Erin Virginia

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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fiona - 13 Months

Fiona is over thirteen months now, and it has been such a blessing to spend extra time with her and Chris in Paris this summer. She seems to have developed a lot since we arrived 7 weeks ago. The major accomplishment is that she started walking. She took five steps in a row the day after her 1st birthday and then waited another couple weeks to really ramp it up. We need to work on her walking in shoes more often, but it's her preferred method to get from A to B. She doesn't say much yet, but she recognizes many objects by name and will point them out (car, bird, dog, book, wall, shoes, etc.). We hear lots of "da!" as she points excitedly at a dog or bird. She crawls onto the day bed and low bed at our apartment by herself and knows how to back herself off (sometimes). She loves to play hide-and-seek and wrinkle her nose at us and sniff repeatedly (like a bunny). A couple weeks ago, she bit my leg and I wagged my finger at her and said, "No biting, Fiona." For whatever reason, the phrase stuck with her. Chris and I ask her, "Do we bite, Fiona?" Then she smirks up at us, shakes her head and wags her finger. I call her our little hall monitor because she will wag her finger "no, no" at us other random times. (Also, I'm not entirely sure she gets the concept because she will "fake" bite me sometimes and then wag her finger at me). She takes two 1 hour naps per day and goes down easily for those and at night. Every couple nights, she will wake up at 3 or 4am and cry until I get her. Then she wants to be awake and play for a half hour. I suppose I need to get tough on her so she learns to cope throughout the night. She has fully transitioned to cow's milk out of a sippy cup and eats three meals and a couple snacks each day. Her favorite foods are yogurt, bananas, rice and beans, eggs, bread and avocado. We give her a bath each night here, and she loves it so much that she cries when we pull her out. We say, "Bye, bye, water," and she waves at the drain. Here's a video of her wagging her finger at us.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Switzerland

Our little family flew to Switzerland for a quick trip last week. We flew to Zurich and then caught a train to Interlaken where we stayed at a B&B for three nights. The rooms were so-so, but the owners define hospitality, going so far as to loan us their child backpack so we could hike with Fiona. I knew Switzerland would be expensive, but I'm still shell-shocked at the prices. You couldn't find a plate of basic pasta for less than $25, and even that would be extremely cheap. Chris and I ended up buying food at a local grocery store and packing sandwiches for our hikes and heating up meals in the microwave at the B&B to save money. That said, Switzerland is the most beautiful place I've ever visited. I felt overwhelmed on the train from Zurich to Interlaken as we passed snowy mountains towering over glacier-fed aqua lakes. We hiked both days near Interlaken, one day along the mountain ridge beginning in Niederhorn and the next along a waterfall route beginning in Lauterbrunnen. We took cable cars to the hike start point both days. Fiona was wonderful, taking long naps on Chris' back with her head covered to shield her from the strong sun.

The second day, we hiked an easier route near waterfalls. While we were jamming into a cable car up the mountain, we literally bumped into another couple staying at our B&B. The couple was on a mini-vacation while their 22 month old daughter stayed with her grandmother in Geneva. We hiked with them the whole day and enjoyed two extra sets of hands with Fiona. At a picnic area beneath a waterfall, we ate lunch and watched base jumpers in bat suits jump off the cliff above us. You can do about any extreme sport in Switzerland, i.e., paragliding, bungee jumping, sky diving, helicopter skiing/snowboarding, rock climbing, etc.
View down the cable car route
Wendy and Jamie
While we waited for the train back to Interlaken, Chris and Fiona decided to cool their feet in a nearby glacier-fed stream (first picture). Fiona is as obsessed with the water as Chris. Later in the day, they stopped for another dip in Interlaken.

From Interlaken, we took the beautiful train route in reverse to Lucerne where we stayed for two nights. Here are a few poor quality pictures through the train window.

In Lucerne, we booked a hotel in the old town with a view of the Reuss River. We attempted to rent bicycles our second day, but none were available with child seats. Instead, we wandered the streets and along the water while Fiona pointed at birds and dogs. We stopped at the Lion Monument, a huge stone carving in a cliff of a dying lion, that commemorates Swiss soldiers killed in 1792 during the French Revolution. At the boat rental area at Lake Lucerne, Chris and I laughed hysterically as we watched two groups of Chinese tourists accidentally smash their pontoons into each other (no injuries) on the vast expanse of water. 

On Sunday, Chris jumped in the river near our hotel and floated two kilometers downstream to a small beach. Fiona and I watched him get in the water and float away and then walked to the beach on our own to meet him. Fiona threw a fit as she watched Chris, aka her swim buddy, betray her and float away without her. My walk to the beach with her was not pleasant, but all ended well when Chris carried her in the water at the beach.
Monday saw a long day of travel back to Paris: a mad dash through the rain to the train station where we barely caught the train and then changed clothes in the smelly train bathroom, a delayed flight to Zurich with a fussy Fiona and then a sunset walk home from the train station.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Anvers Gang

I was pick-pocketed by a gang of child thieves in our nearest metro station, Anvers, yesterday. Chris was carrying Fiona, and I had my purse slung across my body with the collapsed umbrella stroller in my hands. As the doors to the subway car opened, Chris stepped inside, and as I followed a step behind, I felt a tug on my purse. I whipped around and saw my purse unzipped and my wallet gone. I yelled for Chris to get off the subway, and several bystanders pointed at a group of three boys (around 8 years old) and two older girls darting away. Luckily, a group of people helped us round up the kids, and we essentially shook down the boys. After much adamant head-shaking on their part and holding open their pants to show us they hadn't stuffed it there, my wallet magically appeared under a nearby bench (luckily with nothing missing). A man with three children of his own called the police and forcibly escorted one of the boys and the two girls to the ticketing area of the subway station (the other two boys ran off) to wait for the police. This man from Turkey and another man from Pakistan lectured the kids non-stop in French until the police arrived, and from the hand-gesturing, we could tell that the man from Turkey was saying that where he came from, hands are chopped off for these sorts of offenses. I had to go with the police to a nearby station to file a report, and one officer told me that the laws in France are such that the kids will not be punished for stealing and would be released within a couple hours. He told me in a frustrated voice that this same band of kids had been rounded up and brought to the police station four out of the five previous days. In addition, another group of pick-pocketing kids stole the wallet of an Indonesian woman who was carrying around 10,000 Euros in cash. The particular band of kids that filched my wallet was composed of Romanians and Bosnians, the officer told me.
The kicker to this entire story is that Chris and I used the Anvers subway station today, and the little band of ruffians was in the exact same spot as yesterday. The boys saw us, waved, smiled mischievously, then motioned for me to hold my purse tightly. Chris and I laughed about the situation for much of our subway ride and figured we should try to befriend them during the rest of our stay here in Paris. Who knows? Maybe there will be a part 2 of this story in a few weeks.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Germany

I took a couple vacation days after traveling to Germany for work last week to allow us to spend some extra time in Germany and to meander back to Paris through the beautiful borderland of Alsace. We booked a hotel in Cologne, Germany for the first couple days of the trip since I need to be in nearby Dusseldorf. Cologne (Koln in German) is known for its giant cathedral that overshadows a city that was almost entirely destroyed (95%) in World War II. We took long walks in the evening along the river and ate way too much sausage (Chris) and spectacular pretzel croissants (why, why are these not available in the U.S.?).

Koln Cathedral
 Old town Koln and views of the Rhine River
 Near our hotel was a sculptured rock splash pad, which Fiona LOVED.

After Koln, we drove a couple hours through traffic to Heidelberg, a hilly city with a ruined castle looming over its old town. The following morning, we hiked the cobbly pathway up the hill, made that much worse by Fiona's jostling stroller, then cooled off with breezy views of the river. When we checked out of our hotel room on the third floor of an Irish pub, we somehow left behind Fiona's favorite toy and my phone charger. It took me a good half hour on the drive to get over those losses.
 View from the street outside our hotel room
After Heidelberg, we drove to the university town of Freiberg. The sun was blistering, and we passed so many people dipping their feet in the "bachle," small runnels of water wandering through the town from the Dreisam River, that we couldn't help but dip ours and Fiona's dusty toes into the water. We also visited the beautiful church and the requisite beer garden, where the most memorable moment came when we thought we had ordered a pasta dish, and it turned out to be shredded baloney.

Chris and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary in Freiberg, and for good measure, Fiona decided to stay up until 10:30pm. Thank you, Fiona. After Freiberg, we veered off the highway and took back roads into the gorgeous Alsace region which is the borderland between France and Germany. I wish I had snapped a couple pictures from the car of the mountains looming over the tidiest pastures and farm fields I've ever seen. Chris and I both have ancestors from the area, and we remarked in disbelief (and simplicity) on how anyone could leave such a beautiful area.
We stopped for lunch in the picturesque village of Colmar, Germany and then continued onward to Strasbourg, France.

Colmar
From Colmar to Strasbourg, we wound through small town after small town with flowers gushing out of window boxes, vines entwining latticed framework and tiered pots of violent color hugging every door frame. I am not one for dramatics, but it was almost too much, too stereotypically beautiful. I unfortunately don't have any pictures to back up this gratuitous description.

Due to the heat (or not), Chris had a deep hankering to hit some water, and as we sped along the winding road that hugged the Rhine at a kilometer's distance, we finally spied some kindred spirits bobbing in a small, shady stream. Chris turned the car around, woke Fiona from her carseat nap, stripped her down, and the two of them lazed in the water, while I dipped my toes and collected striped rocks.
We arrived in Strasbourg, France and immediately set out to explore the city. I don't know how to describe it, except as an exceptionally underated, beautiful city, somehow Bavarian and French at the same time.
We grabbed a beer near a fountain/splash pad (what are these called?), where Fiona was first entertained by the kids playing and then irate that she wasn't in the water. Chris and I took turns swinging her through the water and dragging her back to our table after she would comically crawl within the tangled confines of her dress in a gimp limp fashion towards the gurgles.

Fiona making her way towards the water (for the umpteenth time)
 Street view of our hotel
The long drive home was exacerbated by an extremely fussy Fiona (to the point where we pulled over by the road, purchased food at a grocery store and fed her strips of Gouda cheese on a nearby grassy knoll). We did stop briefly at Verdun to visit the WWI memorial and then had another horrendous rental return experience at Gare du Nord.
Verdun
It was an incredible trip, overall. I feel a kinship to the area we visited, maybe due to our prior trip to Germany in 2008, my years of high school German classes or knowing that I have family who made the long haul to America from this very land.