A Travellerspoint blog

Go with the Flo-rence

rain 57 °F

David, Accademia Gallery, Florence

David, Accademia Gallery, Florence

24 hours in Florence is good for you. A few contrived Halloween activities overshadowed by Michelangelo's David. A gasp from me upon entering the room. We waited outside for 30 minutes to get in. If I had any real understanding of what was inside the museum, I would have waited a lot longer than that. 

The kids sat for a while and did what a group of school kids was doing, tried to sketch David. Sweet.

Other than that, we walked. The rain started while we were having our pizza lunch. Yes, pizza! Delicious, cheap, and delicious. We walked more, looking for a pumpkin. I've said no to getting a pumpkin for weeks, saying we'd get one in Florence. Well, Florence done sold out of its pumpkins yesterday! 

Halloween here happens but it's mostly an adult, party scene thing, maybe some kid stuff at school. No trick or treating. It would've been funny if we tried it, get dressed up and go knock on someone's door, hands out for candy. Well, maybe not so funny...

We were back at the hotel late afternoon, I think both tired from yesterday's marathon travel and eager to get out of the rain.

rainy sidewalks, Florence

rainy sidewalks, Florence

Duomo di Firenze / Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore, Florence

Duomo di Firenze / Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore, Florence

We brought Halloween decorations to the hotel's evening happy hour, a long banner we found at one of the grocery stores we went into on our pumpkin search. Officially, we had peanuts and candy for dinner. Stayed at the reception a while, captivated by conversations with ADULTS. 
Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), Florence

Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), Florence

on patrol, Florence

on patrol, Florence

Posted by Lindacdc 15:35 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Trained in Austria

snow 35 °F

snow! Vienna

snow! Vienna

Vienna was indeed beautiful. We walked to the Danube our last evening there. Years ago I remember late night drinking of vodka with some Soviet guy, who insisted to us, "my blood is like the Danube, running through my veins!" That was my only connection to the Danube until we got to Vienna. So glad to have another visual to associate with that river! 



snow! Vienna

snow! Vienna

Today I really put the kids to the test as far as travel. This will be our only raeally brutal day of going from A to B. We have a 10 hour journey, including two different trains and one bus, to get from Vienna to Florence. We will will be only a few miles from Slovenia at one transfer point. Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia are all quite close as well. On the first train, the mountains, very snowy, are getting bigger and steeper, making the little towns look even more sweet.the quaintness of the towns is juxtaposed with a lot of mining activity. A lot.

Even though we face a long travel day, due to the fact that the overnight sleeper train for this route was sold out, we do get to see these amazing views! I don't know which mountains these are, but they are nice!
Vienna to Florence train/bus

Vienna to Florence train/bus

Vienna to Florence train/bus</p><p>The kids are doing school work. Coco learning her poetry terminology, reading some in a kids poetry anthology I put on her Kindle, and making her way through math worksheets. Henry is doing some language arts (identifying the main idea), journal writing and lots of math worksheets. They both are still memorizing their multiplication facts. And, I made up a special worksheet for each on simple words I'm frankly tired of them misspelling! </p><p>I hope to nap some time today. I was up a lot last night, watching CNN about Hurricane Sandy. Don is home solo for this storm, which sound like the worst one to hit Mount Rainier since Irene in 2003. He's prone to late-night from-the-porch-roof tree trimming and other unsafe activities. Be safe, honey! Everyone here knows about Sandy, even on the front page of the papers.</p><p>We are on the bus part of our journey. A double decker Mercedez Benz coach with first class section on the lower level. Nicer than the Austrian train just about. I am on thaisle in front of the kids,mouth the window seat next to me open. The British guy in front of me but on the window seat has reclined back as far as humanly possible and is sorting through 10 cassette tapes to play in his Sony Walkman, which looks just like the one my dad gave me in 1982 or 83 for getting into the National Honor Society (little did they know...). What a piece of time capsule this guy is! He has a pair of seats facing him and, of course!, his stocking feet are on them. </p><p>Why pay attention to that bloke when I have plenty of room and thai scenery is SPECTACULAR?! We are still going through mountains all these hours later. Given the cushy comfort of the bus, the amazing scenery, and fully charged electronic toys, we are happy not to be on the night train. Tunnels, bridges, valley town, river, mining somethingorother, crazy snow topped mountains, repeat.</p><p>I will say that some of these little towns, nestled deep in the sharp crevices of the valleys, look like they are way too close to mining and mining roads. </p><p>We must be in Italy now as I can make out what the highway signs might be saying. For the last few weeks, it's been a real comical crap shoot! I don't speak Italian but I can at least fake it. I think! </p><p>I want to make a quick side note on beggars. We saw a few, not many, in Prague and Vienna and they had the same M.O. Of kneeling with arms outstretched, hands cupped. I mention it because I keep thinking of them. Part of me wanted to liberate them, tell them they could stand up and still ask for money! Part of me wondered why they knelt like that, if it was some biblical pose. Oat every beggar we saw in Paris, and there were a lot of them, seemed to have a pet, usually a little dog. Henry and Coco decided that having a pet in France must cost next to no money since even the poorest people seemed to have them.</p></div>
      <p class= Posted by Lindacdc 08:57 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Prague vs. Vienna

overcast 45 °F

We are on the train, heading out of Prague, on Saturday. Our stay was shaped, really managed, by our hotel keeper Kristina. We arrived at dusk on Monday to her small "aparthotel" in Prague. She sat us down with croissants and cappuccino, spread a map out and told us how to use our three full days in Prague, which she said was way too little time for the most spectacular of cities. 

I told her we needed to set aside two half days for school. Rubbish, she said. There is no time for desk work when you are in Prague for only a few days! The kids cheered. She planned out three days for us, and encouraged us to drop our bags in our room and head out for an evening walk that night. I am so glad we did. The city was magical at night. We took a long walk over one bridge and then up toward the center of town. We went to a vegetarian restaurant, seemed like it was in a medieval home. The food was delicious. Had myself a Pilsner Urquel, from the Czech Republic, and a spicy curry, the kids had spinach rolls and apple juice and the check total was less than $20. The walk, meanwhile, was a multimillion dollar walk. So gorgeous at every step. 

For the next three days we walked, and walked. We went into a large park and walked up, up, up to a small Eiffel tower, a monastery, and down to the Prague Castle and its surrounding district. We walked up, up, up in another park on another day to where Prague was originally settled around 900BC. We walked all through town, each day the promised rain never showing up. 

There is a wide river that runs north/south through Prague, the Vltava. There are several bridges that cross the river, making for lots of nice scenery and easy walking around. The most popular and touristic bridge, the Charles Bridge, takes you right into the Castle District, an entry which makes you think this is where fairy tales were made. The number of intricate facades, careful architectural touches and both grand and small statues was endless. Six or seven of the photos I took were taken from the same point, just in different directions. We oohed and ahhed all over that town! 

A lot of Prague walking is hard on the feet, as the sidewalks are either marble chunks or cobblestones. But, we did it! We followed Kristina's recommendations and had a wonderful time. Food and coffee (!) we're cheap, too, which was a great bonus!!

We wanted to follow Kristina's suggestions because they seemed to hit the highlights, involved way more walking outside than inside, and because Kristina was so infectiously insistent! On our first day walking, Henry said we had to go to a certain place in the park. Well, I said, if we happen upon it, fine, but let's try to get back on track (we were lost, something that happened a lot in Prague). But, Henry said, Kristina said we HAD to go there! The kids loved her, wanted to get her flowers before we left, and gave her huge hugs when we did depart. She showered them with love right back. A wonderful kids playroom. Yummy hot chocolates. Endless croissants and yogurts. She kept telling them she'd give them a test on Prague. She never did, but it kept them on their toes!

Street signs have become more and more difficult to find as we progress on our trip. This has contributed to our getting lost frequently. Nothing tragic or the-metro-is-closed-now lost, but just over-eager exploring that puts us 20 or 30 minutes off track. Language barriers have not helped either. Sloppy reading of maps, where one street only differs from another by and "e" somewhere in its name, has also contributed. That's also resulted in some unintended purchases. Thought I was buying lemon sparkling water but got the store brand sprite, diet I think. Thought I was buying Henry a juice but we got a pitcher of juice. 

We are in Vienna now, Saturday evening, all checked into our hotel and just got back from a walk and dinner. Yes, we got very off track coming home from dinner. Coco wanted to navigate the map home and I was only half helping. I really though we were totally on track, taking pictures of Vienna's pride and joy, St. Stephen's cathedral. Well, turns out that wan't the $?&'#¥ cathedral at all. We had walked clear to the opposite side of the town center and were photographing the city hall! Yes, gorgeous. Just absolutely NOT where we thought we were! The hotel is great. A queen bed and a single on the side. 
St. Stephans cathedral, Vienna

St. Stephans cathedral, Vienna

A family on our train from Prague was from Vienna. The dad, seemed like a nice guy, told me I'd like Vienna much better than Prague, that Vienna was much safer, and, oddly, that Vienna was much more "ready tourists" than Prague. He seemed like a laid back person and on the 4.5 hour train ride, but there was a certain one-up-manship in his voice, a slight snobbery.

It's now Sunday. We have seen a lot of the central downtown area. Not only did we visit (ie, did not get tickets to the sold out performance but viewed horses from the sidewalk) the fancy Spanish horses at the palace, we checked out the real St. Stephen's cathedral and the Mozart house museum. Mozart lived in 11 places in Vienna but the museum building includes the apartment where he spent his three most prolific and profitable years. Very interesting. Again, audio guides helped. They even had a "kids" version of the audio guide! We also did some school work today, a good thing.

We are hoping for a dusting of snow tonight.

This is indeed a beautiful city. Much more prosperous than Prague. Seems like if Prague had the resources to shine up its endless beauties, there would be no comparison between the two. We did a ton of walking in Prague, day and into the night. I alnways felt very safe. Kristina told me there were no off-limits in Prague. While i listend for my instincts to speak up, i did always feel safe. it was odd that we'd walk blocks and not see anyone, but at night i'd just migrate to populated streets. Things are much more crowded in central Vienna and all the statues and monuments more polished.

The Czech Republic is also only recently getting out of communist rule. I saw no references to Vaclav Havel in Prague. Isn't that odd? We did see Wenceslas Square, where the main protests were held, and the memorial to victims of communism. But, nothing about Havel. 

Both cites we're bombed during World War II, Vienna much more extensively. As far as I can gather, Vienna was bombed by the Germans, the Allied Forces and the Soviets. Prague was bombed right near the end of the war, by the Americans and by mistake. We thought we were bombing Dresden, which is just north of Prague. The weather was terrible, navigation abilities low and no one listened to the few who said it wasn't Dresden. We didn't realize it until the next day, after only civilians were killed. Kristina said there is no doubt by the Czechs that it was a mistake. 

There are reminders of the war everywhere. Our fist stop on German ground, a transfer at the Hamburg train station, was eery. The sound of muffled German over a bad P.A. System threw me for a moment. Coco is reading a biography of a Polish girl who survived the camps. We discuss the war, the holocaust and the effects most places we go. 

Obviously, i don't have to choose between Prague and Vienna. I happen to like them both, very much. But if i had to pick just one....

Mozart house museum, Vienna

Mozart house museum, Vienna

Posted by Lindacdc 14:37 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)


semi-overcast 55 °F

Germany has us in its grasp. We are in Berlin after a smooth train ride, which also involved a short stint on a ferry, from Denmark. The train fit onto deck three, next to cars and trucks. Upstairs, a mini cruise ship with eateries, a massive duty free shop and outdoor decks. Very nice outside. The only downside to the ferry, which took us from Danish to German soil, was that it was only 45 minutes. We left Dragor under red early morning skies.

Truth is, we fled Denmark! Turns out the ticketing was using from Dragor to Copenhagen train station was "one clip short" (only three clips instead of four, a system that works for the Danes and their public transport zones). Not interested in honest mistakes, the regional train attendant called me to the proverbial carpet at 8am on a Sunday morning, ripping my three clip ticket twice between his eyes and my own. In front of the children no less! 

I was fairly mortified but admittedly not shocked (I knew I was one clip short but had just overpaid by one clip on my bus earlier that morning and was hoping for some good vibes from that). And, honestly, I was banking on no attendant since I had not seen one my entire week in Denmark. No fooling this system! 

The guy was nasty. Whether I knew I was one clip short or not, I was in the wrong but he was nasty about it!after ripping up my ticket, he told home the fine was 100 euros. I asked if I could just pay the one clip! Nope, he does not allow that, he only gives fines. But, this time I would be sparred! He walked on. The woman standing next to me said, "he is walking in shoes that are too big for him," which I thought was interesting. She also said that if he had imposed the fine she would have raised a ruckus and others would have joined her. Solidarity, sister! Then, the man next to me gave the attendant a clip on my behalf. Solidarity, brother! I apologize to Denmark for trying to mush my extra bus clip into my regional train clip! 

Coco and Henry spent the rest of the day worried if we had the right tickets for our two big trains and for the ferry. Bad Mommy!

We arrived at the Berlin hotel excited. Kids excited for a pool. All excited for our next stop. The hotel, the Radisson Blu, is well-located and stylish. Thank you to Lamont for the hotel recommendation! The pool is nice. And, there is a tub in our room! We have not had a tub since home and we all took long baths last night. We had the seemingly endless breakfast buffet this morning and then went on a 5 plus hour bike tour, the "all city tour." Seemed appropriate since we leave tomorrow and we wanted to see as much of the sights as possible. I feel like we saw the "sights" but little of a Berliner's Berlin. I was awestruck by the Berlin wall. I just had never imagined myself at the wall and therein was, with all of its oppressions and fear-mongering. 

Besides the sites, being on the bikes was great and we all enjoyed it. A bit more than 6 miles at the slowest pace! With lots of stops. About 30 minutes of the tour was spent going through a huge, autumn-beautified park, to and from a beer garden for lunch. I had volunteered to be the caboose (rather, the "butt babe,"as the tour guide called it) and my role was to be last and make sure there were no stragglers. My reward was a tiny piece of the Berlin wall, which it turns out you can buy most anywhere. Henry commented that I won my piece of wall. No, I said, I earned it! 

I am poolside now as I type. Imagine we will have a late dinner within three blocks of the hotel and watch German-language Disney channel a bit. The language doesn't matter. My kids have seen those shows so many times they could do the dubbing themselves. 

We have one large bed, which we are all sharing. At least I thought it was one large bed. It's actually two small beds pushed together. Last night, Coco and I shared a bed. Tonight, which even before nightfall I will call the "night of a crappy sleep," I share a bed with Henry. That kid moves around ALL night. He'll even pull your hair! He yanks blankets and steals pillows. He pushes. He crosses his legs over your body. He shifts to sleep sideways. Ah, Henry! Good thing he's also a good cuddler!

On Tuesday, we head to Prague. Short time in Berlin, but so glad to get a glimpse.

Posted by Lindacdc 01:28 Archived in Germany Comments (1)


sunny 52 °F

A quick, wonderful week of Don, tranquil seaside town of Dragor and two long, bustling days in Copenhagen. Having Don top with is was wonderful. Many tears were shed after we said goofed bye at the bus stop today. As a parting gesture, Don graciously renamed this great land Donmark. 

It was fun to have someone try to decipher the language, to read the map, to be in charge! It was really nice to hand over the reins to Don but it was also strange not to be making every decision of the day. While it was nice to share parenting duties, it was also just nice to be with Don. Easy and fun and funny. Love him so.

We enjoyed Copenhagen. We took a bus, about 5 minutes from our house, to Copenhagen on Tuesday. The trip takes about 35 minutes, half pretty rural and then through some suburbs and quickly into the city. Our first stop was the queen's palace. It's actually four identical palaces facing each other on an octagon, the queen living in one of them and her son and his family living in a another. We went mostly to see the changing of the guard, soldiers in tall black fluffy hats marching etc. There was a small crowd and some cameras gathered at one of the palace's doors. Someone told us that two new cabinet ministers were being formally, ceremonially approved by the queen inside. Before we knew it, the prime minister (I kept meaning to google her name...) came out, about 50 feet from us, making a statement to the press.

We happened upon the absolute best local man, who stalked to us for maybe 20 minutes about the cabinet ministers and then, mostly, about the royal family. Turns out the guy is an expert on royal Danish jewelry and had dinner with the queen a few weeks ago on her yacht! He was great and told us about the four palaces, the royals, the prime minister, the cabinet member changes, and even the Lego factory a few hours outside of Copenhagen. We did then see the changing of the guard, which was indeed very neat. 

Henry had a nasty cough by mid-morning, one of those horrible seal-esque, dry coughs. Miracle of miracles, he made it through the Lego store. We walked to find a knight / medieval event but turned out to be some renaissance marketplace. In no mood to shop, we walked to a neighborhood made "free" by squatters in the 1970s. So, they make their own rules there and we wanted to check it out. Turns out it was more Hamsterdam than freedomville and my tolerance level for groups of 20 year old guys walking around drunk, stoned, or aiming to be so, was at negative 10. So, we left. I know Don wanted to see more but I just wasn't up for it.

We went to the grocery store for juice for Henry and took the bus home, all tired, Henry sick and me not sure what Copenhagen was really about.

Wednesday was a school day but Henry was dragging. We did some but ended up mostly lounging. In the afternoon Don borrowed a bike from the tourist hut and he, Coco and Henry rode around town and to the south of town, to an area where all the once ubiquitous town geese were pushed several years ago. 

With Don caught up on sleep some and Henry on the uptick, we returned to Copenhagen on Thursday and had a wonderful day. The weather was gorgeous. We went by Tivoli gardens (we didn't go in... It's an amusement park and we didn't want to devote half of a day to it). We went to the "Round Tower," which is a really cool ... Round tower! Whats so cool about it is that you climb up but the spiral has no stairs, just a wide path. And, it's the oldest working observatory in Europe.  Such a clear day, there were great views. And, it is not that high up. Since there aren't very tall buildings in Copenhagen, you don't need to go high to have a sweeping view of the city! Sweet.

At lunch, Henry spilled broth all over his pants. I share this because it was pretty comical to dry his pants off in the dyson air drier while he waited in the woman's stall. He emerged warm and smelling good!

We went on a journey to find the little mermaid statue. The book was written by Hans Christian Andersen, who, along with Soren Kierkegaard, is one of Copenhagen's darling sons. The statue is way out in a park. Turns out it is a beautiful park and I'm glad Don led us through it. We were up high on the old ramparts when the canons from local military areas struck at 6pm and the flags were lowered. Made us jump! We took the public boat (!) back to downtown for a late dinner. We sat outside and put the fleece blankets the restaurants provided on our laps. Cozy!

Friday was a Dagor day. Another beautiful day. Not much at all going on in this town, especially in October. Lots of boats, docks, marinas. The sunset last night, looking from the end of a pier back to the town, was gorgeous. We were on a self-timing photo mission. Don's self-timing set up was about 6 paces too far and he ran at least a hard dozen times, back and forth, trying to get in the picture after pushing the shutter button. His 10 second sprints involved jumping down onto a rocky pier and jumping back up to us at the other end. each time, so close!

We had the traditional Danish dinner of pizza and sushi last night. The pizza was mediocre (I'm being generous here) but the sushi was good. We had a small jelly roll so Don could say happy 9th birthday to Henry. We got little Danish flags at the grocery store and surprised Henry with a candle and song. He was so happy to be surprised! very sweet.

After we said good bye to Don today, what's left of us sat in the little park near the bus stop and cried for a bit. Let it out!, my philosophy in such tearful events. We then repeated our methodical walk around this tiny town, ending at the water to watch the ducks and seagulls have it out over breadcrumbs. We want to the Dragor Museum, where we learned more about the thousand year old history of this pretty town. 

We leave for Berlin tomorrow morning. I am glad we came to Denmark. Everyone has been more than friendly. The language is way out there, I think maybe it's a bit difficult for Danes themselves to speak it! The language has definitely been part of the adventure. The money is  
pretty (no Euros here, Danish krone) - kids collected the coins with the holes in them. The public transportation top notch. Great week.

Posted by Lindacdc 13:08 Archived in Denmark Comments (1)

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