Tag Archives: vacation

a new way to play badminton

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When we got the VW bus this past spring, our main goal was to drive around and see lots of cool things, but I also had one other goal – not to break down in the van.  I really wanted to give my kids some cool memories, but there are some memories that I’d like to avoid.  Like the ‘breaking down in the middle of the night on a dark scary road,’ kind of memory.  Trust me.  I am living proof that those memories do not leave you.

In any case, I had high hopes for our van and our big summer trip and although we had a rough idea of where we wanted to go (Germany, Austria, Switzerland?, Liechtenstein?), we never came up with a detailed plan.  We planned to make a detailed plan, but that really never happened and since we had taken the van on a weekend camping trip at the start of the summer, we had some idea of how camp sites worked in Europe.  We booked places to stay for only the first two nights and then we just decided to wing it, since, as far as we could tell, there were campsites all over the place.

Our ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ plan seemed to be going well for the first part of the first week.  Not only did we hit upon some outstanding campsites, but we got some amazing spots within those campsites.  This was the point in the trip when we started to get cocky.  Our luck had been so good, we started to feel like we were invincible.  {cue the suspenseful music}

Then one day, we took a particularly long time sightseeing and ended up getting a late start on our way to our next campsite.  When we finally arrived at that campsite, there was a huge sign notifying us that all the spots were taken.  At that point I could hear fear start to creep into Owen’s voice when he questioned me about where we would stay that night.  I reminded him of my ‘one star camping area crisis plan’ which meant staying in the parking lot of the closest McDonalds.  For some reason my camping crisis plan did nothing to easy his mind.

So we drove on and about 10 minutes down the road, the same thing happened again.  The campsite was full.  As I was trying to come up with a plan (or at least find the nearest McDonald’s), the oil light came on in the van and a loud beeping sound started.  If you didn’t know this already, there is nothing like the beeping sound of an engine failure to create chaos in the mind of a nine-year-old boy who is prone to melodrama.  As Tim pulled the van over, Owen screamed, “WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE VAN?  AND WHERE ARE WE GOING TO STAY TONIGHT?  YOU GUYS ARE THE ADULTS!  AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO HAVE ALL OF THIS STUFF FIGURED OUT?”

If I were telling you this in person, I would stop at this point in the story for a long pause…………………………..and with a straight face I would say, “Poor little dude.  He still hasn’t figured out that he has parents who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.”

While Tim was dealing with the beeping noise in the van, I started frantically calling campsites in the local area to try to find a spot.  After about 10 minutes, we had solved both crises.  The oil light was off and we had a reservation at a small campsite about 15 minutes away.

We finally pulled into the small campsite up in the mountains and it was one of the nicest we had seen to date.  Green grass under the camping cars (not rocks) and a relaxed atmosphere.  With a sense of smug satisfaction, I said to Owen, “See your parents CAN figure things out, after all.”

The woman at the desk told us to pull the camping car in, get set up and then come to check in at the desk.  After set up, I was on my way back to the desk  when I happened to notice a man walking by to wash his dishes in a very skimpy towel, but I didn’t think too much of it.  Once I arrived at the desk, the woman started telling me about the campsite and where everything was located.  That’s when she said, “So since we’re a naturist camp, the first half hour of swim is the pool is with no clothing and the second half is with clothing.”

And my response was, “This camp is a whaaaa………………….t?”

In case you happen to be as slow to recognize reality as I am, the term ‘naturist’ is the modern-day term for ‘nudie’.  I had booked my family at a nudie camp.  It turns out that there was a large nudie section and a smaller non-nudie section.  Luckily for us (read: me), our camping car was parked in the non-nudie section, but directly facing the nudie section.

When I got back to the camping car, the boys were hurriedly putting on their bathing suits for a dip in the pool.  Trying to sound cheerful, I started the following conversation:

Me:  Guess what, guys?  We’re actually staying in a nudie camp, so if you want to go swimming right now, you won’t need those bathing suits!

Owen:  Did you say, nudie?  Like ‘no clothes,’ nudie?

Me:  Yes, a nudie camp means wearing no clothes.

Owen:  Wow!  Cool!  Can we stay another night?  Can you even do things like play badminton naked?

Me:  Yes, in a nudie camp you can play badminton naked.

Owen:  I want to play badminton naked!

Me:  Do you really want to play badminton naked?

Owen:  Well………….ok, maybe not totally naked.  I know where I want to go – I want to go to an ‘undie camp’ where we can do everything in our undies.

Me:  Owen, you already live in an undie camp – it’s call our house.

While the boys went swimming (at the non-nudie time), I poured myself a tall beer and sat facing the gate of the nudie section, marveling at how uniformly tan everyone looked walking in and out.  Then my mind wandered to the wide range of activities that you do while camping and the health and safely implications of doing those same things while naked.  Then I poured myself another beer.

Just the thought of playing badminton naked makes me shudder.

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blame it on france

Wow!  With a vacation this long from writing on this blog, you’d think I were living in France or something……….

So sorry for the long hiatus.

I promise to come back here and tell you some of my favorite stories from recent months involving all of the following:  shopping carts, nudist camps, Neuschwanstein Castle, birthday parties, elderly friends, wine sales, fondue pots, Liechtenstein, and sleeping in a VW bus.

Here are a few of my favorite snaps from the summer – lots more stories to come!

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donkey horror movie

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Here are some strange pictures and a strange birthday party story for you (yes, that is grass in his shirt):

Owen was invited to a birthday party the other day by a friend in his class. The classmate’s mother just told me the address and the party time, but she didn’t tell me anything about what was happening at the party. When we arrived at the address to find a donkey stable, I was a little curious. Although I was invited to stay at the party, I made up a big excuse about having something important to do and drove like hell out of there. For me: Donkeys + Birthday Cake = trouble.

When I returned to pick up Owen and his friend Diego from the party, they were not at the donkey stable, so I sat and waited. After about 15 minutes, I saw the gang of kids and the few parents who stayed, walking up a dirt road toward the car. When Owen saw me he started running and as soon as he got close to me he screamed, “That was like a donkey horror movie!”

Apparently, the family rented a donkey for a few hours to carry a birthday picnic into the forest and after they loaded up the donkey with bags of food and a cake, they set out for the walk. About halfway through the party and right after they had eaten the cake, a thunder-storm rolled in. A huge clap of thunder sent the donkey bolting into the forest, carrying all of the party supplies. What happened next was hilarious – especially if you weren’t a parent chaperoning the party.

When the thunder clapped and the donkey ran, the kids panicked and, according to Owen, they started running and screaming through the forest in absolute hysteria. Of course, this didn’t help the situation. Not sure the dark sky and heavy rain helped either. Evenutally, the parents got the kids under control and had a talk with them about remaining calm, but the donkey was long gone.

Since the group needed to get back, they started walking and eventually started seeing things on the trail that had fallen off the donkey’s back as it ran. The group followed the trail of party goods to a clearing where they eventually found the donkey comatose on the ground, too scared to move. After some coaxing, they were finally able to get the donkey up and the group realized that in his frenzy, he had torn the pack bags. When the group emerged from the forest, they were holding all of the party goods in their arms and the parents of the party boy looked fairly pissed.

Other than a huge scratch across Owen’s face right under his eye, there was no lasting damage from the donkey party, but the experience was accurately summed up by Diego as we drove home.

He said:

“I told my mother all morning I didn’t want to go to the party, but I really wanted to eat the cake, so I decided to go. After seeing that donkey, I know I should have stayed home.”

Well said, Diego.

Below you can catch a glimpse of Owen’s favorite nighttime reading book. Also, not sure where in the world this would be “See on TV.”

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amsterdam

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I’ve been meaning to tell you the story about our trip to Amsterdam and I’m finally getting to it – here it is:

In March, Tim had some mandatory time off from work and the kids were dying to take a trip on one of the fast trains in Europe, so we booked a trip to a city that I’ve been dying to visit – Amsterdam! To top it off, we booked a canal boat for our stay – oh, yes.

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We had a great train ride and when we arrived, we took a short walk from the train station to the boat we rented. The boat owner, a nice guy in his late 50s, met us there and after showing us around, told us that he was going to be taking a canal cruise later that day and asked us if we wanted to join him.

When I hear things like “canal cruise,” I think of things like big sightseeing boats of tourists, and since it was unclear what kind of boat cruise this was, I didn’t immediately jump at the offer. He said he would let us get settled in and swing by to see if we wanted a ride, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see that he pulled up with a small old school canal motor boat, rather than a giant boat teeming with tourists. And along with his girlfriend and her daughter in the boat, he had a very nice spread of wine and cheese. Even better.

When the boys got on the boat, he asked them if they could swim, in a jokey manner which I laughed at, until I realized that there were absolutely no life vests in sight. Oh, those Americans, ever so cautious!

What happened next, may go down as a highlight of our time here – a two (!) hour boat cruise of the Amstel River and canals with a commentary by a true local. It was outstanding and we got to hear lots of local lore like the story of local celebrity Viktor IV, the American artist who lived on the Amstel and accidentally died trying to untangle some ropes under his boat, as well as the story of the Anne Frank House and the addition to the building funded by Steven Spielberg.

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During our boat trip, I had a really nice conversation with our boatlord’s girlfriend and her daughter. They were both really interesting people, but I found the boatlord’s girlfriend particularly interesting. How many people will you meet in life who have been Blackjack dealers in Botswana? Not many, I expect. So far I have met only one.

That night, we ate dinner on our boat and after dinner, Tim decided to take a walk around town at night. After about 20 minutes, he came rushing back on to the boat saying, “You have GOT to get out here!” Remember how I told you that Tim is a world-class trespasser? Well, I am a world-class house snooper. I love to see the insides of peoples’ houses and am particularly interested in what kind of furniture and art they have.

It turned out that Amsterdam is a prime viewing location for house snoopers like me since nobody even has curtains, let alone shutters. When I got out on to the street at night, I saw incredible art, amazing furniture and at least three dinner parties that I nearly invited myself to. Although the people looked fabulous sitting around drinking wine and eating a delicious looking meal, I really thought they could use a funny American to spice it up a bit, since there was absolutely no loud laughing and outrageous behavior. Doesn’t everyone need a loud American at his/her party?

While we were visiting, we rented a car for a day and drove out to Keukenhof which is one of the main locations to see the famous tulips of the Netherlands in spring. It’s only open for 3 months a year and the gardeners there plant over 7 million bulbs by hand annually. We were there at the beginning of tulip season, but it was still incredible to see and a highlight of an outstanding trip.

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The last day we were there, the kids were dying to go to the popular science museum called NEMO and I was dying to look in some galleries and check out some other sites – namely the Red Light District. Who can go to Amsterdam without going there? Definitely not me.

It’s a little mind-boggling to me that a profession like that would be enjoyable, but apparently the sex workers in Amsterdam are unionized, they pay taxes and they get great heath care. From that standpoint, what’s not to like? However, I’m pretty sure that the prostitutes who stand on the forest roads near my house aren’t getting such great benefits for their employment. Like everything else, I guess it depends on where you work.

When I arrived in the Red Light District it was early afternoon on a Saturday and even still, the women in the windows were out in full force. I was mostly surprised by the themed clothing that I saw. I was expecting lots of lingerie, but instead I saw a mix of cheerleader outfits and sporty girl outfits, complete with tall sports socks, very small shorts and sports bras. There must be a market for that look, because the women were working it for sure.

After sauntering through the RLD, I came upon a very nice pottery shop right next to the last sex shop. When I went inside, the potter came out of the back room and said, “Hi there and welcome to my shop! Were you looking for it or did you find it accidentally?”

I said, “Well, I kind of stumbled upon it by accident. I wasn’t really looking for it, but I’m happy to find it. Your stuff is beautiful.”

That’s when he replied, “I figured you weren’t looking for my shop because most people who are looking for my shop come from the other direction. I noticed that you came through the Red Light District.”

What’s wrong with being nosy AND liking pottery?

I can’t really say enough about Amsterdam. I loved everything about it – from the bike culture to the quirky inhabitants. It doesn’t hurt that the city is one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I fully intend to move to Amsterdam someday and live on the river in a boat like Viktor IV. But if there’s any need to untangle any underwater ropes, I’m calling in the professionals.

Oh, and when Tim and the boys went to NEMO, here was the poster for one of the exhibits at the museum. Gotta love Amsterdam.

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something strange in amiens

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While we were in Amiens, France for a short stay a couple of weeks ago (at our two star hotel) we saw many things.  After the giant cathedral in the center of town, by far the most amazing thing we saw was a giant, blow-up colon in the middle of the street.

We first saw it in the early evening walking to dinner.  It was giant and bright pink and it snaked down the center of the street like a gargantuan pink slug.  For a moment it felt like the set of a 1960s horror film, only this thing wasn’t fighting Godzilla.  It actually took us a few minutes standing there staring at it to figure out what it was.  The point is that ‘a giant colon’ is not the first thing that jumps into your mind when you’re trying to identify an enormous object in the middle of the street in a small French city.

It appeared that the colon was part of a health fair and although it was possible to walk through it, it was closed for the night.  During dinner, the kids could not stop talking about the giant colon and how they really wanted to go in it the next day.  Not exactly the best dinner conversation – especially when you’re eating squid.  Eew.

On our way back through town we had to pass the giant colon again and at this point we saw a dude strumming a guitar move aside the barrier and walk slowly through the giant colon while strumming some Bob Dylan.  He continued to strum in the colon until he was chased out by a security guard.  I did have to wonder aloud about the job satisfaction level of a security detail in which you were tasked with protecting a giant colon from Bob Dylan strumming hippies throughout the night.

As expected, priority #1 for the boys the next day was to go for a stroll in the colon.  When we neared the entrance to the giant colon, we were given a short quiz about general colon health with questions we were supposed to find the answers to on our way through it.  We grabbed the questionnaires and headed into the giant pink slug to learn more facts about colon health.  The only problem was that we were in sort of a rush, since we needed to check out of our hotel, so rather than working slowly through the questions and answers, I gave the kids the short version of the message.  Get a colonoscopy.  You may not want to do it, but you must.  Yes, it is a tiny camera in your bum.  Yes, it probably kind of hurts a bit, but you must do it.  End of story.

We were considered colon deadbeats by the time we got to the end of the exhibit because we hadn’t filled out any of the questionnaire.  A man approached us when he heard us speaking English and asked where we were from.  We explained that we were from the US, but were living in France and we apologized for not completing the exercise due to our short timeline.  That’s when I said, “Sorry we’re just rushing through, but we really HAD to come to see your giant colon.  It’s amazing!”  After that statement, we had a slightly awkward moment of silence.  I guess that’s the kind of thing that can happen often when you’re hanging around in a giant colon all day.

Although we hadn’t completed the exercise, the boys were each given tiny squeezable colons to take with them to impress upon them the need for good colon health.  For the drive home, I had to hear unending exclamations from the back seat of the car similar to this:

Owen:  Hey Ma!  I’m getting really big muscles in my arms by squeezing my colon.

Eamon:  Dad, stop slamming on the brakes!  My colon just fell under the seat.

Owen:  I can’t find my colon!  Have you seen it?

Eamon:  I love my colon!  It’s so cute!

I know that colon health is no laughing matter, but hey, you might as well have fun with the thought of a tiny camera up your bum as long as you can.

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2 star hotel

When we lived in Vermont, we had probably stayed overnight in a hotel with our kids less times than I could count on one hand.  In my opinion, staying in a hotel with young kids is ranked among the suckier things to spend your time doing.  You know how it is:  everyone sleeping in a confined space, no room to run/jump around, no screaming allowed, adults reading a book in bed with a flashlight so that nobody will wake up, etc.  However, now that our kids are older and especially because we’re in Europe, we’ve been more frequent hotel visitors.

Since price is always a factor, sometimes we get great hotels for great deals……………..and sometimes we end up staying in places that are more similar to The Happiness Hotel straight out of the Muppet Movie.  Recently, we took an overnight trip to a small town in northern France called Amiens and we rented a room at a hotel whose two main selling points were: 1) that it was cheap and 2) it was within walking distance to the train station.  Translation: if you are a European traveler who has not showered in weeks, you will think this place is pretty damn nice.  It even has hot water!

The ways that my kids talk about hotels, it’s like they have stayed in some pretty fancy places.  They often talk about the number of stars a hotel is given, since that’s the European standard (however, it is unclear to me who decides what ranking hotels deserve).  Not long ago, my kids started randomly talking about a hotel we had stayed at and how many stars it had.  I asked them what they thought would make a three or four star hotel.  They told me that a hotel that had a little fridge should always be a three star hotel and that a four star hotel would definitely have fuzzy bathrobes to wear.  We may have a team of future hotel reviewers on our hands here, friends.

When we rolled in to our hotel in Amiens, its ranking was no surprise at all.

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The kids said, “Wow, a two star hotel!”  When we entered and it smelled like old Chinese food, I was thinking it should have been given one star.  That was, until the kids saw an old school vending machine in the foyer and Eamon exclaimed, “They must have made a mistake on the sign!  This must be a three star hotel!  Look at the soda machine!”

To further boost the credibility of our two star hotel, the next day the kids discovered this in the lobby:

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I told them it was to shine their shoes and despite the fact that they were wearing sneakers, they decided to give it a try.  At that point, I started chatting with the desk clerk and the next thing I knew, the boys were using the shoe shine machine to clean the French dog shit off the bottoms of their shoes.  My apologies to future travelers staying at the Hotel Anzac intending to shine their shoes, who leave smelling like dog shit.

Later that day, when we were checking out Eamon said, “This is a really nice hotel…………especially for a two star hotel.”  I’m so glad their standards are low.  It’s much harder to be disappointed that way.

cortina

As people who have lived in the mountains for many years, moving to France has been a dramatic shift in our topographical landscape.  Most noticeably, we have no big mountains nearby.  I do miss the mountains of VT, but Tim?  He gets plain antsy without them.

We managed to find some mountains to ski on in south eastern France after Christmas and it was amazing.  Great conditions, great sun and very, very good melted cheese dinners.  Oh, and the wine.  Yes, there was wine.  But when it came time to think about what we were going to do for the February school vacation, Tim was already on it.  I was thinking something warm and sunny and he was thinking…….mountains.

I was in a holiday fog when he booked some cheap flights to Venice to get us to the Dolomites for some skiing/snowboarding.  And, hey, who can complain about having to go to Italy to get in some turns, even when you’re dreaming of the sea?  Not me.

After our outstanding visit to Venice, we headed up into the mountains with our gear to Cortina d’Ampezzo.  As it turns out, Cortina was not only the setting for scenes from The Pink Panther (1963) and James Bond: For Your Eyes Only, but it was also home to the 1954 Olympics.

Since I never had any Olympic dreams of my own, hanging around in an Olympic town is about as close as I’m ever going to get to the thrill of victory………..or the agony of defeat (yes, I did just quote ABC’s Wide World of Sports).  Rather than set goals to get something really big like an Olympic gold, I tend to set my personal goals much lower.  And when it comes to snowboarding, my goal at the end of every day is to walk, unassisted, off the mountain.  To me, that’s a pretty thrilling victory.  I definitely don’t feel old, but I know I’m just one fall away from ending up in traction.  That would be a bigger defeat than I am willing to face.

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When I wasn’t trying to avoid ending up in traction on the mountain, I was hanging around on the town plaza with the many other locals and tourists.  I’m pretty sure that the anti-fur campaign by PETA hasn’t made it to Cortina yet, because I saw more giant fur coats in that town than I’ve seen in my entire life.  What was even more hilarious was that there were so many people who seemed to layer ski gear under a giant fur coat to spend the day sitting on the plaza.  That’s another way to avoid ending up in traction.  Don’t go down any slopes.

We didn’t end up at the beach on this vacation, but we did get some incredible sun and on the last day, it was so hot we were skiing in short sleeve shirts.  Good thing I left my giant fur coat back in France.  I would have really been sweating it out on the slopes.

ps – This is a joke.  I don’t own a fur coat.  Small fuzzy animals belong in the woods, not on a coat.  And they certainly do not deserve to be layered over ski gear for plaza sitting.

I must have sent an ESP message to my (imaginary) friend J. Peterman, the guy from the catalog who I wrote about here.  I guess that J.’s been hanging around in Cortina too because I happened to see this just the other day.

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I wonder if J. Peterman was on the plaza writing this text at the same time that I was wondering why so many people were wearing fur coats over ski gear?  I guess I’ll never know………….