Monday, June 27, 2011

And on the 6th day, God made Gelato

Ciao Everyone!!!

We went out with our official sponsor on Saturday night. He moved to Napoli (I'm trying to use that instead of Naples to sound more authentic) from Japan. Everyone that I've talked to that has moved here at any time after living in Japan HATES Italy and Italians. I guess after living in such an orderly society, this would drive you to madness. Having lived in Southern California before moving here, it's kind of like when it rains in San Diego, everyone goes crazy. Except it's kind of all of the time here. Constant state of San Diego rain.

We drove to his place in Vomero, which I love! His apartment is 450 SF and costs 2000 EURO a month! It's crazy! My basement apartment in DC might have been bigger. At least his utilities are low! From there, we walked around the streets and into Fnac, a Best Buy meets Borders type of store that was absolutely packed! From there, we wandered some more, saw a street performance by a break dance troupe (Italians break dancing in a Magic Johnson jersey to old school 90's rap is kind of awesome...) and arrived at our dinner location. From our walk and window shopping I have determined that 1) Italians love to make out in public 2) I need to buy a pair of wedges to fit in.

We went to this place down a back alley where I actually thought we might get hit by a Vespa or a pack of rabid wolves and got to our dinner location. Again, I have no idea what the name is. I ordered asparagus and calamari for antipasti and about 5 minutes later the waiter came out and said "Asparagi, no!" "Recommendi?" "I bring." Hmmmm..... We ended up getting the biggest plate of cold, cooked spinach I've ever seen. It could have fed a family of 12. And then a big plate of calamari, but not the ring type like you see in the states, it was all the top of the calamari. Fried. No sauce. So, I kind of failed at ordering antipasti.

For primi, Tom and Jesse (the sponsor), got pizzas and I ordered gnocchi and pasta alla genovese for the table. Again, the waiter came back and said "Genovese, no. Bolognese, si." "Oooooo, si." I don't know what pasta alla genovese actually is, but I know Bolognese has meat in it. So, we got the meat one. Everything for dinner was very good, very simple.

Our whole bill, including a 4 Euro bottle of wine, was 55. It was crazy! We had 3 courses! Italian food is so cheap! Jesse also told us that the way to butter up your doorman, parking attendant or maintenance guy is to buy American cigarettes and give them 2 or 3 every once in a while. He said the parking guy actually cried when he gave him a box as a Christmas present. I thought he was just a crazy big smoker, because he had 2 cartons of Marlboro Reds in his entryway. We get limited on how many of those things you can buy per month, so he said he buys the max every month and slips them to his guys every once in a while so they like him. Good tip!

After more wandering, we came to the Heaven of Gellato. Oh my sweet nectar of the gods.... Ordering gelato is like ordering caffe, you have to pay the register first, get a receipt and put that with your change on the top of the freezer until someone comes over to make your order. I got a medio coni with "kinder" and nutella flavored gelato. Kinder is apparently, I found this out from posting it on Facebook, like a Kit Kat with more stuff in it. And then they put a little extra cone on the top of your big cone so you can scoop the gellato out with it. Good to know!! Tom is convinced that the girl behind the case thought he was cute because his nutella cone came with the biggest chunk of frozen nutella ever. And, because he is forcing me to put this in the blog verbatim, "shaped like a shark fin."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Touristi di Napoli

Finally, we got off the base and traveled downtown!  At 7AM, we met our Italian tour guides, Giussepe and Terri here on the base and took a 30 minutes bus ride to the NATO base in Pozzuoli.  Upon arrival, our group spilt into two groups of roughly 20 each and we set off with Terri, the most adorable woman on the face of the planet, for a day of traveling.  Terri took us on foot to the Metro station at Bagnoli Agnano.  From there, we were taught to buy a day metro card, Unico Napoli Giornaliero.  For 3,60 (Euro prices uses commas instead of periods), we were able to ride all of the transit in Napoli for the day. 

So, we took the train into downtown Napoli and walked about 4 blocks to the Funicolari station.  Funicolari are little trams that go up very steep hills.  Ours took us up to Vomero which has two castles, one of which was used to house prisoners during WWII.  We didn't go inside either, but I imagine the prision castle was a bit less stately than the other....  Just postulating here.  In Vomero, we were given an hour to wander about.  Oh my goodness!  It was so fancy!  Gucci, Prada, Armandi, Dolce & Gabbana.  The kinds of store that you don't expect to see everywhere.  But they are everywhere!  Each store had more beautiful clothes than the next.  Luckily for Tom, none of them were open that early in the morning.  Phew!  But, we did stop in for a cappuccino at the local bar.

This is another Italian nuance:  bars are coffee (always called caffe) shops.  To order a coffee, you pay the nice person right when you walk in.  If you order "un cappuccino" he will give you your change and a receipt.  If you put both on the counter, your drink will appear.  If you put neither, you'll stand there feeling foolish.  You can only guess how many times I've done the former.  We also got two chocolate filled croissants.  Oh my goodness!  They were SO good!!  I made the most embarassing sounds while eating it.  But ordering it, I was actually trying to order some other chocolate filled pastry, we fouled up so much that the second guy at the register, who must speak more English, had to translate.  It ended with us getting our change and receipt and the cashier asking "Where from?"  Come on, buddy.  You know we're Americans.  Only Americans would come to a country and not speak a word of your language.  Mi dispiace!!!  ("I'm sorry!")

From the pastry of deliciousness (it was filled with nutella-like cream that was a bit lighter but still had the milk chocolate/nutty flavor), we wandered out into the streets.  Passed shops and bags that nearly brought tears to my eyes, we strolled through streets, not really remembering where to go.  When our hour was nearly up, we decided to stop into another bar to use the toilet (they don't call them restrooms or bathrooms.  Toilet is the only thing.  It feels a bit crass and most of them rival those gas station bathrooms that you've seen in West Virginia or Arkansas or some other relatively unappealing place).  Tom, now having the ordering system down pat, got a caffe while I followed a Spanish woman from our group downstairs to the toilet.  Well, to say this was downstairs was quite the understatement.  It was down 3 flights of stairs.  I think we were almost back down to sea level!  Then up a spiral staircase to get to the actual toilet.  It was very odd. 

While we're discussing toilets, that's another weird thing in Italia.  There is no tank on the toilet.  The fact that I'm writing this on the web is highly strange, I grant you.  But I felt very unprepared for the nature of toilets here and they still crack me up a bit.  There is an enormous button at eye level that you push to flush.  No tank on the back, just the pipe into the wall.  And there's usually no water in the bowl before you go.  In most cases, the toilet is the only thing in the room and then you go out into a separate room to wash your hands.  In the NATO exchange, especially, it seems like a dreadful waste of space.

But, on to more pleasant things!  After Vomero, we took the funicolari back down the hill into downtown Napoli.  Terri brought us into the Galleria Umberto.  It was breath taking!  It's the *new* indoor meeting place.  They say *new* because it was built in 1890.  That's new in Napoli!  The shops are all very high end with gowns and silver, a chocolateria that will put jewelry for your sweetheart into chocolate eggs at Easter and pizzerias.  A glass roof and open air interior was intended to allow for informal gatherings regardless of the weather.  We then crossed a very busy street (Terri was fearless but our  group of 20 was too many and Vespa's would simply not allow all of us to cross at once) to the Teatro San Carlo.  This was built in the 17th century and is the second oldest Opera House in Italy!  It's nickname is the Musical Heaven because the accoustics are so perfect. 

From there, we wandered down to the Piazza Trieste e Trento.  We didn't stop in, but Gambrinus Bar is supposedly the best (and most expensive) place to get a caffe in Napoli.  In the 1800's it was the place to see and be seen in the artist community.  Now you can probably swap artist for glitteratti.

Here we saw the old Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) which was built by the Bourbons before they got kicked out of Italy and the Duomo of San Francesco di Paola.  There was a wedding going on inside, we were weren't able to tour it, but it looked beautiful!  The wedding inspires another interesting lesson.  Italians are never on time.  We passed the church at 10:55 as the bride was walking in.  At 12:10 when we passed again, a few guests were still arriving.  I'm assuming they were very late because moments later, the bride and groom walked out!  It's making Teresa Guidace from Real Housewives of New Jersey's behavior (at least some of it) make a little more sense!

Terri picked our group back up in the Galleria Umberto and walked us along the most crowded, bustling street to get lunch at some pizzeria, the name of which I cannot even guess.  Here, we each got our own pizza, beer and bottle of water for 8,50 (Euro).  It was such a hot day, I don't think I've ever had a beer that tasted so good!!  Much to my relief, Tom conceded that pizza in Napoli (the founding place of the pizza) is just as good as pizza in NJ.  What a relief!  I'd hate to spend three years here and continue to hear about how no pizza in the world is as good as Jersey!

Enjoy some pictures below! There are a few from the beginning days of our trip. Downtown later in the grouping.  

We're off to Sorrento on Sunday with my former boss from San Diego, Kim and her husband, Nathan.  Then next week, my dear friend, Kristine, and I are spending a few days in Sorrento, Amalfi and Capri!  Limoncello and cermacia are in our future!!!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Si, Si, Si!

And we're off!  With the Italian ground beneath our feet, Tom and I have slowly (ever so slowly) been adjusting to the time difference and culture shock.  With less than a week of ex-pat experience under our belts, we've already: gotten our driver's licenses, visited houses and had plenty of cappuccinos!  Mmmmmm

Our first experiences on base helped us to determine that yes, though this is an American base, there are still LOTS of Italians!  Italian conversations were flying around faster than the misquitoes (which was also a good lesson.  Yes, there are bugs in Italy.  Lesson learned)!  I approached the "bar" (not to be confused with the Coyote Ugly style bar that we think of as Americans, though Italian bars also serve alcohol) with the fear apparent in my eyes.  There were about 3 people standing at the bar with espresso (which is just called 'caffe'), so I assumed there was no line system based on watching "Eat, Pray, Love."  Note to self: movies like that are not helpful in determining the actual living practices of Italians.  It's true, I didn't read the book....  But I digress... So I was awkwardly standing alone at the end of the bar when a flood of Italians rushed the cashier at the other end of the bar and began ordering caffe with gusto.  Damn!  I'm not in line!  Now I strolled over and stood in line, but apparently not close enough in line to count.  The line began growing around me but not including me.  Finally, I somehow got to the cashier, probably because everyone had already been served, and ordered 2 cappuccinos to go.  But I was nervous and obviously botched the delivery because when one came out and I bastardized it by adding Sweet and Low (not proper etiquette but, I like it sweet) and then stood around, the barista gave me a very nervous look.  "Va bene??  Is good??"  It was at this point, and thinking back that "due grande cappuccini" was only $1.40 that I relized that I had probably only paid for one.  "Si!  Va bene!"  I said in my most broken, half-hearted uncomfortable, awkward self.  My level of awkward in normal life, it's probably safe to say, is around a 4.  Maybe I'm being kind.  But, add the language barrier, exceedingly tight pants and shiny espresso machines and it went up to a solid 8.  The woman probably thought that I haven't left the house in months.  Ugh!

Over the weekend, we went to look at property with our newest friends, Tina and Glenn.  They brought us around with their realtor, Enzo, to a number of properties in Monte di Procida, about 35 minutes from where Tom and I will be working.  The apartments all looked like nothing special and then you went inside and WOAH!  It looked like we had just walked into a NYC Penthouse!  Every kitchen was brand new, bathrooms and bidets shining before us and views of the ocean that took my breath away.  I was remembering that Tom's sister had told me before we left the states that she was expecting a "crumbly house like the ones on House Hunters International."  While the outsides were plenty crumbly, I don't know if any of the ones we saw fit her bill.  We're still on the hunt for a new place.  Nothing firmed up yet. 

So much has happened that I feel like my camera just hasn't caught up.  This coming week, my dear friend, Kristine, and I are traveling to Amalfi, Sorrento and Capri.  She's quite the traveler, so I'll have to push my awkward scale aside and move forward with reckless abandon!

Please drop me an email!  We have a number through Skype for calls from the States and I can give you our  mailing address!

Love and hugs to all back home!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Italia! At Last!

At long last, we made it to Italy!  But, let's back up a bit and start from the real fun of the day!

3:15pm (EST) - We fed the cats Fancy Feast laced with Happy Traveler, a miracle herbal cure that helped keep our kitties relatively quiet for nearly 7 hours.  We could actually tell the exact how when the stuff stopped working.  Having taken away their food at noon and depriving them of wet food their entire lives, the drug laced treat was gobbled up in minutes.

4pm (EST) - We pulled the cats from under the beds at Momma and Papa Keenan's house in Jackson, NJ and forced them into their cat carriers.  Unhappiness with parental figures arose as my precious babies began mouthing off.  Flit, especially, was vocal in his distain for me.

4:30 pm (EST) - All four suitcases, two cats, my 25 pound purse, two laptops and 47 cell phone chargers were loaded into the car. 

5:15 pm (EST) - Arrival at Newark airport.

5:30 pm - First attempt at check in using self-check kiosk.  Result: Failure.  We were sent to the desk to be helped by an actual person.  Who informed us that our cats had not been booked as carry ons, as we had confirmed the day before, but were supposed to be checked baggage.  So, someone's manager had to get involved.  And we had to pay an extra fee.  And then there was the fee for the excess baggage and for each bag and for the change in airfare rates.  Wait, that's a thing now?  Thank goodness Tom was talking because I was getting seriously annoyed.  After all of these fees were calculated and another supervisor was involved to deal with the cat carry-on situation of 2011, we were sent to a third line to pay for all of this.  By the time all was said and done it was 6:25.

6:30 pm (EST) - Arrive at security.  Lorraine, Tom's WONDERFUL mom, had held herself together so well during the whole ordeal and then at security, just as we were leaving, a hint of a tear caught her eye.  And I was a goner.  Crying again, she was crying, Tom might have had a tiny tear drop and Joe, his dad, was chuckling in the background.  Haha!  But on we went, though tears were still drying through to security.  While normal security checks are stressful, adding passports, two laptops and two cats adds even more fun!  After filling six tubs with stuff, we asked "And what do we do with the cats?"  "Oh, you have to take them out of the carriers and walk them through the metal detector," said the TSA agent.  And she was serious.  So there we were, shoving tubs through the scanner, waiting to get the line down low enough to sneak two cats over and rush through the metal detector when.... about 50 noisy high school students came thundering into security.  With a cat in each of our arms, we felt the claws slowly begin to dig into flesh as squeals of "OH MY GOD!  THEY'VE GOT CATS!!!" escaped cumulative lips.  And as we were almost home free, the woman ahead of us had serious issues with the belt removal process.  Oh my gosh, really?  Have you not flown in the last year?  This has been a rule for at least a year.  At least!  Belts, watches, shoes, off!!!  I could go on with my rant about security, but in the end, we got the cats through and got to our gate at exactly 7:05pm.

7:07 - 7:27 pm : Drink.  Last song heard in the USA: "No Scrubs" by TLC.  I think that just means that the USA didn't want us to leave.  Or that TLC was awesome.  Or that nobody really wants a scrub.  Either way, I felt like it was a goodwill sign from above.

7:38 pm (EST) - In line to board our flight to Munich aboard Luftansa, a woman dressed in head to toe Lilly Pulitzer, pointed to Tom and I and said, "Of course THEY'RE on our flight!"  I responded with a look that said, "Wow, you've got some nerve, lady!"  And did she ever!  Aboard, her family was seated directly in front of us.  She very loudly made several disparaging comments about us before calling a flight attedent to complain that we had cats aboard and her daughter was allergic.  The flight attendant informed her that federal law allows two cats per plane and offered to get her daughter some benedryl but ol' Lilly Pulitzer requested that we be moved or her daughter get moved.  An exact quote "You can't write this stuff" was repeated over and over and over until the flight attendant moved us to different seats.  I told her "You're Welcome" just to let her know.  I'm still waiting for that thank you, though...

About 3.5 hours into the flight, Flit and Sprout both had a panic attack.  Both cats began clawing at the sides of the carriers like mad!  We had to hold them remainded of the flight on our laps as I thought "Maybe checking them would have been a better idea.  At least then, they don't hate us.  They hate other people..."

10:15 AM (Munich Time) - We landed in Germany!  Tom and I wound our way to our terminal, going through a passport check point along the way.  "And how long will you be staying in Italy?" "Three years," Tom replied.  "Oooooooo"  [Stamp, Stamp.  Passports returned.]

Passing an S&M shop called "Private" in the terminal lead us to realize that we weren't in Kansas anymore.  We tried to do a pitstop with the kitties in a handi-capable water closet but ended up freaking the cats out a lot and passersby likely thought that we had stopped in with merchandise from "Private."  Three people knocked on the door before we gave up the whole thing, shoved both cats into the same carrier and exited the room. 

4:15 pm (Naples Time) We touched down in Naples with the scariest landing of our trip, picked up our millions of suitcases from baggage claim and tried to declare our cats.  The act of trying to get someone to look at our paperwork caused so much confusion that I kept holding up the cats to say "GATTO.  CATS.  These things!"  In the end, they said it wasn't a big deal and they didn't really need to see the paperwork.  Are you kidding?  It took three trips to the vet to get this paperwork!  What a waste of time and money!

But here we are at 9:15 pm.  Showered (because we were smelling a bit too European already), fed (speck for $2 for half a pound!  and $1.05 for fresh mozarella!  and $4 for 2 pounds of tomatoes!), drinking wine ($6 for a sangiovese?!?!  Oh my goodness, all of my food groups are covered!!), we are ready to crawl into bed and sleep the night away.  And maybe a little from last night's sleepless fun.

Big hugs to all!  I'll post pictures of Italia once we get out there.  We love you all and can't wait to explore the Old World!!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Miles on These Tires!

It’s always remarkable to me when people say that they want to drive across the country.  For fun.  Perhaps it’s because my cross country sojourns have more often than not been the thing of requirement instead of desire, but this Navy brat has criss-crossed and zig-zagged across the country innumerable times.   Generally, these trips were done in the backseat of whatever model of station wagon my mom was sporting at the time.  I can recall one memory from my childhood when my eldest sister was 16 and my parents allowed the three “girls” to drive for about 4 miles before my mom had a panic attack on I-90 somewhere outside of Idaho and made us switch so that an adult was always in one of the vehicles. 
As an adult, I have somehow become accustomed to driving cross country again.  On our first trek across country, Tom and I had been dating long distance: he in San Diego and myself in North Carolina.  That trip began with him flying to North Carolina and observing my gradual states of mental collapse as men loaded my worldly belongings into a U-Haul that had been spray painted with another company.  As my confidence was waning, Tom assured me that my things would make it to San Diego with safety, and if not, they were just things.  We took our trip together, the longest amount of time that we had ever spent in each other’s company, slowly making our way through World’s Largest Statue of a Child, Replica of the Parthenon, even the World’s Largest Cedar Bucket!  Our adventure began with a bang and ended with me thinking, “This is a lot of time to spend with just one person.” 
This time, we’ve had the lucky pleasure of both living in the same city for some time and even under the same roof for a short stint as well.  As such, I now know that when Tom gets angry at our GPS for sending us down a small, state route, that it’s the GPS, and not me, at which he is truly angry.  In times such as these, Tom requires only a 10 minute cool down period in which he is allowed to say “This is so ridiculous” as many times as he likes without any reply from the passenger seat.  Upon the completion of ten minutes, I gleefully switch music back on and the matter is closed. 
Tom really liked windmills.  Here he is attempting to look like one.  Similar?  You be the judge.

Our trip from Seattle to Winston-Salem, North Carolina took us exactly four days.  If I thought Tom was a trooper before, this trip solidified the notion even more into my mind.  On day one, we traveled through Washington and Idaho, stopping at the C’Mon Inn in Bozeman, Montana.  Seriously, that’s what it’s called.  I’m actively kicking myself for not having come up with that name before.  The C’Mon Inn was stocked with taxidermy of various forms from mountain goats and beavers and bears (OH MY!). 

Me with a stuffed bear.  C'Mon Inn = Fancy!
 Day two, included a stop in South Dakota at Wall Drug in Wall, SD.  While stopping, Tom took a picture with a jackalope and then ran into Sam Tickle, a fellow South Carolina alum.  The odds of running into a college buddy and fellow naval officer in the middle of South Dakota are so slim that the two shouted from across the backyard of Wall Drug and had quite the “What the hell are you doing here?” moment.  Alas, I didn’t think to take a picture, the novelty of the situation overwhelming us all.  Or perhaps the fact that Tom had gotten married.  I’m not exactly sure…  Regardless, sorry, Sam Tickle!

Tom riding a Jackalope at Wall Drug.  Highly authentic.

Sunglasses increase authenticity, I've heard.

Cheese curds in Wisconsin.  We went for pizza flavor and cheddar.  Pizza was better, we agreed.

During day three was pretty uneventful except for the quick pitstop at Northwestern University.  I’ve been getting my masters online through Northwestern for a year now and had never been to the campus.  After eight hours of driving, we took 30 minutes to walk around a very chilly Evanston, Illinois and took obligatory pictures in front of whatever building or sign I deemed to be important.  Tom kept asking “Is this where the ‘quad’ is?”  And I kept saying “How should I know?  I go here online!” 
Wildcat Pride!  Me at NU!

We pressed through the night, through pouring rain and bugs until we reached Lexington, Indiana.  It wasn’t until the next morning that I figured out that the pictures of buildings in the lobby of our hotel were of Purdue University, a school which my dad took me to tour when I was in high school as potential places of higher education and which I decided looked like a prison.  Alas, the location hadn’t stuck in my mind.
On day four, we sped from Lexington, Indiana to my sister’s house in Winston-Salem, NC.  What a long four days it was but showing up to see my pregnant sister, her 17 pound cat and her beautiful house was a welcome sight!  We made it through a book and a half and 3,000 miles in just four days.  It was insanity!

The gang, sans Christy, at the Dash Game.

S'mores, as in, so good you want some more!

Todd showing us how it's really done.


My mom's solution to me being stressed.

At last!  We got out of the car!  We showed up to Christy’s house in North Carolina at about 5 pm on Friday and took a collective sigh of relief at the ability to spend daylight hours in open air.  Our car spent a few days airing out, after the smell of living in your car for a few days permeated into every fabric.  Christy took us to Mozelle’s, this really delicious bistro in the “West End” of Winston-Salem for dinner.  Oh goodness… cheese grits.  They are so heavenly delicious that words could not do them justice.  And for dessert: bourbon bread pudding.  Stop it!  Second only to that at Humble Pie in Raleigh, a bar that may be unattainable for all bread puddings to reach, we oooo’ed and ahhhh’ed and gobbled it up!  Yum!
On Saturday, with all three sisters under the same roof, we attended a Dash game.  The Dash is the AA league in Winston-Salem that has, according to Christy, the most expensive stadium for AA!  What a claim to fame!  We watched the game, some of us more than others, cheered on the games between innings and ate peanuts with fervor.  Just spending time with my sisters, my very best friends, was so comforting and so fun that I felt even more depressed leaving them.  Christy is going to make a wonderful momma and I cannot wait to hear all about the stories and adventures that parenthood has to offer.
And just like that, we were back in the car.  At least it had gotten a bit lighter with some of the stuff that we left in NC and smelled significantly better after airing it out, but still, we were in the car again.  Five hours later, we were in Virginia Beach saying hello to my momma and our three kitties who had been staying with her since we left San Diego two weeks earlier.  Adding extra excitement to our trip, we had to have four teeth pulled from our eldest cat, Neville.  However, my wonderful parents were such amazing hosts and ordered a bushel of crabs for us to pick.  Picking crabs is so very much a part of living on the Chesapeake Bay and a time honored tradition in our house.  While you don’t get that much meat per crab, the hours that you spend cracking claws and drinking beers are so fun that it never seems to matter.  My mom and I floated around in the pool, shopped for more things that Tom needed to shove into our suitcases and had a really relaxing time.  It was so difficult to say goodbye to them, I cried harder than I’ve cried in a really long time and am getting sad just writing this.  Hearing my mom tell me that I’m so much more composed than she ever thought I’d be or than she had been during previous moves herself gave me so much relief.  Just hearing her encouragement made me feel a thousand times better.
And then, you guessed it!  We were back in the car again!  From Virginia Beach we charged onward to Washington, DC to visit my sister, Lauri.  We met up with our good friend from San Diego, Scott, for dinner and drinks.  The food at the restaurant was SO good!  Mmmm!  After dinner, we went to DC’s only five star restaurant, Restaurant Eve, for some drinks.  Saying goodbye to Lauri the next day seemed somewhat easier, knowing that she will be coming to Italy for a visit in the fall.  That, at least, was a bit easier to bear.
Our flight leaves on Wednesday, the 15th.  Until then, we're spending our last days in the States for a while with Tom's family and visiting some friends in the area.  We cannot thank our hosts and hostesses enough to do their graciousness justice.  We've both had such a wonderful, if not exhausting past few weeks but feel like the time that we spent with our friends and families have helped us get ready for our trip.  Tom and I both will carry those memories with us in the years to come and look forward to sharing our lives with you all from abroad.
Until next time!