Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Lausanne, Switzerland
October, 2011

Friday evening, 6 Oct., found us headed to Heathrow for a 7:30 p.m. flight to Geneva, Switzerland. An hour later (after the three+ hours it took to get us to and through the airport!) we landed, retrieved bags and found the train. Another hour and we were in Lausanne in a cab en route to the hotel Angleterre. A lovely property spread amongst a few buildings and very near Lake Geneva (this we discovered the next morning by daylight).

Saturday…We rated our first buffet breakfast in Switzerland a seven. Breads: fabulous. Cheese and pastries, also fabulous.

The lake view was lovely, of course, though a bit cloudy so we had to envision the Alps lurking behind the gray. From breakfast we headed down to the lake and to the left in search of the Olympic Museum.

The museum was a good visit – lots of inspirational clips and photos, cool memorabilia – shoes, medals, stamps, sculptures, quotes…all things Olympic. Particularly interesting for us as London readies for Olympics 2012. In fact I was able to go on an Olympic walk – a guided tour of the Olympic site – recently. Claire got to do the same with her class as one of her classmates’ parents works on site.

After being moved by Olympic heroism for a couple of hours (alternating with reading about political issues and corruption!) we decided to find our way downtown. From the port area we found the metro and hopped off at a stop near the cathedral. Then onto lunch, which wasn’t to be had at a bustling creperie. That one was too bustling. Had we had the patience to wait, we probably would have suffered immeasurably from the noise and chaos!

We opted instead for a cute but very small sandwich/cake shop around the corner. There we had decadent hot chocolate and split a couple of sandwiches. As we were around the corner from the Cathedral we popped in.

About the Cathedral:

“The most beautiful Gothic church in Switzerland, Lausanne Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame) stands 500 feet above Lake Geneva. Construction on the cathedral began in 1175 and it was consecrated in 1275 by Pope Gregory X. It remains unfinished today.
Throughout the Middle Ages, pilgrims flocked to the cathedral to pray before the Golden Virgin, a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary (to whom the cathedral is dedicated).

Lausanne was one of many medieval cities to institute a nightwatch to prevent the all-too-common threat of devastating fires. Although it is mostly stone, the city was once made mostly of wood and burned down several times. Every night, watchmen stationed on the wall surrounding the town would call out to each other, ensuring that there were no fires and that no enemy was approaching.

The cathedral nightwatch was the most important. Every night, the watchman walks up the 153 stairs to the top of the tower. Every hour on the hour from 10pm to 2am, he calls out to the four directions: C'est le guet; il a sonné l'heure ("This is the nightwatch; the hour has struck"). Lausanne is the only city in Europe to continue this tradition to this day. Nowadays, the reassuring sound of the nightwatchman's voice startles lovers on park benches and drunken students stumbling home.

In 1536, the combined forces of the Reformation and Bernese army stripped Lausanne Cathedral of virtually all its decoration, including altars, statues and paintings. The beloved Golden Virgin was melted down to make coins. Its treasury, a unique collection of liturgical vestments and tapestries, was taken over to Bern, where it is now preserved in a museum.
The architect-restorer Eugène Viollet-le-Duc began a restoration of the cathedral in the 19th century - and it is still going on today.

We continued our perusal around Old Town, seeking out a bit of infamous Swiss chocolate at the most popular shop in town, a lovely little store that smelled amazing from the street. We joined the queue out the door. It was worth the hassle – amazingly rich chocolate. The aroma in the store was out of this world.

After poking around Old Town some more we took the metro back to our stop near the hotel and relaxed before dinner. In our quest for a lunch spot we’d stumbled upon our restaurant for the evening, Café de L'Eveche. This one was known, quite appropriately, for its fondue. Joe and I shared one, along with a fabulous blue cheese salad with walnuts, carpaccio, vegetables and amazing balsamic dressing. The kids opted for tagliatelle and Bolognese, which looked great, too. Dessert was heavenly – tiramisu and a coffee flavored ice cream coated in dark chocolate.
Full of cheese and chocolate, we headed back to the hotel.

Day two in Switzerland

Sometimes the realization of where you are when you wake up is astounding. That’s how it was this a.m. when I remembered I was in Switzlerland. And on such a beautiful day. Sunny, it had cleared some so we had a great view of the Alps from our window, a lakeside perch.

After breakfast we walked down to the shore and found tickets for a paddle boat ride on Lake Geneva, departing late morning. This was one of those things I’d researched online and was all set to purchase tickets for a family ice cream social cruise…only to have the cost come up in US dollars. I’d been about to buy tickets for a lake cruise on our lake Geneva!

After perusing Ouchy (our little lakeside town) for a disposable camera (I did such a good job packing…until realizing I’d forgotten the camera in only one of the most beautiful places in the world!!!), the kids stole a few minutes at a playground before we boarded our boat.

It was a lovely white BIG paddleboat. Incidentally, 25 percent of the world’s functioning steamers – 19 -- are in Switzerland.

On board we settled into a table with a great view as our boat chugged along past gorgeous vineyards lining the hillsides, Alps rising up behind. The fall colors of the vines were fabulous, especially under the crisp, bright blue sky and fall sunshine.

A few sailboats dotted the lake. Ninety minutes later we were in Chillon, our destination. There we disembarked and searched for lunch. We were pointed toward a very non-descript restaurant that didn’t hold much promise. Surprisingly, my mushroom soup was amazing, as was my salad with little goat cheese pastries. Joe’s shrimp salad looked very tasty, too.

The kids had spaghetti and schnitzel; we heard no complaints.

Then off to Chillon Castle, which is a very picturesque castle perched on the lake:

Whilst Castles built by the Savoys generally have a square plan with a circular tower at each corner, Chillon Castle is special in that it follows the oval form of the 100m X 50m island it is built on. It is surrounded by a natural moat, and is accessible from the lake on all sides. On the land side it can be entered by crossing the wooden bridge. Formerly there was a drawbridge, the remains of whose pulley system can still be seen.

Chillon is a double function castle. The façade opposite the mountain, pierced by arrow slits and loopholes and topped by machicolations on the battlements, is the fortress that protects the road, the Via Italica. Facing the lake, magnificent Gothic windows adorn the façade of the princely residence. The keep in the centre of the castle is linked to the dwelling via the sentry walks.

The three inner courtyards correspond to the use of the buildings surrounding them: the castellan’s or constable’s residence, and the lord of the castle’s apartments.
The place has a ton of rooms and good exhibits – we made the rounds before heading to the dock to board our chariot back to Ouchy. A lovely ride back, this time we perched near the paddles of the steamer – apparently these kinds of boats have been a tradition in Switzerland for 100+ years.

Back in Ouchy we regrouped at the hotel before heading off to dinner at Restaurant de la Croix d'Ouchy, a lovely place near our hotel. The food was out of this world, as was the service and setting. Comfortable, oldy-worldy dining room, delicious food – I had an amazing fish dish, Joe had what looked like an incredible steak, the desserts were rich and chocolate-y and to die for.

We sauntered hotel-ward, full and happy.

Day Three in Lausanne

This morning we set off to the train station, easily accessed via the metro. Once there a very helpful woman got us oriented to the chocolate factory!

We took a couple of trains to Broc, Switzerland, changing in Gruyeres en route. Our last train was a tiny two-car job, one car w/ red and white polka dots. The ride alone was amazing – Alpen views, vineyards, fall colors, cows and countryside. Brilliant white snowcapped peaks…

In the tiny little town of Broc, nestled in mountains, we followed the signs – and smells – to the Cailler chocolate factory. The air smelled like molten chocolate – warm and so appetizing.

At the factory we got tickets and into position for the English tour. Once the doors opened we stepped into a beautifully decorated Disney-esque “set”, an elevator that took us down a couple levels, I guess, entertaining us along the way with historical information about the development of chocolate.

After our 20 minute interactive guided tour – reminiscent of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney, we were deposited in the tasting room. That was beyond heavenly. We all tried entirely too many. And we hadn’t had lunch so whoa was it a sugar rush.

From there we stopped at the gift shop (of course), added to the factory income for the day, then walked back toward the train station, stopping at the chocolate factory outlet en route. This one was mostly grocery store (dog food, anyone) with some chocolate thrown in. In true outlet mall style, no great bargains, really…

Then back to the trains, the small one, then a bigger one and we were in Gruyeres. What an appropriate name.

This town was delightful. Our first stop, just out of the train station, was the cheese factory. We were handed samples of Gruyeres as we purchased our tickets. Three samples, the cheese at three different ages.

The audio guide tour was good, with a cow named Cherry as the narrator. After being educated about cows’ diet, rhythms of the season (i.e. grazing on the slopes in summer), etc. we were taken through the milking parlor. We saw huge rounds of cheese in the making, tanks being drained, etc. At the end we saw the cheese cave – a cool, dark place where dozens of rounds of cheese were being aged.

After our tour we popped over to the café and ate our samples with bread, then ordered some amazing gruyeres mac and cheese and a ham and cheese salad. Ahh what a great food day…heavenly chocolate followed by heavenly cheese.

We then shuffled into the lovely little Alpen town of Gruyeres, set on a hill with amazing mountain scapes all around, green meadows, cows with big bells. Here and there one would peal. Blue skies, snow-capped mountains, green pastures and lovely brown, big-eyed cows. So Swiss.

After putzing about town a bit, seeking out the ever-important souvenir for Claire and Ava, we wandered back to the train station to start the process back to the hotel. In short order we were back in Lausanne!

This evening we elected to eat at the hotel restaurant, which had been written up as a good one. And it was! Italian food that everyone enjoyed.

Final day in Switzerland

This a.m. we headed downtown Lausanne after our final hotel breakfast, this time for a museum visit – the Natural History and Geology museums. We perused stuffed stuff, rocks and more in a lovely setting. Then it was time for lunch and we were determined to try that creperie that was too chaotic earlier in our visit. This time we nailed a table and perused the menu. The crepes were very tasty; I did a blue cheese and mushroom one, can’t remember the others. Claire had ordered a bacon and maple syrup selection but was disappointed when it came out with just bacon. Not for long. As we were wrapping up, another crepe came out…the waiter had assumed she’d wanted that one for dessert! Ahh the language barriers.

From crepes we wandered back to our chocolate shop for a treat for the road, then to the lakeside for a little outdoor time – chess and playground – before cabbing it to the train station and starting the homeward process. Lovely trip!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Provence, Poland, Bath

18 July – Provence

I’ve decided that in my next life I’ll come back fluent in French and live in Provence.

On this sunny Monday the kids and I headed off to the Eurostar after getting organized and running some errands. We cabbed it to the station, printed our tix, checked in and grabbed sandwiches for the ride.

To Lille we went for our shorter leg of the journey, lots of reading and writing along the way. In Lille we caught the second train, the TGV to Avignon. En route we passed fields full of sunflowers, vineyards, Charlois cattle and so much greenery.
And once in Avignon we walked over to the rental car place, admired the lovely evening weather (not cold, not hot, just breezy and warm!) secured a little brown Citroen, got directions to the hotel and were off! Twenty minutes later we checked into a lovely boutique hotel – stone with a large porch and a very warm French welcome.

Our original dinner reservation had been moved back due to our 8:30 arrival time. And because the train was late out of Lille it was further pushed back. But the restaurant graciously agreed to serve us if we hurried so we shot off to our room and ditched our stuff. Our room was outside so we were led through the restaurant, exited into the grounds, which were lovely and featured a very inviting pool. Plans were made for an early morning swim…

At the restaurant we made quick decisions, the kids opting to share lamb per our waiter’s suggestion and I ordered the fish. We enjoyed the lovely, quiet dining room, sharing it with a few patrons wrapping up at their tables.

My fish was fabulous, the kids made off well with the lamb and for dessert they asked for ice cream. We were all a bit surprised when magnum – in wrappers – appeared on plates. I had the caffe gourmand per the waiter’s suggestion – little bits of desserts with varying flavors, served with coffee. Very nice finish.

Then to bed in our lovely suite – a large room to the right of the entrance downstairs with king bed, couch, coffee table, etc.

The kids slept upstairs in twin beds joined in a nice little loft space. Truly a lovely property.

We slept well, woke up late to pouring rain – really pouring. Bracing ourselves to be wet, we hoofed it quickly to breakfast, lamenting no pool time. And we enjoyed a lovely buffet French style. The bread, as it should be in France, was fabulous, especially combined with brie, unsalted butter and fancy raspberry jam (what isn’t good w/ brie and butter, I should ask).

We then checked out, got oriented toward Cucoron and were off. The desk clerk at the hotel suggested we stop at a lavender museum midway. We found it easily – a lovely stone building flanked by a field full of lavender. Gorgeous. Also flanked by a crowd of Asian tourists with cameras.

We checked out the museum, which wasn’t big but was interesting, with old presses, photos, history about the area and production processes, uses of lavender through time, etc. I did the audio guide, the kids did a quiz as we perused, then of course we hit the shop, got a lavender-scented candle for Sarah and were off again.

Close to Cucoron was the village of Luberon, where we stopped for a walk around the quaint little town with its winding streets, pedestrian walkways, boutique shops and cafes. By then it had become quite a nice day. Hungry for lunch, we settled on a café with tables outside and the kids had brochettes (chicken kebabs...but doesn't brochette sound so much nicer than chicken on a stick) simply but beautifully done. I had the lunch menu of the day, a lovely cheese, quiche-like starter with pesto sauce and a more adult version of the kebab with a lovely sauce and lots of grilled vegetables. Delicious!

For dessert the waiter brought out ice cream for the kids; he seemed disappointed when I passed on dessert so I agreed to it (any excuse) and he brought out three big bites of decadent dessert (I like all these "mini" desserts). The chocolate fudge like number was so rich I didn’t make it to the other two but did manage a to-go bag.

We continued on about town a bit, I picked up a wide-brimmed hat to protect my face from the sun, which had become quite intense in a fabulous way. We retrieved our car and headed on to Sarah’s through winding roads, gorgeous views along the way – vineyards, tons of trees and greenery.

Not long after we were in Cucoron, easily making our way to Sarah’s along narrow dirt roads through vineyards and groves of olive, peach and almond trees. We received a warm welcome and the kids wasted no time putting on swim suits and sunscreen. The pool was fabulous and just perfect – the kids could touch everywhere. Lillie and the girls had a ball swimming while I took a walk near the village along some trails. The forest was quite close, with trailheads here and there. It smelled so fresh, particularly after the storm.

Back at Sarah’s we helped prepare dinner; she’d made a Provencale casserole specialty along with veal meatballs, tomato sauce and pasta. With that fabulous bread it was an amazing meal, accompanied of course by wine...from Sarah’s boxes of rose and white wine in the pool house fridge. We finished it with cheese for the adults, ice cream and M&M’s for the kids. We’d brought Lillie a bottle of M&Ms from M&M World at Leicester Square. (That was an adventure…M&M world – think really colorful, really loud – as in music – and four levels of M&M related paraphernalia. Mostly overpriced M&M’s and M&M branded stuff. A good one-time stop.)

Lovely evening to sit outside at Sarah’s long table, with beautiful views of the valley in front, the great outdoor kitchen behind.

Wednesday – Cucoron

This a.m. I got up relatively early and went for a walk, this time the opposite direction, to a lovely remote area, down lanes and up hillsides, near the old hermitage (what praytell is an old hermitage?).

Another lovely day, breezy and sunny. We had breakfast outside at Sarah’s long table, pain d’chocolate for the kids, amazing baguettes and homemade jams for the adults. I drank copious amounts of coffee without ever feeling a jolt. Go figure, I later learned it’s decaf.

After some time by the pool we walked into the village with Sarah, then up to the castle on the hill, enjoying lovely views over Cucoron.

Afterward we had coffee (the leaded kind) on the Square, next to a big fish pond. For lunch – again outside (how nice is this) we had some salads, prosciutto, amazing cheese and bread, olives to die for…and of course wine.

In the afternoon: pool time – we adults just laid around, read and napped, chatted with Ollie, Katie, Amber and her 18-month-old daughter, Sophie.

For dinner we drove into Luberon and ate in the courtyard of a lovely restaurant. Beautiful and colorful, we ate beneath a canopy of sorts decorated with small green lights. For a starter we shared antipasto platters; the melted goats cheese in pastry was particularly tasty. The sausage, salami, olives, raosted veg and capers were all fabulous, too.

For mains, I had a veal specialty, as did Julian – very nice dish. The kids had chicken nuggets and fries. Others had what looked like fabulous fish.

Stuffed, I passed on dessert but enjoyed another really good espresso. And then we rolled home, late, after a lovely long drawn out meal.


This a.m., taking a queu from yesterday’s decaf, I walked into Cucoron and had an espresso, which perked me up a bit. For breakfast we drove down to the village, picked up pastries and bread at one of the bakeries and took it to a café in the square, where we had coffee and hot chocolate.

Then to the car and off to a nearby abbey for a walk around the place on another of these lovely Provence days, the nicest so far.

Silvacane Abbey

Silvacane Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery in the municipality of La Roque-d'Anthéron, Bouches-du-Rhône, in Provence, France. It was founded in or around 1144 as a daughter house of Morimond Abbey and was dissolved in 1443; it ceased to be an ecclesiastical property in the French Revolution. The church was acquired by the French state in 1846, the remaining buildings in 1949. It is one of the three Cistercian abbeys in Provence known as the "three sisters of Provence" ("les trois soeurs provençales"), the other two being Sénanque Abbeyand Le Thoronet Abbey; Silvacane was possibly the last-established.

Afterward we headed home for pool time, said good-bye to Amber and Sophie and enjoyed a lovely lunch. More salads, great bread, cheese, pasta. LOVE the cheese.

Our lazy afternoon included some shopping – Ollie, Katie and I headed into Luberon to browse some boutiques. There are so many lovely unique little stores with friendly clerks. I got a particularly lovely scarf and outfit, the latter such a fun buying experience, with the shopkeep weighing in with her opinion. She was lovely.

I’d tried a different outfit first and that was fine, but the one that originally caught my eye we both agreed was the right one.

I also picked up a little something – a little hanging cloth heart with prism -- for Sarah to replace something Ava broke. She “accidentally” pulled the thing that was holding it up out of the wall.

Katie and Ollie secured their items and some ice cream, so success all the way around.

Upon return I did a little packing, some showering of children and we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks. The girls had gotten plenty of sun – a bit red in spots.

For dinner the kids and I walked into Cucoron and ate in the courtyard of a lovely little French restaurant Sarah recommended. We ate beneath a grape arbour.I had a salad dressed with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette. It came with amazing melted chevre goats cheese croutons. SO good I ate all three of the very generous portions.

For my main I assumed I’d ordered a fish specialty, the daube. Surprise surprise when I received a very tasty beef stew, apparently a typical Provencale dish. No wonder the waiter came back to confirm I was indeed ordering it on one of the warmest days of the year. The gravy, in particular, was exquisite.

We elected to have dessert at the crepe restaurant, which was a great choice. Our table was outside, in another arbor-covered area. We sat in big red chairs next to an open window, which we could look into and see the lovely dining room and hear fabulous music emanating.

It was the perfect ambience, a good thing as we were there for quite some time; our waiter was extremely busy taking care of every guest in the courtyard singlehandedly, it seemed.

After we enjoyed nutella crepes (for the kids) and an almond chocolate crepe (with vanilla ice cream) for me, we walked up the hill for another view of the castly, this time lit at night. It was perfect timing for a gorgeous sunset and rose-colored views of the village.

Shortly after returning to Sarah’s we turned in, tired after a lovely day.


This a.m., our last in Provence, I headed off for a walk, again to the castle, stopping for a double espresso upon return. Lovely with lots of sugar!

We had breakfast with our hosts – breads, croissants, pain d’chocolate and a different variety of a raisin pastry (I’d tried one from bakery #1 yesterday, this from bakery # 2 – we all sampled it and determined #2 was the winner). So good and so rich that a small bit was perfect.

And then on to Avignon. After canvassing France (unintentionally but in the right direction) we made it to the TGV with 15 minutes to spare. Poor Ava threw up en route – those windy canyon roads caught up with her.

We picked up salami and Italian sandwiches for the ride and hopped on our train, this time in the upstairs compartment. Back to London, via Paris rather than Lille. Ah to be French for a week!

2 July 2011 – Warsaw!

Off to unchartered territory for us – Poland! With restaurant reservations (read: priorities!) in hand and a city tour on the books – and really no other plans – we flew out early to Warsaw on this sunny London morning.

With expectations for warm Montana-like summer temperatures, we arrived to chilly, rainy Warsaw.

While this early 7:35 a.m. flight necessitated the 4:20 alarm and subsequent dry, headachy feeling, it was preferable to our other option: the 4:35 a.m. out of Stanstead, a 2+ hour journey from London. That would have taken us to Krakow, then we would have hit Warsaw on the back end. So really, based on flight schedule alone, off to Warsaw!

The flight was uneventful, always a good thing. And the hotel pick up by Christopher was timely and easily recognizable as in hand he held the sign for “Mrs. Weber.” Maybe some day I’ll feel like Mrs. Weber. Right now I still think it’s a better title for my mother-in-law. But I digress.

The Polonia Palace, our hotel, was one of the few buildings that survived the destruction of World War II in Warsaw. Something like 80 percent of the city had been dessimated by Hitler’s forces while the Russian army watched from the other side of the river. Nice. They’re still bitter, per our Warsaw guide. Can’t say I blame them.

We dropped our things off and went in search of lunch. A couple blocks from the hotel we found a little deli with modern furnishings and incredibly delicious smells wafting out. So we opted to find a few items the kids could come to grips with – Claire had a cheese crepe and a big portion of bright red-orange carrots, cut in slivers. Ava had some dumplings stuffed with cheese and some of those colorful carrots. I had baked pieorgis stuffed with vegetables, which were fabulous, served with a small bit of white sauce that’s a common accompaniment, I assumed from the way the woman serving us put my plate together. That too was fabulous, creamy but not heavy.

And with my pierogies some lovely salad dressed with a delicious creamy vinaigrette. I can’t for the life of me recall what Joe had but we all left full and happy so it must have been fine.

From there we sauntered around the block and back to the hotel to meet our tour pick up at 2:00 for a three-hour city tour.

A brown-haired gentleman of medium height (that could describe just about anyone, couldn't it?) officiously greeted us in our lobby at 2:15 and joined three other tourists in a white mercedes van. Off we went to see Warsaw's highlights, including the Royal Castle, Old market Square and Barbican, the Presidential Palace, University of Warsaw, Hoy Cross Church with Chopiin's Heart, a Statue of Copernicus, New Town with a monument of the Warsaw Uprising, the Jewish Ghetto, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Palace of Culture and Science, Lazieng Royal Park with the Palace on the Water, The Chopin Monument and Praga District.

We perused the town a bit, he pointing out various sites along the way. At Lazieng Royal Park we disembarked and walked through the lovely green space. As we went further along our guide pulled out some nuts and called a red squirrel over. This one snagged a nut from Ava’s palm!

On our walk we encountered other birds – peacock and peahen, plenty of pigeons (aren’t there always), ducks, even some mice. We passed by various historical treasures, including art-deco Chopin monument (1926), the palace on the water (remodelled in 1792), an old orangery and a classicist amphitheatre loosely inspired by Herculaneum.

Back in the van we continued about town, stopping at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes designed by Natan Rappaport (b. 1911). This monument was unveiled on April 19, 1948. The stone used to create it was originally quarried for a Nazi victory monument. The bas-relief sculpture on the posterior wall of the monument shows a procession of Jews moving toward their deaths. The primary intent of the Warsaw Ghetto Monument is to commemorate the heroism of the fighters. One must walk around to the back to see this reference to the victims.

We also saw a memorial that was a copy of a sewer cap, a tribute to the way inhabitants of the Ghettos traveled in and out covertly to get food and relay messages during the war. And further along on our tour we stopped at the Umschlagplatz, where 400 Jewish first names have been carved in the memorial to commemorate the 300,000 who passed through these gates.

In the Old Town we stopped for a walk around. This part of town, and many others of course, had been rebuilt following the destruction of the war. This area has been recreated similar to the original and is today largely touristed, as the opera house, royal palace and various museums, churches, etc. exist in the area.

Our first stop was a dash into a public building of some sort as one of the members of our group – an older gentleman from Duluth, MN, rather urgently needed a restroom. While we waited our guide took us downstairs to see two Russian statues given to Poland as a token of friendship during times of Soviet domination.

Each statue showed two soldiers, one Polish, one Russian, arm in arm. Our guide told us that the statues depicted the Russians in dominant position – left side, I think – meant to reinforce who was in charge.

We wandered through Old Town (Stare Miasto), stopped at intervals to hear how buildings had been restored, to learn about the Royal Castle, various churches, many with big signs and large posters hangling out front with Pope John Paul II’s picture on them. He pointed out the Opera House, the Royal Way, Madame Curie’s home (now a museum), the Barbican (semicircular fortified outpost) and more.

At some point along the way the older couple excused themselves – the poor man from Duluth had had a bad case of diarrhea and as a result ruined his pants. Unfortunately it was quite noticeable. And unfortunately he went into quite a detailed explanation. Sometimes less is more.

We carried on, getting an earful from our guide about one of the local restaurants marketing itself as a purveyor of fine Jewish cuisine while serving pork and various other non-kochre foods. And he pointed out a sort of austere-looking eatery that he said was typical of Poland’s pre-democracy days – limited menu and not a place he frequents any more because of the unhappy memories.

In his time with us he told of only being able to buy one pair of shoes per year, standing for hours in line to get that pair that could have been any size, only one color. People would then trade to get shoes of the right size. He remembered traveling a long ways with his father to run this errand as a teenager. Shops around Warsaw were very limited as to what they sold, he said. If two or three people gathered in front of a shop to chat many others would join, thinking the shop had received merchandise to sell.

In contrast today there were at least two shopping centers within a five-minute walk from our hotel – we could see signs for H&M (where isn’t there an H&M!), C&A, TK Maxx, Zara, Esprit.

After Old Town we walked into New Town (adjacent and built shortly after Old Town but had to be distinguished from the former!). Back in the van we drove by more monuments to victims of the war.

After our Warsaw highlights we were dropped at the hotel, where we re-grouped a bit, I worked out, Joe had some calls to make and the kids regained what seems to be a never-ending supply of energy.

Then we were off to dinner, determining a cab to be the best plan of attack as it was pouring. The hotel car/cab dropped us near Il Fukiera, the restaurant Ewa’s family had found for us after I’d asked them to phone a different eatery for a reservation. I’d tried phoning twice and got an answering service in Polish. That place had closed.

So Mark made a reservation for us at Il Fukier, a lovely, Michelin-starred restaurants in Old Town. Our children were the only ones in the place, which seemed quite traditional – lovely flowers out front, lots of floral artwork inside. In one corner was a chatty little parakeet in a lovely cage.

The menu offered all kinds of items that sounded delicious. For the kids we opted to order a dish they could share and asked to modify the pork entrée, similar to weiner-schnitzel – slightly (i.e. no sauce, veg on the side). And Calrie wanted a potato starter simplified (just potato). Ava wanted some plain pasta to start.

The waiter was less than thrilled and let me know it but made notes about our requests. He was also a bit snarky when I asked for bread – apparently I hadn’t been patient enough…I didn’t realize he was bringing it.

I had a Russian style crab cake, which was very good – served with a tomato sauce. Not so much my thing, but tasty and beautifully prepared, nonetheless. Joe’s steak was the star – I had a piece and it was truly out of this world.

The kids did a great job on their pork. My borsht (soup) was excellent, served with an amazing pasty which was filled with a bit of meat. It was fabulous, FABULOUS.

I didn’t finish my soup and was reprimanded by my waiter…I was not winning points with this man.

Dessert was fabulous – Ava had ice cream, we shared a pancake with a sweet cinnamon filling and an orange flavored piece of cake. As we exited I was relieved – what should have been a fabulous, relaxing treat of a meal was a bit jaded by the server’s attitude. Had the restaurant been opposed to deviating from the menu, he had only to say so…

We all crashed shortly after returning by cab to the hotel – our day had started too early!


This morning we slept in – I worked out, found coffee, read and wrote and still my compatriots slept. Eventually we wandered down for our first Polish breakfast buffet – typical European breakfast options and plenty of them: a very good selection of pastries and rolls, jellies and cheese, an amazing ham leg, its black leg shape standing on the counter to be noticed and enjoyed. I jumped on the ham and those good rolls – reminded me of German breakfasts, which I loved. The kids enjoy buffets so lots of trips for bacon, cereal, nutella, toast…

After breakfast we pulled ourselves together and got some information on the tram as we were headed to Old Town and the Royal Castle. After getting completely confused by the tunnels leading from one side of the street to the other, we found the spot for Tram 4, only to find it was going in the wrong direction. Pouring yet again, Joe spotted a taxi across the street and off we went. A few minutes later we were at the Palace, ditched our wet stuff in the cloak room and wandered through. About the building:

The Royal Castle is a castle residency and was the official residence of thePolish monarchs. It is located in the Castle Square, at the entrance to the Warsaw Old Town. The personal offices of the king and the administrative offices of the Royal Court of Poland were located there from the 16th century until the Partitions of Poland. In its long history the Royal Castle was repeatedly devastated and plundered by Swedish, Brandenburgian, German, and Russian armies.

The Constitution of 3 May 1791 was drafted here by the Four-Year Sejm. In the 19th century, after the collapse of the November Uprising, it was used as an administrative center by the Tsar. Between 1926 and World War II the palace was the seat of the Polish president, Ignacy Mościcki. After the devastation done by Nazis during the Warsaw Uprising, the Castle was rebuilt and reconstructed. In 1980, Royal Castle, together with the Old Town was registry in UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today it is a historical and national monument, and is listed as a national museum.

Hit during the war (what wasn’t in Warsaw) it had been re-built in the same style with similar furnishings. Some things that had been saved were re-installed.

We then perused an exhibit of Oriental rugs next door before wandering to St. Anne’s Church bell tower for lovely views, then paid a visit to the adjsacent church. About this particular church:

St. Anne’s a church in the historic center of Warsaw, Poland, adjacent to the Castle Square. It is one of Poland's most notable churches with a Neoclassical facade. The church ranks among Warsaw's oldest buildings. Over time, it has seen many reconstructions, resulting in its present-day appearance, unchanged since 1788. Currently it is the main church parish of the academic community in Warsaw.

Then on to other parts of Old Town, more Catholic Churches (Poland is 90+ percent Catholic), some that had been re-built. Eventually we ended up at Marie Curie’s Museum, which wasn’t included in the “Free Sunday Museum line-up.” In we went; it was a bit of a rip off, I’d say, lots of photos, some lab equipment, not much depth.

Afterward we stopped at a recommended coffee shop for a snack – iced coffee and hot chocolate. Great cozy ambience.

After popping into a few shops we found a small handicrafted sheep, right up Grandma’s alley, as well as a chess set for our family. Treasures in hand we headed toward The Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in Poland. It was originally known as the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science but in the wake of destalinization the dedication to Stalin was revoked. Stalin's name was removed from the interior lobby and one of the building's sculptures. No, we didn’t go in – this was our landmark to find our hotel as it was across the street from the Polonia Palace.

En route we walked through the park with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They were just finishing the Changing of the Guard ceremony so we caught the end of it. We then traversed further into the park, hearing music as we went. Our guide had told us free outdoor concerts are prevalent in Warsaw; Chopin was born nearby so his music is well-enjoyed in Warsaw.

We experienced one of these events while the kids played in a nearby playground. After about 45 minutes of culture and playtime we wandered to our hotel. I hit the sauna – all this damp was getting to me. And I LOVE saunas.

After baking for awhile I pulled myself out and got ready for dinner, this time at a modern bistro called 99.

We walked there, past the train station and through lots of tunnels to cross the street. This restaurant was in a business district and had very modern décor, a flat screen TV in the bar broadcasting soccer. With 9’s on the door handles and sleek furniture, it had a very hip, urban feel. And lovely service.

Joe had another steak, the kids shared a steak and chip dish (and the waiter was more than happy to accommodate, even bringing them some things to color).

I had fish wrapped in parma ham – all good. Dessert was a chocolate cake with ginger marinated carrots and something else – it escapes me. Tasty, though!

It rained en route and a bit on the return but nothing horrid. Ah…Warsaw in the rain.

4th of July

Independence Day -- an odd occasion to wake up in Warsaw, I think, and to more rain. I do love to sleep to rain so just laid in bed for a long time listening to it. Eventually we roused ourselves, had breakfast and set off to find Wilanow Palace at the end of the Royal Road.

Again, in the pouring rain, we cabbed it, overcharged by the hotel cabbie but it was a ways out of town and there is that value of time saved…

We passed lots of old socialist style architecture, gray, cinder block buildings that have an old, dank feel to them, at least from outside. The castle, in contrast, was cheery golden yellow like the one we visited in Vienna’s – the color of power/royalty from years past. The grounds, too, were lovely, green, sprawling and well kept.

After securing tickets we escaped the rain and our wet jackets in the cloakroom, then wandered through the building, built in the 1600’s and modified/added to over time. A lovely place with tons of portraits. Clearly court painters were in demand.

The rooms varied widely in décor, particularly ceilings, walls and floors – lovely detail, use of materials, ornate designs, particularly the ceilings. And lovely wood floors, too.

My favorite rooms were the last – the men’s hunting rooms, with tons of lovely wood and outdoorsy pictures, guns, etc. They had a rich, warm feel to them. One section held Asian artifacts. Again, beautiful décor with lots of wood.

Some actual accurate info about the place:

Wilanow was built for Jan Sobieski (r. 1674-96), Poland's most dashing monarch. It was Sobieski who led the Catholic Allies in the liberation of Vienna from the Turks in 1683. This baroque belter later passed through the hands of several of Poland's most influential families, and it remained in private hands right up until 1944. Wilanow mercifully survived the war, and today it represents one of the richest attractions in Warsaw. It's choc-full of splendid art, including paintings by some of the biggest names in European art, from Jean-Louis David to Bernardo Bellotto.

Upon departing we tried to hit the poster exhibit but it was closed so we went to the palace church instead – it’s lovely and still in use. The outdoor Stations of the Cross and grotto were particularly nice.

All this traipsing about made us hungry so we stopped at a little Italian café for a bite. This we chose largely based on its proximity to Café Wedel, a famous chocolate café which we decided would be our dessert stop.

At the friendly, bustling little Italian lunch place the kids had veal meatballs and mashed potatoes. I had a pizza bread appetizer with blue cheese and spinach (can’t go wrong with that) and Joe a salad (what’s wrong with this picture…).

Next door I had a frozen coffee drink, Ava had a pirate ship ice creat treat (a sundae with cookies arranged to look like sails), Claire had a blue mystery dessert and Joe a really rich cake, recommended by our 15-year-old waiter. (At least he looked 15.)

He also helped us out by calling a cab, which cost less than half of our first ride…hmmm. As we hopped in the driver turned to us and asked if we were indeed the people from the chocolate restaurant who needed a lift. I suppose we should have introduced ourselves before settling into the cab, closing the doors and putting on seatbelts...

Back at the Polonia Palace Joe packed up, we saw him off and headed to H&M for new leggings for Ava, as hers had a mammoth hole in them. No kids clothes at that location so the C&A fit the bill. And then it was back to the hotel for a chess and wine break at the hotel bar before attempting the tram again.

We were determined to ride the tram in Warsaw!!! Sure enough, more rain. This time we had the direction of tram 4 and after popping out the wrong exit we asked for help, someone pointed us in the right way and voila! On to crowded tram 4. A short ride later we were in Old Town and a few minutes later at our restaurant Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie, a casual place known for its pierogis, popular w/ the locals and tourists alike.

A tiny little restaurant, very casual with wooden tables, we popped our things down, perused the menu and pulled out cards. I opted for three different types of pierogis in my dish, as I’d asked if you can mix – so I ordered beef/pork stuffing, brie/blue cheese and mushroom. The kids both ordered drumsticks with veg on the side. All of it was good with the exception of the house wine. When at Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie, stick with the beer.

Opting for an early evening and striking out to find a dark rich cholocate to finish the meal, we trammed it back and this time had no trouble finding the correct exit from our tunnel. Ahh the small successes. No chocolate but not to worry, some hotel treats awaited.

After showers the kids were wound up; Tuesday morning would come early!

Tuesday, 5 July

Off to Krakow! This morning we were up and moving early. After our final breakfast at the Polonia Palace we meandered over to the train station, a five-minute walk. The tunnels and stairs were naturally less fun with suitcases during rush hour but this time t least the tunnels were easily navigable. We popped up near the tracks with plenty of time on hand.

Our train to Krakow (Krack meaning prince, incidentally) left on time and we popped into our first class cabin. Just us, so we were able to spread out a bit. The free drink cart stopped by as we traversed, later the paid snacks. And outside it wasn’t raining! Some clouds and blue sky. The countryside was green and picturesque, with lots of farms – wheat, dairy cows, cabbage fields.

At 12:30 or so we pulled into Krakow and, following signs for “taxi” we stepped from the station into a shopping mall! With the only visible signs for shops, we backtracked a few steps to ask about taxis and were told to exit the mall and we’d find one. So it was. By 1:00 we were checking into the Radisson Blu, a lovely, modern property. We hurriedly unpacked and headed to Old Town, which we discovered was a short walk away. Our first order of business was lunch. That we found on the square, a grill connected with Miss Ewa’s recommended restaurant. It was great -- so good we went back another day.

I had a sausage with that really good spicy mustard and carrot salad. The kids had the latter too, along with chicken and pork cutlets. As we sat down a very heavy, short-lived shower hit on top of the arboretum-type roof. It hadn’t been rainy until lunchtime but perhaps we were under a weather cloud on this trip…

From lunch we set off to find our tourist meeting point for our salt mine tour. That was easily navigated so we had dessert nearby before boarding our bus. Claire had a craving for a waffle covered with sweet stuff; they were (literally) huge in Krakow. She got one with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. Ava and I had small but tasty ice creams. And then on to the salt mine!

Our ride there was uneventful; inside the mine we descended something like 800 steps. And this was just to view a very small portion of the mine – I think the guide said we would see 1 percent of it (and we wandered through various tunnels and open spaces, went even further down, for more than two hours – the place is IMMENSE). And very cool, as noted below…

One traveled Frenchman observed in the 18th century that Krakow's Wieliczka salt mine was no less magnificent than the Egyptian pyramids. Millions of visitors, the crowned heads and such celebrities as Goethe and Sarah Bernhardt among them, have appeared to share his enthusiasm when exploring the subterranean world of labyrinthine passages, giant caverns, underground lakes and chapels with sculptures in the crystalline salt and rich ornamentation carved in the salt rock. They have also marveled at the ingenuity of the ancient mining equipment in the Wieliczka salt mine. And the unique acoustics of the place have made hearing music here an exceptional experience.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, nowadays practically on the southeast outskirts of Krakow, has been worked for 900 years. It used to be one of the world's biggest and most profitable industrial establishments when common salt was commercially a medieval equivalent of today's oil. Always a magnet, since the mid-18th century Krakow's Wieliczka salt mine has become increasingly a tourist attraction in the first place. Today visitors walk underground for about 2,000 m in the oldest part of the salt mine and see its subterranean museum, which takes three hours or so.

Nine centuries of mining in Wieliczka produced a total of some 200 kilometers of passages as well as 2,040 caverns of varied size. The tourist route starts 64 m deep, includes twenty chambers, and ends 135 m below the earth surface, where the world's biggest museum of mining is located with the unique centuries-old equipment among its exhibits.

Occasionally concerts and other events take place in the Wieliczka mine’s biggest chambers.

There is a sanatorium for those suffering from asthma and allergy situated 135 meters deep underground in the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

Our guide was very good – a young man who did a nice job navigating our rather large group while sharing insights with humor. Highlights were the chapels, which could be found throughout the mine, and in particular a large one decorated with statues carved from salt.

In a couple places were wooden statues, too, and wood braces were used for support in the mine. Because salt works as a preserver the wood was very hard.

The mine is no longer in use except for water that is pulled up for safety reasons (flood avoidance). The salt that is evaporated from this water is harvested and sold/used locally for tourism purposes (decoration, souvenirs, etc).

Four hundred people work in the mine now; when it was in full production 1,000+ were employed there. Now it’s used for art and music events, tourism, weddings, etc. The Pope has said Mass in the big Chapel and there is a statue of him inside, as well as other statues of leaders and saints. Each week Mass is held in the big chapel.

Different colors of salt make the tunnels and floors look beautiful – some white like clouds (that’s the purest salt), some colorful veins, some sparking like crystals. Miners even carved statues of elves who they thought of as working and taking care of the mine after they left at the end of the day.

Miners used candles from pork fat with a wick as lamps, starting when they entered in the morning, using them throughout the work day and finishing the candle fat as they made their way out at day’s end.

Small horses were used in the mines. They were blindfolded and lowered in, would then live inside, generally working for 14 years or so, then removed to retire on the farm. Apparently the last one worked inside for nine years and is still on a farm.

The girls got to turn a big hand crank to move a cable which lowered a barrel that would have been filled with salt.

The experience was a good one, quite different from our German salt mine tour, which we also very much enjoyed.

It took us a long time to exit due to the line at the elevator, but once on board a quick ascent. And then back to the bus. Given we would return late, I’d cancelled our reservation at Farina, a restaurant in Old Town known for its fish and pierogis. But alas we were hungry and it was en route from bus to hotel so we popped in to see if they would still seat us and they did. We perched at a tiny table in the window with wooden table covered with a crocheted table cloth. It wasn’t a terribly practical perch for three but a lovely little setting in this quaint restaurant.

I had mussels, the kids tried them too and we all enjoyed them! The pierogis, I can attest, were fabulous. The girls were happy with their spaghetti and ice cream. I finished with a decadent coffee semi-freddo.

And we fell into bed at the Radisson, Claire on the couch, Ava and I shared the bed.


This morning we walked, in the pouring rain, to Wawel Castle, a couple minutes from the hotel. This time we borrowed umbrellas from the hotel and went up the hill to the castle, joining the slow ticket line. We opted to see the private apartments, crowned jewels and cathedral.

Wawel is an architectural complex erected over many centuries atop a limestone outcrop on the left bank of the Vistula River in Kraków,Poland, at an altitude of 228 metres above the sea level. It is a place of great significance to the Polish people. The Royal Castle with an armoury and the Cathedral are situated on the hill. Polish Royalty and many distinguished Poles are interred in theWawel Cathedral. Royal coronations took place there also.

Wawel began to play the role of a centre of political power at the end of the first millennium AD. In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of theVistulans tribe (Polish: Wiślanie). The first historical ruler Mieszko I of Poland (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslaw I the Brave (Polish:Bolesław I Chrobry; 992-1025) and Mieszko II (1025–1034) chose Wawel as one of their residences. At that time Wawel became one of the Polish main centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque buildings were erected there including a stone cathedral serving the bishopric of Kraków in the year 1000. Since the reign of Casimir the Restorer(1034–1058) Wawel became the leading political and administrative centre for the Polish State.

After ditching the umbrellas, which was required, and inconviently crossing back through poruing rain in the courtyard, we had a great guided tour of the royal apartments:

On the first floor there are private royal apartments, chambers for court members and guest rooms.

Four chambers located to the south of the Envoys’ Stairs were designated for the King’s guests. In this part of the palace there are original larch wood ceilings, and also original painted wall friezes in two of the rooms. In terms of architecture especially noteworthy are the Gothic and Renaissance portals – the artwork of Maestro Benedict. The Renaissance furnishing includes northern European and Italian artwork, including the tapestries with grotesque, landscape and animal themes from the collection of Sigismund Augustus. The last two rooms boast Italian paintings from the old collection of the Lanckoroński family. Over 60 paintings from this collection form a studiolo in one of the rooms in Jordanka, the Gothic tower.

In the north-east corner of the castle, with its Gothic rooms, there is the charming and mysterious Hen’s Foot Tower. In Łokietek’s Tower there is Sigismund the Old’s bedroom, and in Sigismund III’s Tower there is an office with rich stucco decoration from around 1600. In the interwar period this section of the castle served as a formal apartment of Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, along with the remaining bedroom in the Danish Tower. In the northern wing of the palace there are two rooms with objects from the reign of the Wettin dynasty in Poland. Among them is an interesting collection of Meissen porcelain. The last two rooms, one of which is the formal Column Room, are furnished in the Classicistic style.

Then to the Treasury, which was also interesting, and finally on to the Cathedral, which was huge and full of all kinds of things to peruse. We had a quite thorough look at all the chapels, the main body of the cathedral, climbed up the bell tower and were pointed toward the crypt and kings’ tombs.

By then we were ready to be away from castles! And hungry, too, so off to Old Town. En route we popped into an exhibit about Pope John Paul II, purchased mini-rosaries and walked to Cloth Hall in the Square.

Finding no food, we returned to our fabulous grill. This time I had onion soup, the kids had chicken and pork again, though they switched it up. I tried a regional beer – Tyskie -- which was very good.

For dessert we popped into a bakery; the kids got cupcakes and I had a fabulous chocolate-filled pastry.

And then we traversed back to Cloth Hall to look at every stand in search of just the right souvenir, amber on my list. Claire, after deliberating between nesting dolls and painted horses, surprised me by opting for the dolls. Ava saw a cute blonde doll at stand number one and sure enough, we left with said doll after circling back on a second round. I came up short; I was looking for something unique at a reasonable price and with a pleasant buying experience. Here it seemed the clerks were a bit burnt out and bored. No doubt they get worn out with the tourist trade.

Then we went back to the tour office to pay for our Zakopane day out and to arrange airport pick up. En route we stopped to look at more amber and I found a lovely pendant in a shop run by a friendly young woman, so a great buying experience, lovely souvenir and the right price!

Tired, we traversed toward our hotel, stopped in an amazing women’s shop with great linen outfits. The owner was a big, friendly lady with a great eye for fashion. I tried on a hand-painted tunic and three outfits. It was so much fun – she chatted away in Polish, me in English, as she dressed me, showing options with belts, tucking and tying sweaters. I loved the blue sweater and dress with hand-painted blue décor so left with those three items (belt, dress, sweater).

Two other women helped, doing some translating – I think I can safely say we all enjoyed the experience, kids got into it too!

After re-grouping at the hotel we stopped at the shop en route to Chlopskie Jadlo, our dinner spot for the evening!

This restaurant was very casual, very thinly staffed and pretty empty when we came in. With all wooden tables and benches, it was warm and friendly. No one was on hand to seat us but eventually a nice man surfaced from the kitchen and waved us toward a table. No sledge tables as advertised, but we found a comfy spot near a window, away from the loud party in the back.

I tried a framboise (?) beer – lovely beer with sweetened raspberries at the bottom. For dinner I had one of the best meals of my life – a veal dish with an amazing gravy, carmelized onions and mushrooms. It came with small donut-shaped dumplings that were perfect. I ate too much and enjoyed every bit. No dessert necessary! Claire tried peirogis and liked them, Ava had a chicken dish. Very informal, good food, the big hunk of bread served with a big knife sticking out of it.

We walked slowly back to the hotel, falling, sated, into bed.


This morning we were picked up for our tour of Zakopane, joining our female guide, a woman with short hair and a great sense of style. Before we got in she said the Korean laides (there were two) on the trip didn’t speak English. These two little ladies were seated next to each other in the middle of the van; we three took the last row.

As we exited Krakow the guide pointed out a few sites – one a factory where the Pope worked as a small boy, some Soviet style buildings, Shindler’s home, views of the castle from the river, etc.

We settled into our two-hour drive and about halfway both kids felt sick, Ava bursting into tears. So our driver pulled over and we re-arranged the kids to the front seat. In a while we stopped at a little village for a short walk, looking at the traditional wooden homes with two rooms – one the black room with kitchen where the family lived, the other a nice room for more occasional use. Each house was made from a single tree, we were told.

We went in one, where a man was carving a statue of a saint who had bestowed bread upon those in need. It would be placed in a church. The carver had lots of items on display in his workshop, in the black room area. The other space had artifacts from life in the 1700’s and 18oo’s (wheat grinder, tools, saddle, washing board, etc.). We passed a woman washing her house as we walked; apparently the homes here, because they aren’t painted, are washed yearly.

From this stop we proceeded onto Zakopane, stopping at a chapel in the woods where the Pope had led Mass. It was lovely, with stations of the cross carved in wood outside, leading down to a beautiful wooden altar in the woods. We also visited the adjacent church and enjoyed gorgeous views of the Tetra Mountains on our one gloriously sunny day of our Poland trip!

On the hill side were peaks in the shape of a sleeping person and a small cross on the mountain top, a replica of it near the church.

Back in the van we made our way to Zakopane, a well touristed spot with all kinds of kid activities to enjoy – bouncy houses and whatnot. We parked, picked up some local candies and wandered through town to the oldest church in the area. It too was made of wood. Inside were portraits of the children from Fatima who’d predicted the Pope’s assassination attempt. One of the stained glass windows captured this act.

The cemetery nearby had lovely decorated grave sites of people of great notoriety from the area – poets, writers, scholars, rescue workers, ski champions. Quite a mix!

Our guide then took us to the funicular for a scenic ride up the mountain. We disembarked to find another busy shopping village (we’d walked through two busy tourist markets below). Tons of smoked cheese, traditional to the area, wooden décor, trinkets, scarves, etc. We decided we’d try the skinny chocolate/vanilla swirled cones later…

From the funicular our guide walked us to a viewing point, then up to areas where there were rides and activies for kids and grills with great tables to enjoy the scenery. She parted from us with the Korean ladies in tow – they didn’t seem to understand about the 3:00 meeting point. We set off to enjoy our two hours of free time, deciding to eat first and play later. Claire went in for a sausage, as did I, Ava for a chicken kebab. We sat outside at a big wooden table absorbing the view. I loved the weather, warm and sunny, no rain! Our next order of business was the “bunji-jumping” on trampolines, which we spotted before lunch. Both kids had fun with it, Ava lifted off so it was hard for her to touch down a few times.

Then we went onto our ice cream quest; coming up short, we stopped for a toboggan ride, Clarie taking the sled in front of Ava and me. Great fun whipping around the turns.

Then back to the funicular for a ride down the mountain and a wander through the market. We found our ice cream! It was tasty on this warm sunny day. The kids then convinced me they needed lamb pillows so we left with a white one and a pink one. And we made our way back to our meeting point just before the van pulled up.

Our last stop was at the World ski jump facility for a photo opp before heading back to Krakow. This time the kids were merrier, playing games with the guide and asking about her kids, a boy and girl of similar age.

We were back before 5:30 so had some packing time before walking to our restaurant in Kazimierz, the Jewish part of town. Kazimierz, which lies to the south of the Royal Castle, was once a town in its own right. With its labyrinthine streets and low-standing houses, it feels like a different world to the Old Town, and indeed, you may well get lost here. However, this is not a bad thing, but very much part of the whole experience.

The town was founded in 1335 by King Kazimierz the Great, and as its splendid churches and synagogues evoke, it was once a world of prosperity and tolerance. Yet, despite having set sail on such promising waters, the district was not to have an easy journey. After many ups and downs, the death-knell for Jewish Cracow was sounded in September 1939 with the Nazi invasion. A whole world was swept away.

We had a great table outside in a charming part of town, with live music nearby, great service and good food. The waiter recommended chicken strips for the kids, a Jewish beef specialty for me, served with gravy and dumplings. Bring on the dumplings, I say! I enjoyed it, along with a beet salad – another heavy meal so I passed on dessert. We meandered back to the Radisson to find there’d been a mix up in tour arrangements – apparently another guide had shown up to take us to Zakopane. Hmmm…

And Friday…off to London after a final breakfast in Poland!

Bath – 11 – 13 February, 2011

With a short break in the school routine, we girls (Ava, Claire and me) headed via train to Bath on a lovely Friday morning. We’d arranged for Joe to meet us in Bath, travelling also by train though in the evening.

So we got in after our short journey and walked down to our guest house, a lovely little gem I’d read about in the Telegraph. We checked in and left our things at Three Abbey Green, run by a very nice family. Our suite had a big bedroom with small one attached and a big bathroom. The latter had recently been re-done so was quite nice. And we were right around the corner from Bath’s infamous Pump Room and Roman Baths. Great location, personal touch on the accommodations.

We then made our way to the Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms. At the museum we perused all kinds of fashion throughout the ages, which was great fun. The collection at the Fashion Museum includes examples of menswear, womenswear, accessories, dresses, coats, jackets, corsets, knitwear, fashion photographs, pockets, shirts, blouses, waistcoats, fans and more. The earliest pieces in the collection are embroidered shirts and gloves from about 1600.

The most up-to-date pieces in the collection are our 2008 Dress of the Year ensembles; a Navy blue and gold star trouser ensemble by Karl Lagerfeld forChanel, which was worn by Kate Moss to her 34th birthday party in 2008; and a button through polka dot dress with 1940s / 1970s shoulder pads by Kate Moss forTopshop.

Mid-way through was a collection of robes, dresses, corsets and whatnot for kids to try on, so they modeled fancy outfits. They also got to color some costumes.
Then we perused the Assembly Rooms, which were “at the heart of fashionable Georgian society, the perfect venue for entertainment. When completed in 1771, they were described as 'the most noble and elegant of any in the kingdom'.”

After our perusal we walked back toward the busier part of town, looking at the lovely shops en route.

We stopped at our hotel to change for our afternoon tea appointment at the Pump Room:
Regarded as the social heart of Bath for more than two centuries, the Pump Room is a striking neo-classical salon where hot Spa water is drawn for drinking.

There we shared a lovely platter of scones, sandwiches and little treats. I had a pot of tea, the kids hot chocolate. As we ate sumptuous food and sipped our drinks, we watched people coming in and out for the famous Bath water at the pump.

Afterwards we slipped back into exploring clothes and shoes and walked along the river, which offered lovely views.

A bit later we made our way to our restaurant – the Marlborough Tavern -- for dinner, not far from the Assembly Rooms. It was a bustling place, with a raucous table of really happy and loud men near us, so after we were moved to a more sedate locale we enjoyed the cheery interior and delicious food. Joe caught up with us there and we all walked back through Bath together.

Saturday, 12 February

This a.m. we started the day with a nice breakfast at the guest house, each dish made to order by our hosts. I so enjoyed the scrambled eggs. Very friendly people and lovely fresh food. Then off to the Roman Baths, where we spent a couple of hours perusing. The place is huge and fascinating. We did the audio guides as they had both kids and adult versions.

Around Britain's only hot springs, the Romans built the
finest religious spa in northern Europe. This great
temple and bathing complex still flows with natural hot
water. The extensive remains and a Roman museum of
international significance lie beneath the Pump Room
and Abbey Church Yard in the centre of Bath.
Afterward we stopped at the Abbey Church. It was founded in 1499 and stands on the site of an earlier Norman Cathedral. The original Abbey Church was built in the 8th century.

Then on to lunch at the very touristy Sally Lunn Restaurant/Bakery. It's a busy place but we hit it when there wasn't a line out the door so lucked out. The Sally Lunn Rolls are really quite good, the big old house it's set in is lovely and quaint.


Sally Lunn, a young French refugee, arrived in England over 300 years ago. She found work at what is now known as Sally Lunn's House and began to bake a rich round and generous bread now known as the Sally Lunn Bun. This bun became a very popular delicacy in Georgian England as its special taste and lightness allowed it to be enjoyed with either sweet or savoury accompaniments.

Sally Lunn’s is in one of Bath's oldest houses and has a museum featuring Sally’s original kitchen.

The infamous bun, which we sampled and found very tasty, is a rich round and generous brioche bun’ similar to the historic French festival ‘breads’. Sally Lunn, a Huguenot refugee (perhaps better known as Solange Luyon) came to Bath in 1680 via Bristol after escaping persecution in France.

After a tasty lunch at the big, touristy old Sally Lunn house, we traversed over to the river for a tour of Bath via boat. Lovely views, good weather. And then some down time at the hotel for kids and Joe; I took a walk around town and sought out the evening’s restaurant, this time The Hole in the Wall Restaurant, which was good, but didn’t quite measure up to the previous night’s dinner spot.

After a nice meal we checked out Bath at dusk.

And the next morning we headed off to London! Great weekend out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Tribute

Since Easter we’ve been flying fast, I guess. Or haven’t moved an inch but everything around us keeps spinning.

It’s been, for the most part, good. But I am so saddened by recent news that a dear friend of mine passed.

After picking my jaw up off the table, I've been processing the news of Becca's death and it's been very painful. It's hard to believe she's no longer lighting up every room she enters in Texas. A truly beautiful woman, inside and out, I loved knowing she was energetically taking care of her kids and Don, enjoying the pool with her hair pulled up on top of her head, sporting sparkly makeup, enjoying a glass of red wine, throwing herself into school volunteerism, being an active memer of her “church-home” as she called it.

I loved hearing how she sold things on e-bay, I loved the over the top birthday parties she put together for her kids, I loved our lunches together. I loved her laughter and huge smile, her big Texas welcome and the way she always put the people in her life first.

And I always expected to pop back in for that welcome and long girlie catch up.
The day I learned of her death I felt all the wind go out of my sails. Forty-three is too young to die.

I regret that I didn’t see her again, I regret that I can’t pick up the phone and say a proper good-bye. I regret that I didn’t email her that one last time.

I shall always treasure my friendship with Becca; I gain some solace in knowing she rests in peace, cherished by God.

Chester and Liverpool

Saturday, May 28

Another Bank Holiday Weekend! We’ve had the most disjointed term, beginning with spring break back in March, Easter as late as it can be, I suppose, and the number of bank holiday weekends in between. Why, it’s gotten to the point where, when the girls did have a full 5-day school week it felt like 10!

So this week it felt “normal” with Friday off for teacher report-writing, Monday for the holiday.

Our big plan for Friday was the Museum of Childhood but alas it wasn’t to be, as when I filled the tub for a hot bath (I like it when the water is almost too hot to step into) I got quite the bone-chilling surprise. In went one foot…and right back out again. Imagine my disappointment given I’d run that morning and had since cooled WAY down so the hot bath was going to resurrect me.

Instead I did a very fast shower (no escaping some kind of cleaning process after running)…and called the gas company. (Not of course until I’d re-set the boiler, checked the other hot water taps, swore a bit…)

British Gas, surprisingly enough, could get someone to the house between noon and 6. So we made waffles and had a nightie day. Blow me down and call me Alice, as Joe would say, the gas guy called at 11:45 to say he was in the area. And before 1:00 he was replacing a tired switch and before 2:00 hot water!

Too late to embark on any outing (and at that point who cared) we continued with our at home day, did eventually leave the house for Ava’s dance class and made pizza for dinner. And packed!

Not all bad.

Saturday we left early for Euston station, this time en route to Chester, a small town near Liverpool. After a crowded two hour train ride and some seat assignment issues (other people’s squabbles over our seats – that is to say we sat in unreserved seats that an irate woman noted were hers). Perhaps we had indeed stolen her seats, but they were marked as unreserved, the train people weren’t on hand to clarify and the car was so crowded it would have taken a crane to relocate us. She eventually worked her way through the aisle crammed with people and luggage to a different car to complain and I believe was relocated to first class. Not without making a nasty comment on the way back through. A bit passive aggressive; she dropped her nasty gram and walked away…not sure what she gained?

Once in Chester we cabbed it to our Crowne Plaza, ditched the bags and headed off in search of lunch. Our Chester, as it turned out, is a quaint old town settled early by Romans.

Lots of pedistrain streets, a 2+ mile intact city wall, big cathedral, amphitheatre and various lovely buildings.

Founded by the Romans over 2000 years ago, much of the Roman influence remains and Chester's city walls are the most complete in Britain.

In every corner of the city you are confronted with history, from the Roman amphitheatre, which is currently under excavation, to the medieval half-timbered buildings.
One of Chester's most unique features are the two-tiered rows, which means you can shop whatever the weather and gives you double shopping fun!

For lunch we wandered through the pedestrian area of town and landed upon a stuffed baked potato fast food place. Much better than the big mac scene.

A breezy, sunny Chester knd of day, we then sought off in search of a cab to take us to Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre, which boasts the top Shire studs in the UK. And since the Shire is native to the UK, most likely the world’s greatest Shires.

Our cab driver was a friendly old gentleman with his dog along for company. Joe noticed the pooch, who kept a low profile on the passenger side of this rather beat up, fumy old black cab. As we motored toward the Shire farm I felt like I was back in India; the driver suddenly veered off the road for a gas station, without any mention of his gas up plans. It was then that Ned, the dog, introduced himself to us. The kids were enthralled, naturally.

At the farm we checked out the various animal mix – peacocks resting on top of a hutch, several types of birds I couldn’t identify, ducks, doves or a close relative, I guess, chickens, geese, swans with cygnets, pigs and piglets (I always marvel at how cute the little ones are and how not so cute the mothers are), rabbits young and old, chicks under heating lamps…

The kids each had a bag of bird feed so they went wild feeding their feathered friends.

We stopped to check out the stallions, two housed near the entrance. At 2:00 the owner of the farm, Alistair, talked about the horses, giving plenty of insight on their backgrounds and breeding – as in both their bloodlines and their Jan. – June pastime. Apparently plenty of mares roll through the farm so these big horses father hundreds of shire foals.

Big is an understated adjective for them – the breed is the biggest horse in the world. In recent years their numbers have dwindled as their roles on farms and in war diminished. This farm is active in helping to ensure quality Shire horses continue.

After learning all about the cycles of mares and how often Ed and the other stallion are “on their back legs” each spring, we perused the farm, checking out unusual black sheep and their lambs, otters, ferrets, Shire mares and foals (they’re gorgeous!), some deer and I’m sure I’m forgetting some creatures.

The badger we didn’t see…

After getting rid of the last bit of bird feed we left a donation in the gift shop, shared a chocolate-caramel-shortbread bar (what are they called? One of my favorite desserts here) in the café and rang for our cab driver.

After dropping us back in Chester we popped into the Cathedral but it was soon to close so we opted for Monday on that, poked around town then headed back to the Crowne for some pool time.

And then, before we knew it, time to go to dinner at Moules-a-Go-Go, a cheery bistro known for its mussels and other fish specialities. It was delish – we had a mussel starter – both kids tried and liked them.

I had seafood spaghetti, Joe had sea bass, I think, and kids had spaghetti and chicken. Dessert was a fabulous sticky toffee pudding with ice cream for C and A.


Today we shot out the door after buffet breakfast at the fine CP. This time off to the train station for a short ride to Liverpool St. James Street Station. There we were met by Ian in his silver Mercedes tour van. With him were an Angentinian couple, and we picked up an American named Beau, a collegiate from Penn, in the UK for a writing course. And we were off to stop at or drive by various “Beatle” spots. Where they lived at various junctures of their lives, school they attended, a monument to them and other Liverpool types who’d gained fame, places they’d performed, sites pertaining to songs (Penny Lane, Strawberry Field gates, etc.).

We were in and out of the van a lot and it felt like we drove all over Liverpool so we got a sense of place. Appropriately, it was gray and cool – buildings mostly red brick, many boarded up and some soon to be pulled down, including Ringo Starr’s first childhood home, a “2 up, 2 down” row house with no plumbing.

Our guide was good, had lots of stories to share and seemed to enjoy the job.
He dropped us at Albert Dock afterward, where our first order of business was lunch. Claire pointed us toward Le Creperie so we each had a supposed Brittany style crepe – squared off on the place, sporting its filling with a pizza approach as opposed to tucked inside.

I can vouch that mine was very tasty; the hot chocolate it came with felt great on our chilly Liverpool day.

Then we did the Beatles Museum, which was very good, with kid and adult audio guides.
From there we stopped into the Maritime Museum. We hit a couple sections and caught a one-person play as it was about to begin – a woman re-enacting surviving her experience as a first class passenger on board the Titanic. I confess I dozed for part of it…Claire had a nice chat w/ her afterward so I think the kids got something out of it.

Done with museums for a bit, we headed toward a shopping area, found the much-needed and promised piece of chocolate and made our way to our dinner spot. En route we passed the fifth largest cathedral in the world:

From the very early days of its origins and then starting to build just after the turn of the 20th Century, through to its completion in 1978 after 74 years, it survived two World Wars, periods of recession and great hardship in this once famous and important port of Liverpool.

• Liverpool is the largest Cathedral in the UK (in sq metres), and the 5th largest in the world.
• It's under-tower vault is the highest in the world
• It's bells are the highest and heaviest peal in the world
• There are two pipe organs in Liverpool Cathedral. The Grand Organ is the largest in the UK and is considered to be one of the largest operational church organs in the world with 10,267 pipes.

It is immense, of course, and lovely – we also checked out a photograph exhibition set up inside.

Then on to London Carriage House restaurant (yes, in Liverpool, not London) – very good food. Kids and I liked my potato/leek soup. They had chicken and potatoes, I had an amazing goat cheese and leek pastry dish with sea asparagus (?). For dessert – apple crumblish dessert (I’m making up the name). All good!

Then back to St. James train station and to the CP Chester!


We slept in! I took another walk around the city, this time over the 2-mile city wall. It was drizzly and quiet out, but lovely. I passed the Roman amphitheatre en route. The kids and Joe were in the pool when I returned so I showered them up, hit the weight room (why not? Always take advantage of the hotel amenities is my mantra), then down to breakfast – superb omlette!

And then to the Chester Cathedral, also majestic. We did the audio guide while kids had a treasure hunt activity that kept them busy.

Chester Cathedral was founded as a Benedictine monastery over 900 years ago. It is is the mother church of the Church of England Diocese of Chester, and is located in the city of Chester,Cheshire, England. The cathedral, formerly St Werburgh's abbey church of a Benedictine monastery, is dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since 1541 it has been the centre of worship, administration, ceremony and music for the city and diocese.

The cathedral, typical of English cathedrals in having been modified many times, dates from between 1093 and the early 16th century, although the site itself may have been used for Christian worship since Roman times. All the major styles of English medieval architecture, from Norman to Perpendicular are represented in the present building.

The cathedral and monastic buildings were extensively restored during the 19th century amidst some controversy, and a free-standing bell-tower was added in the 20th century. In addition to holding services for Christian worship, the cathedral is used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.

After perusing a bit more of the town, we settled into a cozy spot for a drink – great day for tea or a beer, as it was a rainy one. Then off to train station to London – this time without seat issues!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Sveden! I know I know it’s Sweden but something about it wants me to pronounce it with a v.

Good Friday 2011 found us en route to Heathrow for a mid-a.m. flight. Busy place, Heathrow, but we made it there in short order after paying an arm and a leg for the Heathrow Express. Seems like the fares are all over the map when you purchsa e on board. Captive audience, I suppose.

But alas, once there we moved through the process efficiently; one never knows how the security business will go. Therein we had plenty of time to pass along with plenty of other travelrs – people in London/the UK in general seem to very much value being well traveled, as conversations and interactions with cab drivers, teachers, pilates instructors, other mums often gravitate toward holidays spent abroad.

Our Stockholm flight happily left on time and a couple hours later we entered Sweden for the first time. After the fastest customs experience ever we grabbed the right bags – always a plus – and were whisked off to our hotel by driver Patrick, who pointed out tennis pro Bjorn Borg in his van near ours in the parking lot. Now that’s an auspicious start to the weekend.

From the airport to Stockholm central took about 45 minutes over land that resembled Minnesota, I suppose? Lots of trees (think evergreens), some lakes, no mountains, plenty of wide open space.

The buildings we saw from the road were big and square with a contemporary warehousy look. The sun beamed and it was a beautiful, warm day.

Central Stockholm we found charming – older buildings, classic in style, well kept and colorful as they graced the water’s edge. Our fine Diplomat Hotel was in the city centre near the water, with tour boats in the harbor close at hand.

Therein our first order of business was to ditch our stuff and get tickets for the “Under the Bridges” tour – an hour and 50 minute boat ride around the city. Ours left at 4, which worked perfectly. With audio guides and our choice of language we learned a bit about the city of islands – lovely place with historic buildings dating back to the 12 century. We passed under 15 bridges and trhough two locks connecting the Baltic Sea with Lake Mälaren, with views of the inner city, the Old Town, the islands Södermalm, Lilla and Stora Essingen, the new area Hammarby Sjöstad and the green areas of Djurgården.

Despite the apparent suckiness of the headphones (per the kids) they managed to tune in for the most part, and Joe got a few winks in. Boat tours and naps are a common theme for him.

Back ashore we got ready for dinner and headed to Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm for a meal at Fem Sme Haus. We found it a lovely, elegant cellar setting with lots of nooks and crannies. Our tall, friendly server led us through the menu. The kids had the option of smaller portions of any entrees or the famed Swedish meatballs. Claire opted for the former – halibut – Ava the latter. Upon our waiter’s recommendation Joe and I also had the halibut, served with fabulous potatoes.
For a starter I had a herring and cheese tasting plate – herring served pickled, with a sweet raspberry sauce (tastes much better than it sounds), with a dill cream sauce and in a smoky fashion. Pickled and the sweeter one held the most appeal for me. Joe had lobster bisque, which he said was tasty.

And for dessert, ice cream for the kids, something wickedly chocolate for me and a more traditional Swedish something for Joe, again per recommendation of the waiter.
Quite satisfied, we headed back to the Diplomat, a lovely walk next to the water upon the return, with cool crisp weather and a sky devoid of clouds overhead.

My Saturday morning started in the hotel’s exercise room. I’d read that you need to make an appointment (hmm?) so I’d set something up after hearing there was a Jacuzzi, sauna and “all in one” exercise room, available for free for one hour.
Since I do enjoy hitting a gym when I can, and since I am of the mind that one should take full advantage of hotel amenities, I reported for key pickup at 6:30 a.m. (No I’m not a fanatic but with the hour time difference I was up and ready to sweat.)

The exercise suite turned out to be a bit like what one might have in a very nice home – a room with couch and next to it a state of the art elliptical machine (lots of gadgetry) and a weight machine behind it. This piece of equipment could be modified to work a myriad of body parts.

So I did both, passed on the Jacuzzi as I wasn’t crazy about getting wet before I’d had coffee, checked out the sauna and moved onto the quest for caffeine.

Now thoroughly awoken, I made my way to our room, wherein Joe did a couple miles around Stockholm and the kids had a lie-in (good British term, I think). Then it was off to see how the Swedish breakfast buffet measured up.

It’s great fun to see what restaurants offer up at their buffets – generally plenty of western goodies but one can always find local favorites. Here, alongside the bacon and eggs we found pates, pickles and herring. And some very good breads with lots of grains and seeds. The jams and jellies accompanying them were particularly tasty, as were the cheeses. Ava went for the salami and pickles and watermelon (what a combo), Claire the bacon and bread.

From the hotel we headed to the island of Djurgården, where the “must-see” Vasa museum is located. “The museum displays the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged, the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.”

Built around a very tall ship that had a very short tenure on the water (it sank within a few minutes of setting sail), the museum does a thorough job of illustrating how it was made, life at the time of the Vasa, how the ship was recovered (it was well preserved in the brackish waters – a mix of fresh water/sea water) in the 1960’s, how some of the crew may have looked and what they ate (based on skeletons studied), etc.

It’s a very tall, imposing ship and all the levels built around it give great perspectives from the literal views of the ship to the various aspects of ship building, life at the time, getting it out of the water, etc.

Upon leaving the Vasa we went to the very conveniently located Astrid Lundgren Museum (think Pippy Longstocking). The museum’s name is “Junibacken.” There we spent a couple of long (for the adults) hours. We came in as a show was wrapping up in one of the downstairs play areas so it was jampacked with adults and kids racing from one play spot to the next.

Eventually Joe saved my sanity by finding other play areas upstairs, where a bit more breathing room was to be had. This play area housed, quite appropriately, Pippi’s house. So the kids played while we watched the clock, thinking that the 1:45 train ride (THE thing to do here) was a long ways off. However, we opted for lunch in Pippi’s cafeteria, which was not bad, actually. I had the Swedish meatballs, which I guess are generally served w/ potatoes and lingonberries. And after resuming some playtime we queued up for the all important train ride, wherein we were escorted to a Disney-like carriage of sorts and esconced behind a safety bar. The car slowly took us through scenes from Lundgren’s books, through a messy room, for example, up into the sky, past a giant rat, down into a lovely valley, all acompanied with a recitation in English. Very well done and definitely the high point of the museum (a.k.a. over priced play area teeming w/ the 3-4 year old crowd).
Naturally all paths lead through the gift shop at this place…

From Pippy’s playtime we wandered over to Skansen, a huge outdoor museum set on a hill overlooking Stockholm. It features old historic buildings, a stage, restaurants, Scandinavian animals, a farm area and more. So after paying more exorbitant museum fees (costly place, Stockholm), we went on a mission to find ice cream. Once secured and enjoyed, we sought out the Scandinavian animals, some not so Scandinavian. Buffalo, bears, a sleeping lynx, some seals (one very itchy, sunbathing next to the glass wall where we were leaning), various birds including peackocks (which did look a little out of place, I thought), two elk moose and I’m sure I’m forgetting some others.

On the way out we passed the cows, goats and their friends.

After all our wandering we were museumed out and collapsed at the hotel. But not before enjoying a beer near the water, of course. The kids had tall fancy mocktails –plenty of soda and sugar.

For dinner: Ulla Wimblah, which we were told was easy to find and close by. How was it, then, that we couldn’t find the place…after walking away from it and being thwarted in our attempts to find anyone who knew it or the area or even a taxi, we came upon a very nice man (a Polish French man or French Pole – not sure what’s correct or if it matters) who was pushing his bike. He told us we were within 50 meters of our destination and to follow him. I’m happy to say he led us to it. My heart sank, however, when the matir’d informed us kindly that she’d just given our table away.

But alas! She said she would figure something out and that she did, as a few minutes later we were seated at a lovely table in the warm, comfortable dining area.
The place was bustling; our waiter was very officious and recommended I try a traditional dish of fried herring served with buttered mashed potatoes. The food in Sweden may not be overly spicy but it is flavorful…anything prepared with plenty of butter certainly tastes good.

We had crackers and bread with our meal, as was the case at Fem Sma Hus, too – big wheat/oat crackers that we all liked, along with those grainy breads. My meal was heavy but delicious. Joe went for the meatballs, Claire more fish and Ava lamb stew. For dessert we shared an amazing chocolate thing and carrot cake. This was the most interesting carrot cake I’ve ever seen – served with long slices of carrot on top, next to a dollop of cream cheese frosting. The cake itself looked like a piece of banana bread. Very tasty, just very odd composition. And given the garnish, healthier than your average carrot cake.

Finding the hotel afterward was naturally considerably simpler…

Easter Sunday found us sleeping in – why not? Joe and I took turns walking the city. I hit a path along one of the waterways – lovely way to start the day and enjoy some green space. We were told in the boat tour propaganda (love that word) about Stockholm that people here have some of the longest lives of anyone in the world – late 70’s for men, 82 or something for women. Maybe all the early morning exercisers I saw in action, all the fish and no crappy kids menus contribute?!? We certainly didn’t see many overweight types over the weekend, but one does get a rather limited glimpse of a culture and its peoples when one pops in for a weekend doing tourist stuff. (I do believe the statement someone made to me about Sweden being full of tall, blonde and beautiful people is a myth – or else the majority of them weren’t where we were in Stockholm during Easter weekend 2011…)

After another good hotel breakfast (pickles, it’s all about the pickles) we set off for Gamla Stan again. We checked out lots of narrow, windy medieval streets with lovely buildings, tourist shops, ice cream stores, cafes and an amazing chocolate shop. This one we felt compelled to support – the smell alone was divine. My dark chocolate was fabulously rich.

We also popped into the Cathedral of Stockholm, located between the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum in the very heart of medieval Stockholm. It is called Storkyrkan or “the Great Church” and is the mother church of the Church of Sweden Diocese of Stockholm.

Stockholm’s medieval Cathedral, built in 1279, houses unique objects such as the St George and the Dragon sculpture (1489), the legendary Vädersoltavlan (1636) and Lena Lervik’s sculpture ”Joseph and Mary” (2002).

Since 1527, the Cathedral has been a Lutheran church. A wide range of religious services and concerts are held. The wedding of T.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel took place on Saturday, June 19, 2010 in Stockholm Cathedral.

From the cathedral we caught the changing of the guard – several military types in bright blue and white uniforms following an orderly cadence of gun sclasping amd marching after jogging out from somewhere in the castly. Lots of pomp and circumstance, yet we saw some of them interacting with the crowd. So a bit more relaxed, maybe, than the British guards we see around Buckingham Palace.

After the changing of the guard we meandered through some parts of the Royal Palace – the Treasury, the Royal Chapel and the Museum of Antiquities. The Treasury had a lovely three or four rooms of opulent swords, crowns and other highly valuable ornamentation sporting jewel upon jewel.

The Royal Chapel was also lovely, an intimate place of worship, with doors at end of each pew.

The Royal Chapel is used by the Royal Family for special ceremonies, and its congregation is comprised of employees/former employees of the Royal Court and their families. It’s also open to the public, and the Bishop is appointed by the King.
The Royal Chapel was inaugurated in 1754 together with the Royal Castle by King Adolf Fredrik and Queen Lovisa Ulrika.

It was designed by Nicodemus Tessin and Carl Hårleman in a mixture of Baroque and Rococo.

There was a Royal Chapel in the old Royal Castle Tre Konor from as early as 1284, since the Pope had given permision to have ceremonies in the Royal Castle. In the end of the 16th century King Johan III instituted another chapel in the Royal Castle, a Catholic one. He had married Katarina Jagellonica, daughter of Sigismund I of Poland. It was not allowed to be Catholic in Sweden at that time and the church was not well looked upon and was generally called the Papist Church.

We then checked out the antiquities, the bottom floor hosting several carriages used by Royalty throughout the ages. Upstairs were costumes, ornamentation and personal effects of various kings and queens, princesses and princes. And up yet another level were rooms for kids, with costumes to try on, a toy horse, throne, etc. Naturally we spent sme time there, then wandered through the more recent fashion exhibits.

Outside once more we were just in time to check out a parade of sorts, guards in their bright blue uniforms on gorgeously groomed horses. The group was soon joined by a very smart regiment on foot, which auspiciously marched around the castle and into a…brightly painted bus. Sort of an inauspicious ending to their very royal march.

At this point we were museumed out and ready for food, drink and chairs so we meandered down to the busy pedestrian streets of Gamla Stan. We found a lovely little microbrewery with an inviting table at the open wondow overlooking the street.
There we perched on high-backed stools and shared a very good game burger, fries, coleslaw and cheese/salami platter. With excellent bread, of course…and good beer.

Eventually we headed off in search of the Dance Museum, spent an hour there, then needed ice cream. That we found easily enough at the busiest, most chaotic shop in Gamla Stan. But it had lots of flavors and cone options – mine was Irish cream dark chocolate with chocolate waffle cone. Two thumbs up.

The beer and ice cream led to an overwhelming need for a nap so we took a quick hotel break, then got ready for Mass at Sankta Eugenia, a very modern, sleekly designed church with a non-descript façade (the only overt marker was a gold cross out front).

A full house, we landed seats by the piano and joined Stockholm’s English speaking Catholics for Easter service. The priest asked everyone to close their missals before sprinkling holy water to ensure they didn’t get ruined, leaving us to expect quite a shower. Oddly there was no word of warning about the candle flames and paperwork in hand…

After Mass we meandered to another part of Gamla Stan where tattoo parlors reined. Amidst them we found our quite unique eating establishment for the evening: Sjatte Tunnan.

Established in the 1400’s, the place “attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a banquet from the middle ages; everything from food, drink and entertainment to the clothes worn in that period. As far as possible, the chefs follow historical recipes and ingredients. Sjatte Tunnan serves its own mead, a wide range of beers and buys wine from the same ports used in the 1400s.”

It was another cellar restaurant, this one definitely less fancy – no maitre’d (in fact we were hard pressed to find a waiter). The candle wax build up looked like it had indeed started in the 1400’s. With a cavelike shape, the acoustics were horrific, particularly due to the volume of two large parties near our table.

Despite all that or maybe because of it we were compelled to stay. While I went in search of the loo, Joe and the kids sat themselves at a table and eventually we hailed our waiter down. A very busy guy, he was efficient and we soon had some good brown bread, beer served in old-fashioned pottery mugs and sodas for the kids.

Ava opted for chicken wings, I went with the wild boar, served with blueberry sauce and a strudel side. Frankly it all exceeded my expectations. Claire went once again for the fish – Swedish menus appeal to her – food simply done, accompanied by potatoes. And Joe had lamb, quite appropriate for the holiday.

We opted for chocolate back at the hotel to finish our meal, as it was past 10 by the time we wandered back along the water to the fine Diplomat hotel.

Monday – I got the day going w/ some exercise around Stockholm, then we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and a last walk around Gamla Stan, scoring a souvenir for Claire. And then it was off to the airport! Boy was Heathrow customs a zoo…

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India