Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Guest post by Laurel

We are in Szeged, in the Art Hotel, in Hungary. I'm hungry in Hungary! That was a joke. 

I went to a playground and learned how to swing yesterday!

The first time we went to the playground yesterday, I didn't know how to swing. :( (sad face) Somebody had to push me and it was Mama. I wished she would push me more. I tried to swing on my own but I got sad. :( (sad face)

The next time, I learned how to swing. I was excited! :) (smiley face) My problem had been that I leaned back too much. I fixed it by only leaning back a little. 

I swung for a long time. 

I learned how to skip, too! 

Monday, July 21, 2014


Forget about the Normandy road trip, we are in the middle of our Hungary trip! 

Craig has a conference here in Szeged, in the southern part of the country not far from the Serbian border. We arrived in Szeged on Sunday afternoon and will be here until Friday. 

Backing up a bit, on Saturday morning we took the train from Lille to Paris, and we spent the afternoon sightseeing. We went to the Luxembourg Gardens and the Egyptian antiquities section of the Louvre. Both were very enjoyable, although between them and the metro, there was a lot of walking, way more than our feet appreciated. We started the day already tired, having gotten up early for the train, and then the weather was really hot and muggy, so the kids weren't full of boundless enthusiasm. Isaac did love sailing toy boats at the park, though!

We stayed in a Best Western by the airport that night, and flew to Budapest very early on Sunday morning; the conference organizers had arranged for vans to shuttle attendees from Budapest to Szeged, a trip of around three hours. 

We haven't done much here yet. I considered today a success because the kids and I located a playground and a supermarket (and because our lost suitcase arrived so Laurel could change her clothes). We spent a lot of time resting and playing in our spacious air-conditioned penthouse suite, which might be even larger than our apartment back in Lille. The kids needed to recover from two early mornings and two long hot days (and maybe I did too). 

Tomorrow maybe we will do something more adventurous. Although when you're in a country where the language is particularly inaccessible, even the grocery store is an adventure! And Laurel just today learned how to swing by pumping her legs, so the playground was momentous for her. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Normandy road trip, day #3

On Sunday, July 6, we were three days into our four-day road trip through Normandy (and, technically, Brittany, which is where Mont Saint-Michel is located). As I previously mentioned, we stayed Saturday night in a cute little cabin on the grounds of an old manor house, and when I woke up on Sunday morning I was sick to my stomach, although I felt mostly better by early afternoon.

I had originally planned that we would rise promptly Sunday morning, make a quick visit to Mont Saint-Michel, leave the area no later than noon, tour two sights on the northern coast of Normandy (Omaha Beach and Honfleur), and then arrive late on Sunday night at our hotel (near Jumièges Abbey, which we planned to see on Monday).

Well, it was an ambitious plan, one completely scuttled by the problem that due to my illness I didn't even leave our cabin until noon. Then we had a choice: skip Mont Saint-Michel, which was right there in front of us, or look ahead at the rest of our itinerary and skip something else. We decided to drop Honfleur (an old Norman fishing town beloved of the Impressionists), although I still had hopes that later in the day we would make it to Omaha Beach (site of the D-Day landing and a World War II museum) and then our new hotel. (However, I did ask our hotelier if our same cabin would be available for a second night, just in case we needed it, and he assured me that it would, and there would even be a discount because it didn't need to be cleaned for us.)

The hotel was located along a canal with a view straight out to the bay and Mont Saint-Michel, and we had a very pleasant walk along the canal path to the next village, where we had lunch. Being in Brittany, we tried the traditional Breton galettes, buckwheat flour crepes filled with cheese, eggs, ham, and so forth. Unfortunately the kids did not like the buckwheat flavor, and it also took a very long time. There are no quick restaurant meals in France unless you get a sandwich at a bakery, and sometimes not even then. It is very inconvenient when you just want to eat and go do something.

Walking along the canal with the Mont in the background

Then we caught the free shuttle bus over the causeway to Mont Saint-Michel, since cars can't drive there. It is basically a medieval church and walled village perched on a steep rocky island surrounded by mud flats and/or ocean depending on the tides. The location is stunning, and the architecture would be charming if the twisting stepped alleys were not lined entirely with shops selling souvenirs and sweets. On the other hand, it has been a tourist destination for a thousand years, so it's authentic!

Behind the fence is the new elevated walkway being constructed

Aren't we at the top yet?
It was very crowded on the Mont, although not disastrously so. The kids found the crowds restricting and the walk up the steep steps tiring, but I hope they thought the view from the top was worth it.

Tide's out

There's plexiglass in that aperture, don't worry

At the very end of our visit to Mont Saint-Michel we stopped at the restaurant nearest the entrance for a quick light snack, which actually involved something like an hour and 50 euros. (That was probably an error in judgement on our part.) By this time it was after 5:00 p.m., and it was clear we weren't going to leave the area that day. So we stayed a second night at our same cabin, planning to arise early the next day to travel first to Omaha Beach, then hopefully Jumièges Abbey (very old and in ruins, just the way Laurel likes it), and then Rouen to catch our train at 6:00 p.m.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Food in France

Are you wondering what we've been eating in France? Obviously we ate in restaurants during our Normandy road trip, and we had some good food in villages near Mont Saint-Michel (local lamb stew for me, mussels for Craig) as well as some overpriced tourist food.

Here in Lille, however, we have eaten most of our meals at home, especially dinners, so we have had pizza, quiche, and ravioli from the supermarket refrigerator case! From time to time the kids and I have gone out to lunch, and we have had some pretty good lunches from bakeries and cafes, all of which we have taken to eat at the park: ham and cheese sandwiches, fries topped with sausages, and still more ham and cheese sandwiches. We have had a lot of chocolate croissants, also, which is nothing to complain about! 

The district in which we are living is packed with restaurants, as is the adjoining district, and lots of people come to this part of town just to dine. But we haven't joined them! Partly it's being in the company of two small children, partly it's laziness. We really should try a little harder.

We did go out to dinner last night, however, with Christa, the scientist whose lab Craig is visiting, and one of her post-doctoral researchers. She is German and her post-doc is English, but still she took us to a typical old-fashioned Flemish restaurant, Chez la Vielle, with dishes traditional to the north of France. We were the only ones there when we arrived at 7:30 p.m., and the place was packed by the time we left at 10:30 p.m. to go watch the fireworks for the Fête Nationale (a.k.a. Bastille Day). The relaxed pace of dining here is another reason not to go out to dinner with small children! That's a long time to sit still, but they did remarkably well.

I had a fantastic appetizer of a waffle topped with a thick circle of goat cheese glazed with honey, then baked and served hot. I could seriously eat one of them every day, especially with the delicious amber beer that accompanied it. The kids split a huge plate of fries topped with a deep-fried sausage, the exact same thing they had had for lunch that day, except served with mayonnaise in the Belgian/Northern France style. When I asked the waiter if they had any ketchup, he said, "We do not. It is forbidden in this type of restaurant." He was joking, except that he really meant it.

And randomly, one afternoon last week the kids and I happened to walk past a bakery called Aux Merveilleux de Fred that looked interesting, and plus it was raining and we were hungry, so we went in and ordered a few strange little cakes. They were as light as air and incredibly delicate, and I had no idea what they were made of, even after we ate them, but now it turns out they are kind of famous, and the bakery is a destination in Lille. The cakes are called "merveilleux," and they are meringue covered in whipped cream with a crunchy candy topping of various flavors. Laurel and I had chocolate, and Isaac had cherry, but now, checking their website, I think I might have to go back and try coffee or praline.

Tomorrow we are going to a barbecue at Christa's house, and we will see what a German who has lived in France for 20 years puts on the grill! I'm guessing sausage.

Climbing columns at the Citadel

Monday, July 14, 2014

Laurel's blog post

On Saturday we went to Christa's house (she is a scientist that my Dad is visiting) and had dinner and watched fireworks. I liked the food, especially those little cookies. Crunch!

We went to a park and watched fireworks. It was late and we stayed up really late. There was a lot of people. The fireworks were loud but beautiful. I sat in Christa's lap and covered my ears. Before the fireworks there were people doing tricks swinging, holding on to a trapeze. They were also swinging from which one to which one!

On Sunday me and Dad stayed at home and made a book. It was a "Frozen" book. Then we went to the metro to the art museum. At the museum I especially liked the statue of a woman with the flowers around her head. On the way home I liked eating candy on the street. The candy came from a candy trolley in the big square.

This morning I made a museum. It is a "Frozen" museum. My museum is in the fireplace. That's a snowflake made out of painter's tape [on the white cardboard]. Those are Anna and Elsa toys, and Olaf the snowman. That's the book of "Frozen" I made at home with Dad.

Our room has two museums: "Frozen" and World War II. :) (smiley face) My brother Isaac made the World War II museum.

Here is a picture of my museum. Do you like my picture?

The sign says: Elsa Anna Frozen Museum

Friday, July 11, 2014

At the races

Despite the gloom of my last post, we made it out of the house successfully, and we walked to the Citadel park. In addition to the playground, the kids gave the amusement park a try. They loved this mock horse racing ride, which actually went pretty fast (and didn't even have seatbelts). Isaac went on it three times!

Laurel comes galloping onto the track!
Isaac looks over his shoulder to see if Laurel is catching up
Isaac is safely in the lead!

Gloomy weather

It's Friday today, and since we got back from Normandy late on Monday night, the kids have fallen into a pattern of going to sleep very late (11:00 p.m.) and getting up late (9:00 a.m.). This really isn't enough for Laurel, who is better-regulated in her mood and behavior with 11 hours of sleep; she has been complaining much more than usual. At home she would be asleep by 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., and would wake up around 7:30 a.m. She needs to be recalibrated. Maybe we can work on it after the weekend, since we want to stay up to watch the fireworks for the French national holiday, and it doesn't get dark until 11:00 p.m.!

And the weather has been gloomy and rainy, as well. The kids and I have gotten into the habit of not even leaving the apartment until after lunch, as I keep hoping that the weather will improve in the afternoon. So far it hasn't! But we have gone out anyway, because there's nothing like sitting around a small apartment with two restless kids to make you appreciate being outdoors.

They have actually entertained themselves around the apartment very well. They have a few small toys with them, but their main entertainment has been self-generated arts and crafts projects. I prepared travel kits for both them filled with new markers, scissors, tape, and so forth, and since we have been in France they have collected recycled materials and cardboard. Inspired by the Disney movie "Frozen," Laurel has built several ice palaces, both toy and human scale, as well as a "Frozen" museum or two. Inspired by our trip to Omaha Beach, Isaac has built a World War II museum.

Still, it was nicer when we could just go out and wander around without having to prepare for getting wet and cold. Gloomy weather can sure cause a gloomy mood.

On Tuesday the kids rested while I unpacked and did laundry, and after Craig came home early we all walked along the canal in the late afternoon. On Wednesday the kids and I walked in a steady cold rain to a mall with a Lego store, but it was too far, more than 30 minutes away, and Laurel really couldn't take it; luckily we managed to catch a bus home. Yesterday we went to the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (the Museum of the Hospice of the Countess) a history museum set in a building that had been a hospital and convent for 800 years; we were fairly interested in the historic rooms furnished in the old Flemish style, but the upstairs museum collection was mediocre. On the stroll home, however, we enjoyed window shopping among the quaint old shops, and luckily we discovered a tiny playground so the kids had a brief chance to run around before the rain started again.

Today? Right now the kids are even resisting my efforts to get them to go out to the park!

New cousin!

She was born a surprising three weeks early, but my brother's daughter arrived last night!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Normandy road trip, day #2.5

We all liked our hotel near Mont Saint-Michel. We were in a small cabin on the grounds of an old manor house, and the kids found it a relief to not be sharing walls and/or floors with other people, because we weren't constantly telling them to be quiet! They also liked the park-like setting, as the yard had trees to climb and toys to play with (and a cat!).

Our cabin at night
Despite the quirky coziness of our bungalow, I slept poorly on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning I felt quite sick to my stomach. After eating only a bit of breakfast (which was served in the solarium of the manor house) I went back to bed, and Craig read to the kids and then took them to play at the riverside playground. They didn't care if we ever went to Mont Saint-Michel or not!

(We did finally go, however, a little bit later in the day.)