Saturday, February 28, 2015

Happy birthday darling

Today is something like Terry's birthday. Although he downplays these annual displays we do at least normally get ourselves some good grub.  Unfortunately, our plans for tonight had to go on quick reshuffle when Alex complained this morning that she didn't feel so good and a quick zap with the new fun ear thermometer revealed 104. (I doubted so whipped out the old glass-and-something-not-mercury-anymore but it was right).

At least we'll still have pie.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Barcelona: Sagrada Familia

When asking for recommendations on Barcelona must-see spots, I received surprisingly varied replies on Sagrada Familia, ranging from "sublime" to "give it a skip".  With small children possessing small attention spans, any tourist site may stale after a mere half hour so you end up being judicious in your choices. Did I think my kids could manage 2 hours in a cathedral?  Did I think I would spend 2 hours in a cathedral?

And yet ...

When we bought the tickets [on Terry's Smartphone standing 3 feet from the ticket taker, rushing through to just get ourselves inside] we accidentally bought a ticket to go up the tower an hour later. Oh well, we figured the add-on cost wasn't much so if we didn't make it, no harm done. Instead, we scoured every inch of the inside, marvelling at the stained glass and how beautifully it contrasted with the mostly plain stone walls.  We popped outside for some sunshine and took in the stonework on the facade.  One of the things I found so fascinating was that many different styles were used, yet in my eye it all worked.  Also, to be honest, I found it a highlight that the carving itself was the adornment without paint or gilding.

The kids enjoyed checking out the schoolhouse Gaudi built for the children of the workmen. Alex did several of the math problems left on the board and we pointed out how sparse the yard was - no playground?!?

When we realized the hour had slipped away we went to find the tower for our trip and discovered Zoltan couldn't come (FYI, children under 6 not permitted. It was clear on the web site, so says the attendant at the elevator. Not clear enough that we noticed it!) Alex and I went up in one shift, then Terry went on his own while I took the kids outside to each their sandwiches.  Terry would have taken longer up there but he ran out of room on the SD card so couldn't take any more photos. After lunch we finished exploring and then headed to the playground we could see from the tower.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Barcelona: Montjuic Castle

One thing to know about travelling to Barcelona in February: a lot of stuff is closed. No magic fountain, no cable cars, no Tibidabo. In some ways it makes things easier, not quite so much to decide between in our few short days.  On Tuesday we decided to see what we could find in Montjuic Park, which appeared from our map to host about a dozen museums and tourist sites.

We chose Montjuic Castle for the first (and as it turned out only) stop.  It is mostly a ruin, just the walls really, but the views are stunning.  Looking out over the sea one direction and what seemed to be all of Barcelona city the other direction, one could easily see why a fortress was placed here.  When we got to the top the kids commandeered a turret and happily played with their toys while I soaked up some sunshine and Terry took photos.

When we tired of the views we decided to wander the park and see what else there was to see.  When cutting through some greenery we saw this

Why don't more people take advantage of hills by building a slide right into it?  It is the shortest and safest way to get a kid from point A (high) to point B (low).  They had a blast going up and down, and when it was time to continue on Terry and I also popped on for the ride down.  And of course a few short meters along the path we came to a playground with a cafe next to it. Sadly, the cafe was not open or we could have sipped cappuccino and nibbled on something and been very refined while the kids acted like wild savages.

We could have continued on, but with the cafe closed and us not having enough snacks in our bags and being a no-nap day we were all getting grumpy so we cut it short and headed back.  There's a mall by the metro so we jumped in for some late touristy lunch, then decided to see if the mall had a grocery store (common in Europe. Why don't we do this in the U.S.?)  Yup, so we got a few things we needed then noticed a "bio store" (bio = organic).  I found my beloved Oatly milk that I discovered in Malta and grabbed some soy milk yogurt - what a treat! Should have gotten more as Alex ate hers then half of mine.  On the way home from the metro we stopped in the little grocery store/tourist goods store right by the metro and picked up a few bottles of wine. We did not buy the 1 Euro wine but seriously considered it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Barcelona: Park Guell

Bright and early Monday morning we got to La Boqueria to gather the produce for the week.  We wandered the stalls, the family sans moi tasted jamon and bought some cryovac'd packs that don't need to be refrigerated for 2 months (thus easy to get home), kids and I got amazing fresh juices and we loaded up on fruit for the week .... that we ate by Wednesday. I had threatened to prohibit Alex from eating any apples during the trip because apples are the one fruit she eats regularly, but Terry pointed out they are shipped/stored better in Spain and are thus better apples so we did get a few kilograms of them too.  We got 2 kilos of strawberries, a kilo of cherries and of yellow plums, plus oranges, clementines, a mango, apples.

With our load we had to go directly home, and it was time for lunch and nap anyway.

After nap we hit our first real tourist site: Park Guell.  The kids had a blast playing hide and seek among the columns, I was entranced by the mosaics, Terry took photos of the spring flowers.  There is a building you can go into, I am not sure exactly what is inside, but by the time we thought of it the line was 45 minutes long so we bagged it and headed toward the metro while looking for a place for dinner.  Not finding any by the time we were within a block or so of the metro, and noticing a playground in what was essentially a median strip, we let the kids go while we searched online for a restaurant that would be open at 6pm (once again thankful for the local SIM cards and frustrated with Barcelona schedule. Look, I love me a siesta as much as anyone, but in Malta everything was closed 1-4pm. This I can work with. In Barcelona everything is closed 4-8pm. Ugh.)

We had a place in mind but walked past the crowded place we planned to go to the night before and as I'd hoped it more open on a Monday night than a Sunday.  Tapas, very abbreviated menu.  Delicious.  Steak, patatas bravas, fish, pork. They had a house brewed beer so we tried that. We ate well in Barcelona.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Barcelona: Beach and La Rambla

Sunday we were up bright and early, thank you jet lag.  By the time we had eaten, showered everyone and played a bit the sun was up and we went out to explore.

As in the ad for the apartment, the beach was only a few minutes away.  We encountered a playground on the way, though, so our arrival was delayed. The sun was strong, the kids played in the sand, then on the climbing structure, then we all looked for shells to bring back for the jar at the cabin of rocks and shells collected at beaches wherever we happen to be around the world.

After lunch and nap we headed out to Pla├ža de Catalunya which is supposed to be a major tourist site in addition to hosting a major tourist information office. And a hoarde of pigeons that the kids enjoyed chasing even as other tourists were buying birdseed at vendor stalls to feed them.  We didn't notice anything more spectacular than anywhere else, but did pick up some info and maps and wandered over to La Ramblas, a long promenade filled with shops and booths hawking anything a tourist could want.  We strolled and enjoyed the sunshine until the kids got tired and crabby.

We hopped the metro home with a recommended spot in mind for dinner, which was of course completely packed when we walked in.  Second choice was only half a block down and was empty.  It was also a very fancy seafood place where Terry indulged in lobster and I had turbot - can't remember the last time I had that! Alex gobbled up her jamon, and Zoltan was thoroughly unimpressed.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Barcelona: Travel and arrival

For our first jaunt out of Kazakhstan since arrival - Alex's February winter holiday (she also has/had weeks off in January, March and April) we decided on Barcelona.  Somehow in all my travels, I've wanted to go there for about 20 years and had never made it.

The trip started at o'dark-thirty when the taxi came to get us to the airport. One of Alex's friends was going on a "girls' trip' with her mother (one of my friends) and took the first leg with us.  Girls sat together, Terry was with them so I have no idea what they were doing but they were definitely entertained. Zoltan was able to stretch out on 2 seats and rest his pillows against me and slept about 1.5 hours. Always a good start to a trip.

At some point during our transit, Alex's wiggly tooth fell out.  It turns out that Spanish tooth fairies, like Kazakhstani and American, leave one coin (in this case a Euro) and a new toothbrush for the first tooth lost in-country.

Our transfer didn't allow much time, just breakfast and about 1/2 hour in the family fun zone, then on to Barcelona! We had debated whether to buy SIM cards upon arrival or not and in the end our bank account is eternally grateful we decided to spend the 15 Euro for an hour of talk time and 900mb of data.  We got to use it all pretty quickly, as our taxi driver had trouble finding the address for the apartment we rented.  He got pretty close when I pulled it up on Google Maps, and in the end we had to call the host and put her on the phone with the cabbie. Turns out we had stopped one half block away from the place, so she came out and walked us in.  First impression:  the place is super crazy tiny and absolutely freezing.  There is barely an extra inch for storage so we had to get creative with the suitcases after unpacking. The kitchen area was also "cozy" so not much room for provisions after figuring in the crockery and cookery. We got the heat going and it didn't seem to help. Jet lagged, we all lay down, me still in my fleece coat.

Our afternoon was simple:  we found a grocery store, fruit stand, playground and restaurant.  We realized it was Saturday in a city where much was closed on Sunday, so some level of provisioning was essential. On the perimeter of the little plaza a couple of blocks from the apartment were not one but three bakeries.  Only one had breads without milk, though, so it was our haunt. I think by the end of the trip one of the ladies there recognized me.

Upon our return home the apartment was still cold. It was bedtime for the kids so we got them as cozy as we could and into bed. We were soon in bed ourselves.  I was still freezing. Terry decided to check the filters in the split-pack and his hunch was good - they were caked and filthy.  As soon as he removed them the heat started to flow.  He cleaned and returned them and all became right in the world.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What we packed


Just got home from an amazing week in Barcelona.  Fresh air we could breathe! Sunshine! Beautiful sights, beaches, food! We'll be updating the blog with the full report in due time  ... for now, this is what we packed in our suitcases coming home:
  • a melon
  • 3 bottles of wine, none costing more than $6.00
  • 2 bottles of olive oil, ditto on the prices
  • 2 mangoes
  • a bunch of clementines
  • 2 blocks of Parmesan cheese
  • several packs of piggy of various varieties (primarily jamon)
  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • a kilo of green beans
  • 2 parsnips
  • a kilo of sweet potatoes
  • a box of Oatly oat milk (expiration date November!)
  • a box of rice-coconut milk (expiration date 2016!)
In addition, while in country we gorged on strawberries and cherries, tender beef, fish (for some), pig of various types (for others), cheap tasty wine, eggs with orange yolks, fresh baked bread from the local bakery (some days we visited them twice), and one day for a treat Terry and I shared a pint of Haagen Dasz mint chocolate chip.  Oh and we discovered a "bio" store where I bought a two pack of soy yogurt for Alex and me. She ate hers and half of mine.  We should have bought more. Even the tiny little markets near the apartment had soy, rice and coconut milks available, and some had several brands of each.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Airports and airlines

It's been a while since we have flown a new airline or visited a new airport (Air Astana in-country travel excepted).  So let's talk about Austrian Airlines and Vienna airport.

Austrian Air: In our four legs, every flight attendant was helpful and friendly. On each plane Alex and Zoltan were offered a package of coloring, gummy bears, and various games. We now have for our travel stash a mini Connect-4, two packs of mini colored pencils, two decks of cards that are a matching game on the other side, and another card game that doubles as info sheets on about 40-50 different airplanes (photos, wingspan, maximum weight etc).  The food was as good as in-flight food gets.  And, the best of all - this being a bit of a slow travel season the planes were relatively empty. On our awful return flight home (depart 8pm, arrive 6am due to time zones and travel time) every family member got a full 3-seat row in which to stretch out and even Alex slept a couple of hours! It was our first landing-luggage-passport control experience without any exhaustion-inspired tantrums!


Vienna Airport: Family. Fun. Gate.  My only beef is that it is only available to those in the Schengen zone. I sincerely hope that the construction going on right next to the "family zone" in the non-Schengen area will one day be a complementary play area. It is essentially a soft-toy playground, with slides, obstacle course run over different levels, foam blocks, foam see-saw, and even a rock climbing wall.  Even the walls are entertaining, one is a "where's Waldo" type finding scene, one has the history of aviation or something like that. All over the airport are these seating pods, I don't know how to describe them but they are like couches joined to make a solid rectangle, all soft and padded and beautifully designed for resting or napping. In fact, during one of our turns in the play zone we saw a kid asleep on the thing while a sibling played. In other parts of the airports we saw adults sleeping on them. It was remarkably quick and easy to get around the airport, even with having to go through security and passport control moving between Schengen and non areas.  When I asked whether there was any milk in the pretzel (just in case, you know), the lady in the cafe consulted some code on the frame the pretzels hung from, then showed me a card with all the different allergens and their codes and it turns out pretzels only have wheat/gluten :-)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Go Baris!

This is what we were doing last night

This is what Alex was doing last night.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

TEEESE!

Not a typo.  The other important delivery last week was non-dairy cheese (Mozzarella flavor), called Teese, that proclaims itself to be shelf stable. Yup, shelf stable!  I am not going to think about the processing that goes into that, because what it means is this:  We. Can. Make. Pizza.  Because of course, only a jerk makes pizza for dinner when one member of the family can't eat it yet wants to eat it.  We tasted it straight from the package and I thought it was disgusting, but kept my opinion to myself because really only Alex needs to like it and I was not interested in influencing that decision. After shredding it and putting it on top of homemade pizza dough and sauce, it was actually tasty and I was happy to share the non-dairy pizza with her.

We will be ordering it again. And the Cheddar flavor, to try it out.  Next up, when we have a chance to try it, will be a report back on the nondairy box mac n cheese we got.