Pisa, Italy

DSC_0253 We decided, at last minute, to go to Pisa, Italy while the girls were still with us.  We reserved a 9 passenger van on Monday for the next day in Nîmes.  We then found the last 2 hotel rooms in Pisa that would each sleep 4 at the Hotel Astor.  Tuesday morning we got up and were 30 minutes away from leaving for Nîmes and Aaron received an email informing him that our van reservation could not be completed.  Aaron quickly found a Hertz car rental and hooked us up with a smaller car so we would have enough seats, but 2 cars to drive.  It was pricey too, but we really wanted to get to Italy.  We were on our way!

We arrived in Pisa after about 7-8 hours.  Our van that we own here in France is an old Chrysler which does not have working AC.  So, the girls and I had a loud 7-8 hour ride with the windows rolled down.  It was a hot day so we had to have the windows down.  We all felt like we were hard of hearing that night because we had to yell at one another to communicate.

Usually when we travel I always review a map of the area so I know where we are going and how to get to places, i.e.. HOTEL.  This time I forgot!  I had glanced quickly at a map when Aaron and I were looking for hotels on line but did not go back to check out where the hotel was located.  So, when we finally got to Pisa we only had an address.  If you have ever traveled to Europe an address isn’t always helpful.  Some people know the names of roads and others only know areas or landmarks.  On the outskirts of Pisa we stopped to ask someone for directions and they did not know.  Also, we did not have a GPS and our phone GPS was not registering Pisa because I didn’t program the address beforehand.  I felt we were entering Pisa blind with 7 hungry and tired children.  DSC_0252

We drove into Pisa and started looking around aimlessly.  We decided to stop and get dinner at a restaurant with Wifi.  We happened upon 2 parking spaces (that had to be paid for, of course) close to one another and a restaurant right across the street with Wifi.  We lucked out!  Plus, the food was so good!  Pasta, pasta and more pasta!!  Julia’s phone was the only one that worked so we tried to get a map pulled up and were only a few blocks from our hotel.  We ate all the food and proceeded to find the hotel.  After driving in a circle 4 times we finally found it.  It was on a one way street that we could not get to because our map was not registering the direction of traffic of each of the smaller roads. :) It was so frustrating.  I felt like we were in the Chevy Chase movie, “European Vacation”, when Clark gets stuck in the round-a-bout and says, “I can’t get left” and they keep driving around and around!  We kept driving by the hotel on the map but we couldn’t get to it or see it because of the direction of traffic on the road.

DSC_0248First restaurant trying to get location of hotel!

When we finally arrived at the hotel, they did not have the right rooms.  They had one of the rooms that could sleep 4 and only one other room for 2.  They knew we were a large family and apologized.  The larger room had a queen bed and a bunk bed and the other room only had a queen!  Plus, the AC was not working very well so both rooms were HOT!  We all wanted to cry because someone was going to have to sleep on the tiled floor.  The owners of the hotel felt bad but didn’t know what to do for our family.  They didn’t even provide extra pillows!  So, after everyone decided where to sleep we turned off the lights and prayed the next day would be a little better.  Austin, Tristan, Julia and Alexis were in the larger room.  Aaron and AJ slept on the tiled floor, while Jack, Sophie and I slept in the bed.  Aaron didn’t have a pillow so he used his backpack and AJ had a pillow but could not fall asleep.  Him and I stayed up late talking because he couldn’t sleep.  I felt so bad for him. :(  Just as AJ was falling asleep, Sophie woke up crying and the next thing I know she is throwing up all over me!

After showering and trying to make up the bed with the only other sheet in the room (room service did not exist at this hotel) we were all settled and ready to sleep.  Meanwhile Aaron and Jack had slept through Sophie’s ordeal, so they must have been exhausted!  Sophie went right back to sleep and I prayed that it was just a one time thing because I did not know what we would do if she threw up all over again.  AJ and I finally fell asleep and then I was awoken to Jack falling off his side of the bed, onto Aaron and banging his head on the little night stand!  The course of events that had transpired caused me to cry and laugh at the same time.  I chuckled to myself after everyone was settle and prayed again that everyone was in a good mood in the morning, especially me!  The next night the owners hooked us up with a room for 4.  We found out there had been a big concert the night our reservations got messed up!


The next morning we all needed a nice reminder of how lucky we all were to be in Italy, especially Aaron and I.  Our parental responsibilities for patience was on overload after our long day and night!

We started making our way across the river over to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  When we came upon it we were all amazed!  It was incredible!  I couldn’t believe we were actually standing in front of the Tower.  I remember as a little girl thinking how cool it would be to see it and eat pizza because in my mind it was the Leaning Tower of Pizza!  Haha!  It was so cool!  We spent the day at the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Tower.  We had to purchase tickets for everything.  It cost us around $161 just to visit the 3 main sites!  We are finding there are no family discounts in Europe.  The 5 older children climbed to the top of the tower because children 8 and younger were not allowed so Aaron and I hung back with Jack and Sophie.

Everyone that was visiting the sites were trying to get a picture of someone “leaning” against the tower.  It was so comical to watch as my own children and half the people there were trying to line up just right.  It was great entertainment!

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This was a remarkable time to share as a family!  I am so glad we made the trip together!  I am attaching the rest of our pictures below!

DSC_0302 The older kids made the climb!DSC_0305 DSC_0309Jack was so happy when he got a bunk bed the second night!

DSC_0257 DSC_0260 DSC_0261 DSC_0262The Cathedral and Baptistry.

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We decided to take a trip to Italy while Julia and Alexis are still with us.  We left Tuesday around 11:30 from Nîmes and traveled to Pisa, Italy.  After we drove on the outskirts of Nice we began the route along the Mediterranean Sea coast.  The majority of this coastal route is tunnels and bridges.  We counted 175 tunnels, give or take a few!  175!!! Can I say that again? 175!!!!  We found it interesting because each tunnel had a name.  We counted the tunnels on the return trip from Pisa to France.  It was about 3.5 hours of tunnel after tunnel!

It was crazy!  Traveling South to Pisa, I felt like nothing was between me, the road, and the Sea.  I had to focus so hard so my vertigo would not kick in.  There were a few times my girls were cheering me on saying, “You got this Mom!”  They were so sweet!  They knew heights are an issue for me and being right next to the Sea and a couple hundred feet above the Sea, I needed encouragement!  I was having a hard time enjoying the view.

We had to drive two cars because our van here in France only seats 7 and we have 9.  We rented a smaller car and Aaron and I both drove.  It was a stressful and interesting experience to be driving in Europe.  Europeans drive fast and are “no nonsense” when it comes to the fast lane.  I learned how to drive on Long Island, New York, so I am no stranger to “no nonsense” driving, but this was a league of its own!  They will honk at you if you do not move over immediately.  They also turn their blinker on to let you know they are coming up behind you and you need to move.  You have to be so alert on the autoroutes here in Europe!  The toll booths are a whole other blog entry!

It’s not uncommon to be passed by a shiny red Lamborghini going over 100 mph!  This trip we got passed by two!  I could tell the boys’ jaws dropped when those suckers sped by as I looked in my rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of their reaction!  I would say that 80% of the time Aaron and I drive on the autoroute in Europe we get passed by a speeding red Lamborghini! :)

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La Baume

On Saturday we were invited by Nathan and Jeremy Dargeunce to go to la Baume with them.  Nathan is living with his grandparents, Jean Louis and Aline, and Jeremy is recently divorced, living with his parents, Jean Louis and Aline.  They live in Poulx, which is a town on the other side of the river from Sanilhac.  We drove to their house and went on the trails on the south side of the Gardon.  The locals refer to the area as La Baume.  The trails are marked with this, La Baume.  We got to walk the 2km from the south side and we ended up on the other side of the river upstream a little.  It was cool.  Both of our families could have a rendez-vous at La Baume coming from different towns!  It is funny!  We will have to have a picnic one time and both of us meet at the bottom of respective trails!

When we arrived at the river all the males jumped into the FREEZING water except for Aaron.  Nathan and Jeremy were not going to have Aaron sit and watch.  So, as you can see from the below pictures, they picked Aaron up and threw him in!

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We were all laughing so hard!  It was awesome!  There were some cool looking caves from the location we were sitting.  Another day, another outing!

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Le Gardon



Le Gardon is the river near our house.  The French love to be outdoors and there are many hiking trails.  One of which is from our town Sanilhac Sagriès down to the river.  It is about a 2.5 km hike from the Boulangerie; a total of 3.5km from our house.  The hike is easy except for the fact that the trail is mostly large rocks.  It almost seems like the bottom of a small stream bed.  The mountain area around the Gradon is beautiful.  There are lots of steep rocky edges along the trails, but thankfully the trails are large enough to not let my vertigo get the best of me!:)  Also, by the time you make the hike you are hot enough to get into the FREEZING river.  But, the hike back is harder because it is all up hill!


The children all have fun at Le Gardon.  Jack and Sophie love catching the tadpoles.  There are a ton of little and big tadpoles swimming around at their feet.  Also, the older kids like to find the cliffs or larger rocks for jumping off into the water.  Tristan especially has enjoyed this the few times we have already gone to Le Gardon.

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Every time we have visited France as a family we have been lucky to live near amazing trails for hiking and biking.  I am beginning to think all of France has great trails. We feel grateful that we have this beautiful area “in our backyard”!  It is free and we don’t even need to get into our car unless we are feeling lazy and drive 1km to the Boulangerie.


One thing to note about France is most women are very comfortable with their bodies and love to go topless around water.  Our first time to La Gardon there were a number of topless ladies with their own children.  I was a little shocked that they were topless with their kids.  That’s strange and uncomfortable for me.  C’est la vie en France!  We had prepared the kids, especially the boys, before moving to France that they were going to be exposed to the nudity that exists as everyday life here.  It is a cultural difference that exists.  I wonder if France has the same percentage of pornography problems as the USA?  I will have to ask one of my friends here.





We are loving the Gard Region of France!

Société de Secours

I will post more about our church experience but I wanted to write down my first Relief Society activity experience.  It took place on Monday, August 4th.  I was invited by the Relief Society President, Clairelynn (not sure how to spell her name…I will have to correct it when I find out) and signed up to bring bread.  It sounded like the easiest thing to pick up on my way into Nîmes.  It started at 10am and a member of the ward, Myriam, was going to demonstrate and prepare a Lebanese meal.  I was so excited until my alarm went off to get out of bed.  I was still experiencing jet lag and my body felt so tired that I just did not want to go.  I took my time getting up and realized I had signed up for bread and I needed to go.  There were only 8 women in Relief Society on Sunday so I know no one else would cover my absence! :)

I drove into Nîmes and arrived at the church around 10:45.  The demonstration was going on but it was so informal.  I loved it.  The ladies all did the “bisous”, kisses on the cheeks and I was immediately thrown into french conversation.  It was awesome and a little overwhelming.  No one there spoke any english.  There were 14 of us total, 3 of which were children.  Myriam made houmous (humus) and a beef dish.  I helped cut tomatoes and tried to follow along with the conversations.  I am pretty good at following the general topic of conversation if I am concentrating, but if my mind wanders a little I am in a completely different world.  I learned a few new words like pignons (pine nuts) and viande hachée (ground beef).  I was trying so hard to stay engaged!

Before I left the house, Aaron and I jokingly said that this activity was going to take the whole day because that is the french way.  You prepare, you eat and you just stay!  I laughed and said “well, I should be home by 1″.  We didn’t even start eating until 12:50.  The demonstration was so laid back everyone just talked and laughed for hours.  I knew I was not going to be home by 1!

When it was time to eat Myriam served up everyone’s plate, one by one.  It was actually a beautiful presentation on the plate.  She put the houmous in a thick half circle and then filled the middle section with the ground beef mixture and then roasted pine nuts were sprinkled on top.  I learned that pine nuts in France are actually cheaper.  Surprisingly, because everything else is more expensive than the States.  It was good, but way too much houmous for me.  Then after everyone finished this first plate, which took about 45 minutes because of all the conversation, etc. we started on the lettuce and tomatoes.  After about 30 minutes of this course, everyone cleared the table of plates and then made room for the dessert.  It was a chocolate cake.  It wasn’t the typical American rectangular chocolate cake, it was a beautiful and delicate round and thin cake.  It was a little dry for me but it was still very good!

After dessert was being cleared away I looked at the time and noticed it was around 2:45! I laughed to myself and decided it was time to slip away.  I did not want to be rude but I had already been there 4 hours and I knew the rest of my family at the house were wondering where I was and wanted me home!  I said goodbye to everyone and thankfully no one gave me a hard time about leaving, just one “oh, you are leaving right now?”.

I had a great time but I had a headache by the time I got home.  I had been concentrating so hard on the language that my head hurt!  I needed a nap!  I learned all kinds of stuff that Monday afternoon, especially something I knew before, that the French love to argue, but not in an offensive way.  Most French do not get offended by someone speaking their mind.  The French speak their minds ALL the time!  So to hear the ladies “argue” about % of alcohol in certain things or whether someone likes escargot or not, is humorous to me right now.

They set the table the same way as I would, except the small dessert spoon was placed above the plate at the beginning of the lunch.  This was done by one of the children like it was an everyday place setting.  I found it cute and fun!

I am grateful I decided to go to the activité de la Société de Secours!  Thanks Nîmes ward ladies for the interesting and fun experience!

Quiche Lorraine

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I attempted my first “real” french meal.  Marmiton is a popular cooking magazine in France. I found a recipe for Quiche Lorraine that looked easy enough to translate over into English so I could understand exactly what I needed to do.  It was fun to try my very first french recipe and learn new words for “cuisiner”.  The grocery stores here in France sell pre made Pâte Brisée that is very good.  So I did not have to make the pastry because it was already done for me.  I love that I can get great pie crust at the store.  It is nothing like the pre made pie crust in America.  At least, I have never found Pâte Brisée in the stores back in the USA.

Anyway, crème fraîche, was one of the main ingredients.  Also, the recipe called for lardons, which is a mix between bacon and ham.  It is very good and was delicious in this recipe.  I made one with lardons and one with mushrooms (for Aaron).  Plus, lots of beurre, beurre, beurre, butter…  It was delicious!  I was so happy with how it turned out.  They even looked pretty!

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Our town of Sanilhac Sagriès is about 3.5 hours south of Paris on the TGV.  We are about 20km north of Nîmes and 30km west of Avignon.  Uzés is the city to the north of us by 7km.  Uzés has a wonderful open air market every saturday.  It is filled with fresh fruits, legumes, pottery, flowers, olives, meats, cheese and other nicknacks.  Last saturday AJ, Julia, Sophie, Aaron and I went to the market to pick up some fresh vegetables and just inhale the smells of the outdoor market. We found delicious olives and pesto.  I noticed that the largest line was for rotisserie chickens.  I plan on buying one this saturday and seeing how it tastes.  I have a hard time buying meat in other countries!  The good thing is that all the vendors at the Uzés market are local and they are very honest about how they take care of animals, pesticides/organic, etc.  The market is a fun atmosphere and the ambiance is priceless!


Uzès is a commune in the Gard department in southern France.  France is divided into many departments or regions.  Most native French refer to their region or department.  We have to send a little more Visa paperwork into the government and we will do so according to our region.  Sanilhac Sagriès is in the Gard region.  It is named Gard for the Pont du Gard or the ancient aqueduct that begins in Uzés and goes to Nîmes.  It is a beautiful structure and I know I will be recording our visits there, because it is a favorite of ours for picnics.

AJ, Austin and Tristan will all be attending school in Uzés.  They may have to take public transportation because the french do not do school buses in the country.  Our family loves the city of Uzés and are looking forward to getting to know the city better!


Boulangerie Sanilhacoise

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We live in a “petite village” called Sanilhac Sagriès.  There are about 800 residents and one delicious and well known bakery, Boulangerie Sanilhacoise.  Antoine is the owner and baker extrodinaire!  We have been here three full days and each morning Aaron goes down the street to get fresh baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolate!  It is heavenly!  Last night we bought a few pastries that were amazing as well.  Every thing is made in house and you can guarantee it will be delicious!  There isn’t even a gas station or little market in our village, only this little bakery!  We feel so spoiled!  I know I will be posting more about the pastries and bread from this bakery as the year goes on but I had to share the “first” photos of our delicacies down the road!

We Made It!


The last few days in America were filled with many obstacles.  Saturday evening, around 8:30 pm Austin popped his knee out doing a cartwheel.  Thankfully our neighbor, Doug Stromberg, came to the rescue and popped it right back into place.  Austin was on crutches for a few days and then we got a knee brace for the journey.  Aaron and I were really worried about the long airplane rides, walking to and from gates/terminals, and carrying a heavy backpack.  Prayers were answered because Austin did great and was able to get the aisle seat on all three flights that favored his right knee.  The swelling was not bad and he was able to travel without complaint!

Our family was blown away by the Fox Ridge Neighborhood as they sent us off at 7:45 am on the corners of Abbey and Fox Ridge!  It meant so much to all of us to see so many friends who are supporting us in this adventure!  We love you all and were so humbled by your love, kindness, sacrifice and friendship!  Yeah Fox Ridge!

Our travels began Tuesday, July 29th @7:45.  Our first flight left Salt Lake City at 11:05 am.  Being the first flight, everyone was anxious and excited.  Kids were arguing about who got the window seat and who got to sit by who.  Let the journey begin!  We landed in New York and lo and behold we ran into Perry Winder!  His wife, Connie, was on the corner saying goodbye to us just hours before and now we ran into her husband in the JFK airport.  Such a small world and a little miracle in our minds!  It was great to see one last familiar face before our long journey across the big blue!  When we arrived at security for our flight to Moscow, we were directed back to the Aeroflot counter.  Well, our flight was going to be delayed by at least 2 hours into Moscow and that was going to make us miss our connecting flight to Paris, which would then make us miss our train to Nîmes.  My stress level was definitely rising as I was looking ahead to two more flights and a train that we perhaps were going to miss.  If we missed the train we would have to get hotel rooms in Paris because the 5:58 pm train was the last one to Nîmes.  Our new connecting flight had an arrival time of 5pm.  Hotel accommodations in Europe are nothing like America.  France usually does not allow more than 2 people in a hotel room and do not have rooms with double beds or connecting rooms.  So traveling with a family of 9 for one night in Paris would be so outrageously expensive and inconvenient.  This was a daunting image in my mind!  Everything was out of our control and we just had to “go with the flow”!

The 9 hour flight to Moscow was good.  Everyone got a little sleep and was pretty comfortable considering the length of time spent in just a small space.  Sophie slept most of the flight which was a blessing!  Even AJ turned off the movies and games and got a few hours of shut eye!  As soon as we arrived in Moscow, Aaron and I felt the need to get off the plane quickly and sure enough there was a woman waiting for our family to direct us to the next flight.  She rushed us through passport check and security to get us on the next flight.  We were off one airplane and on another taking off within 30 minutes.  The flight from Moscow to Paris was empty so the kids could spread out.  None of us could stay awake, so the 3.5 hours went by fast.

We arrived in Paris CDG @5pm.  We got off the flight and went to customs and there was not a wait!  We have never traveled through customs without a long wait.  All 7 of us went through within 5 minutes.  We thought, maybe, we could make that train.  The baggage claim had another miracle, luggage carts!  We were traveling with 13 pieces of luggage plus backpacks!  Also, the train station was a 5 minute walk.  By this time it was 5:20/5:25.  We thought we would jump for joy as we saw our luggage come out first.  Granted there were only 25 other people on the flight, but our came out first, except for 2 pieces!  Aaron’s work computer and Sophie’s car seat did not make the flight so we had to file a claim and that took another 10-15 minutes.  Time was ticking…  We ran to the train station with 4 carts full of luggage.  We were a sight to behold!  LOL!  As soon as we entered the train station there were our sweet daughters, Julia and Alexis, who had taken a different flight, first class, non-stop!  It was a great reunion!  Aaron rushed to the ticket booth and by now it was 5:54.  He got the tickets and booked it for “Voie 6″.  Just as we were carrying all the luggage down the escalator the train pulled up.  We were literally running to the right part of the train.  We started a “train” of people pulling up luggage into the train compartment.  There were 2 really nice men who helped us!  Everyone was sweating!  We all let out a huge sigh of relief when the train pulled away and we were on it!!!!  The Lord answered our prayers and saved us a ton of money!  We were so grateful!!!

The Ribera’s were at the Nîmes train station waiting for us.  We loaded up two cars and were on our way to our little village.  We all slept well that first night!  We arrived at the house around 11:00pm!  What a travel experience!  We were so happy to be able to shower and sleep in beds!!!!!