Wednesday, September 25, 2013

RV Life: Final Stop at Lake Geneva

This will be the final post about our RV Around Europe trip. (I think.)
After we left the Italian town of Savona, we headed North through Torino and on to Lake Geneva.
We ended up in Excenevex, France and camped for the night, along the lake.

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At the first sight of the Alps, we pulled into the next rest area to eat lunch and take in the view.

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Lake Geneva is stunning.

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The campground had an amazing pool, and we spent lots of time here and also swimming in the lake.

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Next we drove to Geneva, Switzerland, which in my opinion is one of the cleanest and classiest cities I’ve ever visited.  This was my third time here, and yet again, it didn’t disappoint.  I would not, I repeat, WOULD NOT be upset if Shawn was asked to do an expat assignment in Geneva.

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This is the Jet d’Eau, which is one of the largest fountains in the world.  We didn’t get to see it at night – all lit up – but I’ve heard it’s spectacular.

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From Geneva, it was time to head back to La-La-Luxembourg.  We left Geneva late in the afternoon and arrived home at one o’clock in the morning.  This family likes to squeeze every single last minute out of a vacation.  We carried the kids in, put them in their beds and Shawn and I spent the next three hours unloading and cleaning the RV because it had to be back in Frankfurt (a two hour drive from Luxembourg) the next morning at 10.
At 4:00 in the morning, we finally got into bed.
Shawn woke up at 6:30 and took the RV back.  We were all sad to see it go.

When he returned home, we spent the rest of the day like this:

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So.
Some final thoughts on THE BIG RV ADVENTURE AROUND EUROPE:
1. It’s a lota lota work.  The planning, the packing, the organizing, the grocery shopping.  I could go on, but it’s not the kind of trip that you can just set off on all willy-nilly. 
2.  It’s the perfect way to see a lot of places in one trip.  In fact, here’s a map of our route and all the places we stopped along the way. 

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3.  You must have a sense of humor to travel this way.  When you’re operating and maneuvering a 29 foot vehicle in and through foreign countries, something’s bound to go wrong or slow you down or cause you to darn near lose your fool head.
4.  It’s the perfect way to travel with kids.  Ya know, a lot of people thought we were kinda crazy for taking a nearly 5 month old baby in an RV, but I’ll tell you what – it was no big deal, a pleasure even, to take a baby on this kind of trip.  There was no hauling stuff into hotels, everything was right there and we could put him down for a nap or to bed and the rest of us were free to sit outside, watch TV (because it wasn’t that kind of camping, you understand) and play games while he slept.
Now.  That’s not to say that I didn’t over pack and bring every single baby gadget that we own.  Because I did.  I even brought along his swing.  And when there wasn’t enough floor space for it to swing wide and free, Shawn did some re-engineering and whathaveyou to make it fit into the small confines of the RV.  I wish I had a picture to show you, but since I don’t I can only tell you that the modifications he made to the My Little Lamb Platinum Edition Cradle ‘N Swing were neither what Fisher Price nor the good Lord intended.
5.  This was truly the trip of a lifetime.  I will never, for as long as I live, forget the memories we made in these 15 days.  Finley, of course, won’t remember a thing, but Hannah certainly will.  I hope she takes these precious memories with her into adulthood. 

Okay, I think that’s it for the RV posts.
I can’t end this without saying how much I appreciate Shawn for everything he did for this trip.  He took care of all the details and made everything so convenient and easy for me.  He thought of everything. No detail was overlooked, down to the special GPS that he ordered in which we entered the dimensions of the RV and it made sure to take us on routes where we’d fit and not tear the top of the vehicle off going under a bridge or something. 
Despite all the crazy things like the Italian guy trying to scam us for the equivalent of THIRTEEN AMERICAN DOLLARS, a man answering the door in his underwear, and the RV getting stuck on a narrow, windy road in Corsica, we laughed.  Oh, did we laugh.  And we made it back in one piece, under budget and with no insurance claims. 

I’d say it was a pretty successful vacation.
(And we’re planning to do it again next summer.) 

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

6 Months with Finley

Finley turned six months this week.
He gets sweeter and sweeter everyday.

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He still sleeps great at night and does decent most days for naps. 
They were going consistently well for a while, but some days, naps are a bust.
But I won’t complain because he rarely wakes up during the night.

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His 6 month doctor appointment was today and here are his stats:
Weight:  18 pounds 1 ounce
Length: 26 inches

We’re going to start introducing solids this weekend and I have a feeling this boy is going to LOVE it.
We’ve been exclusively breastfeeding until now and I think he’s ready for a bit more. 

Sometimes his big sister does stuff like this to him.

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But he still thinks she’s the greatest thing ever.

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Finley rolls and scoots all over the floor and his crib and is starting to sit unassisted, but plops forward before I can get a good picture.  He loves being held and cuddled, riding in his stroller, playing in the exersaucer, being worn in the baby wrap, and sitting in his Bumbo.  He’s not long for the Bumbo because his thighs are so chunky that I fear they’ll get stuck.
He also loves to shake toys and flaps his arms around when he gets excited about something.

Oh, and he’s discovered his voice and loves to squeal, talk and shout.

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Finley had his first swim two weeks ago during Hannah’s swimming lessons.  He looked beyond adorable in his little swimming trunks and LOVED splashing and having me glide him around in the water.  Since I was at the pool alone with the kids, I didn’t get a picture.  After swimming, he was, as the British say, knackered.   Naptime was NOT a bust that day!

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His eyes have remained blue and his hair red.
I think he’s soooo handsome.
(Of course, I’m biased.)

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For comparison, here’s Hannah at six months.
She was a tiny 14 pounds, but just as happy and smiley.
(Please excuse the font on her sign and the date in the corner of the photo.  In my defense, it was 2008 and I didn’t know any better.)

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Happy half birthday, Finn Man.

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You’re one cool dude.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Back to School

I wasn’t quite ready for it, but school started today.  As I’ve mentioned before, our school calendar here is a bit different than in the US.  We go mid-September until mid-July, with quite a few breaks in between. 

This is Hannah’s third year at the British school – Early Years (preschool), Reception (Pre-K) and today she started Year 1, which is similar to Kindergarten in the US.

(The chalkboard is from IKEA and has a dry erase board on the other side and a roll of craft paper under the little tray that can be pulled over for painting.  I’m not sure if IKEA in the US carries these, but, seriously.  Best euros ever spent.)

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She’s been looking forward to this day all summer.

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Mostly because in Year 1, you get to check out TWO books at a time from the school library.
She was pretty excited to show her friends her new haircut, her missing tooth and wear her new pink, sparkly shoes.

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Just like last year and the year before, Shawn took the morning off work to take her to school.
We toured her classroom, met her teacher and the teacher’s assistant, who happens to be a man.
Hannah calls him “the boy teacher.”   

When I picked her up at the end of the day she was all smiles.
“Year 1 is great!  I think I’ll come back tomorrow!” 

Her first two teachers have been British, but her teacher this year is Irish.
(And just lovely, by the way.)

If the last two years are indicators, Hannah will be saying “mind yerself, lads,” by the end of next week.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

36

This morning I woke up and told Shawn, “I guess it’s official.  I’m now closer to 40 than 30.”
Today I’m 36. (Even though I feel like I’m 23.)
Shawn was already dressed and about to leave for work when I heard the kids start to stir.
I fed Finley, made breakfast for Hannah, changed the sheets on all the beds and threw a load of laundry in the washing machine.

When you’re a mom, you’re still a mom.  Even when it’s your birthday.

We headed off to Hannah’s swimming lessons and while she was in class, Finley and I wandered around the pool and into the back of the building.
It is so important, my friends, to read the signs before you just go waltzing on into the sauna area of a European indoor pool.

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I won’t be making that mistake twice.

Later in the afternoon, we met up with a few friends at my favorite, albeit touristy café: The Chocolate House.  We had hot chocolate, which was perfect for this chilly, cloudy and rainy Luxembourg day and they spoiled me with flowers, candles and some of my favorite soaps and perfumes.
These girls have become like family to me and I love that they planned this special little celebration for me.  A few of my girls weren’t able to make it and they were missed. 
(We’ll catch up soon!)

Before leaving the city, we popped into a kitchen store and I bought myself a birthday gift: a potato peeler.  I know it sounds like an odd gift to buy for yourself, but the truth is that I lost mine and this week my need for a potato peeler was urgent because I accidentally bought 5 kilos of potatoes, which is TOTALLY NOT THE SAME as 5 pounds of potatoes, so you know, potato soup for everyone.

You might be wondering how or where one loses a potato peeler, and I have two theories.  1.  It got left in the RV, or, 2. It got thrown away with a sink full of potato and carrot peels in the days after the RV trip.  Either way, the peeler is gone. But the new one?  Oh, it’s lovely.  It’s smaller and lighter than my old one and has a much more ergonomic handle.  I’m about to put the hurt on 5 kilos of pommes de terres.

Anyway, when we returned home this afternoon, our mailbox and my inbox were filled with birthday wishes. Thank you, friends and family.
(And a really big thank you to my mom, aunt, grandma and Shawn’s mom and aunt for the gifts!)

Then I changed out the laundry and got dinner ready for Hannah.
Did I mention that you’re still a mom, even on your birthday? 

Shawn came home with a gift for me and dinner for the two of us and after the kids were fed, bathed, read to and tucked in, we had a quiet dinner in the living room. 
This weekend we’ve got a babysitter and we’re headed out for a dinner to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday.

So, I guess the first day of my 36th year can be summed up with the following:
a nudist sauna, hot chocolate, a potato peeler and time spent with friends and my sweet family.

Minus the nudist sauna, it was the perfect day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

13 Years

I’ve always thought that we picked a really great date for a wedding – 9/9/00.
Yesterday was 13 years since we said, “I do.”
We were so young and naïve and had no idea what we were getting into.

The next day we left for our honeymoon in Ocho Rios.

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We went to one of the island’s national parks where tourists climb up the waterfalls and wade around in the little lagoons.  They make you wear these ridiculous grippy shoes so you don’t slip.
We passed through a lagoon where you handed your camera (in our case it was waterproof and disposable) to a man who would take your picture.
(At the time we got married, I knew just one person who owned a digital camera and I’d never even heard of texting. The year 2000 really was a simpler technological time, my friends.)

Anyway, we stood in the lagoon and waited for the Rastafarian man to take our picture.
”Get down in da wata, mon,” he told us.
”Oh, I think we’ll just stand here because the water’s so cold,” I said.
He was about 6’7” with dreadlocks down to his waist and it’s possible that his biceps were the same size as my head.
”Get. Down. In. Da. Wata,” he instructed us, “NOW.”
As you can see, he didn’t have to tell us twice.

And here we are, 13 years to the day we said, “I do.”
We’ve been married for nearly double the US national average.  

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We’re still dorks.

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And also, we’ve multiplied.

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We had a little celebration on Saturday with some good friends at a restaurant called l’entracte, where we cooked meat and veggies on a hot stone right at our table and had a delicious fondue desert.  As most dinners in Europe go, it lasted nearly four hours but we were relaxed and the kids were having such a good time that we felt like we were just hanging out at home.  Shawn and I are planning a little date this weekend, just the two of us.

Marriage is a lot of work. 
And a good marriage is a lot of hard work.
But there’s no one with whom I’d rather work through stuff, argue and make up, press on, grieve, celebrate, challenge, laugh, raise kids, and brush my teeth next to every night.

Cheers to being young and naïve and not knowing what we were getting into.
And happy thirteen years to us.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

RV Life: Another Ferry, The South of France and Italy

After a wonderful six days in Corsica, we drove the RV onto another ferry and headed to Nice, France.  This time, the queuing and boarding process was orderly and actually made sense, although running two hours behind schedule.

They really cram vehicles in there, don’t they?

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We checked in and made it to our cabin, only to find that the bunk bed where Hannah was to sleep was folded into the wall and locked.  Shawn stepped into the hallway, flagged down one of the crew and asked if he’d unlock it for us.
He said that he would.
FOR TEN EUROS.
Now listen. Ten euros is equivalent to roughly thirteen American dollars and there was no way I was going to give him even ONE RED AMERICAN CENT to unlock and open a bunk bed in a cabin for which we’d already paid in full a month ago online and via credit card. 
When the young man held out his hand for the ten euros, Shawn gave me side eyes and it was all I could do to not laugh out loud because it was so obvious that what he was up to was just some old fashioned hoodwinking.  Since we weren’t falling for this bit, Shawn went to the reception desk, told them that we reserved a room that slept three (he left out the part about the ten euros because we were still in Corsica and remember, MAFIA) and we were told we could move to another room.  Because that would be easier than just unlocking and opening the bunk bed for us, right?
So Shawn went to the new room only to find that it was already occupied by another family.
And the dad opened the door in his underwear.  So that was like, you know, the jackpot.

In the meantime, another crew member came to the original room and when I asked, he unlocked and opened the bunk bed for me.  For free.  That’s zero Euros or American dollars.

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We were finally in business.
After all the shenanigans and a good sleep, we woke as the ferry approached the South of France.

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We disembarked, drove through Nice and headed up the coast.

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We didn’t stop until we came to a costal town in Italy called Savona.
We arrived at the campground and found the entrance to be quite small and Shawn was worried that we wouldn’t make it through.  At one point, there was less than an inch of clearance on either side of the RV, but we made it in.  We set up, changed into our suits and headed to the beach.

It was a pebble beach – not at all what we expected – and in a little cove so there were no waves.  But it was packed with Italians of all ages, sneaking in the last bit of summer before school starts.  We swam, relaxed, ate pizza and then headed back to the RV.

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The next morning we left for the final stop on our trip.

To be continued…