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Moving story

We move a lot. It’s a benefit—or burden, depending on your outlook—of the military life. We prefer to look at each move as an adventure, which helps the whole family maintain a positive outlook. But it’s not an adventure without an element of challenge, and a few of our moves have definitely been challenging.

The most memorable was our cross-country move—aren’t they always?—from Dayton, Ohio to Santa Maria, California. We shipped our beater of a sedan and set out in our piece-of-crap van (part of the live-below-our-means-plan, which we’re still on, but the means have improved since then) for the 2300-mile drive.

Everything went along smoothly until we stopped in Arizona to visit family. Something went wrong with the van and we had to take it to a mechanic, thus delaying our departure a couple of days.

Finally, we were on the road again with our 700 pounds of household goods and two preschoolers. We stopped in Palm Desert to retrieve my husband’s car and caravanned into Los Angeles. We made it through the the suburbs in bumper-to-bumper traffic and onto 101 northbound, and blam. Right at the intersection of the freeway and a two-lane onramp, the van died.

Oh, yes, my fellow road warriors were most pleased with me. Did I mention it was July 4th? I was that “broken down car blocking the right lane” on the traffic channel.

Details of the transfer to my husband’s car and the towing event are fuzzy, but when the mechanics got a hold of the van, it started right up. They couldn’t tell us what was wrong since it was working. Well, !@#$%. We took the kids to McDonald’s (PlayPlaces rock with little ones in tow), and began to list our options.

We still had 150 miles to go and it was already mid-afternoon. If we broke down again, we might be in the middle of nowhere next time. If we left the van behind, what would we do with it and all of our stuff?

We decided to store our stuff and, if possible, sell the van.

And the countdown was on. We had only a couple of hours until the dealer closed.

Step 1: Store our stuff. We found a storage company, paid the $90/month fee, and moved everything down a hall, up an escalator, and down another hall in multiple trips. We were barely able to fit our suitcases in the Camry. We stuffed three in the trunk and crammed one between the kids in the back seat.

Step 2: Get the van detailed. Off to the full-service car wash for a professional wash and vacuum.

Step 3: Sell the van. We arrived at the dealer about thirty minutes before closing. (Yes, this may not have been our most ethical choice, but it’s what we came up with under duress.) The van was still running and continued to perform like a champ. We basically got paid what we’d spent to get the van fixed in Phoenix.

We made it the rest of the way without incident, checked into our temporary lodging on base, and drove around until we found a place to watch the Lompoc fireworks from our car. Our treat for a crappy day.

Two days later, we rented a fifteen-passenger van, took out most of the back seats, piled the kids in, and drove back to L.A. to retrieve our things from storage, making the return the same day.

At the time, the whole situation was stressful and maddening, but now I look back on it as an adventure. Another obstacle that we survived and overcame that made us stronger.

And just in case you were wondering: that was my first and last van.

Road trips

Have you ever noticed that the most memorable trips are those where things go wrong? At the time it seems awful, but later you laugh about it. For some reason, nearly all of my driving misadventures involve California.

The first one that comes to mind was a few months after The Engineer and I were married. We took a weekend trip from Tucson to San Diego. A mini, belated honeymoon of sorts to one of my favorite cities. We drove my Acura (of the now infamous aftermarket cruise control), which was at this point nine years old and driven to death.

On the morning we were due to leave San Diego, the car battery died and my husband pushed the car back and forth in the parking lot of the hotel while I tried to pop the clutch to get it started. Poor guy. It finally worked, and since it was too early in the morning to get the battery replaced, we drove to El Centro (about three hours or so) and stopped for lunch while the guys at Sears replaced the battery.

That would have been enough, but this is where I must mention that it was July. In the desert. At midday. Not an hour after we left El Centro, we heard an ominous thump as the air conditioning belt flew off and sailed behind us. Now, I know that when my dad was a kid, he took the same trip many times and just roasted with the windows down.

But, hah, we’re better than that. We improvised in the 100+ degree heat. I’m not sure whose idea it was, so I’ll take joint credit with The Engineer, but we tied up the sleeves of my long-sleeved shirt (hey, the beach doesn’t warm up until fall) and stuffed them with ice cubes which we spent the remainder of the drive rubbing on our face and arms to stay cool.

I hardly remember anything else about that trip, but it’s precisely the things that went wrong—and the knowledge that we were able to handle them, and did so together—that make it a fun memory.

Got any misadventures to share?

In London town

Wow, we had such great dialog on Tuesday's post. I love it when all my blog friends come together to discuss a topic. That's a tough act to follow, so today I'm giving you the last installment of photos from my European tour this summer.

We ended our vacation in lovely London. As usual, we only had about a day and a half to explore, so we just hit the highlights. Our hotel was across the street from the London Eye (the ferris wheel) which is right on the Thames. We were basically right across the river from Westminster Palace (aka the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben).

London was a nice change from the rest of Europe. As much as I enjoyed all of the cultural exploration, I have to admit it was nice to be able to speak the language again. Mostly. 😉

We have hundreds of photos, but here are a few I thought I'd share. (Not sure why the thumbnails are a bit blurry. They're crisp if you click on them for the larger version. Sorry.)

Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament) w/Big Ben on left, London Eye on right, over the Thames River


The London Eye. Like a ginormous bicycle wheel.


The ubiquitous London taxi cab.


One of my favorite books. Not surprised it's considered a classic, but was surprised to find it in Westminster Abbey gift shop. Not exactly a pro-church tome...


Buckingham Palace changing of the guard. Massive crowds. Not really as exciting as I expected, but cool nonetheless.


Of course, we took the Underground. And yes, we did mind the gap.


If you missed my previous posts about some of the fun and curious things we saw on our trip, check out Hodgepodge and No Detail Too Small.

Oui went to Paris

I have been shirking my travelog duties lately, so today I thought I'd cover a little of my trip to Paris. As luck (good or bad, depending on your preferences) would have it, we arrived in Paris on Bastille Day.

We reached the city in time for dinner and then a nine o'clock boat tour on the Seine River, which motored past the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Grand Palais, and under bridge after beautiful bridge. I thought we would see the Bastille Day fireworks from the boat, but it didn't get dark in Paris until almost 11 pm! We took a bus tour of the important sites and then got out to join the masses lined up along the Seine to catch the celebration after dark.

The fireworks were, well, fireworks, but somehow it was neat to be watching them in Paris. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially since I'm not inclined to fight huge crowds. (Like the DC Cherry Blossom Festival. Never. Again.)

Our saintly bus driver fought the traffic for more than an hour and delivered us back to the hotel around 0130. The next day, we toured the Eiffel Tower and the Palace at Versailles, walked along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, and rode the Metro.

Sunflower fields in the French countryside



One of many boats on the Seine that appeared to be lived on



The Arc de Triomphe at night, with flag out for Bastille Day



Notre Dame



The Eiffel Tower, duh



View of Paris and the Arc de Triomphe from the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower



Garden at the Palace of Versailles - I found the garden more interesting than the building



Gardens at the Palace of Versailles



Toyota Showroom in on the Champs, just like any other store



It was a quick two days in a lovely city full of history. And people. I wanted to see the Louvre, but they had limited hours on the day we could go, so we missed it. I guess that's a good reason to go back, oui?

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Hodgepodge

This is a random collection of fun things from my European tour that I haven't already mentioned.

This semi caught my eye on the way to Florence. Truck drivers in many European countries are not allowed to drive on Sundays or holidays (or even the whole weekend). They just have to stop and park until the ban is off. This driver apparently ran out of clean clothes.

Laundry truck



McDonald's and Burger King are all over Europe, but the menus are modified to fit the local tastes. I'm still not sure if this breakfast sandwich in Innsbruck looks good, or like something covered in bugs. Note how the menu is partially in English. We saw that a lot, whether the English made sense or not.

Good morning, Innsbruck



Mmm, nothing says pizza like an American gangster.

Pizza speakeasy in Innsbruck



No refrigerator for your kiosk? No problem. Just stream cold water over the drinks all day long. Seems wasteful, but I can't decide if I want the water to be recycled or not.

Water cooler



This shop window cracked me up. “Um, excuse me. Where's the door?”

How do I get in?



Want an easy, memorable web address? Try this one.

Anyone have a pen?



The cars in Europe were noticably different. Until we reached England, they were mostly small hatchbacks or station wagons, and even the American makes were usually models we don't have in the US. My youngest dubbed this Fiat Panda the “fat panda”.

Fat Panda



Saw this in an antique/junk store window in Lucerne.

I'm going kuckuck



This poor person was on the third floor of a building in Lucerne that must have had a tight staircase and no elevator.

I hope this wasn't an emergency



The EMT might want to check the patient's blood pressure...



And finally, even on a trip to Europe, we couldn't escape the Bella, Edward, Jacob love triangle.

Are they sexier in German?



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No detail too small

My husband and I recently took the kids on a 12-day tour of Europe. We hit the highlights of cities like London, Venice, and Paris, and enjoyed the natural beauty of Innsbruck and Lucerne. But–as I mentioned in a previous post– the most interesting part for me was the details that made Europe different from the US.

Not just foreign languages, old buildings, different food, and paying to use the restroom. I mean the things you might never discover without visiting.

For example, in many of the hotels, the lights wouldn't turn on unless you inserted your key card into a slot by the door. After the first night in one of those hotels, the tour group was laughing about how long it took each of us to figure it out.

Insert key card for electricity



If you're in continental Europe and you want a Diet Pepsi, too bad. Pepsi apparently failed Euro-marketing 101. It wasn't even in the little grocery stores. And if you want a Diet Coke, it's Coke Light.

In Innsbruck, there are boxes at the crosswalks, but no obvious button to push to request the walk signal. We never did figure out if it was a motion sensor or what.

Mysterious crosswalk box


If you need to know what street you're on, check the wall of the nearest building. No street signs on poles.


The commercial rest stops are amazing. Clean bathrooms, great food, and nice displays. They reminded me of the toll road oases in Illinois and New Jersey, but nicer.

Rest stop food


Rest stop shopping


Rest stop tortellini


Just to make things confusing in Italy, if you wanted self-service food, it worked like a cafeteria, but if you wanted something made-to-order, you had to pick it out, get a ticket for it, pay at the cashier, then take the receipt back to pick it up. We stuck with self-service and still got excellent food like the tortellini above.

The UK had fun names for its pubs. We didn't get a chance to eat at The Slug & Lettuce (“Slug” for short), but we dined at a pub called The Bunch of Grapes (near Harrod's).

The Bunch of Grapes


This is just a sampling of the things that I noticed on our trip, but I think they're the unique aspects of a place that make it interesting. And as a writer, it's the little details that make a setting real to the reader. I'm already dreaming up ways to incorporate some of the places we visited into a new book.

What are some of the fun things you've learned about different places you've been (foreign or not)?

Ich liebe Innsbruck

I have more fun tidbits about our European travels, but I've been getting requests for photos of things besides toilets, so today I'm going to share some of my favorite shots from one of my favorite spots: Innsbruck, Austria. We fell in love with this city, and it was only rivaled by Lucerne, Switzerland, which I'll post photos of on another day.

Yes, I'm going to milk this trip for all I can. 😉

What I loved…mountains, oddly-colored green river, pedestrian-friendly city center, architecture and color of the buildings, natural beauty, and history galore.

Looking west from downtown


Off the beaten path, but still beautiful


View from our hotel window looking northwest along the Inn River


Multi-use path alongside the Inn River


Early morning farmer's market


As soon as we drove into Innsbruck, I realized how much I've missed the mountains. The majestic scenery and abundant charm of this small city captured my heart.

What places do you love and why?
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