Monday, June 19, 2017

Sheep yogurt and immigration

Usually weekends with David's family are my French immersion weekends. Lately David and I haven't done very well at speaking French together. Ironically, we made more of an effort when we lived in the U.S. 

There's something awkward about having a relationship with someone in one language and then trying to switch to another. Yesterday David tried to speak English to his cousin and he couldn't- it kept turning into French. There's your proof.

So anyways, it's good for me that his family doesn't speak English. We visit them fairly often, so I still get my practice in. It's funny what random words you learn hanging out with native speakers. Here's a few I picked up on this weekend.

un mammifère = mammal

la coqueluche = whooping cough

le parapente = paragliding

And my personal favorite... 

la brebis = ewe

On a related note, apparently I've been eating SHEEP yogurt for a few months hahaha. I was completely clueless. It does taste good though- just sounds weird.

We had a nice weekend in Gap getting a break from the heat. It hasn't been extremely hot in Cannes yet (low 80s), but with an upper floor apartment and no air-conditioning... I've been suffering a little bit. I'm someone that's not bothered by Wisconsin winters, but I'm a baby about summer heat. Maybe it's in my genes.

On Saturday night we drove over to the Lac de Serre-Ponçon in Embrun. It's a beautiful setting in the Alps! The water was so clear. I don't usually have the urge to swim in lakes, but I kind of wanted to in this one.

As far as life updates go...

-We still haven't heard from American immigration. We were expecting the next step of the process to get started in May, but that hasn't happened yet. So it doesn't seem realistic to be back by September (that was kind of a long-shot anyways). Hopefully in October instead.

-I FINALLY heard from French immigration. I was supposed to hear from them by March, but I just barely received my convocation to do a medical visit and have my visa validated. I'm supposed to go to Marseille on July 6th. At that point I will be fully legal, able to work, and have insurance. Of course, it happens now that we'll be moving back soonish...

-I almost moved back to the U.S.! Unfortunately, since I'm a teacher, there's only one time of the year when I can start working. I applied to some jobs (there were surprisingly a LOT of French teaching jobs open) and had some interviews. I was excited to actually be doing something I like and making money, but we decided this weekend that it wasn't worth it. Since David's immigration situation hasn't progressed, we would have had to be apart for at least 2.5 months, but most likely longer. And according to our work schedules and the time difference, we couldn't have even talked on the phone except for on weekends.

So there's that. Maybe I could get lucky again and find another long-term sub gig mid-year. We'll see! For now, I'm going to keep enjoying Europe. 

David and his milk

Before I talk about Venice, I have to talk about milk. Believe it or not, milk was a big part of our trip.

Let me back up. David likes to eat. I've seen him eat hamburgers as a "before-dinner snack" or even as "dessert." 

Usually on trips, he skips breakfast because he's not a fan of European hotel breakfasts. They generally lack cereal, eggs, or bacon. In France, it's more about bread and coffee. 

On short weekend trips, it's not a big deal... but prior our 4 day Italy trip he spent a LOT of time thinking about what he could eat for breakfast. Since we booked an Airbnb with a kitchen in Venice, he had the bright idea to bring along his own cereal and buy milk there. Problem solved! David could eat breakfast!!

He was very preoccupied with procuring the milk. Here are some quotes about the milk situation...

Before the trip:
Are there grocery stores with milk near the apartment? 
I need to remember to bring cereal to go with the milk.

Arriving in Venice:
I need to google directions to the store with the milk.
The stores are closed for the night!! It's too late to go get my milk!!
I have to wake up early, get ready, then go get the milk in the morning.

After the trip:
Are you going to write about the milk on your blog?

All of these phrases and more were repeated several times. Everyone in the family knew that David needed his milk at all costs and nothing would stand in his way.

I'm happy to report that he was successful. He braved the winding streets of Venice and managed to get his milk. He then said a prayer about being thankful for the milk. I think my dad almost choked trying to hold back a laugh at that point.

The milk was such a smashing success that later in the day we returned to the milk store and bought some more for the next day.

And that is the story of David and his milk in Venice. I think the whole family will remember it for quite a while.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Italian Road Trip

On Friday morning, we woke up in Florence. Before leaving Florence behind, we took a few minutes to stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo for a last view of the city.

Our next stop was Siena! This city is special to Jenna because she lived there during her study abroad a few years ago. It's only a little over an hour from Florence, so we were walking through the medieval streets in no time.

We ate lunch in the Piazza del Campo, the main square of the city. I had what was easily the best pizza of my life. Afterwards we continued the tradition we started in Florence- gelato every day after lunch.

Siena is not a very big city, but it has a huge and impressive cathedral. Everyone loved the Duomo di Siena... except for a super pretentious American we overheard complaining that it was "garish" haha. Someone has very high standards. 

I personally liked that it has a lot going on. In general, most Italian cathedrals are more ornate than what you see in other parts of Europe. I'm all for it.

This window is from 1549 and still going strong.
The next leg of our trip was the longer drive of the day- it was time to head to Venice! As much as I loved Florence and Siena, I was so excited to go somewhere new that's been on my bucket list for a while!

On the drive, we learned that you can't read books on Italian road trips. The Italians are very into tunnels. Every hill/mountain has a tunnel going through it. So no reading unless you're very patient and don't mind that you have to pause while it goes dark every 10 minutes. 

None of us really knew what to do or where to go when we got to Venice that night. You can't drive into the city (guess why? water.), so we had to park and then find transportation. The cheaper option would have been to take a vaporetto (water bus). 

However, with 6 people, a ton of luggage, and not knowing where exactly to go, we opted to take a private water taxi instead.

I'm so glad we did! It was the perfect introduction to Venice. It was relaxing and beautiful. And the sun was just starting to set. 

Before we even got off the boat, I already knew I needed to come back to Venice someday.

We got off at Piazza San Marco. To find our AirBnB, we went to the owner's nearby glass shop. His friends met us there and led us through a maze of narrow and winding streets. When I wasn't near the water, it almost felt like the Old City of Jerusalem! 

More adventures and so many more pictures of Venice coming soon...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Bella Firenze!

On Wednesday, we piled in our big rented van and drove from Cannes to Florence when David got home from work. We didn't get to the hotel until about 2am. Impressively, we were up and on our way over to the Boboli Gardens the next morning.

The Boboli Gardens surround the Medici family's "modest" little house, the Pitti Palace. We got sweaty hiking up and down steep hills checking out these beautiful views of Florence. It was significantly hotter in Italy than it is in France!

The gardens were full of statues. Some were more aesthetically pleasing than others. 

After getting our fill, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio and walked into the heart of the city. It's not just a bridge- it's lined with jewelry stores on the bridge itself, and of course is filled with crowds of tourists.

Before visiting the Duomo, we had my favorite meal of the trip! I had gnocchi ai formaggi. It was magical! I also tried risotto for the first time when I sampled Jenna's. No surprise, that was also amazing. 

Even if Italy had terrible food, I would still visit for all of the art and beautiful cities. But instead, it has my favorite food in the world. Viva Italia.

I love the patterns on the outside of the Duomo.

The inside is fairly plain, except for the amazing paintings that cover the inside of the dome. 

Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, so we had to keep the art theme going.  We didn't get to the Galleria dell'Accademia, which has Michelangelo's original statue of the David (and not much else). However, there is a replica outside of the Palazzo Vecchio. I had to get a picture my David with the David :)

There are some other statues outside too. I thought this one of the man holding a severed head was pretty special.

Next stop: the Uffizi Gallery- one of the best art museums in the world. Besides the famous paintings, the building itself had some beautiful ceilings!

Some of my favorite paintings I saw were by Botticelli.

There's a great view of the Ponte Vecchio through the museum windows! 

On the museum terrace, we had a nice view of the Palazzo Vecchio.

It was a BIG museum, and we were all dragging our feet by the end (despite the gelato sugar rush that we'd gotten just before entering). 

After the museum tour, mom and dad went to go chill at the hotel. The 4 of us still standing went to the baptistery that's outside of the Duomo. 

Um, wow. That's all I have to say about that. I think this was my favorite part of Florence. Besides perhaps the gnocchi.

David, Jenna, and Cabren decided to hike to the top of the cathedral's bell tower. I'm not a big fan of heights so I stayed safely on the ground. While they were gone I did lots of people watching, watched a wedding party take pictures, and tried my best to avoid pigeons and pickpockets. 

Another entertaining thing to do is observing these men illegally selling paintings (that are really just prints). They lay them all out on the ground. When police come by, they scoop all of them up and run away. The funniest part was that most of the prints were of Florence (makes sense), but every seller we saw also had prints of the Joker. Not seeing the correlation there.

We ate dinner at the European hour of 9pm. Me and David had already caved and eaten before then. He had enough strength to eat meal #2 (big surprise there), but besides not being hungry I was too tired to eat. 

Posing at the restaurant.

What a day in Florence! Beauty everywhere! I love this city. 

My dad being my dad, he described it a little differently. In his words, "I've never seen so many naked men (statues) in my life." haha

Coming up next- stopping by Siena on the way to Venice!

In case you missed it:
Houdeks in Geneva
Houdeks at a Swiss castle
Houdeks in Monaco
My first time in Florence 4 years ago

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Glamorous Monaco

Monaco is the most glamorous place I've ever been. Parts of Paris are very glamorous, but then you'll walk by a weird smell or some graffiti (big city stuff) and the spell is temporarily broken. In Monaco, even the underground area of the train station is made of marble. It's a tiny country, but everything is pristine and dripping with money.

I knew my family would love Monaco, and I was right! I finally found someplace in Europe that my dad really likes! 

No one in my family had been before, so it was at the top of our list to do while they were visiting the Riviera. Unfortunately David had to work, but the rest of us drove over on Tuesday morning.

We decided to ride the cheesy hop on/hop off tourist bus to get around easily. Monaco is very small, but it's made up of cliffs and hills. So walking around there is not for everyone!

Our first stop was the casino. The casino itself (designed by the architect who designed the Paris Opera House, Charles Garnier), and it's neighbor, the expensive Hôtel de Paris, are both beautiful buildings.

Casino reflection! 

Instead of just walking around the outside like we'd planned, by dad decided to treat us to lunch at the fancy restaurant inside the casino. I didn't feel classy enough! 

They almost didn't let us in because a few of us were wearing shorts. A waiter had to come evaluate our appearance in the lobby before letting us in haha

The French tend to eat their bread without a plate- just straight on the table. So we didn't have plates for the bread, and we felt so self-conscious about making crumbs in the nice restaurant. Me and Jenna tried our best to surreptitiously clean ours up.

As expected, the food was delicious. We spent a few minutes afterwards admiring the game room and playing some slot machines. Jenna can brag that she doubled her money. She only started with 10 euros, but still. I think my dad walked away 2 euros richer than before. Sadly, not quite enough to cover the cost of that lunch ;)

It's too bad David wasn't with us, because he is a huge James Bond fan, and we were definitely getting those vibes.

Next, we rode the bus over to the Palais Princier (the prince's palace). Here are a few shots taken on the way.

Castle on top of the hill, yachts down below!

The palace sits on top of a high rock with some pretty great views.

Russian tourists are my favorite. Sometimes I'm a stalker.

We toured the palace. It's always interesting to me to tour palaces where royal families still live. The prince of Monaco and his family live here during the winter, so it's only open in summer. 

Prince Albert recorded the intro to the audioguide commentary in English, and it was funny that he has a perfect American accent! But it makes sense if you think about it, because his mother was the American Princess Grace Kelly.

I had to skip through several parts of the rest of the audioguide, though... for a very important reason. The British commentator pronounced Monaco like MaNAAAHco, and it hurt my ears. He said it every 5 seconds. 

Since it was just around the corner from the palace, we had to stop inside the cathedral. 

Our last destination was seeing the royal car collection. I have this thing where all cars look the same to me, so it wasn't really for me. For a lot of people, seeing luxurious cars is why they love Monaco! Jenna's husband Cabren was in heaven. We were visiting just a few days before the Grand Prix, so a lot of special things were set up for that.

Until next time, colorful Monaco!