Friday, October 30, 2015

Mauritius, Part 2

Beautiful Mauritius Waters
So for the most part our time in Mauritius quickly fell into an easy routine.  We would go to the beach in the morning to midafternoon, every other day and have the kids do their school work in the afternoons and evenings, or do school work in the mornings, head to the pool for a break, then finish up school work while Eden got a nap.  Life is pretty good.  We did venture to other places once in a while but mainly to grab a bite to eat somewhere or pick up some groceries.  On one of the days, Justin, Danielle, Eden and I headed over to a large shopping mall not too far from where we were staying.  I had wanted to go there because finding a park in Mauritius is quite difficult and this mall had a park and a couple of grocery stores.  Also, this mall touted their park to be the only one in Mauritius that complied with HIC (Head injury Criterion), good luck at any other park.  We are pretty lucky that in the United States parks must comply with very strict safety guidelines.  Walking into the mall you would think that you were someplace in the USA, it is not different from any mall there.  We walked around a little and then brought the girls to the park.  Needless to say, Eden was thrilled!  She had not been to a park since Venice, 15 whole days, and the kid was in complete withdrawal, what with jumping off of furniture, trying to swing from the counter, jumping on the bed.  We needed to do something and something quick.  Luckily the solution was not very difficult to get to.  She squealed with delight and off they played for about an hour.  The mall contained a grocery store that would be the equivalent to Whole Foods, called Food Lovers Market.  They had great produce and we even picked up some Nem and Samosas that I could fry up at the apartment. They were delicious.  Another thing we discovered were these frozen pizzas that are made in Mauritius.  The flavors are unique, like chicken Thai curry, and there savory twist of bologna pizza.  Even the Margarita pizza had a different spin.  These were great to have in the freezer for a very easy meal.  A few days later, I took Danielle out for a special treat.  Since we had arrived she had noticed women and girls that had henna designs on their hands or feet.  She had asked on several occasions if we could get it done and had even noticed a boutique that did it.  Once we got off the shuttle I told her what we would be doing.  She jumped for joy and gave me a big hug.  The lady handed Danielle a book of different designs and poor Danielle had a very hard time trying to pick one.  In the end, she picked a pretty and intricate design with several flowers and swirls.  I told the girl she could do any design she wanted for me.  Watching her pipe the henna on with such ease is amazing, she was done in under 10 minutes.  It truly is a work of art on your hand.  She told us to let it dry for at least 30 minutes being very careful not to bump it, she also said the longer the better.  Well, Danielle was determined to keep it untouched for as long as humanly possible.  It was so cute watching her walk around holding her hand in an awkward position making sure no one could even come close to bumping her, saying “its sooo pretty,” every few minutes.   After about an hour in a half she finally admitted to me that she urgently needed to go to the bathroom, but didn’t want to mess up her hand.  I giggled and told her that she could go and if some of the henna came off it would be fine since it was very dry.  She looked so relieved.  When we got home the boys dutifully ohhhed and ahhhed.  Both boys stated that they would like to try it also.  A few days later I picked up a couple of tubes of henna to do on them myself.  

Danielle getting Henna on her hand
All done!

Justin and I had wanted to do an excursion to Ile aux Cerfs.  This is a small island off of the eastern coast of Mauritius, and the pictures that I had seen of the island were stunning.  We found a tour company that did the excursion on a catamaran.  Since we all like to sail we thought this was a great combination.  The price even included the ground transportation to the dock, which was a good hour away from where we are staying.  The morning of the excursion the weather was fantastic.  We went out to the front gate of the complex to wait for the shuttle that would be picking us up at 8:30am.  
Caleb enjoying the snorkling
We waited and waited.  Finally, Justin called the tour office and asked where the driver was.  She stated that he would be there in 5 minutes.  Well, we have learned that 5 minutes Mauritius time is about 25 minutes regular time.  Finally he arrived and off we went.  Just to add another layer to our day we unfortunately got the crazy driver.  We zoomed down the road weaving and bobbing our way, at times suddenly slamming the brakes on.  About 30 minutes into it I was car sick.  I never get carsick.  In fact, the only time I ever did get car sick I was pregnant with Caleb.  And NO I am not pregnant.  I was so thankful to get out of the van until the driver looked at us and said, “I will be waiting for you right here when you get off the boat.”  Oh great, something to look forward to.  We quickly boarded a speed boat to take us to the catamaran.  The harbor is too shallow for the catamaran so they ferry people to it via speed boat.  Once on board we settled in and enjoyed the ride.  The water was smooth and once the sails were up the boat glided gracefully across the water.  Midway to the island we took a small detour and loaded another speed boat to take a look at a pretty waterfall.  Along the way, I spotted some monkeys in the trees and we also saw these huge bats flying around.  Danielle later discovered that these are called Flying Foxes and they are not nocturnal, they are also considered to be the biggest bats around.  Eughh!  Back on the catamaran we ventured out a little farther and stopped for some great snorkeling.  Once we were finished, lunch was served.  They had chicken, fish, curry rice pilaf, salad and flamb√©ed bananas for dessert.  Also, they had unlimited drinks.  I quickly realized that the rum and coke that the lady made was a 50/50 proportion, and the one the man made was 20/80, 80 being the coke.  I would get mine from the lady.  Once lunch was done we shortly arrived at Ile aux Cerfs.  I was not disappointed.  It was just as stunning as the pictures and I had to pinch myself to realize that I was not dreaming.  We walked a little further away from the crowd and headed towards the eastern shore.  There were not many people on this side and we felt like we had the island to ourselves.  One of our favorite things to do is to collect shells and this beach had plenty to offer.  We found sea urchin shells in green, purple and red, and Joel even found a pristine sand dollar.  We swam for a while and then boarded the catamaran for our journey back.  What a wonderful day we had.  Even the van ride back wasn’t as terrible, probably because I had quite a few rum and cokes from the lady, so it numbed my senses a bit.  

Waterfall on East side of island
If you look close there are many huge bats (called flying foxes)  in this tree
Ile aux Cerfs
Caroline on the catamaran
One of the things we wanted to do was to eat at an Indian restaurant.  There is a large Indian influence here and on Trip Advisor Justin had found a place, Happy Rajah, that everyone raved about and lucky for us was only a shuttle ride away.  We headed over one day for lunch and we were not disappointed.  The food came out on these large metal trays.  Everyone loved the food.  It was so flavorful and tasty, the spices popped in your mouth.  We had these dips for the naan and I dipped mine in one of two that the waiter said was spicy.  He did not lie or over exaggerate. Caleb was just about to try the other spicy one when I stopped him and told him to let daddy test it first.  Justin tried it and it was not very spicy at all.  Justin tried the one I had and agreed with me that it was very spicy.  We basically ate everything in sight.  It was so delicious.  I think my favorite thing was this amazingly flavorful squash.  Who knew squash could taste like that.  I need that recipe.  Honestly, I could not pick out anything that I didn’t like, even the really spicy dip was good.  

Caleb enjoying the Indian cuisine
Joel and Justin at Happy Rajah
Since we had such a wonderful time Justin and I decided to book another catamaran ride to Ile Gabriel.  This one goes out of Grand Baie, which is a short cab ride away.  We scheduled it for Thursday before we left.  The night before our excursion I had slept horribly.  I had awoken and could not fall back to sleep because I kept having this overwhelming feeling of anxiety.  Weird I never feel this way.  I ended up getting out of bed at 6am and it was pouring rain.  Well, hopefully it will clear up, and lucky for us there was a break in the clouds.  We got ready and headed over to the dock.  Once we boarded the catamaran we settled in and off we went.  The sea was not nearly as calm as the previous trip and the wind was blowing rather hard.  During the safety briefing they mentioned that if you needed to get sick don’t use the restroom, but grab a plastic bag instead.  Weird, they never mentioned that on our previous trip.  The more we ventured the rougher the seas got.  
Justin and Eden on the catamaran
Justin took the kids towards the front of the boat but not out on the deck, still in the seating area.  I decided to stand next to this man on the deck, but against the roof of the seating area.  We had been getting tossed around for about an hour and at one point, we went over a wave and the catamaran pitched forward down the back of the wave about 15 feet. This happened 2 more times.   Ummm, this was when I decided to get back into the seating area.  Justin, the kids and I headed back to our spot at the back of the boat.  I looked around and lots of people were using the bags.  I have been on my fair share of boats and this was the roughest seas I have ever sailed on, and it was getting worse.  I decided to stand about 12 feet away from Justin and the kids because the smell of vomit was starting to get to me.  About 30 seconds later the nose of the boat went down the back of a wave and under the next one.  The wave went right over my head and luckily I had been holding on because I nearly knocked over.  The wave was so big that Justin and the kids were also drenched and everything was floating around.  I went over and sat next to Danielle because she had started to cry and say she was scared.  Honestly I was terrified, but very calm.  I think I might have had a premonition or gut feeling, call it what you want, but my anxiety was all used up and I did not freak out.  After the big wave one of the crew members asked everyone on board, in French, if they would like to continue the 29km journey to the island or turn around.  I did not wait for anyone to respond and said “Demi tour!!” (Turn around).  Everyone agreed.   In all honesty I was somewhat surprised that they felt that they needed to ask.   The captain carefully turned the boat around and we headed back to Mauritius.  Once the boat was turned the crew unanimously took a sigh relief, even they were scared.   I took Danielle and Joel into the sun to dry off and try to warm up and Caleb cared for Justin and Eden.  Eden seemed oblivious to what had happened, but Justin was very seasick trying desperately to keep his breakfast down.  I can proudly share that all of the Coppin’s kept their breakfast in.  Thankfully, the closer we got to the mainland the calmer the water became. The crew headed to a beach and prepared lunch.  Honestly I couldn’t eat because I was feeling so overwhelmed.  I could not believe how many people were eating.  I had personally witnessed about half of these people puking, but that didn’t slow anyone down.  During this whole escapade there was this fluffy Frenchman that kept on drinking and by the time we had lunch he was dancing around the boat in his speedo, thrusting and bouncing around.  Justin announced “Now I really need to throw up.”  And Caleb stated, “He is making me blind.”  After lunch they ferried us over to the beach and we swam and had our pictures taken by the boat photographer. He had not taken any pictures during the rough seas, I guess that one will need to be a mental memory only.  I did purchase the flash drive with the pictures because I had not really taken any and I wanted one with our whole family in it.  Once back to the apartment I took a shower and cried, relieved and grateful that we were all safe and sound.  Tomorrow we leave Mauritius and head to South Africa.  I am leaving this island with so much appreciation for so many things.  This placed has struck me in a way that I had not expected.  And as one final goodbye showed me how easily everything could have changed.  

Heading towards Ile Gabriel

Eden photobombing us

Group photo at Pereybere after boating scare


Eden is always ready for swimming



Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mauritius

Eden trying out her tube
After 14 hours of flying with a 2 hour layover in South Africa, we arrived in Mauritius rather tired and cranky.  We were picked up by a driver and driven to the apartment we rented for the month in Flic en Flac.  We were greeted by our host, Annabelle, who was very nice.  As she was showing us around the 3 story, 4 bedroom apartment, I really just wanted to get to bed, so was trying to rush things along.  There were bars and “expanders” on each window and door.  She explained to us that it was for our security and that we should keep them closed.  Once we got back downstairs we were all surprised to see close to a thousand ants coming out of a crack in the floor and baseboard.  Needless to say I was pretty grossed out.  I am one some might call a neat freak and don’t really like bugs.  Annabelle gasped and grabbed a broom and a dustpan to sweep the LIVE ants up.  I asked if she had bug spray to kill them first.  I wasn’t really sure how you could sweep up that many live ants, or got the point of not killing them.  She got the spray and killed them and then swept them up.  She acted very surprised about this and said that with the change of season the ants do come out.  Having grown up in Hawaii, which has a similar climate I had never heard of that, but okay.  Once she left we went straight to bed.  In the light of day we got a much clearer look at the apartment.  It was big but it needed a good cleaning.  The night before Anabelle had told us that a cleaning lady would be coming by twice a week to clean the apartment and linens.  Looking around I thought, “What the heck does the cleaning lady do!”  Justin and I debated on whether or not to leave right there and then.   We decided to go walk around the neighborhood to see how it was before we make a decision.  Let me give you a slight side note:  On our drive from the airport we drove through some neighborhoods that I would call depressed.  The buildings were dilapidated, and in the empty lots between there was tons of debris and trash.  So while walking around we were not surprised to see the same things, but just to a milder degree.  There was even spikes and barbed wire around the top of the wall of the apartment complex where the apartment was located.    The apartment is located about a block and a half from the beach.  Once we got to the beach we walked around and I thought it was pretty nice.  We headed back and went to the grocery store along the way.  In the store Justin and I had a private conversation, and by that I mean away from our kiddos, about if we should stay or not.  I felt like I should buck up and try to make it work.  I told Justin that I would buy some cleaning products, bug killer and rubber gloves and try to make the place better.  Once back at the apartment with rubber gloves in position, I proceeded to spray every threshold and baseboard down with bug killer, and then spent 5 hours cleaning the entire place.  Once done I looked around and thought, “Ok, this could work.”  I went to take a shower and when I was done Justin told me that Annabelle and her husband were here.  I went down to talk to her and decided not to be shy about the place.  I told her very bluntly that I had sprayed and cleaned the whole place and to my surprise she said, “Yeah I can tell, the place looks so nice.”  WHAT!!! If you can tell I cleaned then you have a big problem.  I told her that I did not want the cleaning lady to come because as far as I could tell all she did was sit around for a few hours while the laundry was getting done, because cleaning she was not.  They apologized profusely.  By the way, they had stopped by to drop off more bug killer and dinner.  The food was pretty good but I can’t remember the name of it to save my life.  It consisted of these tortilla like items that had crushed beans between the layers and had 3 different sauces to put on them.  One of the sauces had potatoes and beans and tasted very much like curry, I really liked that one.  The kids liked the tomato one that I thought was less flavorful and Justin really liked the spicy one.  After dinner we went to bed bug free.  Well, the freedom from bugs didn’t last long because when I got up the next morning I noticed some bugs on the kitchen counter and on the baseboards in the stairs.  Poop!! I had hoped they were gone.  So I sprayed and cleaned those areas again.  It was raining on and off that day but the kids still managed to go swimming in the pool and went to play tennis at the courts in the complex.  While Justin and I headed up to bed we noticed a 2 inch long cockroach on the wall.  I grew some cahones and killed the roach but before the final death blow it decided to crawl over my hand.  YUCK, YUCK, YUCK!!  The following day I made eggs benedict from scratch to try to lighten everyone’s mood, mine included, and have some fun.  Caleb decided to help me.  When we had arrived Anabelle had told me to clean the dishes before using them because as she said it “the maid cleaned them and I don’t know how that is.”   Weird, but once I had cleaned the apartment I had understood the comment.  So I pulled out the pots, pans, and utensils to clean first.  Much to my horror a couple of roaches came out of the cabinets too.  I tried to hide the fact from Caleb and killed them.   I scoured the dishes and got to work.  Oddly enough breakfast turned out pretty well and everyone loved it.  Since the weather wasn’t great we just stayed at the apartment and swam in the pool.  We watched a movie and the electricity went out.  Once I got the candle lit, the electricity came back on.  I went into the kitchen and found more ants on the counter.  This was it, with what I had found and killed all day, I lost it.  I found Justin and had a complete meltdown.  Crying I told him I couldn’t take it anymore, that I had killed so many ants and roaches that I was so repulsed.  And being literally behind bars was more than I could take. I would not do well in prison, luckily I am a rule follower.  Justin said he felt the same and we decided to see if we had other options available.  We found three and emailed each of them.  After looking at the responses we decided that the best thing to do to actually enjoy Mauritius and have a nice comfortable time we needed to change apartments.  Justin found a great option and they were able to have us move in the next day.  We took it.  The following morning we packed up and left under the eagle eye of yet another mega roach.  We also contacted Annabelle and told her our plans.  She did not seem surprised to say the least.  

Joel and Caleb lining up the snails for a race
About a 1 hour drive later we arrived at Domaine des Alizees in Grand Baie.  We had made an arrangement with Bryan, the property manager, to look at the place first before booking.  Burned once, ok, but we learned from that.  I walked in and it was as if the heavens parted and started to sing.  The place was immaculate.  There are no bars in sight.  We walked around the whole place taking our time to open cabinets and drawers.  It seemed rather nice and definitely more upscale then where we had come from.  There was even a splash pool on our deck.  We decided to stay and “signed on the dotted line”.  I unpacked everything and then off we went to the pool.  The following morning everyone was in a great mood.  It is amazing what a night of sleeping soundly really does.  We decided to go to the beach.  Now although this place is gorgeous and clean, we are still about 4 km from the beach, but lucky for us this place comes with a free shuttle ride to the resorts private beach club, very swanky.  So off we went.  When we arrived I was blown away by the beach.  Now, having grown up in Hawaii, I am very picky about the beach.  Justin even calls me a beach snob.  This beach would rank in my top 3.  The water is a beautiful, light blue and the sand is soft, fine and white, absolutely stunning.  We situated ourselves in a couple of lounge chairs under an umbrella and enjoyed the day. I couldn’t wait and headed straight for the water.  I was completely content swimming around and floating in the Indian Ocean.  I couldn’t believe that I was actually IN the Indian Ocean.  I have always dreamed of coming to an island here and it was a great feeling to have that dream realized.  Justin and the kids followed and Justin was totally amazed at how easily he could float, I was too for that matter.  Justin is what I consider a sinker.  As much as I have tried I just could not get him to float, until now, and boy was he enjoying that.  He finally understood what all the fuss is about. Also, Joel and Danielle, my mini sinkers can float too! We all went snorkeling and
Danielle can float!! (she usually sinks)
saw lots of fish, tons of sea urchins in purples, yellows, blues and browns, some sea cucumbers, and even an eel.  I had a great time listening to the kids get excited about what they were looking at.  I had mentioned to the kids that I had wanted them to pick an animal, indigenous to Mauritius, that they were interested in and that they would research it, write a paper and do a presentation about.  Well, the kids immediately started to discuss what they wanted to do their project on.   Earlier in the day I had noticed a guy going in the water with a spear gun.  I figured this might be interesting to watch him come out of the water and see if he had caught anything.  Luckily for us he had.  I went over and started to talk to him and asked if the kids could come over to see his catch.  His name is Billy and he is so nice.  He explained to the kids what each fish was, a parrot fish, a captain, a fallen maiden and a barracuda, he also showed them how to scale and gut each fish.  He told us that he can only get the big fish like that on the other side of the barrier.  The kids were very intrigued and asked him a ton of questions.  We had some snacks and a light lunch and ended up staying until the last shuttle ride back to our place.  By the time we got home the kids were pleasantly exhausted.

The following day we headed out to explore the closest shopping center to us.  We walked 1.6 km to the center and decided to continue the 2 extra blocks to the sea.  The area we are at is called Grand Baie.  Once we arrived at the ocean we understood why the city is called Grand Baie.  The bay is so pretty, again with that magnificent light blue color.  The entire island of Mauritius is surrounded by a large coral barrier and the area between the coral and the shore is considered a lagoon.  The waves break at the coral barrier, so the water from there to the shore is completely still.  The water is so clear that you can see straight to the bottom without any problems, which the kids had discovered the day before when it was very obvious if you decided to pee in the ocean, let’s just say it’s NOT a secret.  We looked around a couple of shops then picked up some groceries and headed home. We have decided to go to the beach every other day and stay put or explore the days in between.   We returned to the beach and Justin rented a paddle board.  It was so easy to do since the water is so calm.  We each took a turn, even Eden rode on the front of it while I paddled around.  It was a great way to view the sea life without needing to stick your face in the water.  

Paddle Boarding
Today we ended up staying at the apartment and going to the great pool.  The resort has a walkway that is over one big shallow pool.  As you walk along it, it is dotted with small pavilions that have 
Walkway to the apartment pool
tables and chairs for the restaurant.  Then off to one side is the pool area that contains one large, rectangular pool well suited for laps and another curvy pool that has 3 different levels and a long bench.  I did need to explain to Eden that she could only go into the 2 pools here not the ones around the walkway.  The response I got from her was “Awww, why not.”  Well because that is technically not a pool, just a water feature.  Today there was literally no one around, it felt like it was our own private pool.  We decided to go out for dinner and try a restaurant that Billy and his wife Romaine had recommended to us.  We hired a taxi because after driving from the airport to Flic en Flac we made the choice to not rent a car.  They drive on the left and somewhat erratically.  Unfortunately, the place was closed but our driver recommended another restaurant called La Rougaille Creole.  It was magnificent.  Their specialty is rougaille (a tomato based creole sauce) and lobster.  I got the shrimp rougaille, Justin got the lobster, Joel got the braised lamb, Caleb the shrimp curry and the girls got pasta chicken.  All of it was so good.  And to top things off there was live music.  They finish the meal by offering you a shot of house made rum, absolutely delicious.  We all had a wonderful time eating, listening to music and watching Eden dance.  

Seafood dinner at La Rougaille Creole.  Yum!

So here are a couple of observations.  Eden has a lot of people talk to her.  Everyone is intrigued by her eyes.  She has even had several photos taken with her.  People stop and ask to pose with Eden. Most of the time she is fine with it but sometimes she gets very timid.  The other thing is, I have had a huge eye opener coming to Mauritius.  I was not ready for the poverty that is here.  It has really stuck me at how absolutely lucky I am to have had a wonderful upbringing, a great education, a job I wanted to do, 5 gorgeous and kind children, a great husband who not only loves us tremendously but has provided us with everything we could need and want and had this to do in a country that allows people so much opportunity.  By far, Mauritius has impacted me more than anyplace we have visited thus far, in so many ways.  

We have discovered that we had been mispronouncing Mauritius when we saw a sign that read “Mauritius, it’s so delicious”.    Ohhhh, it rhymes with delicious.  



Eden loves the beach

We finally found a Coke with Caroline's name on it

Making music by banging on logs.  Caleb calls it logarithms


Trou aux Biches beach

Enjoying some raspberries on the beach


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Austria & Bavaria

Eden in Innsbruck
We drove over Brenner pass into Austria from Italy and descended into the town of Innsbruck.  The increased elevation definitely made it cooler but we found a restaurant near the old town that had outdoor seating in the sunshine.    After a few minutes in the sun, we actually got quite hot.   The Weissbeer was refreshing, and we have really enjoyed the wheat beers in Europe with Edelweiss being our favorite.  Enjoying a beer with the backdrop of the surrounding mountains was relaxing.  It reminded me of some of the larger mountain towns in Colorado.    After lunch we wandered around the old town and got gelato which ended up being the least expensive so far, only 1.30 euros per cone.   Speaking of cost, Innsbruck had a similar feel to some of the cities in Switzerland and also with the fantastic Alps mountain views, but everything was definitely much less expensive here.   We explored the city a bit more and then headed to Bichlbach which is where we were stayed for a few nights.   Bichlbach is a small town which is likely more active in the winter when the local ski area is open but since we were here in the summer it was very quiet and serene with the beautiful greenery.    

Innsbruck Street

Mountain view from old town Innsbruck

We took a short 30 minute drive across the border into Germany to the town of Hohenschwangau to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Castle.  I knew it would be busy with tourists, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t be too bad given that we were in the middle of the week and at the end of September.   Turns out that it was still extremely busy.  We waited in line for a bit more than an hour to buy tickets for a tour that wouldn’t start for another 5 hours.   Luckily, Caroline was able to get us tickets to an earlier tour when she saw one open up after a tour bus canceled.  We needed to take a bus up the hill to the Castle and the line for this was longer than what we now had time for, given our new tickets to the castle.   Caroline was able to talk the bus driver into letting us bypass the line and we made it in time.   The area surrounding the castle was beautifully green with a few lakes nearby.   It was very interesting to learn about the castle on the tour and to see the inside.  My favorite room was the grotto near the King's bedroom which had colored lights.   How many places have a grotto?? King Ludwig II was quite an interesting and eccentric person who supposedly identified with many different people and apparently tried to be someone he wasn't.   He wanted to make the castle feel as though he was living in medieval times although it was being constructed in the late 1800s.  King Ludwig II was removed from the castle by the government as they claimed he was insane.    He died shortly after, although he was only 40 years old.  They say the reason of his death is unknown but I’d guess that he committed suicide.

Castle Neuschwanstein

Interior courtyard of the castle
On the steps at the Castle
At the Castle
View of Hohenschwangau Castle in the distance
View of surrounding region and lake from the castle
Our first selfie (and no I didn't use a stick, just my long arm.)
We drove back into Austria for dinner and went to a place called Landgasthof Krone.  We tried the Weiner Schnitzel and something called Feurtoast.  The Feurtoast was amazing and was basically some pork steaks on top of toast with a fire sauce.  It really wasn’t that spicy.  In the menu the pork steaks were called Schweineruckensteaks.   It’s crazy how long some of the Germanic words get.   At any rate, this is one that we will try and re-create ourselves when we get back home.

We left Austria and headed back into Germany towards Munich as that is where our flight out of Europe departed from.   Our first stop was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen which is a nice town at the base of the Zugspitze (highest mountain peak in Germany).  Garmisch-Partenkirchen is also where the 1936 Winter Olympics were held.  We next stopped at the southern outskirts of Munich at one of the larger Biergartens in the city called Waldwirtschaft.  We were here right before the Oktoberfest celebration and during lunch hour so it was quite empty versus the thousands that would soon fill the place.  We got some wurst and pretzels.  I’ve had plenty of pretzels before, but none as good as these. They were warm, soft on the inside and they came with a house honey mustard to dip in.  They were great!  No tour to Bavaria would be complete without a visit to the Bavarian Motor Works factory, also known as BMW Welt (World).  We took a look at all the cars on display as well as the exhibits. The kids liked the exhibits that were effectively glorified video games where you got to drive a car.   I liked sitting in the new BMWs.

We finally headed to the airport in Munich to drop off our Renault Grand Scenic.  12857 km in the last 90 days.  It worked out great for us and after we had finished dropping it off, Caroline and I said that we were both surprised that we didn’t get in an accident or have any dings given the somewhat chaotic driving.  

Now, we are off to the island of Mauritius.


Garmisch-Partenkirchen with obscured view of Zugspitze in the background

Waldwirtschaft Biergarten in Munich

Sitting in an M3 at BMW Welt in Munich.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bologna, Venice

Boys in front of Ferrari Museum
On our way up to Northern Italy from Umbria we took a pit stop for 1 day into Bologna.    The reason being twofold and a bit frivolous.  The first was to visit the Ferrari factory, and the second was to find a really good Lasagna Bolognese.    The Ferrari factory is a little bit out of Bologna in a rural town called Maranello.  I learned that Enzo Ferrari, the founder, was from this area (Modena specifically) and built his company here where every Ferrari is made from the street cars to the F1 race cars.    We visited the museum and got a good look at their history of cars.   My favorite part was seeing the one off cars that they experimented with and sometimes sold to special clients such as Eric Clapton.   When we left the museum there were several different companies nearby offering tourists the opportunity to drive a Ferrari for a hefty price.   I wasn’t planning on doing this but after hearing someone fire up a Ferarri 458 Italia, I folded and paid for a 10 minute test drive.  I figured I wasn’t going to have many opportunities to drive a $250,000 car with almost 600 horsepower.    I’m a bit of a car nut, so although expensive, the drive was worth it.  It was very quick and the exhaust sound was awesome.  There is a switch which bypasses the mufflers and makes sure the only thing you hear is the engine which on this car was fantastic.  

A Formula 1 concept from 2009
Danielle in front of a 2006 Formula 1 car
Some of the older Ferraris
I really liked this Sypder that wasn't mass produced
Eden said she liked this one
Taking a joy ride in a 458 Italia

On the way to our hotel in Bologna, we stopped by the Lamborghini Factory which was only about 30 minutes from the Ferrari Factory.   Pagani Supercars also has their factory nearby.  I guess this area is sort of the Detroit of Italy but specializing in fast, expensive cars.  

Joel in front of the Lamborghini Factory
Huracan in front of the Lamborghini Factory

We were able to check the second item off our Bologna to-do list when we found Restaurant Cosmo by our hotel and had a very good lasagna which by my judgment was the best we had in Italy.  We also had a dessert like Tiramisu but they called it Beerimisu because I guess it had beer in it. Nonetheless, it was good too.

We drove about an hour and a half the next morning to Venice.   We parked the car at the campground we stayed at for the next two nights.   We didn’t actually camp per se, but Caroline took a page out of her Dad’s playbook finding this campground.  (She would frequently stay at campgrounds when travelling in Europe with her Dad).    We had a hard time finding an apartment or hotel in Venice at a reasonable price.  Some of the hotels on the island were going for 400 euros per night per room and we need two rooms.  So the campground was a great alternative as they had “bungalows” available in addition to the more traditional RV and tent spaces.   The bungalow was in a small trailer and had a small bedroom and a bathroom.  It kind of reminded me of a cruise ship cabin.   The bedroom had 2 single beds down on the floor and then one single bed up high like a bunk bed.  We got 2 of these bungalows and they were only 44 euros per night per bungalow so it turned out to be a much more frugal option than the hotels.   It worked out great and was only 2 bus stops away from Venice proper.

Caroline had been to Venice before, but this was my first time.  I knew that there were no cars and just canals, but after walking around for a while it really sunk in how unique this city is.   Amsterdam had a lot of canals but without cars Venice has a totally different feel.  There are many walkways that are just wide enough for one person to get through and they wind around in every direction.   You could take days exploring and finding new hidden plazas.  We had the boys read the novel “The Thief Lord” before we arrived because the story takes place in Venice and it was neat for them to see many of the landmarks discussed in the book.    We visited St Mark’s square and cathedral in addition to Doge’s palace and the Bridge of Sighs.   The bridge connects Doge’s palace to the prison.  It got its name because this was the last view of Venice someone convicted in Doge’s palace would see as they were escorted into the prison.


St. Mark's Cathedral
St. Mark's square
The Bridge of Sighs in the background

The gondola rides in Venice are famous and surely splendid but since they were about 80 euros for a ride we decided to try an alternative.  A traghetto is a gondola that ferries you across the Grand Canal, since there are only a couple of places that you can cross on foot (the Rialto bridge being the most famous).   The traghetto only costs 2 euros for tourists (and is significantly less for locals) and is effectively the same gondola boat but just not as fancy.  After we got in, the gondolier got us about half way across the grand canal and then we heard the sirens of an ambulance.  In the distance we saw an ambulance boat blazing down the canal with its lights flashing.   The gondolier was in a bit of a panic to try and get us out of the way.  Luckily, the ambulance turned into a canal before it reached us.  

A gondola heading down the canal

There are a lot of masks that are crafted in Venice and we got Joel, Danielle, and Eden one.  Eden really got into having the mask on and started belting out a song she made up on the fly while walking down a street.   I was able to capture a video of the end of it.    The performance had quite a few onlookers.  Maybe she has a future in theatre.  






Masks from Venice
Typical Venice street
Danielle on a bridge in Venice
One of the many winged lions in Venice
This tower was leaning about as much as the one in Pisa

The next day we went to the island of Murano.   We took a vaparetto which is a set of public transportation boats that have many routes in and around Venice.  Murano is the home to many glass shops.  We saw one craftsman at his trade in front of the furnace create a horse and a tiger out of glass.  I was amazed how realistic they looked from a few delicate actions on the glowing hot piece of glass.  This is one trade that I don’t see machine automation taking over anytime soon.   Each piece is really a unique work of art.    We saw another man making some pendant light shades by blowing down the tube into the glass.  All of the stores had a plethora of glass items that included just about anything you could think of.   The styles and finishes were very diverse.    There were many things I would have liked but I didn’t think it was wise to try and get some glass pieces home in one piece and shipping would have been too expensive.  We took the vaparetto back to Venice and rode it up the Grand Canal to get in some more sightseeing.  We ended our time in Venice with, you guessed it, another gelato.


Glass sculpture in Murano
Over Murano's grand canal
A craftsman pulls a piece out glass out of the furnace

Our time in Italy is now over, but I thought I would share something a bit different from what we may see in the US.  Below is the nutrition label from a bag of potato chips we bought in Italy.  In addition to all of the numeric data, they add the picture to the right which suggests that kids should eat these in moderation.   That is all fine and good advice but then they add a drawing of a large child on a teeter totter that is apparently heavier than 2 smaller kids on the other side.  I guess they figure they can use it as motivation to eat healthier.  

Nutrition label on bag of potato chips
 Next stop; Austria.