Mediocre Meaningless Monday Musings

Yep, more title alliteration.  I love it.
With all the riveting stories we’ve been telling and the countless photos that have been shared, I thought it was maybe time for a quick mind-dump.

Bread is really good here and is simply part of life.  It’s a part of life I like.

Spending all this time together in a strange place with no car and no job is definitely helping me learn more about our kids.  For example, L loves to just go exploring – any alleyways, paths into the woods, bridges, or tunnels are exiting to him.  He has my “let’s see what’s over the next hill” mentality…no matter how tired or hungry he is.  He also shares my love of Döner Kebabs.

If you’ve never experienced this heaven on flatbread, read more at http://www.donerkebab.net/  It will be fun to see if L wants to travel the world when he gets older like I did.

Lots of people smoke but, like at home, it is not allowed in public buildings.  High school kids smoke, and they seem to smoke a lot.  Kids sit together in the quintessential French cafes and smoke together while chatting and drinking orange Fanta (or whatever).  The gathering of students before starting classes in the morning is just thick with a dense fog – it kinda looks like this van, but on the steps outside of the school building.

Cash cash cash makes Annecy go round.  About 80-90% of the transactions I see everywhere are cash.  This is fine for me; ATM’s have good exchange rates.  But I still haven’t gotten used to seeing my 10 and 20 Euro bills turn quickly into coins, even when those coins are still worth $8.  And all the coins make my pockets sag.

People slow down and enjoy life EVERY DAY.  Adults get to take two hour lunches from work. Kids have long lunch breaks too.  Parents pick up their kids, they all eat together, and then the go back to work or school until about 4 or 5.  It really makes sense, but I can’t see things changing back home.  This is written by a guy who probably has eaten 90% of his workday lunches at his desk.

The phrase “EVERYBODY speaks English over there” is in guide books and was uttered many times by many people in the U.S.  It’s not at all true.  I can always get by with some rudimentary French, some polite phrases that show I care, and some mime and gestures. People are friendly.  That said, however, it is ALWAYS easier to get things done when I have one of the kids along (and even sometimes Jody).

I mostly wish I could speak the language because, more than anybody else is my family, I REALLY like to meet and talk to people.  In fact, that’s my favorite part of travelling.  I’d love to have conversations with our apartment neighbors, the people we ask for directions on the street, other parents at the skating rink, people in line with me, etc.  I think G has some of this gene in her too.  She always shows an interest in talking to other kids (but that might just be her need to socialize with people outside our family).
Sadly, I can only talk with people who can and want to speak English, which currently includes only one Turkish Döner Kebab guy and the bakery lady I get bread from every day.

There’s lots of dog poop on the sidewalks that never gets picked-up.  Heavy rains are necessary, and so are sharp eyes by humans who don’t want their shoes to smell like dog crap. Dogs are ridiculously well-behaved, mostly not on leashes.  And I have not seen any in sweaters or with booties or even with fancy collars….yet.  They are just pets.  I’d love to know how they are trained.  Maybe just the freedom from a leash and the freedom to leave poop on the sidewalk makes dogs here calmer and more well-behaved.

Hope life is good!  Stay tuned for a brief summary of our short-term tentative plans, coming one of these days, when I get to it, and when we have some plans.

Rain and sun and fun

This week in Annecy started out very rainy and then got less and less rainy and and more and more sunny and nice toward middle to the end of the week.  It didn’t stop us for going here and there and exploring this and that. 

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As kids are still enjoying their fall break (La Toussant), there was another sewing class available for G, but this one was Tuesday through Friday afternoon!  She was super excited about having it each day.  She met four new girls and came home every day with a completed project!  🙂

(Neck warmer, headband, wrist warmers, and fun brooches.)

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So, while G was busy having fun at her sewing class, Mike, L, and I had fun exploring the city each day.

On Tuesday, Mike and L went for a walk and discovered some new walking paths, a cool old dock, and another playground.

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On Wednesday, L and I went roaming around together:  1.We stopped at a bakery on the way for a boost of energy — panini avec Nutella! 2.I loved the bag on this bike!  3.The Christmas decorations are up and ready to go! 4.Mums and fall plants have replaced the summertime flowers along the canals. 5.A water street with steps leading right into the canal. 6.Taking a break on a barrier post.  7. L spotted a leaf bug! 8.Fall foliage on the canal with the Pont d’Amour and the lake in the far background.  9.The carousel with fall leaves behind it.

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On Thursday during class, Mike, L, and I walked to the Basilica of the Visitation — a huge church up on the hill overlooking Annecy. I thought it just looked big because it’s up on the hill, but it is, in fact, a huge church! Stained glass windows inside recount the life of St. François de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal. It also houses a community of Visitation nuns.

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On our way to pick G up, we were herded across the street so as not to get in the way of something being filmed in front of one of our favorite boulangeries — Boulangerie Rouge!

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After picking G up from class, we stopped for ice cream, avec chantilly, of course!  Mike tried a flavor we weren’t familiar with called Spéculoos.  It was a cinnamon tasting ice cream that’s based on a cookie by the same name.  I thought it tasted like Christmas or cinnamon graham crackers!  It was delicious!  

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Friday morning, Mike, L, and G went skating for a couple of hours before G’s last sewing class.  L perfected his crossovers while skating backward, and G met a girl her age. 

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They exchanged email addresses, so they can be “penpals.”

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After skating, Mike and L went on a long hike and found some more beautiful trails.

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Today we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day by going to the market, roaming around the flea market, finding new trails and showing G ones we found earlier in the week, playing at playgrounds, including one where a couple of kids were practicing parkour, and running into Mr. Bean out for a ride!!

Our favorite rotisserie chicken and potatoes at the market./L showing G the old bridge.

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More fun exploring the paths by the river.

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New playgrounds for climbing and spinning. (The parkour guys moved to fast to get pictures!)

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And finally, it’s Mr. Bean!

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Weekend trip to Antarctica

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, so we decided to spend some time in Antarctica!  No, we didn’t hop on a plane and/or a ship or anything. 🙂  We took the easy route and headed over to La Turbine Sciences museum in Cran-Gevrier, a 20-minute walk from our apartment, to see an exhibit called “Antarctique, une Explosion de Vie” (Antarctic, an Explosion of Life).  

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It was a small museum but had a nice assortment of information, pictures, items, and interactive displays all about past and present expeditions to Antarctica.  It was set up as though you were on a research ship, which was fun for the kids.  

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In addition, we arrived in time to partake in a presentation geared for kids about climate change observed in Antarctica — “Glaçon, pourquoi tu fonds?” (Ice cube, why are you melting?)  G and L ended up with first-row seats, right next to the experiment counter, along with a handful of other kids.  The young woman giving the presentation was great.  She had a very calm demeanor and kept the kids engaged with conversational dialogue and questions.  

G was called on to volunteer for one of the experiments and L was asked to recite the numbers that appeared on a scale in front of him.  Mind you, the entire thing was done in French, and G and L responded and participated as though they were natural French speakers. Mike and I stood in the back to avoid being called on to answer any questions. 🙂 Afterward, the kids told the presenter that they were from the U.S., and she was very excited to hear that and pulled up the map she had on her computer to find Minnesota. 🙂  L also told her how he’d studied Antarctica at school last year. 🙂

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The three following pictures are G helping the presenter decide and then test various objects to see if they will float.

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Here is the presenter pointing to the numbers on the scale that she asked L read to her.

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The other exposition going on that we didn’t realize was there was called “Passez à Table” (Go to the Table).  The exhibit was focused on food production to consumption.  There were lots of interesting, interactive activities to do.  Our favorite one was where we took a food tray and then went around to carts labeled main meal, dessert, beverage, etc.  At each cart there were 9 to 12 bins with cards that contained pictures of a food (or beverage) from that category.  Each card also had a bar code on it.  Once we collected a card from each of the carts, we took them to the checkout to scan them.  After scanning each card, we got a printout summarizing our meal and comparing it to a well-balanced meal.

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While G, L, and I were looking at the items in the refrigerator, we watched as a little girl, who was probably only 3 or so, came up to the chef mannequin and said, “Salut!” and then repeated it several more times as he wouldn’t answer her.  Then she went and got her dad, most likely to tell him that the man wouldn’t say hello! 🙂

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The Chamonix Wine Incident of 2016

Yes readers, It’s Mike here and I’m finally back to post.  Jody has been giving a great set of reports, but now it’s my turn.  Let me add some not-so-fun missing pieces from our long weekend in Chamonix.

We’ve been staying in AirBnB’s in Annecy and usually when we take weekend getaway trips.  If you’ve never used it before and you’re interested, use this AirBnB link and we’ll all benefit: http://www.airbnb.com/c/mdueber .

Our place in Chamonix was a very nice, small, comfortable apartment with a cool Murphy bed in a fantastic location.  It had clearly been recently updated and, according to the 20-something female owner, cost over $220K for about 320 sq. feet (I did the conversions for you).  She both lives there and rents it out as much as possible to help pay for it.  Chamonix is an awesome place, so I understand, but that’s a lotta dough.

On the second night of our stay, I was opening a bottle of wine (which we do every other night – it’s cultural, don’t judge us).  I somehow pushed a wine bottle cork INTO a fancy $3.40 new bottle of Merlot, spraying the dark purple stuff all over me, the kitchen walls and cupboards, and the kitchen ceiling. Yes, I’m very talented that way.  I was standing over the sink, wine dripping off my face, shirt soaked with wine, and unable to see because there was wine in my eyes.

My VERY astute wife mentioned “Mike, there’s wine all over!”  I replied “No kidding.” (Or something to that effect – I may be paraphrasing here for our younger readers.)

These photos are just a small part the the ceiling that was a mess, but they are illustrative enough, I think.

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We immediately cleaned everything we could (including me), but the ceiling had very obvious stains. I texted the owner and sent a few photos of the purple splotches on the ceiling. She was very calm, suggested some ways to get it clean, and just asked us to do the best we could to handle the situation.  Her reaction was impressive.  We found out later she was visiting a gravely ill friend in the hospital at the time, and for the next several days.  I felt JUST GREAT!

Anyway, in case you are wondering, I did get it cleaned up.  I first used vinegar on a sponge to scrub, mostly because that’s what we had in the apartment and Google said it would work.  It didn’t.  So, the second day I followed by using a weak bleach solution to clean and rinse and clean and rinse until the stains were gone…or gone enough that you didn’t notice anything unless you stood on the step stool and REALLY looked hard.

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The owner was happy and gave us good reviews as renters.  We had a great time in Chamonix.  And today I can finally say my neck is no longer sore from having to look up to clean the ceiling.

Thus ends the Chamonix Wine Incident of 2016.

Again, our AirBnB link is http://www.airbnb.com/c/mdueber – sign up today, book a place, and we’ll all get some credit!

Car, boat, bus

We returned to Annecy from Chamonix by car last Sunday afternoon with plenty of time to spare before getting the car back and much of the afternoon still open to see what we could see.  The 10th Anniversary of “Lac en Partage” (sharing the lake) was going on in Annecy and several other towns that “share the lake.”  Besides different booths about keeping the water clean, fishing, etc., and activities like giant bubble making, there were short boat rides to and from the different towns, so you could check out their event festivities as well.  We decided to take a 35-minute boat ride to Duingt, which is south of Annecy and directly across the lake from Talloires.  

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It’s a quaint village of only about 900 people. The streets are old and narrow with many wonderful 17th and 18th century stone houses and buildings.  There are even two castles, but both are privately owned (!), so they aren’t available for tours.  As we made our way to the town center, we passed by a man playing some sort of hand-cranked piano.  All around him were people singing what we assumed to be traditional Savoyard songs. Had I known the words, I would have joined right in with them! 🙂  

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Unfortunately, when we got to the town center, we could see that things were winding down and people were packing up for the day.  Fortunately, there was still fresh-pressed apple juice to buy, which was delicious.  We also managed to sneak in a couple of crafts — G made a bookmark and L got to write his name on a bookmark with a real wooden-dip-in-an-ink-well fountain pen.  And then we found out that the boat we thought we were going to take back was cancelled and that the last one was leaving in 10 minutes!  

We didn’t have a long walk, but we decided to walk briskly so as not to miss it.  We got to the dock behind about 20 other people, who were looking forlornly at the boat that was at capacity!  The announcement was made that there would be a bus leaving from the front of the church in 20 minutes, so we headed back for town.  After a short wait, we ended up on the regular bus line that runs between Annecy and the surrounding villages. We’re not sure what happened to the one that was supposed to arrive in place of the boat, but we got an unexpected bus tour of the other side of the lake, which worked out just fine. 🙂

Chamonix-Mont Blanc

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We took a long weekend last Thursday through Sunday in beautiful Chamonix, France. It’s not recommended for beginner skiers, so going in the fall was perfect for us!  We had a rainy but uneventful drive to Chamonix, which was just fine with me — no switchbacks or hairpin turns.  Despite the rain, we saw a beautiful, panoramic view of Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks on our way into town.  This time of year is in between their busy summer and winter seasons, so there were several shops and restaurants that weren’t open, but the majority were, so it didn’t really affect us.  

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We had dinner at Jekyll and Hyde’s Bar and Restaurant, a suggestion from the woman who owns the apartment where we stayed.  It’s known for its tapas menu.  We chose several to share and all were delicious!  I thought it seemed a fitting place for the month of October with scary stories and all, so we filled G and L in on the story (a mild version) of Jekyll and Hyde and as a result, snapped some fun pictures near the sign in the stairwell. 🙂

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Friday was quite rainy, so it didn’t seem like the best day to go to the top of the mountain.  If it would have been our only chance, we would have gone and made the most of walking around in a cloud and enjoying the snow/precipitation, but since we had Saturday as an option, we held out hoping for nicer weather.  We spent the majority of the day roaming around the city, the tourist office, and the Espace Tairraz, which was an exhibition of climbing equipment from ropes to shoes to belay devices etc.  There was a small room on the side with movies running continuously from present day climbs to old reels of some of the first climbs to the summit of Mont-Blanc.  Watching them did not, however, make me want to become a mountain climber!!

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Saturday the weather cooperated, as we woke up to sunny, blue skies!  Perfect for riding a gondola straight up the side of a mountain to see what we could see!  Seriously, though.  It went straight up one side, and we have pictures of the cables to prove it!  (It holds the record for the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world!)  

img_0744 img_0800 (The lines here are the cables!!  The cables that carried us to the top!!)

The 20-minute Aiguille du Midi (pronounced ay-gwee do midee) cable car stops first at the Plan de l’Aiguille at a height of 2,310m, where you can get off and hike, but we decided to catch the next cable car and continue all the way up to the Aiguille du Midi, which is at a height of 3,777m, where we had beautiful views of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps!

(If you look at the map below, you should be able to spot Mont Blanc behind us in the next two photos.) 

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img_0746 img_0751 img_0765 img_0771 img_0748 (To get to the “needle,” (aiguille) shown here, we’ll take the lift.)

The lift that takes you even higher (to the actual Aiguille du Midi), which is a terrace at 3,842m, where we had another great view of Mont Blanc!  (At 4,807m, it’s the highest peak in the Alps!)  Of course we had to take advantage of the opportunity to step out onto a glass box, which is hanging over a 1,000+m void, thus the name of the experience — “Pas Dans Le Vide” (Step into the Void!)  UGH!  You know it’s something special when you have to wear big cushy slippers over your shoes before stepping into the giant glass box.  I have to admit that had Mike not taken my hand and gently pulled me along, I may not have stepped into the void!  I did choose to not look down, so I was able to stay in long enough to have pictures taken. 🙂   

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(Looking down onto the terrace we’d been on before taking the lift and seeing others in the glass box!)img_0783  img_20161015_122022

We had a great time exploring Aiguille du Midi as there are multiple terraces and overlooks as well as inside areas to explore.  We also got to walk through the newest attraction — “The Tube” — which just opened in June and is already known as the Pipe.  It’s a steel pipe anchored to the mountain side with several window, but more important to note — thousands of feet of empty space below it!   It didn’t really occur to me as we walked through it that I was walking through a tube that was literally hanging off the side of the mountain.  I had no fear as I didn’t realize that’s what we were doing, and no one in our group — Mike, G, and L — thought it was important to share this info with me. 🙂  In fact, I didn’t realize this was where we were until I was sharing what I was writing about on the blog, and they informed me that this was what that tube was all about!  

img_0753 (You can see the tube at the right of this photo.)

We took the “téléphérique” (cable car) back down to the Plan de l’Aiguille and decided to hike around for a bit, which was a highlight for the kids, for sure!  We were still more than 2,000m high, but there was loads of open space with huge rocks for climbing against the backdrop of the higher heights.  We also got to watch dozens of people unload huge backpacks containing their paragliding stuff and then literally run off the side of the mountain as they floated up into the air!  Oh my!  It was so cool to see!  I would love to do it (it’s a floating swing!!)…IF I could be guaranteed 100% that I would land safely.  Mike says that’s just not possible, so I guess no paragliding for me…for now… 🙂

(Here’s G doing a handstand.)

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(And here are G and L rock climbing.)

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(Mike and I climbed, too!)

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So, an absolutely FABULOUS day spent on the mountains!  Beautiful!  

 

Fall and La Toussaint

My img_20161017_153654-2favorite season in Minnesota is fall!  I love the crisp air and beautiful leaves, and we have all that in Annecy right now, too! 🙂  In addition, while it’s MEA in Minnesota, yesterday began the start of “Les Vacances de La Toussaint” here, which ends on November 2.   It’s the first school break of the year and includes November 1 (All Saint’s Day), which is one of 11 holidays recognized in France.  

We’ve been taking advantage of the beautiful weather and going to the market in the old city, getting outside to play hacky sack (a very portable game when you have limited space), looking at leaves, exploring new neighborhoods, and finding new playgrounds! So far, we haven’t seen any candy corn, though.  C’est dommage.

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