Monday, November 19, 2018

Why do we buy them toys?

Each child has spent a large part of this evening entirely encased in a sleeping bag. First they wandered around testing out life as an inchworm/a caterpillar. Then of course they started bug battles that ended with my son suffering an objectively minor, but emotionally major, wound. This will not end well.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Epic Road Trip part 3: Wroclaw

From Saxon Switzerland, we headed into Poland. Although we stopped at Boleslawic for the night and a bit of pottery shopping in the morning, our real destination was Wroclaw. All we knew about it was that it was a little city filled with brass gnomes. You can buy maps at the tourist info center, or find maps online, or just wander around with eyes peeled. Gnome hunting was a highlight of the entire trip for the kids.


 It reminded me a bit of Boston's Freedom Trail, in that the gnomes seemed specifically placed in neighborhoods around the city that tourists might not otherwise visit, but that the city might benefit from tourists discovering. Once such location that comes to mind is a small network of back alleys that sheltered, in addition to the gnomes, some brass farm animals and a number of independent shops, cafes and souvenir stores.

In addition to the gnomes, the town center area is also quite picturesque.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Epic Three-country Road Trip, Part 2: Saxon Switzerland National Park

On Day 3 of the Epic Road Trip we left Pilsen for Saxon Switzerland National Park, which is not in Saxony nor in Switzerland, but instead in Germany near the borders of Czech Republic and Poland.

Kudos to Microsoft or whoever has that program of rotating beautiful places on earth as the logon background.  That's where I first saw a photo of the place a couple of years ago, with its spectacular rugged rock formations. By then I knew I was on my way to Germany for my next tour and I made a plan to get to it. It's a big pain to get to from Frankfurt, but it is a mere convenient waystation on the Epic Road Trip!

We took the usual tourist route across the Bastei Bridge, which is free although parking costs a little bit. The half-price fare (due to construction) to go into the space that was once an old castle was more than worth it, as it had several decent exhibits and signs explaining what used to be where. It also had some of the best views and closest approaches to the edges of rock. Imagining what could have encouraged people to try to live in such a harsh environment was a fun mental exercise.

We also got to watch a number of rock climbers try their luck against the sharply peaking faces. But apparently none of those photos met with Terry's critical eye because none of them appeared again after he finished editing everything.

 Iconic photo of Bastei Bridge
 That is not a person. It is a sculpture known as the Angel.
Terry and Alex hanging out in a cave while Zoltan and I rest elsewhere. It's hard being 8 when everyone else is older and stronger.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Epic Three-country Road Trip, Part 1: Pilsen

Terry came for the kids' fall break and we took a road trip - something we normally don't do. Something we probably won't do too much again. But as the title indicates, it was epic.

We started with a plan to get to Pilsen early enough for one of the last Pilsner Urquell tours of the day. However, they were sold out so we got a tour for the next day. And for good measure, we went ahead and bought tickets to the Pilsen Underground tour for the next day as well.


Terry and the brewery and a stunningly beautiful day

Pilsen has nice parks. The kids had a great time playing on a series of mosaic'd faces and animals they lay on the path between the town center and the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
I've got to be honest - we have gone on a LOT of brewery tours. This was without question the worst. I don't know if our tour guide was new and didn't know anything or if this was the norm, but we spent a lot of time just waiting for things or watching a movie or two. For comparison, the Guinness tour was a 100% electronic experience and they still did a better job of getting the tourists interested in the brewing process and the history of the brewery.


Tour highlights: riding in the Czech Republic's largest elevator - in the brewery - then eating lunch in the Czech Republic's largest restaurant - on the brewery property. Other highlights included getting beer mugs for each of us and letting the kids get theirs engraved because, as Terry noted, this may be the only time Zoltan gets a touristy tchotchke with his name on it.

After lunch it was time to head to the Underground tour, which was far more interesting. To be fair, tromping through a city's hidden world is always going to be interesting no matter what, and it was a nice touch to have signs marking which street corners now-closed passages to the surface would have opened onto. Apparently people kept many of their valuables in the underground passages, to include, for some, their livestock. I can only imagine how that worked!

Another stop on our Pilsen experience was to the Great Synagogue. It was absolutely stunning and a testament to the size and wealth of some previous Jewish citizenry.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Lisbon

We went to Portugal nearly a year ago, when Terry and the kids came to visit me last winter break. It took Terry a while to edit the photos.

After three days in Porto, we hopped a train down to Lisbon. There, we cashed in hotel points and stayed at the Marriott. It's a lovely hotel, but a bit far from most things.

On the day that was supposed to be rainy (but was in fact sunny), we went to the Lisbon oceanarium - one of the world's best aquariums. My family would definitely agree with the assessment, as we ended up spending the entire day there. Zoltan even spent allowance to acquire Oscar the otter to commemorate one of our favorite exhibits.
 Puffins!
 This guy doesn't even look real
 The otter was absolutely the highlight

The next day was supposed to have nice weather and rained all morning. Gloriously, as we approached our tour guide around noon at the appointed spot, the rain softened and dried up and we went on our "food tour" - put into quotation marks because it was so much more. Our tour guide, Silvia, was recommended by a friend who had been in Lisbon about a month before us and who also had kids.

She took us all around the city, introduced us to the city's "secret" street elevators, mounds of delicious food (and got our very reluctant kids to at least try more different dishes that Terry and I could have on our own). We had alerted her to Alex's intolerance so after bringing us to what she considered the best place to get Pasteis de Belém, she took us to a different bakery for treats Alex could try.In addition to all the food, she was a wealth of information about Lisbon's, and Portugal's history and some contemporary issues. I was so skeptical of some of what she told me I went and looked it up myself (yes, tempura, that Japanese delicacy, came from Portugal!)

 We took very few photos in Lisbon. This gem is of a comic depicting Lisbon's history, painted into an archway by a public toilet.