Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Some Train-related Photos

We took quite a few train journies on our trip. The longest one was about 4 hours though, so they were all fairly easy trips. Soren like imagining which Thomas character was pulling the our train. Was it Diesel? Maevis? Gordon?

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Big Head

We came across this sculpture in the Old Town Square in Krakow, Poland. I thought it make a really cool photo if Soren would climb in and look out through the eye...but he wanted no part in climbing in that thing! After awhile though he warmed up enough to at least dare to touch it!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Need to Expand Soren's Vocabulary

Well, yesterday I discovered the limits of Soren's fantastic vocabulary. This week I'm going to work on teaching him "urgent" and "emergency". Here's the story.

I was cleaning the garage and while we were out there he wanted to play in the car. Since that usually entails hitting the power door locks within three seconds of getting in the vehicle I thought I was being very clever by opening the back door so that I'd be able to reach through when he was ready to come out. So he climbs in and, as expected, locks the doors immediately. He went along happily playing and eventually announces "I want to come out,Mom."

So, I go to reach through the back door and realize that the door has closed just enough to look slightly ajar but still be locked. No big deal, I could just run in and grab my keys but I decided to try to see how well Soren could follow directions. So I started telling him how to hit the unlock button. I pointed toward the button and told him to push it. "Push that button, no up just a little...no, over that way...no, a little bit higher..." Let me tell you, two year olds aren't into subtle movements. Each time I had him change positions he'd move his hand to an entirely different section of the door.

Eventually he did manage to unlock the door. "Put your finger on the button, and push the part with no words" were the instructions that finally got him there. So, the door is unlocked. I open the door to retrieve him and he announces....

"I peed!"

Sure enough, there was pee all on the front seat. If only he'd told me that it was an emergency, I could have just let him out quickly. Poor guy - trying to follow complex directions and not pee. Sigh.

Poor Sick Little Guy

Now that we are home we can go through our photos...seeing Soren's hospital photos lets me see that he really was visibly sick. Can't you just see it in his eyes in this photo?

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Friday, October 26, 2007

The pigeons! First of several posts with pictures from our trip...

As I mentioned, Soren just loved chasing the pigeons wherever we went in Europe. I have to say that Osweicim in Poland wins the award for having the laziest pigeons ever - I was actually worried that Soren was going to step on them. And he was a bit confused...it isn't quite as much fun to chase something when it doesn't run away!

These photos are from Krakow. Much more energetic pigeons!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We're home!

Well, sitting on the computer at 2 a.m. is a good indication that we are home - and a bit jet lagged. We made it home Monday night around 11 p.m. It was a long, but uneventful trip home. We lucked out and had two young girls sit behind us on the Vienna - DC flight. They loved to play with Soren and were a huge help in passing the 9.5 hour flight with ease. Then we pretty much crashed out on the flight to Portland. Well, Soren and I crashed out. The lady behind Peter asked him not to recline his seat and since she was fairly elderly, he graciously complied. But that meant he couldn't sleep. Poor guy. Well, at least he got to see the latest Harry Potter film.

We enjoyed the remainder of the trip once we left the hospital, but we didn't have much Internet access so I didn't get to update the blog. Here are some of the highlights:

* We did get released as expected from the hospital. My observation on the "do-it-yourself" care proved true to the very end. The doctor stopped by and asked how I thought Soren was doing. I told her that I thought he was much improved. She asked if I wanted to be released. I told her yes...and she said ok. She never even touched him! Granted, she had been observing his cough and she had the nurse's notes from the night before, but in the US the doctors certainly would have at leasted pulled out the stethoscope.

* We've decided that we must have committed some grievous crime against the Motherland or were somehow otherwise unworthy, because we really just weren't able to get to Peter's Grandparent's village. After the hospital stint killed our first plan to get to the village, we came up with an alternative plan. When we got to Slovakia we rented a car intending to take a day to drive up there. That wasn't easy. But after lots of work and lots of assistance from the staff at our hotel we tracked down a rental car. But when got up bright and early the next day we discovered that the ground was covered with snow! Aargh! Since the snow was accumulating at our low elevation, we were really concerned about how much worse it would be driving up into the small mountain roads. So, in the end we decided against it and returned our rental car without ever driving it!

* We stopped off at Trencin on the way back to Bratislava. It broke up the train journey for us and gave us a chance to visit the beautiful Trencin castle. The castle itself wasn't the beautiful part - the views from the top of the tower were incredible though and gave a bird's eye view of the lovely city and surrounding hills. I'll post pictures (once I sort through the 500 photos that I took!)

* When the plane landed in Washington DC Soren's first words were "We landed! Let's go to Starbucks!" Oy, what have I done to this child? (By the way, there was a starbucks with in 50 feet of clearing US immigration. And yes, we did go. Soren recognizes the Starbucks logo and he was so excited to get his favorite Starbucks milk. There is no way I could have gotten him past the place.)

* If a Starbucks addiction weren't bad enough, Soren learned one other thing while we were gone that really astounded me. While were out for dinner with Joe on our final night in town, Soren picked up a small wooden skewer that had come in the meat of my meal. He inserted it carefully between his first two fingers and then brought it up to his mouth. I couldn't believe my eyes. Could this be a coincidence? I got Peter's attention and we sat and watched Soren for a few minutes. Sure enough, he'd put the skewer up to his mouth and then deliberately pull it away and adjust it between his fingers. I asked Soren what he was doing - his response: "smoking". Aargh! As I mentioned everyone everywhere seemed to smoke on this trip, but I had no idea that he had been watching them so closely. I think that to make up for this we'll have to spend our next few vacations in prime Mormon vacation spots. (Ok, you LDS friends of mine, I'm going to need some vacation tips!)

We really did have a great trip. We're happy to be home now though. I'll post some pictures in the coming days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On the mend...

Thanks so much to everyone for all the well wishes. It was nice to hear from so many of you. Soren is still in the hospital - staying for the third night tonight - but I think that speaks more for the tendency here to hospitalize kids for longer than we do rather than any indication that he's very sick. He has been running a slight fever (100.2 degrees) intermittantly and so they suggested that he stay another night. The croup seems to be under control so they've stopped the nebulizer treatments. But his cough still sounds really tough. It is really dry. They started antibiotics today and he's getting cough medicine too.

We've been in contact with our insurance company to be sure that we'll have all our ducks in a row to get reimbursed for this hospital expense. It looks like they will cover it. We'll need to pay here and then submit the paperwork when we return. They gave us some specific requirements that we need to have in the paperwork, but it isn't anything too unusual. Today while I was working with the doctor (here the doctors talk about billing stuff, rather than other admin people like in the US) I asked if she could give us an esimate or even a ballpark of what the cost would be. I haven't asked (suppose I should) but it seems really unlikely that they'll take Visa, so we'll need to pull out enough money at the ATM to pay the bill. With a $300/day ATM limit we needed to know how many days we'd need to max out the card. She agreed to work up our bill for us so that we could plan. The total bill for a three night hospital stay is going to be under $400!

While it is sad to see Soren sick and disappointing to not be able to go freely about our travels, we are still meeting lots of great people and definitely learning about new cultures and customs! Some random observations:

* As I mentioned before, they seem to hospitalize kids (and maybe adults too, but we haven't experienced that) much more liberally than we do at home. Since we have the windows into all the other rooms we can watch all the other patients and families. Most of them don't seem very sick. The boy next to us has also been getting breathing treatments, but otherwise he seems completely healthy. And he's been here for at least three nights. Another mother who speaks English said her son has been here since Monday. He had a rash that was a reaction to a topical medicine but the doctor wanted him hospitalized in case it was something else. The two babies next to us seem totally fine, I can't see any signs at all that either of them are sick. I know that I am missing much of the story since I can't talk to most of them, but it still is clear that there aren't life-threatening illnesses that are keeping them in the hospital.

* They do bring three meals a day to the room. Breakfast is usually two pieces of white bread with an enormous slab of butter and jam (with no visible fruit content!), today was some sort of rice-like oetmeal. Lunch is full meal - today it was a chicken leg, mashed potatoes, and mashed beets. Dinner was two pieces of white bread, the requisite butter slab, and a hot dog.

* They have showers and a kitchen we can use.

* There is a playroom for the children. That seemed a bit strange for us at first since presumably a large percentage of the kids would have contagious diseases, right? We resisted going at first until 1) we tried to contain an energetic two year old locked in a room all day, and 2) we noticed that most of the other kids don't seem very sick. So now, we've been letting him go down to play for awhile and then coming back and washing his hands like crazy. In typical Soren style, he's making lots of friends. He's also seemed to come to terms that none of them can talk to him.

* There isn't soap anywhere. We find that fairly disconcerting considering this should be a fairly clean enviroment, but as we look around we see that most of the other families have brought their own and have it set up next to the sink in their room. We carry Purell with us while traveling so we had that for the first day until Peter ran out to buy some. In our US hospital the nurses wash their hands upon entering and exiting the room. Definitely not the case here.

* This is a lot more do-it-yourself care. Yesterday the nurse dropped off the nebulizer and said "10 minutes" and then left the room. Fortunately, it was easy to figure out. Then tonight she handed me a thermometer and started to leave. I had no idea which button to push on the digital thermometer so I had to ask for some help on that one. They also will pretty much leave us alone if there isn't a problem. While it is nice that Soren can get uninterupted sleep, it is up to me to let the nurse know if there is a problem.

* No one smokes in the hospital. While that may seem overly obvious, it isn't here. It seems that everyone smokes here. We've started calling the "no smoking" section in restaurants the "low smoking" area instead. Because plenty of people smoke in the no smoking section. At first my American indignence was raised, but then when I noticed that there were ashtrays on the no smoking tables, I realized that this was expected. As usual when we don't understand something, we make up a story about it. Our theory is that in the smoking section, if you don't chain smoke you will be kicked out of the restaurant. If you'd only like an occasional cigarette then you head to the no smoking area. ;-)

We are hoping that he'll be discharged tomorrow. Depending on what time that happens, we will likely leave town. Our plans aren't totally set yet, but at this point it doesn't look like we will visit Peter's grandparent's hometown. That is just a bit more rural than we are willing to go right now. I think we'll stay a bit more mainstream just to know that we can have access to medical care in case Soren doesn't continue improving.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Darn croup.

Well, last night we used our planned route to the hospital. As is usual with croup, Soren's breathing got more labored during the night. He was still able to sleep but since it seemed to be getting worse, we decided to take him in. I'm glad we did. We had a doctor who spoke some English and he admitted Soren.

Foreign hospitals are always a bit scary since we really don't know exactly what is going on. But the quality of care seems quite high. Much more low-tech than we have at home, but much more "care" oriented. For example, the nurse came into the room many times during the night to feel if Soren had a fever and to listen to his breathing. In the US our experience has been that the nurses simply have a list of chores to complete - take temperature at a certain hour, check blood pressure, measure urine output etc. etc. etc. Nothing against our nurses, our system just seems to need to get so much work out of them in their shift that there really isn't time for hands on care and attention. This was far less invasive and, in my opinion, better suited to letting Soren get the rest he needed. He's been getting nebulizer breathing treatments which seem to be improving things.

We are in a private room. The interesting thing though is that instead of walls between the rooms it is all windows. We can see all the other children and their mothers from our room. Soren has enjoyed waving and blowing kisses at them all. He's such a trooper for a sick guy - he's still really social and wants to be helpful to the doctors so he sits still, breaths like they tell him too, sticks out his tongues so they can see his throat. And always tells them thank you when they leave. He's such a sweetie.

The doctor today speaks very clear English and confirmed that he has croup. She suggested it would be best to stay another night, which actually is a relief for me. Knowing that it gets worse at night means that if we were discharged I'd spend another sleepless night wondering if we needed to go back to the hospital. Now we know that he can get the care he needs if things get worse again tonight. Since we've been down this path before we know that it us usually two bad nights but then things improve pretty quickly. Hopefully that will be the case again this time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

More from Poland

Soren has croup. He and I have both been fighting a cold since the beginning of our trip and his took a turn for the worse last night. We've been watching for it since his colds do tend to turn into croup, but last night the recognizable barking cough started. Fortunately, we are in an ideal location with the cold mountain air for him to recuperate. He's as happy and chipper as ever, but his cough sounds sad. We have a balcony in our room and we bundled him up a few times during the night to take him out to let him breath in the cold air. That helps almost immediately. So I hope he's on the mend soon.

Just in case it gets worse, we explored our doctor/hospital options this morning. We are about two blocks away from the hospital so if things don't improve, or get worse during the night (as croup tends to do) we've already planned our route to the hospital.

While we were wandering around looking for the hospital we ran into the helicopter rescue team getting ready to do a training exercise. Soren, of course, wanted to go for a ride on the helicopter and as we stood around looking at it, one of the team members came to tell us we could come take a look if we'd like to. He was a Polish doctor who spends half his time as an anethesiologist and the rest of his time as a rescue team doctor. Pretty amazing job! He was really nice, spoke great English and told us about the rescue work they do. Since this is a very popular hiking and skiing area they are called upon to rescue skiiers, hikers and climbers from all sorts of situations.

We're mostly having a slow and lazy day today. We have a great room in our log cabin hostel, so Soren played with his cars and then went down to watch some Sesame Street in the community lounge, or rather he watched SesamStrasse since it is on satellite from Germany. We ventured out for out trip to find the hospital and then had a lovely lunch (I've finally figured out how to get some non-brown foods!) before coming back for afternoon nap time.

We are planning the next leg of our journey. We are currently about 12 miles away - as the crow flies - from Zuberec, the hometown of Peter's grandparents before they immigrated to Canada so we are trying to figure out how to get there. It isn't so straightforward since we need to cross the border from Poland to Slovakia to get there, but the girls in our hostel have been helpful and seem optimistic that we can piece together a few local busses to get there. We're hoping to try on Wednesday. We'll spend today and tomorrow yet just relaxing in this lovely mountain scenery and letting Soren recover.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Poland

We really liked Krakow. While Prague is the "it" city in Eastern europe, we liked Krakow just as much and thought it had as much to offer. The main square in the old town, like Prague, was really the highlight. And again like Prague, it had a beautiful old castle overlooking the city. We really enjoyed it.

We left Krakow this morning. There was certainly more to see and do there, but we are feeling a bit citied-out. We've seen enough of the churches, temples and stunning buildings. We were ready for getting a bit back to nature.

We took a two-hour bus trip south to the Polish resort town of Zakopane. It is a major hiking and ski resort area. Kind of a Polish Beaver Creek, or Squaw Valley with a bustling main tourist town but surrounded by the mountains. There is snow in the mountains and the town itself is much cooler than any place we've been to so far. Our balcony has a thermometer on it, and this afternoon - in the sun - it was about 74 degrees! Nice! But that was in the direct sun. I'm sure it is 30 degrees colder than that right now. No skiing yet though.

This area of Poland is famous for a particular wooden style of house. We are staying in a hostel in that design. Very log cabin-like. Nice atmosphere.

Traveling with a two year old

I don't suppose the notes for this trip would be complete without mentioning some of the intricacies of traveling with a two-year old. It certainly isn't the same as our pre-kid days, but it comes with many new joys too.

We've made a point of trying to try to time our longer trips between cities during Soren's nap times. This accomplishes two things: it allows him a quiet place to take a nap (on me) and keeps us from having to occupy him during the entire journey. When we aren't traveling we make a point of going back to the room during nap time. And then one of us stays in the room with him while the other one goes out to do some exploring.

Until only a day or two ago, Soren's vocabulary seemed to have been dramatically limited by the trip. He was concentrating all his effort on three main sentences:

* Where are we?
* How did we get here?
* Where are we going?

Poor guy. I don't think he ever really understood any of the answers.

Then two days ago he asked me a new question, "Mama, what's English?" Seems he noticed that I often asked people "do you speak English?" and he wanted to know what was going on. He's been a bit bewildered why children don't talk to him when he tries to play with them on the playground (another change from pre-kid days is that we seek out playgrounds whereever we go). So we've been explaining that they don't speak English. He knows how to say hi ("ahoy") in Slovak/Czech and has been using that a lot.

Yesterday we ran into a little boy in the grocery store. When we left, Soren waved to him and the boy waved back. Soren exclaimed, "he speaks English!" I guess he's happy with any form of communication.

Last night in Krakow we were in a restaurant with a bunch of Canadian students. I told Soren that they probably spoke English. Here's the conversation:

Soren (approaching a very pretty blonde student): Do you speak English?
Student: Yes. I'm from Canada.
Soren: I go to Canada.
Girl: You do?
Soren: Yes, I go there in a big airplane!
Girl: Where are you from?
Soren: Oregon.

He had a very nice time talking to all the girls at the table. I think he was finally relieved that he could talk to people!

He was pretty much potty trained before we came here, but I think we've regressed on that a bit. Probably more our doing, than Soren's. It is just easier to put a diaper on him than having to worry about finding a suitable place for him to pee all the time. We obviously aren't the only ones wtih this problem as we've seen many parents helping their small child pee in the bushes/street/gutter.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Poland now...

Well, this hostel has an English style keyboard on the computer, so we're off to a better start. But now my Blogger software is all in Polish, so I need to rely on my memory to be sure that I hit all the right buttons!

We're in Krakow now. Arrived today. We're staying in a hostel, which is definitely a step down from where we've been staying and not terribly comfortable. But the place we had reserved turned out to be double-booked, and we didn't feel like searching further. So I think we'll sleep here tonight and look for somewhere new in the morning.

So, let's see since we last heard from our heroes (that's us) here's what has been happening:

We left Prague and took a three hour train trip to the eastern Czech Republic to a town called Olomouc. It is a lovely town with a few amazing sites but mostly just a place where people live rather than a major tourist attraction. I think that is the kind of place we like most. We found a lovely hotel and enjoyed wandering around. Peter's plant radar went off and we ended up in a botanical garden. It was a nice break from looking at churches, castles and other man-made structures as lovely as those all have been.

Yesterday we took a train to Osweicim in Poland. Auschwitz is the Germanized version of that town's name and the home of the concentration camp. Getting there was a bit of an adventure. Our train was delayed and when we got to town it was dark, raining, and the information center and money changing places were both closed. We asked at the ticket window for directions to our intended hotel, and she told us that it was closed down! Hm, we weren't sure what to do. We had no Polish money, our guidebook didn't include a map of the town. The obvious option would be to jump in a taxi and ask the driver to take us to a hotel, but historically we've found taxi drivers to be the most dubious characters around and so we usually avoid them.

We stopped in a small restaurant/snack shack and asked there if they knew a hotel. They didn't speak any English, but spoke German. With my one year of high school German I was pretty much left staring at them and saying that we were tired (reminiscent of the time Peter got Malaria in Laos and all I could tell the doctor who spoke French was that my boyfriend had a head ache and fever). I think we probably looked pretty pathetic, because in the end they drove Peter to a hotel and then came back to pick me up (they had a two seater car, seemingly the standard here, so we couldn't all fit in one trip). I did understand the general plan and that they'd be back for me in about 10 minutes. Sure enough, they came right back and whisked Soren and me to our waiting (and very nice) hotel. It happens to us so often that complete strangers jump to our help when we need it. For us this is such a special part of traveling and was such a nice welcome to Poland.

We did Auschwitz in shifts today. It just isn't the type of place to bring Soren. So I went this morning and then when I returned Peter did his tour. Hard to know what to say of the place. I think anything I'd say would either be melodramitc or trite. But I guess I can make three main comments:

1) It was a cold and foggy morning. I was cold. The irony wasn't lost on me. To feel a chill through my jacket and cashmere sweater really felt like I was being ridiculous. But it also was a reminder of how darn cold it must have been there so undernourished, overworked, and poorly clothed.

2) In all the holocaust memorials we've been too they show piles of personal belongings left by the murdered people. Piles of shoes, suitcases, glasses, hairbrushes. It is such a poignant reminder of the fact that so many people, individual people, were killed there. But this one had an particularly haunting room. A collection of human hair. They had thousands of pounds of it. They had shaved the heads of the dead and used the hair to make cloth.

3) This is the first time that I've been to a holocaust memorial since becoming a mother. The stories of the children were really more than I could bear this time. I truly can't really talk about it, or even allow myself to imagine those stories without really crying. Such horrors.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Greetings from the Prague Cyber Laundromat

Hi all, this is going to be a painful post, I fear. Not that anything bad has happened, it is just that I am typing this on a Czech keyboard. The y and z keys are in different locations, I can§t figure how to make commas, apostrophes, exclamation points or parenthis. So I do hope you§ll forgive a post full of typos. Already I§ve use more than my fair share of the backspace key just to get this far.

I§m parked at the Prague Cyber Laundromat while Soren, and likely Peter, is napping. Time to clean our clothes and take care of email and things at the same time.

Prague has been really great so far. It certainly lives up to all the hype. Beautiful, ancient and PACKED with tourists. I mean really, really packed. Shew. But there is a reason, or many reasons they are here. Prague truly is spectacular.

Dang, I had no idea just how often I used that y key. I have had to backspace every one in this post thus far to change it from a z to a y. Sigh.

...Brief pause to transfer my laundry to the dryer...

Ok, so more about our trip. Prague has a reputation for being one of the more expensive locations in Europe for accomodation. We ran out of money within three hours of arriving here! ....hey! I found the exclamation point! Though I do wish I could have put that in parenthesis.... Not literally out of money but all our Czech cash was gone in three hours. When we arrived at the train station we went to a cash machine and took out the maximum allowed. About...dang, I can§t find the numbers on this keyboard either...three hundred dollars. And having to pay for accomodation up front, plus buy our transportation passes and pick up a few groceries we burned through it all pretty quickly. Fortunately, this meant we were pretty well set up for the next few days. And we could go back to the cash machine the next day.

We had scouted a few possible hotels and hostels in our guidebooks and had planned to go check them out. But it is fairly common practice for international trains, which are likely to carry foreigners in need of rooms, to be met by touts trying to drum up business for their small hotel or private accomodation. So we were approached by this guy who has studio apartments available. He took us there and it was a total score. We have a small studio apartment complete with kitchen for about sixty five dollars a night. That would be a good deal in the US, but here in expensive Europe it feels like we won the lottery!

We§ve been eating breakfast and lunch in the apartment, food from the grocery store, and then eating out at night. Oh, I should probably comment on the food. It is brown and white. Occasionally there is something beige just to mix it up a bit, but generally they don§t branch out into other colors of the spectrum. Lots of saucy meat and dumplings or potatoes. Peter really likes it alot. I have admit that I§m missing vegetables though. Unless you count cabbage, I§m not sure we§ve had many veggies since we arrived. We splashed out and went to KFC for lunch today where I got a SALAD! Yippee! The food is good, very hearty, and I think we§d describe it a home cooking style, but I§m developing a real hankering for more colors!

Today we visited the Prague Castle which is perched on a hill overlooking Prague. I§m not sure if the castle itself or the views were more amazing. Actually amazing is a word that Soren has learned while we§ve been here. Clearly, he§s been hearing us say it a lot.

Oh, and I was wrong in my post the other day. I thought that trains were going to replace pigeons as Soren§s favorite European sight. Not a chance! He loves chasing them all over the town squares. They usually run rather than fly away, seemingly underestimating his conviction in catching them. But once he§s chased an individual bird around the square three times or so, it will usually fly up to a toddlerless perch. Then he moves on to the next bird...

Ah, looks like the laundry is finishing. Time to fold. I think we are leaving Prague tomorrow. And honestly, I§m not sure where we are going. The town I wanted to visit is proving to have some complicated connections which could make the journey a challenge with Soren. So, I think I§ve found an alternative stop on the route to Krakow, Poland. Auschwitz is short trip from Krakow and we are hoping to make it there. Probably by the weekend.
!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The best photo so far...

I've shot about 130 pictures so far...lovely shots of the old city and Devin castle. But I have to say that so far, this one is my favorite. When we went to the grocery store, we picked up a few things that Joe might need at the house. Toilet, paper for example. Peter got a good laugh over the name of the toilet paper. But we laughed even harder when Miska translated the packaging for us. It really is for the aid and prevention of hemorhoids!

Hemo Roll

Devin Castle

We had a fabulous day yesterday. We took a bus to Devin, a small town just outside Bratislava. We first went to the grocery store to pick up some picnic supplies. It was so terrific to have Joe and Mishka (Joe's Slovak girlfriend) to guide us there. They chose a bunch of classic Slovak snacks. We had a picnic at the base of Devin castle.

Devin castle is a lovely Sunday-afternoon kind of setting. It was full of locals enjoying the sunny afternoon. Picnicing, riding bikes or rollerblading, and even taking canoes down a small offshoot of the Danube river.

Picnic at Devin castle

We were having such a nice time relaxing and snacking that we didn't pay too much attention to the time and by the time we actually got to the castle itself we found that it had just closed. Mishka jumped in and had a gentle conversation with the guard at the gate. Well, we assume he was some sort of guard. She asked if there was any way we could get in since we had come so far to see this castle. He hemmed and hawed and told her that if we came back in 20 minutes after all the people had left he would see what he could do.

We went stopped at a small pub with a playground (interesting concept, don't you think? Pubs with playgrounds?) to while away the time. After 20 minutes we went back to the gate. Mishka again had a brief conversation with him and he opened the gate for us. We paid a small "entrance fee" (about $8 for all of us) and then went in to enjoy the deserted castle in the setting sun. Amazing to be all alone in such a spectacular setting.

Devin castle

So far I've found the Slovaks to be a bit inscrutable. An unusual number of them on our flight offered to help us find the airport bus to Bratislava. So they've been very friendly. But they don't seem to smile very much, or make eye contact when you are out on the streets. So while Mishka was talking with the castle guard, I was watching his facial expressions. He didn't smile, or even frown, but his face remained entirely passive during the conversation. So as we walked away I asked Mishka about him? Was he kind? Was he angry? She just replied, "Oh, he was completely drunk."

Miska and Joe at Devin castle

I have to say that while we really enjoyed our time in the castle, we were all wondering if the drunk guard would remember to stay to let us out. We had visions of furthering our castle adventure and story with the ending "...and then we had to sleep in the castle because the drunk guard forgot to let us out..." But in the end he was there, and we went back to Bratislave to enjoy our first night of jet lag-free sleeping.

Today we are off to Prague...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Welcome to Bratislava

We're here! Our flights and connections were uneventful and we're now happily settled in Bratislava, Slovakia. We lucked out and were able to get a bulkhead seat on the trans-Atlantic flight which meant we could use a bassinett for Soren's nap. He's getting a bit big for that and it required just a bit of cramming to stuff him into it, but still it was a cosy way for him to nap on the flight. (Cosy often equals crammed doesn't it?)

This photo catches the essence of how it feels after such a long journey, don't you think? Spaced out!
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Arriving in Vienna, we grabbed a bus directly from the airport to Bratislava. It deposited us at the bus station from which we planned to call Peter's brother, Joe. It is funny how simple things can often be so complicated while traveling. And it actually reminded me why traveling really isn't for everyone. Being confused is so often part of the equation.

We were carrying waaaaaay more luggage than normal since we were bringing Joe some of the items he missed most from the US. A gallon of Mrs. Butterworth and 10 lbs of corn flour, for example. So, we rolled off the bus...me chasing Soren and poor Peter schlepping most of our belongings.

The trick about arriving in a bus station is that those aren't generally the most well-equipped for foreigners like us who don't speak a word of Slovak. All we had to do was make one call and we'd be whisked away. But, ah, making that call...

First, we needed Slovak money. In Vienna we picked up some Euros but they don't use that in Slovakia. So, Peter waited with the bags while Soren and I scouted a cash machine. That found and money received, we next located a phone. But this was going to require a phone card and then some understanding of just how many digits of Joe's number we had to put in the phone now that we were in the same city instead of dialing it from the US. It all seems so simple now, but add 16 hours of flying and general discombobulation that accompanies such a big time change and it gets a bit more complex. We tried a variety of options and got nowhere.

Finally, we resorted to one of our well-tested travel tricks. One of us parks at a cafe with all our stuff and the other goes out to take care of business unencumbered. So with Soren, Mrs. Butterworth and I hanging out in the bus station cafeteria, Peter went out to figure out how to make a phone call. He was gone long enough for Soren and I to have a nice meal. He negotiated the complex world of the telephone and Joe soon arrived to take us to his apartment.

It has been such a comfortable way to acclimatize. We took a good nap and then went for a slow walk around the neighborhood last night. Being in an apartment meant that while we were up with jet lag in the wee hours of the night we could go into another room if one of us was able to successfully get to sleep.

The Mrs Butterworth payoff:
Mrs Butterworth

Peter slept in a bit this morning and Soren and I walked down to the train station. Last year when we were in Croatia, I think chasing pigeons was the highlight for Soren. This year, it will undoubtedly be the trains. He's already started naming them all. "That's Thomas...there's James...that one is Mavis..." The world of Thomas the Tank Engine comes to life here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

We're packed!

Our bags are packed, we're ready to go (anyone remember the song?) ...'cuz we're leaving on a jet plane, don't know when we'll be back again (actually we do, but it is so much more romantic to stick with the lyrics...)

Anyway, we are all packed. I'm sure that at this very moment Peter and Soren are diligently doing the last minute tidying up that will make the house so much more pleasant to come home to. Well, either that or they are trying to find a matching pair of any of Soren's shoes.

Our flight is tomorrow morning. We fly via Washington DC and then on to Vienna. 5 hours, a few hours of layover, then another 8 hours or so. Still a bit stymied on what to do with a toddler locked in the plane for so long. I guess we'll find out. We've actually found that flying gets more complicated as he gets older. When he was really little he slept for much of the flight, but then as he got more and more mobile he just wants to be mobile! And I just haven't succeeded in getting him interested in the crossword puzzles yet... Ah well, he actually is a great traveller so I'm sure we'll be just fine.

Watch this space. We plan to update it as much as possible while we're on the road.

Monday, October 01, 2007

My little fashionista

Clearly Soren is way ahead on the fashion curve. He's moved past the droopy baggy jeans with boxer shorts exposed at the top...to his own little fashion trend. As much as I welcome branching off into brave new fashions, I do have to admit that I hope this is one trend that stays only with him.

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It is the t-shirt tucked into his underwear that really sets him apart from the crowd, don't you think?