Wednesday, August 23, 2006
In between Greece and Wales the kids spent a week, for their second year, in sailing camp. They really enjoyed it, and while I don't think they have become exactly sea worthy they're certainly far ahead of any nautical aspirations I may have had in my youth. The only boating I did as a kid involved a 6' boat and a pair of oars.
Alex is clearly enjoying the best part of sailing camp - the ice cream they give them when they graduate.
After Crete we briefly returned to Stockholm to enjoy some of the fantastic weather which was a fairly steady phenomena all across Sweden through June, July and most of August. But duty called upon us to venture to Wales for a visit to our new "caravan" and some surfing.
The location we operate from is on the Gower Penisula, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary as the first place in the UK to be named a place of outstanding beauty. While some of the photos may not adequately convey its splendor, I assure you it is breathtaking.
The first photo, as you may have guessed, is the controversial "caravan". Also known as the trailer, that thing, and a host of unmentionables, it served us well during our two weeks there.
The initial journey was the kids and myself, sans Sofia. After traveling to Heathrow, Paddington, and then Swansea we darted off in our rental car as my brain tried to again adjust to narrow lanes and being on what is frankly, the wrong side of the road.
The weather had been sunny until we got to Swansea were there was some cloud cover. But upon reaching the beginning of the Gower penisula, the rain began. So as I fumbled around looking for the windshield washers, face pressed next to the glass, dodging the occasional sheep and cow, enjoying the lively traffic hand gestures the Welsh give special enthusiasm to, I began to contemplate two rainy weeks in 400 square feet of aluminum with three energetic 6-year olds.
With this thought in mind, I pulled into a Tesco and filled a shopping cart with a startling quantity of beer, wine, cider, scotch and a random bottle of vodka. Nick Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas" would have been telling me to stop. Along the way I cheerily added a few frozen pizzas and snack with which to bribe my young tribal travel companions.
My arsenal thus acquired, I returned to the road for the final white-knuckled few miles. "Why white-knuckled"? you might ask. When the mirrors on either side of your car are within a few inches of the hedge, and encounters with surfers traveling rapidly in the opposite direction are frequent, the grip on the steering wheel approaches a force equal to the weight of the car squared, times the number of children screaming.
In spite of some interesting motorized physics experiments, we arrived, stirred but not shaken.
The rain continued to fall as I called Sofia, who at that junture was probably having to surpress her laughter with a large pillow. The weather in Sweden was great I was informed, and with that she wished me the best of times (Very cruel) and was off to enjoy her solitude. During a subsequent call to my Welsh friend Steve, I was encouraged to believe that the weather was, in fact, temporary. Given a dozen prior journeys to Wales, doubt was my constant companion.
Yet, in the morning the clouds had parted and the sun was shining. Blazing in fact. Once the kids were up and dressed I gave them a tour of the grounds. They loved the playground, the sand dunes, the beach and most of all the store at the top of the hill, and its endless supply of candy.
That afternoon we took an extended walk on the beach during which the kids tossed at least fifty starfish back into the water that had been washed ashore in a storm. When Erika ran up to me holding only a dismembered starfish leg; inquiring about its likely survival, I realized it was probably time to head home.
Showing that grit for which I am famous, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to the restaurant in the caravan park for pizza. They graciously agreed.
After our culinary outing, the kids settled in for a movie and I, in turn, for a beer. We were content.
The short version (for which I'm sure you're thankful) is that we had amazingly cloudless skies during the entire trip. Temperatures approached and breached records on several of the days we were there and we went through two bottles of sunblock inside of five days. Sofia arrived at the end of the first week and despite some initial misgivings ended up having a great time. We all enjoyed it so much that next year we are going for three weeks. Best of all - every one was consistently getting up on their surfboard by the time we left.
The balance of the photos...
2) Sunset from our patio
3) Erika and Alex enjoying one of the seemingly endless sand dunes
4) Dad showing the kids the finer points of billiards
5) Alex about to surf
6) Karl riding away
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The day after the kids got out of school we jumped on a flight to Chania, Crete. None of us had been to Greece before so we were all very excited.
We arrived at almost 11pm, and since we were some distance from the airport, I arranged to have the rental car folks escort us to our rental house in Gavalohori. This ended up being a life saver as we had several miles of twisting and turning up and down hillsides until we got to our house.
When we arrived I was stunned. Generally rental homes which look nice online, look good when you get there, but there is always a mental depreciation calculation made beforehand to avoid being disappointed. This house was absolutely great. In addition, they really went the extra mile to look after us. If you are ever headed to this part of the world I recommend you check them out at www.eladin.gr.
Aside from the photo of the house:
1) The kids looking out at the beach and sea at Almirida. We snapped this while waiting for what ended up being among our best meals in Crete. There is a cautionary tale - in Crete, at least where we went, check out the restaurant before eating there. We found the quality of food and service to be highly variable.
2) The kids playing in the sand at Georgiopoulus. We spent three days at this beach, finding it a little more fun than Almirida, with more dining selections and more to do. Not that the kids noticed the difference much. Although, they do remember the first restaurant we went to and have spoken about it numerous times since. FWIW - there is a small restaurant right on the river (which runs into the sea from behind the beach). The restaurant looks cool and peaceful, which it is. However, the service can only be measured with a calendar, and the food was of a flavor and consistency that could be surpassed using a boiled stone. When your six-year old children tell you that the french fries are bad, there is a serious problem. On a positive note, we did find some lovely places just up the road along the boardwalk with excellent service and food.
3) This is another photo of the kids is from the beach at Georgiopoulus. An excellent beach with dramatic hills to the west and a clean river running diagonal to the beach and cutting across it to the sea. In the interest of doing something new and fun we got the kids inexpensive rafts that they used to float down the river into the sea (and then run back up and do it - again and again...)
All in all a great trip. One of the highlights, for which I could not get a decent photo, was a midsummer celebration they had in the village the final evening...
We were going out that evening to a taverna, where we had become friendly with the staff, one being an Aussie woman and the other a Swedish woman. Our kids had wanted to go there to play with their children. When we arrived to the town square they were building small fires in the road for the children to jump through (much safer than it may sound) as the adults looked on and listened to a small ensemble play Greek folk music feverishly in the background. The frenetic combination of the kids running around, the music, and a large dose of ouzo made for a magical experience. It was capped off with a midnight race up the very steep hill to our house, after which we all had a dip in the pool, dried off and promptly collapsed into our beds.
Speaking of "life" - I think we treasured ours much more after making a daylight trip back the airport. The twists and turns we so breezily sped through on our way to our village were all at the edges of steep unforgiving cliffs. Needless to say, our journey back took a little longer than our evening arrival.
Monday, July 31, 2006
The kids school, Bjorknas, has a little celebration on the last day of school. While I must confess nothing close to this happened when I was in school (they sort of booted you out the door or perhaps that was just me), it is a nice way to make the kids feel they accomplished something.
The top photo is Alex, in pink, with some friends, the next photo is Erika who is about to begin singing a song with her classmates, and lastly there is Karl tentatively receiving a hug from a girl in has class. If he knew that having on the internet meant the world could see it, he would likely poison me. Instead he will find out later and hit me up for the psychotherapy bill when he is a teenager.
On to the vacation...
Thursday, May 25, 2006
In spite of endless ridicule and incredulous comments the caravan in Wales is now ours. Because I neglected to take my camera on my first visit (post-ownership) I downloaded some photos from the web instead.
The first shot is from Rhossili toward Llanngenith. The caravan park is where the hill ends as you look from the right side of the photo towards the middle. Not surprisingly, the caravan park is called "Hillend".
The next photo is from the midway up the hill out toward the Worm's Head which is accessible at low tide. The wildlife includes an abundance of seals which you typically see playing in the water on a walk out to the end.
The middle photo is also of the Worm's Head with the village of Rhossili visible to the left.
Pentultimate photo - surfing the Gower.
Final photo - a photo of a tidal pool in the Gower.
To set the record straight:
- The Gower (where the caravan is located) was the first place in the UK to be named a place of outstanding beauty.
- The Lion's Head pub is an enjoyable one mile walk up the road.
- The surf, while not in the league of pipeline or other "epic" surf spots, is consistently in the 3 to 5 ft range. I'd venture that the average surfer would prefer that to 10ft to 20ft range as death isn't always at your side in the former class of waves.
- There are walking trails throughout the penisula.
- Yes, it does rain there. Though Aug/Sept tend to be sunny and splendid.
- I am unrepentant!
Saturday, May 13, 2006
After we returned to a happily snow-free Stockholm, it was time to go out to see what progress has been made on the new house we are building here.
They got the site prepared very quickly. Esp. considering part of the prep work was blowing away a large area of granite (where our backyard will now be).
The house goes up quickly since they build pieces of it in rural Sweden (cheaper labor and some tax breaks), and then ship the whole thing to the site along with a large crane which lift the pieces into place. They went from a poured foundation to having the tar paper on the roof in one week. Nice.
The house we live in now is great and the location is amazing, but has some obvious areas that need renovation, which given my eye for detail drives me a little nuts. The idea of a nice new house where everything works properly has me a serious countdown mode. (Roughly 195 days to go)
We had never been anywhere quite like NYC with the kids. Thus, we were apprehensive about how things would go in the hotel, as well as when we walked around the city. We were only there for about 24 hours, so we thought "what could go wrong". Gotcha, this time things went perfectly. The photo was taken at Rockefeller Center.
We got to our room at the Affinia 50 in Midtown East (highly recommend it by the way) and checked into a nice suite with an decent size outside terrace. Went around the corner and got some sandwiches and milk for the kids, and some wine for Mom and Dad. After the kids ate they dozed off, having been on the go the entire day.
Sofia and I quickly accessed the internet and found a highly rated Indian restaurant that delivered. We took a table and chairs and set up a little dining al fresco area on the terrace. Ten minutes later we were nibbling away on great food, enjoying good wine and taking in the sight and sound of NY. It was a nice reprieve from a very "kids" oriented trip.
The following day, we took the kids to Times Square, to Toys R' Us. (the transformation of NYC over the last twenty-five years is remarkable - who would have thought of a family outing to Times Square back then???) Upon arriving we informed them that they all had $50 to spend, and they could get whatever they wanted.
What a study in human behavior. They really got the idea of prudent allocation quickly. While their styles varied, I was impressed by how they thought through their choices. Karl went more for a couple of more expensive things that he really liked. Alex got a couple items which were somewhat expensive and mixed some small items with that. Erika was all about quantity. She didn't buy anything over $10, and she had the most items by a wide measure. Nonetheless, they all left very satisfied with the outing and have high hopes this will be an annual event.
The rest of the trip was running around trying to make sure that anything we needed back in Sweden could be bought in NY. Even leaving aside value added tax, Sweden can be stunningly expensive for some items. Our shopping trip concluded with the purchase of an additional piece of luggage to haul the goodies back to Scandanavia.
After our memorable journey to Florida, we next headed to my father's house in Akron, OH. We were met by some truly remarkable spring weather. Temps were in the low 70s every day, and there was hardly a cloud to be found in the sky. Nice.
The highlight of the Akron trip (according to the kids) was the Easter egg hunt we had for them in my dad's backyard. They thoroughly enjoyed the initial "hunt" and proceeded to rearrange the eggs several times in the backyard for each other and even put some eggs around the house so Sofia and I could have our own Easter egg hunt.
We had a nice relaxing time and it gave us a chance to rest up after the, well you've already heard enough about it.
Next stop, NYC!
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
On April 3rd, my 45th birthday, the kids and I flew to the US to join Sofia, who had already arrived. As with any vacation, hopes ran high. We began our trip with a misunderstanding.
I thought Sofia knew when we were arriving, well she did too actually. Guess you know what is coming. We arrived, and Sofia was not to be found. At one point I figured she had taken her newly minted Master's degree (USF - Poli Sci) out for a drink, or several. Given the exhaustion of myself and more importantly the kids, we adjorned to an old neighbors house, so we would at least have more comfortable surroundings.
Finally, after a few scotches (me) and calls to the area hospitals and the morgue, Sofia arrived. We wasted no time in departing for our waterfront condo, which we would call home for the next ten days. Sleep came quickly for one and all, and we were all glad to be out of the Swedish snow.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast, departed for the pool for a couple of hours, and then returned to our old neighborhood for a bbq and party. The time and libations passed quickly. When our daughter Alex informed Sofia and I that we needed to go at 10pm we figured we better head out. Once again, we returned to our cozy condo and tucked in for the evening, with no harbinger of the day which awaited us.
The following day began much the same. Pool activities, a big breakfast, the usual vacation fare. Later in the day at around 2pm, Alex complained of an upset stomach and shortly thereafter drifted off to sleep on the sofa. I was nearly asleep myself, when Alex violently awoke by vomiting across the sofa and floor. A first we put this down to a little too much over clorinated water being swallowed at the pool. But it quickly became apparent that there was more to it than that.
She had gotten the rota-virus, which I suppose most parents have encountered. But given the symptoms, which include the body pretty much rejecting anything new coming in and giving short shrift to anything still inside, along with Alex being particularily wore out from the trip, by evening she was so dehydrated she could no longer stand. Off to the hospital she went with Sofia, where she remained for the next thirty-six hours on an IV.
It merits mention that this virus is highly contagious. Though we were lucky noone else got as severely ill, we had quite an interesting week after that. Its been quite a while since I was so happy to reach the end of something.
The trip had a superb ending though. On the final full day, everyone was back in fighting form. We thus proceeded to Busch Gardens for a whirlwind tour of the facilities, then to our old house (where the new owner had graciously invited us to use the pool) where the kids met up with friends from their kindegarten class for a little pool party. The evening was topped off with another bbq party with our former neighbors. In spite of our recent maladies, we carried on until nearly midnight, when the kids (OK - maybe it was me) had reached the end of their energy.
The best part is how the kids describe the trip. "We were a little sick, but we still had fun." Amazing how the brain is programmed to keep us focused on the fun in life. My memory of it is a little different, but on the whole, I'd say that description captures it.
Two notes. First, the photos are "after shots". Second, if you our ever fortunate enough to have great people as neighbors - treasure it. Many of our best friends live within the few blocks surrounding our old place in FL. It would be hard to find as nice a group of people within such a small geography anywhere. Here's to all of them.
Friday, March 31, 2006
This would be sad and pathetic if it wasn't so absurd. The photo on top was taken on March 29th. Had a whole "Spring Has Arrived" entry mapped out in my mind. It was a beautiful day, and the snow was melting away and all the Swedes were smiling.
Alas, I awoke this morn to find this was only a cruel hoax, an early April Fool's joke. As the photo on the bottom will attest Winter was just taking a little "breather" and had returned to powder the trees, hills and valleys with its vile snow. When taking the kids to school this morning, the smiles seen yesterday? Gone. The mood was somber. Even Erika proffered "Daddy, it snows too much in Sweden". Indeed.
The only solace is that on Sunday the kids and I will fly to FLORIDA! We will be joining Sofia who left this past Monday. To say I am looking forward to it would be grossly inaccurate. This journey has become a spiritual trek, me to my Mecca. The thought of standing with my feet in the warm sand is mesmerizing. You get the idea.
Florida photos coming soon!
Friday, March 17, 2006
Just back from Santa Catarina in northern Italy. The Alps were remarkable, and the skiing was wonderful. Add in the Italian culinary zest and you have a vacation which leaves an impression in your mind and another belt notch utilized on your pants.
With lift tickets at 25 euros a day and a very nice hotel for 75 euros a night, what's not to like? The only negative was our first day on the slopes which was incredibly windy. As in GALE force. This made skiing much more challenging, a sort of alpine Marcel Marceau imitation.
The remainder of the trip there was no wind, blue sky, and crisp clean snow. This led to an excess of skiing, followed by an excess of eating and drinking. Cycle repeated daily.
In order to avoid sounding like some ad for a lifestyle channel or a paid employee of the local chamber of commerce, I'll stop here. One final thought: If you have a chance to go to Santa Catarina and stay at Baita Fiorita (owned by Italian Gold Medalist Deborah Campagnoni's parents) - GO!
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Long time, no post. Been back to the U.S., down to Costa Rica with a little visit in NYC for some VAT exempt shopping.
While in Costa Rica I went out a couple of days and looked at property. My initial impression? Fantastic value, great climate, blah blah blah. After a little investigation about their real estate laws, which make the wild west look like an anal rentitive Swiss banker, my enthusiasm was dampened considerably. For instance, let's say you find a great property of 1,000 acres, and there are certainly some of them out there. If someone decides to 'squat' on your land, you will lose some, or all of it to them. Yes, they must be there more than three months for the initial title challenge, but if they manage to evade detection for a year, you're most likely up the proverbial creek.
A shame really, the country is very pretty, relatively safe, and did I mention the climate? If they were to reform their laws to provide land owners a bit more safety, FDI would jump I'm sure. But with a myriad of legal trapdoors awaiting a casual investor, it is buyer beware in very serious way.
OK, enough soapbox action, enjoy the photos. One more locale that earns the "a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there" prize.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Yesterday as I was getting ready to drive the kids to school I was greeted by this amazing sunrise. This of course required my racing back to the house for the camera and then spending far too much time fiddling with exposure setting to have the picture "look" like the sunrise. In the end, a satisfying result.
Pity that it is so darned cold. We got close to a foot of snow in the past few days. Certainly makes driving more interesting.
On an related note, we had been having problems with our print subscription to the Financial Times aka "Tim's English Lifeline". About ten days ago I was on a mission and mailed the letters editor since I was getting a load of "can't be done" from customer service. (Interesting how folks can behave so contrary to the name of the department they inhabit). In any event delivery was reinstated, though I was told the reason delivery had been halted was that the delivery person had gotten stuck trying to get back up the hill from our house. This was a bit strange to me since both we and a neighbor traverse that hill multiple times daily without event.
Thus, it was with guilty amusement that I noted this morning that this same delivery person had slid into a ditch just up the road from us. How he managed it is beyond me since the plows had been through and dropped sand as well. The only thing I can come up with is that he is freaked out that he'll get stuck, so he did exactly what you shouldn't do, panic. Needless to say, I think an online only subscription is in my immediate future.
Shouldn't a delivery person in Sweden be able to drive in snowy conditions? Its been over twenty years since I drove in this sort of weather, but it isn't much more than an annoyance. Ah well, the beat goes on.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Was in London on January 29th, and went out in the morning for a bit of breakfast and a walk. Much to my surprise I walked right up on the Chinese New Year's parade. It was, frankly, not the most organized parade I've ever seen (that honor probably goes to Macy's) but it was good fun nonetheless. Perhaps in the spirit of inclusion they also had a few folks in Caribbean Carnival attire (see the person in the white costume above).
Why London? Well after staring at snow-covered ground in Stockholm for four weeks straight, I thought it was time to go "snow free". Yep, that's right, cold turkey. Oddly, I experienced no withdrawal symptoms. Even stranger, London had sunny blue skies the entire weekend. People give you a look of disbelief when, in response to their query about your tan face, you reply "Got it over the weekend in London."
Not much else to report from our northern post. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
In Sweden everyone, at least the ones with Swedish names, have a name day. January 24th was Erika's. We celebrated by having some extremely wonderful rolls (as in, watch my ass expand before your eyes), and she got some small gifts. I don't think most parents go to the same extent here, but considering the kids don't get their own celebration for birthdays, it is a nice chance to single them out for attention. Karl's is coming up in a couple of days and Alex has her's in February. Then our cash flow steadies until August when they turn seven.
Sometimes I get a bit sentimental about the kids current innocence. Obviously at some point they are going to glimpse beyond the cosy little world they're in and realize that not everyone is nice, and some folks are just plain evil. While I recognize the inevitability of this I can't help wishing they could have the bliss they experience now, forever.
They will likely compensate for this by becoming teenagers and raising my blood pressure to entirely record levels. But presently, there are moments when you wish time could stop and the feeling they've both got and given you could last for an eternity. Whether it is playing "Go Fish" with them and seeing how excited they are when they get a "book", or just watching them slide around the yard on their sleds. When does that world fade? Why?
Anyhow, time to wrap up. Hope all of you are smiling wherever you are.
Friday, January 06, 2006
In the summer we have a steady parade of boats going by the waterway in front of our house. Now that the temp has dropped and the water has frozen the locals have taken to their skates and are sliding by in increasing numbers. It is tricky business though and they generally use a guide who skates in advance of them so nobody "vanishes" under the ice. Yikes!
If you read the prior post, you know we had a great ski trip. Yesterday, the day of our return journey, was our 12th wedding anniversary. We knew that we'd be limited in our celebrating as we had a seven hour car journey to complete. But life is full of surprises. In this case we were given a special treat by our canine companion Patches.
About two hours into our journey Karl not so discreetly inquired if somebody had farted. It was confirmed through a survey of the car's passengers that noone had, in fact, "cut the cheese". However, a more detailed analysis determined that Patches, not one to settle for a mere gaseous emission, had elected to defecate in the aft compartment of the car. Thus the source of the odor had been identified.
Upon opening the rear hatch of the car, we were treated not to some conventional, orderly fecal arrangement, but to Patches' own artistic "Ode to Marriage" surrealistic smear. He was even thoughtful enough to include my ski jacket as part of his "canvas". Leaving me to ponder the depth of his message in frigid splendor.
In spite of a valiant cleaning effort, we were left to luxuriate in the odiferous confines of the car for another five hours. This added a dimension to long distance car travel that I hadn't really contemplated previously. If you're one of those intrepid souls who think seven hours traveling in a car jammed with luggage, three six-year old children and a dog over ice covered roads isn't quite challenging enough: then I highly recommend it.
The final solution, try to keep laughing (which somehow dampens your sense of smell), keep the windows slightly open (in spite of the 7 degree temp outside), and document the glorious occasion with a photo of the cleaning process.
In the photo you will notice a small part of Patches contribution to our marital bliss in the lower right hand corner. Also note the damningly guilty look on Patches face as well as the cheerful amusement of the kids.
In spite of a great deal of trepidation, we took the kids skiing. The last time we went, about three years ago, was a total disaster. Karl got very sick and the girls refused to even put on their ski gear, let alone go to the slopes.
This time things went much differently as the photos can attest. The kids all made it successfully through three rounds of ski school and "graduated" from the bunny slope to the T-lift which took them halfway up the mountain. In the final analysis it was the best family vacation we've ever had, thus we are currently looking into returning for a week in February.