The same but different

In the past few months, I have become very aware of how much I missed by being abroad for almost all of my 20s. I’ve been taking the metro more in Boston lately, and when I look at these young(er) people, I feel like they are living a life I will never know anything about. Then, I was at a conference last week near where my parents live so I saw some of my high school friends. When talking about first jobs or first dates, I realized I have nothing similar to share.
I think some of it is just missing that young single life I didn’t really have. Meeting your husband at 21 makes your 20s look a lot different than if you find him at 30. But it’s also the fact that I was never young in the states. I mean, I’m still young, but not the carefree young. There was a very short window of time, only a few months really, that I was working, single, and old enough to go to bars. And even that was tempered by knowing that I’d be leaving for France.
While I spent my early 20s broke like most, there was the added stress about staying in the country, and that makes you think about money in a very different way. The joys and frustrations of figuring out the complexities of French administration and immigration is not something you can bond with people over if they’ve never left the state.
It’s also a pop culture thing. It’s almost as if I wish I didn’t have this extra experience that makes it hard to connect.  I missed so much in terms of music, movies, televisions… I try to remind myself that traveling around Europe > watching the Bachelor, but it’s hard when trying to make new friends and I realize I have no idea what they’re talking about.
It’s funny because a year ago I felt like I belonged. It felt so right being here. And while I still love my job, and think this move was a great idea, the longer I’m here, the more different I start to feel again… sigh. I guess it’s true that there’s no real “going home” for an expat.

Feelings in France

We arrived in France Saturday after a 20 hour journey, and I am feeling much happier than I thought I would. I think a lot of my pre-departure emotions were tied up in worrying about Monkey on the flight. We flew with Iceland Air, leaving at 9:30 at night, and since he’s never wanted to sleep on planes, I had nightmares of wrangling a cranky, horrible toddler on very little sleep.

He ended up sleeping about 4 hours on the first leg, albeit fitfully (it was drier than normal on the plane), and then another 2 on the Iceland-Paris leg. I got maybe 3 hours on the first leg and 1 hour on the second. My husband barely sleep at all, but we were still all in pretty good moods by the time we arrived. I was also really worried that Monkey would pull his usual “I hate people for the first half hour of seeing them, even if I know them” routine with his mamie, but he was happy right away! The weekly Skype calls definitely helped, I think.

He didn’t seem confused at all when we got to the house, possibly because of the excitement about the “new” toys here. He did spend a lot of time here during the first 18 months of his life, including living here an entire month, so even though I don’t think he “remembers” the house, I wonder if a part of his brain senses how familiar it is.

He slept for 13 hours the first night, and around 11 last night, with a long nap today, so that’s been a relief. I’ve been having a harder time, but it’s only been 2 days. I’ve had more wine in the past two days than I have had in the past two months, which probably doesn’t help my restless nights!

So far in just two days we’ve seen three different sets of cousins/uncles/etc, and another two are planned for tonight. I drove a manual car again without any problems, which was a relief, especially since it was my mother-in-law’s new car! The weather has been surprisingly nice for Lorraine, almost hot, and I spent a nice afternoon reading in the sun while Monkey napped. I’m feeling very relaxed, and seeing how happy my husband is to be with his family makes me very happy too. Though he seems a bit stressed about finding time to see everyone, which is a familiar emotion for many expats when they visit home!

Monkey was initially less clingy, but I think seeing so many “new” people in such a short period of time is getting to him a bit. He insisted on sitting on my lap at lunch, which solicited some “advice”…Overall though, he’s been great, and has already picked up a few new words.

For now, I am luxuriating in that wonderful “beginning of vacation, we have lots of time” feeling, knowing that two weeks will be over before we know it!

 

Blois and Bordeaux

Exactly a year ago my husband and I went to Poitiers and Bretagne, for a relaxing break before a busy summer welcoming bébé. This year’s trip was actually pretty similar in spirit, despite having bébé along with us to visit Blois and Bordeaux. We took things slow, had a “no car” day, and even got in some time at the hotel’s pool and spa in Blois. Sure, we slept (much) less than during last year’s vacation, but we came back on a Thursday again (well, technically very early Friday morning), giving us a few more days to chill at home.

We had originally intended to go abroad, to see how bébé does on a short plane ride. But my husband has been wanting to go to Bordeaux for ages and since last year wasn’t really ideal for lots of wine tasting, we decided to go for bébé’s first road trip instead. Since he’s also never visited any of the châteaux in the Loire valley, we broke up driving the first day to stop in Blois. I figured if bébé got grumpy and we couldn’t visit anywhere else, Blois has a château so we could at least see one.

Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau

We ended up being able to see another in Chenonceau (which I’m pretty sure I visited in high school – FIFTEEN years ago, what?!) because bébé is turning out to be a pretty good traveller. He’s just so into anything new, and the weather was so nice, he was in a great mood almost the entire trip. We tried to plan our outings so he could take his morning nap in the car/carrier, and get back to the hotel for his afternoon nap. He never slept much in the mornings, but longer afternoon naps made up for it, and it meant we could have some much needed downtime at the hotel as well.

Bordeaux
Bordeaux

 

 

Plus it was very hot in the afternoons, so it worked out well that we mostly visited things in the mornings. We’re all up between 6 and 7, which meant we visited Bordeaux and the Dune du Pilat with zero crowds. An unexpected upside to travelling with a baby!

Dune du Pilat
Dune du Pilat

Our last day in Saint-Émilion was maybe the hardest, since it was the one rainy day, and bébé was pretty grumpy. My husband got to taste and buy lots of wine, and I got to visit some really old stuff, so it was still a pretty good day. Bébé was in a better mood by lunch, and charmed the pants off everyone in the restaurant. He kept looking around at everyone, like he was following their conversations, and even laughing when they laughed. Just adorable.

Saint-Émilion
Saint-Émilion

Unfortunately, adorable only lasted so long, and he threw a pretty big fit about having to go to bed in the car, since we wanted to drive the 8 hours home without stopping. But all things considered, he did really well, and we seem to have worked out a good routine while travelling with him. No other trips planned for the moment, but with more and more sunny days ahead, hopefully we’ll be able to explore close to home this Spring and Summer.

 

Traveling with a baby in Paris

Traveling with a baby in Paris was perhaps not the most relaxing way to spend a weekend, but it turned out really well. I knew any plans I made would depend on the weather and his mood, so I kept things very basic (= see stuff, eat stuff, take cute pictures.)  The main reason we went was so that my husband could take an exam, so I was my own on the train, since he went up Friday night, and for most of the day on Saturday.

I know Paris pretty well, having studied there for a summer in college (which included studying the history of the city, old street maps, and lots and lots of walking around), and we’ve been a few times together as a couple. There was no rush to see everything or disappointment when timing didn’t work out. While it would have been nice to make it into a museum or two, there will be other trips, both with and without bébé, that will be more culture-focused. This weekend was mainly about getting away and navigating a big city (and public transportation!) with a baby in tow.

Transportation

The TGV ride up went very well, though bébé was obviously very interested in everything about the train, so he didn’t fall asleep until we were halfway there. To get everything to the station in the morning meant putting him in the baby carrier, and our bags in the stroller. I picked a hotel close to the train station so we wouldn’t have to deal with bags + baby on the metro.

I didn’t want to attempt the metro on my own. After reading other posts about bringing babies to Paris, I tried the bus. I think before this weekend I’d taken the bus maybe twice in Paris, and I was a little nervous. But the routes are well indicated on the bus stops, and since I know the city pretty well, it was just a matter of finding one that went in the general direction of where I wanted to go.

1-paris1

For example, I had planned on meeting my husband at the Champs-Elysees metro station, and originally I was going to take the metro to Concorde and walk from there. But then I found a bus that went from the train station to the Louvre, and then walked through the Tuileries Garden instead. Much more enjoyable than hauling the stroller up and down a million stairs.

2-paris2

So bébé didn’t get his first metro ride until Sunday, when my husband took him in the baby carrier and I was on diaper bag duty. In general I prefer the carrier, but he’s just so curious now (and big!), I only use it on my own for short trips, when I won’t need a diaper bag. But with the two of us, it meant we could take the metro and explore a little easier and faster than I had the day before with the stroller.

3-paris3
Getting silly at the Grand Palais

 

Eating

I only breastfed in public once, in a café near the Musée d’Orsay, and no one said anything. I was a little more self-conscious than usual, since bébé was being so fussy and popping off every two seconds to whine, thus making me feel quite exposed and drawing attention to us. I also fed him on the train on the way home, but I had the window seat with my husband next to me so I was a little more comfortable.

Though some of the pictures are quite grey, Saturday afternoon turned out very nice, and bébé got some applesauce in a park. I don’t think he’s ever eaten outside like that, so yay for bébé’s first picnic! I even changed him on a park bench, which he just loved for some reason.

I originally wanted to eat at a Korean Barbecue place for lunch, but it was so tiny, and they just weren’t that friendly. So we left before we even sat down and went to Hippopotamus instead and got both excellent burgers and excellent service. They had a high chair and a coloring book (which he mostly just tore apart, still too little to color!) and waitresses who just loved him. He even got a kiss from one, he was being absolutely adorable.

I know we won’t be able to go to certain types of restaurants for awhile as a family, but I didn’t fully realize it until this weekend. At first since he was so small and slept so easily, we go almost anywhere. Now that he’s bigger, it’ll be more of a challenge finding places that will work for all of us together. Just another reason to look forward to our date nights – grown-up restaurants! But if everywhere can be as nice and welcoming as where we ate this weekend (with good food no less), then I don’t really see it as much of a sacrifice.

The café we went to Sunday morning had a high chair, though it would have been fine if they didn’t since we didn’t stay that long. Bébé managed to grab a croissant off the table when we weren’t looking and started gumming it to death, so this was a trip for firsts! First picnic, first croissant, first metro ride . . .

4-paris4

Thoughts

I always expect him to be cranky and difficult when we go out for long periods of time in public, but I think I am just anticipating toddler tantrums. Babies are easier I think, or at least ours is, since he loves anything that’s new. Nothing scares him, not loud noises, not dogs, nothing. The only times he cried or fussed was when he was tired. We’ve done a little too well in the “get baby to sleep in his own bed” area, and pretty much anywhere else is a play zone (including our bed, so even if we wanted to cosleep at this point, it would never work). He eventually napped in the baby carrier, and in the stroller, but for much shorter periods, and much later than usual, once he was totally exhausted. This made nighttime sleep a little harder, but not that much worse than usual.

I think the only thing I would have done differently is not taken our portable cot. It’s not that heavy, but it’s larger than an average suitcase so getting it on the train was a little awkward. The hotel had one, but I was worried about safety and hygiene. But we can always bring out own sheets, and I don’t have any good reason to think the hotel’s cots are less safe than ours, since I’ve never tried one before.

So our first trip to Paris as a family of three can definitely be called a success. I’m happy he seems to enjoy exploring France as much as his parents (trips to Beaune and Strasbourg also went well), and it will be exciting to see how he reacts to each new place we take him.

Bébé’s first château and citrouille

My return to work last week went well, and since I started on a Wednesday, I barely had time to sort through my emails before the week was over! This was probably the last warm and sunny weekend until Spring, so we took full advantage of it. Saturday I went to a nearby château with bébé while my husband took a nap (he’s starting to understand what the past three months have been like for me! Well, minus recovering from labor and breastfeeding) and Sunday all three of us went to a local farm to get a pumpkin.

The Château de La Grange is actually really close to our end of town, and it only took about 25 minutes on foot to get there. I might have to add it to my list of things I like about Thionville, except it’s technically in Manom . . . I only paid for the gardens, since it was too nice of a day to spend inside. I particularly liked the moat. Bébé seemed unimpressed overall, though he did perk up a bit when looking at the different flowers.

 

ChateauxCitrouilles

We used to go to the Cueillette de Peltre (pick-your-own farm) almost every weekend when we lived in Metz, but I think this is the first time we’ve been since we moved away. Going out to a farm to get a pumpkin in October is a terribly American thing to do, so of course we had to start the tradition with bébé. There were lots of different types of pumpkins: Jack O’ Lantern (that’s what they called it!), citrouille, potimarron, and a few others I can’t remember. Again, he didn’t seem very into visiting a new place, until I showed him more flowers.

While it’s not always possible to stick to what we planned to do, having something to look forward to all week really helps make the days go by faster. And now I have tons of cute pictures  to look at while at work.

Eight things I like about Thionville

When we moved to Thionville last September to be closer to our jobs Luxembourg, I was excited about getting more sleep and spending more time together in the evenings. That was about it. Metz was already super small by my East Coast American urban sprawl standards, and to go somewhere even smaller seemed like we were just asking for boredom. We’re not the kind of couple that goes out every night or are regulars at the bar down the street, but since we never really had the option, who’s to say we aren’t? And what’s the point of getting home early if there is nothing to do once we’re there??

So, in an effort to be fair to my new town, I started writing down the things I like about it. Plus my parents are here this week visiting and I was trying to think of things to do here. I wanted to find 10, since “Ten things I like about Thionville” seemed like a pretty nice title. But 8 will have to do, because if after almost a year here I didn’t find 10, I never will . . .

I also wanted it to be things about the town itself, not stuff we could have gotten elsewhere like the shorter commute or a bigger apartment. Eight (or a hundred) things I don’t like is easy, but actively trying to see the positive in what was emotionally a very hard move was a good exercise in optimism for me. I think everyone, expat or not, can always see the bad things first about living somewhere when it wasn’t your first choice.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1) There is a very yummy Italian-style ice cream place. They let you pick an unlimited number of flavors and then turn it into a pretty flower design. Their hot chocolate is pretty good too.

2) You can get to the (surprisingly nice) mall and big-box store area on a bus. A big drawback in Metz was that to do any serious shopping, you needed a car. Though there are less buses here in general, there are two or three that can get you there from the center of town. Since we’ll probably go back to just one car in a few months, this is something I really really like.

3) There’s no cathedral, but the architecture and urbanism is still pretty cool. It’s the same late 19th/early 20th century German influence that you see in parts of Metz: revival style buildings (renaissance and baroque), pink sandstone, big boulevards on angles with fountains at the end. Since it’s on a smaller scale, I notice it and appreciate it more.

Thionville

4) There’s a Chinese takeout catering place where you pick and choose what you want. Early in my pregnancy I would stop there on the way home to get just one egg roll and three pounds of noodles and the guy acted like that was totally normal.

5) During the summer, the river quays are filled with chairs and tables and stands are set up to sell food and drinks. I like this much better than the tons of sand and big pool they put up around the plan d’eau in Metz. It’s only hot enough here for about three days every summer to use an outdoor pool, and it’s always crowded. Plus, I’m more of a river person than a lake person, and there is nothing more enjoyable than sipping a cool drink on a warm summer evening watching the boats and swans go by.

6) I’ve only ever spent a maximum of 30 minutes at the sous-préfecture here, compared to hours upon hours at the préfecture in Metz. This should maybe count as something that we could have found elsewhere, but the people I’ve dealt with have been pretty nice, so there are definitely points scored for having nicer than expected fonctionnaires.

7) Free trash bags. I don’t know if other towns do this (Metz certainly didn’t when we lived there), but when we went to go get our recycling bags when we first moved in, they also gave us trash bags. I realize this probably only saves us about 10€ a year, but hey, free stuff that you actually use is always cool.

8) The statue of a wild boar in one of the parks. I don’t think I need to explain this one.

boar

Comparing maternity leave in France and Luxembourg

One difficult thing about going on maternity leave was how little flexibility I had in the dates. However, this would not have been the case if I were working in France. So I thought I’d do a little comparison of maternity leave in France and Luxembourg, to show how different it can be. This is just the basic legal stuff; collective labor agreements, like for banks or childcare workers, can often give even more time. (For example, my husband gets 3 days off for the birth rather than the standard 2.)

[table] , France, Luxembourg
Length of standard leave, 16 weeks, 16 weeks
Length of standard prenatal leave, 6 weeks, 8 weeks
Flexibility in prenatal leave, 3 weeks (added to postnatal leave), none
Length of standard postnatal leave, 10 weeks, 8 weeks
Extra leave for breastfeeding, none, 4 weeks postnatal
Extra leave for multiples, 34 to 46 weeks total, 4 weeks postnatal (not sure if this is in addition to the 4 weeks for breastfeeding or not)
Extra leave when not first child, 26 weeks total if third+ child, none
Full salary paid by government, yes (up to a limit of about 2500 a month), yes (up to a limit of about 9600 a month)
Leave for the father following birth, 11 consecutive days during the first 4 months, 2 days [/table]

So while overall, my leave is a little bit longer because I work in Luxembourg, things are much different in France for multiples, fathers, and people who have more than one child already. I think having the option to use most of the leave after the birth is a very good idea, though I suppose it compensates in a way for the lack of specific “breastfeeding” leave in France.

There is also the choice in France to shorten the leave to 8 weeks (2 before, 6 after), though I have no idea if many women choose this option. And 8 weeks is the minimum if you want to be paid for the leave. So what happens if you just keep working? Does your employer not have to pay you? Can they refuse to let you work? I have a feeling these are not really situations that happen very often, since you’re paid your full salary, but since my issue is with flexibility, these are questions I wonder about.

 

Parental leave is slightly more complicated, and the law in France will change this year starting July 1st. I don’t think it’s to be more like Luxembourg specifically (I have a feeling the rest of the country is not quite as aware of Luxembourg as we are in Lorraine), but they’re trying to encourage more men to take time off. Right now in France about 3% of fathers take parental leave, and they’re hoping it’ll go up to 20% in the next few years. Luxembourg is already at about 24%. Since the laws in France are (always) complex, there are obviously some additional points I don’t cover here, like multiples, single parent families, and crèches. Again, this is just to give an idea of the differences between the two countries.

[table] , France (new 2014 law), Luxembourg
Amount of leave first child, 12 months (6 months each parent full- or part-time 50-80%), 12-24 months (6 months full-time or 12 months part-time 50% each parent)
When leave is taken, anytime after end of maternity leave, one parent must take their leave immediately following the maternity leave or the other parent loses their leave
Both parents take leave at the same time, yes (part-time), yes (part-time and only if alternating schedules so child is always with one parent and not daycare/nanny)
Amount of leave more than one child, 3 years maximum IF second parent takes 6 months (otherwise only 2.5 years), same as for 1 child
Leave can be taken until child is . . ., 3 years old, 5 years old
Compensation from government, a few hundred a month (depends on income and if part- or full-time), around 900 part-time and 1800 full-time (fixed amounts independent of income)[/table]

 

We’re definitely happier with the way parental leave is set up in Luxembourg, since for us, that’s more important than the maternity leave. You’re only pregnant 9 months, but then there’s a baby to take care of . . . forever!! (The panic has started as my due date approaches!) We talked about both doing part-time at the same time, but the scheduling was a little too complicated.

While nothing was stopping men from taking the time in France, most don’t because they make more money and there are cultural stereotypes that factor in as well. So I’m not sure that just offering 6 months to the second parent will really change anything, and people aren’t particularly happy with the new limit of 2.5 years if the second parent doesn’t take the 6 months.

While the limits in Luxembourg seem to encourage men to take time, it’s still not a 50/50 split, and it’s definitely a question of money/culture as well. The compensation probably seems quite generous compared to France, but it’s basically the minimum wage in Luxembourg, so financially it’s not always possible for both parents to take the time off. It’s still better than in France though; the system is so complicated for figuring out how much you’d get per month, and once you make over a certain amount you don’t get anything, so after a certain point in your career it would be difficult to take the time without changing your lifestyle (like a baby doesn’t do that already?).

Part-time is generally a better option in both countries, since you’d have half your pay from your employer (or even up to 80% in France) and compensation from the government as well, so financially there might be less of a loss. It’s the same math future parents around the world have to do, even in countries like Denmark that have 52 weeks of paid maternity/parental leave, since individual situations vary and governments do impose limits to compensation. I don’t think any country gives you 100% of your normal salary for months and months of leave. (Nor should they, in my opinion, if part of the purpose is to make sure women have the same career opportunities as men.)

I should mention that for both maternity and parental leave in France and Luxembourg, there are conditions like having worked for a while (in general for maternity leave and at the company specifically for parental leave) and paid into the health care/social security system for a certain amount of time, which makes sense. Parental leave is always optional, so not everyone takes advantage of it, but I personally just love having options. So hopefully these comparisons help show the options parents have when choosing between working in France or Luxembourg!

Why I keep every paper ever

I got a letter from my complementary health insurance asking for an updated certificate from the national health insurance (the CPAM for me). I thought it might have to do with the pregnancy, since certain things are reimbursed at 100%, it means less for the complementary insurance to pay. (They already don’t pay very much to begin with: because of specific local laws for those living in Alsace-Moselle, the CPAM pays 90% for most things, rather than just 70% like the rest of France.)

However, it turns out the last certificate they had was from my student days, in 2011! Apparently I have not been getting reimbursed for everything I could have for the past three years. I go to the doctor maybe twice a year, so I didn’t really notice the missing 3 euros, but still, a nice surprise. I just have to give them the papers that the CPAM sends me with the details of what they paid.

I have an online account, but there’s only the past 6 months of payments, and the complementary insurance will back pay up to two years. Which is why I’m glad I keep every paper I ever get and file things in various large folders with labels like “Bank stuff” “Health stuff” and “Tax stuff” (all with a semi-chronological organization). I definitely try to keep track of paperwork very well here, just in case my residency card depends on showing a payslip from 2008 or a bank statement from 2010 for some reason. However, my recent renewal was one of the easiest ever actually, and I came home without needing half the papers I brought “just in case.”

In the end, I’ll probably only get about 15 euros, but that’s enough for yet another cute baby outfit! And when you combine paperwork organization and nesting, you get yet another folder full of receipts for baby clothes, just in case he comes out gigantic and half the things I bought don’t even fit . . .

Bank card limits in France

My nesting instinct hasn’t quite kicked in yet (the freezer remains mostly empty and the closets horribly disorganized) but my shopping definitely seems to have picked up a bit this month. So I’ve been having lots of fun, but in the back of my head, I have to keep in mind the spending limits on my bank card.

Since I moved to France right after college, I’m not sure how different things are here, but I know my dad was upset recently that his free checking accounting was no longer free. I’ve been paying a few euros a month since the very first month for my account here, so I couldn’t really sympathize with him. I do know that what I pay is because I have a debit card; the joint account with my husband only has a checkbook so we don’t pay anything for it.

In addition to the monthly fee, there are limits on how much I can withdraw each week, and how much I can spend in a month using the card (there are no limits to withdrawing at the bank, other than the amount actually in the account!). When I first arrived in France, these limits were pretty low, which wasn’t a big deal, since I didn’t make that much. And it’s nice to know that if my card gets stolen and someone tries to buy or withdraw a lot, they won’t be able to. Recently I asked my banker to increase the limits, since my work situation is stable, but I still need to keep that number in my mind when buying big ticket items over the next few weeks.

Both my husband and I are at Société Générale now, but before he was at Crédit Mutuel, and I’m not sure if he had the same limits. I remember the first time we tried to buy plane tickets with his new card, and we couldn’t, because he was close to the monthly limit, and he swore he’d never had one at his old bank. It could just be that he had never reached his limit before, so never knew what it was.

One nice thing is that there re no fees when withdrawing from an ATM at another bank, with, of course, a weekly limit. This is something I loved when I first got here, since there was nothing more annoying to me in the states than paying an extra 2 dollars when I didn’t use my bank’s ATM. 2 dollars is a lot to a college student on minimum wage! That’s like, enough for an essential studying snack or bus fare to the mall.

I’ve been looking into purely online banking for a while, but I’ve been at the same bank since I first got here, and with the same banker for over 4 years. He knows us, knows our goals, and gives good advice. We also manage to get enough “new” services every year that we help him meet his sales quota without him having to call and badger us every few months. So if we called him and asked to up the limit so we can buy a crib, he’d do it, no problem. I don’t feel like I can’t spend my own money how I want to, it just takes a bit more planning. Which, when dealing with budgets, is probably not such a bad thing.

I’ve gotten used to my bank card limits in France just like I’ve gotten used to everything being closed on Sundays and after 7pm. Sure, a part of me feels like this is somehow denying me my freedom of choice, but at the same time, it’s made me more organized and conscious of how I spend my money (and time).

Poitiers and Bretagne

We were able to both explore and relax during our little vacation on the other side of the country. So often when we visit new places, we feel the need to do and see everything we can as quickly as possible. This time, we really took it slow, in part due to my physical limits (hello third trimester!) but also because we knew we both needed to chill out as much as possible. Visiting  Poitiers and Bretagne in the same trip was maybe slightly too ambitious, since it involved a lot of driving, but I’m glad we saw both, since they offered totally different experiences of France. (It also allowed me to check off two more regions for my goal to visit all of them!)

Poitiers has lots of great medieval architecture, and is easy to visit on foot. Our hotel was right next to the Préfecture and Hôtel de Ville, so we were well placed to explore. The weather was sunny, if a bit cool, so perfect for walking around.

Poitiers

 

We also visited the Futuroscope, a multimedia theme park, which is a short drive from the city. I couldn’t do everything, but my brother-in-law was with us, so he and my husband went off to do things while I enjoyed the sunshine and fairly reasonably priced snacks. And there were shows and films I could see, which were fun and interesting. The activities and films were pretty well timed I think to see everything in one day, but again, we weren’t trying to go at a crazy speed. Also, a lot of things were really more interesting for kids, in terms of theme and technology. So maybe in a few years we’ll go back when bébé is a little bigger!

After an Easter brunch in town, we spent Sunday with my husband’s uncle and his family, who he hadn’t seen in a very long time and I hadn’t met before. Even if they don’t celebrate the holiday, it was nice to spend Easter with family, chatting and eating and getting to know the little cousins. And since the previous day had involved lots of walking, it was definitely a good idea to just sit around all afternoon.

Then is was off to Bretagne! I say that like we visited the entire region, but we were only in a tiny part of the Côtes-d’Armor département. I kept calling it the “Côtes d’Amour” by accident, but I don’t think I’m the only one who makes that mistake . . . We stayed in Pléneuf-Val-André and visited the Côte de Granite Rose (Pink Granite Coast due to type of rock you find there). So this part of the trip was more about natural beauty than architecture, though there were a few megalithic structures to see as well. The weather was a little cooler and rainier, but still nice enough in general to enjoy being outside as much as possible.

Bretagne

 

Since we drove so much the previous days, and were looking at an eight hour drive home the next day, Wednesday we stayed in the hotel for most of the day. It was very rainy, so it wasn’t the best weather for exploring anyway. And as you can see in the top two pictures, our view was pretty great, so even if we were being lazy, at least it felt like we were being lazy somewhere special!

We drove home Thursday, which gave us another three days to relax at home, which we usually never have when coming back from a trip. It’s usually a Sunday return trip and then back to work Monday. Even coming back a Saturday is hard, because you have to try and cram grocery shopping and other things into one day. So this way, the easy pace continued through the end of my two-week break. I still feel like I got everything done I needed to, while not stressing myself out even more by trying to do everything in just a few days.

Now just 18 (!!) more days of work until my much longer, much more action-packed “break” . . .