Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary

8 years and counting =)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween

Halloween was celebrated to the fullest! yes, even if the Swiss can care less about it.
1st, Halloween carnival the week before; kids get to play different games and then get candy.
2nd, Jo (friend from NY) organized a bunch of parents in the Horgen-Oberrieden area to pass out candy. We drove around and visited like 12 houses. It was fun and again... full of candy.

JP was Spiderman for the 3rd year in a row; it was a little tight but he managed well.
Syd was a cheer leader and a princess.
I was a fairy and a witch.
Jim was a golfer.




Last part of Budapest

The third day, the weather turned rainy again, as well as really cold - it felt like it could snow. We ventured out in the morning to the Gellert thermal bath, which is the largest thermal bath in Budapest. Once inside, it is quite a maze and no signs telling you where to go, so we had to ask a few times where to go. The baths are separated between men and women, so JP and I went one way and Sandy and Sydney went the other way. I would say that half the bathers go in their birthday suits while the other half not. Sandy agreed with those stats on the ladies side as well. The baths are split in two with one pool set at 38C and the other a little cooler at 36C. It was warmer than JP was used to, so we actually spent most of our time in the much colder community pool. In the baths, there is not much in the way of swimming, unlike the ones in Switzerland. Additionally the one we went to was all indoor, also unlike the Swiss ones. This one did have beautiful old statues and frescos everywhere, making you feel like you were back in the roman times. After the baths, we went back to our favorite restaurant for lunch. We were disappointed to find that the pork shank that we saw two days ago was no longer available. The owner promised to make a special order of it if we came back later for dinner - we agreed. After another great lunch (bean soup was out of this world), we went to the Terror Museum, which used to be the Nazi headquarters in Budapest. Its closed on Mondays so we walked a few blocks down to the Opera House to see if we could get tickets that night for the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. We were in luck - they head tickets for the 4 of us at a price of about USD 2.50 per ticket. After getting tickets, we decided to go on our second boat cruise. It was a horrible day for it, but at least we would have some cover from the rain. After the boat tour, we went souvenir shopping, and then proceeded back to the restaurant for dinner. They had prepared the pork shank as promised. It was a mammoth portion - Sandy and I both working together could not finish off the single portion. Unfortunately, it was dry and was not worth the effort to finish off. We had more bean soup as an appetizer which also was a bit disappointing as they made it with ham instead of the spicy sausage at lunch time. Regardless, they went the extra effort to make us happy and we left stuffed so it could not have been all that bad. Following dinner, we walked over to the opera house and found our seats. The seats were not great, (we could see maybe half the orchestra), but we could hear the performance just fine. They had a guest piano player that could really tickle the ivories. He played so effortlessly, it was amazing. At the intermission, the crowd was absolutely relentless in their applause. He ended up playing two solo encores to quiet them down. At the end of his second encore, JP, who was sound asleep, sprang up clapping with the rest of the audience. Since we paid so little for the tickets, we did not feel bad ditching the rest of the concert. We went back to the hotel feeling very satisfied with the days events.By Tuesday, we were exhausted, so we slept in and relaxed in the room. We packed up and were on the road by 10.30. We took the public transport to get back to the airport. The public transport is pretty comprehensive and easy to use. The subway has three lines and the subway stations maintain their same look from 130 years ago. The people of Budapest for the most part speak either English or German, so we did not have much problem communicating. They seemed pretty helpful, but were not particularly friendly to tourists. When staying clear of the touristy areas, I think we got good value for our money. We will contine looking for opportunities to explore Eastern Europe.












Budapest, Hungry take 2

The next day, we got up, hit a little breakfast at Coffee Heaven (a Starbucks knockoff) , and then walked over the Elizabeth bridge and up Gellert Hill to the Citadel. The Citadel was a fortress built in 1854 and became a significant military object during WW2. The Citadel is now a museum consisting of a bunker and various wax figures from the war. We did not fully understand the history, only that Hungary was occupied by Germans that battled the Soviets as well as the Americans. The Jewish population was hearded up into a ghetto, was provided less than 700 calories per day of food and was eventually decimitated by the Nazis. There were many photos of children that were victims of the war. It was a good lesson for the kids to learn that there are people out there that try to hurt other people and they need to be respectful of other peoples rights and freedoms and defend people that need help. The weather was still bad, so we waited around for the hop on hop off bus so that we did not have to walk any more. We hopped on and got off at the stop for the castle district. The castle district is the old town - a fortified city sitting high up on Buda hill. There are numerous shops and restaurants, as well as St. Matthias church and nearby Fisherman's Bastion. St. Matthias Church is Budapest's most attractive and most famous Catholic church. Fisherman's Bastion is situated on the place of the medieval fish market and the walls protected by the guild of fisherman. We explored the area above ground as well as the area below ground - there is a labyrinth of tunnels below ground that existed from the caveman days. It also served as a military station for 20000 German soldiers during WW2. They have made the labyrinth into a self guided tour of discovery - very fun for the kids. After exporing the labyrinth, we toured the inside of Matthias Church and then caught the bus to the stop for the Parliament building. We had a coupon for a place called the Strudel House. It is a pretty upscale place and its specialty as you might guess is Strudel, which they make right in front of the patrons. We ate a light meal and then ordered up an apple strudel to go, which they gave us on the house. We jumped back on the hop on hop off bus and listened to the rest of the tour. Also included in the tour package were two boat tours, so we decided to do an evening boat tour. By this time, the rain had cleared and it was shaping up to be a nice evening. The tour went up and down the Danube and we got excellent views of all the main sites, as all the buildings are lit up in the evening. Following the boat ride, we grabbed some food and went back to the hotel for some rest.















































Budapest, Hungry

On Oct 10 we left for a long weekend to Budapest. Consisting of two very different cities, Buda on the west bank of the Danube River and Pest on the east bank, Budapest offers travelers Viennese romanticism at an affordable price. However, Budapest is unique in its own right. Hungarians are proud of what this ancient capital has to offer and its contributions to European culture, especially in the field of music, a language one doesn't need to speak to appreciate. Budapest first appeared on the world map when the Romans founded the town of Aquincum around 89 AD, in what is today Óbuda. It soon became the capital of the province of Lower Pannonia, and the Romans even founded a proto-Pest known as Contra Aquincum on the other side of the river. The Romans were replaced around 900 by the Magyars, who went on to found the kingdom of Hungary. The Mongols dropped in uninvited in 1241, but the Magyars bounced back and built the Royal Castle that still today dominates Buda in 1427. In 1541, Buda and Pest fell to the Ottomans and stayed in the hands of the Turks until 1686, when the Austrian Habsburgs conquered the town. Now at peace, both sides of the river boomed, and after an abortive Hungarian revolution in 1848–49, the great Compromise of 1867 made Budapest the united capital of the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Budapest emerged from World War I battered, but now the capital of an independent Hungary, and its population reached one million by 1930. Air raids and a terrible three-month siege towards the end of World War II resulted in the death of over 38,000 civilians, and up to 40% of Budapest's Jewish community were murdered during the Holocaust. A total of 400 000 Jews in the area were murdered by the Nazis and their Nyilas sympathizers. One man noted in history was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish humanitarian sent to Hungary under a diplomatic cover, who tried to make a difference by distributing Swedish passports to as many Jews as possible. After the war, the city recovered and became a showcase for the more pragmatic policies of Hungary's hard- line Communist government. It was, however, site of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against unpopular policies such as collectivisation. The revolution against communist rule only ended when the Soviets sent in the tanks as they felt Hungary slipping out of their influence and control. Today's Budapest is by far the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city in Hungary and is increasingly popular with tourists. In 1987, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.On our first day, we checked into our hotel and then wandered around the city. Our hotel was located on the Buda side of the Danube, and we had a short bus ride into the city. We were dropped off close to the Dohany Street Synogogue, which is the second largest Synagogue in Europe (only Synagogue in Amsterdam is larger), built in the Byzantine-Moorish Style. There is a metal weaping willow tree in its rear gerden and each leaf on the tree represents an individual that was killed in the hollocaust. Sandy had a lunch recommendation from one of her colleagues at school, so we wandered around until we found it. What a great spot. It is called Hunyadi Kisvendeglo. It is in a shady part of town and lacks on the decour, but we had a feast. We had Mutton goulash, chicken cordon blue, pistazio covered pork schnitzel, and a chicken cordon blue stuffed with, beacon, spicy sausage, and smoked cheese. We ate so much that we could not eat dinner that night. After lunch, we went to the banks of the Danube near the Parliament building. There was the first Nazi mass murder in Budapest. Whole families were pushed into the river in the winter. To mark the attrocity, several sets of shoes were bronzed and placed at the edge of the boardwalk overlooking the river - a really sad sight. We had bought tickets for a hop on hop off bus and decided to use them since we were pretty tired from walking and it was a nice afternoon weatherwise to enjoy the sights of the city at dusk from the comforts of an open top bus. The first stop was a busy square close to St Stevens Basillica - this is the largest church in Budapest and built in on honor of Hungary's first king. It took 50 years to build. We rode up the Andrassy St. This is the main boulevard of town with a promenade on both sides where bicycles and joggers have their own lane. The Opera house is one of the very prominent buildings on this street. Elegant villas line both sides of the street which nowadays accomodate the various embassies. At the end of the street, we see the Heroes Square. The Milleniun Monument was built to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the Magyar Conquest. Archangel Gabriel stands atop the huge column at the foor of which are scultures of the seven tribal chieftans. The semi-circular pantheon surrounding the ensemble has depictions of famous kings, generals, and great historical figures. The heroes stone in the middle commemeorates the heroes of the revolution of 1856. On one side of the square sits the museum of fine arts. The building on the right is the art gallery. Past the heroes square is the budapest zoo and botanical garden. Next to the zoo is an amuzement park and across the street is one of the public baths. Just in back of the heroes square is a huge skating rink. We travel back to our starting point via Kiraly St. - called by the locals as "The Avenue". There are a lot of villas and mini palaces similar to Andrassy St. Also known as the street of nobel prize winners given the number of nobel prize winners educated at the local lutheran school. By the middle of the bus tour, the kids were falling asleep, so we jumped off at the starting point and decided to save the Buda side of the tour for the next day. We took a bus back to the hotel and all layed down for bed. Our plan was to get the kids to sleep and then sneak down to the restaurant, but Sandy and I passed out right along with the kids.













Oktoberfest
















The annual Oktoberfest is held in September to celebrate the coming of Fall. There are many Oktoberfest celebrations around Germany, but the biggest and most popular is held in Munich. I went this year with a coworker and a neighbor. It is about a 4 hour train ride to Munich from Zurich. Our train left at 715 from the zurich main station. The atmosphere on the train was very festive, even at that hour of the morning. There was a group of kids on board that had started drinking at about 5AM. They were walking up and down the train talking to passengers, so they eventually struck up a conversation with us and then some more English speaking passengers joined in. Before long we were in Munich. The faigrounds are just a couple of blocks from the Munich train station. There are about 10 tents each accomodating up to 10,000 people. Even at 11.30 on a Friday morning, the place was packed with people. We made our way into one of the tents and found a table partially accupied by a few guys from Italy. We quickly made friends and ordered up some liters and Oxen pork knuckle - delicious. After a little while, a couple of girls joined the table and we quickly bought them some beers to make them feel comfortable. Before long we were all good friends. It was a wild time - see the pictures below.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

one more accomplishment

Besides all that, JP is learning to retell stories, and nothing like the classics. We have a great librarian at school so he is learning from the best.

Part 1

video

Part 2

video

JP turned 6

Many accomplishments for JP on his 6th bd. He learned how to ride his bike (no training wheels), 2 visits to the dentist with no tears and no cavities!, joined a big kids school where he interacts with kids from all over the world, and most importantly, he is still the same loving JP that everybody adores... especially me!
We celebrated with friends, inlcuding JP's groupies =)














Working hard

Jim has been working hard teaching JP and Sydney how to help more in the kitchen. Syd has turned out to be a great dishwasher and looooooves doing it.