Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas 2012 in Samoens

So while I'm stuffing my cheeks with chocolate truffles, I've decided to write a little post about last year's Christmas.  It's that time of year again, and with each coming year, I dread Christmas a little more.  It's become so twisted with the consumerism side of it, that it's quite distasteful to me.  We are now focusing on fewer presents (mostly books and good quality toys like lego), and "experiences" like a trip somewhere, or hand-made presents.  I am avoiding the stores like a plague; online ordering is fantastic.  And I have done most of the limited shopping I had to do in October, thank you very much....

One very nice thing that takes place before Christmas every year, is that Jakub's and my workplaces host a Christmas party event for the kids.  Last year we signed up the kids again, but unfortunately it was in the canteen restaurant and there was not quite enough space to accomodate all the kids and adults.  We had to fight our way through the crowds to get food and drinks and kids had to stand in huge line-ups to do activities.  This year it should be better as each workplace is now organising separate events.  I was surprised that Anna was patient enough to wait about 20 minutes for face painting... shows what girls are willing to do for beauty.

Anna and her friend Annabelle

French Santa (Pere Noel)

Christmas is not Christmas without baking...I made these cookies for the Christmas fundraiser in Tommy's school.

This particular year, we have reserved a stay at a ski resort in Samoens, Savoie, for a week long holiday during Christmas where we met up with my dad and his girlfriend.   Unfortunately, we were hit by THE stomach flu (this is the second time we had a really bad one).  Jakub managed to get through it before we left home, however, Tommy and I were lucky enough to get it just the day of departure.  Well, I spent 90% of the week in bed, unable to eat food and lost roughly 6 kilograms.  Poor Tommy was not doing well either.  He even couldn't hold in the Christmas eve dinner, and unwrapping presents was not so much fun in that state.  It was quite a shame that this hampered the Christmas spirit, but I think the remaining group members had a decent time on the mountain even though it rained a bit one day.

Christmas eve - looking quite pale.

My dad loves cooking (and eating!) so when he's around I have the luxury of not having to be in the kitchen.  This is traditional deep fried Carp that we have with potato salad.

Ready for dinner.

Being a very keen cook, my dad always likes to bring his own food supplies anywhere he travels.  So this time around among other things he brought carp, Czech beer, and even.....the Christmas tree (as I was instructed not to buy one).  However, I think he must have picked it out in the dark, because when we untied it, the thing was totally warped and pathetic looking.  On top of that, the tree stump on the bottom was super fat, so it did not fit into the tree stand he had with him and without an axe, it would take a day to shave it down using a knife...So my daddy improvised...  He used a bucket and filled it with full beer bottles, shoved the tree inside, and voila, there you have it, the worst looking thing, I have seen.  I was not very impressed, and when I was alone, I used some wrapping paper to cover up the beers, because the "tree stand" was sticking out like a sore thumb.

Our little deformed Christmas tree.   After adding decorations and shooting it from the right angle, it looks OK.

Lego friends!

My dad admiring the ham leg I brought him from Spain.

After our trip, we went back to Grenoble for the New Year's eve and spent the count down at our favourite viewing spot above the city.  We were expecting some nice fireworks, but it seemed like there was not too much going on.  

Happy New Year 2013!
Now that 2013 is almost over, I can say that it has been a fun year, but it did involve many injuries.  So I'm hoping 2014 will be full of healing and more fun trips around Europe :D


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Snow shoeing and skiing in one day - near Grenoble.

It would be easy do yet another facebook post but I'm not a huge fan of that.  It takes less effort and is not as personal, but I do it when I don't have time (seems to be more often lately).  I feel like when I write a blog post, it is looked at by people who are really interested.

Lately I've been consumed by the whirlwind of work and other miscellaneous tasks related to day to day routines such as homework with kids, cleaning the house, doing chores, etc. etc.  On top of that as some of you may know I have an ongoing shoulder injury (and so does Jakub), so the past climbing season was non-existant and I had to switch to "leg activities" such as hiking in the summer.  So when we finally had some snow in the mountains, Jakub and I got quite excited, because skiing is also a "leg sport" and as long as you don't fall badly (on your injured shoulder), should be OK, right?

So under this category we can list snow shoeing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, ski touring...and that's plenty to keep us busy this winter I hope.

Yesterday I have had enough of everything - work, the smog, the city, the traffic (jams), stress, routine, pre-Christmas crazy hoards of people in the stores, and on and on we can go....  I don't work on Wednesday mornings and usually I spend that time grocery shopping, and lately it was more like wandering around stores semi Christmas shopping (wasting time!!! YES!!!).  And so I had an idea.  I thought it would be really cool to just get away from all this, get out in the mountains by myself.  I thought why not, why not be just a little selfish?!  And so I made my little plan and then stuck to it.  And it was really great.

6:30 AM - wake up, get myself ready and get the kids ready for school

7:50 AM - drop off kids at school

8:30 AM - arrive at Lans en Vercors mountain base (La Sierre)

8:45 AM - hike up to one of the summits (roughly 320m elev.)

9:45 AM - hike down, and then slide down the rest on a garbage bag (fun part!)

10:15 AM - drive back to Grenoble and buy baguettes (note - this is a very important part of the day here in France :)

11:30 AM - pick up kids from school

Well hello there sunshine!  Nice to meet up with you at the top.

Looking down onto Grenoble, Belledonne mountains, and Mont Blanc.  Yes, that is smog down below.

I loved my little snow shoe hike.  It was so quiet up there, just the mountain and I, the crunching of the snow under my feet and a cool breeze in the air.  Really simple, yet so satisfying and peaceful.  I did not meet a sole until I got to the top.  This is where some ski touring people started getting there as well.

The day did not finish here though.  We had lunch, picked up Jakub and then drove to the Belledone mountains (opposite side of Grenoble) to the Les Sept Laux and did downhill skiing for the rest of the day!

There is a decent amount of snow up there but yes, we do need more.

The ski team at Les Sept Laux

On the chair lift.

Ski season is starting.

Vercors in the distance.

In motion.

Sun set over the Vercors range....this is where I was snow shoeing this morning!!

I had a great time today and really look forward to using my time more efficiently like this in the near future.  I hope this is an inspiration to some moms out there :)


Monday, October 7, 2013

Spain Roadtrip 2012

Alright, so I'm almost exactly a year (two weeks short!!) behind on this post, but better late than never.  Last year we went on a ten day camping roadtrip to Spain (our first time) when the kids had their fall school holidays.  We thought it would be good to head south, when the weather was getting worse, and check out a new country at the same time.  Our plan was to go all the way south as far as Granada and possibly Seville, but then we realized that it was indeed a very long distance to cover and with the kids, this was not realistic.  Yet, we still managed to travel enough to get a glimpse of the culture and nature in Spain.

Our first major stop was in Barcelona as we wanted to check out this famous city and especially Gaudi's art.  We walked around all day, and by the evening the kids had enough, so we decided to move on.  I'm sure you need a few days to really get to know Barcelona, so we had a very concise visit this time.  My favorite was Gaudi's park where we felt as if we were on a different planet.

Barcelona "Arc de Triomf"

Trying to make the sight seeing fun for the kids by adding some play time.

Parents sometimes also need a little distraction when sight seeing.

"mommy, daddy, my legs hurt"


I think they are getting tired...@ Gaudi's Park.

After Barcelona, we drove along the coast to our next stop which was the Delta de l'Ebre.  I've read that this delta is home to many migratory birds including flamingos and so I wanted to check it out.  We have discovered that the beaches were nice and had small dunes to play in.....but also, to my huge disappointment, the beaches were completely littered with garbage that washed out on the shore from other (European??) destinations, where people were being careless and dumped all these items in the ocean.  I was very disgusted by it as this is something you don't see very often in Canada.

The beach, looking decent from the distance.

Little dunes - our kids love running through them.

I spent some time photographing dragonflies while I was getting brutally eaten by mosquitoes.  I definitely sacrificed some blood for this photo.

The beach, close up.  Quite a different story.  People are really pigs.

cK anyone?

We drove on through the wetlands to discover few more interesting sites, and behold, at the end, my dream came true - we found some flamingos.  Tommy was getting very impatient with me though, and his ornithological spirit was close to zero. 

Marshes and wetlands.

Tadaaa, I was happy to see these pink smudges from the distance.  Luckily we had a zoom lens :)

Finally, we wanted to reach one of the bird observatories and a larger sand dune, however, when we arrived, we found that the path was actually quite flooded.  Of course this did not "dampen" ;) our spirits or discourage us, and so we took off our shoes, and started to wade through the chilly, muddy water.  Tommy was not very impressed, nor convinced by this decision, and when we made a little joke about pyranhas, he jumped onto Jakub in a millisecond and would not let go. :)

The start of our hike.

Marsh hiking at its best.

Pyranha????? Where???  I'm never walking in this water again.

From the observatory we saw this: a cormorant and some ducks. :)

We then continued on a little further to find a very large dune.  This was Tommy's dream come true, so the kids had a blast climbing up and running back down for a few hours.

Anna scaling the dune.

View on top of the dune.

As I've mentioned previously, this was a camping road trip, so one of the very "fun" parts was to find a place to sleep.  Since we were traveling off season or needed to pitch the tent quite late in the evening due to a long drive, we were mostly left to find our "own" campsite in random places we stumbled upon.  A common place suitable for camping seemed to be olive/almond orchards.  One time, we managed to drive up a very narrow winding road (near La Val d'Uixo), and the next day, this seemed to be the place to be if you had a dog and a rifle.  So all the locals passed by us, as we unzipped the tent all sleepy-eyed and wondering what is going on.  But the locals did seem very cool about the fact that we were hanging out in the middle of their property and left us to our fate.


First time I saw almond trees.

We tried a few.

las aceitunas

Anna dancing in the field.

Other camping spots were windy and chilly but the views in the morning were magnificent.....

Yes, this is my "winter" down jacket.

At this point, our next major city stop was Valencia where we only had time to visit the science museum (similar to Science World in Vancouver for example).  It was quite fun and I highly recommend it as a family activity.

Very modern/futuristic architecture.

Aside from a very interesting undersea aquarium where sharks swim above you in a tunnel, we went to see this dolphin show.

We found out Tommy had a very cold nose.

We found out that I was better at being brain-dead (meditation?) than Jakub ;)

It wouldn't be a real science museum without something biology-related such as this DNA helix.
After Valencia, we headed south to visit a smaller village called el Castell de Guadalest which was recommended to us by my  Spanish friends.  Aside from being a tourist destination, there is pretty nice climbing near the village, and also we were told to visit a refuge owned by a very friendly couple.  This was actually one of the nicest cultural experiences we had.  Sergio? and his wife were from Madrid, and they were super nice and friendly as if they were our old friends or family.  They welcomed us to have a "local" dinner with them for a very decent price and then gave us tips on where to climb (which was pretty much in their backyard).  We had a great time trying to communicate with them using our broken Spanish.

Little chapel perched on a cliff.
You could buy yourself an original T-shirt!! Wow.

Some of the climbing in the area.  We did a few routes on a different crag, that was easier.

After this stop, we moved on to Granada.  Here we found a very nice camping site close to the city center.  It was good timing, because the weather became quite wet.... and it's actually nice to have a hot shower once in a while, so we were pleased to find out they rented out little suites for a decent price.

In Granada we had two goals for what we wanted to see:  1) Alhambra, the renowned Moorish palace and 2) authentic local Flamenco dancing.  We also wanted to taste some tapas, which was accomplished without a problem.  Granada is a very beautiful city, situated near the Sierra Nevada mountains and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit there.  It has a very historical feel to it and as you walk on the pebble mosaic pathways virtually everywhere in the historical city center, you get the first feel of how much detail and work went into building this place.  Looming over the city center from a hilltop is the architecturally rich Alhambra (UNESCO world heritage site) with its Arab-Islamic features.  We spent a full day at Alhambra and the combination of the architecture and the autumn setting made it feel like walking through a fairytale.

Fall is here.

One of hundreds of stone mosaics on the ground.

Stairs up to Alhambra...looking back at Granada.

Fall rain @ Alhambra.

Time to meditate.

Lots of cool tiles.

I was always stunned with the impeccable design and the details.

Wooden ceiling.

People used to be a tad smaller back then.

Water channels in the gardens.

Granada as seen from Alhambra.

Autumn leaves setting the mood.

Pomegranate, (granada in spanish), the official symbol of Granada.

Orange tree right outside our camp/motel suite windows.

For the evening, we managed to book a Flamenco show in Granada and of course we took the kids to see this unique once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I guess we didn't realize how much torture it would be for them (but I think the main problem was that they got tired).  Jakub and I found the show pretty interesting and fun to watch, but the kids said it was the worst thing they've ever experienced and when the dancers were stepping on the wooden floor our children plugged their ears.... well, it seemed that both flamingos and flamenco was unwelcomed by my kids on this trip!!


At this point we had to make a decision what to do next.  There was still so much to do and see, but our time was running short.  We still wanted to see Seville and go hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains to see the white villages of las Alpujarras.  Unfortunately, we had to leave these destinations for the next time.  But before we left, I decided to buy some cured Iberian ham for my dad as a Christmas present (a full leg), because as we all know, Spain is one of the finest ham producers.

Ham for dad.  I think it's still unopened at his place - he's waiting for me, so maybe this Christmas it will get eaten.

Ham hanging in a pub/bar.  Never seen so much ham in my life.

Our decision then was to start slowly heading back, south-west and stop at Cabo de Gata natural park.  This place seemed much cleaner and more preserved than the delta we visited at the beginning of the trip.  We spent some time on the beaches and Tommy did a bit of kayak surfing with Jakub.

Sandstone formation.

Mill and cacti.  I actually took one of these cactus leaves home with us and had it in the bathroom as a souvenir.  It turns out that the leaf started sprouting roots, and when I placed it in a bucket of water a new little cactus started budding out (this was now one year ago - pretty cool).

"Son, one day....."

Who needs a kayak when you can body surf!

OK, now we are ALMOST!! at the end of our trip.  We managed to squeeze in a little visit to Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery, located on top of a huge surreal looking cliff/mountain (1200m).  The location is interesting for it's natural beauty, climbing, and its cultural/religious significance.  We ran out of time for climbing, so at least we went to look inside the monastery and its famous black Madonna.

View from the monastery.

One last thing I must mention is, how challenging it is to travel as a family of four in a relatively small'ish vehicle.  As you can see we had alot of junk with us (I'm not sure if we even needed all that) and it was a daily task for us to throw all of it out of the car and then try to neatly arrange it back so we could find what we were looking for.  Our kayaking friends now have a term for this: "risotto", basically a mix of "things" in no particular organized manner, which was quite fitting in our case.

Our risotto on the ground.  Note: even the ham leg needs some tidying up.

Everything in.

To conclude this journey, I will now have to mention our beloved Opel Vectra, that is now in car heaven, and has left us forever.  She has served us very well and we've traveled many thousands of kilometers with her all over Europe for 2 years.   As it turns out, we were just a little over 50 kilometers from home on November 11th (NOTE: this is Jakub's birthday) at 3 A.M. during a heavy rainstorm, and I saw myself in bed already even though I was still behind the stirring wheel, but to my dismay and surprise, the engine stopped working and the car started decelerating on the highway.  I poked at Jakub a few times to wake him and tell him about this strange behavior of our car, and no matter what I did, the engine would not start again.... So..... we were left stranded on the side of the highway, and called our insurance company, which told us to call the cops, which called the tow truck, which towed us AWAY from Grenoble instead of towards it (logic here???), to a little $hit-hole called St. Marcellin....where we called our insurance company again to find out that we were not covered because we did not have an additional insurance (WE HAD NO IDEA!!) that is specifically pertaining to a 50 kilometer perimeter around the city where we live in and since our car broke down outside of this 50km distance, we had to pay the full price of 300 Euros or so (it was a holiday, so they charged the maximum possible price!!!).  Then we had to call a cab and transfer all our junk and the kids into it, and drive home.  The cab was at least 100 Euros since it was extra large and who knows what else (also not covered).  I thought - happy birhtday Jakub!  I think we got home between 4 and 5 A.M.  And then Jakub still had to go back to pick up the kayak and few remaining items, and had the car towed to another village near-by where we got ripped off, because the guy said it's not repairable and actually wanted us to pay him more money for the towing and for trashing it - I think he either repaired/resold it or took it for parts.  So that was a permanent goodbye to our little car....we have then bought a Renault espace minivan, which has been serving us well so far...

If you read the whole post, I congratulate you, it has been perhaps a bit too long this time around!!

~~Happy adventures!!  Petra~~