
Let me tell you a bit about the school.  It's an international school that teaches according to American standards.  We have quite a mix of kids...including kids from Saudi, Pakistan, India, Canada and the States (and more).  It's a nice school and they will soon be building a brand new one at a new site.  Since women can't drive, they have buses (like the ones for airport transfers) that go around and pick up the teachers from the compounds and our neighborhood.  It's nice, but stressful because I have to make sure I'm ready in time!  They pick us up right outside our front gate and the girls get to ride with me...love that.  :)  

 In this photo: Pix of the outside of school.  Notice the concertina wire?  The big blue door is the outer entrance where we have a guard on duty.  Those are the buses that take the teachers home.  Like the green lawn?!  :)

So, here's how it all went down:
When I went in for the interview, I had every intention of telling them no.  I had no desire to go back to work full time.  My youngest is only in school half a day and I wanted to spend the afternoons with her...she's growing so fast!  However, once they both started school and the little one was home alone in the afternoons without her sister...well, I realized pretty quick that neither one of us was going to be happy about that arrangement.  She was bored to tears, and I'm sorry, I love my baby...but I can't entertain her every day for 4 hours straight!
Now, that's not the main reason I took the job...the hubby and I went back and forth (okay, I rambled and he just listened) for three days straight...and well, I just couldn't come up with a good enough reason not to take the job.  The principal was literally begging me...they were desperate for teachers...the second grade classes were already too large.  So, I gave in.
Here's the part where once again I wish I had been smarter about leaving things with family when I packed up the whole damn house.  Leaving some of my teaching supplies would have come in really handy...I mean, I haven't taught in 5 years...and now, here I was, taking a job and I have nothing to start with.  I'm coming in after the year has already started, to a smallish classroom, and literally nothing to put on the walls or get organized with.  That was slightly overwhelming.  
Thank goodness for kind coworkers...they loaned me bits and pieces of stuff to get my room to look semi decent.  I was just sick thinking about all the lovely books I have locked away in a storage unit...so, safe to say, my class library is pretty pathetic.  But, again, fellow teachers came to the rescue and I rifled through my girls stock of books and pilfered those I knew they wouldn't miss...much.
my room before....

and after... 
I've never had real windows in my classroom before...so love the bright sunshine!  

I spent a whole week trying to get back into "teaching mode."  I downloaded First Days of School to my kindle to refresh my memory.  As I sat in my classroom it was like a tidal wave washed over me and everything started to come back...like my discipline plan, how I used to start each day, class rules, etc.  I surfed the net trying to find some of the things that used to be a staple in my room and see if I could download them.  (found a killer website called teacherspayteachers.com, where teachers post things that they have and either offer it for free or for a minimal charge....so thankful for that site...found a ton of stuff that I could use)
After a week, I was feeling pretty good.  Got my class list...chatted with the teachers who had the kids prior and felt like I was ready to go.  My first week with the kids would only be 3 days long because of a holiday...so that was actually good because we spent that time focusing on behaviors, class rules, etc. The downside of that first week was that it included open house.
But, I made it through the open house and met all the parents.  Now it was time to get down to buisness. 
My students hard at work baby!  Proud home of the Yanbu Stallions! 

The first week went well.  We practiced routines and got ourselves on track.  Not to mention I needed to figure out Moodle and prepare for Virtual School.  (more on that later)
With all that being said...am I happy I took the job??  You bet.  It has made life here so much more interesting and I feel involved in the community.  I love that I can see my girls whenever I want and we even have lunch together sometimes!  It's so much work...I forgot all about the daily life of an elementary teacher, but I'm happy.  :)
the kids playground at recess and the hard court area (bottom, middle photo).  Our "class pets."  These wild kitties are loving fed each day by me...I can't help it...the get right to the window and meow through the glass...too cute!  And a few more shots of the school grounds. 

What about you?  Do you think you could teach in a foreign country?


Lugano, Switzerland

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We took many side trips during our time in Italy.  This was one of the girls' favorites.  (must have been the huge playground and fun cable car ride)
Lake Lugano is only a 40 minute bus ride from Menaggio.  Couldn't ask for an easier side trip into Switzerland from Italy.  We just walked down to the bus stop from the house and off we went.  (my mom was with us for this trip)  The ride was nice with beautiful views of the lake.
I had spent some time trying to figure out what to do while we were there and I found this awesome place called Monte Tamaro.  It showed a park for kids, cable car ride, and a killer view.  The trick was figuring out how to get there.
Sure, it was easy catching the bus...but from there we had to take a train and then walk.  We got a little worried at the train station because I couldn't figure out how to buy the tickets.  It took me the better part of 20 minutes and some broken Italian to get the right ones.  We then parked ourselves out by the tracks to await the train.

The train ride was a quick one...10 minutes, but it was a really cool train with one of those self-cleaning bathrooms.  Then, there we were standing outside the train station and trying to figure out where to go next.  Luckily we spotted a small sign across the road with Mont Taramo written on it and an arrow pointing off to the left.
So, off we went.  We literally had no idea where we were going, but thankfully there were signs to direct us.  We found the place with no problem.  A bright red building.  Oh, yeah, and the huge cable car flowing from it.  
The ride would take us 1500 meters (roughly 4,920ft) up the mountain.  We were lucky and it wasn't very crowded...only took about 15 minutes to get the tickets and get into the car.  It was another hot day and the inside of the cable car was quite warm.  But...as we ascended...the weather began to cool and by the time we were at the top...it was bliss. 
There was a huge playground for kids, a nice little restaurant and a guy outside playing music.  We had a light lunch (and some vino) and then went for a walk.  There were horses, ponies and cows just roaming around a small lake.  Not far from there was an old stone bridge that gave you breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains...you could even catch a glimpse of Lake Lugano.  After I got my fill of taking pictures, we hiked up a nearby hill...it was so beautiful and so green!  More pictures and then back down to let the girls hit the playground.  

My mom and I just sat back and watched and just enjoyed the scenery.  Afterwards we took the cable car back down, walked back to the train station and headed back to Lugano.
We didn't spend much time in the town (we were pretty wiped)...but we walked around a bit, got gelato (of course), saw some neat shops and waited for the next bus back to Como.  The lake was really pretty and so very green!  We stopped at a park where we saw the cutest area with books that said "Park and Read".  You could just pluck a book off the cart and plop yourself down on the grass and read.  Great idea!  Saw some men playing a game on a giant chess board as we walked along the edge of the lake. We would have loved to spend more time...of course, I thought I would be heading back here when Matt arrived...but that never panned out. 

It was really a lovely day and glad that I waited for my mom to go so that we could enjoy it together.  Great day trip!  :)


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