Friday, April 27, 2012

Paris, France and Disney April 27 2012

In trying to hit all the must visit places before leaving Europe, we decided to surprise the kids with a trip to EuroDisney in Paris. We spent the first day and a half re-visiting the city. I say re-visit because this was one of the first cities we visited upon coming to Europe, however the kids were too young to remember, so we saw the highlights again including the Eiffel Tower and cathedral of Notre Dame. Instead of hitting the Luvre again, we decided to visit the city's other famous Museum D'Orsey. We did the audio guides, which the kids now expect when going to any place of interest. Also new this year was a boat ride along the Seine river.

The next two days were spent at Eurodisney. I asked the kids which attractions they liked the best and they provided the following list:
- Crush coaster
- Train coaster
- Animagique
- Stitch live
- Mickey mouse clubhouse live
- Car stuntshow featuring Lightning McQueen

My favorite was "its a small world" and Sandy's was "Space Mountain". I am not one for roller coasters, but I manned up and went on with Sandy, which allowed me to reconfirm that I do not like roller coasters.

Sandy's cousin Ale lives in Paris, so we were able to meet up with her for dinner one night. Its been almost two years, so it was great to catch up with her.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Spain April 6, 2012: Palma and Seville... and bought a house

We left on Friday evening. It was a holiday, but I chose to work most of the day - it was worth the peace of mind to get everything in order before I left. We arrived into Mallorca at about 8pm and then it was a 2hr bus ride to the hotel. We stayed at a family resort in the Northeast part of the island in a town called Capdepera, as all the resorts in Palma were booked up.

I was very tired the next day and just felt like sleeping. We explored the resort in the morning. The weather was beautiful, but the pools were not heated and too cold for swimming, so we used the indoor pool instead. After lunch, Sandy let me rest in a lounge chair while she and the kids played mini golf. We spent some more time in the indoor pool in the afternoon, played table tennis, spent some time playing soccer at the kids club across the street, then just relaxed in the room the rest of the day.

The next day I woke up very tired still. We went to breakfast and about midway through, I started feeling normal again. It was Easter so we went back to the room for a small Easter egg hunt.  The Easter bunny left some chocolate eggs for the kids. Afterwards, the kids went on another Easter egg hunt organized by the resort. We then played mini golf. The last hole was particularly challenging, and Sandy and JP were stuck on it for the longest time until finally JP sunk his put. After lunch the kids attended a cocktail seminar (they learned how to make a drink that combined lime, milk, and chocolate syrup) and then we did some more swimming. We had dinner at the Italian restaurant at the resort. It was a beautiful evening and the food was great.

On Monday, we went on a hike. The terrain is a bit mountainous in the northeast part of the island which makes for some good hiking trails. In the afternoon, the kids helped me with a workout (served as human bar bells). It was a lot fun and I was actually sore for three days afterwards. We spent some time at the pool followed by the "Sauna games", a game of elimination based on who can stay in the sauna the longest. Sydney actually won!

Tuesday was our last day at the resort. Checkout was at 11, so we only had time to eat breakfast and pack up before catching out taxi to the airport. We had a relaxing lunch at Micky D's before we jumped on the plane to Seville. While having lunch, we found out that the building permit was finally approved for the house we have been waiting for in New Rochelle, NY. This is the only new construction in the area and we had our heart set on it. The challenge now would be making sure we got it before anyone else put a bid on it. In our favor is the fact that we have been in close contact with the listing agent and using him as our realtor for the past several months and also the fact that we are not moving out of one place and moving into another, which makes the timing fairly flexible.  It was about a 1.5hr plane ride.  Upon arrival at the hotel, the first thing we did was call the realtor. It sounded like the odds were in our favor, but we needed to move quickly to lock in the deal. We had to scramble to find an attorney in the Westchester area. We called around for some recommendations, did some on-line research, and sent out some email inquiries. That was all we could do and it was now kind of late, so we unpacked and had dinner at the hotel.




On Wednesday, we had breakfast at the hotel and finalized our decision regarding the attorney that would represent us in our real estate transaction.  After sending off emails to communicate the selection to out real estate agent, we took the bus downtown. It was late in the morning and we did not expect much except to get our barring. The main attractions in the city are the Cathedral, the royal palace (Real Alcazar) and the Plaza Espana. There were lines a mile long to get into the Cathedral and Palace, so we walked around for a bit followed by a lunch of tapas at a local restaurant. We walked around some more and came across Mr. Moynihan, the principal at Sandy’s school. After talking for a while, we returned back to the cathedral and to our surprise, it was empty. So we bought tickets and audio guides and made a tour the rest of the afternoon. The cathedral is a very impressive structure and is the largest in the world by area, even bigger than St Peters in Rome! (They proudly display their Guinness Book of Records certificate as evidence.)  The central nave rises to an awesome 37 meters over a total area of 11,520 square meters.  Probably the most impressive feature is the architecture.  Like most of Spain, there is a Muslim influence having been conquered by Arabs in the 12th century. At one time, a great mosque stood in this location, and when Seville was taken back from the Arabs by Spain, the church was built on top of the mosque. The minaret of the mosque (La Giralda) was kept and Christianized by adding balconies on the outside and church bells at the top of the tower.  Instead of stairs, the tower has a series of 34 ramps leading to the top, so that people back in the day could be carried on horseback to the top.  Unfortunately, the horses are no longer in operation, so we had to walk it.  34 ramps does not sound like much, but it was pretty exhausting.  I am glad that we are doing our traveling now while we are still relatively young and fit.     

After the tour, we decided to look for a dinner option so that we could have an early night. The restaurant at the hotel did not open for dinner until 8pm, but there were plenty of places in the city center that seemed to be serving all the time. We had discovered a restaurant chain called 100 Montaditos on out last trip to Spain. They serve 100 different kinds of tapas, all for 1 Euro. Although this time around, we found that while most of the selections were still 1 Euro, they increased the price of some selections to 1.50 and 2.00 Euros. It is still a great deal. We packed up a bunch and went back to hotel. After a little swimming, we ate dinner and went to bed.

On Thursday, our emotions were getting the best of us as we had not yet heard back from the realtor. We had made an offer on the property to be built, communicated our selection of attorney to the realtor and had not heard anything back. We knew we were taking a risk by using the same real estate agent as the listing agent, but we felt this gave us a better chance of getting the property as the listing agent would not need to split the commission with anyone. However, there was still the possibility that someone could come along and outbid us. To keep our mind off the house, we decided to do a tour of the Real Alcázar.  The Real Alcázar is a beautiful palace in Mudéjar (Moorish) style, built in the XIV Century by Pedro I the Cruel. With its myriad rooms, extravagant architecture, lavish gardens with many courtyards, ponds and secrets to be explored, it is a fascinating place to visit.  It was just opening, so we had only a small wait. We once again got the audio guides. The kids enjoyed using the map to lead our tour of the different points of interest and really seemed to be paying attention to the commentary coming from the audio guides. Of particular interest is the room where Christopher Columbus's journey to the Americas was planned. Afterwards, we walked over to the Plaza España.  Plaza de España is the site of the Spanish pavilion from the 1929 exhibition.  (We learned on our hop on hop off bus tour that the 1929 exhibition was organized by a select few rich industrialists to increase trade with the Americas.)  In more recent years it was used in the filming of the new Star Wars episodes.

After our morning tours, we had lunch again at 100 Montaditos. The only reason being that we wanted something quick, we were close by, and we did not have the full effect the night before. We had waited too long to eat them the night before and they were therefore not as fresh. We wanted to try them again, but this time eating as soon as they were prepared. This turned out to be the right choice - they are much better fresh. Plus, we ordered all 2Euro ones instead of the 1Euro ones, which made a difference as well. After lunch, we visited the Torre de Oro, a thirteenth century tower, the top of which is rumored to have once been covered in gold.  It now houses the local maritime museum.  We took a tour of the inside and the kids were yelled at twice – once for running and the other for using the flash on the camera.  The museum itself is probably not worth the visit, but the tower is open at the top and has a great view of the city.

 Afterwards, we did the hop on hop off bus. It was a one hour tour. JP fell asleep almost immediately (just like old times), so we ended up doing a part of the tour twice to let him sleep longer.  On the tour, Sydney told me that now that she is older, she really enjoys listening to the information coming through the headphones on the hop on hop off bus (that’s my girl!). 

On the tour, we picked up a couple of points of interest:

·         The city is situated on the banks of the smooth, slow Guadalquivir River, which divides the city into two halves: Seville and Triana.

·         Seville has acted as a sea-port for commerce of agricultural goods.

·         Seville monopolized the new trade with the Americas. As the monopoly was broken and Cádiz largely took Seville's place, the city entered a period of relative decline.

·         In the 19th century Seville gained a reputation for its architecture and culture and was a stop along the Romantic "Grand Tour" of Europe. Seville has built on its tourism industry since, playing host to the International Exposition in 1992.

·         Flamenco is a combination of Jewish, Arabic, and Gypsy influences into a form of song and dance.

·         Seville is thought to be the birthplace of Flamenco

Afterwards, we got off and were contemplating our next move. We had made reservations for a Flamenco demonstration, but just could not get our minds off the house. What was preventing the realtor from getting back to us? Was he entertaining other offers? We finally decided to call him. We learned that he had just gotten off the phone with the builders attorney, and our offer was accepted!  We couldn’t believe it – our strategy and patience had paid off!  We immediately found a restaurant and started celebrating our good fortune.

On Friday, having done most of our sight seeing, we spent a good portion of time at the park. There were a couple of different playgrounds, so the kids got their fill of exercise for the morning.  It was a cool sunny day, so Sandy and I just enjoyed sitting in the sun, talking, and watching the kids play.

Saturday was movie day. A few bus stops away from the hotel was a mall with a movie theater. It was a bad weather day and we had gotten our sightseeing out of the way, so we decided to catch up on a couple of movies. We saw Mirror Mirror with Julia Roberts, took a lunch break, and then saw The Lorax. It was good family fun. After doing a little shopping, we returned to the hotel. It was already getting late, so we relaxed in the room, had dinner in the hotel, and then went to sleep. There were a number of school kids staying at the hotel due to a school sporting event happening the next day. The school kids were making all sorts of noise in the hotel; so unfortunately, it was not a good sleep night.

Sunday was a travel day.  Our flight was not until later in the afternoon, so we ventured back down into the city. We spent some more time at the playground, ate lunch at an outdoor café, did some shopping, and then got ourselves to the airport for our flight back to Mallorca.  We got in late, so we just had dinner at the hotel, which consisted of a very impressive buffet. 

In the morning, we went back to the airport for our flight to Zurich.  It was a half day holiday in Zurich.  People work in the morning and then take off the in the afternoon to celebrate the end of Winter by burning a giant “snowman”.  This is an event we attended when we first came to Zurich 5 years ago, so we thought it was fitting that we attend again as we prepare ourselves to leave Zurich in a few months time.  After getting ourselves settled back in our apartment, we showered up and decided to view the celebration from one of the boats that travels up and down Lake Zurich.  The celebration includes a parade where all the townspeople dress in outfits representing the medieval guilds their families worked in years ago.  Candy is thrown out to the kids along the parade route.  The parade ends in an empty lot where the snowman waits to be burned.  The snowman generally burns for 10-20 minutes while men on horseback ride around it in a circle.  It is said that the faster the snowman burns, the better the summer will be.  The time is recorded from when the snowman is set a blaze until the flames reach the head, which is packed with explosives.  This year, the burn time is 12 minutes, which we are told is about average.  This of course means that we can expect an average summer.