Sunday, September 30, 2007

These Little Piggies Went to Market

It was market day in the nearby town of St. Cyprien, where Miles led us on an expedition to gather provisions.

Domme on the Range

After a long drive in driving rain from the Loire, we arrived in our new home of Domme, a walled town on a cliff overlooking the Dordogne river. Exhausted by our travels, we barely had the energy to go out and forage for dinner at the last restaurant open in town.

But we awoke the next morning (in Lisa's case, before dawn) to find ourselves in a beautiful place.


Our last stop in the Loire region was the town of Montrésor. We first read of this place in Undiscovered France, an attractive book which nevertheless featured many villages which have been quite thoroughly discovered. But in the case of Montrésor, the authors were perfectly on the money. For some reason, the tour buses didn't seem to make it to this place, much to our satisfaction.

To view the 15th-century Château de Montrésor, we had to track down the caretaker in his house on the grounds. He let us into the building with a medieval-looking ring of keys and told us to take our time. When we were done, he instructed us to knock on his door so he could show us the castle's treasury. Soon, we were wandering around the castle, completely by ourselves. In addition to hunting trophies and ancient weaponry, we found the walls covered with extraordinary paintings, including a Veronese.

When the caretaker showed us the piles of gold and silver goblets in the treasury, we found out quite a bit more about the place. He said that the Veronese was the last one known to be in private hands, and estimated it would probably fetch upwards of $50 million at auction. I joked that the owners must have a lot of confidence in him. He demurred by pointing to the extensive alarm system. But the conversation soon revealed that he was the owner. Though modest in dress and demeanor, he was evidently sitting on a fortune that would have made a courtier at Versailles blush. Mon trésor, indeed.

On the way out, he pointed to a statue in the garden. "It's the devil," he explained. "Mick Jagger, who has a large estate in this area, once offered to buy it from me. But it's not for sale."

Saturday, September 29, 2007


It was just a quick walk from our hotel down to the Château de Chenonceau, famously perched across the River Cher for aesthetic rather than defensive reasons.

I remembered the Chateau and its audacious setting vividly from my first trip to Europe, nineteen (shocking!) years ago.

Miles was certainly impressed.

Lisa was thrilled, too.

But would it pass the Coventry test? This particular château had been looming large in Cov's imagination for years. Would the real thing live up to her expectations, or pale in comparision? Would she be too jaded after all these Loire castles? Watch the slideshow, and you be the judge.


As a reward for our intense day of château-touring labors, we settled into fine accommodations at the Auberge du Bon Laboreur in the nearby town of Chenonceaux.

Here we do our rendition of Michael Jackson in Berlin (albeit from the ground floor).

Miles managed to sleep through nearly all of a tasty meal (certainly worthy of its Michelin star) in the hotel restaurant.

The next morning we were all well-rested, for once, and ready for another big day.


Miles is showing signs of castle fatigue.


While we pondered our European fate, there was still a vacation to be had. Ahead lay our long-awaited trek to the Dordogne via the Loire.

Packing up our caravan and departing Paris were not accomplished entirely without mishap. Let's just say that the concrete parking pylons that festoon Parisian streets are not particularly appreciated by this harried driver. Meanwhile, we filled up every available cubic inch of our rental car--and this before any serious shopping had taken place.

Soon, however, we were rolling across the open plains of Central France, on the way to our first stop, the Chateau de Chambord. Miles was having a great time even before we got through the front gate, where he met his first horse.

Now, it wasn't quite fair to throw Chambord at Cov as her first castle. We should have started with something smaller. Something a little less grand. Something that wouldn't have made her cry.

Oh well, too late now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Michelin, Munchkin and München

Generally speaking, Miles is a pretty restaurant-friendly kid. He sleeps through many meals tucked safely away in his stroller, his gentle sing-song snoring the only indication that a baby has joined the dining party. There are exceptions, however. Classic infant meltdowns are rare; high-maintenance fidgeting and bargling are not. These situations are usually manageable, but parental stress is directly proportional to the formality of the venue.

A visit to Paris would not be complete without a little sampling of haute cuisine. But would we take Miles to a Michelin-starred restaurant, placing at risk not only our own dining experience, but that of every glaring patron in the establishment? There would seem to be no surer method of tempting fate.

So for our visit to the Relais Louis XIII, we opted for discretion over family valor, and enjoyed the dégustation in shifts. Dean took the first seating with Judith and Dave, while Lisa and Cov minded Miles (who fully justified our caution by cavorting rambunctiously throughout the evening and into the wee hours) back at the apartment. The positions were reversed for Round 2. So a splendid evening was had by all, in due course.

Just after taking the Muffinhead handoff, Dean returned a missed call from the office back in Seattle. It was his boss, who offered up a remarkable proposition: would we be willing to stay in Europe after the end of our vacation, and spend 2-3 months in either the Munich or the London office?

The offer was as enticing as it was daunting. For years we had been talking about our mutual desire to try a stint living and working in Europe -- sometime in the future. But this was now, and we had in tow a former micro-preemie with less than a year under his belt. We had only packed for a two-and-a-half week trip, we'd made no preparations to mothball our lives at home--if nothing else, the logistical implications of an extended stay set the mind reeling.

What will we do? Will Lisa and Miles be up for the adventure? Where will we end up? Stay tuned for future installments to find out! (But I'll give you a hint... we're not writing this from Seattle).


So who did we happen to run into that afternoon on the Boulevard St. Germain? Why, Dean's mom, of course. She and her husband Dave were celebrating his retirement with a three-week tour of England, Norway and France.

Thus, the meeting was not entirely coincidental. But with a paucity of Euro-friendly cell phones, it was still fortuitous to get her call from a pay phone to find that Mom and Dave were only twenty steps away from us. Miles, of course, was thrilled to see them.

Our newly expanded posse hopped on the Metro for Miles' first mass transit experience, en route to check out Sacre-Coeur Basilica and the Montmartre neighborhood on the north side of Paris.

In which we return to the Luxembourg Gardens...

In this installment of our saga, watch Miles take his first Parisian bath. This important task completed, our intrepid traveling team crosses the street to tour St. Sulpice church and its impressive organ. Then we stumble upon an extraordinary art exhibition at the Palais de Luxembourg -- in which every work is composed entirely of fruits and vegetables, some of which are carved into being before our eyes.

Plus they are handing out free pears! Several of these get stashed in Miles' stroller to fortify us for the rest of the day.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Notre Dame de Cov

To the category of Life's Perfectly Avoidable Traumas, I must add the following: Driving To Pick Up Your Friend at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Trauma, because:

1. Rental cars, in Paris, should be safely garaged or left at the former city gates. Under no circumstances should they be operated.

2. When you attempt such a maneouvre, do not discount the possibility that Parisian cab drivers may choose that precise moment to stage a strike. Not one of those strikes where they don't show up to work, but a strike where they park their cabs in the middle of the freeway, deliberately snarling all traffic to and from the airport.

3. Charles de Gaulle Airport shows signs of intelligent design -- by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It's '60s futurism run amok: a maze of interlocking rings and flyover ramps twisting through the darkest corners of the French engineering mind, an architect's triumpantly unsupported roof that collapses soon after the ribbon is cut.

Avoidable, because there is a reliable train system that invariably (assuming the train drivers are not on strike) gets you from the center of Paris to the airport in 30 minutes. If you have the sense to take it.

If you don't, you just may find yourself driving in reverse for half a kilometer in the middle of the A1 Autoroute, along with a few dozen other cars, trying to avoid the latest bouchon.

All of which is a long way of saying that we picked up our friend Coventry at the airport and welcomed her in style for her first visit to the City of Lights. The journeys to and fro were not uneventful, but in the end we succeeded in delivering her to the front door of Notre Dame. The rest was up to her.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Luxembourg Garden Bargle

It's Day 2 in Paris -- and that means breakfast!

While Daddy goes off to put in a day at the office, Mommy and Miles take a spin through the legendary Jardins de Luxembourg--perhaps the finest spot to push a stroller in the whole world.

The whole family goes out for a pleasant dinner on an outdoor terrace, but Miles has other ideas. Mom and Dad eat their courses in shifts, passing each other only to hand off a wailing child. We'll blame it on jetlag and try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Miles, Meet Paris

We were all pretty wiped out after the long journey, but our little lad still took Paris by storm. We settled into a splendid apartment in the 6th Arrondisement, right across the street from the St. Sulpice church (encased in scaffolding, but anciently majestic nonetheless). After a hard-earned nap that consumed most of the afternoon, we took a stroll down to the Seine via the Institut de France, discovered our new favorite Italo-Parisian restaurant (La Bocca della Verita), and watched the world go by at Cafe de Flore.

We returned to the apartment to discover that Miles had no intention of sleeping simply because it happened to be dark out. Not for the last time on our trip, he decided to extend the party into the wee hours.

Flight of the Muffinhead

Well, we're more than a little bit behind on our blogging duties... our European vacation is turning into quite an adventure. But all in good time. There's no better place to start than the beginning--with Miles' first transoceanic flight.

We found that packing for a trip with a baby was an epic task. Fortunately, Miles pitched in to help.

He didn't seem to get the memo about traveling light, though.

When we took a look at all the bundled baby gear piled up on the curb at Sea-Tac, we knew that our adventure in France would be supported by a logistical train worthy of D-Day.

Miles was ready and eager for takeoff.

He had a fine time all the way from Seattle to New York.

But it couldn't be that easy, could it? No, it couldn't. The next flight was a trial. Our fully loaded plane sat on the tarmac at JFK for three hours (for no particular reason), while our delicately balanced little Muffinhead began to unravel. By the time the flight finally got underway, we had thoroughly exhausted our various amusement techniques, leaving seven hours of pretty much incessant bouncing, feeding and consoling before we touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport, to the relief of ourselves and our fellow passengers alike.

On the bright side, Miles showed a flirtatious side on the flight that he has subsequently retained in Europe. Occasional meltdowns aside, he likes making eye contact with strangers and is quick with a winning smile. Naturally, he makes a lot of friends this way.

When the flight was over, as we were making the obligatory apologies to our neighbors, several of them (no doubt charmed by Miles' antics) assured us that he did great. I'm not sure how they missed the six hours of crying, squirming and screaming.... but if they did, then they did great too.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007


On Sunday, Lisa participated in her first sprint triathlon as a mom, Mercer Island's legendary "Escape From the Rock". She joined with fellow new moms Jenny and Sarah (whom she met through the "Listening Moms" support group at Swedish Hospital), to form a team called "GoMommyGo!"

With Sarah taking on the 1/2 mile swim, Lisa powering through the 12 mile bicycle leg, and Jenny anchoring with the 2 1/2 mile run, "Go Mommy Go" posted a stunning second-place finish among all women's relay teams.

Let's hear it for the moms!

It's 8 a.m. Do you know where your mommy is?

Testing the waters.

Game face on.

Lisa rounding the final turn.

Glad that's over.

Jenny on the home stretch.


The Moms and their Fan Club

(L-R) Miles, Lisa, Nicolas, Sarah, Annie, Jenny and Jackson

Trying on the medal.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Catching Up with Mr. Miles (August Edition)

A visit from Cousin Merethe from Norway.

Sending in the clowns.

Bargling in the Rainforest with Monkey.

Finger-lickin' good.



At the Ballard Sunday Market (with Official Shopping Hat).

Practicing for spelling bee.

First boat trip on Lake Washington.

Floor exercise.