A Travellerspoint blog

April 2008

"April in Paris"

And a "warm embrace" from Anica's grandparents!

sunny 14 °C

I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never knew my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace
'Till April in Paris, chesnuts in blossom
Holiday tables, under the trees
April in Paris.."

A family "triomphe." Out with Anica's grandparents in Paris, April 24

There it is!

April 18


But first, Vimy Ridge: the battleground where Canada came of age. Today we visited this place on our way to Paris. It turned out to be even more impressive and interesting than I imagined. At first, the cold wind was such that Anica barely wanted to walk from the parking lot to the monument. But it died down somewhat, thankfully, and we began to enjoy ourselves.

It was weird being on "Canadian soil," with the Canadian flag flying, and the familiar Government of Canada logos on signs. Quite an introduction to France! It was more poignant than usual because we've been out of our mother country for over eight months now.

Not constantly poignant, though. We had comic relief from an English school-tour group. They were answering worksheets. We overheard: "That's because this is Canadian soil, you #*&!@^%." And, our favourite exchange: "Look at that statue of the assassin." "That's not a bleeding assassin, it's the Virgin Mary, you wanker!" Ah, the learning moment. How beautiful.

Detail from the Vimy Ridge monument (note: she's not an "assassin")

In World War I, 91 years ago this month, Canada's four divisions fought together, under Canadian command, for the first time. They took the Vimy Ridge, something the French and English hadn't been able to do in two years. Although it was a futile few kilometers of gained ground, the world took notice. Although we won the battle, we paid the price of close to 3,000 lives. The striking, clefted, white-stone monument was designed in the 1920s and has just been restored. It is an awesome sight.

What surprised us is the visitor's centre, which is also expanded, and staffed with Canadian university students. Outside it are a series of reconstructed trenches, and hundreds of mounds and bomb craters. Electric fences still carry a warning of undetonated charges - almost a century later!

We got a special treat, just because we asked. For five of us, they opened up the "subway" and gave a tour. There are many miles of underground tunnels - much safer and more secretive than the equally extensive trenches, and a huge section has been made safe for visiting. We couldn't help compare to the Cu Chi Tunnels we crawled through in Vietnam. These are much bigger, and better made. Even in 1917 there was electricity in most of them. There was a (literal) underground railroad. More money and resources still meant building tunnels and waging war...just better tunnels.

Part of the underground war at Vimy Ridge

Seeing Vimy Ridge and Tyne Cot brought the history of the Great War alive to me more than I've ever done for my students. I hope I can take back to my classroom a fraction of the spine-tingling respect and sorrow I've felt these past few days.

Later in the afternoon we arrived at Croissy-Sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, where we'll be staying for a week. The apartment is kind of "seventies," but the town's nice. And it's close to Paris. And it's Spring!

April 19


Paris! What a city. And what a first day we had in it. We exhausted ourselves, especially Anica. We've written on the blog about her legendary stamina, but today it reached its limit and she was just looking for the next place to sit down by the afternoon. Still, very little whining though, and no tantrum of any sort.

Anyway, it was the fault of the Museum Pass and our enthusiasm. The Museum Pass is something I'd strongly recommend if you're going to Paris. We got the 2-day one (it also comes in 4 and 6). It's 30 Euros each, and then all sorts of places are free after that. And the best part is you go straight in; no waiting in line. That really helped us today.

We bought our passes at the Arc D'Triomphe. We'd successfully found our way into the centre of Paris by RER and Metro. When we came up the stairs, the Arc appeared - the very first thing we'd laid eyes on in Paris. It is the most massive example of this kind of arch or gateway - bigger than Berlin or Rome, for instance. Twelve streets radiate out from it. The original "unknown soldier" with eternal flame is there. La Defense is visible down one of them. The Eiffel Tower is partially visible. I'll never forget Anica's exclamation: "Is that Eiffel Tower? It is!" She sounded so excited!

With our pass, we were able to climb to the top (here the exhaustion factor begins). Then we walked down the Champs D'Elysee. Exhilarating, but exhausting, of course. We window-shopped luxury items, and shopped for more realistically-priced goods. A CD at Virgin Megastore, and at the Peugeot store, a miniature version of our own silver Peugeot 207. Can't take the real one home! We had lunch at Place de Concorde, lunch being "hot dog fromage," yummy and (relatively) cheap. We just ate sitting out on the square.

Then we crossed the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay, the art gallery best known for its Impressionist collection. The Museum Pass worked its magic and we waltzed in past a huge line. So many of the paintings in the Orsay I use in my European history course, either to make a point, or just to teach the art history itself. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin - they're all here. They also have "Whistler's Mother," which we know is a copy because Mr. Bean ruined the original (she's a "mad old cow"). Anica liked the Degas sculpture of the little ballerina girl. And the Van Gogh work still is mesmerizing. The Renoirs really shine: "Country Dance," and "Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette"

A Renoir we all loved - the original shimmers with light

Anica was able to appreciate the difference of the Impressionist art, because we've seen so much Classical and Renaissance art. On the ground floor, I was really glad to see the everyday life scene of Millet's "Angelus," and Daumier's "The Laundress," among others.

That was the big stop for today, but, since they were so nearby...we also went to the Rodin Museum and Napoleon's Tomb. We only did the outdoor garden part of the Rodin, and the sun had come out. The draw there is "The Thinker."

Anica says he's thinking: "where are my clothes?"

Then Napoleon's Tomb - he himself would love it. His coffin is the largest I've ever seen and is visible from above the crypt as you stand under the huge "Hotel de Invalides" dome that shines in gold leaf outside. After seeing that, we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe Paris (partly to reward Anica for her patience) and took the trains back "home."

Napoleon compensates for his size even in death!

April 20


The Louvre was our day today. No lining up; thank-you Museum Pass. We got Anica this book called "Discover The Louvre - Together" where there's picture cards for her as an "Adventurer," added info for the parent to read/share, and then an activity section for Anica afterward. It was a big hit, and got us to the far reaches of the Louvre. We saw the archaeological foundations of the old medieval castle in the basement (these were just excavated in 1984), Assyrian and Egyptian galleries, the Mona Lisa, and more. We spent some extra time with the paintings, particularly the big French masterpieces ("The Raft of the Medusa" by Gericault, "Liberty Leading the People" by Delacroix, etc.).

Anica begins her Louvre "adventurer" quest

And of course the Mona Lisa. It was like being in a mosh pit, really. And everyone was taking pictures, many with flashes, despite the warnings. Anica got a closer look than anyone else, because we knew to request the children's spot, but she was too self-conscious to stare at it for long because about 200 people were standing behind her at the railing. On the positive side, Jenn said be sure and tell people that it's not that small a painting; that it was actually larger than she thought from all she's heard. As for me, I thought the colours were stronger and the background landscape more distinct than I'd seen in any reproduction.

Mosh Pit de Mona Lisa

The Louvre has 30,000 objects on display, so, while we did see the "Venus de Milo" and Michaelangelo's "Dying Slave," there were many other things we didn't see. Even I ran out of energy and enthusiasm eventually. You can't even see all the paintings in one day, let alone every gallery. When we went outside, the sun had come out and the temperature around 20 degrees (about the same as Toronto, we hear!) and we enjoyed seeing the Pei Pyramid, fountains and the Caroussel arch.

Pei and the sky

April 22


We've developed a saying on this trip, almost a family motto (our previous one was: I love you anyway...): "You can't think all the time." (apologies to Descartes). Today, we must have taken the whole day off from thinking. No great consequence, just much inconvenience. Today we went to Versailles. We didn't get full directions (so a 10 km drive became 30 on the way home), we didn't get advance tickets (so instead of waltzing in, we waited in line for 90 minutes), we didn't check out the parking options (so instead of an expected 5 Euros, it was 11). Versailles will be remembered in our family for waiting in line and walking great distances.

It's hard to say, then, if our consensus that Vienna's Schonbrunn was better is all that objective. What I liked best about Versailles was that we had great weather, and the time we spent in Marie Antoniette's "domain" really helped us understand her escapist fantasies. They've preserved her play village perfectly, and Anica thought it was hilarious that she played at being a milkmaid there. It's pretty, quaint, and so obviously "fake" that it has a unique look.

The first view of the gardens and Grand Canal is overwhelming. Some things are even bigger than you imagine. It's actually 3.5 km to the back of the canal. We walked all the way to Marie Antoniette's domain and back, so that's several kilometres.

Looking from the gardens down the Grand Canal

The Palace itself, though impressive, was quite crowded and not served well by the uninspired audio guide. The Hall of Mirrors, for example - perhaps they should have mentioned the Treaty of Versailles, 1919? The audio guide even ended before the mammoth Napoleon coronation painting, so we learned nothing new about it.

We're exploring our own town, Croissy-sur-Seine, as well. It's where the Impressionist painters did a lot of there, and is not far from Giverny, Monet's favoured spot. Along the Seine, across the street from us, is a long pathway. There are display boards of impressionist work (i.e. here's where Renoir painted the...). There's a church that dates to the 12th century. Anica was amazed that it's as old as Angkor Wat, and has not been ruined nor abandoned through all these centuries. Cherry blossoms are everywhere in the grounds of our building. There's a "biblioteque" next door, which we peeked in just before closing today (hey, we never pass up a library or bookstore, do we?). We're very happy with the location, and although the apartment wasn't clean when we arrived, the owners have since made up for it. They apologized, and will fire their cleaners (we were horrified at that, but apparently it wasn't the first complaint), and even brought us flowers.

Front lawn of our apartment building in Croissy-sur-Seine

April 23


Somewhere in Paris...are my parents. We won't see them until tomorrow, though, as they need a day to recuperate from overnight flight jet lag. It's weird to think we could have run into them today!

We'll think of this as our Eiffel Tower day. It is one of those experiences that lives up to the hype. There's a line-up to buy tickets, a line-up for the first elevator (like a funicular, really), and a line-up for the second elevator. But as soon as I got on that second elevator, all the touristy hassles were forgotten. Looking out the window of that elevator, it's like you're outside - there's no building - just a few steel beams. Over a hundred years after it was built, it's still a unique experience.

The views were great, 1000 feet up on the third level, and on the inside deck Anica enjoyed the signs pointing to different places on the globe, as in Singapore this way, 10 405 km, etc. So many places we've been to this year!

Jenn and I both thought: it's brown. The Eiffel Tower is brown, not black. Why does it always look black? It's not even a particularly dark brown.

Looking up Eiffel

We walked down from the second level to the ground, 400 feet. Standing under the legs helps you realize how huge it is. Then we crossed the Seine and looked at the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero park.

Earlier in the day, we'd toured Notre Dame Cathedral, the Ile de Saint Louis, along the Seine and through the Latin Quarter. We loved Shakespeare and Co. Books, the most eccentric bookstore we've ever seen (and English-language too).

April 24


Almost nine months since we left home, we rendez-voused (that's French) with my parents today in Paris. We were glad they made it, and glad for that matter we made it, too. We met them at their hotel, near Pont Neuf. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had a lot of catching up to do, so naturally we headed for the Catabombs?!? Actually, it was our idea; something none of had seen. It sure was creepy - hundreds of thousands of bones and skulls. It's a huge walk under the streets of Paris. When we emerged, we were nowhere near the Metro station we'd started at. The rest of the day was spent in restaurants and walking the streets - Champs d'Elysees again, the other side, this time.

A few of the bones in the Catacombs

What I missed most from home was seeing my parents, and it was so exciting to be able to share our experiences on this trip in person. And to create new ones! All of us were energized by meeting up with them. Next we drive and they take the train to the Dordogne region where we'll spend a week together.

April 18


Today we went to Paris. On the way we stopped at Vimmy Ridge. We saw the Canadian War Memorial which is a huge sturctchere with a lot of barenaked peple and two sides: one represinting France the other: Canada. I coulden't believe that we were on Canadian owned ground! It just seems so cool! Then we went to the trenches and tunnels. But before that we went to the visitors informatin center where after watching a movie and looking at the informatin about: the trenches, the tunnels and the monument, the lady at the desk gave me a bag with two newspapers, two pins, a flag, a boo mark and two pamphlet guides. We went on the tour after we saw the huge trenches and the bomb craters. This tour apart from the more-than-one-day ones, was my favrite one on the trip. Our guide was great, the underground was amazing and the whole thing amazing! We had lunch at a petrol statin, arrived, got grocieries, went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 19


Today we went to Paris. We went by train from our station Chateu-Croissy to Charles De Gule. Half of the stops were outside, half like a metro. When we got to Charles de Gule we went to the arc de triomphe which translates into: Arch of triumph. It is so big! Plus where we are standing at the side of the arch I suddenly go: oh-my-gosh is that the Eifell Tower! Yes! It is so big! We got museum cards and went to the top of the arch where we had even better views of the tower! We then walked down the Champs Elysay where I bought a miniature Pegout 207 and a Pink (rock band) CD. We saw the Tuleries (just by going right in front of the gate not even going in) before having a lunch of fromage hot dogs! Went to the Musee D'Orsay where my favrite paintings were: hmmm I'm thinking I don't really have one. I diden't like the Musee D'Orsay that much! One I might have liked was a not-Egyptian Isis pouring fire from her brests. Hmmm. Godess of Beauty or Godess of fire dropping from your breast? Went to the statue garden at the Rodin, saw Napoleon the first's tomb, had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe Paris, went home, G.N.!

April 20


"The Louvre...and the (not) postage stamp sized Mona Lisa"

Today we went to the Louvre. It was not that busy, though! It might of been because we had museum passes. Or just luck, But, boy, it was still busy! First we saw a area called Khorsabad Court which had these weird god like animal/human things called Lamasuu. And King Sargon was the one they were protecting. And the king's so strong he can strangle a lion! We saw a statue of Charlemagne on his horse. We also saw: his crown, sword, spurs and sceptor. After that, we saw Napoleon the 3rd's apartments. It was very interesting and looked very royal. After the dining room we then saw "victory of Samothrae" which was a o-my-gosh-she-is-not-barenaked statue. Then we saw the gallery of Apollo which translates into Greek God of sun or Louis XIV gallery. In the middle there's a picture of Apollo killing the snake Python. Then we saw the world famus Mona Lisa! I was so lucky for children (the adults were roped off) could go in front but 300 flashed behind me. I got out! Did you know someone stole the Mona Lisa? On August 22, 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen by three Italians disgused as maintenance men. The public flocked to see the empty spot and they even left flowers. The Mona Lisa could not be found for two years! The thief Vincenzo Perugia had kept the painting in his tiny room near the Louvre. When he took the painting to Italy to try and sell it, he was captured in Florence. Wow! Had lunch, and saw lots more stuff, went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 21


Today we went to Versailles. When we got there we had to stand in a lineup to buy tickets. Then we went on a walk to Marie-Antoinette's estate. On the way we had a lunch of sausage and fries and sandwiches. The gardens go forever! It took us 50 minutes to an hour including lunch to get to the Marie-Antoinette's estate. There we saw: the Petit Trianon, the temple of love (which turned out to be temple of hunting, war, death - the point is: anything exept love...) and lots more! We also saw Canadian looking geese, ducks and 100 or less/more fish! Walked back to the palace got two free I included audio guides and I gave up mine because it was so more boring than the Schonbrun! People are big meanies! A woman boofed (pushed) me with her big, fat purse, a woman pushes in front of everyone, people take flashes when no flash signs, men stop me from getting to Mom and Dad, etc etc...too busy! We went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 23


Today we went to Paris. We first went to Notre Dame. What a big church! I really liked the stained glass! Big red windows! And everybody kept on taking pictures with flas when huge tapestry sizd posters say no flash! Then we went to a playground behind Notre Dame. It had a big circle thing, a swing, that's it. I really liked the big circle thing which you spin around. You get to the top and start going really fast! Only kids 7 and up could go on it so (luckily) I
was 8!

A spinning Anica

After we found out we could not go to one of the memorials to the Jews, so we looked for lunch. I ended up having a ham omelette while they ate crepes. Then we went to the Eiffel Tower! Big! We took the elevator/funicular up and viewed Paris! Toronto was six thousand kilometres away! Went up to the outside part and saw very far away! Then we went down to the second floor and walked down (very fun), went back, had dinner, G.N.!

April 24


"Nana! Grandpa!"

Today we met Nana and Grandpa! We met them at there hotel. Then after we met them we went to the Catacombs which went on forever, before we saw a big fancy tomb and went into another tunnel which beside you were skulls and bones of over 8 million people! It was a bit too long! Then we went to lunch. For lunch we had two croque monsieurs, two croque madames, and one contry ham sandwhich. Yum! Yum! and Yum! Then we went to the Champs Elysayss and had hiagon-das. Then we walked through the Tulreis garden, went pee in the Louvre. We had dinner, went home, G.N.! P.S. in the Tulires garden I played in the children's park

Posted by jennrob 13:00 Archived in France Comments (4)

Chocolate, Beer and War

Four Nights in Bruges, Belgium

sunny 10 °C

Classic view of Bruges canals and belfry

April 15


Add a new nominee to our "Favourite Small City in Europe:" Bruges. Actually, go ahead and give Bruges the award. This is such a picturesque city that it even tops Rothenberg. It's like travelling back in time, except there's no garbage, smell, or plague! The quantity and quality of jaw-dropping medieval/early-modern buildings ("look! there's a house from 1662," etc.) can be explained by Bruges' decline after their golden era (no new building) combined with being miraculously spared in both World Wars (no destroyed buildings), and then being discovered by tourists (upkeep of buildings). This last factor is probably the only downside to Bruges. The city is on every tour group's itinerary. I imagine in the summer it would be worse. The best time is around 5 PM, when the stores are still open, and the tour buses are gone. Then, it's mostly the local population out shopping, bicycling and walking home, and showing the rest of us the real character of their city.

Anica and Rob cross a quaint Bruges bridge

Of course, being Belgium, this is a great place for chocolate, with over 40 chocolate stores. And it's equally known for beer. Something for everyone! Jenn liked sampling the 40 or more chocolate shops. Anica did too, and supplemented that by visiting a couple of candy stores. She even had a ride on the "May Fun Fair" that's set up in a couple of the town squares. It looks funny to see the modern midway rides with their flashing neon signs ringed by sedate old storefronts. As for the beer, I got to sample a couple of the 250 beers (and they're all Belgian) in one of the pubs. The "menu" several pages long.

On our self-guided walking tour today, we passed through a 13th century "Beguinage," where widowed and unmarried women could safely live in centuries past. Just as old was a (shockingly beautiful) alms-house complex, that still provides low-income housing.

Anica amid the medieval alms-houses

We walked over quaint, low bridges (Bruges is also known as the "Venice of the North"), past locks and sluice-houses, into the grand "Markt" square, with its belfry.

"Markt" this spot!

We went into one museum: "Choco Story". Newly-opened, it tells the history of how chocolate became associated with Belgium, with the requisite demonstrations and free samples. We were guided by Anica, reading aloud from the brochure (often at the top of her lungs), which was called "Bruges - Children Allowed." Nice translation of "Kinderen Toegalten!" I guess it's better than "Bruges - Children tolerated, if you insist."

Bruges might not seem welcoming to a vegetarian either. Fortunately, we're meat-eaters. Last night we had spare ribs at a restaurant called "Die Hobbit." It was somewhat themed after Tolkien, but actually is a cozy, busy place with great food and a great sense of humour. Their menu took magazine ads from the 1920s and inserted the word "hobbit" into them. My brother-in-law, a big Tolkien reader, would get a real kick out of this place!

Today's dinner ranks with our "world's bests." Nothing fancy, just delicious chicken. For you Canadians, it's like Swiss Chalet got to open a franchise in Heaven, but only because they promised to raise their standards to heavenly levels. The restaurant was actually called "The Chicken-In." Perhaps I have a simple palate, but all three of us were saying the same thing: this is one of the best meals we've had anywhere on this trip.

April 15


"Children Allowed instead of Children Welcome!"

...and the almost losing of my purse. First, today we walked to the informatin and concert hall. we got our number and sat down till it came. Finally 35 came. We asked for a children's walk around Brugge. We saw a lot of stuff on the children's walk including fountins, catedrals and lots more. Plus we gotme two candys! a litle gummy minni cake and a huge candy stick which was sort of multiflavered. And we saw a statue with (of course) a barenaked lady on a horse with a Brugge horse driver! After having Belgian waffles (not as good as Daddy's Belgian waffles) and sandwiches with chips for lunch, I diden't know I left my purse! Luckily the guys were nice and handed it back when I came in again. After the walk we went to the Chocostory, a mueseum where we tried chocolates, saw a demenstratin and I got a game where you have to put the right stickers on the correct number to win a prize. I chose the pencil instead of a praline (or whatever), lollipop or key chain. For dinner we had a 100% good, 100 stars chicken with fries and stewed apples at a freindly, yummy, nice restaurant. Chicken-in. G.N!

April 16


My students and colleagues were with me today, in my heart and mind, as we went on the best Canadian History "field trip" ever. To Flanders Fields. To Ypres. Passchendaele. The very names ring out to anyone who's studied World War I. But to today's students, it seems so distant. It's practically vanished from living memory. Here, though, it's everywhere. It's like the Great War just happened. In Ypres, we saw the Menin Gate, where every night (every single night!) they stop the traffic and play "The Last Post." What struck Jenn and I were the entire walls at the Menin Gate filled with the names of the Canadian dead.

Menin Gate, Ypres, just as a Canadian army jeep passes by

Ypres rebuilt itself after World War I, in the same medieval style. Their famous "Cloth Hall," a beautiful Gothic building, stands again. Housed in it is the "In Flanders Fields" museum, named for a poem by, yes, yet another Canadian. They do a good job explaining how futile the "Ypres salient" was. The gimmick of the museum is an identity ticket, that you put into a computer slot as certain points. It tells the real-life story of someone affected by the war. Anica had a nurse, who survived and adopted an orphan, Jenn had a nurse who was killed by a munitions explosion, and I had a British soldier who made it to 1917 before being killed.

The rebuilt Cloth Hall in Ypres

Near Ypres (Ieper in Flemish), after driving through Passchendaele, we went to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. It's the largest Commonwealth War Grave. 12, 000 British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Newfoundland graves. Many are unknown soldiers. About 900 are marked with a maple leaf as Canadian. I took pictures of representative tombstones: different ages, different epitaphs. There is also a huge, curving wall called the "Memorial to the Missing." 35, 000 names are there. What's really sobering is that there are 75 Commonwealth War cemeteries in the area around Ypres. Half a million lives were given up here in order to trade eight kilometres of soil back and forth. Much of rebuilt Ypres bears dates from the 1920s and 1930s on its facades. What must they have thought when the Second World War began, not even a generation after "the war to end all wars?"

Just one section of Tyne Cot Cemetery, a Commonwealth War Grave

One of the many unknown soldier graves at Tyne Cot

Just up the road from The Tyne Cot Cemetery is the "Canadian Memorial" for that area. It's the "St. Julian" statue of a "brooding soldier," very impressive, to mark the 3,000 casualties near there in one of the gas-warfare battles.

Our final stop was to a section of the "Yorkshire Trench" that they have excavated and re-created. It's sandwiched between huge, modern factories. The trench is not big, but it's completely open and free (in fact we were the only ones there), and we did get to climb down into the trenches, swat flies and see the naturally-putrid water that's risen again at the entrance and exit to where the "Deep Dugout" was. The trench is from 1917. Planks, at the same site, mark the land in 1915 where a first set of trenches were dug. There's only a few feet between them.

April 16



Today we went to Ieper. When we first arivved we did a war museum. I diden't like it that much because every half hour in one room theres all-of-a-sudden bomb nosises. But the rest was o.k. Things I never knew: the Christmas Truce - what a funny thing to do :) And lots more! They gave you these cards with different peoples names where you get to find out about there life. My girl died at 60, Mums 20 something, Dads 30. Mine died of illneis, Mums shell bomb, Dads, I can't remember! Had lunch and went to my favrite site that day! The Tyne Cot Cemetary. It had war soldiers buried from Britain, Canada New Zealand, Newfoundland, and so on. Half are unindentified! Went to the trenches, went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 17


Another self-guided walking tour of Bruges today. Cold, but sunny. Through a lesser-known, but almost as picturesque area. The oldest inn/pub is from 1515. Another building from 1493. Former trading houses of merchants from Lucca, Spain, even the Orient. In keeping with the international theme, we had lunch at an Egyptian restaurant. Anica likes middle eastern food, and said today that Egypt may have been her favourite country to visit. We shopped, including getting stuff for dinner, back at the Bonobo Hotel, where we have the one-bedroom self-catering unit. Our windows look out on a cobblestone alley and a church's belltower.

One of two original wooden facades from 16th century Bruges

Posted by jennrob 10:28 Archived in Belgium Comments (6)

A 'Dam Good Time

Was Had By All In The Netherlands

sunny 12 °C

There really are a lot of windmills!

April 10


We drove 1100 kilometres yesterday! I drove it all. Jenn navigated superbly. It took us 12 and a half hours including stops. Thank-you, German autobahn, for helping us make up for the slower portions of rain, fog, twisting roads, traffic, and one wrong turn. Entering The Netherlands for the first time, we were given a memorable first impression: ponies. Little ponies, the kind that look like they're wearing leg-warmers. I think they're called flashdance ponies. Soon, though, we were indeed seeing windmills (the old-fashioned kind), tulips and canals. The stereotypical images are for real, and not hard to find.

Entering Amsterdam itself, driving alongside the canals, and the colourful, idiosyncratic houses, the impression was: what a pretty city. It really is a special place, and, for one night, we're staying right in the heart of it. Right near the Anne Frank house, and just down the street from the red light district (see what I mean, Jean?). Amsterdam is tremendously expensive for hotels, and our "budget" hotel is actually the single most expensive price we've paid per night on the entire trip! And what does that get you? Perhaps the single smallest room we've had on the entire trip. In a hotel without an elevator. Or parking. To be fair, it's there's nothing wrong with it, and they do include breakfast and free wireless, but, really, we just laughed as we climbed 50 plus vertiginous steps to our tiny room.

April 11


Amsterdam is a unique city. Everything I imagined. It has as many canals and bridges as Venice, it seems, but in more orderly, concentric circles. The houses are all so distinct and colourful. We were wakened with bells from the nearby churches.

Canal across from Anne Frank House, near our hotel

After breakfast at a shared table with a mother and daughter from Canada, we headed right over to the Anne Frank house, just a couple of blocks from our hotel. Anica once again declared "this is my favourite museum." It is very well done, and very moving. Jenn and I had tears in our eyes right from the beginning. Her story proves Stalin's chilling maxim that "one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." You really saw how they lived in hiding, including the meager decorations that Anne pasted to her walls. They have short videos to watch as you go through the house, mostly oral histories. You even walk through the same bookcase to the secret annex as that Frank family did.

For lunch, we had Indonesian food. Anica seemed really excited about that, for some reason. We didn't go to Indonesia, but it's very similar to the Malaysian food we had.

Then we called our friends, Fred and Irith, whom we met in Cambodia. We'd kept in touch since then (many months ago!) and they had extended a sincere offer to come stay with them when we got to Europe. And now it's actually happening, and we're having a great time! They're warm, generous people, and they did their own world trip. It was six months and they went to Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and New Zealand. So we had lots to talk about! Their two kids, Marisa and Igor, are just a little younger than Anica. Even though we have no Dutch, and the kids speak only a little English, they have fun, especially Anica and Marisa who are less than a year apart.

They live in Santpoort, about half an hour's drive from the centre of Amsterdam, on the coast of the North Sea. The first evening we arrived we got a feel for their area of Holland. We went up a windmill that was built in 1779. It's a working windmill, and we saw the flour they'd made that day. Then we went to "the dunes," a huge park of rolling, grassy sand dunes and gnarled trees. On the path we encountered the "wild" horses they'd introduced to the park, along with cattle, to naturally graze. When the sun was setting, we headed back to their house for a traditional Dutch meal. What a great introduction to their life in Holland!

Dunes, Horses and the kids: (Anica, Marisa, Igor)

April 12


Like thousands of others, we headed to Keukenhof, the biggest display of tulips (and other flowers) in Holland. These gardens are huge!And of course, beautiful. Different companies create displays, and the grounds adopt a theme. This year's was China, so some of the gardens and sculptures reflected that. Anica probably saw the flowers as a colourful blur, because she was running around with Marisa and Igor, having a great time. There's even a big playground there for the kids. Jenn and I noticed that people "dress up" in traditional Dutch clothing to come to the Keukenhof.

A few of the millions of tulips at Keukenhof

The Keukenhof kids: Igor, Marisa, Anica

And the grown-ups: Jenn, Irith, Fred

Then we went off to Zaans Schanns, which collects many traditional aspects of Dutch culture in a scenic spot that is not quite like one of our "pioneer villages." There are many windmills, but most of them still serve their purpose. There are quaint 17th century houses, but some are still lived in. Across the water, the houses look just as pretty, and they are all lived in. We also saw wooden shoe-making and cheese-making. Irith absolutely loves cheese, and we've been treated to some amazing cheese. As for the wooden shoes, yes, they did wear them as kids around the farms, and yes, they are quite comfortable - they're custom-made, after all.

Windmill at the Zaan Schanns site

Marisa and Anica from across a bridge at Zaan Schanns

We also went to the beach, another part of the "dunes" part we were at yesterday. It was windswept, but sunny. We had pea soup and a glass of warmed wine at a restaurant overlooking the North Sea, then played a little on the beach.

Typical Nord See beach scene?

April 13


The town of Santpoort, like so much of what we've seen in the Netherlands, has bicycle lanes on every road. It also has a ton of sports and recreation options. One is the farm we visited this morning. Like the trend in Ontario, it's a semi-working farm, but mainly it's for visiting. The kids petted the animals, and climbed on the ropes and walked through the trails.

Then we took the train to Amsterdam itself, and went on a canal tour by boat. Fred knows Amsterdam really well, and we mostly ignored the commentary and talked with them.

"I am Amsterdam." "No, I am Amsterdam!"...

After walking and taking the tram through more of Amsterdam, we went back to Saantport for another nice dinner and evening together. The "real world" of Monday morning work was calling them, and in the morning we said our goodbyes. One of the most incredible things about this world trip was the fact that we, a family from Canada, met a family in Cambodia, from the Netherlands, and made such a strong connection that we were able to stay with them months later and have a wonderful time. Our weekend in their home, seeing their part of Holland, will always be one of our most fondly-remembered times on the trip.

April 11


Today we went to the Anne Frank house. It was my favrite museum so far, because it was really intrestng and had little bits of her diary and the wall. You watch movies (1-3 minutes aproxamitly) from Miep Gies or Otto Frank - they also had a copy of her diary! They also had a postcard that the Frank family sent. I also got a book called The Story of Anne Frank. We walked around town and bought me a top (at H&M) before having lunch at an Indonesien restaurant. Then we hopped in the car and went to Irith's and Fred's. I played with Marisa (pronounced Ma-ree-sa) before we went to the dunes we made a tree house at the bottom of a tree (the house was already made before we came) and we played. Had a lovely Dutch dinner, G.N. P.S. they're from the Netherlands so they don't speak every word of english - but, boy, they sure do know a lot!

April 12


First, today, we went to the Keukenhof. That's a big flower garden in a town called Lisse. The main thing Marisa, Igor and I did was go to the playground. Otherwyes we just played with our ballons from the lady at the informatin center and looked at the flowers. Then we went to a town where, first, this women took two pics of us, where Marisa, Igor and I went in a giant wooden shoe, played tag, and saw huge windmills. Then we went to the beach. While the Mums and Dads had hot wine, pea soup and bread, we gulped down our fries and ran outside to play. We made a sand castle/fort and played soccer with the Dads. Then we went home, Marisa, Igor and I played (Marisa and I played barbies, while Igor played with my plane and his other transports). Had Indonesian food for dinner, and, G.N.!

April 13


Today first all of us went to a petting zoo. Actully it wasen't a petting zoo it was a farm. First we petted the cows (plus a baby who liked to lick Marisa). There was this one cow who snorted at us. Marisa and I backed off. Then there was the sheep. We petted babies for a bit (the baby sheeps) before a female one (not his/her mother) head butted him really hard cause she wanted atenntion too! Poor baby! It ran back to its mother. Before going back to the playground we petted the so cute, about two fingers long, baby bunnies! The coulers were black and brown. Then we played in the playground. We went to the train station (after droping Marisa off for a birthday party, so it was just Irith, Fred, Mum, Dad, Igor and I). to go to Amsterdam. We went on a fun boat tour around Amsterdam. Then we went on the tram, went back, had a yummy dinner, G.N.!

Anica and Marisa pet a calf at the farm near Saantport

Posted by jennrob 10:11 Archived in Netherlands Comments (5)

Swiss Log

Composed at 1274 Metres Above Sea Level

sunny 4 °C

One view from Topferhaus, our apartment in Albinen, Switzerland

April 1-2


Getting to Lucerne, we discovered a new twist on the old art of getting lost. We had directions for our hotel (or so we thought) printed out from michelin.com. It's normally pretty reliable, by the way. This time, however, it defaulted and directed us to the centre of Lucerne. I was thinking: this hotel location is too good to be true! And it was. At one point we were staring directly at the famous wooden bridge, thinking: that's not our hotel!

Switzerland is everything I pictured. Snowy, jagged mountain peaks tend to surround you, whether you're on a major highway or in a town. Swiss cottages dot the richly green hillside, some angled so precariously it's like they've dared each other: look where I built a cottage!

Eventually we figured out how to get to our hotel, which is in Lucerne's suburb of Kriens. It's still only about 3km from that famous bridge. Nothing much in the immediate area, although in our hotel lobby Jenn noticed a brochure for what seems to be brothel practically next door. "Classy and discreet," it claims. Stumbling upon the local examples of the world's oldest profession seems to be a bit of a theme on our trip.

The next day was our full day in Lucerne. We spent most of it at the "Transport Museum," which is Switzerland's most-visited museum. Anica said it was her favourite museum in the world at one point today. I'm glad she enjoyed it because we have been to a lot of museums lately. This one is sprawling. It contains many full train-cars, planes, cars, boats, etc. We went on a ride that used dioramas, video, and other special effects to tell the story of building the Gotthard Tunnel. A story of boring that was anything but boring. We've already driven through a 6km tunnel in the Alps; this one was 15 km long and built in the 1880s. Another feature at this museum was a planetarium. Anica was at the right age exactly to enjoy the "Cardboard Rocket" story of two kids who explore our solar system.

Anica, News Anchor - at the Transport Museum

We did see a couple of the famous sights in Lucerne as well. We walked across the Chapel Bridge. We looked at the "Dying Lion" monument, which Mark Twain called "the most moving and mournful piece of stone in the world," in "A Tramp Abroad." But that's about it! It was raining off and on and pretty cold. To get out of the rain and avoid an over-priced dinner, we got some fresh food at the grocery store and had a picnic back in our hotel room.

The Lion of Lucerne

Chapel Bridge, Lucerne

April 3


A new nominee for "best drive!" A new nominee for "best view." Can you tell we're in Switzerland? We drove from Lucerne to our self-catering place for the next week, which is in the Valais Alps, right down by the Italian border. Still, most people here speak French. In Lucerne it was almost all German. Anyway, the drive was exciting for a couple of reasons. First, because the weather was sketchy. Snow was in the air. Some said the mountain pass would be closed. But we made it! Secondly, because our car got to ride on a train. For the longest tunnel, we just drove onto a flatbed train car and off we went. It was a long and (surprisingly) dark tunnel. We've been on car ferries before, but never a car train. Then there was the sublime Swiss mountain scenery. This is why "wow" entered our vocabulary. The place we're staying has great views, and we're a long way up the mountainside. There are several peaks of just under 3000 metres here. To the south, but not visible, are Switzerland's ten highest mountains, all over 4000 metres. With the snow coming in waves, we're thrilled to have brought our groceries and be able to settle in and watch the view. If you don't like the way it looks, wait ten minutes!

Another view out our windows

April 4-8

When in Switzerland, with gorgeous picture-window, and the weather swinging wildly from warm spring sun to threatening snowfall, why not just sit back and enjoy the views? So that's mainly what we've done. Jenn has no trouble with that, especially with an internet connection available to help pass the time. I get a little more restless. I took a couple of nice hikes - there's signed trails that start right beside the house. The second time I took Anica with me, and she surprised me by going almost as far with ease. They even have benches set up along these trails, at just the right spots to admire the mountains and valleys. Jenn came with us the third time. Full points for her because heights aren't her favourite thing and these trails go along the side of the mountain at places that are nearly cliffs. Huge steel fences and nets are set up to catch falling rocks.

Our house, viewed from above during a hike

Even walking in town is a hike. It's so steep. What an eccentric little town Alibenen is, too. It's got a distinctive modern church. White, rounded and stucco-like. Meanwhile, the rest of the buildings are dark wooden Swiss chalets. They all look unbelievably rustic. There's little difference at a glance between the cabin that just contains hay, or goats (as some do, right in the middle of town), and the winterized versions. You can spot these by the tell-tale satellite dishes, skylights or solar panels. Many properties in town are rented or operate as hotels. We're only a few kilometres from Leukerbad, a prime ski-resort town.

View of Albinen from other side of town

Anica and I went to Leukerbad, to go up the Gemmi cable car, and check out the 1 km sled run. This turned out to be a disaster. Well, the cable car was fun. It goes up to about 2400 metres, and Leukerbad is lower in elevation than Albinen, so it's a good ride. From the top, you can see more distant peaks, all over 4000 metres. The Matterhorn was unmistably visible from the Gemmi chalet. Most of the cable car ride rises over sheer cliff. Anica enjoyed this, but we just don't have the clothes for the colder weather. The day we went there was clear, but cold, the coldest of the week. When we wiped out on the sled, which was way too fast for Anica, she got snow all down her boots and that was the end of that! I felt so bad for her and regretted bringing her. She's learned from her travelling, however, a curious development of new confidence AND new fears, so by the time we got home, it wasn't a miserable, tear-filled morning...it was a story to tell Mummy!

Our one big meal out was to have cheese fondue at a restaurant in Leukerbad. Sure it's a cliche, sure it's over-priced, but it was a first for Anica, and we all enjoyed it.

On our last full day, we went to "Burgerbad." That's not a fast food chain with lousy food, it's a "thermal baths." Actually, it's a glorified serieis of swimming pools, but it's pretty good fun. Thery're all really, REALLY warm - two the pools are outside and the steam rises off them up into the snow-covered peaks that cradle the town of Leukerbad. There's jets and fountains that pour the water down from above, too, so your poor little head doesn't have to stay cold. Anica like the indoor kid's pool, with its slide, as well. In total there's about six pools (and different ones are open in the summer). We enjoyed our three-hour pass very much - a unique activity for our last day in Switzerland.

April 1


"A 3 Country-Day and our 3rd Ibis"

Today we went to Lucerne. The drive there was long and (again) getting lost. Our directions from Michelin put us right downtown on the other Industrialstrasse when we wanted to be in Kreins. Bad Michelin! We asked somebody, that's how we found out. We arrived at our Ibis and because we wanted DVDs for our place in Albanin (next place), Mum's like "what we really need is a Media Market." We arrive, Media Market is right beside us! They got something for them, but nothing for me but who cares because I already have the 3rd Harry Potter (only one I haven't seen of the movies out now). Dad used Swiss Franks when we could of used Euros. He's like "exceuse me do you take euros?" "Yes!" Swiss Franks are really colurfell because the 100s are blue and the 50s a sort of yellowish/goldish/orangeish colur and the 5s are red. We were walking around in 15 degree weather and theres huge snowy mountains right ahead and behind you! I think this Swisszerland is a great country so far. For dinner we had yummy pizza from a place called Pizza Connection. We got Diavola and Hawai pizza. G.N.

April 2


"Transportation Museum One Day and Transportation Experiance the next"

Today we went to the Transportation Museum. It was lots of fun because you could try scooters, go on trains...The first thing we did was a ride on a mining train through a tunnel! That was XL extra fun. You could go up tiny stairs to a little area of a train you could look around. After lunch we went to the Planatarium which was really interesting cause when we watched the movie it was like we were moving! The movie was called the mystoery of the cardboard rocket. We saw exhibits on trains, cars, trams and airplanes. Hmmmm! We've been on a tram in Vienna, got a pegout 207 now, and rode trains through out Asia, plus going on airplanes everywhere! After the museum we went to a Coop where we got grocires and ate back at our cosy Ibis. Had dinner, G.N.!

April 3


Today we went to Albinen. We went on a train in our car! The tunnel (largest tunnel driving: 6 km) on the train is so long. When we got to Albinen our veiw from our place was betiful! Plus, it was snowing. Had dinner, G.N.

April 6


Today me and Daddy went on a hike. It was 80 minutes long cause it took 45 minutes to get to the end, 35 minutes to get back. On the first sort of 10 minutes it was uphill. It actully took us about 5 minutes to go on the uphill part and 5 on the snowish part. Covered with snow. On our hike we saw wolf (we think) fur and footprints. We didn't see the wolf though and that was sad/good. We also saw huge giant snail shells. We sat down a lot and (luckily) brought water, for it was a long hike plus lots of uphills! When we arrived home I started writing this journal entry whell my tulip from Migros, Lekurbad (a day I didn't write about) was starting to bloom. Had lovely dinner made by Chef Mummy watched the special features for Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban. G.N.!

Sunrise on the day we left Albinen

Posted by jennrob 21:33 Archived in Switzerland Comments (4)

"...Then We Take Berlin"

With Help From a Friend

semi-overcast 10 °C

The Victory Column, one icon of many in Berlin

March 25


Today we passed through the Czech Republic, sadly avoiding Prague in order to save the bother of another language and currency. Also, Prague is no longer cheap by any stretch. We decided on Dresden, closer to Berlin, our next stop. That may be important with the weather we've been driving through: swirling snows and a mercury dancing around the zero mark.

It's funny to cross an open border and then immediately see the difference. We giggled at the Eastern European tableau laid before us: Czech casinos, theme restaurants, "sexy shops," even a shooting range. We weren't in Austria anymore.

As we went on, though, we travelled through forests of barren birches and dark evergreens, and also through open fields where we easily spotted deer, large hares and pheasants, even at 120 kph.

Arriving in Dresden, we found our "Ibis" hotel. This is the first time in a month we've stayed in a hotel. Ibis is a non-descript chain of two-star hotels. Here there are three, all in a row, backing onto a Soviet-designed pedestrian thoroughfare. The Bloc-architecture has been dressed up a little and the pedestrian mall is really blooming. It's a neighborhood that looks brand-new but actually has an interesting cold-war history.

A new Dresden: march of the Ibises

March 26


Dresden, we hardly knew you! Our one full day here, and what did we do? Spent most of it in the "Deutsche Hygiene-Museum." That's because it was a really neat place with lots to do. Anica had the best science-health-philosophy field trip in the world. At first we thought "hygiene" museum? A novelty, perhaps? Something to look at to get out of the cold wind. This place, however, is nothing like its name implies. And it's been around since before World War I. It was started by a man who had made his fortune in mouthwash. The museum's own history is described inside, how they were a propaganda vehicle for Nazi "eugenics," then a propadanda vehicle for Communist public health dictates. Now? Lots of ways to examine aging, the senses, sexuality, and diseases. I particularly liked the temporary exhibition on "gluck" (happiness, but also luck). It used avant-garde multimedia art to illustrate the question "what is happiness?" In the beginning Philosophy course I teach, this would be a perfect fit. I wish I could bring the topic to life as well.

"I'm Looking Through You...Transperant "Man" in DHM, Dresden

When we finally emerged from our visit there, which included another surpisingly good cafeteria lunch, we took a quick walk through historic Dresden at sunset, until we were cold enough and hungry enough to eat dinner. Dinner was at a kind of "Saxon" theme restaurant which we all thought was fun. Again, though, the food was actually really good! We saw some of the architecture that make this a "Florence on the Elbe," mainly stemming from the period of Augustus the Strong, when Saxony was at its peak. World War II levelled Dresden, including it most important Protestant Church. They just completed the rebuilding of it in 2006, for the 800th anniversary of Dresden!

18th Century Saxony + 21st Century Streetcar = Dresden

March 27


A short, simple drive got us to Berlin today, where we were meeting Jenn's friend, Marny. She lives in Hanover, but said, why visit there? She could show us around Berlin, having been there a few times before. I think it's always the best way to see a place. It's a break for us in language, too, with Marny handling all the German-speaking.

We're staying at an Ibis, in the east end. We got right on the underground and emerged at Alexanderplatz, at the foot of the TV Tower, symbol of East Berlin. For dinner, Marny took us to a the oldest part of Berlin, and we ate at a pub in a 500-year old house.

Because we arrived on a Thursday, Marny suggested we take advantage of "Museum Night." All the museums on Berlin's "Museum Island" are free from 6-10. First, we went to the Pergamon museum. It's named for the "Pergamon Altar," a huge display from 2nd century BCE of Greek Gods fighting giants. Even more impressive was the Babylonian "Ishtar Gate," 6th century BCE, installed in this museum as it would have appeared in Babylon.

Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum, Berlin

They also have the ruins of a Jordanian desert castle walls (which was about the only thing we missed seeing in Jordan, but now we've seen it here!) It's a portal facade from Mshatta, from the 8th century.

In the last hour before closing, we headed over to the Egyptian Museum. The star of the show there is Nefertiti's bust. I'm sorry, did that sound rude? Anyway, this is the famous sculpture of her, with the left eye blank, unfinished. She really is beautiful.

March 28


For breakfast, we've found this Turkish coffee-shop just around the corner that seems quite nice. Berlin has about 200,000 Turkish residents, which I found surprising. Turkish coffee really gets you going in the morning!

Catching the double-decker Bus 100, we scrambled upstairs for the coveted front-row seats. It's just a regular public transit route, but it might as well be a sightseeing bus. It's almost all tourists because of the route it takes. Starting from the TV Tower, you pass by some of the museums, Berlin Cathedral, Humboldt University, various embassies (including the American, with the road it's on permanently blocked off to cars), the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Bellevue Place (the President's residence), the Victory Column (as in the 1870 victory against France), the Tiergarten, the Bauhaus Archive, and finally, the Berlin zoo.

Aside from just enjoying Bus 100, the zoo was our destination. We haven't overdosed on zoos on this trip, so Anica was really looking forward to the visit. It turned out to be almost a full day. One highlight was the seal, who threw up and caught a stick with his mouth. When another seal tried to take the stick, they fought. The growing crowd cheered when he got the stick back. This natural playing behaviour was every bit as fun as watching trained seals.

Catch That Stick!

Across from the zoo is the "Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church," which we also visited. It was bombed in World War II, and left unrepaired to show the damage. The spire is gone, so it looks like an overturned cone with the point broken off in jagged edges. Most of the nave is gone, too. Inside is an exhibition that shows before and after photos. Beautiful mosaics from the vestibule remain. At either end, modernist church buildings now stand, built in 1961. They're done in glass blocks, that are actually stained glass, an effect visible from the outside in the evening, as it was when we were leaving. Instead of rebuilding or replacing, these offer a provocative contrast.

We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood of our hotel. We haven't seen prices as low as this anywhere in Europe, and it's sure not typical of Berlin. Pizzas and pastas for 2 Euros! In Rome and Florence we were happy to see anything under 10 Euros. And the food was quite good, with an atmosphere warm and welcoming.

March 29


Berlin is a cool city. Vienna has its old-world charm, but Berlin smothers its own old-world foundation with avant-garde sauciness. Then there's the compelling storyline of the Berlin Wall. Our first stop today was to the East Side gallery of the Berlin Wall. Here was the longest remaining stretch of the Wall. When the restrictions were lifted, artists came out to paint it. The West side already had that freedom, but the East side always have the "death strip." Wall-peckers and subsequent graffitti has worn away the art of 1989-90, but it's still colourful, and it's really interesting to walk beneath the wall. It's not that tall, but it's tall enough.

Start of the "East Side Gallery" of the Berlin Wall

Next we crossed town to see the Brandenburg Gate up close. Its original message was "peace," and so it is again. Napoleon and Hitler both defiled and subverted it, but when the Wall came down, people flocked to this symbol of their city, and it became a symbol, too, of freedom.

Right next to it is the new memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Memorials are in the works for other groups, like Roma and homosexuals. This one is very hard to figure out. It consists of about 3000 steles, lying flat like coffin slabs. No words, just a series of undulating rows. It's practically a maze. That makes it a little too much fun for kids, perhaps. We told Anica not to shout or climb on the blocks, but, like every kid there, she liked playing hide and seek in the "maze." It is disorienting and stark, but without visiting the information centre, reveals little and is TOO open to facile interpretation.

There's a store on the "main street" called the Berlin Story, which Marny took us to, not just for the great souvenirs, but for the video called about Berlin's history that they screen there free of charge. Another store nearby only sold souvenirs relating to the "Ampelman." These are the green and red East German traffic signal men. We first noticed them in Dresden, and in Berlin there's a whole industry of products devoted to them. A campaign was successfully fought to keep them. They're probably the only facet of life in Germany that was "cuter" under Communism.

Model of the Ampelmann

We also visited the German History Museum, which Marny had never been to. It had many good connections to the European history course I teach. We spent probably too long in the museum, and Anica was very patient, considering there wasn't much intrinsic interest or hands-on activity. It's new, superb, and yet somewhat staid. The view of German history, including the Nazi era, is very objective. When the museum closed, we finally had to leave!

March 30


Today's visit to the Jewish Museum was a much bigger hit with Anica. The museum deals with 2000 years of history, and while Anica did comment that "Wow, these Jews. They sure had their problems," it also celebrates achievements, religion and family life.

The building is very strange. Everything seems tilted and angled. The floorplan snakes. Marny felt dizzy, and I bumped into a couple of walls. There are deliberate "voids," dead spaces to represent the missing. Architecture doesn't get much starker. The outside is like sheet metal with scars for windows. I wondered if some of the older Jews saw it for the first time and said, "what is this? They give us this, now?" Especially the outside could be offputting to some.

But like I said, the exhibits are very inventive. There's a 3D theatre, a pomegranate wish tree, a Moses Mendolsohn coin press (because his son made coins, I guess), a peddler's pack to try on, a write your name in Hebrew computer game... all sorts of things to keep Anica busily engaged. In terms of presentation style, it's probably the best museum I've ever seen. It's even possible to learn a few things there!

Hebrew Letter Puzzle in Jewish History Museum, Berlin

A short walk from there and we were at Checkpoint Charlie. It's not much to look at, but you can read signboards about the escape attempts while standing on the very spot where they took place. Anica wondered if we would have tried to escape. She hoped not because so many didn't make it and were killed. Jenn and I eventually just said no, we wouldn't risk your life, which is what she wanted to hear.

The final sightseeing stop in Berlin was to the Reichstag. Despite fire in 1933 (hmmm, who started that?) and damage through 1945, the parliament maintains its original appearance...with a twist. A huge twist. A twisting glass dome with a core of angled mirrors. We went up the circling pedestrian ramp and enjoyed views over the Tiergarten, Museum Island, and just about everywhere else we've visited in Berlin. Jenn and Marny sat and talked while Anica and I went up and down the 750 feet of ramps two more times! Anica said "we waited in line to get in, went through security and we're only going to do it once? No way!" That seemed logical to me, despite the fact that nobody else walked the ramps more than once. Like the saying goes, it's the journey, not the destination...

Looking down the Reichstag dome's interior column

March 31


Jenn said "I can't believe it's going to be April!" I agree; I thought it was still August...didn't we leave on this trip at the end of July? What do you mean 2008 is one-quarter gone?

Anyway, we said a sad goodbye to Marny - thanks again for showing us a great time in Berlin, Marny - and headed south. And a little west. Once we got off the big highway, we saw the quaint old Germany we really hadn't seen yet. Colourful houses, covered bridges, improbably shaped rocks lining a river-bed road...and signs directing us to Rothenberg.

Rothenberg's Town Hall

Rothenberg - what a place! So cute, but still, somehow, not overly touristy. Not this time of year, at least. We looked out from the town ramparts over the valley and there other than half a dozen cars and a mechanical crane, there was nothing obvious that couldn't have been there 400 years ago. We did a self-guided walking tour that featured all sorts of quirky architectural details.

Rothenberg gate, outside the walls

We've splurged on a guest house that's 600 years old. It was once the house of the famous mayor who saved the town with a prodigous feat of beer-drinking. It's true that that's the story they tell. It's just not a TRUE story. We ate dinner here, too; great country-cooking.

We're all really glad we got to come here, even if it was for just one day and night.

Rothenberg's Clock Tower

March 25


Today we left Vienna. The guys who own are apartment gave me a box of Milka, a bunny and a mix of chocolates. As we got in the Czech Republic we saw the tinyest border I'd ever seen in my life! A sign, a police man in a statin and ta da! The C.R.! We diden't stop in Prague because we couldn't find anything, so we booked a place in Dresden. A huge snow-storm made us think "Hmm, should we really go off to have lunch?" It might just get worse! So we ate pretzels and granola bars in the car. So much for the Esso on-the-go. You still have to get off the highway. The border to Germany was even smaller, JUST a sign. We arrived in Dresden, got lost for a bit, found our hotel, went out, had Pizza Hut, went back...G.N.!

March 26


"Dresden Excitments"

Today we went to the Hygine Mueseum. It has exhibits and a Kinder Museum. In the first room you could see what parts were where, see parts of body, and play room-based computer games. My favorite room of those exhibits was the one with computers where you could see who ate the animals, email recipes, and see difrent peoples meals. We had lunch and moved on the Kinder museum. I touched a fake eye, climbed up a tower, went a qaurter way through a dark tunnel, smelled stuff, and just plainly, had fun! For dinner we went to a 1780s restraunt with the sort of swing thing at the amusement park but slower and I had Saxon potato soup with (according to them) fine slices of sausage. and stroodle. G.N.

March 27


Today we went to Berlin. It was supossed to be a 2 hour drive but it was more like one and a half. As soon as we started seeing exits for Berlin I went "we are going to meet Marny!" Then we had McD for lunch where I got Katie. She's a stuffed animal toy from my Happy Meal. She barks. Before meeting Marny (we had already found our hotel), we went to Toys R Us. We liked giggleing over how they put Snape - so unreal! Also, had a huge sectin of Playmobil (had all stuff I did except the little family) and Barbie. We met Marny and she is very nice. We went on the metro to the stop where we transferred from the U7 to U8 at Hermanplatz. Got off at Alexanderplaz and saw a huge TV tower. You can actually climb up it. We diden't go, though. We went to a small bar which was full of locals drinking beer and eating. I had sausiges and potato salad. We crossed the river and went to a museum. Till ten o clock all the museums in Berlin were free! This one had: Umayyed art, Assyrian and Fatimad art and just lots of intresting pictures and stuff. One of the favrites is the Babylon gate. Blue and covered with animals (fake), Babylon gate was a five star gate. We moved on to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian Museum where we saw all the neat stuff quickly. Such as the beatiful (except for only having one eye) Nefertiti, and the unwrapped mummys and colurful death masks. We went on a exicting ride back and...G.N.!

March 28


"At a Zoo! 4 Hours! Yay!"

Today we went to the zoo. We took the metro from Grenzalle to Hermanplaz to Alexanderplaz. Got on bus 100 to the zoo and got top front seats. We arrived at the zoo and saw the Alpaccas. Weird sort of lama-like. After a mixture of funny beaver guys, monkeys and birds, we went to the Aquarium. So many different kinds of fish! Over 1 hundred! 14, 039 animals, 1, 1434 species, 203 mammels specis, 439 bird species, 78 reptile specie, 46 amphibian and 239 invertbrates species. Saw elephants, seals doing marvellis tricks WITHOUT a zoo-keeper, and lions awake. Had lunch and went to the childrens zoo, feed and pet animals, went to a huge big playground - as big as High Park's! Saw more animals, saw a bombed church, went home, had dinner, G.N.

March 29


"Mazes, gates, shops, and Museums"

Today we did lots of stuff. We started out the day by going to the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg gate and a Jewish Memorial. The Brandenburg gate was huge! At that time you coulden't cross through it! A wall, a dead end! The Jewish memorial to the murded Jews of Europe was like a maze. First it's easy then it gets harder. We also went to a shop where we watched a movie and I bought a pen and a pencil with the street guys on them. The cross-walk guys are so funny. Go is a man walking with a hat on his head and stop is a man with his arms stuck out! We had lunch and went to the German History Museum. It was o.k., I guess, but any not-lover-of-musuem-kid would be bored. about fifty sections! The Jewish Museum the next day was more kid-friendly. Went home on the bus, had dinner, G.N.

March 30


"A Jewish and German mix. We came to the Reichstag, stood in a lineup. Were not going to go up it just once!"

Today we went on the metro past Hermanplatz. We instead went to a statin where we could transfer to the U6 and go to the Jewish Museum and Checkpoint Charlie. Like I said in my diary from March 29, this museum was much beter and kid-friendly. the one yesterday was also hard to go through. At this one you could go on computers where you would have to pack the right 8 items in a travelers back-pack. It included cell-phone and bunny! I went "funny" and put those in her suitcase and it went "two items you put in Gliki's bag are wrong. The cellphone woulden't be invented for another 300 years and the bunny would wat Giki's spices" Ha-ha! We saw lots more stuff before going to Check-point Charlie. It was a intresting checkpoint by the Berlin wall. We walked down to Alexanderplaz and took the bus to the Reichstag. We stood in a line-up with a robot guy going around! We went up the huge circular dome and I went "again!" "No." said Daddy. Me: "We came, stood in a line-up - were not just going up it once." Dad: "Ok." We went up it two more times, went home, had dinner with Marny at a yummy Italian place called Mona Mia, fineshed, G.N.!

March 31


"A Hotel that used to be a Mayors House"

Today we went to Rothenburg. The drive was 4 or something hours. We diden't get lost (lucikly). We took a pretty fast highway and when we got there checked in. Beatifull, huge room wth cosy double beds. We went on a intresting Rick Steves guided, perfectly great, tour. 1 hour, but intresting. Had lovely dinner of (for me, since I can only remember mine) dumplings with gravy and apple juice and apple sauce for dessert. That was a kid's meal. Creaky stairs. Went back. G.N. P.S. There were the guys that drink beer every hour (the guys were fake) up in the clock. G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 08:25 Archived in Germany Comments (6)

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