Thursday, February 5, 2015

München

Frauenkirche and Neues Rathaus. Taken from the top the tower of Saint Peter's Church.Munich — or München as it is pronounced in German and Russian was our second of three cities that we visited during our trip. I think Alёna and I agree on the fact that it was our favorite of them to see and experience.

Streets of Munich.Nothing remarkable happend during the journey to Munich itself. We have preordered our train tickets online before heading to Germany which was the right thing to do. In Italy we had to stop at a major train station to book our tickets in advance, but the train station itself was on our way. In Germany it was not the case, and everything worked out well. I didn’t even have to print anything out. I just installed an app on the phone that loaded the proper barcodes into itself and that’s what we showed to conductors.

Streets of Munich.The trip itself takes about 6 hours. We got to see some country side through the windows of the train with tiny towns and old castles. We tried German train food — something between a pizza and a sandwich in one and of course drank some beer. By the time we got to Munich it was already dark outside, so we didn’t really do much in the evening.

Streets of Munich.We checked into the hotel which was quite a bit more modest than the one in Berlin. They did leave us a €50 bottle of champagne and some chocolate covered fruit because of our anniversary. We went outside to find some food for dinner and after walking around we didn’t find any German restaurants — only Italian ones.

Isar River.So instead of going into a sitdown place we grabbed a pair of gyros to-go at a local fast food Turkish place. To our surprise the only available gyro was chicken and the guy told us that lamb in Germany is very expensive. I’m not sure if it’s true, but chicken gyro ended up being not good. That was the worst dinner of our trip, but we did fill up on nice little snacks at an executive lounge of our hotel.

Near center.The plan for our first full day in Munich was to explore the city center starting with the main square called Marienplatz. For some reason I originally thought that we would need to figure out how to use local transportation to get places, but turned out that the walk was less than a mile long to the very center. All Hilton hotels that we picked ended up having great locations for exploration.

Rathous in the background.Munich had a much more of an old look to it. It was also severely damaged during the war, but more older parts of the city survived and probably a lot of restoration was done. It had a lot of different churches and towers and castle-looking places.

Munich center.Marienplatz was surrounded by churches. The centerpiece of the city is the old Neues Rathaus — even thought it’s called neues (new) it was built at the end of 19th century. It had an old gothic look to it.

Marienplatz. Mechanical dolls on the tower in the background.One of the attractions of Rathaus is little play performed by mechanical dolls (Glockenspiel) at the center of the tower that can be viewed from the square down below. I imagine it was a technological marvel when it was built and to this day a bunch of silly looking tourists looking at it with open mouths and tilted back heads. We watched a little part of the play, but eventually got bored and moved on.

Saint Peter's Church's roof from Saint Peter's Church tower.Our objective was to climb a tower across from Rathaus, even though there is an elevator in the main tower of Rathaus available for tourists. But we wanted to scale the tower across so we could take some areal pictures of Munich including the Rathaus itself.

Center.The tower that we picked was a part of Saint Peter’s Church. There was one or another kind of churches located at that place starting from the 8th century. 299 steps later we had a magnificent view of Munich.

Inside Saint Peter's Church.Sadly the weather did not want to cooperate and one of the iconic towers of Frauenkirche (kirche is church in German) was covered by construction scaffolding. But we still got some nice shots — one at the top of this article for example.

Hofbräuhaus.After the climb we were ready for a lunch at an old famous beer hall — Hofbräuhaus. Hofbräuhaus was originally built in 16th century, but probably not much remains of the original construction. The beer hall was full of people on the first floor. The enormous second floor was largely empty, but I’m sure that’s not the case during the month of October.

Inside Hofbräuhaus.The place had all kinds of people inside. The most colorful were the older German men wearing traditional clothing drinking beer from their own gigantic beer mugs. And of course the place had tons and tons of tourists.

Inside Hofbräuhaus.We read about some of the traditional Bavarian dishes beforehand and we wanted to try some of them. One such thing was a soup called Leberknödel. Even though it did look interesting it was too salty and we didn’t like it. We also ordered a Bavarian traditional finger sized wursts and of course wheat beer. Overall the food was just OK, but it was an experience.

Market.On a side note a week after we came back from Germany we went to one of the local restaurants for dinner. I noticed that they changed the menu and have added German beer to it. I ordered a bottle and to my surprise it was beer from Hofbräuhaus with Hofbräuhaus on the sticker. The beer was not as good as our favorite Franziskaner, but it was a nice feeling having actually BEEN to the place on the sticker.

Asamkirche.After Hofbräuhaus we walked through Viktualienmarkt (gourmet farmer’s market) to a church of a different type — Asamkirche. It was built in Baroque style and is located right between some other buildings — like a town house. So it’s quite surprising to walk inside and see its big interior.

Inside Asamkirche.That was pretty much our day. We went back to the hotel, got some drinks at the executive lounge and decided to go to some Italian for dinner after all — as I said before there were no other types of places nearby. We did pick some fancy place with some delicious buffalo mozzarella pizza. This was the only non-German place that we had a dinner at and it was the only place that wasn’t taking credit cards. As we found out about that after the fact we were glad that we had some cash on hand.

At English Garden.For our second day we originally planned to rent a car and go see some castles. We didn’t make any advanced reservations since there was a rental place right on the next block to our hotel. Or so I thought. A day before the trip I was making last checks and the place was nowhere to be found. So either it closed or I have no idea where I was looking. Long story short, we figured that we had plenty more things to do in Munich itself, so we canceled our castle road trip.

Glühwein.Instead we went to a different part of Munich called Englischen Garten (English Garden), a Central Park like place the center of which was located about 2 miles away from our hotel. The day was cold and gray again and by the time we reached the center of the park we were feeling pretty chilly suddenly. There was a street stand selling glühwein — spicy, warm red wine. Alёna said that she read about it in books, so we gave it a try. I didn’t like it at all and much better prefer warm apple cider or something similar, which they also had.

Streets of Munich.After our stroll through the park and small sidestreets we decided to go back to the center. On our way out of the park we spotted an interesting thing. There is some river or canal running through the park.

City surfing.At one place this canal has something on the bottom of it which ends up making a big wave. The current is pretty strong. And right in that river, in this bone-chilling weather there was a bunch guys surfing. And they were very proficient at it, but nevertheless they did keep losing their balance eventually and having to get completely dunked into that water.

Munich center.We did get back to the center and started looking for a place to eat dinner at. It was Thanksgiving, which is technically our anniversary, again. Originally we planned to go to Zum Franziskaner — restaurant held by the maker of our favorite beer. The reviews were mediocre, but we figured that we’d at least get Franziskaner beer coasters for our collection. However when we entered we actually noticed that they had something else on their tables. So instead of eating there I just quietly pocked a pair and we left.

Spatenhaus.Instead I remembered about another place that looked good. It was located on a large square in front of the Bavarian State Opera — Spatenhaus. Spatenhaus is another brand of beer. The menu looked good and the place had good reviews, so that’s where we went. Guess what kind of beer coasters they had? Franziskaner ones.

Inside Spatenhaus. View at Opera House.Our dinner was delicious. We ordered a hearty potato soup, sauerbraten (I think) and a super delicious bavarian duck — it was Thanksgiving after all and duck was the closest thing to turkey that we could get. And of course we got draft Franziskaner beer. As I said twice already — everything was delicious. One interesting thing that happened was that we had a basket of pretzels on the table and turns out they count how many pieces of bread you had eaten and charge you for each. A weird German thing.

Streets of Munich.On the way back to our hotel I saw another restaurant named after a beer that Zum Franziskaner used for coasters. Just out of curiosity I decided to walk inside and look at their coasters. Then an backward thing happened — immediately somebody asked if we wanted a table. Now this was a first in all of our trip. The only time when we actually didn’t need a table they offered us one. I saw a tack of coasters and asked if I could just have a pair of those. A grumpy man said that he would sell it to me for 400 euros, yet proceeded to give two of them to me. Guess what? Spaten beer coasters.

Streets of Munich.And that’s pretty much our Munich. I’m writing this post and smiling. It brings back such pleasant pleasant memories. The whole vacation was great and Munich definitely contributed to it being special.

Sankt Lukas Kirche.
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Friday, February 6, 2015

Germany Vacation — Vienna

On the roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral.В пятницу 28 ноября утром, мы прибыли на вокзал в Мюнхене. На этот раз у нас были места в вагоне-люкс, так как цена на них не отличалась от обычных. Соседом нашим оказался приятный разговорчивый канадец-инженер, находившийся в Германии в командировке по работе. Было очень забавно, когда Даня, узнав где живёт наш сосед, сообщил ему, что мы живём в Америке, а тот недоверчиво фыркнул, сказал “Yeah, Right”, вобщем подумал, что мы над ним прикалываемся. Исходя из нашей внешности и акцента в английском языке, он решил, что мы местные. Вобщем, ехать было интересно, потому что темы для разговоров не иссякали.

On the train.Вагон был полупустым, и мы поставили наши чемоданы возле стены позади крайних кресел. Поднимать такую тяжесть не хотелось, да и не поместился бы наш большой чемодан вверху. Когда вошёл кондуктор, он сказал, что в том месте возле стены по правилам чемоданам стоять не полагается, и мы должны их куда-то передвинуть. Мы послушно переставили чемоданы позади других сидений. Всё это происходило на территории Германии.

Streets of Vienna.Потом мы переехали в Австрию, вагон начал заполнятся, и нам надо было снова передвигать чемоданы, но мест, кроме первоначальных возле стены, не было. Не зная, что делать, мы попробовали-таки запихать чемоданы наверх, но как и ожидалось, они туда не влазили. Тут пожилой мужчина (не уверена, австриец или немец), сидевший в соседнем ряду, сказал, что мы можем переставить чемоданы на изначально облюбованное нами место.

Streets of Vienna.– Но как же кондуктор? Он ведь снова придёт проверять билеты у новых пассажиров и заставит переставлять багаж!
– А, не волнуйтесь. Мы выехали из Германии, и у нас будет новый, автсрийский кондуктор. Он будет намного более спокойным и ничего вам не скажет о чемоданах.
– Правда?
– Добро пожаловать в Австрию!

Вобщем-то так оно и оказалось.

Streets of Vienna.Вообще к чему я так долго пишу о наших чемоданах? А к тому, что этот случай очень чётко характеризует разницу в моём восприятии мезжду Германией и Австрией. Если Берлин и Мюнхен напомнили мне величественную, немного строгую, хрустально-прозрачную музыку Баха,то Вена в моём сознании — это игрывый, легкомысленный, весёлый Моцарт.

City center.Должна признаться, что Вена мне понравилась, пожалуй, меньше, чем другие города. Наверное, во многом виновата погода — было холодно, сыро, практически всё время накрапывал дождик. Еще в Вене было гораздо больше туристов и вообще народа на улицах, а толпы я не люблю. Но в целом мне Вена, конечно, тоже понравилась.

Hilton Vienna.В первый день, а верне вечер, так как темнеет в конце ноября уже в 16 часов, мы заселились в гостиницу и отправились прогуляться по округе в поисках австрийского ресторана. Выбор наш пал на Weissgerber Stube. Ели мы картофельный суп (ничего особенного), очень вкусный телячий шницель с картошкой и яблочный штрудель.

Roof of Cathedral.Вообще шницели в Австрии — это что-то особенное. Огромные — иногда даже больше тарелки — мягкие, в хрустящей корочке. Ммммм. Даня, который утверждает, что не любит отбивные, уплетали эти шницели за обе щеки. Штрудель моему мужу-нелюбителю сладкого тоже очень понравился, и мы еще несколько раз заказывали эту яблочную красоту на десерт в других ресторанах.

City center.На следующее утро мы отправились на центральную площадь города — Штефансплац. Идти туда от нашего отеля было недалеко, так что, как и в других городах, общественным транспортом пользоваться не пришлось. На площади было много народа. В глаза бросались продавцы билетов в театр, одетые в красные пальто. Один из них очень хотел продать нам билет на концерт классической музыки, и, делая большие глаза, говорил, что отказываясь мы упускаем шанс увидеть главное в Вене.

Inside St. Stephen's Cathedral.На площади находится собор Святого Стефана (откуда, собственно, и название площади). Мы зашли внутрь для небольшого обзора, а потом поднялись на крышу, для чего даже пришлось минут 10 отстоять в очереди. Было красиво, но холодно и мокро.

On the roof.Потом мы погуляли по площади, немного походили по магазинам (купили Дане классную рубашку в цветочки), а отправились обедать.

Dinner.Ресторан выбрали исходя из привлекательности меню и людности места, и остановились на “3 Hacken Magazin”. Одно из блюд, которые Даня очень хотел попробовать в Австрии — это тафельшпиц, представляющий собой отваренный в овощном бульоне кусок говядины. Честно говоря, я думала, что будет очень похоже на мясо из супа, но было вкуснее. Плюс, к нему подавали яблочно-хреновый и сметанный соусы, которые делали блюдо еще лучше. Дане очень понравилось, и мы потом заказывали эту отварную говядину еще раз в другом ресторане, но там она была немного хуже.

Vienna.Даня уже месяц уговаривает меня приготовить такое блюдо, но пока я не нашла на это времени. Зато шницели сегодня планирую зажарить и подать с картофельным салатом — посмотрим, что получится.

Streets of Vienna.На первое мы заказывали говяжий овощной суп — близкий родственник тафельшпица, а на десерт яблочный штрудель. Ну и, конечно, пшеничное пиво. Мы выпили за время отпуска жуткое количество пива (около 5-6 литров каждый), но тем и хорошо отпуск, что можно такое себе позволить.

Streets of Vienna.После обеда мы еще погуляли по городу, и отправились в гостиницу. Может, если бы погода была лучше, мы бы поехали посмотреть другие части Вены, но в холод и сырость этого делать не хотелось.

Streets of Vienna.Поближе к вечеру, мы подкрепились в executive lounge в гостинице, и, кстати, попробовали там тёмное пшеничное пиво марки Францисканер. Светлый Францисканер — это наше любимое, и хотя пива в принципе не хотелось, но попробовать его надо было (в executive lounge для нас всё бесплатно). Мы с Даней сошлись во мнении, что оно было хуже светлого, но лучше других сортов пива типа лагера.

Streets of Vienna.Потом мы хотели еще прогуляться по магазинам, но оказалось, что в субботу они закрываются рано (кажется, в 5 часов), а в воскресенье вообще выходной. Всё это нам сообщил русский немец, работающий консьержем в нашем отеле. Еще он очень удивился, когда мы сказали ему, что в Америке в 5 часов вечера в субботу большинство магазинов всё же открыто, и в воскресенье магазины одежды и тому подобное тоже в основном работают. Вобщем, мы с Даней решили, что это — одна из особенностей европейского социализма.

Streets of Vienna.В результате мы просто прошлись по улицам, и заодно купили Ароше и Анюте по яркому рождественскому медовому прянику в форме сердечка. Один пряник они сьели сразу по нашему приезду, а второй висел у нас дома на ёлке до 2015 года. Пряники, кстати, оказались дорогими – по 8 евро за штуку, а еще красная “глазурь” оказалась бумагой, которую с кусками пряника пришлось отдирать от сердечка перед употреблением. Но зато красиво, ничего не скажешь.

Museum Quarter.На следующий день погода снова была не ахти, и мы долго собирались на улицу. Конкретного плана не было, но хотелось как-то приобщиться к культуре, и мы решили посетить какой-нибудь музей. Почитав немного о музеях, находящихся поблизости, мы решили пойти в так называемый музейный квартал и решить уже на месте.

Streets of Vienna.Несмотря на серость дня, туристов на улицах было много. В музейном квартале мы прошли через очередной уличный рынок, но ничего там не покупали. Из музеев мы остановились на музее истории искусств, что, в рестроспективе, было ошибкой, потому что и мне, и Дане там было скучно.

Vienna portrait.Потом мы отправились на ужин. Даня хотел пойти в одно место (не помню названия), в которое мы видели очередь накануне, но когда мы туда пришли, мне там стало неуютно, и мы отправились на поиски чего-то другого. В результате мы поужинали в другом месте тем же шницелем и тафельшпицем, а на сладкое мы потом купили тортики в кафе возле нашей гостиницы. Тортики были ничего, но мне понравились меньше, чем яблочный штрудель.

Vienna from the roof.Ну а на следующий день мы улетели домой. Отличный получился отпуск!

From the roof.
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Friday, February 13, 2015

Storage Upgrades

New expanded Besta unit.With the arrival of kids we were acquiring more and more kid related stuff and our apartment was getting kind of buried under it all. Enormous piles of kid books, toys, board games, clothing and on and on and on. Something had to be done.

Billy bookcase full with kids' books.So now that Alёna’s mom is here we had a chance to go to IKEA without kids. The reason why we needed to go without kids was because we had to take out the car seats in order to convert our SUV into a load carrying truck. We wanted to do these furniture expansions even before we had our SUV, but there was no easy way for us to get this stuff home.

My work desk.We did two major things — expand our IKEA buffet in the living room into a full height cabinet and replace our half length book shelf into a full wall one as well. And that’s exactly what we did.

Books before.IKEA got rid of the red colored doors for some reason for their Besta sets, but luckily we had 3 already and 2 more in our hallway. So we used those to make it look nice and modern. Otherwise the big black brown set would look pretty gloomy. They also got rid of Billy color that used to be a perfect match for our bedroom, so we had to go with a darker one.

More books.Overall it all came out looking nice. We have a lot of new storage space, so we cleaned up our apartment and made it look cozy again. And Billy bookcase fit almost all of our books for kids. The rest went into my office desk that also got some new space from us moving all the non-book stuff into our new Besta.

Desk mess.And to finish it all off we put up new curtains in the living room. Alёna’s mom brought us a set from Minsk. They look really great and fit really well with our room design. We would’ve had to pay around $2,000 to get something like this here. The place is looking good.
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Monday, February 23, 2015

Summer Southwest Road Trip

Grand Canyon Road TripAfter a lot, really a lot, of thinking and picking through our choices we have settled on the route of our next road trip. And now it’s all booked. The centerpiece of our trip is going to be Grand Canyon — probably the most beautiful place on earth that I’ve been to. We’re going to visit some other natural wonders that southwest of this country has to offer.

The road trip will start in Phoenix and will end in Las Vegas. Only four of us will go — Arosha, Anna, Alena and I. We haven’t flown anywhere with Arosha without parents yet, and this time we’ll go with both kids. We’ll have to bring a lot of stuff (like two car seats) and we’re hoping we’ll be able to manage it all. We do have a lot of stops in our plan, but the drives themselves are relatively short and should be easy enough on the kids.

The plan is simple. We fly1 out to Phoenix early in the morning of Friday, July 10th and we will be back home on the late night of July 21st flying back from Las Vegas. Right upon our arrival to Phoenix we rent a car and go an a mandatory tour of the capitol. Without spending the night we drive out to Sedona2 where we are staying for 1 night.

After Sedona we drive to Grand Canyon National Park itself. We’ll spend 3 nights3 on the southern rim staying right inside the park. I only hope that the canyon doesn’t make Arosha experience his fear of heights. He was never afraid of any mountains or anything in nature, but who knows.

After the southern rim we go to Page, Arizona where we spend another 3 nights4 on the eastern end of the canyon. While Alena and I have been to all the other places of our road trip, this will be one new location for all of us. We want to see the famous Horseshoe Bend and take a hike through Antelope Canyon.

The next destination of our trip takes us to another gorgeous place — Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon has a very unique look due to the natural structures called hoodoos. We’ll spend 2 nights5 at Bryce and we’ll take off to our final destination of Las Vegas through a scenic road that runs right through Zion National Park.

And our final 2 nights6 we will spend in Las Vegas which has been becoming a family destination for a long time now. There are a lot of things to see for kids there such as a pirate show at Treasure Island, or a volcano eruption at Mirage. It would be great to go to some Cirque du Soleil show, but Anna is way to little to be able to sit through something like that, so not this time.

Overall our nature loving kids should have a lot of new impressions on this trip and we’ll be seeing all the old places anew through their eyes. Should be a fun one.

  1. Delta flight, non stop from JFK at $334 per person. Anna flies for free in Alёna’s lap. Total price for the flight is $1,002. []
  2. Hampton Inn Sedona, $204 total with taxes included. []
  3. Yavapai Lodge, $548 for 3 nights plus tax. []
  4. Best Western at Lake Powell, $767 total with tax for 3 nights. Not cheap at all. []
  5. Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, $445 total for 2 nights. []
  6. Elara by Hilton Grand Vacations, $260 total for 2 nights. []

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