Tuesday, July 13, 2010

el 13 de julio - Llafranc y Calella

Our friend Heather is here visiting so we took her on a little sight-seeing in the Costa Brava.  First stop, inland to La Bisbal to check out all the pottery shops.  Sadly, many of them have closed due to the economic crisis in the last two years.  Even so, we still managed to be overwhelmed by all the choices, locally made and from elsewhere in Spain.

From there, we drive to the coast, to a village called Llafranc (pictured above).  I had never been there before and was glad we went.  We ate lunch at 2pm at a seaside restaurant, enjoying local specialties such as patatas bravas, calamars a la planxa, croquetas...  (Sorry about the mix of Spanish and Catalan in my spellings!)  Tuna, tortellinis, goat cheese salad, a hamburger and several bottles of mineral water and rosado wine rounded out the meal.  The views were lovely, to say the least.
Austin wanted to show us another picturesque village around the next cove, so we hopped back in the car to drive to Calella (beach above and right, and town below).  There are white houses lining the coast with gorgeous blue-green water. 

The kids went down to splash around and scramble on the rocks while Heather and I did a little window shopping and then joined Austin for coffees at a cafe overlooking the beach.

Of course, the best vacation days end with ice cream, so we got some yummy ones as we headed back to the car and drove back to Estartit for dinner.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Octopus Chooses Spain

Spain the likely winner of tonight's game?

Vendredi le 2 juillet - à Dijon

It was a simple and easy drive from Crans-sur-Céligny, Suisse to Dijon, France.  Finding our way to our hotel might have been the hardest part.  If we could have gotten out and walked, it would have been easier!  We knew where it was, but we just couldn't get the one-way streets in the right direction in the centre ville.  We circled, and closed in our hotel.  The concierge said our room wouldn't be ready until 14h, so we parked, right in front of the hotel, on the street, and decided to walk to the "place" next to the Palais des Ducs for a light lunch.  While we were there, we conspired on how would would buy Austin his birthday gifts for the next day.

Though lunch wasn't cheap, we had great salads and the kids enjoyed a shared pasta bolognaise.  I had my first real Dijon "kir" of the trip and the kids enjoyed playing in the public fountains.

We were surprised when we finally checked into our hotel room.  We had reserved a room with a double bed, and in the photos on-line, it looked like the hotel would squeeze in two single beds for the kids.  Since we expected to spend a lot of time doing wedding-related activities as well as sight-seeing, we really didn't mind tight accommodations for the weekend!  But when we walked into the room, I was worried.  There was only one double bed.  I politely asked the woman in French about the additional beds we needed for the kids, and she said they were "en bas."  As "en bas" means downstairs, I was puzzled.  But sure enough, a staircase inside the bedroom led to a floor below - to what would have been the wine cellar of the building.  Maybe it sounds strange, but for us, it was perfect!  We had extra space, extra privacy, and it was very cool in the cellar (see right).  For the money, and location, we were really pleased in the end.

el 6 de julio - First full day in Estartit, Spain

Now that we have arrived in Spain, the lazy days have started.  I'm so busy doing nothing that it's hard to find time to sit down at the computer to blog.  The kids are having a great time in the pool here at the house; since it's been two years since we were here, we are seeing great improvements in their swimming abilities.

We went down to the main beach, where most of the tourists in town go.  It was a very windy day.  Likely the Mistral winds that blew us south from France into Spain on Monday hit our Costa Brava on Tuesday.  The kids splashed around in the Mediterranean, not caring about the sand blowing around on the beach.  After playing a little soccer in the sand, we headed back to the house for lunch. 

 After lunch on the terrasse at home, we had espressos and cortados by the "ski beach" and met the owner, who was very pleased to hear her regular client's son (Austin) speaking Spanish!  This is the Wheelocks favorite place for espressos, great prices, and friendly service.  Patrick enjoyed some chips (made with olive oil, which I guess makes it more Mediterranean) and Sophie enjoyed a decadent Magnum noir (white vanilla ice cream covered in dark chocolate.)  We took the fishing boat out to the Illes Medas.  Just around the corner, we admired the giant fish (pictured at left) installed since we were last year, creations by our friend and artist Marc Alos! 

Marc is also well-known for his little statues of people...  I will blog about this on another day, with pictures and quote from the artist himself.  In the meantime, if you are curious, you can check out:  www.caganer.com  Don't be too shocked by the pictures you see...

Being mid-week in early July, we were able to stop at a buoy close to the island, in shallow green, blue, azur water.  It was gorgeous.  Austin and his dad got in to the water, and snorkeled around a bit.  Patrick jumped in quickly, but it was a little chilly so he hopped back into the boat fairly quickly.  Sophie was maybe a little seasick and mostly just dozed while the boat bobbed around a bit.

A simple dinner at home finished off the day, so we could sit in front of the tv to cheer for opposing World Cup teams.  (We cheered for Gijs' team...)

Kids in bed sometime around 10:30 or 11:00pm.  Becoming used to the Catalan hours...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

le 30 juin - Annecy

Today was a day for the ducks!  And the swans too!

Ask the kids what the best part of the day was, and I think they will mention feeding the ducks and swans.  We got a really late start leaving the Geneva area since we all still have quite a bit of jet-lag.  Patrick still was fighting off a fever but was a good sport once the ibuprofen kicked in.  We drove to Annecy, France which took just over an hour by car.  The old part of the city is lovely, just off the lake with small canals winding through.  Shortly after arriving we headed to a café-restaurant and tried the local kirs, beer, and some specialities of the Savoie region.  Heather had a delicious salmon, I had a great salade au chèvre chaud and Austin had a plate of regional cheeses and charcuterie.  Kids - well they opted for the kid menu of chicken nuggets and abundant French fries.  While we finished our meal, the kids began feeding the swans and ducks on the canal next to our restaurant.  They loved it.

The kids then begged to head over to the lake, to swim, to check out the giant slide, and maybe try out a pedal'eau with a built-in slide.  Heather and I opted for a little more window shopping and strolling around the vieille ville while Austin took the kids for their water adventure.

Heather and I caught up with the wet kids splashing around the edge of the chilly lake.  They tried out the pedal boats for a half hour, but found the slide less enticing because the lake is quite cold further from shore.

Next we headed to the beach.  Austin was going to take the kids down the big slide,  but it closed just as he was getting in line.  Our kids, who are not used to cold lakes, didn't really want to swim much, so they splashed a little bit in the kid area. 

We strolled back to the old part of town, and found a place for some pizzas to share before we headed back to Crans, Switzerland.  No one could get to sleep before midnight despite trying hard!  Hopefully tomorrow will be easier!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

le 29 juin - Crans, Nyon, Yvoire

After a quick trip back to the airport, Austin and I rented the car uneventfully, which was a huge relief.  By the time we returned to the village of Crans, Patrick's fever had subsided.  Sophie slept later than ever, so we work her up finally at 10:30am.  We headed along Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) up to Nyon, Suisse.  (That's not the Nyons-with-the-olives in southern France)

Nyon is a lovely medieval town overlooking the lake.  Austin needed some decent leather sandals for strolling around quaint European villages, so we did some shopping.  We paused for a little picnic next the lake with some baguettes, some other yummy bread, brie, sliced ham (why is it so much better in Europe?), salami, and some fresh cherries.  The kids walked along the stone wall, tempting the swans, ducks, and little birds with the crumbs from their baguettes.  After, we crossed the street for our first espressos of the trip which were perfect, while Heather and her friend Susanne had "des renversés," which seem to be basically "café au lait", but here in Switzerland apparently they are more likely to be called "renversé."  Booming thunder in the distance pushed cold air into town, so our stroll around Nyon was quite comfortable in the upper 70s.  At the café after lunch, Patrick became really chilly and we realized his fever was back.

We took the boat across the lake to France, to a gorgeous little village called Yvoire.  It's not far from Evian, where, obviously, Evian water has its source.  The flowers in the window boxes are beautiful and lush, and the boutiques were charming.  The kids enjoyed dipping their hands under the flowing water at the public fountains, learning the difference between "eau potable" and "eau non-potable."  Austin and Patrick sat around on corners, since Patrick wasn't feeling too well, while the "girls" did some window shopping.  One gift was bought, for my mom.

The lightening across in Switzerland never reached us, but the rain did, just before boarding the boat to return.  This boat was a big, good-looking paddle boat, with a proper dining room and first class area.  Patrick nodded off while Austin and Sophie explored the ship.

Now Patrick is sleeping on the rug on the floor of the living room.  Sophie challenged her dad to a game of chess, Susanne is doing work on her computer and Heather is planning her vacation for southern France, not far from Carcassonne.

A simple dinner is planned, because we didn't really plan one.  Austin and I hope the Spain-Portugal game will keep us awake and alert so we can get over the jet-lag.

Les Grandes Vacances

I was going to write a clever email detailing our first 24 hours in Geneva, Switzerland.  Instead, here are just a few highlights:

Sent the incorrect itinerary to our friend Heather who lives here.  She arrived to meet us on Monday around 11:30am, but we didn't arrive until 3pm or so.  Took a while to figure out how to call her on a pay phone.  Pay phone!  When is the last time you used one of those.

Geneva airport has a French and Swiss side.  Went back and forth between the countries trying to find the right Hertz.  Patrick straddled both countries for a few minutes.

The reservation we had for our rental car didn't exist in the system.  No cars were immediately available, and if we took a car that day, we were going to have to pay close to $1600 for 24 days - and for a small/medium-sized car.  Austin figured out the free wi-fi at the airport and sitting on luggage next to Hertz, reserved and paid for a car to pick up on Tuesday morning.

Finally made contact with Heather and met her!  Stuffed all our luggage and the 5 of us into her car, and went to her Swiss village of Crans.

Had some good local wine from the chateau/winery here in the village of Crans at dinner.

Sophie slept from 8pm to 10:30am.

Patrick woke up at midnight and tossed and turned until around 2am.  He woke up this morning at 8:15am when Austin and I got up to go back to the airport for the rental.  Patrick has a headache, and a fever.  Heather walked down to the pharmacy to get a thermometer and kids' ibuprofen.  He is still pretty docile and not feeling great, but not grouchy.

We might take a boat across Lake Geneva to a French village to stroll around.  No big plans until Patrick feels better...