4,725 Miles: Chile, Part IV (Into the Andes!)

Tuesday arrived and so did–thankfully–our last day with the car. Not only was Russ growing weary of being our chauffeur, the boys were also growing weary of sitting three across in the backseat.

Our last day trip out of Santiago was a short one, distance wise–only 102 miles or so–but we were going to another once-in-a-lifetime place and on a once-in-a-lifetime road, so I was quite excited.

Located at 9,450 feet above sea level, Portillo is one of the go-to destinations for snow skiing during the North American summer, especially for Olympic-caliber skiers. As we were there near the end of the South American summer (and, um, are not Olympic-caliber skiers), we weren’t able to ski, but that didn’t stop me from really wanting to see this place.

The first hour or so of the drive is a piece of cake. We barreled down the highway out of Santiago and parallel to the Andes mountains.

Every once in awhile, we’d come upon areas that were bright green and lush–a huge change from the rest of the scenery. On the other side of the highway from this green area (above) were the most pitiful looking brown squatty bushes somehow growing on brown dusty land.

Once through the bizarre truck-stop of a town called San Miguel, you’ll hang what feels like a complete U-turn onto the infamous Chilean Ruta 60 and begin the journey up the mountain.

The landscape began to change dramatically.

The road signs began to change dramatically, too. For the record, Chile doesn’t play around with their road signs. We saw Volcano Evacuation Routes, Earthquake Evacuation Routes, Horse-and-Buggy Crossing signs, and this gem…

…the old Watch Out or Your Car is Going to Go Careening Over the Edge of the Mountainside sign. (I just wish I’d gotten a better shot of it…)

The most famous part of Ruta 60 is the 29-curve switchback that leads the final few miles up to Portillo. Our good friends over at the Dangerous Roads blog (mentioned a few posts ago) have also listed this highway on their collection of potentially disastrous roads for you to even consider visiting, and even said this portion of the trip “demands 100% concentration.” Love the doom-and-gloom, btw. The authors of that blog must be a real joy to hang out with.

Russ did use 100% concentration, and we all found this part of our journey absolutely fascinating. The photos we took do not do it justice…

…nor do my photos do the Andes Mountains justice. The scale of these guys is ineffable.

We pulled up to the resort, and the Vacation and The Shining jokes began.

“Sorry, folks; park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.”

The resort wasn’t closed (thank goodness; I would have endured family mutiny if that had been the case), but it wasn’t exactly hopping, either.

Petra the St. Bernard is the official greeter at Portillo, but she was taking it easy today.

We moseyed into the dining room–which was completely empty–and sauntered over to the windows to take a peek.

The view was spectacular.

We turned around and were spooked greeted by a waiter who’d snuck up on us like a Prius. He ushered us over to a table, and we sat down for lunch.

It’s hard to see, but if you look through the wine glass on the left, you’ll see a small white ramekin with a tiny spoon. Inside that was some of the most delicious deliciousness I’ve ever had (my mouth is watering just thinking about it): a garlic-tomato-olive-oil mixture that I would have bought gallon jugs of if they’d only sold it.

Bonus: no vampires (or family members) messed with me for days afterwards.

After lunch, we walked around the resort a bit. It was crisp, clear, windy, and amazing. And, again, these photos don’t do the scale of the mountains justice at all…

straight down the mountain, folks
seeing it without snow is sort of like seeing how the sausage is made…
in front of Laguna del Inca–which is supposedly haunted

Looking around at all the incredibly steep slopes–that lead straight to that lake–we really couldn’t imagine skiing here.

Interesting tidbit: we were just 3 miles from the Argentinian border. Crossing the border is apparently a mega-hassle, so I reluctantly cast this pipe dream to the side when planning our trip. At one point, I’m certain I mentioned this to Russ and the boys, and they agreed that it was a little crazy to possibly endure mayhem just to say we’d been to Argentina.

Apparently, the family forgot that I told them it could take hours to get through Argentinian customs only for us to get a passport stamp and turn right back around. Before we turned out of Portillo, there was a whole lot of chatter about just going for it and making a run for the border. As we had not gotten a permit to cross the border from the rental car office (and as an Argentinian gulag wasn’t on our vacation destinations), any further discussion of such an attempt was a moot point. Then we watched an 18-wheeler pick up two backpackers and continue its slow journey towards the Tunel Cristo Redentor , and our talk shifted from how bad a life choice it is to make a sketchy border crossing to how bad a life choice it is period to hitch-hike, much less to hitch-hike on an 18-wheeler across a border. Egads.

So when we passed the Welcome to Chile sign, we did a little happy dance even though we’d actually not left the country.

The drive back down Ruta 60’s 29 curves was just as thrilling as the drive up.

good gracious, you all are so thankful you’re not on that bus!

Once back through San Miguel, the rest of the drive back to Santiago was perfectly uneventful. Russ dropped us off at the apartment and braved rush hour traffic to return the car (not sure anyone has ever been happier to ditch a vehicle than he was) while we showered and caught up on our screen time.

Dinner that night was back at Patio Bellavista; Theo finished up with a dessert crepe while the rest of us did some souvenir shopping.

Road tripping in Chile was tiring, to say the least, but we’re glad we did it (at least some of us are…our driver might dissent). Our trip up to the Andes was refreshing and unique and surprisingly non-motion-sickness inducing. I’m going to branch out and say driving around (and navigating) the outskirts of Santiago was manageable as long as there were actual roads (looking at you, Embalse del Yeso). That doesn’t mean we weren’t ready to be done with the responsibility of wheels, though.

We had just one full day left in Santiago…

4,725 Miles: Chile, Part III (The Most Colorful Place in the Country!)

We were up and at ’em rather early on Monday; road trip #2 had us headed westwards towards the ocean. Everyone was rested and excited to go to a beach, though please let the record state that I’d provided ample forewarning that the beaches at Valparaiso and Vina del Mar were not going to be like the beaches our little people absolutely adore.

The Chileans–being exceptional miners and all–wholeheartedly believe going through a mountain is easier than going around it (or over it). The drive to Valparaiso is a short, pretty one that ambles across the Casablanca wine country (which we sadly saw only from the highway) and through several, lengthy mountain tunnels. Roughly 90 minutes after we left our apartment, we pulled into the parking garage where we were to meet our tour guide, Michael the German Pirate.

(Thank goodness Russ insisted on a tour guide; we’d have never, ever figured out Valpo otherwise.)

Before I go any further, I want to shout from the rooftops that Michael was an excellent choice for a guide. He replied to my initial email in a matter of minutes, spoke fluent English, and was more than happy to accommodate some surly teenagers.

Valparaiso was once a very weathy shipping town and layover point for folks making the insanely long and hard journey from Europe around Cape Horn. Then a little thing came along called an earthquake (in 1906) and another little thing came along called the Panama Canal (in 1914), and poor Valpo lost its footing as a South American metropolis.

In keeping with Chilean geography in general, Valparaiso is incredibly unique. Tall, tall cliffs drop straight down to the sea. To help with getting up and down these gigantic hills, the city built a system of funiculars–many of which are still in use 100 years later. Its buildings and alleyways are covered with murals painted by some pretty talented folks. All of these factors have helped Valparaiso be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, something the city takes very seriously; roughly only 1,000 sites on the entire planet have earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

but before we got to the heart of our tour, we encountered this cat…
he’s the live mascot (Dr. Simi) of a main chain of pharmacies, and he was awesome
(though I doubt he’s UNESCO approved…)

After giving us a quick peek of the city from the top of the parking garage, Michael then took us across town on the antiquated trolleybus–actually a Chilean national monument–where we got our first taste of Valpo’s infamous street art.

The work above, Solsticio de Invierno, was created by UnKolorDistinto, a couple who is regularly commissioned to design and paint various public art murals.

Street art is the name of the game in Valparaiso, and almost all of it is pretty spectacular, particularly when given the grand scale of it.

yes, one of Dr. Simi’s balloons is still lingering with us…

Michael took us by one of Valpo’s most popular places for chorrillana (Casino Social J. Cruz –one of the greatest named places ever) , which is a carboholic’s dream of a dish composed of french fries covered with some type of meat, onions, cheese, and a fried egg. Michael is not a fan, and I can’t say I blame him after seeing a few plates piled sky-high go passing by. While we didn’t eat there, it was still a great stop on the tour because the place doubles as a knick-knack hoarder’s wildest dream. (Side note: J. Cruz completely reminded Russ and me of another bizarre place: Takatakata–hands down, the dive-iest dive bar on the planet–which we managed to visit and live to tell about. It’s located in Buzios, Brazil. Tell Kaiser you heard about his place from me. And watch out for the machete.)

just look at all the stuff…photos, trinkets, live animals (there was a cat slinking around on that shelf
behind Michael on the turquoise wall)

Time for a funicular. We rode the Reina Victoria up to the top of Cerro Concepcion and started our search for a lunch place without felines prowling around inside of it.

our first (and only–not a fan of egg whites) Pisco Sour

On the way to lunch, Michael told us about an unbelievable mountain bike race–the Cerro Abajo–that takes place annually in Valparaiso. Racers plummet from the highest point in Valpo all the way down to the sea, lacing through narrow pathways and staircases and concluding by going through a building and jumping over an entire street. Of course the boys were immediately asking for the wi-fi password at lunch in order to track down a video of it. It’s utter insanity; consider yourselves forewarned!

After lunch, it was time for even more street art!

Finally on to Cerro Alegre! This one above, created by Art+Believe, is synonymous with Valpo; here’s a cool montage of its creation.

this shot gives you a good idea of just how steep the roads in Valpo are…

Next up, the equally as well-recognized Piano Stairs.

the Piano Stairs with uncooperative children…
Commissioning street art is big, big deal.
here the boys stand with Michael in front of The German Pirate’s mural

Sensing one of his day’s clients had likely had enough street art and was a much more business-minded individual, Michael managed to sneak us in to the Bolsa de Valores–the (sadly, now shuttered) first (and busiest) stock exchange in Latin America. The trading floor was eerie in its silence…and beautiful in its architecture.

We were all definitely hitting the wall at this point, so we asked Michael if he wouldn’t mind getting us on to the thing Tucker had been asking about since we’d gotten up that morning: the beach.

He suggested we all load up in our rental car (Russ driving, Michael in the passenger seat, and the three boys and me all crammed in the back–not the safest way to travel) and head down the road the six miles or so to Vina del Mar.

Tucker’s reaction upon FINALLY arriving at the ocean…

Of course, the ocean was freezing, but that didn’t stop Tucker from going all the way under–a decision that made for a long car ride back to Santiago for him.

We rolled back in to Santiago tired, dusty, and hungry and not willing to venture out for a proper dinner…again. After a battle royale over where to eat, we basically all pouted through the meal and then hit up the Jumbo grocery store for some provisions before heading home and to bed. We had just one last road trip ahead of us.

oh, Costanera, how convenient you were…
the aptly named Jumbo grocery–that also sold washing machines, lawn furniture, and just about anything else
you think you might possibly need…

4,725 Miles: Chile, Part II (Road Trip!)

When planning our Spring Break trip, I pummeled a sweet friend who’d actually lived in Santiago with question after question, one of which was whether or not to rent a car–specifically for a few day trips, not as our main source of transportation around the city. We felt like we were pretty savvy international drivers; we’d driven around the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica and had cruised around Normandy with zero problems.

My friend basically told us we were certifiably crazy to even consider renting a set of wheels. Lanes change direction based on the time of the day and the severity of the traffic. There are toll roads scattered all over the place, and each of them requires a different (and totally random) amount. The buses in Santiago have a mind of their own. The bicycle is the preferred mode of transit, and bikers will bob and weave their way through traffic; the last thing you want to do is hit one.

We took her kind advice, thought about it, and then threw all caution to the wind and decided to rent a car anyway.

(I did have enough common sense to plan our first day trip out of Santiago for a Sunday in hopes of avoiding the insanity of Santiago rush hour traffic and the infamous lane-direction-switching situation.)

The Embalse el Yeso was a destination that kept popping up on any search I did for day trips out of Santiago, and every suggestion to visit it also included a photo of the unbelievably clear blue water. (El Yeso is actually a reservoir that supplies nearly all of the water for Santiago. I made the mistake of telling my sons this fact, and they all began calling it the “fake lake” as in, “why would we ever want to go to a fake lake?”)

Sunday morning arrived, and Russ set off for the Hertz rental car office while I stayed back at the apartment packing up for our adventure. He made it back in one piece about an hour later, and we loaded up and headed off.

Thank the good Lord above for GoogleMaps, international roaming on cell phones, GPS, and a semi-fluent co-pilot who also had a printed map with her.

First stop: San Jose del Maipo.

The Cajon del Maipo is a canyon in the Andes mountains a bit southeast of Santiago. San Jose is the largest town in the region. We planned on stopping here for lunch and some fresh air before tackling the crazy road leading to the embalse.

the outdoor marketplace was alive and kicking when we arrived
a possible international branch of Vidalia Pharmacy (the red, squatty building)

San Jose is a tiny place with a population of about 13,000…a solid quarter of which must be stray dogs. Seriously, there were dogs everywhere. Everywhere.

It was a dog party, a big dog party.

After scouring the village square for a decent place to eat, we settled on this place. The interior had a cute little courtyard area where we sat and also had some Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong playing in the background, so it started out strong. Our order was lost in translation, however, which led to some creative lunching that consisted predominantly of bread and french fries.

Then it was back in the car for the drive up what one website described as one of the world’s most dangerous roads. (For the record, I found the write-up a bit doom-and-gloom, but it still served its purpose in making me a little anxious about this part of the journey.)

Just a few minutes outside of San Jose is the Tunel del Tinoco, a purportedly haunted (and abandoned) train tunnel. We didn’t stop because we didn’t really see any place to stop. (It’s the other side of the tunnel that’s the touristy stopping point; we did see that on the way back…)

Once we passed the Tinoco, the drive definitely began to amp up. We were threading our way through the Andes on a paved road with guard rails on one side and steep mountain on the other. Then we took a left turn, and the next 12 miles were unreal.

To say it was slow-going is an understatement. And to say the landslide jokes got old is also an understatement. At one point, we sat in our unmoving car for a solid 10 minutes, trapped on the one-and-a-half lane dirt road that clings to the side of a mountain while we waited for a bus on its way back down to strategically wiggle around the line of cars. Below is a panoramic shot of the situation. People gave up left and right and would put their cars in park and get out and start walking. It was maddening. And a bit terrifying.

methinks I could use this sign in my house…
no fires…
do not make unnecessary noise…
*all very valid warnings for a house filled with boys*

The fake lake did live up to its photos, though. It’s hard to explain how bizarre this place is–turquoise clear water and gigantic rocky peaks all around.

The daredevil in the family wanted to hike down to the water’s edge. Jack decided to tag along.

It didn’t look that far to begin with, but once they began the treacherous climb down, they realized they’d been deceived.

that precipice on the right was their end goal…we called them back well before they made it
our dejected little mountain climbers…

Other than stand and stare at the water or marvel at the highly advanced 10-point turnarounds being conducted in dented sedans on the shifty dirt road next to us, there wasn’t too terribly much to do at the old fake lake. Plus, we were nervous about how we were going to make the 10-point turnaround ourselves and get back down to the main road. So we loaded back up and called it a day.

The initial plan was to leave the embalse and head down the road a bit to Cascada de las Animas for zip-lining, but once we arrived, they told us we’d have to wait nearly an hour to zip-line and because the boys were under 18, they could only do the two lines that cross the river, not the entire canopy course (which was fine by me as zip-lining sort of freaks me out). Because it was starting to get late, we made an executive decision to skip this.

We did make one pit stop at La Casa de Chocolate for ice cream. The marketing for this place is pretty spectacular (see the video in the link), but it was your basic run-of-the-mill ice cream parlor albeit an ice cream parlor smack dab in the middle of nowhere. And with myriad stray dogs.

We made our way back to Santiago, along with about a million other folks coming home from their last hurrah of the summer. (School was set to begin the next day.)

The drive home was just as curvy and bendy and twisty and bumpy as the drive there, and poor Tucker fell victim to a bout of violent carsickness.

You can’t imagine how happy we all were to see this sight once again:

…which meant, of course, another dinner underneath it (to be fair, the thought of moving anywhere on wheels in order to eat dinner did make everyone turn a little green…)

we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the plethora of dining options…

In the end, our road trip out to Cajon del Maipo involved well over five hours in the car. While parts of the drive were indeed spectacular, if pushed, I don’t think we’d make the haul again, at least not without a driver well-versed in the crazy road up to the fake lake and who also had suggestions for what else to do in the area. (I’d eyeballed a stop at a winery in a little town called Pirque, but realized that was absolutely not going to happen once we were outside of Santiago and starting the climb upwards.) Pretty sure the Embalse el Yeso is a one-and-done/check-it-off sort of destination.

Live and learn, right?

4,725 Miles: Spring Break in Chile 2019, Part I

We came rolling in hot this past Sunday morning from our 2019 South American Spring Break adventure. (I’m not going to lie; that 2:03 a.m. flight out of Lima is pretty brutal.)

How on earth did we end up going to Chile and Peru? Well, we did a little math and came up with a number: 4. That’s how many Spring Breaks we had left before Jack graduates from high school. Yikes. Time to up the ante on the family traveling game.

We plugged in our dates to the Hopper app (again, I highly recommend this, if for no other reason than just to see how much it would set you back (both in dollars and in hours) to fly to, say, Timbuktu or Tahiti) and quickly realized that we were not going to score $400 flights to Paris again. The best price options were all heading south. After a serious debate between Santiago and Buenos Aires, we opted for Chile.

Hopper being Hopper, it wants you to get the most bang for your buck (read: Hopper ain’t a fan of the direct flight. For instance, last year he–I’m assuming Hopper’s a he because of all the connecting flight nonsense–wanted to send us to Paris via Istanbul.). Flying to Santiago through Lima was $500 cheaper than flying to Santiago directly from Atlanta. A little more math: that would leave roughly $2500 still in our pocket, we have 4 Spring Breaks left with all sons under one roof, and we could also quickly see a bit of another country (added bonus: Lima is on the way to Santiago; no backtracking). Through Lima it was then.

We snuck off from Atlanta on Thursday, a day before Spring Break officially began, and I am happy to say that we ran into several other families we knew who were doing the same thing. Travel is educational, people.

The roughly 7 hour flight put us getting in to Lima at 12:35 a.m., and our connection on to Santiago was set to leave at 2:01 a.m. which is cutting it pretty doggone close, especially when you and 4 traveling companions have to go through customs and change planes. Miraculously, we made it on time, and the zombie plane down to Chile was perfectly uneventful.

Getting through customs in Santiago wasn’t technically difficult; the line was slow moving, and we were exhausted, but by 9 a.m. we were outside the airport waiting on a ride to our apartment.

Our go-to for international travel is to rent a place through Air B&B or VRBO. After much research to determine the safest neighborhoods, I stumbled upon Casas del Cerros near the Costanera Center. While the original apartment we’d rented wasn’t ready for us due to a late departure by the previous renters, the host (Mabel) immediately put us in a smaller apartment two doors down for the day with the assurance that our original place would be ready by 8:00 that night. This was an awful lot of rapidly spoken Spanish to navigate right out of the gate and with very little sleep, but I managed to piece it all together and explain to the family before crashing on a bed in the lowest level of the apartment.

View of the Gran Torre de Santiago (to the left from the upstairs window of our 1-day apartment)

view of Cerro San Cristobal (to the right from the upstairs window of our 1-day apartment)

After a rest and a wash-up, we needed vittles big time, so we took the path of least resistance and headed over to the Costanera Center–a monster of a shopping complex underneath the Gran Torre de Santiago. (Little did I know this would be the first of many visits to this place.)

Jet lag is best fought with fresh air, so after lunch we walked over to the Providencia Teleferico to catch the gondola to the top of Cerro San Cristobal.

 We rode the gondola halfway up the hill, hopped out for a quick look around and then hopped back on to ride to the very top for panoramic views of Santiago at the foot of the giant statue of La Virgen.

the Ponte Vecchio has its love locks; Santiago has these ribbons tied on the fence near the ticket booth of the teleferico

the view from Tupahue Station midway up Cerro San Cristobal
entrance to the tiny chapel at Tupahue
at the top of Cerro San Cristobal
La Virgen
we began to realize just how sprawling Santiago is…

After a debate over whether or not to hike back down the hill, we wisely opted for the crazy steep funicular which spit us out in Barrio Bellavista. Next stop: La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s extremely peculiar homes for his secret love, Matilde.

This crazy little house is chock full of weirdness and well worth a visit, even if you have no idea who Pablo Neruda was.

By this point in the day, we were all running on fumes, so we headed over to a rooftop bar Russ had spotted from La Chascona which was–shocker–called Matilde. All three boys were equally unimpressed by the menu but still managed to gobble down a triple chocolate concoction and get in an argument over it. And they were still starving, so we left Matilde in search of Emporio La Rosa, an ice cream place I’d heard was spectacular.

Long story short: this was the first of many mapping and researching mistakes I made during this trip. We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more trying to find it. We went back and forth and asked for help and by the time we retraced our steps to the tiny front door of Emporio La Rosa, no one was speaking to each other.

and Emporio La Rosa is basically a Chilean Baskin-Robbins…

We tried to walk around the corner to squeeze in a visit to the MAVI (Museo de Artes Visuales), but it was closed for renovation. Big bummer.

Sweaty, tired, and in desperate need of a shower, we headed back to our apartment in hopes that our place was finally ready for us.

It wasn’t.

But the host had left us a bottle of wine, and we had full use of the space, so we showered and headed back to the Costanera Center. Our plan was to go to the top of the Gran Torre for sunset and then grab dinner (at the mall again) before taking the short walk back to amend the apartment situation.

The Gran Torre was pretty spectacular, even if Santiago was shrouded with smog.

doesn’t everyone look a little road-weary?
those two bright lines running vertically through the left/center of the photo are reflections from the building itself

The next morning found us surprisingly jet-lagged for being in a place only two hours ahead of our time zone, and we wound up calling an audible on our plans. Rather than hitting multiple museums in the Quinta Normal area, we ate a late (very late) brunch, and then tackled the Santiago Metro (successfully, I might add).

We found the Metro to be a full on party train complete with live musicians, live animals, and people selling all sorts of things. And in typical Herakovich fashion, we did not add much civility to the public transportation system.

The Museum Interactivo Mirador was well worth the nearly hour long hike it took to get to it. My boys love a good science museum, and this one now sits prominently at the tip-top of our all-time favorites. We ran through an odd outdoor display of multi-colored plastic tubing, lay on a bed of nails, experienced an earthquake in a 4-D movie shown inside a tiny house, created interactive artwork, and learned about waves, mirrors, and forces all in Spanish. We also managed to spend the majority of the day there.

we still aren’t quite sure what this get-up was, but we all found it fascinating

We managed to miss a proper lunch, so by the time we left the MIM, we were again riding front and center on the struggle bus. Rather than walk the 15 minutes or so back to the Metro (and endure another multiple-train-switching labyrinth), we called an Uber with sights on grabbing a quick snack and replacing some of the museums we’d skipped that morning.

One look at a [very hard to find, btw] map of Santiago or any guide book will show the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts in large, bold print. Maybe we were coming off a sensory overload, but we found it a bit desolate (minimal exhibitions), hyper-uber-radically-liberal (a contemporary art piece consisting of a video of a woman breastfeeding another adult while a glass of milk is being poured on the floor), and–to be completely honest–brutally hot.

We left and proceeded to spend a solid half-hour in search of a snack place that fit everyone’s needs. In the end–and after an ice cream break–we found ourselves at the foot of Cerro Santa Lucia, a site I’d planned on us seeing our last day in Santiago, not our second.

But the best laid plans and all that…

Anyway, calling this a hill is being nice to it; it’s actually the remnants of an ancient volcano, so it’s more of a rocky, pointy triangle. It’s also the place where Santiago was first claimed as a city.

it’s very much a straight uphill climb to get to the top
(not kidding…)

At the very top is a very crowded turret of Castillo Hildalgo and more wide-open views of Santiago. It’s worth the climb even if it’s an often precarious one due to crooked, slippery stone steps.

We climbed back down Cerro Santa Lucia and ambled through some small, colorful gardens and fountains sprinkled around the return path and then headed to Barrio Bellavista for some much needed dinner.

Barrio Bellavista–where La Chascona is located–is considered the bohemian/artsy area of Santiago which means it’s generally a pretty hopping place. Patio Bellavista is a hip, open air marketplace filled with restaurants, creperies, ice cream shops, and vendors of Chilean knick-knacks. We settled on dinner at La Rosita and headed back to the apartment for the night.

After two full days in Santiago, we were feeling brave and ready for a few adventures outside the city. Next up, Chilean road trips!

4,370 Miles: Spring Break in France, Part I

[Pretend this was posted about 4 months ago…I used to remember how to back-date posts…Part I covers March 1-3, 2018.]

I’ll be honest. Paris scared me.

Russ suggested Paris for our Spring Break destination way back last summer, and I balked. Paris seemed unmanageable for many reasons, a huge one of which is the fact that I don’t know a lick of French. The flights there were also crazy expensive, but Russ found an app called Hopper that we whole heartedly recommend now. Hopper takes your intended destination and dates and constantly runs it through airlines until it pulls up the most affordable flight, at which point, Hopper emails you with the deal.

Hopper’s first attempt to lure us to Paris had us flying through Istanbul.

Um, negative, Ghost Rider.

The second retrieval was a bit more appealing. We would fly from Atlanta through London and on to Paris for as low a price as we’ve ever seen for a trans-Atlantic flight. (And on a legit airline…y’all know I’m not getting on a questionable plane.)

So Russ booked the flights, and I bought a map and started charting out our course for Spring Break 2018.

IMG_7241this is how Jack slept on the plane; I would not recommend this method…

It was a long, tedious journey, but we finally rolled in to our apartment around 4pm Friday, March 2. We dropped our bags and, in an effort to battle jet lag, headed out for a stroll and to get a lay of the land.

Our apartment (7 Rue Duvivier) was rented through Air B&B and was in the 7th Arrondissement, near-ish to the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_6555outside the Musee de l’Armee; we heard great things about the museum but did not go in because it was set to close at 5pm…

It started to rain, and we were hungry and tired, so we headed back towards the apartment to find a place for dinner. “When in doubt, go for pasta” is practically a family motto around here, so we tracked down a lovely Italian place (Le Tribeca) around the corner from the apartment.


After dinner, we poked around Rue Cler a bit and then headed home.

IMG_6560IMG_7245the market where we managed to purchase a $9 basket of strawberries…

We woke up on Saturday morning, and Russ walked down to a bakery to grab breakfast for the boys.

After breakfast, we set off to find the Metro. Back in Atlanta, I’d taken a paper map of Paris (hard to find, btw), laid it out on our dining room table, and then marked places we knew we wanted to visit on it. Then I took all of those dots and divvied them up into sections; since Paris is so big and convoluted, we’d attack a section a day.


Day One had us trekking way up north of the city to Les Puces–the flea markets. Russ remembered going to these as a child, and he wanted the boys to see them. Les Puces is seriously a sight to behold.


It takes about an hour to get there via Metro. And it also takes about an hour to figure out how to purchase tickets for an entire family for a week on the Metro. Just saying.



Les Puces is a mega-labyrinth of stalls, some filled with treasures, others with trash. But it’s all truly fascinating, if a bit over-whelming. The biggest hit for the boys? All the stalls selling [fake] running shoes.

An hour or so was all we could take of the flea market. So we ventured back on the Metro and headed back in to the city a bit to Montmartre. We were all getting a little cranky by now, and I’d charted out a restaurant for lunch that overlooked Sacre-Couer.

Of course, 35 minutes of walking (up and down and up and down hills) later, we still couldn’t find the restaurant (we were aiming for Pizzeria Babalou–the one obviously near Sacre-Couer). So we settled for yet another pasta place…




Pizzeria Florenza…which hit the spot and was just right around the hill from Sacre-Couer.


We opted to take the stairs up instead of the funicular. There was a crazy street band playing “Billie Jean,” so we sang along with the crowd as we started the hike up.



IMG_6609IMG_6613Half way there!IMG_6624

The Parisian weather was just about as crazy as Costa Rican weather…pouring rain one minute and clear blue skies the next…


from the entrance to Sacre-Couer, looking back towards Paris

We walked back down and headed off to find a hidden gem, but before we could start our map reading journey, Jack had to do this:


…which actually began a really silly brotherly tradition of pretending to touch the top of everything. (Too bad I can’t download photos from their phones…and too bad Jack wasn’t even close to “touching” the spire here; he and his brothers perfected their photography skills on this as the week progressed.)


Another terrible tradition was also begun: leap-frogging over these poles. There are no words for how annoying this was for the next 8 days.

But on to the hidden gem: The “I Love You” Wall.


The words “I love you”–in over 300 languages–are painted onto individual tiles and were made into a giant mosaic. The mosaic itself a little tricky to find, and my family definitely thought I was dragging them somewhere lame, until we walked around a corner and into the courtyard of the Square Jehan Rictus and saw it.IMG_6634IMG_7272IMG_7269

One cool landmark deserves another, so we kept walking towards Moulin Rouge. Which I forgot was in a seriously seedy area. Lots of eye covering here…


Rather than burn our children’s eyes any more, we opted to hop back on the Metro and head to the Arc de Triomphe.

IMG_6644we were not model passengers on the Metro. Ever.


We walked through the tunnel and over to the Arc, but the line to get to the top was incredibly long, so we opted to walk around the monument and then stroll down the Champs-Elysées.


While walking down the Champs, the boys noticed the ferris wheel (Le Grand Roue) . Sigh. I had not planned on going on this thing. I was pretty sure it would pale in comparison to the London Eye, and, besides, I’m not really a fan of ferris wheels.


The boys prevailed. The line was nonexistent, so we hopped right on.

IMG_6671I did get a pretty cool shot of the Champs-Elysées from the wheel.

If you’re headed to Paris and want to take a ride on the Grand Roue, well, you’re outta luck. Seems the Parisians view it as an eyesore, so they’ve shut it down. I didn’t know of its impending doom prior to going to Paris (not sure how I missed this), but now I guess I’m even happier that we bit the bullet and rode the thing.

We were in La Place de la Concorde near the Jardin des Tuileries, so we roamed around a bit and then grabbed dinner somewhere (yep, we don’t remember its name).


We’d pretty much maxed out our first full day in Paris. We walked off dinner by cutting through the courtyards of the Louvre on the way back to the Metro.

IMG_6688IMG_6697ahem…getting better at this, I guess

Finally back to the Metro where we realized that one of us had already lost his week-long [read: expensive] Metro ticket.

IMG_7277Cue more Metro-Ticket-Purchasing-Mayhem


We made it back to the apartment and crashed out. Day One was a long, long day but a total success. Vive le Paris!





Word Problems

I’m pretty lousy at math, so I’m constantly in awe of (and subsequently bewildered by) my son who adores math and has–thus far–not been stumped by anything. Yeah, he’s only in the 8th grade, but, dear reader, my mathematical bandwidth for helping with homework was maxed out about 2 years ago. Now, when his math problems include letters and numbers, it’s safe to say that Jack’s abilities have far surpassed mine.

The other day I asked Jack what he was working on; when he said word problems, I shivered and had a little PTSD attack. Word problems in Algebra I were (are?) my absolute nemesis. I watched as Jack methodically tackled his work without complaint. I was impressed.

I was also confused.

I asked him to show me a problem.

My hands twitched. My brain melted. I felt like I was going to cry.

So now, I present to you “Algebra I Homework–with Useless Assistance by Mom,” by Mom.

(Those of you who are as math-averse as I am might need to take a Benadryl or two before continuing.)



This one is so obviously simple. For starters, if Charlie needs to guess on over 1/3 of the questions on a multiple choice test, Charlie needs to study more. Where are his parents? They are clearly slacking off in the helicoptering/micromanagement department of their son’s education. At this rate, Charlie better start apprenticing at the local auto repair shop.

(a) History is clearly not Charlie’s strong suit. Or perhaps his teacher is just a dinosaur who recycles his morbidly dull lectures from 1985, drinks stale coffee at his podium while rubbing his tattered suede elbow patches, and daydreams about his upcoming retirement. We’ve all had teachers like that. This one’s not on Charlie. Snap to it, History teacher. Punch up those lectures a little; maybe add some YouTube videos or something. Your monotonous ramblings have lulled your class into a coma.

(b) Charlie’s English class must be studying literary devices, and his teacher is obviously making a point to her class about hyperbole because no English teacher in the history of mankind would give a test with 80 questions on it. Kudos to Charlie for knowing the answers to 40 of the questions. He must have lost focus or stamina on the second half of the test. Time for his parents to revisit his current med dosage. Problem solved.

(c) The saving grace of this little foray into Charlie’s academic life is that Chuck here is a math wizard. Of the 5x questions, he didn’t know the answer to x of them. First of all, x isn’t a number; it’s a letter. This is a math class, not an English class. The teacher must have made a typo. And for once, Charlie isn’t guessing. We know he can answer at least 40 questions correctly (See, English, above), so answering 5 questions is well-within his attention threshold. Charlie made a 100. Way to go, Charlie. You just pulled your GPA up enough to go to the local community college.


This question was pulled from either a Farmer’s Almanac or The Hipster’s Guide to Overtaking the Universe One Organic Garden at a Time.  You would think someone with even a modicum of agrarian knowledge would also have a grip on the Gregorian calendar. Last time I checked, there were 31 days in July. This question is jacking around with the space-time continuum, which is scarier than word problems themselves. (See, Back to the Future.) Additionally, our farmer friends would know that a zucchini grows best in temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, a situation which does not occur in August. Not only has an entire 24-hour period up and disappeared, but the Earth has also been knocked off its axis or something. How many times did it rain in August? Who cares? Better harvest those nuclear zucchini now and catch up on your binge watching of Doomsday Preppers, for the end of the world is nigh. #OccupyTheBombShelter



Wait a second. Is this a question from the Multistate Bar Exam? How have we shifted from 8th grade mathematics to law school? Counsel needs to know which state’s law is applicable here. Counsel also needs to know the last time said police officer calibrated said radar device. Counsel believes Marlon and Marilyn (“the Defendants”) were victims of an unjustified speed trap.

(a) Marlon (“Defendant A”) has been accused of traveling 62 in a 45. He was in a hurry. Maybe his wife was in labor. Maybe he was freaking out because July 31 had disappeared from his calendar. Either reason is entirely justifiable. I’m willing to bet the police here have a heart (or are equally as spooked by the vanishing day) and give Defendant A a police escort to his destination. No fine.

(b) Insert S-car-go/snail joke here.

(c) Marilyn (“Defendant B”) was given a $228 speeding ticket? Dang, girl. Lead foot, much? Super Speeder violation? (Counsel apologizes for her digression.) In the spirit of the Socratic method utilized by law schools around the country in order to crush the souls of all would-be attorneys, let’s IRAC this one:

Issue: How fast was Defendant B traveling?

Rule: A speeder is fined $12 for every mile over the speed limit.

Analysis: If the speed limit is 45 miles per hour, then a driver is allowed to travel only 45 miles in one (1) hour. The rule of law states that one is fined for every mile over the speed limit. This statute’s employment of the word “mile” instead of the words “mile per hour” renders it vague, ambiguous, and indefinite. The imprecise verbiage of the statute implies that one’s ability to relocate him/herself is limited to an area no larger than a 45 mile radius within one (1) 60 minute period of time and does not address the actual velocity of said relocation. As such, due to its cryptic and imprecise verbiage, the statute is void.

Conclusion: How fast was Defendant B traveling? Not fast enough if the po-po caught her.


The take-away from all of this?

(By the way, if I’d seen this paragraph on the 8th page of my Algebra book, I’d have viewed it as a winning lottery ticket; the authors have all but admitted that these problems are IMPOSSIBLE.)


Jack’s take on this disclaimer? “They forgot to add ‘do not, under any circumstances, ask your English major mother for help on your math homework’.”

I’m hoping that means I have garnered a Hall Pass on all future math assistance. For all 3 boys.

(One can hope, right?)







Hello, Chicago (Part II)

Ours is a household of picky eaters…or, perhaps I should say, particular eaters. Every single one of us has things we cannot stand, and these inedibles rarely overlap–a situation which drastically reduces the potential menu on any given day.

But traveling brings out the adventurers in us (somehow). We ate a meal prepared by Mayans in the middle of the jungle near Tulum, Mexico. We went on a food tour through Trastevere in Rome, Italy. And all 5 of us loved every moment of both experiences.

As such, when it came to planning our trip to Chicago, we immediately started Googling food tours. I read up on the “Best in Chow” tour through Chicago Food Planet and signed us up.

It was a slam dunk.

First stop, Lou Malnati’s. (Very important preface:  when one is about to embark upon a 3 hour food tour, one should probably not take one’s children to a huge breakfast. Live and learn.)

Lou’s was our first Chicago deep dish pizza ever (well, for 4 out of 5 of us). What’s not to like about buttery crust, stringy mozzarella and loads of chunky tomato sauce? Jack gave this a huge thumb’s up (even with a belly-full of breakfast…).

One good carbo-load deserves another, so our fantastic guide, Terry, walked us over to FireCakes for an old-fashioned buttermilk doughnut.


I’m not the biggest sweet fan on the planet, but these were so terrific that I walked back to FireCakes on our last morning to pick up doughnuts and coffee for our last breakfast in Chicago.

Next stop: Al’s for tastes of an Italian beef sandwich–again, the first tastes for all but one of us.


Clearly, Too. Much. Food. So much so that at our next stop, Theo asked for the leftovers to take with us and to hand out to folks we passed on the street who needed them.

Portillo’s is completely a Chicago legend, yet this is the one place where we did not eat a bite–but we did make some less fortunate Chicagoans very happy later on.


Jack pretending to take a bite in order to save face with our group and our guide. A noble effort on his part, to say the least.

We walked a bit and then paused for some popcorn at Garrett Popcorn. Not sure how anyone was able to eat anything else at this point.


The very last stop was the Cambria Hotel for a taste of the Palmer House Brownie–a dessert that made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. [Insert gratuitous plug for Erik Larsen’s outstanding book, Devil in the White City.]


We would recommend the Chicago Food Planet’s “Best in Chow” tour in a Minnesota minute. Every single aspect of it was awesome. We rolled out of the Cambria Hotel a little after 2 pm absolutely stuffed to the gills and headed to The Field Museum.

My boys have always loved science museums. We’ve spent countless hours at the Fernbank here in Atlanta, and anywhere we go, we try to track one down (London’s Science Museum may be our all-time fave…). The Field Museum was pretty spectacular as well.


We were stuffed and tired and sliding in to The Field with only a few hours left to explore, so we went on speed-mode.


Inside Ancient Egypt. Tucker pretending to be a mummy.


Underground Adventure. Going through the Shrinkerator, which shrinks you to 1/100th of your normal size and then plops you out in an underground world chock full of creepy crawlies.


With Sue, the T.Rex.


We wandered into the Hall of Birds somehow. (We are generally not birders…). Here, Tucker takes a photo with what Russ calls “the noblest of all birds”, the turkey.


[Insert Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks joke here.]


We took a nice little break to see the 3-D movie entitled Waking the T.Rex. Then we entered Jurassic World, a special exhibition for which we’d paid extra.

While Jurassic World was indeed quite nifty, it was also very hot and geared for younger folks. Had we visited it 5 years ago, say, we might have been roaming the exhibit for hours. Instead, we sort of sped through it, ready to leave the heat and sit down again.

Because we’d certainly not eaten enough that day, Russ took us to dinner at Coco Pazzo. We took a much needed mid-length walk back to our hotel and settled in for the night.


Check out Theo’s outfit. The dinosaur tube socks really pull it all together.


We were up and at ’em on Monday morning, heading to the Sears Tower (which is actually now called the Willis Tower) in an attempt to beat the crowd.

We were not successful. The line length gave the boys ample opportunity to play the most annoying game ever invented in the history of the entire galaxy: Girl Power.

In Girl Power, my sons take turns covertly trying to touch me, and it absolutely makes me lose my mind. It doesn’t take long for the game to reach Chernobyl-levels of annoyance. Girl Power is something I’m sure we’ll laugh about at their weddings one day, but that’s a long, long time from now. About 5 minutes into it, I threatened to make the next person who touched me cry. That made the family in front of us in the line turn around, stare, and then shimmy themselves up as close to the people in front of them as possible.


The top was shrouded by clouds while we were in line…



This is just as creepy as it looks. Trust me.


You could also feel the building swaying lightly. We had to wait in line for over half an hour to take the elevator back down, and by the time we stepped out of the building, I was officially motion sick.

From the Sears Tower, we walked over to the Money Museum, which was a surprise find online and also quite interesting.


Tucker and a cube of 1,000,000 dollar bills.


Theo atop $50,000 in coins.

The Money Museum is very interactive and has many educational–and fascinating–exhibits. We give it a big thumbs up.

We split up for a quick lunch and then cabbed it over to the Shedd Aquarium. The line to get in was absurd. Russ walked over to the Adler Planetarium to see if admission was any quicker there (which it was), so we ditched the long line and headed to outer space.

I love me some space.


Quick true story:  When I was in 5th grade, our class was assigned a group project on the solar system. We were split into 9 groups, and each group sent one member up to front of the room to draw that group’s planet from a fishbowl. Our representative, Matt Davis, was specifically told “DON’T DRAW PLUTO.” Guess which one he drew?



(You have no idea how excited I am about August 21st.)

Both the planetarium and the aquarium are situated on a little jetty poking out into Lake Michigan. The view back in towards the city is pretty fabulous.


After dinner, we walked around downtown Chicago a bit. This is one beautiful city.


Next up, we close out Chicago by celebrating Tucker’s half-birthday (oh, and also the Fourth of July…).







Hello, Chicago!

“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.”–Nelson Algren

“Place has always been important to me, and one thing today’s Chicago exudes, as it did in 1893, is a sense of place. I fell in love with the city, the people I encountered, and above all the lake and its moods, which shift so readily from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour.”
Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

There’s a slight chance this little blog thing of mine (which, I’ll admit, has been painfully neglected for the past year) could perhaps morph into a travel-ish situation…even though I’ve also neglected to post about our amazing Costa Rican adventure.

[How’s that for a teaser?]

So, Chicago.

When I was young, I won every single grade-wide spelling bee our school system had. From 4th through 8th grade, I was the Spelling Bee Queen. The grade-wide winners would then face off, Hunger Games style, to see who would advance to the State Bee with a [very, very, very slim] chance of moving on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

We’ll ignore the fact that I misspelled the word “apparel” at the city-wide spell off.

Two years in a row.

I used to spend afternoons and evenings having my dear old mom call out spelling bee words to me from our silver-chevroned couch as I lay in thought on our deep shag carpeting, the pale yellow book of “suggested words” expertly wielded in her hands. Mackerel. Sphygmomanometer. Fugue. Ennui. This same couch, clearly carrying with it a load of maternal ennui, eventually wound up in my college apartment (and later, at the KA house in Athens).

Being an only child is a blast.

My Dad would come home from work nightly during “Bee Season” and announce: “Chicken in your car and your car won’t go? That’s how you spell CHICAGO!”

Which, obviously, isn’t correct. And which, obviously, makes little to no sense.

No wonder I never made it past the City-Wide Bee.

But I digress.

Our little family just did Chicago over the 4th of July in a grand way.

We flew up to Chicago from Atlanta via Midway and Uber-ed our way to our hotel, the Westin River North. Russ checked us in while the boys and I watched the first of many, many weddings stroll through the lobby.

It was also the weekend of the LCI Con 2017.


That’s the Lions International Conference–which brings us back full circle to the above-mentioned chevron couch that saw its last (most definitely not ennui-ridden) days on a fraternity house front porch at the University of Georgia. Had it not been for my Godfather (and hometown next-door-neighbor and father of the said KA who, um, inherited, the couch), I would not have known what the Lions Club was. But I did and I do and, holy moly, thems some traveling folk.

Chicago was flooded with world travelers this past weekend. Absolutely flooded. We saw tourists from Japan, China, Singapore, Ireland, Australia, Jefferson City, Missouri (well, their honor band, at least…)

These world travelers inspired us, so we did our best to be as touristy as possible, which means cramming in an exorbitant amount of touristy ‘must-sees’ in a minimal amount of time (all while joyously not having to wear Lions Club vests or engage in pin swapping.)

I think we succeeded.

We threw our luggage down (All 5 of us managed carry-on only!! Victory is ours!) and walked down the street to Harry Caray’s for dinner. From there, we used the first of our 5 CityPass tickets to see/endure TILT360 on top of the John Hancock Building.




When faced with the CityPass or ChicagoGo Pass, the CityPass wins hands-down. Trust me on this one. After about 4 hours of research (which, let the record state, involved entirely way too much math), I decided the CityPass hit the big 5 and had Fast-Pass line options and was a better bargain.

We woke up Saturday morning and headed off to the Art Institute of Chicago. Tucker adores art museums; Russ adores Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so this was set to be a win-win situation. But first up, we must see our friends The Lions again:


The International March of Lions in Traditional Cultural Parade Attire began lining up outside our hotel window at 7:30am. All kinds of cultural attire were represented. It was quite colorful. It was also quite entertaining.

We walked along the southern edge of Millennium Park and somehow managed to keep all children dry.

Even though it wins the dubious award of having The Most Confusing Museum Map Ever, the Art Institute of Chicago is unbelievable. It’s enormous. It’s spotless. Once we made peace with the fact that we were barely going to be able to put a dent in it, we settled down and had a blast (which included re-creations of critical scenes from Ferris Bueller.)

And winning the award for Weirdest Piece of Artwork We Saw is this fine gem:


That, my friends, is a video of a person. Bathing a live duck in a bathtub. Played simultaneously on four ancient Panasonic television sets. With over 100 bricks stacked in piles in front of it.

Ok, then.

We played the Tacky Tourists at lunch, sitting on the top deck of the crusty beach bar/restaurant Castaways on the North Shore Beach.

Later that afternoon, we braved the masses and headed to Navy Pier. There is an “interactive [art] installation” by Roger Hiorns in Polk Park, the greenspace you cross to get to the pier.

His description of this piece of art says:

“The sculpture will produce giant foam clusters, which will be shaped by the wind and spread across the landscape. In this way, the artist engages with the surroundings, and blurs the lines between where the city begins and the art ends. The public is welcome to engage with the interactive installation, with the foam becoming the connective tissue between the individual and the artwork.”

In reality, it’s a giant bubble machine atop several corrugated tin cylinders sitting in a mud bog in the middle of a park overlooking a lake.

The boys loved it.


In the interest of full disclosure, we will say it smells. Big time.

After a quick rinse-off-attempt in the fountain, we were off to find the Tall Ship Windy for an afternoon sail on Lake Michigan.


The Tall Ship Windy is a working sailboat that cruises out on Lake Michigan for a little over an hour. One of the tours described on their website claims to be an architecture tour. I think that’s exaggerating a bit; if we were to do it again, we’d have chosen the actual architecture tour on the river. I was trying to kill two birds with one anchor: we wanted an architecture river tour, but we also wanted a boat that served drinks. After seeing boat after boat zipping down the River in front of our hotel in rapid, methodical, cramped fashion, I’d thought I’d gotten the hipper, cooler deal. It was indeed hip and cool but more attuned to the art of sailing than to the art of building. Lesson learned (but it was still a great ride!).

IMG_3554Tuck and Theo help hoist the sail.IMG_3556IMG_3550IMG_3657IMG_3568

Once off the boat, we headed back into town on a mission (see what I did there? shout out to The Blues Brothers) to track down a pop culture icon…

IMG_3587IMG_3583(Chicago, you’re beautiful, by the way…)

…The Billy Goat Tavern!

All you SNL fans out there will surely remember the “cheezborger…cheezborger” skit with John Belushi and Bill Murray. (Interesting fact: the SNL skit restaurant was called The Olympia Cafe but was inspired by the Billy Goat Tavern.) The Billy Goat Tavern is underground, gritty, greasy, and filled with surly locals…just like a good dive should be.

From the dark belly of a subterranean Chicago hole-in-the-wall, we then headed to the most colorful place on the planet: Dylan’s Candy Bar. You’ll want to steer clear of this place if you have sensory issues; it’s a cacophonic, rainbow-colored, child-filled, bizarre 3- leveled situation, but it also brilliantly includes a bar for the adults.


Russ ordered an Old Fashioned, and it was a total production. Never seen a cocktail with dry ice in it before. It looked more like a potion out of Hogwarts than a drink.


On the walk home, Tucker tried to stump a street magician.

He was not successful.


And finally, does anyone remember these awesome candy cigarettes? They have some type of powdered sugar in them which, when puffed on just so, lets little clouds of “smoke” waft out. Obviously, these were one of the more offensive (or, at least, questionable) types of candy ever made, so the powers that be removed them from the shelves of America.

Or so we were led to believe.

Guess what we unearthed at Dylan’s Candy Bar?

The boys found them–the Lucky Strikes from my days of yore–and begged to get them. Hopefully this is the first, last, and only shot of them ever doing this (and I’m grateful no one thought to take a photo of me puffing along and laughing just as hard beside them…)


Our first 1.5 days in the Windy City were enough to have us hooked and fired up for the hard-core touristy stuff I’d planned for the remained of the trip. Next up? Food Tour!

Happy Birthday, Mom…

What follows is the eulogy I wrote this past August for my sweet mother. Our minister read it, word for word, as the sermon at her service. She would have turned 70 today.

I think it is a fitting tribute to share these heartfelt words about her once again.


In his 10th Holy Sonnet, the great poet, John Donne, wrote a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times in classrooms of our past: “Death be not proud.” With these four simple words, he eloquently captured the gist of what it means to be a Christian, of what it means to have faith in the promise of resurrection. “Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.”

These words reflect the mystery of our faith, the mystery of faith that my mom deeply believed in. And because of this faith, she was not afraid of what was to come. Not once did anyone ever hear her voice concern or worry over her future. Indeed, she embraced each day as it dawned with gusto, her main—her only—concern being how she could help her family. And to my mom, her family was her life. And by faith was her way of living…

How else could you explain the fact that she agreed to go on a blind date way back during her senior year of college—a pairing covertly suggested by her college roommate in order to work their way around a Brumby Hall curfew? My mom’s first response to her roommate’s invitation? “Oh, with that football player guy with the glasses? Uh, I’m not sure…”

But she showed her ineffable—and often completely hidden—courage that night back in the late ’60’s when she agreed to a date with the bespectacled ball player from a tiny south Georgia town. She told me many times that her heart did a flip when she caught her first glimpse of him walking up a set of stairs to meet her. Less than 2 years later, together they would take an even more incredible leap of faith and get married. Their only child would follow soon after.

Thus began another season in her life.

Change is hard for any of us, but for those of us with faith—who believe in the promise of abundant life which our Lord has provided us—we embrace the jubilant message given to us in Ecclesiastes—the same message that is encapsulated by the popular song from my parents’ college days, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” written by The Byrds:  “to everything…there is a season…and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

My mom was given many purposes under heaven, and she willingly and lovingly embraced them all.

She was called to lead a servant’s life, and she did so selflessly, volunteering her time at school, chairing countless projects with her service sorority, watching legions of softball games, ensuring her family was fed and clothed. She steadily tackled these and many more mundane tasks with grace and humility, putting the needs of others ahead of herself every single time.

She was called to be a friend and what a good friend she was. Friendships with my mom ran decades deep; in fact, my parents’ next door neighbors here in Vidalia are the same neighbors who used to stay up late with them nearly 50 years ago in Athens, laughing and celebrating—perhaps playing cards or rehashing the latest football game. Friends with whom my mom has shared a cup of coffee, a round of golf, or a meal know just how loyal a friend they had. She had a true gift for making friends, and my mom’s friendships ran just as wide as they were deep; she could—and would—talk to anyone. At any time. Her personality sparkled when she met new people, and her laughter could fill up a room.

She was called to be a wife. That courageous blind date with the football guy? That turned into a rock solid marriage that lasted 46 years. It was a rare moment indeed to find one of them without the other. Wherever they were—be it Las Vegas, Nevada or simply watching tv on Sunset Drive—they were happy just to be together. My mom radiated an invisible strength when she was next to my dad; she was her best self, confident and courageous, with him by her side. Theirs was an unshakable union, a constant companionship. Without her, my dad will never be the same.

She was called to be a mother. She was fiercely loyal and protective of me and would defend me until her last breath; she somehow thought I was incapable of doing any wrong. She was my first—and my constant—teacher who imparted things to me that are paramount to growing up—things like how to read, how to tie my shoes, how to make amazing homemade macaroni and cheese. Her spirit of adventure would soar when we were together; on Spring Break in 1994, she decided we should bike 25 miles down a mountainside in Jamaica—just picturing that should make you smile. My mom had the kindest heart ever and a way of always making me feel safe.

Finally—and perhaps most importantly to her—she was called to be a grandmother. Her 3 grandsons—Jack, Tucker and Theodore—made her soul shine. She would do absolutely anything for them; in fact, she once rode all the way to Atlanta and back on the same day just to watch Jack play in a baseball game. Their Baba would never turn down a game of Yahtzee, and she could be counted on to have a stash of Lays potato chips and pink lemonade waiting for them. Baba loved you three to the moon and back and would tell anyone who would listen that you were her sunshine. I want you to think of that whenever you see the sun shining brightly; I want you to remember your Baba forever and let your memories of her make you happy when skies are gray. You three were her life.

Indeed, my mom was gifted with many holy purposes during her life—servant, friend, wife, mother, Baba—and she humbly and faithfully carried out God’s plan for her. As we are told in the book of Jeremiah, the Lord knows the plans He has for each of us; these plans are to prosper us and to give us hope for a future, the future of an eternal life with God our Father. Because of this promise, even though we deeply mourn this loss, we can find comfort and start to heal. Our faithful servant has carried out her life’s plan just as God intended her to. We can allow ourselves a sense of Peace, and we can boldly tell Death to not be proud because just “one short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more.”

Alleluia. Thanks be to God. Amen.




5,022 miles: the grand finale

Our last full day in Rome arrived, and we were all set for a semi-private tour of the Vatican Museums, complete with access to the Bramante staircase. These tickets were some of the first I purchased when planning the trip.

Of course, in classic Herakovich style, we were 5 minutes late and missed the tour.


There was another tour group about to leave, and we were allowed to join it. This new tour was leaving 10 minutes late because they were waiting on one last person to arrive, so we tried–and failed–to talk our way back into our original tour group. Frustration station, indeed. (Also, this second tour did not include the Bramante stairs. Bummer.)

However, our tour guide–an adorable young lady from Alabama–made up for it by being very knowledgable, fast, and funny.

The artwork inside the Vatican museums is absolutely spellbinding (and totally overwhelming).


After the Vatican Museums, we strolled around to find a place for our last lunch. I dragged the family halfway across Rome to a restaurant I’d read about online, but once we arrived at Romeo and took a look at the menu, we bailed. Classy. (The restaurant would be lovely for a pair of grown-ups…but with 3 kids? Not so much…)

Instead, we wound up sitting outside at a sweet, little run-of-the-mill bistro that wound up being fantastic.


Next stop: the best gelato in Rome–Fatamorgana. Search it out; it’s worth the extra cartography work.

IMG_3392IMG_3394IMG_3374Random bird stare down. We thought he was pretty funny.


We walked our lunch off on the way back to our hotel.

(Have I told you how awesome our apartment was? Without a doubt, it was the way to go.)


Tucker has been fascinated with magicians for awhile now. Before we’d even planned a trip to Italy, he’d searched out “magic stores” on Google and read that one of the world’s best was in Rome. So of course he was after us to visit it. I’m not in to magic–I’m a weirdo who gets spooked by it–but I am in to walking around a new city, so he and I set off for Eclectica.


It was completely worth the hour’s diversion; the staff there spoke English and treated Tucker to several tricks he’d never seen before.

For our last night in Rome, we took a walking food tour of Trastevere.


waiting for our guide at Piazza Farnese

If you’ve spent any time with our family, you realize that taking a foodie’s tour was risky for a family of particular eaters. We were amazed when all 3 boys decided to play along and try things. The Roman Foodie tour ranked up there with our trip to Pisa; we would do it again in a heartbeat.

First stop was a cheese shop: Coop Latte Cisternino.


Jack–Jack, I say–tries some fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. We didn’t tell him what it was made of (water buffalo milk). It was outstanding.

IMG_3409our guide, Diane


From there, we ambled over to Filetti di Baccala for, duh, baccala–which is a salt-cured cod.

IMG_3441IMG_3433IMG_3428Tucker won the braveness award at this stop.


IMG_3431“God, if I’m born again, let me be born in Rome.”

From the baccala joint, we headed to an authentic pizza place, La Renella.



Then we took a much needed little stroll through the winding streets and alleyways of Trastevere.


We wound up at an adorable little artisanal food shop where the boys enjoyed fresh pressed apple juice, and we had a plate of bruschetta.


A little more walking…

IMG_3494Diane showed Jack how to use these fountains (which are everywhere in Rome) for drinking water.

IMG_3496IMG_3461this guy was sitting outside his shop, painting Converse all-stars; Tucker was highly intrigued

IMG_3468IMG_3484all around the neighborhood there were water bowls for pups

Now for the main course: pastas at Trattoria de Teo–Theo’s restaurant! This hidden restaurant was the best; it’s known by the locals for having some of the best pasta in all of Rome. It did not disappoint. Chef Teo even came out to meet our Theo!

Afterwards, we took a passeggiata around the Jewish Ghetto and over to the Isola Tiberina.




The last stop was for gelato. We were stuffed and sad to see our trip to Rome coming to a close.

IMG_3531IMG_3535IMG_3537our group at the last stop of the Roman Foodie tour

Saturday arrived, and we faced a mammoth day of travel. We arrived at the airport to discover the tickets for our flight had been reserved, but our seats had not been confirmed. This meant that the wonderful folks at Alitalia had sprinkled us throughout the plane, a situation which was not going to work on a 9+ hour flight. After a whole lot of haggling, they were able to get us somewhat together in 2 rows, in the middle of the plane, and towards the back. Thus, Alitalia achieved what we assumed would have been the rare accomplishment of making this return flight even more uncomfortable than the one we took going to Rome.

IMG_7929claustrophobia, anyone?

Only 2 of the 5 screens for in-flight entertainment worked. There were 3 kids. Imagine the drama.

Also, even though the flight left Rome around 11 a.m., the Italians on the plane decided it was time to sleep, so they closed all the window shades. It was pitch black dark, crowded, cramped, and irritating. But at least they kept the wine flowing.

We hit customs at JFK, and the boys were bouncing off the walls. They kept making goofy faces at the passport recognition station thing which subsequently kept rejecting our passports. Everyone was a little edgy after 9 hours in a tin can, to say the least.

Finally, after over 16 hours of travel, we landed in Atlanta.

IMG_7933home, sweet home

I’ve had friends ask if Rome is too ambitious to tackle with young kids; to them, I say, absolutely not. Rome is nothing short of spectacular, and we cannot wait to visit it again.