Friday, March 28, 2014

Paris

Did you know that March 20th was the International Day of Happiness? I didn't either, but apparently we chose a great day to go to the happiest place on earth. I'm not really a huge Disney person. Penny has no idea who most of the Disney characters are. She identifies Woody as "the cowboy," and all Disney princesses are "a princess". But we thought it would be a treat to spend a day at Disneyland Paris since we are so close. I am so glad we did it because it was one of my favorite days in Europe. We took the TGV (high speed rail) from Strasbourg to Disneyland, which took about 2 hours and had spectacular views of the French countryside. We spent the whole day outside and had this perfect gorgeous sunny day. It was easy, relaxed, and just fun. Plus, it was really refreshing to spend a whole day somewhere that was catered just to families and children.






Disneyland Paris was very "old school". You can tell it was built in the early 90s, and they haven't updated it at all. It felt a little like walking back in time. Plus, something about the French signage and French language in all these old school fairytale buildings was really special.

From Disneyland, we took the city train into Paris and spent 3 nights there. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, visited some playgrounds and parks, saw Notre Dame and the Louvre (from the outside only), ate lots of French delicacies, rode the metro, strolled the Champs Elysées, and had just enough down time.










I am kind of amazed by how much we've seen and done in 3 months, but I think we are all ready to head home in April. We will leave Strasbourg in mid-April and will be settling back in Omaha.

Monday, March 17, 2014

European travels

Oh my goodness have we done some serious traveling. Almost every weekend, we've gone to a new city or country. Some have just been day trips, and some we've stayed over. I have tons of pictures, but I will try to just hit a few highlights.

In early February, we visited Cologne and Freiburg, which are both in Germany. I have family in Cologne, so we spent the weekend. Freiburg was just a day trip.

Cologne: We spent most of the weekend hanging out with family and playing with the kids. We went to playgrounds, visited the Cologne cathedral, and played black light 3D minigolf.



Freiburg: strolled through the Saturday market, took a tram up the mountain and had cake at the top enjoying the view.






Love seeing the bond between my girls!

In late February, we spent a weekend in Montreux, Switzerland on Lake Geneva. Lake Geneva is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Maybe the most. We had perfect crisp and sunny weather. We walked 10 miles along the lake and toured Chillon castle, which is nestled right into the shoreline. We picnicked by the water, played on countless playgrounds, and the girls snuck in naps in the stroller/Ergo as needed. It was about the most perfect day imaginable. 







So far in March, we have done a day trip to Haut-Koenigsbourg castle and a weekend in London. Haut Koenigsbourg is a beautiful pink sandstone castle on a hill in France nestled amongst many vineyards. The views were brilliant.






And of course London was super fun. Two days is not nearly enough time for London, but we squeezed in what we could. I spent a month studying at Shakespeare's Globe in London in college, so it was fun to get back there and a little nostalgic. We did an open-top bus to take everything in quickly, took a little river boat, rode the London Eye ("that spinning wheel" according to P) and the tube, had a couple pints and fish & chips and strolled through St. James Park. We also had lunch at Chipotle, which was ahhmazing (I miss Chipotle so bad!!).





 
Definitely a whirlwind around here. Buses, trains, trams, cars, planes, boats. And no end in sight, as we are headed to Disneyland and Paris later this week and are making plans to head back to the US next month. I am so ready for some stability. Also, I just need to give a big fat shout out to babywearing. Our Ergos have gotten some fantastic mileage around here. We do have a stroller that also gets plenty of use, but man am I grateful to have babywearing as an option. The Ergo has been my carrier of choice here, and Josh's too.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pros and Cons

Spending this time in France is such a roller coaster. There are moments when I feel like I'm at the
complete end of my sanity and can't take another minute, and then there are moments when I'm struck by what a cool and unique experience this all is. I would say in the overall big picture, it is difficult, and I'm looking forward to going home in May, but there are definitely pros and cons along the way. I would also say that I hit a turning point about 3-4 weeks in. Before that point, I regretted coming here, but since then I'm glad we came. I will start with some positives.

Pros:
  • The bread. Every single block has some combination of bakery/pastry shop/chocolate shop with gorgeous and fresh bread and sweets. The going rate for a baguette is 0.95 Euro. That's like $1.20.
  • The wine. It really is that good. And again, super affordable.
  • The architecture. Just walking through Strasbourg or visiting any of the nearby villages is a breathtaking aesthetic experience.
  • The active lifestyle. Of course this is not unique to France, but living in a city and not driving, it feels good to walk everywhere and be outside for a good part of the day.
  • Travels. We are really taking advantage of being in Europe by taking lots of day trips, weekend trips, etc to try to enjoy the region and do some sightseeing. We have visited several cities in Germany, took a trip to Switzerland, and we have trips to Paris, London, western France, and Holland in the works. We will explore more of the Alsace area too, and we might even squeeze in a trip to Italy.
  • Speaking French. I really love this opportunity to improve and practice my French. I love language, and speaking French is such a treat, one that I am relishing. 
  • Diaper service! It has been really nice to have a break from washing diapers, and I love the fitteds they use here.
Cons:
  • Isolation. This has got to be the worst one. I feel incredibly lonely and isolated being in a foreign country without any friends and most of my time spent with a one and three-year old. I'm someone who really loves to connect with others and really, just...chat. And I don't have a lot of that here.
  • Lack of high chairs. Most places do not have them, even kid-friendly places.
  • Not family-friendly in general. Kids just seem to not be accepted here the same way they are in the US. Kids are not out in public or in shops much, and I get a lot of looks when I have my noisy children pretty much anywhere indoors.
  • Feeling like a foreigner–just navigating through the day can be difficult because customs are just different in different countries.
  • Difficulty communicating. How contradictory of me to list this as a con after I just mentioned how much I love to speak French. But you can love something while still not being good at it (ahem, my singing ability!). It is frustrating to be unable to find the words I want, but that is how I learn. Also, this gives me professional insight and perspective regarding people with communication disorders, since I am a speech therapist.
  • Lack of organized activities. I have always been the kind of stay-at-home-mom who schedules activities and thrives on an organized routine centered around being with other moms and kids and doing kid-centered activities (at least since Penny turned 1). Two days/week, we have something organized here, but the other days, we wing it. I do miss our classes and playgroups, preschool, etc. But I would say that I'm adjusting to the new normal fairly well. In a way, it has been a good bonding experience with the girls and a chance to slow down and enjoy each other. Although, Penny does ask me at least 3 times a week when she can go back to school.
That's all I can come up with for now. And I really hope this doesn't come across as ungrateful–I really do appreciate this opportunity, but it's also real life, and sometimes the reality of something doesn't match exactly with the expectation or the with the way you might imagine it to be.