Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Taking It Easy in Seville

Seville's main thoroughfare
Kids love the
sightseeing bus
Besides it’s monumental cathedral and vibrant flamenco dancing, Seville is probably best known for its furnace like heat in July and August. Thus we knew we had to take it slow and not run around the city all day. One of the things I love to do in new cities is just walk around and get a feel for the energy and vitality of a place – but with the combination of the heat and two kids with boundless energy for everything EXCEPT walking around cities this was going to be difficult.
Columbus' tomb in
Seville's cathedral

Solution for Seville day #1 was to take a sightseeing bus. The kids loved it and we got a sense of the sights and layout of Seville.  Later on we meandered through Seville's gargantuan cathedral.
inside of Seville's cathedral
no better way to beat the 100 degree
heat than playing in the fountains

For Seville we booked an apartment via the Internet with not too much research just a couple weeks ago. We got fairly lucky as the apartment was located right on one of the main plazas of the city. The feel of the neighborhood is just like the East Village, so we felt right at home. The other similarity was the apartment's tiny size– probably about a third of the size of our former place on E 8th Street.

flamenco show

Royal gardens labyrinth
For Day #2 we strolled through the old Jewish Quarter which led to a lot of conversations about being Jewish and its history of persecution. Later in the evening we enjoyed a mesmerizing flamenco show.

On Day #3 we visited the old Spanish royal palace and gardens and then let the kids dictate the rest of the day. Rhonda and I took turns being with the kids and taking off for strolls around the city in the evening.
This ice cream was unanimously voted the best on
our European tour! So good we went back three
times in three days!

Alhambra and Granada

After Ronda, Spain we had a quick day planned for Granada. Granada’s is famous for the Alhambra – a large fortress and palace built by the Moors 700 years ago.
Alhambra at dusk

We arrived in Granada early in the evening and we were struck by the beauty of the old Arabic quarter called the Albaycin – a maze of alleyways and winding cobblestone streets. For our evening in town we decided to see a flamenco performance. The energy of vibrancy of the show was amazing. Later in the evening we hiked up to a viewpoint to catch a nighttime view of the Alhambra.

The next morning we had to be at the Alhambra early. Since it is so popular we bought tickets in advance to guarantee we would not miss out. Our entry was at 8:30am. For almost 3 hours we walked through the complex ohhing and ahhing at the intricate architecture and craftsmanship that is still preserved so many centuries later. To help understand what we were seeing we also rented audioguides - the kids loved them and the descriptions helped put everything into perspective.
notice Ruby with her audioguide

Alhambra Gardens
view of the castle and Granada from the Alhambra

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rhonda in Ronda!!!

saying goodbye to Germany
On Ruby’s birthday we flew from Germany to Spain. We left cool/rainy/misty Germany in the morning and landed in a boiling hot Spain in the early afternoon – what a contrast!

After a couple hours of driving we arrived in our first place in Spain. Rhonda wanted to visit Ronda, Spain to see if the town lived up to its name - we are happy to report it did! We had a wonderful apartment right in the center of the action. The town itself is divided into two sections separated by a huge gorge and hugging a cliff. It was spectacular setting. The town also felt quite manageable – not too small and not overwhelming.

Since it was Ruby’s birthday – we celebrated at a bakery around the corner with lots of treats. Ruby was very happy with chocolate mousse and ice cream.
birthday celebration

Ronda's bullfighting ring
The next day we explored more of Ronda and had some great tapas nearby the apartment.
eating tapas

Another day we took a drive to a close village nestled on a hill with a castle. The towns in this region are known as white hill towns since all the houses are white and they make a striking backdrop to the landscape.
enjoying the view from Zahara's
(a white hill town) castle
In the afternoon we found a local swimming area – it was fun to relax and jump in the water.
We also found time to all get haircuts!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Meticulous Germany

Train ride into the Black Forest -
yes it was on-time!
Rhonda hitting 100 mph on the autobahn!
While traveling through Germany we've been listening to a very well done German language learning podcast: GermanPod 101. Throughout the lessons they also give some cultural tidbits on Germany and Germans. One of these was that Germans are meticulous. I thought that was a pretty good way to describe the apartments we stayed in, the towns we visited, and attractions we saw. On most of the trip we have been staying in private apartments that we have booked through local tourism offices and each place has been absolutely perfectly clean - not a spec of dirt or dust anywhere. The towns we have visited are also in pristine shape - all the roads perfectly smooth, people only walking when they get the green pedestrian walk symbol and the buildings all expertly restored. I think it is what we needed after the craziness of Kenya.

Besides visiting the birthplaces of my Oma and Opa we also did a lot of fun other things in Germany. Opa's town is near the Black Forest - so one day we visited a village in the heart of it and felt like Hansel and Gretel as we trekked through the back woods to the world's largest cuckoo clock.

Another day we visited the spa town of Baden-Baden. The kids protested big time when we put them in babysitting for a couple hours while we enjoyed the baths but when we picked them up they didn't want to leave the playroom and told us to come back in an hour!
at one of our places in Germany - our
host family invited us to dinner - they
served us flammkuchen, wine from their
vineyard, & schnapps.

Ruby making bread with the Oma

view of the village Strohbach where we stayed near the Black Forest

On our way to the Mosel valley we cut through a corner of France and spent a couple hours doing some indoor skiing. That was a blast and Ruby did a run all by herself!

Storming the Roman gates
in Trier
In the Mosel valley we stayed in the ancient city of Trier. A highlight is a huge multi-story high gate built by the Romans. It was awe inspiring to be dwarfed by something built over 2000 years ago. One of the town's bridges still in use was built Romans too.

bike ride along the Mosel

having a blast at a festival in Konz
Next - onward to Spain!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Visits to Oma and Opa's Birthplaces

One of my main reasons for wanting to visit Germany was to see the birthplaces of my grandparents and show the kids where Great-Oma and Matthew's namesake Max (his Great-Opa) were from.

Opa was from a small town in western Germany called Lichtenau, its about 30 min from Strasbourg on the German side of the Rhine. We paid a visit in the late afternoon and enjoyed dinner and walk through the streets. We don't know the exact address of the house Max lived in but we imagined him growing up there and swimming across the Rhine to France (I remember him once telling me he used to do that).
Max left Lichtenau in the mid-1930's for Palestine and then eventually made his way to the USA where he met my Oma. After Lichtenau we drove a couple minutes to a near-by town where my great-grandmother was from -- Rheinbischofsheim.


My Oma is from a small town in the Mosel River valley called Beilstein. This town (really a village) is quite the quaint tourist place these days. It is nestled between the sharp hills and the river and feels like it belongs in a fairy tale with winding lanes and a ruined castle lording over the town. We enjoyed some ice cream along the river and then walked the streets and a path up to the castle. Near the castle is a Jewish cemetery and we believe we came across a gravesite from a great-great grandfather or uncle.

Both visits were quite memorable and I think the kids will have strong memories and sense of where some of their relatives were from.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rivers, Roads & Rails

We have a great kids game called Rivers, Roads & Rails - its made by a German company Ravensburg - and basically you arrange tiles that connect various combination of rivers, roads, and rails to see how long it can go. Throughout our time in Germany we've been appreciating how much the German countryside and the villages remind us of the tiles in the game.
typical German countryside scene
Coincidentally near where we staying in southern Germany, Ravensburg built an amusement park, and since we appreciate their games so much we figured the park would be a great. So paid a visit and had a blast. 
This was the kids favorite - driving around.
Coming close second was the
opportunity  to  make our own chocolate.
Matthew taking notes
for his guide books in front
of Lindau's town hall.
The first city we visited in Germany was Lindau. It is right on the border of Austria and Switzerland. The old town is on an island in Lake Constance and while we were there the city was celebrating their annual festival. We enjoyed the music, food, and a pedal boat ride in the lake.

This area of Germany has a great climate to grow fruit - we passed rows and rows of cherries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, plums, etc. There were many farmstands and we were in heaven with the bounty as Ruby can attest!

Our last stop in this region was the city of Constance. A favorite statue was this provocative piece guarding the harbor. 

view of the lake and the city of Constance from the Cathedral

Friday, July 11, 2014

Alpine Austria

One reason the Alps are so gorgeous is that they are green and lush with waterfalls cascading down from glaciers. But that green also means it must rain - a lot. That's pretty much been our situation this week. In between the rain drops we've been getting out and enjoying.
going up the chairlift to the mountain

Yesterday we took advantage of a dry couple hours for hike into the high country and then later in the day a wild ride down a mountain on a coaster.

keeping busy during the rain
Today was more rain, but luckily it finally dried up for nice hike around a berry farm and then a pretty rainbow connected one mountain range to another.
yummy wild raspberries

rainbow over the Alps

Tomorrow we say 'Auf Wiedersehen' to Austria and 'Guten Tag' to Germany!