Fun with Friends in Germany

Our trip to Germany last weekend went wonderfully — no major issues with travel, accommodations, or misbehaving children. Huzzah! That’s not to say the journey wasn’t difficult. We arrived in Hamburg at 9:30 PM, transferred Violet from the baby carrier to the car seat with wheels, then picked up our rental car, installed the car and booster seats, and started our three-hour drive at about 10:30. I brought my own GPS, and the road to Göttingen was pretty straightforward. I kept myself awake by blasting Michael Jackson (at Liam’s request) and slapping myself in the face a couple of times. And by 2 AM we made it! My friends Christie and Michael had our beds all made up, and after a quick change into jammies, we all completely passed out until the morning.

Interesting observation about the traffic lights in Germany: while they are all still placed on the asinine near side of the intersection, the light would flash yellow briefly before it turned green, thus alerting drivers to prepare to step on the gas. Genius!

Saturday morning my children were up bright and early, per usual. Seriously, you went to bed at 2AM and you’re still up at 7? My children have no concept of sleeping in.

At any rate, we had a lovely breakfast of pastries and donuts from the local bakery, and the kids met their new playmates, Maya and Felix. Maya, nearly 10, loved sitting with Violet and showing off her Monster High dolls, while Felix, age 5, loved dancing around the living room with Liam. They all made fast friends.

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The weather was a little colder than we’re accustomed to — we left Greece at 80 degrees, and arrived in Germany to a chilly 45. But we bundled up and headed out to see the little German university town of Göttingen. We took the kids to Thalia, a two-story bookstore with a little castle slide for the boys to play on. Violet snoozed away in the bike trailer/stroller while Michael graciously walked her around in circles outside. Christie and I caught up over hot drinks — mine a bit on the overflowy side.

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After picking up a few fresh fruits at the farmer’s market (called the Wochenmarkt), Christie suggested we try a fabulous German street food, Currywurst and pommes. We stood at a barrel and gobbled down all that sausagy and French fry deliciousness — so good!

Having lived in Germany for five years, Christie had completely immersed herself in the language. It was interesting to hear her conversations and find myself somewhat following along. Amazing how much German I can still understand after all of these years! Granted, I could barely speak a word myself, aside from hello, please, thanks, sorry, and the like. But I have a feeling if we ever ended up in Germany, I’d more easily be able to pick it up than I have with Greek. Course, if I actually put any effort into my Greek studies…

Sunday morning we had another fabulous breakfast, this time homemade pancakes with orange-vanilla syrup, expertly prepared by Christie. I remember she always liked to cook back in our college days. Michael’s not too shabby with a frying pan, either. His scrambled eggs and bacon were deemed amazingly edible by my pickiest progeny.

20170430_130411Then we were off to do the most German thing we could think of: Hike up a hill in the woods to a Beirgarten and have brats and beer. This is apparently how Germans most love to spend their Saturday afternoons, at least in Lower Saxony. Liam did remarkably well, especially once we got him a hiking stick…or two. Resembling a cross-country skier, he hiked up with relatively little complaining (for him…there was definitely some griping about the temperature as we started off through the Schillerwiesen, but he soon warmed up…and shut up). Violet slept on my back most of the way. After an hour or so, we arrived at the top for our much-deserved brats and beer. I ordered a huge Dunkel Hefewiessen, one of my favorites. Liam even ate a brat! After Michael painstakingly peeled off the skin. I owe this guy a beer!

 

When Violet finally roused herself and munched on some bread, we headed over to the nature preserve to see the native “wild” boars. The kids were fascinated…and the boars were loud! Many altercations led to loud squealing. They really do squeal like pigs!

On our way back home, we kept seeing this pretty green plant, and I was told I really must try the ice cream flavor that is made from this plant, Waldmeister. Challenge accepted! It wasn’t hard to talk the kids into stopping for ice cream before dinner. And indeed, Icelust had both vanilla and Waldmeister, so Liam and I were both happy. The flavor was fantastic…and sort of indescribable. It was green like pistachio, but not quite as sweet. Definitely worth trying next time you find yourself in Deutchland! Violet enjoyed her ice cream…and Maya’s. Her adorableness lends itself well to her thievery.

 

Monday afternoon Christie and Michael suggested we drive over to the Gottingen Kiessee, a small lake and park area where you can rent paddle boats and the kids can play on a playground shaped like a pirate ship. “Sounds great!” I said, “But…we can’t all fit in my rental car, right?”

Apparently renting a car for the afternoon is as easy as checking an app, walking to a nearby car, and driving it to your house. It really is an amazing age we live in! Now I can see how easily they can get by without a car in Europe.  Not only can you easily rent a car for a few hours, but the town is incredibly bike-friendly, so most people get around on two wheels when they can. I’m not sure if I would survive as well without a car in Athens. Biking here is hazardous to your health, both because of traffic and pollution. I heart Germany.

The kids loved the paddle boats…though Violet was just a tad hard to handle. Liam did his best to help Michael paddle our boat, but he couldn’t quite reach the pedals. I jumped in there for a bit, until Violet squirmed out of my arms and got a little too close to the edge for my comfort. Seriously, I owe this guy two beers!

 

We had a lovely mid-day meal at the boathouse restaurant overlooking the water (or Bootshaus, as they call it in German). The kids feasted on schnitzel, pommes and garden peas…and I had the most amazing tomato soup and “schokolade kucken” (which is incidentally my favorite German word, meaning “chocolate cake”). Then they were off to the pirate ship. Ahoy, matey!

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Faced with an extremely early rise the next morning to catch our flight, I decided to drive up to Hamburg that evening and stay in a hotel near the airport. I am now an expert at international traveling with young children. No elevator, and our room is on the third floor? No problem! I got this. I can seriously conquer the world now. We arrived home on Tuesday without incident. (And we got to try Turkish ice cream during our layover in Istanbul. Very different from gelato and ice cream I’ve had in Europe — so thick and sticky!)

Thank you to Christie and Michael, and their amazing children Maya and Felix, for being such wonderful hosts and showing us around their lovely German city. Thanks to Michael for taking all of these great photos, ensuring that I’m actually in some for a change! We had a fantastic time.  I hope someday soon we can return the favor in Athens!

Spring Break in Venice

Ah…Venice. James and I visited during our college days, almost (ahem) twenty years ago, and not much has changed. There are still way too many pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. They still require you to dress modestly in the basilicas. The gondolas are still horribly overpriced. And the canals and bridges are just as magical and quaint as ever.

One big difference for us, though. These two little monkeys we decided to drag along with us. But we came prepared. For weeks before our trip (and years, really — I bought the book when Liam was 2), we read Olivia Goes to Venice. The week before we left it was Violet’s very favorite book. We rented a two-bedroom apartment close to St. Mark’s Square. We planned only one, maybe two outings per day, with lots of time built in to go back to the apartment to rest in the afternoons. And we packed as light as humanly possible for a family of four so we wouldn’t have too much luggage to drag from the train.

And I’d say, all things considered, we had a fabulous time. There were moments that weren’t so great (the line inside St. Mark’s Cathedral that Liam just about lost his shit about, our stupidly overpriced first dinner, our bathroom that reeked of cats), but the weather was fantastic and, what am I complaining about?! We spent a week in freakin’ Venice!!

Although, I do have to say, our first night was a little rough. After four hours on the train and another hour getting the Vaporetto (Venice’s mass transit system) to our apartment, we settled into our rather amusing digs — not a level floor in the place, or curtains in the bathroom…hello, neighbors! — and I set out to get groceries for my hungry family. We were on the first floor, up one set of stairs from a large entry way. I went to unlock the door to the street — it appeared I could just push a button — but the door wouldn’t budge. I monkeyed with that thing for five minutes before I ran up to get James. Then he monkeyed with it for another five minutes before I called the owner. She was a bit perplexed, but said she was sending her husband to come help us. Hungry, tired children don’t wait happily. Neither does hungry, tired mommy. He showed up after maybe 30 minutes, and of course he opened the door just fine! But after some explaining we discovered what had happened: another tenant in the building at locked the deadbolt from the outside when they left the building, apparently locking everyone else inside. Are you kidding me? What are we supposed to do if this happens again?! He just shrugged his shoulders and said to call him. Perhaps I should start saying because…Italy! At any rate, he said he’d alert the other stupid American tourists not to throw the deadbolt. (I might have added the stupid part.) Finally, I made it home with groceries, and my children ate like Gremlins after midnight.

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Our first full day in Venice we started at the Doge’s Palace, an easy walk from our apartment. We met a long line, but it moved fast. The kids enjoyed watching the boats, or as Violet called them, “The boatsies.” As per usual, Liam rushed us through the palace, complaining about how boring it was until we got to the Bridge of Sighs and the prison rooms. Then he had a fabulous time traipsing through the dungeons and looking at the shiny armor. Violet fell asleep in the Boba and slept through the whole thing.

Gelato o’clock! Liam ate his vanilla waffle cone while I surreptitiously shot some photos. Violet continued to sleep.

While people watching in the square, I spied an Asian tour group with a tour guide speaking softly into a tiny microphone while the group listened intently on their ear pieces. Very high tech!

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Then we were off to see the famed Rialto Bridge! Liam was fairly unimpressed, but he did notice it was just like it was pictured in our Olivia book.

After lunch and siesta at our apartment (I’m so glad we rented close to everything!), we let Liam lead us around the streets until we got hungry for dinner. We landed in a piazza and we chose a sleepy restaurant with tables outside. The kids chased pigeons while we waited for our overpriced meal. Seriously, 75 Euros to feed four people! The restaurant was called Al Burchiello, and looking back on Trip Advisor, the consensus was average food at inflated prices.

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Wednesday morning we stood in a very long line for the San Marco Basilica. Liam was actually pretty good standing in line…until we got inside and he realized the line continued pretty much through the entire church. And then, oh the complaining! There are signs all over the basilica requesting silence, but that had no effect on my increasingly impatient eight-year-old. (Violet was, of course, sleeping this whole time.) Faced with another line at the stairs to the roof, we almost skipped it. But I remembered that was really the best part of the basilica, so after some bribery and threats of abandonment, we made it to the rooftop. There we could wander freely, and it was as if a pressure valve had been released. Smiles on everyone’s faces. (Well, except Violet, who was…yes, still sleeping)

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Gelato o’clock! I know. This is turning into a thing. Our guidebook suggested a trip to the Naval History Museum would entertain young children, so we decided to walk along the shore and check it out. Violet woke up along the way. It turned out to be a rather small museum, but with a lot of huge boats. No lines and very spacious, so the kids had a great time.

Afterward we found much better and affordable food in the Castello neighborhood at a restaurant called Al Canton. My pesto was outstanding, and even better was the chocolate torte.

That evening I took the kiddos on a little walkabout. They had a blast chasing pigeons in the square. It was probably their favorite thing about our trip to Venice. We made our way to the harbor, then wandered our way along the Grand Canal. Eventually Violet fell asleep on my back, and Liam and I wandered our way to a…you guessed it…gelato stand. Third of the day for my little ice cream addict! It was lovely wandering the city as the street lights flickered on…until we got to St. Mark’s Square. Then we were accosted by dudes hawking these flying, spinning glow sticks. I told Liam to tell them, “No Grazie.” He had to say it about five times as we crossed the square. I really thought it would be like magic to walk through the square at night. So annoying!

Thursday morning we sprung for the two-day Vaporetto passes (an astounding 30 Euros a piece!) so we could more easily get around Venice and outlying islands. Liam kept calling them “busoats,” combining “bus” and “boat.” This kid cracks me up.

We popped by the Guggenheim to see my very favorite painting in the whole wide world, a Rene Magritte masterpiece called The Empire of Light. I first laid eyes on this work back in ’99, the last time I was in Venice, and I was completely entranced. So much so that I came back home and painted it on canvas for myself. Family and friends may recognize it from the walls of my houses — regrettably my version is currently in storage.

James is not so into modern art (putting it lightly), so we headed to a nearby church that was featured in one of our favorite films, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We had fruitlessly searched for it twenty years ago, before Google made everything so easy to find. Lo and behold! Hubby looks so happy!

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Back on the “busoat” and to the Jewish Ghetto we went! Interesting piece of history here, dating back to the 1500s. You can read about it here. Interesting history for me, as well — I’m almost certain I stayed at a hostel in the main square when I was here in college. The kids, of course, could care less about the history. Time to chase pigeons!

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On our way back to the apartment we stopped for yet more gelato, and I discovered my favorite flavor: Kookie Tango, a mix of vanilla, chocolate, caramel and sugar cookies. Divine!

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Energized, we decided the line for the climb to the top of the Campanile didn’t look too long. Let’s do it! Violet kept pointing and asking if it was going to fall down, like in her Olivia book. Predictably, she fell asleep before we made it to the top. And — a welcome surprise — there was an elevator straight to the top! The views were amazing.

After dinner, I took the kids on another walkabout. We came upon some gondoliers tying up for the night. As we watched them, one of them playfully took his oar and tapped Liam’s foot. Everyone around us laughed, including us. Violet couldn’t stop shouting “Gondola!” every time she saw one.

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Friday morning as we headed back through St. Mark’s Square, we saw a huge cruise boat sailing past the square in the lagoon. As we looked through the clock tunnel, it looked otherworldly next to all of the Venetian architecture.

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Incidentally, we had this same vantage of the clock tunnel from our apartment.

 

We took the “busoat” out to Murano to watch a glass blowing demonstration. Liam totally dug it. Violet slept through it.

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Thankfully Violet slept through all of our glass souvenir shopping, too. Liam got reprimanded for picking up a very heavy piece of art…marked 350 Euros, yikes! Ok, time for lunch! We found a little Italian place along a canal — two orders of lobster gnocchi and fries for 50 Euros. A cover charge for the table, plus a charge for bread and bottled water…it all adds up. Sheesh.

For our last evening stroll, I took the kids back to St. Mark’s Square while James started packing our things. After chasing pigeons and each other, we wandered over to hear the bands play. Two bands across the square from each other would play classical music and more modern medleys, one after the other. Each had a piano, violin, bass, and clarinet player. Liam asked if I’d like to waltz, which he’d learned how to do in school this year. Eighteen years ago I sat in St. Mark’s Square at midnight with my college friends watching adults in fancy dress waltz to the music, and here I am now waltzing in the square with my eight-year-old son. “Mommy, now I have to spin you!”

Saturday we bid Venice farewell and, as the Italians would say, arrivederci. We took a “busoat” to the train station, and the kids and got to ride in the very front. Violet hollered, “Rialto!” as we passed the bridge. Liam peppered me with questions about the sinking city. What a great send off!

Monemvasia

Four hours south of Athens along the southeast coast of the Peloponnese, you’ll find the Byzantine island of Monemvasia, a name meaning “single entrance.” The walled city and fortress were built in the 6th century AD, and aside from some tourist shops, restaurants and hotels that are built into the existing structures, not much has changed since then. One can easily get lost along the narrow cobblestone walkways, although the fortress isn’t very big, so you won’t be lost for long. If you stay within the city walls, you have to park your car along the roadway that leads from the mainland to the front entrance. Fortunately we got a pretty good spot — the advantage of arriving on a Friday afternoon.

But I wouldn’t say our trip down was particularly fortunate. We had this fantastic idea to flip Violet’s car seat to face the front so she could watch a DVD with Liam. Four hours in the car is the longest she’s ever endured, and I doubted she would sleep the whole way. The first half of the trip went well — she loved watching Curious George, her new favorite, and a perennial favorite of Liam’s. But then we left the turnpike and headed into the mountains. She started crying, and we figured she was getting tired again…until Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Oh, God, what a mess! We managed to change her clothes and wash up at a gas station. A short nap later and still 45 minutes from our destination, the vomit comet struck again. More cleaning up at the side of the road.

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Photo courtesy amusingplanet.com

Finally, the magnificent island came into view. With a stop for lunch and “Vomigeddon” we added almost 2 hours to our drive. But we made it!

We had to park along a road that leads up the entrance to the walled city, then carry our things to our hotel. We were sure to pack light (and made notes to economize even further for our upcoming trip to Venice). The staff at the Likinia were very friendly, though I think we exhausted their knowledge of English when we inquired about a washing machine. No bother — we aren’t new to the concept of hosing off a puky car seat cover in a hotel shower. (Thanks to two-year-old Liam during our move to Florida.) The shower at this hotel was a bit tiny, but serviceable. Our room was nicely furnished, and the view from our windows was lovely.

Because I’m the expert in car seat disassembly, I volunteered to hike back to the car to collect the car seat cover and other victims of Violet’s unfortunate eruption. And while my task was less than stellar (having to do this on the side of the road IN THE DARK was especially trying), I did have a chance to wander the streets at night. So few people were out, it almost felt like we had the place to ourselves. While James had the unenviable task of clean-up duty using a bottle of baby shampoo I picked up on the way back, I ordered take out from a promising restaurant nearby called To Kanoni. As I waited for our food, the friendly proprietor chatted with me, provided me with brochures and maps, and told me all about this lovely city. I couldn’t wait to explore the next morning!

The children woke up bright and (alarmingly) early. Breakfast wouldn’t be served until 8:30, so we had a couple of hours to kill. A few episodes of Care Bears on the best invention ever (AKA the Amazon Fire stick, plugged right into the hotel TV), and then it was time to get dressed and run around the courtyard in the sunshine. What a lovely morning! No surprise, we were the first guests to arrive for breakfast at 8:30 sharp. They provided a very nice spread: omelets, ham and cheese cold cuts, little sausages, cereal, greek yogurt and honey. All things we enjoy. It took a little explaining, but they were also happy to make Liam a plain-Jane omelet to his liking.

We decided it best to spend the day wandering the streets at our leisure. Liam enjoyed leading the way, turning around at dead ends, looking through holes in the wall at the sea below, and discovering narrow passageways and staircases. Liam had studied the map, and he was intent on finding a path that led down to the water. But it eluded us. At the front gate we saw kids dressed in marching band uniforms ready in for a parade. Saturday was Greek Independence Day, so we expected to see a little parade.

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Slowly, we made our way up and up and up. Finally, we made it to the entrance to the upper town…and the door was locked! Closed for Independence Day. Do’h! We briefly contemplated making a day trip to Simos Beach on Elafonisos island, but we were understandably not anxious to get back in the car to drive through the mountains again. So after a brief siesta in our room (and more Care Bears…all the kids want to do while we’re on vacation is watch TV!), we explored the old lighthouse. Built in 1896, it wasn’t nearly as old as everything else on the island. We couldn’t go up into the tower, and as lighthouses go, it wasn’t terribly impressive. But the views of the sea and the mainland were.

Time for lunch! We enjoyed our meal from To Kanoni so much, we decided to eat lunch on their rooftop terrace. I ordered the traditional Independence/Feast of Annunciation day meal, fried cod with a garlic sauce. A hungry cat kept pestering us. Violet was hollering “kitty!” as I was trying to shoo it away. Back off my fish, feline! I called the waitress over, and she brought up a water gun and chased him off. Hilarious! She left me the gun just in case. He eventually came back, eyeing me from a corner and biding his time until I got up to leave. But he kept his distance when the water gun was in view.

While the kids took another little siesta, I hiked back to the car to get the car seat cover back on and reinstall it. At least half a dozen people stopped to ask me if they could take my parking spot. So glad we came Friday! On my way back I wandered up a path from the road to a small cemetery that appeared to be the final resting place for the town’s priests. An interesting juxtaposition of modern photos with old-style tombs, and with a lovely view of the sea.

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In the late afternoon we wandered around the upper reaches of the lower town, finding many dead ends and crumbling houses. Prime real-estate! We also came across some lovely private homes. Can you imagine actually living here? Paradise! Except for the parking situation…

As our intrepid (ahem…bossy) leader took us down another path, I discovered we’d lost James with a sleeping Violet on his back. Liam and I decided to wait for them on the porch of our hotel…James had the keys, of course! We waited and waited…and just as I was seriously starting to wonder where he went off to, James and a still-snoozing Violet showed up. He had found another path to the eastern reaches of the town, and it had a lovely view. He was happy to take us back…and he was right.

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Not quite so bright and early Sunday (a technicality…it was daylight savings in Greece that weekend), James loaded up our car while I took the kids to breakfast. On his way back, he found that path down to the sea, the one we couldn’t find Saturday. I’m so glad he did. What a gem.

Then it was back up and up and up and…the door to the upper town was open! Yes! And totally worth the climb. The views were spectacular, and the old church was in remarkable shape. There were other ruins of residences and administration buildings of the byzantine nobility. Apparently this was the part of the island that rich people lived, back in the day.

The kids stopped for a snack outside the church, and it’s one of the few times they stay still enough for a photo together.

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For the trip home, turning Violet’s car seat back to rear-facing helped tremendously. No more eruptions from her. But then Liam had us pull over every 10 minutes because he was feeling sick! Clearly, we cannot win. After the fourth time we pulled over, I insisted he eat a cookie. That helped. Thank God — at the rate we were going, we would have been lucky to make it home for bedtime.

A lovely weekend in Nafplio and Epidavros

With warm weather finally returning, we decided to spend a weekend at the seaside Peloponnese town of Nafplio. It’s about a two hour drive southwest of Athens, and we couldn’t have picked a lovelier weekend in February to make the journey. Sunny and 63 degrees (or, rather, 17 degrees…still getting used to Celsius). I booked us a family studio apartment at the Bonne Nuit Pension, a decent little place in an excellent location, right in the old town.

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We started the day at Palamidi Castle, an 18-century Venetian fortress set up on the highest point in Nafplio. I was told there were two ways to get to the castle. You can either kill yourself climbing 999 stairs…

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Or drive your lazy ass to the top. Let’s see…carrying a 20-pound toddler on my back while listening to an 8-year-old’s constant whining all the way to the top, or parking 30 feet from the entrance. Honestly, which would you choose?

Once inside, we traipsed all over the various bastions. The views of the city and the bay were amazing. In this photo, you can see the ridge above the old town, and the small island in the bay is the Bourtzi, a water castle used as a fortification in the 1400s.

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The kids absolutely loved climbing around, playing peek-a-boo through some of the architectural elements…

…and carefully looking down at the sea.

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Some openings had safety bars and some didn’t. Thankfully my boy is very cautious, and my girl can’t climb all that fast. Yet. For the most part the paths were clearly marked, though at one point we walked ourselves along a narrow path right to a staircase leading nowhere, and we had to turn back. After walking every inch of the castle (at one little 8-year-old’s insistence), we had a little picnic lunch in the courtyard near the entrance.

Then it was naptime. For the grown-ups, not the kids, as it turned out. They jumped on one bed while the tired adults slept in the other. Actually, James did all the sleeping. I’m a mother. A nap in the middle of the day…as if! Feeling relatively well-rested, we hiked down to Arvanitia Beach along a gorgeous path right along the sea. It wasn’t quite sunset, but the views were still spectacular.

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Not a railing in sight, which made for good photos, but I was scared to death my baby girl was going to try and walk right off the edge and plummet into the sea. Thankfully the trail meandered back away from the water so she could walk on her own. The beach itself wasn’t much to look at, but we did get to see the back entrance to the castle with all of those stairs we decided not to take.

Instead, we climbed a nearly equivalent amount of stairs as we wandered around the old town back to our hotel. Well, maybe not 999…but our feet were aching all the same. Thankfully, one of the restaurants a friend had recommended was a short distance from our hotel, so we had ourselves an early dinner (6:30, so early by Greek standards) at Alaloum. I finally got some of this Greek lamb everyone keeps telling me about. More skin, fat and bone than I typically enjoy, but the meaty parts were excellent. The restaurant was small, but not too crowded or smoky, and we were treated to some complimentary gelato for dessert.

As we walked home, we came across a festival in the main town square. The Greeks celebrate Carnival all month long, and with Clean Monday just a week away, the festivities were really ramping up. Kids in costumes and their parents danced in a circle as musicians played traditional Greek music. Weary from our day of driving and climbing, we made our way back to our hotel and all of us conked out before 9:30.

The next day we drove about an hour East to the theater and archeological site of Epidaurus…or maybe Epidavros…it’s spelled both ways, but the Greeks seem to prefer the latter pronunciation and spelling. They play it fast and loose with their U’s and V’s.

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The theater is the best preserved from this era, the 4th century BC, and it is renowned for its excellent acoustics. You could stand in the center of a little circle on the stage and hear your own voice bounce back to you like you were talking through a microphone. Clapping also sounded wicked cool. You can see the kids really enjoyed that.

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The theater was remarkably well-preserved, but the rest of the site was not. No bother, though, because the kids just wanted to climb on everything.

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Monkey see, monkey do!

On our way back home we made a brief stop at the Corinth Canal, built in 1893.

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Apparently it doesn’t serve much of a purpose anymore, but it sure looks cool! We stopped for lunch at the Goodies right next to the canal, and inside hung several photos showing how it was built. Liam got a real kick out of that. And Violet was happy to have her “fry fries!”

Now that James’ refugee travel has been put on hold, we’re planning more of these little weekend getaways for the spring and early summer. Next stop in March, Monemvasia!

Our photo with The President

It’s Obama’s last week in office…hold on, I need to let that sink in for a minute. And maybe rock back and forth while I contemplate the degree of suckage we’ve got in store for the next four years. Anyway, while I’m doing that, enjoy this photo we got of Liam with the President. You’ll remember, back in November, right after the election, we got to meet, or rather, stand in the same vicinity as him.

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Let’s see, where’s Liam, where’s Liam…hmmm. Oh, right. Here he is.

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Ah, yes,  I remember hearing about all this pushing and shoving, and there was much boo-hooing about it. His friends are standing nearby trying to help him up — I was sure to thank them and their mothers after I saw this photo. Just to confirm, I showed Liam the photo and asked if this was the top of his head.

“Yeah, mom. That’s me. That’s when I fell down and I didn’t get to shake hands with Obama and (incoherent noises and crying…)”

Oh, geez, here we go again. Guess I won’t be putting this on the ol’ mantle, then.

Celebrating the Summer Solstice

Actually, we did this quite by accident. In addition to being the Summer Solstice, June 20 was also the first day of Liam’s summer break and Holy Spirit Monday, a Greek public holiday. So, you guessed it, pretty much everything was closed. It was just as well — Violet’s nose was running like a faucet and my entire skull felt like one giant underwater sinus headache, so we weren’t in any condition to do any sight-seeing. Still, I felt bad for Liam, who laid around the house and lamented his long, boring summer vacation. Apparently he’s immune to this terrible cold, but not to whining.

DSC_0012So after I got Violet to bed, I let Liam stay up late. He wanted to swim on the rooftop, so we filled the little wading pool and watched as my rooftop lights twinkled on one by one. I wished I could have a glass of wine. I marveled at how he’d been so loud in the house during the day, and he played almost completely in silence once he was outside. Figures. As we were getting ready to go inside, I looked up and saw the most beautiful, bigger-than-life full moon rising in the East. I grabbed my camera and tripod, and while Liam toweled off I snapped a few dozen photos. It’s been ages since I actually used the different settings on my camera, so I just kept flipping the little wheel around and snapping with my remote, trial and error style.  The photo editing software that came with my Surface 3 is surprisingly robust, so I was able to fix them up decently. Photos of the moon never look as good as they do in person, but it was still an amazing sight.

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A trip to the zoo

Another fun-filled spring break day! Today we headed to this zoo I keep hearing so much about. I was advised to pick up a yearly pass — single-day admission is so expensive that a pass will pay for itself in three visits. Paying for Liam was a first…gone are the days I could get him in for under 3. And after shelling out the money, Liam matter-of-factly informed me that he thought looking at animals was boring.

Wonderful.

20160428_082544436_iOSWhat he doesn’t find boring is poring over park maps, so at least that kept him happy. He played Magellan while the younger kids in our group rode in their strollers. Season passes to Disney and Sea World have kind of ruined us for zoos and amusement parks, but this zoo was still pretty nice. We had fun at the dolphin show. It was mostly in Greek, but who needs English to enjoy all the jumping and splashing. Liam, with his self-proclaimed allergy to splashing, wisely directed us to the top of the bleachers. We didn’t get a drop on us. Violet wanted me to walk her up and down the bleacher steps and along the rows, so I was thankful we were sitting up and away from the crowd.

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Ok. This is kind of pathetic. I mean, yes, these penguins are probably from South Africa and they don’t require snow. But it’s still a sad sight. Aside from this, we saw your typical giraffes, rhinos, lions and chirpy parrots. We saw the bears taking a playful bath. We missed the elephants and monkeys, but I’m sure we’ll be back. This kid is going to the zoo at least two more times this year whether he wants to or not!

On the way home I decided to program my GPS to avoid tolls. The money I’m shelling out to drive on the main highway is getting ridiculous. And do you know it only added 10 minutes to my route? And while it was a little convoluted, the navigation was totally manageable. In your face, stupid tolls!