a dad week- eze and monaco photo highlights

*If you only check out one of my photos below...... look at the last one. It shows Monaco setting up the bleachers for the Grand Prix. It's real people.

Last Wednesday, PB landed in Nice at lunchtime! Man, we were so happy to have him join us. We had meals planned in the neighborhood, close by sightseeing adventures and a weekend road trip to Provence. 

But before we did all of the above, I'm putting it down in the blog for the record (even though I'm really trying to suppress the memory) my required and assigned medical appointment at the OFII (French Immigration Office) last Thursday morning. Truth be known, I had no idea that it was a final requirement of the French visa process. I was bothered for a few days upon receipt of the appointment by email. I had lots of dramatic and detailed public/socialized medical heath clinic visions (I'll blame the nurse in me). All made me want to buy a plane ticket back home and forget about the visa need. But after some quick online research, (thank you Google) I read a few testaments and realized it wasn't so scary. My appointment was at 8:30am. Paul went with me and the kids stayed home to work on school. We left them with lunch money- I had no earthly idea how long it would take. After a cab ride there, a long line in a plain unassuming hallway, then a security, paperwork and passport check- I found myself waiting in queue for the exam. I passed! Including a chest x-ray to evaluate for TB. I was out of there in 45 minutes with my official stamp added into my passport. 

Now, I could let the fun plans begin!

We had a reservation for a dress up dinner, hard-to-get-in spot Thursday night. I had a reason to celebrate. On Friday, the kids worked on school until lunch, then we set out by bus to a hilltop town called, Eze-le-Village. Existing since ancient times, Eze caps a high peak above the coastline. Today, it survives off of tourism. From there we rode a bus to Monaco to give PB a whirlwind pass through. He loved it. The fast luxury cars were still there! I love how the crowd lights up  when they hear a loud engine rounding the corner. We left Monaco by train, and stopped off in Villefranche for a cozy dinner at sunset. They were filming a movie right outside of the restaurant's doors. I could see it from my chair. Anne Lois had to get close and stood outside of the door to watch them shoot a scene. Not sure the day could have been any more perfect.

small signs- Spring in Nice, France

We are all still donning our coats daily and running down to the beach in hopes of seeing sun bathers. I know the pollen is coating everything back home in Fairhope. So shouldn't we see the same here in Nice? Are we not paying attention? Every single day seems to have the same high and same low. The other day, Ab and I went on a walk looking for signs of spring. They were small. But, I can tell that our clothes layers are lighter. Our smiles are brighter. The days are getting longer. And the tourists are more numerous (we don't count ourselves as one of those). It's slowly warming up and I can't wait to see all the beautiful Mediterranean, summer weather loving plants shine soon. We're pretty sure spring has sprung here! 

We're almost halfway through the Travel School Project. Here's a summary-

grandparent week

Just as we returned late by train to Nice from our Florence trip, PB's parents had arrived the same day via plane from Jerusalem. They rented a modest studio apartment right around the corner from ours for the week.  PB had one day with all of us before he returned to Fairhope. Our week was fast, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed. We crammed in school sessions, sunsets, shopping, eating and regional sightseeing. As much as J&M have traveled the globe, they hadn't been to Nice before. It was a treat for the kids to show them around. 

Our longest excursion was taking a 45 minute bus trip from Nice up above Monaco to La Turbie. A smallish town not heavily touristed. It holds the ancient Roman ruins known as Trophee des Alpes.  It was built as a trophy high on a hilltop for all to see by land and sea by emperor Augustus. The Romans declaration that they had conquered and ruled the lands- opening roads from Rome to Spain. The ruins have a long history of decay and stone removal/repurposing, but in the 1920's it underwent significant restoration thanks to a US investor- Dr. Tuck. There is also a simple but beautiful one room museum on site. 

Now- the truth. That day we needed new tram tickets and the machines would take our credit cards. No problem. Walk to the bus office, get tickets. Take tram to bus stop. Ok. Get off at tram stop, but where are the buses? Down the hill out of plain site. Ride bus. Kids argue as we get to the ruins (no good reason). Finish and we're having meltdowns (4 out of 6). Mom to the rescue. Buy some snacks and perk them up. Just sometimes (many times) photos don't reveal the truth. 

As our moods began to lighten, we trekked back towards Nice via bus down to Monaco to get on the regional train. I voted to get off a stop before Nice in Villefranche-sur-mer for dinner. It was sunset and a perfect way to end the day in a picturesque riviera village.  Wilson looked hard for a nice dinner spot. It was tricky. But he found a small and charming local restaurant that we all enjoyed. Afterwards, we joked and laughed our way back to the train station walking under the full moon's light.

It felt like a slice of home was with us for a week.  

The Hunt for the Perfect Baguette

story and photos by Anne Lois

For each amazing dinner at the apartment, a baguette is on the top of our market list.  We usually get up each day ready to search for ingredients throughout the market. Somedays (like today), the man we like to call the "baguette man", wasn't around. So we headed off to find another bakery or rather a boulangerie.  Today we wanted something different to eat with dinner. We went looking for a new option.  As we walked down the windy streets we came across this little bakery with a wood burning oven inside.  We decided it looked great.  Each of us ordered a lunch that we could take back up to the apartment to eat too, and my mom ordered a beautiful baguette.  We paid and waved au revoir to the man running the bakery. We walked back towards our apartment, happy we had found another great place that we will definitely revisit. 

the daily grind- the butcher

by Wilson Bullington

Have you ever heard the bone-splitting, cracking, whacking, and smacking sound that a giant meat cleaver makes when it descends on what you thought was an already dead and defenseless piece of meat? Most people just go and grab some already cut and packaged pork chops from the meat section in Publix, but in France things work a little differently. As you walk down the street, any street, in Nice you are bound to find at least one, if not many, butchers. How could you not take the opportunity to buy some raw and strangely appetizing meat from one of the abundant shops? Of course, the first step is to pick out which butcher you want to buy from- which butcher has the most locals? the cleanest shop? what about the best looking meat? Next, dive straight in and test your French pronunciation of some familiar and unfamiliar products- from sausage to the entire pig's head or even cheval (horse) a French delicacy. Then, watch as the butcher reaches into the case, grabs the meat and one of his many knives, and voilà. Now all that is left is to pair your fresh cut with a nice wine and invite some friends over. 

laundry art- sunday stroll with a tilt shift lens

We'd all raise our hands to the statement that the past week flew by!  All of the kids are diligently plugging away at their virtual school work. It takes time. Our breaks are trips to the market for dinner food or runs for baguette sandwiches for lunches. Also, the Bullington girls started their dance classes on Wednesdays and the McGriff sailors started sail days with the Nice yacht club. Elizabeth and I have been taking turns cooking meals and rotating apartments for evening mingle time.  Slowly, we are finding our own ways to immerse into our French city. 

This past Friday and Saturday were solid rain days. Yucky wet and cold. On Sunday we returned to church and had lunch in their "hall" for a fundraising event. Afterwards, once the weather started to clear, we all did our own thing stroll style in the Old Town neighborhood. I went out walking with Anne Lois and Abigail. We wandered through the pedestrian only streets with my camera and tilt shift lens and my eyes drawn to the details of the old buildings. I wanted to title the post, "laundry art", but there's more in the photos than just laundry.  So, I'll share my faves from walking back streets and definitely selling myself as a tourist rather than a local.  

sunset and promenade run

Only a short walk from the apartments in Old Town, is the sea front Promenade des Anglais. It's a famed landmark of Nice dating back to the early 19th century. Built by the English aristocracy, this wide and long pedestrian walkway still attracts locals and visitors alike. It's easy to see why. There's even a clearly marked bike lane. Walkers, bikers, scooters and rollerblades abound. Because I know your asking yourself, "Did Anne Lois get rollerblades?". She sure did. And her mom made her buy the wrist, elbow and knee pads. Say a little prayer.

A few days ago, I walked with Abigail to the water's edge taking sunset photos while Camille, Pete and Wilson went on a run. It's was stunning.  You can also see bleachers in some of the photos. Every year for 2 weeks, Carnival is celebrated. They have lots of bleachers set up on the Promenade as well as the big square in town. You have to buy special tickets for those prime seats. Just when we left Mardi Gras at home we stepped right into the famed rivera Carnival. It has been a special treat to take in while on our Travel School Project. 

Park and Chagall

Story and photos by Anne Lois

Yesterday, after morning school time, we all met up to grab lunch and have a picnic at the huge park next to our apartments. Next, we headed over to the bus stop to catch a ride to the Marc Chagall Museum.  Each of us enjoyed learning more about his paintings and history.  Then to top it all off, we went to a nearby bakery for some delicious desserts to share later after dinner. 

monday's antique market

No food and few flowers are found in the large market by our apartments on Monday mornings. I was eager to peruse in search for potential food photography props. One of my goals here is to take the time to plan, set up and produce food shots. I grabbed PB as soon as we awoke to get there. There was so much to take in and quickly I found myself in sensory overload. I definitely had 2 people in my mind as I "shopped" looking for the just right items- my sweet cousin, Kaye W. who would have totally find the perfect items and be charming enough to ask for  "best price" and my talented food photographer friend, Elizabeth G. . I weaved in and out of the rows and then made mental selections before circling back to them to buy. I'm not complete in props, but made got a nice start. My eyes are peeled for old and worn as I move around on my my walks in the city and nearby towns. 

first days

The first few days are always an adjustment. Not only do you have the expected jet lag, it's magnified by the exhaustion from packing and getting things in order to leave them and the "pinch me" this is really happening. Also, we are so giddy to have a companion family with us. Once we got past settling into our apartment and finding the closest grocery for some basics- all of us have sighed a big breath and savored slowing down the pace.

On Thursday night, our big group of nine, walked out late to find a restaurant. It was a wonderful toast to being brave and taking this on. We had a delicious French meal- late into the night with happy kids and happy parents. 

Alas, school work must continue. So yesterday, Friday, with a day of rain forcasted, we settled into the apartment for productive study time.  Before it got too wet and cold, our family walked to the Cours Saleya (Nice's main market square) for fresh flowers and some loose ideas for our first cooked dinner at home. We filled our bags with fresh mixed lettuces (mesclum), french radishes, petite potatoes and dried herbs (herbs de provence).  Next, we walked to a nearby butcher shop that always has a crowd when we have walked by (seemed like a good sign) to bravely order chicken (poulet) for roasting. It was wrapped and bagged in a red plastic bag for us to tote home. The rest of the day was about studying, enjoying a rainy day inside and our first home cooked dinner of roasted chicken and potatoes with a side salad. After dinner, all 7 kids watched a movie in our apartment while the adults hung out in the other apartment. Fantastic, except for the acknowledgement that we are all still keeping our US body clock hours. We'll have to keep working on that! 

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