Monday, November 21, 2011

Road Trip - Part III, Venice

We arrived in Vicenza Friday evening, where we'd remain until Monday morning.  We stayed with a colleague of Roger's (and his family), and they turned out to be excellent hosts.  We really enjoyed their fantastic hospitality (and outstanding cooking!) and they were also generous enough to play tour guide for us the next day when we visited Venice.  Seeing Venice with Italians who know the city well?  That's the way to do it!  

We drove from Vicenza to Venice, parked on the outskirts and then took a boat into the city.  Because you can't drive there.  Obviously.

Will refused to be in this one.
We didn't really have an agenda or a list of "must-see" destinations.  Rather, we just wandered around all day, exploring.

We stopped to admire the gondolas*...

...the narrow canals...

...the bridges...

...and the architecture:


I tried to get a few good photos of the kids...

...but failed miserably.   As usual.

We probably covered most of the city on foot, stumbling across scenic locations as we walked.
The kids particularly loved this winged lion statue:

After a while Kate got tired of walking.  So Will helped her out:
I wish he could've given me a piggy-back ride.  Someday!

But the highlight of the day for the kids?
Exquisite gondolas?
Fantastic pizza?
Beautiful art?
Amazing architecture?

Nope.  Pigeons!

The kids spent a good 20 minutes feeding the pigeons (the last of their snacks, I might add, which they deeply regretted later).

They tried their best to coax the birds to land on their arms:

Will succeeded:

Kate was very impressed by this:
..but, unlike her brother, she didn't have much luck in convincing a pigeon to land on her.    Just as well, in my opinion.

The highlight for me, strangely enough, was not the pigeons.  I thoroughly enjoyed leisurely wandering through the city without the pressure of having to do and see everything.  It was enough for me just to admire the beauty and soak up the atmosphere.

Such a lovely city!

Kate enjoying the view as we walked back to the water taxi.
I have to admit we didn't spring for the super-expensive tour of Venice by Gondola.  34 Euros per person!!  
Rather we crossed the canal on a gondola for practically nothing.   Of course, we didn't have a singing gondolier in a striped shirt and funny hat.  The kids were happy with our brief crossing and it was enough for me.   But did we miss out?  I don't know.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Road Trip, Day II -- Verona, Italy

After a wonderful breakfast at our hotel in Schwangau, we left Germany and drove south through Austria towards Italy.

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I wish I hadn't been driving because the scenery was truly breathtaking: winding roads through the Alps, blue skies with perfect views of the snow-capped peaks.  Incredible.

As we got further south, the sky darkened, the mist gathered and, by the time we reached Italy, it was pouring.   By then we'd swapped drivers and I could snap a couple of photos of the Dolomites.

Beautiful, especially with the mist hanging about, but not nearly as impressive as the Austrian Alps.

Finally, we reached our destination, Verona, Italy, where we planned to spend a couple of hours before heading off to Vicenza to visit some friends.

Verona has some Roman ruins, like this impressive arena:

Guess who's hiding behind that umbrella?

That's right:  Will!  But I got him in this photo.
But it's most famous for being the setting of Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.  Supposedly the Montague and Capulet families (or their real-life inspirations) lived here and you can even visit their homes.

This is Juliet's famous balcony, underneath which Romeo professed his eternal love:

And a statue of Juliet herself:

Supposedly, rubbing her right breast brings you good luck.  Which explains why it's so shiny.

Though most of Verona was fairly quiet, Juliet's house was mobbed with tourists.  Even stranger, as we entered the courtyard to her house, we noticed this wall stuck with thousands of globs of dried up chewing gum.

Apparently, you're supposed to write a love note and stick it to the wall somehow and most people seem to have resorted to gum.  Ick.  Kate stuck on a little note to her friend Ryan, with whom she's planning to marry and have 10 children.  When she's much, much older, I hope.

There were also metal gates covered with padlocks left behind by couples to symbolize their eternal love.

A little nicer than chewing gum, right?

An explanation of the "locks of love" here.
More on Juliet's house here.

Kate was extremely interested in the story of Romeo and Juliet, which she'd never heard except as it relates to the recent animated film, Gnomeo and Juliet, one of her favorites.  This story is exactly like Shakespeare's play except that there's a happy ending.  And the characters are actually garden gnomes, not humans.  As we walked toward Juliet's house, Kate insisted that I tell her the real story of Romeo and Juliet over and over and over.  She was much more disappointed that the characters were human, not gnomes, than by the fact that they both died at the end. (Will's response?  "They were in love and they both died?  Cool!  Love is GROSS!")  

After we finished with Juliet's house we wandered around Verona a bit, admiring the winding streets and  interesting architecture.

And the ubiquitous golden King Tut

In the US this building would look shabby and dilapidated, but in Europe?  Charming.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Road Trip, Day 1: Neuschwanstein Castle

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On our first day, we left Luxembourg and headed across Germany to the little town of Schwangau, home to the famous Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles.  Because we were short on time, we chose only to visit one castle, Neuschwanstein, which was built by King Ludwig of Bavaria.  Kate was extra excited to see this one since we'd told her that it was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland.  That's all it took.

 The castle is perched on the top of a hill, about a mile up, and we had the choice of taking a bus, a horse and carriage, or walking to reach the castle.  Though the horse and carriage sounded like fun, we decided to walk up and then take the carriage down. (Unfortunately for us, our plan didn't work because we were too late to catch the carriage down and so we ended up walking both up and down the hill.  My knees were not happy!).

But it was a beautiful walk.

There was even a little waterfall halfway up the hill.

 We passed this beautiful restaurant right before reaching the castle.

 As we reached the top, we were rewarded with incredible views of the castle from different angles.

The view from the top of the hill was gorgeous, especially with the fall foliage in its full glory.  You can walk to this bridge directly across from the castle, which, I'm sure, would give a beautiful view of the castle.  Unfortunately, we didn't have time.  It gets dark so early these days!

But we did stop for a few pictures.

I even got a rare smiling one of Will!
The inside of the castle can only be seen on a guided tour, which we did, and it was worth the time.  This was by far the most ornate castle we've visited so far.  It's too bad they don't allow photos to be taken.

We spent the night in Schwangau and then got up early the next morning to head to Italy.  More soon!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Road Trip

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5 countries
5 days
1,899 km (1,180 miles)
19 hours, 9 minutes

Just got back.  More later. :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


While Halloween isn't really celebrated here, the next day, Toussaint, is an official holiday.  Before moving to Luxembourg I wasn't too familiar with this holiday, though I'd heard of Mexico's Dia de  Los Muertos, so the traditions were mostly new to me.  Basically, La Toussaint (or "All Saint's Day") is a day when people go to cemeteries to honor their deceased relatives by placing chrysanthemums on their graves.  This flower, by the way, is pretty much only seen on Toussaint because of its association with death!

 Though I guess it is a little bit morbid, I love the idea of a holiday for remembering and honoring the dead, and I wanted to introduce the kids to this concept.  We do often talk about family members who have passed away, but we don't ever go and visit their graves--for obvious reasons, I guess.  Since we don't have any family buried here, we decided we'd take a trip to the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg to honor some of the soldiers killed in nearby fighting during WWII.  So the kids each picked out a flower (but not chrysanthemums; they didn't think they were very pretty.  They went for pointsettias instead) to place on a soldier's grave.

Kate chose this one, a Jewish soldier, as indicated by the Star of David head stone...

...while Will, who has developed an impressive knowledge of WWII history, went for the big guy, General Patton himself:

I was glad to see that we weren't the only ones who thought to honor American soldiers on this day.  There seemed to be a bigger crowd than usual at the cemetery, and there were two enormous wreaths of chrysanthemums adorning the chapel.

I've visited this cemetery several times now, and each time I'm incredibly moved.  

All those rows and rows of headstones, each one representing some poor young man who never came home, resting eternally so far from friends and family.

It brings me to tears every time.

 Upon leaving the cemetery, we walked back to the car over this gorgeous carpet of fall leaves...

Yes, this was taken before we came into the cemetery.
...which immediately prompted a fast and furious leaf fight.

So much for solemnity...


While I know that Halloween is not that big of a deal here, I was still glad the kids had a chance to get dressed up and do some trick-or-treating.

Here's Will giving his best evil mummy face.  Note the arm in sling!
And here's my Little Red Riding Hood, complete with wolf in basket.

And here's LRRH about to be eaten by the evil, one-armed mummy.
 Thanks to the American Women's Club of Luxembourg, kids here can experience trick-or-treating just like in America.  Or almost.

The AWCL maps out a route in a nearby town and provides participating houses with candy (real American candy too!  Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!) and then kids go along to only those houses.

It was a great event.  Over 400 kids and 32 houses!

To top it off, at the end of the route there was a hot dog stand selling real American hot dogs, not the usual huge (and delicious) sausages more commonly found in these parts.  They even had the authentic, cardboard-dry Wonder Bread hot dog buns.  

A real taste of home...