Sunday, August 23, 2015


As mentioned in the last post, we decided to stay at a country house near Barcelona rather than in the city itself.  The house is about an hour and a half from Barcelona and in a very quiet and wooded area.   There is a river (Riera Merles) that runs adjacent to the property that provided many opportunities to swim in the natural pools and jump off the nearby rocks.   There were cows with bells on their necks grazing in the pastures which created a very melodic jingling.  In summary it was very peaceful and a good change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the city. The hosts at our house were a very nice couple, Marta and Climent.  They live on the upper floor while we rented out the lower two levels of their house.  It was a huge space and very comfortable.  

One of our bucket list items for Spain was to eat paella.  Personally, my intrigue with the dish started many years ago when it was mentioned in a Seinfeld episode.  Jerry's parents were supposed to go have dinner at George's parents where Estelle was making paella. 

      GEORGE: You know my mother made all this Paella.

     JERRY: What is that anyway?

     GEORGE: It's a Spanish dish. It's a mélange of fish, an meat with rice. Very tasty.

Anyways, we lucked out in our pursuit of paella as our hostess Marta is a Michelin star chef and graciously agreed to make paella for us.  She set up an enormous pan on a burner outside.  She added mussels, clams, calamari, sausage, and pork spare ribs to go along with the rice and vegetables.  It turned out fantastic.  It was so delicious!  This is definitely something we are going to need to try to make ourselves in the future.

Joel checking out the paella
Enjoying the paella near the creek with Marta, Climent and their friends
The highlight of our stay here for the kids was playing in the river.  It was really cool how the river had many waterfalls and then pools underneath that made for a prime location to jump of the rocks and then swim.  We stayed on many of the lower jumps but Climent showed us a spot where there was a 7 meter jump.   It seemed pretty high as we watched Marta's daughters plunge into the water. None of us got the courage to try it.   Out of curiosity, I looked up the record for the highest jump and found this guy did a 59 meter jump in Switzerland.  Crazy!


Danielle swimming in one of the many natural pool on the Riera de Merles

Joel's jump

Danielle's Jump
Caleb's Jump

The kids catching fish and then watching them swim the pool they made for them

We spent two days in Barcelona visiting the sights.  I think the most remarkable thing for me was to see La Sagrada Familia church in it's very unique Gaudi style.  The construction on the church started in 1882 and isn't planned to be completed until 2026 which will be 100 years after Gaudi's death. I bet that my brother (who is an architect who designs and builds homes) would be envious to have even one year let alone 144!

La Sagrada Familia


Arc deTriomf  (Paris isn't the only city with an Arc of Triumph)
Placa de Catalunya

Gaudi's Casa Batllo

Shoreline of Barcelona

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Pamplona statue of the Encierro (Bull Run)
We rented a country house near La Quar Spain, but we could not arrive until August 17th.  So Justin scoured the web to locate a place to stay for 5 days.  He found a place in Pamplona.  So off we went.  I think sometimes when you have zero expectations, you end up being delighted at every turn.  We arrived late in the evening and had a pretty tough time getting a hold of Eva, the apartment owner.  She was in the apartment and we were outside with no cell service and no way to get into the locked building.  Eventually, the kid in the nearby bike store understood Justin enough to let her use their cell phone and call Eva.  The following day we ventured into the city center.  Our apartment was located at about a 20 minute walk from the city center.  We ended up landing at the pen where they keep the bulls for the famous running of the bulls. We decided to follow the path of the Bull Run with our own wild bunch.  The old city is charming.  The architecture is absolutely beautiful and intricate with carved stone facades and wrought iron banisters.  I absolutely loved it.  Along our path following the Encierro the kids decided that they were hungry.  Eva had told us that pinchos (tapas) were the specialty in Pamplona.  Justin found a restaurant that had the pinchos laid out that we could see, so we thought it would be easier to choose.  We selected several that looked great and they we so delicious.  We all owwed and ahhed at the yumminess we were consuming.  I had chosen one that I was not sure what it was and once biting into it discovered it was calamari.  Now if you know me well, you know that I hate calamari.  But what I bit into was so delicious I had to take another bit to realize what I was eating.  Every calamari I had ever eaten before was chewy and well, gross.  This was soft and fresh tasting.  It was paired with a salsa verde and these tentacle things that I don’t know what it was, but so good!  Sometimes it is great to try something new and not know exactly what it is because you really try it for the taste and not with any preconceived ideas of how you think it will taste.  That I can say the kids have done from the get go and so far they have pretty much liked all of it.  Once we finished our meal we continued to the stadium at the end of the Encierro.  We finished our tour and headed back to try to get Eden down for a nap.  While she napped Justin and I went to load up on groceries.  We planned a few meals and stocked up on drinks including a 1.19 euro Spanish wine! That turns out to be $1.31.  We were again not certain, but thought we would give it a try and it was delicious. (A six pack of beer was 1.50 euros, we got that too)  Something that we have discovered along the way, buy bottles of water and drinks at the grocery store and take them with you.  You can get 6/1.5 liters of water for less than a small bottle of water from a vendor or shop in the city. 

In the Bull Pen at the beginning of the Encierro
Walking down a street in Pamplona (without bulls thankfully)
Danielle on a cool climbing structure in the park

The following day we had wanted to go to San Sebastian to go to the beach but the weather outlook was not great for the next few days so we postponed.  We decided to visit the National Park of Urbasa Andia, and take a hike to go to the spring of Urederra.  Caleb and I had found it online and the pictures looked amazing.  We drove the 45 minutes outside of Pamplona, had a picnic and set off on our hike.  The walk was lovely, surrounded by lush vegetation.  Once we got to the spring the pictures we had seen online could not hold a candle to what we were actually looking at.  The water was so blue in the pool and absolutely crystal clear.  If we could have swam in it we would have all jumped in right there and then, but unfortunately for us this is the drinking water for the towns below and swimming is not allowed.  The placed had a very magical feel, kind of like where you might imagine a pretty great fairy tale may take place at.  We kept on walking along the stream and it just got better and better.  There were more pools and waterfalls, the vegetation and boulders were stunning.  We were so glad that the weather had us change our plans and we found this amazing place.

Spring of Urederra

Waterfall into pool on Urederra

Traffic on the way to France
The following day we went back into the city center to have lunch at that yummy restaurant again, Bodegon Sarria.  We tried some different pinchos and let me tell you we were not disappointed. Also, quick side note, the meal was extremely affordable, less then what we usually pay for a quick sandwich.  We decided to head up into the base of the Pyrenees to a town called Eugi.  This again is only about a 45 minute drive outside of Pamplona.  Eugi is a tiny little village that has damned up a portion of the valley to create a lake.  Gorgeous!! The vegetation is lush, the lake is crystal clear, and the village in quaint.  We also learned that Eugi is the town where royal armour was made because they had the best craftsmen.  We walked along the lake for a little while and then head back to the car to drive further up the mountain.  Well, we ended up in Aldudes, France.  Along the road we ran into a small herd of cows in the middle of the road.  Now, let me say the herd itself was small, about 10 cows, but the cows themselves were huge.  The best part was, when Justin tried to get by, one cow did not want to move and Justin honked at it, you know like beep, beep, not laying down on the horn.  Well the cow turned her head looked at him like yeah, make me.  We all burst out laughing and eventually got around the cows.  Once in Aldudes we noticed a shop and stopped to stretch our legs.  This place was unique in that they made everything they sold and it was all kinds of different pates, stews and pork products.  What we also found out was that on the side of the building they had all the momma pigs with her piglets.  We followed the path to each pen and learned a little something about the pigs.  2 things we all were surprised by, 1) Pigs can carry her first litter by 12 months of age, males can sire by 8 months and 2) they can have 8 to 10 piglets each pregnancy and have 2 pregnancies a year.  Now when I read this my uterus hurt, ouch, apparently they recover quickly.  They also send the piglets out to pasture when they were 6-8 weeks with 30 to 40 other piglets.  By the way, they neuter all of them and only have a few mothers and sires in order to control the population.  Well the piglets were adorable.  There were some that were about a week old and the runt was only half the size of the others, he probably only weighed about a pound in a half.  Caleb wanted to bring him home.  Another thing I did not know, piglets are pretty fuzzy when they are new, totally cute.  On our drive back we stopped at an excavation site where they were preserving ruins from and old munitions factory from 1766 that King Charles III had built and later destroyed when France declared war on Spain.  There are moss covered walls and trees growing in building and again the place is magical.  I could have spent hours walking amongst the ruins, taking photographs, but it had started to rain and I did not have the best footwear for walking in the wilderness.  The ruins were located along the river with one side where they worked and the other where they lived.  During its heyday there were 200 families living there. Again, another cool adventure that was not fully planned or expected.

3 little piggies in Aldudes France
Lake at Eugi

Walking near Eugi

Remnants of munitions factory in Eugi

Remnants of munitions factory in Eugi

Sunday we headed to San Sebastian to go to the beach.  We had a great time.  We had a picnic lunch, the sand was perfect for building, and the weather was great.  The boys built a really cool ball track that had attracted a fairly large amount of people.  It started on a pyramid came out a tunnel, around the pyramid, down under sand level, under 3 bridges into a pit. I have to say I was impressed.  Justin coaxed me into the ocean for a swim.  There was a lot of coaxing that needed to happen because the water was cold or as Justin said only “chilly”.  But when he said he always wanted to have a romantic swim in Spain with me, what was I going to say, no, I would have been terrible wife of the year.  So in we went and I was right it was cold, not chilly.  Eventually, everyone got in, even Eden.  She was like me and thought it was cold so she only put her feet in but a rogue wave got her and she got totally wet.  After the beach we walked over to the “new” cathedral, Buen Pastor.  It is considered new because it was built in only 1897.  We then got some fantastic ice cream and headed back to Pamplona. 

Beach at San Sebastian Spain
Joel and Caleb's sand ball track

San Sebastian with Buen Pastor cathedral in background

We had a wonderful time.  Pamplona itself was pretty and we discovered 3 amazing places within an hour drive that were all unique in their own way.  It is great to go into something without any expectations. 

Side note: Much to my delight, since we have been on our adventure Danielle has taken to holding my hand whenever we walk around.  It can happen in the city, in stores grocery shopping, hiking, etc.  I am enjoying it immensely.  

Daniel the GPS

So our Renault Grand Scenic is equipped with a GPS that we have discovered in an Englishman named Daniel.  The manufacturing company of this GPS is TomTom.  The kids wondered why his name is not Tom.  When we first got the car we were headed to Rotterdam, to jam, and we were sticking to larger highways.  So, Daniel seemed to be doing this quite well.  We had a lot of repetition with directions, but at the time we thought no problem he is very efficient.  Well as time progressed we are getting slightly annoyed by Daniel’s instructions.  Really, how many times does one need to hear “stay left then stay left” or “bear left then bear left”.  Ok we get it, stay left, and try really hard not to swerve over to the right and suddenly take the off ramp because we will end up in God knows where.  My favorite of these instructions is, and I am not kidding, “Stay straight, go straight ahead, then go straight ahead”.  Wow, I never realized how confusing going straight was.  Through these all-knowing instructions we have learned that a roundabout in known as a rotary.  So Daniel’s instructions usually go like this, “Go straight through the rotary, second exit”.  But by far my favorite is, “Keep left, then turn right”.  This is always told to us when there is more than one lane, so I have moved all the way over to the left just to hear that I need to turn right.  That is impossible unless you would like to gun it and cut off everyone next to you.  We have yet to figure out what this bit of instruction is, because in every case there was a right turn lane and cannot figure out why we need to be left.  Lucky for me Justin is exceptionally good at trying to determine the map portion and I hear a lot of, “Ignore Daniel, and stay right”. 
The other issues we have are that sometimes, and it is always at a random moment, Daniel likes to send us on a road that is hazardous, way out of the way, very narrow or ALL of the afore mentioned.  On our way to Nendaz on an already sketchy road, Daniel decided to send us on a “shortcut” up a crazy steep road that was only one lane wide, but for 2 direction traffic.  On our way to Interlaken he also sent us on another “shortcut” into a high mountain town on a winding one lane, 2 direction traffic road, to save us 2 minutes.  Listen, I would much rather take 2 minutes longer than feel like I was ready to get into a head on collision at every turn.  Another example is while getting to the apartment in Nantes.  Once we got off the freeway, we needed to go another 5 kilometers through the city to get to the apartment.  Well, we took about 50 turn to get there.  I was thinking that this city has no straight roads.  Well, then we were heading back another day getting off the freeway in the exact same place, I was getting ready for a crazy ride, but lo and behold we took only 5 turns total.  What how could that be!  We did it again the next day and had a new route.  I think we went a total of 5 different way to the Nantes apartment.  We never used the same one twice. 
Today, on our way from Pamplona, Spain to a country house near La Quar, Daniel sent us to a fork on a small country road on a mountain side.  Daniel wanted us to take the fork that was closed, we took the other one.  Daniel recalculated and told us to continue.  We continued the fork and road closed process several more times, when he told us to “take a right” which there was no road!! If we did we would have literally driven off a cliff.  At this point we consulted google map on Justin’s cell phone and Lisa (we christened her) lead us safely back down the mountain and towards the correct road that was open.

Daniel also likes to think about where we are and takes his time recalculating.  Once in Baden-Baden I left the parking garage headed towards Merkur Mountain, and Daniel wanted me to take a one way road the wrong way, when I did not he needed to recalculate so I kept on aimlessly driving.  Several minutes later, he finally figured out where we were and started with his directions.  While he was recalculating he showed the car all over his GPS map and it did not at all match where we were, and he kept saying “Take a right, turn around when possible”.  Crazy.  Let me tell you when you are in a city that you are not familiar with and your GPS is yelling at you it is slightly unnerving.  I do think that I may write TomTom at rather strongly worded letter about the crazy routes that are suggested at times. Now Justin and I have gotten so used to Daniel’s quirks that we know when to ignore him, and when we need to try to stay left and turn right.

One of Daniel's moments where he thinks we are driving through the middle of a park

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Nantes Place Royal
On our first day in Nantes we decided to walk to the city center to explore the town.  There was a large sculpture and fountain in a square named "Place Royale".  We ate sandwiches while sitting at the foot of the fountain.  Later, after reading some information about the history of Nantes, I learned that the city came under some heavy bombing by the Allied forces in 1943.  The picture here shows the "Place Royal" after the bombings but somehow the fountain remained intact.  This definitely provided a good perspective on the history of the city.   Nantes was larger than I expected and had an active city center with many shops and restaurants.  It was busy but much less crowded than Paris.

We went to the a Hyper SuperMarche  (Something like a Super Target) on the outskirts of town to do grocery shopping for the week. The grocery store was built in a large indoor mall called Atlantis that would rival many of the big malls in the United States.    I noted a couple of differences however.  First of all, you have to insert a coin into the shopping cart to unlock it for use.  (I guess that helps people return them to the correct location which is the only way you can get your money back).  Once you have your cart you can go up moving walkways to different levels of the mall.   I've seen something similar to this at IKEA.   Here however you can have your cart full of groceries in the mall and then go into a clothing store like H&M or Hollister or some upscale jewelry store.  That part was a bit bizarre.  One of the things I've really enjoyed about many of the places we have stayed at is that there are small markets in walking distance of our apartments.  You can get things fresh that day for what you plan to eat. There are also boulangeries on every corner with amazing breads.  It's definitely a different way to get your food and that's why I was a bit surprised to see the mega mall in France.   I'm not sure how popular it is with the locals, but it's my guess that there are a fair amount of people who like to get their food the old traditional way for this region.

Atlantis Shopping Center
Nantes is only about an hour away from the Atlantic Ocean so we decided to take a day to go and relax at the beach.  We drove out to La Baule where we read that they had a nice sandy beach that was 5km long.  It was indeed nice sand and the town was quaint with a cool beachy feel.  We spent most of the day building sandcastles and throwing the ball.  The water was a bit cool but we decided to venture in.  To our amazement the water continued to be very shallow.  We walked out probably about 50 meters and the water was still only to my knees.  Out probably 200 meters and it was still below my waist.  As it got later in the afternoon, the water started to retreat due to the tides.  One of the guys near us on the beach said you can make it all the way out to the lighthouse which seemed a very long way away.   We decided to give it a try and we did get there with the water up to our chests at the end.  I decided to look on a map when we got back to see how far it was that we walked through the water.   The picture below shows our route and it was approximately 1 km from the beach.   Now, I grew up in a land locked state so I'm not well versed with beaches and the tides but I thought it was quite extraordinary that you could walk out that far.   I've never done that before!

Beach at LaBaule France.  We were able to walk about 1km to the Lighthouse through the water
Playing at the beach

We took one day to go to a big park by the apartment named Parc Proce.  We tried going here on a previous evening but it was closed as there was a fence around the entire park with locked gates. That's something I'm not used to as the parks I've been to in the United States don't have locks.   Once we were in, the park had some very nice flower gardens.  We also found a sort of kids bobsled track that they could race down while riding in little carts with wheels.  Eden enjoyed it and didn't want to quit.  She ended up getting another ride as the man working there gave her another token for free.   

Parc Proce Flower Garden
Joel going down the bobsled track in the park

One of the highlights of Nantes is Les Machines de l'ile.   It is an artistic project that combines the worlds of Jules Verne (who was born in Nantes, France) and Leonardo da Vinci.  The main attraction is a huge mechanical Elephant that 50 people get on and ride.  As the elephant is walking around the grounds it sprays water out of it's trunk and on the people watching it.   Caleb and Danielle also had the opportunity to try out two of the other machines that were built.   They also have a huge three story carousel with a marine theme where each of the seats was on another machine that the kids could control. 

Joel, Eden and Danielle with Le Grand Elephant
After our ride on the Elephant

Side view of the Elephant
Danielle on a Fish machine creation

Caleb on mechanical Inchworm

Joel and Caleb in a shell on the Marine Carousel

On one of the last days we drove 2 hours north to Mont Saint Michel which is a small island with a church only 1 km off the coastline of the Normandy region of France.   The tides here can vary up to 46 ft which are some of the largest in all of Europe.  The abbey was built in the 8th century AD and was a site for pilgrimages.     Today it seems like a modern day tourist pilgrimage as the number of people, parking lots, and shuttle buses seemed to replicate Disney World.    It was worth it though as it really was an incredible site.   We had lunch at a nearby restaurant of mussels and fries (moules frites) and it was fantastic.  Best mussels I've ever had.   Tomorrow we head off south through Bordeaux and to Pamplona Spain.

Note from Caroline:  Fortunately, there was an AMAZING bakery/pastry shop only 200 meters away from where we are staying, that have the best pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), croissants, baguettes, and tarts. Unfortunately, there in an AMAZING bakery/pastry shop only 200 meters away from where we are staying that have the best pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), croissants, baguettes, and tarts.

Mont St Michel

On the West Terrace of the Abbey on Mont St Michel

Getting Ready

A bit late in posting this but wanted to talk about some of the things we did to get ready for the trip... 

In order for us to get ready to go on this journey, one of the first things we needed to do was to find a way to pay for it.  The first thing was to come up with a budget for what we felt was reasonable to spend in order to make this happen.  We researched the prices of tickets using various websites like and  We also compared the cost of buying several one way tickets versus round the world tickets through Star Alliance, One World or Air Emirates.We researched the cost of staying in different locations on and I found both of these websites to be the most helpful and you could find lots of options for every location we were interested in.  So, after several weeks of research and spreadsheet making we came up with a budget that would suit our family needs and to fund this operation, we basically came up with 2 options.  We own 2 homes, one full time house and a vacation rental that we had purchased fairly recently.  Option 1 was  renting out both properties.  Since we already had the mountain condo listed in VRBO, that one would have been easy to continue.  We listed our home on zillow and got some interesting renter prospects.  If we went with the option to keep both houses and rent we would need to dip into our home equity line of credit that we had opened as a "just in case" safety net.  We would be in essence racking up a pretty hefty debt to make this happen.  Option 2 was sell everything and use a portion of the proceeds to fund our adventure.  Now for us there were pros and cons to both options.  If we rented, we had a landing place to come back to when the year was up or the money ran out, but we had a pretty good sized loan to pay off.  If we sold, we had no debt after the year was over, but also sold 2 amazing places that we both love. Another thing that occurred to us during this time was that if we sold we would be able to settle back down virtually anywhere.  This opened the door to a lot more opportunities of what to do in the future and not being constrained to one particular geographical location.  On the other had if we did end up back in good old Fort Collins, would it be ridiculous to sell a house that we both love.  Well, in the end the argument for both could have gone on forever, but we decided to sell both places.  There was something extremely appealing to have absolutely no debt, no bills, nothing that tied us down.  And as for where we end up in a year, only the future will know.  We listed both places and got an offer on the house in about a week and one on the condo in a little less then a month.  I was surprised at how fast things went.  We had fully expected that the places would sell once we had already left.  So we went through virtually everything we own.  Had a huge garage sale, donated tons, and packed up the rest.  Got a storage unit, loaded it up, left some things at Bob's place (Justin's dad) and some at Jon's place (Justin's brother).  We enlisted the help of friends and family and did it all that way, instead of hiring movers,  in order to save money.  Let me tell you movers though expensive are awesome.  I forgot how heavy some of our furniture was.  We decided to go through the house room by room and keep only the things we love, which made the process very straight forward.
During this whole process we needed to get check-ups and vaccines for all of us.  I scheduled dentist, orthodontist and doctor appointments for each of us.  Researched where we wanted to go and what kind of immunization recommendations we needed.  Everyone needed to get some extra immunizations but not much.  We did although need to get quite a few prescriptions filled.  Some for existing medications that we needed a one year supply for and some for malaria.  This was going to be tricky, because most insurance policies don't let you fill more than 30 or 90 day supplies.  But thanks to the great staff at the Super Target in Fort Collins, they helped figure out A) how to get a years worth with insurance paying and B) how to find 3 months of malaria medication for 6 people.  Not an easy task.  They called around to several different pharmacies to piece meal the complete amount of pills we needed.  Needless to say the whole process took several weeks.  
In the midst of all of this I decided to throw Justin a surprise 40th birthday party, and have it 2 weeks before we left. Well I have discovered I can keep a secret and also I am pretty good at multi-tasking, although I don't like to.  I had known that Justin had really wanted to see quite a few people before we go and luckily I was able to get a hold of everyone.  To preserve my sanity I had it catered and asked my amazing friend Julie Griffith to make the cake.  She totally outdid herself.  It was beautiful and delicious.

 Also, at the last minute everyone stepped up to set things up before Justin got home.  The hardest part in all of this was getting rid of Justin for the day.  Originally Jon was going to help him move things to his place, but Justin did not want to go along with that plan.  So it was time for Caleb and Joel to step up, come up with a plan to get Justin out of the house and execute it.  They did it beautifully.
We closed on the house on June 30th and drove up to our condo in Winter Park for one last stay.  We closed on that via power of attorney with Jon on July 10th.  During one of our last days in Colorado Justin had a major crash on the alpine slide.  I have never seen such bad road rash.  It took over a month to heal and he still has one scab left on his knee that keeps breaking open.  That makes it nearly 6 weeks since his accident.  So Justin's last days in Colorado and first 2 weeks traveling were in a lot of pain and with limited mobility.  
It has truly been refreshing for us to not even think about bills.  To be debt free has felt great, it is a very liberating feeling.  It has made me think about what you really need.  Also, we have 4 duffle bags and 5 carry-ons between the 6 of us.  This too, has made us look at what we really need versus want.  The kids packed up their back pack with personal items like toys, ipads, drawing pads, and pencils.  The ipad, now that was a struggle as to bring or not and as time has gone on I wish we had not.  We brought them to use for getting books to read and to face time with friends and family,  but it has become a task to make sure that they not get overused for games.  So far, we have taken them away 3 times and they will not get them back until our schooling starts.  Sometime I think technology is great and sometimes I hate it.  Our rules for the ipad are:  use only in the plane when traveling, can be used during down time for 1 hour a day, and don't argue over it.  Well, each rule has been broken a few times by a few unnamed kids.  So now they will get it back for an even more limited time for school and face time with friends and family.  Ahhhh, first world problems. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015


I've created a Google Map that has pins of the locations that we have visited.  The link to the map is here.   I'll update this every month or so to include our new stops.  Below is a screen shot of our stops so far.

Updated February 5, 2016:

The Golden Ticket "Eden" Freebies

We have decided to keep a running list of everything Eden has gotten for free during this trip.  We will be adding to it periodically.  Here it is:
  1. Iceland -- A cup of yogurt at the place we had breakfast. 
  2. Iceland -- After the blue lagoon we took a bus ride home.  While dropping us off at the bus terminal, I disembarked with Eden sleeping in my arms.  Once he saw that she was sleeping, the bus driver told me to get back on the bus and drove only our family 1 km to the apartment we were staying.
  3. Paris -- We arrived late and had checked into the hotel.  We went down to the restaurant for dinner but it was already closed.  Our only option was to order a couple of cheese and meat plates at the bar.  The waitress asked me what Eden was going to eat and I told her some of the meat and cheese.  The waitress went through the kitchen and brought Eden a chicken salad sandwich, a large bowl of fruit, 2 delicious Bonne Maman chocolate mousses, 1 yogurt and cookies for everyone.  
  4. Paris -- Once we arrived to the apartment we were staying Eden needed to use the restroom.  Usually only patrons are allowed but the nice man at the Moroccan restaurant across the street let Eden use his restroom and let us use his wifi to contact the owner of the apartment.  
  5. Paris -- At the Louvre Museum, Eden got us to the front of the line, instead of having to wait over 1 1/2 hours in the sun.  
  6. Paris -- The man at the restaurant we had lunch at after the Lourve kept saying Eden looked like a barbie (?) and gave her a Oasis Juice box.
  7. Paris -- At Sacre Coeur Cathedral Eden needed to go to the restroom.  Before exiting the church I asked the guide where the nearest restrooms was.  He asked me who needed to use it and I said Eden.  He quickly said follow me and had me go behind closed doors that stated "no entry", down a long corridor to a restroom.  Both Danielle and I took advantage of the clean and free facilities.  
  8. Paris -- Walked to a restaurant in the neighborhood we were staying.  One of the owners came over to Eden and gave her a Capri Sun and and Oasis fruit snack.
  9. Paris -- I ordered an espresso and it came with a cookie.  The owner brought one for Eden also.  I would have given her mine.
  10. Amsterdam -- Everyone needed to use the restroom, including Eden.  Asked a restaurant owner if Eden could use the facilities and she let all of us use it without having to purchase anything.
  11. Kinderdijk -- The ice cream man did not charge us for Eden's ice cream cone because she was "cute", even though hers was the same size as everyone else.
  12. Strasbourg -- After a delicious meal I ordered an espresso and the waitress brought an extra cookie for Eden.
  13. Eguisheim -- After we could not find lunch we all got an ice cream cone.  The man charged me for 6 and I corrected him saying 7.  The man waved his hand and said I did not need to pay for the "petite fille", Eden.
  14. Strasbourg -- Last night there we went to eat out and again Eden got a free cookie when they brought me my espresso.
  15. Interlaken -- Waitress thought Eden was cute and charming and ended up giving her free mini cakes 2 times for a total of 6 mini cakes, some to share with her siblings.
  16. Nantes -- Bought some mini luge rides at a cool park.  Once done Eden said aww and started to fuss a little.  The man running the ride gave me 4 more jetons so that Eden and Caleb, Joel, and Danielle could ride again and Eden would not be sad.
  17. Orvieto -- Free gelato for the bella bambina.
  18. Rome -- Free gelato.
I am sure there will be more to come.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Matterhorn view from Zermatt
Well, after a very rainy drive and rather sketchy road we made it to Nendaz, Switzerland.  I had not realized that our apartment was located at 1400m (4593ft) and that we needed to drive up most of that elevation in 15km of a very narrow, steep and winding road.  So the whole time I was gripping the "Oh s**t" handle and trying not to look down.  And to top it off our GPS "Daniel" (the kids looked up his name)  decided to send us up a "shortcut" through a one lane wide, but two direction road, that had a grade of about 30%, which is crazy steep.  We all wondered what they did in the winter, because it would not take much snow to make that road impossible to drive. Along the valley floor, driving on the highway, before our ascent, I kept commenting to Justin and the kids, "look at those towns clinging to the mountain, that is crazy".  Little did I know that those towns would only be 1/4 of the way up.   Once we arrived at the apartment my heart soared to see that it was located on the Haute-Nendaz plateau, not a cliff in sight.  We had rented the penthouse and the kids were delighted to be living large.  It was a very nice 4 bedroom 2 story place that was extremely comfortable.  I was in heaven because we had 2 bathrooms.  We arrived a little later than we expected and were thrilled to see we had arrived on the day of the weekly festival.  So we walked the entire 150m to the festival, and dinner was served.  We got to sample some raclette, (melted cheese served with pickles, pickled onions and potatoes), a merguez sandwich, cheeseburger, crepes, cotton candy,  apricots and of course some beer.  It was all delicious, and the best part was that they had live music the whole time.  We headed back to the apartment and went straight to bed.

The following day we decided to stay and visit Nendaz.  We went on a "kid friendly" 10 mile hike.  Being in the middle of the Alps, I was surprised that there was only a 210m elevation change, maybe that was the "kid friendly" part.  The whole hike is along a bisse (waterway) that is used to carry water to all of the farms and orchards.  Halfway through we stopped along the main river to have lunch.  The views were amazing.  In one direction you had a sweeping view of the valley below and in the other an incredible view of a high mountain meadow and the mountains above.  The kids had a great time on the way back having stick races in the bisse.  We were all exhausted when we got back so it was not hard putting anyone to sleep.  

Nendaz and the valley below

Bisse which was the site for many stick races

The hike around Nendaz was very lush and green

Stream by Nendaz
What a cool mall!
On Friday we drove into Lausanne to visit the city.  We parked adjacent to the Caroline Shopping center (who knew), and walked down to the waterfront of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman for you Frenchies).  Justin had seen a place we could rent paddle boats, so off we went.  Much to the children's delight, we rented a paddle boat that looked like a VW Bug and had a slide off the top.  So we changed into our swimsuits and off we went.  Caleb was brave enough to try it first and when he got to the end he totally stopped his momentum and plopped into the water.  Once he came up it took him a few seconds to catch his breath because it was pretty cold.  Joel was next, then Danielle.  The kids coaxed Justin to go, but I decided to stay dry and be on maneuvering duty.  Thank goodness, due to the current it was a constant battle to keep the boat in one position.  It gave me a great excuse to stay dry and warm.  Eden was brave enough to get her legs wet, but not much more.  We, meaning they, swam and paddled around for about an hour.  We then headed for lunch.  Well, Switzerland is very expensive.  We looked at a few restaurant menus and decided that we were not willing to spend over a $100 dollars for a few sandwiches, so we headed to the nearest market, got some reasonably priced sandwiches (for Switzerland), and sat on a bench along the water and had our lunch.  It was perfect, we stayed on budget (almost) had a great view, and the kids could be loud and no one cared.  Once we finished up we headed to the Olympic Museum and walked around the grounds.  It is filled with statues and exhibits about the Olympics. They even had a 100m dash track.  So Caleb, Joel, Danielle and even Eden, lined up and off they went to see who would win.  After a photo finish we still could not decide who had won.  So Caleb and Joel went at it again and with much deliberation and looking at the video in slow motion several times, Joel was declared the champion. Now I understand how judges feel, pressure.  As some of you may know the Olympics has a special place in our hearts.  After Justin and I went on our first date I invited him over to my place for dinner and to watch the Olympics.  Lucky for me it had just started and it worked to my advantage to have an excuse to invite him over for dinner and the Olympics for the next two weeks.  Well ladies it worked, he was hooked.  Joel found our Salt Lake City Olympics step and took a picture of us kissing. Since we had walked down from our parking to the waterfront, we decided to take a metro back up.  And when I say up I mean up.  It was much steeper then we thought and neither Justin nor I had the desire to push Eden back up the hill in her stroller. So the metro we took, man I love public transportation.  On our way back we realized that the next day, August 1, is the Swiss National Holiday,and that most stores would be closed and also closed the following day, Sunday.  So we decided to stop and stock up on groceries and try to do more meals at home considering the cost of eating out.  Joel and I discussed a great menu and had a plan of action. Justin dropped me off at the entrance to the supermarket and went to park.  When I walked in, I was told that the store was closing in 5 minutes, so our menu and plan was out the window.  I ran through the store like a mad woman grabbing the essentials, trying to find full meals that did not need many ingredients.  Well, I ended up getting pasta, pizza and sandwich fixings. As they announced the 1 minute left Justin and the kids walked in and I told them to grab some fruit and meet me at the cashier.  Once out the door I looked at Justin and commented how bright it still was for being so late.  He told me it was only 7:30pm.  What, they close at 7:30, That can't be, but yes, as we found out most stores in Switzerland close between 7:00 and if you are lucky 7:30pm.  Now I needed to brace myself for the scary drive up the mountain.  Deep breaths.

Swimming in Lake Geneva

The paddle boat with slide included!

They all made the podium

At the Olympic museum in Lausanne with Lake Geneva in the background

Saturday turned out to be raining so we decided to stick around Nendaz.  Lucky for us because of the weather they had relocated the festivities to a tent about 200m away from our apartment.  So around 4pm we opened the balcony doors and let the music pour in.  The rain stopped just long enough for the alphorn players (think Ricola commercial instrument) to gather outside and put on a mini concert. Caleb, Joel, Danielle and I headed out to watch and listen.  It is very unique and I was impressed at how lovely it sounded.  We made our way into the tent and Danielle got her face painted like a butterfly and all 3 of them made paper lanterns. They even got a battery operated tealight to put inside of them.  Once Eden got up from her nap and saw Danielle she wanted a butterfly face herself.  Justin took the girls back to the tent to get her face painted while Joel and I made fondue.  Oh yeah, funny thing, the grocery stores in Nendaz are open on the Swiss National holiday and Sunday, so there was no need to run around a grocery store for 5 minutes like a mad woman, nice.  We had cheese and chocolate fondue for dinner and listened to the music coming from the tent.  Then we sat out on the balcony and watched a spectacular fireworks show.  It was an amazing day.

Swiss Alphorns

Sunday we drove to the town of Tasch, boarded a train and went to Zermatt.  This village is at the foot of the Matterhorn.  The view was incredible.  I had never seen the Matterhorn other than in pictures and it was truly majestic.  We found a park and had our sandwiches that we had prepared at home. The kids played at the park and then we headed to the station to head up towards Rothorn.  We rode a funicular through a bore in the mountain that was so steep I was not sure why they did not call it a "ginormous elevator", and 2 cable cars, to get to the top of Rothorn 3103m (10,180ft).  I thought the view of the Matterhorn was incredible before, well let me tell you it was nothing compared to this.  We were all in awe.  I also did not want anyone going within body length to the edge because the drop off was shear.  We walked around the top and Justin and I wondered what it would be like to ski here.  So hopefully in about 16 years when all the kiddos are grown, Justin and I will make it back to have a ski holiday in Zermatt.  We stopped midway down the mountain to let the kids play at Sunnegga, the area just after the funicular ride.  They have a small lake and playground for the kids.  They also have a water system that the kids can play with and experiment how the water travels. Joel was delighted to see another Archimedes screw!  They even pulled themselves across the lake on a  raft.  Once back down the mountain we walked around Zermatt and headed back to Tasch on the train. We decided to drive into Brig before we headed home, because we wanted to get some raclette for dinner.  Justin had eaten it here with his brother Jon, years before.  We were walking around and looking at the menu of a restaurant when Justin wondered aloud what a word meant (it was in German), when the waitress overhead him and said to follow her.  We were thinking that she knew we were looking for the raclette and  low and behold we found ourselves sitting in an interior courtyard being asked what we wanted to drink.  We had dinner here and though it was delicious it was not what we were looking for.  By the way, the word we were wondering about was "GARDEN".   Again I braced myself for the drive up the mountain, this time in the dark, on a sketchy road.  Lots of deep breaths.

Matterhorn view from Rothorn

More of the Matterhorn

The town of Zermatt below the Matterhorn


The funicular through the mountain was steep!

Monday we drove to Interlaken.  Justin and I decided to take a train that you drive your car on. You stay in your car while the train is en route.  Sounds cool and it was totally cool.  The route is 15km, 14 of which are in a tunnel. Cool and dark.  All the cars are turned off so there are no lights on and you can't even see how wide the tunnel is.  Midway through a train passed us going the opposite direction.  Eventually we literally were able to "see the light at the end of the tunnel".  Once across we drove the rest of the way to Interlaken.  Again, "Daniel the GPS" gave us a very crazy shortcut.  I will tell you I am starting to lose faith in Daniel.  More of these one lane wide, 2 direction traffic roads where you really need to hope no one is coming.  But halfway down you get this magnificent view of the lakes and the city below, with the mountains rising above.  Totally worth the crazy road.  Daniel might not be too bad after all.  We found a great restaurant and I had the best meal of puff pastry filled with veal sausages and mushrooms in a creamy sauce. The kids had fondue and Justin had a yummy sandwich.  Our waitress was so nice she even brought Eden some free cookies.  By the way, our little golden ticket has had so much free food that we are now keeping track and it will be coming soon as a new post.  Eden shared her cookies with Danielle but when Joel asked for a bite she shoved the whole thing in her mouth.  The waitress thought that it was so funny she brought 4 more cookies and told Eden that she couldn't have any.  Eden looked at her and pouted and asked why.  The waitress laughed and told her she could have one.  Eden grabbed one and gobbled it up.  During our meal we watched about 50 para-gliders land in the park adjacent to the restaurant.  This is quite a big thing.  People pay to do tandem jumps off of the surrounding mountains.  So Eden also learned the word para-glider and announced that she wanted to para-glide.  My response, no way!!  After our meal we headed to Grindelwald and visited the city.  We had a great view of Mt Eiger.  We headed home to pack up to get ready to leave the next day. But first we needed to drive up the terrible road AGAIN.  Many, many deep breaths.

Traveling in our car on a flatbed train
En route to Interlaken.  The greenery was amazing!

Near Interlaken
Grindelwald with Mt Eiger in the background

We left Switzerland on Tuesday and on the spur of the moment decided to head towards Chamonix France to do a quick visit.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy and sprinkling, so we were not able the see Mont Blanc (the highest peak in Europe) or the Aiguille du midi.


Glacier near Chamonix

Mont Blanc in the clouds

We grabbed a bite to eat and headed towards Nantes, France.   We had a midpoint stop planned in Montlucon.  Around dinner we stopped in Diou a tiny little town and all played at the park.  Eden now asks to go to the park all the time.  There are some really great ones in Europe.  Eden discovered a merry-go-round that she could get going herself, but could not stop.  So once in a while we heard a little voice saying, "daddy, mommy, can you stop me".  We played a few games to get the energy out and then went to the only restaurant in town, La Tradition, and had dinner.  It was very good and priced well for 4 courses.  We got to the hotel late and went to bed.  This morning  we finished the journey to Nantes with a stop at the Chenonceau Castle.  We all enjoyed the tour of the castle.  I really liked the kitchen area, it seemed so cozy with the stone walls, wood tables and copper pots.  The gardens were magnificent and the kids enjoyed the labyrinth.

Chenonceau Castle

We are now in Nantes, France for the next week.  Thank goodness this is not located at the top of a sketchy road.