Us, May 8, 2016: Roy, Shadow, John, Ondine, Leo
We just returned (well, a few days ago) from a two-week trip to Berlin and Paris! John is working on selecting and editing photos to upload and transcribing our full travel journal. But, until then, here are some highlights, including a few photos!
In Berlin, we got together with Dax and Juergen (Barbara's cousin), and Barbara (kleine Barbara) and her brother Ulrich, and Desiree (Ondine's roommate when she was in Heidelberg). Wow! It was really kind of everyone to come out to see us, because connecting with family and friends was very important to all of us.
Dax and Juergen met us at the airport in Berlin and shepherded us to our hotel, the Westin Grand. Barbara visited several times, staying with Barbara in her room. One evening, Ulli gave us a great walking tour of Berlin (Ulli lives in Berlin and recently retired from his position as political editor for Die Welt). And, we enjoyed a relaxed river cruise with Desiree, after which she and Ondine went off on their own for a chance to catch up over a beer.
Within an hour of our arrival in Berlin, John set off on his own taking a bus into Neukoelln for a Ukulele Stammtisch he'd read about in a magazine he'd won in a raffle at a recent Sneaky Tiki meet-up. He'd emailed the organizer, Guido, who'd brought a couple extra ukuleles. John had a great time playing ukulele with about a dozen fellow ukesters!
One big objective for the trip was to visit Barbara's childhood home in Altglienicke, on the outskirts of Berlin in a section that became East Berlin. It was built with a bomb cellar and crawling tunnels leading to neighboring cellars and street exits; Barbara remembers huddling underground listening to Allied bombs leveling Berlin. Her family escaped as the Russian army advanced into the area.
Now it's a peaceful suburban street with well-tended gardens. Barbara spoke with the owner, but she (the owner) wouldn't let anyone in to see the house. The neighbor across the street, who is slightly older and remembers Barbara's family and has previously let Barbara into his identical house, was not home. So, we contented ourselves with the view from outside the fence.
We also went up the Fernsehturm, Berlin's iconic TV tower, and did Checkpoint Charlie, the Wall Museum, climbed the Victory Column, and visited the Spy Museum and Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche. And, we all enjoyed a meal at Zur Letzen Instanz, the oldest restaurant in Berlin. Lecker!
One unexpected highlight was that John had his daypack stolen! In it were his rain jacket, travel shirt, camera lens, and other travel essentials. So, he went to the Galeria Kaufhof, a large Berlin department store, where he shopped with the locals using his very sketchy German (among the items stolen: a German/English pocket dictionary). He bought a rain jacket (marked down, no less), a travel shirt (angebote!), and a compass. And, he used coupons!
Another chance highlight was leaving the kids in their respective hotel rooms and going out to see Die Lustige Weiber von Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor) at the Monbijou Theater! It was a delightful performance in German with a smattering of English and Latin for some of the jokes. Despite the comic antics, it ended not with a party, but with Falstaff's reported death scene from Henry V.
Here are some photos from Berlin.
From Berlin we flew to Paris, where the Pullman Montparnasse had upgraded us from a quadruple room to a suite! Having our own bedroom made our stay much more relaxing, a real vacation!
We took a Fat Tire bicycle tour that hit many of the key sights: the Ecole Militaire, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde, the Tuilleries (where we had lunch), the Louvre, and even the Eiffel Tower. We took a skip-the-line tour of Ste. Chapelle and Notre Dame, where we climbed the tower and hung out above even the gargoyles. John and the boys toured the Catacombs, 64 feet under ground, which was one of Leo's favorite things from the entire trip. And we all did a skip-the-line tour of the Eiffel Tower, going up the elevators to the very summit, but then after briefly touching down we took the stairs, all 682 of them, from the ground to the second level.
We also visited Shakespeare and Company, where Ondine had, many years ago, been a "tumbleweed," an overnight guest in exchange for chores. She found the upstairs room where she'd stayed, and Leo played the piano a bit. John bought a book as a souvenir, The Merry Wives of Windsor, edited by Jonathan Bate, the lead educator in two of his MOOCs!
We found Paris delightful, with nice people, an easy-to-use metro system, and lots of public water fountains (from 1872) dispensing cold drinking water for refilling bottles. The weather was just about perfect, too, pleasantly cool with clouds and occasional overcast skies - coming from San Diego, that's a real treat for us!
We got out on our own several evenings, and even spent almost a half day on our own exploring Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. We discovered the Musee de Montmartre with Renoir's gardens, a sparkling gem of a museum with an extensive collection of paintings and artifacts and a pleasant garden cafe.
Here we are in Paris!
We got home Friday night, as did Barbara, coming home separately from Berlin. We spent most of the weekend recovering and catching up, although we did get together for a visit Saturday afternoon. And, of course, we picked up Shadow from the PetSmart PetHotel where he'd enjoyed two weeks of daily walks and several days of Camp Play All Day. He was so happy to see us!
Monday Ondine returned to work. It's going to be a busy time for her, because she found out her Spanish exam is scheduled for next week! She'll be increasing her study time at night. John returned home to two or three projects, plus a bunch of new leads for projects that he's following up on this week.
Monday evening John took the boys to judo in preparation for the California State Games this coming weekend. Roy got an award for Outstanding Student for April-June. Wow! On their way home they stopped for free Slurpees (7-11 day), plus stopped at a second 7-11 to refill their huge Slurpee cups.
Tuesday Leo got to go to Aquatica (formerly Soak City) with his buddy Garrett! He was gone all day. Roy, though, was pretty much glued to his laptop.
Neighborhood gas prices seem to have been stable. At any rate, they're around $2.99 per gallon.
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