Tag Archives: Adventure

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

It’s official—we are back in the United States. Our move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida was our sixth relocation in just under two years. That’s right—we’ve moved six times in the course of 677 days. Five of those moves were between different countries. Two were between different continents and two were with a child less than one-year-old. Whew!

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Sunrise in the front of our apartment building.

We’re getting pretty good at packing and eliminating excess. With each move it gets a little easier to leave behind what isn’t absolutely necessary and buy pretty much just what we need at our next location. We really lucked out in Florida because our corporate apartment came well-stocked with the essentials—like coffee cups and wine glasses. We even have an egg slicer, cheese shaver and several bottle openers. Strangely enough, though, we don’t have a spatula.

It feels weird to be back in the U.S. after nearly two years, but it is nice to have more freedom to get around. Because of where we lived in Monterrey and the fact that I didn’t drive in Mexico, Baby Girl and I were fairly confined to our little neighborhood when Matt was working. Here, however, Matt carpools to work so I have a car several days each week. Plus there’s a lot more for us to do in Florida—even on days we don’t have the car. Baby Girl is taking swim classes, I found a gym called Mommycise that caters to moms and babies and there’s a beach and state park within a five minute walk from our apartment. I keep joking with Matt that it feels like we are on a bit of a vacation because it’s so much easier to get around and communicate with people out and about.

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Strolling the beach with Baby Girl.

That said, we’ll be excited to get back out into the international scene. Traveling—and racking up passport stamps—is pretty addicting. Still, we are taking full advantage of being back in the States for a few months.

On our first weekend in town, we took a water taxi down the Intracoastal Waterway, which operates like a hop-on, hop-off bus. It took us past the waterfront homes of the rich and famous and offered stops for various attractions along the route, including the 15th Street Fisheries and Las Olas Boulevard. We took the water taxi to Las Olas Boulevard and got off to admire the stretch of cute little restaurants and shops that is so quintessentially American. There was an art festival going on, so after stopping for some wine, beer and a light lunch, we strolled past the booths and talked about the types of pieces we’d want for our future home.

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Fort Lauderdale from the water taxi.

That Sunday we planned to go to the beach, but the wind was blowing so hard, we decided to just go for a walk instead. Even just walking along the sidewalk near the beach we were blasted with bits of sand and spray from the crashing waves. Baby girl was tucked safely away in her stroller, but Matt had to hold on tight because the wind kept trying to blow her ride off course. As we walked, we were amused at, but had to admire, the spring breakers who weren’t going to let large waves and chilly wind gusts kill their vibe.

This past weekend we attended the annual Fort Lauderdale St. Patrick’s Day Festival and Parade. The main festivities were at Huizenga Plaza, which sits on the waterfront downtown. Booths hawking Irish-themed food, clothing and, of course, drinks decked the perimeter of the park and a large stage in the center was the focal point of the entertainment. We got there shortly before the parade started, so we grabbed a quick lunch of Irish bangers, cupcakes and beer.

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The parade started at noon and lasted well over an hour. We watched for a while and Baby Girl humored us because she had cold peaches to enjoy, but eventually we all had enough of the sun and went in search of shade and refreshment. We ended up strolling down along the riverfront and admiring all of the boats sailing up and down it.

Sunday we finally made it out to the beach. The weather threatened rain, but it thankfully held off. We were able to try out our new beach tent and relax to the sound of the crashing waves.

Living in Florida, it almost feels like we picked right back up where we left off in Atlanta—except this time we have a baby. As was typical of our former stateside life, our weekend are quickly booking up. Starting in May, pretty much every weekend is booked up until August when we’ll be getting ready for our next adventure. I’ll give you two hints where we are headed: we are studying Mandarin and practicing with chopsticks whenever we get a chance.

Stay tuned for more Florida adventures. If you have any tips for fun, family-friendly things to do here, please leave them in the comments!

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…in Mexico City

The last few years we’ve been fortunate enough to see how several other countries celebrate Christmas. Our international holiday tour began in the Dominican Republic on our honeymoon in 2014 and continued last year in France, Austria and Germany. This year we are enjoying festivities in Mexico! 

Yesterday we arrived in the city after a quick and smooth flight. 

We dropped our luggage at the Hilton Reforma where we are staying and immediately headed out for a bite at Cantina Corona per our bellhop’s recommendation.


Then we headed out on the Touribus to see a bit of the city. Here are a couple photos from the tour.


Today we head out to see the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Aztec pyramids. So stay tuned for more Mexico City fun!

Bienvenido a Monterrey

It’s quiet here this afternoon.* In a surprising twist on the day, my baby girl, who spent the morning dramatically crying every time I set her down or moved out of her eyesight, fell asleep ON HER OWN! I put her on her play mat so I could run to the bathroom. She put up a brief fuss, but was conked out by the time I returned two minutes later. Not only that, but she’s stayed asleep for almost 45 minutes!

This never happens. She sleeps on her own at night, but prefers to sleep snuggled up on mommy or daddy during the day. Either she is turning the corner on napping at the ripe old age of two months—or she’s just that tired from getting up at 6:30 this morning. Whatever the case, it’s letting me get some writing in!

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Mommy’s little helper asleep on the job!
We are spending the day in our bright, new apartment in Monterrey. The view from our home on the 5th floor is stunning. We stare out at the foothills of the Sierra Madres and are positioned such that we can see both sunrise and sunset!

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We arrived in Monterrey last Thursday after what was supposed to be a one-day trip turned into two days of travel. Our flights took us from Toulouse to Paris to Atlanta and then Monterrey. As is typical at Charles de Gaulle (at least in Matt’s and my experience), our flight leaving Paris was delayed making our short connection in Atlanta even tighter.

After clearing customs in Atlanta, we had to collect our luggage and send it back through security. It was there we noticed the car seat we gate checked was missing its booster cushion. So we stopped to put in a claim with the Delta baggage agents right away in case it was still on the plane or luggage cart. This delay, coupled with the long lines in customs and security, caused us to miss our connection to Monterrey.

Unfortunately that was the last flight out of Atlanta to Monterrey for the night. So we ended up having to stay the night in Atlanta. Thankfully the Delta agent in the Sky Lounge had us get a bag of toiletries from the showers there, because all we had was a backpack full of diapers and change of clothes for baby girl. Matt and I picked up t-shirts from one of the airport shops so we’d at least have something clean to wear the next day and, fortunately, the gift shop in the hotel sold women’s underwear.

The next morning we made our way back to the airport bright and early and picked up some Subway breakfast sandwiches. We quickly learned that you can’t take outside food into the Sky Lounge. Who knew?

Our flight out of Atlanta was delayed an hour due to a flat tire. We’d already boarded so it was interesting trying to keep baby girl happy while we sat at the gate. I was trying to time nursing her with takeoff to help with ear pressure, but that was a little difficult since we had no idea when we were taking off. Fortunately she was pretty happy just to sleep (which is what she mostly did on all three flights—she was an excellent flyer!).

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Yes, that’s a baby under my scarf.
We finally arrived to Monterrey close to 1:00 p.m. We made it through passport control smoothly, but when we got to baggage claim we discovered our baby crib never made it on the plane from Atlanta. That’s, you know, kind of important when you have nothing else for your baby to sleep in at your new apartment. It took us from Thursday until Sunday night to get our crib back. Fortunately our leasing office was able to borrow a crib for us in the meantime. Delta was disappointingly blasé about the whole thing.

After you collect your bags in Monterrey, you go through customs in the baggage claim area. There’s a button you have to push that determines if you need to go through further inspection. It’s completely random. If it lights up green, you are free to go (as long as you don’t raise any red flags). If it turns red, you have to open up all your bags and the police have to dig through them. After such a long trip, we were praying for green—and, when they saw we were with an infant, I’m pretty sure the police were rooting for green as well. Matt made me press the button. There was a collective intake of breath from everyone standing there waiting to see what we would get.

The light was green. We could go.

The next ordeal was trying to get all of our bags into our rental car. Even though the cars here are bigger than in Europe, it took us three tries to find one that could hold us and all of our stuff. Finally, though, we were on our way to our new home.

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So one week later, we are pretty much settled into our new apartment. We haven’t been out much yet (other than a run to WalMart and Matt going to work), but this weekend we plan to do a little exploring. So far, though very different from France, Mexico is pretty nice. I mean, how can you go wrong when every day is #TacoTuesday?

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*Admittedly this post took me a couple of days to finish. Baby girl ended up sleeping for 45 minutes, so I only got about halfway through the post. At least for this week, it was a fluke that she fell asleep on her own. In fairness, though, I think we are going through a “wonder week.”

Babymoon in Paradise

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. I can practically hear the clock ticking as I write. Every minute, every day, each passing week we get a little closer to the arrival of our baby girl. On Monday, I officially begin the ninth month of pregnancy. I’ve read the last month can often drag, but so far the third trimester has been flying by.

It’s simultaneously exciting and scary how quickly my pregnancy apps are ticking off days. The apps are really good at reminding you how soon you’ll be trading your pink Michael Kors purse for a diaper bag—as well as providing a daily dose of hormonally charged drama from the women on the message boards. Seriously, it’s better than Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Patience, especially in the face of the unknown, is not one of my strong suits. Yet, I’m feeling pretty calm about these final few weeks. Perhaps the stresses of the past year have done some good, or maybe my busy schedule is blocking most anxieties about the delivery. Either way, I almost feel I’m a bit too Zen for approaching the birth of our first child. Does this mean I’m really unprepared? Am I in for a brutal awakening? Will I be able to handle the pain of childbirth and the pressures of motherhood? Oh there’s my little friend anxiety. I was starting to worry you left me!

Aside from doctors’ appointments and birth prep classes, my daily French class has been keeping me very occupied. I just started my second month (of which I’m only taking two weeks) and this time there are five—count them—five pregnant women in the class. It’s quite possible there’s something in the French water—or perhaps the constant barrage of aphrodisiacs, like chocolate, wine and oysters, encourage une vie d’amour.

Matt suggested we pregnant women should team up and request the class be centered around pregnancy terms—after all, we pretty much outnumber the non-pregnant students in the room. That’s one of the reasons I love that man—always thinking practically.

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Speaking of une vie d’amour, this past weekend Matt and I fled the hustle and bustle of Toulouse for a long weekend at the Côte d’Azur, a.k.a the French Riviera, a.k.a. paradise! Friday after my French class, we ate a quick lunch and then jumped in the car for an almost five-hour drive to Saint-Aygulf–a cute, little town tucked along the Mediterranean Coast almost halfway between its much more renown neighbors, Cannes and Saint-Tropez.

We booked four nights at Cap Riviera, a small, privately owned hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Since it was a late birthday/”babymoon” trip, we splurged a bit and upgraded to the suite, which included a private terrace and garden tub with jets. We could sit on lounge chairs on our deck and just stare at the beautiful, blue waters. There was also a small beach right across the street that seemed to be mostly used by locals and guests of the hotel.

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View from our balcony

The owners of Cap Riviera are a husband and wife team, who are French and Italian respectively. They were wonderful hosts and treated all of the guests more like family than a paycheck. In the mornings, we could enjoy a petite dejeuner (baguette, croissant, pain au chocolate, coffee and orange juice) on the hotel balcony and in the evening we had the option of dining on a delicious range of dishes prepared by the owners while watching the sun set from the same balcony.

Our original plan was to do nothing more than sit on the beach for three days—and on Saturday we achieved that goal. We sat on the small beach, watched the waves crash and listened to music under the cover of a borrowed beach umbrella. It was pretty amazing.

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Velella Velella (or “by-the-wind-sailors”) decorated the shoreline on the small beach.

Sunday, however, the weather dawned on dark and stormy and it wasn’t supposed to let up until 2:00 that afternoon. So, rather than spending the day squirreled away in our room watching French television, we decided to take a drive up to Cannes.

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Instead of taking the highway, we took the scenic route through the mountains lining the coast. Though rainy, the drive was beautiful. The road wound up and around heavily forested hills while steep drops at the edge of the road offered breathtaking views of the valley below.

Eventually we made our way back to civilization and soon found ourselves in the heavily commercialized (think Florida beach town) outskirts of Cannes. As we drove closer to the old city, the chain restaurants and shops gave way to an expansive coastline and turquoise water as far as the eye could see.

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We parked near the port and made our way to a restaurant to grab a bite and wait out the rest of the storm. Sure enough, at 2:00 the clouds cleared and the sun began shining like a spotlight on the town famous for its international film festival. We quickly finished our meal and began walking further into town, admiring the many beautiful yachts and sailboats docked in the port along the way.

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Close to the docks, we discovered a park where locals were coming out of the woodwork to play or watch games of Pétanque (the French version of bocce). We stopped to watch for a moment as I caught my breath from a Braxton Hicks contraction. Some of the guys practicing looked like they were pretty serious. There’s even a small grandstand at one of the courts where fans can watch the games.

Once the contraction stopped, we made our way to the Cannes tourism office, which is tucked neatly near the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. This is the main venue for the Cannes International Film Festival. On the sidewalk outside the building, you can find squares with imprints of celebrity hands in the concrete.

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Main venue for the Cannes International Film Festival.

There were numerous options for things to do in the town, but we opted for a “train ride” which took us through the main streets of the town and up Le Suquet Hill to the Château de la Castre. The views from the hill of the city and surrounding beaches and mountains were stunning. Cannes is quite picturesque, though I’m sure it can be almost a nightmare to visit during the festival or high season.

After the tour, we grabbed some chairs on the boardwalk along the beach and sat for a while watching the waves and passersby. I really wanted ice cream (it seemed like everyone was walking by us with frozen treats), but Matt made me wait until after dinner. Lucky for him we found a little shop called Niva that served absolutely delicious gelato. He lived to see another day.

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Monday dawned on much sunnier, but the winds were whipping. We decided to try our luck with another short road trip—this time to Saint-Tropez. About 45 minutes west of our hotel, we once again took the scenic route along the coast and were able to admire the many beautiful, though perhaps lesser-known, beach towns (like Sainte-Maxime) on the way to Saint-Tropez.

We weren’t sure what to expect in Saint-Tropez, but discovered a cute, little medieval town featuring a plentitude of high-end, designer shops and enough yachts in the port to transport a small army. The beauty of the mountains and water in this area make it easy to see why the French Riviera is a vacationer’s paradise—and why the rich and famous flock to its coasts.

We decided to start our day with a harbor cruise which took us out in the bay and past the homes of many celebrities who built homes here. Though extremely windy, the boat ride was surprisingly smooth and quite enjoyable.

Following the cruise, we grabbed a quick bite in town and headed towards Pampelonne Beach, which is supposed to be “the spot” to go if you are in Saint-Tropez. Club 55, a restaurant at one end of the beach, is frequented by celebrities, but there are many public areas where, at least at this time of the year, it is easy to thrown down a blanket and claim a spot for the afternoon.

Unfortunately the wind was whipping and sending blasts of sand in our face every few minutes and the water was still too cold to take a dip in (though the gem-like color of it begged me to). While I appreciated the thought of a free microdermabrasion, it eventually got a bit much and we decided to head back to our hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to music and watching the water from our private deck.

As with all good things, eventually they must come to an end. Tuesday morning we packed up early and headed back to Toulouse. We were sad to say goodbye to the Côte d’Azur, but we have some exciting times coming up. The break was a perfect way to bid adieu to our party of two and prepare for sleepless, but rewarding nights ahead.

Alpine Adventures

It’s a busy week in Toulouse. Not only did the first Starbucks in the city open this morning (complete with people lined up well outside the door for hours to be the “first in”), it’s also a week marked by ongoing protests over changes to France’s labor laws. The reform under debate makes it easier for companies to hire and fire people.

On Sunday as we posed for photos for our maternity shoot (more on that later), we saw a huge crowd gathered in front of the Capitole de Toulouse for a performance/protest. This week, many roads have been blocked as protesters parade up and down them rallying the public for their cause. The trains and airport are expected to have major delays the next couple of days due to the ongoing strikes. Not such a good week if you have to travel or get to a job on anything other than foot or a bicycle, but definitely interesting to see a part of the French culture played out on such a massive scale.

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Image from a protest at the end of April.

Matt unfortunately may have a long drive to and from work tomorrow if the strike disrupts traffic near the airport like the taxi strike earlier this year did, but we’re otherwise sticking pretty close to home this week. That makes it a perfect time to reminisce about a trip we took to Switzerland a little over a month ago while living in Germany.

When we moved to Germany, we immediately looked at a map to see what places we could squeeze in a visit to over that next month and a half. We only had a couple of free weekends to travel, but we did manage to check three more countries off our list: Luxembourg, Switzerland and Lichtenstein.

We ended up taking our trip to Switzerland on one of our last weekends in Germany. Just a four-hour drive from Frankfurt, Zurich appeared to be a promising spot for a fun weekend. Plus, we’d been to pretty much all the border countries to Switzerland, so we couldn’t risk ending our time in Europe without checking it out.

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Did you know the Swiss use their own currency called the Swiss Franc?

We left early on a Saturday morning and were able to make it to the city by lunchtime. We checked in at Hotel Adler and went to grab a bite at the Rheinfelder Bierhalle. The restaurant got good reviews on TripAdvisor, noting that it appeals to both tourists and locals alike.

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Matt ordered some Swiss beer and I happily found an alcohol-free Apfelwein. I also ordered a traditional Swiss dish called a Rösti, which basically consisted of shredded potatoes smothered in cheese and ham. Waffle House ain’t got nothing on that dish!

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Following lunch, we headed to the Hauptbahnhof where we met up with the English-language city walking tour. Our group wandered through the streets learning how the city grew up to become a global center for banking and finance. The city was beautiful and clean and the Limmatquai River running through it only added to the city’s charm.

Following our tour, we made our way back to Hotel Adler to get ready for dinner. We booked reservations at Swiss Chuchi, the restaurant attached to the hotel specializing in Swiss cuisine. We were looking forward to a true, Swiss fondue experience—and we got it!

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We started with a steamy, gooey pot of melted cheese into which we dunked chunks of fresh bread. We accompanied this with a pot of hot oil, in which we cooked tender pieces of chicken, beef and vegetables. Everything was absolutely delicious and our server ensured we didn’t skip out on one of the best parts—the toasted cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot.

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We couldn’t just stop there—especially when our server recommended a dessert that wasn’t even on the menu: chocolate fondue. Yep, we rounded out our meal (and bellies) with a pot of creamy, melted Swiss chocolate into which we dipped chopped fruit (okay, we also scooped plain spoonfuls of the sweet stuff directly into our mouths).

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I’m honestly not sure how we slept that night, but somehow we managed to squeeze in a few hours of shut-eye. Good thing, too, because we booked a full-day tour to the Swiss countryside for Sunday.

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Zurich at night.

The next morning, bright and early, we got up and made our way to the meeting point for our “Heidiland” tour. The Zurich tourism office offers numerous awesome tours, from hiking up into the Alps to trekking out to the Rheinfalls (Europe’s largest waterfall). We opted for the Heidiland tour because we could not only get a chance to see some of the beautiful Swiss countryside, we could also check another country off our list: Lichtenstein.

Our first stop outside of the city was Rapperswil-Jona, also known as the “town of roses.” Located on the upper end of the stunning and massive Lake Zurich, this little town features a medieval castle, a Polish Museum and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and lake.

We had time for a short tour through Altstadt before we grabbed lunch at the Café Conditerei Rosenstädter. Matt had cordon bleu and I sampled the Rosenstädter Käsekuchen, which was essentially a very cheesy and rich quiche.

From Rapperswil-Jona our tour took us deeper into the countryside, past snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and peaceful lakes to Heidiland. Located in Eastern Switzerland between Lake Walen and Sargansen, this area gets its name from Johanna Spyri’s book of the same name, Heidi.

Though definitely a tourist trap, Heidi’s village (Heididorf) is a cute place to visit especially if you have young children. You can see Heidi’s house and the feed goats and chickens happily strutting around the grounds. Even if the touristy stuff doesn’t get you going, the views of the surrounding mountains and countryside and the peaceful breezes playing through the trees provide a perfect setting to break from a busy life.

Our final destination on the trip was Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Never heard of Liechtenstein or heard of it but can’t place where it is? You’re probably in good company. So here’s your geography lesson for the day. Liechtenstein is a 62-square-mile principality sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria. It has an estimated population of 37,000 and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.

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Castle of the royal family of Liechtenstein.

The country has a constitutional monarchy as Head of State and an elected parliament to enact law. The Prince of Liechtenstein and his family have a castle that overlooks the capital of Vaduz. We didn’t have a ton of time here, but that suited us just fine. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, but the city was pretty dead. We decided to just pop into a café for a quick snack and to chill out until it was time to meet back up with our tour.

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Vaduz Town Hall

Our drive back was pretty uneventful and I think both of us dozed off at some point. It was a long day, but so worth it to get to see more of Switzerland and add another new country to our list.

Later that evening we went to the Restaurant Zeughauskeller, which was recommended to us by a friend (mostly for the flaming beer drink which, of course, Matt had to try). The food was simple, but plentiful and delicious (including a choice of more than a dozen different types of sausage). Once again, we left stuffed and practically had to roll ourselves back to the hotel.

Monday morning it was time to get up and head back to reality in Frankfurt. Along our drive home, though, we noticed signs for the Rheinfall and discovered it was just minutes off of our travel route. So we figured, what the heck! Might as well.

I think Matt’s expectations were pretty low driving up to the falls because the land was a bit flatter there and he didn’t believe a waterfall there could be that impressive. What we found, though, pretty much knocked both our socks off.

As I previously mentioned, Rheinfall the largest plain waterfall in Europe. It is located on the High Rhine in northern Switzerland and it stretches some 450 feet wide and 75 feet high. The sheer power of the water cascading down the falls is breathtaking and there are multiple viewing platforms that let you get so close you could almost reach out and stick your hand in the flowing water.

We both agreed the Rheinfall was a surprisingly wonderful way to end our trip to Switzerland. I think lyrical poet, Eduard Mörike, sums up the experience of witnessing the falls perfectly:

“Hold your heart, oh traveler, tightly in mighty hands! Mine nearly descended, shivering with pleasure. Restless thundering masses thrown upon masses, ear and eye, whither can they save themselves in such an uproar?” (Translated from German)

On Castles and Chasms (or a Weekend-End Trip to South-Central France)

“Looks like you’ve made the American version,” said my oh-so-hilarious doctor at my 32-week scan. He’d just informed Matt and me our petite not-so-petite little girl was already weighing in at an estimated and whopping 5.7 pounds. Yep, our feisty, little, French-made bebé, who punched at the ultrasound wand while the doctor was trying to take her measurements, is in the 96th percentile for babies in the same week of gestation. It seems like she may be taking after her daddy’s size and her mommy’s temperament.

I can’t lie and say I’m not a little nervous about the high likelihood of giving birth to a big baby, especially given my towering stature of just under 5’4”. Thankfully my doctor is onboard to let things progress as naturally as possible and avoid a C-section unless absolutely necessary. His pragmatism is much appreciated, especially in a country where it’s perfectly acceptable to smoke with small children in tow, but where the pharmacist will scold you for picking up a doctor-prescribed vaccine that she feels you shouldn’t take during pregnancy. True story.

Third Trimester

With all the extra weight piling up in my belly, I sometimes find it amazing I can even drag myself from bed and walk upright these days, but somehow I managed to pull it together this past weekend for a fun adventure with our Irish friend, Fio.

I first met Fio five years ago in Atlanta and we quickly became close friends. She was there for work, but unfortunately her job sent her back to Ireland after a couple of years. We’ve stayed in touch since she moved back home and she even came to Atlanta a couple of times. Matt and I finally made it to Dublin to visit her last August and she returned the trip this past weekend.

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While pondering how to entertain her, I saw an advertisement in my French class for a trip to Rocamadour and the Gouffre de Padirac. Our hotel had also been advertising both locations as great day-trips from Toulouse and the pictures of the Gouffre (which translates into “gulf” or chasm”) promised a visually stunning experience. They weren’t wrong.

The Gouffre de Padirac is a cave that features a giant chasm (the rim measures 325 feet around) and visitors can descend approximately 246 feet via stairs or elevators to admire the sky through the gaping hole above. A statue by Belgian sculptor, Isabelle Thiltgès, calmly watches over guests passing through the chasm into the cave.

Legend has it the devil formed the Gouffre with the kick of his heel in a challenge to Saint Martin. He told the saint, if he could cross the abyss, Lucifer would gift him the souls of the dammed peasants he was about to drive straight to hell. St. Martin, filled with faith, spurred his mule who made a tremendous leap and miraculously made it to the other side. His hooves left an imprint in the rock that you can still see today.

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Look closely and you can see the hoofprints.

 

After checking to ensure the Gouffre was pregnant-lady friendly, the three of us decided to go ahead and book tickets online. If you go visit the Gouffre, I recommend doing the same. By the time we got there on Saturday morning, there was a long line just to buy tickets—and the tickets are time-stamped to allow only a certain number of visitors in at a time. So you could end up waiting around all day for your tour if you don’t plan ahead.

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The drive to the Gouffre took us about two hours and, along the way, we drove through some incredible and ever-changing French landscapes. Lush farmland turned into rocky hills dotted with heather and a gorgeous, flowering yellow plant I don’t know the name for. Eventually those hills and deep valleys became covered with vibrant, green trees and the rolling landscape stuck with us until we reached the Gouffre.

Getting to the Gouffre was pleasantly easy. There were plenty of signs directing us as we got closer and luckily parking there was plentiful and free. Since we already had tickets in hand, we ate a quick picnic lunch in our car before heading up to the Gouffre. Our tickets were for the 1:15 timeslot, so we had a few minutes to stare down into the gaping chasm before descending, via lift, 246 feet to the first observation point.

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After admiring the incredible view of the blue sky above us, we descended via the stairs the rest of the way down into the gently lit depths of the cave. Water splashing and pooling at the foot of the stairs formed a stream that we followed as it widened into a crystal-clear subterranean river. Ancient stalactites and stalagmites sprung up from the cave ceiling and floor like massive statues.

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The cave, which reaches a depth of about 338 feet, was cool and peaceful, even with the number of people walking through it. Cave temperatures are a steady 13ºC year-round (which must feel amazing in the dead of summer) and the waters in the cave are a brisk 12ºC (that’s about 53ºF).

Our walk eventually took us to a boat dock where we hopped onto a small, metal boat for a guided float down the river. The tour of the river and the area of the cave that followed was conducted in French, though you can request a guide book in English. After a week of intensive French lessons, I understood a bit more of the guide’s description than I probably would have before, but we definitely haven’t covered scientific and geological terms yet. Luckily our guide was kind enough to translate some of his description into English during gaps in his spiel.

After about a 10-minute float down the river, we reached another boat dock and got out of our boats for a guided tour of some of the chambers deep within the cave. Photos and video are not allowed after getting in the boat, but the Gouffre website has some images to give you an idea of the pure beauty of the cave (though they honestly don’t give it full justice). This is the only part of the visit where a lift is not possible and visitors have to climb 150 steps up and down to view what is called the “Salle du Grand Dôme.” The guides stop along the way to provide information, though, so even at nearly eight months pregnant, I was easily able to keep up.

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We don’t normally get souvenir photos, but since we couldn’t take pictures at this point it was worth the 9€.

The formations in the cave in these chambers are absolutely breathtaking and the water is so gorgeous, it begs to be swam in (though it would probably result in a shockingly cold experience). We all agreed it was an amazing experience.

It’s hard to follow such natural beauty, but after we left the cave we decided to take a short detour on the way home to see Castelnau-Bretenoux Castle. Perched high up on a hill, the 13th century castle looked like it had hopped from the pages of a fairytale onto the French countryside.

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Once a grand and lordly home for the Barons of Castelnau de Bretenoux, it was abandoned in the 18th century. It wasn’t until 1896, after a fire destroyed some of the living quarters, that it was purchased and revitalized by Jean Mouliérat, a Parisian opera singer. He donated the castle to the State shortly before his death.

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Today, visitors can meander through the courtyard, peek into the castle chapel and climb the artillery tower to take in beautiful views of the rolling hills and valley surrounding the castle. Guided tours lead visitors through Mouliérat’s living chambers that have been kept exactly as they were when he and his wife lived there.

Though it certainly didn’t have the stunning natural beauty of the Gouffre, who can say no to a quick tour of a French castle? Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

That concluded our long day (and my energy). Miraculously I managed to stay awake the entire drive home, but dinner was definitely takeout pizza picked up by my sweet and sympathetic husband. Perfect end to a perfect day.

29 Weeks and Limbo

I currently feel like I am stuck in a movie. One where the hero and heroine have faced and overcome some incredible, life-changing obstacles and are starting to walk off into their golden sunset when, suddenly, the storm clouds roll in and a dark villainous voice mocks them saying, “not so fast, my pretties, not so fast.”

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but even with all the last minute changes and moves we’ve faced in the past year, we had hope that, once we got back to Toulouse from Germany, we’d settle down for a few months and peacefully await the birth of our first child. “Ha ha!” says the villain. “Think again!”

Yep, we are currently in limbo with just about two months left until I go into labor waiting to hear if we have to move to Doha, Qatar next week. The adventurous side of me is kind of excited by the prospect of a new country, but the hormonal, seven-month pregnant part of me is admittedly freaking out. I think I’ve set a personal record for waking up in tears this past week. Six days and counting. Poor Matt.

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We arrived back in Toulouse on Saturday evening and were warmly greeted by one of our favorite staff members at our hotel. They’d put us on the top floor in a room with a balcony and this incredible view.

We lugged all of our bags upstairs and crashed on the couch, ordering dinner from a new food delivery service in Toulouse called Take Eat Easy. The ability to read the menu and place our orders online without struggling through a conversation in French was a lifesaver (especially since my mind is still stuck in German-mode).

Moving is exhausting no matter who you are, but I can tell you it’s no easy feat at 29 weeks pregnant—especially when it’s up to you and your husband to lug seven suitcases, three backpacks and a body pillow to and from the airport. On a positive note, a sweet Lufthansa flight attendant snuck me a little bag of gummy bears and chocolate bar on our flight to Toulouse—for the baby, of course! A father of two, he obviously knows the way to a pregnant lady’s heart.

Sunday morning we ran out to the Saint-Aubin market to pick up a roasted chicken, fruit, veggies (asparagus and strawberry season—woohoo!) and, of course, a baguette, but the rest of the day was spent binge watching “Homeland” on Netflix. This meme pretty aptly describes me all day yesterday.

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Today I faced the dreaded, third trimester glucose test. Matt was sweet enough to go with me and keep me company for the two-hour ordeal. I’d been researching what to expect though various pregnancy boards and apps, but wasn’t quite prepared for three blood draws!

They drew a couple of vials to start with, then I had to drink a nasty bottle of what was basically an orange syrup. After an hour, they drew another vial of blood and then I had to wait one additional hour so they could draw a final vial of blood. Oh, and I wasn’t allowed to eat until after the test. Needless to say, neither Baby Girl nor I were very happy by the end of it. Matt, smart man (and amazing husband) that he is, made us lunch immediately after we got back to the hotel. Still, I’ve been starving all day. Maybe that’s why I’ve pretty much demolished this bag of popcorn in the last 15 minutes.

The bag says it is a perfect size for sharing. Ha ha, Tyrrell’s, ha ha.
As an expat (especially one in our ever-changing situation), there are some things you may not get to enjoy, such as a baby shower with your family and closest friends, or building a dream nursery for your new baby. We knew these sacrifices going into the job (and when trying to get pregnant) and have been trying to make the best of things.

Over the last two months, I dreamed about coming back to Toulouse and hitting the ground running to finish preparing for our daughter’s birth. In addition to purchasing and organizing all of the things we need for a baby, I was going to register with a midwife for birthing classes and sign up for a month of French lessons so I could at least semi-communicate with the nurses and doctors while in labor. We were even working on some pre-baby visits from my mom and several friends. Though there was still much we couldn’t anticipate (i.e. when our little angel will make her appearance), we had a plan—a plan that may suddenly be out the window.

The nesting instinct has hit me hard, but instead of organizing and cleaning to my heart’s content, we’re currently living in the land of suitcases. They’re sprawled out across our living room floor with contents creeping further out as we dig through them looking for underwear and socks.

The inner nester in me is not pleased, but the 29-weeks pregnant part of myself says, “eff it. I’m burning enough calories on my 32 runs to the bathroom every two hours. There’s not enough chocolate in the world to motivate me to unpack nine suitcases just to repack them again in a few days.”

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We’ve given Matt’s company a deadline of Thursday to make a decision. So we just have to make it through the next few days of limbo and probably some morning tears. I’ll keep you all posted on what we find out!

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A Farewell to Frankfurt

This is a week of beginnings and endings. Today marks the start my third trimester (cue the “Jaws” theme song—she’s coming!). It’s also our last week in Frankfurt.

In honor of these last 12ish weeks of pregnancy, I thought I’d share a fun meme I found on Pinterest. Who doesn’t like a little Napoleon Dynamite?

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Saturday we move back to Toulouse, France where we’ll hunker down at least until the end of August. Let the nesting begin!

We didn’t spend a long time in Frankfurt—only about five weeks total since we went back to the States for two weeks—but we’ve really enjoyed getting to know this little city a little better. Matt’s been working the evening shift since we returned from Arizona, so we’ve used our mornings to explore the city. I’m working on an article about fun activities to do in Frankfurt, but will wait to post until we’ve hit the last spots on our list this week.

In the meantime, here are a few things I’ll miss about living in Frankfurt.

Speaking German
Though I certainly didn’t become fluent in our short time here, it’s been fun to relearn the language I studied for five years and fly stumble my way through some basic conversations. Most of those conversations have revolved around food or shopping, but I have managed to dialogue with a few people without either of us switching to English once. I’ve also really enjoyed my husband’s attempt to read and translate German.

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Actual Translation: Family Fairytale Ride. Matt’s Translation: Crop-Dusting.
Cheese Bread and Pretzels
France does amazing bread, that I’ll admit, but German bakeries hold the key to my heart with their fresh baked Bretzels (pretzels) and Käsebrötchen (cheese rolls). There’s something about biting into the hard outer shell of my favorite, twisty treats and tasting the combination of soft dough and salt on my tongue. As for the cheese rolls, well, they consist of chewy, fresh bread smothered in toasted cheese. ‘Nuff said.

Hand Cheese
Again, France has some amazing cheeses, but no one does hand cheese like Frankfurt. The delightfully soft and slightly salty cheese is best covered in a generous amount of vinegar and onions and served on a slice of buttered bread. Caraway seeds are an optional, though traditional, addition.

In-Room Washer and Dryer
These may sound like strange things to miss, but apartment-hotel living is so much more pleasant when you have a washer and dryer in your own room. Instead of trudging up and down to the common laundry room with a big basket of clothes, hoping the machines are open, you can do a load or two here or there at your convenience—and you don’t need to double-check to make sure you have correct change! Our hotel in Toulouse only has a shared laundry room, so if you hear crying on Saturday, it’s me struggling to say goodbye to our washer and dryer in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Friends
When moving to a new city, it’s always nice to know someone who’s willing to introduce you to your new home. I was fortunate to know my friend, Eva, when we moved to Frankfurt. Even though she and I had only met once before (at a work function several years back), she and her husband were gracious enough to take us to dinner right after we got here (at Fichtekraenzi) and we met up again with them (as well as Eva’s brother and sister-in-law) for brunch at Langosch am Main (an awesome little restaurant down near the river) this past Sunday.

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Matt’s Meat Plate at Brunch
The four of them were so open and friendly that conversation flowed and it felt like we’d known them for years. Hanging out with them was one of the highlights of living here and it made Frankfurt feel like home—even if just for a short while.

We only lived here for a brief time, but Frankfurt (and Germany) will always have a special place in our hearts. Stay tuned for more on our adventures in Frankfurt and the weekend trips we took while we were here. In the meantime, I have a pretzel to track down. The baby insists!

Micronation, Macro-Fun: A Day in Luxembourg

One of the best things about living in Europe is the ability to visit so many cities and countries on our bucket list. We’ve even discovered some amazing places we didn’t know should be on our bucket list. Take Luxembourg for example. We knew it was a small country sandwiched between France, Belgium and Germany, but we had no idea this little gem would turn out to be such a fun place to visit.

As I mentioned in my last post, we took a short trip to Luxembourg City the weekend before my dad passed. Just about two hours from Frankfurt, we figured it would give us a chance to take our minds off of the current stresses in our lives.

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We left late on Friday night after Matt got off work. After doing some research on TripAdvisor, I booked Hotel Simoncini in the heart of Old Town. It didn’t have parking (we used the pay lot next door for €38/day), but it was centrally located to the main tourist attractions and breakfast was included. We didn’t have a real plan for what we wanted to do, but the Luxembourg City Tourist Office was right behind the hotel, so we figured we could just walk there in the morning and see what they suggested.

Saturday morning dawned on grey and a little chilly. We grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel before going in search of the tourism office. It was located on a little square right around the corner from our hotel and we were delighted to find a farmers market to walk through on our way there. Stalls of tempting foods and gorgeous flowers beckoned us, but unfortunately we had no where to store anything, so we restrained ourselves to just looking and not buying.

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In the tourism office, we found and booked an English walking tour of the city for the afternoon. Since we had plenty of time before it started, we decided to wander around a bit on our own and check out the beautiful bridges and park that were not part of our afternoon tour. First, however, we sought out Am Tiirmschen, a restaurant recommended to us for dinner by the tourism office. Though they weren’t yet open, we were able to book a reservation for later that night.

Dinner arrangements made, we headed to Vallée de la Pétrusse, a park that stretches along the Pétrusse river offering beautiful running and walking paths. The view overlooking the park was absolutely stunning. We could peer down into the valley below us and see a river running through lush greenery that was popping with early spring flowers. In the distance, light glinted off the towering structures of Luxembourg’s modern skyline, contrasting with the charming, traditional structures comprising Old Town.

It started raining softly as we walked through the park and, at one point, small flakes of snow even started falling. Fortunately the precipitation didn’t last too long, though the grey skies stuck around the rest of the day.

After strolling through the park, we made our way back up to the city streets and went in search of someplace for lunch. We stumbled across a Chi-Chi’s (a popular Mexican chain restaurant where I grew up in the Midwest which I thought was out of business but apparently now only operates overseas). Though it was tempting (I mean, who doesn’t want a good fried ice cream?) we ended up selecting a restaurant with an interesting looking menu that included a lot of “meats on a stick.”

We took a little break after lunch. At six months pregnant, I still had a lot of energy but the walking tour was supposed to take three hours, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to save our feet for that stroll.

We met up with our tour group near the tourism office at about 3:00. Our guide was a wonderful native of Luxembourg who spoke perfect English and sprinkled in plenty of good humor and anecdotes. He took us all throughout Old Town, highlighting things like the Palace of the Grand Duke (Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy), the old city walls and the ruins of an ancient castle that was torn down to make it easier to defend the town.

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Ruins of the old castle that was torn down to make it easier to defend the city.

One of the most interesting things about Luxembourg is the mishmash of cultures and languages that make up the area. Over the years it has been invaded by and passed back and forth between France and Germany, resulting in a very multi-cultural and multi-lingual country. It didn’t gain full independence until the 1839 First Treaty of London. Natives typically speak French, Luxembourgish, German and English.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was seeing and walking in the footsteps of Melusina and her husband, the king. I was first introduced to the story of Melusina through the Philippa Gregory novels I love. Legend has it that Melusina, a mermaid,  fell in love with a mortal-a noble knight named Count Siegfried. She married him on the condition that every Saturday she must be allowed to be by herself.

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Sculpture of Melusina

The count initially went along with her request, but his friends eventually egged him on and planted seeds of doubt about what she was doing on her own every Saturday. He spied on her through the keyhole in her room and saw her bathing in a tub—and she had a long fish tail in the place of her legs. In shock, he cried out and Melusina was swallowed up by the earth. It is said she has been sealed in a rock known as the Bock and only reappears once every seven years.

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Inside the Bock Casemates.

The ability to walk in the footsteps of the heroes and legends of many of the books I read is one of my favorite things about traveling. The stories and books I’ve read come so much more to life when I can walk in the footsteps of the protagonists—even if they are just myths or fiction.

The walking tour consisted of lots of climbing and descending, but I made it! I can’t say I wasn’t hurting after, but I was able to keep up with everyone else all three hours—stopping just once to rest on a bench after climbing to the top of some of the old city walls.

After our tour, we headed back to our hotel and cleaned up a bit before making our way to the restaurant. At Am Tiirmschen, We were able to enjoy some local delicacies, including Judd mat Gaardebounen (a smoked collar of pork with broad beans) and Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with sausage).

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We ended up having to cut our trip short and drove back early the next day, but not before we enjoyed mass at the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It was one of the most interesting masses we’ve ever attended as it was conducted in three languages: French, German and Luxembourgish. I was able to follow along with the French and German a bit and Matt could understand some of the French, but even without being able to translate perfectly, we still enjoyed the mass.

Though we really only spent a day in Luxembourg, we truly enjoyed it. The city and country may be small, but they have so much to offer.

On the Move Again: Frankfurt, Germany

Last week I mentioned an impending move to Germany. Over the weekend, that move happened. For the next month and a half, we will be living in Frankfurt am Main (or Frankfurt on the Main River).

Life has a funny way of working out. As I’ve mentioned before, I studied German in high school and college, but never took the opportunity to study abroad. I’ve always regretted that. Now, however, I’m getting a second chance. Though the last minute nature of the move was pretty stressful, I’m grateful for a chance to practice my German and experience more of the culture here.

We arrived in Frankfurt on Monday toting seven suitcases, two backpacks and one body pillow. The guard at security gave my pillow a strange look until he glanced at my belly then he kind of smiled and nodded me through the metal detector. I guess it’s pretty obvious I’m pregnant at this point.

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I am not a good flyer. Before I was pregnant, I would temper my nerves with a little adult beverage. That’s off the table now, so I’ve turned to music and reading my Kindle. That works fine for the most part, until we hit turbulence. Now I know turbulence is a normal part of flying and, as often as I’ve traveled via plane, I should be used to it by now. Right? Wrong. The littlest bit of turbulence and I turn into a quivering mess. Matt got the fun task of calming this hot mess on a very choppy and windy flight on Monday. My poor baby was probably like, “Mommy, what the hell is going on out there? It’s nice and peaceful in here. Chill, woman.”

Thankfully we made it and the landing in Frankfurt was surprisingly smooth in the face of the strong gusts that were visibly rocking our plane. Well done, Lufthansa pilots. Well done.

After somehow squeezing all of our luggage into our rented Audi A5, we drove to our new home for the next sevenish weeks (yes, we’ve been reduced to planning in “ishs”). The apartment-hotel we are staying in is newly constructed, but homey. It is right across the street from a shopping mall (complete with a Starbucks, McDonald’s, Chipotle and KFC) and close to a train station. We were greeted in our room with a little basket of Italian goodies. Such a nice touch!

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We dropped off our luggage and immediately headed to Rewe (pronounced Rey-vey), a German grocery chain, to stock up on stuff for our next few meals. I have to admit one of my favorite things to do in a new country is to go shopping at the grocery store. It’s fun to see what foods and brands are popular and I think it tells a lot about the culture of the country.

We picked up the requisite sausage and sauerkraut, but I also decided to try some curry ketchup (I’m not really a fan of regular ketchup) and found it surprisingly tasty. It was a little tangier than typical ketchup and had a fairly mild curry flavor even though it was labeled “scharf” (or sharp).

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Though there were obviously a number of European brands, we also found a few American brands (albeit with gloriously long German words to describe the product).

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll do some exploring and write more about the experience of living in Germany and the differences (and similarities) between here, France and the U.S. In the meantime, here’s a view of the skylines of my two most recent home cities: Toulouse and Frankfurt.

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