Saturday, April 29, 2006

Romanian Countryside

Since Stephen has Monday off work (it's May Day) we decided to head to the mountains of Romanian. We are staying with a village family. We have rented two rooms from them. They speak no English but with Stephen here that's no big deal. He is doing great speaking Romanian and carrying on conversations with them. I'm just smiling! :)

When we arrived today we headed to the town of Bran and toured the castle. Vlad, the impaler, used it as his headquarters. Our culture nicknamed him as Dracula but in reality the Romanians view him as a champion of the people. The castle is made right into the mountainside. The last royalty to reside there was headed by Queen Maria - you can imagine the reaction that got from a certain member of our family!

This is an agricultural area and we saw lots of farm equipment, ranging from tractors to mules to families with hoes! We stopped on the side of the road and made these pictures of a herd of sheep. Steve tried to talk to the shepherd but he didn't get much more than the air is clean here.

We eat breakfast and supper with the host family so we headed to the house for a meal around 6:30pm. The houses here are actually fairly large. There is even a yard which Maria has been roaming in since we arrived. The family has a small farm in the back of the house. Maria has reported seeing chickens and hearing goats and cows!

They cooked the meat over this real wood stove. We had chicken, lamb, beef and veal. Stephen tried it all and was a happy man! We also had bread with butter (they churned!), tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and cake. It was all delicious!

Tomorrow we plan to do a little hiking. Stephen is studying a trailmap now so he can find a trail to suit all our requests. This should be interesting. The lady asked what time we wanted breakfast and then laughed when Stephen said 7:30am! So I'm not sure what time we'll head out.

Maria just ran in from outside, the lady took her to meet the sheep and Maria was allowed to pet the baby lamb. She was so excited she ran right back out saying something about scraping off the bottom of her shoes with a stick. I don't think I WANT to know what she means by that! Ahh the country - isn't it grand?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Morning in Bratislava

Our flight back to Bucharest didn't leave Bratislava until around 2:30pm so we had the morning to explore. I'm ashamed to admit that when we booked this trip I had to look on the map to figure out where in the world Slovakia is located! I was concerned that it wouldn't be safe. It just sounds so...well...foreign! Actually the contrary is true, we felt very welcomed and safe. We spent the morning exploring and might even come back for a weekend!

We took a tour through the city center which is a beautiful and quaint older part of town. The little tram was fun and the historical information from the guide was very interesting. We were the only ones on the tram - English didn't seem to be the language of choice! Ha ha

This is St. Martin's Cathedral. It was once used to crown the Kings and Queens. It is still owned by the Catholic Church. That is the predominant religion here. Several of the Evangelical buildings have been taken over by the Jesuits.

All through the city center are these fun little statues. Some are of "local legends" that they have placed where the actually person frequented. They certainly added to the uniqueness of the area.

This church was built in the 1400s! It is the oldest standing building from the Hungarian Empire. It has been renovated and extended over the years but the original structure is still visible. It is used for a museum presently.

After our tour we stopped at a local restaurant and ate some of the cuisine from the area. Steve had a goulash that he raved about! I had a roast beef with cabbage which was ok. Maria had fried turkey which was good as well.

As we were finding our way back to the tram stop, I stopped to look in a store window at beautiful cut lead crystal bowls and glasses. Steve asked if I wanted to go in and I laughed and told him we couldn't afford it. I said that bowl there is 965! He looked and said the price was in Slovakian Crowns, in US dollars it would be around $30. So in we went - and out we came with a pretty little bowl! All these different currencies are starting to blow my mind.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Au Revoir Paris

Our last day in Paris...the best laid plans - well you probably know the rest!

We like to plan activities for each day on a trip so that we can do everything that we want to do and make the most of the area so the metro trips are limited. Well for some reason we switched the plans for Monday and Tuesday. We were planning to visit the Louvre on Monday morning. So when we showed up on Tuesday we found out that it closes EVERY Tuesday. So no Louvre for us!

After breakfast, Steve and Maria went to make some pictures for his running blog. He ran this morning in the park that is close to our hotel that Maria played in yesterday. I've included some of his pictures because the landscape in the park is gorgeous!

Then we headed for the Louvre - you know how that turned out! We did make Maria's picture in front of the inverted pyramid at the entrance while we were waiting around for it to "open".

After finding out that it wasn't going to open we walked down the Tuileries. Maria even managed to find a carousel! We also stopped at a place called Angelina's for the best hot chocolate in the world. It was so rich and creamy!

We headed back toward the hotel and stopped to play in the park until time to head for the airport. Then we freshened up in the hotel bathroom and hit the public to the airport. Maria and I were stunned when we opened the door to the Ladies room so we thought we'd include the picture!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Monday in Paris

Actually, I want to start with last night. We had a VERY late supper at Altitude 95, the restaurant on the Eiffel Tower, at 9pm. The food was very good and the view was outstanding. The service however was horrible! I guess they don’t have many repeat patrons. We enjoyed it since it was a once in a lifetime experience. Steve did have to carry Maria home since she fell asleep at the table!

After breakfast on Monday we decided to find a grocery store to get some French baguettes, deli meat, and fruit. Steve has decided that $30 a meal is ridiculous! We found the grocery but it took us a while to get there on the Metro.

After dropping off the groceries in the hotel room, we headed out to a neat shopping district, Bercy Commons, that I had read about. I found a pair of kaki capris that were on sale for $80, sadly they didn’t fit…Steve’s wallet! Ha ha

Since the shopping was a bust, we went into the park adjoining it to eat our lunch and feed the bread scraps to the ducks.

Next Maria picked the Parc de Monceau since we had read it had a great playground. We spent about an hour there sitting on a bench watching her play. The landscaping in the park is simply breathtaking!

When we left the park we went exploring and found this store…

The translation would be “House of Chocolate”. To give you an idea of the caliber of this place it would cost a little over $100 for 2.5 pounds of chocolate. We all picked out ONE treat! I picked almonds covered in dark chocolate – I’ve had two so far…outstanding! Stephen chose a chocolate bar with 60% cocoa. He hasn’t had any of his yet – drives me batty!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday in Paris

After an awesome breakfast at the Hilton we headed out for our day. On the way to the Metro we saw the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon.

Then we rode the metro toward Notre Dame Cathedral. Maria loves riding the Metro as you can tell from the pictures.

Notre Dame was beautiful. It is so awesome in person that I’m afraid the pictures will not do it justice. It was built between 1163 and 1345, then renovated in the 19th century.

On next stop was the Palais du Luxembourg.

There is a huge park in front with a great playground. We had to pay to enter but it looked great so Maria gave it a try. She went on the track with a rope swing that she loved so much she literally rode for over an hour. She even met this little girl named Allison. She is from Canada but she spoke English so they hit it off!

Our final stop on this outing was to Saint Eustache. There is a sculpture of a head and hand in the courtyard next to it.

We’re resting in our room now and have reservations to eat at Altitude 95, the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower tonight at 9pm! I think I’ll need a coffee.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Paris - oo la la

We left Slovakia this morning around 8 am and headed to Paris! When we arrived, we took the public transportation in search of our hotel. There was a guy doing a puppet show on one of the trams!

After checking into our hotel, we went in search of lunch and the Eiffel tower. We found lunch at a pizzeria, yeah sauce on a pizza! Steve's pizza had an overeasy egg in the middle. He said it was yummy! After lunch we spent some time walking along the Seine.

We found the miniature version of the Statue of Liberty. That was very interesting to see.

On to the Eiffel Tower. It was odd to see it in person after seeing pictures of it all these years. It seemed almost fake to see it in person. It was crazy under the tower as the National Soccer Finals for France are tonight. Evidently, the "pep rally" was taking place under the Eiffel Tower. Also there seems to be a custom to kiss, long and hard, while standing under the tower! We stood in line for a little over an hour to buy a ticket then in another line to get in the elevator.

We took the elevator up to the very top - great view! Then we walked most of the way down. I found the post office and mailed several postcards. The postmark is of the tower when you mail from there.

I hope this was enough pictures of me today...Steve drove me crazy trying to make my picture today!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bratislava, Slovakia

We are on our way to Paris by way of Bratislava, Slovakia. We arrived here in time for supper. We are staying at a Holiday Inn! Small world.

The restaurant in the hotel is outstanding and we sampled several of the local specialties. Even with soup, two appetizers and three entrees the bill only came to $35.

I thought some of you might enjoy seeing the Slovakian currency. European money is much more colorful than ours. More from Paris later!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

Happy Easter!! Although we found out this morning that our church follows the Orthodox calendar to avoid confusion and Easter is next weekend. All the American kids were in "spring" colors this morning though. I know it doesn't matter when you "celebrate" as long as you understand that Jesus is risen and is alive and well today and acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior.

After church we went by the Romanian Village Museum. They were hosting a craft fair with native crafts from the villages. The Museum itself is set up with buildings furnished as they would have been in the villages in the past. We looked around and also purchased some Romanian eggs. These are actually eggs that have been blown and painted. They were amazing. Maria and I had a hard time picking out the 5 we bought!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bucur Obor

This morning we went to Bucur Obor, an indoor/outdoor marketplace. It spans 16 city blocks and there are vendors selling everything from produce, shoes and household goods to live chickens. We never actually saw the live chickens but I think I could smell them!

By the looks of the produce radishes are in season, along with all kinds of "greens". Also most of the people where buying these vine looking plants with small yellow blossoms. Some were twisted into crowns. I think it might have something to do with Easter. The Orthodox Easter is next weekend and that is when most people here will celebrate.

The only thing I bought was a great wicker basket. It was only 7 USD! I was tempted by the shoes - you know me! But I just couldn't get up the nerve to try-on any in all the chaos.

We did find a soft serve ice cream on the way out. They swirled them up nice and tall and all three only cost 1 USD! It was delicious and cheap. Just what we were looking for. Ha!