Monday, January 31, 2011

Dive... take two.

This year was my mom's turn to jump in the North Sea for the New Year's Dive.  On the way there she said, "you know Claire, ever since you jumped in 2 years ago, I was secretly jealous."

I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one.

And, to answer the question that may be looming in your mind, no, I did not join her.  I'll give you the same reason I have given everyone else as to why:  I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.

That said, my hat is off to those who make it an annual event! (Because we need some insane people in the world to make me feel somewhat normal).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Better than Disneyland

There are few things in the world that can exceed the expectation of what is known as the most magical place on earth.  But locations such as those do exist.  Southwestern Germany boasts one of them; a place of excitement, adventure, fun, food and... shopping.

After a near 10 hour drive up to this giant playground, I had a heart stopping moment when they performed ID checks at the door.  It wasn't my age that prohibited me from entering, it was my lack of official status.  Military Post Exchanges, like the one we were visiting, are sticklers in that regard. A lady at the door looked at my card and then looked at my mom.  "You're her sponsor I take it?," she asked.  After a nod from my mom she continued, "Well General so-'n-so* has instated a mandatory class whatever* ID check.  Only permanent military ID holders are allowed in today.  She," pointing to me, "can't come in."  She tried placating things by stating I was welcome in the following day, which wouldn't have been a problem had we not booked an overnight train into Amsterdam that evening.

At that moment my dreams were shattered.  My willingness to play along with a winter wonderland Christmas vacation, without complaint, was in vain.  Discouragement filled my soul to the point I couldn't find my voice to exclaim my disbelief. My mom explained our situation to no avail.  Then she asked if I could at least use the restroom.  I was about to hand over my purse to leave with my mom, when the lady looked at the both of us and said, "Fine... go.  And don't come back."

She didn't have to tell us twice.  We booked it away from the entrance as fast as we could.  Over the next few minutes I composed myself enough to again see the magic in the air.  We spent a delightful time filling my hands with a Mac-book Pro, wireless router, new camera, clothes, food, etc... all paid for in dollars.  Tax free.

To top everything off, there was a Macaroni Grill too...  a real, American restaurant.  I used to drool over their rosemary bread, so the entire drive up I envisioned devouring the whole thing on my own.  In the end I could barely eat a fourth of it.  Apparently European bread has ruined me.  All I could taste in the bread I used to love was salt.  And a lot of it.  Now I don't know if I can ever return to the States.  Not unless I can take European bread (and chocolate) with me. And especially not when I have a family member who can provide access to Military Exchanges to get a quick (American) fix.

* The words "so-'n-so" and "class whatever" were not actually used.  But, because this is my story (and I really can't remember everything she said in the exact way she said it) I took the liberty of improvising.   
Hmm... maybe I should have added a bit about how much she loved my outfit, or how envious she was that I could look so refreshed after spending over half a day driving. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Luckily Val Cenis had more to do than skiing or snowshoeing.  The second full day we spent there would have felt eternal had I not found another activity to do.  I could only walk down the same main drag and walk into the same 5 shops so many times.  I knew things were starting to get really bad when I enjoyed washing dishes by hand... just to have something to do.

What had caught my eye the moment I looked into the activity brochure was ice waterfall climbing.  I wish I could say that's exactly what I did.  But it's not, since that option was only available from mid January to mid February.  So I moved onto my second choice: cross-country skiing.  Sadly, that too was unavailable, due to being booked solid.  There was one other option, a glimmer of hope for a somewhat event filled day: dog sledding.  It was 40 Euros for 30 minutes, but I gave in... mainly because it's something I had always wanted to do.

For 40 Euros I imagined I'd be able to somehow take the reins, for a few minutes at least. I later realized a large part of the money was actually just used for the care of the huskies, because instead of standing at the back of the sled, I found myself seated in it, with a blanket wrapped tightly around me.

In the end, I guess it was better that way, since, like I previously acknowledged, I don't speak French and apparently that's the only language the dogs know... besides the basic bark that is.  Either way, my commands would have probably led me right over a cliff.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Alpine alternative

So what does a girl do when she's stuck in the French Alps with no fireplace to be found, although she brought an ample supply of books for that one purpose alone?  Well, she snowshoes - with a nice guide who, at one point, asks if she's lazy because she doesn't speak French.

(I told him I am fluent in Portuguese and have a basic understanding of Dutch.  Although he didn't say it, I knew the word "touche" flashed through his mind ).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

backing down

The evening of December 10th, my mom prevailed.  Whether she won the war due to my being the weaker species or that I had no fight left in me, may be something I'll never know.  All that matters is we finally put an end to the back and forth vacation dialog and settled on a location to visit.  It wouldn't have been my first choice... heck, it probably wouldn't have been my fifth, but the thought of filling up one more night with seemingly endless destination searches exhausted me.

She wanted to go skiing, to spend a winter holiday doing a winter sport.  Fair enough... except, skiing is not my thing.  Nor is snowboarding for that matter.  I tremble just thinking about going down tree lined mountains at high speeds with little children of no more than 5 years of age speeding past from every angle.

My mom would repeat the following phrase at least twice a day, from the moment she picked me up at the train station in Germany until all chances were lost:  "You should give skiing a try, Claire.  You may find that you like it."  As many times as she would state it, I'd reply, "Mom, seriously... please listen this time.  I've gone skiing and snowboarding before.  I didn't really like it then, and I'm pretty sure 'giving it another try' won't change my mind this time around either."  Truth be told, my main dislike is what has inevitably happened each time I've left the slopes: feeling like an old woman, with a twisted knee here and a hurt back there.  I could visualize myself this time, exclaiming like one of the elderly in the commercials that aired in the '90's, "Help!  I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Like I stated before, however, as little interest I had in spending the holiday in an alpine village, on December 10th it was settled.  So, after confining myself in my mother's kitchen for two days, catering Christmas feasts, we left for Val Cenis in the French Alps.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The dealings of an indecisive mother

Ok, so let's rewind the clock a few months, say to September, three months before Christmas.  That is when my mother and I started planning our holiday vacation.  During those months, my life was consumed with evening phone calls, hours of internet research, emails bombarding my inbox and quite a bit of frustration.

Our planning could have been relatively simple, if the Mediterranean Cruise we had both agreed upon hadn't been full.  Or if flights to Egypt didn't skyrocket between the weeks of December 15th - January 5th.  Instead, the weeks leading up to Christmas were left to brainstorming... and a bit of healthy banter in between.

Mom:  "I know, we can go to the Canary Islands for Christmas!"
Me:  "Great, and we can pretend we're in the UK, just farther south."  (Since the Canary islands are filled with Englishmen during the holiday).
Mom:  "I've got it!  We can go to Scotland and stay in a castle!"
Me:  "Perfect.  That way we can be cold outside AND inside."
Me:  "How about Greece or Turkey?"
Mom:  silence
Mom:  "I've figured it out!  We can go to Finland... that's where they say Santa lives."
Me:  "Mother, please."
Mom:  "Claire, I don't see why you're making things so difficult."
Me:  "Well, what about Greece or Turkey?"
Mom:  silence
(Please note, the following conversation was over a 3 day period)
Sunday, via a phone call:
Mom: "How about Croatia?  I can go skiing and you can explore the towns?"
Me: "Sounds good to me... let's book this thing!"
Monday, via email:
Mom: "Claire, I've found the perfect place.  It's a small village in the French Alps and has tons of other activities for you to do while I ski.  Love, your mother."
Me:  "Wonderful!  I'm  sold!  Seal the deal!  ... Claire."
Tuesday, via phone call:
Mom: "Claire, this is your mother."
Me: "Really?"
Mom: "Don't be mean, because I've figured out where we're spending Christmas.  How about Italy, on a lake, it has tons of skiing and lots of things for you to do."
Me: sigh
Mom: "Where's Dusseldorf?"
Me: "It's near the Dutch border."
Mom: "Oh, ok.  Did you know that if you took a train to Dusseldorf, you could take a night train to Krakow..." 
Me: (unable to hear the rest of what my mother is saying, due to my continually repeating):  "Mom, Mom, MOM, MOM, MOM!"
Sister: (joining the call) "Still planning your Christmas vacation I take it?"