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Single in Budapest – May 2010

My friend Dvora and I decided to leave our kids and husbands at home for a weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary.  We had a very early morning flight out of Zurich.  After settling in our hotel room, we took a walk around town.  Later, we took an organized bus tour which worked out since it was a grey, rainy day.  On Saturday evening, we took a boat cruise on the Danube.  We had terrific views of the sunset and of  St. Stephen’s Basilica.  We wanted to visit Budapest’s popular market but we got sidetracked and had pedicures instead. Well worth it, for only 9 euros!   We enjoyed some good meals and even had dinner on a boat.  We also went inside the world’s second largest Jewish synagogue.  I had never been inside a synagogue and was surprised at how it resembled a catholic church.  I learnt from our guide that this was not typical but was done this way to please the catholic majority.  It was nice to get away from the routine of home.  Brian says I should do it more often!

img_0363 img_0365 img_0374img_0371img_0359


Easter in London — April 2010

We decided to visit the Queen during Christophe’s spring break.  We took one of those cool taxi cabs where you sit facing each other to our apartment hotel.  It was cold and rainy of course but we did manage to see the sun a few times.  We did the touristy stuff, i.e.  rode on the Eye and the tube, took the double decker bus, Brian and the kids went to the Museum of Natural History.  I met a friend for lunch and some shopping.  On Easter morning, we took the tube to Kew Gardens for an easter egg hunt. The kids had to collect chips and then give them to the Easter rabbit in order to receive their chocolate egg.  Not quite what we expected but the kids had fun anyway.  Here are a few photos.

Brian the street performer

Brian the street performer


Austria – February 2010

For Christophe’s winter break, we decided to go skiing in Brand, Austria.  It was only a 90-min drive.  Our kinderhotel (hotel that caters to kids) was at the base of the beginner run which was great.  All we had to do was walk Christophe over for his lessons.  He was at the beginner hill the first few days and then progressed to the bigger hill which was only a 10 minute walk.  Brian was able to join him on the last two days.  Christophe did really great and even made it up to the top and down several times (over 1000 meters).  At the end of the lessons, the kids did a race.  Christophe came in 2nd and received a trophy.  He was really proud (so were his parents!).  We decided not to put Camille in skiing lessons this year.  She did some sledding but did try on skis that go over your boots.  I did snowshoeing with Brian for the first time.  It was lots of fun plus the weather was perfect.  I also managed to cross-country ski a few times.  Brian and I also took a mini-archery course offered by the hotel.  All in all, it was a great holiday!


Mallorca Sand Castles

With my parents visiting, it seemed a good time to get away and relax so we went to the beach in Puerto Pollensa, Spain.  A 1½-hour flight in the afternoon got us to the island and a 45 minute bus ride took us to the northern tip.  We made the mistake of not letting Camille nap before leaving and she didn’t fall asleep on the plane until the last 10 minutes.  It’s always tiring traveling with kids, but a 2½-year old in need of her nap makes it much worse.

Two Generations

We didn’t do a lot of touring while we were there; the point was to relax, not recreate.  We moved between two different beaches and the hotel pool and took a harbor cruise one afternoon, but that was the extent of our travels.  The kids got a pony ride one afternoon as well.

Camille's Pony Ride

France got sick for a couple days with “La Tourista” and Papa had an upset stomach one day, but everybody else was okay.

The Men In The Harbor

Both of the kids are really taking to the water.  Christophe spent so much time in the pool and the Sea that he could barely open his eyes at the end of the day for the sting of it.  He’d never admit that they hurt, though, when playing in the pool for fear we’d make him stop.

Building Castles

Camille wears floats on her arms but would jump into the deep pool all by herself, ask for help climbing back out, and then do it again. She’s tough!  Once while playing in the shallow Sea without floats, she tripped and went under.  I (Brian) grabbed her arm and pulled her up within two seconds but I could see her eyes wide with fear/shock under the surface of the salty water as I reached for her.  She didn’t make a peep afterwards, despite the fear she must have felt and the sting than must have been in her eyes.  No cries; no sobs; no tears.  She just gave me a big hug and held on tight for a minute or so before getting down and resuming her play.

Ready For The Beach

The highlight of the evening for the kids was the “mini disco” at the hotel where an announcer would lead them through funny dances.  Sometimes he got the audience (i.e. parents) to participate as well — thank goodness there are no photos of that!

Harbor Tour

The best feature of the hotel was the pool, which was big, with occasional scheduled games, and excellent ummm… “scenery” around it.  ☺  The hotel itself was fine (though France seems to think it should have been better) with the small exception of some ants trying to overrun our bathroom.  A little RAID took care of that for the most part.

Water Polo (sort-of)

Prague For Two


France and I abandoned the kids for four days and headed off to Praha (Prague) in the Czech Republic for some time to ourselves. We left them some open cereal boxes and a big dish of water, so I’m sure they’ll be just fine without us.

DSC_3335A train ride would have taken 12 hours or more so we elected to splurge on a 1-hour flight instead. We arrived, collected our luggage, and got a 3-day transit pass, but elected to take a taxi to the hotel.

After dropping off our things, we ate a late, light lunch at the hotel cafe and headed out to explore the city by Metro. Did you know that not all entrances to the Metro stations have boxes for validating transit tickets? We didn’t, but the transit cop who stopped us half-way along our journey took pity on the foolish tourists and let us by with un-validated tickets and a suggestion to get that taken care of in the station below. Oops.

From Clock TowerWe wandered around the east side of the river until dinner, seeing the old town square, the astronomical clock, the powder tower, and others. After a very nice, slow, relaxing dinner at the Radisson Hotel, we meandered back to the Metro station, our own hotel, and a quiet evening without kids, TV, computers, and other distractions.

On our second day, we enjoyed the nice buffet breakfast and then a tour of the city with a live guide. We passed a couple of the things we’d seen the day before but most of it was elsewhere, including a nice walk around the palace grounds. After a late lunch, we went back to the hotel for a swim on the top floor with a nice view of the city and then headed off for a riverboat dinner cruise.

The tour up the river was nice but not anything special.  It included a buffet dinner and a “guide” who I don’t think addressed the group as a whole even once.  But the scenery was nice.

St. Nicholas' ChurchFor our third day, we walked over the Charles Bridge (largely under restoration), up to St. Nicholas’ Church (where we bought tickets for a concert later that day), past the Palace, and over to the Loreta. We didn’t, however, actually go inside to see the dress with 6000 diamonds on it.

After that, we dozed on the grass of a nice park and then toured the cathedral of Prazsky Hrad before heading back to St. Nicholas for an hour of organ/brass/soprano music. It was really nice, though the hard seating meant that one hour was about all we wanted to hear.

From Charles BridgeThat night, I went out to do some night photography and spent another three hours wandering around the old town on both sides of the river.  There were still many people around, but one of the nice things about long-exposure photography is that anything moving tends to disappear from the final image or be just faint shadows. Of course, if you have a couple necking in front of some historic scene, it can be a bit frustrating waiting for them to move on.

For our last day, France went for a pedicure at the hotel spa and then we went back to the Old Town Square to buy a watercolor painting we’d liked. Unfortunately, the shop turned out to be only a temporary display in a little alleyway and it was no longer there. We had bought a small painting at one of the vendors on the Charles Bridge, though, so at least we had that.

Oh… Just in case you haven’t guessed (or are in law enforcement) and are concerned for the well-being of our children, Grandmother was also in the house along with the serial boxes and water dish.

???Budweiser is Czech???


Neuschwanstein From BelowMom is visiting right now (Dad to arrive a bit later) so we decided to head off to Füssen and see “mad” King Ludvig’s Castle, the original upon which Walt Disney based the one at Disneyland. Though it had be beautiful weather all the previous week, we had a nice rain storm for our trip out there.

Unfortunately, due to some misunderstandings and bad decisions, we ended up missing our tour of the inside of the castle. <sigh> The kids still had a good time hiking around, though, so perhaps it wasn’t all bad. They probably would have had less fun wandering through the inside rooms.

Neuschwanstein Silouette

Accordian PlayerOn our second day, we went into Füssen and wandered around the old-town there, took an hour tour around the city, and then went for lunch before taking Camille back for her nap.

Christophe SwingingI took Christophe down to the local lake front during this time and played. It’s a nice area with some swings and a sandbox. There were a few people swimming, too, but we didn’t have our suits on so didn’t join in.

They had a big public chess-board so I taught him how to play. I don’t really expect him to remember, but he had fun.

Lake Front

On our last day, which of course was the only really sunny day, we just went to the local lake front again for swimming and playing in the park until it was time to depart for home.

Camille DrivingShould I?  Shouldn't I?Christophe Driving

The Kids’ First Camping Trip

So… After 2 years, perhaps it’s time to write another post. Maybe France or I will even write up some of the trips we’ve taken in the meanwhile.

At The Tent

We took the kids camping for the first time at Walensee (near Flumserberg). Serious campers wouldn’t call it camping, of course, but it was a reasonable introduction for kids 2 and 4 years old. The location was just a field where you paid a fee and pitched a tent beside everybody else. The kids had a blast sleeping together in a tent! The first night they talked and giggled until almost 11pm. Camille even stayed awake longer, until about midnight.

Walking AlongToo Tired To WalkA big ski area was close by so the first day we took a gondola up and went for a hike, stopping for lunch when we got hungry. After that, though, Camille started to get tired/cranky and we headed back down for her nap. Being a warm, sunny day, however, it was too hot in the tent to stay and she didn’t want to lie down outside. What can you do?

The hike was rather amusing because there were stations along the way with various exercises:

AerobicsWeight Lifting

The field was next to a lake where we took the kids swimming. The bottom wasn’t too nice on the feet but it was nice to not have stinging eyes from chlorine. After an hour or so, Camille was too tired for even that to keep her awake so we spread a blanket out under a tree and Dad stayed with her. We both ended up taking a nap.

Free PlayIt started to rain about the time we made dinner (sausages over an open fire) and we ate inside the tent. After dinner the rain had stopped so we played in the nearby playground until time for bed. The kids didn’t stay awake nearly as long this time. :-)

dsc_2911Our last day we did just went sight-seeing, did some more swimming, and then packed up for the drive home.

It’s obviously been a long time since I did camping. Had we really been far from civilization, it would have been fun trying to cook without a stove.

Too Much Fun

Geneve Jet D’EauMom has come to visit for a while and so we took a week-long trip down through France and Italy to show her some of the local sights. Over eight days, we visited seven different cities: Bern, Geneva, Lyon, Grenoble, Turino, Milano, and Lugano.

This was, perhaps, overly ambitious as it meant moving from one hotel to another each day (not an easy feat with two kids in the mix), but we managed it without anybody getting left behind. The biggest downside of such a touch-and-go trip is that you don’t get to explore very much. Having kids with you means that you can visit one place in the morning and one place in the afternoon and that’s about it. And, of course, driving to the next place will use up one of those slots. Sometimes we went exploring a bit in the evening but in general we were all pretty exhausted by the end of day.

dsc_7423.JPGI’m amazed by my kids! Christophe is such a little trooper. He would walk for hours with us and never get tired. He’d get bored, yes, but never once did he complain about being tired and unable to go on. We kept him entertained by dsc_7468.JPGletting him climb stone barriers or drive his toy cars along a bench now and then. If you want to have an enjoyable trip with your kids, do your best to make sure they enjoy themselves, too. On our last full day he climbed some 500m vertical worth of stairs with enthusiasm, saying things like, “Oh look, more stairs!” and then gleefully moving on ahead of us.

Flower ClockCamille was her usual angel self, too. Even with her schedule shot to hell, she was happy and playful and flirted with every man she saw. (I’m definitely going to have to acquire a shotgun when she gets older.) A couple times she was over-tired and screamed for a while before finally falling asleep but for the most part she was as well behaved as Christophe.

dsc_7477.JPGLyon was probably the most interesting place we stayed as the hotel (“Hotel Carleton”) we stayed in was situated right in the middle of the old town. Of the photography I did over the course of the trip, I think the nicest shots were there. The best of them need somedsc_7496.JPG post processing and so aren’t attached to this article (or I wouldn’t get it published for another few months) but come back some time and look at my Gallery. At the moment I write this, I’m about 8 months behind in my processing (just finishing up my Zurich photos from my visit back in January).

dsc_7735.JPGDriving in Italy was an adventure all in its own. Many of the streets have no lane dividers which I suppose isn’t a problem for the Italians as even when present they don’t use them for anything more than a general advisory. The general policy seems to be “go where you want but make sure you don’t hit anyone. Let the others worry about not hitting you.” Over the course of a few hours in Turino, I had numerous people pass be on the left (in the oncoming traffic lane) only to suddenly cut in front of me and the forward lane on the right to go through a red “no right turn” light and, yes, turn right without even stopping. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they would also pass you on the right to cut in front, go through a red light, and turn left, again without stopping.

dsc_7650.JPGParking in Italy is wherever you can find space and if you want to put your “I can park here” lights on (sometimes referred as “hazard lights”) then you can even park in the traffic lane while blocking several cars in to their spots. It’s preferred to have at least two wheels on the sidewalk but not strictly required.

Don’t get me wrong… I like Italians! They have a passion for life that I find refreshing. I just wish they wouldn’t apply it so heavily to their driving. It was good to get back to Switzerland.

dsc_7768.JPGThe TomTom navigator unit we have is worth its weight in gold for trips like this. Had my wife or my mother been trying to follow a map while we attempted to find our way to some tourist location, there is a good chance not all of us would have returned. It’s almost certain that someone would have strangled someone else or jumped out a window at oncoming traffic in frustration.

Not that you should blindly trust the instructions the little box gives you… If the GPS signals are weak because it’s overcast or you’re between tall buildings, it often gets to thinking you’re somewhere other than your actual position. It then gives correct directions from that other location but it doesn’t help to be told “turn around when possible” while traveling in heavy traffic down a one-way street or “turn right” when you’re 5 meters past the intersection.

dsc_7531.JPGThe streets in Europe are not the nice grid pattern of most places in North America, either, and than can make it difficult to interpret the instructions. “Keep left” is not sufficient when a road splits in three directions. Many times I would stay to whatever side it said only to be trapped in a turn-only lane and have to deviate off the planned course. This is where the TomTom is the most useful, though, as it will happily plot you a new route from the place you are and the direction you are heading, never throwing out comments like, “You idiot, I said left!”

dsc_7784.JPGIt was a very busy trip what with covering so much ground over that amount of time but it wouldn’t have been that much less even staying in one place since so much of the effort went to dealing with the kids. Even as well behaved as they were, they take a huge amount of attention and time. It was great to have “Grandmother” around to take up some of the load, reading stories to Christophe at night and watching them both while France and I went out for a couple dinners by ourselves.It was a lot of fun, but not what you call a “relaxing vacation”. We plan to do as little as possible tomorrow before the normal routine takes over on Monday.



After seven weeks, we almost have everything unpacked. It’s been a busy couple weeks for us. Last weekend we finally got a vehicle: a 2002 Opal Zafira minivan. Yes, I’ve become a minivan owner. Does that count against my image of an exotic world traveller?

It’s small as minivans go, which is a good thing here. Even small it can be difficult to get out of in the parking lot of local stores. The back doors swing open rather than side back so getting Camille out in her carrier can be difficult in cramped locaions. Still, it seats seven in a pinch so we won’t have to make Dad walk to the restaurant while the rest of us drive.

Yesterday we took it for our first real drive as a family. We decided to drive up to Uetliberg which is at the top of a small mountain just west of Zurich. The “Top of Zurich” hotel is up there and they say that on a clear day you can see Austria. The guide book gives instructions on how to get there via the train but we thought we’d drive for a change.

You can’t get there by car. Our TomTom GPS navigator had us going along these gravel back roads which probably did get there but we believe are intended for cargo or other official vehicles. Normal people need to take the train and do a 7-minute uphil hike from the last station to the top. They have an official parking lot a few stations back we eventually found and then took the train. It definitely would have been easier this time to take the train from the start.

Today we’re going to visit some friends and go on a picnic.

Sorry for the lack of photos but the computer is in the living room and I’m trying to keep wires to a minimum. I hope to rectify this soon.

If I Ran The Zoo

I’m a little late posting this, but on our second weekend in Switzerland we too Christophe to the zoo. I don’t think he got quite enough sleep the night before because he was somewhat cranky but he generally enjoyed seeing all the animals. We saw snakes and penguins and elephants and lions and seals.

When I think of a zoo, I think of rows of cages each with a different animal.  I guess zoos used to be that way when I was a kid but now there are very few bars.  They’ve done a good job to make you feel like you’re right there with them and that they’re in a semi-natural habitat.  Sure, if you look you’ll see moats and the like hidden around the edge to ensure that the people are safe and the animals can’t escape but for the most part it’s a much better style than it used to be.