insta.europe: what i did on my summer vacation.

rome, VIII

Bonjour. Please, have a croissant.

Welcome to the little {and by little I mean long. grab a popsicle.} flashy hook I’m offering you before I reel you in with the real pictures of my trip to Europe {with students} earlier this summer. I’ve got a lot to catch you up on, so let’s dive right in, shall we? Oui.

{that was a we-oui there. did you see how I did that? i’m on fire today!}

Locked and loaded. Europe, here we come. 😎✊🏻🔫 #chseur15

A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

The best part about twenty days in Europe with students this summer? This girl. My niece Lexi came along for the ride with us, and having a family member along made it just over-the-top awesome. We sat together for the first leg of our very long journey to London – Seattle to LAX – and she taught me the art of captioning my Instagrams.

She says three emojis are where you stop. MMMmmmkay? She captioned this. Because you know I would be too afraid y’all would think I was packing heat or something to caption with a weapon.

And so it begins…🚇 #chseur15 A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

I have a little love affair with the Underground. I don’t feel like I’m in London until I’ve got that map in my hands and am down in the tunnels.

Way easier than the NYC subway for this girl.

London 👀. #chseur15

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We were so tired that first night in London. We’d pretty much been up for over a day, there was jetlag, and the beginning of an international trip can be really disorienting. I always feel badly when the kids look bummed and disappointed the first time things don’t go as planned right at the beginning. They’re not to a place yet where I can say, “Hey! This is how it starts! We are all discombobulated. The first city usually sucks – even if it’s an amazing place – just because you’re so tired and being asked to be so flexible!”

But then things work out, like getting on the London Eye at twilight. Barely. They were so nice to let us on just before they closed.

And in case you’re wondering: it’s worth the ticket. Always.

  My new favorite crooner, found on the Underground! ♥️   A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

Every summer has a soundtrack.

The first time I took kids to Europe a few years ago, it was Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs. Last time it was Dave Matthews.

This time it was Leon. Not sure how old he is, but when he sings, I am entranced with a big smile on my face.

The London skies were showing off today! #chseur15 A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

Once again, my travel partner in crime was my co-worker Steve. We’ve come a long way from our first trip when I wasn’t even sure I’d like him or that we’d have anything to talk about. Now he is one of my very best friends.

But this first full day in London? Could’ve killed him.

He told me months ahead that he’d be absent the first day on a secret, geeky mission that he’d only tell me about once we were in France. No problem, I thought. I can do London with the kids!

But then I woke up that morning and went to breakfast only to find we had a puker. And there was no one to stay behind with her. So she had to come along. And then I got them all stoked for the Globe Theater tour, only to navigate them there and find out it didn’t have tours in the afternoons. The kids were too new at this to have had a plan of what they wanted to do in their free time, so it was like herding cats for a bit there.

But I gave them a little tour of Westminster, Big Ben, etc, on foot, and I felt good about that. I got them to Notting Hill! I mean, hey.

But when Steve joined us? I was maaa–aaad. Which he found amusing. On these trips, we get to see funny sides of each other we don’t see at work. And this was a mood he hadn’t encountered. And that was kind of embarrassing for me. I hate being a jerk. But I was. It was a hard first day.

And then he showed me pictures of planes from below as they took off at Heathrow, where he’d hung out with other plane nerds. And all was forgiven.

  Notting Hill has got that make-you-smile style! (Complete with a unicorn!)   A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

I just want to meet the people who thought a unicorn statue was a good idea. Because they are clearly awesome!

Just as we awoke for our ride on the Eurostar to France via the English Channel {chunnel}, I was able to get enough wi-fi to see that the Supreme Court voted to legalize gay marriage. Because of course! I was so stoked. We all were! There were pride flags everywhere that day, even thought we weren’t in the US.

I vowed to get a rainbow of macarons once we got to Paris, but they turned out to be way too expensive to buy that many for a photo!

  A lot goes on down there. Kissing London goodbye at first light tomorrow – it’s never long enough in this city!! #chseur15   A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

It truly is never long enough. London is a really walk-able place, and when things quiet down in the evenings and the kids kind of find some stuff to do on their own, Steve and I just set off wandering and have the most random talks. This time we ended up at some weird wharf and then bummed around the Olympic Park, which was right by our hotel.

London is kind of my favorite.

Europe’s not really Europe without a wicked early morning train. It’s on, Europe. Bring it. #chseur15 A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

And trains are kind of my favorite, too.

There are never enough train rides to satisfy me. Ever. And train stations? Not much is more romantic to me, in the non-mushy sense of the word. I mean, how romantic is possibility? Where to? I get a little giddy when I think of how I could just buy a ticket and go anywhere. Anywhere.

But we were headed to 200 mph and Paris. And that was a pretty dang good anywhere, too.

A lot of people don’t know this, but the ride to Paris is only two hours, and just 15 minutes of that is spent under the English Channel. It’s amazingly gorgeous – mostly just countryside views as dawn turns to day.

Spotted in magical Montmartre. #chseur15

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First stop in Paris: Montmartre in the early afternoon. I had previously only been in the evening, after sunset. So this was kind of weird and much hotter. I was worried the magic wouldn’t be there in the bright light of day.

Oh, but it was.

I discovered twists and turns that I hadn’t known were there before. My camera got quite a work out.

 

I could do this all day, every day. Paris, you are so dang enticing, I can’t keep my paws off of you ♥️. #chseur15

 

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I have been making a list of places I want to see in every city, and I bring it along each year. Usually I only have time to make it to one or two. There’s never enough time for the bistros I want to visit, but someday!

This year it was just so hot on that second day in Paris – plus I was suddenly hit with a really bad cold – that I didn’t have a ton of energy for it all. So after Musee D’Orsay {finally! and it was amazing!}, we headed to Luxembourg Gardens. Because, duh, Hemingway. I was on quite a jag of rediscovering him this year, so it was amazing to be on his hallowed ground. Literally. Because I took a nap in the grass. Until a cop woke me up because, “Get off the grass!”

So I moved my nap to a bench. Keeping it classy.

Bonjour from the Eiffel Tower! #chseur2015 A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

Like I said, it was a hot, long day. I wanted to skip the Eiffel Tower. The jet lag was really catching up with me, and I was so. very. tired. And whiny.

There was a mis-hap with a student’s ticket at the Eiffel Tower, and I helped fix it, making me later getting to the top and totally missing taking in the moment with my niece. And then I didn’t have time for a crepe. And we were leaving the next morning. I know, #firstworldproblems and all that. I cried on the bus back to the hotel. It wouldn’t be the first time on this trip!

 

Looks like someone had fun in France….

 

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I actually get excited for the long bus rides through Europe as we travel from one city to the next. Usually they take up a whole day because the bus drivers are required to stop. A lot.

This day took us through Buonne, a sweet French town, on our way to Switzerland. I’d say some people in Buonne had had a very good night the night before we arrived…

The students find ways to amuse themselves. Sometimes they do so with my hair…

 

I am in the land of everything-looks-like-it’s-from-Snow-White and loving it! #chseur15

 

A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

Switzerland came at the perfect time on the trip. Everything is clean and easy and sweet. Our hotel was outside of Lucerne by almost an hour, and it was an adorable chalet. My room was in the tippity-top, like a bird’s nest. All night I heard bells: cathedral and cow. And there was the gurgling of a fountain. If there was ever a place to play hooky, it’s Switzerland.

On our first full day, we kicked it off with a trip to the top of Mt. Pilatus, followed by a boat ride on Lake Lucerne. It was gorgeous.

And in our free time Lexi and I chilled by the river, got her hair cut {!!}, and ate gelato. It was a slow afternoon, which we needed. And it was 94 degrees even in Switzerland!

 

Blue on blue on blue. #chseurtrip15

 

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I was so happy to see that this little blue boat I first noticed last year was still in the same spot.

A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

Something I do on these trips is read magazines. I seriously come with like 20 of them that I haven’t gotten to during the busy school year. I only have time for like half of them, but it’s something!

Here’s some good advice I came across in one of them. It’s still applicable! It’s still summer! Don’t leave me, summmmmmeeerrrr!

 

Waking up in Montecatini ain’t too bad…#chseurtrip15

 

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Okay. Two nights in Montecatini, Italy, just about an hour outside of Florence. But I didn’t see Florence this year. Just a hospital room and Montecatini on foot as I looked for a grocery store and a place to eat dinner.

I’m the mama-away-from-mama on these trips, so when someone is sick, I’m their person. I took my second European ambulance ride ever {and may it be the last!} with one very dehydrated girl and one Italian teacher who happened to be along on our tour with another school. Thank goodness!

She and I spent the night in a little hospital two little towns away while she was monitored after having an unpleasant procedure. There was little to no English spoken.

I learned some lessons:

* always carry your phone charger {!!!}

* Italians think air conditioning makes you sick

* it only costs 10 Euro to have a blood panel work up, an ultrasound, an x-ray, and an unpleasant procedure in Italy

So waking up in my actual hotel room the morning we were leaving for Rome was kind of heavenly. Hence, this picture.

Ciao from the hot place! #chseur15 A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

 

I should’ve majored in The Classics. Dammit.

 

A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

Yes, Rome is kind of dirty. And incredibly hot (over 100 degrees while we were there!). But I could walk through all these ruins all day.

Even with sweat dripping down my back. Because it was.

I spelled a lot of stuff wrong in my Instagram captions, so it’s Assisi, fyi.

It was my first time in Assisi, and, though it’s amazing and full of twisty-turny little streets, and though it has the hugely famous cathedral, I’d say if you’ve been to one Italian hill town, you’ve been to them all. Just an observation.

It was again so hot that I had the very unpleasant sensation of sweat dripping down my back. So. Gross.

Gelato saved the day after hiking up to the very top of the town {Steve’s idea, not mine!} to see the castle.

And this gum fence.

I started to hit my stride in Rome. We were at the half-way mark of the trip, and I was getting into the groove of it all. The kids and I had spent a full day doing the touristy things {Coliseum, Vatican} while Steve took the girl I’d taken to the hospital to the airport to send her home {sad!}.

We spent the evening in the Piazza of the Pantheon. Evenings are my favorites on these trips. Seriously. Once we’ve gotten through about 3 pm, I get happier. Because I know the sun is going to go down eventually and then we will all be having free time and a little bit of a reprieve from the heat.

So I parked it at the base of a column of the Pantheon with a gelato. My second of what would be three that day…

We took the kiddies to the oldest gelateria in Rome that night, which was our 4th of July. They were so happy! And so was I – gelato number three was hard to create. Not a lot of blue gelato, so I did my best.

And rice flavored gelato? Two thumbs up!

 

Yep – Nights in Rome really are just this enchanting. Never thought I’d get here three times in one life. #chseur15

 

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Seriously. The way life twists and turns is amazing. I love the moments when I stop to be thankful and am just so blown away with where life takes me.

Sorrento. Perhaps my favorite day of the trip.

We wandered around the town. It has the best nooks and crannies. And I think the beaches were my favorite thing I photographed over the 20 days. I mean, look at those umbrellas!

Our hotel was adorable, and I could see the Adriatic out of my window. Once we checked in that afternoon, we threw on our swimsuits and took off down the street. We found a cobbled street that hairpinned like five times down to the strip of beach. We kicked off our flip-flops and swam out to the caves in the cliffside.

I love the times we are off-leash, so to speak, with the kids who feel like adventuring in their free time. It cements us together with some rad, always unexpected memories. Like when we found a cave whose mouth was gated and that ended with a stone boat ramp into the water. It’s where they lock their boats in the winter. The old ramp was flanked by big, tall stones that connected to paths chipped into the cliffside.

Not much makes me happier than jumping off of big rocks into the sea, so I grabbed the fellow curly-girl on the trip, and we took the first plunge. The late-afternoon sun was shimmering on the water, and I don’t think I’ve felt lighter or younger in the last five years than I did that afternoon. We laughed and took turns jumping in again and again.

Then I got the, “Mrs. Samson! Do a flip! You can write about it on your blog!” They’d discovered the sentence that gets me to do a lot of things: I could write about it! I needed to do it! So I did my best. It was pretty lame, I imagine, but there was a definite rotation before I hit the sea.

Also, what is up with girls’ bikinis nowadays? I told my niece’s friend she had a wedgie, and she informed me that it was how her bottoms were made. I mean, bikini bottoms barely cover anything as it is. I don’t get it! I must be 38.

Some of the girls and I swam/climbed rocks into a cave, and it was hilarious. I fell over on the slippery rocks, and it was a domino-effect filled with squeals and curses and peels of laughter. I like it when they let me be an honorary 17-year-old oh-so-much!

These little stands were my favorite memory from when Matt and I were here with Annabelle {she was 3!} and his whole family one summer.

This time I actually got one of their slushy citrus drinks – amazing! They became quite a habit for a few days.

Sunset. Somewhere in the waters between Italy and Greece. #chseur15 A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

We literally left our hotel in Sorrento at 4 am to ride to the ferry that would take us to Greece. It pretty much sucked to leave so early.

The ferry was a nice reprieve. There was time to take a nap, watch a movie, and buy some wi-fi.

And watch the German kids on a drinking tour who didn’t have rooms and were just taking over the deck with their beers and loud dancing.

And watch the sun set over the Adriatic.

And share a berth with Lexi and her BFF. I slept the best that night, I think, because I got to have roommates. I love having a hotel room to myself for these trips, but I have become so used to sleeping with someone else in life that hearing their little breathing noises was really comforting. Hope that didn’t sound creepy!

 

Seeing the world with the girl that made me an auntie at 20 ain’t half bad. Meteora, Greece. @lexi_ehresmann

 

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Greece was a ghost town every where we went at first. They had made their big “NO!” vote to the EU’s conditions a night or two before we arrived. It seemed like everyone was hiding in their houses. The roads were empty. The towns were empty. It was creeptastic.

And a relief – we didn’t know if it’d be scary rioting or what. The main thing was that every ATM – whether it was in a little town, on the side of the road, or in bustling Athens, had a line 20-deep. Greeks were only allowed to take out 60 Euro a day, as the banks had closed. Tourists, however, could take what they wanted.

Our first stop were the monasteries in Meteora. Greece was such a wild card to me, having never been there before. These rocks? I’d never heard of them. They were insane! I love the surprises of doing something/going somewhere for the first time.

Delphi is where the magic happened.

While traipsing around the ruins, I let myself get separated from the group. All I could hear was wind. And suddenly I knew the message this trip was giving me: make room. Make room in my heart for whatever I want in there. It doesn’t ever have to stop growing. Keep adding to the long list of what you love. There’s always room.

I think Delphi and the pueblos of New Mexico have been the most mystical, spiritual places I’ve ever been.

 

Yep. It’s as hot as it looks. #chseur15

 

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Athens. OMG – this must be where everyone was hiding! It was crazy-packed. The Acropolis was crawling with tourists in the 100+ degree heat. But seeing the Parthenon made it all worth it.

We wrapped up our trip with a three-day cruise through the Greek Isles. But not before we had some seriously enchanting night swimming outside of Athens in the resort town where our hotel was. The Aegean is really salty, so I could just float and stare at all the constellations and hope there were no sharks nearby.

 

Mykonos charmed the sass right out of me. #chseur15

 

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Stop one: Mykonos. Land of the windmills. Can’t wait to show you more from this island, as Steve and I shot some serious amounts of pictures that evening. Blue doors around every turn. And cats! Greece is filled with stray cats. It’s crazy!

Fishing boats and white walls and sunsets. Mykonos was one of my favorite stops this summer, easily.

 

I awoke this morning like a kid on Christmas morning, only my thought was, “get up! You’re in Turkey!” #chseur15

 

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Even more than Greece, knowing I was visiting Turkey this summer was the thing that gave me butterflies every time I thought about it. So when the big voice came on early in the morning on the cruise ship, announcing our arrival in Kusadasi, I jumped out of bed like there was a big present from Santa awaiting me.

The bazaar was crazy and filled with hilarious shop owners, but I loved it! There were so many things to see if you just looked.

This speaks my language, doesn’t it? #chseur15 A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

I think this was another one from Mykonos.

 

To quote one of my super-rad student travelers, “We in Greece, y’all!” (but flying out today. I hate endings!)

 

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After stops in Patmos {the beach!} and Crete {I overslept and only saw it as we pulled away! Sad!}, we hit Santorini. The travel part was much more challenging for this stop, but we made it to Oia for a short while. I will never forget that adventure!

It’s been waiting for you. (Last stop before landing in Seattle! Just enough time for Shake Shack!) A photo posted by kellisamson (@mrsfreshscratch) on

And then it was home. Steve and I watched practically every episode of Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” on the flight from Athens to NYC. I watched about a half hour of a movie, but I can’t even tell you what it was because I was so deliriously tired at that point. We watched “Before Sunrise.” I slept.

And then it was JFK. I loved flying in over Boston and Providence and Long Island and Manhattan. Suddenly my heart hurt for summer in New England. And then I got hold of the feedback sheet for the trip that half the kids had filled out, and a bunch had written how they’d wished the chaperones were better and had known more. And then my heart broke and I fell apart for real. Even Shake Shack couldn’t help me.

They mysteriously lost the feedback sheet on the flight from NYC to Seattle, but I cried the first 45 minutes of that ride after what they’d written. Big, fat, silent tears. Because I had seriously worked on this trip every day since arriving home from the last one. Because even though it’s fun for me, I still had given up the first three weeks of my precious summer with my own family to take these kids around the world. Because I thought we’d had fun. Because I had spent the night in the hospital with one of them and missed Florence and had to manage a bunch of hard days with others who were sick. Because no other teachers are wildly volunteering to run this trip and make it happen every summer. Because one of them said they basically paid for me to have a free vacation in Europe {!!!} to my face the night before. I guess they don’t know yet all the ways we pay for things in life. It’s not just in dollars.

So, deep breath. I’ve waited to write about this until I was over the way it ended. How I collapsed into my sister-in-law’s arms at the airport for a hug that was longer than the one with her daughter.

It wasn’t a vacation. But it was a trip, in every sense of the word. And it’s still one of the best gigs going. You can bet I’ll be going again!

she’s alive!

Brotherhood LoungeWell, hey there.

It’s been just a little smidge of time, hasn’t it? For me, it’s been long enough that I’ve went through the stages of grief over this blog’s snafus: bewilderment, rage, whatever-ness, heartache, elation…repeat {wait. are those not the stages?}. I’ve gone from desperately needing to reach you to being scared to come back. But here I am, drinking a Negroni {well, that was the other night with my pal Andrea, but still} and dipping my toe in by saying, “Hey, y’all! I’m not dead! I’m very much alive!”

My latest roller coaster moment with this space was one minute ago, when my blog was looking all good and restored, then suddenly went back to lame-o, not shiny, not amazing. But it’s my space, perfect or not, and oh! how I’ve missed it. And how I’ve missed you!

So here’s what’s happened in the month or so since we last met. I went to Europe for three weeks. Don’t get too jazzed: it was with 13 (then 12! no one died. chill.) students, so very much akin to being a camp counselor for a summer camp on wheels, rumbling through 100+ degree weather in Europe, weathering a night in a tiny hospital in Italy with a student, sending said student home, and just more demands than any of my previous student trips. To put it to you this way, I cried on the plane on the way home. Not tears of sadness for it all being over, either.

But it wasn’t all hardship! No! I swam in the Adriatic and the Aegean! I got to show my niece a big corner of the world. I bought an awesome bracelet, for Pete’s sake! I got to hang out with one of my best friends for twenty days.

What else? Clementine got glasses! And I unexpectedly accepted a full-time position in my English department. Surprised even myself.

Changes are afoot. Especially right here in this little corner of the internets. All these shenanigans have taught me that my blog is incredibly important to me, that it needs the utmost care, as it’s basically an online record of all the beautiful moments. So stay tuned. I’m just going to keep on going, regardless of the glitches, until the magic blog fairy godmother waves her wand over here. And she will.

xoxox,

mrs. fresh scratch

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