June 2018

Reflections on Salzburg

-Summertime is hard on knees. The twins each have some major cuts and bruises on their knees from multiple spills during walking, hiking and running. In addition, Ted has cuts on his elbows and several puncture wounds on his forehead from falling in the gravel at the Augustiner. Even Mom has bruises on her leg.
-Chris was able to help Carrie start using the cloud for viewing photos. Of course, this was technical support that wasn’t asked for, an especially delicate situation that requires a strong trust relationship. To achieve this Chris has visited Carrie and her family 7 times over the last 14 years, and during this trip he mentioned each day the advantages of using a cloud based app for viewing photos over downloading each of them with a web browser plus Airdrop. Finally on the night before we left Carrie let Chris install the Smugmug app on her phone so that she could see images from this trip and previous trips. It might be too strong a statement to say this was a breakthrough, but it certainly felt like solid progress. Fortunately we are scheduled to see Carrie and her family again in August in Utah, which will provide an opportunity for additional counseling and encouragement.
-Ted and Gwen quickly became attached to Carrie, Sophie and Anna. About a day into the trip Gwen referred to Carrie as The Other Mom and asked for her name. Ted is almost always the first of our children who is out of bed in the morning, and by the end of the trip he was having long conversations with Carrie in the kitchen in the morning. Sometimes he would even sit in her lap.
–Ted: “I remember your house but now I don’t remember my house.” He was also comfortable enough around Carrie to tell her that her head was too small for her body, which she rectified by letting her hair down from its ponytail.
–Gwen asked around 10am one day: “Carrie are your girls already at school?”
–Carrie made dinner for everyone each night, and Ted and Gwen seemed to eat seconds of whatever she cooked. Amazing! Carried joked that her girls would do the same with food cooked by other Moms.
–Sophie and Anna shared their Barbie collection with Gwen and spent lots of time with her. They also spent a lot of time playing board games with Ted and Gwen.

Funny quotes from the kids:
-Everett, after someone spoke to him at lunch and he didn’t respond: “I’m lost in my knödel,” referring to the delicious knödels that Carrie made for everyone lunch.
-Ted one morning soon after we arrived: “It smells like fresh cow!”

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Schaukelweg & Augustiner

This morning Melissa and Everett went with Carrie to Freilassing, while Chris took Teddy and Gwen to the schaukelweg in Anthering. We have walked this path during several of our previous visits. We parked by the kindergarten and went to the first station, then slowly hiked through town and up to the fourth station with a picnic lunch on the way. Then we hiked back to the car and drove to visit the last two stations before coming home.

In the afternoon we went to the Augustiner in Salzburg. This is one of our favorite places on earth. We each had a beer and some food while the kids played. It was delightful.

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This morning Chris and Melissa went to Globus while Carrie watched the kids at her house. Globus is the local megastore. It’s in Freilassing, Germany, and because the rivers formed international boundaries for many years, there are only a couple bridges and no direct routes to get there.

In the afternoon we went to Salzburg to shop for clothing we can’t find at home. Melissa found a sweater and Chris picked out a jacket from Trachtenstadl. We stopped at our favorite children’s clothing store (Crai) where Ted picked a viking t-shirt similar to the one Everett picked during our previous visit in 2016, and Gwen picked out a skirt with bird houses. Everett has now outgrown this store and couldn’t find any clothing he wanted so instead he got a leather pouch. Then we hiked on the Mönchsberg for a while before coming back to Wald for a lasagna dinner.

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Hohenwerfen Castle

Today we visited Hohenwerfen Castle. The older kids were up late last night playing Monopoly and were difficult to rouse this morning, so we didn’t get an early start. We arrived a little before noon and took the funicular to the castle. As we arrived we realized that there were two birds of prey shows, one that had started a half hour earlier and another in about three and a half hours. We were worried about how to keep busy until then, but there was no need. There is much to do here. First the small kids played throw the ring on the unicorn while the older kids of all ages learned to walk on stilts.

There are many neat parts of the castle that we say on the tour, but the highlight for most of us was the birds of prey show. It was amazing in every possible way: the venue, the number of birds, the skill of the falconers, and the alpenhorn players.

During the show the falconer would throw treats up into the air for the birds to catch. This was often successful, but at other times dead mice and baby chicks would fall into the crowd. You don’t see that at Disney world. Once an eagle missed a catch and immediately afterward a vulture swooped down and ate it off the ground, then decided that it would be better to walk up the hill rather than fly. For a few moments he was walking directly toward Everett.

A few more photos:

After we left the castle Gwen we came home for dinner. They kids played games and then watched 101 Dalmatians while the adults chatted.

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Today we got up around 9am and spent some time at the house in the morning. In early afternoon we visited Dorotheum, which is essentially a high class consignment store where you can purchase treasures being sold or auctioned by other people. These include jewelry, antiques, paintings, ceramics and vintage weapons. We didn’t find any treasures that we felt we needed to travel home with. Then we went to GEA on a secret mission by Melissa to look at shoes for Chris after seeing some nice shoes that Armin bought recently. This had to be done carefully because there is no way Chris would consent to go shoe shopping, partly because purchasing shoes might subsequently result in wearing them (the word “shoe” is derived from a Germanic word meaning “foot prison”), and partly because the shoes he brought on this trip have hardly even been broken in after 12 years of gentle use (yet somehow the soles are worn off). Anyway this strategy worked because somehow he came out of the store with a new pair of shoes, Melissa got a new bag, and the kids got some very neat and clever change purses. Masterful work on Melissa’s part!

Afterward we took the kids to Zauberflötenspielplatz at Mirabellgarten. Visiting this playground has been a tradition every time we have visited Salzburg with children – we have pictures of the kids here during every visit.

In the evening we had dinner at Kernei’s Mostheuriger. Three of us ordered Brettljause. Ted had a Bauernomelette and Gwen had Grillwürstel mit Pommes. After dinner we looked at the cows and pigs in the barn next door, and spent some time at the playground out back. Later we played games at the house and when Sophie and Anna got home from choir practice they played Monopoly with Everett. Apparently the new version has credit cards, which the kids seem completely comfortable with.

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Travel Misadventures

Today (06/19/18) we left Paris. We recently realized that it’s difficult to travel to Paris without sounding pretentious. As in: we had some great times there, but over the last couple days we grew apart and thought it would be best if we saw other places. So goodbye Paris, we are leaving for Austria.

I (Chris) got up early today, followed by Ted, then Melissa, and finally Everett and Gwen. The last two were particularly difficult to rouse. Around 10:30 I walked a few blocks to pick up the rental car, which turned into an odyssey that took nearly two hours. First I found out that they don’t actually keep the rental cars at that location – they deliver them when the customer arrives, which takes a bit of time. After I got the car I drove back to the apartment to try to find a parking space, but in retrospect I would have been more likely to find a unicorn. I drove around for about an hour. Our apartment is on a one way street that is the width of a single car plus 1 cm on each side and there is almost no place to pull over for a moment to load the car. Plus we don’t do anything quickly. I eventually found an empty curb about a half mile away and put the car there, but no one nearby (including people who worked in stores right there) knew if that was a legal parking spot or not.

It was a rough travel day. Our plan was to leave the apartment in Paris, drive to Sèvres to see the house where Melissa’s family used to live, and then drive to Strasbourg to stay the night. This should have taken about 4 or 5 hours. Instead, all three children were vomiting before we left Paris, and only one of them used a bag, so we had to stop twice to clean up the car and children as best we could. Then we drove for about an hour and during the next stop to clean up vomit Chris took a close look at the car navigation system because it was giving some very late estimates for when we would arrive in Strasbourg. It turns out that its default behavior was to take us on roads with a speed limit of 50km/hr to avoid tolls. We turned off this option and got on the highway, but in retrospect this was no better. Over the next two days we traveled roughly 1000km from Paris to Salzburg at an average speed of about 35mph. Travel times were 2 or 3 times what was estimated by the navigation system, which we eventually abandoned in favor of Google Maps. Interestingly, the navigation system was aware of many lane closures and accidents around France and Germany but reported exactly zero delays of any kind on our route, which is odd because they occurred about every 5km.

We stayed the night in a cottage at a campground in Strasbourg, which was lovely and perfect for our family. There was a playground and lots of open areas for the kids to run around. They spent about a half hour laying in the sand in the volleyball court. We washed some clothes and blankets from the car. Around 9pm we went into Petit France for dinner at La Corde à Linge and were seated around 10pm. Two of the kids ordered burgers with Münster (a.k.a. monster cheese, according to Gwen) but due to a mistake by the parents we ordered burgers with blue cheese instead, and they immediately spit out their first bite. We did our best to recover and in the end had a lovely dinner on the canal. The kids were in bed sometime after midnight. We had to sleep with the windows open because it was hot and there are no fans or air conditioning, plus there are no window screens France, so we were covered in bug bites in the morning.

06/20/18: We got on the road around 10:30am and Ted threw up before we got out of Strasbourg. So we stopped at Monoprix for trash bags and wipes, and instituted a rule that iPads are not allowed in the car unless we are on the highway on the theory that this was making them carsick. Nonetheless, Everett threw up a couple hours later. Rough.

The next day we had another long day of driving. There is a misconception among Americans that you can get places quickly on the Autobahn because there are no speed limits. This is sort of true but only in the sense that if you drive across the country there may be short stretches of a few kilometers at a time where you can drive as fast as you want to, but 99% of the time it’s not possible because of lane closures, reduced speed, traffic, etc.

We arrived at Carrie and Armin’s house around 7pm. The kids got to run around and get some wiggles out. We had a lovely dinner on the porch (salad, barbecue beef and polenta). Then the kids ran around more until it was dark. Finally showers and bed. The three of them are sleeping in Anna’s room, which she graciously gave up during our visit.

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Reflections on Paris

We have found that it’s difficult to talk about traveling to Paris without sounding pretentious. We first became aware of this from listening to other people during the trip, and also noticed it about ourselves. These conversations sometimes sound like people who have grown tired of Paris and are ready for something new, like Provence or Normandy.

The weather in Paris has been spectacular. It has been cool at night and during the day with occasional rain. So comfortable for our family!

The Paris Museum Pass has been fantastic. We bought the 6 day passes for 74 Euros per adult; the kids are free to almost everything. Navigo Metro pass has worked out great. Chris and Melissa each have one which provides one week of metro access starting on Sunday night. The kids are still at the age where they need reduced price tickets which we buy in packs of 10 or 20 (0.75 Euros per child per trip) within the Paris area (we had to buy separate tickets to Versailles).

Paris is by no means an inexpensive place to travel, but this was manageable. Beyond flights, we paid about $400 per night for a 3 bedroom, two bathroom apartment near the Arc de Triomphe with 4 adults and 3 children. This apartment has had more than its share of problems, but this is still a much more comfortable way for us to travel than staying at a hotel.

This is an unbelievably rich city in terms of culture and food and we have thoroughly enjoyed it!

French Air Conditioning: A new invention that occurred to Chris after the trip. It’s a self contained box, powered by an RTG, that prevents any air movement yet somehow makes living spaces hot, humid and full of biting insects no matter the season or conditions.

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Life involves misadventures; it sometimes feels like there are more of them during travel because of the unfamiliar environment and non-native languages. Here are some during this trip:

  • Everett lost his retainer. He is a very responsible kid, and Chris had just mentioned the night before how responsible he was being with his retainer (this might have jinxed it). One night at bedtime the retainer was nowhere to be found, and we had another month of travel ahead of us. We looked everywhere in the apartment and found nothing. Then we went through the garbage in the apartment. Then we went to the trash room downstairs and found the bag we put in the bin that morning. We went through that and found his retainer! All we had to do now is figure out how to clean it. We considered using boiling water or gin but called the orthodontist and they said to use warm soapy water and an old toothbrush. Chemicals are appealing for their disinfectant properties, but many of them have adverse effects of soft plastic. In the end we got it clean and his retainer was back in use the next night.
  • Gwen got bonked in the head with the back wheel of a road bike. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds. There was a group of cyclists who decided to take their road bikes into the Arc de Triomphe. Why? Who knows. This required carrying their bikes down a flight of stairs, under the Charles de Gaulle Étoile, through the ticket window and then up a flight of stairs to be at street level under the arch. Did they also carry their bikes up 284 steps in the spiral staircase to the top of the monument? Maybe. We saw them when they were at the ticket window when one of the spun around with his bike and bonked Gwen in the head with his back wheel. She was fine. Several strangers who watched it were the most upset about the whole thing than we were. The cyclist was so oblivious he never even realized what happened.
  • Ted had a couple mishaps with the turnstiles and exit gates from the Metro because they close very fast and he hadn’t quite mastered the timing. He would approach the doors and they would open, then he would hesitate for a moment to see if they were going to stay open, then lunge through. This was not a recipe for success because the doors closed a couple times when he was halfway through. One time his hand got caught in the exit gate. Another time he got squeezed between the exit doors. We also noticed that the three-bar turnstiles would sometimes bonk him in the back of the head as he entered the Metro.
  • Also on the topic of the Metro: Chris and Melissa have 1 week Navigo (proximity) passes, while for the kids we bought carnets of tarif réduit tickets. Several times Chris discovered that his pass wouldn’t work, and we would have to find an agent to help us through. What we eventually figured out was that in the process of putting each of the children’s tickets into the turnstile, the proximity sensor was detecting Chris’ card which was in his hand, and it then wouldn’t work when he went in last. We solved this by having Melissa hold the proximity cards until the kids were through.
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Dad Style 2018

Happy Father’s Day to all of the Dads in our lives!

To celebrate Father’s Day we slept late (10am!) and had a delicious breakfast from the nearby bakery that is open on Sunday (some are open on Saturday, some on Sunday; we suspect that the times and days that bakeries are open is carefully coordinated by the Ministry of Pain et Pâtisserie). Chris had a mille-feuille, also known as a Napoleon at home. Then we got on the Metro to visit Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in northeast Paris.

It was just what we hoped for. The weather was mild and the kids had lots of time to run around and explore. This is a really neat park. It’s a former quarry with quite a dramatic topography plus lots of green space, bridges and a monument in the middle. We had a picnic lunch and the kids each got a giant lollipop with an ice cream chaser. Everett came back to the apartment with Gabby and Grandaddy via Uber. Chris and Melissa came home on the Metro with the twins. In the evening we relaxed at the apartment and watched the World Cup. Then the kids watched a movie while the adults played cards for a while. Then lots of bedtime drama and everyone went to be around 11pm.

One funny thing Chris and Cress have experienced as Dads is the incredible disparity between work life and home life. For example, the other day during dinner Everett made an offhand comment to Grandad that he would make a good waiter. This is probably true, but should be taken in context that he also had an extremely successful career at Procter and Gamble, and he is good at a lot of things. And we suspect that his performance as a waiter is restricted to a very small group of clientele mainly comprised of his family.  Grandchildren receive the finest service.

Another funny thing about Dads is their fashion sense (or lack thereof). And yet, according to the New York Times, Dads are now at the center of the style universe. The adjectives used to describe this trend are roughly what I would expect: uncool, old fogy, schlubby, baggy, unsexy, chunky, fuddy-duddy. The article reads: “Brands are trying to produce mystery in this overexposed atmosphere. They’re doing it by either picking something extremely random or something extremely obvious. Dad style is both.” This movement is currently called dadcore, or normcore. It is described as “stuff that is self-consciously unsexy, or even un-self-consciously unsexy.” “It’s about wanting things that aren’t branded. Things that are worn, the color’s faded, there’s sun damage. It’s like it had another life before you had it. There’s history in the garment.” After reading the article I discovered that I could easily spend over $3000 on an outfit of sneakers, jeans, a fleece jacket and a baseball cap (oh and a fanny pack). But why is this necessary when Dads’ oblivious behavior in the first place is what cause this fashion trend? It sounds like a way for men to spend obscene amounts of money to strenuously create the appearance that they have done the hard work to make their clothes look worn. Here’s a litmus test: 15 minutes from now when the fashion world has moved on, will Dads change the way they dress? The ones who work hard will not, at least not until years from now when their clothing has disintegrated and they are forced to buy something unbranded and reasonably priced.

So cheers to all of the hard working Dads in our lives, whose clothes are now worn out as a result, so much so that they will never even be aware of their missed opportunity to walk the runway.

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American School of Paris

The main reason for the timing of this visit was Melissa’s 30th high school reunion at the American School of Paris, which coincided with with Homecoming 2018 celebration. This is the 72nd anniversary of the school; they were going to hold a 70th anniversary celebration but apparently much of the campus was a construction site at the time. Several buildings were torn down, including one that had Melissa’s classrooms, and in their place several new ones were built.

We participated in three homecoming events. First was the welcome reception on Friday night. We requested a baby sitter for the kids during this event, as did many other parents. However, of the 10 children who were registered only our three showed up. We told them this was fine because they sometimes feel like 10 children. While they were spending time with the babysitters at the playground and doing activities we walked around campus, listened to a talk from the Head of School, and had a glass of champagne or two.

The next day we attended the international fair at the school which was pretty fantastic. There were lots of bounce houses and other activities for the kids. There were also food tents from many different countries. It was like a global tapas bar. We enjoyed food from Switzerland, Iran, Korea, Argentina, France and England. We also got to see many parts of Melissa’s high school (she attended ASP for her senior year).

On Saturday night Melissa and Chris went to La Soirée at the Musèe des Arts Forains while our traveling au pairs watched the children. The Musèe was essentially a kids carnival that has been repurposed for adults. Super fun evening!

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