Coco turned 6 (in July). You may remember that every year I do a birthday interview with the children. I got the idea from my friend Shari when we lived in PA. The idea is to ask them the same questions and see how their responses change over time. I think its fun just to look at how their growing up! I am a bit tired of hearing what kind of cereal they like- especially when we don’t eat much cereal, or what their favorite tv show is when we don’t watch tv, so I am thinking about changing things up. Especially as they get older, I think it would be more interesting to ask philosophical thought provoking questions, or maybe something about current affairs. Even though she still holds onto the position of youngest child with every bit of energy she can muster (notice the baby talk answers in the video), I am so excited that my youngest is getting older. Sure I miss the snuggles at nap time from my sweet 2 year old, but I love sending them off to school and finally having some silence in the house. I love to watch them learn new things and become more independent. I look back at the videos from years prior and while the answers haven’t changed dramatically the kids have grown up a lot. Enjoy the next 15 minutes, and if you have any interview question suggestions- please share!
One of my brothers who occasionally reads this blog tells me how he loves to see little insights into daily life in a small village in central Switzerland. Because we have been here two years now and it’s beginning to feel more like home, I sometimes forget how different it is to living in the United States. Today as I was walking back from a doctors appointment (difference #1), I stopped to admire the landscaping crew working effortlessly at the company located just 500 steps down the hill from my house. I often stop to greet them and practice my best swiss sounding German accent ( difference #2). I sometimes wonder if they can even hear me above all of the noise they’re making working away at the groundskeeping.
Personally, I enjoy the sound of the tinkling bells, wouldn’t you prefer a lawn mower that sounds like a wind-chime (difference #3)? And did you notice the little temporary fencing that they used to contain the crew? It’s portable and extremely flimsy but I think that the sheep aren’t trying to escape, the fence was secured by the boss to make sure the people don’t interrupt them while they’re working.
The best part is once they’re finished working at the end of the summer they’ll probably be eaten for dinner. My friends in landscaping back home can appreciate this difference (difference #4).
So I should have posted this two- yes T W O months ago (I’m a little behind on this here blog) but here it is for your viewing pleasure. The following video is not as riveting as some of the more entertaining ones we post, but it’s part of a tradition that will be a treasure for the future. It may be a good idea for your family to adopt. I ask the kids the same set of questions every year and someday it will be really interesting to see how it all turns out. As Axel is now entering the stage where acting cool is important, it seems like his reaction to the camera is a little more stiff, and lets face it my narration is pretty boring too. But for the grandparents and Axels friends it will be interesting. Pop some corn and kick back to enjoy 7 minutes of documentary film making.
The problem with waiting six months to post about your summer vacation is that many of the details are lost to memory. Thankfully I started a post in August, just after the first snow. I hope I haven’t left out any highlights…
AUG. 2014- “Snow on Sunday helped me come to terms with the sad fact that summer time in Switzerland is over. I mean it’s mid August after all. Back home people are complaining about the temperatures passing up 100F. I wish they’d trade places. I also realized that if I dont try and catch up on my summer I might not have lovely memories to go back and enjoy during the dark cold October winter. So I am back to work and cant wait to do some braging about the kids, the beach, and tell you about how spending nearly a month with my parents has me wanting to move next door- I couldnt be more suprised either.”
In the evenings or rainy days we stocked up on craft supplies and the kids spent their time doing old fashioned activities like learning to sew, making up puppet shows with their cousin, and mowing the lawn with a lawn mower. You might be thinking that lawn mowing isn’t so old fashioned but here in Switzerland there is very little space for personal landscaping. Most of that is likely done professionally and the few private lawns are often taken care of by robotic lawn mowers. They are fascinating to watch! Because we live in the land with extremely high labor cost, robotics are very popular. My children have no chance to learn to mow lawns for pocket money, unless they are at Grandpas.
Of Course we spent most of our time at the beach.
We made new friends, and played all day…
even when it rained.
We hung out at the beach with old friends,
and with cousins who met who came all the way from Arizona to see us at Grandpa’s house .
We had fun watching the air-show and fireworks at the Destin harbor on Rhonda’s new boat- Unforgettable!
And most importantly we visiting with family that wont be around forever.
Hello and Happy New Year. 2015 is looking good. I thought I would peek my head up and let you know that we are still alive and better than ever. Our 2 year anniversary since moving to Switzerland is sneaking up on us quickly, why just this week my husband Spartacus began the paper work to renew the annual permits. There is no end in sight, which of course is good and bad. I had 2 wonderful trips to the States the year and both times wished I was moving back, but then I returned home and felt content and happy here too. I realized ~ life is just good. Chronologically speaking I have a lot to catch up on~ for the sake of posterity of course:
- A few details about summer vacation.
- Tips for finding a flat in Switzerland.
- Moving to a new house and tips for successful moves in Switzerland.
- Cleaning a flat and passing inspections in Switzerland.
- The perfect Swiss Itinerary for a week in Lucerne.
- Nates wedding~ I have a new little sister.
- Southern California I love you.
- Gabes 10th Birthday interview
- Spanish Birthday Cake
- Munich at Christmas
- Christmas Vacation in our own back yard
Which brings us to Resolutions and starting a-new and all those wonderful things we strive for in the beginning of the New Year. Funny enough- last year I learned a lot about chilling out and watching TV at night- haha. This year I am cracking my but back into action (literally with my first Cross Fit class this morning. And man-oh-man how I am paying for that right now. Why doesn’t the pain show up on the scale with in hours, thats what I want to know! ). As usual I seem to struggle with balancing the should do’s with the want-to-do’s and the if-I-could-only-do’s against the must-do’s.
Monday I made 12 freezer meals to use on work-out mornings and German class mornings. I would post about it but there are so many people out there putting out better information. Maybe I will just accumulate the list I made and link the recipes etc. I do find that many of these freezer meals are too lacking in the crunch of fresh veggies so often find the ones that are truly the most time saving ready-to-eat-when-you-get-home- a little boring or unhealthy, I suppose I will be paring them with a lot of salads. I hope to get that taste v/s time thing figured out too. I have a month of meal planning done and now to keep up with posting for moxiblog plus my monthly commitments to livinginluzern.com, painting, church work, and there is the whole family needing my attention occasionally. I don’t know how other woman manage full time jobs too? And just in case anyone else is reading this, I want you to know that this last paragraph was mostly just for me to remind me, once-again, to work on balance and priorities. I am totally aware that everyone has busy lives and I so much admire others for all the hard work and good they do in the world.
My kids love visiting because there is always something to do and some one to do it with, and so it is a natural choice to spend your birthday here because its always a party!
There were classic sack races and bound-to-be-classic balloon-wedged-between-body-train game, we video taped wet washcloth relays where it was passed from foot-to-foot through teams of players. We laughed so hard the home movies are too shaky to share (and I have some pretty lame production skills as it is!).
Thanks to the nieces and nephews who did the decorating and organized games, all we had to do was order a cake. I called the bakery and asked for rainbows and princesses, it was everything Coco had dreamed of.
The best find was these cute Mooshka dolls that she picked out for her birthday. Have you seen these things? Are they all the rage back in the states? I LOVE THEM!
The party was held in the garden with sparklers and loads of cousins, so pretty much a perfect day.
Several of the cousins were at an unfair disadvantage during the games, having to compete while under heavy doses of Benadryl because they had contracted a bad case of poison ivy at the waterfalls on July 4th. I’m still counting my lucky stars we somehow avoided that! And do you see how cute the homemade crowns turned out?!
For a special treat we love to take the train (golden rail) through the mountain pass and into the little town of Interlocken Switzerland. Usually though we drive the short hour and are always spellbound by the views along the way.
It is easy to spend the day wandering the streets of Interlocken but from one of its two train stations you can get to many many enchanting villages in the surrounding area. Lauterbrunnen is arguably one of the most beautiful and often visited destination. Lauterbrunnen is situated in one of the most impressive trough valleys in the Alps, between gigantic rock faces and mountain peaks. With its 72 thundering waterfalls, secluded valleys, colourful alpine meadows, the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the biggest nature conservation areas in Switzerland. It is from here I recommend my visitors began discovering this region.
When you arrive in Lauterbrunnen via train or car you will see Staubbach Falls. I have never been to the top of the falls but I think there is a way to do it? It is beautiful to see from the bottom too!
Lauterbrunnen is a tiny village and with only one main street it is hard to get lost. You follow the paved road and the marked signs to Trümmelbach Falls for a day inside a cave waterfall. Bring a picnic and stop along the way.
TIP: If it’s hot bring plenty of drinks.There are lots of tourist in the area but unlike disney land Switzerland does not capitalize on every money-making opportunity for concessions.
The walk through the valley is a long and constant jaw-dropping view of the worlds most beautiful alpine Valley, perhaps one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
There are chalets dripping with geraniums at every turn.
Barns and cows and every Swiss cliche can be found in this enchanting little valley.
Along the way there are many mountain inns and even a cute campground. A friend of mine recommended it highly and it’s certainly a less expensive way to visit the region.
Be sure to stop at the grave yard and admire the swiss tradition of planting flower beds at the grave of ancestors (so much better than silk arrangements don’t you agree?).
Once at Trümmelbach Falls you will pay the entrance fee and make your way to the elevator up. Once you are lifted into the mountain you will still have plenty of stairs to climb so be prepared.
It is the perfect attraction for a hot day because the glacier water pouring through the falls is icy cold and the whole cave like area feels like it has air-conditioning!
“Being at Trummelback Falls has been one my life’s best travel moments. Words cannot describe the excitement to experience being inside a mountain and seeing 20,000 liters of water falling down per second.- Chitra Agarwal”
Photos do not come close to the real experience- it makes you aware of your insignificance compared to the power of nature. Impossible to explain – you must visit yourself!
Highlights of Lauterbrunnen Valley:
- Isenfluh – is one of the typical Swiss mountain villages and yet it is special. The access is via one of the few road loop tunnels and above the village the brows of Eiger, Mönch and Junfrau come into view.
- Trümmelbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen: one of the wildest glacier ravines in Europe with the ten waterfalls of the Trümmelbach hidden amongst the rocks.
- Staubbach Falls: on the edge of the village of Lauterbrunnen. The water plunges almost 300 metres from an overhanging cliff face. It was the inspiration for one of Goethe’s famous poems.
- Schilthorn: on the trail of James Bond. Visitors to the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant at 2970 m can enjoy the view of 40 mountain peaks and 20 glaciers.
- UNESCO world heritage themed trail in the depths of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the first themed trail in the Junggfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn world natural heritage site and devoted to waterfalls, alpine farming, power stations and mountain hotels.
- Kleine Scheidegg : impressive view of the north face of the Eiger and the four-thousand- metre peaks of the Jungfrau and Mönch. Also the starting point of the rack railway to the Jungfraujoch.
- Jungfraujoch (3454m): the Jungfrau railway has been plying its way through a 7-km-long tunnel to the ‘Top of Europe’, the ultimate excursion destination in the Bernese Oberland, since 1912
I just have to warn you now. I have just a few more things to say about Paris so I don’t forget.
1. Street entertainment
We love the street entertainment in Paris. You can always find really good performers at Pompidou Museum.
I thick they are actually organized and maybe licensed or something. There seems to be some organized rotation of acts…
not exactly an impromptu street performance… I digress.
Another great place to see free acts is the area around Notre Dame there is some renown gelato shops (We loved Berthillion and Pozzetto) in the neighborhood and this is a great spot to sit, and eat ice-cream.
On the Metro there are always someone playing music
So I am really proud of this one because we brought books in bag packs and then just found a lovely spot and sat in the sun and enjoyed an hour- A WHOLE HOUR of quite bliss. And there were tons of sales guys walking around trying to get people to buy little statues of the Eiffle tower. They circled and circled and asked EVERYONE EXCEPT US if we wanted to buy one. I am sure its because we looked like locals but if there was another reason than so-be-it, just remember if you want to avoid being hustled at the Eiffel Tower- than bring a bag of books and sit your little family in the grass and just read!
3. The boats at Luxembourg Garden- This is a no brainer, ever tourist and local in Paris comes here to watch people. I snapped a few shots of Street Fashion at the Park on the weekend. The kids pushed boats around for a half hour and I snapped shots of what the french (& tourist) are wearing. The days of high fashion on the streets seem to be gone, but here are my top picks.
1. I love the platform heels the wash on the jeans and mostly LOVE the layered necklaces and especially the tassel one!
2.The Bermudas, navy jacket with gold buttons, big navy bag and ballet flats.
3. A mix: bad top half and a really cute bottom half- I love the long socks and the chunky ankle boots.
4. I thought the short sleeved puffer paired with jeans was really cute!
Love all the classic separates sans-cartoon characters. Love the colored sneakers.
1. Love ruffles. 2. Love horizontal blue stripes. 3. So chic!
This lovely little french family was the epitome of classic french fashion! Navy leather shoes, and the barret! Oui!
The men in Paris were routinely stylish. 1. Horizontal stripes are a french classic.
2. This cute old man had on a tan suit and an overcoat so its hard to see how perfect he wears french casual.
3. The trick seems to be the classic sport coat paired with just about anything.
4. The Navy sport coat is a staple in Paris.
I captured this shot the next day at the market, I love his hat- and with feathers people! In Paris the men know how to accessorize!
I saw scarfs and hats and jackets and colored socks. I adore the sharply dressed old men.
4. Guided Tour- So I really love guided tours. I love learning hundreds of years worth of history in the place were it happened. Versailles was great but I could have done 30 more hours of history in 4 days… my traveling companions may not have been so eager. Paris is full of interesting things to learn about, last time we were there I did a fantastic tour of the Lourve, and next time maybe I will have time for more.
5. French Markets- The french just know their market culture. Everything about their markets scream ambiance.
We have a thing for fish at the markets, there are such fresh and beautiful varieties. I’ve never seen langoustines for sale in America they are delicious! Specked flounder, squid, sardines, snapper, octopus everything fresh from the ocean.
The charcuterie is delish, the meat all tied up beautifully makes me want to cook, the roasting meats made me want to eat and the pig tails and pig feet made me want to snap photos that prove every bit of the pig aint just for rednecks in south Alabama.
6. Food- gelato, pastries, fish tocos and great big burgers- the food in Paris is Delicious! Try to avoid places that have menus in book format with laminated pages (like Dennys or IHOP) and if they offer the menu in 3 or 4 languages thats a dead giveaway to try and find something… more intimate, more local. Look for chalkboard menus, recommended restaurants and big crowds of french people reading french papers and talking in french- those are probably good places to eat.
This is a little glimpse into the reality of traveling with kids. Most of the time it looks like this, which is fine and can even be fun if you are outside in a 2000 acre garden. Versailles was a good way to kill a day in Paris. Especially with beautiful weather touring the palace was not a temptation. Even if you do not know all the history or hire a guild to walk around and teach you about Versailles, anyone can enjoy wandering around, renting little row boats, or having lunch at a cafe in the gardens (which are surprisingly good and priced very average). Visiting the gardens are free, so just visit and enjoy it. Heres the main things to know about the gardens of Versailles:
Louis XIV/ Sun King
Since we had a guilded tour of Versaille I am now an expert. The statue just above is at the entrance before the golden gates. This dude is Louis the fourteenth. He inherited the thrown at the ripe ole age of FIVE and lived a long time~ 77 years. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest of any monarch of a major country in European history. He is the man responsible for the lavish palace and gardens of Versailles, the perfume industry in France and perhaps the beginning of the economic recession the eventually led to the French Revolution, quite a legacy. The most interesting thing I know about him is that he had only a handful of baths in his entire life, which probably explains the popularity of perfume.
At Versaille everything that glitters IS REAL GOLD. There is gold leaf on the entrance gates and embellishing the central palace. This kind of lavish spending became a bit of a problem for starving peasants. During the French Revolution the people tore down the gates (probably cashed in some gold) and for many years there were no gates at all. About 10 years ago France approved construction for replica gates that cost about 8 million dollars! France brings in more money in tourism than any other country in the world so pouring some of it back into popular attractions is a good idea.
Water Problems / fountains that are never on
Louis the 13th fancied him self the sun god apollo and so there are many beautiful sculptures sitting in pools of water. People say they are fountains depicting mythological scenes, especially showcasing the god Apollo. We never witnessed a single fountain turned on because they only turn them on a few times a week and I think you pay extra to see that, or click here to get the idea. At the time they were built the whole plumbing system what quite an engineering marvel, but even back then they never had enough water to activate them all at the same time. And the same pipes and infrastructure is still in place today.
French Garden Design/ Formal and Ordered
The Orangerie is my favorite part of the garden.
I love the patterned lawns but also I imagine when the citrus trees are blooming the walk through the garden must smell so sweet!
By the end of the day this is how we all felt.
TIP: Snacking my kids through a long hike or a long day of walking and listening is my best strategy. Sometimes I bring chewy candy that keeps their mouths busy but I also make an effort to pack healthy snacks like nuts and squeeze fruit. These applesauces had funny faces that kept the kids amused for days, but I like them because they are portable and easy to pack.
Heres a little video about our day at Versailles.
We just spent a 4 days in Paris (not long enough) and did it for about *450 Euro! We had a few days off work and school and thought that it would be a nice time of year to go to the Gardens of Versailles, Jardin des Plantes and the Eiffel Tower- believing that we would beat the crowds. And just in case you did not know- Paris is ALWAYS crowded. The Eiffel tower ALWAYS has really long lines!
There is nothing that I can tell you about visiting Paris, or visiting Paris with kids that has not already been written in a million places on the internet. But, I wanted to share some budget tips for how we managed a 4 day holiday to Paris for a family of 4 on less than 650 bucks! Even a cheap hotel in Paris will likely run you 200 bucks per night (probably more). We were not intentionally trying to stay with in a certain budget so If you wanted to spend less, I am sure it is possible. I will share what we did, and how we did not feel deprived or like we skimped.
- We did not eat in the best bistros – which I was a little sad about- but, to be honest, most of them do not start dinner service until 7:30 and this old lady hates to eat that late. Plus with two tired kiddos in tow, it just wouldn’t be a fun experience.
- We also didn’t go inside many of the museums($) because this time of year we wanted to visit the (free) gardens and enjoy the beautiful weather.
- We drove to Paris rather than flying or taking the train- this saves a lot of money and if you live across the atlantic your going to have a tough time with that one. Here is the breakdown on what we spent and where we spent it.
Total transportation to/from cost: about $204
First advantage was that we can drive. It was about 7 hours (4 hours too long) but we plowed through and saved $$$ on the train or flight. France will squeeze you for some expensive tolls but hey- somebody has to pay for the highways and it might as well be the people who use them. In the states we spend a lot of time complaining about gas prices, mostly because we have never made a decent public transportation system a priority, (yes I am on my soapbox) but the price of gas in Europe would have my dad throwing up. That’s why we bought a diesel car, and consequently we made it to Paris and back to Switzerland on two tanks of gas (still pricey but…).
Total accomidation cost: $0
So ya’ll have heard me sing this song before but accommodations are one of the most expensive cost of travel. We did another great home exchange and we were so lucky to be able to stay in Paris for free, but also to have the insiders tips on the neiborhood, on transportation, restaurants and kid friendly activities. If you live in New York City and want to swap for ANYWHERE you will not have a problem. If you live in Florida, you can almost always swap for Europe and will not have a problem. If you live in California you have a great chance of organizing a swap for Europe. If you have a home near the beach or a city of interest, you should be able to find a good exchange, especially if you are willing to “sell” you hometown and help your partner organize flights, and places of interest. Unfortunately many Europeans only know about Florida, California, and New York City, we probably have Holly Wood to thank for that.
We stayed in the 13th arrondissement which was not in-and-of-itself architecturally beautiful or rich with landmarks, but we could easily hop on the bus or metro and get anywhere. And we were still close to many of the places we wanted to go in the 14th, and the 5th, and 3rd arrondissement. In general Paris transportation system is excellent and it was easy to get around no matter where we were.
Total food cost: $ 251
SO the food is a good reason to go to Paris. Honestly 4 days is just not enough time to even begin a sample of what Paris has to offer. We certainly did not eat enough! We ate out at a good Viet-Thia restaurant that was close to the flat where we stayed for our first meal and we followed Anthony Bordains recommendation for Mexican at California Cantina ~ some good fish tacos and carnitas! And y’all maybe asking why you’d go to Paris and eat mexican but we just can’t get good Mexican in Switzerland so we jumped on the chance to eat it in Paris. And that’s the thing about Paris, and other big cities, you can get great ethnic food from all over the world. We managed to visit 2 of Paris’s top rated Gelaterias, and they did not disappoint! We bought groceries and made visits to the boulangerie across the street for fresh croissants in the morning. While browsing the market for fun we would pick up lunch and ate really well, and inexpensively compared to sitting down at a restaurant. Of course I know that there are some to-dye-for french restaurants that I am sure would have been a luxury worth enjoying, but for this trip were were just trying to give the kids a taste of paris- and fancy restaurants were not in order. It didn’t feel like we were trying to budget but, when you are traveling with kids, the idea of sitting in fancy french Bistros with tired whiney children waiting for-ever for escargot, just does not hold the same appeal as it once did when there were just the two of us. Consequently we ate dinner at home at night and fell into bed exhausted. And fortuitously, it saved us some money.
Total admission and entertainment cost: $90
One of the smartest thing we did was a guilded tour of the Gardens of Versailles. The kids were free but adults were $81 which included train fare to the Palace. The tour guild did an awesome job of giving us History and explaining the monuments and fountains and information about the French Aristocracy and their downfall during the Revolution. It was one of our favorite parts of the trip.
A favorite for the kids was boat rental at Luxembourg Gardens. For $4 you can rent a little sailboat that floats from one side of the fountain to the other with the help of long sticks the kids use to give them a push in the opposite direction. The sun was shinning until about 10:30 at night so even though we were at the gardens in the evening 6:00-7:00 ish, there were still people everywhere relaxing in the sun.
Thanks for your Homeexchange.com host we were able to get the “locals” deal on parking at an extra space in a neighboring building for the length of our stay.
Public transportation for the entire trip:$ 36
We used the buses and metro and as I mentioned above we were able to easily navigate the whole city. The metro and bus tickets are reasonably priced, but if we had figured it out sooner we might have saved a little money of 3 day passes. 4 days for $36 in Paris aint bad.
*Technically we left on a Wednesday evening and spent the night in a glorified family hostel for $46 about an hour from Paris. I did not count it in the numbers above because we only did that to get a head start and could have done the trip for the same amount with a well coordinated home exchange. In our case we were lucky to find someone to do a non-simultaneous exchange on such short notice and they were not leaving until Thursday- plus arriving before they left gave us time to meet them and chat and get loads of great tips- instead of just leaving keys behind. The people you meet is my favorite part of Home Exchanging!