Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Pregnant in Portugal

You know, this post is more or less ancient history.  I mean, it actually happened pre-Ziggy.  About 5 months pre-Ziggy.  I suppose that, after this particular trip, I just got caught up in all the baby preparations and last travel hoo-rahs, and never got around to blogging about this great trip I took in spring 2010.  Paul and I had left Russia in summer of 2009, effectively ending our Olmsted tour.  However, I was still lucky enough to be invited to the Olmsted Ladies' Getaway.  This is a fun week-end where we all ditch our respective dudes and kids and head out for a good time in a city none of us live in.  This was something started back in 2008 with a trip to Copenhagen.  In 2009, we had a lovely time in Madrid.  In 2010, we decided to return to the Iberian peninsula, with Lisbon as our destination.

Here's the thing about Lisbon.  It isn't like Paris, or London, or Rome, where you can't spit without hitting an important tourist site.  In fact, as I'm typing this, it is hard to name anything that we saw.  I remember the experience, a little bit about the history, but I am hard-pressed to tell you what I actually did.  I'm pulling out my Rough Guide to refresh my memory.  My main impression of Lisbon was that it is a charming, charming city. 

One of the most noticeable things about Lisbon is the ubiquitous presence of tiles.  Many of the pedestrian areas (and even some non-pedestrian areas) are done in these beautiful patterns.



Monday, August 05, 2013

Other Sights Around Budapest

So, on our two days in Budapest, we did our best to see as much as we could, despite my summer cold and the oppressive heat.  This included a fun trip to the "Terror House"!

The Terror House is NOT a year-round haunted mansion.  Rather, it is a museum commemorating the victims of two different regimes that reigned in Hungary at two different times: fascism and communism.  We'd been told that it is quite a good exhibit, and as we are particularly interested in the history of communism in eastern Europe, we couldn't pass up the chance to see this museum.

The exterior was, I must admit, pretty impressive.  Part of me was expecting the same kinds of museums you see in much of the rest of the region.  Small, poorly lit rooms with little pieces of paper with fading typewriting taped onto display cases.  Not here.  Rather, this is what you see upon approach.

Despite the 95 degree weather on this particular day, this view gave me something of a chill.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Hungary: Tourist Fatigue Sets In

Well, although you might not be able to tell it from this blog, we're still alive and well here in Dayton, Ohio.  We're still enjoying life back in the US, and while we are having American-style adventures (The Taft house!  Family reunions!  Sesame Street Live), I just haven't posted about them.

But, I'm not so much feeling like writing about those things tonight.  I have not written about one of our last trips in Europe.  Ever since we had arrived in Germany, we had been trying trying trying to use Germanwings.com.  They ALWAYS seemed to have great deals, but they were never to places we wanted to go or on dates that we could actually get away.  Well, we made one final attempt to get somewhere, and happily, they had a deal to get the three of us to Budapest!  We booked the tickets and we were off!!

We drove down to Stuttgart, and immediately fell in love with their airport because of this:

It seems that we are at that point in life when a well-placed play area makes my day.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Belated Bulgaria, Part II

I took several pictures in Bulgaria that are really just images of daily life within the capital city.

Pensioners playing (and observing) a spirited game of chess.
A true spectator sport.
I can't place where exactly we saw this statue, but it is creepy.
It has a vaguely Soviet feel...Is this the Bulgarian version of the Lada?

Rather puts me in mind of that toy from Toy Story:



The official dish of Bulgaria is meat, topped with meat, followed by a meat chaser.  

This is the kind of plate that leads to the "meat sweats", as one of our friends calls it!
And, one of the stranger sculptures I've ever happened upon.  This was just some random dinosaur statue in the back of what I believe was a banquet hall of some kind.  I don't know why it was there, or why it has a ball.  
Srsly, WTF?

And with that, I have finished blogging about Bulgaria!  Wish I could have spent some time outside of the city, but I'm grateful for being able to at least see Sofia!


Belated Bulgaria, Part I

The other day, I was just kind of poking around our files, backing up photos, organizing folders, and I came across some photos that I realized I haven't ever posted or shared!

While we were living in Germany, both Paul and I found our way to Bulgaria, though not at the same time.  Paul went for work-related business, while I headed there during Paul's deployment to visit a fellow Olmsteder!

Unfortunately, we never got a chance to see much outside of the capital city of Sofia.  However, as it turns out, there was more than enough to see and do in Sofia.  These pictures are a combination of both Paul's and my trips to this lovely country.

Let me introduce you to my friend and hostess as well as her baby (though you can'd see her baby in the picture, obviously!)  As you can see, I brought Ziggy along on this trip.  I was proud of myself because I took this trip while Paul was deployed, which meant that I traveled to Bulgaria from Germany on my own with a 7-month old!  I'm still proud of that.  Anyway, my hostess was generous enough to take the day to show me around her wonderful city!




Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Trip to My Own Childhood

A few weeks ago, we took Ziggy to the Indianapolis Children's Museum.  When I was a little girl, we had friends that lived in Indianapolis, and every time we'd visit them, we'd get to stop by this exact same museum.  How weird it was to come here with my OWN kid!!

The entryway of the museum is pretty cool, complete with a mama dinosaur and her baby climbing/peeking into the museum.  Ziggy also had his first encounter with a Transformer!

I'm not pregnant in this photo.  My sweater is just caught
between my hand and Ziggy's leg.  Felt the need to clarify.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tafty Goodness

Last month (March 2013), Paul and I went on a daytime date to Cincinnati.  We went there to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, but we also wanted to check one other thing off of our list.  We had to get the national park passport stamp that was just a few blocks from my old place.  We ventured to the William Howard Taft National Historic Site.  Our view upon arrival:

Our car was the second one in the parking lot.  I assume the other was from one of the rangers at the site.  I think the designers of the site were a little ambitious when considering how many people would be interested in learning about William Howard Taft.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Shades of the Motherland


In a way, coming back to Wright-Patterson AFB is a little bit like coming home.  I went to grad school in Cincinnati while Paul was working up in Dayton.  Once we got married, I moved up to Dayton and we lived here for a year before we moved on to Texas.  So, this is the location of our first place together, my first full-time job, our first post-college experiences...

We always knew that we might come back to Dayton, and we also knew that, if we did come back here, we would do it differently.  You see, on our first time here, we weren't so very interested in historical things or experiencing the cultural offerings of our region.  Back then, we weren't collecting passport stamps.  We weren't geocaching.  We were just hanging out with our friends, trying to make it from one week-end to the next.

This time around, we knew that we'd do Ohio differently.  The problem is that a lot of the things we want to do are not exactly kid-friendly.  So, a few days ago, we decided to do something we've done a few times before we left Germany.  We left Ziggy at school for the full day and each took a day off from work to spend the day doing whatever the heck we wanted.  On this particular daytime date, we decided to spend our day in Cincinnati, where they had a temporary exhibition featuring the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  For reasons unknown, Ziggy is just not into ancient history, so we knew that he would be a disaster if we tried to bring him along.

The Cincinnati Museum Center is housed in the Union Terminal.  Trains still come and go, but obviously not as many or as frequently as when Cincinnati and rail travel were in their heyday.  I must say that they did a great job with the remodeling.  It is a beautiful building, both inside and out, and a space that could have been sad and depressing has been turned into a space of learning and fun!

The outside of the building.  It is done in an art deco kind of style, which has these blocky motifs that remind me of some of the architecture we  encountered around eastern Europe.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Trip to the Fire House

This might be a little Fam-Spam'ish, but, I wanted to post some pics of an outing we took while we were in Tennessee.  Last year, the Brentwood fire department saved my dad's life.  I won't go into the details here, but suffice it to say that we are eternally grateful. Upon one of my dad's visits to thank the men at the station, they said that they would be willing to show his grandson around the station.  And, so, on a chilly December day, we took them up on their offer.

Ziggy is at the prime fire truck age.

At first, he seemed rather stunned and unsure of what was going on.
Still a little unsure about what to make of all this.  He'd only ever seen fire trucks in books and when we drive by the fire station.
Eventually, the love of all things related to transportation and trucks kicked in, and he was like a pig in mud.

"I'm in a FIRE TRUCK!"
Things got even more exciting when a hat came into the picture.

I'm in a FIRE TRUCK and I'm wearing a HAT!!!!
Checking out the back seat.  Not as interesting as the front seat.
Eventually, we moved out of the truck to pose in front of it, though Ziggy was very eager to run around the truck from the outside and not so eager to smile for the camera.

There are more fire trucks to be seen!
The best picture I could get of Ziggy and my dad.

I love this picture of Ziggy and my dad because it is so true to life.  Dad laughing and Ziggy's antics, and Ziggy just being a goof.
As we were leaving the station, the firetruck went out on a call.  Lights flashing, but no sirens.  We were able to stand in the parking lot and wave good bye.

What a cool experience!
Visiting the fire station would have been a blast in any situation.  However, knowing that they were responsible for saving my father's life less than a year ago made it even more amazing and very meaningful.  To the Brentwood Fire Department, thank you, from the bottom of my family's heart.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Our "Other" Passports

We love passports chez TexasDevils.  They fit so nicely into our love of checking things off lists and filling in maps.  While we lived in Europe, we got all kinds of cool stamps and visas in our passports.  Now that we live in Ohio, it is not quite as easy to get new stamps.  At least, not in our US passports.  However, thanks to the brilliance of the National Park Service, we can collect stamps in our park passports!  I've mentioned these fantastic books on this blog in the year before we left for Russia.  The long and short of it is that, any time you visit a location administered by the NPS, you can get a cancellation stamp in your book.  This is almost our favoritest thing to do together.  (I personally prefer getting stamps in my REAL passport, but I'll take what I can get.)

The funny (or sad, depending on how you look at it) is that there are people who are even crazier about their passports than we are.  There are entire motorcycle clubs that travel around the US from NPS site to NPS site, filling out their passports.  We frequently hear about these people from the park rangers, who say that they will get people who come in and JUST get the stamps but don't actually visit the site or learn about the history.  That seems like cheating to me.

In any case, literally the day after we arrived back in the US, we got Ziggy his own passport.  We were in Baltimore, meeting up with one of our cars that had shipped from Germany, and we stopped by the President Street Station, which is was the epicenter of a riot in the days leading up to the Civil War.  I hadn't ever heard of the incident.  The big news from the day was this:

Ziggy clearly doesn't fully comprehend the awesomeness that has just happened.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Westward-ho!!

It has been a few months since I wrote on this blog.  It has been quite an interesting, and, frankly, rocky re-entry into life here in the US.  Over the course of the last few months, we've visited three different branches of the family, got Ziggy set up in daycare, celebrated Christmas and New Years, and actually moved into our house and unpacked.  It seems hard to believe that less than three months ago, we were still in Germany.  So much has changed and happened.  But, we have at last settled into some semblance of a routine, and we're even starting to get out and do a few things.

I have missed writing here a lot, but it is always hard to justify taking time out of my day or evening to post when there are still boxes to unpack or work hours to put in or a kid to play with or dinner to make or friends to call or email or thank you cards to write...and the list goes on and on and on.  But, tonight, I've decided that I'm going to treat myself out to a guilt-free blog entry.  The question, though, is what to write about?  I actually have lots of pics and experiences from Europe that I haven't written about, but I think I will write about something a little more recent...

At the end of December, we had to drive from Dayton, Ohio (our new home) to St. Louis to pick up our car, which had just arrived from Europe.  Given that there are a few national park passport stamps to get in St. Louis, we decided to spend our one morning at the most recognizable structure in the city: the Gateway Arch!!

The Gateway Arch is part of the Jefferson Expansion National Memorial, a whole museum/space that honors westward expansion in North America.  You really can't go to St. Louis without going to the Arch.  In fact, I spent 6 years in nearby central Illinois and we'd frequently visit St. Louis when we wanted to go to the "big city".  I probably visited the Arch at least once a year during that time frame, if not more.  How strange it was to be back here!  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it looks much the same as it did 20 some odd years ago, with one big exception:

Ziggy being the big difference between now and when I visited in the 6th grade.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A New Chapter

As I write this, I'm sitting in our temporary apartment on Ramstein Air Base.  Our household goods were shipped over a month ago.  Our cars have likewise started their trans-Atlantic journey.  The cat has had his vet exam to receive his health certificate.  I have a fully loaded and charged iPad, hoping that it will entertain Ziggy on our long flight in the morning.

Yes, we are leaving Europe tomorrow.  On our last night in Europe, I find myself thinking back to our last night in the US, before we flew to Russia.  We were flying out of San Francisco to Frankfurt, and then on to St. Petersburg.  Here's what I wrote, right before we left.  Reading back through the things I wrote about right after we arrived is cracking me up.  I remember how challenging and humorous it was to navigate life in Russia in the beginning.  We had to find shower curtains and hair dryers and library cards.  And grocery shopping was a whole other adventure.  

But, we found our way and muddled through.  And, eventually, we came to enjoy and appreciate the nifty cultural diferences between the US and Russia, and then again between the US and Germany.

Over the last five years, we learned a lot about ourselves.  It turns out we L-O-V-E to travel.  We love to live abroad.  We love experiencing other cultures first-hand.  And so we did.  We saw things I never imagined I would see and experienced things I never dreamed of experiencing.  The Pyramids with a private guide.  The Taj Mahal with some wonderful friends.  A night lost in the Sahara.  Oktoberfest in a dirndl.  Auschwitz.  The Kremlin.  The steppes of Kazakhstan.  Flamenco dancers in Madrid.  Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.  Riding ponies in Iceland.  Dancers in Armenia.

I am beyond grateful for these experiences. But I am even more grateful for the many, many, many friends I have made over the past five years.  Some were friends I made in Russia who, like us, were both thrilled and frustrated by daily life in the former USSR.  Others were fellow Olmsteders that we either hosted or visited in other countries.  (I think at last count, we'd mooched off sixteen different Olmsted scholars in their respective cities.  Seriously, people, if you tell us to visit you someday, we most likely will.  Especially if you live in a place we've never visited before.)  Once we moved to Germany, I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends within and outside of the military community here.  So, thank you to all of these people for your friendship.  It has meant the world to me!

Of course, the biggest and most life-changing experience of our time here was the arrival of Ziggy.  Tomorrow will be that child's first time in his home country.  I've been trying to get him to chant U-S-A!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!  

To be honest, though, this is hardest move yet. And not because everything is more complicated with a toddler.  It is hard to turn the page from this particular chapter in our life.  Part of it is because I will miss the fantastic people and travel opportunities I've had here in Europe.  But, I think the larger part of it is that I am saying goodbye to the town, the streets, the home where we first brought Ziggy home.

Don't get me wrong--we are happy to be going back to the US.  We are happy to be living close to family.  We are excited to be living in a place where we once again understand everything that is being said.  (Our German--not so very good...)  We are happy to see our own historic and natural sights within the US.  We enjoy new experiences and adventures

And I promise that, tomorrow, I'll have a positive attitude about this move.  Still, for tonight, I'm not feeling it.  Instead, I am spending this evening reminiscing about our past five years and how wonderful they have been, and how much I will miss our life here.

This picture breaks my heart a little bit but it sums up what I'm feeling tonight.  

Ziggy, saying good-bye to the only bedroom he has ever known.
And with that, I say farewell to Europe (for now).  America--we'll see you tomorrow!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mykonos: The Final Island

The final island on our cruise itinerary was Mykonos.  What a fantastic island!  Similar to Santorini, its main draw is its atmosphere.  Quaint shops and cafes, beautiful views, interesting buildings.  Mykonos doesn't have the geologic history that Santorini has, but it makes up for that by not having unbelievably steep cliffs and stairs to navigate.  From a parent's perspective, Mykonos was much more manageable than Santorini.

Paul and Ziggy at the beginning of our manageable trip to Mykonos.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rhodes is Not "Meh"

After our experience in Crete, I can't deny that I was a little less excited about our next port-of-call: Rhodes.  In my mind, it was sure to be similar to Crete.  Kind of flat, a harbor, home of an ancient civilization that managed to build something pretty nifty keen (The Colossus).  Crete had let me down, though, and I was prepared to be disappointed for a second time in as many days.

We disembarked from the ship and stopped at the harbor for a family picture.

In this photo, I'm thinking, "If this is like Crete, I'm getting my butt back
to the ship in time for the buffet lunch. It's Gyros Day!"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Crete. Meh.

The second stop in our tour de Greek Isles was Crete.  I'm just going to give you the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front).  Crete is probably a really interesting place, and lots of people love it.  But, to be frank, I just felt very "meh" about it.  Granted, it is hard to follow up something like Santorini.  Still, you would think that the center of Europe's very first civilization (the Minoans) would have something more to offer.  Maybe it is just that we were only in Chania, and other places, like Knossos (home of the minotaur's labyrinth) would have more to offer.  Maybe it is just that we were lazy tourists that day.  Or maybe Crete is really just meh.  I don't know.  But, I did manage to snap a few pics of some interesting things around the island.

The Chania Venetian Harbor. It may not surprise you to learn that it was built when Crete was under Venetian control.
Paul and Ziggy at the harbor.  I really can't describe how "meh" I
was about this place. I can't even think of anything interesting to write about
this ancient harbor.  What's wrong with me?
I believe these are old trading halls, located on the harbor.
Really, the coolest thing about this island was the fact that you can't help thinking, "Wow.  The MINOANS used to live here.  I learned about them in the 7th grade.  Now I'm standing here look at street signs sending me to their 'Kydonia', whatever that is."

I looked it up.  "Kydonia" is an archaeological site with Minoan artifacts.
In our pre-Ziggy days, we might have gone to see what the Kydonia is all about.  But, we had Ziggy with us, so this is where we ended up instead...

This playground gave me flashbacks to the playgrounds I would visit with friends in Russia.  Note the excessive graffiti and large gap between the slide and wall.  Safety and appearances are not a high priority.
Leaving the playground.

This is the only picture of me on Crete.  I'm in the Municipal Gardens,
and I realized we didn't have any pictures of me on the island.
That's how "meh" I found this island.  I almost didn't even
remember to get a picture of myself on the island.
We did stop in for a great lunch, however.  This place served Ziggy some awesome yogurt, and us some awesome dolmas.

Yogurt makes this kid happy.  Also, cars (see toy on table).
Lastly, I have to post the most interesting picture (I think) from the day...DOCTOR FISH!  This was actually one of those salons where you can go to have fish eat off the dead skin on your feet.

I approached this fish VERY CAREFULLY.  It wasn't clear if it was a
giant stuffed fish or a human in a fish costume. I walked by expecting
it to jump out at me.  It didn't.  It was a giant stuffed fish.  True story.
And that was Crete.  As I said: meh.  Our next stop, Rhodes, was MUCH more interesting, and I enjoyed it so much more.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stupendous Santorini

Our first port-of-call on our 2012 Mediterranean cruise was Santorini.  Santorini is amazing in about 400 different ways.  First of all, it is simply gorgeous.  The morning of our day in Santorini, when I opened the curtains in our room on the ship, this is the view I had.

Certainly one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Roman Redux

Continuing in my theme of writing about places we were, like, a while ago, I have decided to write about a more recent adventure.  This one only happened, like, four months prior to my writing!!  Earlier this year, the three of us had the chance to go cruisin', Mediterranean style. We flew from our home in Germany to Rome, where we spent one night prior to boarding the ship.

We have been fortunate enough to be able to say that we have both traveled to Rome before.  Back in 2004, Paul was "deployed" to Italy, and I came for a 3-week visit, during which time we were able to spend a week-end in Rome.  One of my biggest regrets from that trip, however, was that, at the time of our first visit, I did not actually go INTO the Colosseum.  It was hot, there was a line, Paul wasn't too impressed when he visited on a separate trip, and we still had to visit the Forum before the end of the touring day.  So, we decided, "meh", and skipped it.

Now, nearly 10 years later, I had decided that I actually DID need to see the interior of the Colosseum.  So we packed our kid into the stroller and headed out for a walk that took us by the Circus Maximus.  This was THE place to go for chariot racing in ancient Rome.  It is very near the Colosseum, and today it acts as a public park.  We didn't go in, but that didn't stop me from taking a few walk-by shots...

Street sign, ancient Roman style.  Not sure if the marker is an original.  I'm guessing the concrete pillar it is mounted on is not.
View of the Circus in passing.  Doesn't look terribly historic with all the construction fences and trucks around, but many centuries ago, it did host the Roman version of NASCAR.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ste-Mère-Église

During our trip to Normandy in August 2011, we spent an afternoon driving around the region and found ourselves in Sainte-Mere-Eglise.  This town is best known as the place where a paratrooper got tangled up in the village's church spire and played dead until he was taken prisoner by the Germans.  John Steele's D-Day story had a happy ending, but, sadly, many other paratroopers were caught in trees and buildings and were killed before they could cut themselves down.

The church at Ste. Mere-Eglise.  I don't think these trees were actually there on D-Day.
The wonderful thing about Ste. Mere-Eglise...Nearly 70 years after the invasion, there are still plaques and memorials all over the town commemorating the liberation of the town.  One of the more interesting memorials can be found on the church spire.

A life-size, permanent effigy.  It isn't a sculpture--it is actually a dummy dressed up as a paratrooper.  And I have to say that I really like it.  It might be a little cheesy, but I can certainly appreciate the sentiment and the creativity.
The church features a more beautiful tribute to the events of the day: a beautiful stained glass window.

Note the paratroopers depicted on the left and the right of the Virgin Mary.
A close-up of the bottom of the window, written in both French and English.
Cafes and shops around town honored the day in their special ways...

This cafe offered a "liberation menu".
The C-47 cafe, where we bought Ziggy his very first ice cream.  He didn't like it, so, sadly, I had to finish it for him.  As the French would say...Tant pis!
And, finally, no trip down memory lane would be complete without a pic of Ziggy, to prove that he was actually there...
More interested in the banana he is eating than the
historical significance of the church behind him.
I have to say that, after 4 years of living abroad, it was nice to be in a place that was so fervently pro-America.  Don't get me wrong--I have loved life abroad and thoroughly enjoyed traveling to places where America is not-so-very-loved.  That being said, thousands of American servicemen died on foreign soil in order to liberate Europe. And it is nice to see that the sacrifice is appreciated, even 70 years later.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pointe du Hoc

In between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach (the other beach taken by American forces) lies a little rock outcropping.


This little outcropping, as it turns out, was very important on June 6th, 1944.  It was well-fortified by Germans with lots of French guns.  (Military terminology is not my strong suit.  Obviously).  But, from this vantage point, you could get a clear view of both Omaha and Utah Beach, which could ultimately really complicate things for the invading troops.  So the Army Rangers showed up and scaled the cliff with ROPE LADDERS.

Soldiers demonstrating the rope ladders they used on D-Day.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Omaha Beach

So far, I've written blog posts about the Brits' role in the D-Day invasion.  And, though I am so appreciative of the sacrifices those soldiers made, I can't deny that I am more interested in the history of the American troops.  It was great seeing the Pegasus Museum and Gold Beach, but it was only when we hit Omaha Beach that I started to really recognize the magnitude of the events of that day.

It is clearly pointless for me to reconstruct the events of that day, since it has been done so well in so many other places.  Websites, books, movies, mini-series...I could not even come close to doing it justice.  Instead, I will just post some pictures and some of my impressions.

Omaha Beach.