Mallorca: Photo Journal

Here are a few highlights from our October trip to Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. While it’s definitely been built up in a touristy way, Mallorca is truly a beautiful island, and there are lots of treasures to find. Like these:

You would not believe this bird park. We totally stumbled across it—-it was literally across the street from our hotel, but clearly other visitors had made a pilgrimage. There were some serious birders hefting cannon-sized cameras and telescopes. Unfortunately we didn’t really know what birds we were seeing, but we loved it all the same. The marshy setting is spectacular, and at several points there are hides, which are kind of like little dugouts from which you can watch birds unnoticed. Cool, eh? 

 

Alcudia was the nearest “old” town near our hotel, so we went there a lot, exploring the ruins of the Roman wall and enjoying Mallorcan variety fried-in-front-of-you donuts.

Below is one of my favorite finds in Alcudia. Can you just imagine what’s behind this door?

I also loved poking through the market.

I’ve never been a huge olive fan, but when you’re in Spain, it’s practically a sin not to eat them, and I became a bit of a convert. I’d never seen virgin olives in the flesh before.

Mallorca seems like a dream now that the weather has turned bitterly cold.

Newsflash! I finally finished the Cuppa Cuppa duvet cover. Hoping to photograph it soon for you. Now inching along with this patchwork project. I’ve  also picked up a knitting project from five years ago that I had given up on. Five years! Has it really been five years?! Hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile, my YA novel is also inching along in revision.

Have a great weekend!

That Berlin Buzz

What a hip, creative vibe Berlin has. Like a really smooth espresso—cranks you up but doesn’t make you jumpy.

I was there in July and wished I could bottle the buzz and take it with me. It made me want to write, paint, photograph, disco!

Twenty years after the reunion of East and West Germany, Berlin is still re-inventing itself. It’s bustling with construction: here’s a photo taken from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), with a view of all the cranes going outside it:

One of my favorite spots this visit was the dome of the Reichstag, the home of the German parliament (the first shot above is looking up through the open dome).

The original dome, which was destroyed during World War II, was also glass and steel (see below), but the current one (below the original) looks like something from The Phantom Menace.

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Look inside the dome in the next photo. It’s actually open to the elements, so snow and rain enter the center column (the part that looks like a mirrored tornado) and get recycled.

The glass dome is meant to be symbolic of transparency in the present-day German government. But it also struck me as such a symbol of the city and of modern Germany itself. The über-eco space-age cupola joined with the damaged historic building feels like what Berlin is all about.

The New York Times had a debate recently about where young Hemingway would go to live in 2011. Paris again? London? Two debaters (of five or so) voted for Berlin, and I’d cast my vote for Berlin, too. It’s a magnet for creatives these days in part because it’s much more affordable than other big cities.

Holly Becker of decor8 recently wrote a post about creatives living in Berlin. She highlights a German website, Freunde von Freunden that gives sneak peeks into artists’ homes.

For some fascinating photography of historic Berlin (and other European) sites, check out this post by annekata post here. She highlights the work of two photographers who specialize in merging war-time and modern photographs. The effect is mind-blowing.

(Sadly, annekata is no longer blogging, but she’s left up her posts, which are chock-full of inspiration).

Below is a shot from an East Berlin neighborhood where we visited an old family friend. The whole place was hopping with energy and a sense of humor.

For everyone who’s been wondering where I’ve been, I’m back. We’ve done lots of traveling this summer, and I hope to share some more about that soon. The kids are both back in school as of today.

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about my travels within Germany, check out these posts:

Chillin’ at the North Sea

Castle Storming in the Mosel Valley

Christmas Magic at Bueckeburg Castle

Day Trip from Hannover: Celle

For other travels in Europe, click on the “Travel” category.

*The two photos of the exterior of the Reichstag are from wikipedia.

Danish and German Flea Market Finds

I could just about feel the flea market in Copenhagen pulling me across the street. Come look! Cool bargains you won’t find anywhere else! Luckily, the family obliged for a few minutes, while I gasped over the budget prices for vintage Danish ceramics.

If you’ve ever been in Copenhagen, you know it’s not really a place for bargain shopping. So I was excited to find the blue Mother’s Day and the black/ white Bjørn Wiinblad plates. Just a few euros a piece for perfect souvenirs.

I’ve been interested in Bjørn Wiinblad since discovering his work in the pages of Holly Becker’s new book, Decorate. Jonathan Adler, whose home is featured in the book, collects Wiinblad, and I just love the zany, humorous figures. BTW, if you want some totally awesome inspiration for your home, get Holly’s book. I’m thinking about just setting up camp in its pages.

The Wiinblad plates are from a 12-month series. I got October and December.

The blue Mother’s Day plates, which are about dessert size but designed for hanging, are Royal Copenhagen from the 70’s. They made one of these plates for each year between 1971 and 1982.

The other two plates (playing children/ animals) I bought at a charity shop here in Hannover. They’re children’s china, something you find a lot more of here because children are expected to use “real” plates, not plastic, as well as real silverware and glass glasses. I just couldn’t resist the one with the children playing. So cute.

The animal plate cracks me up because the wolf is smoking a pipe—-such a taboo nowadays, especially on a product for children. This plate was made in East Germany. I’m not too worried about it turning my son into a delinquent.

The kids love their plates, and I’ve planned a spot on the wall for the Bjørn Wiinblad ones. I’m still looking for a home on the wall for the Mother’s Day plates.

The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl was a lot of fun. This was an event blog where SCBWI members across Europe sketched and wrote all day on Tuesday and shared their creations on the same blog. Here’s my entry here, but make sure to check out the others. It’s really interesting to see where people were all across the continent.

I’ve been missing NPR lately and listening to a bunch of old Fresh Air interviews over the web. Favorites: Jason Schwartzman, Chloe Sevigny, Jason Segel, and Ted Danson. I guess I’m feeling like listening to actors. We’ve been watching HBO’s Bored to Death on DVD (with Schwartzman and Danson). It’s always surprising to hear about an actor’s real life—-like, not the tabloid stuff but the nitty gritty, their insecurities. A lot of those in my list have other legit creative pursuits besides acting, too (writing, fashion, music), which I find fascinating.

Hope to see you again soon. School is almost out for us, which means posts may be a bit more scattered, but I’ll be here as much as I can.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out this other one about thrifting here in Germany.

Colors of Copenhagen

Everyone had told me Copenhagen was beautiful, but it still surprised me. What a classy city. The Danes are a people dedicated to beautiful design.

We were lucky enough to have gorgeous weather, and the blue sky just heightened all the colors.

I highly recommend taking a canal tour. It’s a great way to hit all the highlights and besides is just fun, too. The kids enjoyed it but got a little restlesss toward the end of the hour.

This beauty is hanging out under a bridge or overpass-type thing:

No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a stop at Tivoli Gardens, the 19th century amusement park right in the center of downtown Copenhagen.

An inspired Tivoli treat: churros with custardy softserve. Mmmmm….

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out my other posts about Denmark here and here.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark

Just north of Copenhagen, overlooking the Baltic sea, lies the stunning Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

With its strong collection, amazing view, and inviting layout, the Louisiana instantly made my top three list of favorite museums ever. The only ones I’ve visited that even compare in awesomeness are the Apartheid Museum in Capetown and the Metropolitan in New York. I felt a little like pulling a Claudia Kincaid (in From the Mixed Up Files)—-maybe I’ll go back and move into one of the exhibits. There was this super-cool fort/treehouse type installation. I think that would work.

It’s called  My Home My House My Stilt House by artist Arne Quinze.

Here’s the view from the museum:

I’d been told that in general, Danish museums are very family-friendly. The Louisiana definitely is, with lots of space to run around, outdoor exhibits, and an entire wing devoted to children, where they can make their own stuff. Like this:

My favorite exhibit was a collection of iPads and iPhones displaying David Hockney’s recent digital work. It’s called Me Draw on iPad, and it really blew my mind.

I admire anyone who’s always worked with traditional materials but is willing to try something new. It had never occured to me to try to sketch on my iPhone. He started by sketching sunrises on his phone because he felt the phone’s luminosity made it the perfect medium for the subject matter.

He’s been sketching daily on iThings for a few years now and shares his drawings with friends.

I’m drawn to sketches because I love to see the artist’s hand, which you’d think might feel missing from digital work. Not here. In fact, the most mesmerizing thing about the artwork, besides the fact that it glows, is that you can watch it in progress over and over: the drawings come together in motion as they were drawn, color by color, line by line.

The exhibit also includes a video of Hockney sitting in the museum cafe, drawing the view on his iPad. I could’ve watched it for hours. He says he doesn’t know how to sell any of the pieces and feels they belong on the screen, not on paper, but I would totally have bought prints or even a DVD.

In the exhibit literature, there’s a scan code where you can download one of the drawings onto your smartphone. Check out some of Hockney’s drawings here.

More on Copenhagen soon.

Eat Me I’m a Danish


Funny fact: the food most of us know as the “Danish” is called “Viennese bread” (wienerbrød) in Danish. Supposedly an 18th Danish baker went down to Austria and learned to make the flaky pastries there.

I was never much one for Danishes, but after our trip to Denmark, I’m a convert. The real McCoy tastes like a smashed croissant with jam and shaved almonds on top. This one was still warm from the oven.

It was really lucky our hotel wasn’t serving breakfast on our last morning, or we never would’ve discovered this bakery. It had so many exotic, amazing-looking treats we were flummoxed over what to order. The bakery line was long, though, so there was no time to spend drooling over each delicacy.

The food in general in Denmark was…..interesting. I understand there are some world-renowned restaurants in Copenhagen. These we didn’t get to and probably didn’t get a very broad experience of Danish food. We did have a nice cafe lunch with traditional open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød. Don’t you love the slashed Ø’s? I do.

We also had some truly stellar burgers at a little cafe near the beach. Then there was the meal at the Greek/ Spanish/ Italian restaurant that also offered an Asian buffet. I know! I know! We should’ve known better, right? But there were very few restaurants in the area, and it had been recommended by a local. Sure enough, it was quite busy with locals. Let’s just say we were really bummed we hadn’t gone for a second burger instead.

However, we ended on a high note with these breakfast treats.

I’m thinking this is where Cinnabon must’ve gotten the idea. Like, let’s recreate this, but on steroids. 

I managed to learn about three words/ phrases in Danish, but every attempt to use them was met with amused smiles. Not the “you poor tone-deaf idiot” smile but the “why on earth would you bother learning that?” smile. Everyone  seemed equally amused when we asked if they spoke English. Of course! came the reply.

It was interesting, though, to try to figure connections between Danish and  German and English. I could make out a few.

And I’ll take smiles for my three words of Danish, thanks very much. So far anyway, it’s never hurt to try.

More on our trip to come, and soon, a guest post from my friend and fellow children’s author, Joyce Moyer Hostetter.

8 Tips for Traveling with Little Ones in Europe

Tip Number 1: Leave them at home!

For real. Unless you have a few weeks on your hands, think about it. Do you really want to drag a jet-lagged toddler to the hours-long line at the museum you’ve always dreamed of visiting? 

But you have your reasons, you say, and so do we. Since we’re living here in Europe for awhile, when we go on vacation, it’s usually on this continent. And it’s been great fun to explore  as a family, although a bit different from how we’d do it as a couple.

On to the real tips. These are a few things we’ve learned to help maximize the fun and minimize the stress. Maybe these ideas will help you.

1) Consider the countryside or small towns over big cities

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not avoiding the biggest cities altogether, but in general we find it’s much easier to navigate smaller towns with small kids. The pace of life is a bit slower, and people seem more understanding of children. It’s easier to find your way around, which makes everything else a little less stressful. And of course, there are fewer crowds.

2) Rent an apartment, or look ahead for family rooms or suites

Can you sleep in the same room with your darlings? Well, lucky you. We can’t. Luckily, there are options for light sleepers like us. We’ve done a lot of house/ cottage/ apartment rentals. These allow more space for sleeping as well as cooking facilities and often laundry facilities, too. This is usually more affordable than staying in hotels, too.

It does take more work to find a rental than to find a well-known hotel. For me, the benefits are worth it. We have had success with the following websites:

Home Away

This by far my favorite website when it comes to finding rentals because it’s well-designed, easy to use, and infinitely searchable. Covers every country all across the globe. In most cases, you rent directly from the owner.

National Gite Registry

This site used to have an English version, but currently I can’t find it to save my life—maybe it was removed? If you’re looking to rent in France, especially on a farm or vineyard, this site has everything. Google translate, if not completely fluent, is your friend.

Rent-a-Villa in Tuscany

This site/ agency is easy to use and designed for the English-speaking traveler in mind. An added bonus: you can order meals to be cooked in your villa—-so convenient with the kids.

I also hear good things about interchalet.co.uk. It’s another well-designed site, but I haven’t rented through it personally.

Rental options are often but not always limited to rental by the week. If you can’t find an option for a shorter stay, or you don’t need separate rooms, or you want a more full-service experience, look for “family rooms.” Hotels usually have limited numbers of these, so it helps to think ahead.

3) Book a fun place to hang out

Traveling with small children usually means you’ll spend some time sitting around while your kids sleep, whether for naps or at bedtime. We’ve found we feel a lot less trapped if we book a place that isn’t just a crash pad. If we can enjoy a view or sit on a pretty porch or balcony, we don’t mind (so much) having to settle in early for the night. Add a glass of wine and good book and you’re all set.

4) Plan ahead

We’ve found in general here that you’re expected to book anything (hotels, restaurants, museums) well in advance, and you might miss out if you don’t. This is not the land of the last minute. We recently booked a place two months in advance and were told it was a “last-minute” reservation. You’ll have a LOT better luck with restaurants if you make reservations a day or more ahead. Also, many popular attractions have a book-ahead option. You can reserve a time slot and save hours of line-waiting. Totally worth it.

While you’re thinking ahead, try getting the kids interested in the history or artwork of a place before your travel. It goes a long way in keeping their attention. Look for children’s books related to the city or country you’re visiting.

5) Beware safety issues

As an American, I was used to having lots of rules telling me where I could and couldn’t take my kids. You don’t find that much here. Often it’s nice, because you can make up your own mind. However, there have been times when we took our littlest one on an adventure that, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the best idea for him (i.e. high places with little in the way of railing). So, check things out before you climb because chances are, no one is going to stop you from doing something risky.

6) Research the local restaurant culture

Every country seems to be different on the whole restaurant scene, and it helps to know what to expect. In our year in Europe, we’ve found only one restaurant that provides crayons and a coloring page. Definitely bring your own. Some restaurants will have a children’s menu, but many don’t. We’ve gotten good at figuring out how to adapt a menu for children. Most restaurants will work with you on that.

While we’ve found establishments to be pretty tolerant of children, many just aren’t adapted for the under five set. In France and Italy, for instance, we found no restaurants that opened for dinner before 7:30 p.m., and a lot opened even later.

Also in France, you are expected, almost required (by the way the menu is set up) to order four or more courses. It’s fabulous, but it’s a long time to entertain your little ones while you try to enjoy the food. On our vacations we’ve done a lot of eating out for lunch and then making a light supper at our apartment.

Always make reservations. The best places get filled up quickly, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stroll in and find a table. Unlike American restaurants, European ones often only take one seating per table per night, so once they’re all reserved, that’s the end of them. The nice part is that once you have a table, you can take as long as you like.

In addition to restaurants, make sure to visit the produce markets, which are a wonderful way to enjoy the local food with the kids along.

7) Together, learn (at least) the politeness words in the language of your host country

Not only is it fun, and, you know, polite, but words like “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “please” go a long way when your kids are laughing too loudly or diving under the table at a nice restaurant.

8 ) Think outside the tourist attraction

That museum you’ve always wanted to see? It may be a little hard to do with your little ones. Maybe you’ll want to swap off kid-duty with your spouse. Or maybe you’ll want to try what we do, which is to look for attractions that have an interesting outside component. This doesn’t mean limiting yourself to playgrounds and amusement parks, though those can be fun, too.

Many historic sights and even museums have outside grounds that are just as fabulous as the inside, if not more. Having a little space to run around can make all the difference between a great time or a stressful day.

Have fun planning your trip! If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read other posts about places we’ve enjoyed as a family in Europe:

Germany:

Hamburg, Celle, Mosel Valley, North Sea, Bueckeburg Castle

The Netherlands:

In and Around Amsterdam

Italy:  Siena, Pisa, Volterra

Lady Madonna, Baby at Your Breast

 

Madonna del’latte, Ambrogio Lorenzetti c. 1330
 

I really enjoyed the museums in Siena in part because they were small enough to manage with children, and not so packed. But the best part was their troves of early Renaissance art. I like the early stuff because it’s not so all-fired perfect like the late Renaissance art. During the early period, artists had figured out a few things about perspective, but they hadn’t yet cracked the whole code. 

The art from the early period also seems brighter and more colorful than the later Renaissance. I find myself relating to it because it’s more like what I’d want to create myself. Perfection in artwork doesn’t really interest me that much, probably because I’m living after the invention of photography. So the beautiful but imperfect early Renaissance paintings (as well as pre-Renaissance works) have an almost modern feel to me.

Disclaimer: this isn’t an all that scholarly perspective, so bear that in mind.

St. Bernardino Preaching, by Sano di Pietro (above)—This scene takes place in the same Piazza del Campo from my previous post. I couldn’t find a better image of it, but in real life the colors are much brighter. The building behind St. Bernardino is the color of papaya flesh. 

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(detail from The Siege of the Castle of Montemassi, by Simone Martini)

The image above is just a tiny bit of a beautiful and famous painting. You can see the artist has made an attempt to show the dimensionality of the castle, but it’s still a bit flat, with an almost cubist feeling. I love it.

Our favorite pieces in the museum were the nursing Madonnas. I had never seen anything like them and was so moved by their tenderness. Whoever thought of Mary breastfeeding Jesus? Evidently plenty of artists have, but I hadn’t. I found the images so intimate, so human. So different from some other Madonnas where she’s looking away from baby Jesus, holding him like she’s not sure whose kid this is but would someone please take him?

Evidently there are a lot of these lactating Madonnas from 14th century Tuscany. According to Wikipedia,  they were “something of a visual revolution for the theology of the time, compared to the Queen of Heaven depictions.”

Madonna del latte, Paolo di Giovanni Fei

“During the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, a decree against nudity was issued, and the use of the Madonna Lactans iconography began to fade away.”

Sigh. At least they didn’t burn them.

The coolest thing about seeing these paintings was how much my small children responded to them. I think the idea of baby Jesus being so like themselves, so like other babies they know, excited them.

The images above came from wikipedia and wikimedia. They are in the public domain, and the paintings themselves all reside in Siena.

p.s. My post about Pisa was featured on Freshly Pressed (the wordpress front page roundup) this week, so this little blog got a lot of new traffic. Welcome, new subscribers!

People-Watching in Siena

At the heart of Siena lies the famous Piazza del Campo*, flanked by restaurants and historic buildings. During our few days in Siena we  crossed through the piazza again and again. We enjoyed eating pizza at the edge of it while watching people come and go.

Wow, Italians are sharp dressers. We played at being The Sartorialist, looking for classily-dressed locals we’d award for their fashion sense. The older gentlemen really know how to do it up—a common theme: thin (cashmere?) sweater, button-up shirt, blazer/ jacket, pants, nice leather shoes. Always nice shoes. It is Italy.

Though Siena is popular with tourists, we didn’t find it jam-packed or difficult to navigate. People are friendly, and the restaurants are great. The architecture and general ambiance are charming. Like most of the Italian towns we visited, you’re not allowed to drive in the city center unless you’re a local. The ancient narrow streets just aren’t built for car traffic. You begin to see why motorcycles and mopeds are popular here.

At every single restaurant (was it a rule?) we were given brown paper placemats. It looked like drawing paper, so I couldn’t resist sketching. The kids had their colored pencils along, so we were all set.

The food came before I could finish anything (terrible problem, I know).

I was excited to eat at an official Slow Food member restaurant, Hosteria il Carroccio.

Our other favorite restaurant was La Sosta Di Violante. We ate there twice it was so good, and the staff was very friendly.

One more Italy post and then it’s back to regularly scheduled programming.

*It’s also the scene of Siena’s famed twice-yearly horse race, Palio di Siena.

Secret Messages in Pisa

Maybe it’s all the cameos in spaghetti sauce commercials and movies  (was it Superman II where he straightens it?) but Pisa’s famous tower struck me as surreal, like we’d stepped into a fantasy world. The white stone buildings of the piazza, which we’re guessing had been cleaned recently, really glowed on the day we visited.

The kids called it the “Bendy Tower,” which is actually pretty accurate, since during its construction, the builders tried to correct for the leaning (already apparent) by centering the higher layers on top of the original foundation. Sounds like something I would do with one of my craft projects. So it really does bend. I kept thinking of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.

No kids under 8 are allowed to go inside the staircase, which disappointed the kids but was fine by me. I often enjoy the outsides of buildings more than the insides anyway.

It’s a little surprising there’s a rule—-most sights in Europe have no restrictions about children, leaving you to make up your own mind. I understand this and appreciate it, but coming from  the super-litigious culture of the U.S., I’ve gotten used to someone else making those decisions for me. At times we’ve been a little confused as to what was really appropriate for the kids.

While the tower was mesmerizing, my favorite thing in Pisa was the exterior of the cathedral next door. The tower is the bell tower for this cathedral. The stones that make up the cathedral are all different sizes and materials, which I found kind of crazy and awesome. Some of them are recycled from other buildings. You can see writing and designs that are now upside down and cut off:

From my reading, I understand the upside-down stuff to be recycled Roman stonework.

Here’s some other writing that must’ve been added after construction, but its placement seems kind of random:

And then there’s the graffiti (another word in my oh-so-extensive Italian vocabulary) scattered around. I guess in the olden days if you wanted to be a graffiti artist, you had to carry around a knife or a chisel or something. If you really wanted to have a lasting impact:

It seemed like these were little hidden messages waiting to be discovered. For someone interested in recycling, patchwork, writing, and printing, it was really cool.

I haven’t had a chance to do much research on the writing and recycled stone, so if you know of articles about it, let me know.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to take a look at my posts about Volterra and two about Siena: here and here.