17 Weeks

According to the experts here is what's happening to baby:
Able to hear what's going on outside the womb! Loud noises are startling, but classical music is soothing … She’s the size of an onion!

How far along? 16 weeks 5 days
Maternity clothes? Still not yet...hopefully I can hang in there a few more weeks for my trip back to the US
Stretch marks? Not yet, thankfully
Sleep: Still normal...
Best moment this week: It's actually something that didn't happen...my trip to Poland got cancelled...and I am so happy!
Food cravings: What a week for cravings! I actually don't think it has anything to do with the pregnancy but with my upcoming trip to the US...my top cravings this weeks: Grande Skinny Vanilla Latte from Starbucks, a burger and fries from Checker, Willy's Nachos, and my mom's tamales!
Gender: Unknown for the moment but only one more month to wait
Labor Signs: Nothing yet
Belly Button in or out? Still in
What I miss: I miss my family and friends...and the comforts of American shopping
What I am looking forward to: Nothing special this week
Weekly Wisdom: I wish I was more philosophical but I have nothing as far as weekly wisdoms are concerned.

And now...for your viewing pleasure I am posting my belly pic at exactly 16 weeks.

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Dancing in the streets

This year was my first year celebrating La Fete de la Musique (the Party of the Music) and I have never experienced anything like it.  At the end of every June, every city in France celebrates La Fete de la Musique and living true to it's name they celebrate Music.  There are live concerts on every corner, people dancing and singing.

Since this is the first time I was in France for this event, I wanted to see what it was all about.  I could never have imagined what I saw.  I guess let me just start by saying that Clermont-Ferrand is not a town with a lot of life, especially at night.  The downtown at Place Jaude is very cute and charming and so is the area with the cathedral...filled with many cafes with sidewalk terraces, however they are almost always empty.  

I don't understand why there is never anyone on the streets, but it is something out of a scary movie sometimes, when at sunset all the life and movement of the city dies and all the streets become deserted.  I guess I didn't expect much knowing that the Festival didn't begin until 7 p.m., on a Sunday.  

We started off going to Chamalieres (the suburb where we live) to the Jazz Concert.  The music was fun and the park was cute with a few people enjoying the show.

Since there was very little activity we decided to head downtown to Place Jaude to see the festivities that Clermont-Ferrand had to offer.

When we arrived we saw the main stage set up in the center of the Plaza...with two white French guys rapping.  It was very interesting and painful to say the least.

What really surprised me was to see all of the people outside!  Where had they all come from and more importantly where have they all been hiding?!  It's as if every person in Clermont-Ferrand waits until June to make their one and only annual appearance!  It was like a completely different city all together!  I couldn't believe it.  Rather than question it... so we decided to just enjoy...but not the french rap...so we moved on!

We came across all kinds of interesting music...African Drum music, high school brass band, French singers singing in Spanish, DJ's playing techno.  Truly all kinds of music!

My favorite was the cover band that was doing American 60's songs at my favorite bar, the brewery Freres Berthome!  If I was in a stage to be drinking, I would have planted myself at this bar enjoying the happy hour and the great music.  But alas, this was not the case so we moved on.

I couldn't believe the view standing at the bottom of the street looking up toward the Cathedral.  It was full of people!

After touring all of the little corners of downtown Clermont...and since it was 10:30 p.m., we decided to stop in at Place de la Victoire and enjoy a light dinner.  We had crepes (galettes since they were not sweet) and enjoyed the music playing on the stage!

The only downfall of the entire festival was the weather!  It was absolutely freezing which made standing outside to watch the bands a bit unbearable...so after dinner we started walking towards the car.  We stopped in a bit to watch the fire eaters and to dance a bit with the Brazilian band making their way up to the streets!

Sadly the music festival came to an end and I am looking forward to next year.  This is truly something that should be applied all over the world.  A time to celebrate all different kinds of music for free; and who doesn't love dancing in the streets!

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Our New Nest

Just recently, given the news of our growing family, Cornel and I decided that we needed a bigger place to live.  We began looking on the internet at first to see what kinds of apartments were for sale to get an idea of what to expect.  We needed at least two bedrooms and seeing as how we were going to look for apartments and not houses, I insisted that the house have a balcony or a terrace to be able to at least enjoy the outdoors.

Buying a home in France is much different than in the US.  I assumed we would find a real estate agent who would find all the available apartments given our price range and specifications and we would just wait for the phone calls to go and see these places.  WRONG!  Here, the buyer does ALL the work!  You make at an appointment at a real estate agency and they show you what they have available in your price range and specifications and then you arrange visits if you find anything that interests you.  However, they only have available the listings of people who have chosen to sell their home with that agency, so you must make appointments at all the agencies around town to see what houses are for sale.  The only positive thing about this is that you don't have to pay the commission twice, however, it is a pain to explain your budget and your specs and etc. to five or six different agencies.

Well, since we had already began looking on the internet we had an idea of which agencies had things that would interest us, so we made appointments.  The first agency had two very nice size apartments in our price range so we added them to the short lists.  The rest of the agencies were rather disappointing.  Apartments here are usually old and in need of a lot of work, or smaller than we needed.  Second, I don't understand the French obsession with wall paper.  I detest wall paper!  And while I am sure that there is very descent wall paper that looks very good, this does not seem to be the type of wall paper that the French people are buying, but rather the one from the 1970's with flowers and horrible designs!  And this paper is EVERYWHERE, bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, etc., etc.,.  I was very disappointed in the home buying process.

And then came the visit to the home we had seen on the internet...a 2 bedroom house in a fourth floor walkup in Chamalieres.  The neighborhood was quiet and the exterior of the building had recently been redone.  The winding staircase up to the apartment is made out of cherry wood and when we entered the apartment...we were amazed.  First there was no wall paper!  A major plus!  Second the floors were a mix of marble and hardwood (real hardwood) and all most of the apartment had been completely redone.  The kitchen was huge and brand new!  The bedrooms had integrated closets (believe me, this is very important, since it is not common to find and you have to fit all of your clothes in an armoire).  The views of the hills were beautiful and with a lovely balcony on the outside!

There was one downside, however, and that was that the bathroom was a disaster and had not been done at all.  It is functional just not very modern or pretty.  So we came back home and discussed our options.  Other than the bathroom, the place was perfect!  So early the next morning we called the real estate agent and made an offer, lowering the asking price for the amount it would take us to completely redo the bathroom.  And a three days later, our offer was accepted!  We would be homeowners!!

Now we are in the middle of the very, very long administrative process here.  We have signed the sale contract and have the loan approved at the bank, and now comes the three month wait.  Here the mayor of the town in which the apartment resides must give a favorable opinion of the sale in case they want to buy the property for something else.  That and given that all public offices are closed during the month of August...we are now looking at the end of September as our moving date!  

So now the transition begins.  In a few months we will be packing up our things and moving into a new place and we are so excited and the big moves with plenty of time to settle in before the baby arrives.  

Here are some pictures of our new place (with the owner's things inside of course)....

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When in Rome...

Monday we returned from five glorious days in Rome. Since we had never had a real honeymoon after the wedding we decided to go somewhere on our first anniversary. I wanted to surprise Cornel with a trip to a place neither of us had ever been before. This was not an easy task...did we want to fly or drive...if we drove there would be no surprise. I looked on the internet for weeks and decided on many places and then changed my mind.

My first ideas where Lisbon and the Spanish Basque country. After one last ditch effort I found plane tickets to Rome for 60€ per person leaving out of Lyon. I knew Cornel had never been and I never had been so I booked the trip. One of my favorite movies is Roman Holiday, so I had always wanted to go!

Day 1
We left on Thursday morning, taking the train to Lyon and then catching a short flight to Rome. We checked into the hotel and decided to do some sightseeing while we had the sun. Since it was right around the corner from our hotel...our first stop was Fontana di Trevi...well actually it was our second stop afte the gelatto shop on the corner.
The fountain was nothing like I imagined and it is much better in person! We continued our tour through the day and ended up at Piazza di Spagna where we took a walk and sat on the Spanish steps.
We made our way up to Piazza di Popolo, but at this point I was starving after haven eaten only airport food...so we made our way to a restaurant. Now, I have to admit that more than visiting Rome I was excited about the food. I can't think of things I love more than Spaghetti and Pizza, so choosing a restaurant the first night was difficult because I wanted it all! We found a very cute side walk cafe where I proceeded to eat my first bruschetta and pizza of the trip!

We then continued our trip to see the Fontana di Trevi and the Spanish steps at night. I have to admit that these are more beautiful with the lights and the nighttime atmosphere!
Bruschettas consumed: 2
Pizzas consumed: 2
Gelattos Consumed: 2

Day 2:
On Friday we woke up and got ready to do some heavy sightseeing! Since we were right around the corner, we went back to Fontana di Trevi to see it during the morning.
We then started off on our walk towards the Colosseum, taking time to enjoy the sights along the way. My favorite are the random people dressed as Roman soldiers who charge you to take pictures with them! lol...I can get a picture with a someone in a costume at Cesar's Palace in Vegas!
We finally made it to the Colosseum and went in to take the tour inside. It looked exactly like I imagined but on a much greater scale!
We then made our way up the Via Sacra, one of the oldest streets in the World! On our way to see the Forum!

After all of this sightseeing it was time for lunch! Now, I have to say that maybe I have become accustomed to living in Europe and know very well that most countries are not service oriented; and while sometimes very annoying it's one of those things you must accept. However, when we sat down our waiter came by to ask what we wanted to drink a large American woman came over to our table and began screaming at the TOP of her lungs in English that she has been waiting for her check for over 15 minutes and it is unacceptable and she demanded her check right then and there! She stormed into the restaurant still screaming! Honestly, I have never been more embarassed to be American and realize now why most Europeans have a bad opinion of us. Seriously, if you are on vacation in Rome...enjoy and calm down!

But alas, we had a lovely lunch of what else...bruschetta and pizza!

After lunch we decided to walk down to the Boca de la Verita...I was so excited! I couldn't wait to stick my hand in. But before we could make it down, we had to take a detour to visit our friend JC (Julius Cesar) that is and take in some of the sights!

And of course we finally made it to Boca de la Verita! It was everything I expected and more!

After having walked for so long in the heat we decided to go back to the hotel and rest before continuing the rest of our day. After a short rest we were off again to see the Marcello theatre...but not before Cornel stopped in for a gelatto break!
After a short walk by the River, we made our way to the Pantheon! It was very pretty and it was pretty fascinating to see the tomb of Raphael!
We then made our way to Piazza Navona, which is the Piazza that has the Angels & Demons fountain. We were hungry and decided to eat at the Piazza.

Travel Tip: If you are traveling for the experience of it all to enjoy the view at any cost then eat at Piazza Navona. You will get very little food and you will pay an arm and a leg, however the view is beautiful. If you want great food at a reasonable price then I recommend finding a place where the locals eat that is not overcrowded with tourits.

After dinner, armed with our Michelin green guide we set out to find a great gelatto place and boy did we find it! They make the special gelatto cones that are huge but very very delicious!

Total Bruschettas consumed: 4
Total Pizzas consumed: 3
Total Gelattos consumed: 5
Total Plates of Pasta consumed: 2

Day 3

This day was Vatican day! First impression arriving at Piazza di San Pietro was wow! It was beautiful and I couldn't believe how many people were standing in line to get in. As we were walking in the line there were signs everywhere saying that there were no shorts or tanktops allowed inside the Basilica. I guess I thought it was normal that you couldn't dress like you were at the beach, but it amazed me how many people didn't know the dress code and were turned away. So Travel Tip #2, when going to the vatican you can't show knees or shoulders!

After standing in line to go through the metal detectors and the wardrobe police we made it inside the vatican! Since it was still early and not too hot we decided to go up to the cupola of San Pietro's Basilica! Wow...after taking an elevator for 4 flights you still have to climb up 320 stairs. Which didn't sound so bad until we started making our way up! Luckily they have a nice mezzanine to take a break.

And then...the climbing started again! It was interesting when the walls started curving, it was like being drunk at the Vatican!
But, out of breath and overheated we finally reached the top. The interesting thing is that you can see Vatican City and the gardens and all of Rome from the top. It was worth the climb!

But it's true what they say...that what goes up must come down...and we had to climb back down, which was much easier than the climb up. We walked around the inside of the Basilica enjoying the beautiful architecture and sculptures and the church is HUGE!

We then took a tour of the tombs of all the Popes. I could not believe the number of people that were praying at the tomb of John Paul II. I got really emotional walking by all those people praying and seeing his tomb. I recommed this to anyone. Leaving the tombs we walked by two Swiss Guards. I have no idea why I am so fascinated by them...is it the fact that they are really swiss or the fact that they are considered an elite Army yet they are dressed like circus clowns!? I don't kow...but I love them!!

We then made our way to the Sisteen Chapel. But first we had what seemed like an eternal walk through the Vatican Musuem. It was room after room and I thought there was no end in sight! Outside, inside all with signs pointing to the Sisteen Chapel. I was beginning to wonder if this place really existed! I was exhausted after so much walking, but we did see some interesting pieces of art and managed to have a little fun along the way! And we even saw the tomb of Cornel II!
And after what seemed like a lifetime we finally made it to the Sisteen Chapel! Pictures are not allowed inside the chapel...so we took pictures!

After walking all the way to the Sisteen Chapel...we were starving so we ate a quick sandwhich in the cafeteria...and decided to head back to Piazza San Pietro. On the way we spotted a cute sidewalk cafe so we stopped in and had tiramisu and frappes! It was so delicous!

Since it was mid afternoon we decided to go back into the Basilica and see the musuem we hadn't seen. Of course this meant standing in line again to be checked over by the wardrobe police...who this time told me my dress was Tropo Corto (too short)...funny it wasn't for the first wardrobe police...but in any case they let me in. We walked through the musuem which was an hommage to popes past.
We then took some pictures in the Piazza before getting on the bus back to the hotel.
The bus ride back to the hotel was never ending. We rode the bus for about an hour and never arrived at our stop and nothing looked familiar so Cornel went up to ask the driver when we would arrive at Piazza San Silvestro. Much to our surprise, the bus had been rerouted due to the Gay Pride parade...so we had to walk back to our hotel! After all of my contributions to the gay community I was not expecting this kind of karma!! But we walked back and got ready for dinner.

Having spent so much the night before on dinner we asked the guy at the hotel for a recommendation and we got Ciro. The food was delicious and the portions were huge and it was about half the price of Piazza Navona. The fun thing is that they have televisions all over the restaurant which are linked to cameras in the kitchen so you can watch your food being prepared. There are no pictures of Ciro...but I am strongly recommending it!

And of course the night wouldn't be complete without a trip to the gelatto place!

Total Bruschettas consumed: 6
Total Pizzas consumed: 3
Total Gelattos consumed: 6
Total Plates of Pasta consumed: 4

Day 4

This was our free day and we had nothing really planned so we decided to head up to Piazza Barberini to look at the Fontana di Tritone.
While taking pictures we noticed the big red double decker tour bus and since we had nothing else planned we bought tickets and hopped aboard!
One of the stops was Piazza de la Republica and since we hadn't been there yet, we decided to get off and take a look around!

There was a beautiful church and we decided to go in. There was a great exhibition on Galileo and the cupola of the church was stained glass and in the afternoon it turns into a sundial on the marble floor of the church. The stained glass also has inscription from John Paul II that says:

"Science has its roots in the Immenent but leads man towards the Transcendent"

We enjoyed the Galileo exhibit and took some pictures before going outside and taking some pictures with the fountain of Moses!

We rode the bus for a while enjoying the sights we had seen on foot just a few days earlier. A little past noon we were hungry so we again looked in our very handy Green Guide and saw that there was a recommended inexpensive restaurant at Piazza Barberini so we headed back to where we had started our morning.

We ate at the recommended restaurant and it was WONDERFUL and had the best pizza and pasta that I had eaten the entire trip. The Green Guide was right!
Since we had eaten so much, we decided to take a walk around the Piazza to let our food settle and we came a across a small church that gave tours of their crypt. Since we were there we decided to go in. All I can say is WOW, this crypt was disturbing. It had all the skeletons of all 4000 monks that were burried there up on the walls as decoration. Not all together of course; there was a chimeny made out of pelvic bones and chandelieres made out of spines and mantels made out of head skulls. While I have to admit it is impressive what they were able to do with bones, a part of me was a little grossed out.

After this excursion, we made our way up to Villa Borghese a huge park in Rome. We walked around the park and were so tired and full that we decided to take a break on a nearby bench.
After our short break we decided to make our way out of the park, however we got completely lost! There was a train for kids riding around that allowed you to take a tour of the park...so for lack of any other options...we hopped on! It was actually quite enjoyable!
We finally made it safely out of the park and continued our tour on the big red bus! We enjoyed the sites and enjoyed the last full view we would get of Rome. The bus had its final drop off at 8:30 pm and so we were off exploring Campo di Fiori. Cornel was very excited because he got to see the statue of Giordano Bruno (forgive my ignorance but I still don't know very well who he is except that he was killed by the inquisition).

We found a cute sidewalk cafe and decided to stop in for our last dinner in Rome of the trip.
And of course, there is no way we could have left Rome without having one more gelatto! Except that this time we took them down at Piazza Navona and ate them at the Angels & Demons fountains and enjoyed the nice evening!

After our gelattos we enjoyed the live music from the performers on the Piazza before heading back home.
The next morning after breakfast we said goodbye to Rome and came back home. It was a great vacation and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary!

Final trip statistics:
Total Bruschettas consumed: 8
Total Pizzas consumed: 4
Total Gelattos consumed: 8
Total Plates of Pasta consumed: 7
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