We're stopping by Neda's sister's place in Milan to visit for the weekend! After six weeks of roaming around Italy, it'll be good to relax in the company of family. The map above is a pretty dramatic depiction of where the Italian Alps begin. Milan is sitting on some pretty flat real estate by comparison!
Sestre, sorelle, hermanas...
Mladen "The Kingpin", making deals and side-deals around the table
A favorite family past-time is playing board games together. Monopoly is the perfect game to demonstrate to youngsters that old age and treachery will always overcome youth and exuberance...
It was interesting seeing my piece go round the board, arriving on different properties; having to pay much $$$ if there was a hotel on it, paying a bit less to camp on the property if no buildings were present. Sometimes, Chance took hold and dealt me good fortune, and I found myself Free Parking. Other times bad luck befell me, and problems I encountered required $$$ to fix. A few times, I had some run-ins with the law and almost landed in jail. And for some strange reason, I kept rolling low numbers, so it took many turns to make it around the board even once. I watched as all the other players passed me like I was standing still. It felt like it took years to finish playing!
What a stupid game...
The Italian version of Monopoly is played with Euros. After traveling on the continent for so long, I couldn't stop converting everything to Canadian dollars in my head! Every time I landed on someone else's property, I kept thinking, "OMG it's so expensive here..."
It would have been less stressful if we could have played the Latin American version instead, where landing on "Park Place" will only cost you 20 pesos a night, maybe less if you slip him the dinero under the dining room table. Get Out Of Jail card? That's called a 50 peso note...
Taking Tea out for a spin!
We're told that the warm weather is very uncharacteristic for Northern Italy this time of year. My in-laws are winter-people and they look forward to skiing every season, so they're not too happy about this. Oh well! We like it just fine for motorcycling! :)
When we lived in Canada, we didn't get to see Goga, Mladen and Tea very often. Neda constantly worried that Tea would grow up and have no memories of her aunt and uncle. Video-conferencing via Skype really changed all of that, and Neda was very diligent in setting up regular chat sessions with her niece to give her English lessons, but more importantly to interact with her so she could build a relationship when Tea was young.
Now that we're in Europe, despite the circumstances that brought us here, we've seen so much of Tea. She's at an age where she is literally and visibly growing up in front of our eyes. And she's in such a rush too! Every time we see her, she gets on her tippy-toes to compare her height to mine. Sure Tea, pick on the shortest member of the family!
We spent the whole summer with her in Croatia and now Milan is only a few days ride from anywhere in the continent or just a €50 Ryanair plane ticket away. Neda is really happy to be so close to her family!
Goga entered a photo competition and we attended an awards ceremony where she won a prize for her picture! So proud of her!
I don't like celebrating my birthday at all, and every year I tell Neda not to mention it to anybody and not to organize anything in the hopes I can let the date slip by without any reminder that I'm growing older. I've never had a surprise birthday party in my life and this year is not going to be any different. Despite the schemes of my wife and my sister-in-law...
The fridge is the worst place to hide anything from me. When we had a kitchen, I would go to and from the fridge a million times a day like a pendulum. Most of the time, I don't even take anything out. I just open the door, stare inside and then close it again. My dad once told me to just take a picture of the inside, then tape it to the fridge door so I wouldn't have to keep opening it.
So on one of my trips to the fridge here, I found myself staring at a chocolate birthday cake. And written in dark brown icing: "Happy Birthday Gene".
With the fridge door still open, I glanced over at Neda, Goga, Mladen and Tea. They were all staring at me with their eyes and mouths wide open in shock. "NOOOOOOOOOOOO! BASTARDOOOOOH! You ruined the surprise!!!!"
Heh heh, not on my watch!
Does this cake look familiar?
It's an homage to the same chocolate cake that Mirjana made every single year for her daughters' birthday!
The next morning while we were all eating left-over birthday cake for breakfast, Mladen said to me, "That was pretty funny, you ruining our surprise party for you, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess", I replied.
"Well you know that MotoGP race you're downloading right now? Rossi wins."
"... whut... NOOOOOOO! BASTARDOOOOOOOOHHHHH!"
Old age and treachery overcomes exuberance yet again...
Chocolate cake makes the bitter taste of payback go down a bit better...
The goal of every good parent is to provide a stable environment for their child, filled with routine around homework, meal-times and sleep schedules.
The goal of every good aunt and uncle is the exact opposite...
Pillow fight!!! Okay Mladen, try getting your daughter to go to sleep now...