Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ease of modern Technology & Week in review

Overall a Great week!

It's Easter weekend & I feel great!!  It's been a bit of an up & down week, but I think the best news was we have finally entered back into the modern world!!  Yes, our Internet has finally been fixed (& this includes our phone & TV) - I think I could have hugged this technician just for the sheer fact that I was so EXCITED!! I settled for offering him a cup of coffee! Funny thing, he was one of the same previous technicians who first diagnosed the problem, so was also perplexed that it has been almost 5 months since our line was severed.  I think the answer to the problem of why this took so long will be one of those great unanswered questions on this earth!  (No help from French bureaucracy, paperwork etc..)  I wont bore people with the amount of phone calls I made, the number of times we were promised a technician who would fix the problem but it was the "wrong" team, & just the sheer frustration of no one seeming to have a history of the situation...every time you called in, we would start over again.)  But I'm a believer in moving forward, so here we are - back up and running.  As I said yesterday - We have risen...and it was Good Friday!  Such a lovely Easter weekend present!!

This week began with my oldest daughter leaving on a ski trip with her class.  This is often part of the French school system - overnight class trips for skiing or hiking.  She was very excited - and we were thrilled that she could have this opportunity.  So 6:15 on Monday morning, she was at school with her huge bag waiting with her classmates and teachers to board the bus for the almost 4 hour trip to the High Pyrenees.  She had never down-hilled skied before, but is very athletic so I knew she would pick it up quickly.  She moved very quickly from the beginner group to the intermediate group learning in 3 days to begin to parallel ski.  Here's a photo she sent us the first night - Hard to believe it's Spring-time!

Unfortunately, Wednesday evening, we got the phone call that she had twisted and sprained her knee in a fall.  They called us after she had been to the hospital, had it x-rayed, and was put in a knee brace...a bad sprain but needs to be in the brace for the next 2-3 weeks.  She was still in great spirits and can't wait to ski again!!  That's my girl!  A little side note here, she stayed with her class, just didn't ski on Thursday & returned like everyone else last evening!  Her injury was not the only one, but I guess statistically when you take about 45 kids to the ski slopes, it's going to happen to someone.  I think she's most bummed that it slows her down a bit..and there is no synchronized swimming or dance for the next few weeks.  One more thing about France, when something like this happens, the chaperones pay the medical bill and then you send it into your health insurance for reimbursement.  Here's the interesting thing, for a trip to the emergency room, x-ray, knee brace, crutches & pain medication for the injury - it was only $160.  All of which we can get back through our health insurance.    There's nothing I can say here - other than - it's very reasonable!

While she was off skiing, we had a normal week of school for the other 2 girls.  One of our highlights this week was catching up with Abby & her husband, Logan from J'Adore Ma Vie.  As bloggers we had previously met in Montpellier at a bloggers luncheon - at the time she was still pregnant with her lovely daughter! They had to come to Bordeaux to take care of some official US passport business, so we caught up for lunch.  As it was Wednesday, and there is no school for elementary and Maternelle students, I had my two youngest girls with me.  We had a great time catching up - and her daughter is ADORABLE!!  She's only a couple months old but is very alert and seemed to eat up all the attention from my girls.  My nine year old loved giving her a bottle and they both wanted to push the stroller around.
Spring-time in Bordeaux!

We walked along St. Catherine to do a bit of Easter shopping then headed back up to their car to say goodbye.  They were headed off to Saint Emilion to enjoy some wine!!  Check out their blog post, they definitely did!!

My youngest also enjoyed Logan's phone a lot!!  Nothing quite like some games on a phone to entertain a 5 year old!

Here is my favorite set of her daughter - just so expressive!!  She was interacting with my middle daughter who was mesmerized by her faces and expressions!!  Abby - thanks for meeting us - it was great fun and the girls, I know will remember their new friends!!  Looking forward to staying in touch and watching your daughter grow!

And now we head into Easter weekend - the girls & I are going to dye Easter eggs today & tomorrow - its off to Church in the morning, lunch and and afternoon with friends!

The weather is warmer, the sun is trying to shine and I just love all the flowers that are blooming here already!!  Nice to enjoy the Spring!  Joyeux Paques!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

La Rochelle - Such a Vibrant City!!

Our Visit to La Rochelle

 La Rochelle is a city 2 hours North of Bordeaux.  I had heard that it was a pretty vibrant place full of history and charm.  So, this last week, I picked a day that proposed some sun, even though cold,the girls and I ventured north for the day.  What we found was a beautiful historic city full of uniqueness and at the same time modern day charm.

Historically, La Rochelle was the “rebel city” with a unique history.  It had been democratic ahead of its time (having elected the first mayor in 1199) and was also protestant while the rest of France was Catholic. It has also boasted an important commercial harbor throughout history.  Way back to the 13th century commercial links were made between England, Flanders and the Baltic Countries. Exploration to the Americas also started out from this city.  Later on in the 1600’s regular trade routes were developed with Canada and the West Indies.  This further allowed this city to flourish with both intellectual and artistic influence.  This port was also used in World War II as a German submarine base and was one of the last areas to be freed in 1945.  This city has historically been one of the most important French harbor towns in terms of its economy and tourism. 

Today, La Rochelle boasts arcade shopping streets, half-timbered medieval houses and fine renaissance homes.  There has been a successful union of modern boutiques, the historic center, the old port and modern terraces and parks. One of Europe’s largest private aquariums is also located in the heart of the town.  This city has about 80,000 residents in town. 

We arrived in the city around 11:30 am – we ate a quick lunch at our car and then headed into to the New World Museum (Musée de Nouvelle Monde).  This inexpensive (kids are free and adults 4 euros) museum wasn’t too large but housed many interesting displays about the Americas – it covered exploration to the Antilles, West Indies, South America, Canada and the US.  It was interesting to read about the “New World” from the perspective of a European explorer.  Interesting little facts stuck out in my mind, like how the French abolished the use of slavery in the West Indies so that they could “save” their colony as they feared an uprising would result in the English annexing the colony.  Products and resources in the “New World” became ways for Europeans to increase their fortunes – for example the sugar trade of the West Indies.  Also based on exploration routes, one could see why there are pockets of French people in Canada and then across the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River and eventually settling in New Orleans.  Now, as an adult, I was familiar with much of this history but for my older girls it was a great summary of understanding how their country along with Canada & South America was settled. 

One of the most interesting displays in this museum was created from all recycled material – depicting a tall ship and many smaller ships. 

After our tour of the New World museum we walked further into the old town and just toured around the arcade streets, enjoying the beautiful architecture.  The Clock tower and ancient gate was stunning! Once we came up to the Old Port or (Vieux Port), it was beautiful to walk around enjoying the boats, parks and seeing the light houses – which by the way still work!

One of the other unique features of this port is the three towers.  The first being the St. Nicholas Tower – a stately keep.  This tower symbolizes the power and wealth of La Rochelle and stands a height of 42 m.  The second tower is the Chain Tower.  This is considered the ancient gate of the old port and controlled boat arrivals and departures.  Currently, a space in this tower houses an exhibit documenting the migrants on their voyage to Quebec.  (We didn’t see this, but on my list to see when we return to this city!).  The tallest of the towers is the third tower, or Lantern tower and it stands 70 m high.  This tower served as a lighthouse and a prison throughout history and is the last medieval lighthouse of the Atlantic Coast.  The old port was also interesting as they have a lock system within the port allowing the water to be higher and more protected on one side than the other. 

After our walk around town and the old port, the girls decided they wanted to go through the Aquarium.  This was a fun way to end our visit to La Rochelle – so many interesting fish and even sharks.  I especially enjoyed the film we saw about coral and how it reproduces each year.  This aquarium is also a research institute, so it’s fascinating to watch and learn about their discoveries. 

 As it was a chilly day, we did not venture out into the harbor with any of the many boat tours.  We will have to save that for another time.  Ile de Re is also located just to the North and West of La Rochelle – again in nicer weather this area is a wonderful place to walk, bike and enjoy the outdoors. This whole area is a big vacation destination due to the beauty, history and many diverse activities that it offers.

 After enjoying a quick bite to eat, we headed home.  As we were driving out of the city, we say a sign that said panoramic view of Fort Boyard.  Now, my girls are huge fans of the television show Fort Boyard and have always found the fort interesting, so a chance to see it for real – was not to be passed up.  So we took a quick detour and headed out to the sea – and arrived just in time to see the sun set!!  Even though, it was in the distance, it didn’t disappoint, and with the viewer, they enjoyed a real look.  This part was definitely a highlight of our day!!

We arrived home by 9 pm that evening – and the girls are already asking to return in nicer weather…I’m thinking for our Spring break in May – we just might have spend a few days there!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Le Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas (or the Bacalan-Bastide Lift Bridge) -Bordeaux

The opening of the New Bridge in Bordeaux

Last weekend a special event was held in Bordeaux – the opening of the Jacques Chaban-Delmas Bridge. This brand new modern lift bridge connects the Bacalan and the Bastide sections of Bordeaux.  With growth in Bordeaux, this bridge has been long needed in order to ease mobility, traffic and access to the downtown center from the newer suburbs on the right side of the Garonne.  The only other bridge in downtown Bordeaux is the historic Pont Pierre – which heads directly out of downtown, but is not a lift bridge.  There was a lot of thought and research that went into this bridge – from location on the Garonne, style so it blends with the cityscape and functionality – still allowing access to the historic downtown by larger boats and ships.   

The Bacalan-Bastide bridge – now named the Jacques Chaban-Delmas Bridge, named after the former mayor of Bordeaux, is a lift bridge with a 100m long lifting span which gives talls ships access to the City center and historic port.  Work on this bridge was begun in 2009.    It’s an engineering marvel and the raising and lowering of the bridge takes a mere 11 minutes.

This past weekend was a great celebration in the city – it started with fireworks on Friday evening and then the official ribbon cutting on Saturday morning.  Even the President of France, Francois Hollande arrived for this joyous occasion and joined in the celebration.  We, along with I think the rest of Bordeaux, headed down to the river to watch this ceremony.  They closed trams and buses close to the site, so one had to get off downtown at Quinconces and walk.  Both sides of the river were packed with people to watch the nautical parade of several different kinds of boats, along with the tall Ship, Belem which sailed down from La Rochelle for the event.    

The quai was so packed that it was impossible to get down to the opening ceremony of the bridge near Cap Science to get a good viewing of the ribbon cutting.   After the ceremony, the nautical parade started from under the bridge and sailed toward the historic port.  The bridge was then lowered and the President and other officials took the first walk across this beautiful structure. 

Even though we didn’t get to officially see President Hollande, which was my oldest daughter’s wish…it was really interesting to be there and share in such a joyous event for the city.  According the radio and twitter reports, the celebration continued all weekend – allowing pedestrians to walk across the bridge and enjoy such treats as free chocolatines and croissants and even souvenir rubber bracelets to commomerate the event.  (We didn’t make it all the way to the bridge, too long of a walk for a 5 year old…but if I knew all of this was going on we might have headed back on Sunday)  The bridge officially opened up for traffic on Monday morning. 

This might be the closest we will come to see the French president in person – nice to be able to say we were there.  I think we will remember this event for a while.

And what does one do after a morning like that?

Enjoy the carnival in downtown!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

One Year Blog Anniversary - Vive la France!

Has it been a year already?

 Wow, I can’t believe I have been blogging for a year now – sitting here at my dining room table thinking about how American Mom in Bordeaux has evolved. I remember when we first arrived here – it was so overwhelming, new language, new ways, and new culture. We spent the first few weeks with limited furnishings, as we waited for our furniture & things to arrive.  I think not feeling too settled added to that overwhelmed feeling.  Everything seemed surreal – oddly familiar, but so different at the same time.  I remember looking at other parents & kids expecting to hear English – but of course hearing French.   I think it was after the Christmas holidays that I started to come out of that initial fog of adjustment.  With Facebook & emails, I remember staying connected with family and friends in the States. This was a definite plus to feeling more at ease – exploring new things, but staying connected to what was familiar and my roots.  I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading a blog out of my former town, called Mamatoga – her everyday shares, information about the events and goings on in Saratoga were friendly, comforting & inspiring.  Reading her shares, definitely gave me ideas about how I could find my voice. My first post was actually done at the end of our Winter break last year – but Winter break fell earlier (the last 2 weeks in February).  So I am a bit past the one year mark, but I’m posting this as we start back into our routine after this year’s Winter break.

February 2012 - Dali Museum - Spain - Winter Break
As I look back on this year of blogging I have to admit – what started as a way to document and share our family’s experience of moving to France and adjusting to the French culture was mainly for family and friends back home and it has now grown into so much more than I ever imagined.  As I write each post about our new life, new experiences, frustrations and daily challenges, I feel energized and connected at the same time.  Through blogging, I have connected with other bloggers both in France, and other European countries and even in the US.  I have even connected with fellow alumnae of my college (Mount Holyoke College) who also blog and live abroad.  It’s such a fascinating and personal way to share about so many things – to see other view points, other perspectives and at the same time feel connected.  As, women, as spouses, as families we often all go through similar experiences but also have different perspectives – it is so nice to be enriched by others.
Blogger's luncheon in Montpellier
 I felt so privileged to have been invited to a blogger’s luncheon in Montpellier, France – so nice to meet other bloggers face to face and feel so connected already!  Just meeting with others who do the same thing I do – and talking with them – was so energizing.  We also met up with another blogging family in Paris and spent a wonderful afternoon venturing around.  Again, 2 things, I couldn’t have imagined myself doing before I started blogging.  My local paper back home in Saratoga Springs, NY has picked up my blog and listed it with their travel blogs in their community blogs section.  I was just interviewed on Overseas Radio Network (Expat radio station) by Doni Belau of Girl’s Guide to Paris and had a blast sharing our experiences here in Bordeaux. 

My posts vary from trips, sights, food, and everyday life to other topics that I encounter as we live each day as parents and as a family here in France.  This has been so much fun to share – a snippet of our life but also memories to hang on to.  I love taking my camera around and snapping away.  I have always loved photography and having an excuse bring my camera is wonderful!  My phone has become my second “camera” to have in a flash or just to be able to discretely snap a quick pic. 

I have come to realize that what I share helps others for different reasons: to either plan a trip to this side of the Atlantic, come to learn more about the French culture, or just enjoy seeing another part of the world through our eyes.  I have had people email me and ask questions about the Bordeaux area and living in France in general.  All things I am more than happy and excited to answer.  Life here is not perfect by any means, but I don’t think anywhere is. We are currently still without internet, land-line phone service and television at our home, but life is all about what you make it to be – and we have worked it out.  (Hopefully, next week – cross your fingers here, we will be fully restored!)

I never imagined that my blog would open up so many different opportunities for me (and even for my family).  I have been contacted by such fascinating people and truly love hearing from everyone.  It really astonishes me that my blog & its posts have been viewed over 25,000 times in just one year.  Thank you to everyone who is reading and who follows.  With the social media of Facebook, Pinterest & Instagram – American Mom in Bordeaux has found its own place in this virtual world and for that I am truly grateful and look forward to continuing to share. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's time for Carnaval!! - French school style...

Carnaval at the Maternelle

 It’s apparently a tradition to celebrate Carnaval (Carnival) in French schools (Maternelle & Elementary).  This fun occasion is when all the kids dress up and parade around. I equate it to the Spring-time Halloween but without going door to door to get candy.   For the Maternelle, parents were invited to come for the last hour of school and watch the parade and afterwards share a snack with them.  This was done on the last Friday before vacation.  I think the exact date of  Carnival celebration is closer to mid-March – but with our Winter vacation falling the first 2 weeks of March, this event was pushed up this year.  Our town has a separate Carnaval parade and family celebration coming up at the end of vacation on the 16th and the City of Bordeaux is celebrating it’s Carnival on Sunday March 17th.

What I love about this is that the kids and the teachers make their costumes for carneval .  This year the Maternelle celebrated with the theme of “Faire Peur” – or to make afraid or to scare – for the kids they were told they were going to scare away Winter!  What a fun theme!  It was so impressed with how creative these teachers were in making the costumes.  It’s also nice as a parent to not have to go out and buy a costume just for a hour celebration.  (At the elementary level, they have a party at the end of the school day without parents – but in costumes – enjoying getting dressed up and of course enjoying candy!).

For my daughter’s class – the boys were Dragons and the girls Witches.  You can see from the photos that giant paper bags were used for the costume.  I learned that my 5 year old and her class painted their own costumes and then taped on the black designs following a model.  They then stapled together colored construction paper and cut out a ring to create their witches hat.  I think they turned out wonderful !

Other classes were monsters & cobwebs …so darn cute!

And yes, I think they did scare away Winter….the first part of this Winter break has been very Spring like and sunny.  (Then again it is March – but it’s so nice to see the sun again after months of rain and clouds!).

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