31 December 2011

Cup of Coffee Road Trip, Day 6

TODAY'S PLANNED ROUTE:  Bratislava, Slovakia - Verona, Italy.  710km.  (Staying in a friend's apartment since he is away for the holidays).  New Year's Eve, Romeo and Juliet Style.

[Update: because of our slight change in itinerary, today is going to be a long day.  In addition to the drive we're going to squeeze in a few hours in Vienna.  Not long enough, we're certain, but enough time to grab a cup of...well, you know.]

30 December 2011

Bratislava Loves Satan

THAT'S MIROSLAV SATAN, to be specific -- and it's pronounced Sha-tan.

Satan is a former All-Star and Stanley Cup Winner who played on 4 teams in the National Hockey League in the States.  He was a very good player for about 10 years, scoring 40 goals on at least one occasion.  Now, at age 36, he plays in the Slovakian Extraliga for HC Slovan Bratislava and is currently the third leading scoring in the league.  I know this because a) I'm a sports nerd who knows stupid things like this, and 2) I saw him play last night.  The Exraliga is one of the top leagues in Europe and the whole family went to a game against Dukla Trencin.  HC Slovan Bratislava won 3-0.

It was a home game so we're not sure why the team bus was out front.
Seven rows from the glass.  Ticket price: 6 Euros.  
Watching the action.

The aforementioned Satan.
Jumbo-tron says it all.  HC Slovan Bratislava wins 3-0.
I swear this game was purely a coincidence.  In no way did I plan our 'Cup of Coffee Road Trip' around the fact that the Bratislava team would be in town while we were.  Scout's Honor.

Funny Bratislava

THIS IS CZECHOSLOVAKIA.  We'll visit three cities on the Danube during our little trip and today was the second: Bratislava, Slovakia.  Though it is the large downtown castle that dominates the skyline (see left), we found the most charming part of the city are the various, somewhat random bronze sculptures that are positioned around the old section of town.  We learned that they have become one of the main attractions in Bratislava and the number of people lining up to take photos with the statues sort of confirmed this fact.  People love them because they are fun, almost funny (as you'll see).

The streets of  old-town are littered with coffee shops and little boutiques and the large square in front of the National Theater has been transformed into...you guessed it...an outdoor public ice rink.  That's always good in our book.
Actually, not one of the statues, but a couple of cute figures outside a craft store. 
Posing for the statue aptly called 'the photographer'.
This sculpture, called 'Cumil the Peeper', is of a sewer worker taking a break and watching people pass by.  Our kids, of course, thought he looked like a "guy from World War I" so they got into firing position around him.
Seem appropriate that we get a photo with 'the French Soldier'.
Oh, look.  I even got in a cup of coffee in Bratislava.  Why is this guy taking my hat?
Downtown Bratislava
What a fantastic city -- one that is surely underneath the radar of most people traveling around Europe.

Cup of Coffee Road Trip, Day 5

TODAY'S PLANNED ROUTE:  Sort of a rest day again, but the plan is to spend the day in Vienna, Austria. [Update: Switching plans a bit and will do Vienna tomorrow.  Today will be spent in Bratislava].

29 December 2011

Coffee, Cottage Cheese, and Chocolate

DAY TWO OF two in Budapest today.  Cold, great, beautiful, yummy!  First of all, yes, I had a cup of coffee in Budapest so let's just get that photo out of the way:

But the real treats came a bit later at the Christmas market where we tried a few traditional Hungarian food items, such as: 

Lángos - a sort of bread pizza.  This one is cottage cheese and dill.
Yes, cottage cheese and dill "pizza".  Fantastic!

For desert we had a few bars of Túró Rudi -- which is basically cottage cheese (curd, really) covered in a thin layer of chocolate.  How is it possible that Kerri and I went 40 years without havingchocolate covered cottage cheese?  

The incredible market near the river.  Two levels, masses amounts of fruit, veggies, and meats.

The market from the outside.  One of the most beautifully decorated buildings we say.

Pretty Amazing During the Day, Too

YESTERDAY I POSTED a photo of the Budapest Parliament at night.  Today during out bus tour we got to see it from across the river during the daytime.  Just as spectacular!  [Note: At first, I was upset the lady in the photo was in the way -- but Kerri has convinced me it's a cooler shot with her there. She's right].

Cup of Coffee Road Trip, Day 4

TODAY'S PLANNED ROUTE:  Budapest, Hungary - Bratislava, Slovakia.  200 km.

28 December 2011

Not Much Rest on our 'Rest Day'

NO POINT, REALLY, in trying to describe the beauty of Budapest in a short blog post.  It is, quite simply, a stunning city -- especially at night.  We went full-tourist and got one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours and it was worth it (as it usually is, we have found).  The company we used also had a boat option so we took the night tour along the Danube and the trip was simply incredible.  I'm usually not big on superlatives, but 'most beautiful city I've ever seen at night' might fit in this case (a quick search of Google will bring up some gorgeous photos).  Of course, we did other things as well:

Certainly the largest ice rink I have ever seen.  Six hockey rinks can fit along the width of this skating area near Hero's Square.

Naturally, we had to skate.
Won't use a superlative this time, but I've never seen a better Christmas market.
Already forgot what these are called (someone might be able to help).  Basically, it's BBQ rotisserie pastry dough
with cinnamon and/or sugar sprinkled all over.
One of the fantastic bridges that spans the Danube and connects the old Buda with Pest.
My very average camera only got one or two good photos during our night boat tour.  This was one of them: the Budapest Parliament building.
Oddly enough, I haven't had my 'Cup of Coffee' yet, partly because we have a kitchen in our hotel/apartment so Kerri and I had coffee 'on the inside' today.  But I'll get that cup before we leave tomorrow afternoon.

We Love This Apartment

ACTUALLY, WE LOVE being in the city.  Our apartment/hotel is on a main road in the heart of Budapest and we're especially fond of the view:  nothing special, mind you, but just a great city street.

Bedroom 1: Cute, clean, simple, comfortable.

(Photo taken out -- I'll explain later)

Cup of Coffee Road Trip, Day 3

TODAY'S PLANNED ROUTE:  We'll call today a Rest Day.  Spending the entire day in Budapest, Hungary. O km.  (Scroll down for photos from yesterday).

27 December 2011


LOTS OF BORDER crossings today.  We got out of the car for a photo at a couple...  We've made it to Budapest and are in our cute little 2-bedroom apartment where we will stay until Thursday.  After 1370km in two days, we're ready for a day without the car.

We were told these were Croatian specialties.  Whatever they are, they were fantastic.
Walking around Zagreb at dusk.

It's Not Called the 'Cup of Coffee Road Trip' for Nothing

SOME PROOF AND evidence from our trip.  All of these photos were taken today...
Trieste, Italy - 9:42am
Ljubljana, Slovenia - 11:45am
 (This was actually tea, not coffee.  But it was a traditional Slovenian tea that
 resembled hot, sweetened iced-tea.  Fantastic.

Zagreb, Croatia - 3:30pm

Henry getting in on the action.

Cup of Coffee Road Trip, Day 2

TODAY'S PLANNED ROUTE:  Trieste, Italy - Budapest, Hungary (with Cup of Coffee stops in Ljubljna, Slovenia and Zagreb, Croatia).  440 km.

26 December 2011

Auto Updates

I SEE THE auto-update function is working fine.  I've pre-written updates for each stage of our trip in case we find ourselves without internet access.  Those updates should appears at 7:00 each morning.  Each day the planned route will be posted, and if we find the time we'll try to update the posts with a few photos.

Here we go...

Cup of Coffee Road Trip, Day 1

TODAY'S PLANNED ROUTE:  Le Rouret, France - Trieste, Italy.  745km.

25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

OURS STARTED AT about 4:45 thanks to the long-standing tradition in our family the children wake up at an hour normally reserved for farmers on Christmas morning.  It's a bit harder to do when you are the parent, but after a big mug of coffee, Kerri and I were ready to go and we felt like we were 12 again.  (That changed to feeling like we are 75 a few hours later, but that's not the point).

We had a wonderful morning and we hope you did too.  Merry Christmas.

Tomorrow we head off for a bit of a road trip so we still have a lot to do before this Christmas day is over.

24 December 2011

Cup of Coffee Road Trip

THIS WILL MAKE more sense if you've already seen this post about our upcoming little road trip.  Without revealing exactly where we are going, the following clues might help if you want to guess.  Here is some pre-trip information:
  • We will be gone about one week.
  • We will cover nearly 3000 km
  • Including the country we live in, we hope to drive through 8 countries, six of which the kids have never been to before (Kerri and I have not been to at least 4 of them).
  • We will spend nights in 4 different countries
  • We will be in some countries only long enough to have a cup of coffee (almost literally) and buy a refrigerator magnet to add to our collection.
  • We will not always be able to use Euros
  • We will be attending a professional ice hockey match
  • New Year's Eve with the Montegues and the Capulets?
  Almost too easy, I know.  Guessing the direction we will be traveling is probably the easiest part.

Road Trip 2011

THIS YEAR WILL be the first time we have celebrated the holidays "on our own" since moving to France. Over the past few years we have either gone back to the US for Christmas (once) or welcomed parents/in-laws/brothers (3 times).  Since we are alone this year we have decided to make use of the second week of vacation and embark on what we are calling (and by that I mean what I am calling) our Cup of Coffee Road Trip 2011.

As is often the case, I am utilizing a vague sports metaphor to convey a concept or idea; and as is also often the case, the metaphor doesn't really work -- but I'm using it anyway.  In professional sports it is common for minor league players to get a chance to play a few games with the top-level club when they are young -- perhaps because a top-level guy is injured or perhaps just to give the young player a bit of experience.  This is sometimes referred to as "having a cup of coffee" in the big leagues -- as this completely made-up dialogue illustrates:

Veteran Bill:  Hey rookie, life is pretty good up with the big club isn't it.
Rookie:  Yeah, it's pretty sweet.  But the GM tells me I'm going back down at the end of the week.
Veteran Bill:  Oh, so you're just here for a cup of coffee?
Rookie:  Huh?

Our trip will sort of follow that same theme:  short stays in countries where we have never been  (get it: just long enough for a "cup of coffee"?).  Because we never really know how long we are going to be here, we decided to just get in the car and go see some things we haven't seen before.  Where are we going?  Well, that will be unveiled as we go.  A few friends and family know some of the details of our trip, but most do not.

Coming up in the next post:  Cup of Coffee Road Trip 2011 Guessing Game!  Stay tuned.

22 December 2011

McDonalds to the Rescue

ONE OF THE many things I miss about life in the US is easy access to public internet connections -- WiFi.  In France it is very difficult to find places where you can plop down with a laptop and get free access to the web.  Unless, of course; you are at a McDonalds; one of the few places in this country that opening touts ts Wi-Fi Gratuit policy.  I know the need for these kinds of hot-spots are decreasing because of smart phones and iPads, but there are times (like today) when I am not able to be at home and I need to get some things done and I just need an internet connection.

I'm trying to get some research and writing done while Kerri and Julia do some last minute shopping.  Normally I would have just stayed home but we wanted to take our car to the garage for a check-up before next week so we had to take both vehicles.  But rather than tag along on the shopping excursion, I had myself dropped off at a local Micky D's where I will now surf the net get some work done.

Time to dig into Russia's recent WTO accession.  Fun times at McDonalds.

20 December 2011

Vive l'Italie?

EVERY TIME WE go over to Italy, I wish we went more often.  If for no other reason, the prices.  Just a few minutes from the French border you can find huge pizzas for 4-5 euros and parmigiano-reggiano cheese for nearly half the price of the same cheese in France.

Yesterday was Kerri's birthday so the kids decided "Lunch in Italy" was a good way to spend the afternoon.  We went to one of our favorite small villages -- Dolceacqua -- and tried to eat at pizzeria we have been to on a few occasions but it was closed do to the fact that it was...Monday.  So, we crossed over the 1st century bridge that leads to the old section of the villages and ate at another little place just off the main square.  Three large pizzas, a four-cheese gnocci, salad, bottled water, and a terrific fresh-tomato bruschetta later, I paid the 35 bill and we got ready to present Kerri with one of her gifts:  a stop at the local Lidl (a sort of discount supermarket here in Europe).  You can get fantastic bargains at Lidl stores in France, but the deals are even bigger in Italy.  (Just one quick example: I bought a case [15] of canned tomatoes for 4.35.  It was like being at Cosco!).

We gotta go more often.  Oh, turns out we'll be going again in less than a week.  More on that later.

Photo: arial view of Dolceacqua, Italy -- just 7 km north of Ventimiglia.

18 December 2011

Normal Sunday?

IT'S SNOWING OUTSIDE, we have no heat (the guys who came on Friday apparently forgot to switch something back on), the electricity keeps going on and off, a fire is raging in the fireplace (well done, Kerri), the women of the house are baking Swedish pastries, Henry is roller-blading around the house, and Patrick is dressed like Ebeneezer Scrooge (slippers, robe, flannel pants, night cap, and walking stick).

All in all, a fairly fun Sunday so far...

14 December 2011

Join Us for a Free Concert

MY SERIOUS MUSIC playing days a long over, but I still enjoy getting together for some tunes from time to time. For the past couple of years I've been playing on-and-off with a group from a neighboring village that plays a lot of traditional provençal music. This fall we decided to get a bit more organized (even got a new name -- Cante'Music), arranged for a few concerts around the area -- mostly in village squares, churches, and at local festivals. This Saturday evening we are playing a Christmas concert at the old Chateau in Le Bar-sur-Loup that will feature a lot of different kinds of music: traditional local, Christmas, Irish tunes, even a couple Beatles numbers for fun. The group features people from the U.S., England, France and Italy and songs are sung in English, French, Italian, and provençal. Perfect. (Hint: the two Americans and the Englishman all teach at the CIV).

If you're around and want to enjoy a bit of music, join us at 20h30 at the Chateau de Bar-Sur-Loup -- right next to the church in the old village.

As the publicity poster says: Entrée Libre

03 December 2011


OBVIOUSLY, POSTING REGULARLY on this blog is not high on my list -- but there are a few things to do before Christmas. We're going to be in France for the holidays, and for the first time, we'll we by ourselves. We're mulling some interesting plans for the holidays (what a tease!) and the plans are coming together. But for now:
  • Dig out Christmas decorations for the house (check!)
  • Put up wreaths, lights, etc. around the house.
  • Get Christmas music playing in the house 24/7 (check! -- over my mild objection)
  • Make Christmas lists (check!)
  • Head to Target, Old Navy, Crate & Barrel, Home Depot, Ann Taylor, Barnes & Noble to get gifts (Oh wait, we can't do that. Guess I'll go to Carrefour!)
  • Get Christmas tree (that's happening today)
  • Start baking Christmas treats (Julia is in charge!)
May try to keep up to date for a while on these (and other) items.