Carcassonne in Carcassonne

Our summer holidays didn’t go as planned.

I only took one week off work in July, because I was leading up to a big event and couldn’t be away from the office for more than that. So it had to be a great week, the pressure was on.

We made plans to drive up to Hamburg and visit some good friends there. Google figures that’s about a 10-hour drive, and we would stop for some sightseeing along the way – Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hanover – the whole of Germany was open to us and we were going to make the best of it.

But at the same time we were making our travel plans, a parallel narrative was taking place. Let me tell you that story, the one about how we bought a used Italian sports car from a dude on Facebook.

When we moved to Switzerland, we were broke and desperate for a means of transportation. We found out about a local Facebook group where people (mostly expats) would post things for sale. And what luck when a really nice looking Alfa Romeo sport wagon came up for sale – a bit older, but in our price range, and the guy is ready to move it quickly. We met up, loved the car, paid him, brought it home. Now, we know cars can have quirks, and older cars can have even more quirks – this is not a deal breaker. In fact, there’s something I like about those annoying car tics that give it personality and make the car more ‘yours’.

Our car doesn’t like to start. It’s a bit random, and it’s mostly electrical. But, like a stereotypical high-maintenance Italian lady, it happens at the worst moments and when you’re in a rush. Like in a parking garage after you’ve already paid and your exit ticket is running out. Or when you need to get the kids from school and hurry to an appointment. Or when you parked illegally for a moment to drop off a package. Or, you know, the day before you want to drive to Germany to see your friends for the holidays.

So the car spent several days at the garage trying to fix this not-starting-and-also-random-stopping-while-driving-in-the-road problem so we could try to prevent dying or being stranded somewhere in the bowels of Germany, I don’t know which is worse. But by the time the problem was fixed, we missed the window of opportunity that was our week in Hamburg.

But I still had a few more days off and I needed to squeeze the life out of that long weekend before returning to a long summer of working. Where could we go that’s closer than Hamburg and still be an awesome summer holiday-worthy trip?

The answer came from our board game obsession. Carcassonne is a French city that has seen many waves of settlers and conquerors over several millennia and is famous for its well-preserved medieval citadel and fortified city. And in the game, you get to build up the area with your own walled cities and citadels inspired by the place. So obviously we were experts about the area and excited to visit this place we had built and conquered ourselves so many times before. Perfect!

We packed up and enjoyed the drive to southern France, only about 5 hours. We rented an apartment downtown, within walking distance to all the shops and restaurants, and only a short drive to the medieval Cité. And we did make the best of  it! Castle ramparts, ancient cathedrals, seafood dinners, mornings at the lake, bell tower views, carousels and knights. It was hot! I think our car melted a little but we still love her.  And then it was time to come home. We only got one speeding ticket on the way, so that’s a plus too.

By the way, anyone want to buy a gently used Alfa Romeo?

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Summer girl

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Sometimes you capture a perfect moment. We were on vacation in New York, horrifically jetlagged, in the midst of an excruciating heat wave, and pretty much about to give up on… well, everything. But this sweet smile in Central Park is one of the moments that has stayed longest and the kind of memory that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

School’s out: Fête des enfants

There’s a tradition here on the last day of school called la Fête des enfants.

The kids spend a few weeks making costumes with their class and then go on a parade around town after school, kind of like a little Halloween party graduation. But the best part is after the parade – a circus fair is set up downtown and the kids get to go on all the rides they want for a few hours, no adults allowed!

J’s class dressed up as jellyfish and LittleB’s as puppies. He was less excited about that. But the parade was adorable, and we were especially lucky because our kids were near the front of the queue – so we got to watch them and go drink at the bar while the rest of the parade was going on. It was a win-win!

Watch the video to the end for the whole show!

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Cape Breton sunshine

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Summer 2013 at the family cottage in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. This one is credited to LittleB, who photographed every single thing in the outdoors after we gave him an old camera to play with. The sticky-fingerprinted camera lens led to this unexpected gem of a photo – a perfect memory of breezy summer leaves in the late afternoon sun.