Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Oslo — Part 2

Oslo Botanical Garden.On our forth day in Oslo we decided to go to a botanical garden of Oslo. This was actually the only place that was a little bit too far to walk to.

On a tram to garden.We bought four round trip tram tickets at a gift shop inside the hotel.

Straw sculptures at the garden.We spent a good portion of the day exploring different parts of the garden. Kids ran around, climbed the hills, ran down the grass and on and on.

Viking ship.Also there was a nice Viking exhibition at one part of the park — a ship-like sculpture with a throne-like chair and a bunch of notes and little guides on how Vikings used to do certain things.

Botanical Garden.We decided to walk back to the hotel with a stop by Oslo Opera House building. I spoke with my dad earlier and he told me that one could walk up to the roof of the Opera House for some really nice views.

Throne.So our total walk back to the hotel was around two and a half miles. Not too bad at all.

Garden.So we did make it to the Opera House. And there actually was a real wide road really going around the building and ending up on the roof. And as expected there were great panoramic views from the top.

Garden.At this point we were getting kind of hungry, but in a typical European fashion majority of the food places were closed in the middle of the day. It took us a while before we found an open place called Celsius Cafe. Alena went for some big bowl of Norwegian soup of some kind and kids and I had regular burgers. It was pretty decent.

From the roof of Opera House.When we got to the hotel we did some swimming at the pool. And then everyone was hungry again by dinner time. We went into a small bar across the street from the hotel and ordered some beers, burger and some French fries.

Opera House.We always ask for hot sauce to go with the fries and this place had Sriracha. The combination turned out to be really great.

Opera House.In fact we went there to repeat the same deal a couple of times more. During our first visit to this place we ran into a lonely Russian-speaking guy who was drinking beer by himself. We offered him to join our table. Turned out that he lives in Norway and does some construction work, but overall the conversation ended up being quite boring.

Opera House.We started our fifth day with a visit to a History Museum that was yet again across the street from our hotel. The hotel had a really great location if you didn’t notice a pattern on your own yet. Anyhow — the tickets from the Viking Ship museum that I wrote about early also included admission to this museum.

Viking Museum.Lots of Viking stuff inside. And a bunch of other exhibits. Definitely was worth a visit, especially for “free”.

City Hall.After that we went to city hall again and actually explored it inside this time. A bunch of different stuff to see.

City Hall.And then we went to Aker Brygge — which I wrote about earlier as well. We looked through a bunch of menus and settled on an Asian restaurant with some really good curry. Everyone enjoyed their lunch.

Lunch at Asia restaurant.After the lunch we went onto the opposite side of the bay to explore Akershus Fortress — a really short walk. The fortress was quite big and we had a lot of ground to cover. We walked upon some pond that kids ended up playing at for a good while.

Pond.While they were playing Chinese tourists started photographing them and pushing them to pose for them.

View of Aker Brygge from Akershus Fortress.I walked over and told them to stop. And they couldn’t care less — like I wasn’t even there. I started getting quite angry and that’s when they finally got a “hint”.

Inside Akershus Fortress.Our kids are very blond and I get that is’s a non-existent thing in China, but come on! On the same note — a lot of Norwegian kids are actually just as blonde. Even in Brooklyn this is kind of rare, in Norway — it is not.

By Resistance Museum at Akershus Fortress.We also visited Resistance Museum on the fortress grounds dedicated to Norwegian resistance of a Third Reich. Arosha knows a bit of history about WW2 so he found the museum quite interesting.

At Akershus Fortress.He is still a bit too little to fully grasp the horrors of that war, but I think he starts to understand it all more and we are trying to do our part of educating him.

Inside Akershus Fortress.When we got back to our hotel we decided to eat dinner at the same restaurant as we did on our first day — Den Glade Gris. This time we decided to try something more authentic. We ordered smoked whale and reindeer sausage.

On our way back to hotel.Eating whale was really mentally hard. Especially whale being pretty much raw. We didn’t enjoy that in the least. Had no problems with the deer though.

Ferry to Bygdoy. Akershus Fortress in the background.On our final full day in Oslo we decided to go back to Bygdoy. There was a large open-sky Norwegian Folk Museum there that we didn’t go to during our first visit. What a good thing the decision to go back was. Probably one of the most interesting things to visit.

Norwegian Folk Museum.First of all it really is quite huge. It has whole wooden villages from different parts of Norway reconstructed. Most of the wooden homes you could actually walk into.

Wooden church at Norwegian Folk Museum.They also had a huge wooden Church that is a thousand years old — pretty much all the rest of such buildings burned down long ago.

Norwegian Folk Museum.At one of the houses they had girls dressed into traditional Norwegian closing backing bread on a stone stove on an open fire. The bread was quite tasty.

Animals to pet at Norwegian Folk Museum.There were different live animals for kids to look at and pet. We also took a carriage ride along the park that our kids talked us into.

Inside one of the houses at Norwegian Folk Museum.Also there were Sami exhibits and actual Sami representative visiting. Sami are the people that live on far north in Norway.

Horse ride.We talked to one of the natives and she told us a little bit about the history of Sami people and even sang us some songs in the native language.

Norwegian Folk Museum.We spent a whole day at that place. Really worth a visit, as I said. And after the museum we took a bus back to city hall via our unused tram tickets that we had left over from our botanical garden visit.

Dinner at Rorbua.We went to Aker Brygge for a dinner again. This time we found a truly Norwegian place via TripAdvisor with very high ratings — Rorbua.

By City Hall.I had shish-kebab-like selection of meat — whale, deer, reindeer, beef and something else. Alena had moose stew. And some great beer to go along.

City Hall.Grilled whale meet tasted a lot like beef actually. But there is not going to be any more whale meat for me. I tried it, but I’m happy to live with my mental block of thinking that eating whale is just wrong — for me.

Streets of Oslo.But overall this was probably my favorite restaurant that we ate at during our stay in Norway.

Streets of Oslo.And that is it. The next day we went to airport via a special bus that runs right from our hotel and off to Iceland we went.

Kids at Botanical Garden.A couple of side notes: Alena bought a ton of Norwegian hats, 1 USD was around 8 NOK, everything was quite expensive — Oslo is rated as one of the most expensive cities in the world — which seems true even after New York.

Streets of Oslo.Kids were amazing — walking 5-6 miles daily turned out to not be a problem for them at all. And all in all this trip turned out to be pretty grate. Six days — plenty of things to do.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Oslo, Norway — Part 1

The Vigeland Park.It’s been a good two months since we came back from our unusual for us European vacation and I have yet to write a word about our first stop. The unusual part is two-fold — it was the first time that our kids visited Europe and it was somewhat off the beaten path. Although the second part is debatable considering how popular Iceland has become in the recent years.

Getting ready to fly.Now from the start — the flight. I remember our previous trip to Europe and how tough getting to Paris was. Both Alena and I were completely wiped out by the time we got there. And our flight this time was similar — plane change in Iceland.

Oslofjord.The difference this time was that instead of booking a redeye we booked a flight departing at 2:30pm. And by our math by the time we arrive to Oslo it would be around midnight by New York time which should be manageable for all of us. None of us are good sleepers while on the plane. Quite the opposite actually.

Radisson Blu Scandinavia.Our kids handled it all superbly. They were tired, but they were still up and about, both in good mood, by the time we got to our hotel — Radisson Blu Scandinavia — in the center of Oslo.

Slottsparken -- Palace Park.A small aside to our actual destination — Norway didn’t really happen as a whole. We decide to settle on Oslo because we weren’t sure how our kids would handle too much hotel changes. Full six nights in Oslo. We were wondering if it was going to be boring or not, but more on that later.

Streets of Oslo.We arrived to our hotel at 6 or 7am. That was the second point of our worry. Usually we have little problems with Hiltons with super-early check-in, but this was Radisson. Oslo has no Hilton properties.

Playing at Palace Park.We did manage to get our Radisson status to Gold level which should give us a room upgrade among other things, but we had no idea what we were going to do if we were made to wait until 2 or even 4pm to actually check-in.

Making jewelry out of grass.At the reception we were told that there are no rooms available. Bummer. Gold status speech didn’t help. Having no options I asked the clerk if it would be OK for our kids to sleep on the sofas in the lobby. She told us to hold and went inside the office behind the counter.

Dinner at Den Glade Gris.Five minutes later she came back and told us that they had to take a room away from somebody else — I’m not really clear on the mechanics of this one — but we were getting a room right away. She told us that this wasn’t really proper and that we really need to book a room for the night ahead, but I really can’t complain. No upgrade, a little bit of grumpiness, but we got our 7am check-in. Thank you!

Waiting casually for parents to finish dinner.We got up to our room and got into our beds for a much needed energy restoration sleep. One problem that we ran into was the fact that even though we could completely darken the windows out a good amount of light was still getting into the room from the curtain edges. And interestingly enough that was the case not only with our day sleep, but all the nights as well. North and the middle of summer will do that. White nights.

Palace Park.We slept for a good number of hours — 5 or 6. We got up well rested and quite hungry. We turned to our trusty TripAdvisor for options and discovered a very highly rated restaurant right on the same block as our hotel — Den Glade Gris. I had a pork knuckle, Alena had Norwegian style salmon and kids had a steak. Everything was good.

Streets of Oslo.Another thing that was really close to the hotel — practically across the street — was a huge park with Royal Palace in the center of it. That’s were we spent the rest of the day. Kids ran around and played, we walked down to a metro station with a large fountain by the National Theater and then back to park and more running. Alena and I just laid on the grass along with many sunbathing Norwegians. The vacation has started.

Vigeland Park.Now before I start with our first full day in Norway a couple of things on the topic of “boring”. Oslo turned out to be amazing. Every single day we had a different plan be it a museum, a park, some special destination or other — we had no time to be bored. There is a ton of stuff to do and see without ever leaving the city.

Vigeland Park. Monolith.On our first day of Oslo exploration we decided to take it easy and picked an easy-to-walk-to destination of The Vigeland Park. The walk was about 2 miles in each direction. We walked through some small parks, a rather big flea market and just regular streets — taking in the sights of an unfamiliar city.

Vigeland Park.The Vineland Park itself is know for a huge abundance of various statutes created by Gustav Vigeland. And when I say huge I really mean it. Probably hundreds of them. The park also had large patches of flowers and grass. It took a while to explore.

Vigeland Park.On the far side of the park there was a large obelisk which was carved out in a way to make it look like it’s built out of human bodies. This one was also surrounded by various statues.

Zodiac installment.And yet another thing that stood out was a zodiac signs structure. Our kids weren’t really familiar with those yet, so we talked about all the signs we were born under — actually four in a row — Leo, Virgo, Libra and Scorpio. We also have all four elements in our family — fire, earth, air and water.

Kids at Vigeland Park.That was the big part of our day. We decided to eat dinner right by our hotel again — just across the street from it. This time we picked a Spanish restaurant with a high rating. We ordered a large dish of seafood paella — something that we actually failed with epically during our Spanish trip — no offline TripAdvisor back then.

Dinner at Spanish restaurant.We also ordered a bunch of tapas and a pitcher of Sangria. Our kids weren’t all that impressed with paella, even though they typically like rice, especially Arosha. But they did enjoy some of the tapas.

City Hall in the background.And we concluded our day with a trip to a hotel pool and sauna. That was a conclusion of most of our days while in Oslo. At first Arosha didn’t like the sauna, but after I told him some stories about our previous visits with parents and with Alena and all the good memories he insisted on going every day.

Streets of Oslo. Bygdoy Peninsula.For our third day we had big plans — something we actually planned and researched beforehand — a trip to Bygdoy Peninsula. We started with a walk to Radhuset — city hall — which was only half a mile away from our hotel.

On the ferry to Bygdoy Peninsula.Radhuset it located right next to a pier from which ferries depart to Bygdoy. Also it was close to a neighborhood called Aker Brugge — lots of restaurants of all kinds — a foodie paradise.

Viking Ship Museum.The reason why Bygdoy Peninsula is a great place to visit is the fact that it has 5 or 6 museums in close proximity to each other. For our first stop we decided to pick Viking Ship museum and disembarked our ferry accordingly.

Viking Ship. This one is approximately 1,200 years old.Viking ship museum wasn’t very large, but it did have a nice collection of a thousand year old large “boats” or whatever those vessels are called. The boats were located on the lower level and each one had an observation deck nearby that people could walk up to to look inside.

Viking Ship Museum.There was also a good collection of ancient weapons and tools. We told our kids as much as we know about the Vikings and our kids were quite interested in all those things. Though Alena and I kept thinking — Ragnar, Ragnar!

At Vigeland Park.Then we stocked up on some very warm Norwegian hats at a gift store and had a fast-food type of lunch at nearby food stand — we actually had crab and shrimp sandwiches from what I remember.

Kon-Tiki raft.Our next stop was Kon-Tiki museum. I didn’t know much about it beforehand and we only found out about it during our pre-trip research. Alena actually read a book and then her, Arosha and I watched a movie.

At Vigeland Park.Kon-Tiki is a story about a Norwegian scientist from the mid 20th century who had a theory that Polynesia was actually populated by people from South America and not Asia. But the scientific community dismissed it as complete nonsense.

Ferry.The only thing he could do at that point is prove it. So he built a raft and after a 100 year journey with a small group of people they actually reached the island as he had theorized. So that actual Kon-Tiki raft that was used for the expedition is exhibited in the museum. It was interesting to look at the real thing when you know its story. And it turned out to be quite a lot bigger in person than I thought it was.

Fram -- polar exploration ship.And for our third and final museum of the day we decided to go to Fram Museum. Fram is a polar exploration ship from the end of 19th century. It’s actually the only ship that was used to explore both poles of our planet. This turned out be Arosha’s favorite stop.

On the top deck of Fram.The ship is quite large and the museum had it installed in a such a way that you could see it from top to bottom. There were ramp all around the ship and people can actually get to the very top of it and walked on to the deck. And from the deck you could go inside the ship itself and explore its innards.

Fram explorers.We probably spent the most time at Fram. And by the time we were done with that we were feeling quite tired. Although kids still had plenty of energy and they ran around and played around some small tower near the shore while we were waiting for the ferry back.

Fram Museum.We walked back to the hotel again and were going to go to a highly rated Indian restaurant a block away from our hotel. But it turned out to be closed on that particular day and we ended up eating our dinner at an Italian place that was yet again right next to our hotel. Even though it wasn’t very highly rated our kids really loved the pizza at this place and kept asking to go back there afterwards.

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Friday, February 24, 2017


Amsterdam canals.Amsterdam was the final stop of our November anniversary trip. I did not have especially high expectations of the city, but thought that it is worth visiting in any case. Some people that I spoke to before going really love Amsterdam — the so called energy — but for my taste it was a little too heavy on the pleasure seeking crowd. Granted, our hotel was pretty much next to the red light district, so it might have skewed our impression a little.

Our DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam hotel. Our room was in that hanging section.We arrived to Amsterdam by train and walked to the hotel since it was close to the train station. Hilton upgraded our room to a fancier one with an amazing view. The thing that surprised me was the size of the hotel — it took us a few minutes of brisk walking to reach our room from the elevator. Longest hotel ever!

View from our window.We had our first Dutch lunch at the bar downstairs. Danya got a cheeseburger, I got a risotto, and we washed it down with some very nice tasting local wheat beer. I am still not sure what Dutch cuisine is apart from the cheeses and herring sandwiches.

Cheese shop.The breakfast bar was indistinguishable from other Hilton buffets in Europe, and the snacks in the executive lounge were worse than in two previous cities. The one thing that stood out in the executive lounge was the Heineken beer on tap. I’ve never seen tap beer in such places before.

Royal Palace.Later in the evening we went for a walk in the hotel’s vicinity. There were a lot of bicyclists by the way, which reminded me of Munich. Unlike Munich though no one was yelling at people when they were walking on bicycle paths, and the reverse was true — no one scolded bicyclists for riding at pretty high speeds through the crowds.

Red light district.What surprised me was a traffic regulator on one of the relatively quiet intersections. Later we had a chance to see him in action — he ran to the car which was taking a wrong turn yelling (in English) something about the driver smoking too much pot and being stupid. I guess, these Dutch people know what they are doing when they assign traffic controllers.

Amsterdam canals.The red light district left an uneasy impression. I’ve never tried any kind of drugs, so even though pot seems benign to many people, I look at any kind of drug use more harshly than some. So for me it was not very pleasant to walk in the cloud of pot smoke. The smell to me is pretty disgusting (I feel the same about cigarette smoke), and I kept thinking how many of those people were using something stronger than marijuana.

Streets of Amsterdam.As for the prostitutes, we’ve seen a bunch in the windows. Some were young, some were more middle aged, some were skinny, some were curvy, but it just felt so weird that they do what they do in the open. Don’t get me wrong, I think legalized prostitution is better for everyone than the illegal one, but the whole idea of selling sex like candy makes me feel bad for women who resort to that profession.

Amsterdam.The next day after breakfast we went for the walk in the red light district again. Amsterdam has a lot of canals going through it like blood vessels. We also saw many bridges connecting the banks of canals, which gave it more romantic haze in my view. The city itself is beautiful, even though it does not have some famous landmark which would make it instantly recognizable in pictures.

Heineken Experience.We walked around for a while and ended up going to the Heineken Experience museum. It is worth mentioning that there was a sizable line to get in — longer than we’ve encountered in any European museum in the second half of November.

Beer stages.The museum was OK. I somehow expected more, but it was interesting to taste… whatever it’s called, the liquid which will later becomes beer. And see and smell hops. And hear about Heineken way to fame. The beer tasting at the end was disappointing — it was just regular tap Heineken, which I could have gotten for free in the hotel lounge.

Boat tour.We also booked a boat with Heineken Experience to take us to the Amsterdam lookout. Danya’s parents really enjoyed their tour on Amsterdam canals, but for me it was fun for the first 5 minutes, and then I just could not wait to get out of there.

On Heineken boat.Maybe if we had a guide who would have told us about city’s history, or if our driver was not an inexperienced lady, who was going sooooo slowly, it would have been a different story. Oh well. I am glad that we did not book a longer tour — our ride took about 45 minutes, even though it was supposed to be 30.

View from the top. Amsterdam Centraal train station across the bay.When we arrived to the Amsterdam lookout, we went straight to the top and Danya took a bunch of pictures. It was cold and windy out there, so we went inside a few times to warm up.

Window view.There was also some sort of swings which was putting people outside of the roof and they were kind of hanging in the air. There was a lot of excitement and screams associated with that contraption, and the line to get in was long, but I know that I would not get there even if I got paid. Adrenalin rush? Thank you, I will pass.

Streets of Amsterdam.We ate dinner at our hotel’s restaurant. It was very decent. Danya got a steak, and I just ordered a few side vegetable dishes, which turned out to be tasty and very sizable for the price.

By Delft shop.By the way, when we were walking by the canals we tried to find, unsuccessfully, the famous herring sandwiches. I suppose, they don’t sell them in November. What a shame!

Delft vases.On our last day we went searching for gifts. Danya found an interesting looking tulip vase online and we thought that something like that would be an original gift.

Little Delft museum.We started with souvenir shops, but buying things that are made in China seemed… I don’t know… boring? So when we spotted a real Royal Delft pottery store, we were very pleased. Unfortunately, if you want an authentic thing, you have to pay prices corresponding to developed country labor costs.

Walking around.Luckily for us, they had a 50% discounted section with last season’s stuff, which made the pottery more affordable. The vases were still in 100-200 euros range, but the one that we’ve chosen had a little defect, which Danya discovered at the counter, so they sold it to us at additional 50% off (we bought two vases total).

View from the top of Heineken Experience.We also visited the second floor of the store and watched an artist decorating the pottery for a while. We talked to her a little bit about the process and she was informative and also let us into the little museum belonging to the store for free — normally it is 5 euros per person.

Hearty lunch at Irish pub.After that we wondered the streets for a while, but did not buy anything else except for some wooden tulips.

Irish beer at Irish pub.We ate a very nice lunch at an Irish Pub — I washed it down with Guinness, Danya stayed loyal to wheat beer.

View from our hotel window.And this was our Amsterdam. It has its charm, but I liked it less than our other stops during this trip.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Paris — The City of Lights

Eiffel Tower from the top of Arc de Triomphe.It’s getting to two months since our return from Europe and we have yet to write anything about it. So I will start with Paris — the first stop of our three country vacation and the rest will follow.

Our hotel. Hilton Paris Opera.As most European flights are we left JFK on a red-eye flight to Paris with a stop-over in Reykjavik. For some reason this flight was unusually tiring on us. Neither one of us can really sleep well on a plane and this time around Alёna started to get a huge migraine which in her case usually leads to inability to stand and possible fainting. And the only solution was to sleep which she couldn’t do well.

Streets of Paris. On our way to the arch.During a stop-over in Reykjavik we had to stand in line to go through passport control and I feared that she was either going to pass out or decide to lye down on the floor. Luckily after we went through passport control she started feeling better and the next flight went relatively OK. But we were very very tired after it all.

Streets of Paris.I remember during our trip to Germany we even went out right after our flight to Berlin. And when we went to Barcelona we didn’t feel as tired either. We took a short nap and set out for a long walk. As we did here. We took a taxi to our hotel which was not far from all the things that we wanted to see, got checked in after a small wait — which we spent in an executive lounge — into an small suite via a free upgrade with an “amazing” view of some roof.

Arc de Triomphe.The hotel itself looked grand inside and out. It actually looked like some old opera house inside. So we asked whether it was converted from something else into a hotel. Turns out it was always a hotel which was built at the end of 19th century. It used to be directly connected to a large train station behind the hotel which is still there. The hotel changed ownership multiple times throughout it’s history and was acquired by Hilton group in 2013. Now it’s known as Hilton Paris Opera.

View from the to of the arch.And after a well proportioned nap we got dressed and set course towards the famous Arc de Triomphe which was one and a half miles away from our hotel or a 30 minute walk. This was our first impression of Paris. And it is grand, like no city that we have seen before. The streets seemed old yet cozy. Old churches, old buildings — lots and lots of history.

Another view of the tower from the top.There were a lot of refugees on the streets, but instead of feeling unsafe in these situations you couldn’t help but feel compassion for those families. During the day woman would spent time with kids under the blankets in cold streets and later on a father would join, probably coming back from trying to find work.

Staircase inside the arch.The arch was quite impressive and even though it was dark out there was a large number of people around it. Since climbing atop the arch was one of the things on our list and we would be coming there again anyhow we didn’t spend a lot of time around it and turned back. We tried to find some dinner place and ended up walking through some tiny streets to find a highly rated place via Trip Advisor. But it turned out to be closed on that day of the week.

The Eiffel Tower.We walked back all the way to our hotel and searched again. Ended up going for dinner into some small tapas places, but for some reason we ended up ordering full dinner entries. In retrospect that was a mistake — should’ve gone for things that they specialize in. We did, however, try some interesting red sweet beer.

Right across Seine from The Eiffel Tower.We started our first full day with a walk back to the arch, bought the tickets and took a long spiral staircase up to the top. The view was magnificent. This was also the first time we actually saw The Eiffel Tower with our own eyes. And the vantage point was perfect for photographing it. The arch itself was located in a center of circle to which a lot of streets were connecting, making it look like you are standing in a center of sun with rays running out of it.

Under the tower.We spent a while walking around and taking pictures. Sadly for my photography the sky was constantly gray making for less then stellar end results. But I had my GND filters with me, so I could still make photos without featureless skies. In fact the view was so great that we decided that there was no point going to an observation deck of skyscraper that we originally planned to visit.

Shores of Seine.Our next destination was the famous tower itself — another 30 minute walk. Beforehand we had to do a thorough inspection of a bathroom — none of which are free in Paris — of a large department store. A side note — everything in Paris was within a walking distance, so we didn’t have to use any kind of transpiration at all.

Seine.Right across from the tower there was a set of stairs that one could climb for a nice view of the tower and surroundings. And after taking a couple of photographs from there we crossed the Seine and ended up pretty much right under the tower. It really is pretty huge. To get exactly under the tower one had to go through security gates — there is a fence around the tower — and since we didn’t really want to go up the tower we decided to skip that.

Alexandre III bridge across Seine.And then we just set course towards our hotel along the shores of Seine. Since it was a weekend a lot of people were out and about — running, cycling or just walking. At one point a shady looking woman bent over in front of us and made it seem like she just found a golden ring. It was obvious to me that it was some kind of scam, so I just waved her off. Alëna wasn’t sure, so we just stood there and watched. The same exact scene repeated itself when she walked up to some other group of people. Things like this are pretty easy to spot to avoid unpleasant situations.

Alexandre III bridge. The Eiffel Tower in the background.After a nice walk we crossed Seine again and even the bridges in this city are grand — magnificent statues and all. We got caught under a bit of rain, but it stopped shortly after it started. And then we ended up on one of the winter markets that we remember so well from Germany. Lots of street food, crafts, drinks and everything else that these markets tend to have. And a lot of people.

Christmas market.This is where we tried one of the “musts” in France — crepes. We ordered a pair of crepes with different stuffing. We wanted to get some Gluehwein — hot German wine, but for some reason didn’t. The crepes were crepes. Nothing unexpected. But now we can claim that, yes, we did try crepes in Paris. And I again had to test out the local facilities — my stomach was acting up all day long — the one and only day when it was giving me problems. I don’t think it’s crepe related though, but it did put a bit of a damper on this fun day.

Parisian crepes.On the way to our hotel we stopped by another very grand looking church with huge columns for a short visit and that was it for exploring on that day. For dinner we went to Restaurant Garnier that was recommended by hotel staff — a place right across the street from our hotel. It turned out to be probably the best dinner of the whole trip. I ordered some insanely expensive fried fish, but it was totally worth it.

Louvre.The main objectives of our second and last full day in Paris were Louvre and Notre Dame de Paris. If the tower and the arch were on the west side of our hotel, Louvre and Notre Dame were on the east. The day turned out to be somewhat rainy, so we borrowed an umbrella from our hotel and were on our way.

Louvre lobby.Louvre was about 2km away — another 30 minute walk through the streets of Paris. When we arrived there we saw the world famous glass pyramid entrance and as expected — no line. We quickly passed through the security checkpoint and saw a coat check by the entrance. We figured since we’re going to spend 2-3 hours were it would be nice to to lug our outerwear with us.

Venus de Milo.The thing is that we hate going through a regular coat check though. Standing in line, getting a number, somebody handling your clothing, retrieving it, tipping and all that. But in Louvre you end up in a large locker room in which you pick any shelf from different sized ones and each one is equipped with a digital lock. You put your stuff in, set the pin and that’s it. Great.

Mona Lisa.And then we wondered through the halls of this top art museums of the world. Among the most famous things we saw was Venus de Milo and DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa was probably the most crowded place of the whole museum. It was not even possible to get close to it. There were two guards, a guard rail, bullet proof glass and a “selfing” crowd.

One of very many halls inside Louvre.The museum is impossible to cover in one day. We usually places like this 2-3 hours and then we tend to get tired. Towards the end of our tour when we sat down on one of the benches for a little bit of rest Alёna remembered that we still haven’t seen the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David — The Coronation of Napoleon. I started looking around and lo and behold — we’re sitting right in front of it.

Streets of Paris.Notre Dame de Paris was another 1.7km away in the same direction — further away from our hotel. Needless to say the walk back was somewhat long. But we keep trying to take different routes and end up seeing a good portion of all the cities that we visit through non-touristy streets. These walks probably are the things that built the feel of the city for us.

Notre Dame de Paris.Notre Dame itself is not all that unusual from the looks of it inside or out to my untrained eyes. But what makes it really special is the fact that it has seen so much history. The construction of it began almost 900 years ago. Napoleon was crowned inside of it, as is depicted by the above mentioned painting. The day was quite rainy so we decided not to go to the roof though.

Streets of Paris.And after that we took a long walk back to our hotel. We were so tired by the day’s end that we decided to grab a late light lunch in hotel restaurant and later some appetizers at the executive lounge instead of going out. And thus our stay in Paris has concluded as the next morning we were leaving it for Brussels.

Streets of Paris.As I said earlier Paris has left a very positive and lasting impression on us. It really is grand all throughout. We did see a lot of things, but there are many many other things to do that we didn’t have time for. In retrospect we really should’ve allocated more time for Paris, especially considering that a train to Brussels only takes an hour. I would like to visit it again in the future.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013


Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.Our drive from mount Rainier to Seattle was relatively short and pretty uneventful. Arosha was sad to say good-bye to the cabins, which he grew rather fond of, but then again, new adventures were ahead, and boy do all of us like exploring new places.

Arosha on playground by Kerry Park.We arrived to Seattle late in the afternoon. When we were looking to book a hotel, we were deciding between two options — regular Hilton, and more fancy Arctic Club hotel which was bought by DoubleTree not so long ago and was also available to us for Hilton points. We did not do a lot of research, except checking hotels location-wise, and just picked a more expensive one, which happened to be Arctic Club. The cost in points was the same.

Us at Kerry Park.Well, as it turned out, more money does not always mean more value. First of all, they did not have any interconnected rooms available, even though we specifically asked for them a good amount of time in advance. Also, they did not have a pool, or executive lounge, or self-parking. Breakfast was kind of included, but instead of great variety of Hilton buffet, we were given $12 worth of vouchers per breakfast per person (not including Arosha) which were valid at a restaurant downstairs. We always had to pay extra, since having a simple meal and a drink always exceeded the allotted amount.

Microsoft campus.Luckily for us, they had two rooms close to each other on the 6th floor. so at the end even though the hotel was not what we have expected, it all kind of worked out for us. By the way, valet parking and a crib were $40 and $10 extra respectively per day.

Microsoft visitor center.As for the area where the hotel was located, I expected it to be really nice, since it was pretty much in the center of the city. We were in for quite a shock when we discovered the amount of homeless people on the streets. There were literally two beggars per block, and walking around felt neither safe nor pleasant.

Rainy Seattle.When we were checking in, Danya tried to arrange a transfer to Hilton, but it was too late for that (they were completely booked). But oh well, as I said, it was not bad after all, especially considering that we paid for it with Hilton points.

Grandma Oksana, Arosha, Alena, Daniel on our way to aquarium.After checking in, we went to get National Parks stamps to the Klondike museum, which was located just a few blocks away from the hotel. The museum itself was not big, but it was interesting to go through it and to imagine what it was like to be one of the people who tried their fortune in times of Gold Rush. When I was growing up, I probably read all of Jack London’s books that I could find, so looking at some real artifacts of that era brought some distant memories of his stories. From the exhibits, I was particularly impressed with the list of suggested yearly Yukon provisions which could be bought in supply stores. I don’t remember the specifics, but they included something like 400 lbs of bacon, insane amount of flour, beans, etc, etc.

The Seattle Great Wheel.After the museum, we went to get some food at a small place owned by Russians right next door to our hotel. We got borscht and piroshki, and everything was delicious. The only thing that made the experience a bit less pleasant was that at the end, a beggar women came to our table and started asking us for money and food, which made us feel extremely uncomfortable.

Inside the cabin on the wheel.After dinner, we got our car and drove to Kerry Park. Danya wanted to take a nice picture of Seattle skyline, and he read that this was the place to go.

On the wheel.The “park” area is pretty much an overlook with a few benches, a “Changing Form” statue, and a few patches of grass, but the view is great indeed. There was a small playground nearby, and Arosha had a blast trying all kinds of rolling and twirling things which I think had some kind of space theme. We stayed there for a while, since Danya wanted to take a picture of the skyline after the Space Needle lights up for the night, but we left earlier than this happened on the account of tiredness, at around 9:30. The mount Rainier, which typically could be seen from that location, was not visible since it was pretty cloudy.

On the wheel.Our second day in Seattle was rainy. I guess, this was only natural, and we actually did not mind at all.

View from the top of the wheel.In the morning we drove to Redmond to visit Microsoft Museum. There is not much to say about it, except for the fact that I was very bored. And I think so was everyone.

Arosha on the wheel.After that we drove back to Seattle and after looking for parking for a good while parked near the piers by the Pike Market. It was not raining hard, but we still used umbrellas. I know it’s cliche, but the weather felt so right.

Seattle Aquarium.We took a ride on the Ferris Wheel. The cabins had transparent plastic walls, so it felt safe and was easier to take pictures; but there is something to be said about a different approach, where you can feel the breeze against your cheeks and have a more refreshing experience. This being sad, I felt slightly frightened in the first minute or two, and so was Danya’s mom. Our three men were not afraid throughout the ride. The view of the harbor and the city was nice.

Jellyfishes at Seattle Aquarium.After this we went inside some building which had a carousel (Arosha took a ride), and a whole bunch of small stores. We bought ice-cream, and proceeded to explore other indoor activities Seattle had to offer.

Pike Market.One thing that was different in Seattle is that people were often asking us what language we speak. When they heard it’s Russian, they often smiled, nodded their heads, said that it’s cool and so on. I am so used to being instantly identified in NYC area, that this was surprising. In many other places people don’t ask, or if they do, they don’t show any further interest. So Seattle in this sense was kind of refreshing. Made me feel good about being bilingual.

View from Pike Market.To our luck, there was a Seattle Aquarium nearby. Danya ran and re-parked our car, while we waited for him inside. I am very glad that we’ve decided to visit. It had a lot of sea creatures and fish, and I like how the aquariums were made. The jellyfish exhibit was particularly memorable — it is shaped as an arch, and jellyfish is in constant motion, and there are changing colored lights that illuminate it. And I also liked that there were pools where visitors can touch some marine life — sea stars, sea cucumbers and such. Arosha liked doing it. There was also a giant octopus in one of the aquariums — I don’t think I saw one before.

Pike Market.At the exit there was a machine, where you could make your own penny to remember the place by. You know, the one where you insert a penny and two quarters in, pick a design and then roll a handle which controls a penny-squishing mechanism? Arosha made one for himself, and was very excited about it for the next few days. He kept asking where his coin “на память” to remember is (it was in my purse), and kept playing with it and giving it back to me so as not to lose this treasure.

Dinner at Pike Market.Afterwards we went to the Pike Market to get dinner. First we wanted to go to the restaurant where some part of “Sleepless in Seattle” was filmed, but we did not like the looks of it, and picked the one next door. It was called Lowel’s and had decent rating on Trip Advisor. All of us ordered seafood — Danya and his mom a fried variety, me and his dad had grilled fish — and it was very tasty.

Pike Market.We did not really spend much time on the market itself since by the time we were done with the dinner, it was already closing.

Original Starbucks.Instead, we proceeded to 1912 Pike Street — the home of the first Starbucks. Despite the crowd, it was nice and cozy. All the sales people were very friendly, and I thoroughly enjoyed my decaf cappuccino with extra cinnamon on top. Mmmmm. I drink tea on a daily basis, but coffee is a very rare treat, so it’s nice to have a good quality one. Danya’s parents also got coffees, but Danya did not get anything since he is one of those rare people who finds a taste of both coffee and chocolate quite disgusting.

Museum of Glass.After that we went home and got a much needed rest before our last vacation day. I think Danya mentioned this before, but I can’t help repeating. Arosha painlessly adjusted his schedule so that all of us could enjoy this trip to the fullest — he did not nap, and slept for 12 hours each night in either crib, or just on a floor mattress. He also was fine following our eating schedule, and ate part of my portion (and sometimes of other’s) without any complaints. He was such a low maintenance, that I think it made the experience better for us.

Museum of Glass.The next morning after breakfast we went to the Seattle Center. The weather was very nice — warm and sunny. We walked around for a little while. Arosha got a kick from listening to some Native American band playing Ieva’s Polka, while Danya and his dad went to take pictures of some funky buildings. We then proceeded to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. It was quite impressive. We’ve seen Chihuly’s works in Las Vegas and Toronto, but seeing so many creations by this artist and his crew in one place was fascinating. Of course, I had to tell Arosha not to touch anything like a hundred times, which was slightly stressful, but I am still very glad that we went there. I don’t even know what I liked more — the colorful globes of all sizes, the spiky and curvy chandeliers, the gigantic flowing flowers, or glass trees… I think if you’re in Seattle, this is a must see place.

Chihuly Garden and Glass.After the museum, we all thought it would be a good idea to go someplace where Arosha can run wild and free. Danya offered to go to the Discovery Park, which happened to be a largest area park of the city. We first stopped at the visitor center, where we got a parking permit for the West Point Lighthouse. Normally, people have to take a walk there, but on account of Arosha we were permitted to get close to it by car.

Arosha at Chihuly Garden and Glass.The lighthouse and the area around it are very pleasing to the eye. We walked around for a bit, and I let Arosha play in Puget Sound water for some time. We did not have any bathing gear with us, but whatever — I think that when you’re three years old, an underwear will do nicely, and we can always use some of extra clothing I bring along as towels.

West Point Lighthouse.After the lighthouse, we drove back to the visitor center and went to the park’s playground. There was this thing, which I know is called “тарзанка” in Russian, but I have no idea how to properly call it in English. It’s basically a rope tied between two trees, and then there is a swing hanging from it, and it can slide from one side of the rope to the other. Some children were sliding on it, and Arosha joined them. At first, Danya and I were running alongside and holding him a little bit to make sure he won’t fall, but after a few rides, he got a hold of it, and did not require any assistance from us. He had a lot of fun sliding on this thing, and did not want to leave when we were ready to.

Discovery Park.We were pretty hungry at that point, so we went to get dinner in one of the many restaurants Seattle has to offer. Danya just drove us to one of the streets which seemed to have more dining options, and then we consulted Trip Advisor to see which restaurant had good ratings. We ended up going to a Moroccan place. The food was really good and plentiful, and the design of the restaurant was very original. Instead of regular tables, there were this low round ones, and people were sitting around them on sofas and large cushions. There was a belly dancer girl, who I think was a little bit too skinny for the job (she was Japanese, not Arabic), but Arosha really liked her and tried to dance along a few times. It was a very original dinner, and if this restaurant was located in Brooklyn, I think we would be repeat customers.

Arosha at Discovery Park. Ringing the bell.After dinner we drove to Kerry Park for another take of the Seattle skyline pictures. Danya got more lucky this time around, since we stayed there longer and the Space Needle got lit up. The mountain was still not visible, but there was a full moon that night, which is also nice I guess.

Mount Rainier from the plane.Next morning it was time for us to leave the state of Washington. The drive to the airport and our flight home were pretty uneventful. Of course mount Rainer was visible on that day, but we did not have time to stop for pictures. Danya did manage to take a picture of it from the plane, and I think it came out really nice and kind of gives you some perspective of how high it is, when you see the peak above the clouds.

Seattle Center. Museum of Glass.Arosha was great on the flight back. He even managed to nap for a few hours, which gave me an opportunity to relax and watch a movie.

Seattle Center.All in all, it was a great vacation. Now, over two months later, he still loves to hear stories about this trip, and frequently asks us to go either to Seattle, or to some other place for a vacation. Last week I told him that tomorrow we’ll have to get up early. His face lit up and he started to pay extra attention to what I was saying. I told him that’s because I have an early appointment at the doctor, and he will come with us. He was disappointed, and replied, that he thought that we’ll be going on vacation. Last few times when we were going on vacation he was getting up early to go the airport, and I guess he has a pretty strong association between these two things now.

Seattle skyline at dusk.I don’t know when we’ll be able to travel next time in light of our upcoming family extension. I only know that all of us love traveling a lot, and each and every one of us longs for new frontiers to explore as soon as possible.

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