I've started compiling photos to make yearbooks for the kids. I plan to give them each a yearbook at Christmas this year with the activities we did over the year. Maximilien and Alixe absolutely love looking at photos of themselves. Seriously, if I want them to sit still for a little while I set up the slideshow on Flickr and I have peace and quiet while I make dinner. It's great. Tonight, I set up the slideshow to our summer vacation in Holland and Normandy.
This summer was the first summer vacation where we did not go to Belle Ile en Mer. Belle Ile is a small island off the coast of Brittany. If you find Quiberon on the map and go a little farther out you'll see Belle Ile. Julien has been going to this island with his family for over thirty years. When we started dating the first summer we spent together he took me to Belle Ile. It is a magical place. The island is sparsly inhabited though Julien's grandmother lived there permantly after her retirement. Photos of past trips to Belle Ile can be seen here and here and here. Last Christmas was Our last trip to Belle Ile. I absolutely love this place during "hors saison". You would think going to the ocean in the winter time wouldn't be very fun but it's an amazing place. The island is empty and it's isn't cold at all. We enjoyed the beach in a different way, wearing our boots and rain coats.
Belle Ile, December 2011.
Since we didn't go to Belle Ile we decided we wanted to do something different. We rented an RV or in French it is called a camping car and decided to drive north! It was fairly easy to procure said camping car and I have to say that I didn't pack very well for the trip. We ended up forgetting a lot of essential things and didn't realize it until we were nearly to Belgium.
The kids loved that we had such a big "car" for our trip. The novelty of the RV never wore off for them though Julien and I were pretty much done with the RV at the end of our two week vacation. Luckily, we had good weather and found fun camp grounds to stay at so we tried to spend as much time outside of the camping car as possible. I loved that we could drive up to any random beach and stay for the entire day. Nap times were repected and meals were prepared so easily. And I have to say it's pretty handy to have a bed in your vehicule in case you felt like laying down to nap while say driving to Holland. After driving across Belgium we drove right up through Holland to Amsterdam to get my new cargo bike. Julien surprised me with a lovely gathering of my friends for my 35th birthday. They surprised me with a generous gift of a cargo bike!
I had been obsessively looking for a new bike to replace our La Poste bike. Alixe had out grown the mini Bobike seat we were using and La Poste bike just wasn't strong enough to hold a grown adult and two heavy kids. La Poste bike was a good introduction to cargo bikes for me. It really got me back into cycling and I loved riding it to the post office to drop of orders from my online store.
I had found the perfect family bike for us. The company that makes my bike is called Workcycles and they are located in Amsterdam. The owner is an American named Henry. He was super helpful over email answering my questions about the Fr8 and how it would work for us in Paris. He had cycled in Paris many times so he knew the restrictions we could encounter biking the narrow streets. I had intially thought about getting a bakfiets or box bike but after test driving one and talking to Henry about it I knew the Fr8 was the perfect bike for us. This bike is exactly what I wanted even down to the tire color and the orange racks. Instead of Alixe riding up front, she has now moved to the back to a Quibbel bike seat. It's very comfortable and she really likes it. It's so comfortable that several times on long bike rides she would just go to sleep. Maximilien moved up to the front saddle. The way the Fr8 is balanced I don't feel his weight at all. It's really great considering he weighs 25 kilos.
Our trip to Holland was really fun. We parked the RV and took the bike everywhere. The camp ground we were staying at was about 11km outside of Amsterdam and right next to a huge forest. We spent the better half of a week exploring the forest and biking all around. We visited the goat farm in the middle of the Amsterdam Bos (a must see with kids) and spent an entire day there. The forest was full of neat things to explore like a random wading pool we found in the middle of nowhere and spectacular bike trails that ran the entire length of the forest.
I think one day we biked just over 40km, each Julien and I with a child on the back of the bike. Needless to say, we slept like babies at night. The kids loved biking. Alixe took naps on the bike as did Maximilien. When we were tired we would stop and rest. We'd find lovely place to eat and picnic in the forest. Nothing stopped us as we knew the bike would be our only way to get around. Even biking in the rain was an adventure... We were prepared for the weather though we were lucky and it only rained two days while we were in Holland.
The ease of biking around Holland was really amazing. I was pleasently surprised at how the pedestrians gave way to the cyclists. Also the infrastructure for the bicycles all over Holland is really exceptional. The Dutch attitude towards cycling is commendable. Biking around Paris I often wish Paris was more bike friendly. The infrastructure could easily be set into place in many areas of the city. I am lucky that in the 13th where we live there are many bike lanes. We use the bike everyday to get the kids to school and back since they go to school over by the tea house. Around the Place d'Italie there are clearly marked bike lanes that are set apart from the sidewalks but still the Parisians walk in the bike lanes like they are sidewalks. It's frustrating and then they feel they have the right to yell at me when I ring my bell because they are in my way. Don't even get my started on what they say to me when they see me riding with both kids on the bike. They look at me like I have two heads... actaully if you looked at us as we ride by we look like a three headed cyclist. :) Oh well... it won't keep me from biking everywhere I go. One thing is for sure, biking is cheaper than the gym and my legs are looking great.
It was nice looking back at our vacation photos and also seeing how much the kids had changed since August! Alixe is so much taller. I've had to lower the leg gaurds on her bike seat twice since we got the Fr8. She has such a funny personality and it was really great (and tiring) spending 24/7 with the kids on vacation. Maximilien has lost a tooth since these photos were taking and grown an inch. The clothes he wore on vacation are way too small for him now.
I think the yearbooks will be great for them because they willl be able to get q better grasp of time. Alixe is convinced that her birthday is tomorrow though it's the 1st of December. Maximilien is better at understanding the passage of time. But seeing these photos he told me tonight that this trip was "SOOOOOO long ago". :)
As you can see from our photos it was rather chilly on our vacation which suited us just fine considering how much biking we did everyday. One thing this vacation did for me was define my love for biking. It's a lovely lifestyle that I hope that we can continue to do everyday.
I'm finally starting to feel back to my tired self again. Jetlag was hard this time around. It didn't help that I had gastro twice in two weeks while on vacation. There is something about airplanes and me we just don't get along. It was a nice trip all the same. We spent the first leg of our trip landing in Philadelphia and then driving to to visit out friends in State College, PA. We met Ronica and Jeff while they were living in Paris while Jeff was working on his post doc. Ronica and I hit it off and Julien and Jeff became fast friends. We each continued on our paths along the way having kids at the same time. I wish that we lived closer but it's visit like this that remind us that the distance doesn't matter because we just pick right up where we left off. The kids had a wonderful time and I look forward to our next visit.
Remarkable how four year olds figure each other out fast. There were moments of Maximilien speaking in French to Rowan and she would respond in English without hesitation. She'd give Max a hard time about speaking French to her and I loved hearing my son make an effort to speak in English. It was hard for him to switch gears the first few days but by the time we were on our way to Washington DC he was almost speaking to us exclusively in English. They spent their days chasing each other, coloring, watching Dinosaur Train and messing up the entire house. Rowan was a very gracious guest letting Max play with all her toys. Max has already asked when we are going back to Rowan's house?
Only six months seperate Alixe and Anya. During our visit they followed each other around mostly parallel playing. They observed each other a lot and liked to play the same games. Not a lot of conversation between these two but they knew how to communicate with each other. I'd often find them looking at each other and though nothing was said they seemed to agree. Their favorite activity together? Pushing their babies in the strollers around the staircase.
Friday night we had a train to catch! I took Maximilien to Pontarlier to his grandfather's house. This was Max's second time taking the TGV. The first time he was 6 months old. This time around the excitement that max felt was almost physically tangible. I could feel the happy energy radiating off him as I picked him up from the centre de loisir last Friday. His excitement made him a handful for the assistants taking care of him that day. They said to me with perplexed looks as we were leaving that Max was difficile and that he didn't listen very well the entire day. I told them that he was going to take a TGV tonight to go see his "Grandpa" and that he's been excited the entire day. And just saying that made them all smile and say, Bah, Voila! They wished us a happy weekend and we were on our way.
We played on the train as we waited for it to depart from the platform. Max was on his knees looking out the window anxiously waiting for the train to move. He wanted to send a photo to his Daddy:
We explored the train and visited the snack car and picked up a few goodies to enjoy. After a while it was nearing Max's bedtime and he wanted to relax and watch Toy Story.
And before we knew it we had arrived in Dijon and we watched half the train empty out onto the busy platform.
About 20 minutes later we arrived in Dole Ville where we needed to change trains. Max was really excited to see the small local train that would take us to Pontarlier. Just by looking at it he knew it wouldn't go very fast because he said the front of the train was not pointed like the TGV. After boarding the train, Max asked for his dou dou and I asked him if he was tired. It was nearly 10pm. He looked at me and said, "Même pas tired, Mommy!". "Not even a little bit?", I asked.
Two minutes later he looked like this:
We arrived in Pontarlier. Still asleep, I unloaded our bags to my father-in-law and carried a soundly sleeping Max to the car. He woke up enough to grumble about being tired and then articulated himself in perfect French to his Grandpa. I love how he speaks PERFECT french when he's in the sleepy gray area between being awake and asleep.
We woke up the next day and had breakfast.
and played under the table.
And cuddled while watching Raiponce (Tangled) all the while enjoying a lazy Saturday morning.
We got dressed after lunch and then went out for a walk through centre ville Pontarlier in search of
Could a Saturday afternoon get any better than that?
Max was pleased as you can see! We came home and watched Raiponce once again. Ordered in pizza and tried to go to bed early (9pm this time!) because I had a train to catch at 7:58am the next morning. Max and I cuddled in together and we talked about how I was leaving tomorrow. He told me that was okay because he was going to have fun at Grandpa's house.
Before I knew it my alarm was ringing at 7am. Max got up with me but wanted to lay on the couch in the tv room and watch Raiponce yet again. Though he was half asleep and mostly sleeping than watching... I cuddled him and told him goodbye. It was time to go... He stood on the balcony on the upper floor and waved goodbye to me as we drove out of the courtyard. Not sure if he was crying or not, my father-in-law sent me this photo to reassure me that he was just fine when he got back from the train station:
He snapped a shot of me on the Swiss train that would take me to Frasne where I'd get my TGV back to Paris.
And in return I snapped a shot of my father-in-law the iphoneographer:
He was busy emailing me the photo he just took of me on the train!
All these old memories of traveling through europe on a shoestring and a euro rail pass flooded back to me. This early morning shot of the TGV coming into the station reminded me of many early morning trains my friends and I hopped heading south to our next destination.
I was too taken aback by the beauty of the French countryside to sleep on the train.
I had forgotten how much I loved traveling by train. But the prices of the tickets keeps us using our car to get places (and the convenience, of course). I no longer had that coveted 12-25 card, la douze vingt-cing! I won't be able to get a discount card again until I'm 60 years old! My father-in-law bragged that he'd be able to get one this year! I wonder if he'll use the train more now?
Back in Paris... I arrived at the Gare de Lyon and jumped on the metro line 14 four stops to Olympiades and back to our apt. I was home in time to feed Alixe and put her down for her nap. A bit difficult getting her down until I realized she wanted to sleep with me. Freshly showered, I hunkered down with my little girl and napped for hours before I had to wake us up to go work the afternoon to close at L'OisiveThé.
Here's Alixe giving me a bit of attitude as we strolled down out street. Not sure she agreed with me on leaving the apt again.
It's good to be back after a weekend of traveling. I feel energized yet tired at the same time. And I'd do it all again in a heart beat.