Saturday, April 30, 2011

Do other 3 year olds talk like this?

Alex: Benjamin isn't my best friend anymore.
Me: What happened?
Alex: I asked him if I was the number one helper [at preschool] and he said no. So he's not my best friend. I still love him though.
Me: Do you still play with him?
Alex: Yes, I still love him and I still play with him, but he isn't my best friend.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Springtime in Piter

I think it got up to 15 or 16 today (Celsius), sunny ... absolutely lovely. And two children who think naps are for losers - at least Zoltan will grant us one, albeit too short. So what to do? Of course, go outside!

Terry and Zoltan left first, as it seemed at the time Alex might realize what a friend to her sleep really is. When Alex and I got to the playground, Terry looked at me and said "I had a great idea. How about one of us runs to the produkty across the street and we get a beer for me and a gin & tonic drink for you." (being Passover, I can't have beer) This is Russia, where a beautiful day outside must be enjoyed with alcohol in hand, so across the street Alex and I go. She was promised a juice box, as everyone else was getting a special treat.

The best part of the whole thing is when she and I were in the store looking at the non-beer options for me and after I make my selection I ask what I should get for daddy. "Get Daddy a beer." Good girl.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A day for the books

When Terry came home tonight I kissed him and told him I almost went for my passport today (as in, to leave him and the kids). Let's do a re-cap:

- Zoltan had my keys in the hole in the wall just below the 2 electrical outlets. How many seconds did we have before he bored of the hole and went for the outlet?
- Zoltan took the top rack off the silverware organizer. That one holds (among other things) the steak knives. When I got to him he had the cardboard cover off one knife and was putting the knife back inside.
- Zoltan refused to nap 3 times, and even refused to lay down in the stroller. He eventually took a pitiful 1h nap in the stroller almost entirely upright (there's zippered sides that let me recline him a bit)
- Due to said sleep deprivation he spent a lot of time screaming today, just in general.
- When getting ready to get Alex and I was setting up the stroller, he played in the fireplace in our foyer.
- Zoltan got hold of the metal 1 cup measuring cup and was banging it energetically on the kitchen table ... until he banged it on his fingers. Cue up the screaming.
- Zoltan managed to pull the completely full Brita pitcher off the countertop onto himself, drenching himself and the floor.
- Alex was her usual No-Nap self this afternoon, which also included a lot of screaming, tantruming, throwing things, pulling her brother, taking toys from him and other mischief.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cafe Gerbeaud

How is it possible that I forgot to write about Cafe Gerbeaud? It was one of the very few things I was adamant we get to while on our vacation, because of course I'm not missing out on world-renown chocolate. It's in the middle of everything so we passed it many times, but always as we were on our way somewhere, or during a meltdown, etc. We did finally get there our last full day in town and I have to say ... it's OK. Alex and I got the Valhrona chocolate cake and the menfolk got coffee drinks (I think). It is definitely not worth its own trip but it was a nice pit stop before getting on the subway - think stairs, no elevator - while Zoltan slept.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ripped off

The flight home was super rough - on the long leg we were delayed 3/4 hour due to a jacka** who never boarded the plane but his luggage was on so they had to find and remove the luggage. Then it was ridiculously hot and a bit turbulent so Terry was just hanging on. Zoltan and I did laps and laps up and down the plane, making friends all along the way. It's a good thing the kid is so personable.

We finally land, get our luggage, and Terry goes to the taxi stand for our ride home, as always. The traffic is nightmarish, the kids both fall asleep but Z wakes after 40 minutes and screams the entire 15-20 additional minutes til we get home. And then ....

the driver tries to charge us 2500 rubles for the ride. In a sedan. That usually costs 800 rubles. The minivan we ordered to get us to the airport because I didn't know "station wagon" in Russian cost 1150. We had been awake since 5:30am, we were exhausted from the travel and drained from listening helplessly to the screaming, and we were DONE. So, stupidly, we gave him 2000 and sent him on his way.

I console myself with the knowledge that the whole trip was way under budget even though we all know that wasn't the point. Ah, home sweet home.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Last photos of budapest

Here are links to the last photos not linked in previous posts. You can all as get to the Budapest page with all the albums here.

Daddy's taking us to the zoo tomorrow ....

... and we can stay all day, we're going to the zoo, the zoo, the zoo, how about you?

The Budapest zoo is walkable from our friend's apartment and of course kids and zoos go together like kids and candy so we decided it would be a good plan for our Wednesday. With the kids rising early on vacation (kak obuichna) we were at the entrance at opening time sharp, 9:00am. We figured we'd stay 2 hours or so, catch lunch somewhere, maybe play in the park a bit and try to get Alex a nap. Hahahahahaha.

This zoo is amazing. It's segmented into regions, so there's an Australia area, a Madagascar area, etc, etc. We ran into the petting zoo relatively early on. You climb a ladder to get over the fence where the very tame and friendly goats live. The kids were thrilled to pet them, as you can see. There's a sectioned off area where the goats can get away from people when it gets to be too much. Next to the goat area, but not for petting, is the guinea pig area. I have no earthly idea why we didn't get photos. Their outdoor space is a little mini village, with houses, cars, shops etc for them to run around and play in.

Another part Alex particularly liked was the animal hospital area, where we could see the sick/injured animals in their separate quarters. We were there so early the only human back there was the cleaner, but it looks like people can watch the vets take care of the animals.

The hippos live in a mosiac'd building (of course with access to outside too) and, as they are next to the elephants, there is a huge Ganesh at the entrance of the building.

Budapest really has its act together when it comes to playgrounds. The zoo had several places for kids to play, from the carved wooden insects to the ocean themed huge play area complete with a pirate ship (well, it has a gangplank), dolphins and a whale. There's even a zipline for older kids or kids whose parents hang on.

We loved the zoo so much we got Tshirts. We never get touristy stuff like that. And in the end we spent 6 hours there, only heading home because it was about to start raining.

Buda

Being geographically challenged, I never knew from minute to minute our first days in Budapest whether we were in Buda or Pest. Turns out everything is in Pest, and Buda is the old city. Terry had to explain it a few times, because the first time he just said the "Castle" was more of a complex than one big building and his explanations continued to expand until he finally described it as being like Mdina. Well if he'd only said that first!

We'd been debating the funicular and in the end, standing in front of it, we realized we'd have to pack up the stroller or split up and it wasn't worth the bother. So we walked up the hill. Several times on the way up we questioned that decision too but at that point there was nothing for it but to forge on.

We wandered the streets and saw the sights, which Terry will input with their photos as I don't remember the names of the buildings anymore. We definitely got to Fisherman's Bastion and took all the requisite photos from the vantage point. The adorable photos of Terry and Alex come from there, where we hid out during one of the many brief rain showers that day.

One pretty hilarious tidbit - the guy who cleans the square in front of the Matthias Church wears courtly attire (well, a tunic and breeches. The photos of him were all out of focus so Terry deleted them.) There was another courtly dressed guy with an eagle, you can see part of him in one photo but the ones that included the eagle were also, apparently, out of focus so they got cut too.

Budapest parks and playgrounds

The best playground I have ever seen in my entire life is in the City Park in Budapest. We only went into the one, although we could see 2 others from where we were. Here's a link to some photos. Alex lovey loved the huge slides and both kids rocked the sandbox. She didn't love the dragon that greets you when you enter but Z was unfazed.

Our first days

We weren't sure how the kids would handle the time change, the disruption to their schedules and surroundings, and the general aftereffects of travel, so we planned Sunday to be a lazy day. Good thing, as Zoltan woke around 2am totally pissed off and only slept lying on top of one of us, like back in the old days (aka from 4 weeks to 3 months old). He eventually slid off and went into the ubiquitous H formation we keep hearing about - never sleeping with our kids means we haven't experienced this fun aspect of parenting, the "being pushed out of bed by a creature the size of one's arm."

In general, Terry and I slept like poop.

We got up for good around 7am, and made a big pot of coffee. I had to run out for sugar and to discover what the Sunday hours of the local grocery store were. Interestingly, the Swiss embassy is on one side of this apartment building, the Iranian and Italian are within 3 houses of the other side, and Libya is on the corner. Tells you something about the neighborhood.

Our first day we met our friend and went for lunch, having Hungarian food for my first time. Yummy! The extra special bonus at lunch was the table next to us, where a lady first entertained Z by playing peekaboo, and finally held out her arms for him so I could eat some of my food. I love her.

The second day was Market day. The big indoor produce market is closed on Sundays but we love markets and needed fruit for the kids anyway so off we went Monday morning. This one is more touristy than some other one Terry heard of, but we still managed to drool over reasonably priced beautiful produce. We got bread and cheese and strawberries for an immediate snack (eaten at the playground across the street as the kids played, running up to us for one more berry and then back to whatever they were doing) and replenished our exhausted stock of paprika. Turns out there's 5 kinds of paprika and smoked paprika is only used on steaks. In case anyone needs to know.

When we got home from the market I tried to get Alex to nap while Terry explored the park with Zoltan. More on that next.

Budapest adorable-isms

1. Alex telling me she is always happy in Budapest .... because the whole family is together.

2. Waking each morning to the sound of children's voices, going into their room and seeing Z standing up in the pack n play, Alex sitting up in the bed, chattering to each other.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Budapest

We took advantage of a friend being posted to Budapest and the correlating free place to stay to visit the nation of Terry's last name, a.k.a. the country his great grandfather left to come to America. The trip occurred now because the children are as old as they can be before he leaves post (well, before we leave post, then come back to be alone meaning Terry can't take a day off work nor travel more that 2 driving hours away on the weekends, then our friend leaves post)

More posts and photos to follow. Initial impressions - we love it. We would love to serve here. Clean, convenient, friendly, YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER FROM THE TAP.

The flights there and back reinforced our tentative plans to put international travel on hold for a while (well, other than places like Vilnius, which is an overnight train ride, or Riga, which is a very short direct flight). Admittedly, being us, "for a while" means maybe until winter.

But I digress. The trip to Budapest was relatively uneventful except for the new Archos completely nor working, which we learned upon our return home was due to the fact that the new Archos can not use the same charger as the old one even though they look like they are the exact same. Fabulous to learn that on a trip involving 9 hours of door to door travel as opposed to 16 hours, which will happen in 2 weeks. In any case, Alex was entertained enough elsewise that she only watched 2 shows on the old Archos during the flight anyway.

Budapest drivers...

.... always stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Always. At least, in our 6 days it was consistent. Of course, as we couldn't bring ourselves to trust that, we stopped at the curb and planned to let the cars pass. But they never did. And seemed a bit annoyed for us making them wait when, had we just nonchalantly crossed when we first got to the street, we would have been halfway across by the time they got to us.

They also wait for the green man when walking, or the green bike when biking. Even when there is nothing coming for miles and miles, like at 9am on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Our fabulously appreciating cabin

So we have spent most of the last 2 nights untangling a property nightmare that makes me wish we lived in the USA just long enough to sort this out. The long story slightly shorter: our cabin was reassessed, as the entire municipality was, a couple of years ago. Apparently the assessors didn't see the cabin the first time around, and still came up with an appraised value of the property that was just slightly lower that what we bought it for so we thought nothing of it as it was a down economy.

Then, they found the cabin and decided it was worth a lot. And created a Supplemental Tax Bill that we never received telling us how much more we needed to pay based on this. Mind you, our tax bills went up substantially in this time, almost doubling from one year to the next, and then fully doubling the next year. So without this bill we never received we had no reason to think they weren't taxing us enough. And I was informed by the county office that it was my legal duty to inquire as to whether a supplemental bill was ever issued, even though the regular bills never had trouble finding my address.

Now we have the Delinquent Tax Notice. Of course. And after 2 entire evenings spent on the phone, we finally have a straight answer regarding for what value the property was assessed. Lo, miracle of miracles, apparently our little 700 sq. ft cabin is worth 50% more (in a tanking economy) than we paid for it (in an up economy).

Think we should sell?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tandoori Nights

There is an Indian restaurant highly recommended among the expat community. A similarly named restaurant is located 2 doors down and we've been warned that they profit from the confusion. Saturday night we decided to finally, almost 2 years into our tour, try Tandoori Nights. As we walked in, the front part of the restaurant was crowded with Indian men watching cricket. Good Sign #1. The menu was a bit hard to decipher, their recommended dishes were a range of North and South Indian cuisine, so we weren't sure where the chef was probably from. Still, we figured it would be best to stay away from our Malik's favorites so to avoid the inevitable comparisons. When we ordered the Karachi Chicken the server warned us that it was spicy. Good Sign #2. I had a craving and couldn't resist to I asked if they would make a nimbu pani even though it wasn't on the menu. He said no problem. Good Sign #3. I did ask for sweet and it was definitely a bit salty, but I won't hold it against them. Yum, yum, yum. After a couple bites of the chicken I could not longer use my taste buds but Terry was in heaven. We brought the leftovers home and left a generous tip to thank them for using chili powder. During the course of our meal, another thought occurred. Expat Indians largely if not universally speak English. Meaning, we can order takeout from the very good but mostly South Indian restaurant that's on the way home from work. Wooo-hoooo! I hate that it took us 2 years for these realizations, but am grateful that we have 2 more years to exploit the information.

+9 Centigrade

Today's temperature. Yeah, spring is a fickle, weak little thing who flirts with winter and lets him walk all over her with 5 inches of snow on March 31. But ... Let The Thaw Begin.

Love America's Love of Convenience

We have plane tickets for our home leave, and a corporate apartment for the week of consultations in D.C. In the confirmation email Terry received from the management company, there included a paragraph to the effect that if we wanted groceries in our apartment when we arrived, they recommended using Peapod and they would be happy to have the items placed in our apartment.

O M G

So, 22 hours or so after the children last slept, when we have nothing left to give, no patience, no strength, barely the capacity to physically prevent them from doing things that might kill them, we DON'T have to draw straws to see which one of us goes to the grocery store on a Sunday at dinnertime?

America, I love you.