Vars, France

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We decided to take a quick ski trip to the French Alps.  Tristan’s friend, Arnaud, and family were going and invited Tristan for the week, but we decided to go as a family for 3 days. It was awesome!!!!  Vars is a beautiful ski village.  We were able to get the last hotel room available in the same residence as the Moreau family.

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This was our view from our hotel room!

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We were one of the last housing accommodations up the mountain.  Our poor mini van almost didn’t make it.  We could walk to everything and the best part was the slopes were right out the doors of the hotel.  We went to the ski room in the basement of the hotel, found our coordinated ski locker/hotel room number, stored our shoes for the day, or ski’s and boots for the night, climbed a few stairs and hit the slopes.  It was so convenient with all the kids!  We loved it!

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This was Sophie’s first skiing experience!  The first day she was a little timid and didn’t enjoy herself very much.  The second and third day she was so comfortable going up and down the slope by herself!  It was so fun to watch her!

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We had to rent a lot of the gear.  The Moreau’s had a few pair of ski’s and a few helmets for the kids to use.  That helped out a lot.  It was definitely a process getting everyone suited up and out on the slopes!  After that first day it was easier because we knew where everything was and everyone felt a little more comfortable in our surroundings!

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Sonja, Arnaud’s mom, kept expressing how exhausting it must be to have 7 children.  Her and Christoph helped Aaron and I out a lot with the whole process of getting gear on and ready for the day.  It was funny to hear and see their french expressions in regards to our large family.  They enjoyed it and didn’t make us feel uncomfortable in anyway! :)  In fact, they were always looking for ways to help out.  Whether it was on the slopes, at meal times or just having a few more hands in the morning “getting everyone out the door”!

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We had a wonderful time in the French Alps!  I tried skiing the last day.  I was Sophie’s companion on the bunny slope!  I tried skiing as a teenager in upstate New York and never liked it.  (I had some good laughs back then!)  I don’t feel like I have control of my surroundings when I ski and I get freaked out by the height and speed that happens when you get up higher than a bunny slope! LOL!  But I tried it and I skied the last day we were there.  It was fun and I am so glad I did it.  Aaron took me up the mountain once and I was so scared.  I made it down, of course, but never went back up.  Too much in one day! Baby steps for me when it comes to skiing.  They other kids are awesome!  In fact, Jack is fearless.  He went up to the top with all the “big” kids and adults and Aaron said he had no fear and never freaked out.  Sometimes he was in the lead down the slope.  He was going on the snow parks with the rails and jumps.  My little Jack was getting some air!

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We had an awesome time and we are all so grateful for this opportunity we had to ski in the French Alps!  I will do another post in the next few days with more pictures!  I haven’t had a chance to download photos from my camera.  These were all our iPhone photos! :)

Bäckerei, Hummel, Cuckoo Clocks and meandering Streets of Salzburg

The morning we woke up in Salzburg, we set out for the day on foot.  We left our hotel, Hotel Via Roma, and started for historical city center.  We were wandering around the quaint neighborhoods and came upon this bakery.  We were all hungry for breakfast and this is just what we love to do in a new place:  find a local bakery or delicacy specific to that area!

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Any time our family enters a small European establishment, we have heads turn and we never can go unnoticed!  This is exactly what happened as we walked into this bakery.  It was typical of European bakeries:  small, quaint and familiar.  There were about four other customers inside so we all felt a little cramped, but, nonetheless we proceeded to decide what might be good to try.  Everything and everyone speaks german in Salzburg so we did not understand what everything was.  A nice man in front of us overheard us speaking english and trying to make out what each item was.  He kindly turned and asked, in english, if we needed some assistance!  We happily accepted.  He then told us we were lucky because this particular bakery was the most famous and well known to all the locals. It is “the” bakery to frequent.  Jackpot!  I love when this happens during a new experience! This man then explained what each item was and we were able to make some choices. The ladies behind the counter were so friendly!  They even let me take a photo of them “on the job”.

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We all enjoyed some of their local delicacies.  They are also known for their pretzel rolls. They were good, but a little heavy for the morning!  It is always fun trying new things!  A lot of their pastries were filled with fruit or a custard.  They were heavier than most of the pastries here in France.  We enjoyed our “breakfast” so much we returned the next morning!  The outside of the bakery was so picturesque, yet simple, with the darling gold pretzel hanging from the wire hook.

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We proceeded to meander up and down the beautiful side streets of Salzburg and we came upon the largest retailer of Hummel figurines and collectables.  It was amazing!  My Mom has a small collection of Hummel figurines so it was a little walk down memory lane as I explained to my children about their Grandma’s collection and other memories associated with Hummel.  I wish I could have taken a picture on the inside!  It was incredible!  My Mom would have been in heaven!  I wish I could have afforded to get one for nostalgic reasons, but the price tags were a little too overwhelming!

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Right after we left the Hummel boutique we turned a corner and came upon an awesome little retailer of Swiss Army knives and Cuckoo Clocks.  The first was, of course, for the male members of the family.  They had a cool collection to choose from and the three older boys were able to enjoy a new knife for scouts/emergencies.  While the boys were looking at the knives, I could not keep my eyes off the cuckoo clocks.  Again, another childhood memory.  This time of my Grandma Wittwer.  She had a cuckoo clock that she got from Europe many years ago and I remember it so well.  I had no idea how many emotions would be felt on this day in Salzburg.  I hadn’t even seen one Sound of Music site yet, but my childhood memories were coming to the surface!  It was exciting and special for me personally!

Below are a few pictures I took of our walk from the hotel to the city center in Salzburg. We saw beautiful rooftops, Abbeys, Cathedrals and quaint little roads!  We all loved it, especially me!  I am grateful we did not stay in the city center.  We were only a 10-15 minute walk to city center and it was worth every step!  (Plus, it didn’t break the bank being a little further from city center!) :)

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Traveling to Austria

From Munich we went on to Salzburg, Austria.  This was another place on my list of “places to visit” while living here in France.  From the very first time I watched The Sound of Music, as a little girl, I have been smitten with Austria.  I had never been except until last month!  Another dream became reality!  We left Munich in the afternoon and approached Salzburg just at sundown (It was only 1.5 hour drive).  Some of the views from the road where incredible.

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We couldn’t see Salzburg from the auto route because it is nestled in the foothills/hills of the mountains.  But, I knew we had arrived when the Salzburg Fortress came into view!

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We located our hotel room, ate at a little italian restaurant next to our hotel, settled in for the night and tried to sleep, despite my excitement for the next day!!!!

Vernier, Switzerland

My maiden name is Vernier.  There is a small town outside of Genève that is called Vernier. 22 years ago Aaron and I visited this little town.  I come from strong European roots!  I am French, Swiss and Portuguese!  My Dad’s side is from all three countries and my Mom’s is from Switzerland.  When I was in Zollikofen I looked up Wittwer (my Mom’s maiden name) and I found many people in the Interlaken area of Switzerland, which was only a 45 minute- one hour car drive.  I wish we would have had time to stop and visit the few places, but I don’t need to visit to know where my roots are.  It’s no wonder I feel at home in Europe!

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This is a picture of my Grandma Ruth Vernier (Fortado), my Dad’s mom.  She is 100 years old this year and she is Portuguese.  We are hoping to make it to Portugal while we are in Europe, but I don’t think I will get to Madeira Island.  Madeira Island is where the Fortado family comes from.  I love knowing I am so close to my forefathers heritage!

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Are we in Utah?

On our journey to the Temple, as we were approaching the Alps a few of the children would occasionally look out the window and say, “I feel like we are on I-15 right now with those mountains ahead!”  Then the conversation quickly turned to how much everyone misses the mountains in Utah.  Sanilhac is nestled in the hills with mountain peaks in the distance, but we do not live in the mountains.  I personally LOVE the hill country and like the mountains, but that is just me.  The boys LOVE the mountains and have wonderful memories of being in the mountains and living near the mountains.  So, seeing the Alps was exciting for everyone in the car.  (Tristan already had been skiing in the Alps, but in a different area, so this was all new to him too.)  The children felt like they were back “home”.

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As we got closer to the mountain range we quickly agreed that the Alps have a beauty of their own, different from Utah!  We saw magnificent snow packed peaks, jagged mountains, majestic views that left us all gasping at the beauty of this part of the world. Our cameras did not capture what we saw.  I guess it is one of those things, “you have to see it, to believe it”!  It was breathtaking!  At one point along the route, I felt like I was in a dreamland.  There were huge rolling green hills at the foot of the snow covered mountains with beautiful farms dotting the land.  One word can describe what we were all feeling at the end of that journey: GRATITUDE!

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The drive from Genève to Lausanne is beautiful.  The Alps line the south side horizon of Lake Genèva.  And they continued up to Bern area.  On our way to the Temple, the skies were clear and we got an incredible view of the mountains.  Aaron and I wanted to explore while the boys were serving in the Temple, but our time and activities did not allow us to. I would love to return in the summer for warmer weather and hikes!  But for now, hopefully, the images we saw will be imprinted in our minds forever!

6 Months

We have officially been in France for 6 months!  I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by and I am not looking forward to the time flying by this next 6 months.  I wanted to give a quick 6 month update.

AJ is slowly making progress with the language.  He surprises us all the time with little French expressions he will say.  Last week he answered the phone and answered the person on the other line without difficulty.  My jaw dropped as he was speaking and I think he even surprised himself.  We are still encouraging him to try to bless the Sacrament on Sundays.  He is the only Priest in the young men organization so it usually falls upon the men in the Ward, but we keep trying.  It is very intimidating for him to offer the sacramental prayers in another language.  Maybe he will have the courage to do it once before we leave France.  AJ is doing a lot of roller blading.  He wants to make sure he is ready for hockey season when we return.

Austin is progressing very well!  He is practicing his pronunciation daily by reading his scriptures in French out loud.  He no longer says school is so boring and just too long because he now understands his teachers and what is going on.  Last week, Austin told me how surprised his SVT (Earth Science) teacher was when he raised his hand to answer the question.  He is forming some good friendships and I think it is going to be difficult for him to leave, but he has FOOTBALL on the brain, so I think that is his motivation for returning to the States.

Tristan, by far, wins the prize for learning the language!  He has a fantastic ear for the language (I think he gets this from Aaron)!  It seems to come so naturally for him.  It is still a struggle at times because he isn’t 100% fluent, but he gets it and he speaks all the time in French.  The other kids are a little more hesitant still.  There are times the phone rings and I ask Tristan to answer it because he can understand on the phone better than myself. (For some reason, I am terrible on the phone in French.  I have to see the person with whom I am speaking.)  Tristan tries so hard to speak and I think that makes the difference. Tristan is doing great at school.  His grades are better than most of his French classmates and his teachers all say he is flourishing.  This is all a wonderful improvement from that first 6 weeks of tears and anger about being here! :)

Jack and Sophie are both doing fantastic.  I am so glad Aaron has only spoken french to these two cuties.  Sophie rambles off in French all the time and Jack doesn’t freely share his language.  We have to ask him to speak French.  But, his friends and teachers all say he is finally speaking and speaking a lot at school!  Hooray!!!

Aaron is trying to improve his fluency.  He doesn’t feel his vocabulary is the same as it used to be.  So, he is also trying to improve in the language.  Then there is me… I am trying!  My comprehension is very good but when I have to open my mouth I freeze!  My tongue has not been loosed yet.  I think I get anxious when I have to open my mouth.  I know what I want to say, it just doesn’t always come out right.  It is frustrating for me, but at the same time I know I am improving.  My reading and accent are getting so much better!  I have given up being hard on myself because there were a few months I put so much pressure on myself to speak perfectly, but I can’t speak 100% fluent and I don’t know if I ever will.  The good thing is that I feel comfortable in almost all situations.  I am not hesitant to go places any more for fear of the language barrier.  That is a huge accomplishment for me.

I came upon an interesting article about learning a new language.  Some people have an artistic mind and with language it is like a song or dance.  One can hear the correct “rhythm” when listening to another language and therefore they repeat what they hear.  On the other hand, there are those who have more of a mathematical brain who have to learn the language systematically.  One uses a “formula” for the language and, therefore, it is harder to have the language flow or with any fluency.  It is interesting to see who fits where with our family.  Aaron, Tristan and Sophie are more artistic with the language.  It definitely flows off their tongues easier.  Austin, Jack and me have a need to formulate the words, sentences, etc.  This makes it harder and less natural.  AJ, fits a little into both.  He is along for the ride and we are happy with what he can take away from this process.

After 6 months, my dreams are becoming reality!  I know I may never be fluent, but that is okay.  My kids, on the other hand, are doing what Aaron and I have wanted for so many years:  to speak a second language!  Selfishly, I want to stay another year so we can all retain the language after we return to the States! :)