Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jim's birthday in Geneva and sledding

Jims had to work for the day in Geneva last Friday so we decided to join him. It was a 3 hour train ride heading southwest of Zurich. Geneva is on the French part of Switzerland so needless to say everybody speaks French. We were welcomed by a couple of compliments to the kids; for some reason they like seeing JP and Syd sitting in a not so common double stroller. A couple of older people stopped me at the street and said "marvelous", "what a beautiful set of twins"!. Oh well. What can I say!
We did some site seeing on Friday afternoon and all Saturday. We visited the Red Cross museum, The Saint-Pierre Cathedral, the Parc the Bastions, the Ile Rousseau, the Bourg-de-Four place (among others), and we couldn’t visit the inside of the UN building since is close on weekends during the winter. On the train ride back, the kids had the family wagon pretty much for them selves. This particular wagon has a slide, monkey bars, and other attractions with dinosaur forms; even Jim had a chance to work for a little bit.On Sunday we went sledging for the first time in JP’s, Syd’s and my life as well (Jim did it before back in NY). It was totally wicked! We went to Filzbach, located 75 Km south of Zurich. This place is well known as a sledding paradise since it has 7.5 Km sledging run. JP absolutely loved it, however Syd had a hard time since for a period of time Jim used her as a human shield (in order to turn, you have to use your feet and that gets the snow of the ground and since Jim was going so fast…). Any way, we loved it and we are going for another sledging session this weekend.

Stuttgart, Germany

The third week of the year was not so bad. We visited a potential bilingual preschool for the kids (we had to skip ice skating). There are two full time teachers, one that speaks only English and one that speaks only German. While the start up age is 3, they have made exceptions and accepted younger kids whose siblings are older and also attending school. The plan is to start both JP and Syd on this bilingual school in August so that they can learn German and perhaps translate for us in the future (although I must say that Jim is really learning at a good pace considering that he learns by listening tapes on the train). Over the weekend, we visited Stuttgart, Germany. We did our usual tour around the city, visited the Landesmuseum where King Friedrich helped Jim push the kids around the square (cool ha?), the Karlsplatz, the Markethalle, the Tagblatt-Turm (first high-rise building in Germany constructed using exposed concrete 1927/28), the Town hall, and the Schulstrasse (one of the first pedestrianised zones in Germany) among other sites.

Schauffhausen and JP's first ice skate lesson

The second week of the year was very exciting. JP took his first ice skating lesson and he actually spent little time on the ground, he had a blast and we were very proud of seeing him develop a new skill.
On the weekend, we headed north of Zurich to visit a town called Schaffhausen (border with Germany, 50 mins from Zurich). This town is famous for their Rhinefalls (largest and most impressive waterfall in Europe with a height of 20 meters). We walked around the waterfall, we visited the outside of the Schloss Laufen (a castle), we walked around the city and finally went up the hill to visit Der Munot, an impressive city fortification high over the city.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Thermal baths at Baden (January 6)

So after a long expedition, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice relaxed day at the thermal baths. Baden is located approximately 30 mins north of Zurich. The temperature is just right, the pools have jets that target different parts of the body so we also got a little water massage in the process. The kids and us absolutely loved it. We swam for two hours, had lunch and we headed back home to get ready for the next week.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's in Germany

The kids were so excited to sleep on the train and it was a new experience for Sandy and I as well. The space was very tight, but we got a better night sleep than we both expected. While in Germany, we purchased a three day travel pass, and visited Hamburg, Hanover, Bremen, and end up in Berlin on New Year’s Eve. We arrived around noon and the city was already jam packed with people who were getting ready to bring in the new year. We saw remnants of the Berlin Wall (constructed in 1961 and tore down in 1989) and “Checkpoint Charlie”, one of the 7 original checkpoints along the wall. As soon as it got dark, people started setting off their own purchased fireworks in driveways, parking lots, and the square in front of the train station. We made it back to Hamburg before the festivities really got started and watched the fireworks from the hotel room – the professional show and the numerous individuals shows made it look and sound like an hour long fireworks finale. The streets were completely littered the next day with the remnants of fireworks. As our feet were sore from all the walking over the past week, we decided to take it easy on our last day. We woke up late, had a nice long brunch at the hotel, and went to the train station and did some shopping. We killed time eating snacks here and there until it was time to hop on another night train back home to Zurich. It was a productive holiday as we were able to cross a number of cities off our list, but we greatly miss all the friends and family and are looking forward to getting back home (US and Mexico) for a visit in May.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Chirstmas in Paris

It was not a white Christmas in Europe, although we managed to have a pretty good time in Paris despite being without family. We spent the first couple of days with cousin Ale and her fiancĂ© Vincent exploring Paris – we hit all the well known tourist sites – Eifel tour, Louvre, Pantheon, Jardin de Luxemburg, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Elysees, and Madeline among others. On Christmas Eve morning, we explored the inside of the Louvre, seeing the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo (I must say JP asked about her arms), The Winged Victory of Samothrace, and other great pieces of art…. Italian, French, Greek, and Roman. As we had the kids with us, we got through approximately half of the museum in just over an hour – a landspeed record I am sure. We had a quiet Christmas Eve dinner with Ale and Vincent, but were missing the big Christmas Eve bash at John and Jackie’s. We were up bright and early Christmas morning to catch the TGV (high speed train - top speed on this trip was 201km/hr or about 120 mph) to Angers, where Vincent’s mother lives. We were greeted by Vincent’s mom, Marie, and his two sisters, Cecile and Sophie, who all worked hard to make us feel like we were at home. There was a blazing fire in the fireplace (Jim was named the CEO of the fireplace after demonstrating master skills), presents under the tree for all of us, and plenty of food and drinks. The Christmas feast was impressive. We started off with appetizers: shrimp and crab pates, salmon bites, cheese, and warm prunes stuffed with sausage (I know it sounds strange, but it was pretty tasty). We started our first course at the dinner table with fois gras and shrimp. The next course was oysters. The main course was turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and baked apple. Next was a course of various cheeses. Finally, there was a very traditional desert they call branch. It’s a cake decorated like a tree branch, with custard and frosting as filling. The whole dining experience lasted about 8 hours, concluding with decaf coffee and the opening of presents at about 10PM. We were up early again the next morning to visit a castle called Chambord. It is famous for its double staircase in the shape of a double helix (picture a strand of DNA) that was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The following day we caught the train back to Paris and then the plane back to Basel, where we hopped on an overnight train to Hamburg, Germany.