Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Another Birthday in the House

   I don't remember what I did for my 13th birthday. It was probably a big deal to me, becoming a teenager, a turning point in adolescence. For my eldest child, this happened yesterday. We spent part of the day in Toulon, a city I have talked about with admiration. Even though the winds were blowing like mad, the sky couldn't have been bluer. Our birthday shopping trip was unsuccessful but we had a little sushi, took a stroll through the old town to the port then headed home to finish a birthday cake to share with our neighbors, our ritual birthday celebration during our year in France.
   Most new teens would probably choose to spend the day with fellow adolescents at the mall, movie theater or a sleepover with loud music and no sleep. Oldest Child did not have a choice and pulled it off with grace.
  Our year abroad has been socially painful for this girl though I hope she will look back on our time here and have positive memories. She is counting down the days until our departure. I know she will miss the wonderful friends we have made of our neighbors and it will sadden her to bid farewell when the day comes. It brings tears to my eyes having to think of this day, which is creeping up on us too quickly.
   But wait, here is what we did to celebrate my first child's entry into teen-hood.
lunch at a favorite restaurant for moules and pizza...
And du glace, of course. 
Oldest Child on her 13th birthday. Bon Anniversaire, Ma Fille!

A Rainy Saturday

We had a rainy Saturday last weekend. I think you know how I feel about that. Especially after a couple of weeks of extraordinary weather, being cooped up and cold really cramps my style. Here is what my household did ALL DAY LONG! My children think this makes for a wonderful day while I, on the other hand, go stir crazy. Thankfully, the following day was full of sunshine....and the dreaded Mistral! This s a gale force wind that in unrelenting for a couple of days. It blows all night long, rattling windows and nerves alike. The upside is it blows away all haze producing a brilliant blue sky.
Middle Child made Rainbow Loom animals 
Youngest Child watched movies with Tuc crackers(a French favorite) and all his inanimate friends
And Oldest Child stayed in bed until mid-day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Pretty Spring Walk

   There is a lovely valley close to Salernes with a pretty walk along a creek into a shady canyon with caves to explore, ending at a tiny waterfall. Of course, there is a chapel perched atop a hill above the valley.  I can only imagine pilgrimages from town up to this pretty spot built in the 1500's.
   We have been here several times and there are usually other families picnic-ing, walking and playing soccer in the open field at the entrance to the canyon. Youngest Child was intent on catching one of the many rather large bullfrogs swimming in the shallow pond. This is one of the peaceful places I will miss.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Quick Trip Across the Border, Again!

   We took a quick trip to Italy last weekend. I love that I can say that! My brother left here to tour around of Tuscany so we decided to meet him in a beautiful city called Lucca for more cousin time and group adventuring.
   We landed in Rapallo, a seaside town south of Genoa our first night. It was dark upon arrival so we found a good meal and a wander followed by bed, but woke to a stunning view of the harbor and sea. It was a Thursday and an enormous market was taking place with thousands of booths, unfortunately only selling clothes. We wandered the docks and enjoyed the sea air as we always do.
   Onward to Pisa- yup, the leaning tower. It was among the most unattractive cities we have been to, but we got the obligatory photos and promptly got out of there. Lucca was a short drive and the opposite of Pisa. An ancient walled in city, Lucca is full of history and charm. We met my brother at our rented apartment and settled in for a few days. I arranged a private tour in Florence the next day so an early morning train ride into the city was easy and our wonderful guide met us, whisking us off to the main sites of Florence with an abundance of well articulated information. She engaged the kids too, and with a guide, there is no getting lost. It was money well spent. Oldest Child has been studying the Renaissance so it was perfect timing for her to relate her lessons with Florence.
   As usual, I had to find the best food possible, so we were sent to a small gelateria where they make small batches of delicious gelato each morning, using the best ingredients. It was a treat and a big difference from the hundreds of other stalls selling mountains of gelato made with artificial ingredients.
   We rented bikes one day and rode around the top of the city walls where there is a wide path for walking, biking, dogs, kids and all things outdoors. It was a good reprieve for the kids from touring. Perpetually in search of good food, I searched for a store to buy fresh pasta for dinner. It was not easy-clearly everyone has a pasta machine and makes there own. But, I found a place and it was wonderful. The woman has a few different kinds of ravioli and tortellini and a variety of other shapes along with gnocchi. I chose my shape and she went behind a curtain and cut the pasta to order with a giant machine, much like the home versions but electric and large.
   We left lovely Lucca and headed to Vernazza, one of the Cinque Terre towns. These villages hang on the coast, are tiny and hard to get to by car. We took a train in and enjoyed the spectacular views and yes, more sea air. I was determined to have a delicious seafood lunch, but was talked out of it for various reasons. The town is tiny, but I glanced at a take-out menu posted on a wall, and ordered a papercone filled with fritto misto- a mix of delicately fried shrimp, calimari, anchovies and cod. It was delicious and just as satisfying as a fine dining experience would have been. Once again, I found "THE" gelato place in town and I think it was even better than the Florence place. The gelato chef made flavors like Sri Lankan cinnamon, Mandarine orange, and the most wonderful crema. It was the perfect ending to our last Italian visit(probably). We bid farewell to family who were fortunate to have a couple more days in the Cinque Terre, hopped on our train and drove back to sunny France where the weather is perfect, luckily, because leaving family is always tough. Arrivaderci!
View from our hotel in Rapallo 
Obligatory photo
Florence gelato
Tough choice
Picking pasta is just as hard for me as picking gelato. 
Wishing I could have gotten some of everything. 
Delicious filled pastas
Top of old tower in Vernazza, Cinque Terre.
once again, tough choice

Perfect sight before leaving this wonderful country- we like Italy.


Monday, March 17, 2014

To the Bathroom We Must Go

   Another thoroughly entertaining aspect of traveling is finding restrooms. Okay, with three children, it is not always entertaining, it can be downright irritating, especially when it happens every hour or so. But as a necessary life function and no option to ignore it, we need to know where to find the VC everywhere we go. Yes, in France it is a VC, not WC- I don't know why.
   Public toilets have run the gamut of cleanliness. We have been in some portapotties that are automatically disinfected after each use by some robot that is activated after you exit. Some bathrooms have attendants collecting upwards of 1E for each pee- and some of these have been without paper, seats or any sense of cleanliness whatsoever. e considered our Euro a donation to the attendant to buy a good lunch. More often than not, public restrooms are okay.
   For me, the signage is amusing and often, creative. Here are a few of our favorites.
serious fine for not cleaning up after your pooch


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Le Printemps

   I love being able to say this....We are off for another quick trip to Italy! We will be stopping for the night along the Italian Riviera, in a small town called Rapallo. It is very close to Portofino and the Cinque Terre. The next day we will rendez-vous with my brother and his family for some Tuscan touring. The weather report is good, we even through bathingsuits into the car-just in case someone is brave enough to dunk in the sea.
   We will be leaving equally beautiful weather in the south of France, where all kinds of spring are popping up. A bientot!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cousin Time

   The fabulous weather continues. We have been lucky to have family visiting for their spring break which coincided with the end of my kids' winter break. French village school takes another 2 weeks off for Easter. Together, we did some local touring to some of our favorite places and were invited to a Sunday luncheon which was great fun. The sun shone bright, the table was set under a grape arbor(no, it has not come out of dormancy yet) and around it sat an assortment of entertaining people sharing delicious food at this remote farmhouse surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and peace. It was one of those long, lazy Sunday afternoons that I have allowed myself to savor.
   Tomorrow, we will head south again to meet up with my brother for a spontaneous visit to the Tuscan region of Italy. I am looking forward to eating alot. Oldest Child just started a section of her home-school history of the Italy Renaissance so she can give us a brief lesson on our daily explorations. I detested history at her age. Her experience right now is similar, but as I read her textbook I find it fascinating, especially since we are living in the midst of much of it here in France.
   As we continue the beginning stages of our return to the USA, I have mixed feelings- some of sadness for leaving new friends, much for the end of the sense of freedom to explore, to pick up and go to Italy or Spain, but also relief to know there is support and friendship to return to. We all miss our family and friends whom we trust, love and lean on during difficult times, and also share laughter, smiles and contentment with on a daily basis. Our year abroad has required us to depend on one another which ultimately has brought us closer as not everyday is easy yet we require some sort of attention to help one another through feelings of isolation. We are all better for it. We have all grown stronger, grown together and all benefited from our grand adventure.

In Moustiers St. Marie
After walking up to the chapel on the hill next to the sign(can you see it?) everyone wanted a treat, but stores are still closed up in many small towns around here.
Wandering the streets of Moustiers, popular for its handmade Faience ceramics
Popular item at many markets in southern France
Our festive Sunday lunch

Cousin time 


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Springtime Anyone?

   The weather is glorious, stupendous, exhilierating! I was down to a t-shirt while the bulk of the kids jumped in the pool yesterday. Not just once, but repeatedly, so it must not have been numbing cold.
   I have to admit, I suffered from some winter blues this year. It was never very cold here, just grey with alot of rain. Occupying myself during these dreary days was difficult. Wood was so wet that burning fires was a serious chore, taking far more time and frustration than I was wanting to expend. I could not go very far, as I still had to take kids to school, assist with Oldest Child's homeschooling, and pick kids up at hte end of the day. The past few days have put all that lousy winter weather behind me and I am elated.
   The kids have a few more days off of school. Remember, they have 2 weeks off every 6 weeks. That is how we take so many voyages- we take extra, too, since they are not learning anything at school anyway. In case you are wondering, yes, we do English work at home so they are not too far behind upon our return to the States. Of course, the knowledge from our adventure is invaluable, too.
   We were in town earlier today and Oldest Child and I both commented simaltaniously how different town looked with the sun shining. (it can be a bit gloomy in the winter) We went by our favorite patisserie for some treats- one of which are giant meringues- a treat my kids adore. It doesn't take much to make a nice lunch al fresco on days like this.
   My gang is also very excited to have my brother and his family arriving for a few days. Some good cousin time is long overdue and they are coming for this phenominal weather. Lucky them!
Pockets of spring color 
Wild Fennel coming back- can you see it? The frilly greens hiding in the center.
Our French Mascots- the winter weathered them some slightly, but they were put out to pasture this sunny day.
Enough to make us happy today.