Scenes from Our Neighborhood

October 22nd, 2010 by carolyn

So we have spent this week exploring the neighborhood in between doing fun stuff like getting phones, getting a new drivers license and organizing our stuff.  It has been beautiful autumn weather here and its been nice getting out and exploring our new (old) home.

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The lake, art, funky buildings and what American neighborhood would be complete without 7-11 and McDonalds?  So for those of you still reading, a poll……..

Is anyone interested in hearing a bit about our observations as we move back to Chicago?  Is it interesting or just annoying?  When this whole blog started out 3+ years ago, Matt was writing a lot of “wow, this is really interesting about London stuff”.  Is it time to do a bit of this in reverse?  Let us know what you think.

A Safe Passage to America

October 18th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’re back! So far, all is smooth, we are getting a lot done and beginning a jetlagged adjustment. On a happy happy note, Chewy behaved like a professional traveling cat and arrived this afternoon at O’Hare. After about 30 minutes of curious, spooked poking around, he’s finding his old hangouts in his old home and following me around like he hadn’t spent 16 hours in a box. Way to go Chewy! Here he is having his first US meal:

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Lots to do and next week, I start work again! Sweet! 🙂

End of the road where are we now

October 12th, 2010 by matt

For those of you still reading, it’s wrap up time for our grand tour. Let’s finish in a suitably grand style. Can you guess where we are right at this moment?

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This is Heroes Square, a memorial from around 1900 as a tribute to this country’s history. It’s big and grand, so it’s also been a scene to various large protests and celebrations as well.

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This city is also known for it’s thermal baths. This is the largest of them and it’s quite grand indeed. Both pools on the ends are naturally heated between about 90 and 100, which is quite soothing on a cold October day after you’ve been walking your feet off around Eastern Europe. Much more about this at a later time. 🙂

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This large church took a couple of hundred years to build and complete since this country has been through quite a few wars and changes in government. Inside is kind of a guilded neo-baroque style which fits this city very well.

OK, those were the harder ones. Let’s try this one.

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This is the parliament building. It’s the largest building in Hungary and the largest Parliament building in Europe. It’s in a neo-gothic style and is situated on the famous river that runs through this city.

OK, one more. Then I’m done.

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Here you can see the parliament building as situated on a river made famous by a waltz by Strauss. Think the movie 2001 when the space ship is docking. It also divides the city in two. In fact, until the 1800s, this city was actually two cities and finally merged into the name we know so well.

It’s Budapest! Yes, our trip has ended in Hungary. Budapest is an impressive city. Everything from the metro to random buildings all over town are impressively grand. Seems like a nice way to end our trip. Actually, as I hit post on this, we are going to shut down our trusty laptop (so happy we brought it) and head to the airport cause this trip is now over! Hope this was fun to read.

Back to city where are we now

October 11th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’ve left the mountains and nearing the end of our adventure. Soon, moving and readjusting to life in the US starts again. Here we go.

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The entire old center of this city is a UNESCO world heritage site. The step-like slopes are very common in it. This is just a cool looking building with a little over-street bridge.

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This is one of the famous rivers I’d heard of but never actually seen. It runs along the southern end of the Old Town section of town.

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So I’ve mentioned the Old Town section of town. If you’ve been here, this picture should help. It’s St Mary’s Basilica and it’s the big church that is part of the largest medieval squares in Europe. It’s always busy and full of life. There’s still a flower market but a lot of it has been handed over to tourists.

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Well, Prague has a castle. So does this city (sensing a theme?). Give up? It’s Krakow. The Old Town is truly a lovely place to visit. Within such a compact site, there are wall-to-wall things to see. The main square is truly one of those perfectly well-laid out places. You could sit there for hours and just soak it in. It would be nice if the US still had the concept of a town or city square. On the outskirts is a 600 year old salt mine you can tour which was quite cool as well. We’re nearing the end of our trip (only one more of these left), but it’s been a great time. Reality beckons once again very soon. We’re sad to finish traveling, but excited for the changes already in progress.

A Mini Where Are we

October 10th, 2010 by matt

Well, we had to leave the Tatras at some point, but we didn’t really leave immediately. Time to guess where we went from there.

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The architecture of this town originally was dominated by lovely wood buildings like this style. In recent years it’s become a popular spot for the natives of this country, so more modern stuff has appeared. But there is still plenty of really nice homes like this all over the place, especially as you leave town and head into the mountains.

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We took a walk into the mountains and, unlike where we were the previous couple of days, this section had some non-alpine type trees, giving us a nice taste of fall.

Confused? Well, then this probably won’t help.

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This is the view from our hotel overlooking the valley and the mountains surrounding it. Give up? It’s Zacopane, the primary holiday destination for the Polish side of the Tatras. We simply woke up one morning, found a bus and found ourselves in a new country an hour or so later. While it’s obviously a bit on the touristy side, when you leave the main bits of it, there’s some really beautiful and interesting aspects to it. One particular road seems to have a whole lot of those nice wooden buildings with rooms to rent for your stay while others have set up ad hoc restaurants and pubs. This being the off-season and us being there for only one night, we failed to really explore that deeper. Only so much time for travel, alas. And the walk we took was through a really nice valley carved out into the mountains.

Where in nature are we now?

October 7th, 2010 by matt

Well, if you’ve been keeping up with my posts, then you know we’re in Slovakia now. The big question is, where in Slovakia are we? These pictures would be a big hint, since there’s obviously a lot of mountains.

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Here’s the view from our hotel room.

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Well, we’ve managed to climb most of the way up and too tired to smile for a photo. OK, there’s a cable car up to about 5800 feet that we took up. Then we hiked along at that elevation and made our way down to see this:

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The spot we took this picture in used to be a pine forest. But a wind storm in 2004 managed to clear cut a lot of the forests around the area. Loggers seem to be helping it along a bit. But it did give us this nice field to view the mountains from. I doubt any of this is helping if you’re trying to guess. I just love some of these pictures. Here’s that last “hint”.

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Not too bad a mirror image. That triangle looking thing is actually for ski jumping.

Give up? We’re in the Tatra Mountains. They are on the Slovak/Polish border. It’s an alpine climate, so it almost feels like the Alps, but the beer is $1.50 and it’s really Eastern Europe. It was really nice to get out of the cities a bit and enjoy some crisp mountain air for a spell.

Our bonus picture for the day is, once again, a train station. But it’s a bit different this time. In the Tatras on the Slovak side, there are a series of mountain towns/resorts. They are connected by a little electric railway so, if you time it right, you can get from one end of the area to the other in an hour. Here is one of the stations. I think it’s a bit of a change from the Plzen station.

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The lake pictures came from the next station down the line, Strebske Pleso. Our hotel was in Tatranska Lomnica on the opposite end of the valley. The monster peak from our hotel window is Lomnický štít which is 8600 feet tall and you can get up to the top of in a Gondola (we decided to take a hike that day instead of going to the summit). Lovely stuff.

South Moravian Where Are We Now

October 4th, 2010 by matt

So the title will give you a hint. We’re still in the Czech Republic, but we’ve moved into the lands of Moravia, which is different from Bohemia. Here we go.

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This town is an UNESCO heritage site for it’s amazingly preserved town center. Literally it’s stuck in time in the 16th century. It’s surrounded on three sides by ponds which acted as defense, fishing and water supply for the town.

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The crown jewel of this town are these well preserved Renaissance facades in the town square. We spent many an hour enjoying them. The town square was really quite nice and the town is now ringed by parks. It was a great way to spend a couple of days.

Give up? It’s Telc. Nice hotel, nice people, the chateau was really interesting and the size made it quite accessible. And in early October, it’s very very quiet. I hear in the summer it’s a bit of a mob scene. Oh yeah! The sun came out again! 🙂

And this is a bonus picture for Lisa who has been asking where the Matt/Food/Beer pictures. Here you go!

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A Where are we two-fer

October 2nd, 2010 by matt

So we passed through a couple of places, all beer themed. Time to place your bets.

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This is the tallest church spire in the Czech Republic.

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This should make it easier if you at least look things up. This is the famous brewery in town. From the train station, the smell of malt was quite strong (yum!). We took an excellent tour of it and sampled some of their famous beer brewed the old skool way.

Give up? One last hint. It’s the home of Pilsner. Yep, it’s Plzen. Great smaller city with a nice lively vibe. And the home of Pilsner Urquell.

Next up, we continue on the beer trail.

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This lovely town square is one of the largest in Europe. The town hall in the photo has some really cool gargoyles on it too.

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This is a former smokehouse that is now a restaurant tied to the brewery that makes this place famous. If you look close, you can make out the beer.

No, it’s not St Louis. Budweiser is actually a Czech beer. Anheuser-busch bought some sort of rights to the recipe and created a bastardized version of it. This is České_Budějovice, the original home of Budweiser.

As a bonus photo, I like train stations and here’s the Plzen Train Station. Pretty cool building.

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Off for more travels! 🙂

Take a Wild Guess on This One

September 30th, 2010 by matt

Well, it’s time for a new installment. I’ll wager this one is a bit tougher. 🙂

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This is one of those old spa towns. The town feels a bit like the movie Cocoon in that it’s full of old people (mostly Germans) stocking up on nasty-ass sulfur tasting water. These are some of the grand hotels in the center of town.

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It’s recently history hasn’t all been roses. After the Iron Curtain came down, their foreign visitors couldn’t come and visit. This building looks absolutely magnificent and, while a large part of the town has been restored to it’s former glory, there’s a lot in need to major work like this building.

So, still unsure? I doubt this will help:
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This grand colonnade sits overlooking a lovely park in the center of town. Inside is some great iron work and paintings on the ceiling. The fountain to the right does a bit of choreography to classical music every two hours.

Give up? It’s Marianske Lazne, formerly known as Marienbad. It’s about 30 miles from the German border in the Czech Republic and is one of two major spa towns in West Bohemia. Behind the town are some very pleasant walking trails as well. We spent a lovely day there, wandering around the grand buildings and strolling through the woods.

Compare and Contrast

September 27th, 2010 by matt

So we have two images, both are of the Prague Cathedral in the Castle.

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This would be the front of it at around noon time.

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And here it be at night.

I don’t have much more to add, just was amused that I managed to take almost the exact same shot 10 hours apart. The hoards of crowds was non-existent at night as well. Being able to wander around the castle grounds at 10pm was a nice treat as all the tour groups have long gone by then but the grounds (not the interior bits) are all still open. Some lovely views of the city from up there as well. Viva Prague!

Can You Guess Where we are Now?

September 26th, 2010 by matt

So, we’ve moved on from Berlin and taken up “residence” elsewhere. I’m not sure if this will be easier or harder, but here goes:

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Honestly, if you can get our location from this picture, I’m impressed. It’s just a pretty random building in the old center. The sign on top says it’s a school.

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One thing this location is known for is it’s tram system. From our limited experience with it, the reputation is justified. Very fast and efficient. Except the ticket machines don’t always work/aren’t readable in the dark when it’s raining and you have a pack on your back. 🙂

Give up? Let’s see if these are any more helpful:

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Sorry for the bad lighting. It rained all day. If you look past the statue, you can see the famous cathedral in the famous castle of this city.

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This famous bridge crosses the river that bisects this city. It’s named after Carolyn’s grandpa (really!).

Ok, it’s Prague. We were debating showing the astrological clock as well. We’re fully in Eastern Europe now. Our next locations will be a whole lot harder to figure out, I’ll bet. The weather hasn’t been perfect here, but it’s a lovely city, tourist hoards be damned! 🙂

Where in Europe are Carolyn and Matt?

September 23rd, 2010 by matt

Quiz time. Can you guess where we are? The answer will be revealed after the photos.
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This is a monument created by the Soviets after WWII. It’s remarkably large.
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This TV Tower was built in 1969 and lords over the entire city.

Give up? OK, those were semi-tricky (if you’ve never been). Here are two easy ones:
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Old part of the city gate that has since become a symbol of the city.
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It’s a wall and it divided the city. I don’t think I need to add any more than that, do I? 😀

Give up again? It’s Berlin! We’re spending a few days here and soaking in a city with a very unique history. It’s been tons of fun so far.

More Flashbacks: London with my parents

August 28th, 2010 by carolyn

We have also been lucky to have my parents visit several times during our time in London.  But it seems we never got a chance to properly document all these trips.  So here are a few flashbacks to the adventures we have had on their visits.

My mom first came over in April 2008 and we had a girls weekend in London.  Shopping at Harrods, Liberty and street markets, enjoying high tea at Browns and the Kensington Orangery, taking in a show at the Victoria Palace and partaking in some culture at the V&A and the Royal Academy of the Arts.

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Both my parents next visited in February/March 2009 for a ski trip in Zermatt, previously mentioned here, and some more time in London.  This time around we experienced the amazing train journey the Glacier Express in Switzerland (well until a mini-avalanche cut the journey a bit short).

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This trip was when we finally made it to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London with my parents.  We also explored some new places including the re-opened Monument and the London Eye, saw an Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, enjoyed a few pubs and visited Dina and Adrian in Brighton.  My mom and dad also kept themselves busy without us visiting other friends, museums and taking long walks on the Thames.
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My parents returned to London with a side trip to Scotland in October 2009.  We weren’t able to join them in Scotland but we kept pretty busy in London taking a narrow boat ride on regent’s canal, visiting Winchester Cathedral, taking a Halloween walk in Hampstead and visiting Somerset House.  And as usual we fit in some good pubs, food and tea.

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The last time my parents were here was at Christmas time last year when we met up in Madrid, Spain to celebrate.  It was great fun to go back to the city again and remember my semester studying there in 1998.  That trip was previously documented on the blog here and here =).  We didn’t mention the fact that we took a day trip to Avila, a beautiful walled city, and to Segovia, which was where I had my orientation for my semester in Madrid, while we were in Spain.  It was great to go back with Matt and my parents and see the city decorated for Christmas.

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Most of these photos are courtesy of my dad so he is strangely missing from the recap.  I promise he was there.  Thanks for joining us on some great adventures!

Latitude Festival 2010

July 24th, 2010 by matt

The summer music festival is something of a modern British tradition. It’s gotten to the point where, every weekend in June, July and August, there are multiple weekend long festivals to go to. People show up in a field somewhere, put up tents, drink, eat and watch music. They all tend to have a specific demographic they are aiming for and are of a variety of sizes. Last year, we tried out the whole thing with a nice small “boutique” festival called The End of the Road Festival. We had such fun, we wanted to do it again before we left. It’s nice to kind of check out on the world and spend three or four days outside with a shitload of people all (hopefully) having fun. This year, we gave the Latitude Festival a try and we were not disappointed. It’s mostly pop music, mostly in the folk/rock category and is in a beautiful park in Suffolk, about 2 hours from London.

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This is the sign for the festival. And yes, those are sheep dyed multicoloured.

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This is Mumford and Son playing a late afternoon set on Sunday. The weather was absolutely amazing. The band was very good and the crowd was loving it. Overall, there are over 100 music acts on 4 main stages and a couple of smaller stages so there is plenty to do. If you don’t keep yourself in check, you can feel a little overwhelmed and everyone misses something they wish they’d seen.

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Here are a couple of happy concert goers.

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Some of the nice bits of this festival are that it’s in a wonderful location (35,000 people and there’s a lake in the middle of it with lounge chairs if you can get them) and the variety of things to do. There is public art scattered all over the venue, tons of music, a good choice of food and drink. It’s also not just about music. They have performances throughout the day and night of poetry and literature readings. They also put on dance performances. This is Sadler’s Wells doing a snipit of Swan Lake. On top of that, the festival ran late into the night. One night, we just sat and soaked in some late night story telling on this lake stage. Another night, we danced in the woods to cheesy 80s music.

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On fun thing at a gathering with so many people is to seek out some of the quieter joys that the festival organizers put around the venue. Last year, at End of the Road, we found late night games, like Jenga, something you wouldn’t think of but then you find it and have a nice little moment. One of my favourites at Latitude was finding some of the public art late on Friday night in some of the woods. There was a makeshift shack erected which would enter and then sit in the dark listening to odd noise. In that same area, we found some sort of kids area that, at 2am, was shut. But we wandered over there the next day as things were starting back up and found a small stage, some good coffee and kid friendly activities. It was a nice little intimate moment to enjoy.

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So who did we spend our weekend with? Our core crew was Cath, a former coworker of Carolyn’s and our dear friends Dina and Adrian. Among our crew was also Maxine (a colleague of Carolyn’s) and her group of really nice friends. They helped make the festival a really great time. We all slept in this field in our tents with 30,000 other friends 🙂

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I feel like we have very few photos of Dina, Adrian, Carolyn and I together. This one is a nice one.

Anyway, the festival was a wonderful time. It’s definitely one of the many things we’re going to miss about the UK. I know the US has things like these, hopefully we can check them out and see how they compare.