‘Dipping my toe’ as a tourist in Pune!

While my first week here was largely defined by drowning in Amazon boxes, my second week? Well, there were yet more boxes.  What can I say?  I find it much easier to just Prime some chocolate chips, sprinkles and food colour to the door, from the comfort of my bed when I’m sick, than have to get up, face the world and have to go hunting.  Ok, so someone has to stay home to receive it, and, ok, their delivery dates haven’t yet been right a single time out of the 3498752304985723094785230 packages I’ve ordered – however, most of them come early and they are delivered *right here*, so I’ll cling to my Amazon obsession until I can cling no more.

Alright, that’s not *completely* accurate, Lewis is in school from 8.45am-11.15am, by the time I get back to the house it’s after 9am, shops don’t open til 10am and the types of shops I need to go to for international stuff, meats, baking supplies etc are a little further out, traffic here is simultaneously unpredictable, but terrible, I need to wait til Col’s home, or figure a longer time for Lewis to be in school before I can do much venturing out for a good hoke.

The power has just gone out – not the first time, not the last time.  It never lasts very long at all, but there’s no warning, it stays out for a few seconds, or minutes, and then it reboots and comes back up.  During those moments, I find myself, of course, scratching my head and wondering why my internet connection isn’t working.

Last Saturday, we had to wait in for deliveries (and to sort out the hire car).  Just like the US, they don’t group together all of your Amazon deliveries, so they turn up in dribs and drabs, multiple deliveries.  Sometimes they deliver one box, sometimes they deliver ten.  The days they tell you they’re delivering, aren’t always the days they deliver.  The tracking on your order says it’ll be here Saturday, and while nine times out of ten it comes early – which should be great, right?  It’s hard to plan your life when you don’t know whether your packages are coming today, tomorrow, or the day that it’s due to be delivered per the order info.

Anyways, we were waiting in, for packages, and for the car hire people to come by and pick up the car – our new car is officially legal – yay!  But once all the grown-up, boring admin was done, I got in to the car and asked Harish to show us something in the city.  He took us to Shinde Chhatri, the little fell asleep en route, so Col and I got to check it out by ourselves – just as well, cause he’d have run rings around that place.  There was a small fee to enter, and a slightly larger fee for foreigners, the sign made me giggle – not quite something you’d see in the very PC US of A.

Shinde Chhatri is a memorial dedicated to the 18th century military leader Mahadji Shinde who served as the commander-in-chief of the Maratha army under the Peshwas from 1760 – 1780.  It is one of the most significant landmarks in the city and is reminiscent of the Maratha rule. It is a hall that marks the spot of Mahadji Shinde’s cremation on 12 February 1794.

The major attraction of the Shinde Chhatri of Pune is its exquisite architecture, reflecting the style used in Rajasthan, India. The Anglo-Rajasthani style of construction exhibits a fine blending of two different cultures. The architectural grandeur of the building is appreciable with beautiful carvings and the building is the lively specimen of a structure constructed following the Vaastu Hara rules.  The memorial retains its architectural design and beauty till date.

The fine carvings and idols of saints on the steeple of the Shiva temple are made of yellow stone and the base and the sanctum sanctorum are constructed in black stone. The Chhatri (hall) not only has carvings and painting, but also houses a gallery in it. Coloured window-panes used for the windows are of English style.  The hall is beautifully adorned with paintings and photographs of members of Shinde family.

Chhatri means umbrella in Marathi. As a sign of respect to the great warrior, visitors are required to close their umbrellas inside the premises, even if it is raining.

This place was tranquil and serene.  It was calming and peaceful – and on the grounds we happened upon a Crossfit gym, complete with battle ropes out front.

It was a nice way to dip our toes in to the ‘Temple scene’ here in Pune.  If you go on the Trip Advisor website and look up ‘Things to do’, here in the city – you’ll find a long list of various temples, I’ve made a short list to get started on over the coming weeks and months.

Sunday was our first driver-free day since we got here, Harish very kindly worked the first Sunday we were in town so we could get our feet under us a little more quickly.  So we did some home-y things, hung pictures and sorted out some things around the apartment.  Monday was another big day, we went to the Police Commissioner’s office to sort out or foreigners registration – which took over three times as long as it did the first time Col did it (he had to do it again with an updated address).  Once the sweaty, waiting round with an impatient and crabby three-year-old in a crowded building was done, I hopped in to a car with a lovely lady called Ayesha, who works for the relocation company, Lexagent and off we went on a shopping spree – I mean, tour of the city.

Local bakery I need to try!

As we drove around, Ayesha pointed out places of interest, things I need to try, places to find everything from baked goods to jewellery and fabric.  We stopped off at a couple places and I came home with a trunk full of shopping.  Everything from the tall-sized squeegee and brush that I needed to find for Rani but I’ve been coming up empty on, to a kilo of cookies (in four different flavours) that we got at a stand in the biggest mall in town, Phoenix Mall.  I went to both Natures Basket and a three storey Dorabjees – two internationally inclined grocery stores (I’ve been to a smaller Dorabjees, but didn’t know this one existed!)

I had fun, I thought it would be like a red-bus-tour, when it actual fact, it was like a spin around the city with a BFF (though we didn’t selfie together – you can tell I’m off my game!)  Ayesha was fun, but also knowledgeable – she answered all my questions, she knew where to find what and even recommended a spa for me to try (I’d picked a couple out, but she said this one is better) and I definitely feel like I have a better feel for the city now that I’ve driven around it.

Thursday night I went to my first Schlumberger Spouses Association (SSA) event, here in Pune.  The group is in its infancy for sure, as it’s only recently that there has been a large influx of SLB transfers to the city, but the chapter has totally hit the ground running.  I also finally got together with the lovely Sylviane, my successor at the helm of SSA Houston when I stepped down as coordinator.

We went to a local restaurant called ‘Farzi’, which describes itself as an Indian Bistro – when we got there the maitre D informed us that they specialise in molecular gastronomy, well, my interest was piqued.

I’ve never been to a place like that before, somewhere that takes traditional dishes (for example, a Caesar salad) and adds a twist to it (butter chicken, instead of chicken).  Nor have I ever been somewhere were the tempura shrimp comes out with ‘bubble bath’ on top of it (foamed egg white), or where my cocktail requires pouring one liquid in to another to create a reaction.

It wasn’t just fun and quirky food – it was absolutely delicious.

Shina (the chapter coordinator) ordered an umber of small plates for us to share and try, I’m glad we put our trust in her, because they were all delicious (and mercifully not too spicy!)  Maryam ordered some lamb shanks to try too – holy crap, they were delicious! Served with garlic naan and in a tasty curry gravy-sauce, it was exceptional.

For dessert, I’d read a review that said I needed to try the Baileys lollipops (and, to be honest once I’d tried them I was unhappy that I hadn’t gotten a couple orders of them and hidden in the corner to eat them all by myself).  We also got a ‘chocolate dirt pile’ which was deliciously rich and luxuriously elegant at the same time.

From the staff, to the menu, from the food to the atmosphere – not to mention the company of twenty-odd SLB wives, this was a great first night out for me in Pune.

Friday after Lewis came home from school, we decided to check out the local indoor play area – coincidentally named the same as the place round the corner from us in Larne, ‘Funky Monkeys’ at a local mall called Nitesh Hub.

I think this is the biggest (ok, not true, Glasgow was the biggest), cleanest and absolutely the best indoor play area that we’ve ever taken Lewis to.  He and Col stayed there for just over an hour (when I got back Lewis was drenched in sweat) while I went out and around the rest of the mall for a look-see.  It’s an older mall, largely filled with Indian shops, not much for the Westerners, but I still managed to pick Lewis up a couple outfits for his upcoming Indian Nights night at school and whatever other ‘local dress’ days come up along the rest of the calendar year.  I did try on a couple things for myself, however, the Indian lines seemed to be more tailored towards those a little more flat chested than myself, so I’m gonna need a tailor!

Our second week was much busier than our first, we did a little more of the touristy check-some-local-things-out stuff.  Tried to find a little ‘normal’.  We seem to at least have our weekend routine down.  Saturday seems to be our big ‘tourist’ day, we get in the car and Harish takes us somewhere to visit (he’s already picked out this Saturday’s location, and the Saturday after that, too!) and Sunday is Harish’s day off, so it is our day at home.  We Skype family and friends, Lewis does creative play with things like his new easel or building vehicles with his magna tiles, there’s outdoor football with daddy and often a movie of some kind.

I’ve registered Lewis for Lego Club in the apartment building across the street, I have the name of a swim instructor for him in a local hotel, I’ve found a choir for me to try and a sports shop to go grab a punch bag from – I just need to call and arrange lessons and get my butt out the door and do things…but, I’m the queen of delay and procrastination right now – and I’m ok with that, I’ll shake it eventually, maybe staring at all the pink things on my calendar for a while will make me more inclined to actually go out and do it all!

A pleasantly surprising discovery – Beaumont, Texas.

When hubby announced to me last Wednesday that we were going away for the weekend for my birthday celebration, I was *almost* disappointed.  We can’t fly, can’t sail and can’t endure long car rides (especially since my chest pains arrived a couple weeks ago), so that leaves short-car trips.  One would assume San Antonio or Austin.

While I do enjoy both of these cities, (scrambling to sound less of an ungrateful mare) we favour trying somewhere new when we travel.  I should have had more faith in my wonderfully curious, explorer-husband, because he did in fact stick to our preference of trying out somewhere new, and his description of our weekend was, and I quote, ‘a gamble’.

Hmmm.  He told me the night before we left, where we were going, Beaumont, Texas – a city around an hour and forty minutes from us in Missouri City, so closer still than San Antonio or Austin (bonus points for a shorter-than-expected car journey!) and that we were going to take in a show, the Blue Man Group.  I can’t/won’t tell you too much about the show, mostly because I’m not sure that it’s something words do justice to, so, instead, I’ll tell you it’s musical, it’s visually stimulating, it’s hilarious and to go and see it, if you have the opportunity – you won’t regret it.  My mind was BLOWN.

Why bother with Beaumont?

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beaumont to be honest, I’d only ever considered it as a venue for concerts by people who didn’t make it to Houston – but had never considered it as being in our ‘somewhere to go’ catalogue.

Beaumont is probably most famous as being an old oil ‘boomtown’, in 1900, the Lucas gusher blew, putting Beaumont on the map for being the home of the greatest oil well in history.  It’s success lasted around a decade, at the end of which, the oil well was drained dry, Gladys city was a ghost town of wooden shacks and all that was left, was the memory of the Lucas gusher.

First things first, this IS a manageable day-trip from the greater Houston area, that said, Beaumont, in whatever wacky wisdom they believe to work for their city, close a lot of the tourist attractions on the weekend – two days of the when, in my opinion, would be the most beneficial time to keep the places open for tourists.  That, or they open at odd hours, or request you book appointments in advance.  But, what do I know? I’m just a tourist, right?

What did we do?

We arrived on Friday afternoon, had lunch, did a spot of shopping (just in Target) and hit up the Blue Man Group in the Julie Rogers Theatre – a beautiful theatre, if you have a chance to see something here, do it.  Parking was free at the back of the theatre, it’s a great size, not too big, not too small, acoustics are good and the décor is absolutely beautiful!

Fire Museum of Texas

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Saturday morning we hit up the Fire Museum of Texas – and quickly discovered, that it was closed (BOOO!) But, thankfully, the worlds largest functioning fire hydrant wasn’t inside, so we had a walk around the grounds and took some fun pictures of the HUGE hydrant painted like a cow.

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Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum.

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Once we were done taking pictures in the sunshine, we headed out to the   A reconstruction of the old Gladys City from back in the days of the Lucas Gusher.  It was a very interesting museum, you move from building to building around the town, learning what life was like back in 1900, when the gusher blew and tens of thousands of oil-folk flocked to the city.

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Also you have model Spindle Tops, a gift shop, and, if you are so inclined, a function room that can hold up to 75 people – we spent just over an hour here at this museum and there was a lot of open space for kid-lets to run around and wear themselves out!

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This museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Sunday, 1-5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Closed most Mondays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Information: 409-880-1750 or gladyscityinfo@gmail.com and parking is free.
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Being married to a guy who works in the oil and gas industry, a visit to the Texas Energy Museum was pretty much, unavoidable.  Full of interactive, educational exhibits on how oil is drilled for, processed and what it is used for, this place was quite fun.  That said, it wasn’t as extensive as I expected, and we probably were in and out in about an hour to an hour and a half.
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It still focuses a lot on the Lucas Gusher and the boom in Beaumont, but I feel they could have done a lot more to encompass the actual oil process.  It was definitely worth the entry fee and I think it would be particularly interesting for kids of people in the oil services industry, to learn what mum or dad’s company does.  Plus they’ll all enjoy pushing the buttons – right?! 🙂

Free parking adjacent to the Museum (always a bonus) and open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 1pm to 5pm.  Adults pay $5, children over 5yrs old and seniors pay $3.

Notable mention: Raos Bakery

We went here, under the false pretenses of lunch.  Trip advisor and Yelp said they did sandwiches, paninis and soup – as it turned out, they were all pre-packaged and didn’t look overly appetizing at all.

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That said, this place is a bakery, so the sweet counter got our attention in an instant.  As it was valentines weekend, they had a lot of both Valentine’s themed goodies, as well as some King’s Cakes on hand for the upcoming Mardi Gras celebrations.  We opted for the last Napoleon that was on the shelf.  Mostly because it looked like this:

IMG_8245Sweet Lord above we died and went to heaven.  Puff pastry, sweet cream and strawberries – simple, but so totally delicious (and very unladylike to eat!!) – and their chocolate dipped strawberries were fantastic too.

If you fancy a coffee and a treat, go here.  You won’t be disappointed!

Where did we stay?

Probably the newest (at the time I’m writing this, Feb 2014) hotel in the Beaumont area and one of the nicest ‘budget’ hotels I’ve been to in a loooooong time.  The Holiday Inn Express.  It came very highly rated on Yelp and Trip Advisor and hubby got a good deal on a room (around $85 a night).  For that, you get free internet (which worked pretty well for hotel internet), free breakfast (again, surprisingly good considering most hotel breakfasts – my favorite was the industrial pancake making machine and I left wanting Col to buy me one for Christmas!) free parking, close access to all of the attractions in Beaumont.

The room also had a fridge (which worked better than our own at home), a microwave (which was ace since hubby brought along some popcorn to pop – just in case!) and a decent sized bathroom.  The pool was an outside pool, which, normally wouldn’t bother us in February in Texas, but after our freakishly cold winter this year, the pool was left empty for the weekend, which was a shame.

I can’t recommend this hotel enough, we got great sleep (with a hot water bottle for a husband, a good AC unit is of paramount importance), it was quiet, we were able to watch the Winter Olympics on the flat screen and the staff were lovely and friendly.

What else can you do in Beaumont?

Here is a couple of places we couldn’t make work, due to timing, but would have interested us, had they been open over the weekend.

Places like the Beaumont Police Department Museum is free to visit, but is only open on weekdays and viewable by appointment only (call 409-880-3825).

The Fire Museum of Texas, was somewhere we were DYING to go see (we love going to see local fire museums), but, again, it’s not open on weekends (unless by special appointment).  Another free institution to go and visit (Beaumont is a really GREAT city for free museums!!) this museum is open Monday to Friday 8am to 4.30pm and ranks as the #1 attraction to visit in Beaumont.  We are sad to have missed out!

Thomas Edison plaza museum, is another free-to-visit place to drop in on your day/short trip visit to Beaumont, and, as of June 2013, they are open Tuesday through Friday 9am-2pm and Saturdays 10am-2pm and reviewers say to allow yourself an hour to an hour and a half to enjoy this small museum.

Clifton Steamboat museum, this museum (and accompanying tug-boat) doesn’t even appear on Trip Advisor’s list of things to do in the city of Beaumont – so I didn’t know about it’s existence until I got home – a little too late, right?  It is open by appointment only, costs $5 per adult, $4 per child and is free for children under 5 years old.

Our friends, ''the athletes'' and kicking off of our QHSE calendar, in a truck!

Saturday night was dinner group in Dave and Busters, it was a small group, but lots of fun.  It was some of the better service we’ve had in that Dave and Busters, and, I struck gold in the ‘reward zone’ finding a couple of things that will work great for Col’s upcoming birthday party.

Sunday morning we headed out to the Phoenicia Deli for a celebratory lunch.  We have two friends, Emily and Luke (you may have heard me talk about them on occassion! LOL!) who are big runners, they both got selected to run the Houston Half Marathon!

This in itself is a huge achievement, I know a lot of people, who didn’t get a spot.  They’ve been training for a while, they are complete machines! Especially Emily, she runs miles and miles every single morning, at the crack of dawn.  I admire her, she gives me something to work towards, something to strive to.  She’s highly successful in her exercising, and, not only did she run the half-marathon, she ran it in under two hours!!!

They both finished with great times and did themselves (and all of us) proud!

Team Van der Waals

I don’t think I’ve ever seen them not look stunning – I can’t imagine them being the sweaty mess that I am, post-exercise.  Can you believe how fab they look after running over thirteen miles??

Anyhow, the Scooby gang got together at the deli, to celebrate.  It was a great way to start a Sunday (yes, for us, we started our day with lunch, for Em and Luke, they’d already done a weeks worth of exercise in one go!!) It was a lovely time, the food was delicious (I had chicken curry) and the company was, as always, great!

After lunch, Col and I hit up R.E.I sports, Academy sports and Sun and Ski sports to have a mooch around for some ski stuff to tick off our shopping list for our upcoming ski-trip.  I ended up coming away with some ski socks (which are class!), some thermals (top and bottoms), a thermal head band thingy, we both got under-gloves (they go under your big puffy ski gloves), Col got some thermal bottoms but not much else…

When we’d finished our spat of shopping, Col and I went to see The Iron Lady.  A movie we’d both been looking forward to coming out, neither of us enjoyed it much, I feel like it was a waste of Meryl Streep’s talents.  I was wholly unimpressed and disappointed by it, so I’m not going to write anything else on the subject!

Monday morning, I was a little nervous.  Magz, the SSA QHSE (health and safety) person, had arranged for the Skid Simulator to be brought down from Oklahoma for us to play with.

SkidSim

Originally, I thought it was a simulator, until we found out that it was going to be a truck, that we’d drive around the car park.  It was great!

Magz went first!

Rachet (the teacher), had control over the back wheels of the rear wheel drive truck, but it was fun.  He told me I was a natural and that he’d never have guessed I’ve only ever driven ‘regular’ sized cars – it was nice to hear, though, like my friend Natalie said, I’m not sure if I’d have reacted the same way if I was really skidding on ice!

Natalie having a go 🙂

After our time-slot in the SkidSim, Natalie and I went to the Dollar Tree and Big Lots to pick up some stuff for Col’s birthday, before Emily and Magz met up with us in Whole Foods to pick up lunch (which was delicious by the way!)

We sat around Magz’s dinner table, eating lunch (lots and lots of lunch), chatting, drinking tea and eating carrot cake – it was a really civilised and fun afternoon of girl-time.

Little Eve, enjoying lunch with the ladies!

Back at home, I had a nap before my first choir practice of 2012 where we started on our new programme of music.  It’s going to be a good year!

Tuesday (17th) morning, I introduced Natalie to Body Pump, the instructor was somewhat off the wall (and kept shouting things like ”put your fanny forward”).  The cafe has re-opened, and, if possible, the smoothies are even nicer than before!

Tuesday night, we had a fundraising meeting in my friend Cam Sa’s house, for the choir.  If you happen to know any big business men or women, who donate to charity – send them my direction!

Wednesday morning started with an old-skool lunch, my friend Theresa was in town for the week, so I grabbed the chance to see her for lunch, with both hands.  It was great, Theresa, Julie and I, had lunch just like we did before T moved to Paris.  We caught up, ate good food and just hung out, I miss her!

Wednesday night, was our first night of babysitting little Eve.  For Christmas, Col and I, gave Magz and Sam 12 date nights, one per month for a year, I got the idea from here, on Pinterest.  So, it was our first night babysitting for our favourite lil gal!

It went well, she was a sweetheart, uncle Col read her a bedtime story, while I fed her (after her bath) and she went down for the night around 8.15pm.  Perfect! I also think mummy and daddy had a nice date night, which made for a double success 🙂

Getting bigger and bigger!

She’s such a sweet lil gal!

Partying, parting and Potter!

Ugh! No rest for the wicked eh?

No sooner had I gotten off the plane in George Bush International airport, last Saturday (I guess it’s now two Saturday’s ago) when it was time to head down to Pearland to visit the Stevensons.  It was, if you can believe it, little Michael’s second birthday! I say this a lot about all my baby-friends, but they seriously grow up so stinkin’ fast!

Blowing out the candle!

To celebrate, the Stevensons invited some friends (Mariano and Kat, Adrian and Soo, Col and I) to come over and enjoy some pizza and cake!

Family photo...Henry (Amee's dad), Amee, Colin, Pierce and little Michael

We had a lovely time, I, of course, was magnetically drawn to the tiny little baby in the room and spend most of the day cooing and tickling little Sebastian.

Little Seb and I

It was a lovely afternoon, bittersweet, however, as it was the last time we were to see the Stevenson family before they left for Singapore.  Amee had set aside a bunch of stuff for me, cupcake stands, party supplies, and as happy as I was to take it all off her hands (my inner party-planner did a little hop, skip and a jump!), it was tough, kinda home-hitting that they were really leaving!

As I was leaving, Pierce came up to me and said, ‘Are you leaving?’, I nodded and he just goes, ‘I’m really gonna miss you’.  That set me off, when I closed the car door, I just started to cry.  In short, I’m gonna miss them lots – but I hope they have an awesome time living in Singapore and I can’t WAIT to see them on our trip to visit them (hopefully in September!)

And my mission, when Pierce is home (he’s heading to College in Huntsville – and I’m so proud of him!!) is to get a picture of the two of us, cause I don’t think one exists!  For now, y’all will have to make do with a cute male bonding picture instead!

Pierce teaching Sebastian how to knuckle-punch

Monday morning came around fast and started off with an early morning SSA Board meeting at the lovely Ana Maria’s house, she’d gone above and beyond making little croissants and putting on a yummy breakfast spread!

With only five of us in attendance, the board meeting was over pretty quickly and Magz and I decided to pay a visit to JoAnns and pick up some crafting stuffs.  In JoAnns, we bumped into my friend Mina – who I’ve not seen in FOREVER! We had a quick chat before we all parted ways and went home for the day.

That night, our ‘secret six’ group got together for our second (and final *sniff*) annual Harry Potter watching.  Last year, our merry little group got together and headed to dinner and Part I of J.K Rowling’s final book.

The movie itself was pretty good, however, for me, the highlight of the night was Magz putting my hand on her belly and letting me feel lentil kicking.  I’ve been wanting to feel it for a while, I’ve never felt a baby kicking before and when I felt it, a lump came to my throat and my eyes filled up – it was an amazing feeling.  Very slight (as lentil gets most rowdy when it’s most quiet) but he or she was definitely giving Aunty Las high-fives (either that or kicking her away!)

Tuesday (19th) brought with it a trip to the gym and Julie’s monthly SSA dinner group at Cafe Red Onion.  We were a small group, Annette with her hubby, Michelle and her hubby, Julie, Col and I and Magz and Sam but we had fun.  The food looked better on the menu than it did on the plate, or tasted, but it wasn’t terrible.  I like trying little off-the-wall places to eat and I love Julie’s dinner group!

Can you believe I didn’t take a single picture? Man! I’m so cross at myself!!

Wednesday was filled up with exercise and crafting, actually, now that I think about it, so was Thursday – with the addition of a lovely lunch with Magz, Sally and her two gorgeous little girls in the Trotter, YMCA.

The Trotter Y, has a lovely wee cafe in there, with a pretty huge menu selection, reasonable prices and the food was yummy (portion size was pretty big too!)  They also do delicious smoothies (complete with additional protein for those who’d like it) that was really tasty as well.  We’ll definitely be repeating that experience!

Friday was a stay at home day, I had vowed to do zero all day.  Zero.  I was going to veg out and do nada.  However, I didn’t do much of ‘zero’, I wrote a menu plan, sorted coupons, tidied around a little before I headed out for a sneaky shop to Walmart and Target, where I picked up an insane amount of Kerr mason jars (or, for those of you at home, jam jars!).

If you haven’t yet discovered Pinterest, you should check it out….like my friend Amber says, it’s like crack…I can’t help buying jars with all the fun and adorable things there is to do with them!!

Mason jar margaritas...oh yeah!!

Day 5 – Filling my suitcase with farmers market produce and heading home!

I slept better than I thought I would on the ground at the campsite.  We got up at around 7am, lit a fire (after a long friggin time and a lot of ‘encouraging’).  We even got it going enough to make breakfast – scrambled eggs and bacon – which was yummy!

I look like it was so under control! LOL

After breakfast, we cleaned up, I packed (Amber and co were gonna camp out again so the camp stayed standing) and we headed in to Cedar Rapids to hit up another first for me.  A Farmer’s market!

One street of the market!

The market was bigger than I expected, it had everything from meat to produce, to handmade jams, crafts and soaps – it was pretty cool.

Averie getting her face painted

Amber and Averie

Kissing Aunty Las

she loves me in spite of my gingerness!

I came away with some raspberry jalapeno jam, two different dips (cran-cherry and avacado), a wet rub for meat, two loaves of fresh baked bread (garlic rosemary and ‘everything’ bread) and a slice of pecan cake to take home to my babe – not a bad haul at all! The fresh lemonade we had was delicious (and refreshing in that heat!) and we got to try a bunch of foods on various stalls.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to hoke out a farmers market in Houston if we have ’em!

Pronounced 'chee-bo'

For lunch, we met up with Emily, Aaron and Sarah in a place I am quickly growing to love, Cibo.  It’s a fusion restaurant and it’s pretty tasty! Sarah brought my Trash the Dress cd of photos (whoot!) which I have been seriously excited about getting – and, with good reason…

Aves watching the fishies!

Water wall

After lunch, we bolted home, I re-packed (glass jars require precise packing!), showered (I didn’t want to get on a flight stinking of deet, sun screen and garlic!) and we headed to the airport where I said a sad g’bye to Averie, Amber and Aaron…

At security – I got my hands tested for explosives (and again, made an inappropriate joke to the TSA agent about how I’d been playing with fire before going to the airport!) and got through without getting in trouble (thankfully!).

I boarded the plane and took my seat -but the plane was pretty empty so I moved to a two-seater.  I made friends with a very loud and animated 9 year old boy from San Antonio called Tyler.  He talked to me about Mario and Sonic, asked me to help him open his can of juice/food and, in the end, told me that I looked good – ever seen NCIS? He kinda reminds me of DiNozzo in it…lol!!

He also asked me my age and told me I didn’t look 26…score! LOL! Then he said I had magic powers (to which I replied that’s just my Irishness shining through!)

It was a looooooooong flight cause he wouldn’t shut up the whole time, but it was kinda fun! I landed to a very happy husband – who’d spent the week in a whirlwind of busy of his own (and being fed by the lovely Magz, so he didn’t starve or eat frozen pizza every day!)

As always, I can’t wait to go back to Iowa for my next adventure!!

Day 3 – Exploring the Windy City…(and getting lost trying to find Navy Pier – AGAIN!)

After a slightly late start to the day (mostly due to the fact that we couldn’t figure out where a member of the group had disappeared to) we all piled in to the shuttle bus and headed to the train station.

Group shot at the station (courtesy of a nice stranger!)

The train left at 10.30, upon arriving in the ‘big smoke’ there was only one thing to do –

Photo op!

Take a picture! LOL! First port of call was the Architectural boat tour ticket desk, it took a while to walk to, but it was a nice day and it wasn’t an overly long walk.  I suggested we get a ticket for the 4.30pm tour, head to somewhere like Navy Pier to fill in the time so we weren’t just wasting time standing in a queue.

So, decision made, we  got tickets for the later boat tour and headed off to find Navy Pier.  Now, it’s worth noting here, that the last time I visited Chi-Town (somewhere in and around 2006), Amber and I got lost looking for Navy Pier.  I think it’s a right of passage or something…either that, or the Pier is just a frigger to find!

En route, we stopped for a (slightly extended) pit-stop in Gap as Louise needed to pick up a cardigan as she’d misplaced hers somewhere that morning.  After this pit-stop, I apparently ignored everyone who was pointing one way, and followed Neil who was pointing another (and, as it happens, the wrong way).

I didn’t hear people say, ‘there’s a sign for Navy Pier’, but Neil led the way and ended up taking us on a somewhat extensive detour.  Ho-hum!

Anyways, after getting lost yet again in Chicago, we finally hit Navy Pier!

ANI Group pic!

Nicky and I

After a quick and tasty lunch in Capi’s Italian restaurant, just at the entrance to the Pier (where we were served by a girl from Monaghan no less), we all split up and went our merry way, agreeing to meet back up at 3.15pm so we’d have enough time to haul-ass through the streets back to Trump Tower (where the boat was leaving from).

Nicky and I stuck together, we bought soap (and lip balm) from a handmade soap shop, we went to the shop I’d wanted to go back to for 5 years – the UVA shop, where I picked up another bag and a few other wee bits and bobs, we walked a little down the pier, took some pictures and met a really vocal gull!

He/She wouldn't shut the hell up!

I love this pic of Nicky 🙂

Sky line pic

Bustling pier

Brendan and Neil did the Pier in about 5 minutes flat and decided to go off and have a beer or two, the rest of us hung around until 3.40pm (waiting for the same missing group member as we’d been waiting for that morning).  We got to the boat tour with a little time to spare (the drinking boys only just made it), during our walk from Pier to boat, we saw a number of street performers – musicians, dancers, people painted silver from head to toe etc all trying to make a buck.

Our boat!

The boat tour was pretty interesting, it took us on a tour of the Chicago River.  Bits of it were a little dry, but it’s a great way to see the city and what it has to offer and hear all about it’s buildings etc.

Sears/Willis tower

Nicky and I on the boat tour

Love this picture!

Trump Tower

The boat tour lasted around 75 minutes, so, when we were done, we hung around deciding what to do and where to go…

(and taking more pictures!)

Noelle was freezing so I gave her my jacket

I think I'm laughing cause Neil is pointing one way and everyone else was saying to go the other!

We eventually decided that it was a good idea to walk to the House of Blues for a few drinks and go from there.

House of Blues

We ended up staying for dinner and having the craic…and some pretty tasty drinks!

Nicky and I with our drinks, blue Cadillac and Memphis lemonade - they were YUM!

This was inside the bathroom - INSANE decor!

The food was lovely, the drinks were good, the craic was flowing and in spite of the insane RUN (yes, run – and we all know I don’t run) through the city in order to catch the 8.30pm train back to the hotel – which we only JUST made.  It was a lovely afternoon – and was about to be followed by an almost all-nighter on the town, which, I’ll save for a separate post!

For now, meet the ANI team, a great, diverse, bubbly group of people, who I’m glad to have met on my trip!

What a great group of people!