Thursday, June 28, 2012

Europe Trip Journal Week 6, Paris-Stockholm-Home

Day 43:  August 4th.  Today we said good bye to Paris.  We really enjoyed this city and have a much better understanding as to what the hype is all about.  We did a ton of walking and tried to see as much as we could, which is a good thing considering how many pastries and how much bread we ate.  In order to get the best deal on tickets, we have our return flight to the U.S. via Stockholm.  That means we had to figure out the best way to get back to Sweden.  Katie booked us on Ryan Air which we believed to be the Southwest of Europe.  The tickets were several hundred dollars cheaper than taking SAS or AirFrance to Stockholm.  We soon learned why.  We had to make our way a bus terminal and pay about $40 per passenger to take their bus out to an airfield that was about 2 hours outside of Paris.  Then when we got there, we learned that we would have to pay a hefty price for ever bit of luggage that went on the plane.  When we finally arrived in Stockholm, uh I mean an airport 1 1/2 hours south of Stockholm, we had to again for pay for their bus to take us to the center of town.  The good news?  We saved about $8.47.  The bad news?  Ryan Air was pretty much all bad news.   Lesson learned.
Gwen at the Seine River

Day 44-46:  August 5th-7th.  Stockholm is such an easy place for our family to visit because I lived here at one point and am fairly good at getting around town.  I also have a few friends who were nice enough to spend some time with us.  A good friend tried to line up a boat to go visit the archipeligo, but due to rain we ended up just taking a beautiful scenic ride.  I also visited some friends up Marsta.  Travel to any city is better when you have someone you know willing to get you out of the traditional tourism mode and help you feel more at home.  I think Sweden will always feel like a second home to me.

The kids spent our last few days of this vacation playing at parks, going on long walks, stopping by at Cafes for food.  I think they've done a good job of adjusting to European ways.  Gwen still claims Sweden is here favorite country of the places we stopped.
Mason playing at a park in Stockholm

Day 47:  August 8th.  Heading home today.  It has been an amazing trip and I am so sad it's over.  I started this vacation coming off a good run in sales, but really needed the time to get away from customers, cell phones, emails and just live life.  Katie is about to give up being a stay-at-home mom and I think for her it was a last hurrah before she goes back to 9-5 (yeah right, as an auditor she'll work a lot more than that).  For the Gwen, it was just an adventure and what we call "family time."  For Mason, who knows?  But he was there with us and we'll always apppreciate that.  It was sad when the plane lifted off of European soil, not knowing when we'll be back, not knowing financially what the future holds, but as committed as ever to enjoy life along the way.  We want our kids to see new things in their lives.  We want them appreciate what they have.  We want them to have a perspective beyond just their zip code.  But most importantly, we want to spend time with them because they're growing up so quickly.  Travel pulls us all out of our personal circumstances and puts us in an environment where we are just with each other...and I love that!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Europe Trip Journal Week 6, Zurich-Paris

Day 36:  July 27th.  We are very impressed with our hotel.  The staff is very polite and thoughtful.  The service here has been the closest to the type of service in Asian hotels that we've experienced in Europe.

We walked some more through town today and loved the charm of the "old town" part.  Any of the cities we've been through that weren't bombed in the war have an extra feel of "Europeness" to them.  We then walked on along the shore of the lake which had a great walking path and eventually found a wonderful playground for the kids.  It was a huge sandbox with very tall slides and rope swings that would never be found in the states because of all the liability.

Everything in town was about 25% more expensive than any other city we've been in.  We met an expat at the playground that explained a lot of this is due to the lack of imports Switzerland brings in.  The Swiss are a proud people that believe in "Swiss Made."  Even the McDonalds sign had a picture of a burger and it said "Swiss Made."  We couldn't afford to eat out, so we just picked up groceries and ate in our room.  Earlier in the day we had purchased 2 small sacks of mixed mixed candy and paid $25 for them.  We also noticed that everywhere we looked people were wearing $2,000 suits and $1,000 dresses.  We also read that 25% of the population is employed by the financial services sector.  It was a very unique city and one I hope to visit again someday...when I'm not as concerned about the money.
Gwen at flower clock in Zurich

Day 37:  July 28th.  Got up and had the Marriott breakfast.  For only 16 Swiss Franks, it was the only good deal we found in town.  Played some fusball with Gwen in the kid's room.  It's funny how competitive she is.  She really hates losing.  I'm really proud of the girl she's becoming.

Later we took the train on to Paris.  It wasn't the prettiest city we've been to, at least the part of town we entered.  We took a taxi to the hotel and went to dinner at a bistro just down the road.  The food was alright, but a little expensive.  We went back to the room and went to bed early, the kids were shot after the train ride. 
Beautiful Zurich

Day 38:  July29th.  I think we walked 6 miles today.  We originally were going to walk to the Seine and then see Notre Dame and the Louvre, but we reached a road where we could see The Eiffel Tower and Gwen said, "let's go there."  It didn't look far and we started walking in the general direction.  We came across the Luxemborg Park and Gwen and Mason took a short ride on some small ponies.  Mason was smiling and giggling the whole time.  We found a playground and of course Gwen and Mason weren't going to let us pass without playing.  We were having fun until Mason started getting tired and hitting a kid twice his size because the kid was sitting in a spot Mason wanted to sit in.  We had to round up the kids and continue on.  We kept walking toward the tower, but just when we thought we were getting close, we would get a glimpse of the tower and it seemed further away each time.  We finally made it there and can now check that off the bucket list.  Seeing Paris all day on foot was a great experience.  It is such a beautiful city.
The elusive Eiffel Tower

Day 39:  July 30th.  Today is the day we decided to visit The Louvre.  We've learned throughout this trip that there are small windows of opportunity where everyone feels fed, Mason might drift off and give us some quiet time, and we're not all too tired.  That window is usually only open for about 1 1/2 hours a day.  We took advantage of that time and tried to see as much as we possibly could.  We did see Mona Lisa.  I know it sounds ridiculous to say we spent 3 hours in The Louvre and got anything out of it, but there are so many landmarks in Paris that if it's your first visit, you almost feel like you just need to see them all.  Then when you add in the fact that we need to find time for playing around, naps and making sure everyone is fed, the schedule has been a little packed.  One thing we do enjoy is that we're staying at a Marriott hotel that isn't right in the heart of all the tourist attractions.  I know that sounds counter intuitive, but getting away from the craziness close to The Seine, because other than the hotel guests, we're mostly surrounded by Parisians.  It gives us a better insight into being a local with some quiet side streets and local grocery store.  We've already discovered that Gwen and I prefer a bakery down this side street close to our hotel and Katie prefers one around the corner from our hotel.  It's feels a bit like we're starting to settle in.
The Louvre

Day 40:  August 1st.  Our time is rapidly coming to an end.  I can't believe it's now August.  Today was a "take it easy" where we spent time playing at the park.  We also spent some time in the Spanish quarter and had a very good lunch at a reasonable price as well as some great dessert at a Tunisian bakery.  We've found the people of Paris to be much more friendly and helpful than we had been led to believe.  I think Paris has moved into #1 on Katie's favorite stops in Europe.

Day 41:  August 2nd.  So today was all about the kids.  We took them to Euro Disney.  As far as I'm concerned, a Disney park is a Disney park is a Disney park.  But the kids had a lot of fun.  I was disappointed that we couldn't find a churro stand or a whipped pineapple float stand.  We did try to get a Taco Salad (some spice and something somewhat Mexican sounded good).  The salad ended up having all sorts of weird vegatables and only a couple beans in it, which is I guess what made it Mexican?  The train ride out to the Disney property was fun because it was our first trip outside the city and we got to see some of the suburbs.
Gwen, Mickey and Mason at Euro Disney

Day 42:  August 3rd.  The kids talked is into going back to Euro Disney.  Today was a lot more of what we did yesterday.  There were a couple very nice kids on the train back from the park that played with Mason and Gwen.  I love seeing them make friends outside their comfort zones.  Gwen has a real talent for making friends.

Monday, June 4, 2012

2010 Europe Trip Journal Week 5, Salzburg-Munich-Zurich

Day 29:  July 20th.  Took back the rental car.  Played in the park.  Took long naps.  Ate kabobs and then went on a long walk down to the old town.  A simple relaxing day.

Day 30:  July 21st.  Had a tragedy today...we lost my swim suit.  Katie and Iwere both a little grumpy because we had trouble sleeping after the long naps.  It became a big deal until I could see how sad Gwen was that we weren't going back swimming as planned.  Then I felt like a jerk.  We went and I found a suit that didn't cost as much as I thought it would.  I decided to stop getting so worked up about stupid things.  We went back to Fussel but took the bus this time.  We had another great day.  Gwen made a friend and played with her.  She is always so good at making friends.  Mason made Katie and I laugh as he did a complete flip into the pool off a racing block.  He literally swims until his body gives out.  He is always the hit down at the pool.  Things were more crowded but the weather was warmer which I'm sure had an impact.  It was another great day.

Day 31:  July 22nd.  Moving day.  We got ready and took the train to Munich.  It was a very nice ride with beautiful scenery and a nice train.  We arrived in Munich and went to our hotel.  It's a few subway stops from the center of town, but still convenient and a short walk to Englischer Garten which is a massive city park in the center of town.  After getting settled, we went for a walk through the park and found a large Bier Garten.  We didn't have any beer, but did have some good food.  The kids played on a playground and then we walked on until we found the center of town.  Not as incredible as some of the other cities, which is undestandable considering the city was leveled and it's not as old as some of the cities we've been in.  What it lacked in some of the beauty, I found it made up for in charm.  The people are all very friendly and helpful.  They are proud of their city and its traditions.  You really do see people in dederhosen and grindles.  We found a neat bier garten and farmer's market in the city center.  Gwen wanted to come the next day for lunch.  We finally made our way back to the hotel and got in about 9:00.
Gwen and Katie in Munich

Day 32:  July 23rd.  We had a little bit of a late start today, but basically did the same route as yesterday walking through the park until we got to the center of town.  We had a long talk with Gwen the whole way.  She can be so cute when she's engaged in the conversation.  She asked questions the whole time and was so much fun to be around.  She's the perfect little girl.  After eating lunch in town we rented a car and then went back to the room because a huge storm had started to dump rain.  We ordered "The Blindside" in our room and watched the movie together.

Day 33:  July 24th.  Today we rented a car and went out to view some of the famous scenery around Munich.  It was a challenge to get out of town, but Katie does a really good job guiding me.  We drove south to Garmisch.  The clouds covered the peaks of the mountains which prevented us from getting the full view of this cute little town surrounded by the The Alps.  Nonetheless, we could see enough to realize what a neat town this was, nestled against the mountains.  We had hoped to take a cable car to the top of one of the peaks but with the storm didn't see the point, especially since the weather was so cold.  We then drove on Oberamergau and found a great little store that sold wood carved Christmas ornaments.  I wanted to get a candle holder from there because I grew up with one that my Aunt Marilyn had sent us when she lived in Germany.  We found a great one and also bought an Advent ornament.  I'm sure they'll become traditions for our family as bust them out each Christmas.  Oberamergau was in the middle of doing their Passion Play that is world famous and only shown every 10 years, so many of the stores were closed.  We walked around and loved the murals painted on the sides of many of the buildings, mostly pictures of Jesus and Mary.  We then went on and drove down the Romantische Strasse until we made our way to Neuschwanstein Castle, the famous castle that inspired the castle from "Sleeping Beauty."  We got there at 6:00 to find that the ticket counter had closed.  We decided to come back the next day.  It was a beautiful day.
Neuschwanstein Castle

Day 34:  July25th.  We went back to the castle today, but took a little sideroad that appeared to be more direct.  Before long we found ourselves in Austria, which was good because we still had post cards from Salzburg that we had forgotten to mail.  The road wound through a canyon surrounded by green fields with towering peaks all around.  We found a lake that was a turquoise color that I never knew water could be.  We then stumbled on a quaint town that had a fantasitc playground for the kids.  We got out and they took off, Buster yelling "num sissy".  We then went on the finally made our way to the castle and waited 30 mintes before we realized the tickets were only to go in the castle and if we paid at 2:00, we wouldn't be admitted until 5:30.  We decided to just walk up the hill and see the castle from the outside.  It's crazy to think someone would build such an opulent palace way up the hill like that.  There was a waterfall behind the castle that must have been a 400 foot drop.  The castle's view included 10 alpine peaks, 2 alpine lakes, a waterfall, and a gorgeous green rolling valley floor.  After hiking back down the trail, we hopped in the car and went to a ski lift about 3 miles up the road so Gwen and I could rid an alpine slide.  An old guy riding the brake all the way down right in front of us took some of the fun out of the ride, but Gwen really enjoyed it.  We returned to Munich around 6:00 so we could return the car.  By the time we took the subway back to our hotel, it was about 7:45.  Munich was a great place and I don't think we gave it enough time.  There were a couple other places I would have liked to see, Dachau, Bundesgarten and more of the town.  Tomorrow we head for Zurich as we elected to go there instead of Heidleburg.  I think it's a better route and we get to add another country to our list.

Day 35:  July 26th.  Today we packed up and left Munich to go to Zurich.  It was kind of a last minute decision and meant that our train ride on to Paris would only be 4 hours instead of the 6 hours it was going to be from Heidleburg.  We arrived in Zurich at 5:30.  The ride was very beautiful and the city itself is amazing.  There are only 350,000 residents of Zurich, but it seems larger than that.  It is build on a gorgeous mountain lake that is remarkably clear.  A river flows out of the lake that is so clear, you can see trout swimming in the river.  Locals swim in the river which just amazed me since the river is right in the middle of the city.  There are different opinions in the group, but for me this is the most beautiful city we've been to and the one I could most easily see myself living in.  For Gwen it's Stockholm and for Katie it's Vienna.
Katie in Zurich

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