Spring Skiing in Vail

March 27th, 2011 by matt

So, our winter was rather domestic. However, just because we no longer live 2 hours from Greece doesn’t mean there’s nothing to explore. Spring is here and it means time for a little travel. We begin the travels of 2011 with a skiing trip.  During one our lulls in blogging 2 years ago (man, I’ve been doing this for a while), we made a trip to Zermatt for a lovely ski trip. Carolyn grew up skiing a lot. And she’s an excellent skier. Her parents still take a few trips a year, usually to Colorado. Since this was the first time in a few years that that we were both on the same continent as Colorado, we decided to make a long weekend family trip of it, including my family as well. Everyone is still alive, which means it’s nice to see our families can get along. 🙂

Our goal was Vail, home of some damn fine skiing and about 2 hours west of Denver up into the mountains. My sister picked us up from the airport. There was snow in the forecast which is good, but it decided to come down about 2 hours too early. As we got closer to our destination, we found out that multiple accidents had shut the pass 10 miles from Vail. Due to this, we stopped in the last large town near the closure but, just as we were about to start the fun hotel hunting job for the night, the pass miraculously opened and, after a long, slow drive, we made it to Vail in time for a little sleep before an early wake up to hit the slopes. We awoke to this wonderous sight:

Behold, 9 inches of fresh snow, sun and blue skies! Now, everyone else I was skiing with had quite a bit more experience than me. This would be my first time snowing in powder. Apparently, when you get fresh snow, you make sure you’re first on the mountain for the day so you can make the most of it. We did just that and it was worth it. Here is a view from up in the mountains:

I can understand why everyone loves Vail. The location is beautiful, the trails are excellent and varied. I’m no badass skier or anything, but by the end of the weekend, I could handle some of the easier black diamonds. I have no endurance so I tended to burn out early in the afternoon and the altitude made it even trickier, but that meant Carolyn’s mom and I would just quit a little early and head down for drinks. No complaints here. As I mentioned, this was a dual family trip and my sister was a saint and did all the hard work by chauffeuring us around Colorado. Here would be me and my little sister:

My parents have not been much for skiing in a few years, but they came out to enjoy the other activities Vail has to offer. And see their wonderful offspring, of course! After our various daily activities, we’d meet up together for drinks and food. One night we had fondue in our condo and the other nights we ate out at a couple of the Vail eateries. On our last full day in Denver, some of us took a day off skiing and gave snowshoeing a go. Again, the altitude made it much harder than I expected, but it allowed me to get to a spot like this and just soak in the natural beauty of the Rockies.

Unfortunately, all trips must end and this was just a long weekend. We’re back in Chicago and wondering where spring is, but I’ve been promised is coming soon.

More winter adventures

March 13th, 2011 by carolyn

A couple weeks ago, I went out to the Berkshires with several of my college friends to celebrate our friend who is getting married in April.  We are scattered between Boston, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey and Chicago so we settled on the Berkshires as a central place.  We spent the night at the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA which is an amazing spa and hotel.

After making the drive to meet up on Saturday morning, we started the adventures with a snow-shoeing tour of the grounds.  There was still a fair bit of snow on the ground and there had even been a fresh couple inches the night before which made for a smooth trek.

After the snow-shoeing, several of us took part in the spa offerings.  I had a body wrap which was an amazing combination of ex-foliation, massage and relaxing wrap.  We also got to use the facilities like the whirlpool and steam room.  Overall a pretty relaxing and wonderful experience.  We packed a lot into our day and after the spa had a happy hour in our room followed by dinner in the resort restaurant.  It was a great weekend of catching up with old friends, exploring the winter wonderland in the Berkshires and looking forward to next phases in life.

I got a chance to visit with several other friends in Boston as I journeyed in and out from Chicago.  It was so nice to see the new homes, new babies and growing bellies (one friend had her baby 3 days after I left) of many Boston friends.  Hope to get a chance to see everyone again soon!  I’ll leave you with a cool view of Chicago from the airport.


A Holiday House

December 10th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’re back in our home and it’s the holidays, so we decided to have our first tree together. Behold our Christmas tree!

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We had a lovely assist in the decorating by our friends Dave and Melissa and their daughter Leili. Leili did a lot of the  work:

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I don’t know what we would have done without her. Thanks Leili! 🙂

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.

Slovakia at 6am on a Sunday

October 6th, 2010 by matt

So after fending off bands of Gypsies on our overnight train (the first thing the porter told us after looking at our tickets when we got on the train was “beware of gypsies”), we left the Czech Republic (a hint for the next ‘where are we now’ series) and entered Slovakia. We arrived in a medium-sized town shortly before 6am. Our plan was to find anything that was open that had coffee, drink some of it (and eat some food) and then figure out how to get to our final destination. Traveling means not really keeping track of the days of the week and we forgot that this was Sunday. Well, this would be the town we arrived in at about 6:30am:

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That would be the high street. Dead, dead dead. And most of the cafes are closed all day on Sunday. Ooops. A little lack of foresight on our part. On a positive note, we managed to get to our final destination easily enough, get into our hotel and get some food and activities without a problem. I doubt many places in the world are awake at that hour on a Sunday. I just found this scene to be amusing 🙂

PS – no one tried to steal our stuff and, if they tried, the couchette we sprung for had a bolt lock and a chain lock, so breaking in would have been impressive.

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.