Sunday, August 28, 2011

Entering a new decade

My 30th birthday was our last day in Berlin. We celebrated with birthday pancakes at a cafe nearby that had ``Canadian pancakes`` on the menu (a fabulous discovery) and then set off on our week-long road trip that would eventually lead us back to Fontainebleau.

Day one (still my birthday) was a 7-hour journey to Kempten. Just outside of Munich, this is where P`s extended family lives! We were lucky enough to see all three of his cousins while we were there and indulge in Oma`s delicious cooking! Throughout the weekend we took little road trips around the countryside to check out the lakes and the famous castle Neuschwanstein, celebrated cousin E`s birthday, and heard all sorts of fabulous stories about life when Oma was growing up!

From Kempten we drove all the way to Siena, in Tuscany and were shocked by the heat and the breathtaking countryside! We stayed in a villa outside of town and had amazing views of rolling hills and striking gladiator trees! We wandered through the city of Siena, making sure to taste-test the gelato and cappucino, and then through the tiny towns of San Gimignano, Montereggiano and Voltara! We also had to stop in Pisa to see the infamous tower, with its poor structural design ;)

Our next stop was Cinque Terre, probably one of the most striking places I have ever visited! 5 beautiful towns perched on cliffs above the ocean, each with it`s own beauty and character, and connected by hiking trails, trains, and tiny winding death-defying roads. Unfortunately, because we reached Cinque Terre by car, we had to drive on the scary roads and I am not exagerating when I say they are terrifying! They are less than one lane wide in places and have completely blind corners and insane switchbacks and the outside driver (US as we arrived) gets to look down at a sheer cliff drop-off, sometimes with NO BARRIER! I`m not going to lie, I cried. But the views from the cliffs were unlike anything I had seen before and it really was an amazing experience, once the trauma wore off. We spent the next day and a half hiking and training between the towns in the 40 degree heat.

I don`t know if all of you are aware of this, but every time we arrive in a new town or city anywhere (not just this trip, but always), P needs to get a good vantage point and always has us climb to a lookout point or walks up a million stairs to get to the top of some random tower to get a view of the city. Cinque Terre is 5 beautiful towns on cliffs. So up we went. 5 giant cliffs. Up and down and up and down... you get the picture. But being 6 months pregnant in 40 degree heat was intense! By late afternoon, I was almost always walking like a 95 year-old woman with arthritic hips and I couldnt even recognize my own feet!! I was a walking marshmallow man! Luckily, almost every town had a marina to dive into and so we celebrated each gorgeous viewpoint with a glorious swim in the mediterranean! After a swim in the cold salty water my legs would magically shrink down to normal and I was relieved to know that this would be temporary! (Thats me in the picture.. if you look very closely.. im the starfish in the bottom right)

From there we drove through the south of France, stopping in Monaco for a glimpse at the casinos in Monte Carlo, and of course, a hike up the the (ahem) lookout in the old town, and in Cannes for dinner and a walk on the beach. We ended up in beautiful Avignon in Provence for a glimpse of the beautiful countryside and of course, the famous bridge. We celebrated our return to France with a delicious breakfast of (what else!) croissants and tartine and cappucinos, and then continued our drive north to Fontainebleau.

We arrived last night and have spent the last little while getting organized here. I am happy to say that we have a beautiful and BIG apartment here now, still in Avon, but slightly closer to the school, and a sleek new automatic Megane! woot woot!! P begins class again tomorrow and I need to hit the books as well as I am now a good 2 weeks behind on my own thesis deadlines.

As for the world-travelling fetus, baby E is growing furiously and so am I. Six months pregant now (to the day!), I am looking large and feel like I am bursting out of my own skin. Luckily, I have German herbal oils to keep stretch-marks in check! Aside from the incredible water-retention in the heat of Italy, I am still feeling good and healthy and we are counting down the last 3 months until baby E is here!

Ich bin eine Berliner!

It's hard to believe that two months have passed since we arrived in Berlin. It flew by and now I feel like I have to play catch-up with this blog! My thesis seems to have taken all my writing juices lately, which is great, but here I am with two whole months to report on!

We basically loved Berlin. The vibe is very down-to-earth and the people are friendly and eclectic. The city is not exactly beautiful, per se, but has interesting neighbourhoods to explore, art, history, parks galore! I was especially impressed at the family-friendliness of the city. In our area, Prenzlauerberg, just about every person I saw was pregnant. One day P and I had a contest to see how many pregnant ladies on bikes we could count, and we reached 10 in less than 2 hours! There are parks on every corner, and there are amazing children`s playgrounds in them, with natural materials and interesting playthings. There is one specific park near our apartment that has 4 different playgrounds in it - each one for children of different ages and developmental stages! A schoolyard nearby has a completely 100% natural playground, with slides built into hills, lots of bushes and trees with natural tunnels and passageways through them, interesting boulders for climbing, and an area with different sized sticks for building and imagination! Ì was amazed with natural playgrounds before coming to Berlin, but now I`m obsessed! I really appreciated how nature is valued in German culture. From the strong presence of naturopathy (even within modern medical practices!), to the abundance of organic markets and products, the compost stations in apartment complexes, and bike lanes on every street, and especially the green spaces within the city! I really felt like it radiates a certain sense of well-being that other western countries just don`t have. Aaand I also must give a shout-out to the 2:00-5:00pm kaffee and kuchen time that just rocked my world. But for the other highlights of our short stint in Berlin, I`m going to do this bullet-point style:

* Free weekends meant road trips, of course! We made our way to Hamburg to visit my friend Jenny and her family (who I had met in 2004 when we studied in Singapore together). Her little 4-month old, Idris, is amazing and he makes me so excited to have our own little baby in a few months!

We also managed to go to Prague - a must-see for both of us! We wandered through the streets admiring the architecture, seeing the sites and enjoying these amazing cinnamon bun things!!

The city was packed with tourists, but it made for a buzzing atmosphere that was lively until late into the night.

Little did we know, Berlin has some lovely weekend destinations of its own! A short drive took us to Potsdam and it's famous castle San Soussi, the Wannsee, and Pfaueninsel. We lounged in the gardens, sampled the ice cream, and had a pedal boat adventure.

* We were also lucky enought to have some fabulous visitors of our own! S moved to Berlin in August for a change of scenery and has made it a personal mission to taste-test every kaffee and kuchen place in Berlin! Happily I have been joining him and let me say it has been a very successful month!! E and O, our good friends from back in Fonty drove over from their summer location in Luxembourg to check out Berlin! We shared our love of kuchen, kindercafes, beergartens, and the sites! AND just this weekend, Jenny and her brood came to us! We strolled the streets of Prenzlberg and had some delicious meals and lots of gorgeous baby smiles!

* In baby news, it seems that we have taken the term "babymoon" to new extremes. In it's 6 short months of existence, this fetus has been to France, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Next up: Italy! We have exactly one week (and two weekends) to make our way back to Fonty for the fourth semester, and we're going the long way through the north of Italy! It's always been a dream of mine to drive through the countryside of Tuscany, and so we figured what better time than now?! Just in time for my (gulp) 30th birthday, and 3 short months before the birth of baby E, I just can't imagine anything more beautiful and exciting!