Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hi-Ho Hi-Ho It’s Off to Grindelwald We Go

As we get ready to depart, the darkness of the early morning still envelops the city of Lisbon, the Christmas lights can’t even cast their candle power onto the few passersby. The café’s are closed up tight and the tables and chairs chained together lest some city urchin make off with them under cover of darkness. The dorm room like fridge is close to empty as we pour the final litre of milk onto the last bowls of Chocolate Krispies and into the last steaming cup of hot tea. All of the 5 AM action this morning reminds us why we love to be in an apartment. The last few electronics are unplugged and begin today’s long journey on battery support. We tuck the last i-pod, phone charger and extension cords into any space that will have them in the rolling suitcases and we are ready to make the descent, 3 flights of stairs, no elevator. By the time I get to duffel bag #7 having made 4 trips already I am thinking more about Dante’s levels of hell than what a joy it is to traipse across Europe during the 2009 Christmas season.. Good thing we are headed to Switzerland today as I’ll need the cool weather and the snow of Grindelwald to refresh Team Glavin.

Off to one of the many squares around our apt in search of a TAXI. We’ll need 2 cars to get us to the airport, a trip we usually make via Metro but here in Lisbon the Metro doesn’t start early enough for our trip and another SMALL draw back is that it doesn’t actually go to the airport. One benefit to the early morning start is that the taxi can make its way to the front door of the apartment as this is usually a “pedestrian only zone.” Ann meets with the real estate agent as he “walks the apartment” checking for damage and we hold our breath hoping that the security deposit will be returned “in full.” We always worry that the errant scratch on the wall or the broken pane of glass “pre Team Glavin” will result in a 500 Euro charge. We get the “all clear” and it’s off to the airport for our 19th flight and baggage check in.

I don’t know why but when you know you are headed to the airport to check in with an airline called Easy Jet you feel “uneasy”. Perhaps it is the constant warnings about the # of bags “permissible” or the “ungod-like” charges for “extra weighted bags.” The warnings are so common that Pearse even asks “Do they charge you for oxygen?” As I hoist the bags, one after another, the folks around us glance at us and chortle “Are they really checking 7 bags?” Little do they know these bags have seen some miles, ridden more airport conveyors and logged plenty of track time. There is the pregnant pause waiting for the Easy Jet check in agent to speak; will it be “We need a credit card” or is it to be “Will that be all for today?” The guy beside us has 2 suitcases open in full view of the airport trying to make the weight balance; he’s over the limit and looking at a 50 Euro charge. His wife is not happy that her underwear is on display for Lisbon’s entire airport to see. The kids chuckle as she smacks him and says “it’s not too much!” The gate agent looks at us and says “Gate 9 you board at 7:50!” We feel relieved and the ebullient boys lead the way to the gate and past the flight board marked GENEVA. They know we are one step closer to the ski slopes of Switzerland.

Easy Jet is to flying what generic mayonnaise is to a ham and cheese sandwich. It gets the job done but you’re not exactly “livin large” you know what I’m saying? I managed a seat next to the understudy of the large boy from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He ate for 2.5 hours and spent most of his time yelling at his mom across the aisle about how hard it is to be him. He felt pretty confident that he bought ½ of my seat too as he spent the better part of the flight up and down and in and out of both seats. I asked if he could read English and he said “yes”. I only asked because he spent the rest of the flight reading my computer screen as I typed.

As the Easy Jet lands Ann prepares to make the mad dash to the train station. We have 40 minutes to buy train tickets to Bern Switzerland and we want to get the tickets booked for the remaining 2 trains. It is rare that Team Glavin is “off the plane” first but we manage to disembark to the cool blast of Geneva air and to our delight the discount airline isn’t on the other side of the planet from baggage claim. Eamon and Seamus camp at the bottom of the luggage conveyor, staking out valuable real estate after confirming that the bags go “counterclockwise” in Geneva airport, another lesson learned. 7 bags accounted for and off we go in search of the train platform and mom. It is awesome that the station is right at the airport. The difference between catching the 12:36 vs the 14:00 is the difference between arrival in Grindelwald at 16:40 and 21:30. 5 hours doesn’t sound like much but with 3 kids on the go since 5:00AM the difference is a finish that is more like “Thanks for the help” than “Because I said so.”

The first class accommodations of SBB Switzerland Rail are a perfect start to the 3 train day. It is a Double Decker train with world class views of Lake Geneva and the farmlands of Switzerland. The first stop, Bern train station, is a mere 2 hours away but we won’t see much of the station, we hope. Everything breaks just right and we sprint though the station from platform 7 down the stairs and over to platform 3 and up the stairs. Did I mention we have 7 bags and 8 minutes to make the train? We are tested but ours is an experienced team and they jump the train like kids used to “riding the rails”. We pull out of Bern headed to Interlocken and are treated to panoramic views of the lakes with the snow trail covered Alps erupting behind them. Seamus says it best “Eamon, could you just rip down that travel poster covering the window?”

Click clack click clack though the towns and the mountains we go. The sky is threatening snow and the kids are giddy with anticipation. It brings new meaning to the song “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” As if on cue the clouds oblige and it begins to snow, coating the grass and the trees in the valley between the lake and the mountain. The small train from Interlocken to Grindelwald looks like something out of a 50’s Christmas movie. As it pulls away from the station we pat ourselves on the back knowing that in 55 minutes we’ll be at the destination that we actually picked in February 2009 in response to the question, “Where do you want to spend Christmas while in Europe?” As the train ascends the mountain, doing a real rendition of the “little engine that could” and the green valley landscape changes to a blanket of white snow, we look at each other and marvel at our good fortune.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

“And the Word Became Flesh” December 8 and 5 Glavin’s at Fatima

The bus rolled away from the curb in Lisbon headed to Fatima. We wondered to ourselves “Do you think we made the right decision going it alone?” Many Pilgrims make the trip to Fatima as part of a tour group but Ann and I decided to experience the day with no schedule and an open mind.

The kids tried to get comfortable on the hour and half bus ride, hoping to recapture the precious few minutes of sleep that were stolen by the predawn call of the drill instructor aka Dad. We need to do 2 Metro’s to get to the bus stop by 8. No problem from a logistics standpoint, we’re seasoned PT users, just a bit challenging considering its 3 kids and as far as they are concerned we aren’t headed for a fiesta. Pearse summed up the youthful sentiment for his brother’s “a full day of religious stuff.” How can we be so mean to these lads we call sons?

The bus eeks to its first stop 80 minutes later. It is a bit unsettling as it’s not a terminal, nor one of those plastic and steel shelters to protect you from the elements. There isn’t even a sign that says “bus stop.” I suppose the bus driver saw my quizzical look or perhaps heard my clear direction to the kids “don’t move until we know this is really Fatima.” He shouts back to Ann and me “FATIMA,you GO!” and points to the road. I wonder as we disembark “why do humans insist on yelling louder and slower in a different a language when they think you don’t understand them?”

Anyway, we get off the bus, take a mental picture of the stores and any landmarks to make sure that we return to this exact “unmarked bus stop” and look for a sign. No, not a sign from God, but one that points to Fatima or the Basilica. We amble up hill and after a few blocks the path becomes clearer and the retail shops with everything from rosary beads to glow in the dark Blessed Mother statues lined the streets. The crowds were hustling along, coming in from all side streets like tributaries. Team Glavin gets in line like it’s the June Alaskan salmon run and we don’t want to miss our chance.

I’d like to think that I am well schooled in the traditions of the Catholic Faith but today there are so many things going on it is hard to know where to begin. So naturally Pearse and I head to the water close (bathroom) and Ann heads for the kiosk that says “info.” She returns with a map of the facilities and 3 candles. The tradition is to pray and toss the candles into the huge pyre. As we make our way down the path, the boys are drawn to the flame like moths to light. There’s something about fire and boys and I say to myself “a good start to the day in Fatima.” I feel confident that all 3 boys will remember the moment they tossed in a candle for the Deely’s, the Glavin’s and the “family and friends.” It is a visceral feeling as the candles melt quickly from the heat and you are moved both spiritually and physically as 100’s of people are making there way to the pyre. It is indeed a special day for many including us!!

Today is the Holy Day of Obligation, the Immaculate Conception. We chose to come to Fatima on this day hoping to bask in the glow of the appearance of Mary to the children of Fatima. We stand at this most reverent of sites where the apparition appeared to the 3 simple shepherd children of Fatima. The public address system is booming with the praying of the rosary in Portuguese but you know the prayer by heart so the language doesn’t matter. The people are streaming in from the parking lots by the busloads and the Chapel of the Apparition is filled with religious awaiting the start of the procession for 11:00 Mass. There is plenty of time til Mass so we avail ourselves of the wonder of this site visited by 4 Pope’s and millions of pilgrims. The 3 boys see things unique to this amazing place including woman crawling the entire length of the marble path in the esplanade, some 2 football fields long. They pray the rosary privately, inching their way to the statue of the Lady of Fatima. Their faith is so clearly on display, their eyes streaming tears and the boys looking and wondering “How can one be so moved in prayer?” As I watch them young and old, slightly infirmed and apparently healthy, crawling inches at a time I find myself tearing and praying that their prayers are answered. It is not lost on the boys that I am emotional.

The Basilica is lovely. Inside there are lines of pilgrims looking to see the grave sites of Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, the shepherd children. The building is beautiful with wonderful paintings and stain glass unique to this Holy Site. The “papal” plaques, commemorating the visits of the Pope, are all over reminding us of the significance of Fatima. There’s only 20 minutes until Mass and we make our way to the large space in front of the amazing outside altar. As the music begins the energy in the crowd, which has grown to 1000’s in the last hour sings, in Portuguese, a combination of May Procession hymns of yesteryear and Christmas songs reminding us of Advent. We happen to get a spot close to the barrier and we can see the Statue of Mary lifted to begin the journey from the Apparition Chapel to the Altar for the celebration of this Dec 8th Mass. It is 60 yards or so to the Altar and the pace is deliberate and careful. Pearse worms his way thru a couple of senior citizens who look at him excited that he is happy to be here. The older couple looks at Ann and me and gives us a gentle head nod, seeing the other 2 boys, and the nod says “good for you to have them here.”

As the Statue passes us by, four men holding the flowered platform tightly, there is amazing feeling of calm and a warm satisfied, sensation pulsing through your heart. It is a feeling of comfort that is ever-present when you are near your Mother.

For video of Lisbon wit Fatima footage visit the youtube video:

Monday, December 7, 2009

We Did that all in One MOnth?

One of the months on our journey my family pretty much just relaxed in Spain. Our family’s first trip outside of Valencia was when we went to Madrid. We went to Madrid, not only to pick up Sam and Mom-mom, but also to see one of the most famous cities in the world. In Madrid my family saw the “bear and the strawberry tree”, which is a very famous Sculpture in Puerta Del Sol square. My family met with a Priest that we know very well from Delaware. We had dinner with him and he was jokingly, “recruiting us” because he is Vocations Director in Wilmington.

One day we took a day off from seeing Madrid to go to Toledo. While we were there my family saw the biggest Cathedral I have ever seen. It was B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L; it was almost as big as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey, it might be even bigger! We spent three hours on a bus tour and inside the Cathedral. Last but not least we spent an hour eating food. My family wanted to catch the 5:15 P.M. train back to Madrid. There was a mad dash to catch it. A day trip taken, it was back to the Madrid airport to greet our cousin Sam and Grandmother at the gate. Sam and Mom-mom arrived in the Madrid airport, for 10 days of fun. In the week that we enjoyed Sam and Mom-mom’s presence, everyone went to the Cathedral and the beach. While we were at the beach Sam, Pearse, and I tried to build a sand pyramid, but it wasn’t finished because we had to leave and go back home. I think what Sam enjoyed the most was the skate park, which was right outside our apartment. My family’s apartment is on the 29th floor and has the best view of Valencia. We could follow Pearse and Sam from above while they made their way to the park. I am sure that what Mom-mom enjoyed the most was having her brother, and sister in law Andrew and Doreen. They came for around 3 days; originally the plan was to meet at a town named Alicante, but Andrew and Doreen had not seen Valencia yet, my parents decided it would be better to have them come here. Uncle Andrew, Aunt Doreen, Sam, Mom-mom, and my family went to the biggest aquarium in Europe (at least that’s what they said it was).

That was only two of the five weeks. We stayed in Valencia for 10 days with Sam then went back to the Madrid airport for his departure. After Sam and Mom-mom went though security, it was back to the five of us, the traveling gypsies also had a train to catch that day. The first night we really didn’t explore Barcelona all that we did was, just went to a small shop and got two pies of plain pizza ate them then went to bed. The first day was a late start, but we did get to explore a little bit. My family chose to do a city bus tour it finished around 5 o’clock. We went to the Hard Rock Café Barcelona for dinner. Then it was back to the hotel to get some MORE slept. Day two was a little more interesting I felt sick all day long; we did a different route on bus tour. I laid down in our hotel room at 8 o’ clock and went to sleep, this is very strange for me because I usually go to bed around at 11:00 P.M. Day three in Barcelona was “touring day”, that’s what I like to call it. “Touring day” is the day that a museum, church, cathedral, basilica, palace, and or castle, and is unavoidable. We go to the biggest tourist attractions in that city or town and take photos, or maybe even “learn” about something. While my family was on the Metro, a random fat guy with scars kept asking my dad “is this your stop?” He replied with a simple “no” then when the doors opened, it all started… it was a mad dash to get off the subway. During the middle of the craziness someone stole my dads wallet…yes you guessed it the fat guy with scars and his partner who was behind my dad. We cancelled the credit cards in front of the Sagrada Familia Church. All that the pickpockets really got was some worthless plastic, and leather to hold the worthless plastic. We went back to Valencia for the last time, only to end up even more frustrated. We have to pack our winter clothes that haven’t even arrived yet. You need your winter clothes to pack them, don’t you? All is well and now we go to Portugal for a week.

Spain, in a Couple Paragraphs

Valencia: On November the 2nd, we journeyed out of our familiar apartment in Vienna and took a plane to Valencia. As soon as we stepped off the plane we saw orange and palm trees. From all those years of watching TV I have realized the palm trees means water and oasis. We soon arrived to our location. Seamus, Pearse, and I looked up to a 33-story building. With our mouths catching flies we walked into one of the tallest structures in Valencia. As we waited the 41 second ride up to the 29th floor we had to pop our ears a couple of times. As we walked into the apartment we were immediately drawn to the patio. The site was mesmerizing. We have a view of the Science Centre, the park (which was where the river once was), and 180° of Valencia. 3 of the 4 bedrooms had “observation points” (a tiny patio that one person could fit on) which added to the excitement.
Along the 19-bus line, there is a cathedral, which we venture to for church, the Bull Fighting Ring, and the large train station. Once my mom and dad went to get dessert and found a medieval/renaissance fair being held at the bullring. Another time it was used for a concert. That’s is after we found out the bull fighting season was OVER!

Madrid: After a few days of bus tours, LATE night dinners, and meeting up with Father Cocucci, we come to the day everyone was expecting. The day Mom-mom arrived. Now there was going to be surprise of Sam coming with Mom-mom. However Denis Kennedy let it spill to me and me only a couple days before arrival. Nonetheless I was still overjoyed with Sam’s celebrity arrival. I had fully charged the video camera and was ready at any moment to start filming the grand entrance. We got back on a plane to Valencia. While Seamus and Pearse caught up with Sam, Mom-mom and Dad talked while the human compass/map got our bags checked and got us to the right gate.

Valencia with Sam: While we were in Valencia with Sam we went and did MANY things. Pearse made sure Sam got plenty of time at the skate park. Aunt Doreen and Uncle Andrew came up to visit (Mom-mom is the older sister of Uncle Andrew). We all went to see the Valencia Cathedral and the Basilica, St. Vincent's arm, Museum Fueo, the Oceanographico (Aquarium), the Renaissance Fair, Rodin, the Science Museum, MANY souvenir shops, and the BEACH. Everyone got a kick out of the Aquarium’s Dolphin show. Flipper’s friends were flipping, hoisting their trainers, dancing, and hula hooping. Uncle Andrew made the sacrifice to get a large beer because you get a free straw hat for every one. After a few days, Sam decided to start shopping for family. We got hats, scarves, key chains, fans, and miniature Salsa Dancers.
After many days of fun it was time for them to go home, so we all sucked it up to get up early and transport Mom-mom and Sam to the Madrid airport. We all said by 100 times, hugged goodbye 100 times, and took goodbye pictures 10 times. Finally Mom-mom said the words, “Don’t you have a train to catch?” And they left, after 10 short days they were gone. 

Barcelona: A high speed train into the city, a church, over crowded Metros, bus tour, hotel, Gaudi church, a stolen wallet and a chase perusing, a mega soccer store, and a high speed train ride back to Valencia for the last week in Spain. Is it possible I just summed up Barcelona in one sentence? I think it is! The main story was a robber pick pocketed an old wallet filled with worthless plastic. We took 10 minutes to cancel cards that could have cost us months to stop. However we loved Barcelona notheless. 

SummaryWe, the family, have decided we are going to miss Spain, because of the warm weather, our "fancy livin’" apartment with the great view, and Disney in English. Oh and Mister Thompson (next door neighbor), please reset your internet that we have been using, it has become slow.