Friday, August 31, 2012

Day 16: Road Trip

This morning Justin and I went on a run to pick up two very tiny rental cars we secured for the next few days.  We had enough of the train when we went to Lucca.  After we picked up the car and some groceries we went to Sienna, Volterra and San Giminiano, which are all about an hour away from Florence, so not so far away.  Sienna had just had it's famous horse race in it's main piazza and when we arrived there we saw a parade going on for the winning horse racer.  People were wearing binkies and bottles, wearing clothes that looked like Jesters, playing drums, waving flags and I didn't envy their long sleeves and tight pants in the ultra hot weather.  All the kids, even Clementine, climbed up 400 stairs to the top of the tower in a very skinny stairwell and saw an amazing view of the Tuscan countryside.  We got two helpings of gelato because they had this really great flavor called Rustica that was basically yogurt with those dark cherries in syrup all mixed up together with pistacchios on top.  We all had two helpings because it was cheap and delicious.  As we were leaving we saw a place advertising porchetta, one of our favorite foods, and walked into this totally amazing shop with meat hanging everywhere.  It was totally picturesque.  Lucy started to take a photo, but the man took out his flashlight and shined it at Lucy’s camera and told her she couldn’t take a photo.  So werid.  Then this really horrible lady who looked like she hadn’t smiled in years told us that Clementine was a horrible baby because she touched something.  Italians have no patience for babies when they’re not perfect.  Then we ate lunch at Volterra and were called “Disperati”(desperate people) by an old Italian woman as if we were homeless people or something.  She had a point because all our kids were covered in gelato and were dirty from head to foot.  When we went into town, Henry and Bea kept getting in trouble because they would touch stuff that was outside on the sidewalks.  What do people think will happen if they leave their goods out on the street?  We spent the evening in San Giminiano eating the “world champion” winner of gelato.  It was very good for sure.  Then we sat in the piazza and the kids played with their whirly light up toys.  We let the baby crawl around because she hadn’t had one moment out of her car seat or baby carrier all day.  While she was crawling around, Bea and Clementine started to chase her, which made the baby laugh and drew the attention of everyone sitting in the piazza.  All was well until Clementine fell and smashed the baby’s head on the ground and, no kidding, the entire piazza gasped in horror.  The baby was totally fine and barely cried, but we couldn’t believe that my kids were entertaining the entire population of that city.  Leave it to my kids to make a scene.

Day 15: Henry is the star of the show

Day 15: Today we decided to walk around the giant street and fruit market.  We hit the fruit first.  There were skinned, dead rabbits and $1000 bottles of 100 year old balsamic vinegar.  We bought some fruit and fresh pasta and headed out to the street.  I got a couple of aprons for the girls with their names embroidered on them and Justin had the genius idea to let Henry buy a wallet so he could keep money in there, work for his money so he could buy some things he keeps asking us for but we never buy for him.  I have to say that Henry cried A LOT on this trip, but the whole idea of working for money so he could buy whatever he wanted was the best thing that happened to all of us.  Then, we found an adorable man painting on the street.  He was from Iran and had the most delicate and lovely paintings.  He was so nice to the kids and even made them a couple of free paintings.  We bought some Pinocchio paintings from him.  He saved the cherries the kids gave to him because he was fasting for some Muslim holiday.  He was such a good person and so happy.  Then we went home and forced all the kids to go down for naps since we had decided to let the kids stay up late to see how fun it was at night in Florence and take them to see the Charlie Chaplin show.  I told them how fun it was and that we would buy them a really cool glowing flying apparatus if they took a nap.  They easily fell asleep.  After dinner we took them outside and let them run around the piazza.  I met some people from Pescara who were really lovely and they were loving the kids and the blond hair.  We almost lost Clementine again who was pushing Vivi around the place, but found them after 15 seconds of searching. As soon as the sky turned to dusk, the vendors on the street began to shoot off the glowing, flying thingies.  You basically push a button to light up a small but very bright LED light, shoot it up in the air with a rubber band and it floats down to the ground in a delicate spin. They are really fun, but get bent out of shape very easily.  The kids had a blast shooting them up and trying to catch them.  Then we wandered down the street to another piazza where we listened to an incredible violin, base and accordion trio(the base player was the same guy we met before), got heckled by an Asian lady selling scarves, let the kids ride the merry-go-round and then finally sat down to watch the entire Charlie Chaplin show.  He had Bea come help him out at the beginning with his balloon trick and then had Henry come out for almost the entire duration of the show.  He had Henry, another Brittish guy that had his shirt off and a Korean girl and he was making them do hilarious things without saying a word, but trying to show them what to do with whistles and strange movements.  It was so great.  At one point he asked Henry to pop the balloon and he didn't want to, but he did it anyway and was so sad that he started crying and ran back to us on the side.  They guy ended up giving him the 10 Euro that we already put in his hat which made him really happy and so he had no problem staying until the end.  He was such a good little performer and did everything the guys told him to do.  What a fun experience.  The only bad part is that our camera took such horrible shots even though I put it on night mode.  I couldn't get it to flash correctly and then it ran out of batteries for the very last photo op that was to die for.  I am still mad about that!  Anyway, it was a truly magical night and Henry was the star of the show!

Day 14: Bangladeshi Mongaloid kiss


Spent time walking around the market trying to find fruit but it was the half-way point of the month and that means Italians take a holiday so the fruit market was closed! So mad.  Henry threw epic tantrums all day long, we went to the most boring and inaudible mystery story for kids at the Palazzo Vecchio in a room that was over 100 degrees and my kids kept getting into trouble for climbing all over everything and touching things they weren’t supposed to touch, but if they didn’t want kids touching those things maybe they shouldn’t have been in the room in the first place.  Then we wandered around trying to find gelato and after dragging the kids around, crying and whining for gelato we found possibly the best gelato we’ve ever had at Caribe in Florence as well as the best granite flavor ever.  The granita was called The Sicilian Soul and it was a mix between giant lemon, clementine and some other citrus fruit.  It was delicious.  We also had yogurt flavor with cinnamon, olive oil, hazelnut, banana, almond, truffle, and ricotta.  All the flavors were so delicious and so real, not like all the fake stuff around town. 

We went to the Palazzo Vecchio to see where the Medici family lived.  The story of their family is so insane.  I can’t believe the wealth and power they achieved in Italy.  We signed up for this Children’s class that was supposed to be a mystery story or something, but it was in a tiny, extremely hot room with tiny broken stools for seats and the cartoon they showed was in horrible English that wasn’t audible to the kids and even the lady presenting the whole thing was hard to understand.  The room that was meant for kids wasn’t even kid proof and the my kids were getting in trouble because they were touching everything that they weren’t supposed to touching.  Then we went upstairs to see the special room where the family would go to reveal their most secret dealings.  We had to leave after that because the kids were so bored.  We went home to prepare an epic Italian feast and then we went back in the evening to see the rest of the palace.  Justin went first and when he got back, Lucy and I went out.  We listened to an amazing classical guitar player and then went inside to see all the thousands of frescoes all over the house from floor to ceiling.  It was so strange, but every single painting that had a woman in it was nude from the waist up.  And it wasn’t just one here or there, the rooms were filled with like 20 nude women each.  How could you live in a house that was just filled with paintings of nude women? The palace was pretty spectacular and ornate.  Lucy fell in love with a marble bust of a super hot guy.  She wondered if he existed ever.

On our way home we encountered the man who played Charlie Chaplin in the street show every night that attracts a giant crowd of hundreds of people and we talked to him for quite a while.  We found out that he is from Iran but he’s been here for a long time.  He has one daughter who is in her 20s but he’s only seen her once when she was 1 and once when she came to see him a few years ago.  He talked about the girlfriends he had and was probably trying to hit on us, but all we talked to him about was the church and how I had 4 kids.  We told him that we would bring our kids to his show the next night and we headed home.  

As we were about to walk down the street we saw a man selling lame jewelry with about 20 party hats on his head.  He was from Bangladesh and had one lazy eye that was half closed.  He looked strange so naturally I wanted to take a photo with him, so I asked him but he told me that for a photo I had to pay him 1 Euro.  I told him I didn't have any money, which was true.  I carried no money on this trip.  Then, he softened up and said we could take a photo.  Then, he said he wanted to give us bracelets so we paid him for the bracelets with Lucy's money, even though he kept on insisting that we were now friends therefore we didn't have to pay.  I felt bad taking something from this desperate creature so we gave him the money and were about to head home when his buddy who was selling flowers came up to us and told us to meet them at the Fish Bar or something or other.  I was 100 percent opposed, but Lucy turned to me and asked with a huge smile on her face, "should we go?"  Here was my darling sister, just home from her mission hanging out with my boring family of screaming children when all she really wanted to do was go out clubbing in Europe.  Against my better judgement I agreed to go with her and as I walked, I knew we wouldn't get home before 2am since it was already 12:30.  My head hurt just thinking about the next morning.  The guys told us their names, which we would never be able to remember so we just called our lazy eye friend Mongaloid because it sounds good with the word Bangladeshi.  Luckily the place was very close and we went inside.  BTW, I was wearing something that would also pass as pajamas with no make-up and my hair in a bun, so not looking so hot.  As soon as we stepped inside I took a photo of Lucy with all the crazy dancing drunk people and then all these random guys kept coming up to her and wanting to get their photo taken with her.  She was LOVING all the attention and the obsurdity of what we were doing.  Then the owner came over and told us we were entitled to a free shot of whatever.  We had to tell him about 5 times that we didn't drink and I finally told him we were Mormon.  I took photos of Lucy behind the bar and dancing with all sorts of men.  Instead of a shot we got a couple glasses of orange juice and drank to Lucy's first time in a bar, ever! There was a pretty good crowd there until we requested "pumped up kicks" which ruined people's disco techno party mood and they all left.  After an hour we realized that our Bangladeshi friends had totally disappeared and we wondered where they were this whole time.  We said our goodbyes to the DJ and the owner and left.  As soon as we stepped outside all the guys hanging around the entrance were cat calling us and I turned to Lucy and yelled, "RUN!", so we ran as fast as we could away from that place until we heard someone calling after us.  It was lazy eye.  He and his friend were running after us and so we decided to say goodnight before we left for home.  They followed us until the flower guy realized that I was married and left and then lazy eye asked me, "so, you husband?"  I told him "yes, husband".  Then he pointed to Lucy, and said, "she, husband?" Lucy gave me that wide eyeball look like she was going to kill me, but I still said, "no, she no husband" with a smile on my face.  At this point Lucy was standing at the stoop of our apartment with Lazy Eye on the street and I felt as though I was watching a romantic comedy.  He looked at her and said, "I(pause) like you".  "You(pause) like me(inflection)?"  Lucy was about buckle over with laughter and with tears almost streaming down her face, shook her head and slowly said, "nnnnooooooo".  He said, "ok, friends?" and Lucy agreed, "friends" then as they were hugging, he grabbed her and started kissing her neck.  This guy was smaller than Lucy so I wasn't that concerned and decided to take a couple photos to immortalize one of the funniest moments in my life before using my one very strong baby carrying arm to rip him off of Lucy, which took no effort at all since he was half the size of a normal human man and half my weight.  As soon as we broke free we opened the door to our apartment building and ran all the way upstairs to bed.  It was indeed 2am.  Then, I couldn't even sleep because I was afraid he was going to seek revenge somehow, so I basically got about 3 hours of sleep that night.  It was all worth it though, just to see Lucy's first kiss after the mission.  Priceless.

Day 13: Dinner of a lifetime

Today we went to Lucca and rented bicycles with baby seats on them.  I had Violette on the front of my bike which was extremely uncomfortable and I couldn’t even pedal, but Justin and Lucy had the other girls on the back of their bikes and they were the happiest girls in town.  We rode around the antique wall twice and the entire time the kids were all saying hello to each other, laughing, and Clementine was singing “I love bikes” over and over again.  Henry was a trooper and rode his own bike around for two hours, which I’m sure he’s never done.  Most of it was flat, but that’s still a long time.  Vivi fell asleep and slouched over in her seat and all the passers by pointed and either laughed, cooed or looked at me like I was a bad mother.  Italy is over protective about their kids because there’s an average of about .1 kid per family so they’re very sensitive about them.  We rode into the city, saw a cool band, rode around a little bit and then returned the bikes.  We walked to get gelato and met up with the cutest Australian family that had come over to live in the countryside just outside of Lucca.  They had two boys named Samuel and …..who were 7 and 8 years old.  One of them was sitting on the curb with a bag at his feet, giant Lego box exposed and staring straight at Henry.  He had a sly little smile on his face and was raising his eyebrows as if to say, “Hey, wanna see what I got?”  Henry, of course was sucked right in by the invitation and we spend the next half an hour letting Henry hang out with his new friends and chatting about Legos.  At one point their parents told us that they needed to head on and both of their boys started chanting in American accent robot monotone, “never listen to parents, never listen to parents”.  We ran into them like four times as we navigated around the city which I took as a sign that we needed to get their email address so we could skype or something, so I did and we finally got out of the city.  We ate gelato at a place called Veneto, which was the most expensive gelato and wasn’t that incredible.  For about three dollars I got three scoops about the size of the tiniest melon baller I have.  It was basically about 6 TBS of gelato.  The train ride home was probably the wildest so far.  There wasn’t a moment where someone wasn’t crying.  Some people were annoyed but one man was trying to hold back his incredulous laughs.  He came and spoke to us in the end and said we had a beautiful family.  Once again, our exotic looking children befriend most strangers. 

Justin took me out to probably one of the most incredible dinners I have ever been to tonight.  It was at the Four Seasons Hotel.  I felt like I was a queen and the wait staff was so professional, exact, and attentive.  I ate pigeon that had been cooked in a pig vicera. With various poached fruit, cacio e pepe pasta with the tiniest little octopus cooked in it, a cannellini soup with a poached egg from a free-range hen that had been fed exclusively on goat milk.  Lol.  Justin got the tasting menu and we shared everything.  Everything was amazing except for his main dish, which was surprisingly bland and the chicken was a little overcooked in my opinion.  We ate three desserts as well as orzo and in the end we were officially stuffed and ready to be put in the oven for Thanksgiving.  We walked through the gardens and looked at scarily disturbing sculptures until we found an unoccupied hammock and rested for a while until we got scared of the sprinklers turning on underneath us and left.  What a dinner. 

Day 12: Photo op family begins


In the morning Justin and I went on an epic run that lasted for about an hour.  We even ran up to the top of the hill next to Florence, which was a killer, and then decided to go grocery shopping at a store that was less than half the price of the stores in the city center.  We bought so much stuff and we walked over a mile to get back home.  I ended up pulling a muscle in my back that bothered me for days afterward.  We finally got home way later than we told my sister and then we spent the day wandering around the city, looking at art and jewelry on Ponte Vecchio.  As we were checking out the art, a couple Italian guys started taking photos of my kids.  I didn’t feel threatened because I could tell they were nice guys and they were wearing those goofy photography vests and they had nice eyes and smiles.  We finally asked them what they were going to do with the photos and they said it was just a hobby.  We ended up talking to them for a while and one of the guys said he had gone to English class quite few times with his wife at the church but said it was too hard to learn in the end.  We gave him our email and he sent us a few of the pics of our kids.  I hope they find their way back to the church someday! They led us to the best gelateria and we exchanged email addresses.  They told us they would send us the photos they took of the kids and they did! They turned out great, except that we wanted to see some of Florence in the background but all we got was head shots.  Oh well.  We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Florence watching street performers, seeing the markets and talking to people. 

So, this photography event was just the start of many, and I mean probably around 100 people, who wanted to take photos of my kids.  Every Italian who passed us said, "what little dolls ey are" and "wow, they are so blonde!"  I met so many people that way.  They all wanted to take their photo with the girls and then they wanted to keep in touch with us so we all exchanged addresses.  I have about 10 more people to send Christmas cards to this year. haha.  People in Florence were obsessed with Clementine becuase she was pushing Violette in the stroller all around Florence and would not be stiffled by the cobblestone streets.  She could maneuver any curb, hill, or pot hole.  She just wouldn't quit.  We even lost her a couple times in the piazza of the Duomo because she would just start pushing in one direction and not look back.  Good thing every person had their eyes on them so there was no way anyone would have kidnapped them.  The best were the giant crowds of Japanese tourists who would just wait in line one by one to take photos with Clementine.  I would basically just tell them to step in line, give Clementine to them, tell her to say cheese, give them a kiss on the cheek and then hand her to the next person.  haha.  She performed every time.  Then I would tell her to put her hands on her hips and put her foot out and they couldn't resist and they would all pull out their cameras and take photos like she was on the red carpet.  No Joke. After a couple of weeks, I was ready to head back to Utah where they are neither the largest group of children in one family nor the blondest.

Anyway, in our walking around, we even found the little basement shop where Justin bought my wedding ring.  I showed it to the man and he recognized it and then he looked around and said, “wow, that ring has brought you much good fortune!” and pointed to all four of my kidlets.  We all had a good laugh.  The best part of the day was when we came across this mime who was outside Palazzo Vecchio,.  His whole entire act was mimicking people, following people, making fun of people, bugging people and it was really hilarious.  He targeted Asian people as well.  He would follow people holding hands and see if he could get them to hold his hands without noticing.  He tapped a woman’s shoulder and then ran around the other side to take a bite of her gelato cone.  He would tell people to give him a kiss on the cheek, only to find him pressing his white face makeup all over their faces and they were left to find something to wipe it off with.  One very large group of Asian students came by and he forced them into a bottleneck and they had to pass single file through his self made corridor.  Haha.  He was hilarious.  The kids got a kick out of it and we got a funny photo with him. 

After the kids went to bed Justin and I went out into the streets and saw a hilarious street performer who was making people do really funny things and had a crowd of about 200 people.  We also saw a fantastic band that consisted of just an accordion player and a base player.  They were both incredible on their instruments and the base player had this grin on his face that was irresistible.  Justin and I went to Grom to get gelato and then returned to take Lucy back out.  We found the band again and talked to them for quite a bit.  We ended up teaching them a lot about the church and I was sad to hear that they had seen the missionaries around but they had never stopped to talk to either of these people.  I am going to pray that they get their chance to hear the gospel.  I gave them my email address so maybe I can send the missionaries to them at some point.  We’ll see them at church so maybe I’ll steer them in their direction.  The base player said things aren’t going well with his wife and he has a 5 year old and a 1.5 year old.  It makes me sad to think those kids might not grow up in a family with their dad in the house.  I really wish I could have helped him. 

Day 11: Travel to Italy

 Aug 12: Today was a travel day.  Even though we would have really loved to go to church anywhere since we missed last Sunday, we had to do so much driving and train riding that we just couldn’t make it work.  We woke up extra early to hit the road by 7am.  We drove out of our lovely place in the French Alps and the cool weather down to Milan.  It was interesting to see the huge difference between France and Italy as we passed the country line.  As soon as we passed over there was major construction everywhere, pot holes, crumbling cement around every corner and it was seriously unkempt. We made it to Milan around noon and returned our cherished 9 passenger van.  I love that car.  Then we hopped on a train and rode it all the way down to Florence where we realized what a pain it will be to leave our apartment and go anywhere since no cabs were allowed in the streets near our place.  We lived right in the center of Florence, about a stone's throw from the main church or "Duomo" there, so that was fun, but to get anywhere else, it was a trek.  

Our apartment was the coolest one so far.  It was in a 500 year old building, but had been remodeled to incorporate old and new, with exposed brick and stone inside the apartment as well as some really modern detailing and a strange French-ish country kitchen.  I really liked the idea of the style and it almost reminded me of what I want in my dream house with different styles put together.  There was some hideous wall art of a giant hydrangea photo with a purple background that totally clashed with the brick red.  Purple and brick red are two colors that just don't go together people.  There's really modern IKEA style lighting with a cool loft and three bedrooms, one with a deck and an awesome view of the dome of a church and a sea of red tile roofs.  It is a third story walk up, which actually means four stories in Italy since our first floor is their ground floor and up one flight is actually the first floor.  We don't mind so much because that means we get to eat more food.  The best part of this place is air conditioning! Thank heavens because it's sweltering hot out there and we're not near any water or beaches to cool off.  Our apartment is a welcomed respite from our long sweaty and hot days wandering around Tuscany.

Day 10: A Day in the Life of a Frenchie

Today we basically did what I think a French Alps Family does on a lazy day, and we know they have many.  In the morning we went to the giant Saturday market that filled the entire street of our cute little town of Bourge D’Oisans and bought a bunch of fruit, three delicious sausages and bread for our picnic.  Justin had gone on a nice little ride earlier that morning and found the most perfect spot for a picnic so we planned out our lunch.  We also spent a lot of time at the loveliest toy booth.  The man was selling toys that he had made himself and they were really unique and beautiful.  Henry was obsessed with the crossbow suction cup stick shooter and we told him that it was too expensive, but guess what we got him for Christmas? haha.  I played with it the other night and I have to admit that I would love to have one too.  So fun.  Anyway, so after sneakily buying some things for the kids we left for the mountains and found our perfect picnic spot on the grass overlooking a giant gorge and looking up at the glacier covered mountains.  The spot was ideal and so picturesque.  The ground was dotted with little crocus looking purple flowers and the food was spectacular.  Why, oh why can't we find food like this in America at every street corner? The most delightful part was the pastries we ate.  They were so delicate and beautiful and the flavors were to die for.  Blueberries and cream with crusty layers of dough and chocolate mousse and a blueberry tart with tiny wild blueberries all over the top.  Yum, yum.  I think I may go back to French pastry school when I'm older.  

Henry found some nice kids to play with and had a blast running around with them and of course was doing things that little French kids aren't allowed to do, like climbing trees and getting too close to the edge, so he was constantly getting reproved by their parents, but we Americans let our kids live!  Then after that we took a little hike down to a gorgeous waterfall that was coming from a river made of glacier runoff and as you can guess was extremely cold, like one degree from turning to ice itself.  So we did what one would naturally do and went swimming....French style.  I know only about one person will actually read all of these posts so I'll just say that skinny dipping in glacier water was so liberating and breathtaking...literally.  Like, I couldn't breathe. After finally taking breaths all we could do was scream at the top of our lungs.  haha.  We even got Henry and Bea to come in with us.  Bea actually had her swimsuit on, as usual, but Henry went in sans clothes with us and dunked his entire body.  Woo hoo! What a trooper.  I think it was so fun that my kids didn't think it was strange that we were taking all our clothes off to swim in a freezing cold river.  haha.  Five minutes after we got dressed we saw that a family was up on the bridge looking over at us and we wondered if they saw anything.  Ooh, la la.  Well, it's not like they don't see that at beaches all over the place in France so I doubt they were offended.  This moment was probably one of the craziest and most fun of the entire trip. 

On Justin's ride he also discovered this tiny little town on the mountain that was famous for all it's art and craftsmen so we headed up there and found one of the most charming little streets I have ever seen with stores and unique arts and crafts. We went into a leather store, kitchen store, and the best one of all, a toy store.  As soon as I walked in I wanted everything I saw.  There were little framed windows with teeny tiny little rooms inside decorated with the tiniest little furniture.  Then they had really unique little wooden toys, all of which were too large to fit in our two pieces of luggage.  There were French dolls and cute jewelry and little spots to put lost teeth in.  I could have spent a thousand dollars there.  I reminded Justin that Bea's Birthday was coming up so we settled on a small red polka-dot tea set  in a picnic basket and a butterfly catcher.  After we were done we ran back up to the car where Lucy was trying to corral the kids and I brought them back down to the store to show them how cute everything was.  I told them not to touch anything because even though it was a toy store, from past experience I knew they wouldn't even let kids touch toys.  They were really good in there, which surprised me, but as soon as we were about to leave Clementine touched a little wooden toy and the owner almost had a freak out.  Seriously? She didn't even throw it on the ground or anything!  

Then, sadly we had to return home early because we had to clean our own rental home and the instructions stated that if it wasn't perfectly clean we would have to pay 80 Euro per half hour of cleaning lady, so we spent the entire night cleaning while the kids slept and then woke up at the crack of dawn to finish cleaning.  Thankfully, that was the only place that made us clean up after ourselves.  No wonder it was so cheap!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 9: Return to Chamonix

Today, we decided to return to Chamonix because we couldn’t pass up taking the tram up the gigantic, glacier-covered mountain.  We arrived at Chamonix around noon and waited in line for tickets.  Since we didn’t do any research about this place we didn’t know that young children aren’t usually allowed up the mountain because of inner ear pressure issues while taking the tram up.  We were forced to go up in two groups so Lucy, Bea and I went up first.  The two trams traveled at airplane speed up the mountain and our ears were popping every few seconds.  The views were spectacular and I just couldn't believe how steep the mountains were.  It was summer at the bottom and then winter at the top.  Incredible.  At the top there was a Snowbird-esque lodge with a few places to eat and many levels of look out points.  The sky was pretty clear and you could see half way around the world from up there.  The glaciers were right next to us and Bea had fun eating some snow.  There was a museum of extreme outdoor sports and a couple of ice caves that lead out to where people were ice climbing up to the top of the peak with tons of gear.  There was such a strange mix of people up there.  You had your ice climbers with all their fancy gear, then the normal tourists who looked up to the top and realized that it might be cold up there and wore jackets, and then there were your Russian tourists who decide to come up in nothing but a yellow sundress and sun hat and freeze to death.  haha.  Anyway, by the time we got to the top they told us that we had to take the 4:30 tram down and realized that our decent time was too late for Justin to be able to come up, so we devised a plan, which was to take Bea's coat off in the ice cave until she got cold enough to throw a tantrum and then ask if we could go down.  It worked and we left around 3:30.  Then, Bea fell asleep in my arms on the way down and I decided to stay at the mid level while Lucy went to swap with Justin so he and Henry could come up.  I sat for about a half hour staring up at the most beautiful mountain ever and wishing I could go on a hike up to the nearest glacier with my family.  Too bad we couldn't all come up together.  Next time I'm just going to hike the first part.  Then Bea finally woke up, but was cranky, of course, and I went into a little shop and bought her a cool twisty popsicle.  Just as she was starting to smile and be happy, she tripped on a rock and her popsicle got smashed into the ground and was covered in rocks.  I was able to salvage the popsicle and I got Bea to stop crying because these two random miniature donkeys were watching the entire thing, probably hoping to get a little popsicle out of the ordeal.  They were way too friendly ad hungry and bugged everyone up there.  I don't know why in the world they were there.  haha.  Finally I met up with Justin and we decided to go back up to the top, but we had to just be sneaky because we already used our ticket, but they let us on, no problem, but I felt bad when I passed the same guy who I convinced to let us go down early because of screaming Bea and now here we were again up on top.  There were a lot of clouds at that point so it was harder to see far, but it was so fun to be up in the clouds and above a lot of them as well.  We stayed until the last tram came down and met up with Lucy to head back home.  Chamonix is one of my new favorite places. 

Day 8: Swimming Pools in France

First thing, it was the girls turn to exercise, so we went on a run all together: me, Carla and Lucy.
Lucy and I took the kids to the French community pool, which was an interesting scene.  When I arrived I noticed many notices warning of what was prohibited at the pool.  One thing that was prohibited was American style swim trunks. I couldn’t figure out why, but they let Henry borrow some tiny hot pant swim trunks.  He was totally embarrassed to put them on but luckily they let him wear his swim shirt, which completely covered the tiny suit.  We had to pass through this maze of lockers and restrooms and when we finally figured out how to get to the pool we were also forced to remove our shoes because they weren’t allowed on the pool deck.  We were also forced to walk through little pools of water to clean our feet every time we entered or exited the immediate pool area.  When we immerged the pool was completely filled with almost naked kids. I only saw one girl with a one piece suit on.  All the little girls were wearing tiny bikinis and the boys, of course, were all in the tightest suits and speedos.  They also made me put floaties, on Clemmie, which are not allowed in American pools and since Clementine is so comfortable in the water and loves to go underwater, I was hesitant, but they were pretty insistent so I put them on her.  Lucy saw the most gorgeous tall, dark, and muscly French boy wearing a speedo and stalked him for a while.  She also ran into him on the street while she was doing laundry, so he must live close to us.  Lol.  Having so many young kids and not knowing all the rules, I felt like we were getting hovered over by the pool police.  The most hilarious part of this whole runaround is that at one point we saw a giant squirt of poo coming out of Clementine’s diaper that was smeared all over the pool deck.  We quickly removed her from the pool and changed her diaper on the grass.  I wiped what I could off the edge of the pool and the pool deck, but it obviously got in the pool water.  When it was time to leave, I changed Henry back into his shorts and as soon as they saw him they rushed over and said he had to put his other suit back on.  I told them I was leaving so they were ok with it.  I started to ask them why all the run around with the cleanliness.  No one spoke English, so I began to leave, but they called after me and had someone who actually spoke English tell me what all the fuss was about.  Apparently they put less than half the amount of Chlorine into the water so they’re forced to take measures to limit the dirt and outside grime....and all this to "save the earth from Chlorine".   The problem with this is that unless French babies are different than American ones, poop and pee is going to get into the pool anyway and how can they limit that? At our pool at home they make Clementine and Vivi put on two layers of protection, which still doesn’t keep the poop juice from escaping out of the diaper.  When I finally realize that either one has pooped in their diaper, all the fine poop has mixed with water and escaped through the permeable swim diaper and all that’s left is large chunks of undigested food.  So, basically there’s almost no way to avoid poop and pee getting into the pool.  After hearing all this and realizing that Clementine had pooped in their untreated pool, I was happy to swim in the ultra concentrated chlorine pools of America…and to be leaving. 

After the pool, I took the kids to the park and Justin took Alex and Carla to the bus station where they spent the last couple days of their trip in Marseille….away from our screaming babies and chaos. 

Day 7: Annecy and Chamonix

Today we drove up to an incredibly gorgeous lake town called Annecy, which is known as the Venice of France.  The town consists of a beautiful clear lake right next to a steep, stunning mountain covered in greenery and around the lake is a perfectly manicured town complete with freshwater channels fed from the lake.  The channels and streets are lined with huge hanging baskets and flower boxes dripping with flowers, with almost no garbage.  Plus, it’s nice and cool, the water doesn’t stink, and I didn’t even see any construction.  These are major differences between Annecy and Venice.  Yes, Venice has more canals, but it’s dirty, stinky, disgustingly hot in August and you can hardly get where you want because they’re always trying to fix some ancient bridge or dredge a canal to fix a sinking house.  One thing France has that Italy doesn’t is a sophistication and charm.  It seems like France has a very well functioning infrastructure and they take time to worry about the details and they can because they’re on top of all the major maintenance issues that Italians struggle to maintain.  I saw no road construction, no unattended pot holes, good road signage, street sweepers cleaning up every night and hanging baskets adorning every town every few meters.  Even the larger cities were clean.  I am thoroughly impressed.  Back to Annecy….So as we walked around we were met with street performers at every corner and picturesque bridge after bridge.  We found a darling candy and cookie store and we bought the kids giant suckers.  I do have to say that the cookies and candy in Europe just aren’t as good as we have it.  People from Europe say that they don’t like our sweets because they’re too sweet, but if I’m going to eat something full of butter, I want it to taste good or else it’s not worth the calories.  The French pastries have PLENTY of sugar in them so why don’t they sweeten their cookies? The cookies are not only tasteless, but super hard and dry.  So after the kids refused the nice French girls’ offer to try their cookies, we settled on giant cube suckers that the kids dropped a million times on the cobblestone streets.  Yuk.  We unsuccessfully tried to take a photo of our kids on this gorgeous bridge, but the kid were already fading.  We wandered to a piazza where we let the kids run around and listen to a band called the “Red Hot Peppers” not to be confused with the “Red Hot Chile Peppers” who played New Orleans Jazz music that was really entertaining.  They also sung English in French accents.  We bought their CD, which wasn’t as good as their live performance, but is a fun reminder of our trip.  One of the cutest things we saw were these little pony bikes that the kids could ride around.  It was really picturesque to see all the little kids on the promenade on the little ponies.  Annecy was truly a magical place.  From there we went to my favorite new place on the planet called Chamonix.  It’s probably the most spectacular place I’ve ever been to.  Mont Blanc is a 12,000 foot mountain that rises almost vertically from a very low valley to a peak that’s completely covered in glaciers.  Naturally there are rivers and waterfalls flowing down from every peak.  Even though the mountains aren’t as high as the ones in Utah, the base of the mountain starts a LOT lower than our mountains so they seem to be three times higher from base to summit.  I’ve never seen anything that seemed so majestic.  It was almost unreal.  Unfortunately we arrived too late to take the tram up to the top so we ended up taking a stroll up the main street instead to gaze at the mountain.  Before we left, Bea put about 5 pounds of gravel in her dress and in every little hole and every flowerbed she “fed” the flowers or filled up the holes.  We found this pastry and chocolate store and as soon as we walked in we realized that we had made a serious mistake.  Bea was sneaking chocolates and taking bites out of them and then dropping them on the ground.  She successfully bit one and was about to take another one when the store owner yelled, “stop!” and we offered to pay for the candies.  She said it was ok, but we ended up buying a few things from her anyway.  The macaroon sandwiches were to die for.  The chocolates were normal and the giant merengue snowball we bought for the kids was like eating a huge chalk made out of sugar.  They kids pretty much hated it.  Haha.  Then as we were outside eating our treats, Clementine darted inside the store and grabbed a macaroon from the display window.  Lucy intercepted went in to tell the owner and this time she complained and said that even though those were only for display, it just wasn’t right that we let our kids come in and ravage her shop.  I totally agree.  So sorry.  At that point we realized that the kids were starving so we stopped at the nearest Fondue restaurant and ordered a giant pot of fondue that could of easily filled a gallon container.  There was an inordinate amount of cheese.  We were each given plates of sausages, cured meats, potatoes, salad and bread to dip and we were pretty much in heaven.  The view was spectacular and the kids were silent.  After dinner we walked up to the main street and watched a band of three brothers, reminiscent of the Jonas Brothers, playing two guitars with the youngest on the drums.  They only played cover songs but they were really great, especially the kid on the drums.  As I looked at that kid’s four limbs and head in constant motion I realized that the drums could be Henrys outlet instrument.  I will force him to play the piano but he might just LOVE the drums.  I think I’ll get him started on that ASAP.  The town was the town of our dreams with every single outdoorsy clothing and gear store known to man.  There were real estate shops around every corner and we salivated looking at the unrealistic possibilities.  We might be able to afford a studio apartment one day, but that’s about it.  Actually, the prices were less than half of what something of equal size would cost at any resort in Utah.  I wouldn’t hesitate to buy something there if we ever could.  The kids were almost dead at that point and we had a long drive home so we headed out and finally got into bed after 1am.  Totally worth it….

Day 6: Justin's dream ride turned nightmare

Day 6: August 7th.  

Today was the day Justin and his buddy Alex went on a 12 hour ride in the French Alps and climbed almost 17,000 feet vertical on a ride called La Marmotte with the most difficult climb being L'Alpe D'Huez.  He came home saying that it was the most difficult ride he'd ever done in his life and he told me a few days later that after that ride he hated biking and didn't ever want to ride again.  He also had a run in with the French guy who owned a little shop at the top of a big climb because they didn't buy something before trying to use the rest room.  The funny thing about this trip is that I had always told Justin that I didn't like the few times I had gone to France because they always ended up making me cry somehow and he always told me that he would take me someday and that I would love it.  Well, I got along great with everyone, now that I can fake knowing French with my K-9th grade French background and Italian grammar.  I was loving all the conversations I was able to have with all the French moms at the park, but by the time we left France, Justin was grumbling about how rude the French people were.  haha.  

While Justin was on his ride I went on a run through darling little country French neighborhoods.  As I ran I marveled at how perfectly wonderful the houses were.  The details are so subtle but come together to make the houses so quaint, but real.  I thought back on all the people I knew who had tried to build a French style house or Italian style house but it just didn't look right or feel right and I wonder why.  I think it's just because it's not real.  People try to fake things that are old and then it just looks cheesy to me.  Anyway, the houses were all actually old and had so much character.  Then I did laundry and spent a lot of time letting the kids play at the park while I had conversations with every French mother there. They all couldn't believe I had four kids.  I actually saw the only other family with four kids during our entire vacation at that park but I just missed them as they left and I arrived.  At least people in France are having babies... but at the same time they're filling up their little lungs with smoke because EVERYONE in France smokes.  I seriously cannot believe how horrible.  Many people in Italy smoke too, but not like the French. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Europe Day 1: From Inferno to Paradiso


Kids eating leftover Breakfast food in the hotel room
 Day one of our trip basically consisted of three days melded into one.  We left Salt Lake on the 31st, stayed overnight in Atlanta and then left for the Milan airport on August 1st, landing on August 2nd.  I pray a lot before we take any trips and I prayed so much that the kids would be good on the plane rides and I have to admit we had very little trouble with them.  There was a man behind us trying to have a gospel conversation with the couple next to them, who were born again Christians, and the only thing I caught him saying over the noise of the plane was, “And it’s like Jesus injected steroids, blah, blah….” I couldn’t quite make out the rest of it.  I was really weirded out by that phrase.  Haha. We ended up giving away one of the Books of Mormon we brought with us to give away, so that was good.   The plane ride to Atlanta left in the evening so by the time we reached the airport it was about 9pm our time, which wouldn’t have been so bad but when we reached our hotel, they realized that they didn’t have two pack-n-play cribs and had to spend the next two hours calling around to other hotels to locate some unused cribs and they finally reached us around midnight Utah time or 2am Atlanta time.  We even called them a week in advance and an hour before we got there to make sure they would be available for us on arrival so we could get the kids to bed right away.  It took a long time to get the babies to sleep without cribs and after I complained about how bad the service was they told me we would be “compensated” for our inconvenience.  We’ll just have to see if they make good on their word.  One of the main reasons we stayed at our hotel is because they have a great breakfast there, but in order to get breakfast we had to wake everyone up just before it closed at 9am after the kids had only gotten maybe 6 to 8 hours of sleep and we had maybe 5 hours of sleep, which we thought would be fine since we wanted them to sleep on the flight over to Italy.

After a long flight of free movies we arrived in Italy at 7am.  Henry slept all day!

I was really worried because I can never sleep on planes, especially holding a baby on my lap and I was already exhausted.  After breakfast we spent a couple hours swimming in the indoor pool and hot tub.  It was so cold inside their pool room so we were all huddling together in the luke-warm hot tub.  After the girls were complaining about being cold and we tried to wrap them up in the hand-towel sized towels they provided there, we looked outside and realized that there was a pool outside and, oh yeah, it was August in Atlanta so it’s probably really warm outside, which it was and we spent the last half hour playing outside.

We packed for the long flight over to Milan and left for the airport.  Check in went very smoothly except that Justin’s bike box was sent downstairs before we were able to set things in order so that took a while to sort out, but other than that things went smoothly.  The plane we took over here was very new and had giant screens with unlimited options for shows to watch.  This posed a problem for Henry who gets sucked into shows and will fight sleep just to stay awake to watch a show.  We thought all the kids would be exhausted and fall asleep very quickly, but Henry never slept once, Bea slept the entire time, Vivi slept most of the time and Clementine took about an hour nap and watched shows without sound for the rest of the trip.  We couldn’t believe her!   
The girls and their new friend Gaia
One of the annoying things that happened was that the baby hammock I ordered for the plane didn’t arrive and only the day before we left did I realize that the order had been cancelled. I ended up using my baby wrap to create a hammock that worked extremely well.  I wish I could have taken a photo of it, but maybe I will on the return flight.  I basically tied the hammock to the head rest in front of me(where Bea was sitting) and then connected it to the head rest to the right of me where Lucy was sitting so that it was set diagonally in between us, creating the most space and not really bothering either of us.  Lucy and I shared watching shows on her TV screen and both of us were able to get out since we were in the middle section of seats with Clementine to the left of Lucy.  Turbulence was so nice because it would swing Vivi back and forth which seemed  to keep her happy.  I think it worked better than the original hammock I had ordered because that one was meant to connect to the food tray and go from there down to your stomach, which now days is only about one foot of space and that’s definitely not enough for my large baby.  I did, however, have the luxury of having Bea be in front of me and Lucy beside me, or else it would have impeded others from  exiting.   A really nice American family living in Switzerland sat behind us with their two children named Amadaus(1 yr) and Gaia(3.5 yrs). 
Me and my airport support group, Bryn Migliore.  She was a gem and so beautiful!
 They had been traveling from Costa Rica and realized that they had left their car and house keys in the safe at their hotel and had to spend a couple hours after that super long flight waiting at the airport until they could figure out how to get home.  We also had to stay for a couple hours because we had to wait to rent our car or else we would have to return it too early in 6 days and be penalized for another day.  It all turned out great because since they were stuck and we were stuck, the kids got to play together, eat treats, watch shows and they actually had a fun time hanging out in the airport.  Every situation has a silver lining and I was glad to have been able to help them in a rough situation and her kids helped entertain my kids in the process. 
We were here for a couple hours just trying to survive
When we finally got our nine passenger van we were so ready to hit the road.  We spent the next few hours trying to find the “Quattro Portoni” Buffalo cheese farm.  Henry threw up in a ziplock bag and since nothing came up we realized that we hadn't fed our kids for a while and since Henry hadn't gone to sleep at all on the plane he was in pretty bad shape.  That throw-up baggie was left in there for quite a few days.  We got lost for so long but finally found it and it was well worth the wait.  Justin and I spent about a half hour touring around the farm with the owner and his wife talking about everything from obtaining and raising buffalo to making the products.  
Lucy enjoying her spot in the van.  haha.

 Afterward we had Lucy, Clementine and Violette come in to eat some cheese with us.  Henry and Bea unfortunately had fallen asleep in the car.  These wonderful people took large chunks of cheese and crackers and fed us the most delicious assortment of cheeses.  We ate in a room that was built in the 1600s.  It was one of those rooms that people in America have recreated in restaurants to make it look like it was old, but this place was actually that old and it wasn’t like they were trying to make a beautiful room to eat cheese in.  It was just plain beautiful. 
Alfio and Bruno Gritti with the lovely Elena.  I am looking a little grody.  haha. 
The whole farm is enclosed in four hundred year old buildings.  It's just incredible
Here Bruno is serving us delicious delecacies

Baby Buffalo.  Why can't I bring you home? Stupid USDA
Just born

Elena and Bruno, the owners were so generous and, of course, fell in love with my babies.  They packed up a cooler of delicious yogurt and cheeses for us, told us they would come to Utah to visit and we drove all the way to Levanto which is on the Mediterranean sea and is totally gorgeous.  At this point everyone was starving and just about everyone was crying in the car so we stopped for pizza and pasta for dinner and then headed over to our apartment where my good friend Laurel was waiting for us with her four boys.  Henry is in heaven right now and I wish they would stay with us the entire time!
The giant box of cheese they GAVE us to take home.  Italians are so generous!

They were in LOVE with my babies.  Vivi was so happy.  Meno male.

Buffalo milk yogurt. Smoothest I've ever had.  If we can make this it would be a miracle....someday