Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Taste of Disappointment

My gelato dreams are going to have to keep waiting to be fulfilled, and I am so bummed. I bought an Italian Ice Cream cookbook while we were in Milan, and though the gelato was by far my favorite food on our whole trip, I've spent the last few days playing around with some other recipes. I've made crepes, a lemon tart (tarte au citron, to make it sound all frenchy), and not-quite-Angelina's hot chocolate. Finally, though, I decided that today was going to be gelato day.

I went to the store last night with a migraine in order to buy whole milk, more cream (in case I ran out, I already had a quart), and some chocolate. I put the ice cream maker in the freezer, made sure there were some nice ripe bananas available, and went to bed. Right after breakfast, I got out my ingredients, blended the sugar and bananas and milk and cream, then poured it into the ice cream maker. Thirty minutes until nice, soft gelato!

And then I went to put the lid on. I had to attach the paddle to the motor, and the little plastic piece that connects the two was gone. I spent a whole minute looking at the two pieces, wondering if I was wrong in thinking there was another piece needed. Yep, I needed another piece, I couldn't convince myself otherwise. And I knew that there was no way I had that piece anymore. Gelato was a no-go.

It didn't stop me from looking, though. I searched the cupboard where the ice cream maker lives, but it wasn't there. I searched the tupperware cupboard, and the one that holds all of my baking things. I looked in the messy drawer, thinking that at some point Ryan or I would have found this skinny white plastic thing and said to the other, "Hey, what's this go to?" And the other would reply, "I have no idea, but it must be important. Put it in the messy drawer." It wasn't in the messy drawer.

I looked with the pots and pans, the cookbooks, the random extra bakeware cupboard. Man, I have a lot of cupboards in this kitchen! Plenty of space to keep one extra little white piece, surely. But it wasn't in any of those places.

Then I replayed the hypothetical conversation in my head again: "Hey, what's this go to?" "I have no idea, but we haven't missed it until now, so just toss it." Ryan is a purger, if something hasn't been used in a month he's ready to throw it away. Sometimes only a week. Occasionally, he'll want to trash it the moment I set it down. He's some kind of crazy kitchen-gadget ascetic. If he had been the one to find it, he might not have even asked the question.

But I couldn't stop looking because I could picture the white plastic thingy every place I thought of. Wait a second, didn't I see that once in the freezer? Or maybe it was in the bathroom closet! No, I'm sure it ended up with the kids' toys. If I just look in the empty flower pot on the shelf over the sink, or in the cup where we keep the pens, or behind the phone books. It's got to be one of those places, I can see it in my mind sitting there right next to the microwave!

The mental mirages were making me crazy, and I finally had to admit defeat. It's gone and I now have several currently worthless pieces of a once-promising ice cream maker. I also have a bowl full of banana gelato mixture in my fridge, wishing it could become a smooth, tasty dessert. Poor gelato, I had such high hopes for you. Now you are going to go the way of all leftovers, rotting in a tupperware, getting shoved futher back behind all the edible food, being stacked with other containers until one day when I need a bowl that size and remember our failed gelato experiment.

There will be other foods for me to try, but nothing I wanted quite so much as gelato. I was so close that I could almost taste the fresh banana flavor mixed with the rich creaminess of the ice cream. But now, all I can taste is disappointment.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Introducing Baby Anna!

Finally, I am an aunt!! My first ever niece was born on June 26th to my brother Drew and his wife Kim. Her name is Anna Kimberly Mudgett and of course I've only got two pictures to go by, but I think she's by far the cutest Mudgett we've ever seen. Drew and Kim live in England now, near my parents, and I'm bummed that I missed seeing Anna by only 4 days. But Kim's due date wasn't until July sometime, so I wasn't going to hang around for weeks on end - after all, a watched baby never pops.

I'm excited to be an aunt, and the kids are excited to finally have a cousin. Having a cousin is a big deal around here, because all of their friends have cousins that they play with and when the cousins are over, my kids are shunted to the cousin-less sidelines. Granted, a cousin who is 11 years younger than my oldest child probably isn't going to do much to alleviate the cousin-free weekends, but Darcey is only 1 year older than Anna. If we can ever manage to live in the same time zone, let alone the same continent, maybe the two of them will be friends. Fortunately, my kids are used to having family living far away and only seeing them once a year, so my guess is they'll love their cousin anyhow. After all, she's the only one they've got.

Parisian Death Virus

The virus that I picked up in Paris is turning out to be powerful enough that some government entity is going to have to name it. As of last night, it has taken out 7 of the 9 people on our trip, and the numbers continue to grow. Maybe this is the bioterrorism that America has always feared. I'm calling it the Parisian Death Virus.

I first caught the virus on Thursday the 19th, when I went to bed feeling slightly under the weather. Then on Friday I completely fell apart, and my brother Tim started feeling sick also. I rebounded on Saturday while Tim had his worst day of it. On Sunday Darcey and my dad both started making some "I'm sick" noises and I was carrying a roll of toilet paper in the stroller for Darcey's and my runny noses.

Things didn't get better once we left Paris, either. Monday was Darcey's worst day, having a fever on our flight home and spent most of the flight quiet and still. I wasn't complaining. Tuesday apparently the P.D.V. hit my mom, and she stayed in bed all day, which is saying a lot because she rarely gets sick. And when she does get sick, she rarely lets it interrupt her life. She is the epitome of the "suck it up" mentality.

Yesterday was Thursday, and Ryan woke up with a scratchy throat. Darcey seemed to be doing better especially since her sleep schedule is pretty much normal. My P.D.V. is lingering - my sinuses still hurt randomly and I've got a headache that pretty much won't go away. Brad seemed a little congested, but not bad at all, and Noah has been grouchy from lack of sleep, but that's not contagious. It looked like the Parisian Death Virus was running out of steam.

Until 1:00 this morning, that is, when Zack woke up with the worst case of croup I've ever heard. He had the typical barking cough that sounds like the geese we saw around our campsite in Paris, but worse than I've ever heard it. He couldn't catch his breath and he was screaming that he couldn't breathe. You could see the panic in his eyes because every breath that he attempted to suck it was so hard to get. If he hadn't had croup before, I think I might have called 911 because the noises he was making were so scary.

As it was, the fact that he was having such a hard time breathing made me take him to the emergency room. This seemed to serious to try to fix with a humidifier or a steamy shower, he was scaring me. Plus, the best treatment for croup is to go outside in the cool air, but that's because croup is usually in the winter, not in June when the temperature is 95 all day.

I feel so grateful to have access to competent medical care. We got to the ER at Orem Community Hospital and they got him in right away. By then he had calmed down and while his breathing was still very loud, he was getting plenty of oxygen. They ended up giving him steroids and a breathing treatment, and by 3:30 we were on our way home. We got some kind of hang-up call at 4:30, which resulted in Ryan lunging across the bed to try to answer the phone, thinking it was me calling with information, not realizing that I was the giant obstacle in bed that he was lunging into. It is actually a pretty funny picture when it's not 4:30 in the morning.

Zack is fine now, fortunately, and I only have to worry that Darcey will end up with croup also, since she is the only one who it would affect so negatively. (The rest of us have tracheas that are wide enough not to cut off our airflow if swollen.) I'm tired, from being awake for so long in the middle of the night and the relentless illness that I'm sure is hanging on so long because I'm so sleep deprived. I wonder what jet lag would be like if there wasn't the addition of the Parisian Death Virus. Hopefully, we'll survive so that we can travel again and find out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I am so tired right now that I think I will never be able to sleep enough to feel awake again. I spent some time on the various planes writing blog entries in a notepad, so I've got them for some day in the future when I can type them up, but it isn't going to be tonight.

Here's a brief rundown of the last 48ish hours:

8:30 am - left our eurocamp and headed to the airport

12:15 pm - got on the airplane without getting one last croissant. sad.

12:55 pm-4:15 pm - 10 hour flight from Paris to Houston, Texas. Kids were great, Darcey slept for a while, she's very calm. Turns out, it's because she has a fever. But at least she's calm.

4:45 pm - We get sidetracked into an extra security screening because Ryan mentioned we had brought an apple in our carry-on bag.

5:50 pm - Our flight is supposed to leave in 15 minutes, but the plane isn't there yet. I am called up to the desk and offered a deal to take a later flight because the plane's overbooked. He offers a hotel room, meal vouchers, and $200 per person. I ask for 2 rooms and $300. He counters with $250, and I take the deal.

6:30 pm - The ticketing lady is mad at the guy who made me the $250 deal, because "the system" is only able to do vouchers for $200 or $400. She hands my case over to another lady, who is nicer and just wants to go home, so without any encouragement on my part, she decides to give me $400 per person. $2,000 in flight vouchers, cha-ching!

6:31 pm - I start fantasizing about where we can go with $2,000 in flight vouchers. Ryan picks up some Essentials Kits, which as it turns out, were not filled with food, shelter, and love. (That came courtesy Brian Regan the comedian. We need more comedy in the airport.)

7:30 pm - We get taken by shuttle to a hotel in Houston. I get the good combination of kids in my room (they didn't connect) and we are all asleep by 8:00.

4:30 am - My room (Noah and Darcey) are both awake and we get ready to go. The room next door has been awake since 2:30 on account of Zacky falling asleep in the stroller at the airport. He is the only perky one of the group.

5:30 am - I use $21 in meal vouchers to buy muffins at Starbucks for breakfast. I have $49 left and don't know what to use it on.

6:40 am - 3 hour flight from Houston to SLC. Uneventful, Darcey slept again in my arms but cried more, especially at the end. The other kids were excellent.

9:00 am - We get to SLC, use $7 in vouchers to buy some Krispy Kremes for the kids, then split up. Ryan takes Darcey to get the van and drive it around to pick us up, I go to pick up our luggage which made the original flight and was waiting for us.

9:15 am - I went into (a different) Starbucks and grabbed $44 worth of whatever was available, to use my remaining $42 in vouchers. I got: a pack of gum, a bottled water, 3 chocolate chip scones that no one liked, and some chocolate covered caramels.

9:20 am - I go to the baggage claim office and naturally, our bags are no where to be found. I think we offended the extra security people with our apple-bringing audacity, so they sent our luggage to Bora Bora.

10:15 am - We're home. We spend the day trying to stay awake or to take a nap or just to feel like a human again. Nothing's working.

7:00 pm - I laugh for the first time all day at the tv show Wipeout, which is a remake of Takeshi's Castle and is the most hysterical thing I've ever seen. Or I could be punch drunk from the lack of sleep.

9:00 pm - Ryan looks at me like I'm crazy when I say I'm going to finish my blog entry before going to bed. I'm also going to run the dishes. There's no sign of our bags, although they said they could have gotten here this evening. I don't think I cared about much in those bags until they said I couldn't have them.

There you have it. I've got much more detailed descriptions of my day, but you know what? I think this sums it up well. And I'm trying to be more concise, so maybe this is good practice. I should write all of my blogs with my eyes half open and my stomach hurting from being so tired. They may not be amusing, but at least they'd be short!

I'm glad to be home. As much fun as I had, it's nice to be back home.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Day 16, I Think My Numbering Is Off

I shouldn't have worried about not getting to see everything I wanted. Paris had been lulled into a false sense of security by my slow and lackadaisical sightseeing thus far. But I surprised Paris with a swift uppercut to the Musee D'Orsay, followed by a one-two punch right to the Sainte Chapelle and Arc de Triomphe, then a quick hit to the Champs-Elysees, and a TKO with a lit Eiffel Tower. I left Paris laying on the mat, a quivering heap of jelly, begging for relief, or at least a quick end to the torment. But I've got one day left and no intention of showing Paris any mercy. Today, I am the Mohammed Ali of sightseeing. I am floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Do not get in my way today. I am hot.

Ryan, bless him, elected to stay at the house for a "rest" day, although he would not call it that, since he had the two youngest kids with him and therefore couldn't really rest. I maintained that sitting around would at least be more restful than dragging four kids through Paris, but in the end, we agreed to disagree on that, and I left him with Zack and Darcey and took off.

Our first stop was a cafe called Angelina's which was the nicest place I've been to since we got here. It was like Betty's Tea Room in Harrogate, formal and lovely. We looked out of place in our shorts and sneakers, with two kids in tow, although there were plenty of other people dressed that way too, it still felt awkward. We ordered the most delicious hot chocolate, called Chocolat Africain, which was so dark you had to add your own sugar to it. And all of those table manners I've been trying to teach my children when we eat dinner every night? Let's just say the lessons haven't stuck. I think this was the one time on our whole trip where I felt like my touristness stuck out, like I had a huge sign above my head that said "Just left the farm for the first time." They treated us well, but I felt weird. Still, I want to go back sometime and eat a whole meal, without kids or sneakers.

After that we split into two teams, my dad, Tim and Brad who aimed for (but completely missed) the Air and Space Museum, and me, my mom, and Noah, who headed for the Musee D'Orsay. The Brad team ended up taking many trains and finally got to the point where the place was going to close anyhow, so they just went home. Bummer. Then Brad was riding someone's bike and flipped over the handlebars, scraping his knee pretty badly. Not a good day, overall.

We got to the Musee D'Orsay and found that the extra two hours that we had gotten in Disneyland had been borrowed from this place - they were closing two hours early. We ended up with only an hour and fifteen minutes to do the whole museum of Impressionist art. Turns out, that was fine. We rented some audioguides, but they weren't as interesting as the one at the Louvre, so we went to the top floor and did the major Impressionist pieces. We saw Degas, who is my favorite, Monet, Manet, Renoir, who we also liked, Van Gogh, who makes my kids' artwork look like masterpieces, and a pile of others. There was lots there that I recognized, and that was fun, but I was back to not really caring about museums so much. We had to breeze through the place pretty quickly, but I don't think I missed much. I regret not spending more time at the Louvre, where the tour was so interesting and informational and the art covered more styles, but how could I have known?

After the museum, we got the sourest lemon ice cream cones - I think they forgot to put any sugar at all, they were way too sour even for me - and we quickly zipped over to the place on my list that I've tried to see the whole week, Sainte Chapelle cathedral. It isn't that big, so maybe it's not a cathedral per se, but it is a church with these gorgeous stained glass windows. The walls and ceiling, instead of being stone like every church we've seen, were painted red and blue with gold accents, and the windows were amazing. We walked upstairs and I got through the door first and almost forgot how to breathe. I couldn't believe how pretty it was inside. Not quite as majestic as the other places (especially the Duomo in Milan, my favorite) but beautiful in it's own way. There were a dozen or so windows that went as high as the ceiling, each panel teaching a part of the history of Christianity, starting with the Creation. The place was small, but the ceiling still soared like a gothic cathedral. It was amazing.

We decided to walk to the Deportation Memorial, but we ended up turned the wrong direction and missed it completely. That's the kind of thing I do all the time, and I was glad in this case it wasn't my fault. Noah wanted to go all the way down to the water, so I left my mom at the top of Pont Neuf and he and I hiked down to the Seine. He looked at it and we sat there for a few minutes, resting. He had been a trooper the whole day, occasionally whining but mostly when he was hungry.

Next we took the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe and climbed the steps to the top. It wasn't worth it. The view from the Eiffel Tower was better, it was so sunny that it was hard to see anything through squinty eyes, and there wasn't much to the monument at the top other than the view. But you have to do it once, right? At the base of the Arc is the famous Champs-Elysees, a shopping street that I wanted to walk down. So did everyone else on the planet, apparently - the sidewalks were so crowded that I instantly was done being around people and wanted to go home. It seemed like no matter which side of the sidewalk we were on, no matter which direction we were going, people just poured over us like water over stones in a river. It makes it really hard for the stone to walk upstream, though. Noah needed to eat and didn't want another baguette with ham and cheese (the standard take-out fare here, available everywhere) and I wouldn't go to McDonalds on principle, so I bought him a "Magic Box" at a French version of McD's called Quick. My mom and I got food to go from a cafe called Paul's instead.

It was about 8:30 at that point and my mom headed home, but I promised Noah that I'd take him to see the lights turn on at the Eiffel Tower. We Metroed over to the Trocadero stop and found a place to sit on a wall as fast as we could to get out of everyone's way. Too many people! We sat there for about an hour, Noah running around and expending all sorts of energy, while I read my new Paris cookbook. It was nice and relaxing up on our wall. At 10:00 the lights came on, but it was barely dark enough to see them, so we hung out for 15 more minutes and then called it a night. We were salmon swimming upstream through the metro station, which was so crowded that I held Noah's arm with both of mine, pinning it to my body so we wouldn't be separated in the rush of people. It was crazy!

As soon as we walked into the hallway of our train line, the crowds were gone, and I could relax. I do not like that many people in one place. 45 minutes later, we pulled into our quiet little town of Maison-Lafitte, and walked out of the station into a street party! What the heck is going on in this place? Is there anyone left inside their houses tonight? This is a Saturday night in Paris, I suppose. The cafes had their tables pulled out into the street, which had been blocked off from traffic, and there was a band set up. Apparently there were more bands and people on the other side of the town, but I was heading home and didn't see it. This is the kind of outdoor atmosphere that the newer strip malls are aiming for in America, the hanging out and partying all night (while theoretically spending lots of money). I'm thinking specifically of the Riverwoods in Provo - that's what they are looking for, and you know what's stopping it from happening? The parking/drive through area through the whole place. If that was pedestrian only, I bet they would get that ambiance that they want, that Paris has by accident. It is such a different feeling here, and I'm surprised by it.

So today I conquered Paris. I finally feel relaxed, like I can just enjoy myself without thinking I'm missing the opportunity to do something else, something more fun that is just a few metro stops away. And that feels good.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 15, Continued

The day redeemed itself, thanks to my parents' willingness to babysit the kids, handfuls of medicine, and some luck. A lot of luck, actually.

A combination of cold medicine and advil made my cold bearable, and the primal urge to sightsee overtook any lingering miserableness, so at about 6:15 I left Darcey, Zack, and Noah with my parents and headed for the Louvre. On Friday nights it is open late, until 9:45, so I thought I could hit that, get a quick glimpse of Mona Lisa, then stroll down Rue de Rivoli in search of Angelina's (a cafe recommended by a friend in the ward who used to live in Paris) and possibly do a nighttime boat cruise. Oh, and find Ryan and Brad, who were spending the day at the Louvre.

To give you an idea of what a crazy idea trying to find someone at the Louvre is, there are 8 miles of hallways in the building, which is divided into three wings. There are so many pieces of artwork that if you spent one minute looking at each one and didn't stop to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, or walk between each piece, it would still take you 300 days to see all of it.

But was I daunted? No. I consider myself a lucky person, and even though finding two people in such a massive place was a ridiculous idea, I hoped I could do it. And I brought a cell phone as a backup plan - if Ryan had left already (or I missed him) and he got home, he could call me and I could make plans to meet him for the boat cruise. But while I was sitting alone on the train into the city, I felt a little sad to be alone. I really wanted to be experiencing this with someone. Even though I like being alone, this felt a little empty.

I started my trip through the Louvre at the Sully Wing, walking through an Egyptian artifacts exhibit. It was cool but all the captions were in french and I wanted to know more about the things I was looking at. I stopped and read a long english description (two pages) about a burial chamber that was on display, and I enjoyed that so much that I decided to rent the audioguide from the information desk.

And when I was at the desk outside the Denon Wing, handing over my credit card to pay for the audioguide, guess who walks out of the exit - Ryan and Brad! They literally walk right next to where I'm standing! I couldn't believe it! I called out to them and they were happy to see me, even happier to see that I was without kids. They were all Louvred out, so I left them sitting for an hour while I did an audio tour of the three masterpieces of the Louvre - the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Mona Lisa.

Seeing these things in real life is an interesting experience. I'm not an art person, generally - I like pretty art, Ryan's taught me to look for quality in the light and shadows, so I know how to pick out art that I like. But there was no way I could spend a day at a museum unless there is someone telling me interesting facts about the things I'm seeing. My friend Eva says that if a pictures worth a thousand words, I'd rather have the thousand words. (I'm so lucky to be friends with such wise people.) That is one of the truest descriptions of me I've ever heard. I look at a picture or a sculpture and I immediately look for the little card next to the piece hoping to be able to decipher the meaning of the picture through the title or something. Ryan can just appreciate the art for the skill and feelings it evokes and the details - I'm looking for what it means, what the story is, and I'm usually in need of more information than I can get from the little card. Especially in french.

So the audioguide is the best thing I've spent money on in a long time, and I think I could have spent hours at the Louvre with that thing telling me the best stuff to see (and why). My 45 minute tour of the three masterpieces taught me the following interesting facts:

1-Venus de Milo was recognized as a masterpiece the minute it was discovered in the 1800's. It was sculpted between 130-100 BC and no one knows who the sculptor is.
2-Winged Victory was not considered a masterpiece until the Louvre put it on display by itself in a beautiful gallery at the top of a staircase. It's prominent placement started its rise in fame. They were going to put in under the giant pyramid at the entrance because it is now a symbol of the Louvre, but they didn't end up doing that. It was sculpted around 200 BC and no one knows who sculpted it.
3-Mona Lisa - there was pretty much nothing said about this that I didn't already know, not because I'm so knowledgeable, just because this is such a well known story. It was one of only 7 portraits painted by Leonardo da Vinci, of Lisa del Giacondo. It's beautiful, to be sure, but it seems like more of a manufactured fame, a good p.r. person doing his job than one of the real masterpieces. That being said, it's still awesome to look at. It was my last stop of the evening, at about 9 pm, and there was no crowd around it at all, maybe 20 people in front of me, so within a minute I was able to walk right up to the crowd-control bar and look unobstructed. Always go to the Louvre at night, on one of it's late nights - there were no crowds at all, it was completely manageable.

My favorite part (other than the audio tour) was when I got kind of lost and ended up in the Salle Rouge (red room) that was the home to the large-format french paintings. These things were massive ! No kidding, like the size of a whole wall, except that the room is so massive that the paintings looked normal sized. I saw the Raft of the Medusa there, and Liberty Leading the People, I think that's what it's called. It's fun to see the paintings you studied in Art Appreciation in real life.

I found Ryan and Brad and we headed to the Pont Neuf bridge to do our boat cruise. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, and it was just as beautiful as the pictures. Supposedly the Louvre and other buildings are lit up too, but I didn't see much else that really struck me. Okay, Notre Dame was nice too. But other than that, it was just a lovely cruise for an hour down the Seine. There were tons of people on the streets, hanging out and partying, which I wasn't expecting. I suppose I don't live in a town with a lot of nightlife, so I liked seeing so many people outside, just hanging out and watching the boats and the lights. At one point, there were crowds of people taking dance lessons, right on the water. Very cool.

We disembarked at 11:30 and made our hour-long trek home. The Eurocamp information is quite disingenuous about how far out of Paris the camp is. It's great for families, and certainly it's been a fantastic deal for us, but from most of the attractions we've been to it's at least an hour to get home, including the 15 minute walk at the end. I wish they had been more forthcoming about that, instead of saying "Only a 10 minute train ride into the city!" Which means ten minutes to get to the border of the city, plus another 15 and one or two connections to get to the thing you want to see, plus the walk to the station to begin with. I still would have stayed, just for financial purposes, but it would have been nice if they were honest about that.

Poor Brad was so tired on the way home that he said, "Maybe I'm too young for New Year's Eve." And Noah so desperately wanted to come with me, but I didn't let him because I knew he couldn't handle staying up that late. So now I've got to come up with a suitable just-Noah-and-me alternative for the last two days of our trip. I'm hoping such a late night isn't the end of my health altogether - I plan on pushing as hard as I can these last couple of days, since I can always collapse as soon as I get home. I'd much rather be collapsed in Orem than in Paris!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 15 - Ready For The Guillotine

The cold from yesterday turned into a full blown mess today, and I feel like absolute crap. I had a hard time falling asleep last night because my nose was so clogged I couldn't breathe. Then when I woke up, my sinuses were throbbing in time to a dance beat. And that's in addition to a headache and runny nose and sneezing. I'm thinking the only thing to be done about it is to chop my head off and start over with a new one. Where's a guillotine when you need one?

I tried to make the best of it, though, I really did. I sent Ryan and Brad out the door with a Museum Pass and directions to the Louvre. (The directions turned out to be wrong, which I didn't realize until later.) I slowly got the rest of the kids ready and with my mom and Tim, we ventured out, aiming for a walk down Rue Cler, a fantastic food-related street market.

Our first stop was a Pharmacie, where I bought some allergy medicine that I had little faith in, but in my poor french I couldn't say, "No, something that would drug an elephant, s'il vous plait." In the town where we are staying, there aren't many tourists, so the shopkeepers put up with my french and then answer in the fastest french I've ever heard. I can make myself understood in the basics at least, but I can't carry on a conversation since I am completely unable to understand their answers. The Metro guy and almost all the city shopkeepers will let me say my piece in french, then will answer in english, as if putting up with my french language practice is not what they get paid for. That's okay, though, I'm still slightly proud of myself for being able to say as much as I do.

I realized the mistake I was making by leaving the house when we got to the Metro station and I realized I didn't have my weekly ticket. I searched every pocket of my jeans and my bag, but the one thing that I always, always double check having before I leave, I had left. I was discouraged and felt stupid, but I wasn't too surprised - I felt so sluggish that I could tell my brain wasn't up for a workout like this. I bought a round trip ticket from the kiosk and we got on the train.

The second problem cropped up on the train, when we had just passed the Auber station, and the next stop was Opera, our connecting stop. That's when my mom looked at the sign on the train and said, "This train doesn't stop at Opera." It turns out I had read the map wrong, and forgot that when we had done the Auber/Opera situation, we had gotten off at Auber and walked to Opera (or vice versa, I can't remember). They don't actually intersect. So we got off at the next exit (Chatelet-Les Halles) and went to a giant map. I realized what I had done, and jokingly looked around for Ryan, who I had told to get off at the Opera stop also, and so if he didn't double check me, would be lost here as well. (Although he is a completely proficient map reader/connection finder, so I wasn't worried at all for him.)

My mom was figuring out a route to get us to Rue Cler while I listened to Noah whine about how hungry he was (can I mention that he didn't once say he was hungry the whole day at Disneyland? That makes me nuts.) I stared at the map but none of it really registered, because all I could hear was the whooshing sound of illness in my head, my sinuses attempting to push my eyeballs out of their sockets to make more room for themselves, wanting nothing more than to lay down on the floor of the Metro station and fall asleep. I told my mom that the new plan was to go upstairs, find food for Noah, then get back on the train and go home.

That turned out to be a good plan. We got food, my mom and Tim kept Noah for the day, and Darcey and Zack and I ate on the train back home. I put Darcey down for a nap and set Zack up on the couch watching Surf's Up, then went to bed. I slept until his movie ended, at which point he was out the door to go play. I felt nearly perfect for all of three minutes, until one sneeze shot pain through my sinus down to my jaw, and a second sneeze popped one ear but not the other. Now I'm watching Zack play with his british friends at the playground with the stuffed Mickey and Minnie dolls and I'm eating packaged mousse from the fridge. I ended up with a rest day, not that I wanted one, but the kids probably needed it.

Now I'm running through my head all of the things that I could be seeing instead of the inside of a mobile home that is covered in clean laundry (thanks to my dad). I haven't been to Sainte Chapelle, walked down Rue Cler, through the Latin Quarter, or climbed up the Arc de Triomphe. I have not strolled down Champs-Elysees. I haven't been to a single museum yet. Today was supposed to be Versailles day, too. I feel like I'm wasting my time and not getting anything done, and it is causing me some serious stress and I feel on the verge of disappointment with this leg of the trip. because I had wanted to enjoy Paris so badly. We've got a Saturday and a Sunday left, and if I can tame my sinuses, maybe I can knock a lot of this out in one shot. I'm already contemplating leaving Noah and Zack with Tim and my dad, who are here currently, and taking Darcey to do some of this stuff. We'll see. I can't guarantee I'll get very far without my head exploding from the pressure.

Day 14 - The Happiest Place in Europe

I finally found something that the kids like to do in Paris – Disneyland. Fortunately, I’m as excited to do it as they are!

We had planned on going to Parc Asterix, a more “French” park based on French comic book characters Asterix and Obelix. But when push came to shove, the prices for both parks were similar and Disneyland was only an hour by one train, while Parc Asterix was at least 2 hours by two trains and a bus. We got a late start, so we weren’t even getting there until 12 or 1 pm, and with closing times at both 6:00, we had to go with what was closer.

I’m so glad we did! I don’t do fast rides, so I wasn’t even going to go to Parc Asterix, but I knew Disneyland had enough atmosphere to make up for it. And when we rolled in at 1 pm (the metro stops right at the front gate! Take that, Anaheim!) it turns out that the park didn’t close until 8! We got two more hours than we planned, and I was in good-deal heaven.

I went to Walt Disney World a few times as a kid, and Disneyland in Anaheim a pile of times as an adult, so it’s interesting to be in a Disney park for the first time. The layout is different, some of the rides (not many) are different, but the feeling is the same. The atmosphere, the buildings, they made the same feeling here somehow.

I’m sitting outside Pirates of the Caribbean listening to piratey music, yo-ho! That’s something that’s been missing during our whole trip – a soundtrack. It’s amazing how much music can affect the feeling of a place. Of all the places we’ve been, only twice has there been music playing while we visited, and they were two of my favorite days. Once was in York with a guy playing Broadway tunes on a harpsichord or something, and in Milan as we strolled down a pedestrian street and listened to an accordion player. I doubt I will ever be able to hear accordion music without craving a gelato. I wonder if anyone has done a study on how much more money you spend when there is ambiance-setting music playing?

The Haunted Mansion is called Phantom Manor here, and the second half of the ride is way gorier than the Anaheim park. I forgot that Zack was only 2 when we went last time, so he didn’t experience much. 4 is a delightful age to take him here. He thinks the rides are fun but he’s fine playing at Pocahontas’s Indian Adventure playground when he’s too short for something (or too scared by Phantom Manor).

The one difference I’ve noticed is that there don’t seem to be as many gift shops. I seem to recall Anaheim being jam-packed with stalls and stores and every ride spits you out in a themed shop. Or possibly it just feels that way when your kids are asking for something every 5 minutes. I think they’re all asked-out today, they’ve done nothing else since coming to Europe. Every third sentence out of their mouth is a request to buy them
1) a drink
2) food or
3) a trinket.

(The other two sentences involve boredom and getting hurt.)

Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear were exactly the same, just in French. Buzz was Zack’s favorite ride. Ryan and Tim both liked Pirates (which had much gentler drops than the Anaheim one, for us weenies), Noah and Brad both liked Big Thunder Railroad, and I liked It’s a Small World. The colors were so vibrant and even though it was a similar concept, it felt new and more modern. I also liked this: Star Tours didn’t have a gift shop exit and Pirates had an obvious gift shop bypass lane. I love this place!

Everyone loved that under Sleeping Beauty’s castle there was a dragon lair with a real live dragon in it! Okay, so not really a real live dragon, but it looked so realistic you could have sworn that it was. That’s one of those random cool things about Disneyland – finding that hidden-ish entrance, the spooky cave interior – I love that. You feel like no one else even knows about it, like you discovered it yourself. We also found the Liberty Arcade, essentially a long hallway filled with store entrances that parallels Main Street but with almost no crowd, even with Main Street jam-packed with thousands leaving at closing time.

This park seems a lot smaller, and walking from one land to the next is really fast. We hit all of the major attractions in the 7 hours we had, doing almost everything twice because the lines were so short (5-10 minutes average, some were closer to 20 or 30). We knocked out Fantasyland in the last thirty minutes, scooting from one ride to the next and walking right on each, and ending with a short wait in line for Peter Pan right at closing time. It was beautifully orchestrated.

The casualties for the day:
Zack lost his binky on the train on the way there
Brad got lost once, coming off a baby switch at Buzz Lightyear’s exit area
Zack got lost twice, once in the Pirates exit area, once in the Small World exit area
Darcey lost her blankie somewhere between Adventureland and Fantasyland
Two Frisbees that we got in kids meals fell onto the tracks as we boarded the train coming home

The kids were found, the binky, blankie, and Frisbees are gone for good. Fortunately, the binky and blankie are both easily replaced, and no one cared about the Frisbees. In fact, it was bound to happen at some point that something slipped between the platform and the train, we’re just happy it was something so disposable.

Tim asked me if when I get home, if I’m going to need a vacation from our vacation. To be honest, today feels like a vacation already. I feel like we got a 2-for-1 vacation package – buy a trip to Europe, get a trip to Disneyland for only 270 euros! It’s just so different from the rest of our trip so far.

When we had eked every last bit of fun out of Disneyland, we went across the street to Disney Village for some more, free, fun. Well, not completely free, but there was no entrance fee. We ordered food from a diner to go and got a fabulous deal – burger, fries, and a drink for ten euros, compared to the cafĂ© in the Tuileries where I paid 7 euros per soda. (I’m not allowed to complain about prices anymore. Ryan says it makes it harder for him to enjoy himself. But that was egregious enough that it had to be mentioned.)

It’s now 10:30 and we’re on the train, almost to our stop. Then it’s a 15 minute walk to our camp, and finally bedtime. I’m ready for it. I woke up at 6:00 with a sore throat and my sinuses aching, and now my nose is running so much you’d think it’s training for a marathon. We’re all tired – Zack has reverted to his bad habit of waking everyone up by screaming and getting into fights with Noah. This morning he took his show on the road and attempted to wake the whole campground when Noah sat in the seat he wanted.

But the kids are being great. Noah is chatting amiably with Tim, Brad is sitting next to me, proofreading my blog, and Zack is with Ryan, playing with his new Mickey Indiana Jones doll (and Darcey’s Minnie doll). I attempted to make a deal with Noah, when he thanked me for taking him to Disneyland, I said, “Show me how grateful you are by not complaining when I take you to places I want to go, like cathedrals and museums and whatever.” He agreed, but I doubt he’ll stick to it. We’ll have to see. I’m glad to have done something so fun together, even if it’s not a cathedral.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 13 - Paris in a Nutshell

This morning I woke up to the sound of my children bowling in the next room. It's kind of amazing that they can make so much noise without a single thing in their room other than a bunk bed and each other. They were rolling around, banging the walls, hitting various things including each other, moving the bed's ladder, etc. At 6:30 in the morning. In Switzerland, where the sun never seemed to shine, there were these great room darkening shades under the curtains. In Paris, where the sun never seems to stop shining, the curtains all have gaps and we're woken by the brightness at 6:30.

Even though we were up so early, it still took a long time to get everyone ready for the day, and then the long hike to the train station and then two trains to get to the Eiffel Tower. That was our goal this morning - do the Tower and then after meet the Fat Tire Bike Tour at the base of the south pillar for a tour of Paris. It worked out fine, except for the 'do the tower' part. We didn't get there in enough time, so we went right to the bike tour. The line for the tower seemed really long, and if there's one thing I hate, it's waiting in long lines. And being in crowds of people close enough to touch me. The tower had both.

So we went right to the bike tour, and it was a mix of hard work, interesting facts, and terrifying traffic, with a sprinkling of nice buildings to look at. It was like paris in a nutshell. So far I haven't been awestruck by the beauty of any specific building here - they are all pretty, and all of them kind of have the same look. Don't get me wrong - it's a nice look they all have, but nothing over the top gorgeous like the Duomo in Milan was. The theme of the big buildings here is domination - the buildings (the Louvre, Les Invalides, the Army building, etc) are massive, and it's their size that is most impressive. The Louvre is possibly one of the biggest buildings I've ever seen, not tall, but long, as if you smashed ten Smithsonian museums together.

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way - what I didn't like about the bike tour.

1-I'm not a confident bike rider. I didn't like it so much when I was a teenager and my family took biking-centered vacations, and other than the stationary bike at the gym, I haven't done much biking since. The great thing about the gym bikes is that they don't tip over - the one I was riding today had this tendency to wobble around and threaten to fall if I went too slow, and that was scary. (I recognize that it wasn't the bikes fault.)

2-We were riding through some of the most dangerous streets I've seen - massive 6 lanes roads with no lines down the middle to mark the lanes, tiny little alleys that only fit one car, but they are two way streets, huge traffic circles that I wouldn't even drive in, let alone take a bike. I could possibly have handled it if it wasn't for the fact that Brad and Noah had their own bikes and were in this traffic too, just one swerve away from being as flat as a crepe. It was so stressful that it was hard to enjoy what we were riding past - I could barely look away from the road and the bike right in front of me to see the sights.

Here's what I did like about the tour.

1-Tim wins the Uncle of the Year award for making sure that he stuck with Noah during the dangerous parts (the tour guide called them Advanced Traffic Maneuvers), keeping Noah on the inside of the curb while he was on the traffic side. And no one told him too, either, he just remembered that it's what our dad did when Tim was a kid, so that's what he did for Noah. I loved that so much, that I had to award him the prestigious Uncle of the Year award. It's a big deal, too, because that puts Dan, Drew, and Jeff out of the running until January, and that's a long time. I've given Tim Uncle of the Day or Uncle of the Week awards in the past, when he stayed with us last summer, but this takes the cake. I was thinking about coming up with a prize to go with the UOTY award, but I'll wait until he reads this blog and demands his reward to come up with something.

2-There were parts of the ride that were on bike paths under a canopy of trees, and that was scenic and pleasant. If the whole thing had been like that, I could have decided to pick up bike riding as a hobby. It was lovely.

3-Lots of great information, which I love. Every so often the tour guide would stop at a famous monument and tell us the story behind it. This was my favorite part, I think. It was a mini history lesson and it just whetted my appetite to learn more. I learned about the various Louis (Louis the 14th got it all, Louis the 15 lived it all, Louis the 16 lost it all, including his head) and Napoleon Bonaparte. It seems like most of the buildings can be contributed to either the Louis's or Napoleon, which could explain why the buildings all kind of look the same. I loved learning all of this stuff, I kind of had no idea how much I didn't know. It was great.

4-Zack had a blast riding in a seat on the back of Ryan's bike. He laughed and sang and just had the most terrific time. He sang the "This Is Fun" song, which goes like this:

This is fun! This is fun!
This is fun! This is fun! etc.

It can be sung to whatever tune you choose to make up.

The tour dropped us off, weak and wobbly-kneed at the bike shop a few minutes' walk from the Eiffel Tower. We agreed to make a second attempt on the Tower but got split up on the way, which resulted in my parents waiting at the Tower itself, me sitting on a rock waiting for them to pass by (we left first), and Ryan walking the full length of the Champs de Mars several times while taking Zack to the bathroom. He was having "digestive issues" which is a very polite way of saying, well, I think you know what I'm saying. By the time we gathered together, any sightseeing desire had been wrung out of us, leaving us a quivering pile of flesh. We sat for a while, attempting to regain some energy. My dad and Tim decided to head to the Champs-Elysees. Noah could only talk about how hungry he was. Brad was desperate to just get doing something, anything, and Zack was finally feeling better and wanted to play at the playground. I just wanted everyone to have fun, and it seemed like no one was having any fun at all.

When we finally got up the strength to keep moving, we walked past the Tower on the way to the Metro station, but made a quick about-face when we realized that, hey! The lines weren't so bad after all! My mom kept Darcey and the rest of us got in line, which was about 30-40 minutes long. 30-40 minutes of the kids behind us trying to sneak past us, or banging into our legs, or climbing under barricades while the grandma half-heartedly scolded them in French. You know the kind of scolding I mean, it's the same in every language. It's when you're saying the scolding words but with absolutely no intention of following up on them, which the kids know and therefore don't listen, so you're really only saying it so that the other adults around you will hear that you wish your children would obey you, but they're so rotten that what can you do?

Before long we were on the elevator, climbing up to the second floor observation deck. The view is just as good from there as from the top, but at half the cost, half the crowd, and half the wait in line. And what a view! The bummer about such a famous monument is that you've pretty much seen it before you get there, and the view is exactly what I've seen on postcards and in movies and such. But it's still great to see it in person, trying to pick out famous monuments from the air and orient yourself to the city. Every building is white - it's a sea of white buildings. I don't know why. Is it a law? There's the one blight on the skyline, which is the Montparnasse Tower, a big, black, boring skyscraper with absolutely no interesting features to speak of. After that, they banned skyscrapers from downtown, which happened one building too late. Man, is it ugly. But the rest of the view is just great and I'm glad we did it.

The kids favorite parts of the Eiffel Tower:
Taking the elevator up
Walking 720 stairs down
Buying Eiffel Tower lollipops
Eating dinner
Getting Eiffel Tower trinkets

We found my mom at the bottom of the Tower who had spent her time pushing Darcey in the stroller and feeding Darcey her first crepe. It took about an hour and a half to get home and by the time we got there I wanted to take my feet off and get some new ones. I knew there'd be a lot of walking in Paris, but even the walking that isn't doesn't get us from one amazing attraction to another is immense. Fifteen minutes to our mobile home from the train station at the end of a long day is the nail in the coffin. 'Exhaustion' is the word of the day. But it's a good exhaustion. I'm ready to do it again tomorrow.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day I Don't Know, 12 Maybe

Today was another travel day, and even though we are getting to be pros at this now, it is still miserable. I don't think I need to rehash the day, you pretty much know the drill. Rush to make the trains, sit and stave off boredom until the next rush for a train.

The only things we added today was:
Taking the TGV from Basel to Paris
Holding a Yawning Contest in the Paris Est train station
Taking the looooong way to our camp, thanks to the directions of many polite and well-meaning but incorrect
French people
Giving Tim a band-aid when he attempted to ripstick

All in all, a very long day. We were clicking along just fine until we got to the Paris Est train station, when our prograss ground toa complete standstill. We needed to
1-Buy our weekly metro passes
2-Figure out which train would get us to our campsite
3-Find the train and get on it

Ryan and I just had to do the exact same thing in Milan, where we knew even less of the language than here. I expected that the remains of my French lessons would come in handy, and I had worked out how to say "I would like to buy the Cqrte Orange (metro pass), please" in french (Je voudrais acheter les carte orange, s'il vous plait) but as soon as I walked up to the guy, my mind went totally blank and I couldn't even remember what I wanted in english, let alone french. And this is why we have a reputation as stupid americans. Sorry about that, America.

It took us probably an hour to figure all of that out, and then the ten minute walk (two trains later) to the Eurocamp took what felt like eternity but was probably only 45 minutes.

But , hey! We're in Paris! Tomorrow we'll start our sightseeing adventure with a trip to the Eiffel Tower, followed by a bike tour of Paris. The Berlin bike tour (by Fat Tire Bike Tours) was such a big hit that we're making a point of doing it in Paris as well.

In addition, the camp here is lovely. Our mobile home is larger (which is good, because we are all staying in it this time) and it's right by the entrance, directly across from a little playground. There are more children here, too. Zack was playing on the merry-go-round with a little girl, and the other boys are having a "kick about" (I love that phrase) with some boys their age. The weather is perfect, not too warm, not too cold, and I'm sitting on our front patio watching the boys play while honest to goodness geese waddle by on their way to the lake (which is far enough away that I'm not panicky). Wait, is that a lake or is that the Seine?!? My parents went to get some food down the street - crepes and other delicious stuff we could smell on our extra long walk.

I don't think any of you would blame me if I didn't come home!

Update - We are sitting outside while Zack says a new french word "une velo" which means bike. Turns out the kids eh was playing with speak no english. Isn't that awesome! Also, not only is the body of water flowing past our camp the Seine, we are actually camping on an island in the Seine. And Tim is teaching Zack to feed the ducks pieces of Swiss chocolate. Even the ducks here have discriminating palates. I think I'm going to adore this place!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ryan stepping in with some Swiss photos...

Emily is alseep right now and has wanted me to 'guest blog' anyways, so I am simply adding some photos of Switzerland with some captions. These are just the tip of the iceberg, I have taken about 300 photos of Switzerland so far. This place is unbelievably gorgeous! To see larger versions, just click on the images of the photos.

This is a huge waterfall that our camp is at the base of. It's amazing and awe-inspiring to look up at, but as high as it looks, there is more mountain above it and houses and towns above it!

Here is proof: this shot is taken on a train ride going up, you can see the same waterfall on the right hand side.

Here is everyone on the train going up. We went up to the highest point in Europe where the snow was!

Another breath taking view from above.

Here we are at the top, there was (man-made) ice tunnels and sculptures. This place was amazing: the floor, walls and ceiling are all ice. You wouldn't believe how many times Brad, Noah and Zack slipped and ended up on the floor (of course they were they only ones running around like crazy due to sheer excitement).

There was a narrow, winding tunnel that the kids absolutely loved running through. It was a bit claustrophobic for us adults. It was about 35 degrees in the tunnels, and even though we are true Utahn's who ski and play in the snow, we were still pretty cold.

Here we have some ducks that came right up to our mobile home unit. We feed them the chewy crust from our loaves of bread.

Here is a very small portion of the awesome Trummelbach falls. This is a waterfall inside a mountain. We climbed steps and tunnels to see all parts of it. Photos and video don't even come close to displaying how visually amazing and impressive this is.

Here we are at one of the towns on top of the mountain. Lots of cows with the bells around their necks. It's a beautiful and unique sound to hear.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day Nine - Jungfraujoch

Today ended on a better note than it started, thank goodness. We're staying at a campground called Camping Jungfrau, in a mobile home that we're renting from Eurocamp, a UK based company that rents space at campgrounds around Europe and has tent camping and mobile homes. It's ideal for a larger family - the place we have has two bedrooms plus a kitchen and bathroom, and although everything is miniature in proportion (think 1 foot from edge of bed to the wall) it works.

What didn't work was the heater. And that leads me to

#3 Lesson I Learned The Hard Way: It gets cold in the mountains, especially at night. Even in June.

How on earth did I leave my home which is directly next door TO A MOUNTAIN and not figure this one out? Am I just absolutely, completely the most unobservant person on the planet? I bet there are aborigines in the deep jungles of Brazil that would know to pack a sweater for a vacation in the Alps. (Are they called aborigines in Brazil? See, there's something else I don't know!)

I made everyone pack long pants and a hoodie for the trip, but somehow I never truly pictured what the temperature would be like in the evening, so everyone's pajamas are shorts. The afternoon and evening had been warm, so I thought that the two blankets on each person's bed were just a nicety. More like a necessity, I learned.

By about 10 pm it was clear that it was getting chilly in the house, so I attempted to get the heater in the living area going. It's gas, and I am barely capable of running gas appliances. They scare the crap out of me, from carbon monoxide poisoning to a giant exploding fireball, there are just so many ways that a gas appliance can hurt my family that I pretty much want them banned. At least, banned from me. But I had a vague idea of what to do, I found the dial that turns it on, but nothing happened. I tried it a few times, then realized I probably needed an ignition thingy. I couldn't find it. Of course, it was dark and this is about 2 feet away from Darcey's crib, so it's not like I could shine a big light on it or anything. I grabbed one of the "extra" blankets from our bed and (even though now I had to be afraid of her smothering in the huge thing) laid it on her.

At 2:30 when Darcey woke up crying, it was probably 50 degrees in the house. I was freezing, Darcey was freezing, the house in general was freezing and I couldn't fix it. I put on the nearest hoodie I could find then put Darcey's winter coat on her and snuggled her back into the big blanket. I found the sole remaining "extra" blanket and put it on our bed, then tried to keep my shivering from shaking the whole bed and waking Ryan.

When I woke up at 6:30 this was the running commentary in my head:

I hate camping. Why am I camping? I hate camping! I know I hate camping, and you know why I hate camping? Because I hate being cold! I'm always cold when I'm camping and I hate being cold and I hate camping!

Needless to say, this was not a positive way to start the day. I wanted to scream when Zack woke up Darcey at 6:50 and then when Ryan tried to talk logically to me about fixing the problem, I just about bit his head off and ate it for breakfast. I had the presence of mind enough to say that I was so miserable that I was clearly not functioning rationally and that talking to me was probably not a good idea. By 7:30 I all but threw Darcey at him and went back to bed for another hour of sleep.

I was much better when I woke back up. I even got dressed (albeit under the blanket that I had cocooned around me) and then Noah and I set out to find an employee to figure out the heater. The employee found the ignition button, turned the heat on, and we were starting to thaw within a minute of the guy getting to our door. Nothing was broken, I just didn't know what I was doing, so shivering all night was totally human error. Man, I hate that.

So we ended up with a late start to the day, but that was all right. We met my parents and Tim at the base of Staubbach Falls, which is this mammoth waterfall right near the base of our camp. We hiked up it and the path led behind it. The walk was steep, but brief, and my dad was walking at about my pace anyhow, and Tim enjoyed our slow company so the three of us were the caboose of the hike. The view from the top was, of course, beautiful and the boys loved dashing through the water as it dripped down through the tunnel. Under the fall itself was a constant spray, and from the back of the pack listening to the boys screech and yell out of pure joy I told my mom, "This is why we brought them. Everyone asked if we were bringing the kids, and this moment is why we did." It's fun to watch them enjoy themselves in such a non-commercial environment. They could have just as much fun in a Chuck E. Cheese, but somehow this seems purer.

When we got back down, most of us were damp but Zack was completely soaked, not from the waterfall but from playing in the water fountain at the bottom of the trail. I took his shirt off and put his coat on, zipped him up, and forgot for the rest of the day that he was basically shirtless.

The charming clock tower in the town of Lauterbrunnen struck 12 as we walked back into town, hoping to get some lunch and some info from the tourist office. What we failed to realize was that the ringing was actually a "last call" - make your purchases and get out of the store, because the entire town closes down at noon. By 12:15 the cafe and the tourist office were both closed, although we know for a fact that the tourist office worker was still there, as she opened a window to tell my kids to stop playing in the alley. Disrupting her nap, probably.

The train station is always open, thank goodness, so we went in there and decided on the spur of the moment to buy tickets for Jungfraujoch, which was an outing best enjoyed on a sunny day, and since the sun was shining right then, we decided to take the plunge.

Jungfraujoch is this amazing station at the top of Jungfrau, the peak named after the "young girl" being protected by the Monch ("monk") from the Eiger ("ogre"). The Eiger is one of the more famous rock climbing mountains, and the train we took actually stops in a tunnel halfway up the north face of the Eiger, with observation windows so you can see the view from the Eiger. That is, if the weather was clear, which it was not.

But it pretty much didn't matter to us. What we could see was so cool that it was worth the jaw-dropping $100 per person (after the discounts, and the kids were free thank goodness) for the train ride up. The views on the train were spectacular - these tiny cottages nestled in the hills, absolutely picturesque - and as we climbed higher and higher, it just got better. The ride was about two hours to the top.

The first thing on our list was to visit the ice palace which is so cool there isn't a word to describe how cool it was. Uber-cool, maybe. We were in an ice cave with statues and tunnels and it was the best part of the whole thing, I think. Poor Darcey was sitting in her stroller, freezing her little tush off, so I took her out of there, but it was the neatest thing we've done here so far. And I think it won't be topped.

The less-neat thing that we did was get altitude sickness. I can't vouch for Darcey, but every single one of us ended up with a headache, along with shortness of breath and a sick stomach. It hit my dad the fastest; he was out of breath almost immediately, but we all caught up to him pretty quick. Fortunately, we survived with just the headaches lingering, unlike the lady puking into the garbage can right behind us, or the boy on the return train tossing his cookies in the area between the cars.

While we were up there we went outside, but the clouds were so thick around us that we couldn't see anything but white. It's too bad, because on a clear day the view from 11,000 feet is into Germany, Italy, and France, and that would have been a sight. As it was, Noah got to eat a lot of snow (in the winter we call him Snoah), we threw snowballs at icicles and watched the icicles slide down the mountainside, and paid prices so high for sandwiches that it made Disneyland food look affordable.

We were all tired (and sick) by the time we left, so we didn't get a chance to go sledding, or skiing or ride the zipline or anything else that was available. I, personally, wanted to do the dog sled ride, but it is only in the morning.

The ride down was much faster, it seemed, than the ride up, but that could have been because the kids were all well-behaved and Darcey slept for part of it. The altitude sickness wore everyone out, I think, so I'm glad we hadn't planned on a big dinner out or anything like that. My mom made us spaghetti in our mobile home and then they left to go hunt down some apfelstrudel for Tim and some pommes frites for my dad. I'm sitting in our warm bedroom with Darcey in her summery pj's sleeping contentedly, and I'm confortable and happy. It was a good day.

PS - It costs 10 Francs (which equals $10 US) for 2 hours of internet access, so I'll have to get pictures up later. Sorry about that. It'll be worth the wait, though.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Guest Blogger Brad's Report on Berlin

We took a bus to get to the airplane, then when we got off the airplane we took a train and then we walked to our hotel. We had two rooms at the hotel and I was in the first room with grandma and grandpa and noah was in the second room with Tim. Either grandma or grandpa snored the whole night, until I got up to go to the bathroom, then they finally stopped and I could go to sleep. The time was about 23:34 in military time.

Our first day there we did a tour of the city and the guy talked about Hitler and his palace and that they used the tiles in the subway when he died. We went to the place where Hitler killed himself, the bunker. Then we went to a market and bought cheese and bread and had cheese sandwiches and they were very good. Then we got water but it was carbonated water - it was disgusting, so Noah and I were shaking the water and spraying it around. We got soda after that because we didn't get any water. Then Noah shook his Sprite for like 37 seconds and then took off the cap and it exploded everywhere, so grandma and grandpa took it from him. I didn't shake mine at all, but I accidentally dropped it so it exploded a little bit, but I didn't get mine taken away. When we left there was water spots and stickiness everywhere.

After that we walked around and looked at shops. We got some ice cream, it was really good - we had a lot of ice cream on our trip. Then we went back to our hotel. Tim went to a rock concert and I didn't see him at all. The next day we woke up, Tim was in the other room and we left, so I never saw him that day.

We did a bike tour that day and there was so many people that we had to divide into two groups and have two tour guides. Noah and I got mountain bikes and mine had a turtle horn on it (which sounded like a choking frog). Our tour guide was really funny. We passed memorials and statues. One was the TV tower and we were on the East side of Berlin. The tour guide said that when you are on the west side and you looked at the tower you could see a Catholic Cross and when we went to the west side we saw it.

We saw another one which was a bridge that let the east go to the west and there was a statue of a lady on a horse with a staff that the french had taken from the soviets and the soviets had taken it back from the french and added the staff and built a memorial to the people who died in the war. it was a old tower with a gold statue on the top that was looking over france to make sure they were being good. the americans named it the chick on the stick.

We went to a park and there was a naked guy there. we didn't see anything bad, he was just sitting there. Then we went to a restaurant and had lunch and the tour guide made jokes like "after you drink your beer you won't remember what I said and I don't care." He also said that later today we would see some bad things and that we could give him a hug for one euro per squeeze.

We went to the Holocaust Memorial which looked like cement blocks and the ground was wavy and the cement blocks went bigger and smaller. It was supposed to be like that so that it made you feel like you were in a different dimension and it had to do with Hitler and stuff but I'm not sure. The makers who did that were worried about having the memorial graffittied because there was so much cement so they hired police to make sure no one does grafitti and no one has. The tour guide said that a lot of people don't know what the memorial is for so people sit on it looking like idiots, so later we saw people sitting on it like idiots!

After the tour, Tim was just walking around the city and we were going to meet him at the hotel. We went to the tunnel thing that goes from the east to the west that has the lady on it, and there was poor people who wanted money I think and there was one that was a guy who dressed like an army man and there was a real statue next to him and there was a chair between the two guys. There were these people that were looking at him and thought he was a real statue so they got close and then he moved and they got scared. I was videotaping him and while I was doing it the guy got up from his chair and told me to come sit on his chair. Then two guys were dressed all in gold with gold paint on their faces and one guy had a high-pitched squeaky voice. We went to grandma and asked for money to give to them and Noah gave his to the army guy even though he never went near him and I gave mine to the gold guys and the one with the squeaky voice bowed to me.

There was also a clown lady and she was staring at me and growled at me but I walked away because she was scary looking.

We walked back to our hotel and met Tim and asked him questions about the rock concert and he said it was okay. I slept in the same bed the whole time. When we woke up we went to the mall and got ice cream, we were watching the football game and there was a really cool goal and one guy got trampled. After that we got on a train, then got to a train station and got on a second train that was like six hours, then got on a third train that was like an hour and then we got to switzerland.

Before we left on our second train ride I got a shirt and Noah and I got some of the Berlin Wall and a postcard and a little keychain of the money, Noah got a keychain and we both got a German flag.

My favorite part of Germany was the bike tour because we got to go zooming down the street and we got to go in the bus lane and there was a giant double decker bus right behind us. Plus we got to wave at people on the boats and they waved back. I had a lot of fun, and I'm excited to be in Switzerland now.

day 8 - Travel Day to Switzerland

Today was another tough slog of packing, walking, carrying, embarking, disembarking, schlepping, toting, and whining through multiple trains and stations. Fortunately, the travel time itself was only about 4 hours, but it was followed by thirty torturous minutes of dragging our crap very slowly down the main drag of Lauterbrunnen until we got to the campground. Zack was so done with traveling that he didn't want to pull his suitcase anymore, so there was a lot of coaxing and reshuffling of bags and rest stops along the way. I wonder how long the walk is normally; probably not too far.

#1 Lesson Learned The Hard Way: "Pack Light" is not just a suggestion - it is a commandment.

I tried very, very hard to pack as light as possible, but when you are a pack mule being herded through an Alpine valley instead of enjoying yourself sauntering casually down the same path, you know you've overpacked. The real problem is that one member of our group (Darcey) is too young to carry her own stuff, and another (me) is pushing Darcey in the stroller, so also can't pull her own stuff. So you end up with four people, one of them a four year old, carrying six people's stuff, and that is cumbersome. We've already decided that when we do this again (it's not an "if" it's definitely a "when") we'll wait until Darcey is old enough to pull a carry-on size bag herself, that way we can each have one small bag and no one needs to be the pack mule. Or maybe we'll just rent a pack mule.

#2 Lesson Learned The Hard Way: Hard-bound cookbooks do not make the most convenient souvenirs. But I don't care.

I could tell that Ryan was torn today between hating the travel day and loving the result. He bears the burden of loading and unloading all of our bags from the train at each stop, and finding a place to cram everything can be tricky. Add to that the fear that if we don't move fast enough, the train will take off with our stuff (or Ryan!) still on it, and it ends up being a fairly stressful job. Also, he tends to carry the most stuff everywhere, because Zack is limited by his tiny four-year-old muscles, and I've got the baby and the stroller and the huge backpack full of everyone's carry-ons.

But he had a hard time complaining once we got here, because Lauterbrunnen is absolutely gorgeous. As Ryan said, everywhere else we've been, the beautiful things we've seen have all been man-made, but the beauty here is all natural. He couldn't stop looking out the windows and pointing things out, or stopping to take a breather and just stare at the green, lush trees on the mountainside. Our campground is just past a mammoth waterfall that makes Bridal Veil Falls in Provo look like someone left the water running in the sink. It's called Staubbach Falls, and it's not even the biggest one around here. A river flows right past our campsite, so instead of listening to the fake ocean on our noisemaker at night, we get to listen to authentic running water. (It's not quite cool enough to make me get over my almost paralyzing terror of my kids somehow ending up in that river. I've told Zack about a dozen times not to leave our trailer without a parent, and I think he'll listen to me, but man, is it scary.)

Switzerland was Ryan's choice of vacation spots on our trip, and I'm gratified to see him enjoy it so much. When I've heard of an interesting place to live, I'll say to Ryan, "You can work from anywhere, right?" Today was the first time he reversed it onto me. He loves this place so much that he said he'd love to live here at some point, although he doesn't understand how anyone can get any work done with all this to look at all day long.

For me, I think it's beautiful, there's really no denying that, but it is obviously not affecting me the way it is Ryan. I'm not much of an outdoorsperson, and to be honest, being out in nature is not my strong suit. I had the window open in our trailer and when I closed it I didn't see the snail that I had accidentally crushed in the window. When Ryan pointed it out to me, I just about gagged and could barely stand in the kitchen until he cleaned it up. I don't care what you say, any man who is willing to clean a crushed snail out of a window for you is alright in my book.

My one complaint is that it is raining, off and on. Tomorrow we had planned to take a train to the top of Jungfrau, one of the tallest mountains around here, but I read that it is not worth the money if it is raining, because you can't see anything. The train stops halfway up the north face of the Eiger, which is a major rock climbing mountain. How cool is that? We'll find out, if it stops raining. The other problem is that I can't tell when the rain stops because the sound of the river drowns out any but the hardest rainfall.

To be honest, though, any complaints here are like Eve complaining that the Garden didn't have enough flowers for her, or it was just too perfect for her taste. This valley is beautiful, so beautiful that I think I've worn that word out and might have to come up with another one before we see anything better. And I think it will get better, too, which is the truly amazing part. I cannot believe I'm blessed enough to be able to do this. This trip has been everything I ever wanted it to be, how amazing is that?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day 8 - Ciao, Bella! More Milan

Today was an excellent sightseeing day - we crammed tons of stuff in our day, but took time to relax, ate some delicious food, then ate some more delicious food, and went back for thirds, found the perfect souvenir, and on top of all of that, the children were amazingly well behaved. You could not ask for more than that.

We started off bright and early with breakfast in the hotel, which we had missed the day before on acccount of me thinking Italy was 6 hours ahead of the US instead of 8. I had a cup of hot chocolate and a croissant and felt tres European. Everything else they offered came in little packages - crackers, pastries, hard waffles, even toast was prepackaged, not fresh. Later, when browsing the many patisseria (pastry shops) we had to wonder why we bothered to eat breakfast at the hotel when there were so many other fantastic places to eat. (Because it's free, that's why.)

Now that we've got the Metro figured out, we were able to get to the Duomo right on time for the bus tour we were scheduled for. To anyone who is intimidated by traveling outside of their comfort zone, let me say this - it takes some trial and error, but don't be intimidated. Yes, you might stand around and look like an idiot (or a tourist) for a little while, but once you figure it out, you get where you want to go effortlessly. It is absolutely worth the trouble to learn. And besides, no one cares that you look stupid. They have work to get to, or they are tourists themselves and probably shouldn't judge. Vacation-karma can really hurt.

We found our tour bus, dropped off the stroller, and headed with the guide into the Duomo. I was surprised by my reaction to the inside of the cathedral. I was so moved by the beauty and majesty of the building that I wanted to cry. Again with the crying! What's with me lately? I'm not a crier by nature, but I couldn't help but think of these people living in the Dark Ages, who wanted nothing more than to know God. I know that there were a lot of horrible things going on in the church at that time, selling absolutions, etc, but I'm thinking of the common man. The one who had no access to scripture, who couldn't read even if he did, and who was taught that the only way to heaven was through a priest he listened to in that building. It wasn't a good life, but is it possible that a building as beautiful as this one could have done something to elevate his thoughts, a little? To give him some hope in a world where there was none? I think that regardless of the intentions of the wealthy family that paid for the cathedral (and who incidentally took as their family crest the symbol of the sun, Christ's symbol, so that every time the sun was included in the decorations, people were reminded of their family), there is beauty in that building, and I can't help but feel uplifted by it.

Duomo is from the Latin "domos" or house. This was intended to be the House of the Lord. It is an interesting thought to someone like me who is LDS and believes that we have been given authority to have the true House of the Lord, in our temples. We believe that the Lord told living prophets to build Him a house, and they've been paid for with the money donated freely from members who receive nothing in return, no promise of forgiveness, just blessings of obedience. The temples mention nothing of the builders, the artists who paint murals on the walls, or the leaders who made the building happen. The only person who receives honor and glory is God the Father and Jesus Christ. It's a little bit different, isn't it?

This is how Zack counteracts against the heat and sun of the day. Nice, but I doubt it will be the new fad.

After the Duomo, we walked through the Galleria again, through the pigeon-kicking park, and into the Teatro Della Scala, or La Scala Opera House. La Scala is famous for its acoustics, and only the best singers were allowed to perform on its stage. Many famous singers and conductors performed here, including Verdi and Toscanini. I'm not a huge opera fan, so I was only mildly interested in La Scala.

The Galleria

Some kind of foyer in La Scala. Zack and I got reprimanded for him putting his shoes on the couch. I should have seen that coming.

Next on our journey was a bus tour of the city, where we drove past some notable sights, including the Milano Centrale railway station (and our hotel), the only skyscraperish building (30 floors, the only building higher than the Duomo), and Sforza Castle. This was another reason to be grateful for a decent metro system - this trip took about half an hour, and I don't think it was on purpose. Like any city, there was a lot of traffic and I'm guessing it was tough to maneuver a bus down some of the old, tiny roads.

Our final stop was the Santa Maria della Grazie church - where Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper was painted. It is very badly deteriorated because Da Vinci used the wrong painting technique on the wall, and it started flaking off within a few years of completion. Bummer. I'd sure hate to get this big, massive mural finally done and then get a call to come touch it up again only five years later. They outsourced the job to someone else, probably had the lowest bid, who pretty much painted over with whatever they wanted. They even added a beard on one of the apostles. Someone just finished redoing it yet again, spending like 25 years on it. What do you do when that job is over? Hope that there's another opening for Ridiculously High-Profile Art Restorer?

The painting, despite its flaws, was still amazing. If you had any doubt, all you had to do was turn around - there's another painting by some other guy on the opposite wall. He was a contemporary of da Vinci's and his art was basically total crap. I mean, it was still better than anything I could do, but as the tour guide put it, there's a difference between being a painter and being a genius.

There's no pictures allowed of the actual Last Supper. The above picture is of the church, this is Ryan carrying Darcey.

As with any tourist attraction, the door out of the Last Supper room went right into a gift shop. I'm sure that's the way it was built, back in the day. Here's the way the tour would have gone, 500 years ago: "Now we're walking through the cloisters, this is a working monastery so don't bother the monks, next is the chapel, and here's the monks' dining room with an apt mural of dinner, and over here is the Monastic Gift Shop. Pick up a souvenir robe for the kids, or better yet, just sign them up here for our next Monk's Summer Camp!"

It was pretty cool to see a masterpiece in real life. I kind of think that's what I've liked about this whole trip. Some of the things I've seen in books or travel shows or whatever, but a lot of it just feels like things that would be in a book or a travel show, that's how cool it is. I'm starting to wonder how I could have gone through life for 31 years without realizing the depth of history in this world. It's one thing to read about it, it's another to take a picture of your son sitting on a marble column that is over 600 years old. I have a very deep desire to read a serious amount of history books when I get home. I had no idea how much I didn't know until I saw all this.

After the tour was over, we headed to my new favorite gelatoria and got Zack a cone (vanilla, yes, only vanilla) and Ryan and I had panini. It doesn't even matter what's in them (although it's usually been prosciutto and mozzarella which I adore) they always taste terrific. Then we walked around the piazza and found a bathroom. It was in a bookstore, and we found an Indiana Jones sticker book for Zacky. As we headed back we passed the gelateria again, and this time Ryan got a hazelnut cone and we convinced Zack to try banana instead of vanilla. It tasted like actual bananas!! It was so delicious that Ryan and I kept taking turns "cleaning up" Zack's cone for him. (That's a technique I learned from my mom.) I had a lemon granita instead, which opened us up to a whole nother world of frozen italian treats. Granitas are kind of like high-end slurpees, but with natural tasting flavors, not so artificial as a slurpee. The ice-to-syrup ratio is spot on, and they are served with a straw AND a spoon, not this cheap spoon-straw combo at 7-11.

I love seeing grown men in business suits eating gelato right in the middle of the day. Love it.

We were going to head back to the hotel for a nap, but miraculously, Darcey fell asleep in the stroller and so we decided to walk down to the Sforza Castle. It's quite a hike, made longer by accidentally starting off on the wrong street, in the wrong direction. One nice thing we've learned is that we feel it in our gut when something is wrong. We just kind of know that maybe it's time to recheck the map, and sure enough, we're turned around. It doesn't seem to bother us on sightseeing days, though, because it just means that we've seen more sights. Granted, it's not maybe the sights we were aiming for, but that hardly matters. We passed an accordion player on the street and I had to toss him a coin to thank him for making it sound like Italy.

Darcey slept for about 45 minutes, at which time we parked ourselves on the grass outside the walls of the castle, in the lovely shade. We laid on the grass and relaxed, like the locals who were here on their lunch break, which is normally about 2 hours.

After about an hour, we roused ourselves and went into the castle itself, which meant running the gauntlet of friendship bracelet wielding men. Why couldn't someone have raised the drawbridge and kept them out? One of them mocked me for saying "No, no" and I wanted to go kick him like he was a pigeon, but he was way bigger than me and a little scarier than the pigeons.

The castle was nice, much bigger than Knaresborough, which of course was just a ruins and this is still standing. It was built in the renaissance style, which means much less ornate than the Gothic style which I'm partial to. This was impressive just in it's massiveness, how enormous and imposing it is.

We left and walked back to the Duomo, three granitas later (Ryan liked the strawberry one I bought outside the castle, he had to buy one himself, plus another for me). I had been thinking about what the perfect souvenir from Milan would be. I had bought a cookbook from Bettys Tea House in Harrogate because I enjoyed having tea there so much, and I thought wouldn't it be fun to collect a cookbook from each place we go? But in Milan, all of the books tend to be written in italian, and that wasn't going to work. As we were walking, though, we saw a sign that said, "American Bookstore" or possibly English bookstore, I can't remember. I asked Ryan to pull over so I could run in and ask if they had any italian cook books. He was wary, knowing how I tend to lose track of time in a bookstore, but I promised to be good. I was directed to a whole cookbook section in the back, and on one shelf I found it: the perfect Milan souvenir. A cookbook entitled "Italian Ice Creams" covering gelato, sorbets, granitas, and other things. I wanted to jump up and down, I was so excited! Yum! Yum! Yum! I bought that baby and was out of there in under 5 minutes. I think it's a record.

We headed back to the hotel, totally wiped out from such a long day. We had been on our feet for about eight hours straight, and the kids had been absolute troopers the whole time. I left the family there and hoofed it over to the train station to get our tickets to Switzerland for tomorrow.

We've seen pretty much everything there is to see here, and with the exception of climbing the roof of the Duomo, there's nothing else we want to do. But I still feel sad leaving. Why? I'm not sure. I am surprised that I liked it here so much, because it was probably the place on my list that I was least excited about seeing. I will definitely miss the food, but there is just so much pizza and ice cream that can be eaten before you get an upset stomach (trust me, Zack and I can vouch for that). I think I'm sad just because we've had two pretty wonderful days, we know the area now and are comfortable here, and have some good memories.

Tomorrow's destination holds promise, though. We'll be in an Alpine valley, where farmers take their herds of cow and sheep up to higher ground each summer and make their own cheese from the milk. We'll be in Heidi-land, with lederhosen and yodeling and that crazy alpenhorn from the Ricola commercials. Switzerland is the leg of the trip that Ryan is the most looking forward to, and we'll catch up with the rest of the family there as well. I'm just hoping to have time to grab one more gelato before our train leaves, you know, for the road. And maybe a granita, too.