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The Jerk Store Called


Last week I had a George moment, which is rare for me.  Aside from the fact that I prefer to think of myself as more of an Elaine, I also tend to be more of a Friends girl than a Seinfeld one.  Though I watched both shows religiously, I must admit that no tears were shed when the cell door slammed shut on Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer.  In contrast, the night that Rachel ditched her flight to Paris and showed up at Ross’s door, in an absolutely perfect culmination of ten years of relationship angst, was a sob-fest at my house.  On a sorrow-scale of one to ten; one being sniffling over a Hallmark commercial (hey – it happens, the lonely old lady whose face lights up after reading a card from her neighbor kills me every time) and ten being the time I cried so hard while watching Finding Neverland that I vomited (in my defense I was about six months pregnant and teeming with crazy hormones and weird morning/all-day-long sickness), the Friends finale was a solid eight.  Even now, almost seven years later, I have one to two Friends flashbacks a week.  When I come down with a cold, the first thing I do is sing “Sticky Shoes” in my best sultry Phoebe voice, and I often end arguments by saying “It’s a moo point.  It’s a cow’s opinion.  It’s moo.”  (If there had been a debate team at my high school, I would not have been on it.)  Last week, while window shopping in Geneva I saw what looked a lot like an apothecary table from the days of yore, and every single time I move a large piece of furniture through a narrow stairwell/hallway I am consumed with the urge to scream “PIVOT!” at the top of my lungs, and nine times out of ten I succumb to the urge.  (This scenario played itself out recently when trying to haul our large Thule roof box up our teeny, tiny European staircase.)

Enough with the Friends memories, this is all about the George in me.  It happened on the way home from a well deserved night out with some friends.  We met in Geneva to forage for fondue in the big city, celebrate a belated birthday, and luxuriate in a meal without crayons, crackers, and be-wheeled toys careening across the table.  Mission accomplished.  We shared some delicious fondue, even more delicious wine, and lots of laughs.  The only wrinkle in the night came after we left the restaurant and located our car, which, due to insane amounts of traffic we had parked in the bowels of a hotel parking garage.  Apparently the very same night we were enjoying our simple ladies dinner, the Genevois Glitterati (including Gwyneth, hot off her SNL gig, who I was on the lookout for all night long) were out on the town for a ritzy watch convention.  First of all, I really think Gwynnie would have had a much better time kicking it mom’s night out style with a cheese laden fondue stick in one hand and wine glass in the other than hobnobbing with a bunch of snooty Swiss watchmakers, and second of all, I had no idea that watch conventions drew such large crowds.  The parking garage was packed to the gills, like a showroom crammed with shiny, high-priced automobiles.  We were thrilled to find a spot that was large enough to fit our car, and we didn’t think much of the fact that we had been forced to park so close to a concrete wall that my friend had to slide out the passenger side.  At least we weren’t in danger of dinging any Jaguars.

When we returned to the car after dinner, I thought it had to be a joke.  Some moron with a tiny, little Euro car had squeezed himself into the space (and I use that term loosely) next to ours.  I actually looked around for a hidden camera.  The cars were so close together that none of the doors would open.  We could get the driver’s door cracked just wide enough to slip our purses through.  No one, not even Gwynnie (who let’s face it, with those vegan tendencies would never join me in a cheese eating extravaganza) could have squeezed into the front seat of that car.  And the jerk who parked next to us?  There is no way that he was able to exit his auto in a dignified manner.  You can bet that he had to slink out of his tailgate.  Staring at our car sandwiched up against the diminutive hatchback, I could feel the warm, blissful glow that comes from spending time away from my children start to wither and die.  It was replaced by blind Costanza-like rage for the offensive driver who callously squished his car into a too-small space, much like the way I try to squeeze myself into my pre-pregnancy jeans.  Well, you know what dude?  I know better than to leave the house with my circa 2006 jeans on, and you should have known better than to park in two tired mamas who were just trying to enjoy a night out on the town.

In true George fashion (and fueled by a nice Swiss Chasselas) I stomped my feet, shook my fists, and whined at the unfairness of our situation.  What kind of person would park like this?  How were we ever going to get home?  Would we be stuck in the parking garage until the jerk who parked us in deigned to return to his car?  Luckily, my much calmer, Jerry-like friend, assessed the situation and noticed that we could wedge the door to the back seat open just wide enough for even a non-Gwynnie-sized person to squeeze through.  So lamenting the fact that I had taken those extra swipes of fondue, I made myself as flat as possible and shimmied my way into the car.  In all honesty, the path to freedom was not as tight as I thought it was going to be, but this did not quell my anger.  I demanded that we leave the imbecile a note.  I could not imagine exiting the garage without unleashing my fury in witty, piercing prose.  I procured a pen and an old receipt and readied myself to write the most cleverly insulting note in my literary history.  But, in that moment, with emotions running high, I pulled a George.  When faced with grave malfeasance and a chance to right a wrong, I choked.  Like George in the meeting room at Yankee Stadium, who when insulted by a colleague is struck dumb and unable to muster a comeback, I was left mute in the parking garage.

I finally mustered up a half-hearted note, the contents of which I cannot really remember, but definitely included the words “How rude!” (which is way more Stephanie Tanner than Costanza) and “Learn how to park!” and stuck it under the offending driver’s windshield wiper.  The note was a weak, awkward expression of my true feelings, and I shudder with embarrassment every time I think about it.  In  homage to George I should have at least written “The parking store called and they want their spot back,” which I admit makes no sense, but here I am, two weeks later, still searching for the perfect comeback.

 

The perfect comeback.


Lauberhorn Downhill, in the shadow of the Eiger and Monch.

CHAPTER ONE:  Downhill Racing with a Bug and a Goose

35, 000 Swiss can’t be wrong.  This is the thought that ran through our heads as we booked a last-minute hotel room in Interlaken, and hastily threw jackets, backpacks, snowshoes, and survival gear (think Tinkerbell stickers, fruit leather, and diapers) into the car and prepared to make the 2 hour trip up into the Swiss Alps.  We had been planning on going to the World Cup ski races in Wengen, Switzerland for all of five days, but in the waning hours of Friday night we changed our plans from a day trip to an overnight.  It takes a special breed of crazy to book a hotel at 10 pm on a Friday, frantically pack the car and attempt to clean the house, collapse in bed at midnight, only to roll right out again a mere 5 hours later.  We callously yanked the girls from their warm beds, slapped them into their car seats, and were zipping down the deserted streets of Thoiry before they, even knew what hit them.  We didn’t give ourselves an opportunity to think about the enormity of the adventure that lay ahead of us.  We didn’t ponder the fact that the Lauberhorn World Cup races are one of the biggest sporting events in Swiss culture, and they are even (as I just learned from reading Wikipedia) some of the most widely attended winter sporting events in THE WORLD.  Had we discussed these interesting bits of trivia, we may have had second thoughts about dragging our very small children up a cog railway, to stand for hours in the snow at the foot of a glacier, surrounded by tens of thousands of drunk, cheese-dipping ski fans. But, in classic Hirschauer fashion, we didn’t think, we just jumped in our car and drove, fueled by the promise of catching a glimpse of Bode Miller, and the thrill of watching men hurtle themselves down an icy slope at speeds upwards of 80 mph (roughly 130 km/h, for all you metric fans out there).

Train snacking.

We made it to Interlaken in record time, parked our car at the hotel, donned our snow gear, wedged the girls into backpacks and headed to the train station.  We ended up catching the 10 am train, giving us plenty of time (we naively thought) to comfortably make the start of the race at 12:30.  The tricky part about getting to the Lauberhorn downhill is that you need to take three different trains up the mountain to reach an accessible viewing area.  The first leg of our trip was deceivingly easy.  On our way to the station we had met up with another expat family from Thoiry (who would become our compatriots in this adventure even though they hailed from the UK and cringed every time we began to chant U-S-A) and our children played together on the train, and munched on imported Goldfish crackers, as we lounged in our seats and chatted about how freakishly uncrowded the train was.  Where were the throngs of spirited Swiss ski fans?  There was no song-singing, or Austrian/Swiss trash talking on our train.  The first leg of our trip was, to be honest, kind of boring, leaving us with a false sense of security, tricking us into thinking that the journey to the Lauberhorn would be a piece of cake.

 

The ease of our morning travel was shattered when we arrived in the picturesque town of Grindelwald where we were supposed board our connection to another train to head further up the mountain.  It was in Grindelwald that we discovered where all the people in Switzerland had been hiding themselves.  There they were, 35,000 sled toting, flask chugging, Swiss ski fans all attempting to board one small, antiquated train.  The reason why Interlaken had been such a ghost town was not because we were early (because truthfully when are Hirschauers ever early) but because we were almost shamefully late for the biggest party in Switzerland.

 

After waiting over an hour in a crowd of noisy, yet jolly and surprisingly polite, race-goers, we finally crammed onto a train and completed our journey to the race.  It is to be noted that our hour-long layover in Grindelwald was worth it because it allowed me to track down some much-needed diapers as we had left ours in the car (quality parenting move).  Diaperless on a glacier with a stubborn two-year old who refuses to even glance at a potty (even though there weren’t really any toilets to speak of, as evidenced by the number of drunk Europeans I witnessed heeding the call of nature with nary a tree, snow bank, or bush to hide behind) was not my idea of how to spend the perfect Saturday.  With diapers in tow we reached our second-to-last destination of Kleine Scheidegg and decided to ditch the train crowd and walk the twenty minutes down to the race viewing area.  It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the kids were ecstatic to be off the crowded trains and allowed to run free in the snow.

 

Hundschopf section of the Lauberhorn downhill. Notice the adventurous spectators on the top of the rock, that is where we thought we would be able to hike to...only in our baby-backpack-less dreams.

The walk to the race was uneventful, save for the drunk sledders, skittish skiers, and the time that I slipped and fell on my arse with Maggie strapped to my back.  (Maggie was unscathed by the bump, as my well-padded tush took the brunt of the fall.  I, however, was a bit unnerved and considered swiping a can of Eigerbier from a passing sledder to take the edge off.)  We followed the roar of the crowd to the Hundschopf (dog’s head).  It is a famous jump, where racers launch themselves off a rock face and as soon as their skis touch back down to the snow, they are catapulted into a sharp left turn.  It is very popular viewing area, I think that at least 20 of the rumored 35 thousand fans were parked at the Hundschopf.  We had crazy plans to hike up out of the crowd and find a peaceful place to watch the race, but the trip to the viewing area had been so harried that we thankfully entered the crowd, set up camp near some raucous Austrians, and joined the party.

A few of our closest friends watching the Hundschopf jump.

If I take one thing away from our racing adventure (and it won’t be witnessing Bode Miller rock the downhill because he came in eighth and we were so late that we missed his run by at least an hour) it will be the art of Swiss tailgating.  The people we saw at the Lauberhorn downhill truly took tailgating to a whole new level.  They built bars out of sleds, displaying bottles of tummy warming liquor and stacked high with  local beer.  Unphased by the prospect of hiking with mass amounts of cheese, wine, and bread strapped to their backs, the Swiss toted large fondue pots up the mountain and set up shop in the snow.  They feasted on hot, gooey cheese, chugged wine out of real glasses, and did shots of schnapps all the while waving their Swiss flags with fierce pride and organizing giant slopeside sing-a-longs.  The crowd was deafening when a Swiss skier took to the course and silent when any other nationality zipped past.  There was a large, loud Austrian contingent near us made up of mostly round, hairy, intoxicated men who looked like they had never skied a day in their lives.  They seemed to be closely related to Bill Swerski’s Superfans (“Da Bearsss!) and took every opportunity to boast about the Austrian skier who eventually won the downhill.  At one point Jim asked the Austrian standing behind us if we could take a look at the starting list that they were smart enough to bring along.  The guy jovially informed us that there was no point in familiarizing ourselves with the skiers that were still to come because all the Austrians had already skied, and there was nobody left in the field (including 2 Americans, thank you very much) that could beat his guys.  It turned out that he was right, Klaus Kroll ended up taking the coveted helicopter ride down to Wengen, beating out two Swiss skiers and crushing the spirits of 35,000 local ski fans.  (The winner of the Lauberhorn downhill gets to ride in heli-style while the other poor schlubs are forced to take a train, albeit a private one, just like the rest of us.)

Maggie and I leaving the downhill. The smiles on our faces are directly related to the free chocolate bar I am clutching in my hand.

I won’t bore you the details of how we got off the mountain after the race ended.  Let’s just say it was a painfully long process, made bearable by singing Austrian superfans, free Milka chocolate bars, gummy bears, and the kindness of strangers.  (One woman gave us a blanket to help protect Emma’s bobbing head, who somehow managed to sleep peacefully in a backpack for the almost the entire way home.)  It wasn’t until we boarded our final train of the day that we managed to secure seats.  Having spent almost the entire day on my feet with Maggie on my back, sitting down was nothing short of bliss (perhaps this feeling was heightened by the teenage boys in the seat next to me who looked like hipster skiers, yet were singing Justin Bieber in broken English.) We eventually made it to our hotel, collapsed on the beds and sunk into an exhausted stupor.  I was even too tired to object when Jim found an episode of the Simpsons dubbed in German with which the girls promptly became enthralled.  (In my defense, the Simpsons seemed almost Disney-like when you couldn’t understand what they were saying.)  And so ended part one of our marathon World Cup adventure, with the girls laughing hysterically when Homer almost sits on Maggie and Jim trying in vain to dole out Simpsons quotes in a foreign language.

Bad Santas


Our first Christmas in France was filled with new experiences, some shocking, like the sudden arrival of Christmas decorations in October, others deliciously soothing like the welcomed appearance of vin chaud (hot, spicy, mulled wine) at every single outdoor event we attended.  This year I learned that life is better when indulging in a warm, alcoholic beverage.  Hordes of grumbling, shoving, faux-merry Christmas market revelers turn amiable and festive after just one sip from a Santa-festooned mug of piping hot vin chaud.  While shopping at our Sunday market, cupping the warm, aromatic brew in my frosty hands, my snot-encrusted, whining children magically sound like two jolly carolers, spreading cheer (as opposed to their nasty cold virus) throughout the crowd.  The local ski club charges the bargain price of 1 Euro for this cold weather staple and the Thoiry pompier (firefighters) give it away for FREE.  You gotta love municipal workers who dole out free alcohol on a Sunday morning.  Vin chaud, welcome to my life.  I think we are going to be very, very good friends.

Christmas of 2010 will forever stand as the year of Santa.  It was the year that my three-year-old became a card-carrying member of the “I ♥ Santa” club.  For the first time in her little life she fully realized the power of the Claus and spent the majority of her December dreaming about Santa, asking questions about Santa, and drawing pictures of Santa.  Her behavior magically improved, she was kinder to her sister and less apt to erupt in ear-piercing shrieks.  She efficiently collected data on the Big Man in Red, grilling us like a seasoned Law and Order detective.  Where does Santa live?  Who does he live with?  What is Mrs. Santa’s real name?  How many elves reside with Santa?  What do elves eat?  She peppered me with questions until I would cry mercy and seek outside counsel in the form of my infinitely more creative husband.

We were officially Santa crazy at the Hirschauer house and it didn’t help matters much that there were Santas everywhere in our little French town.  Now, French Santa, or Pere Noel, is a different breed from the traditional sack-wielding, sleigh-driving, jolly old elf that we are familiar with in North America.  Pere Noel doesn’t seem to ride in sleighs or pal around with reindeer.  The French take a much more “Mission Impossible” approach to delivering presents.  The Santas in our town dangled from ropes, and shinnied up drain pipes like furtive cat burglars.  They hung from military grade cables, looking like a band of special ops taking over the produce section in our local grocery store.  The houses on our street were teeming with acrobatic Santas.  One family had as many as ten tiny Pere Noels scaling the front and side walls of their maison.  Their backs were always to us, faces turned away from passing cars and pedestrians in an attempt to conceal their true identities.  Why so furtive Pere Noel?  Are you spending the holidays spreading cheer and goodwill towards man, or are you pocketing a few trinkets for the Mrs.?

The girls were a bit confused by this new twist on the lovable Christmas icon. After seeing a life-sized Santa dangling precariously from a top-story window Emma exclaimed, "Mommy! Santa is falling!" Burglarizing Santa, Nyon, Switzerland

Poor Santa dangling from the ledge was not nearly as disturbing as this headless Santa in Geneva.

Thieving Pere Noels, however, have nothing on the strange, bough-straddling Santas that were immortalized in neon lights and illuminated our street this holiday season.  What is a bough-straddling Santa, you may ask?  Well, it is a Pere Noel with an odd penchant for placing Christmas tree branches between his legs and riding them like a bucking bronco, or a witch on a broom.  Why does Santa do this?  What possible place does a Santa with a fir-tree between his legs have in childhood lore?  And why is it that the French do not believe in a Santa that drives a reindeer drawn sleigh?  According to the French, Pere Noel either rides a phallic tree bough or burgles his way into our home, and I am not sure which option is less disturbing.

A right jolly old elf! (Freud would have a field day.)


So here I am, five days into 2011 and I think I am doing pretty well on my ever-expanding list of New Year’s resolutions.  I have washed my face morning and night with an age defying cleanser every day since the first of January, and I am on the lookout for a reasonably priced French, wrinkle-zapping, miracle night cream.  (This resolution was bred from the sickening feeling that took residence in my stomach each and every time a well-meaning European man mistook my mother and I for sisters this past week.  My adorable, and I must admit, extremely young-looking mother left our vacation glowing from the compliments, while I slunk away feeling wrinkle-ridden, sun-spotted, and panicked.)

I have gone on three runs and two walks, on the annoying advice of Bob Greene, Oprah’s fitness guru, who callously orders readers of O Magazine to exercise for SIX HOURS  a week.  Maybe that is possible if you get paid to work out, per Mr. Green, or if some hired hand literally drags you from your bed and pushes you out the door every morning, per Oprah, but for me this six-hour mandate is going to be quite a feat. Even with my five days of exercise (an impressive stat in itself) I still have yet to hit 200 minutes, which means I still have more than 2 hours of huffing and puffing ahead of me to fulfill my quota for the week, and I was counting on at least one day of total and complete inertia.   Bob Greene is now and forever my enemy.  In the future I plan to refrain from reading O Magazine, but for now (or for however long I can keep up this resolution ruse) Mr. Greene’s directive is seared into my brain.

In another resolution coup d’etat, I have successfully warded off the snacking bug during all five nap times in 2011.  As much as I cherish nap time, the blissful silence, the opportunity to use the restroom in solitude, the unfettered Facebook time, the clandestine Jersey Shore watching, it is also a time when I tend to graze through my cabinets in a manner not unlike our neighboring gluttonous French cows.  While skimming through pictures of other people’s vacations I unconsciously consume half a bag of pretzels, in the time it takes me to catch up on the trials and tribulations of Lindsey Lohan’s most recent rehab stint I impressively polish off half a wedge of brie and a baguette.  During nap time I eat because I am often too busy to eat lunch with the girls, but I eat without thinking, and I overeat because the stress of the morning has left me weak and haggard.  This year I have vowed to try eat my lunch with the girls, and to not eat anything but fruit and vegetables while they are napping.  For some reason gorging on carrot sticks is not nearly as tempting as polishing off that bag of popcorn in my cupboard.  This resolution just may be my Everest.  As I type this I am peevishly sipping on a cup of herbal tea and desperately trying to ignore that box of chocolates sitting on the counter.

That was it.  Those were my three big resolutions, and I was mildly impressed with the fact that I had faithfully held up the resolutions for five whole days.  Lurking way back in the corner of my mind, however, was a tiny voice, annoyingly reminding me about the blog that I had started with such enthusiasm when we first moved to France.  Remember that blog, Maura?  Remember how you wrote every, single day for weeks, and then every other day for a while, which turned to once a week, which quickly turned to once a month, until finally, not a word has been written since October.  Oh my poor neglected blog!  The guilt that has been steadily building from my blogging drought weighs heavily on my mind.  I read friends blogs and cringe with shame (all the while enjoying your witty prose, and beautiful pictures, I promise).  I read blogs by people who blog for a living, and marvel at their doggedness, their carefree writing style and super-hero like ability to tackle writer’s block, and wish that I could capture just a bit of that talent.  If I am really serious about this whole resolution business, I owe it to myself to dedicate at least a sliver of these efforts towards my blog.  I have been avoiding my blog like a certain beloved children’s storybook character eschews green eggs and ham.  But, today I bit the bullet, I looked that Sam-I-Am in the eye, grabbed my plate of green eggs and ham, and opened my WordPress page for the first time in months.

Remarkably, when I opened up my blog I was greeted with a call to arms; in the upper left hand corner of my page a gauntlet was thrown by the people at WordPress, a challenge to blog at least once a week for the next year.  For the more courageous at heart there was the option to blog every day for the year, but I chose the infinitely easier way out.  Apparently, thousands of others suffer from dysfunctional bloggers block and WordPress is daring them, daring me, to change.  Do I dare?  Yes, I do.  The truth is that I feel better when I blog.  It is almost like exercising.  There are so many days when the last thing I want to do is lace up my sneakers (and let’s be honest, many days I simply don’t, please don’t tell Bob) but once I do, I immediately feel invigorated and that feeling of energy and accomplishment carries me through my day.  When I blog I am also rewarded with a sense of a fulfillment.  When I write I feel like there is more to my life than the endless cycle of cook food, feed food, clean up food, with a little bit of laundry, child chauffeuring, and bottom wiping sprinkled in for fun.  My blog is also a way of giving back to my family.  It is a record of our amazing adventures in Europe, a history of the crazy things that happened and will happen to us while we live in France.  When I think about my blog in this positive light I am invigorated and eager to write more.  It is no longer an albatross around my neck, another chore, like cleaning the toilet, that I must slog my way through before I can relax.  I need to remember why I blog, for my own sense of self, my emotional and intellectual well-being, and for my family.

So, a fourth resolution has been added to my list; to blog at least once a week.  Any words of encouragement on this front are greatly appreciated.  And, if there is anyone who is willing to call me every night to make sure I washed my face, that would be very helpful as well.

The Turkey Trilogy


Part III:  Beyond the Kefaluka Bubble

Bodrum Castle overlooking Bodrum Harbor.

It was tempting to spend the entire ten-day trip hunkered down in beach chairs, umbrella drinks in hand, supervising sand castle construction and attempting to break up sisterly spats without leaving the lounge chair.  But, since this was our one and only trip to Turkey, we knew we couldn’t waste this opportunity to explore the historical lands that lay beyond the Kefaluka bubble.  A bit begrudgingly, I pried my bottom off the beach and joined Jim and the girls (and 40 physicists) on a bus trip into the ancient city of Bodrum.  We were getting quite used to traveling with a throng of physicists, but I am not sure I could say the same for the poor scientists.  On the hour-long bus trip into Bodrum, the girls happily sang songs and exclaimed over the desert-like scenery, and although these were joyful noises, they were still shockingly loud.  Jim’s colleagues may have been tired of traveling with two giggling, wiggling, snot-dribbling (leave it to my children to catch a cold in paradise) children, but I, myself, found it completely reassuring to be accompanied by a group of people who could convert the price of a trinket from Turkish Lira, to Euros, to U.S. Dollars in the blink of an eye.  It was like I was surrounded by a group of superhuman calculating machines, with a penchant for rattling off historical facts about the Bodrum peninsula, Alexander the Great, and crusading knights.  Who needs a tour guide when you have friends like that?

Bodrum is a beautiful Turkish port that is home to countless gleaming white yachts, beautiful wooden schooners (or pirate ships, for the three and under set), a formidable stone castle that sits sentry above the harbor, and a bustling marketplace.  It was the site of ancient Halicarnassus, the home of Herodotus, and housed one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.  (Which, if you are interested, was built as a monument and tomb for the ruler Mausolus, by Artemesia II of Caria, who was both his sister and his wife.  I have to admit that I wasn’t really paying attention to the history of Bodrum until that fun little fact caught my ear.)  The Mausoleum stood proudly in the city for seventeen hundred years, until it was finally leveled by earthquakes.  Sometime in the fifteenth century the crusaders used stones from the quake rattled monument to fortify Bodrum Castle, so there is not much left to see of the Mausoleum today.  But, I spent a great deal of time chasing Maggie around Bodrum Castle, therefore I may or may not have saved my daughter from breaking her face on a stone that was once a wonder of the ancient world.

Emma with an extremely important Roman Governor at Bodrum Castle.

Bodrum Castle, though extremely toddler unfriendly, was pretty awesome.  Emma loved it because it was home to not only knights, but a special breed of knights that also moonlighted as pirates.  To a three-year old with a fondness for all things medieval and a pirate costume hanging in her closet, this fact was almost too much to bear.  She loved the “knight pirates” and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the crusading soldiers who built the castle were brutal, bloody fighters, not quite the jolly pirates she pictured.  The castle showcased breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea with no unsightly railings to mar the scenery, or to protect streaking toddlers from plunging headfirst over the side of a turret into the crystal blue waters below.  It also had some spectacularly steep, narrow staircases, but so are the perils of castle exploration with a toddler.

Toddler launching pad at the top of Bodrum Castle

After extracting Emma from the “knight pirate castle” we wandered through the narrow streets of Bodrum where I attempted to work up the courage to barter with shopkeepers selling fake Louis Vuitton handbags.  I am not really a handbag-type of person.  I have a mysteriously sticky, sometimes smelly, but very convenient diaper bag that houses everything from my wallet to emergency bubbles to a first aid kit.  I also have a ten-dollar Old Navy cloth purse that I purchased six years ago that is my “fancy bag.”  Although, I’m pretty sure that if you can throw your purse into the washing machine it no longer qualifies as “fancy.”  Alas, such is my bag situation, so I went to Bodrum hoping to purchase a shiny, new, fake “fancy bag.”  I was not prepared, however, for the vast selection and the in-your-face shopkeepers.  I walked into several bag shops, only to be faced with floor to ceiling displays of heavily patterned leather bags and a man yelling a string of prices into my ear.  On my first two attempts I walked in, freaked out, turned on my heel and bolted back to the comfort of my whining children.  In one shop I finally gathered up the courage to pick up a Burberry bag and ask the man how much it cost.  He told me an absurdly high price and I panicked, practically threw the bag across the store, and once again retreated outside to my family.  I am a horrible bargainer.  I needed an ally, a shrewd shopper to aid me in my quest to find the perfect, cheap knockoff.  Jim is many, many things, but a shopper he is not.  He had no sympathy for my purse problem (“What’s wrong with that one?” pointing to the grungy diaper bag on  my shoulder).   My quest for the perfect bag ended before it really began, and I left Bodrum purse-less, which is probably for the best because I have heard some scary stories about Swiss customs confiscating knock-offs and levying unbelievably expensive fines on poor, unsuspecting purse neophytes.  But sometimes, when I am soaking up sour, spilled milk and gluey cracker crumbs off the bottom of my diaper bag, I still think about that perfect fake Burberry purse in Bodrum market and I concoct elaborate, eloquent bartering dialogues in my head.  Ahhh, the bag that could have been.

Fishing boats in Kos Harbor, Greece.

After our trek to Bodrum we spent a few days relaxing within the Kefaluka bubble, but we returned to the outside world to take a trip to the Greek Island of Kos.  Feeling especially adventurous because we had left the throngs of scientists behind, we boarded the shuttle to the Turgutreis.  The drive to the ferry was gorgeous as we wound up and down hills and in and out of harbor towns; the blue Aegean glistening in the sun on our left and the brown, hillsides towering above us on our right.  The ferry over to Kos was a bit tiresome, as we had to muddle through passport control and customs on both ends of our trip.  Luckily for us, Greek customs officials are the most family friendly people on earth and went out of their way to pluck us out of long lines and shuttle us up to the front.  We felt like movie stars, or maybe just extremely lucky, frazzled parents with two children, one badly in need of a diaper change, and the other fighting a losing battle with a squeezable apple sauce container.

Emma and Maggie exploring the Asclepeion at Kos.

Kos was beautiful.  It is definitely a tourist destination, as evidenced by the hundreds of shops selling postcards, small replicas of Greek statues, and t-shirts boasting questionable slogans.  But Kos, to scholars of ancient Greece, is more than a tourist destination.  It was the home of Hippocrates, often called the father of modern medicine, and we visited the site where he learned and practiced medicine, the Asclepeion of Kos.  It was there that I discovered a place more terrifying for the mother of a wandering toddler than a castle, an ancient ruin.  The ancient ruin of the Asclepeion was dusty, with crumbling steep stone steps, tempting cracking pillars that were just perfect climbing height, and so many stones, bricks, and marble chunks to trip over that it was mind-boggling.  I think between the two of them, the girls fell at least one hundred times, and the ancient ruin police (aka old ladies with floppy hats, blue blocker sunglasses, and ear-piercing whistles) had to crisply tweet in Maggie’s direction five times for climbing on relics.  I spent so much time trying to keep Maggie from scrambling onto what was probably the first operating table ever made, that I didn’t really stop to appreciate the history of the deathtrap in which we wandered.  I am glad that we have photographic evidence that I was actually there, and I can look back on those pictures and finally feel the appropriate awe for the ancient grounds where I chased the girls, wiped bloodied knees, and tried in vain to evade the whistle blowers.

An aerial view of the deathtrap that was the ancient ruins of Asclepeion.

After touring the Asclepeion of Kos we walked through the Marketplace at Kos, or the Agora, which was once one of the biggest, most bustling marketplaces in the ancient world.  It was amazing to wander through the ancient square, and because Maggie was safely strapped in her stroller, I had a chance to truly gaze upon crumbling ancient archways, and stone pillars.  I grew up in a town that prides itself on the old historical buildings that line our main street, most of them dating from the mid to late 16oo’s.  As a child I would visit these old buildings and imagine the early colonists churning their butter, and drying and salting their fish while the children played outside with wooden hoops and stilts.  I used to think my little town was steeped in history, but standing in the Agora at Kos, amidst stone structures built in the second century BC,  I was truly in awe.

Jim, the one time classics scholar, escaped the gluttonous walls of the Kefaluka for a final excursion without his girls.  He took a three-hour bus ride to the ruins at Ephesus where he saw another of the famed Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis.  I am glad that he was able to wander around the ancient city without three whining, hungry females trailing after him, tripping over rocks and scaling headless statues.  (Truth be told, in sightseeing situations I am often the biggest whiner of the bunch, but at least I don’t attempt to climb statues.)  Ancient ruins are to Jim what castles are to Emma, what a playground with a tall, twisty slide is to Maggie, and what my computer, when streaming American television, is to me.  He deserved a day to himself to truly take in all the sights, read all the boring placards, and actually listen to his tour guide.

 

The Library at Celsus

Dionysus, Hermes, and Jim

 

Temple of Artemis

And so ended our ten-day trip to Turkey.  Our first family vacation was a success, filled with unending sun, swimming, exciting day trips, and lots and lots of yummy Turkish food.  Some of us worked (poor Jim), some worked out (one half hour session on the treadmill while in paradise deserves to be commemorated forever in blog form), others dug countless castles, colored pictures with multi-lingual camp counselors, danced the night away at Mini Disco, and were treated like princesses by the staff at Kefaluka.  It is a trip that we will remember always.

The Turkey Trilogy


PART II:  Ladies Who Lounge

Maggie digging on the shore of the Aegean.

The girls and I took an immediate liking to the Kefaluka resort.  Maybe it was the breakfast buffet with overflowing bread baskets, fruit towers, pancake bar…I really could go on all day.  That first morning we frolicked in the restaurant for so long we almost forgot about the five pools and the Aegean Sea that lay waiting just below the balcony.  I lazily sipped Turkish coffee, making every effort to appear nonchalant and act as though I was accustomed to the incredibly strong brew, while the girls feasted.  If whining children threatened to interrupt my caffeine revelry, I merely tossed them a nutella covered pancake in a move akin to throwing a slab of meat to quell a pack of wild dogs.  Breakfast on that first morning, after a horrific day of travel, was nothing short of bliss.

Emma, getting used to the kiddie pool at Kefaluka.

We could not resist the call of the water for long, though.  After rolling ourselves out of breakfast, we headed to the kiddie pool conveniently located beside an enticing play structure, two seesaws (because who doesn’t love to seesaw in a soaking wet bathing suit), and swings.  On that first morning the girls were timid in the water.  Although the pool was intended for small children, it was still pretty deep on Maggie, and she could not be trusted to wade in the water on her own.  The first time she slipped she didn’t seem to mind the unintentional dunking, but the second and third times were not pretty.  Emma, eager to wear her brand new water wings, splashed and played happily, but I don’t think she got a drop of water on her upper torso.  Those water wings, though worn faithfully every day, did not get a proper dunking until four days into our trip when Emma finally braved the depths of the kiddie pool and began “swimming”  (i.e., crawling around on her stomach in shallow water and tentatively kicking one foot and paddling with one arm, Michael Phelps, she is not.)

After a few hours in the pool the girls were ready for a little break, but it was not quite time to meet Jim for lunch, so we explored the hotel for a bit.  We happened upon the Kid’s Club, a wonderful indoor play place with craft tables, a pirate ship climbing structure, and shelf upon shelf of toys.  The girls played happily in there for an hour, and I was tempted to forge new birth certificates that would prove they were four years old so that I could leave and do some solo poolside lounging.  (Emma, ever so mature, could easily pass for four.  Maggie on the other hand, well, her stinky diaper would be a dead giveaway.)  Alas, I was stuck with the girls, but the Kid’s Club offered some comfy pillows on which I could perch and with minimal physical exertion I could govern my flock.

The Kid’s Club was run by an adorable girl named Amandine, who Emma and Maggie took an immediate and affectionate liking to.  Amandine spoke five languages, I am not kidding, five.  She grew up in French-speaking Belgium, so she spoke French and Flemish.  She learned English in school; married a Turkish man, hence the fluency in Turkish; and had picked up a little German since working at Kefaluka.  When she first met the girls she spoke to them in perfect French, confused by their French activity books that are impossible for me to understand, but somehow keep the girls busy.  Her French pleasantries were met by our tried and true befuddled stares, and so she adeptly switched to English.  She was nothing short of amazing, and I felt like a dunce as I watched her dazzle a room full of children, alternating effortlessly between Turkish, English, and Flemish.  (She is also the bestower of our first European cheek kisses.  When we bid her adieu at the end of the week she gave us delicate kisses on each cheek.  Jim was the last to be smooched and I could see his face getting redder and feel his anxiety heightening as she turned her smackers upon him.)

Amandine was just one member of the famed Kefaluka “Animation Team,” a group of 20-something party people whose job it was to entertain (i.e., torment) guests with games, strange, ritualistic poolside dances, and evening variety shows.  The girls and I spent a great deal of time trying to avoid members of the Animation Team.  We all had our reasons.  Maggie and Emma quickly grew weary of the cheek pinching and tickles doled out by the overzealous crew, and I was terrified that they would force me to play one of their embarrassing pool games.  On our first day I witnessed a group of Animation Team members haze an innocent sunbather.  They forced the poor man to abandon his book, and play a game in which he stood on a lounge chair and attempted to drop a coin into a Dixie cup while six crew members jeered, poked, and harassed him.  When he failed to successfully drop the coin in the cup they pushed him in the pool.  No joke.  I waited for him to yell at the team, but he emerged from the pool with a huge smile on his face and jovially accepted the complimentary frozen beverages that they were offering as consolation prizes (not a very enticing prize considering that Kefaluka is an all inclusive resort).

I have a phobia of situations that demand audience participation.  It took root during an assembly featuring puppeteers in grade school and has been fed by a wide variety of street musicians, magicians, and jokesters.  I had a very, very bad experience involving a high school improv group and have tried to steer clear of audience participation assailants ever since.  And now, here was another group of seemingly innocent, amiable youths stalking me on my Turkish vacation, hindering my poolside relaxation with the threat of public humiliation, unwanted drenching, and watered down frozen beverages.  Luckily, my children provided me with the perfect excuse to opt out of their sadistic games.  Sorry, you can’t push me in the pool, I have a small child attached to my hip.  No thank you, I don’t want to play a raucous game of water polo with you and some other guests, I need to take my three-year-old to the bathroom.  Maggie and Emma spent a great deal of time being pulled and prodded in different directions in an attempt to shield their poor mother from the dreaded “Animation Team.”

The girls and I quickly fell into a grueling, harsh routine at Kefaluka that included waking up at the crack of 8:30, hitting the breakfast buffet, and then making the bothersome decision of whether to go to the pool or the beach.  The beach, though not as good for swimming, offered lots of sand to dig in and rocks to throw.  It was a very difficult decision.  Most days we went to the beach for a little bit, hit the snack bar for a morning treat, and then visited Amandine in the Kid’s Club.  We would meet Jim for lunch, trying not to gloat too much about all the fun we had while he was stuck in meetings, and then the girls would nap.  Nap was by far the best part of my day, because Jim, who was not really on vacation, held down the fort on our balcony and did more work, while I got a few hours to truly lounge by myself.  The Kefaluka provided ample cozy spots for quiet repose with a book, and I took advantage of each and every one.  After naps, we would head to the pool for a few more hours of sunshine and an ice cream cone.  It was a glorious schedule.

Emma demonstrates her "swimming" abilities. Next stop...Rio 2016.

Jim and Maggie trying to understand the physics of an authentic Turkish water slide.

The Turkey Trilogy


PART I:  The Journey

After two solid days spent unpacking, laundering copious amounts of stained, sweaty, sea-salt encrusted vacation clothes, and reintroducing myself to the kitchen, things are finally back to normal at Chateau Hirschauer.  Our return to the real world after ten days of cloudless beach weather in Turkey was shocking; Emma had a tearful morning at school after carefree days building sand castles, splashing in pools, and pillaging the all you can eat dessert buffet; and Maggie, exhausted from endless water play, baby disco dancing, and looking a bit haggard after a diet consisting exclusively of french fries, oranges, and ice cream, wandered around the house like a zombie until finally collapsing in a pile of dirty laundry.  It didn’t help our vacation fatigue when we returned to Thoiry to find that our quaint, often sleepy French town had morphed into a carnival site complete with cotton candy machines and mini roller coasters in the school parking lot.  So, this weekend, meant to be a recovery weekend, was instead filled with late night torch parades, missed naps, wild marching bands, flower floats, and lots and lots of candy.

While there will be more, much, much, more on the bizarre awesomeness that was the Fete de la Saint-Maurice in a future post, let me return to the subject at hand; our adventures on the Bodrum peninsula in Turkey.  Two weeks ago we pulled Emma from school (gasp, the former teacher pulls her child from school in her second week to indulge in a beach vacation…I am still working through the guilt), packed our bags and headed for a physics conference at a resort on the coast of the Aegean Sea.  I should have known when we arrived at the airport and queued up (I’m not learning much French here, but am becoming fluent in British) in back of a throng of 80 physicists all headed for the same hotel, that the flight was bound to get complicated.  There was the fact that we were in possession of the only two wriggling, shrieking, kicking, jumping small people in a flight of middle-aged, computer wielding, serious looking physicists.  It is one thing to annoy an entire plane full of people you have never met and will never see again, but it is quite another thing to torment a group of Jim’s colleagues, some of whom are senior to him, and all of whom we were to be vacationing with for the next week.  Our troubles began in the check-in line when Maggie grew weary of the cereal I was so kind to shove in her face and took up her new favorite pass time of covertly pushing Emma’s buttons (think hair pulling, toy snatching, unwanted tickling).  The “torture thy sister game” rarely ends well, but on this particular day, in this particular line of impatient, technology deprived scientists, the howling reached catastrophic levels.  By the time we made it up to the check-in counter to be informed of the 2 and a half hour delay that awaited us, I was ready to chuck the whole beachside vacation idea in favor of turning tail, heading home, and watching Disney’s Robin Hood on repeat for the next ten days.

If you have to be delayed for two and a half hours with scores of your husbands nerdy colleagues, however, the Geneva airport is the place to be.  For starters they apologized profusely for the delay (the first “I’m sorry” I have ever heard at an airport counter, I nearly fainted) and gave us vouchers worth 40 CHF to use at any restaurant in the airport.  So, we collected our free lunch, including an obnoxiously expensive Starbucks latte (the first I have had since arriving in Europe) and sought out the fabled airport play area.  I am leery of airport play areas, they are usually sticky with mysteriously tacky toys that I find disturbing.  Also, I swear I can see the germs snaking their way through the nooks and crannies of the grungy toy planes that Maggie will inevitably decide are delectable snacks instead of plastic disease vectors.  The Geneva airport, I am happy to report, has an inconceivably pristine and decidedly unsticky play area.  If you happen to be in the Geneva airport with children I urge you to visit this germ-free wonderland.  It is a sterile oasis of wooden climbing toys, kitchen sets, slides, and popular children’s books.  There is a sparkling toddler sized potty, comfy changing table, and free diapers and wipes.  In a word it is airport heaven.  We happily passed the two hours, the girls in their stocking feet and I with medical booties over my shoes (I’m telling you the Swiss are fanatics about their cleanliness), sliding, reading, and cooking the delay away.  It was divine.

After working out some energy in the immaculate Swiss play place, the flight to Istanbul was relatively uneventful.  Thank goodness because we happened to be sitting directly in front of the Physics Analysis Coordinator (translation: head honcho) of Jim’s experiment.  We arrived in Istanbul aware that we had missed our connection to Bodrum, but seeing that eighty other people also missed their flight, we weren’t too worried.  I was concerned with the unfathomably long line at passport control.  On the three-hour flight to Istanbul the girls had reached their bribing limit, and no amount of pretzels, granola bars, or stickers was going to keep them quiet while we slowly snaked our way toward the customs official.  So we spent a lovely hour or so inching our way forward, trying desperately to quell our unruly, crabby, and excruciatingly loud children.  I feared that we would be kicked out of Turkey before our passports had even been stamped.  Finally we reached the unusually cheerful passport control officer who smiled and cooed at our two wild-eyed monsters, writhing and struggling in their umbrella strollers.  His enthusiasm for the children that I had long grown weary of was disarming.  I had never in my life met a more friendly passport official.  It was like he was a kindergarten teacher wearing a Turkish customs uniform.  He somehow managed to pacify the girls and their whining faded into giggles as the magical (yet extremely slow-moving) passport official stamped our books and welcomed us to Istanbul.

The Istanbul airport was huge, crowded, and super stressful.  We weaved our way through the bustling mob of travelers, searching for the domestic terminal and the group of physicists that we had somehow lost in the passport control maze.  Sweating and breathless after our sprint through the airport (including a frantic trip through security where I nearly had to be restrained from punching an impatient business traveler) we arrived at our gate, reunited with the scientists who I’m sure were hoping that we were lost forever, and discovered that our connecting flight was an hour and a half late.  Deep breathes were taken by all, and we set Emma and Maggie loose in the Istanbul domestic terminal, which was not as kid friendly as the play area in Geneva, but offered plenty of space for the girls to run laps.

We finally arrived in Bodrum a full five hours behind schedule.  Next up in our marathon trek to our hotel was an eighty minute bus ride over bumpy, winding, extremely small roads.  We did not put our bags down in our room until after midnight.  All in all the trip to Turkey, originally intended to take roughly 5 hours, took us 16 intense, sweaty, maddening hours.  I think that our transatlantic flight from Chicago to Geneva was easier.  But, when we were finally able to toss the girls into bed and retire to our balcony with a much deserved glass of wine, I declared our 16 hour exodus from Thoiry  to Turkey to be a success.  The light from the moon, which on our first few nights in Turkey echoed the crescent shape from Turkish flag, glistened off the Aegean Sea, and the sound of crashing waves upon the shore lulled us to sleep.  We were officially on vacation, the girls and I that is, Jim had to wake up early for conference meetings.  Science never sleeps.

The girls and I atop Bodrum Castle.