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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.