Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vive les bébés!

May 20th - June 7th. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris just about the same time Jacques began his arrival in a taxi and finished on a narrow bench in the waiting room of the clinic where he was supposed to be born in more appropriate surroundings!

Meanwhile we were settling into our new airbnb apartment around 10:30 that night knowing via text (no phone service at that point) that family and baby were doing well  however, we didn't have the harrowing details at that point so we crawled happily into bed after a full travel day. All was revealed in the morning ...
All fingers and toes accounted for  by two proud parents
For the full story see the previous blog titled Jacques' Bumpy Ride!

Jacques and family pal Lulac the rabbit
Mary ended up in the clinic for five days since Jacques was born with the same blood incompatibility that Marcel had, so he needed to be under the UV lights to correct jaundice and have regular blood tests to monitor anemia. There were also several follow up doctors appointments - but as of this writing he is fine. He looks very much like Gregoire's side of the family and is a lovely little man. Coco also favors that side - but Marcel looks like a little English imp - definitely favoring the Day / Campbell side. 
Baby 'Jack' under the UV lights!
Both genetic sides of the family represented here.
Our apartment was about a 15 minute walk to Mary's in a neighborhood just below Sacre Coeur on the north side. It was nice to be close by but in a different part of Paris.  https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/2471473 . The apartment itself was large and filled with really interesting books and an unusual collection of moths and butterflies impaled on pins. The owner is a graphic designer and it showed! The surrounding streets were filled with diverse and really interesting restaurants and ethnic shops of every kind, mostly African and Indian - if you get to Paris, we can recommend this as a great place to stay slightly off the beaten path - but still close to everything in the city centre by bus or metro. 

We love the 18th arondisement - but every inch of Paris is grand.
Meanwhile... the next morning we set off to meet Gregoire and head to the clinic to meet the baby! On the way Gregoire filled us in on the entire experience! Wow. Of course he and Mary, being the calm people they are took the whole thing in stride - and we had a good 'laugh 'til you cry' moment once we were all together and were holding our beautiful new grandson.
You just can't get any happier than this
Michael and I jumped in to help with Coco and Marcel and it was great to get back into that role. Michael headed back to Vienna for an event that has caught his attention as something we might be interested in replicating, so I took Colette home for a sleepover! Mooma (that's me) heaven. We had such a great time together, and for all you grandmothers reading this, you know how special these little ones are. You get parenting 'do overs' with all the patience in the world and no running around like the crazy over-scheduled parents we were. An hour for a bath (with no fun-spoiling hair washing)? Nooo problem. Up past bedtime? Why of course. Two more books? Yes please. French toast,whipped cream and strawberries for breakfast? Absolutely.

Grandpa doing what he does best!
Coco snuggled in for the sleepover!
Anything can be a bath toy - including oven mitts!
I also had a full day with Marcel and we did it up two-year old style. He is a bundle of energy and he laughs from deep in his belly. Such an easy and enjoyable companion because everything is interesting and worth exploring. And whenever possible climbing up and jumping off most anything. He also knows more about my i-phone than I do! Based on the picture below, I may have overdone it a tad by the time I got him home.
Marcel ready for whatever comes his way
Look at all those big bugs Mooma!
Hmmm. Perhaps we over did it a just a bit!
We were in Paris for almost three weeks and the time flew by. We shared meals and chores and diaper duties - cooked and just kept on laughing about it all. Sort of a slightly hysterical laugh when we thought too hard about how Mary and Greg and three babies could live in harmony in 350 square feet of living space ... but for now it works. They are working on finding the right home in the right place that allows both Mary and Gregoire to work. They have freelance careers, so that helps with flexibility but ultimately, a move somewhere outside Paris with reasonable access to the city is in order.

Michael and Mary and I spent a day in Fontainebleau (about an hour outside Paris by train) to have a look around. This would be their first choice for a new area to settle in. It is a beautiful historic city with many amenities including a huge parks surrounding a stunning castle and extensive forest land. It is a popular place to live, so currently there is a shortage of rental properties. But the right thing will come along.

Learning from an expert - napping in the sun is a good thing.
Mary and I on the palace grounds at  Fontainebleau

When not immersed in family life, we had a great dinner out with good friends Jenny and Graham Fairbanks who live in Paris, and then another lovely evening with friends from Seattle, Rob and Debbie Fleming who were visiting from Seattle. Michael and Rob were able to take in a 'friendly' football match between France and Norway as practice for the World Cup. Rob and Debbie came to Paris to attend the French Open tennis tournament.

Michael was very involved in that tournament when we lived in London when he worked for the sports management company Proserv. They represented many elite tennis players and Michael was a fixture at both the French Open and Wimbledon. He was able to spend a day at the event and caught up with some friends and colleagues from the past.

Flying the tri-color for France!
Michael and Rob taking in the match.
A beautiful day at Roland Garros.
It turned out that Mary needed to review a cooking class venue for her on-going Rick Steve's research work, so we snuck away sans children for a morning long French Pastry class. It was very well done and we ended up with three nicely crafted whip cream or pastry cream covered concoctions that ended up as lunch. Could be worse. Any time I have been able to take a cooking class during this odyssey it has been so enriching. And of course, sharing this with Mary was perfect.

Mary making piping look easy!
Dad, daughter and baby also had a day out that included a visit to the Hajj exhibit at the Arab museum - a good look at the obligation of all Muslims to visit Mecca in their lifetime and later that night took in another Rick Steve's review of a English speaking comedy club with the headliner getting people in stitches about daily life in Paris.

Too soon we said goodbye as we headed to Ireland and Scotland for three weeks and then on to Oslo, Helsinki and the Balkan states for a whirlwind tour. We look forward to seeing Mary, Gregoire and Jacques in late July for Chris and Jamie's wedding - and wish Grandma and Grandpa all the best  with Coco and Marcel for those ten days!

And thank you for reading!
Michael and Debbie
Senior Nomads

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Waltz through Vienna

May 7th - May 20th. It is true, Vienna is a "Ye Olde" city filled with grand architecture, world-class music, ornate horse drawn carriages and decadent chocolate cake, but we found a Vienna that was modern and vibrant as well. For example...

Katarina Wurst, the winner of Eurovision 2014 is Austrian
Our apartment was quirky, but very nice. It was about a twenty minute walk from the city center - just far enough to feel like we lived in a neighborhood. And it was a great part of town with lots of bars, vintage shops, galleries and pocket parks. There was even a billiard hall where Michael watched parts of the Vienna Snooker Open. Here is the link to our apartment. https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/2023633

Since there were no football matches to attend Michael had to add some variety to his sporting experiences
In Disneyland there are strict rules about how costumed characters comport themselves while interacting with the public. Not so in this Mozart saturated city. I had to laugh at the many bedraggled white wigged young men and women pitching concerts, tours, and other Viennese tourist offerings. Yes the men were dressed in brocade jackets, ruffled shirts and velvet breeches, and the ladies wore dresses with revealing bodices, and flouncing skirts - but they also wore Ray Bans, Nikes, smoked like chimneys and were constantly checking their cellphones. The horse drawn carriage drivers were even worse!

Correct attire
Incorrect attire
We took a walking tour on the Friday and enjoyed some of the hidden alleyways and inside courtyards not always seen on your own, and of course the vast history of this city was shared as much as it could be in two hours. We felt there was so much more to learn, we took a second tour the next day from a different company.

A city filled with statues and buildings to rival Rome
A delightful courtyard that led to Hayden's home
On our first tour we found out about a free outdoor concert to be held that night on the grounds of City Hall. It was the kick off to the Summer long series that would take place on the same stage. It turned out to be a spectacular show featuring choirs from around Europe. The facade of the building changed colors to the music and big screens shared the action.

The venue was a short walk from home so we packed a picnic and headed out. it started to rain just as we arrived - but a clever sponsor was passing out free ponchos so we joined hundreds of others that became a sea of advertising for the local bank. We made friends with a couple of delightful landscape architecture students who had commandeered a park bench. If you are willing to share a picnic, you can always get people to 'scootch' over.
An impressive building of many colors!
Our new friends with great seats.
We woke up to a sunny Saturday morning and a flea market just outside our door that stretched for several blocks. A fine start to the day. We had a great wander through the stalls full of antiques, books, records, dishes, and memorabilia - knowing you can't really add anything to our luggage makes it more fun, in a somewhat tortured way.

I did however score my Mother's Day gift. For years I have collected Steiff animals and several vendors had boxes filled with them. Not the pristine collectors items that cost hundreds of dollars, but the kind of furry friends that have enjoyed some rough play and tea parties over their lifetime. It was like being at the animal shelter and wanting to take all the kittens home, but alas I could only choose one. The winner was a Wiener as a tribute to Lola who spent almost ten years of her life at Tip Top.

I wanted them all!
The winner!
Church the next day at St. Augustin - one of the oldest and most important churches in Vienna, was not only impressive for the elaborate service, but also for a full orchestra and choir performing Mozart and Haydn classics. It was inspiring on several levels.

It was pouring rain when we came out so we sprinted for home for a nice day of resting, reading, planning, and watching Amadeus for the third time to get us in the Viennese spirit.

During our wanderings we kept seeing promotional materials for an event called Lange Nacht Der Kirchen. After seeing it so prominently advertised we had to find out what it was. We discovered it was a one night event translated to Long Night of Churches that took place all over Vienna and surrounding cities on May 23rd. The basic premise was any church could open its door that evening and offer cultural events. Anything from musical performances, to plays, to crypt tours, poetry readings, political discussions and beyond. Sort of an Open House situation where anyone interested can visit as many churches as they like and enjoy a free evening out. 

One of many churches promoting The Long Night of Churches
We were intrigued enough to meet with the event organizers to learn more about it. The activities are chosen by the church and can be just about anything they want to showcase. The evening starts around 6:00 and in some cases goes until midnight. Without going into more detail - Michael actually flew back to Vienna from Paris to experience the event first hand with an eye towards creating something similar in the Northwest.

Other highlights; a Mozart concert performed in period costume at the majestic opera house (wigs firmly in place this time), Michael's tour of the United Nations Campus, my day at the Albertina museum, a delicious a Wienersnitchel dinner, reading in the palace rose garden and an enjoyable afternoon scouting out the extensive outdoor food market.

Sitting in the same hall where Mozart performed was a thrill
Michael took a tour of the United Nations campus in Vienna
My Vienna experience appears to have had an animal theme
Day Trip: We took an hour train ride to Bratislava, Slovakia. Slovakia was originally part of Czechoslovakia, which split in two in the early 1990's after the wall came down and the country gained it's independence. This historic city, even though it is the capital, didn't really prosper. It was a rainy, Sunday afternoon when we visited and most shops were closed and the streets deserted - that didn't help dispel the feeling that Bratislava sits under a dark cloud. Our walking tour was interesting as always, and we learned more about the checkered history of this city - and how Prague gets all the glory (for several things that actually happened in Bratislava) and how they are constantly confused with Slovenia. We heard the other side of that story in Ljubljana. The communists did not do the city any favors as far as architecture goes, and tore down much of the Medieval old town to make way for housing blocks and widened roads so the beautiful parts of the city seemed few and far between. Unlike Sarajevo - Bratislava just didn't feel like it was going to get much better any time soon.

This gloomy sign summed up the city's atmosphere
An ancient tram running through the center
Who doesn't love a guy crawling out of a manhole? One of the best public art pieces I've seen anywhere.

We left Vienna after almost two weeks of immersion in Austro-Hungarian history, modern culture and excellent food! We are heading Paris to be with Mary for the arrival of baby number three. We will be there for 17 days and we can't wait!

See you there.

Michael and Debbie
Senior Nomads

p.s. This post is a little out of order. See the previous post for details on baby Jacques bumpy ride into this world!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jacques' Bumpy ride!

Hello all. I am behind in posting on our travels but we have been side tracked by the arrival of our latest grandchild - a beautiful baby boy! Little Jacques (pronounced Jack) came into the world on May 20th in Paris. Here is the story...

While we were busy settling in to our new Paris digs last night after a long, rainy travel day -  all kind of crazy things were going on at Mary's household. Due to lack of cell coverage on our phones we were, as it turns out, blissfully unaware of these events. We did text to say we had arrived safely and were looking forward to seeing them in the morning, and of course to keep us posted if there were any ‘lost bumps in the night’. We didn’t hear back but that is to be expected when they should all be fast asleep.

Keep in mind, Mary was due on the 28th. I knew we were cutting things close by arriving on the 20th, but she and her sage midwife Willie (a 60ish man with a walrus mustache - renowned in Paris as the Baby Whisperer) had determined that if Mary didn’t want to give birth until I arrived, then she wouldn’t. A slight refinement might have been not at the same time.

As we turned out the lights at 11:30 we got a text from Mary saying the Baby was so excited we were in Paris he just couldn’t wait one more minute to arrive. Clever little one. Lots of love all around and we’ll connect in the morning. We couldn’t talk to Mary at that point because our phones would not work in France until we activated them the in morning at the phone store. So off to sleep knowing all was well and Marcel had a little brother to rough house with for the rest of his life.

Now the ‘fun’ part of the story begins. Around 9:00 Mary was having some regular contractions about 20 minutes apart. She called Willie to let him know, and he said to call him back in an hour or so - but no need to get too excited. Another thing to keep in mind - Coco’s arrival was a long 20+ hour ordeal. Mary first met Willie when he came in to for the last 4 hours to ‘whisper’ to the baby and encourage her to respond to Mary’s heroic pushing efforts.

Marcel was born at home and all went well until he had to be rushed to the hospital with a mother/baby blood incompatibly that ended with Marcel severely jaundiced and under UV lamps for a week.

This time around they were going the conventional route. Birthing clinic, travel plans that needed to include traversing Paris at any time night or day for at least an hour, childcare plans for the kids (that we missed by a day), but Greg’s sister was ‘on deck’.

So - back to base camp. Mary laid down for a wee rest and then all hell broke loose, including her water. As you know they live in a small space - so Mary was trying not to scream ’too loudly’ as she went into intense labor in the bathroom for fear of giving her children nightmares for life, and to avoid delivering on the spot, because she know this baby was well on it’s way. Greg was simultaneously booking a taxi, calling Willie and telling his sister ‘Yes. Now. Come now, NO you can’t finish your movie! A half an hour later Auntie Magali arrived and will no doubt, after this experience choose to never have children.

Greg got Mary downstairs just as the cab arrived. It must be every cab driver's worst nightmare to pull to the curb and find your fare in the throws of child birth... and you need to get this poor, wretched woman and her frantic husband all the way across Paris. You can only feel his pain! But he was game and ran red lights and took every short cut … but meanwhile, as the cab was nearing the clinic our brave girl announced that the baby’s head had cleared the birth canal. "What? Are you sure?” Greg asked (insert pain-wracked withering glance here). Greg called Willie who was waiting upstairs - and explained the situation. The phone was cutting out but it sounded like ‘stay there I am coming’.

By now it was 11:00 and the clinic was closed except for incoming mothers in a more normal stage of labor - and emergencies. As Mary was screaming in the taxi, Willie and others arrived to assess and help. Greg tried to pay the driver … who at this point was in a full sweat and said I can’t give you the full price until SHE is out of the cab. Greg tossed him enough cash to cover all the contingencies and then helped carry Mary from the taxi into the clinic lobby - and that’s as far as they got.

There was no stretcher, no emergency entrance, no flashing lights and ‘STAT’ calls. Just four guys taking her up 8 stairs and laying her on an 18” wide bench in the lobby to finish what Jacques had started. Out the little man came - and both mother and child were calm and collected, albeit a little startled. Jacques was laid on Mary's chest and they where bundled up in a foil blanket and plopped in a chair on wheels (not to be confused with a wheelchair) for the ride to the delivery floor.

As it turned out the tiny clinic elevator was broken, but the consensus was "that’s no problem - we’ll just take you up in the parking garage elevator!" So the same hefty crew carried the chair with mother and newborn down the stairs, outside and then rolled down a dark ramp to an elevator "Don’t drop your baby!” Ha. Ha.

In the end - and a great story to tell through the ages, Jacques is beautiful and healthy. We where able to see them the next morning and had a great afternoon with Marcel and Colette.

It did turn out that Jacques had the same blood incompatibilty  situation and spent four days in the clinic under UV lights to clear the jaundice. He is fine now, and a sweetheart, of course!

What a blessing.