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Zurich, Switzerland: November 30 – December 3, 2011

Richard was invited to present his research at ETH Zurich (an engineering, science and technology university), so the girls and I accompanied him, making this our last trip in Europe before our return home to Canada. Richard was thrilled by the opportunity to visit this prestigious university whose most famous alumnus is Albert Einstein!
We were all impressed at how clean, wealthy, efficient and quiet (no horn honking!) it is in Zurich. The train ride from the airport took all of 11 minutes! We had so much fun browsing the chocolate shops (and sampling, of course) and window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s main downtown street and one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues. With the city’s Christmas markets, lights and decorated trees, we couldn’t help but get in to the Christmas spirit!

Views of Zurich from Grossmünster church

The streets of Old Town

Caitlin and Brigitte along the Limmat River

The Glühwein (mulled wine) stall in front of our hotel

There were Christmas trees everywhere!

The twinkling suspended lights along the Old Town streets

The incredibly tasty and warm pretzels

The Swarovski Crystal Tree at the Christmas market in the train station

I wonder if a Raclette stall would do well in downtown Guelph?

So tasty!

Lake Zurich

The outdoor cafés provide faux fur and blankets

The guild houses along the Limmat River. We climbed one of the towers of the Grossmünster church

Window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse

Brigitte at the Munich airport – “please, Mom? It’s only €60!”

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Carcassonne – cité medieval

We visited Carcassonne on two occasions: with the McCurdy family in early September and then again in early November with Richard’s brother, Ken, and his family. Just 85 km east of Toulouse, Carcassonne is an 11th and 13th-century world of towers, turrets, and cobblestone alleys and the best preserved walled city in the whole of Europe. The Château Comtal, built in 1125, had the distinction of becoming Nottingham Castle when “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” was filmed here in 1991. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture knights chasing each other through the streets on horseback with swords drawn and armor glinting in the sun.

Aerial view of Carcassonne courtesy of the Internet

Brigitte, Jaclyn and Ellen at the drawbridge

A rare family picture in the double row of fortified walls

a sudden swarming of bees!

Aimee, Caitlin, Brigitte and Kiki

Richard McCurdy with the girls

The popular French brand, Little Marcel

The two Richards and Lynne (sporting her new Little Marcel scarf)

The yummy La Cure Gourmande candy store

Richard and Ken took the girls to the Haunted House. This is the “before” picture. I could not take the “after” picture, because I was busy consoling Brigitte. It was a very frightening experience for all! It’s a good thing they asked for “medium scary”!

The recipe for cassoulet on the wall of the restaurant, La Maison du Cassoulet

our lunch of cassoulet, a traditional hearty stew of white bean, duck and sausage

Brigitte and her cousin, Jaclyn

Roma – the Eternal City

The students in France have a fall break called, La Toussaint, which, for Caitlin and Brigitte, ran from October 24 until November 4. With time running out on our stay in Europe, we decided to visit Rome for 4 days. We all fell in love with this beautiful city filled with magnificent cultural monuments and delicious food. Our highlights included: the bike tour with a private guide, the pasta and panna cotta, the spectacular fountains and the Sistine Chapel.

St. Peter’s Basilica at sunset

Richard and I at the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum showing the lower level where the caged animals were kept

The Roman Forum

The Pantheon – the most well preserved building in ancient Rome

Brigitte with view of the Pantheon’s central opening or oculus

Gearing-up for our bike tour

Piazza Navona

Brigitte and I at Neptune’s Fountain in Piazza Navona

Richard and Brigitte at the Spanish Steps

sisters at the Spanish Steps

The Trevi Fountain – a very busy, but happy place

The Trevi Fountain up-close

Caitlin tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain – she will certainly return to Rome!

Antipasti in an open-air café on the beautiful Piazza Navona

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, With Cheese and Pepper, at Maccheroni’s

Tramezzini – we didn’t eat any, but they sure looked pretty!

Vatican City

Michelangelo’s la Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica

Michelangelo’s the Last Judgement wall in the Sistine Chapel

View of St. Peter’s Basilica across the Tiber River

Castel Sant’ Angelo

Caitlin in the Borghese Gardens

Fun with our French neighbours

Véronique’s daughter, Aurélie, goes to school in Narbonne, a short train ride away on the Mediterranean coast. She comes home every weekend and the girls like to spend time with her practicing their French and baking in her kitchen. They bake little gâteaux moelleux (small moist cakes) filled with Nutella, profiteroles and have even attempted éclairs au chocolats (they didn’t turn out so well!).

Aurélie’s cookbook of classic French recipes

Geared-up at Tépacap outdoor adventure park

Challenging our balance and coordination skills on one of fifteen acrobranche obstacle courses

Aurélie on the longest zip line

our favourite restaurant, L’Entrecôte, with Véro and Aurélie

Making friendship bracelets

Halloween 2011

The Devil and the Kitty Cat

And

Vampire Santa

I drove the girls around the deserted streets of two nearby villages. They were the only ones out trick-or-treating, but managed to get a handful of mints!

La Dordogne region of France: Bergerac and Padirac Cave

After our day trip to the Pic du Midi, we went on a weekend getaway with Richard’s mother and brother to the Dordogne region of France. The drive north to Bergerac showcased the French countryside at its best: chateaus, vineyards, small towns and villages, and breathtaking geography. Bergerac is on the plains of the Dordogne River, and has a charming old town with attractive medieval half-timbered streets and squares. Contrary to popular belief, the 17th-century dramatist, Cyrano de Bergerac, had very little to do with the town of Bergerac. There are two statues in honour of him in the heart of the old town, but he only spent a few nights here in his lifetime.

the Dordogne River

Cyrano de Bergerac

the streets of Bergerac

Kay, Caitlin, Peter, Brigitte and Richard

pre-dinner drinks

Caitlin and Grandma Kay along the Dordogne River

We were told that the Padirac Caves were the most impressive in France, but that they were really out of the way. We figured that with a GPS (aka “Ursule”) we would find it. What should have taken us 45 minutes from Bergerac, turned into a 3 hour driving adventure, through narrow winding backroads and tiny villages. It was definitely worth the drive! This spectacular cave complex was impressive on a large scale. We descended into the cave through an enormous chasm and then rode a boat for an eerie 1km trip along a subterranean river. We then journeyed on foot another kilometer through stunning natural rock formations, the stalactites measuring up to 75 metres!

Around every narrow, hairpin curve was something unexpected…

…like this suspension bridge!

“This is a crazy drive!”

the chasm of Padirac

Grandma Kay and the girls descending the chasm

Pictures of the caves courtesy of the Internet

Le Pic du Midi – October 14, 2011

Our French host and Richard’s colleague, Annie, organized a group day trip to the Pic du Midi. This impressive mountain, at 2877m, is in the French Pyrenees and is famous for it’s astronomical observatory, from which Nasa scientists mapped the surface of the moon for the Apollo landings. It is also a research centre on the sun.
We took two impressive cable car rides to the top, “docking” at the space station, and stepping out onto what looked like the set of a James Bond film. The panoramic views were spectacular!

front row: Caitlin, Brigitte, Francis (Annie’s husband), Annie, Kay (my mother-in-law), moi, Supatra and Pariyaporn (visiting scientists from Thailand)
back row: Richard and his brother, Peter

The dizzying ride to the peak

the observatory

Observing the sun through a special telescope

Feeling at home on the small patch of snow we found

Catching some rays

“may I have a bite of your soufflé, Grandma?”

Not far from the Pic du Midi is the famous pass crossed by the Tour de France, le Col du Tourmalet

Below is a picture of the statue, the Giant of the Tourmalet. It was not there when we visited because it is removed for safe storage each winter.

Thanksgiving 2011- Arcachon and Cap Ferret, France

We do not have an oven, so roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving was not an option. I don’t think I could have found a whole turkey at this time of year anyway. We opted for oysters instead and headed west towards the Atlantic Ocean, driving through Bordeaux and then south towards Arcachon.
This popular area was quiet at this time of year, so it felt like we had the beaches to ourselves. The rain stayed away and the cloudy skies made for very moody pictures, especially of the menacing graffiti-covered World War II bunkers we discovered on the beaches. Caitlin and Brigitte were thrilled by the Dune de Pyla, charging up the massive dune and exclaiming, “it’s like being in the desert!”. The Dune de Pyla is Europe’s largest, over 100m high, half a km wide and 3km long! The sand is incredibly soft and deep, making the run down to the Atlantic Ocean a blast, but the climb back up hard work!
We drove around the Arcachon Bassin to Cap Ferret at the tip of the peninsula. It is a picturesque area with pine forests, oyster shacks and long wild beaches.

the promenade on Arcachon Beach

the fishing pier in Arcachon

Brigitte is not yet taller than me – it’s an optical illusion!

art in the ocean

Dune de Pyla – Richard (in red) opted to forego the stairs

the steep climb!

dark green pine forest as far as the eye can see!

Quelle merveille! A geological wonder

the speck in pink is Caitlin

we found someone to take a family picture

examining bullet holes in a WWII bunker

baguettes, wine and cheese bought at the Arcachon market

Cap Ferret lighthouse

low tide at Cap Ferret

view of Dune de Pyla from Cap Ferret

Ostréiculteur or oyster farmer – we ate lunch here

the setting for Thanksgiving lunch

we found this long trail to the ocean by accident

the choppy, bracing Atlantic Ocean

eerie WWII bunker

we counted eleven bunkers