Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer Hike

So today we went on a hike that I have been wanting to do ever since I bought my first hiking guide for the Lac Leman region. It is a hike through the forest of Jussy, briefly crossing the border with France, and then returning to Switzerland and forests once more. I have to write this post now before the rose-coloured glasses of time kick in.

Ach! Bad idea. OK. We started with over an hour of tram and bus to get there. Not such a big deal especially since the boys love riding public transit. The problem was that we couldn't get started on the hike until after 11, and the sun was already high in the sky. I had tied David to me for the hike, and his chubby little arms and legs were about all you could see of the little guy. Unfortunately, that meant that while the wrap was covering his and my bodies and causing us both to sweat like animals, his little appendages were unprotected from the sun. I spent the entire hike trying to position my own sunhat to best provide coverage to the baby. I was terrified that I was going to give a 2 month old baby a sunburn. This leads to my third complaint. For a hike through forests, there was suprisingly little shade. The heat and the stress of protecting the baby did not give me much patience to deal with the final little point. The estimated time for the hike was 2.5 hours. After deducting time for lunch and nursing, we did the hike in 4.5 hours. Michael started off slow and only got slower. He started getting very needy half way through and wanted to hold my hand all the time. I tried very hard to be the good mom and help him along. I was hot and tired and had a fussy baby strapped to me that I was worried about getting too much sun and anchored to a slow-moving little boy when I really just wanted to run from shady retreat to shady retreat.

Okay, on the plus side. I finally got to do the hike I had been wanting to do for years. We were out of the house ALL day on a beautiful, if a little too hot, day. Lucas was suprisingly great. Sure he complained and kept asking "How much longer?" but he also kept walking and keeping up pretty mucht he whole day. The boys got lots of excercise. I got lots of excercise. Baby David has had his first hike and the wrap worked great. My back started to ache only near the end of having carried him for the better part of 7 hours (I did have a reprieve during lunch and Chris carried him for about an hour after that). I am positive that after a couple days have passed we will look fondly at all the photos we took (I will add some at a later date, once they are off the camera). I am sure by morning the boys will have changed from complaining about "How much longer?" to "When can we do another hike?"

I've already picked the next one I want to do...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I think too much

I think too much.

That's what my husband says. That's what my rather direct German friend Monica says. My waffling extends beyond leaving comments on blog posts and threatens to paralyze my entire decision making ability. In a Spring issue of Today's Parent I read an editor's column about overthinking activities when it comes to our kids. At the same time I had been mulling over whether or not to sign my boys up for summer camp. The editor had decided to quit trying to cajole her kids into cross country skiing. She just signed the whole family up and said that was that. So I filled in the registration form and got my kids in for one whole week of summer camp.

I was so worried. It runs from 8:20am to 5:15pm. The kids travel by bus to the location in a village outside of Geneva. I still don't know where exactly this location is! The program is in French. Michael still refuses to speak French and if his swimming lessons (in french) earlier this month are any indication, I have serious doubts about how much he comprehends. Lucas hates new things unless he is experiencing them from the safety of being firmly attached to the side of my leg.

On the other hand, this is CAMP. The location, wherever it may be, has a nice pool for the kids. It is in a forested area. There would be plenty of crafts, games, leisure time. It would be outside with no admonitions to stop yelling, running, jumping. It would be a low pressure environment to get Michael used to hearing French all day every day before he starts school full time this fall.

You can see how successful I was at reining in my need to overanalyze things! There was nothing to do but cross my fingers and hope for the best. Telling the boys about the camp Michael was instinctively excited, Lucas was instinctively against any such notion. I conquered Lucas by telling tales of the swimming pool and the availability of water wings (he has been obsessed with water wings). Michael skipped on our way to the drop off point. Lucas clung tightly to my arm. The time to board the bus came and amazingly there were no tears. In fact by the time the two had found a seat and were waving out the window they were both beaming.

Still, I was a nervous wreck the whole day. Are they having fun? Does Michael know what is going on? Will they eat anything (a hot!! lunch is provided)? At 5:15 we went to pick them up. "Mommy I LOVED camp" says Lucas on the way home. Phew. Michael concurs. Double phew.

Now I just wish I'd signed them up for 2 weeks...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rome - the long version

This is a long one! We have been wanting to go to Rome since before we arrived in Europe. It has been 4 years now and when I happened to see the EasyJet price I figured no time like the present. So I bought 4 tickets, one way, to Rome. No place to stay and no way to get back. I felt so spontaneous, so adventurous, so reckless. I booked a hotel the next day and our return tickets by train a week or so later.

We arrived at the Ciampono airport in the late afternoon and easily found a shuttle bus to take us to the main train station. Michael fell asleep during the 40 minute ride, but Chris, Lucas, and I were glued to the windows checking out all the sights. Our hotel was supposed to be right at the metro stop. Alas I foolishly concluded that the building numbers would be synchronized on both sides. As the number on the other side of the road was about 100 off from what we were looking for I thought perhaps we were off by one metro stop. We walked back only to realize that on the even-numbered side we had grossly missed our building (a military complex between the two stops precluded any interim building number information). Tired and frustrated we walked back to the original metro stop and found the hotel right at the metro exit across the street from where we had originally exited. Arghh!

We checked in and were pleasantly surprised by our 2-star quadruple. The room was very clean and massive when compared to the 3-star doubles we had in Paris and in Madrid. We got a recommendation of a nice, cheap place to eat close by and had pizza for dinner. We then strolled over to take a look at the Vatican under an impressive full-moon. The boys enjoyed running around St. Peter's square and made up games incorporating the many different patterns in the square's architecture. Geeks.

The next morning we went back to the Vatican intending to take the tour there since Lucas wanted to start with the Sistine chapel. A Japanese tour guide was taken with our boys and came over to chat with them. She told us that the pope would be giving some sort of reception and as a result the Vatican would be shut down around noon, it would be best to come back the next day. Luckily it also turned out that Lucas REALLY meant the colosseum when he said the Sistine chapel, a mistake that he still makes. Not sure what the origin or implication of that name substitution is.

Leaving the metro at the Colosseo stop is breathtaking. Leaving the modern confines of mass transit, before your eyes can adjust to the outside light, you are struck by this immense wonder of the ancient world. I guess we were pretty early as we were not assaulted on our way to the entrance by people hawking tours as we were every other time we tried to approach the Colosseum. Nonetheless as we paused at the entrance, making sure we were in the correct ticket line we were approached to join a tour. For this tour the kids were reasonably cooperative and were mostly quiet.

The tour continued after lunch at the forum. Over lunch, the intermittent rain and hail started to pick up. We bought a quick lunch to go and went to the rendez-vous point. After standing in the wind and rain for 10 minutes we were told there would be a 20 minute delay. For 10 minutes I had already been trying to cajole Lucas into a good mood, it was a lost cause now. We huddled under a colossal arch and munched on sandwiches and pastries while Lucas became a broken record of wanting to go back to the hotel (where the front desk had a beckoning candy dish). The tour started and the guide was fabulous, at least the bits that I heard. Chris and I took turns standing with Lucas several meters away so that the incessant whining wouldn't annoy any of the other tourists. After 40 minutes the tour was done and Lucas's mood change was almost instantaneous. Lucas and Michael enjoyed running around and playing "fight" game, a game that persisted the rest of the trip and to this day. The rain gave way to some pretty strong hail at one point, it was surreal being in the middle of these ancient Roman ruins, hail pelting down, and nary another tourist in sight (wimps). I kept trying to imagine what kind of crowds would have been pressing around us if we were there in the summer time. As we checked out the rest of the forum the boys had fun jumping between rocks while streams of rainwater ran down from the surrounding hills and collected into nice large puddles. Inevitably we had a fall. Michael fell in a huge puddle and soaked his pants. Trying to travel light I of course didn't have a change of clothes with us. We left the forum in search of either a café for some soul-warming hot chocolate or a children's clothing store for some leg-warming new pants. We found the hot chocolate first.
Next stop was the basilica of St. Clemente which was quite pretty in its own right, but had a special hidden secret. Down into the basement there were many early medieval wall paintings left over from the first basilica, burned to the ground by the nasty Normans. It felt very Angels and Demons-ish with all the little hidden rooms and corridors beneath the innocent looking sanctuary. Then we descended even further and there was the remains of a second century Mithraic temple.

We went off in search of some dinner. Apparently the restaurant we chose is well-known among the Japanese tourists as we were the only non-Japanese customers. After dinner (the boys had pizza again) we went back to the Colosseum to see it lit up at night. We walked, the boys ran, all the way around the perimeter. This time it was Lucas who tried to jump over a puddle and failed. The puddle was much deeper than it appeared and Lucas's only pair of footwear were completely soaked. Ugh. We went back to the hotel for the night.

We decided to stick with the tour company of the day before and joined their Vatican tour. First we inquired about the closest supermercato where we bought some lunch supplies and 2 bags of candy. Again it was a lot of waiting around for all the stragglers to arrive before the tour began (why are we always the losers who are on time, or even early??). Luckily it was sunny out and our meeting place had ample running room. The tour was to use a receiver and earphones so we didn't worry so much about the children's chatter, everyone had volume control if necessary. Michael took off his headset after a few short minutes. Lucas was off and on his and the tour guide was pretty careful with her descriptions to be more PG. The tour was great, but there were several sessions of standing around for 20 minutes of explanations that got tiring for the boys and for the pregnant lady. Thankfully the candies did the trick and with each hint of a whine, every start of boredom induced fooling around, another lollipop made an appearance. We made it through the whole 3 hour tour with not a single tantrum! The Sistine chapel was neat. I had read many reviews that it was a little disappointing so my expectations were a little lowered, and I did find it smaller than I anticipated. On the other hand, our tour guide did such an awesome job of telling us little things to look for that it felt very special.

We ate our packed lunch in St. Peter's square while the boys chased pigeons. We then made our way down the r
oad to the Castel Sant'Angleo. Originally a mausoleum for roman emporer Hadrian, also a fortress and finally a papal castle, it is a huge building. It was described as a good place for the kids to burn off some energy running up the wide ramps to the different levels. Michael enjoyed playing "king of the castle" and both boys were obsessed with play fighting for the duration of our time in there. Perhaps some of the aura of the history of the place was influencing them (disregarding the fact that they had been, were, and continue to play fight no matter where they are). We had a nice snack up there and then headed off across the Ponte Sant'Angelo in search of the Piazza Navona. Lucas began complaining that his legs hurt and we were worried that perhaps his little feet might be sore after a day of walking in those puddle-drenched shoes. He rested with Michael on a bench near one of the "funny" Bernini fountains while Chris and I inspected the sights. We next stopped briefly at the Pantheon before deciding to find a place to eat. As we were deep in the tourist section we accepted the first persistent invitation..... to a pizzeria of course.

We were seated next to a table of women on vacation from Britain. They were having a hoot and with mild coaxing from Chris, Lucas was soon at their table regaling them with stories. With only minor amounts of whining we were on the road again to stop at the Trevi fountain. The boys loved that. They loved mostly that we threw money into the fountain, something they have never before witnessed. Legend says that throwing money into the Trevi fountain ensures a return trip to Rome, so I call it an investment in my children's future. It also happens to be one of the big things the boys tell people about our trip, so it apparently made a big impression.

Our last day I planned to take the tram to the Villa Borghese, a nice big green space with lots of room for running around. Lucas had been wanting to take the tram since we arrived (he is a little transportation obsessed) and I thought it would be a nice way to start off the last day. Alas, this was the first day that instead of a tram it was an overcrowded bus, full of preteen students on some outing. We got to the park and had a little trouble navigating it, it was so huge. I was looking for either the Biopark (zoo) or the Ludoteque (children's space). Eventually we found the Ludoteque (closed until the afternoon) with a small playground. We let the kids play for a while before heading ba
ck to see some final sights in the downtown region. It was nice exploring without having to hold hands or worry about them toppling over some ancient artifacts for a while and we found a really cool statue of the devil and Faust behind the likeness of Goethe. We walked over to the Spanish steps and took a break in front of the fountain. I suspect the steps are more impressive when not viewed in the middle of winter. We then wandered over to the mausoleum of Augustus, closed for repairs, but kind of cool nonetheless. Lucas ran to see a fountain and managed to sink his foot into it. I don't know what it is about travel and kids getting soakers! We slowly (all of us were foot-sore by now) made our way over to the Altare della Patria, or the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, an ostentatious building of white marble as only the Italians could do. For his passion for European diplomacy strategy games, Chris needed a picture of himself in front of this pompous erection. We then made our way to the train station obscenely early for our night train, but we were all exhausted and finished with Rome.
Whenever we told people our intention to book two beds on the night train to share between the four of us the reaction was that it would be far too crowded for that. We were therefore pleasantly surprised by the amount of room in our little double (two single beds, no other passengers in our room). Lucas and Chris were up top and Michael and I snuggled into the bottom bunk. Until about 1am. I had heard Lucas coughing away and started to fear he was going to get sick. Sure enough he sat up and said he was going to barf. I quickly grabbed a plastic bag out of the trash while Chris quickly lowered Lucas to the floor and we completely contained an impressive amount of waste within the thankfully hole-less bag. We gave Lucas a chewable Gravol. To be on the safe side Lucas stayed down on the bottom bunk, but sleeping with the two boys, an overactive pregnancy bladder, and the fear of a repeat vomit performance kept me from getting much more sleep.
Rome was great, the train was an interesting experience and I would do it again. The boys were most impressed with the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain, and living at a hotel, the hotel candy dish gets an honourable mention.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rome, what a line of credit is for!

In this time of global economic crisis, is it irresponsible to finance family vacations on debt? Seriously, I want to know. When we came to Europe I planned to use our line of credit to do travel. This was long before any hint of sub-prime mortgages and the ensuing madness was in the public eye. Alas the move was $ignificantly more expen$ive than I thought and we maxed out the line of credit by the end of the first month. Chris and I are extremely frugal people and we have been consistently paying down that line of credit, only to blow it back up with each trip we take. This has made me feel uneasy. The line of credit was supposed to start at $0 and be payed down in between trips, not get maxed out first and then paid down enough to take the next trip. I reasoned however, that we are faced with a unique, relatively short-term opportunity living in Europe and that to sit here and do nothing would be more irresponsible. The lesser of two evils perhaps? That just happens to be the fun option too? My rationalization flies completely out the window though if one were to look at where we spent this money....the bulk of our vacation dollars the first 3 years had been spent traveling home to Canada. This is why I don't know when the next time we travel home will be. This is why we spent a bunch of borrowed money on our Swiss trip this summer, a french chalet this Christmas, and just now a 4-day trip to Rome. I think we are doing the right thing in a big-picture kind of way, but it does make me feel uneasy all the same. I really hope that in 20 years time when the boys are asking why everyone else has a nice RESP to go to university with that looking over these memories of our time here will still feel like it was all worth it.

Enough of my guilty conscience, next time I will post about what we actually DID in Rome!!!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The luge event

So, you all know that crazy olympic sport "The Luge"? Well that's what we all did this weekend. Sort of. In french "on fait de luge" instead of "one goes tobogganing". We hopped on the 2 hour train ride to Les Diablerets where there is a 7.2km (4.5mi) long Piste de luge. The recommended "sledge", available for rent at the top of the hill, is the precursor to the modern olympic luge: two metal bladed runners attached to a seat suspended 20cm (1/2ft) off the ground. The first excitement was the ski-lift up the mountain. Although they have been up countless gondolas (enclosed 4-6 person cabins), this was Lucas and Michael's first time on an open to the elements chairlift. We rose 560m (613ft) up the mountain. They LOVED it. Michael seemed so small, his feet barely hung over the edge of the seat. We then rented 2 sledges and the boys were fighting over the honour of who got to go down with mommy. I don't know why, since at 5 months pregnant I was not going to go very fast. Let's be honest here, even completely baby-free, I would be the much slower, more cautious driver down the mountain. Steering can be done by shifting your weight on the sledge for the more experienced, and for those without a 3-year old sitting in front of them. I, and most others on the piste, steered by dragging one, or the other, or both feet in the snow. It was really cool, really fun and we are all 4 (5?) of us dying to go again. There is a Youtube video of someone else's trip down the same run from last year if you want to take a peek.
*photo courtesy of Alexis92 on flickr