Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bye-bye summer

School begins again for Kenny and Peter this coming Monday.  We're trying to gradually ratchet down their currently very late bedtimes.  My theory is that the most effective way of doing this is just to wake them up earlier in the morning (possible), instead of trying to force them to sleep when they're not tired (impossible).

The beginning of the school year, or rentrĂ©e in French, is much more relaxed here.  No letters from the school at all, no school supply lists, nothing, which makes me think I've missed something.  But after talking to a few other parents, that's the way it is, though you may get a letter from the teacher the first few weeks of school asking you to buy a few things.  But there's no monster back-to-school sales, no massive lists, nothing like that.  In Peter's class last year, he needed some thin-soled slippers, kind of like ballet slippers, which they wear in a gym/dance type class, and also an art smock, and some tissues.  That was it.  For Kenny's class, there was nothing, though I'm inclined to think that was because the teacher was not as engaged.  He's getting a new teacher this year, and I'm happy that Peter is staying with the same teacher, whom we've been very happy with.  Last year she was very involved, arranged a parent potluck, and even sent Peter a personalized letter during the summer thanking him for the stuffed animal Peter gave her the last day of school.

My in-laws just left a few days ago after their visit.  We really enjoyed having them here, did a lot of day trips in the area, and the boys miss them tremendously.  I think our favorite trip with them was to the Signal de Bougy, a  huge park area up in the hills west of Nyon with playgrounds, animals, views, picnic areas, and also an adventure rope park where the kids were roped into harnesses and were able to clamber through the trees, and then descend again via ziplines.  They loved it, and next time I'm going to be up there in the trees with them!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A weekend in Gruyeres

We're just back from our trip to Gruyeres. We spent the night at a very forgettable small hotel - that's what you get when you book on Saturday morning for Saturday night, in the high season!  It was a mini apartment, the previous tenant's garbage had not been removed, and for the free breakfast, there was sugar free cocoa (and this is not artificially sweetened cocoa, this is just - no sugar, just chocolate powder), with no sugar on the side - just little Splenda pills.  Plus flies everywhere, but that seems to be par for the course at restaurants here.  For what you pay, you'd be getting gourmet meals in the US, but here you're waving flies away all the time, and nobody blinks an eye (okay, except when the flies come buzzing around your eyes).  Maybe it's because of all the cows around.  

Peter, looking through one of the windows at the Gruyeres castle
Enough complaining, it was actually a nice trip. We went to the chocolate factory, the cheese factory, the town of Gryuere and Gruyere Castle, played at a few playgrounds, did a hike through a gorge, saw a lot of cows...what else...Eric had horse meat yesterday.  It was a little tough and a touch gamey, but otherwise very like beef.  Cheaper, too!   We were both wondering if they actually raise the horses for slaughter.  Gruyere is an amazing area in terms of scenery, just beautiful and very much what you think of when you think of the Swiss alps...except not quite as high, since these are the "pre alps", instead of the actual alps.  Gruyere was completely touristy, absolutely nobody there but foreign tourists and the people working in the shops.  But in the gorge hike, we may have been the only foreigners, all the cars I saw seemed to have local license plates.  People were very friendly - 100% of the hikers walking by greeted us.

The tour at the Cailler chocolate factory was unique.  It was completely high-tech and there were no tour guides!  There were some people who took our money, shepherded us to the beginning of into the main area, and told us what was going to happen, but the main part of the tour was completely automated, and a little like a Disney ride.  In each room they explained a little bit of the history of chocolate, but in a very jazzy, "light and sound show" way, complete with moving props, dry ice vapor, etc.  And the doors opened into the next room when the spiel in the previous room was over. And they can, of course, switch between languages - our tour was in English, but I saw on the guide's touch screen that he had all kinds of options, including French, German, and Spanish.  Very fancy.  Just imagine, even the profession of tour guide can be (at least partially) automated!