Posts Tagged ‘playgrounds’

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.


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The Hirschauers in Interlaken

After our whirlwind trip to Normandy, the Griswalds needed a few days to unwind.  The last leg of our road trip home had completely drained us of our adventurous spirit, and we recovered with long walks on Thoiry farm roads, tours of CERN (for Grampa), and visits with friends at toddler group.  We did manage to squeeze in a Geneva day, where we fulfilled Grampa’s wish to swim in the glacial waters of Lake Geneva (and to escape unscathed by the dreaded Lac Leman duck mites*), toured the streets of Old Town, and gazed upon the Geneva cityscape from the top of the Cathedral bell tower.  So, in reality, the Griswalds really only rested for one day, (battling crowds on cramped Geneva sidewalks with a stroller the size of a Smart Car does not a relaxing day make) and then we hit the road again, this time with Jim (our captain) in tow, to bask in the beauty of the Swiss Alps.

The drive to the Interlaken was infinitely easier than the drive to Normandy, which had almost scarred me for life.  We spent less than three hours in the van, and the scenery was so gorgeous that the last hour of the trip flew by in a blur of sparkling ice blue lakes, and jagged, snow topped mountains.  When Emma first laid eyes on the Jungfrau from the car window she was left speechless (a rare treat for those of us sharing the backseat with her) and finally blurted out the word “HUMONGOUS” in her best Murray from Sesame Street impression.  She was right, the mountains around Interlaken were gigantic, and mesmerizingly beautiful.  We happened upon a cute playground area complete with picnic tables just as we were entering the city (couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried, and of course, had we tried, we never would have found such a great spot) and stopped for lunch and a romp.

After the girls had sufficiently tired themselves out on the playground equipment we took to the crowded streets of Interlaken.  We spent some time watching paragliders float down from the mountain tops, bobbing and weaving in the cool alpine breeze.  Marring the somewhat idyllic mountain scene was the neon orange lights from a Hooters sign in downtown Interlaken.  Yes, Hooters (ye of the chicken wings, dangerously short orange hot pants, and painted on tank tops) in Switzerland.  What the what?  Just what we needed to complete our authentic alpine vacation in a Swiss mountain town, greasy wings and scantily clad waitresses.  (Instead of ranch or blue cheese, I wonder, do they serve fondue with those wings?)

We walked through the city of Interlaken, always with one eye turned to the snow-capped peaks above us, and succeeded in putting the girls to sleep in their strollers.  When traveling with small children it is critical to not let an opportunity like two comatose toddlers in umbrella strollers pass you by, so we promptly stopped at a Swiss cafe (not Hooters, to the dismay of some in our party) for some very large, very refreshing beers.  After being in France where they eschew cold beer in favor of wine and sell warm beer in miniature bottles and munchkin-like glasses, the extra-large chilled beer steins of Switzerland were a welcome sight.  We ordered four of their largest local lagers and settled in for a relaxing chat.  Amazingly both girls stayed asleep for our entire happy hour and were coaxed (bribed with ice cream) into sitting patiently while we enjoyed a second, slightly smaller, yet still refreshing, beer.  Upon leaving the idyllic cafe we walked straight into a toddler paradise, complete with jumping, bubbling fountains to frolic in and giant-sized chess pieces.  Without thinking twice we stripped the girls down to their French finest and let them loose in the fountains.  Interlaken was very good to us that day; sun, mountains, playgrounds, fountains, beer and ice cream, the stuff dreams are made of.

We left Interlaken and drove a bit farther up into the valley to our hotel in the town of Wilderswil.  In true Griswald style we had booked our hotel at the last-minute and we weren’t quite sure what to expect as we made our way through the quaint, winding streets of Wilderswil and up the hill to the Hotel Berghoff.  I half expected to round a corner and find a rickety, single level motel establishment with dingy curtains and a blinking vacancy sign.  I was pleasantly surprised by the pristine Swiss style hotel, nestled in the hillside with striking views of the Jungfrau and a Maggie-approved proximity to grazing cows.  The Hirschauers were lucky enough to have a family suite in the “Chalet” with a balcony looking out into the Alps.  Alas, poor Nana and Grampa were stuck in the big hotel, with a stunning view of our balcony from their only window.  After dropping our stuff in the rooms we hightailed it to the pool and enjoyed a surreal evening swimming and watching the sky turn pink behind the Alpen giants.

The next day Team Griswald split up and my parents took the trains up to the tip-top of the Jungfrau and hiked the glacier while we conquered the Alps at a slightly lower elevation.  The girls loved the cog railway that inched its way up the twisty, turning tracks past mountain towns, ski resorts, and various farm animals.  In Maggie’s world, every animal she sees is a cow, and there are no distinctions made between goats, donkeys, or horses.  She loved spying the many species of “cow” out the train window, and Emma kept a keen eye out for gushing waterfalls, that spewed snowmelt off the side of the mountain at awesome rates.  We got off the train at Kleine Scheidegg, a little resort town that boasted its own family of tame mountain goats (goats Maggie, not cows).  The girls loved playing with (harassing) the goats and feeding them (shoving dead grass in their faces) and were surprisingly unfazed when one of the smaller goats, having had his fill of weeds and greasy toddler hands, butted them angrily.  We finally tore the girls away from the goats and stuffed them kicking and screaming into backpacks so we could enjoy a short, yet extremely steep,  hike in the Alps.

We followed the well-worn path up out of Kleine Scheidegg and found ourselves in a mountain meadow straight out of a scene from the Sound of Music.  Frauline Maria was lucky enough to be alone, spinning through the wildflowers in blissful solitude, we, unfortunately had to pick our way past throngs of Japanese tourists who were possibly more enthralled with the adorable children on our backs than the impressive rocky peaks of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.  Countless pictures were taken of Emma and Maggie as they sat in their backpack thrones, waving and smiling to their adoring fans.  We finally found a quiet resting spot for lunch, one situated far enough away from people that we felt like we were alone in the Alps, yet not so remote that the girls were in danger of tumbling down the rocky mountainside.  Emma and Maggie frolicked in the meadow and picked flowers in the shadow of the Eiger, while Jim and I rested and basked in the beauty of the mountains.  On our way back down into Kleine Scheidegg we stopped to rest our hot, sweaty, weary feet in an ice-cold mountain pond.  The Swiss have come up with some ingenious ways of enjoying nature, my favorite of which is the foot soaking pool with benches and jacuzzi-like bubbles.  It felt sinfully luxurious to dip your feet in the cool bubbly water, surrounded by the natural beauty of blue sky, green grass, and white-capped mountains.  And, of course the girls are always game for anything that involves taking their clothes off and splashing in water.

After enjoying a well-earned beer and sharing a tearful goodbye with the goats in Kleine Scheidegg we boarded the train and headed back to our hotel to meet up with Nana and Grampa.  They had had a fabulous day hiking and exploring the Jungfrau glacier.  Though tired, they came down from the mountain looking ten years younger and full of smiles, adventure, and happiness.  That night we dined al fresco at a cafe in the town of Lauterbrunnen, and then collapsed into our beds after a day spent hiking, playing, and laughing in the Alps.  The next day we took a family hike to another mountain village called Wengen, and after a delicious picnic and one last train ride, we bade our new friends Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau “Auf Wiedersehen” and made our way back home to Thoiry.

Peaceful slumber in the Hirschauer Chalet.

Riding the rails.

Making new friends in Kleine Scheidegg.

Soaking our feet, Swiss style.

*A note about “duck mites.”  After we mentioned that we had all gone swimming at a beach in Geneva, a friend disclosed her secret fear of parasites called “duck mites” that live in duck feathers and become a problem in the summer, when the lake water become warmer.  While I listened intently to her warnings and shuddered at the thought of tiny parasites boring their way into my skin and causing a nasty rash, I dismissed the issue, thinking that perhaps my friend was over-reacting.  But then, not even an hour later, I heard a health report on the English-speaking radio station sternly warning people about the dangers of duck mites.  Now, I realize that duck mites are not fatal, and something as simple as showering immediately after swimming will greatly reduce your chances of catching them, but I do not fancy getting an itchy rash that may last for weeks, or even months.  No thank you.  I count myself lucky to have swam in Lake Geneva and escaped rash-free and I will not chance fate again.  I haven’t so much as dipped a toe in the lake since I have been alerted to the existence those sneaky parasites.

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Back where she belongs

Oh, the sweet sound of success (currently it is the sound of soft, gentle turning of pages as the girls eagerly flip through coveted new library books).  Today the stars aligned and we were able to locate a library in the Swiss city of Meyrin (in a relatively stress free manner, four roundabouts and only 2 curse words uttered).  We found English children’s books, procured a library card, and took home 10, count em’, 10 new-to-us books.  Never mind, that I had to lie to obtain the library card.  The literary future of my children hung in the balance and to save them from certain, fatal Berenstain Bear withdrawal, I was forced to use a fake Geneva address.  We do not live in the canton of Geneva, as a matter of fact, we do not even technically live in the country of Switzerland.  But, should my poor, helpless, French country-side-dwelling children be punished because of their zip code?  I think not.  So I lied and gave the very nice librarian the address of one of Jim’s coworkers.  My hands were sweating as I filled out the paperwork, but I plan to hide behind my own French illiteracy if our cover is ever blown.

The Meyrin library was very lovely.  It was brand new, light and open, with a decent selection of English books.  The girls enjoyed poking around the book bins and shelves, flopping on the bean bags, and terrorizing the gang of pre-teen boys who were attempting to relax in the comic book section.  Those poor boys were not prepared for two small American children peering over their shoulders and crawling under their table and between their feet.  (I forgot that it was a Wednesday, which means no school here.  No real reason, just no school on Wednesdays.  Maybe I should try to get a French teaching license, I could really get used to that schedule.)  We spent a good hour exploring the children’s room and narrowing our towering pile of books down to the allotted ten.  Then we left the building and ran smack into a gaudy, blinking, Disney themed carousel.  Because I was on a high from our heavenly library experience, the sun had emerged from the clouds, and I had a 5 Franc coin burning a hole in my pocket, I let the girls take a spin on the carousel.  I really am going to have to get used to all these coins.  To me, a coin feels like a small amount of money, even if it is roughly worth 5 dollars.  I do not even want to think about the number of coins I have misplaced since I have been here.  I am just not used to keeping track of change, and now that I have to account for two different types of currency on a daily basis, it is a lost cause.  Anyway, the girls really enjoyed their carousel ride.  With no prompting from me they chose to ride in the same fire truck, even though they had the run of the ride.  Coincidently, the fire truck they chose had a Chicago license plate, and a snazzy picture of a Chicago firefighter on the side.  Imagine, two girls from the Chicago suburbs riding a (loose) replica of a Chicago fire truck in Meyrin, Switzerland.

All the way from the Windy City to Meyrin, Switzerland.

Chicago's finest.

After the thrilling carousel ride we headed out to find a park for a picnic lunch.  This was easier said than done for the odd reason that once we turned the corner of the library there were three different playgrounds, each a stones throw away from the other.  Feeling a bit like Goldilocks, we tried out all three play areas before we decided on the perfect one.  My favorite park was the “Espace Intergenerationnel.”  It was an ingenious park designed for young and old alike.  There were benches equipped with bike pedals so you could essentially ride a stationary recumbent bike while watching your children play.  Why has this not been thought of before?  A park where you can burn calories while your kids run around like crazy people, just may be the greatest idea since the inception of the Jane Austen Festival.  All I needed was a chart delineating how many minutes I would have to pedal to work off the calories in a “pain au chocolat.”  There were also brain teaser type games in one area of the park, that were completely incomprehensible to me.  My definition of a brain teaser is figuring out which remote to use to turn on the tv, so you can imagine that puzzles with instructions written in French were miles out of my league.

Emma, genuinely puzzled by the "bike feet things" at the park.

It was a perfect day.  We were home in time for the girls to take afternoon naps, and for me to clean the bathroom.  Apparently, things like laundry and dirty bathtubs don’t disappear just because I have been “Freshly Pressed.”  Ah, well, back to the reality of housework, but the celebrity of “Freshly Pressed” was a much welcomed break from my real life.  Thank you to all who read the blog yesterday, and for all of you who kept reading today!

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Airplane watching at the airplane park.

Finally, things are looking up at Chateau Hirschauer.  Although we still never leave the house without tissues in our back pockets, the girls seem to be rid of those darn colds.  To celebrate our new (hopefully long-lasting) healthy state we set out to explore a new park and bask in the sunshine.  Well, we found the new park, but that fickle sun ducked back beneath some serious cloud cover right as we reached our destination, which was the airplane park.  What could be better than a park built adjacent to an airport (so close to the runway that you could spit on a plane as it takes off), complete with swings, a slide, and a vomit inducing merry-go-round?  The answer if you are under the age of four is, nothing.  If you are over the age of four and are lucky enough to meet another mom at the park, so you have someone to talk to as your children drool over airplanes, there is easily nothing better than the airplane park.

The airplane park is mellow compared to the scene we often encounter at the tiny playground in the center of Thoiry.  On sunny afternoons we brave the after-work speeding commuters and head into town to play and to meet Jim at the bus stop.  We have quickly fallen in love with this routine, as it gets us out of the house during the witching-hour, gives the girls some much-needed outdoor time after naps, and conveniently, situates us directly in front of a delicious bakery so we not only walk home with Daddy, but also (and possibly more importantly) with a freshly baked baguette.  The scene at the playground in the afternoons is intimidating, to say the least.  For starters, I always feel under-dressed.  My jeans, sneakers, and hoodie scream “frazzled American Mom” when compared to the skinny jeans (black), chic top (black), and Jessica Simpson stilettos (black) worn by one of the regular park goers.  Do I get French fashion points for my black hoodie?  I don’t think so.  I have watched this stiletto-wearing, stroller-pushing, baby-chasing wonder of a woman for a few days now.  I have not seen her stumble once.  I can’t even walk in my Dansko clogs without turning an ankle.  Pathetic.

Anyway, I have been not so subtly checking this lady out, and today I realized that she is a nanny.  HA!  I knew no real mom would continually wear stilettos to the park.  My triumph was clouded by the thought that (sorry Jim) there was no way I would ever, in a million years, hire a stiletto wearing nanny.  No way could I handle that woman gracefully clicking around my house as I stumbled past her with swollen ankles and ripped pants.  (Long story short, the last time I wore heels was at Easter and I turned an ankle, tripped, and fell while carrying Maggie.  Possibly because my dad was a football coach and I inherited his instincts, I was able to cradle Maggie as if she were a spiral pass straight from Tom Brady’s hands.  Like a good receiver I did not let the ball, or Maggie’s head, touch the ground.  No instant replay necessary.  She walked away from the whole debacle unscathed.  I, however, had to attend Mass with a bloody hand, torn pants, and severely wounded pride.)

There is a large group of nannies and their charges who meet at the park in the afternoons.  The nannies all gather together at one end of the square, smoke cigarettes, and dole out snacks to their charges.  Maggie loves the nannies.  She has discovered that she can blend into the group of French children that swarm around the nanny huddle and, if she plays her cards right, can walk away with delicious contraband.  Today she was the lucky recipient of some sort of European Hostess Snack cake type treat.  Maggie’s resourcefulness causes me great stress, because I have no way of communicating my gratitude to the snack wielding nannies.  All I can say is “Merci,”  when I really want to joke and say “Thank you for feeding my daughter.  She is clearly malnourished.  Sometimes we wonder if she is part seagull.”  I am positive that they think I am some frumpy, stupid, American mom who starves her children.  And they are probably appalled at my choice in footwear.

The airplane park boasted many things, but the most awesome was the view of Mont Blanc. I am not sure if my camera captured it, but those white, cloud-like peaks in the distance are the Alps.

The airplane park claims another fan.

Are you sick yet? Emma and Maggie experiment on the merry-go-round.

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