Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Week in the South of France

The school bell rang and we were off! We pulled out from the school parking lot at noon and kicked off our Vlach European Vacation! It was fabulous! Though there were definitely times we felt like we were starring in a Chevy Chase movie....

We loaded all four kids -- aged eight months to eight years -- and our beloved Milwaukee babysitter, Jenn McNeill, into the family minivan, jumped on the A8, and made our way to the South of France.

Three hours down the road we stopped in Dijon, France, where we played in Jardin Darcy (which was built over a giant aquifer) and enjoyed a beautiful dinner of Beef Bourginon. Rob and I read on Wikipedia that Dijon's burgundy region produces some of the world's best Pinot Noir, so naturally, we had to try some! Then we checked into our accommodations, which were pretty rough. But they were clean and safe and by 6am the next morning, we were back on the highway with a bag of fresh croissants for rest of our journey through France.
Walking into Dijon's Old Town
All 7 of us (including Jenn and Bitsy) got on this thing!
 We drove past sunflowers, lavender fields and olive groves, stopping for a quick break in Aix-en-Provence, where I lived with a French family for five months my junior year in college. I wonder if I ever would have believed at 19 years old that I would be leading my husband and four children through those very same narrow, cobblestone streets. Aix is the quintessential provincial town, known for its springs, fountains and the Cours Mirabeau; it was favored by Cezanne, Hemingway and Zola. We parked the car and started walking in the general direction of Centre Ville. As we turned a corner, I immediately saw Les Quatre Dauphin (The Four Dolphins), the hotel where my mom stayed when she came to visit me 18 years ago. I was flooded with happy memories and overcome by emotion. She was there with me for that moment. After some ice cream cones and fountain splashing (to the absolute disdain of the well-dressed French couples near my children), we hopped back on the road to Vence, where we thought our farmhouse was.
Gorgeous moss-covered fountains
Les Quatres Dauphin Hotel, where my mom stayed!
There are fountains and springs everywhere in Aix
This is right before the dirty looks began...haha!
It was hours past the kids bedtime and I had a roaring migraine, so we decided to forgo the recommended grocery store stop in order to get to our house. Along the way, we fortunately double parked in a bus stop for a few minutes while a food truck made us fresh pizzas. And thank goodness we did, because we had no idea it would be our last meal until about 3pm the next day. We began the ascent into the Maritime Alps. The charming Vence came and went. Thirty more minutes of steep hair-pin turns brought us to our home for the week. The drive was breathtaking -- wide open mountain valleys, dotted with rocks that I can only imagine were dragged by a glacier long ago -- but STARTLING in its lack of guard rails along sheer drop offs. We rapidly rose to 4,000 feet. I gripped the door handle with white knuckles and told the kids I was carsick so they wouldn't know the sheer terror I felt. After a quick stop for directions with a local farmer/cheese maker/car mechanic who spoke no English, we finally found our farmhouse, tucked away in the hill between tiny Coursegoules and Bezaudun.
The next morning, Rob ran out to stock the fridge.....only to get trapped behind the bike portion of a mountain Ironman for six hours. Meanwhile, I plated two-day-old car snacks to make them look appealing and tried to pass them off as breakfast and lunch for the kids. Poor John said, "I'm hungry" as I put him down for his nap. Rob made it back to us with food -- our hero! But in his desperate effort to make it back as quickly as possible, some bumps in the road (literally and figuratively) shredded our tire.
Thank goodness for car snacks
 With the car repaired, at last vacation could begin. We spent our days swimming in our pool and playing tennis on the courts behind our house. It was divine. I'm pretty sure John was naked for seven days; I actually had to put sunscreen on his privates (thank goodness for the SPF sprays). One night, as we were quietly reading, it sounded like a donkey had joined us in the living room! That's when we noticed a group of donkeys looking at us from about 200 feet above our house. We ate seafood, taught the kids Marco Polo, and played as a family. No one even noticed there were no TVs or computers. Heaven.
We rented a beautiful old farmhouse in the Maritime Alps
There were many rounds of naked tennis
Madeline jumping in the pool! It was cold, but no one cared.
Our property was once a working farm
These were most likely wheat fields once

One delightful day, we made our way back down the mountain and went to a sandy beach in Cannes. As a stay-at-home mom in the trenches of Life With Young Kids (and after eight months of gray Luxembourg drizzle), it felt especially glamorous to sun myself in the French Riviera. I loved chatting in French with old Italian women dripping in jewelry with their swimsuits; everyone was helpful and completely charmed by Elizabeth. After a full day in the sun, we packed it up and drove 90 minutes back home, only to realize we left the double Macleran with the staff back down at the beach. Rob and Madeline made a special Daddy-daughter day out of picking it back up, spending a beautiful afternoon in Nice, with a stop at the doctor to take care of her Swimmer's Ear. 
Cannes! Our seats were directly on the water
Sweet Jenn was with us for a month!
One night we went to Coursegoules for dinner
And like that, the week was finished. We began our exciting but long journey home, heading back to Luxembourg through Italy and Switzerland.....

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Successful First School Year at ISL

First Day of Grade 2 and K2
Last Day of Grade 2 and K2
This year flew by! I was so proud of the way Madeline and Charlie quickly adapted to the International School of Luxembourg, which is as large as some college campuses and has students from 40 different countries. Every morning, John, Bitsy and I waved at the front window as Rob took them to school.

Over the course of her second grade year, Madeline joined Fitness Club and Jump Rope Club after school. She had Mrs. Rakochy for a teacher and made some terrific friends. On one of the last days of school, she came bursting out of the doors wearing a best friend necklace, a gift from Ofir, who did not speak a single word of English (only French) at the beginning of the year.
Fitness Club
Mimi and Mrs. Rakochy during their Roman studies
Charlie had Mrs. Hones and Mrs. Geier for K2. At the beginning of the year, he wanted to stay home with me -- it was a giant leap to all day kindergarten after two-hour mornings in Whitefish Bay. But he adjusted and then soared. He calls everyone his best friend and reads very well now. He participated in "Soccer Soccer" in the fall and spring and has really developed some soccer (or football, as they say here) skills. This was the year of Sports Clothes.
Charlie's Christmas Program
He drew Rob dipping me in the early weeks of school
Both kids took French lessons four days a week and in the spring, they began piano lessons at our house with Miss Danielle. It's so fun to watch them learn.

So we did it. Year One under our belts.