Sunday, November 27, 2011

Our Paris trip

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

"There I was... There. I. Was..."

Stretch likes to tell the girls ridiculous, fantastical stories that have come to be known in our home as "There I Was" stories because that's how they all start:  "There I was.  There I was.  There.  I.  Was..."   Last summer, for some unknown reason, many of the stories featured go-go boots and a long white silk scarf.  As a result, Devil Pup has been asking for go-go boots since last summer.  (Yes.  I blame her father.)

Recently, Devil Pup acquired a pair of red, low-calf zippered patent leather boots.  She has worn them almost non-stop since getting them.

The girls are also encouraged to tell their own "There I Was" stories.  Today, Stretch asked Devil Pup to tell one.  It was quite short and a bit lacking in plot.  But we thought it was hysterical.  It went something like this:

There I was.  
I was wearing red go-go boots.  
And I was looking sassy.  
The end.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Our last full day in Paris...

The next morning found us at the same bakery as the previous morning getting breakfast to go before making our way to Invalides and the Musee d’Armee.  Stretch was made very happy between the military history and the HUGE amount of artillery on display!  We were awed by the intricate armor and weaponry.  The attention to detail was incredible.

After getting our fill of military history, we made our way to the opposite end of the complex of Invalides to the Eglise du Dome, where Napolean’s tomb is located.  Big Sis wondered why such a small statured person had such a large tomb.

Across the street, we found Musee Rodin where the girls posed with The Thinker and we wandered the gardens enjoying more of the scupture’s works.  I had intended for us to follow this with Musee du Moyen Age so we could see the tombstone of Nicholas Flamel and the 6 Lady and Unicorn tapestries.  However, the general consensus was that we should move on to the river cruise with Bateaux Parisiens, an hour-long boat tour that began at the foot of the Eiffel Tower , passed under a number of bridges including Pont Alexandre III and Pont Neuf, floating past the Ile de Cite before returning.

It had been a rainy, gloomy day until that point, so after disembarking from the boat, we thought we’d check the line at Tour Eiffel since we were so close.  Once there, Stretch, Big Sis and Devil Pup decided to take the stairs up the Tower.  I decided to stay behind and people watch.  They ended up climbing all the way to the 2nd stage!  Clearly, they all enjoyed it as they returned to the ground happy and excited.

By then, we were all getting hungry and decided to try to find a family friendly chain restaurant just off the Avenue du Champs Elysees called hippopotamus.  The first location was no longer there but we accidentally found another location.  It was wonderful!  And the kids’ meals came with enormous ice cream desserts.

After dinner, we strolled up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.  After taking note of the arches, plaques on the ground and the eternal flame at the grave of the unknown soldier (from the First World War), we climbed circular stairs to enjoy the view from the terrace on top.  The lights of the streets radiating from the Arc de Triomphe were pretty but the piece de resistance had to be the Tour Eiffel lit up at night.  Just when we thought we were enjoying a spectacular view, the Tower’s lighting changed and it began to sparkle!

 What a perfect last night in the City of Light!

The Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee D'Orsay, and Musee Grevin ... Oh, my!

The next day, we wanted to get to the Louvre just before opening.  We didn't quite make it, but were still early enough that the crowd in front of the Mona Lisa wasn't too bad.  Our strategy for this stop was to hit the highlights.  After all, there is just no way to see all of it in one day, especially with kids in tow.  Big Sis was able to see her Greek Antiquities and Devil Pup saw her Egyptian Antiquities, or at least some of them. 

After an hour or so, the girls were done with the museum.  It was time for a snack and our next stop.  We caught the Cars Rouge (a double decker hop-on, hop-off bus tour that is included in the Paris Pass) and went to the Cathedrale du Notre Dame on Ile de Cite.  The line to get into the cathedral was ridiculous.  And the main reason we were there was to go up the towers so we got in line for Tours du Notre Dame.  It was a long line.  And it was cold.  We ate lunch in that line.  Stretch found a vendor across the street and brought us hot dogs in baguettes with cheese. 
Eventually, we made it inside and started climbing the first tower.  Gargoyles and chimera on a gray day – perfect!  We also found ourselves inside the wooden bell tower after passing through a small door that the girls said looked like a Hobbit door.

Then it was back on the Cars Rouge to make our way to Musee d’Orsay.  Although renovations were underway and areas were closed, we were still able to see a number of works including those of  Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, a favorite of Devil Pup’s. 
After that we reboarded the Cars Rouge.  We passed La Place du Concorde and the Egyptian Obelisk.  Then we passed the Opera and disembarked to make our way to Musee Grevin, a wax museum.  The girls had a great time posing with wax figures such as Jackie Chan, Naomi Campbell, Elvis Presley, Spiderman and Frankenstein’s Monster.

After dinner at an Irish pub nearby, it was back to our hotel.  We all slept well that night!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bonjour, Paris!

For this trip, I purchased BahnCards when I bought our train tickets.  They paid for themselves in the first trip!  It was less expensive to buy the cards and get the 25% discount on the tickets than to simply buy the tickets without the discount.  I wish I'd known to do this for our earlier Berlin trip!

After a 4-hour ride on the TGV, we arrived at Paris' Gare L'Est in the early afternoon.  We bought day passes for the Metro and made our way to our hotel, Hotel Residence Foch.  After dropping our bags in our room, we set out to find lunch and the Hard Rock Cafe to pick up our 2-day Paris Passes.  Lunch was bought at a street-side stand on the Avenue la Grande Armee which was lined on one side with white tents occupied by antique and art vendors.  We ate while walking toward the Arc de Triomphe.

After taking a few pictures, we descended into the Metro and made our way to the Hard Rock (Metro line 9, exit at Grands Boulevards).  The hardest part of picking up the passes was getting thru the crowd of tourists in the store.  Nearby were covered alleys with interesting little shops.  One had a pink beret that had Devil Pup written all over it.  Since she'd been asking for one, she got the first souvenir of the trip.

After a bit of wandering in a drizzle, we wandered and saw the Eiffel Tower, L'Ecole Militaire and went back toward the hotel, looking for a place to eat dinner.  We ended up in a brasserie where we enjoyed our first dinner in the City of Lights.  When our meals arrived, Devil Pup, exclaimed, "Bon Appetit!"  After finishing hers, Devil Pup leaned back in her chair, rubbed her tummy and announced, "That was quite a meal...  A good meal, I tell you."  She'd had a hamburger (no bun) and rice.

Berlin After Action: Exploring Part 2

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Berlin After Action: Exploring Part 1

North and South Korea
 When we checked into the pension, the owner had mentioned something about bears and that it was fun for the kids to keep an eye out for them.  I wasn't really paying attention, but then we started walking around and found them.  Wow!  The kids loved them!  It was fun to see how each was decorated to represent a different country.  Big Sis wanted to find Greece and Devil Pup had to find Egypt.  For more info on the Buddy Bears, click here.
 We saw a number of street performers, but Big Sis was quite taken with this troupe of breakdancers (I was more taken with their advanced age -- one looked older than me and I'm sure that's way too old to be breakdancing or doing tricks on skateboards -- brittle bones and all that, y'know).  Of course, I found the way they ended the show to be the best part:  ABBA's "Money, Money, Money" blaring as they held out caps for their audience to place money.

After our first night's dinner of sushi (YUM! and the girls liked it, too), we wandered around a bit and ended up going down a sidestreet we later decided wasn't quite in the right direction.  However, if we hadn't gone down that street, we might never have seen this.  And what is it?  Well, it seems to be a restaurant suspended by a crane:  Dinner in the Sky!  Neither of the girls thought this was a good idea.
DP:  "What if you fall?" 
me:  "There are probably seatbelts."
BS:  "What if the crane breaks?"
me:  "Hopefully, that wouldn't happen."

Our first night in Berlin, we really didn't have time to do any of the tourist sites so we spent the evening wandering the main thoroughfare near our hotel-pension.  It was fun and relaxing, despite getting rained on at the end.  Oh, well, that was a good excuse to get back to our room and get everyone showered up and ready to really see Berlin the next day!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Berlin After Action: Train and Pension

 Stretch had a 3-day weekend, so we decided to test out the rail system and go to Berlin.  The weekend before I booked our rail tickets via the Deutches Bahn webite.  I played around with it a bit to see how much tickets would cost using different configurations, i.e. with or without the various BahnCards which provide discounts of 25-50%.  In the end, we decided to forego the BahnCard for this trip, using it as a test trip instead.  For 2 adults and 2 children in a 2nd Class compartment with reserved seating, I paid 457 euro (including the extra 5 euro for the reserved seating).  I may have been able to find better deals if I'd planned a bit further in advance, but didn't think it was too bad for last minute.  It was certainly far cheaper than flying and much more comfortable than driving!

I also booked us on the ICE train (fast train) that had no connections and would get us to Berlin in roughly 6 hours.  The first picture shows a 2nd class car and the second picture is the area with compartments and WC (toilets) where we were seated.  Each compartment had 6 seats, small table and places to hang jackets and a place to put luggage overhead.  We could control the lighting and temperature inside the compartments as well.   Once we got to Berlin (the Hauptbahnhof there is HUGE!), it was a matter of finding a bite to eat and then finding the local public transportation to take us out to Charlottenburg (the neighborhood where our accommodations were located).  We took a U-Bahn (making only 1 connection) to Adenauerplatz and then walked a few blocks to the Hotel-Pension Bregenz.

When we checked in, one of the owners immediately gave us a map with suggestions of things to do with the kids.  She marked routes for us and showed us the bus and U-Bahn routes.

 Then, she showed us to our room.  It was spacious, clean and had an ensuite bathroom.  While the shower was a bit tight sizewise, it perfectly suited our needs.  Everyone had their own bed and none of us felt cramped.

The breakfast the next day was also lovely.  Each table in the breakfast room was set with blue and white china.  The buffet was more than ample, offering cereals, yogurts, breads, meats, cheeses, fruit, and coffee cakes.  Tea, coffee, milk, orange juice and water were also available.  I was finally able to get fresh brotchen and liverwurst with fresh coffee for breakfast ... so good!  If we get a chance to go back to Berlin (there was so much we didn't get to see or do!), I'd definitely stay here again!

Also, we could buy the tickets for public transportation at the hotel.  A family pass for the day was 15 euro.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Home Sweet Home?

Don't get excited.  We're STILL living in a hotel.  But last week, I was able to get a peek into the apartment we will eventually be moving into.  The furniture is loaner furniture but here are a few pics:
Living room from the front door

Living room, looking at front door, dining room and kitchen

From living room, looking into dining room and hallway to bedrooms

The kitchen is smaller than last years but bigger than the hotel!

Love the shelving in the laundry room!

Master closet!  This might make up for last year's closets!

The kitchen overlooks a playground and more apartments

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Schloss Ludwigsburg

We wanted to go and do something on Saturday but it couldn't be too far a drive.  And it had to be something the kids would be interested in as well.  So we chose Schloss Ludwigsburg.  It should have been about a 30 minute drive but I managed to mess up the GPS directions and then parking was, um, interesting until we found a parking garage about a block from the palace.

Once there, we realized there was a small fest of some sort taking place that day.  Which worked out fine for us as it meant there were people in period costume, performances on a stage in the courtyard and, most importantly, food and beverages available! 

Our first stop was the Kinderreich, or Children's Realm.  For 2 hours, children (of all ages!) could dress up and get a taste of what life in the palace might have been like.  It all began in the ulitmate dress-up closet room:  Lots of clothes for boys and girls, wigs, hats, jewelry.  Big Sis chose not to dress up (being too old and cool for that sort of thing now she'll be starting middle school) but Devil Pup had a grand time of it.  She loved sitting on the throne, looking regal.  She learned to curtsy and had to approach the "king" (one of the dads was recruited for the role), curtsy and make a request.  Then we were shown a miniature theatre where the kids were shown how to change the scenery, change the lighting (including making lightning), use a wind machine (to make the sound of wind), and make thunder.  Then they got to get up on stage and put the skills to use.  After that, we were taken into a dining room, set with real china.  There the kids were taught about royal dining etiquette.  Since Devil Pup had seated herself at the end of the table, she was the "queen."  She quite enjoyed making everyone else pick up their glasses to "drink" everytime she did!  Then it was time to return the dress up clothes.

Afterward, the families were given a tour of the king's and queen's chambers of the palace.  Due to the fact that all of this took a little over 3 hours, we made a huge tactical error in not feeding everyone before-hand.  As soon as the tour was over, we made a bee-line for the food stalls!  There we found bratwurst in brochen and Big Sis found heaven in meat on a stick.  While we ate, we watched a sword fight between some Musketeers and villains followed by various little girls performing on the stage.  By the time we were done eating and ready to explore the gardens, there was a pirate act performing. 

 Then it was time to explore the Marchengarten, or Fairy Tale Garden.  The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, the Magic Mirror from Snow White, Ali Baba, and more were to be found here.  And of course, as you can see by this picture, one had only to shout, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel,... Let down your hair!" and down came the tresses from this tower that overlooked a baroque garden.

We spent almost 7 hours at the palace and in its garden and I'm sure we didn't come close to seeing it all.   Even though I know we'll be living here for the foreseeable future, I can't help feeling that there's so much to see and do and so little time!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tourism: The Eagle's Nest

Today's adventure took us to Kehlstein, otherwise known as the Eagle's Nest.  We boarded the USO bus a little before 5 a.m. -- yes, that was a wee bit painful!

We had a large group so we split into 2 smaller groups with one going up to the Eagle's Nest first while the other group toured the Dokumentation center.  After lunch, we switched places.

We were lucky enough to be in the first group to ascend the mountain via bus to the tunnel that led to the elevator that took us to the Eagle's Nest perched on top of the mountain.  The skies were pretty clear and the views were amazing!  I was particularly grateful for this since the forecast had called for a 70% chance of rain!  I'm not sure how much of the history the girls absorbed but Stretch and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

It was clear enough that we could see Salzburg, Austria, in the distance.

Later, we toured the Dokumentation center with audio guides in English.  While familiar with World War II and the atrocities committed by the Nazis, it was still a horrifying and sobering reminder of what occurred.  The tour also included exploration of a bunker system under the center.  Frankly, the place gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Our adventure continued after we left the area.  Clouds began to move in and it finally began to rain as our bus made it's way homeward.  And we got to experience our first stau, or German traffic jam.  I was particularly grateful that neither of us were driving and we could sleep through it!  As a result, our return was later than planned but it was still a great trip.