Monday, January 03, 2005

We Are the Griswalds

Italy. The Spouse's Christmas/birthday gift to me. Where we learned where the Argentines get it. The driving was hysterical. Blowing past posted speed limits, with vague interest in lane markings, through construction zones at over 100 mph. It really WAS funny. It was. But the highway is ugly at best, and we were not hopeful about the rest of the country. It was shabby and dreary.

We landed in the village of Clusane on Lake Iseo ( The lake must be hopping in the summer, but it was virtually deserted for us. But still lovely. The only problem was finding open restaurants. We checked in after 2:00 p.m. and even the hotel restaurant was done serving lunch! We found some place for pizza and salads, and it was fine, but by then the girls were too full and tired to stay up for dinner. So we embarked on a long string of bad judgment calls.

We thought the hotel had its own restaurant, which it did, but was closed. They had a dining room where they served breakfast that was 4 yards across the patio from our room. They had another restaurant, which we thought was on the other side of the parking lot, but was, instead, about 300 meters farther up the hill which we discovered as we walked up it with no coats having left the girls asleep in the room.

The view was incredible, the service professional, the wine went down smoothly, and I had just settled on the crème brule for dessert when the waiter informed us that the Front Desk had just called to say that "there is a child with no shoes." Skittles had escaped!

So The Spouse raced down the hill while I signed the check. No harm done, but both girls, who normally sleep pretty soundly, were awake and rather panicked. We swore to turn ourselves in to Children's Services in the morning, and, in fact, decided we'd eat sandwiches for dinner rather than face the waiter again, when we discovered, to our horror, that he was serving breakfast the following morning and got to see "the child" for himself. Argh.

We spent the day in the city of Bergamo which we found because of a rather blasé brochure in the hotel lobby describing the Upper and Lower Cities. What an understatement! WHAT a jewel! Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. And cute. We took a funicular up to the ancient older part of the city where we pressed our noses to the shop windows and drooled over pizzas, cakes, and shoes. Found a little restaurant with a huge picture window and ate a lovely lunch looking out over a valley that looked magical in that Italian light that I always thought was created by the painters. I honestly have never seen anything quite so lovely.

We took the kids to dinner with us that night.

New Year's Eve morning we got in the car and drove back to southern Austria where we had booked a B&B. ( The Spouse had to talk on the phone when we arrived, but the owner told me that in about 30 minutes they were going to take all the guests to a 3 km toboggan run in the farm tractor, if we wanted to join. So I stuffed the girls in their snow suits and joined the rest of the guests incredibly inappropriately dressed in my fur coat and kicky beret, but it was all I had. Everyone else is dressed for skiing (there is a big resort nearby) and there I am like some city slicker climbing into the back of this farm implement ("Noo York is where I'd rah-ther stay, I get allergic smelling hay . . .") with about 20 sleds. And up we go . . . 3000 feet up to the top of Mount Crumpet. I thought we were going to tip over sideways and crash to our deaths in the trees. It was the slowest, coldest, most torturous ride of my life. I finally realized that what we were doing was driving to the top of the hill where we could sled down on the road, but until I did, I was frantically trying to figure out how to escape. Everyone else is having a ball, adults and kids alike pulling on the snow laden branches as we passed underneath, chattering in idiomatic Austrian.

At the top, the inn owner, blessedly, pulls a bottle of local moonshine out of her backpack and starts pouring shots for the adults. After 2, I was ready to tackle the hill. I put the girls on the sled and proceed to act as reindeer, pulling them slowly down the road while they bitched about our lack of speed. Eventually the inn owner, arrives on her own mini-sled, and asks if we wouldn't have more fun if she helped us down. So we load me in my coat onto the bigger sled with the girls, and damn, if she doesn't steer us down the hill. My jeans legs got sort of filled up with snow, but it was actually fun.

At the bottom we all did another round, and my girls decided to practice their sledding techniques on the slope behind the house. Baboo, feeling immortal apparently, took the sled up rather high, and began a terrifyingly rapid decent straight towards the concrete block house foundation. I threw myself between her and the wall, which she still slammed into, but the sled and the child were uninjured. My shin took a beating and got remarkably puffy where she hit it, but it is now just the softest shade of lavender.

Dinner at another inn 1 km down the road, and home to Bratislava the following morning. It was on this leg of the trip that we learned about Isabel's pretend friend, Mr. Chuckles, who is her barely disguised alter ego. Baboo, of course, countered with the creation of Jenny Binky, but Jenny Binky is good and does the dishes and we loathe her. Mr. Chuckles jumps on the furniture when he isn't slicing the TV in half. He doesn't go to school and must stay home because he is so naughty. We adore him.

So now we are counting our blessings, grateful that we were not in SE Asia, that both our children are healthy and happy, and that we have heat! Back to reality.


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