Italian Vacation - Venice

I have to definitely write about the vacation that almost wasn't.  For months, I was looking forward to seeing Nate and Brent and to travel around Italy.  Looking forward that it, until this crazy volcano in Iceland erupted.  I have to admit that I am completely ignorant when it comes to current affairs; I much rather watch mindless television than turn on the news.  It is because of this that I had no clue that this volcano had erupted and was disrupting travel across Northern Europe.  I didn't really know what had happened until many of my co-workers where land bound and had to drive to their vacation destinations.  It still didn't dawn on me, however, that Nate and Brent where in London and had to fly to Italy.  Ignorant, that is, until I received a frantic email on Friday morning from the boys asking for help to get out of London.

Easier said than done, of course, since the French trains were on strike (what's new) and even though they could get out of London on the Eurostar, they couldn't leave Paris.  The Lyon airport was still open at this time and we suggested catching a flight from Lyon to Rome.  While all of this was going on, the boys were informed that the London airport would open the next morning and that there was no need for any provisional plans.  Perfect - vacation was still on!  Back on that is until Saturday morning.

While Cornel and I were out on the town we received a phone call from the boys in London.  We thought it was to tell us that they were on their way to Rome - but alas we were wrong.  The airport was still shut down and they needed a way out of London.  They had purchased their Eurostar tickets to Paris and needed help finding a way out of Paris.  We rushed home and began the frantic search on the Internet and on the phones.  We searched every which way cars, trains (which were still on strike) and bus and there was no way out!  We searched until close to midnight and finally they boys had decided to cancel their trip to Italy.  I was devastated.  I really wanted Nathan to meet his uncles, I really wanted to see Nate and Brent, who are practically family, and I really wanted to go back to Italy.  I went to bed heartbroken.

Sunday morning after breakfast Cornel suggested going up to Paris to meet up with the boys.  If anything we would get to spend an afternoon with them in Paris.  I decided to do one more internet search - SUCCESS!  I had found them a way out of Paris to Geneva, and then Geneva to Venice.  Perfect!  I called the boys and let them know - we booked the trains and the vacation was officially back on!!

It was rather nostalgic since Cornel and I had taken the very same journey 3 years ago when we had just began dating.  It was emotional to be there with Nathan.  We stopped at "our" gas station, right before the Frejus Tunnel (the tunnel that separates Italy and France) for a quick breakfast.  The views of the Alps from here are amazing.

We arrived in Venice in the early afternoon and took, and after parking the car we took a Vaporetto (water bus) to the hotel!

Then it was time to meet up with the boys!  I was very excited for Nathan to meet his uncles, however, in the excitement of it all, I took no pictures.  We started catching up and it was like nothing had changed.

After a few drinks, it was time to head out and grab a bite to eat.  We decided to head out to San Marco to try and find a nice terrace to enjoy the nice weather.

After a delicious dinner, we decided to call it a night since we had all had long trips into Venice.  The next day, while the boys were sleeping, Cornel, Nathan and I decided to take advantage of our morning. The one thing I have always wanted to do, was take a Gondola ride.  I know that it is very expensive and kind of a tourist trap, but seriously, who knows when I would have had a chance again.  So, that is exactly what we did, we grabbed on to Nathan and took him on our very first Gondola ride.

Not only was this exciting because it was Nathan's first gondola ride, but also because it was his first ride on a boat (if you don't count the water taxi that is).  He had a great time smiling and making conversations with the gondolas that passed us by.

I think he was the hit of the canal.  I have to admit that even though it is a little pricy (about 75 euros per person) it is the best way to see Venice.  You truly get to see the city in a different light, and you get to see all of the things there are to see in a short time.  I definitely recommend if it is your first trip to Venice.

After the excitement of the gondola ride, we decided to stop in and have a coffee (a cappuccino for me) at the Piazza San Marco.  We sat down at the Cafe Florian, the oldest cafe in Venice.  It has a very nice orchestra that plays music all day and night.

Afterwards we met up with the boys, and decided to take a tour of the basilica.  It is a very beautiful byzantine style church.  Afterwards, the boys went up the stairs to enjoy the view of the bronze horses that adorn the top of the cathedral.  Since we had the baby, we decided to skip the tour and decided to wait on the ground.  We did have fun taking pictures of each other.

We then took a walking tour of Venice.  We made our way down to Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal.  On the way we took a pit stop in order for Nathan to meet Pinocchio.  Venice is where Carlo Goldoni wrote the story of Pinocchio and I really wanted to have a little souvenir of the occasion.

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying some great food (entirely too much pizza and pasta), some great wine and got to spend time with great friends and of course each other.

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Boeuf Bourgignon

In an effort to become more domestic I have decided to take up a new hobby, cooking.  I don't just mean cooking like making spaghetti or mac and cheese, but some actual cooking.  We bought a new cast iron enameled pot and I really wanted to try it out.  Feeling inspired, I decided to make Boeuf Bourgignon!  I mean, why not?! So I looked up the recipe on the internet (where else?), made my shopping list, and was ready to go.

We go to a wonderful butcher and we decided that in honor of Bouef Bourgignon we would actually buy beef from the Burgogne region.  This is the region in France in the mid-east where Dijon is located, and yes, where the make the mustard!  I am not really sure what is so special about this beef, but if I was going to commit to this cooking thing, I was going to do it right!  Since I consider myself a wine amateur, Cornel was in charge in picking out the cooking wine.  What else - Bourgogne (Burgandy wine).

Let me just preface this by saying, that I was not prepared for the work that this recipe entails.  It was not complicated, just very time consuming with many many steps.  This is definitely a meal, that requires a great deal of organization, timing and patience.  I made the mistake of wanting to make this meal for a Sunday lunch and starting to cook at 10 a.m.  Since it took about four and a half hours to prepare and cook we ended up having a very late lunch.

To begin this meal, you brown the beef and you brown thick pieces of bacon (lardons) in the bacon fat with the bacon rind.  It sounds disgusting, but the ending flavor is amazing.  I never knew bacon fat could be delicious!  After the meat and the bacon are browned, you brown the vegetables in the same bacon fat.

You add wine, beef broth, flour and mix the vegetables with the beef all in the same pot!


This delicious concoction then goes into the oven for approximately 3 - 4 hours until the sauce is thick and the meat is so tender that it practically melts in your mouth.

I would like to say that my first French cooking experience was a success, but since we were so hungry it was hard to be objective.  

I would highly recommend this recipe to anyone who has a few hours to kill in the kitchen and wants to enjoy an authentic French meal.  I hope to find the patience to make it again sometime.

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5 Months

 I can't believe that Nathan is now five months old.  It feels like it has gone by so fast.  I hardly recognize my baby now, and he is turning into quite the little boy.  I really have to take the time to enjoy this month before his half birthday!  I also think that this is the month where he gets his first hair cut.  I really wanted to wait until his birthday, but his hair is a mess!  He has so much of it and it won't stay in place, so I think that this month might be the big month for a haircut!

Nathan had his five month appointment today and along with all of the fun stuff, he had to get another shot.  This makes one every month.  It breaks my heart to watch him suffer.  I am so grateful that next month he will finally get a break.  

Age - Today he is now 5 months and 2 days

Weight - 7 KG's, or 15.4 pounds - he is turning into quite the chunky monkey
Height - 64 cm or 25.2 inches - He is almost half my size!
Eating - I am still nursing we are still feeding him solids.  I still adamantly believe that he is not ready.  He refuses the spoon and spits everything out.  I wish that I was more comfortable starting him on solids, but I feel like I am doing him more harm than good.  I guess I should just trust in the pediatrician.
Sleeping - AMAZING!  For the past two months now, Nathan has been sleeping through the night.  After his 8 p.m, bath he has one last feeding and is in bed until around 6 or 7 in the morning.  I am so very grateful that I am not completely exhausted at work. 

Milestones- It is amazing how much he changes in just a few weeks.  He is turning over, sitting with help, laughing, talking and cooing all the time.  He is at such a wonderful age where he wants to play with everything.  I wish I could freeze time to capture every moment of this month!

There is also another family vacation to look forward to this month!  We are taking a week to go to Italy and not only enjoy spending time as a family but Nathan gets to meet his uncles!  I am so excited!  I have been in desperate need of seeing friends from back home.  This is going to be such a special moment in Nathan's life and I can't wait!  He also gets to meet his Uncle Matteo in Florence.  It will be a such a great time to spend one week surrounded by family and friends with such an amazing backdrop!  I hope Nathan behaves as well as he did in Paris.
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First Meal

At Nathan's last appointment they informed us that we could and should start solids.  I was always under the impression that babies didn't start solids until six months.  While I know that I am a first time parent, and that I should always listen to my pediatrician, I wanted no part of it.  I knew that this would mean that Nathan was growing up, and I am so not ready!  This might be the reason that I waited an entire two weeks after the "official" go ahead before caving in!

We received a nice list from the "pedi" about what foods to start with and how to incorporate it slowly into his daily routine.  Apparently, a baby starts on vegetables because they obviously do not taste as good as fruit and if a baby becomes used to the sugary fruit, it will be more of a battle to switch to veggies later on.  Interesting, huh?

I never pictured myself for an "organic" mommy.  I seriously thought that I would buy all of Nathan's food in a jar and it would be easier for both of us.  That is, of course, until my first trip to the grocery store.  I could not believe all the things they put into baby food.  Is it not supposed to be just pureed food?  So, in order to try and do the best for Nathan, I decided to make it myself.  What at an adventure!

Decision made to make my own food and the "official" start day chosen, plastic baby spoon with temperature control was chosen and there was only one thing left to do, choose the big starter veggie.  The big winner, CARROTS!  I have to admit that it was a completely selfish decision, because frankly I could think of nothing easier than cooking carrots and pureeing them.

So, on Saturday morning March 19th, I bought carrots for Nathan's first "real" meal!  I got home, peeled them and got them ready for the big event!

After cooking them, and mashing them...the time had come!

I took out his little plastic "winnie-the-pooh" spoon...and braced myself for a momentous event in my child's life (what has happened to me?!)

Cornel held Nathan, and we went for it!!  And well, let's just say that a picture is worth a thousand words....

And the verdict on the first meal and carrots .....

FAIL!  Nathan wanted no part of the carrots and no part of anything that didn't come in a bottle!  I think we got more carrots in his nose and on his clothes than in his mouth!

Since that day, we have also tried zucchinis and artichokes, both of which have been failures!  I still think Nathan is too young and that is why he is not adapting well to the food, but according to pedi instructions we keep on trying!  This week we are progressing to spinach and peas to be followed by green beans and pumpkin!  Hopefully he will enjoy one of these veggies!
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Happy Easter 2010

Sunday is finally winding down and I think we have successfully survived Nathan's first Easter.  Holidays here are sometimes depressing - you realize how much of a sacrifice it is to live so far away from family and friends. All those traditions that I want Nathan to grow up have to be compromised or adapted to fit into our new lifestyle - and Easter was no different.  

I always took for granted walking into Target, or any store for that matter, and finding all Easter decorations so readily available.  I never imagined how difficult it would be to find all of these things in France.  It all started about two weeks ago when we went to Auchan.  I would consider this the equivalent to a Super Wal-mart, where not only can you buy your groceries, but also a set of tires in a one stop shop.  While this store appears to have everything, they did not have Easter accessories.  Not to say that they had nothing Easter related, there was what seemed an endless supplies of chocolate in all shapes sizes and flavors!  Bunnies; chickens; eggs; bells - Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate, Milk Chocolate - Swiss Chocolate, Belgium Chocolate!  It was overwhelming!  I was so disappointed in my search for the perfect Easter basket, and as the time got closer, I settled for simply a basket.

I also searched what seemed every baby store in France in search of a little tie for Nathan to wear today.  There was no such thing.  If I was crafty enough I am sure I would have attempted to make him one, but in order to spare him the embarrassment of badly home-made clothing, we opted to go without today.

We woke up this morning to a very lazy day.  The weather was cold and cloudy - the kind of day that makes you just want to curl up under the covers.  The smell of coffee started overwhelming the bedroom and Nathan and I woke up to a very delicious breakfast prepared by no other than my wonderful husband, Cornel.  What could be better than Pain-au-chocolate and fresh bread with butter and jam!?  After breakfast we started getting ready to go.

Consider this a small confession.  I have never been to a mass while in France.  Shocking, I know!  In the spirit of Easter, however, I really wanted to take Nathan to his first Easter mass.  I have such great memories of putting on my Eater dress every year, going to church, followed by an egg hunt and lunch with the family.  I want Nathan to grow up with the same kind of memories, so we decided we would go to church as a family.  Now being that I have never been to a mass while in France, I had no clue what time services started.  I had just assumed that like while I was growing up Mass would be at either 9 a.m., or 11 a.m., so at 10:30, we were ready to head out.

We really wanted today to special, so instead of going to just any church, we decided to go to the Cathedral in downtown Clermont-Ferrand.

We arrived at the church promptly at 10 minutes to 11, only to find out that mass started much earlier!  Go figure, our first Easter as a family and we are late for church!  Are we teaching this kid right or what!?  As soon as the choir started singing Nathan fell asleep and we enjoyed what was left of the service!  

After mass, we took a walk around Place de la Victoire.  They had put beautiful flowers (Cornel says they are narcissus but I have no clue) all over the plaza.  I wish the day had been nice so that we could have enjoyed the day and the flowers.  We did manage to get in a couple of good pictures.

I really wanted to take Nathan on his first Easter Egg Hunt, but since I didn't know where to go - or even if they have this tradition here, we didn't get to go.  We decided to go and grab a bite to eat since neither of us was in the mood to cook.  The problem being however, that not only is it a Sunday in Clermont (meaning everything is closed) but also a holiday - so where to go?  We have always wanted to eat at a restaurant right in front of our house, so we decided to go and check it out.  It must be our lucky day because a couple had cancelled their reservation so they could squeeze us in!

They had a delicious five course Easter menu today, and in between the courses we got to spend some quality time with Nathan!

And then came the best part...DESSERT!  There is nothing better in this country than the delicious desserts!  I opted for my personal favorite - Mousse au Chocolate, while Cornel opted for the "Easter" cake!  They were both decorated with tiny little candied eggs.  Yummy!

Lunch was delicious!  Afterwards, we made our way home only to find Nathan had received a nice surprise from the Easter bunny!  Someone should have let the Easter bunny know, however, that Nathan would be more amused by the basket than by all of the goodies inside!

All in all, I would consider this holiday a success!  I can hardly wait until next year when Nathan can run around and hunt for eggs, even if it is around our house.  Tomorrow we have the day of from work, and I am looking forward to just spending time together as a family.
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American in Paris

I am now the proud mother of an American citizen!  That is right, after four months of trying we were finally able to make it up to the American Embassy in Paris and get Nathan's passport and birth certificate.

The process is more complicated than I imagined - the hardest part being trying to take a decent passport picture of a newborn!  The requirements are so strict - looking straight ahead on an all white background; not smiling, closed mouth, etc. etc.  After months of trying (of what seemed everything) we were finally able to take the pictures at the only authorized photo place in Clermont-Ferrand (which of course is still a good 15 - 20 minute drive away)!  They set Nathan down on a white pillow that has a piece of cardboard just underneath the pillow case to keep him steady.  Then quickly, they stand over him and try to take his picture before he moves his head, blinks, starts crying or throws up all over himself!  But finally, a success!  The picture is not at all flattering - but for the next five years it will have to do!

Aside from the picture, I also had to prove that not only I was a US Citizen but that I had lived in the US for at least five years, 2 of which were over the age of 14.  Sounds easy enough, but having documented proof is much harder than it sounds.  Thanks to my mom, I had all of my elementary - high school records with an official seal, and of course I spent almost an entire afternoon counting all of my foreign trips and tracing passports stamps to see all of my entries and exits.  The things I won't do for my son!  So after packing up all of these documents plus birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc and on Sunday, March 14th we hopped on the train to Paris.

This being Nathan's first train ride, we were very excited and very nervous.  We had no idea how the baby would react on the train.  Much to our surprise, he made himself comfortable and passed right out!

This makes me hopeful that he will react well on the 7 hour car ride to Italy in a few weeks and that he will be able to handle the flight back to the States.  Mom on the other hand, was not so comfortable.  We arrived in Paris in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel. We were very lucky and found a hotel right in front of the Louvre and only a 10 - 15 minute walk from the US Embassy.  Nathan had no problem making himself right at home.

After settling in, we headed to enjoy a nice evening in Paris making sure to stop in front of the Louvre to get a view of the beautiful sunset!

I couldn't believe how well Nathan was behaving and it what an amazing location for our first family vacation.  I couldn't think of a better way to spend an evening than walking with my son and husband and enjoying with Paris as the backdrop.  Not very many people get to have this experience.

After a short walk we ended up at the Champs-Elysee, where we settled into to a nice Restaurant to enjoy a late dinner.

We headed back to the hotel in order to get some rest before our big appointment the next day.

The instructions from the US Embassy specifically say not to take anything with you as there is no storage for any bags.  Obviously the person who wrote this has never travelled with a baby.  We carry a diaper bag full of clothes, diapers, milk, etc. just for a quick morning out.  How were we supposed to survive an undetermined amount of time at the embassy without any of these things?  So, we decided to take it all with us.  So we headed out with a diaper bag full of wipes, hand sanitizer, milk, diapers, toys, blankets, and what seems like hundreds of other things - then the fun began.

Security at the US Embassy is INSANE.  We went through 3 security checkpoints filled with metal detectors and bag searches.  Considering how much stuff we had, this was no easy task!  They made us taste Nathan's milk - I guess in case it was some other kind of liquid we would carry in a baby bottle? I was the lucky one who got to taste the milk- and much to my surprise it was not as bad as I imagined.  Cornel was the lucky one who got to try on the hand sanitizer!  With our belongings in shambles - we finally made it in and waited we waited patiently to be called.  It was almost like waiting in line at the DMV, you get your ticket and watch the screen to see at which window your number will be called.  I was surprised at the number of people that were there at 9 in the morning on a Monday.  The embassy is apparently a happening place to be.  To make the waiting a little bit more pleasant they have a HUGE picture of both President Obama and Hillary Clinton!  Just the lady I need to see before having my first cup of coffee!

We were finally called up and after going through all of our paperwork and paying the $150, we waited some more.  I just have to say, that sitting at the embassy is much more entertaining than watching a talk show.  I am amazed at how many people lose their passports while traveling abroad.  It is reassuring to know, I suppose that should this ever happen to me, I wouldn't be alone.  After two hours at the embassy, we were finally finished at the embassy.  All that was left to do was wait patiently for his official US Birth Certificate and Passport in the mail.

It was almost 11, and we still had not eaten breakfast, so we stopped into a cafe around the corner from the embassy to enjoy a nice French petit dejeuner.

After a quick coffee and some pastries (pain au chocolate to be exact - what else?) We took a nice stroll down the Champs-Elysee and enjoyed the sunshine!  We wanted to celebrate the big occasion so we went where else  - The Disney Store!  Nathan got his choice of any toy...and walked away with a stuffed Mickey Mouse!

We didn't have a lot of time, since our train was leaving at 5.  With such a short amount of time, we wanted to make sure to take Nathan to see the Eiffel Tower.  Luckily he stayed awake long enough to indulge his insane parents who wanted to do nothing else but take pictures.

Since it is so exhausting putting up with us, Nathan decided it would be better to take a nap.  He didn't get to see much else of Paris after this!  Luckily, we have the pictures to remind him later.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to the train station.

Overall, our first vacation went very well.  Nathan was a little fussy on the way home and the trip was not as comfortable as it was on the way home.  For any of you that are wondering, changing a diaper on a moving train is not a fun experience, AT ALL!!
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