Lessons and Resolutions

As the world celebrates the dawn of a new year, so do I. January 1st is my birthday and so it’s not surprising that as the year closes and starts anew, I find myself assessing. Not a whole big question and answer session or a who am I? where are we? kind of assessment, just more of chance to take stock of what has passed and what is to come. This year was a big one. 40.

40? How is it even possible? It’s great, I’m not complaining, I just can’t believe I’ve been around so long. I think about my ballet teachers and two of them in particular who died of AIDS related cancer around the age of 40. How can I be the age that they were then? They seemed so wise, so much older at 40. Well anyway…

This year I learned something worth sharing. Something I hope will help me with my own resolutions and that will hopefully influence the people around me in a positive way. Here it is:

I learned that for the most part, perfectionism does not help you to become more perfect. More it steals moments of joy and prevents you from taking opportunities. Often aiming to be perfect slows us down and makes achieving our dreams harder, keeping successes just out of reach.

Having been a ballerina I have maintained a close relationship with perfectionism all my life. So I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive for perfection–on the contrary, we should and sometimes it’s thrilling and the results are stunning and powerful.

The perfectionism that I’m talking about is a paralyzing type of mentality that prevents us from acting because we are waiting to be perfect before we try something.

Inspirational case and point: A friend of mine decided about a year ago that she wanted to learn German, but she lives in America. Regardless, she set her mind to it. She found a tutor, she listened to German podcasts and she practiced whenever possible. After a number of months she came to Germany for a visit and at every opportunity she talked to people. People in the street, in the shops, on the train. She stayed with us and came home each evening with a new tale of some acquaintance she’d made that day. This was amazing to see and nothing like what I did when I moved to Germany.

I went to school, yes and I became bilingual eventually, but I took the long road and suffered along the way, missing out on the type of fun that my friend experienced. This is because I was scared. Fear of being imperfect prevented me from being able to experience the little joys of talking to strangers in the first months of my move. It took me forever to really enjoy the adventure of the everyday.

Watching my friend, it seems like she would have been able to make the best of it from day 1. And it isn’t because she is smarter or more fun– it’s because she wasn’t scared to try. She didn’t let fear prevent her from experiencing German culture and all its nuances to the best of her ability.

I thought perfectionism was something that I got out of my system when I retired from the stage, but I was wrong. For a person who has made a lifetime out of always becoming something new, it’s surprising how often I’ve been deterred by fear–how often I have slowed my own progress because I wasn’t perfect at the start.This business of becoming  is no joke, we don’t need any extra road blocks especially those of our own making.

So– let’s drink a little champagne and make a toast to having no fear in 2017. Happy New Year everyone!

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Back at the ballet

We spent last Saturday night at the Staatsballett Nuremberg. This was our first time seeing them and our first trip to the opera house.

The tickets were given to us as a gift and ironically, this was not the first I had heard of the Staattsballett Nuremberg. When I first moved to Germany, I contacted this ballet company to see if they could recommend a good school where I might teach ballet or take a class. They replied quickly with two recommendations, but then my time got filled up with language school and pregnancy so I didn’t pursue it. As a result, since moving to Germany I’ve been more of a ballet observer…a periodic, albeit enthusiastic audience member.

But as old habits die hard, it became clear to me a few months after Little Mouse was born that I needed to get back into ballet. I searched my email for the two schools that the Staatsballett Nuremberg had recommended. It had been a year or so but finally I got up the nerve to contact them. It turned out the Tanzentrale de Region Nuremberg offered an open class for teachers and professionals on Monday mornings. I asked if I might bring four month old Little Mouse along. I figured I had nothing to lose by asking and to my great luck they said “Yes, bring her!”

I was so nervous before my first class–just getting there and finding a parking spot was a production, and then climbing four flights of stairs with the car seat and the diaper bag, but I made it. To my surprise, I was warmly and enthusiastically greeted by the director and the others in the class. At the time all my introductions to Franconians had tended to be a little more stand-offish, awkward even. When you’re a stranger, Franconians don’t usually offer a lot of smiles or conversation. It was totally different here. Right away I heard French and Japanese along with English and German. I hardly knew what language to speak. It became obvious right away that these people, for the most part, weren’t Franconian. The plan to wear Little Mouse for barre went off without a hitch and she sat quietly and watched for the rest of the class. The others ooo-ed and ahhhh-ed over her and then helped me to carry her to the car that first day. I felt welcomed into the group and whatever challenge it had been to get there, it was worth it. I have attended weekly as regularly as possible since then.

Little by very little I’ve gotten my old body back. In the meantime we’ve welcomed other pregnant ballerinas to our class and today one of the men brought his 7 month old daughter. I can’t do what I used to do as a ballerina but after these months at least I can see that it would be possible to do it again, given the time. And the music and the movement and the comradery are the absolute best way to start off the week.

So, back to Saturday night at the ballet. It was a contemporary program called Kammer Tanz, featuring three relatively small ensemble pieces.

The program opened with the artistic director, Goyo Montero’s Four quartets. It turned out to be one of the most integrated, innovative works I have ever seen in my life, featuring spoken word poetry by T. S. Eliot, a live String ensemble, interactive sets and wonderfully undulating choreography and dancers. As I watched, I always wondered where it would go next. I didn’t ever wish it was over and I didn’t get bored with it. But the best moment of the night came when the applause ended and Thorsten, who has only seen a total of two ballets in his life, whispered, “I have never seen something like that before, but I loved it.”  

For a person, who has nothing but an open mind and an appreciation of classical music, to to be so engaged and then to react with such a statement says a lot about how special this piece was. But more, it validated my entire life as a ballet dancer and teacher. This is exactly what ballet should do. Move people. Engage them and make them feel something they can’t explain. I was walking on air during the first intermission and I wasn’t even any part of this production.

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Staatsballett Nuremberg Photo Courtesy of Die Deutsche Buhne

This was an exciting occasion as well because as a result of taking the advice of whichever friendly person answered my email at the Staattsballett in Nuremberg so long ago, I started attending that ballet class each week. Now after a year or so of getting to know the others in the class, I have recently been asked to teach at a local ballet school.

It just goes to show that the strings and threads of life are attached. Nothing is ever really lost. Nothing goes unanswered. A language barrier is just that. It’s a barrier, maybe creating a delay, but it is not a delete. Things pick-up and get put down. They detach and then reattach. The ripples in the fabric of our daily lives get closer together and further apart but they never stop. In the quiet moments, the rocking reassurance of infinity and our part in it is revealed to us. Life’s rhythm finds us wherever we are.

 

The Brewer’s Star

When I first visited Germany in 2013 I noticed what I thought were Jewish Stars everywhere, especially in breweries. Below, for example, is the Star of David I saw in the bathroom at the Schlenkerla Brewery in Bamberg. I didn’t notice that the star was also hanging out in front of the brewery. I thought the fact that it was in the bathroom behind the faucet was maybe it was a “secret” way to be supportive of Jewish people or pay a tribute to the past.

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Thank goodness I asked someone about it. It turns out that it’s actually the Brewer’s Star. This star looks identical to the Star of David and it’s possible that way back in the day, the reasons for applying the symbols to both Beer brewing and the Jewish faith were related. In modern day however, they are not related in the least. I must say too– in the part of Germany where we live, while there are countless numbers of tributes and monuments and candles burning for the Jewish people, for obvious reasons, there are so few Jewish people who actually live here, that I don’t think people are even reminded of the Star of David anymore when they see the Brewer’s star.

The Brewer’s Star story, in short, is this: In the feudal times every household was allowed to brew beer. Each time the beer was ready to drink, they hung the star outside their door so that the neighbors would know it was available. This symbol represented community and Gemütlichkeit. During the Nazi era the breweries were ordered to remove the star because of its similarity to the Star of David. It seems to me, as an observer, that putting the Brewer’s stars back in front of the breweries was actually a way celebrate that the Nazi era was over. The tradition of hanging the star in front of the brewery goes back much further in the German story than the Nazi Party does. And so now they hang there again, as they always did, to remind everyone of the readiness of the community to gather together, drink beer and break bread.

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Brauerei Spezial in Bamberg-photo taken from Google images

The details of the six pointed star and what it symbolizes are worth reading. The symbol is said to have originated in the study of Alchemy. Triangles and lines are drawn in such a way to represent, the masculine, the feminine and the four elements (fire, air, water, earth). As a whole, the symbol is meant to indicate balance. Although it is interpreted in a number of different ways, most of the interpretations come down to the reconciliation of opposites or the peace between any two opposing forces. (Masculine/feminine, Fire/Water, Earth/Heaven)

Here are a few links with more details: The Museum of BrewingBeer HistoryThe German Beer Institute.

Maybe I’m a PUMA person

A few months ago I wrote about the Dassler brothers and the companies that they built, namely adidas and PUMA. At that time we visited the famed town of Herzoganaurach to see both places. As I mentioned before, people in this region feel very strongly about one company or another. I am pretty much expected to be an adidas person. This is because we root for Bayern-Munich, and they are an adidas team. Our arch nemesis, FC Borussia Dortmund (BVB) is a PUMA club, so you can see the conflict of interest. That is not the only reason I should be an adidas person but it is the main one I guess.

However, as a new member of Franconian society, I wanted a chance to decide for myself–adidas or PUMA? Unfortunately the day we visited a few months back, we were too late to visit the PUMA shop and were only able to visit the adidas shop. So, while I came home that day with two pairs of adidas sneakers, I did not come home with anything to compare them to.

The other day I had a reason to go to PUMA and a chance to finally go to the shop. I can’t help but comment about the fact that the shop was totally organized and clean. It was easy to find everything without asking any questions. PUMA seems to be not only a sport brand but also a lifestyle brand. As a result many of their clothing items and shoes, while still sporty are also a bit more stylish than the ones I had seen at the adidas shop. Most importantly when I tried them on they were comfortable too.

On my visit to PUMA I learned that they have just created a relationship with New York City Ballet and are now outfitting ballerinas. If I’m being totally honest and not taking anyone else’s opinion into consideration, I think I might be a PUMA person. While I could make a list of good reasons, it’s likely that they had me as soon as I heard New York City Ballet.

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So these are my new PUMAs. I think they look a tad sporty compared to my normal style– a little like I’m about to go play baseball–But they are also cute, super comfortable and lightweight and I can totally dance around in them when I feel like it. So there you have it.

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Learning is Homeopathic

International travel it is at the same time enlightening and overwhelming–Maybe the overwhelming part is due to traveling with a small child–but even without children, international travel tends to be a relatively fast-paced confrontation with the unfamiliar. As a result I always experience, post-travel, a bit of down time–a few moments for the contemplation and processing of what I have seen.

We logged about 10,750 kilometers (about 6683 miles) on the road this summer. We flew to the USA, and drove from Germany to France to Spain and then to Ibiza. We utilized planes, cabs, our own car, a rental car, a ferry and we overnighted in 11 different places. Part of me feels out of breath and proud that we made it so far and saw so much. And part of me has started getting used to it. It takes some time to find a rhythm when you are on the road but once you find the beat of the trip you’re on, it feels like you could go on indefinitely.

 

When I zoom way out and look at the six or seven weeks we were away, what sticks out most is the fact that everywhere we went there were people. All over the world, at any given moment there are young people and old people. There are people who have babies and people who are babies. There are single people and married people, rich and poor people. People who like to be nude at the beach and people are covered from head to toe. There are people who have lost someone, people searching for something, successful people, smart people, dumb people, happy people and sad people. There are people who are afraid or brave. There are people who are outgoing and those who aren’t. At the end of the day, people are just people and on any given day each person is somewhere on life’s journey. We have this need to categorize people but that is because we forget that every day of our lives is different than the one before. Today we are the “young parents” but tomorrow we’ll be the “wrinkly retirees” in someone’s snapshot from their trip.

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Ladies happy hour in Laguardia Spain

With a closer look I saw that in various ways, no matter where we are from, we are all trying to communicate and connect. You recognize it in the tiny moments. In the repair man at the house in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in the lady we coincidentally saw on the ferry both ways. She could only speak Spanish, yet we recognized each other and were able to marvel together at the coincidence of meeting again. I saw it in the Italian couple we sat next to at the beach, who seemed to be struggling about whether they could leave their things unattended. After offering to watch their spot we ended up chatting and were delighted when we ran into each other again later that week. It was the couple who warned us about the jellyfish one day in particular. I saw it in the brothers who entertained me while they practiced their gymnastics on the ferry and then came to ask me (in English) if I would take their family’s photograph. These are the moments during travel that I always remember but they are the very moments that I never have pictures of. The delight that comes from connecting with strangers cannot be matched and it seems to be a human thing and not just a personality thing.

DSC04117.JPGAll of this becomes especially obvious when you have a little kid. People want to interact with little kids no matter where they come from. Put a one year old in the mix and you’ll get to see the most beautiful part of humanity. The part that smiles, the part whose eyes twinkle. And you’ll get to see the tiniest humans being the wisest. No matter what words she heard, Little Mouse understood what people were telling her. People spoke to her in French and Spanish and Catalan, in Korean and Japanese. It didn’t matter, a smile is a smile and it was stunning.

In Ibiza specifically there were so many different cultures represented that I hardly knew what country we were visiting. And surprisingly this actually made people more polite. People needed to communicate whether in line for the bathroom or at the bar, and because of the necessity, people just tried. And because you can’t tell by looking which language a person speaks, people seemed to reach out in the most polite way possible. I loved this.

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes you actually need to be able to speak the same language to get what you want. We had those situations too but those stories are for another post.

Our travels wrapped up with a most enlightening cab ride to the airport in Barcelona. Our cab driver was Pakistani, and to our great luck, he spoke wonderful English and loved to talk. We asked him where he was from and how long he had lived in Barcelona. “5 years,” he said. Then we asked whether he spoke Spanish. “Of course,” he said “and Catalan too.” He went on to say, “It’s a very human reality: if you are interested in something, then it’s easy to learn it.” Speaking Spanish and Catalan allow him to make a good living in Barcelona and he went on to tell us that aside from those two, his own language and English, he also speaks Romanian, French, and Italian. It’s worth it to him and therefore easy because it allows him to work anywhere. He said that as a foreigner it gives him tons of opportunity. Then he said something I will never forget:

Speaking other languages is homeopathic–If you learn it, it helps you, if you don’t use it, having learned it doesn’t hurt you.

We were inspired, and certainly have a lot of languages to learn in order to catch up with him.

 

 

 

 

Annafest: Take 3

The Annafest is Forchheim’s time to shine. Every July for 11 days, thousands of people flock to Forchheim’s Kellerwald to enjoy beer, Fränkisch cooking and live music under the trees. Suddenly the sleepy, cozy Kellerwald is the center of all the activity. During the Annafest many restaurants in the city actually close for a vacation because everyone is at the fest anyway. There is a Franconian saying and that is:

Annafest, alla dooch, Annafest.  

It means, Annafest, every day, Annafest. (The Frankisch word Dooch sounds more like dogh and means Day or in German –Tag.  If you say Tag (but say it more like tog) then really dull the t at the beginning to make it sound like a d, then really stretch the word out and dull the g at the end, maybe you can imagine how they got to dooch from Tag. Give it a try, you’ll at least crack yourself up.

Lots of people take the Annafest saying very seriously. Young and old alike stop by the fest for a little while each day. This year we made it 8 times-probably the most I’ve ever gone-not everyday, but not bad!

This is my 3rd year of “Annafesting” and I have to say this is the first year I’ve really felt like a local. When I first arrived in Germany in 2014, it was the day before the Annafest opened. Sounds great right? My introduction to living in a new country was a fest! But actually it was during my first Annafest that I realized I had actually moved away from everything familiar. Thorsten’s friends were warm and nice and I could understand that even in another language but being at the fest magnified the fact that I was a stranger. I saw Thorsten meeting up with his life long friends and realized that all my life long friends were thousands of miles away. I didn’t speak German yet and it was really crowded. So there were some lonely moments at my first Annafest. My second year at Annafest time I had a one month old baby. As a result I wasn’t ready to fest it up just yet. I did go a few times and even drank a Maß but my heart was at home with my little mouse.

This year, for the first time I have enjoyed the Annafest like it’s my very own fest. It’s familiar and I feel like I live here, like Forchheim is actually my town. It feels normal now to trek up the hill and enjoy a little nature and culture and socializing. I find it a happy occasion to celebrate the anniversary of my move to Germany each year.

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The Annafest always opens on Friday with a celebration called Anstich (in Franconia Ogstochn, in Bavaria Ozapft. I’m not even going to try to disect those words.) Someone important, usually the Mayor, uses a hammer type of thing to open the first keg of beer and officially start the fest.

This year we went on Saturday afternoon to meet some friends and sat together at the Eichhorn Keller near the street to watch as the local bands, clubs, politicians, and beer queens paraded through the Kellerwald, stopping at each Keller for a beer and a song. Little Mouse snacked with us, tried to drink some of my Radler (beer mixed with sprite) and then after a little walk fell asleep in her stroller.

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Speaking of Radler, this is something it took me a long time to like, but I have to admit that now I hardly ever order a regular beer at a fest. At fests you most often can only get a Maß (1 Liter) of beer. A Radler is a way to cut the amount of alcohol down and add a little sweetness. I admit I’ve become a bit of a beer lightweight.

That same evening I had a date with a some girlfriends for my first ladies night at Annafest. I was a little nervous because weekends are usually totally crowded and not that fun for a short person, but with my group of ladies and a good spot to drinks some drinks and watch the action, it was no problem and fun to boot! This was exciting for lots of reasons, but mainly because my German is good enough now that I can understand the others– even in a group and even when the music is really loud.

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A few years ago I made fun of the 90’s cover bands. I could not understand why the Germans would get so excited about a cover band playing 90’s hits from America. This year was a little different but it wasn’t the music that was different, — they still played 90’s hits– it was me. This time I danced and sang along too. Additionally they played lots of German pop music that I didn’t know. I really enjoyed this however, because it’s nice to hear a group of people singing and dancing and getting excited over their own music. Whether it’s German or English the real truth is that no matter your age, once you are with a group of friends, it’s pretty tough not to have fun dancing and singing and drinking and carrying on in the woods on a Saturday night.

The next morning we went early to the Annafest for a lunch at the Schloessla Keller with a couple that also have a baby. This is a nice keller for day time visits, the music is always good and there is plenty of space. They play some country, classic rock and I don’t know how you classify John Denver but they played his hit, Country Road, as we were leaving. Everybody sang along, especially me, and I felt 1000 percent nostalgic for home even though I don’t come from West Virginia.

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A few days later I went with some other mommies to Family Day. Food and tickets to the rides are discounted on family days. We spent a few hours walking around, looking at the children’s rides and eating bratwurst. Little Mouse is now a big fan of bratwurst (no surprise I guess) so it’s pretty easy to keep her happy in her stroller at the Annafest. It rained a little that day but not enough to dampen our spirits.

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Later in the week Thorsten and I got to have a date night while Heinz and Jola watched Little Mouse. Another couple joined us and we found a seat over looking one of the main drag right next to the band we like, the Kuhboys (Cowboys). They put a creative, Johnny Cash like spin on a lot of American rock. It’s pretty great. We took our annual ride on the Ferris wheel, which I love. You can see the twinkling lights of the whole fest from the top and there is always a wonderful breeze. Later we walked to watch some other bands and dance and sing along in the street. This is something that would’ve been tough for me before because standing around in the street is usually crowded and I often get bumped and pushed and nearly stepped on. But for some reason this year was not as full as usual. We think it is likely because of the recent onslaught of not so nice terrorist activities. Whatever it was–for me, a little less crowded wasn’t so bad. What’s funny is that it seems like every cover band at the Annafest plays Journey’s Don’t Stop Believe’in sometime during the set but usually as their last song. Every night ends with it and no matter how often people go to the fest–Everybody loves it every time.

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The last Friday of the Annafest we sat with some family friends in a great seat, overlooking the street at the Staeffala Keller. The music was nice and not too loud. We had a large wooden table and bench with a back, so Little Mouse could move herself around a little bit. She ate her fill of bread and bratwurst and even had some sauerkraut. Some of Thorsten’s old friends met us that evening. Little Mouse and I walked home early, leaving them behind to party it up like old times.

Saturday we had friend come from out of town and we all wore the traditional Bavarian clothes (Tracht.) Wearing traditional clothes is getting more and more popular every year. The traditional clothes for ladies (dirndl) create a very beautiful decote and the traditional clothes for men (lederhosen) are supposed to be very comfortable. What’s ironic to note is that these are not the traditional Franconian clothes at all– but it doesn’t matter. It’s fun and because the clothes are not the cheapest we are always looking for excuses to get more wear out of the them. Incidentally the traditional Franconian clothes for ladies usually have a high neck and a kind of funny hat-so it’s not that surprising that we haven’t seen a rise in the popularity of wearing them. Check out the photo below for an example.

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courtesy of folkcostume.blogspot.com

Since we were all dressed up, we started our evening with a little sparkle. We stopped by the one hut that sells very good German Sekt (J.Oppmann) and prosted together. Little Mouse enjoyed a pretzel–The first time she has pointed to a food that she wanted –very Bavarian baby, I guess. Then we sat at the Schindler Keller for dinner directly across from the Reisenrad. Very pretty view.

Our last family visit to the Annafest 2016 was Sunday for an early dinner. Little Mouse seemed relatively tuckered out and I have to admit I was too. Still we found a seat at our favorite Keller (The Glockenkeller) and had the most traditional food possible (Schäuferla, i.e pork shoulder, cooked til it’s falling off the bone. Fränkisch cooking at its absolute best.) So far, Little mouse hasn’t taken a liking to Schäuferla or Klöße but based on her other very German tastes, I think it won’t be long. We found a seat just in time to miss a big rain shower. Luckily it didn’t last long.

The last day of the Annafest Little Mouse and I took a walk through to eat a Bratwurst and look around before the fest closed.

The point of all of this is to say, it takes some time for a place to feel like home. It takes time to cultivate friendships and really know your way around. It takes time to feel comfortable, to not be scared to enjoy the little things, to be spontaneous.

The third time is the charm, they say, and this year it certainly was.

 

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Travel-Monaco, Corsica, St. Tropez, Nice

Last weekend marked the beginning of what I’m calling our summer of travel. We enjoyed the 1st anniversary of Little Mouse’s birth aboard a cruise around the the Cote d’Azur in the Mediterranean–specifically St. Tropez, Monaco, Corsica and Nice. This was a gift from the company Thorsten works for so we felt really lucky to get to be a part of it.

Later this summer we are driving to a wedding in the Bordeaux Region of France. After the wedding, we will head toward Barcelona and the Balearic Islands of Spain with a stop in Champagne for Champagne and in Rioja for Rioja. 

We have agreed that I will be in charge of speaking French in France and Thorsten will be in charge of speaking Spanish in Spain. Since outside of ballet I haven’t learned any French since college (and I’m not sure I actually learned any French in college) this will be a challenge.

So the details of the cruise…

Our journey began in Munich. Our ship was docked in Monaco, but we flew from Munich to Nice, France and took a bus to Monaco because Monaco is so small that it doesn’t have an airport. (Just imagine– all those gazillionaires have to keep their planes at the airport in Nice.)

The boat was the MS Europa 2. The cruise company is Hapag Lloyd. This is a German based cruise company but all of the staff I encountered spoke English and some didn’t even speak German (for example the sushi chef at the sushi cooking class I took!) I think Americans could travel just as happily as Germans on this cruise line. This was a luxurious ship. I was pretty skeptical about going on a cruise with Little Mouse but I had nothing to fear. If I had the money to afford a trip like this, I would say it is totally worth the price.

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Knowing we were bringing Little Mouse, the cruise line sent out a letter ahead of time asking us what we might need. They offered everything, I mean everything–video baby monitor, baby food, formula, changing table, highchair, baby bed, baby bathtub etc. and all we had to do was check the box.  Knowing that it was her first birthday, they even had a birthday chocolate cream torte with fruit waiting for us when we arrived. They had wonderful drinks and dance parties with good cover bands and dj’s. No cheesy conga lines or deck games. The service was impeccable and friendly. Every cabin had a balcony and a bathtub! AND when you arrive every room has a bottle of champagne on ice. The ice is not melted, it has literally been timed with your arrival. And it’s not just something bubbly, it’s actual champagne from Champagne. They had a gym and even pilates classes. There are four high end restaurants aboard: French, Asian, Sushi and Italian cuisine in addition to two buffet style restaurants that feature food from around the world.

The boat itself is not that large in terms of cruise boats and so I was totally surprised that you could hardly feel the motor of the boat. There was zero chance that you could get sea sick. Each time we departed or returned to the ship there were drinks and snacks being served like a pop-up cocktail party. I cannot say enough good things.

Flying with baby:

Until they are two years old children fly practically free. They are considered lap children until that time and they do not have their own seat. This can prove tricky (depending on how wiggly they are) but not impossible to deal with. (Let’s address this issue again after our flight to the USA this summer…)

It’s about a 30 minute bus ride through stunning views and the windy hills between Nice and Monaco.

Bus rides with baby:

The roads between Nice and Monaco are tiny and curvy.  What I learned on this bus ride?… Babies can get motion sickness. We let little mouse drink a whole bunch of water and eat a liquidy fruit snack on the way -figuring that could help keep her hydrated and occupied-but then all of the sudden she threw up all over me. First the water, then the snack. Honestly it looked like I had had entered a wet t-shirt contest with dirty, fruit snack water. Wow, the amount of puke was impressive. 

Lessons learned:

Wear dark colors, bring a change of clothes for you and the baby, bring a barf bag, don’t let them drink and eat a bunch before a windy bus ride, sit in the front of the bus.

Monaco

It’s hard to believe that Monaco is a whole country because it’s more like a small port city. It is nestled on the coast of France, not that far from Italy and it is well known for its Formula One race, for Monte Carlo’s upscale casino, and for Princess Grace.

The official language is French, but being that it is such a popular tourist destination, you can get by with English without a problem.  We had about 4 hours in Monaco before we boarded the ship. It’s a little bit hilly, but was really not a problem with the stroller.

We walked up to the castle, saw the changing of the gaurd, and enjoyed the view of the harbor. Then we walked through the shopping district and stopped for a drink at one of the cafes next to the Formula One track. We didn’t get to visit the Garden Exotic, because we didn’t have time, but next time that is a must-see.

We celebrated little Mouse’s first birthday at the Cafe de Paris Monte Carlo with champagne and olives.  Little Mouse had fancy Evian water to drink.

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Corsica

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We cruised through the night from Monaco to Corsica (about a 200 km journey) As an east coaster I scoff a little bit at people calling the Mediterranean an ocean. The Atlantic is an ocean. It’s cold, it has waves, and it’s vast. Now that I’ve actually visited the Mediterranean, I realize that it is not a small body of water either. I still wouldn’t call it an ocean but it beautiful and calm and so so blue. Since Corsica is a part of France (Sardinia, it’s partner to the south is part of Italy) it was another chance to practice my French. We spent our day in Corsica on the beach at Capo di Feno. The cruise company provided us with a car seat and a taxi cab. Our driver was great. He got to practice his English with me and I asked him how to say important things in French, like “Where is the bathroom?” He also helped me to know how to order things at a restaurant or ask to be taken to the beach. We shared the cab with another couple who had a baby around Little Mouse’s age so that made for more fun. The people who didn’t have babies in tow were able to take small boats from the cruise boat to the beach, that must have been a gorgeous ride.

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There was an open beach bar on this tiny stretch of sand that bordered some of the bluest water I have ever seen. Talk about lucky kids–this was Little Mouse’s first day at the beach in her life. Who gets to say their first beach experience was on Corsica?! In the afternoon we all got back together for a Corsican snack. But we gobbled it up to quickly to get a photo.

Around this time I started to feel like I was in a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald novel. The scenery was stunning- nostalgic and hopeful, energetic and relaxed at the same time.

Beach with a baby

An umbrella is a must have. Another good idea is a tiny blow up baby pool. They can play with the water or sit in it. Bring snacks and water. We had her dressed in a bikini bottom with a long sleeved swimming shirt on top.  With a hat on and a little sunscreen she could play with out being too hot or being in sunburn danger. It was also great having the car seat on the beach. She could sit in it when we fed her and when she was tired. I hadn’t thought of this before but a strap in chair for the beach is really useful for a toddler.

St. Tropez

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That evening we cruised from Corsica to St. Tropez. St. Tropez was a perfectly charming sea side town. I loved the feeling of the place. We ate delicious ice cream and browsed through a flea market. Thorsten generally doesn’t like flea markets but he finally found something he liked when we happened upon a table of cured meat.

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There was wonderful art for sale, cafes and shops. Most, but not all, of the shops sell designer clothes at a designer prices, still the window shopping is fun and very pretty.

Nice

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I can’t say enough about what a lovely city Nice was. I was amazed and surprised and pretty much in love. There was a soccer game between Northern Ireland and Poland that evening-part of the European Championship. The fans from both teams took to the streets early in the day to sing songs and get riled up. What was beautiful was that often fans from both teams were together, both so excited about the game that they were congratulating each other and practically pre-gaming together. This was in stark contrast to the sad reports we heard on the news in the next days about games in other cities. 

We walked through a wonderful park with great wooden play structures and water fountains for kids. A replica of the David stands in the middle, and one can never complain about the Michaelangelo’s talent for anatomical perfection.

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Nice is filled with shops–fabric shops, home goods shops, clothing and shoe shops, spice shops and little cafes.  We passed lots of raw bars serving fresh seafood that looked delicious. Aside from the shops there is a huge flower market in the old town pedestrian zone (Marche aux Fleurs Cours Saleya). We arrived just as market time was wrapping up and like a perfectly choreographed movement, the moment when the flower market closes, all the cafes in the vicinity arrange their outdoor seating, so the pedestrian zone is pretty and wonderfully fragrant no matter when you arrive. We stopped to enjoy an iced coffee at a cafe appropriately named Le Cafe de Fleurs. We sat at one of the tables in the window and were able to pretty much walk through the window to sit down.  Little Mouse was able to continue napping in her stoller while we sat half inside, half out.

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There were countless seaside restaurants with umbrellas and chairs for lying in the sun and waiters running around serving drinks. This was like a dream.

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We sat for our lunch under an umbrella. I practiced ordering in French, and the wait staff seemed to get a kick out of it. That is when I realized I really need to get some French vocabulary under my belt. It doesn’t really help to know how to say, I would like to eat and then not be able to say what it is that you would like to eat– although pointing at the menu is also effective. 

Nevertheless, I cannot wait to visit the Mediterranean again. The Atlantic Ocean, with its austere color and its infinite strength, is like a parent to me. That ocean schooled me on getting pummeled by waves and that is where my affection for sandy toes and salty sea air developed, but the Mediterranean Sea, with it’s jaw dropping color, its soft waves and its rocky beaches, is like the fun Aunt I didn’t get to meet until I was 20.

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