Home in Motion: Europe Edition: May - July 2016

Do something every day that scares you, even if everyone, including yourself, thinks you are insane.

Goals and Fiascos

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Several years ago I met a really super cool dude who loved to travel. His traveling wasn’t your normal hop on an airplane, fly somewhere neat and take lots of selfies kind of travel, though. No. This man had purpose and one of his goals was to visit all the preserved bodies of dead dictators throughout the world. Slightly disgusted but mostly inspired, I decided I needed to set some rad goals in my own life but that I also wanted to experience his level of adventure and that unconventional travel lifestyle he executed so well. And here I am; traveling throughout Europe with my four young children and no other adult supervision and being about as unconventional as you can get. And as for that sense of adventure, well, that just seems to find us these days. In fact, I’ve seemed to have developed a knack for making the would be ordinary day into a drama filled adventure saga where everyone survives in the end, but just barely.

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Our latest installment of Toni Loses Her Mind begins late one miserably hot evening when my four year old had that foreboding “bark” of a cough. He was hospitalized at around 18 months for the croup and now when it makes it’s annual appearance, I turn into a nut job. I spent the entire night watching his chest struggle to move up and down as he coughed in pain, wondering if I should pack up the kids and rush him to the ER. At one point I sent out frantic messages to everyone I know who has ever spent even one day in France regarding the emergent care. Luckily, by early the next morning, his cough had subsided and I felt relieved enough to finally fall asleep.

I should explain that my baby girl, 19 months, sleeps in bed with me here in France being as we do not have a crib for her. So, still in a sleepless night induced coma, I snoozed like I had been drugged. At some point she woke up and started wandering around the room getting into all my junk. When I woke up some time later, I noticed she was holding a nearly empty bottle of Flintstone vitamins WITH iron in her hand, and that bottle was not empty the night before. I remained calm and began searching the room hoping to find them spilled and not eaten. No luck. I also noticed on her face some of that orange chalky residue that could only be left by one thing. And then I started to panic. Wasn’t iron the leading cause of poison deaths in children in the United States?

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Yelling frantically at the kids to get their dang clothes on, I grabbed the stupid empty bottle and the baby and took off for the emergency room, which, coincidentally happened to be right down the road from us. Probably divine intervention. We walk into the first entrance and I start waiving the bottle around to the receptionist. “Elle mange des…these things.” and “Yeah, I know they are just vitamins but they have iron in them. IR-ON in them. What’s the French word for iron? Dang it!” I grab my nearly dead phone and quickly pull it up! “Fer! C’est fer!” “Oh, fer!” She repeated and then she took us over to the emergency room.

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We, as in she, were checked by the triage nurses, asked several questions and then sent out to the waiting room to, well, wait, and wait and wait. After several hours, we were taken back to a room to wait again. After another eternity the doctor finally came in and asked us several questions. “Fer?” “Oui, Fer!” After we both said “fer!” about 12 more times each, the doctor concluded that she hadn’t eaten enough of the vitamins to illicit an emergency and that with some medications to help protect the lining of her stomach, we would be safe to go home.

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We were now five hours strong into this fiasco. None of us, remember there are FIVE, had eaten anything and my brain was literally on the verge of exploding from the chaos! Hangry x5 is never pretty. After we were released, I once again packed up the kids and we made our walk of tired shame back to the apartment. Walking in I realized that somewhere in the last 24 hours our clean organized house had turned into something worthy of its own episode of hoarders. I sent the kids to fend for themselves in the kitchen while I decided to get the laundry going. I went into my room, pulled the bed sheets off and heard a noise that doesn’t normally accompany the act of shaking bed sheets out. When I looked to see what the culprit was, I couldn’t help but get a big stupid smile across my face. There they were. Every single vitamin I feared were in my baby’s belly eating the lining of her stomach away. Although I was absolutely thrilled that my daughter was definitely safe from iron poisoning, I also wanted to throw something. I had just spent five hours at a hospital with four hungry, tired children with an above average tendency to bicker.

Between my son’s abscessed tooth emergency in Croatia, a bout of the croup, a dog bite and my daughter pretending to poison herself, all of my worst nightmares have come true on this trip. I knew when we were planning to expect problems. I prayed I wouldn’t have any emergencies but I also knew that it was a very possible reality and it did happen. But bad things can happen anywhere. Don’t let your fear hold you back from living your dreams. Take steps to prepare yourself for when an emergency does arise. Research before hand your best options and places the most well equipped and capable of handling something severe. Make sure you have a network of fellow experienced travelers you feel comfortable relying on for information, as well. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing my networks proved to be. They are what got me through all of these fiascos. And in the end, we survived and added another adventure to the books, and that’s the most important thing!

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Leaving Pula for Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Marseilles

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I can’t believe our trip is already over half way over! As we packed the car to leave Pula and say our goodbyes, my heart broke into a million pieces saying goodbye to our AirBnB host and his family. When his darling little girl began crying because we were leaving, it took everything in me to avoid sobbing along with her. Our time in Pula was incredible and I will hold those precious memories close to me for the rest of my life.

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Our first stop leaving Pula was the beautiful city and Croatian capital Zagreb. Nearly every person I asked about visiting Zagreb said it wasn’t too exciting and to skip it. As we drove through the tiny streets filled with ancient architecture, I wished I hadn’t listened and allotted more than one evening.

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We tried to make the most of our short time in Zagreb by quickly checking into our hotel and heading right back out in the town. We leisulerly walked up to the city center and explored an incredible cathedral and  the gothic architecture. Doner kebabs also snuck their way into our itinerary as did a quick stop into my favorite clothing store, which happened to be having a massive sale.

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Night fell and so we began or walk back to the hotel. The next morning we ate breakfast and headed to the airport. After driving around roughly 10 million times, I finally found the place to drop off our rental car and we were able to check-in and board our flight to Dubrovnik.

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Dubrovnik! Just the name makes my eyes sparkle and my heart flutter. We arrived late on our first day so we ended up just hanging out at the pool for a few hours. The next day we packed up the big double stroller and hopped on the bus to the Old City. Take note here, a stroller is not a good idea in this place. The second you enter the city you go down a massive flight of narrow and steep stairs. Then, if you want to tour the wall, you cannot take your stroller anyway, so you have to leave it at the bottom and hope no one snatches it. We didn’t have the time to do anything else in Dubrovnik; just the city and the wall took us a good 5 hours to accomplish and if I didn’t have tired kids with me I could have spent even more time there.

The next morning we enjoyed the pool and then checked out and made the long drive back to the airport. Our taxi driver gave us a fun little history lesson on Dubrovnik and shared some personal experiences he had growing up during the seige of his city.

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We arrived at the airport, and a quick flight later, arrived in Marseilles. After another long taxi ride we finally arrived at our apartment. We have only been here for a day and so far I love this city.

Pedijatrija

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I can’t believe we have been in Croatia for 3 weeks already. Time is such a weird thing, isn’t it? One day you are packing your things, preparing the passports and questioning why your decision making license has not been revoked and the next minute you’re well over half way into your adventure, and what an incredible adventure it has been, thus far! We have explored, and of course climbed, every ruin we have come across; we’ve swam in crystal clear beaches; we mingled and made friends with the locals, and even had the chance to check out the city hospital, which is where I’m convinced every horror flick was filmed! Okay, it probably wasn’t THAT bad, but since I’ve never actually been to a hospital in another country, I didn’t really know what to expect. Here’s the story.

It all started one windy and stormy night, when my 9 year old began complaining of neck pain. By the next morning he had a second head protruding from his lower jaw that looked like it would start talking to me at any moment: an abscessed tooth. We needed antibiotics and we needed them ASAP.

We began our search and after visiting what seemed like every clinic and pharmacy in all of Pula, we gave up and began our long walk towards the hospital. When we first approached the complex, I quickly noticed how it resembled an old abandoned city—tall buildings under construction, yet it looked like no progress had been made in years. The parking area was deserted but for a single soul and his dog, relieving itself in one of the stalls. An old chain-linked fence wrapped around the entirety of the overgrown concrete jungle.

Several minutes of wandering around later and we stumbled upon the ambulance “garage,” which was more of a fenced plot of dirt where various emergency vehicles rested. A paramedic sat smoking a cigarette while simultaneously gawking at our little circus. I’m sure we were a site to see. I was trudging along with my 18 month old in a Kelty pack on my back. The 4 year old was straggling behind me crying and complaining about his feet hurting. The 9 year old and dirty faced 6 year old walked nearby and questioned me several times asking if I was sure this was a “real” hospital.

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The woman quickly approached us and I told her we seemed to be lost. She pointed us in the right direction and we were on our way. As I looked back, I could have sworn I saw her making the sign of the cross, or maybe she was putting her cigarette out, but more than likely she was praying for our souls in this forsaken place of uncertainty.

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We trekked on along a dirt road to the top of a hill where the oldest, most dark and foreboding of all the buildings glared down. “Pedijatrija” was written clearly on the entrance sign, which is Croatian for, “Enter if you dare!” or maybe it meant pediatrics. Who really knows. That’s not important. The important part is that we did enter and we did so voluntarily, completely unaware of what was lurking behind the automatic doors.

The entrance to the hospital was dark and dastardly deserted. I stood at the desk half expecting Charon to welcome us and offer a ride on his boat into the Underworld. Luckily, he did not show up but unluckily, no one else appeared, either. We decided to take our chances and began slowly walking down the long and dreary corridor. I looked to the right. Whew! No dead bodies. I looked to the left. Only an ashtray with a smoking cigarette; a sign of life, and also, ironically a symbol of death, but most importantly, someone had been breathing in this building in the last few minutes.

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Sure enough, as we continued our way through the dark corridor, a pale figure emerged with a look almost as surprised as mine at seeing another breathing creature. She was incredibly kind, maybe too kind, and was probably a vampire but we had devoured garlic pizza for lunch so more than likely she realized that since she couldn’t suck our blood, she would drain us of our other most valuable lifeline instead: money. She escorted us onto the elevator and pressed floor 666, or maybe it was floor 5. Once again, these little details aren’t important.

As the vampire, uh, employee, showed us off the elevator, I quickly noticed that this floor was no less dark and lifeless as the rest of the hospital. We entered a door to the right where a nurse, who looked somewhat like Kathy Bates from Misery, approached us. Her friendly and enthusiastic voice only worsened my nerves. What sick and evil plan was she concocting in her head. She left to “speak to the doctor” and after what seemed like an eternity, she came back and told us the doctor would now see us. Another dark and dreary corridor later and we entered a room that reminded me of a mental hospital from the early 1900s; it was sterile white with a chair in the center and random tools surrounding the bed.

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The doctor smiled as we entered. We explained to her about our situation and she confirmed our biggest fear; we had entered the Twilight Zone! Just kidding. My son had an abscessed tooth and needed antibiotics right away. She filled out the prescription and sent us on our way. I thanked her, grabbed my children, and walked as quickly back towards the light as possible without exposing my desperation!

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Back down the elevator and through the creepy hallway of death, we had finally made it to the hospital’s exit and with my first step back into the land of the living, I fell to the ground and began kissing it fervently. Who knows how long we were actually in there? Days? Months? Years, even? All I know is that we had ventured into a foreign hospital and lived to tell the tale.

As bad as the hospital was, it couldn’t compare to what we would face next: the dentist!

Side note: Although the hospital really was uncomfortably dark, overly outdated, and oddly deserted, the staff was incredible and I am so grateful for their kindness and for taking such great care of my boy!

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The Cost of Croatia

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Our first 11 days here in Croatia have been one giant learning experience. Outdoor public bathrooms with no doors, for example, are waiting to surprise you around every corner. And just because a beach is not specified as ‘nude’ does not guarantee that you will NOT see lots of naked people of all ages, shapes and sizes. I also never could have anticipated how hard planning and cooking meals every day would be. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the giant bag of almond flour cookies I’ve been chowing down last week, I probably would have died of the plain rice and chicken overdose by day three.

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Besides our first world problems, most of these learning experiences have been positive. I’ve learned, for example, that Croatia is CHEAP. Like, despite the 25% tax they tack onto their food, it’s still a million times cheaper to eat in Croatia than it is in the US. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this. Indulging at a centrally located restaurant in the touristic regions of town will cost you an arm and a leg and you’ll be left unsatisfied from the incredibly mediocre, okay it was just gross, food.

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And speaking of money, I wanted to break down the cost of our trip a little bit so you can see that a crazy adventure like ours is not completely out of financial reach. Our round trip flights only cost around $300 for all six of us because we used frequent fliers miles; we only had to pay the necessary taxes and fees. The price of this Airbnb rental for an entire month would normally cost $1200.00 (which includes utilities, internet, cable, etc.) but of course, I managed to snatch up a bunch of highly discounted Airbnb gift cards at almost 50% off. We walk everywhere, so no money is wasted on fuel, and if we do need transportation, we hop on the bus; it’s cheap and only cost us 11 Kuna ($1.64 USD) to take the bus from the beach back to town. Our biggest expense by far came from the tolls paid on the drive from France to Italy; they were shockingly high!

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Gone are the days when only the wealthy could afford to travel with their families. You can easily do it too if you keep your eyes open for great deals, such as this one HERE, and buckle down a bit with your finances and before you know it your dream trip will finally become a reality.

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Queue the Adventure

Once upon a time when I began planning my very first international trip, I was the most organized and efficient traveler you had ever seen. Think Martha Stewart of the open road. I had folders of color-coordinated itineraries that detailed where we would be and at what hour. I’m not sure what happened, though. Somewhere down the road I made a complete 180 degree turn and now I just fly by the seat of my pants.

Staying true to myself, this trip ended up being no different and I booked it just a few weeks in advance of departure. I knew two things: we would fly into Paris and we would fly home from Zurich. All the other details, which were the important ones, were a complete mystery. I had no idea where we would stay or for how long; how we would get from Paris to Zurich; or where the heck we were going to live when we got done, which I still don’t know, by the way.

Initially, we planned on staying in Spain for one month and then France for the next. I searched for hours and hours trying to find a place that fit just a few criteria: near the water, easy access to public transportation, internet, and within our budget. I was struggling to meet those needs and began searching around other countries in Europe. Queue Croatia. It was almost too good to be true. The only piece of the puzzle it did not meet was the “easy access to public transportation,” but we were able to find a rental car in Paris that only cost $211. Of course there was one stipulation, if we left the car in Croatia, it would cost nearly $1200 more than if we could somehow manage to get it back to Paris.

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There was no way I was going to drop that kind of money on a week-long car rental, so I devised a plan — one that worked out rather well considering how last minute it was. After spending two days in Paris, we picked up our rental car and started the 14-hour drive to Croatia. We extended the drive so it would take about a week so we could stop and explore some of the incredible cities along the way. Geneva was our first stop, and although we only stayed the night there, driving through was an experience itself. What an incredibly beautiful and breathtaking place. Our drive continued on through France and Italy, over mountains and through a 7.3 mile long tunnel next to a glacier. We continued through Milan and finally made our stop in Padova. Our night there was uneventful and relaxing and we ate out and the yummiest little Indian restaurant. Even the kids loved it. The next day we hopped back in the car and made the quick drive over to Venice, where we would stay another night.

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Our brief time in Venice was incredible and insane. We got super lost and super wet from the torrential downpour that seemed to follow us around the city. Our hotel was actually on its own separate island. If I had been organized and prepared like I used to be, we would have known this and could have avoided hours of frustration over being lost. The other problem with Venice was the sheer mass of people swarming the city. Overall, if I could do it again, I would have skipped Venice; it was just too crazy and way too many grumpy people.

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The next morning we headed out and made the final leg of our drive over to Pula, Croatia. The drive was less than three hours long and very scenic. We found our place and met our host, who has been incredibly nice and helpful.

So, we finally made it to Croatia but we still needed to get our car back to Paris. What did we do? Well, the morning after arriving, my incredible husband hopped BACK in the car and made the 14-hour drive. Nonstop. All the way back to Paris. He arrived at Gare du Nord in the middle of the night and ended up parking nearby and sleeping in the car until the garage opened early the next morning. After an eventful night, he dropped off the car, hopped on the train and continued to the airport for a flight back to the US.

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Hubs was gone and our trip really begun. Now, I’m here in Croatia with the four kids and no other adult supervision. Besides my son getting bit by a dog this afternoon, everything has been pretty incredible and I can’t wait to continue exploring more!

Conquering Flights

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We made it! After almost 2 full days of traveling, we finally arrived in Paris, and I am proud to say that I didn’t cry even once on the airplane. There was a time or two that I nearly grabbed the sweet pregnant lady sitting next to me on the arm and yelled “We are going to die!” but fortunately for everyone, I managed to maintain my composer.

I can still remember the very moment I developed my fear of flying. I was heading to New York with my mother. I was 16 and besides a few flights I had embarked on as a baby, this was basically my very first. I had absolutely no idea what to expect and life was good.

Everything “seemed” to be going along smoothly and nothing was out of the ordinary and then a little turbulence hit and the captain flipped on the seat belt sign. Still not sure whether or not that was normal, I glanced over to my mother, who then looked at me terrified and mouthed some words that I won’t repeat on this post because there are innocent eyes reading this! I immediately began crying knowing that our time on earth was inevitably coming to a violent end. Thanks, mom.

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Obviously, we survived the flight and I have gone on to fly over and over again, but no matter how much the rational part of my brain reminds me of all the statistics I’ve read on how safe flying is, the irrational part still remembers my mother’s face and that side always seems to win over when things start getting bumpy.

I’m getting better all of the time when I do fly, as long as everything is smooth. I’ve also taught myself a few “coping” mechanisms to deal when things start getting rough. One method I’ve developed and perfected over the years that I’d like to share with you all goes something like this: violently bounce up and down in your own seat when there is turbulence. This way you don’t know whether it’s the plane plummeting through the sky out of control or if it’s yourself, looking like an epileptic psychopath. Note, if you start the bouncing immediately when things start getting choppy, you will never know just how bad the plane is bumping. If that isn’t peace of mind, I don’t know what is.

Pro tip: When flying with your child, bounce them on your lap. People will think you are just weird instead of insane.

Another method I have employed to help me cope while flying is just letting go of control and realizing that I have to trust in the capabilities of the pilots and their crew. Sometimes this doesn’t seem to be enough, though, so I will then resort to finding a crew member to dislike and comfort myself with the knowledge that if I go down, they are going down with me. Okay, okay, that was not my joke but I’ve always wanted to use it.

My final method that helps me more than anything is knowing that I am facing my absolute biggest fear in order to pursue my dreams. Nothing in this world scares me quite like flying does, but somehow I still manage to crawl, mentally, not physically because that would be weird,onto that metal beast and make it to my next destination.

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And now to get to the reason most everyone is probably still reading this article: How did I get my flights for so cheap? 6 people for around $300 AND we fly into one destination and out of another? Drum roll….frequent flier miles! Not the kind your mom and dad used. You know, the ones with blackout dates and that kind of garbage. These are the 21st century awesome miles where you easily earn them and learn how to use them in the best possible way to maximize their value. If you can take the time to learn the quirks of various airlines, you can open up an entire world of travel possibilities you never could have dreamed existed!

Introduction

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Colosseum, November 2015 when the kids were so excited to see daddy and I was finally able to relax

Do you remember that old Almond Joy/Mounds commercial? I believe it went something like this, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you realize it’s no longer just a feeling and you are 100% certifiably crazy…” Or maybe I’m remembering it wrong…More than likely, though, it has become my reality and so I’m going to roll with it. My transition to full blown insanity didn’t just happen overnight, though. In fact, there is a very specific series of events that led up to my demise.

It all started in April of this year when my husband and I decided to place our 3 year old home in Colorado for sale and move to Mississippi to be closer to family. We knew that we would not be able to leave for the Magnolia State until early-August but we went ahead and listed the house anyway. Only 3 days later we were under contract with absolutely no idea where to go or what to do until August rolled around.

Unfortunately, life seldom goes according to plan and Mississippi fell through. Insert thumbs up emoji here. “No big deal,” I said to myself, “We can just back out of our contract.” WRONG! You cannot, in fact “just back out of” a contract. So, somewhat brokenhearted, faced with the very real prospect of homelessness, and having absolutely no where to go, we did what any rational and responsible (oozing with sarcasm) parents would do and booked a 2 month long trip to Europe.

Now, to finish it off, add in 4 young children, ages 9, 6, 4, 1, and all their junk; a workaholic husband who can only stay with us for the first week and after which he will fly back to the US for the duration of the trip; a mom who (not-so-discretely) contemplates jumping out of the airplane when things start getting bumpy because she thinks they are all going to die and who has absolutely no idea where they are going to live when their two months are up. Now you have a taste of just how ridiculous, I mean awesome (positivity is not my strong point), our life is about to become.

Stay tuned for my next episode where you will find out: How/if I survived the 8 hour flight to Paris, what our plans for the upcoming months are, and a bonus: How I booked 6 roundtrip tickets to Europe for $300.00.

Comments

2 responses to “Home in Motion: Europe Edition

  1. says:

    This is awesome! Can’t wait to read more.

  2. loved your pictures. I was lucky to meet you and your children in the Notre Dam in Marseille. I was on a cruise with my husband and 2 children. You had walked all the way up with you children. Awesome experience …..hope you are all well.

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