28 March 2010

Schonbrunn Palace and Easter Market w/ Amy and Amanda

Since the Schonbrunn Palace is close to our apartment it was the first touristy thing we took Amy and Amanda to do. The palace is huge with 1000 rooms and the grounds cover 500 acres. The tour we took only visited about 10 rooms, so there's obviously a lot we commoners never get to see!

This interesting statue is of Hercules prying open the lion's mouth. The palace, and Vienna in general actually, is lined with so many statues it's easy to forget them. But you could really just sit and look at a few of them and be pretty satisfied. Visiting 10 rooms is actually palace overload. One room blends into the next, as your sense are pretty much overwhelmed with all the "ornate-ness".

This is part of the dining room. You aren't supposed to take pictures, so we had to be sneaky. I just wanted to show off the cool napkin/folding thing going on with each plate and the little rolls tucked inside. Fun!

Amy and Amanda got the audio tour guides and listened to them in every room. They really enjoyed it, but when I asked them what the guide said, they didn't have much to say! One interesting thing about this room (and every room actually) is the large fixture in the back corner. It's a huge wood burning stove. The servants would load wood in from behind the wall and the ceramic fixture would heat up from the burning fire and heat all the rooms. But the people in the rooms never had to see the servants or worry about smoke, soot, etc. There's a joke in there somewhere about "forced air"...

Amanda looks really excited here. I think she's more annoyed at constantly being asked to turn around and pose for pictures.

It's hard to tell with these two, but they seemed to really enjoy it!

At Easter (and Christmas) the Schonbrunn hosts a fun market with food, toys, and decorations. Part of the Easter celebration in Vienna is to decorate your house with painted eggs (real eggs!). The hand painted eggs are pretty fragile, but look beautiful when you hang a bunch of them from a tree or from branches in a vase.

The girls bought a couple souvenirs for their family, then went for the food. Amy got a Pizza pretzel and Amanda got a Chocolate one.

I told them they had to try a traditional crepe with sugar and butter. These crepe stands are everywhere in Paris, and there's always at least one in every Viennese market.

The problem with the Easter (and Christmas) markets in Vienna is they have so many cool decorations, but the problem is you'd have to buy a lot of them to make it look good. Then you'd have to have a place to put them on display, and store them. But it looks nice.

Tourists come from all over Europe specifically to visit the Easter Markets in Vienna. It's fun just to walk up and down the booths looking at all of the hand made art and decorations. Easter is one of thos holidays that tends to get forgotten in America. We celebrate it, buy some chocolates, and then move on. But with the Easter Markets leading up to Easter in Vienna it's really like a whole "Easter Season" just like at Christmas time.

27 March 2010

Coloring Easter Eggs with the kids

We asked Elora if she wanted to dye some Easter Eggs and she said, "But I don't want the eggs to die!" So we changed it to Easter Egg coloring. We don't have any glass bowls and we were afraid the dye would stain our plastic bowls, so we had to use jars. It made the whole event a little messier, but still good fun.

Here are the kids cheering - they clapped each time they successfully dropped an egg in the jar.

I wasn't sure how much Oliver would get into this, but he thought it was really neat - lots of smiles from Ollie! Once the eggs were finished we had to keep them away from him or he would pick them all up and throw them back in the jars.

Amanda got very fancy with her eggs, and even tried painting some pictures on them with her fingers.

There it goes! Back in they dye. The kids had so much fun that once the hard boiled eggs were dyed, we decided to go ahead and do some raw eggs too. This ended Oliver's Easter Egg fun, since he kept dropping them from up high into the jars - ewww... cracked eggs in the dye... He was very sad to be finished, but we made it up to him by putting him in the bath (his favorite activity!)

Here we are with all our finished eggs! They turned out pretty well I think. Chris gets confused every time he opens the fridge looking for eggs though - which ones are raw?

26 March 2010

Castle Braunfels & City + Train from Frankfurt to Vienna with Amy and Amanda

Day 2 begins with more pastries. This time it was "Tiroler Art". Tirol is a section of Austria, and it's funny that the Germans did a better job making the Tirolian pastry than we have ever had in Austria... Gooey, sour cherry, sugary, creamy pastry... yum!

We took the train passed Chris' old home town in Wehrheim. The city we were going to this day is called Braunfels. It's way out in the country side, but the interweb said the train/bus transfer should be easy.

Unfortunately, the interwebs didn't say anything about the train suddenly stopping, making a single, muffled announcement over the crackling loud speaker, before starting up again and then stopping in the middle of the tracks in the middle of no where. Huh? What's going on? We've got 2 more stops. We poke our heads out, and see the conductor getting off the train. He tells us he made an announcement. We couldn't understand it. But apparently, here is what happens.

In order to save a bit of energy, 2 stops before the end of the line, the engine and the front car of the train separate from the rest of the cars and keeps moving until the end destination. The rest of the cars get left in the middle of the tracks, away from the station. You'd think they would announce it more than once, have some signs up, etc. Sheesh... so we had to climb several feet down from the train with the stroller and make our way back to the platform. And wait another hour for the next train to come. We were careful to get on the first car this time!

We finally arrived in Braunfels. It's a beautiful medieval German city with a large castle right in the center. Elora was very happy to have plenty of hands to hold. Here she is with Amanda. She was confused the first couple days and kept calling Amanda by the name of Amy. But now she has it figured out I think.

Here's Amy and Amanda in the old town. The buildings are very picturesque. More on that later.

Amanda wanted to try out the stocks right next to the main entrance of the castle. Stocks were a form of public humiliation, as the offender would be placed right in the center of the town square. It's interesting that Amanda just jumped right in, but Amy refused to give it a go!

Here's an old well, which Oliver was excited to play around on.

Unfortunately the interior of the castle was closed today. But we were able to walk around most of the grounds. Usually these medieval castles are only impressive on the outside anyway. The insides are usually pretty bare, both from age and because they didn't have that much elaborate decoration until a couple hundred years later. That's what we're telling ourselves anyway!

Castle Braunfels was first built in the 1300s, but there was a fire in the late 1600s that burnt it down.  Here the girls can be seen exiting the castle bathroom. Amy and Amanda didn't have much to say about their first public restroom experience in an old castle, other than, "It was cold..."

We decided to sit in the grass outside the castle walls and let the kids play around.

Oliver and Elora quickly found some sticks and knew just who to start beating with them.

It took a lot of coaxing, but eventually we lured Elora away from the sticks and back to the town so we could find a place to have lunch. The sun came out, and Elora was excited to put on her sunglasses and sit down on someone's front porch.

All of these houses were inside the castle walls. It would be pretty cool to live within the walls of a castle! We found this particular house quite interesting. The wooden frame, made from huge beams is all crooked. Probably due to settling in the ground, and sagging weight on the frame.

Karen was just explaining to us how she learned about the houses in one of her design classes. The large wooden beams built the frame of the house, then they would fill in the area around the beams with mud, straw, and mortar. In later years, the filled in the middle of the frame with brick, but kept the wooden beams for the aesthetic. Not five minutes later we walked by one of these buildings under rennovation and we could see it was one of the original buildings made from mud and straw! Still standing 400 years later! Seeing a house built of mud, straw, and wood still standing all those years later makes us feel better about our house in Glendale.

One last look at the detailed work on the houses. If you look close you can see there is a scripture verse (in German) carved across one of the beams. You can also see the wooden beam visibly sagging under the weight of the house.

We left the castle interior and went back out into the public square. Karen and Amy posed by the castle doors. The weather was a little bit cool, but really nice compared to what it has been.

We're not sure why. But for some reason when Elora saw this grate, she ran right up to it and laid down and smiled. Apparently, this dirty, dusty spot on the street just called out to be laid down on?

Here we are at lunch, next to the castle tower. Everyone but Chris got some variety of Schnitzel. Christ got Tiroler Grostl. Again, it's interesting to note the food was Austrian style, but cooked better than most of the restaurents we've eaten at in Austria! We could even hear the waitress pounding out the Schnitzel from inside the kitchen (no frozen stuff!).

Every town has one of these large springy things. The kids love them. This one was randomly placed in the middle of a sidewalk in front of someone's house.

And this oddity was something just begging for a picture. It's a meat delivery truck. You've heard of the ice cream man that plays a little jingle and the little kids come running from several blocks away to get a treat? Well, this is the meat man for adults. We didn't wait long enough to hear if he had a "meat man song" that acted as a siren call to lure in the little old ladies.

And the next day we boarded the high speed train back to Vienna. Seven long hours. But it did not end there. The trip required a bit of symmetry. Read on...

Remember that bit about the German trains presumably saving energy and disconnecting the back half of the train while the front half continued on to the final destination? Three hours into our trip, with kids about to fall asleep and our little wagon strewn with toys, books, etc. the conductor gets on the loud speaker and tells everyone to get off the train and move to the front cars. What?!? You've got to be kidding me... on a long distance train? So off we go, frantically packing up computer, toys, snacks, etc. Two minutes later we're running off the train with the stroller and kids in two, making our way to the front car. But so is everyone else.... We get inside the front cars and its standing room only. The hallways are all lined with people. Amy and I (Chris) have the urnfortunate position located right in front of the toilet. And when you've got a few hundred people piled into a couple cars, it meant there was literally someone going to the bathroom every minute for 3 hours. Fun fun. Not really. Vienna to Frankfurt by high speed train takes 7 hours (10 hours by normal train). By plane it takes 1 hour (plus an extra hour waiting at the airport). The Germans sure are doing their best to make sure the plane looks even more attractive. But even worse, as we stood there with people shuffling by every couple minutes to the bathroom, the thought kept coming into my mind... "Why is it when the Germans need to find a solution to their problems, people end up crammed into railway cars..."
(ok, that's unfair and overblown, but what a terrible decision to pile hundreds of people and their luggauge into a train that can't fit them.)

24 March 2010

Amy & Amanda trip Roman castle Saalburg + Ich bin ein Berliner

Our nieces Amy and Amanda are here for a visit for the next few weeks. We are so excited to be able to show them around some of our favorite places! They flew into Frankfurt last week, so we took the train up and showed them around the area for a couple days.

The very first thing Chris had them do was try a Berliner (a jelly donut nicknamed Berliner by people in Germany who live outside Berlin). I would like to point out that there is a strange tendancy to name foods after cities where they are popular... Frankfurter = hot dog, Berliner = jelly donut, Pariser = croissant... and the list continues... Chris had the girls say "Ich bin ein Berliner" before sampling their donuts, and then had to tell them the story behind the famous quote since they hadn't actually heard it before... sigh. These kids, what do they learn in history?

Amy and Amanda brought Oliver and Elora their birthday presents, which Oliver asked to open continuously from the moment he saw them. Ollie got a tool kit, and Elora got a doctor kit which they have had fun playing with. The best part of this pic is Amanda's face - a bit tired, are we? Chris took the girls over to the Frankfurt temple to do some baptisms and then we headed out to a nearby Roman fort.

Here are some ruins that you can walk around in outside the fort.

Entering the Roman Fortress - Saalburg. It is the largest Roman fort in all of Europe, and was built along the limes which was the series of forts that guarded a wall that was built from East to West across Germany to protect the Roman Empire from Germanic tribes.

Here we are chucking spears at Chris while walking along the top of the walls.

Oliver decided to crawl into the ruins of a Roman bath. He was pretty pleased with himself about the whole thing - too bad he is wearing khaki pants to crawl in the mud.

On top of the walls of the bath.

Here are the girls with some ancient weapons. They were pretty impressed with all the crossbows and catapults.

There was a fun exhibit showing the different types of armor worn by the Romans throughout the years of the empire. Here is Amy popping out from behind one of the cutouts. She sort of looks like she is cutout too...

Ollie's favorite exhibit was the playmobile toy soldiers. If only we had that many toy soldiers at home, we could have some pretty awesome battles.

They had some armor to try on too. Here is Amy who said the chain mail was REALLY heavy. It is so heavy you can't put it on by yourself, someone has to help you because it is too hard to lift over your head.

Amanda sporting the armor.

Elora stabbing Daddy. Thwarted by the chain mail!

There was also a coloring station with lots of fun pictures of soldiers that all the kids enjoyed. Except Oliver who kept running back to the playmobile toy soldiers...

Elora with the helmet. She chose not to try out the chain mail. I guess we all complained too much about how heavy it was.

Oliver and Daddy on top of the walls of the fortress.

Closeup of Oliver and Daddy.

Amy and Amanda on the bus trip back to the apartment. It was a fun first day, but the poor girls were so tired, I think everyone went to bed about 7pm.