Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shenandoah Road Trip

Map of our planned Shenandoah Trip.We have planned a short road trip for ourselves — Alёna, myself and our kids — for the first days of September. We decided to visit Shenandoah National Park. Again. We’ve been there two times already.

Our first one was at the beginning of November of 2010 with tiny Arosha and my parents. While there was beautiful autumn happening down below the mountains the trees up on top — inside the park itself — had been long asleep. Not a single leaf.

Our second trip to Shenandoah was in May of 2014 during our grand Tennessee vacation with kids. And again — while everything was blooming down below the nature in the park had not awoken yet. Everything looked exactly like it did in November.

So we figured it’s time we saw this park in a different light. We also decided to try another place for our stay. We stayed twice at the Skyland Resort, but we wanted to try Big Meadow Lodge1. So we picked out the days when there was vacancy specifically in that lodge.

The whole trip is going to take five days and will have a very simple plan. We’ll leave on the night before Saturday. Spend that night at Hershey2, Pennsylvania and probably visit an amusement park there. We’ll spend three full days in Shenandoah and we’ll spend the last day on getting home with a possible stop in Washington, DC.

  1. Big Meadow Lodge — $184 per night for a room with two queen beds to the total of $846 with taxes included. Not cheap. []
  2. Hilton Garden Inn Hershey — $142 for the night for a room with two queen beds. []

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Отпуск в Мексике

Paradisus La Esmeralda resort.Должна признаться, что отпуск на пляже — один из самых скучных на мой взгляд. Но с двумя маленькими детьми ездить на море хотя бы раз в год имеет смысл.

В прошлом году мы на море не ездили, потому что Анюта была слишком маленькой, ну а в этом, несмотря на дороговизну, мы полетели всей семьёй, включая Даниных родителей. Мы решили поехать на неделе Арошиных весенних каникул. В принципе, если бы он пропустил другую неделю, тоже было бы нормально, но так как цена на неделю в ту или иную сторону не менялась, мы решили, что школу зря прогуливать не стоит.

On food quest.В Мексике мы с Даней уже один раз были, а вот дети еще нет. Резорт забронировали при помощи агента Даниной мамы — так выходило дешевле и меньше головной боли. Она же и порекомендовала конкретное место — Paradisus La Esmeralda в районе Riviera Maya.

Family unit.Улетали мы в пятницу, 3 апреля, а возвращались 12 апреля в воскресенье. Самолёт в Мексику вылетал около 9 утра, но его на час задержали. Мы были в принципе не против — это дало нам возможность более спокойно стоять в очередях, плюс мы в аэропорте перекусили. Я очень надеялась, что Анюта в самолёте поспит 1-2 часа, но мои надежды не оправдались и вздремнула она всего 15 минут. Это учитывая то, что ей пришлось встать на 30 минут раньше обычного. Ароша перенёс полет совершенно нормально — он играл на iPade, болтал с нами, смотрел в окно, и слушал как мы с Даней читали ему “Волшебника Изумрудного Города”.

Orange family unit.От аэропорта в Канкуне до нашей гостиницы надо было еще где-то час добираться на автобусе. Ароша был Ок, а вот Анюта жутко капризничала и плакала каждый раз, когда автобус замедлял ход или делал остановку. Когда мы наконец доехали до гостиницы, я думала, что она сразу же отправиться спать, но не тут-то было. Пока Даня с д. Борей регистрировались в отеле, дети начали изучать территорию. Анютина усталось куда-то пропала, и она снова стала весёлым ребёнком, готовым с радостью исследовать мир вокруг. Она даже не хотела, чтобы её переносили с места на место, когда мы шли в наш номер, а хотела везде идти сама.

Kids.Резорт нам в целом очень понравился. Комнаты (а у нас были две комнаты по соседству на последнем третьем этаже) были шикарные, в ванной был не только хороший душ, но и огромная ванная, куда мы все вчетвером легко влазили. Еще был очень хороший балкон, где всегда была тень. Правда, сначала Даня немного поругался с администрацией. Дело в том, что мы резервировали комнату с одной большой кроватью, а вместо этого получили две маленьких. Кровати в конце концов составили вместе. Спать на них было в принципе удобно. Еще Ароше должны были прикатить отедельную кровать, и Дане пришлось звонить много раз прежде, чем это произошло. Только с Анюткиной кроваткой не было проблем. Её прикатили быстро. В конце концов всё утряслось, но было бы приятнее, если бы нервы зря не мотали.

Pirate ship at the kids' pool.Территория резорта была очень большой. Был хороший детский бассейн, где вечером вода была настолько тёплой, что даже Анюта там могла сидеть больше часа и не мёрзнуть. Были хорошие бассейны для взрослых — они располагались возле зданий с номерами (с первого этажа балконы выходили прямо в бассейны, что хорошо для взрослых, но плохо, если есть маленькие дети, которых без присмотра на таком балконе не оставишь) и шли по кругу. Так как какое-либо из зданий всегда отбрасывало на какую-нибудь часть бассейна тень, Даня мог плавать в них в любое время суток без солнцезащитного крема.

Turtle and fish ponds.Возле бассейнов кроме лежаков были кабаны — беседки с крышами из пальмовых листьев. Их было ограниченное количество, и д. Боря в 6:30 утра шёл и занимал для нас одну. Мы обычно в начале восьмого шли на завтрак, потом на пляж, и около 10 утра возвращались к бассейнам. Первый день мы кабану не брали, потом пользовались той, что занимал д. Боря, а потом работники стали более строго придерживаться правил, и забирали наши вещи из кабаны, освобождая её для других гостей если в течение 30 минут никто не подходил к занятой кабане.

Posing from grandma.Пляж от нас был далековато, но в принципе терпимо. Мы обычно шли туда после завтрака в буфете, а от буфета туда идти было всего пару минут. На пляже мест занимать было не надо, особенно рано утром. Мы всегда находили лежак с зонтиком без каких-либо проблем. Песочек был хороший и чистый, но в воде было много больших камней, о которые я не раз ударяла ноги. Мы потом поняли, что с левой стороны пляжа камней гораздо меньше и всегда старались плавать там. Сама вода была довольно тёплой, но мутноватой. В принципе, пляж мог бы быть и лучше, но мне всё равно понравилось. Еще один недостаток пляжа, это то, что прямо рядом с ограждённой буйками зоной для плавания, начиналась дорожка для водных мотоциклов. Они жутко воняли и наверняка загрязняли воду. Но меня они сильно не беспокоили, потому что мы на пляже были рано утром, когда на этих молоциклах практически никто не катался.

Lunch as Sunrise Grill.Ароше нравился и пляж, и бассейны, хотя, наверное, предпочтение он отдавал второму. В детский бассейн, где он всегда мог ходить по дну и держать голову над поверхностью воды, мы пускали его без нарукавников, а в море и более глубоких бассейнах он плавал в нарукавниках. В детском бассейне была большая горка, 2 маленькие горочки в виде бегемота и акулы, и труба, в которую можно было попасть, забравшись на пиратский корабль в середине бассейна. Ароша сначала не решался кататься по трубе, но потом ему это дело очень понравилось и он часто ей пользовался.

Mexican restaurant decor.Еще Ароше очень понравилось плавать в большом бассейне. Конечно, он держался при помощи нарукавников, но он мог делать правильные телодвижения для того, чтобы продвигаться в выбранном им направлении.

Анюте море совершенно не нравилось. Во-первых, вода там была холоднее, чем в бассейнах, а во-вторых, она пугалась волн. Я помню, что Ароша в её возрасте тоже не любил море. Зато она с удовольствием играла с песочком и водой, которую ей неустанно приносила в ведёрках бабушка. Они с ней часто копали ямку и наливали в неё водичку, и она в ней полоскала ножки.

Sleeping.В бассейне ей тоже первые пару дней не нравилось, но потом она как-то решила искупаться с Даней, и после этого поняла, что бассейн — это здорово! Хорошо, что это произошло где-то на 3-й день, а не в конце отпуска.

Inside the cabana.Я с детьми купалась два раза в день — утром (пляж и бассейн) и часов около 5 вечера (в бассейне). Вечером нам как правило составлял компанию дедушка, а утром все взрослые (хотя Даня в море залазил, наверное, только раз). Я обычно мазала детей солнцезащитным кремом только один раз — где-то в 9:30 утра.

А еще они, особенно Анюта, очень любили купаться в нашей огромной ванной.

Us.Еда в “Эсмеральде” была очень вкусной. Когда мы были в Донимикане и Коста Рике, дню к третьему еда уже надоедала, а к концу отпуска от неё просто тошнило. Тут такого не было. В буфете еда была свежей и вкусной, и рестораны были тоже на высоте. Мы почти каждый вечер ходили в какие-то рестораны. Больше всего мне понравились бразильский (где мы были аж два раза — в первый вечер и в последний) и японский. Другие тоже были хорошими, но у меня о них почему-то более смазанные впечатления. В некоторые рестораны мы не попали — туда можно было только взрослым. Данины родители пошли в одни такой ресторан, а мы с Даней в тот вечер ходили в итальянский (дети там поели хорошо, но до настоящей итальянской кухни они всё же не дотягивают).

Our Anna.А еще на территории были каналы с водой, в которых жили рыбы и черепахи. Ароше с Анютой они очень нравились. Один раз Ароша в этот канал свалился. Мы очень смеялись, ну а он, естественно, возмущался.

One of the restaurants.Еще там каждый вечер были шоу, но мы на них не попадали, так как дети к этому времени шли спать. Только один раз мы с Даней застали кусочек какого-то акробатического представления. До цирка Дю Солей им, конечно, далеко, но минут 5 посмотреть было в удовольствие. Дважды было представление “Король Лев” для детей. Хоть наши дети на него и не попали, но они с удовольствием рассматривали наряженых и загримированных артистов, которые за час-полтора до преставления ходили по территории и позировали с довольными туристами для фотографий.

Arosha with theater crew.Еще там была детская игровая комната, где можно было попрыгать в надувном доме и поскатываться с надувной горы. Когда там никого или почти никого не было, Ароша с Анютой играли там хорошо, но когда туда прибегали дети постарше, то они прыгали с горки и носились вокруг, не обращая внимания на детей помладше. В результате, Ароше на голову прыгнул какой-то мальчик, и после этого мы в игровую комнату не ходили.

At Brazilian.Обратный перелёт был очень утомительным. Автобус в аэропорт отходил в 12:40. Мы успели позавракать, поплавать в бассейне, поспать (Анюта) и даже второпях пообедать. Вылет самолёта был задержан на 1.5 часа, но в реальности, даже больше. В аэропорте Ароша успел разбить в одном магазине флакон духов (пробник, за который его простили), а в другом – керамического попугая. За попугая мы заплатили, причём по собственной инициативе. Сначала мы, повинуясь инстинкту, сбежали с “места преступления”, но потом, предварительно хорошенько отругав Арошу, вернулись, извинились и заплатили. Надо сказать, что работники магазина за разбитого попугая взяли только 1/3 его цены, что было с их стороны очень мило. Мы сказали Ароше, что деньги за попугая ему придётся заплатить из накопленной им мелочи, так как мы с Даней много раз ему говорили ничего не трогать в этом магазине, потому что если разобьем, то придётся платить. Он, конечно, был очень расстроен, но выхода у него не было. Нам повезло, что попугай стоил всего $30. Надеюсь, этот небольшой урок останется у него в памяти и впредь он будет более осторожен в магазинах.

Us.Когда мы прилетели в Нью-Йорк, самолёт долго кружил над городом, а потом очень долго ехал к месту высадки пассажиров. Потом мы долго шли к нашему багажу и ждали его 40 минут. Анюта была более менее ОК — кроме дневного сна в Мексике, она еще 45 минут вздремнула в самолёте у бабушки на руках. Ароше было сложнее. Бедный ребёнок настолько устал, что начал укладываться на пол в аэропорту и говорить, что он уже не может и что ему надо спать. Потом он таки заснул в такси, и домой я его несла на руках. Дома мы были примерно в 23:30. Так что на короткий 3.5 часовой перелёт у нас ушло 11 часов с момента загрузки в автобус возле гостиницы.

Ready for dinner.Легли спать в тот день мы еще позже. Дома дети оживились и даже немного перекусили. Арошу мы на следующий день оставили дома, хотя изначально планировали отправить в школу.

Вобщем, отдыхать — всегда хорошо. Думаю, мне хватило был даже на 1 день отпуска меньше, потому что к концу стало уже скучновато. Надеюсь, что когда дети будут постарше, то я смогу немного больше расслабляться в подобных местах.
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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Riviera Maya Vacation

Riviera Maya. Beach.While it’s typically very hard for me to organize all my vacation thoughts and put them into a meaningful narrative, this particular trip is going to be much easier in that regard. It was a recharging and relaxing vacation and not an exploration one, as on of my friends puts it. We enjoyed each other’s company, did a lot of swimming and even more eating.

Resort at night.We were not sure how the flights would go, since this would be Anna’s first time on a plane. But everything went well. Arosha was fine as always, although he did suddenly throw up on the way back. He was OK, then threw up, then was OK again. Anna decided to enable her previously unknown to us robot mode. She decided she doesn’t need any sleep. She wasn’t fussy or anything. She just stayed in Alёna’s arm looking around.

Kid's pool.When we got to our resort (about 50 minute drive from the airport) we got quickly checked in, but all their promised room upgrades turned out to be a useless gimmick. Our rooms actually ended up probably in the farthest possible location away from the beach, but we got used to it fairly quickly and it wasn’t a big deal.

Orange family.The first evening gave me quite a bit of frustration since I had to call 5 (!!!) times before the actually gave us a roll out bed for Arosha to sleep in that was promised to us during the booking as well as check-in. Poor Arosha at one point figured that it’s not looking good for his bed and he’ll just have to not sleep while on vacation. They also promised us a king size bed, but instead there were two doubles. The did end up moving them together, but it’s still not quite the same thing.

Three generations.On the first evening we went out to explore the territory, find a place to eat and figure out the general layout of things. Anna insisted that she must not be carried (we didn’t bring the stroller either) and that she must explore the whole place on her own feet. We were super tired by then, but she kept going and going and going. Arosha didn’t lack any energy either. I have no idea how they do it.

In the pool.The general routine of our days was pretty simple. We would wake up at around 7am (kids decided on the wake up time) and got to the buffet for breakfast. After breakfast Alёna, my mom and kids would go right to the beach while my dad and I would go back to our rooms for our morning procedures. After that I would come down from the room and Alёna would be come back from the beach and we would swim a bunch in the pools.

Parents.The hotel had a large number of pools. My favorite one that went alone all the buildings (first floor rooms actually had balconies with stairs leading right into the pools) since there was always one with shade. I hate putting sunblock on my skin more than anything. So having a pool in shade allowed me to escape that nasty procedure except for a couple of times where I did swim in the sea.

Dinner at Italian.My dad would reserve a cabana by the pools every morning (you’re not supposed to reserve, but everyone is doing it) and we would spend the rest of the morning sitting there and swimming in the pools. Kids loved it. Anna wasn’t so sure at first and didn’t want to go into the water with Alёna, would for some reason happily agreed to go swimming with me. After the first time she actually understood that it is quite enjoyable.

Little woman.Arosha would either play in a large kids pool in the center (it had a large pirate ship in the middle and all kinds of slides) or would actually swim in the adult pool. He had shoulder floaters that allowed him to swim. At first he couldn’t figure out how to do that. He would move his arms and legs and spin in the same place. Eventually he figured it out and started swimming back and forth through whole pool.

Day rest.All along I kept trying all kinds of cocktails. I went through Bloody Mary, Long Island Iced Tea, Apple Martini, Miami Vice, Tequila Sunrise, Tequila Sunset, Margarita and something else that I’m forgetting. I love Bloody Mary, but it’s not very good for my stomach, so I could drink it much. Tequila Sunset was probably my favorite out of the rest. Their beer selection though was much to be desired. When asked what kinds of beer they had their general response was — beer. Yup.

Mexican restaurant.After the pools we would eat lunch at the placed called Sunrise Grill by the pools or would go to buffet again. Then we would go up to the room and jump into a giant bath tub where all four of us would fit. And into the shower and then a daily nap. Anna would sleep every day, Arosha did sleep on some occasions and did Alёna and I. Also we played a whole bunch of Hearthstone. After our daily quite hour somebody would take kids down to the pools again — mostly Alёna and my dad.

Brazilian restaurant.In the evening we would go a restaurant for dinner. The property had a good number of different restaurants. Some of them were adult-only, but most allowed kids. So we made reservations for a different place for the duration of our stay. We went to Brazilian, Tex-Mex buffet, Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican and I think Brazilian again. I must note that the food was excellent. The service was exceptional. Waiters (with 1 exception) were extremely polite and courteous. Only one guy (Mexican restaurant) was what appeared to be bad, but that’s just in comparison to the rest of them.

Family units.I thought that maybe I was crazy that I thought food was mediocre in Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, but I was right. We all liked the food here much more. It was always interesting to see what new stuff they have for us on each day. And naturally all of that was accompanied by some nice cocktails, beer or wine.

At the pools.A couple of words about the resort itself again. It was very large. Many pools, many eateries, a really nice series of ponds filled with all kinds of fish and turtles. Arosha wouldn’t be Arosha if he didn’t fall in into one of them at one point. Everyone ran to his rescue, but they were shallow enough that he wasn’t at any risk, so we started laughing. All the hotel employees started laughing. Only Arosha didn’t find it funny at all for some reason.

Kids.The beach however wasn’t very good. As on our previous time in Mexico there were a lot of hidden rocks in the water. But Alёna went there with kids so they could play with the sand. And my mom thought that she’ll get a better sun tan there for some reason. None of us figured out why.

Path to the beach.The resort also had a bunch of activities for the kids, but it didn’t seem nice to pawn your kids off to somebody to take care of them so you could do your own things. With respect to the kids that is. We wen there to spend time with them and they would be pretty upset if we were to get rid of them. We did take part in one of the activities — Easter egg hunt. Arosha had fun.

Pools.That’s pretty much eat. Good, boring, relaxing family vacation. Kids loved it, so I’m happy. Good resort for adults and families — they had an adult only part as well. Time well spent with our great family. Now we’re looking forward to our summer road trip.

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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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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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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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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Germany Vacation — Berlin

Looking into Tiergarten.Как всегда перед полётом в отпуск без детей, я волновалась. Волновалась о том, как им будет без нас, волновалась о том, как справятся с нагрузкой бабушка с дедушкой. Волновалась, хватит ли Анюте 3-х литров сцеженного молока, волновалась о том, будет ли она давать спать бабушке. Волновалась о том, чтобы с нами не случилось ничего плохого (по этому поводу мы написали завещание и оформили на меня страхование жизни). Волновалась о том, чтобы не волновался Даня. Волновалась о погоде. Но несмотря на все волнения, я надеялась, что всё пройдёт очень хорошо.

Empty streets of a weekend Berlin.Так всё и оказалось. Я как-то отдохнула, даже не столько физически, сколько морально, набралась сил и терпения. Даня тоже стал меньше переживать из-за разных вещей, которые наводили на него стресс. Отпуск — это так хорошо!

Walking around. Our reflection.Улетали мы в пятницу вечером. В четверг накануне я должна была закончить собирать чемоданы, но мне было очень плохо — жуткая мигрень, которой не помогают таблетки, слабость, тошнота (вырвало меня только раз, но подташнивало весь день). Я только и могла лежать на полу и ждать, когда же скорее наступит ночь. Хорошо, что Данин папа посидел у нас пару часов, а вернувшись с работы, помогла и Данина мама. Честно говоря, если бы такое случилось в день отлёта, то пришлось бы переносить рейс. Я думаю, что виноваты во всём новые очки, которые я начала носить в среду. Кстати, когда мы вернулись из отпуска и я снова попробовала носить очки, у меня был повтор ужасного дня. Так что теперь придётся идти в оптику и требовать, чтобы заменили стёкла (читаю пару недель спустя — таки да, в одном из стёкол есть небольшое отклонение, и его сейчас меняют).

Government building.Таким образом, в день отлёта у нас были практически несобранные чемоданы. Я чувствовала себя не ахти, но всё же намного лучше, чем накануне. После отпусков с детьми, паковать чемоданы на двоих — плёвое дело. У меня всё равно ушло на это много времени (тем более, что Ароша не пошёл в школу из-за того, что его утром вырвало от кашля), но к вечеру всё было готово. Дети со своими чемоданами, коляской и Анюткиной кроватью переехали на 10 дней к бабушке с дедушкой, а д. Боря отвёз нас в аэропорт. Самолёт вылетал в районе 22 часов из JFK, и летели мы Люфтганзой. Перелёт был с пересадкой во Франкфурте.

Сам перелёт прошел неплохо. Мы посмотрели пару фильмов — в частности Guardians of the Galaxy — перекусили, и прилетели во Франкфурт минут на 40 раньше срока. Поспать особо не удалось, хоть и хотелось. Хорошо людям, которые могут спать в самолётах. К сожалению, мы к таким не относимся.

Busy Berlin construction. Look at the number of cranes.Ждать пересадки было утомительно, но на самом деле по прибытию в Берлин мы были менее уставшими, чем, например, после перелёта в Рим или Токио. Не знаю почему, но это факт.

До гостиницы мы доехали на такси. В один момент таксист сказал нам — вот, посмотрите на этот дом, типичная нацистская архитектура. Нравится? Я немного растерялась и не знала, что ответить. Наверное, он говорил это с сарказмом (водитель не был немцем), но я так и не поняла, к чему это.

Alёna by the window in our suite.Когда мы подьехали к гостинице, Даня стал расплачиваться с таксистом, а я, чтобы чем-то занять руки, вытащила чемоданы из багажника. Я знаю, что, в принципе, этим обычно занимается таксист, но мне хотелось поскорее попасть в номер, и вообще — после постоянного таскания на руках 10-киллограмовой Анюты, руки как-то сами, почти независимо от меня, ринулись в дело. Таксист был удивлён, и Даня до сих пор со смехом вспоминает его восклицание: “Ого! Сильная женщина!”. После этого, чемоданы в такси я больше не трогала.

Living room of our Hilton suite.Берлинский Хилтон располагался очень близко к местам, которые мы хотели посетить. Нам дали не комнату, а настоящую квартиру, с огромным угловым окном, выходящим на Немецкий и Французский соборы и Жандарменмаркт. Честно говоря, я до сих пор под впечатлением от этого номера. Так же, я так полагаю в честь нашей с Даней годовщины, Хилтон подготовил для нас бутылку охлаждённого шампанского, клубнику в шоколаде, фрукты и вино. К сожалению, они забыли нам об этом сообщить, и мы заметили всё это только на следующий день (бутылка шампанского плавала в ведёрке с водой). Мы немного угостились фруктами, а алкоголь решили не трогать.

View from our hotel window.Оставив вещи в гостинице, мы отправились на прогулку по окрестностям. Местный рынок, к сожалению был закрыт — там всё активно наряжали к Рождеству — но всё равно было где походить и поискать местечко для еды.

View from another window.На ужин зашли мы в ресторан Августинер. Там было шумно и многолюдно, и царила празничная атмосфера. Сперва у нас, правда, поизошёл небольшой конфуз. Когда мы попросили столик на двоих, официант сообщил нам “да, но только на 3 часа”. Так как в тот момент было около 4-х часов дня, мы подумали, что следующий столик будет только к 7 вечера и собрались уже уходить. Хорошо, что Даня решил уточнить, правильно ли мы его поняли.
– О нет! Столик есть уже сейчас, но через 3 часа вы должны его освободить, потому что на 7 часов вечера он зарезервирован. Вы можете есть, пить сколько хотите, но только в течении 3-х часов.

Хорошенько посмеявшись, мы сказали ему, что нам такой столик подходит, потому что в среднем на ужин в ресторане у нас уходит 1-1.5 часа.

Manhole cover in Berlin.Официанты и официантки в ресторане были одеты в национальные костюмы, что, кстати, нередкое явление в Германии (во всяком случае в тех местах, которые мы посетили). Мы заказали Augustiner Weissbier — пшеничное нефильтрованное пиво, которое мы с Даней очень любим — и два вида немецких колбасок с капустой и картошкой. Всё было очень вкусно! Вообще я поняла, что немецкая кухня нам по душе. Думаю, что особенно хорошо она идёт в холодное время года. Мне все эти капусты-сосиски-клёцки-отбивные-гуляши очень напомнили польско-белорусско-русскую кухню, на которой я выросла.

После ужина мы отправились в отель, немного поиграли в Hearthstone и отправились спать.

Наверное, если бы мы ехали с группой, наше расписание было бы более насыщенным, мы бы увидели больше исторических мест и услышали бы намного больше информации о Германии в целом и о Берлине в частности. Мы же, как обычно, выбрали довольно небольшой ассортимент местных достопримечательностей для посещения во время этой поездки.

By Checkpoint Charlie.На следующее утро, хорошенько позавтракав и напившись капучино и чаю, мы пошли к бывшему американскому контрольно-пропускному пункту между западным и восточным Берлином под названием Checkpoint Charlie. Теперь там находится музей. Даня не был уверен, стоит ли заходить в здание музея, но нам его очень уж рекомендовала одна знакомая, которая бывала в Берлине неоднократно. Честно говоря, музей не произвёл на меня большого впечатления. В основном он посвящён людям, которые пытались перебраться из восточной части города в западную, и разным хитростям, к которым они для этого прибегали. Наверное, можно посочувствовать бедным ГДР-овцам, но у меня особых эмоций их проблемы не вызвали. Думаю, что слишком много я слышала, читала и смотрела о Второй Мировой войне, чтобы жалеть немцев, таким образом немного наказанных за те ужасы, которые они творили. А вот при виде актёров в американской форме, стоящих у пункта на радость туристам, у меня даже возникли патриотические чувства к моей новой родине.

Jewish Memorial.После Checkpoint Charlie мы отправились к Бранденбургским воротам. Идти было относительно близко. Было холодно, но солнечно и вобщем-то приятно. По пути мы заметили большое поле, уставленное многочисленными серыми каменными плитами разной величины. Мы не могли понять, что это такое, хотя было ясно, что просто так плитами поле никто не заставляет. Немного погодя мы прочитали на знаке, что это поле — мемориал памяти убитых евреев в Европе, и открыт он был относительно недавно, в 2005 году. Надо заметить, что мы сознательно старались не посещать в Германии места, связанные с войной, но, конечно же, совсем избежать истории невозможно, да и не нужно. Причина для ограничения соприкосновения с напоминанием о последней войне проста. Моё отношение к немцам двояко: с одной стороны я думаю о Бетховене, Бахе, Гёте, организованности, педантичности, трудолюбии, а с другой — о фашистах, холокосте, загубленных жизнях и прочих ужасах. Вобщем, я боялась, что при более близком столкновении со второй частью, первая уже не будет иметь значения.

Шарманщик.Бранденбургские ворота были как на картинках — ничего неожиданного, но всё равно приятно на них посмотреть. Людей вокруг было довольно много, но, наверное, меньше, чем в разгар туристического сезона. Мне понравился шарманщик — он улыбался и время от времени приподнимал шляпу и слегка кланялся зевакам. Играл он Баха, и от этого как-то острее чувствовалось, что мы находимся именно в Германии.

Memorial to soviet solders.Потом Даня отправился к мемориалу павших советских воинов в местном парке, Тиргартене. Монумент был внушительных размеров, с надписями на русском языке. Даня читал, что где-то должен стоять советский танк, но мы его так и не нашли.

Потом мы посмотрели на здание Рейхстага, который планировали посетить на следующий день (туда надо заранее регистрироваться, и сделать бронь на субботу у нас не получилось), и отправились в гостиницу, чтобы немного отдохнуть перед праздничным ужином.

Праздновать восьмую годовщину нашей свадьбы мы планировали в крутящемся ресторане, расположенном в сферической части Берлинской телевизионной башни. Даня еще из Бруклина купил билеты на башню, которые во-первых, гарантировали нам место в ресторане, а во-вторых, освобождали нас от необходимости стоять в очереди, чтобы попасть на смотровой этаж башни. Обошлось нам такое удовольствие 50 евро, но мы решили, что оно того стоит.

Rotating restaurant at the top of TV Tower.И вот, пребывая в отличном расположении духа, мы добрались до башни, поднялись в ресторан и получили замечательное место у окошка. И тут я начала понимать, что, может быть, крутящийся ресторан был не такой уж и хорошей идеей. Мы долго ждали официанта, и чем дольше мы там сидели, тем хуже я себя чувствовала. Я пробовала сидеть и по ходу движения, и против, но разницы не было. Думаю, на это еще повлияло то, что всего пару дней назад мне было так плохо из-за новых очков (ведь мы когда-то ели в подобном месте в Торонто, и всё было ОК).

Вобщем, минут через 20, так и не дождавшись официанта, мы оттуда удрали. Конечно, немного было жалко зря потраченных денег, но и оставаться там смысла не было.

West Berlin traffic light.Мы зашли в сувенирный магазин при телебашне, и при покупке подарка для Арошки — чашки с забавными человечками, которых мы видели на светофорах — мы узнали интересный факт. Даня на всякий случай решил уточнить, что это именно светофорные человечки.
– Да, да, — уверила нас продавщица, — Это наши, восточноберлинские светофорные человечки Ampelmännchen.
– А что, в западном Берлине на светофорах кто-то другой?
– Да, в западном Берлине люди на светофорах больше и без шапок, и руки у западного красного человека прижаты к бокам, тогда как у восточного они расставлены в стороны.

East Berlin traffic light.Мне данный факт показался особенно интересным потому, что это дало нам возможность ориентироваться в какой части Берлина мы находимся. В основном мы гуляли по территории бывшего ГДР.

Berlin bear. One of many.Еще одна интересная вещь, которя бросилась мне в глаза в Берлине — это большие статуи медведей из стеклопластика. Мы почитали на интернете, и выяснилось, что называются они Buddy Bears, и появлись в Берлине в 2001 году. Мишки эти сначала были созданы для украшения города, а потом появился проект обьединённых мишек, и они стали путешествовать по разным странам, проповедуя терпимость, мир, дружбу. Вобщем, мишки мне показались очень симпатичными, и мы чуть не купили одного из них в качестве сувенира, но передумали, и вместо них купили… пивные стаканы. Ну какая же Германия без пива? Стаканами, мы, кстати, уже пару раз дома воспользовались, и пить нам из них очень нравится.

At our anniversary dinner.После фиаско с телебашней, мы отправились искать что-нибудь поспокойнее для ужина. Выбор пал на ресторан “Mutter Hoppe”, хотя мы чуть было не ушли из него из-за того, что Даня принял русскоговорящего посетителя за владельца ресторана (хотелось есть в аутентичном немецком). Конечно, начали мы с пшеничного пива, в данном случае Erdinger Weissbräu, которое оказалось ожидаемо вкусным. Еще мы ели очень вкусную селёдку, мясо дикого кабана и sauerbraten (тушеное кисленькое мясо), который, правда, оказался немного жестковатым. Ужин удался. Так хорошо, когда можно уделить друг другу время и снова признаться в любви.

At the top of Reichstag dome.Следующий день был пасмурным и даже немного дождливым. Зонтики я не брала, но, к счастью, Хилтон отдолжил нам два чудесных больших зонта. Впрочем, к тому моменту, когда мы вышли из гостиницы, дождь прекратился, и зонтики из функциональной вещи превратились в громоздкий аксессуар.

Inside the dome.Прогулка по Рейхстагу была интересной — мы посмотрели на старые фотографии здания, почитали исторические комментарии, поднялись в купол, и в очередной раз пообсуждали немцев и Вторую Мировую.

At the top of Park Inn.Потом мы погуляли по городу, отдохнули в отеле и на такси отправились в Park Inn — гостиницу с открытой смотровой площадкой на тридцать-каком-то этаже. Даня очень хотел сделать фотографии Берлина, которые включали бы в себя телебашню. К сожалению, у него не было трипода, а площадка, хоть и открытая, была завешена сеткой, но всё же он смог сделать очень неплохие, на мой взгляд, фото. Надо заметить, что там было жутко холодно (а я, как всегда в отпуске, была в короткой юбке), но мы мужественно провели там минут 30, дожидаясь правильного света. Мы всё равно ушли немнго раньше, чем хотел бы Даня, но еще минут 5, и я бы превратилась в самого настоящего снеговика.

Потом мы побродили по рождественскому рынку возле Александрплац, но ничего там не покупали. Люди пили тёплый глинтвейн, ели аппетитно пахнущий гуляш, приобретали новогоение подсвечники и ёлочные игрушки. Вобщем, красота, да и только!

Holiday market at Alexanderplatz.Поужинали мы в ресторане “Lutter & Wegner”. Еда там была отличная — мы взяли гуляш и sauerbraten — а вот пшеничного пива не оказалось. Мы выпили какой-то пильзнер, но нам оно показалось горьким и совершенно невкусным. Ну ничего, после такого пива, то, что пьём мы, кажется в два раза лучше.

На следующий день, попрощавшись с нашей шикарной хилтоновской “квартирой”, мы отправились в Мюнхен.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Berlin

Cityscape of Berlin with Berlin TV Tower from the roof of Park Inn.At this point it has been more than a month since we came back from our vacation to Germany and Austria and we have yet to put down our thoughts on “paper” — it’s always hard to decide how to go about it. In short — it’s been great. We had a chance to truly relax, see a lot of great things and try a lot of delicious things from local cuisines. And of course we drank lots and lots of beer.

The Flight


Lufthansa.The flight itself was pretty uneventful. It was a red-eye trip via Lufthansa on Boeing 747 with a changeover at Frankfurt. Because it was a red-eye flight it was rather hard on us. We’re not used to not sleeping for that long, and due our general inability to sleep on a plane we were just falling in and out of consciousness, yet not sleeping everywhere, including during our wait for our plane to Berlin at Frankfurt.

Arrival


Streets of Berlin.When we got to Berlin we went through the passport control quickly, got our bags and were on our way to catch a taxi. Now Germany turned out to be probably the only country that has a higher concentration of … wait for it … German cars than Brighton Beach. I supposed there must be some kind of tax breaks that German car makers get that makes their cars affordable for pretty much everyone.

Berlin streets.All taxis were for the most part made by Mercedes Benz. They were all beige in color too. We got into one and asked to get us to Hilton Berlin. Since there is only one Hilton in Berlin driver knew were to go. The only notable thing that happened during the ride was the driver who was of non-German origin stopping in the front of one of the plain looking buildings and saying: “This building is typical Nazi architecture. Like it?” We had no idea how to respond to that, so we just stayed quite.

TV Tower.During our drive through the edges of the city we saw a lot of empty and beat up places and structures. We also noticed huge quantities of construction cranes all over the city from one edge to another. But the city looked quite unwelcoming until we got to more central parts of it. There everything looked clean, new and pleasant. The city is quite modern, which probably is a result of it being leveled during the war.

Enormous ex-Soviet, now Russian embassy. It was huge.The ride from the airport took about 20 minutes. When we got to our hotel Alёna got out of the car while I was paying the driver. When both of us got out of the car we saw that Alёna has pulled out two 50 pound suitcases out of the trunk by herself. The driver’s eyes doubled in size and he proclaimed: “Whow, strong woman!” I have no idea what possessed Alёna to do that, but it was quite hilarious.

First Night


Our suite.Hilton welcomed us as Hilton often does. They put us on a high floor and upgraded our room to an executive corner suite with a spectacular view of a square right across the street from the hotel with German and French churches and apparently one of the famous markets which exist all over the place, especially close to holiday seasons — Gendarmenmarkt. Alёna kept referring to our suite as an apartment because it was indeed quite big. They also gave us a bottle of champagne on ice and congratulated us with our anniversary.

One of many markets.We thought that when we get to Germany we will be totally like zombies and the only thing that we’ll want to do would be sleep. That’s what happened to us in Italy. However here for some reason we got a second wind and went out exploring the nearby area. We walked around the square where Gendermenmarkt was located, but the market on it was closed. They were preparing it for the holiday season and it was in a construction mode. It did open a day later. And we found a lot of similar markets all throughout Germany and Austria later on.

Hilton Berlin.Eventually we settled on the dinner in a place that we were passing by called Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. It was packed with people and it was about 4:30pm. When we came in nobody paid attention to us. As we later noticed it was the case everywhere and while in US you expect to be seated by a hostess in Germany people just come in and pick their own table.

East Berlin traffic light.Eventually one of the waiters came by and we asked him for a table. He looked over the notes of reservations and said something about 3 hours in broken English. We were quite disappointed to find out that we had to wait for 3 hours. He asked if we wanted to sit down now. We said, sure, that’s why we’re here. He mentioned 3 hours again. We were very confused by now. Eventually we figured out that we actually could have a table right away, but we had to be done with our dinner in 3 hours since the table had a reservation for 7:30. Yeah, I think we could finish our dinner in 3 hours.

West Berlin traffic light.For our first dinner we ordered two entries — two different kinds of wursts with sauerkraut and cabbage. And of course there was mandatory beer. Everywhere we went we ordered wheat beer with our meals. Beer in Germany is served in at least half a litter glasses in majority of places and that’s what we stuck with. They also serve it in the properly marked glass with a logo of the beer that you’re drinking and they give you a bierdeckel (a cardboard coaster that you place your glass on) that we ended up collecting. Our dinner was delicious and atmosphere of the restaurant was great.

Berlin bear.As you can imagine we consumed quite a large quantity of beer. We also did a lot of sleeping. We were going to bed early and to our surprise we were waking up quite late — 8-9am. We slept at least 10 hours every day. So that’s exactly what we did next. We went to our hotel and got into the bed. That’s pretty much how our vacation went — we saw a lot of cool things, walked a lot, eat and drank a lot and rested. It was great.

Berlin Day One


Checkpoint Charlie.The location of our hotel turned out to be perfect. Imagine a triangle with Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate on one corner, Checkpoint Charlie on another, Fernsehturm (TV Tower) on the third corner and our hotel and Gendarmenmarkt at the center. Those are the places that we wanted to see during our first visit to Berlin and it couldn’t have worked out better.

Museum.We got a great night of sleep, ate breakfast at our hotel and set out to see Checkpoint Charlie. This place was a border crossing from Soviet part of Berlin into an American controlled one. There is a sign next to it warning people in large letters that they are about to leave American territory. Also there is a museum dedicated to bad life of people in DDR (Soviet Germany) and how many people tried to escape to the west. We walked around and maybe we’re cold hearted, but we just could not feel bad about those people considering the events that lead to the split of Germany in the first place.

Brandenburg Gate.After that we set out to see the Brandenburg Gate. As I said before the city seemed quite modern and there wasn’t much of anything old left. The gate itself was nice to see as it is such a famous monument. The gate is located next to Teirgarten — Central Park like place. I read somewhere that there was a monument to Soviet soldiers not far into the park, so we set out to find it. It wasn’t far from the entrance. The monument was huge. It had several large columns dedicated to different parts of the army, a huge Soviet crest and a statue of the soldier. Everything was written in Russian. It felt weird to see such a monument to somebody who conquered your country some time ago. I think it’s very nice of them to preserve this piece of history.

Monument to Soviet soldiers.Reichstag — the government building — was also nearby. But one needs a reservation to actually go inside for a tour, which we luckily have made on our last day in New York. I somehow missed this piece of information, but Alёna spotted it just in time. However the availability was limited therefore our reservation was for the next day. We walked around, took some pictures and went back to the hotel.

Reichstag.The weather was not very cold and it was the only sunny day that we had. On the first day Alёna has spotted that Berlin is covered in wooden bears. They have some art project going and they were all over the place. All similarly shaped, but each one had a different paint job.

Berlin bears.After a nice rest at the hotel we were ready for a second half of the day. The day itself was special — it was our 8th wedding anniversary. We had planned ourselves a nice dinner at the top of Berlin TV Tower at the rotating restaurant in the sphere. We paid €50 ahead of time to reserve a table by the window and a-line-free ride up the tower. The sun has already set down by the time we got up the tower, so the pictures weren’t very good. Also there is no open air observatory up there.

Berlin street with TV Tower in the background.We sat down at our table. The view was great. Dark blue sky over the city full of lights. The special dinner was going to be memorable. The restaurant was indeed spinning. After about 15 minutes of sitting down Alёna said that it appears to be making her dizzy. We decided to switch places, so Alёna would be facing forward. That didn’t help. After 20 minutes our waiter didn’t show up and Alёna was getting dizzier. We decide to leave. We wanted the evening to be memorable good, not memorable bad. So we figured, fine, we’ll just find a nice non-spinning restaurant closer to earth somewhere.

Berlin TV Tower.We walked out of the tower, but before finding a restaurant we decided to checkout Park Inn. In my pre-trip research I was looking for a place that would let me take bird-view picture of the city with a tower as the centerpiece. Park Inn was not far form the tower and from what I read it had an open deck on the roof accessible by tourist. The only “but” about this place was that access was granted to those who wanted to bungee jump from the roof for €70. I was hoping to convince them to let me out there for pictures for a smaller sum of money, but most importantly without having to jump off the roof at the end. We were happy to discover that one could get to the roof for picture taking for just €3 per person. By now it was too dark, but we decided to come back the next day for the sunset.

Anniversary dinner.After that we started walking back to our hotel while looking at the menus of various restaurants that we were passing by. Near one place that were considering we ran into a guy who asked us for a light in German. When we responded that we don’t speak any German he detected our Russian accent and switched to Russian. He saw us looking at the menu and said that it was a very nice and popular spot. For some reason I thought that the guy was the owner and the last thing I wanted to do is eat at a Russian restaurant in Germany. We have plenty of those in Brooklyn.

Our 8th anniversary.And we walked away, but then decided to give it a look inside. It turned out to be somewhere below the ground level, but the place looked very cozy and was packed with people. The guy that we met outside was sitting at the table and was one of the customers. And that’s how we picked the place for our special anniversary dinner — Gasthaus Mutter Hoppe.

View from the tower.We ordered two glasses of wheat beer (half a litter each) and some herring appetizer which turned out to be quite delicious. For the main course we ordered wild boar and sauerbraten — sour roast meat. Wild boar was excellent. Sauerbraten was OK, but our local German place in Brooklyn serves a better, softer version of it. All in all we had a great dinner and have a “spinning” story to go along with it. We also got a nice stack of beer coasters given to us by the waiter when we asked for a clean pair of the ones we were using.

The gate.We got back to our hotel, spent some time in the executive lounge where I found some excellent sour cherry juice among many other things and went to bed at about 8pm. It was a great first day.

Berlin Day Two


On the roof.On our second day we woke up not so early. The plan for the day was simple — tour the Reichstag in the first half of the day and get up on the roof of Park Inn for some cityscapes. The morning was rainy. We were thinking of a place where we could buy a pair of umbrellas as we forgot to park ours. When we asked at the front desk if they could point us in the right directions they said they couldn’t, but would happily land us a pair. That’s how we ended up with a pair of nice, large Hilton branded umbrellas.

Reichstag roof.We made our way to Reichstag via some different streets and were inside the government building rather quickly. We got up to the roof and inside the glass dome which also had walkways leading to the very top of the dome itself. It was really nice and allowed us to look at the city from a different high vantage point. Inside the glass dome there was a large circle of photographs about the history of the building and Germany in general. For the WW2 era the photos note that the country was under a hard dictatorship. I imagine that modern German people think of Hitler as a normal Russian person thinks of Stalin.

Inside the dome.In the second half of the day we were on the roof of Park Inn as planned. Sadly I didn’t take my tripod with me on the trip and this was one of the few places where it would’ve come handy. The open area was not on the edge of the roof. If I were to rest my camera on the guard rail for an HDR burst a large portion of the roof itself would’ve been in the shot. There was a also a metal net, but it was actually a net, which was not stable, therefore I couldn’t mount the camera higher either. So I ended up taking all the shots hand held, yet I’m very happy with a couple of shots that I walked away with.

Glass dome.For the dinner we went back to our hotel area and found another German place called Lutter & Wegner. We ordered an excellent beef goulash and a much better sauerbraten that we ate on a night before — just like we know it — soft and delicious. The only problem with this place that it was the only eatery we have discovered in Germany that had an only one kind of beer. It was some pilsner and itwas too bitter for our taste. It was also the only place that had beer glasses that were smaller than half a litter. But as I said, the food was great.

Another view from Park Inn.And that was our second and last full day in Berlin. As you can see we took it really easy, ate great food, explored some sights, drank great beer, slept a lot. By the end of our Berlin stay I already felt relaxed and it really felt like a vacation.
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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Seven Lakes 2014

Arosha and Grandpa.Last week we went to Seven Lakes for a picnic and some pictures. T. Oksana did not feel well, so it was just us, kids and d. Borya.

Autumn.We got to the lakes relatively fast, although there was a little bit of traffic in Manhattan. Then by the lakes we lost about 25 minutes trying to find a place where we usually stop. It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we were happy to be closer to nature at last.

Colors.We had a small picnic pretty much right away — I took some boiled eggs, baked potatoes, bread, kolbasa, tomatoes, cucumbers and celery. We got a little cold while eating, but warmed up afterwards.

Throwing stones into the water.The autumn colors were past the peak, but the nature was still very pretty.

Washing shells in the lake.We went down to the water. Arosha and I were throwing stones of all sizes into the water, and Anюta tried to do the same without much success.

Anna with Dad.Arosha and d. Borya found some worms and other insects — both of them love exploring nature. They also found a woolly bear caterpillar, which Arosha really wanted to take home for observation. D. Borya said that the caterpillar was about to turn into pupa and encase itself into cocoon. Unfortunately, Arosha might have squeezed it a bit too hard while picking it up, so it did not survive the road to Brooklyn.

Lake Welch.They also saw some wild berberis, and Arosha really wanted to try some. We did not let him, but I had dried berberis at home, and he ate some and really liked it. It’s funny that he always wants to try everything he sees outside, and one of the first questions he asks when he sees things is whether they are edible or not.

Walking.Anechka also enjoyed our trip. I am so glad that we are able to get out of the city from time to time.

Autumn colors.We stopped at Red Bowl restaurant in Williamsburg on our way back. Haven’t been there in a while, so it was nice to chat with David and Vivian and to eat their delicious food. Danya went for Peking Duck as usual and I got steamed sea bass with tofu. Yum!
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Выходные в Поконос

Echo Valley Cottages. Arcadia cottage.На прошлых выходных мы наконец-то выбрались в домики в Пенсильванию. Было желание на такую вылазку всё лето, но обстоятельства не складывались — то слишком дорого, то нет мест, то Ароша болеет, то еще что.

Autumn in Poconos.В прошлый понедельник, 13 октября, был День Колумба, и Арошкина школа была закрыта. Данина работа на такие “праздники” выходные не делает, но у него накопилось много отпускных дней, так что мы забронировали домик с пятницы по понедельник. За 3 ночи, если интересно, мы заплатили $480, включая все добавочные платежи типа налога. С нами поехали так же Данины родители. Им, правда, пришлось уехать в воскресенье, так как с отпускными днями у т. Оксаны напряжённо. На самом деле Данина мама до последнего момента вообще не знала поедет ли она с нами — на работе завал, и начальство ожидает, что люди будут работать вообще без выходных. Мы все очень обрадовались, когда она сказала, что всё-таки сможет поехать.

Us.В Echo Valley Cottages мы уже останавливались в прошлом ноябре. Из плюсов данного места можно перечислить относительно приемлемые цены (особенно, когда делишь на две семьи), довольно большой и тёплый дом, наличие гриля, хорошее расстояние от нас (где-то 100 миль), близость к водопадам и фермам с яблоками. Из минусов могу сказать, что было ощущение, что хозяин считает каждую копейку. Например, запасной туалетной бумаги или бумажных полотенец не было (к концу и то, и другое закончилось); ножи, сковородки и прочее были самими дешёвыми; надо было самим застилать кровати свежим бельём (за которое, кстати, надо было заплатить $25), а при уезде его самим снять, как, впрочем и вывезти из домика мусор в специально указанное место. Еще там была пахнущая серой вода, что тоже не слишком приятно. Ну, и, как в большинстве подобных коттеджей, напор воды в душе там был так себе, так что купаться нам совершенно не хотелось.

After the rain.Мы выехали из Бруклина в пятницу вечером. В обед Даня с Арошей сьездили к Артуру подстричься, а заодно купили кое-какие продукты в русском магазине (хлеб, масло, колбасу, яблоки, бананы, помидоры и т.п.). Ну а я пол дня паковала чемоданы. По количеству собранных вещей можно было подумать, что мы уезжаем не на 2.5 дня, а как минимум на неделю. Дело в том, что в субботу обещали дождь, поэтому детям я брала не только кучу сменных штанов и курток, но и по несколько пар обуви, чтобы можно было переодеть промокшую. Мы также брали с собой свои одеяла, потому что, как и следовало ожидать, одеяла в домике были ужасные — тонкие и противные. Вообще надо отметить, что в гостиницах редко бывают хорошие одеяла, но в самолёт, конечно, их не потащишь, а вот при недалёком путешествии на собственном автомобиле они буквально сами запрыгнули в чемодан.

After the rain. iPhone 6 taken.Доехали мы хорошо — где-то за 2.5 часа. Анюта практически всё время спала, так как выехали мы примерно ко времени её ночного сна, да и Ароша тоже вздремнул часок.

Grandma and grandpa with granddaughter. Grill is grilling.В субботу, как и обещали, шел дождь. Где-то до полудня. Было немного обидно всё утро сидеть дома, но что поделать. Когда хляби небесные перестали поливать нас грустью, мы с Даней и д. Борей поехали в ближайший супермаркет за мясом и овощами для гриля, а т. Оксана осталась погулать с детьми. Надо сказать, что Ароша последние месяца два бесконечно болеет. Одна простуда перерастает в другую. Вот и в эти выходные он был еще недолечен — немного сопливый, немного с кашлем, и, как выяснилось, немного с температурой. Несмотря на то, что на нём были водонепроницаемые сапоги, его ноги в свежевымытой траве промокли до нитки, но мы об этом узнали намного позже — когда бургеры были уже наготовлены и сьедены, а он начал жаловаться на то, что ему очень холодно. Мы даже брали с собой в поездку ингалятор. В последнее время мы часто им пользуемся. Думаю, солевой раствор вреда принести не может.

Dad at Bushkill Falls.После ланча все немного вздремнули и принялись за приготовление ужина. Мы готовили skirt steak, перцы и кабачки. Ароше больше всего понравились кабачки, а мне перцы, хотя всё было очень вкусным. Во время приготовления ужина наши мужчины так же разожгли костёр, но много времени у него в тот вечер мы не провели.

Bushkill Falls.На следующий день после завтрака мы отправились на Bushkill Falls. Мы посещали их во время нашей прошлой поездки и решили прогуляться там еще раз. Людей в этом году была тьма — видно, еще сезон. Бедный Ароша немного подмерзал, хотя одет был вполне адекватно. Т. Оксана надела на него поверх куртки свою спортивную кофту, что возымело нужный эфект.

Bushkill Falls.Анюте в принципе понравилось смотреть на водопады, но больше всего радости ей доставляли многочисленные собаки, которые вместе со своими хозяевами тоже приехали полюбоваться красивыми видами. Ароша тоже любит животных, но такого восторга и восхищения как у Анечки, я не припомню.

Grilling hamburgers and salmon.После водопадов мы снова принялись за гриль — на этот раз в меню был salmon, помидоры и бургеры. Мне кажется, что Даня готовил рыбу на гриле первый раз. Получилось очень вкусно — понравилось и нам, и детям (они, кстати, рыбу доедали потом дома в Бруклине). Данин папа хотел немного вздремнуть перед дорогой домой, но случилось так, что Арошу возле уха ужалила оса. Я не уверена как так вышло, но видно он её чем-то испугал.

Укусила оса.К счастью, аллергической реакции не было, но всё равно Ароша очень громко и долго плакал от боли. Мы приложили к укусу упаковку сливочного мороженого, а потом Ароша его сьел, что слегка подняло испорченное вконец (он даже хотел уезжать и не оставаться еще на одну ночь) настроение.

Packet herself into a basket.Данины родители уехали около 16:00. К сожалению, по дороге домой они попали в жуткие пробки, сильно измучились и добрались до дома только в 20:30.

Anna at Echo Valley.Поближе к вечеру, мы разогрели остатки еды на еще тёплом гриле, а Даня с Арошей попытались разжечь костёр. Как они ни старались, сколько газет и бензина туда не подсовывали, дрова дымились и никак не хотели разгораться. Видно, отсырели за время дождя. Я, честно говоря, уже думала, что так ничего и не выйдет, но Ароше удалось хорошо поджечь довольно большую и толстую деревянную щепку, а от неё потом взялись и остальные дрова. Вобщем, огонь в результате получился на славу.

In front of our fire.Немного погодя, я пошла укладывать Анюту, а Даня с Арошей рассматривали звёзды. Потом мы все немного там еще постояли. Мне вспомнились фестивали, песни у костра, картошка с тушёнкой. Я даже промурлыкала по этому поводу пару песенок, хотя без гитары это, конечно, не то. Потом мы поджарили с Арошей кусочек хлеба на прутике, ну а потом пришла пора спать, и Ароша с удовольствием помогал Дане заливать костёр водой из больших галлоновых банок.

Putting fire out.После того, как лёг спать Ароша, мы с Даней немного поиграли в Hearthstone (в домике был wi-fi) и тоже отправились спать.

Firemaker.На следующий день Ароша проснулся с температурой 37.1. Мы даже думали отменить сбор яблок, но так как он чувствовал себя в принципе неплохо и очень хотел поехать на ферму, наши планы остались в силе. Уехали мы из домиков в 11:00.

Apple picking. Full heavy basket.Longmeadow Farm находилась где-то в получасе езды от домиков и прямо по дороге домой. Мы сначала сделали небольшой обьезд в надежде получить печати в Данин и Арошин пасспорта национальных парков, но visitor center был закрыт на сезон.

Everyone's busy.Ферма оказалась небольшой, но приятной. Больше всех яблок насобирал, конечно же, Ароша. Он вообще очень любит процесс сбора урожая. Мы еле уговорили его попробовать хоть одно яблоко прямо там, а не собирать всё в мешок. Некоторые сорта яблок были уже полностью собраны, но нам хватило и оставшихся. Мы купили чуть больше 30 фунтов яблок по $1.69 за фунт и 2.75 фунтовую банку местного сырого мёда за $20.

Arosha especially liked apple picking tool.Еще там можно было собирать малину, но её было так мало, что мы ничего не набрали. Дети поели немного ягод (мы заплатили за пол пинты), а Даня сорвал для нас 4 сочных сладких кукурузных початка. На самом деле, кукурузу уже не продавалась, но мы не смогли удержаться (её еще много оставалось на поле).

He was quite proficient with it.Анюте, кстати, на ферме, понравилось. Она с удовольствием грызла яблоки и ела малину. Я боялась, что после даже небольшого количества малины её сильно высыпет, но вроде всё обошлось. Эх, всё-таки свежие фрукты и овощи с фермы заметно вкуснее магазинных. Жалко, что от дома до ближайшей фермы 2 часа езды в каждый конец.

Apples were a success.Через некоторое время мы пообедали в Longhorn Steakhouse. Сразу вспомнилась наша поездка в Теннесси и то, как мы тогда устали от однообразия американских сетевых ресторанов.

This reminds me of an old photograph of Alena when she was a little girl. Apple in each hand.Домой мы доехали без приключений и особых пробок. Если честно, то мне такой вылазки на 3 дня более чем хватило. Летом я думала, что будет хорошо остановиться в подобном месте на неделю, но теперь я поняла, что это было бы утомительно и не так интересно, как казалось. Даже еду жарить на гриле, когда рядом бегают двое маленьких детей, занятие не такое простое. Хорошо, что с нами были Данины родители — чем больше взрослых, тем легче. Одни бы мы тоже, конечно, справились, но вместе и веселее, и интереснее, и спокойнее (во всяком случае нам).
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Germany Austria Vacation

MapIn a great turn of events my parents have agreed to take over our kids for a week in late November allowing Alena and I to take another what we hope to be a great vacation for our eighth wedding anniversary.

We had an approximate plan in our head for a while now, but this week we actually did a good amount of preliminary research and have finalized our core itinerary. After having done that we have booked the plane tickets and our hotels.

We have a pretty good idea of what we want to see at each destination and how we are going to get around. Trains will be the main form of transportation. However we are planning to rent a car for one day and have a side trip as we did in Italy.

It seems that train pass doesn’t make sense for us yet again, as we’ll only be taking the train two times. I looked at approximate pricing of train tickets on the routes that we have to take to make our plan more solid. Same with the car rental.

Now in the coming month we’ll just do a lot of reading to make sure we don’t miss something interesting as well as what food we should try beside the obvious bratwursts and beer. Basically we’re going to start building on our initial plan. One thing that we know we want to try avoid is anything related to World War II. But I think that will be in our minds anyhow throughout this trip.

The short summary of the plan is as follows. We leave on late night of Friday, November 21st. We fly1 to Berlin with a change over in Frankfurt on our way and land on November 22nd. We couldn’t find a decent direct flight. However I finally do get to fly Lufthansa and Boeing 747! We’ll be coming back on Monday, December 1st on a direct flight from Vienna with Austrian Airlines.

We were thinking of which cities to visit and ended up decided not to spread ourselves to thin and limit it to only 3 cities — Berlin, Munich and Vienna. As before we’re going to stay in Hilton hotels. At this point we booked hotels for a combination of points and euros, but by the time November rolls around we plan to have all of them upgraded to points exclusively.

By taking advantage of our Hilton Diamond VIP benefits we expect to get rooms upgraded, access to executive lounges, free breakfast and Internet access.

Our trip will start in Berlin. We’ll spend 3 nights2 in the city. Judging by our Italian vacation the first day we’ll feel very much like zombies, so we’ll just grab some dinner and go to sleep.

Our hotel is located right in the center of the city. Guides suggest that people visit Gendarmenmarkt square and it’s right across the street from us. Brandenburg Gate is also within a walking distance. We also want to visit Fernsehturm — a TV tower built during soviet times. Also we will possibly visit Tiergarten — Berlin’s Central Park. And we will try to climb to the top of Reichstag.

On Tuesday of November 25th we take a train to Munich. We’ll spend 3 nights3 there. In Munich we plan start start with Marienplatz (the main square), climb to the top of the tower at Rathaus (city hall), visit Frauenkirche (Munich’s largest church). We will also try to visit the English Garden and have some beer at the world’s most famous beer hall — Hofbräuhaus am Platzl.

One of our Munich days we’ll dedicate to renting a car and driving south to visit Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles.

On Friday, November 28th, we will depart to the final stop of our trip — Vienna, Austria. We’ll also spend 3 nights4 here as in the other cities. Our hotel is located right in the city center, so we’ll be mostly walking around without having to use any transportation. We’ll try to visit Hofburg Imperial Palace, 12th century St. Stephen’s Cathedral and we’ll try to climb to the top of one of its towers.

We still need to do a lot of reading about other places that we want to visit in these 3 cities and build out a more detailed plan of getting around the cities and from city to city. We made the reservations in the beginning of April, but still have not made a lot of progress as far as t he exact plan goes. Hopefully it will be another great trip filled with memories.

  1. Round trip tickets came out to $2,155 for the both of us. Very expensive this time around. But we do get to fly Lufthansa and Austrian. []
  2. Hilton Berlin — 60,000 points per night. Expensive! []
  3. Hilton Munich City — 60,000 points and €195 for all 3 nights. []
  4. Hilton Vienna — 48,000 points and €149 for all 3 nights. []

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Friday, July 25, 2014

State Capitals and Washington

Washington, DC. View from WWII memorial towards Lincoln Memorial.As a side trip(s) or objective of our Tennessee vacation was to visit some of the state capitals and their respective capitols and a capital of our country. Arosha hasn’t been to Washington, DC yet and we thought that it would be fun for him to see some of the National Monuments that our capital has an abundance of.

Harrisburg, PA.Our first state capital stop was on the very first full day of our vacation. We stopped at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We’ve visited this capitol complex back in 2010 during our first trip to Shenandoah. Arosha too was there. Only he was only 3 months old. Also this time we were able to get inside and it’s as impressive there as it is on the outside. Probably one of the best looking capitol complexes that we have seen.

Dome in Harrisburg.Also while Brooklyn was still asleep spring was all over the place in Harrisburg. It was a very pleasant stop of our trip. We also got a proper state capital stamp inside the capitol building. And Aroshka clearly seems to be afraid of heights in certain places. When we were on a balcony of senate assembly he really wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

Inside Pennsylvania Capitol.On our way home — after Great Smoky Mountains we made a pair of stops in two other capitals that we haven’t been to before. The first one was in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a nice looking capitol and pretty nice people inside. We also got a stamp there.

North Carolina Capitol.The thing that stands out the most for me about this capitol is the fact that it burned down to the ground some time ago because of an accident that happened while they were fireproofing it. Doesn’t get any more ironic than this.

NC senate.Another stop was in Richmond, Virginia. Now even though the capitol building was unusual the thing that stands out the most about this experience is an extremely rude elderly woman in charge of tours. We’ve been to numerous numerous capitols and have never seen anything remotely like this.

Historic room.She was rude to the point that she made Alena cry. Sadly I haven’t noticed it at the time or I would’ve raised an issue and would’ve demanded to speak to her boss. Anyhow. We didn’t see the inside of this place.

By the capitol building.Outside it had a nice park with a lot of statues. We walked around, kids ran around and played in the grass. We spent a decent amount of time here and if it would’be be for a crazy lady it would’ve been a nice experience overall. Alas.

Washington in Raleigh.To Washington, DC itself we dedicated a full day. Thus we spent two nights there. We originally were looking to stop at a hotel right in Washington itself as we did many times in the past, but the prices were quite high and those hotels only had valet parking (which we hate) available, which was priced at $40 a night or so.

Virginia Capitol in Richmond.So we figured we’ll just stay somewhere close, but outside and will spend the money for parking when we go to visit destinations instead of overpaying for the hotel itself. Either way we would have to take the car since you can’t walk too far with two little kids.

Capitol grounds in VA.We picked a hotel right outside the city in Arlington, Virginia. It literally was 3 minutes away from Washington itself. In fact when looking for our hotel we missed an exit off the highway (they actually changed the roads a bit, so our GPS was confused) and ended up crossing the bridge over Potomac river right into Washington.

First of many fountains we saw during our hike in DC.By the end of this day we were quite tired as we drove all the way from Chapel Hill with two long stops at capitals I wrote about above.

Einstein climbing.On the next day we ate our breakfast and were on our way to tour the capital. Remembering how hard it is to get into the capitol we didn’t even try it. Instead we decided to visit open famous monuments such as Lincoln Memorial.

Vietnam War Memorial.We didn’t have much trouble finding parking, although we did make a couple of large circles trying to find a spot as close to Lincoln Memorial as possible. In the end we parked some where closer towards the middle of the National Mall and settled in for a longer walk. And a long walk it was.

Inside of Lincoln Memorial.We started with a visit to a famous statue of Albert Einstein done by sculptor Robert Berks. Even though Arosha doesn’t yet know who Einstein is he liked the statue because it is very climbable. He was all over it. Next we set course to Lincoln Memorial. Arosha was impressed by a giant statue, stairs, columns. We also walked through Korean War Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial. The sun is too bright.Then we set course towards the middle of the mall again and on our way made a detour to see a new Marin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I haven’t seen it yet and it’s an impressive sculpture.

Korean War Memorial.We also got a whole bunch of National Park stamps for our passports. Arosha had many new additions and I got a few new ones too. And then we walked back to our car through World War II memorial.

MLK Memorial.We were quite tired after this gigantic circles and were yet again impressed by Arosha’s stamina. This is the point where we decided to buy him a hot-dog which he really wanted since the moment we parked near a street hot-dog vendor cart.

World War II Memorial.The funny thing is that when later when we asked him what was his favorite part about Washington he would reply — a hot-dog. Naturally.

Us at WWII Memorial. Lincoln Memorial in the background.We all were ready for lunch. At first we found some Greek place via Yelp, but then while we were circling in search for a parking spot we somehow got away from that place and ended up in Chinatown. We parked in the first spot we saw and went to eat our lunch in to a place right next to where our car was.

Our dinner in China Town.The place was called Chinatown Express. It was very cheap, but the food was made right there (we saw a cook spinning the noodles out) and it was really fresh and delicious.

US Capitol Building in Washington.We spent the day with a nice walk around the Capitol Building. Originally we planned to visit Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, but we were so tired that we decided to leave it for the next time.

Spring in Harrisburg.We just went back to the hotel and rested. In the hotel we actually made an attempt to visit a pool which resulted in a parental epic fail, but I wrote about that before. Overall it was a great day. Arosha was excited about visiting Washington all throughout the trip and hopefully he’ll retain some of the memories of that day.

Dome of Pennsylvania Capitol.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shenandoah

Shenandoah National Park.Our vacation started on Wednesday evening. Just as planned we left home after Danya finished his work. I think it was a good thing that we left when we did — even though we did not drive all that many miles, but finishing packing and getting out of the house alone saved us good two hours for the next day. Nothing is fast with two little ones.

Shenandoah.After a 3 hour drive we arrived to Hershey, PA at around 11pm. Our hotel, Hampton Inn, was located on Chocolate Avenue, which really amused Arosha. There really is nothing much I can say about our stay there — we just spent the night, ate breakfast and moved on.

There is an amusement park in Hershey, but they were still closed for the season. The only memorable thing for me are the lampposts on Chocolate Avenue — they were made in the form of Hershey kisses.

Skyland Resort.We stopped at Harrisburg for a tour of the state Capitol, ate a pretty decent lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s and then proceeded to Shenandoah.

In Shenandoah we checked in and went to get some dinner at the local restaurant, which had two sections — the main dining area, which was very busy at the time, and the bar. We decided to eat at the bar, even though their menu was much more limited. I ordered a salad, which was pretty much the only thing that I could eat with my diet. Big mistake, as it turned out.

Big Meadow.It was close to Anюta’s bed time, so I gobbled the unappetizing plate of wilted greens, droopy tomatoes and weathered onions. My head was starting to hurt and I felt tired overall. I left the boys to finish their meals and ran to the room to feed Anechka and put her to bed.

Danya and Arosha decided to take their equally horrible tasting meals to go and joined us shortly. By that time not only I had a horrible headache, but felt nauseous. I think I yelled at poor Arosha for being his overly active self and had to run to the bathroom to throw up.

Big Meadow fog.Long story short, I was throwing up half the night. This summoned an anxiety attack in Danya and his stomach went all crazy on him. To make things worse, Arosha kept falling off the high bed he was sleeping on (and he had no such issues in the hotel bed the night before). The only thing that made it all better in my eyes was that is was happening to me and not the children. I could not imagine how much worse it would have been if this was happening to one of them.

Climbing tree.To prevent Arosha from falling down again — he fell 3 times before we did something — Danya moved his bed to the wall and went to sleep on the other edge. This worked well for Arosha and not so well for his dad since our little unit kept trying to push Danya off in his sleep. The next evening Danya put two beds together so that Arosha will at least have the whole bed to move around.

When we got up on Friday morning, I was all better and so was Danya, although this incident brought a bout of evening anxiety feelings for him. Too bad it had to happen.

Under the tree, while Arosha is climbing.There was a small and expensive breakfast buffet in the hotel, which was not included in the price of the room. We decided that it was not worth it and got some oatmeal and yogurts instead and went to see the park right after.

When we were driving from Hershey, we saw nature waking up — lots of trees with fresh green leaves, lots of trees and bushes in bloom. This was not the case higher up in the mountains though. We’ve been to Shenandoah in November before, and I have to say that at the end of April everything looked about the same if not worse.

Luray Caverns.We’ve decided to go to the Big Meadow since it was the most memorable place from our last trip. Before our vacation I was imagining it all covered in mountain flowers. Ha-ha, so silly. There was not even a single green grass spear. Oh well. It was still a nice experience. We started walking towards trees in the horizon and walked into the cloud of fog. The weather was grey and grim, but at least it was not raining. Yet.

Arosha found a big tree with a lot of brunches at the bottom and he kept climbing up and down. He had so much fun! Danya also climbed up and down ones. Anюta just sat under the tree and played with dry grass and pine cones and stones and pretty much everything that she could find.

Donation pool.After a while we headed back to the car and kind of got lost. The fog was everywhere and the Big Meadow was … well … BIG! I did not take us too long to find our car, but it still felt like a little adventure. I have to confess thought that if Danya was not there it would have taken me much longer to find the way out.

Just as we got into the car it started raining, so all other hikes had to be canceled. We decided to drive down to Luray and visit the famous caverns instead.

Car and carriage museum.The drive was OK. It kept raining on and off, the children were asleep. When we arrived to our destination and Danya got out of the car to get something from the trunk it started pouring really bad. My poor husband jumped into the trunk to stay dry. I think he spent around 15 minutes there. Don’t think it was too comfortable, but it beats walking around in wet clothes.

Luray.When the rain got a little lighter we ran to the entrance and bought tickets for the tour. Unfortunately in order to see caverns one has to get a tour, there is no such thing as just walking at your own pace. The tour duration was a bit over an hour and I was a little anxious as to how children will handle it.

Caverns.The caverns themselves were nice. I’ve been to similar caverns twice — ones in Crimea, Ukraine and ones in Carlsbad, New Mexico. All of them are quite impressive, and even though the novelty wears off, it was still interesting to see all the rock formations. The unique thing about Luray Cavers was The Great Stalacpipe Organ. It was interesting to listen to it and I hope that the vibrations will not harm ancient stalactites in any way.

Arosha seemed to like the caverns too, although he got tired of the tour by the end. At some point he was asking Danya to take a picture of each and every rock that entered his field of vision. It was cute and a little annoying at the same time. Anюtka was not too impressed with the caves, but she did not throw any bad fits, which is already good.

Big Meadow in fog.We finished our Luray trip with the tour of the automobile museum. Danya found it to be relatively interesting and Arosha wanted to be done with it as soon as possible.

Skyline Drive. Shenandoah National Park.We drove back to the lodge and ate dinner at the local restaurant. It was much better this time. Danya and I have decided that it would be better to leave one day early — it was not one factor, but everything together: cold weather, lack of laundromat and hot water, horrible beds. Luckily, lodge’s stuff did not give us any hard time at all. So next morning after another round of yogurt and oatmeal we left for Tennessee.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains. View from Clingmans Dome.Great Smoky Mountains National Park was on my list of to-visit places for a while now. I spotted it on the map for the first time during the spring-summer of 2010, when we were thinking of our last vacation before our kids started arriving — Alena was well along into her pregnancy. At the time we decided that it was too late to try anything as ambitious as 1,400 mile trip at the minimum.

Zoo at Natural Bridge.Later that year we went to Shenandoah for a week’s stay with my parents and our brand new family member. From that moment on I kept mentioning Great Smoky Mountains from time to time and we kept deciding that it was too early to do something like that. This spring I brought it up again and somewhat to my surprise Alena agreed.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance.Not only would this be by far the biggest drive for Arosha in his life — although he has shown himself a great traveler during our Washington State trip. And not only it would be the first trip with Arosha without my parents, no. We also had a tiny new unit who wouldn’t even be 7 month old by the time our trip would start.

Sugarlands Visitor Center.Keeping all the above in mind we planned the trip in such a way that we would make several stops on our way to Tennessee and back to give our kids some breaks from long drive days. Our original plan had a single stop in Shenandoah for three nights and two full days of relaxation at the park before driving another 400 miles all the way to Gatlinburg.

Newfound Gap road.But since we decided to leave Shenandoah a day earlier (more on that in Shenandoah post) we figured we’ll just split our drive into two 200 mile sections instead of a full 400 mile jump. But to our surprise our kids were so good that we ended up making it all the way to the end in one day, thus adding another great day to our best part of this vacation — our stay in Great Smoky Mountains.

At the top of Clingmans Dome.On our way we had two breaks — one was a detour to see natural bridge instead of which we ended up visiting a zoo. Kids had a lot of fun there. Arosha fed goats, llamas, giraffes and camels among the things that I remember. Llamas were making all kinds of sounds while gobbling up the treats and both of our kids found them to be by far the most amusing bunch. As a result llamas got most of our treats.

Same location.Our second stop was for a lunch at some local BBQ place where I got 1/4 (or was it 1/2) of a rack of ribs which were double the size of the normal rack that I’m used to seeing. Good thing I wasn’t greedy and didn’t order the whole thing. It was interesting, but it took much more fighting than ribs usually take. Not fun. We were tired after.

Conquering the fear of heights.So we kept driving and driving and our kids kept being totally content, taking naps and at some point we figured that it no longer really makes any sense to spend a night elsewhere but our final destination. Only when we got off the main interstate and started driving via a local road with traffic lights Anюta started to get annoyed and started crying. Luckily it was only for the last 5 miles of our drive.

Observation tower at Clingmans Dome.On our way to Gatlinburg we were greeted by a neighboring town of Pigeon Forge. We always imagined that Gatlinburg would feel a lot like Bar Harbor near Acadia National Park or like Port Angeles by Olympic National Park or even like Ashford near Mount Rainier. Pigeon Forge though was nothing like. The best analogy that I can think of is the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but bigger — everything is covered in flashing neon signs, mini-golf courses, houses of scary mirrors, Guinness record halls and so on and on and on for miles.

On the way down.To our relief Gatlinburg was a lot more toned down, yet still not a serene and cozy town we expected it to be. We were glad to find out that our hotel is located on the edge of the town and on a top of a decently sized hill. The location was so great that it was only a third of a mile away from one of the entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Stopped on the side of a road for one of the numerous trails.The hotel itself, as I wrote earlier, was not what you would expect to find near a national park. This one was a fifteen plus story building bustling with activity. We were lucky enough that they had a room available for our first unplanned night — we did check via their website before driving all the way there. But reasonably enough they had no upgrade for us on such a short notice.

Us at Laurel Falls.The room was on the first floor. When they asked us whether we preferred to just stay in one place or we would like to get our upgrade for the rest of the nights we inquired what kind of upgrade it would be. — We would put you on the 15th floor. — How many are there? — Fifteen. — We’ll move!

Thus our Tennessee stay has begun. Hotel and our room were great. Breakfasts were included. Lunch and dinner menus were reasonably priced. Pools were fun. And Great Smoky Mountains National Park was right beside us for us to explore.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Laurel Falls.Now after my not-so-short introduction on to the park itself. In the park we visited four major scenic places or destinations, two visitor centers and did a number of smaller hikes in the forest by just pulling off the road and taking quite trails.

On the way to Cades Cove.Our very first stop was by a standard national park entrance sign. We saw some people taking their pictures by the sigh and I kindly offered to take a picture of all of them. The nice people offered to take our picture as well and I confessed that it was my plan all along.

Woodpecker.After that we stopped by Sugarlands Visitors Center to put together a plan of actions for the next five days. We also got our passports stamped. Arosha now has his own passport with a pretty nice collection of stamps already. Too bad we didn’t buy it for him back during our Northwestern trip.

Taking a break from all the driving.My conversation with a ranger about places to see and hikes to take was interrupted by loud howling cry. Arosha was all in tears and at first we got very scared that he hurt himself somehow — he really only cries that loudly when it really hurts. Luckily it was not that — turns out he was playing under the stand (desk) with his pasport while I was talking and somehow managed to drop it into that stand.

Meadows at Cades Cove.A bunch of rangers gathered around, but only to find out that stand is solidly built and attached to the floor and there was no way to get inside of it. Arosha was terribly upset and couldn’t stop crying. Several rangers tried to calm him and tell him that they will save his passport. They ended up taking their stand apart and extracting the passport. From that moment on Arosha was much more careful with his collection of stamps.

Old aqueduct.We put off the destinations that we discussed with the rangers to other days because there was one place that I’ve read about before coming to the park that I really wanted to visit — Clingmans Dome. Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies and it has a 45 feet observation tower build on top of it offering unobstructed view in all directions.

Old mill.This is the destination that we ended up visiting tree times, but did the hike to the top only twice. So on our first day our first trip up there was on a relatively clear day. But from the top there was still significant haze. However the views were magnificent.

Bear cub!The hike itself is only half a mile long, but it is very steep. Alena had to carry Anna in her arms as she didn’t want to sit inside her ergo (which was the case for pretty much all our hikes), but Arosha had no issues doing the hike on his own.

The whole family. Mama bear with 3 cubs.Several days later we came here again. The day was very foggy and we were hoping to get above the clouds. It was not meant to be. Clouds were too high and when we started our hike we ran into a couple coming back down. We asked them if the visibility was any better at the top and they said it wasn’t at all, so we just turned back.

Wild turkeys.And several days later we got up here again on a cloudy day. Even though we did get above the clouds the cloud cover underneath wasn’t as thick as I was hoping it would be. We made the hike to the top again and did take a bunch of nice photographs. So overall I have to say if you’re going to see only one place in Great Smoky Mountains this is the destination to go to.

Fog at Clingmans Dome parking lot.One our second day we went on a hike to see Laurel Falls. The trail was three mile round trip with a pretty modest altitude change — non stop climb up to the falls and descent on the way back. The trail was paved, but there were several signs warning of danger as there were fatal accidents on this trail before. The path was laid right along a steep cliff and children had to be protected and supervised at all times. So while we were hiking up I was firmly holding Arosha by his hand.

Trail to Clingmans Dome.We passed by several small streams on our way up and Arosha loved them. As did Anyuta. Arosha found some branch with a bunch of leaves on the end and started dunking it into the water and then “washing” everything around him. He kept pretending that he had this awesome broom and kept talking and talking about it. At one point the end with the leaves just fell off. That fazed him for all of 2 seconds when he declared: “I just pressed a special button and my broom turned into a vacuum cleaner. It works even better now.”

Thick fog.The waterfall itself wasn’t big or anything, but since waterfalls seem to be our favorite destination in any park — we liked it. The trail led us to the bottom of it and it was falling on the huge boulders right in front of us. Arosha started fishing with his “vacuum cleaner” and when Alena let Anna touch the water she turned into a little speedy propeller with her arms flying in circles.

Another random trail to nowhere.Eventually Arosha managed to slip and fall in with one of his shoes into the water. However that wasn’t enough. Soon enough he ended up knee deep in the water with both of his feet. And we had no spare pants, socks or sneakers. I fished him out quickly enough, but his feet were all soaked. We had to go all the way back like that and we had to listen to Arosha’s whining about how it was horrible and not fun at all.

Riding an old log.When he would switch to crying we would try to cheer him up by saying that all people only saw the waterfall, but he actually was inside of it and that it was quite funny. He kept disagreeing and protesting claiming that there was absolutely nothing funny about his tragic situation. Later on when he was all dried off in a new set of clothing he did admin that maybe it was a little bit funny after all.

Wonderworks at Pigeon Forge.So after our mandatory stop back at the hotel (to get dry clothing) we got back into the car and drove to Cades Cove. Cades Cove is a place with a bunch of old houses and farms and things like that, but the main attraction for us was the fact that apparently that was the best place to spot wild life. And that indeed ended up being true. We did see a total of 8 bears, a whole bunch of deer, wild turkeys and a really good looking woodpecker on that day.

Climbing.Our first spotting of a bear was actually not far from the entrance to the park itself. We saw a whole bunch of cars stopped on the side of the road going in the opposite direction. I did an SUV maneuver through the median, put on my big lens and got out of the car. I couldn’t spot the bear myself, but soon enough some kind folks did point it out to me. It was far away enough that I felt it was safe to get Arosha out of the car and show him the bear. He did see him too.

Snowboarding.In Cades Cove we just kept driving very slowly and looking around. Alena spotted a woodpecker on the tree, but by the time I had my camera in hand he already jumped off. I did get several nice shots of him still.

Urtica burn. Luckily we avoided Poison Ivy.Our kids fell asleep on the way there and got some rest on the road. Then we stopped at some gift shop where we discovered yet another stamp (we got one at Clingmans Dome too) and an old watermill.

Trail to Grotto Falls.Arosha played with the water throwing all kinds of stuff into an old aqueduct, pretending to be cooking some soup which had about 50 different ingredients. We saw some wild turkeys, but one guy scared them all off before we had a chance to take a picture — we did find some more on our way back that did pose for us.

Grotto Falls.The best way to spot a bear is to see for a bunch of stopped cars and a bunch of observers with cameras. Thus we spotted a mama bear with two cubs, but they were quite far away. I could see the black dots through the camera, but not much more. They were sitting in the open field when suddenly a deer ran out of the woods and stopped. After realizing that it probably is not the best idea to be handing out around the bears the said deer disappeared in the woods even more hastily than it appeared.

Walking behind the falls.And several miles later we saw a whole bunch of cars again. I got out of the car and went about 50 meters into the woods. And there I saw several photographers taking pictures of a mama bear and her three cubs not far away. That’s where I got my best pictures of the cubs climbing the trees. Needless to say that was pretty exciting.

View from behind the falls.On the next day we went onto another trail. This one was located on a scenic road that started right around the back of our hotel. The trail was to Grotto Falls. This one was also about three miles both ways which Arosha also hiked without any problems. However this time we were much more careful around the waterfall itself in order not to have to do the hike back in a half wet condition again.

Gatlinburg. View from our hotel.The trail was also very scenic as any other trail. But the waterfall itself stands out because you could hike under and behind it. I actually carried Arosha under it because it was a sure way for him to get a shower otherwise.

Over the clouds at Clingmans Dome.We also spent half a day in Pigeon Forge and went to a weird place called Wonderworks. They had an upside-down building and all kinds of weird things inside, but overall it ended up being pretty boring. Arosha tried climbing a special mountains, but he didn’t seem to like that at all, and couldn’t really grasp the concept of having a safety on him and why he needed that at all.

Observation tower path.On our way back we stopped for a lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Cuban restaurant. And we saw a beaver on the side of the road. At first time we went by him too quickly so we made a U-turn and came back and he was still sitting on the side of the road. But as soon as I touched my camera he split with the speed of light — so no picture.

Wildflowers.And on our last full day we again went to Clingmans Dome, which I wrote about above and after that went on a trail through the woods the start of which was literally one third of a mile away from our hotel. Just a nice quite trail that runs along a mountain river and no people around.

Trail by our hotel.On our way our way out of Tenseness we crossed the whole park and came out on the other side in North Carolina. We stopped at another visitor center on that end, bought some wildflower honey for ourselves and our parents and walked around the old farm that used to be located near it.

Newfound Gap road.And that’s pretty much it. We picked a very good time to visit the park as everything was in full spring bloom. Everything about this stay was great. The only regret is that parents weren’t with us. They surely would’ve liked it a lot as well.

By Oconaluftee Visitor Center.P.S. All pictures are posted in chronological order.
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So our Tennessee vacation is the thing of the past. What left is a bunch of fond memories, hundreds of colorful pictures and of course stronger family bonds.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee.To be completely honest, I was quite nervous beforehand. Danya and I never traveled alone (without parents) with Arosha, let along with two small children. Plus there is Anюta’s eczema, my gluten-dairy-nut-soy-eggs-you-name-it diet, eating out multiple times a day with an infant for almost two weeks, cloth diapers which need laundry every other day, and 400-miles-a-day drives. Oh, and staying together in the same room with two little children, who go to bed at different times, was also on the list of things that made me anxious.

Our travelers.It all turned out better than expected! Apparently, our kids are born travelers! They handled long drives just fine — Arosha was either talking, listening to Russian rock music or sleeping; Anюta was either playing with her toys or sleeping. Rarely did they complain or cry. During long drives we made sure to stop every few hours, so that everyone can stretch, run around and get some rest.

Car travel. Stop in Great Smoky Mountains.Danya downloaded a whole bunch of audio books for Arosha to listen to in the car, but we listened to them very little on account of Anechka. Every time Danya turned on a story, usually read by a man, she was crying after a few minutes and did not calm down until the recordings were off. Interestingly enough, the exception to this was when the story was told by a woman. Anna had no issues with music and songs as well. She is a pretty sensitive child, so my theory is that she was getting scared of strange men that were suddenly talking and talking in our car.

Sleeping arrangements. Pillow barricades for Arosha.Cloth diapering on the road was a little annoying (when is it not), but totally manageable. We mostly stayed in Hilton branch hotels, and all of them had guest laundries. The only hotel that lacked both laundry and hot water in the room was the Skyland Lodge in Shenandoah National Park. There I had to hand wash diapers in ice cold water and then dry next to the radiator. We also had to finish drying some inserts on the dashboard of our car — luckily it was a very sunny day, so it only took an hour or so. I did not even try using disposables in fears to irritate Anna’s sensitive skin. By the way, she does #2 on the potty every morning pretty consistently, so I rarely have to deal with soiled diapers. Not that they disgust me — I think nothing my kids do at this age can — but it’s still nice to catch even a little break.

Drying cloth diapers.Anюta’s eczema was getting worse little by little throughout our trip. She had almost clean skin in the beginning, and was all covered in red itchy spots by the end. I am still not sure what causes it — probably food sensitivities — but at least I was able to rule out cat allergy, which is a huge relief. I think that she definitely has a reaction to bananas, but the rest is still questionable. I keep maintaining my diet to the best of my ability, although by the end of the trip I ate some gluten and other things which I try to avoid.

Double Tree restaurant.Both kids did great at restaurants. Arosha loves going out and we never have issues with him. He loves hamburgers and french fries, so he had his share of those, but majority of the time we ordered him healthy things like vegetables, grilled chicken, wild salmon, soups, hummus, rice and beans. He also developed a fondness of oatmeal for breakfast. He usually hates it at home, but brown sugar and raisins really made the difference it seems.

Shenandoah. Skyland Resort.Anюta was as easy in restaurants as a 7 months old baby could possible be. I started following a baby led weaning approach with her a few weeks prior to vacation, so she loves holding pieces of food and munching on them. For breakfast I was giving her apples, melons and even a piece of bacon ones (I know, not good). For lunches she was usually munching on steamed vegetables or grilled chicken — I realized though that I have to ask them to not season vegetables and it made my food more delicious. She does not swallow much — food is more for tasting and playing for now — so getting proper nutrition was not a concern.

Best toys.I also am happy about the fact that our children seem to really like and enjoy nature. Arosha loves being outside and he always can come up with some game to play — he pretends to be fishing, or sweeping, or building a fire and such. He found a great tree for climbing in the Big Meadow in Shenandoah and could not get enough! He hiked one and a half miles each way to two different waterfalls in the Smokies, he also had no issues with steep road uphill to Clingman’s Dome, although we had to stop for rest more than ones.

Anna playing with the grass.Anюtka also loved being close to nature. Sometimes, when I was taking her out of the car and she saw how beautiful it was outside, she laughed out loud out of sheer delight. I let her play with sticks, stones and the likes. She also really enjoyed playing with the water near Laurel Falls. I carried her around either in ergo or just in my hands since she prefers to be forward facing. We took our City Mini stroller, but have not used it a single time.

And of course it was so good to explore new things with Danya! We see each other a lot since he works from home twice a week, but on vacations its a different quality of together time. I love traveling with him, with our children. I will write more about the nuances of our trip, but for now let me just say again that I am very glad that it all went so well.
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tennessee Trip Highlights

Time really flies. It’s been more than a week since our vacation has ended and I, as usual, am having trouble figuring out which way to go about these posts. So I decided to just pick out some general categories about the whole trip and then split off location specific notes into separate posts.

Hotels


Throughout our trip we stayed at five different places. Four of those places were Hilton properties. We did not take advantage of our points for any of these since we’re saving them for our November trip, but we did get the full benefits of our Diamond VIP status.

Park Vista by Double Tree. Gatlinburg, Tennessee.All Hilton properties are great. Clean, big rooms, nice blankets, good breakfasts. I would rate them all at four out of five starts with the exception of one. The hotel where we spent six nights — the longest and most important part of our vacation was just superb and by far the best one of our trip. It was Park Vista by Double Tree (Hilton property) located right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Our hotel. 15 stories atop a hill.Everything about it was great. The hotel itself was located on top of a mountain located right in the middle of a forest. We got upgraded to the top, fifteenth, floor. We had a balcony with a great view of Gatlinburg and the mountains that surround it.

View from the inside.This hotel had a very nice breakfast included with a chef that would cook hot to order meals. We also took advantage of the on property restaurant practically every day. Once we ate directly at it, but mostly we would order some dishes to go to bring up to our room and had our dinner while Anechka was tucked in for the night in the same room.

Other Hilton properties that we stayed at were located in Hershey, Pennsylvania — right near PA capital of Harrisburg, Chapel Hill, North Carolina — not far from NC capital of Raleigh, and the last one was located in Arlington, Virginia — right across the bridge from Washington, DC.

Skyland Resort at Shenandoah National Park.Our only non Hilton hotel was a lodge located right inside Shenandoah National Park. We did stay at the same lodge at the end of 2010. However because we had to reschedule our trip we ended up having to take the only left over room. It was located in a different part of the lodge (cabins are all over the property) and was somehow way below the standard that we are used to.

Double Tree at Gatlinburg.Floors we were not covered with carpet and cold. Beds were small, mattresses were old. Arosha kept falling off the bed throughout the night. Hot water would run out before one could take a quick shower. There were no laundry facilities and we couldn’t do without them because of Anna’s diapers (more on that later). And it smelled like … — well, it just smelled.

The only thing that it had going for it was the fact that it was located right in the woods and we had a nice porch where Arosha could play with leafs, sticks, stones and all other things he loves playing with. And the restaurant was nearby as opposed to the other cabins from which one had to climb atop a rather steep hill to get to it.

Arligngon, Virginia.Overall this contributed to us cutting our Shenandoah stay one night short. We ended up adding the night to our Tennessee stay which proved to be a very good move on our part.

Pools


The hotel in Tennessee had probably the best pool we’ve encountered during all our previous travels. It had a pair of shallow pools for kids, a hot tub, and an adult pool with a two story high slide leading right into it. Arosha loved it. I would put him between my legs, we would lie down on our backs and slide down right into the water. I have to admit that it was quite fun for me as well.

Pools at Gatlinburg Double Tree.There was another smaller slide leading into the kids pool, but it was a tube going through the wall. It was pretty dark inside and only on our last day I managed to talk Arosha into trying it. He had to go through it alone as I would not fit into it. So when he was ready to go in I told him that I’ll run down to the pool and catch him at the bottom.

The first time by the time I got there I saw a huge splash and Arosha managing to get above water on his own. Naturally he wanted to go again. On the second time by the time I got down to the pool I heard yelling coming through the tube:
– Ready??
– Ready.
– Ready???
– Ready!

Water slide.The next thing I see is Arosha flying through the tube with complete terror on his face. He splashes down into the pool, jump out with with complete ecstasy written all over his face. Again! Third time went very much like the previous run. Same “readies”, same terror, same happiness.

Alena also took Anna out to the pool. She also enjoyed it along. Alena would hold her in the water with her head above it and they would “swim” around the pool. One time Arosha and I talked Alena into trying the slide. We practically had to coerce her into it. Eventually she reluctantly agreed.

Another view of the slide.When she got up there I told Arosha — now listen to this! And then we heard multiple high pitched yells, screams and howls. She did end up liking it too. I’m glad we made her try.

Our other pool experience was rather sad. While we stayed in Arlington we decide to go to the pool. Arosha got all dressed, all prepared, totally happy. We all also got dressed for the pool. Then we couldn’t figure out which floor it was on. When we went down to the lobby to inquire where it is it turned out that this was the only hotel of our stay where there was no pool. It was a complete tragedy for poor Arosha. So much preparation and anticipation and such a fiasco. He was crushed. That will teach us a lesson for the future though.

Our Car


Our car has served us admirably. I’m really enjoying the “utility” part of our SUV. The cargo space easily fit a pair of large suitcases, a stroller and a good number of smaller bags and purses, while still allowing us to pull a cover over them.

Shenandoah fog and our car.The ride was comfortable and higher vantage point makes for a better trip — you can see more. Distronic made driving for 2,000 miles easier on me. Our car fully loaded with four people and a lot of cargo came out with a very respectable MPG of 26. That’s with mixed highway and city driving. We had to fill up only 4 times and that’s considering that we never waited for it to fall below 1/4th of the tank. Diesel rules.

One thing to note is that while I feel rather well driving Mercedes in and around New York it felt a bit awkward everywhere else. It attracts too much attention and really stands out. Something like Chevy Tahoe would feel somehow safer and more comfortable in that respect.

Another trail.However while before I never wanted anything to do with SUVs now I’m a big fan of an SUV as a family car. It is safe, heavy, stable and allowed us to easily park in all kinds of “off-road” ditches while in the parks.

Kids


Our kids did great. We feared that 400 miles in one day was not doable without many problems. Our original plan was to split it into two days when we left Shenandoah one day early. Turned out it wasn’t a problem at all. We kept planning to stop at 200 miles, 300 miles, but they just kept doing well. Only towards the end a little amount of crying ensued from Anyuta. Arosha had zero issues at all.

On the trail to Laurel Falls.The totally love nature. We could not drag Arosha away from anywhere. Sticks and stones, rivers and puddles. Arosha’s kind of paradise. Anyuta also was very happy to sit on the ground and taste grass, flowers, sticks and just plain good old dirt.

Arosha did great on hikes. We did numerous long hikes on steep trails that were about 3 miles in length and he walked them on his own without any problems. Anna on the other hand refused to sit in her ergo for the most part and Alena had to carry her. I don’t know where she gets the strength and energy. Us driving our stroller around was totally pointless. We haven’t used it once.

Nature fun.Sleeping in one room was perfectly fine too. We thought that’d all have to go on Anna’s schedule and go to sleep at 8pm. However once Alena did put her to bed we could still sit around and do other stuff. Arosha could watch some cartoons or all of us would go through our pictures we took throughout the day. Or we would eat dinner using bathroom sinks as dinner tables. It all work out rather well.

Laundry


Now this was a first for us. Because Anyuta is allergic to disposable diapers we have to use washable cloth ones. And as a result we had to do laundry every other day. Shenandoah was the worst. No laundry facilities and the closest town was 30 minutes away. Hot water would run out. Alena did hand wash them in the cold water.

View from the window of our Gatlinburg hotel.We dried them everywhere. Radiators, tables, TVs and so on. The best place though goes to the dashboard of our car while the car was sitting in the sun and we were away on a walk of some kind. Other hotels did have laundry facilities, yet it was still quite annoying to say the least.

Food


Food was … boring. This country is full of steak houses with very little variety. By the end of the trip we could not look at steaks, burgers and potatoes. We did eat at a nice Mexican restaurant once and one Cuban hole in the wall place. While in Washington we ended up running into a completely random and cheap Chinese place that was in China Town which was well reviewed by New York Times as it turned out. By most evenings my appetite for any food was nowhere to be found so we mostly ate from the appetizer sections of the menus.

Bullfish Grill at Pigeon Forge, Tennesssee.One thing that worried us slightly was the fact that Anyuta would always cry before at any kind of a restaurant. But Alena figured out a perfect solution. She can sit very well in a high chair on her own. Alena would put a plate in front of her and would put all kinds of non-choke hazard vegetables on that plate — string beans, broccoli, slices of carrots and so on. Anyuta would reach out for them and taste them. That kept her occupied rather well and would could eat in peace.

Overall


Overall it was a really nice road trip. A great vacation with an exception of one nightmarish night in Shenandoah. I’ll explain in more detail later. Otherwise we got very lucky with the weather, spring was in full bloom and we’ve seen a lot of beautiful and interesting new places. It was fun for all four of us and it was not as hard as we thought it would be. It actually wasn’t all that hard at all. Our kids are great.
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