9/21/17

Things to Read - European Vacation Reading

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Since we planned a month long vacation before we left (and while we were "on the road") I figured it would be good to learn more about some of the places we were going.

FLORENCE

The House Of Medici: Its Rise and Fall - So much of Florence still references the Medici family (who ruled Florence for approximately 400 years, give or take) that reading a book about them gives context to the whole city - from the naming of buildings to the art in the museums. Knowing the stories made the city much more fun. (And, in retrospect, I wish I would have found books for the kids on the Medicis as well).

SARDINIA

Cosima - Other than D.H. Lawrence's The Sea and Sardinia, I had a hard time finding a good book involving the island (and I'm not a huge Lawrence fan).

Then I discovered Grazia Deledda (still totally confused why it took so long to find her, hello patriarchy). Deledda, who won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Literature (wow!!), wrote novels and stories about people on the island.

I chose to read Cosima, Deledda's semi-autobiographical novel of a little girl growing up in small town Sardinia. Cosima is both enraptured by her birthplace's beauty and frustrated by her town and family's embarrassment over her writing and creative life.

This was a really good book, I'd love to read more Deledda in the future.

PRAGUE

Prague Winter - Madeline Albrights' memoir/hisotry book tells the story of World War II through the perspective of Czechoslovakia. If you already know the history, this book may seem redundant, but I learned a lot and Albright continually asks the reader to question how they would have acted under similar circumstances.

VIENNA

The Radetzky March - As best summarized by Amazon, "The Radetzky March, Joseph Roth's classic saga of the privileged von Trotta family, encompasses the entire social fabric of the Austro-Hungarian Empire just before World War I. The author's greatest achievement, The Radetzky March is an unparalleled portrait of a civilization in decline, and as such, a universal story for our times."

At times, I found the story a little dull and the characters unbelievable. But the story itself is a good one, worth a read.

COMMUNISM

Secondhand Time, the Last of the Soviets - I must admit, I still haven't finished this book, as I find I can only read chunks at a time before I have to turn to something else. But that doesn't mean I don't love it. It's just too intense to read for long periods of time.

Svetlana Alexievich, who won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, compiles her "fiction" by interviewing common people, then condensing and editing their stories. Her works are referred to as histories of emotions.

The stories are fascinating. And sad. If you want to know what life was really like under the Soviet Union, then this book is a must-read.

Just one of many great quotes, "I asked everyone I met what 'freedom' meant. Fathers and children have very different answers. Those who were born in the USSR and those born after its collapse do not share a common experience - it's like they're from different planets. For the fathers, freedom is the absence of fear . . . A man with his choice of a hundred kinds of salami is freer than one who only has ten to choose from. Freedom is never being flogged, although no generation of Russians has yet avoided a flogging. Russians don't understand freedom, they need the Cossack and the whip. For the children: Freedom is love, inner freedom is an absolute value. Freedom is when you're not afraid of your own desires; having lots of money so that you'll have everything; it's when you can live without having to think about freedom. Freedom is normal."

9/20/17

Places to Go (Vacation) - Europe 2017 - Part VII - Lake Bled, Slovenia

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Lake Bled was the second-to-last destination on our 10 city tour of (mostly) Eastern Europe. By this point, we were all pretty tired of traveling and ready for home (in case you haven't noticed, I tend to go overboard when vacation planning, next year we're taking things down a notch).

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In order to keep everyone's spirits up, I booked a treehouse at a fancy glamping resort (seriously, how cool is this place?). Or maybe that was just because I've always wanted to glamp. On the upside, I loved our little treehouse - waking up surrounded by trees and the sound of the brook was awesome. On the downside, it was SMALL. And by this point we were all getting on each other's nerves.

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We arrived during a cold spell, so the pool was freezing. But the kids still tried.

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At first I was upset that the treehouse had a tv, which seemed contrary to all my ideas of glamping/camping. But the kids were thrilled - especially since Slovenia doesn't dub, they just subtitle. So the kids watched Liv and Maddie in English while I had a massage, followed by cocktails with Dan at the restaurant. And on our last night in the treehouse we all stayed up late to watch Reese Witherspoon do her thing in Sweet Home Alabama.

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On our first night in town, we walked the circle path around the lake (it's only 4 miles and totally flat), which was great because tourists fade away once you're northwest of the lake and you can really appreciate the beauty. (The town of Bled is pretty hideous, but the lake is gorgeous).

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When the group photos look like this, it's probably time to go home.

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Nightfall on the lake.

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On our second day, we hiked/walked/explored the Vintgar Gorge. The walk itself, through the hills, was gorgeous. But the gorge was the most crowded nature-based tourist attraction I've ever encountered.

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The treehouse had a net for chill-axing. But F and P mainly used it for pillow fights.

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Another night at the pool.

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For our last day in town, I thought we'd drive up to Lake Bohinji (rumored to be less crowded) and find a good hike. But the ski resort in Bled had a ropes course that P really wanted to try. So we hiked up their instead. Unfortunately, the wait times were too long (3-4 hours) for us to stay, but we rode the luge down which was a total vacation highlight (well, for everyone but Dan).

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In the morning, we dropped off our rental car and headed to the train station to reach our final destination - Vienna, Austria.

9/18/17

Places to Go (Vacation) - Europe 2017 - Part VI- The gorgeous seaside town of Piran, Slovenia

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I knew we'd be tired after visiting three cities in five days, so I booked a house by the ocean in Piran, Slovenia - a small town full of winding passageways (similar to the Amalfi Coast) and amazing views.

Based on the airbnb photos the house looked nice enough, but those pictures didn't quite do it justice. The views were phenomenal as were the gardens - T kept eating grape tomatoes off the vine, while F and P fought over the hammock. All three kids called it the nicest place we've ever stayed. They even hugged me and screamed "thank you! this place is amazing. we never want to leave!" (moments like this don't happen everyday).

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Eventually, we navigated the maze-like corridors and made our way into town (luckily Piran is a small city, so it's not too hard to find your way). The town doesn't have a sand beach, so everyone sunbathes on the concrete.

I love how women in Italy all wear bikinis, regardless of body size or age.

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At night, we walked to the church behind our house to watch the sunset.

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For our first full day in Piran we decided to do nothing. And after three weeks of travel nothing felt pretty wonderful.

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In the afternoon, the girls and I explored the "beach" and F accidentally dropped my iPhone in the ocean. I feel like every vacation has a turning point where you all of a sudden become ready to go home and for me this was it. We still had a great final week, but navigating Vienna without a cellphone left me a little drained. Though on the upside I became much better at reading maps.

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And at night, Dan made dinner and we watched the sunset again. (Sorry, I know the color is inconsistent in many of these photos, I've been experimenting with new development styles and these photos were the guinea pigs).

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The door to our house. I love how it looks so plain from the outside, making the gardens feel like some sort of secret.

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We spent our second day in Piran exploring the area - hiking up to a town in the peninsula's interior and then walking back along the coast.

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We discovered a free modern art gallery while walking along the ocean.

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Piran is definitely the prettiest town along Slovenia's coast. The other towns had more of a cheesy-resort feel.

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Apparently, in order to convince T to spend an afternoon reading all we needed to do was take him on vacation for three weeks. Oh, and buy the I Survived series.

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We never tired of this view.

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Throughout the afternoon, it rained intermittently. We tried to walk to the beach, but kept getting caught in 10 minute downpours.

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Still reading.

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During one such downpour, we ran into this restaurant, which ended up having some of the best food of our vacation. So so good.

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Finally the rain stopped and we swam for awhile.

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Ideally, we would have loved more time in Piran, but we still had two more cities left to explore. So we packed up the rental car and headed to the mountains to visit Bled, Slovenia.

More photos later this week . . .

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