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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Seville of Spain

Seville from the top.We arrived to Seville by train from Madrid at around mid-day. Since our hotel was not in the center, but more on the outskirts of the city, we took a taxi, and soon after were checking into Hilton Garden Inn.

Hilton Garden Inn of Seville.Now I want to say a few words about this particular hotel. Even though its location was not optimal for city exploration, the staff really made us feel welcome and at home. Talk about the art of hospitality! The manager was a really nice woman in her 30th, and not only she sent us some fruit to congratulate us on our anniversary, but she included a hand-written postcard with warm wishes.

First lunch in Seville.After we checked in, we went to get lunch in one of the places that was recommended to us by the front desk. What can I say? The food was pretty good, and very cheep too, but they did not have a menu in English and not a single person there spoke English. Somehow we were able to ask him to bring us 4 tapas of his choice and two beers — to give you an example of the prices, beers were €1 each.

Streets of Seville.The city center was a 30-minute bus ride from our hotel. In reality, it often took us over 45 minutes to get to and from because of the wait time on the bus stop. On our first evening we decided not to go the the center, but to walk to the nearby canal instead.

Bridge.The weather was warm, so even though we took our jackets with us, we ended up wearing just sweaters and carrying warmer clothes in our hands. The canal was not too far — probably a 30 minutes walk from our hotel. I really enjoyed walking there — we had to walk for a while next the wall of a giant cemetery, and then through some neighborhoods with 5-6 story buildings, orange trees in the yards and clothes handing on balconies.

Graffiti walls.When we reached the canal, there were a lot of people running and some skating or bicycling. There were a lot of graffiti drawings on the walls by the canal, and it was interesting to check them out. We also saw some good-looking bridge, but did not walk far enough to reach it.

Streets of Seville.We took a different route home and acquired a bus pass in one of the little grocery stores. It took us a while to explain what we need, since the owner, a young guy, spoke zero English. Luckily, his assistant could speak a little bit, and she also was checking some words on the internet dictionary.

At Bodeguita Ar Sabio.We ate dinner in one of the places close to our hotel — a little restaurant called Ar Sabio. It opens at 8, and it looked like we were the first customers. The owner did not speak any English either, but at least they had a menu in English. I liked the food and the atmosphere. The owner was very friendly, and the bill was ridiculously small.

Streets of Seville.The next day we decided to take a bus ride to the city center to see some of the main Seville attractions. The weather was nice again, so we felt very comfortable without warm jackets.

Plaza de España.After we got off the bus, we walked to the Plaza de España. It was built for the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair of 1929. What can I say? The plaza looked interesting, and it was nice to walk and gawk. As in many places in Seville, there were a lot of beautiful tiles in Neo-Mudéjar style.

Alcázar of Seville.Afterwards we proceeded to Alcázar of Seville. The walk itself was quite enjoyable. I have fond memories of bright orange trees, and palms, and blue skies, and even people roaming around. When I was doing some research on the Spain beforehand, I found out that in addition to still being one of official residences of Spanish royal family, it was a residence of the fictional Dornish prince in “Game of Thrones” — the HBO show that Danya and I were watching prior to our vacation. It made visiting Alcázar even more fun!

Alcázar of Seville. Dorne from Game of Thrones.The palace is old and beautiful, with lots of Moorish architecture. The tiles again were simply amazing. We even bought a decorative gold-plated plate in one of the ceramics shops of Seville that was made using an old Moorish technique. It hangs on the wall in our apartment, and every time I look at it, it brings me back to Seville and Alcázar.

Alcázar of Seville.After walking through Alcázar for a while, we decided that it was time for lunch. By that time we were pretty tired of Spanish cuisine, so we picked a decently rated Italian place. We ordered a buffalo mozzarella pizza, which for some reason was not baked as we expected, but rather it was a caprice salad on top of the cooked crust. It was still very delicious, so no regrets there.

Seville Cathedral.After lunch, we went to see the Seville Cathedral. It was beautiful as all old churches are. It was big too — apparently, this Cathedral is the third largest church in the world. We walked around for a little bit, and walked by ramp to the top of the bell tower. The ramp has 35 sections, but still it was much easier to get on top using it, than it would have been if there were actual steps. Apparently, the ramp is wide and tall enough for the person on horseback to get to the top. The walk down was even easier and faster.

Climbing atop the tower.There were many other people, who wanted to see Seville from the top of the tower, but it did not bother me. We admired the views for a short while, Danya took some pictures, and we went down again. We stopped at the inner garden, full of orange trees. There was also a little pond with waterfall.

Garden of orange trees on cathedral grounds.Afterwards we just wandered around Seville some more and went home. Waiting for a bus took forever, and by the time we got to the hotel we were so exhausted, that we decided to have dinner at the hotel. It was Thanksgiving, so Danya ordered duck, and I just had a risotto. The food was nice, the service was friendly, and even though we payed 2.5 times the cost of our other Seville dinners, the prices seemed normal relative to NYC.

Cathedral.On the next day we went to the center again. I really wanted to get some ceramics as souvenirs, so we went to a part of the city which was identified as full of pottery shops by the hotel staff. We crossed some bridge and went looking, but did not find any ceramic stores at all. Just a bunch of little cafes and cheap souvenir shops. Maybe we were looking in the wrong place.

Lunch at Gusto Ristobar.We went back to the Alcázar-Cathedral area, and Danya picked a place with decent TripAdvisor ratings for lunch. It was called Gusto Ristobar. We ordered some jamon, spaghetti, cheese and beer. To our surprise, they even had Franziskaner, albeit a bottled variety. It was still so good! The waiter was very nice and spoke good English. He suggested a few nice authentic Spanish draft beer places for the evening, but we passed on those since we had to leave for Portugal the next day. He also suggested to go see Metropol Parasol — a modern mushroom-like structure not far away, and was kind enough to show it on the map.

Metropol Parasol.We did go to that Parasol structure afterwards, and it was a nice activity to do. We got to the top of it (the fee is 3 euros per person) and walked around a bit. The Seville lied spread down around us again, so we admired the views one more time.

Views from the top of Metropol Parasol.After that we spent some time trying to find nice souvenir ceramic plates for our parents and us. There were plenty of shops with similar things, but we ended up getting hand-painted gold-plated plates sold in the factory store. We only saw those in this one store, and the sales girl, who was Russian by the way, explained to us that the factory owner sells this particular collection in her store only.

Still atop of Metropol Parasol.The owner, an old lady, who spoke perfect English, was there too. She even gave us a discount on account of American Black Friday, which was a big surprise for the sales girl, since she said this normally does not happen. I like our plates, and I hope that our parents do too.

Sevillians after work.Afterwards, we just decided to get to our bus stop and go to the hotel. It was surprising to see crowds of people drinking coffee and beer and wine in the outside bars on some streets. There was really really a lot of people. I guess, it was Friday after all, and the locals were starting to enjoy the weekend.

Somewhere at Seville center.We ate dinner at Ar Sabio again. We actually planned to go someplace different, just for variety, but the owner saw us coming by and invited us in, so we decided why not. The food was very good again, and cheep too, and the owner even remembered what we drank last time. I had a great time, and even felt a little sad about leaving Seville in the near future. In my mind, it remains the coziest and friendliest of all cities that we visited during this trip.

Plaza de España.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Blizzard 2016

On the swings.We finally have our first storm of this winter. We had our first snow a week ago, but it was less than a centimeter deep. Useless. Today though there is a real-deal blizzard outside.

Snowman.We took the kids out in the morning and it was already several feet deep in some places. And it was just morning. It keeps snowing at the full strength now and probably the end result will be quite impressive.

Snowbaby.The snow was non-sticky type, so we couldn’t build a snowman or anything like that. But kids played with a couple of buckets, filling them with snow and building mini snow castles.

Iced-over.Kids had a ton of fun. Arosha already knows well enough what snow is, but Anюta seemed to be fairly impressed as last year she was still too little to remember anything.

Car.The obvious downside to all this is the fact that I might have a hard time undigging the car when the time comes. On the other hand if the previous winters are any indication I might just drive right out.
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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Madrid

Streets of Madrid.Madrid was our shortest stop of our vacation and luckily so, because it was also our least favorite stop. Train ride was not memorable as nothing really happened except for the fact that it fell on November 23rd — our 9th wedding anniversary. Just as heads up — the first part of this article is going to be somewhat harsh, but things do pick up on the second day.

Our AC hotel.We arrived fairly early and had an almost full day to spend on sightseeing. Madrid also happened to be the only city where we ended up staying in non-Hilton owned hotel. The reason for that was the fact that the only Hilton was by the airport which puts it quite far away from everything we wanted to see. So we opted in to stay at AC Hotel which belongs to Marriott.

Our room.When checking in I mentioned to them that I’m a Diamond member at Hilton and that we’re thinking of maybe becoming the same with Marriott. They also knew it was our anniversary, but that was completely ignored. Overall the hotel was just fine, but nothing at all like the treatment we get at Hilton. Obviously the Diamond status affects that, but seeing that somebody has such a high status with a competing chain I would think you would want try to give those people a reason to consider yours in the future.

Madrid Atocha train station.Basically the only good thing that we got out of staying at this particular place was the fact that it was not far from the train station — which we had to be at while getting into and out of the city and it was in a walkable distance from all the places that we wanted to visit. Actually Madrid was the only place where we didn’t have to use any public transportation.

Puerto del Sol.So on the day of our arrival and checking in into the hotel we picked the shortest route to the very center of the city — Puerto del Sol and Plaza Mayor after that. And now even considering that New York can be quite dirty in places we were seriously shocked by what a garbage pile of city Madrid is. Really really unpleasant. And closer you get to the center the worse it gets.

Street name signs.Puerto del Sol gets billed as the Times Square of Madrid. Whoever thinks that has never been to Times Square. It really is a dirty little square with, well, nothing to see. They also have what seems to be a popular attraction that leaves yet more unpleasant feelings — a desk with 3 heads on it that and idiot under the table sticks out and starts screaming on the top of his lungs at unsuspecting passers-by. One day somebody wrong is going to get scared and the idiot under the table is going to get punched really hard into the face. Rightfully so too.

Plaza Mayor.After Puerto del Sol we followed to Plaza Mayor which was under some major construction as well. While many cities have cozy little neighborhoods with tiny old streets Madrid was ruined by all the dirt. We did like the city labels though. Each building on each corner had colorful signs with a different drawing attacked to them with the names of intersecting streets.

Almudena Cathedral.We walked over to the main cathedral (Catedral de la Almudena) which is quite new and boring and walked by the palace which we were too tired to visit after all the bleak impressions. On our way back we ended up taking some other route than our original one and apparently went through some shady neighborhoods. We were glad to be back at hour hotel at the end of this day.

Our dinner place.After getting to our hotel we went for what we hoped would be a nice dinner to celebrate our Anniversary. We found a place with high ratings on Trip Advisor, but were recommended a different place (El Rincón Asturiano II) by hotel staff which also had high ratings. So we went there. Everything started with the fact that there was no menu in English and the English expert that we were provided spoke no English. Our whole picking and ordering was quite comical, but I don’t want to go into too many details.

Our anniversary dinner.We both ended up ordering a leg of lamb, since it was the only thing that we were able to decipher out after a long conversation with our expert. The leg turned out to be dry, the potatoes boring and the lack of any vegetables or souse disappointing. Pretty much like most of our other dinners in Spain.

Prado Museum.Luckily day two moved the needle on the meter of our feelings on Madrid in the positive direction. Instead of going towards the center we went in the opposite direction. We decided to start our day by paying a visit to a famous Prado art museum. We spent several hours at the museum looking at paintings of artists that we’ve heard or read about. That was pleasant.

Iberian Acorn Ham.After the museum we stumbled upon a little cafe (Cafe El Botanico) that we decided to lunch at. We had a nice hearty soup and decided to try Iberian acorn fed pork ham (jamon). They serve it on bread with a tomato-garlic spread. It turned out to be very tasty. As I wrote before — the meal is actually has pretty much nothing in common with what is called ham in America. This was one of our better food experiences of the trip.

Palacio de Cristal.And after lunch we spent several hours walking through a big adjacent park colored by fall. It was very serene, quite and clean. Like we were in a different city. We walked by a Chrystal Palace — a steel and glass building that is used for different expositions, listened to numerous street musicians and just simply sat on a bench enjoying the pond and the whole atmosphere of place. A good relaxing day.

Beautiful pond.For dinner we had another adventure. We figured that we should go to the place that we originally wanted to go, so we did. Only to find out that only the bar portion was open and for dinner we had to come 3 hours later. So we went back to our hotel, got online and consulted Trip Advisor again. Found a nice restaurant in the opposite direction, only to find out that it is closed on this particular day of the week after walking there for 20 minutes.

Plaza de Santa Ana.So we went back to our hotel. Got online yet again. Found another place (Bodegas Rosell) again. Went there. It was open. I ordered some pork which was bland. Alёna ordered something the opposite of bland — some fish soup-stew deal which turned out to be filled with some parts of fish which were inducing a vomiting reflex for both of us when we tried to eat them. So that was that.

Streets of Madrid.We went to some bakery afterwards because Alёna was hungry. But at the bakery we also were not able to explain what we wanted, so we had to settle for things that we could point a finger at.

Streets of Madrid.And that was Madrid. Even though we had mixed feelings and experiences in Madrid I’m glad we got to visit it and it add yet another pin to our growing map.

Royal Palace of Madrid.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year 2016

Our kids and us.Good-bye, 2015! Hello, 2016! Be Happy! Be healthy! Be the best year yet!

We celebrated at Danya’s parents. Lina and Lёnya were at his parents’ this year, so it was just us and Alla — Danya’s mom’s friend, who lives in our building.

With dad.The kids got sick the day before. Anюta was more or less O.K., just mild fever, but Arosha had a moderate fever and did not feel very well. It kind of sucks, since he was just sick last week, but what you gonna do? At least he is fine now, not counting minor cough and runny nose.

With mom.I only cooked one salad — the herring under beets. It just so happened that it became my New Year specialty, so I make it each time. Danya’s mom cooked a lot as always. I am so grateful that we can celebrate with them each year (on many levels, including the fact that it’s much easier to be a guest than a host). Alla also brought a few salads, so there was plenty of food, and I could not even try everything. It goes without saying that everything was delicious.

Arosha.We drank Bellini to say good-bye to 2015 and Veuve Clicquo Champagne to meet 2016. I am not a big fan of sparkling wines, but those two I really enjoy.

Dinner table. Small portion.The children went to bed close to 9 after getting their presents a few hours earlier. We really ought to cut the number of presents we get them, because I think that due to sheer quantity of gifts, they appreciate each one less. We’ll see if we’ll be able to control ourselves more next year.

Illy coffee machine.I got a good number of gifts myself — winter hat, shampoo, t-shirt, jewelry box and a coffee machine. The latter one is a present from Danya. I like coffee, but I especially enjoy cappuccino. This machine makes a wonderful espresso and steams milk into a perfect foam. I’ve made myself a few cups since getting it, and they are delicious!

Tear-off calendar from our Instagram stream.Danya’s parents tried the coffee today too, and both of them liked it. The funny thing is that Arosha likes the cappuccino I make for him as well. I use very little espresso and add lots of milk, some sugar and sprinkle it with cinnamon. Yum!

Hermes Apple Watch strap.Danya got a new wrist band for his Apple Watch (he seems to like it) and UGG slippers, which are a bit small, so we’re exchanging them, and a nice pair of winter pants and a wooden bow tie (he picked it out himself, but it is partially sponsored by his sister). And of course Danya ordered a traditional page-a-day calendar with pictures from our Instagram stream. He got one for his parents as well.

Fraction of gifts for kids.I also got a chance to Face Time with my parents this year. We gave my mom our old iPad when she left, and now we talk almost every day. It is so nice! It was cool to not just wish them Happy New Year, but see their holiday tree and holiday table and holiday looks.

Arosha's globe.And on the January 1st Lina, Lёnya and Lёnya’s parents came over to Daniel’s parents. Us and Alla joined too. We had a nice dinner and played a few of Arosha’s new games. It was fun, although I know it was tiresome for Danya’s parents to host a party for two days in a row.

Huge wall map of the World.All in all, it was a nice, relatively quiet holiday. I hope that we all will enjoy 2016!

Us.
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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Модница

Lipstick.Недавно мы с Арошей читали книгу, когда вдруг подошла Анюта и сообщила что-то вроде следующего (только не так чётко всё было выговорено):

– Мама, я накрасила губы красной помадой. Чтобы быть красивой как мама.

Я чуть не упала. Потом выяснилось, что она принесла из зала свой розовый стул, встала на него и тихонечко стащила с комода мою новую помаду. Потом она её сама открыла, попробовала накрасить губы, при этом хорошенько измазав и руки, ну и пошла красоваться нам. Я попросила Даню сделать фото на память. На нём она еще в обруче, который достала и надела сама.

А еще одним из новогодних подарков от бабушки были розовые босоножки. Я понимаю, что подростки и взрослые женщины будут очень довольны такому подарку, но Анюта от них тоже не отстаёт. Она запищала от радости, быстренько натянула босоножки, которые пока ей велики, на ноги, и пошла демонстрировать всем красоту.
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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

General Observations and Barcelona

Streets of Barcelona.We’ve come back from yet another one of our European trips and I wanted to share (mostly with myself) some thoughts and impressions of our travels through Spain and a little bit of Portugal. I think it makes sense to go through some general thoughts and feelings at first and dive a little deeper into each city we have visited later on.

Overall the best part was just spending some “us” time with my wife. We love our kids dearly, but they are always a handful and it’s hard to really relax with them being around. During these fall vacations of ours we can really enjoy each other’s company while exploring new locations and cuisines of those locations. We can just wonder the streets of an unfamiliar city for hours upon hours. In fact during this particular trip we have averaged about 8 miles of walking per day, including the days when we took the trains from one city to the next.

La Rambla.Of course we have to say a huge thanks to our parents who stayed with our kids, allowing us to take the longest “alone” vacation since Arosha was born. We spent 3 nights in 3 cities and 2 nights in one city. On our previous vacation to Germany it was only 3 nights for 3 cities, meaning that we could have to drop Madrid from this trip — which frankly wouldn’t be a huge loss though.

Alёna’s mom stayed with Anюta and my dad took care of Arosha. My mom helped on both fronts, but she didn’t have to spend her own vacation on us. Again, we’re extremely grateful for having this opportunity to take some time for ourselves every year.

La Rambla.With respect to the cities we visited — Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Lisbon — if I had to pick my favorite I would have a hard time choosing between Barcelona and Lisbon. I can easily pick my least favorite by far — Madrid. Seville also was very likable. But more on all of that later.

Spanish cuisine has surprised us. We have tried quite a number of places relying on some random choices or TripAdvisor ratings and various other guides and recommendation — which never failed us before — and ended up with a quite unremarkable impression of it all. Not that it was bad, it was just very unmemorable and not special as during our previews trips. Granted, it is possible that we in fact did end up with a bad selection of eateries, but nevertheless that’s what we have taken away from it all.

Streets of Barcelona.We did try numerous tapas, we tried paella and other things guides recommend. My most favorite entries from the tapas selection ended up being Ensaladilla Rusa and a selection of Iberian Acorn Ham (Jamón [xaˈmon] Ibérico) served on a bread with various tomato pastes.

As far as Ensaladilla Rusa goes — it turned out to be a dish commonly present on our holiday dinner tables at home — variations between what we call Olivier and Mimosa salads. For the Jamon — I was never really a big fan of these kind of food — but the Spanish version was quite tasty. And it really has very very little in common with the thing that is called ham in America.

Barcelona.Another surprising thing for us was a complete and utter lack of English in Spain. Nobody speaks it with very few exceptions. For example for our anniversary dinner we ended up in a highly rated places of Spanish Cuisine which didn’t have any menus in English. However we were provided with an English expert that would help us out with anything we needed. The only problem with that concept was the fact that this English expert’s English was only slightly better than my Spanish which is saying quite a lot — I don’t speak any Spanish.

At one time we tried to buy a bus pass which took about 15 minutes instead of 30 seconds. Or our lunch where we basically just somehow managed to get our waiter to pick four tapas for us. Portugal on the other hand was a complete opposite — everyone had great English — like every other European country we visited before. Or Japan.

Barcelona


Avinguda Diagona.Barcelona was the first stop of our trip. Our plane got in quite early and we were by our hotel at around 10am — way to early to normally get a room. But we haven’t slept for the most of the night and I got really motion sick (normally never happens) during the flight for some reason. Very luckily for us they saw our Diamond status with Hilton and gave us a nice room right away. That really saved the day for us. We took a two hour nap and decided to explore the city around the hotel — that actually helped me off walk off my motion sickness as well.

The hotel itself wasn’t exactly in the center, but it was located on a pretty big street called Avinguda Diagonal. We decided to walk towards the center as far as we would feel like. On a sidenote I’ve read through a number of guides of Barclona and for some reason all of them mentioned that you have to be real careful around another famous street called La Rambla because chances are you are going to get robed. So I was thinking to avoid that place altogether.

Streets of Barcelona. Not La Rambla.Funnily enough after talking quite far along Diagonal we saw another big street mostly closed off to traffic. There was a good number of people walking around and a whole bunch of open air restaurants in the middle of it. So we decided that it looked like a nice place to explore so we turned into it. After walking for a couple of blocks we noticed the name of the street. You guessed it, La Rambla.

And I have to say that not a single time throughout our whole trip we felt threatened or uncomfortable in any way. We walked through a lot of touristy places, used public transportation in multiple places and not a single time we didn’t feel as comfortable as we feel at home. So indeed, if you act with common sense nothing will happen. We kept our documents in Alёna steel mesh purse just in case, but I carried my cell phone in my front pocket — as I always do. We did see some people walking around with 1/3 of their phones sticking out of a back pocket — that’s like asking for it to be stolen. Anywhere.

Gothic district.Anyhow — we ended up at the old gothic district — one of the places that we planned to explore. So on the very first evening we saw the main cathedral of Barcelona — another one of our objectives. There was a number of street musicians playing Spanish music and it created a really nice, special atmosphere. We wondered around for quite a bit through the old tiny streets.

Barcelona Subway.It was already getting dark, and we were feeling pretty tired, so we decided to take subway back home. Luckily for as all of the stations are equipped with vending machines which could be operated in English. It was quite easy to figure out and we did easily get back to our hotel.

Streets of Barcelona.We ate our first Spanish dinner in a place right by our hotel called Piscolabis — not the best sounding name for Russian or even English speakers. What they had going for them was a menu with pictures for all the tapas. It was a decent dinner, but as I’ve said before — nothing really stood out. If after Japan or Italy we wanted to find good places specializing in those cuisines in Brooklyn we got no drive to find anything Spanish here.

On the roof at Park Güell.Another thing that stood out for us in Barcelona was how clean it was. A really pleasant city to walk through. It was also covered in Catalan flags. Felt very much like the good old US of A. We really do love our flag over here and so do Catalan people. After all, Catalonia did vote to split off from Spain in a very recent referendum. Not sure it’s going to go anywhere, but they sure do wish it.

Park Güell.On our second day we took a taxi to Park Güell. The most interesting part about this park was the fact that it was designed by Gaudi. Although you need to buy tickets to get into the architectural part of the park, the park itself is pretty big and has a lot of free zones. You can actually rise quite high above the city for some good views, but the sun was shining right in our faces, so no good pictures came out of that. And as far the the Gaudi buildings themselves — they are as visible from outside as they are from the inside for the gated section — as became apparent after we got in. So we’re not quite sure why we paid to get inside after all.

Inside Sagrada Familia.And from there we set course to Sagrada Família — a massive cathedral designed by Gaudi that is still under construction, but it is open to the public. The thing is that we’ve been to a lot of cathedrals all over Europe now. And most of them look very similar, especially inside. Sagrada Familia is nothing like any of them. Gaudi really was an architectural genius. We also had to buy tickets to get inside, but thanks to this being November, lines everywhere were quite short. Also we didn’t get a chance to get onto the top of the towers because the day was windy and they were closed off.

Sagrada Familia.And after that we set course to the gothic district again to wonder the old streets. We did a really nice dinner here this night — thank you TripAdvisor. We walked all the way over to the water with a huge monument to Columbus. Not everyone likes Columbus on this side of the pond, but they sure love him in Spain. And by this time we were spent. Over 10 miles of walking. We jumped onto a train again to get back home for our mandatory 12 hours of sleep.

On the roof at Casa Mila.One the last day of our stay in Barcelona with all our main goals met we decided to knock off a pair of other famous buildings designed by Gaudi. Both of them were located on the next street that runs in parallel to La Rumbla. It was less than a 2 mile walk from our hotel via Av. Diagonal and we had a full day ahead of us. Since it was a Sunday all the stores on Diagonal (lots and lots of fashion stores) were closed as in pretty much any other self respecting European country.

Casa Mila.The first of our two stops was Casa Mila also known as La Pedrera. It really does look like nothing else. We bought the tickets for the inside tour (no lines again) and were able to walk through the inner yards, get up to the roof and take a walk through an apartment-museum where all the old furniture was left in place. We asked our parents who traveled here with a tour group if they have been to the roof, but because of the group size these kinds of things are skipped often — they haven’t been up there.

Casa Batlló.A couple of blocks further was another famous Gaudi building — Casa Batlló. For this one we just sat on a bench in front of it resting our feet and admiring the structure. We decided not to go in inside of this one as one was enough for us. Seeing these in person though did bring up some distant memories. I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere (pictures) before, I just didn’t really know what it was.

From the roof of Cathedral of Barcelona.And after that we proceed to walk to the same gothic district again. This time we ended up there earlier than previous days, so we decided to take a tour of the main cathedral. We went inside and to our surprise discovered that one could actually get up to the roof, which we did. We took some panoramic pictures and moved on.

Streets of Barcelona.We couldn’t really get an internet connection so we picked a place for our dinner at random. We decided to try some traditional Spanish Paella, but we didn’t make a good choice of a restaurant. It had the illusion of being full, but it turned out to be just one big family occupying several tables. When those people left we were left alone. Tapas were pretty stale and Paella was … not tasty. That was our first and last Paella try. Luckily we were able to fill up on good tapas back at the executive lounge of our Hilton.

Streets of Barcelona.And thus our Barcelona stay has concluded. On the next morning we checked out from our hotel, jumped into a taxi and asked for a drive to the main train station. Our next destination was Madrid.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Испания — Барселона

Avinguda Diagonal. Barcelona.Ну что ж, еще один отпуск позади! Пора писать, пока мысли и ощущения не потускнели в каждодневных хлопотах.

Конечно, я знала, что Испания и Португалия — это южная Европа, но всё равно меня почему-то очень поразили пальмы и апельсиновые деревья. Первые дни я то и дело удивлялась, а потом привыкла и уже принимала их как должное. Еще меня очень удивило то, что в Испании очень мало и плохо говорили по-английски. Я-то думала, что все европейцы из развитых стран как минимум двуязычны (со вторым английским языком), но это оказалось не так. Вот думаю, что надо будет Ароше выучить испанский — очень даже может в жизни пригодиться. В Португалии же, напротив, все могли обьяснится по-английски — кто-то лучше, кто-то хуже, но не владеющих английским языком людей мы там не встретили.

Streets of Barcelona.Все города мне понравились по-своему. Пожалуй, немного худшее впечатление произвёл Мадрид — своей грязью и подозрительного вида типами в людных местах — но и в нём несомненно есть свои прелести и интересные места.

In front of one of Gaudi's buildings.Начали мы наше путешествие с каталонской столицы Барселоны. Кстати, я и не знала, что существует каталанский язык, который совсем не похож на испанский и активно используется в Каталонии наряду с испанским языком.

Hilton of Barcelona.Прилетели мы в Барселону рано, и в гостинице были часам к 10 утра. Нам повезло — в гостинице в это время уже была свободная комната и нам не пришлось ждать до 14 или 16 часов дня чтобы заселиться. Мы немного отдохнули, и пошли гулять по городу.

Av. Diagonal.Барселона оказалась очень чистой, с ухоженными домами, на балкончиках которых очень часто гордо висели каталонские красно-жёлтые флаги, с маленькими уютными детскими площадками, с большим количеством красивых зданий, с пальмами и, конечно, мотоциклистами. Мотоциклистов в Барселоне ну просто пруд пруди. Причём мне показалось, что для большинства людей мотоцикл — это не принадлежность к определённой сабкультуре со всеми вытекающими отсюда последсвтиями, а просто средство передвижения.

Streets of Barcelona.В первый день мы просто пошли вперед по широкому проспекту, идущему вдоль нашего отеля, а когда решили свернуть на понравившуюся аллею, то с удивелнием обнаружили, что мы оказались на известной Ла Рамбле, которую хотели посетить. На Рамбле было много кафешек на открытом воздухе, но несмотря на относительно тёплую погоду, мы решили перекусить где-нибудь в помещении.

Inside Cathedral of Barcelona.Еще до поездки Даня читал, что на Ла Рамбле надо держать ухо востро, потому что там много карманных воришек. Мы старались быть осторожными, но честно говоря, там было не очень много людей и момента, когда я могла бы заволноваться о своей собственности у меня не было.

La Rambla.Мы прошли по Рамбле до Готического квартала, по которому тоже немного подбродили. Мне барселонский Готический квартал сразу напомнил Флоренцию. Те же каменные старые здания, узкие улочки, мощёные булыжником дороги. Мы дошли до Барселонского Собора. Площадь перед ним мне очень понравилась в первую очередь из-за уличных музыкантов, которые очень хорошо играли на гитарах. От их музыки создавался особый настрой и теперь в моём сознании Готический квартал Барселоны прочно ассоциируется с гитарными ритмами.

Inside Casa Mila.Поужинать мы решили недалеко от гостиницы. Нам очень хотелось попробовать испанскую кухню, и была надежда, что в ресторанчике под не очень благозвучным для нашего уха названием Piscolabis будет вкусно, несмотря на средненькие отзывы о нём на Trip Advisor. К сожалению, приятного сюрприза не произошло. Еда была сьедобной и сытной, но не более того. Вкусной её не назовёшь. Мы заказали по пиву и штук 5 разных тапас — закусок, распространённых в Испании. Единственное, что мне на самом деле понравилось — это оливки.

Tapas by our hotel at Piscolabis.Вообще надо сказать, что несмотря на то, что иногда мы в Испании ели вкусно, еда в целом была так себе. С нами такое случилось впервые — обычно во время отпуска в другой стране мы не могли нахвалиться национальным кухням, а в Испании уже на третий день при слове “тапас” пропадал аппетит. Паэлья нам тоже не понравилась — но мы и раньше её не очень-то любили, просто думали, что в оригинальном исполнении она будет лучше. Зато нам очень понравилась испанская иберийская ветчина, по-испански хамон. Хамон, особенно от свиней вскомленных желудями, блюдо дорогое, но вкусное. Больше всего он мне напомнил поляндвицу и кумпяки, которые готовили мои бабушка и дедушка, несмотря на то, что в случае моих родственников мясо коптили, а испанский вариант — сыровяленный.

Inside Sagrada Familia.Следующий день мы посвятили Гауди и его постройкам. Начали мы с парка Гуэля, куда добрались на такси. Денёк был очень тёплый, и в парке мы даже сняли куртки. Парк оказался большим — мы там довольно долго бродили. Было много музыкантов, играющих на совершенно разных инструментах — от волынки до цимбал. Сами постройки мне понравились, но из-за того, что я их уже видела не один раз на фотографиях, какого-то особо сильного впечатления не произвели.

Sagrada Familia.После парка, мы пошли в Храм Святого Семейства, или Саграда Фамилия. Этот храм, работы над которым начались в конце 19 века по проекту Гауди, до сих пор находится в процессе постройки. В принципе это не очень удивительно, ибо многие знаменитые церкви строились не одно столетие. Несмотря на незавершённость, Саграда Фамилия поражает своей красотой и необычностью как снаружи, так и внутри. Я не очень разбираюсь в архитектуре и не владею правильной лексикой, но мне запомнились разноцветные витражи, колонны в виде деревьев и вообще когда мы были внутри, то мне казалось, что я нахожусь в каком-то подводном царстве. К сожалению, на крышу мы не попали, потому что день был ветренный и туда не пускали из соображений безопасности.

Park Guell.После посещения Саграды Фамилия мы снова пошли в готический квартал. Мы там немного побродили, а потом наобум зашли в какой-то ресторан подкрепиться. Выбор наш оказался неудачным — тапас там были не слишком свежими, а паэлья слишком жирной. После еды мы побродили еще немного, посетили площадь со огромной статуей Колумба, доехали на метро до гостиницы, где вскоре после небольшого ужина в executive lounge отправились спать.

Casa Mila.В наш последний полный день в Барселоне мы посетили еще две знаменитые постройки Гауди — дом Мила и дом Бальо. Находились они относительно недалеко от гостиницы, так что мы дошли до них пешком.

Inside Casa Mila.В доме Мила, или камелономне, как её когда-то прозвали не очень впечатлённые постройкой барселонцы, сразу чувствуется рука Гауди. Извилистые фасады, своеобразные функциональные статуи на крыше, внутренние дворики, несущие осветительные и вентиляционные фунции… Внутри дома находится квартира-музей, обустроенная предметами быта испанкой буржуазии начала 20 века. Мы эту квартиру посетили, было довольно интересно. Еще мы поднялись на крышу.

Casa Batlló.Дом Бальо находится совсем близко от “каменоломни”, так что мы туда быстро дошли пешком. Внутрь дома Бальо мы не пошли — только полюбовались на “рыбий” фасад сидя на скамеечке напротив, сделали пару фотографий, и отправились дальше.

Потом мы снова дошли до Барселонского Собора, и на этот раз зашли внутрь и забрались на крышу, с которой открывался неплохой вид на Барселону.

Cathedral of Barcelona.Потом мы решили пообедать, но на этот раз, чтобы снова не поесть чего-нибудь невкусного, мы опирались на помощь Trip Advisor. Даня подключился к интернету возле какого-то ресторанцика с бесплатным вай-фаем, и для обеда мы выбрали ресторан под названием Xaloc с относительно высоким рейтингом.

Park Guell.Еда там была очень даже неплохая — закуски хорошие (хотя “русский салат” наподобие “мимозы” есть было скучно), Данино мясо оказалось очень вкусным, ну а мои кальмары средненькими. Я их взяла в первую очередь из-за соуса айоли, который несколько раз делала дома сама, но хотела попробовать в оригинале. Мой соус мне нравится больше. Еще мы зашли в джелатерию и я заказала какие-то экзотические сорта джелато — из маракуйи и инжира. Было неплохо, но, наверное, слишком холодно, чтобы насладится холодной сладостью по полной программе.

Dinner at Xaloc.На следующий день нас ждал Мадрид.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Montana & Wyoming National Parks

This is a vacation that we were planning to take for several years now and it’s finally booked. The main point of this trip is going to be Yellowstone National Park. While Alёna and I have been to Yellowstone before, my dad always wanted to visit it as well. It’s going to be an interesting destination for our kids too. I, on the other hand, wanted to visit Glacier National Park in Montana for a while now, so this trip is it.

This is the first road trip that all six of us are going on. Original plan was to fly up to Calgary and explore Banff National Park in addition to everything else, but it turned out that renting a car in Canada and returning it in U.S. is not easily achievable. So we decided to nix Canada and start from Great Falls in Montana instead. And we’ll finish in Jackson Hole of Wyoming.

As expected there are no direct flights1 to either of these locations, but we’ll save time on having to drive to any big destination such as Salt Lake City. We also have reserved a humongous SUV for this trip — Chevy Suburban2 or similar. Seven seats and plenty of luggage room. I wish we could fit into something smaller such as Tahoe, but we’ll probably have to take a look and see if it’s feasible at the rental place.

So on July 14th we arrive to Great Falls. We rent a car and drive north to East Glacier Park Village — a town on the edge of Glacier National Park. We’ll be staying here for 3 nights3 and we’ll explore different parts of the park from here. On July 17th we start our drive south, but in order to break up the trip we’ll spend one night4 in Helena — the capital of Montana.

On July 18th we arrive to Yellowstone. We’ll be staying here for 5 nights5 in a little town right on the edge of the park called West Yellowstone. There is a lot to explore, but kids can only take so much in a day, so we figure 5 days should be good. And we opted in for a regular hotel instead of a lodge because lodges typically don’t have pools. And kids love pools.

And on July 23rd we arrive to Grand Teton National Park — a really short drive from Yellowstone. It’s actually right to the south of it. We’ll be staying here for 2 nights6 at the same exact place that we stayed at with Eldar back during our 2009 trip. This was the most affordable place even though it’s a bit farther out than the rest of the lodging.

And our last night we are planning to spend in the town of Jackson itself to save ourselves a drive on the day of our flight back home.

  1. Delta from JFK — $593 per person and we need tickets for both of our kids now. []
  2. Alamo — $885 with all the taxes and fees included. []
  3. Glacier Park Lodge — $640 per room for 3 nights with all the taxes. []
  4. Hampton Inn Helena — $147 for the night. []
  5. Best Western Weston Inn — $1,108 for 5 nights with taxes per room. []
  6. Headwaters Lodge & Cabins at Flagg Ranch — $434 for 2 nights per room. []

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

Family.Today is Christmas! It’s not even remotely white this year — the weather is around 60°F today and was in the low 70s yesterday. How crazy is that?! Despite the warm temperature, it’s not very nice outside — it’s rainy and foggy and muggy. I think this year set new record highs, which obviously is concerning in regards to the whole global warming thing.

Grandma with grandchildren.But back to Christmas. I cooked dinner as always. We invited Danya’s parents, Lina and Lёnya. We also invited Misha, but he had other arrangements.

Thirst?This year I was not sure if we’ll be inviting anyone at all, since kids were sick (Arosha since Sunday, Anюta since Tuesday), but they got better by Christmas Eve, so everyone came over.

Braised beef and potatoes.I cooked my regular repertoire — beef braised in red wine, potatoes with garlic and dill, tomato and cucumber salad with feta, radish and scallions salad with Greek yogurt. By Danya’s request I tried to make Sangria on the base of white wine, but it was nothing spectacular. Just an OK drink, no better than plain wine. Oh well.

Tired?Unfortunately, our evening got a bit spoiled by neighbors downstairs. We’ve had issues with them since the very fist day we moved into this apartment, but the things kind of escalated lately, so we even had to call the police after the neighbor got so angry that he almost hit Danya’s dad with his fist. We are in compliance with all the requirements of our co-op and really tried to be nice to these people as much as we could. But when you’re dealing with completely inadequately behaving, constantly rude and abusive people who seem to have lost all the perspective one can only take so much.

Us.This year, maybe because of the weather, I did not want to get a live Christmas tree. Danya was on the fence — in fact I think that he would have liked a real tree more — but he did not care THAT much, so we got an artificial Christmas tree like I wanted. I hope we’ll be able to fit it in one of our closets after the holidays are over.

Reading.Oh, one more thing that I think is cute and worth mentioning. When I was peeling the potatoes and cutting vegetables for salads in the kitchen, I wanted Arosha to read to me, so I told him that I am bored and asked him if he could help me out and read to me. Arosha happily agreed and read four books from Tug the Pup series. I was so happy and proud of him. He can’t read well yet and its hard work for him, so I am glad that he does not resist it like he could have. I remember very clearly that when I was learning how to read, it was so hard and I hated it. I hope that he will read a lot, just like I did after the initial learning curve.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Tree

Kids after the tree was done.After many many years of buying a real tree every year we kept procrastinating this year until the very last days. Maybe one of the reasons for this is abnormally warm December. They are predicting 69 degrees tomorrow — that’s late spring weather.

In the process.Anyhow, this year we decided to order an GKI Bethlehem Lighting artificial tree and overnight it from Amazon. It came out pretty nice looking. On the plus side there will be no needles all over the place, on the minus side — there is no that special smell.

Our Anna.It arrived today and we spent a couple of hours with kids decorating our tree, our living room — trying to get into the spirit of holidays. The next big question will be where do we store it after the season passes.
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