Saturday, December 31, 2011

London for Christmas!

Just got back from a trip to London with the family for the holidays.  We stayed for a week in a 2 bedroom apartment in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London, which I found on the AirBnB website.  AirBnB is a site that allows owners to rent out rooms, or, as in our case, whole apartments or houses to travelers, with a whole suite of tools (payment online, reviews, communication with the landlord, etc).

This is the place.  It's an interesting experience, renting an apartment where the occupant is just traveling for the week.  Overall it was a positive experience, and I'm planning on using AirBnB again, but there's a few things I'm going to remember for next time:

1.  The photos that are posted online are just an approximation of what the place really looks like.  It's like photos that someone posts on a dating website - very carefully chosen to make them look good!  In real life, it will ONLY ever look worse than the photos.  In our case, the apartment itself looked fine, but the entryway was very grungy, and the photos don't show that the faucets rocked back and forth.

2.  Location is very important if you're going to be a tourist somewhere (and, frankly, in every case).  Based on some comments and reviews, I had assumed that it was pretty central.  It was reasonably central, but not enough.  Every day we made the same trip - southeast, into the central touristy area of London.  We probably should have found something closer.

The positives were - it was great to have 2 bedrooms and a kitchen.  We always ate breakfast at home, and had a few dinners at home as well.  There was one really memorable restaurant meal - a Thai place just down the road.  I'm drooling, remembering the yummy, spicy Thai food, which I've really been missing here in Switzerland!  They had a great kids menu as well.

We did a good amount of the major tourist attractions.  The highlights were the British Museum, which Kenny absolutely loved - he's very interested in Roman artifacts, and has asked me a few times, "Mom, how lucky would you have to be to find a Roman coin?"  Peter wasn't nearly as interested and as a matter of fact, was asking to go home continually while we were there.  I guess there's not much to see at his eye-level, plus he has a cough and probably hadn't slept too well.  I picked him up quite a lot, but he's not so light anymore, and I can't do it for very long.

We went to the Tower of London, but if I had to do it again I probably would have skipped it, because the lines were so very long - not just to buy tickets, but to get into various attractions inside.  We didn't see the Crown Jewels because the line was too long.  This is Peter waiting while Eric buys tickets.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting started on an exercise routine again

I had a very well established exercise routine back in Bellevue.  Pretty much every morning, I would go downstairs where we have a treadmill, and do a brisk walk at an incline for about half an hour.  This routine was totally integrated into my schedule, took almost no extra time, no driving to the gym, no extra shower.  Plus, I had an old laptop set up on the treadmill, so my exercise time was also my web surfing time.  I really enjoyed it.

Here in Geneva, I've just managed to set up a little bit of a routine again.  We have no exercise equipment, but before I left Bellevue, I ripped some exercise DVDs and copied them to my laptop.  Just in the past week, I've been working out in the morning to the exercise DVDs.  One in particular - a kick-boxing routine - has been keeping my interest.  I get a better workout and exercise more muscles than when I was just working out on the treadmill.  But I really miss surfing the web during my workout.

It strikes me how important it is for me to make the routine EASY to follow.  Things like exercise clothes always being in the right spot, not needing to go out of my way too much.  It's ironic, because after all the point of exercising is to get a workout, and working out is basically doing a bunch of movements that have no practical application, except for health.  But it matters nonetheless.

EDIT 3/5/2012
Actually, I've been slacking on this routine pretty consistently.  It's just so boring to work out to a DVD.  I do walk to work and back (about 6 minutes one way).  Plus I walk up the six flights of stairs every day to our apartment.  But yes, I need to start something more structured.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A stormy weekend

It's gotten an lot colder and we had some snow yesterday (nothing stuck, though). This is going to be a quiet weekend, setting up the Christmas tree and continuing to get the house in order, organizing the kitchen, etc. And hopefully we'll also do some planning for next week's trip to London. It's getting dark quite early, I'm looking forward to the days lengthening again!

There's an endless list of things I should do in the apartment. Organizing the kitchen, setting up something to prevent drafts at the bottom of our doors (we have glass doors from 1930 in this apartment, they let in quite a lot of cold air!), making Kenny a little book holder to hang off his bunk bed, setting up something to organize the paperwork here (in the US we had far less paperwork because everything was online, but Switzerland is far behind in that area, and everything is still paper based), organizing the kid's toys so that they're not laying all over the place. Whew!  And that doesn't account for the daily activities of taking care of the kids and the house.

On the plus side, I did set up all the kids books in the new bookcases that we got from Ikea to go in their room. They're excited to be able to read some of their old books again. And I was excited to not have all the boxes of books hanging around in their room anymore! I've gone completely paperless for my books (have I mentioned yet how much I love my Kindle?) and regularly get books from my home library system on the Kindle. I've been checking it out, and there's actually a fair number of children's books that are available on the Kindle. I think for kids the experience of having paper books is better for right now, but after we get bored with what we have, maybe we'll start getting children's books on the Kindle as well. 

Yesterday we took a walk along the east side of Lake Geneva. It's neat, because you can walk as far as you want, and as long as you make sure you're on a bus route (not too difficult here, the transit system is great), you can get back pretty easily by taking a bus. It was a decent walk, but I'll definitely need to find a book or website with some suggestions for walks to take around town. We stopped at a small Coop grocery store to pick up some croissants for a snack/bribe, and made it home in time to do some grocery shopping for the week.

Friday, December 2, 2011

We've moved!

I'm really excited to report that we've moved to our new apartment in Eaux Vives!  Moving day (yesterday) was extremely stressful.  I woke up at 4:30 to make sure I got a good hour of worrying in before getting the kids ready and taking the bus, with rolling suitcase, some backpacks, the kids school backpacks, and various other bits and pieces to our new apartment.  I'm sure we must have looked like quite the vagabond family.

But it wasn't just the move that was happening, it was also the kids first day of school at their new, permanent school!  I feel bad that they need to make another transition so soon after starting at the first school, but it can't be helped.  So far I'm very pleased with their school.  Most importantly, it's at most a 3 minute walk from our apartment!  Also, during my meeting with the principal at 8 to get the kids registered, I got a very good impression.  She seemed very kind and competent, and also seemed to have a good rapport with the kids, and knew their names.  She spent a good hour with me, made sure that I knew what was going on, and also got the kids registered for the lunch program for the day, since it was our moving day and it would have been hard to have them here with us during the move.

In Kenny's classroom, the teacher sat him next to a kid who spoke English well.  I think he may have been British.  He'll be starting the French welcome class next Monday, which - oh joy! - is just down the hall from his regular class, not in a whole different school like previously.   Peter's classroom looked very different from his previous class, which was very barren looking.  This one was packed (almost to the point of clutter) with all kinds of materials and games.  The teacher was very warm and welcoming.  She had a little girl lead Peter by the hand around the room, showing him the points of interest in the class.  Also, there's only one teacher, the class isn't split between two teachers like in his old school.

After I got the kids settled in their new school, I walked back (only 3 minutes!) to our apartment to see this outside:

We're on the 7th floor (called the 6th here), and this is what they do, whenever possible, to move people in and out of apartments.  It's like a mobile elevator without walls.  There were a team of 5 men here, working pretty steadily with about an hour and a half lunch break, and they were in by 8:15, and gone by 1:30.  I expected them to just leave all the furniture and boxes and go, but it turns out that they also assemble the furniture and unpack boxes.  That worked out very well, Eric helped them assemble the kids bunk bed, which is quite a chore, and they also did some Ikea tables and chairs, and a bed.  They had a guy unpacking in the kitchen as well, which I'll have to completely redo once I figure out how I want things in there.  But it was still great to get rid of those boxes and papers - they ended up hauling a huge load of packing material away.

Our apartment looks like this now

It'll take a while to get everything set up, that's for sure.  Right now we have boxes everywhere.  Thank goodness there's a little storage space in the basement, we'll be putting lots of stuff down there.  Tomorrow we're headed to Ikea to buy some kind of storage unit for the entryway, just some place to hang coats.