Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Last day

Today is our last full day in France. We leave for the airport tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m., so today is our final day to do everything we haven't yet done -- and to pack, of course.

I haven't blogged as much as I did from England, partly because I didn't take the laptop on our trip to Paris/Hungary, partly because the kids have been going to sleep agonizingly later than 11:00 p.m. every night, and partly because I've been reading a lot!

At the start of this trip I discovered how convenient it is to travel with reading material loaded on the e-book reader app (on three devices: my phone, my old phone which the kids use, and the iPad); in fact we hardly packed any physical books, even for the kids. I started out with two mystery novels for myself just for the plane rides, but in recent weeks I've bought more and more and have hardly been able to stop reading. We've been here for four weeks, and I've read five novels.

So I will have to catch up on my European blogging back in the United States!

In the meantime, when we were in Paris on Saturday, we went to Notre Dame.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Home (sort of) again

We've been to Paris and Hungary and Paris again, and now we're back in Lille! It's Sunday afternoon and we leave the country on Wednesday morning, so I guess we should be out doing some last-minute sightseeing, and yet we haven't gone anywhere today. (Well, Craig and Isaac did go to the bakery and the supermarket.)

After our travels, we needed a break. I unpacked our suitcases and sorted the laundry to wash. The kids have been playing and drawing, and they both had baths. I uploaded my 400 photos, and Isaac wrote a post for his blog. Craig is doing his expense report. It was really muggy, then there was a thunderstorm, and now it seems to be clearing. It might be time for a late-afternoon stroll.

Travel is thrilling, isn't it?

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, 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