Tag Archive: expat



During this season of travel we had a wonderful opportunity to visit friends who recently moved to Dubai.  While looking for flights from Prague to India, we noted that many went through Dubai…in fact it was only $200 from Prague to Dubai! So we took the opportunity to visit our friends Mike and Catherine and their boys for a weekend. They live outside of the city, not far from the beach.

That's the Persian Gulf!

That’s the Persian Gulf!

I never thought I’d watch our son play with friends in the waters of the Persian Gulf!!

Also known as the Arabian Gulf in the UAE.

Also known as the Arabian Gulf in the UAE.

The next day our friends took us to see a camel race track!



Here are the race camels...

Here are the race camels…

And here's our gang:)

And here’s our gang:)

Catherine told us they once were invited to see a race.  She had expected to watch the race from the stands; however, she was surprised to discover that the race was watched while in a car speeding alongside the camels, yelling encouragement to your favored camel (go, Orange!!)…amongst other speeding cars full of people cheering for their camels!  Wish we could have experienced that!!

Apparently the camels are ridden by robot jockeys during the race...no, I'm not making it up!

Apparently the camels are ridden by robot jockeys during the race…no, I’m not making it up!



Next, they took us to the desert.  I mean, the real desert, with enormous sand dunes.  We got there by four wheel driving…slipping, sliding, and bumping our way over the dunes to “their dune”.  It felt just like driving across snow. There were no tracks, no parking lot, just follow the old race track and then veer off until we found this place…


The kids had a blast jumping off the dunes, running, climbing, and digging in the sand.  It was so soft, like baby powder!!





The adults enjoyed chillin' while the kids played...

The adults enjoyed chillin’ while the kids played…

Quite an amazing view!

Quite an amazing view!

We watched the sun get lower in the sky, but had to head home while it was still light.

We watched the sun get lower in the sky, but had to head home while it was still light.

Good-bye, desert!

Good-bye, desert!

Then there was a great sunset to top off a really great day as we headed home…


A big thank you to our friends for a wonderful couple of days!




The Bay of Kotor

The Bay of Kotor

We stayed for four days in Herceg-Novi, in Montenegro.  One day we decided to go for a drive around the Bay of Kotor.  Think Norwegian fjords, Hawaiian lush landscape, spectacular bays and crystal clear water…stunning!

We felt as if we were at a lake, because we were surrounded all around by mountains.

We felt as if we were at a lake, because we were surrounded all around by mountains.

We drove along the bay and decided to stop at the entrance of the town of Perast.

Ok, this was the view from the parking lot!!

Ok, this was the view from the public parking lot!!

We walked toward the little town of Perast, and found an area to go for a swim.

The water was clear and wonderful!

The water was clear and wonderful!

We dried off and visited the little town of Perast. It has a long and colorful past, dating back to 3500 BC with evidence of a Neolithic culture found in caves above Perast.  Other archeological finds include evidence from Roman and early Christian periods.



This little city has changed hands frequently over the centuries. It was part of the Byzantine empire in the 10th century.


It was a free city of medieval Serbia in the 1100’s.


Perast enjoyed a brief time of independence between 1395 to 1420.



It changed hands from the Venetian Republic of Venice and Hungarian control between the  1400’s and the 1700’s.


Perast was under French occupation in the 1800’s until 1914.



It was then ruled by Austria from 1914-1918. Perast became part of Yugoslavia in 1918.



Mussolini annexed the territories around Kotor to Italy in 1941. Perast later became part of Yugoslavia again after WWII.

Perast has been part of Montenegro since its independence in 2006. What a past this little city has!

The modern Perast has a sleepy, relaxed vibe with lots of character.  Perfect for a day trip to include a swim, a boat ride to one of the little islands, and a meal at one of the outdoor cafes!





Good-bye, Prague!

My favorite European city!

My favorite European city!

We left Prague two days ago, after three wonderful years here as expats.  Global Nomad Family is doing what our name says…we are picking up and moving.  For the next five months, we will be traveling…with no home base until January 2015.  Where will we be moving?  Follow along, and you’ll find out!

Leaving Prague has been. really. DIFFICULT.  I have really loved living here.  People save up their money to Prague for a vacation. The city is flooded with tourists year round.  We had the amazing privilege of living in this beautiful city. For example, this is my view as I take the tram to the dentist!

Prague=eye candy

Prague=eye candy

However, most of all, it will be the people and the friendships that I will miss the most. We have been blessed to develop friendships with Czechs and expats who are really fascinating people.

We will miss Riverside School: the teachers, the staff, the students and our fellow parents.  If you are moving to Prague with kids, do yourself and your kids a favor and enroll them in Riverside School.  It’s truly a special place with outstanding teachers and staff, great kids from dozens of different countries, and a wonderful community of parents where all feel welcome.


Nate waiting for the bus on his day of school.  I was choking back the tears!  Notice the castle in the background.

Nate waiting for the bus on his last day of school. I was choking back the tears! Notice the castle in the background.

June was an an extremely difficult month for me. It was a month of  good-byes.  The reality of leaving hit hard. I was absolutely dreading June 26th, the last day of school. It’s always a half day, with an end of the year assembly in which each child who is leaving is called up to the front by their teachers; the teachers tell why the child will be missed, and the child is given a class-made good-bye gift.  The moms sit in the back with dark sunglasses on and get all weepy…even when it’s not their child leaving!  Expat kids have to move often due to changes in their parents’ work circumstances, and this ceremony is a really healthy way to give the leaving children closure.  It’s also good for the children who aren’t leaving as it gives them a way to say good-bye to classmates.

However, I’ve always dreaded the day that Nate would be one of those kids up there, being the one said good-bye to.  It was really, really hard for me.  I was also afraid of how Nate would do…would that be the moment he’d realize the finality of the fact that we were leaving, never to return as anything more than visitors? Would he burst into tears like a little boy did last year when he was called up there?

The last day assembly.  This is the moment I had been dreading ever since we made the decision to leave Prague.

The last day assembly. This is the moment I had been dreading ever since we made the decision to leave Prague.

Thankfully, Nate was completely fine!  He sailed through it with smiles, and even spotted me in the back and gave me a big thumbs up!  He is such an amazing kid; so flexible, adaptable, and excited for new adventures.  He’s still at the age where we are his life and he trusts us completely.  Friends haven’t yet usurped the most important place in his heart.  We’ll enjoy that #1 spot for as long as possible!

I’ll also miss our wonderful flat, up on a hill overlooking the city.

We LOVED this view.  We are so gonna miss it!

We LOVED this view out of our bedroom and guest room windows. We are so gonna miss it!

Sunrise, from our window.   That's the Crown Plaza Hotel, built in the 50's during Communist times.

Sunrise, from our window. That’s the Crown Plaza Hotel, built in the 50’s during Communist times.

We initially came on a two year teaching contract.  We arrived with just six suitcases and three carry-ons.  We found this flat on our fourth day of looking, and immediately knew it was the one for us.  It was completely unfurnished, so we had to start from scratch.  As most expat teachers do, we went to Ikea and purchased the least expensive furniture. We didn’t want to invest in “the best” as we didn’t know if we’d be leaving in two years.  It was fun to start over; two years turned into three, and little by little our empty flat became a home.

Lots of good meals and fellowship around that table.

Lots of good meals and fellowship around that table.

We sold or gave away all of our furniture and household goods.  We kept only what would fit into six suitcases and three carry ons.  On June 30th, the movers came to take the remaining furniture to the new home of the teacher who will be replacing Andy. We worked hard to complete our packing and to clean the place to make it ready for the next people who will enjoy the flat on the hill…

Good-bye living room and kitchen!

Good-bye living room and kitchen!

We have had more than a hundred guests during our three years in Prague!  We love hosting people.  We’ve had lots of friends, family, and even people we didn’t know come to stay with us. We gave guests the biggest room with the spectacular view of the city!

Now the blue sofa is in the Riverside Boys' Dormitory!

Now the blue sofa is in the Riverside Boys’ Accomodation!

Better to dance than to cry!

Better to dance than to cry!

This was our room… European beds are always low to the ground, and the duvet sits on top like icing on a cake.

Most of our furniture was purchased by the teacher who will be replacing Andy.

Can we say IKEA?!i


Ljudmila helped me clean the flat.  We would have been cleaning 'til the wee hours without her help!

Lijdmila helped me clean the flat. We would have been cleaning ’til the wee hours without her help!

And Nate’s room…

The maps on his wall are from places we visited during our school holidays.  They are the only personal decoration items we are taking to our next living destination!

The maps on his wall are from places we visited during our school holidays. They are the only personal decoration items we are taking to our next living destination!


Good-bye, Nate's room!

Good-bye, Nate’s room!


July was a very busy month of packing up, selling all of our furniture and household goods, and working on a seemingly endless list of things to do.  It was stressful!  I like unpacking and nesting, but I don’t like packing and moving.  Finally, it was all done on July 30th.  We left it spotlessly clean, thanks to help from Lijdmila…and completely devoid of all evidence of the love, life and laughter that was ours here, in this lovely home.

We were so tired after cleaning and packing all day!  The built in closet was the only place to sit down besides the floor.

We were so tired after cleaning and packing all day! The built in closet was the only place to sit down besides the floor.

Prague will forever be in our memories: our amazing three years in this beautiful city, our precious friends, Riverside School, and our home on top of the hill.  Good-bye, Prague!  You will ALWAYS have a special place in our hearts!

Stay tuned for our upcoming adventures in Slovakia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia…

Enjoying a sunny February day in the old city of Kaleici in Antalya, Turkey

Enjoying a sunny February day in the old city of Kaleici in Antalya, Turkey

We recently spent six lovely days in Antalya, Turkey. It’s located on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Kaleiçi is the historic area of the town.  It started as a Roman town around 150 BC, and was named after it’s founder: Attalos II, King of Pergamon.  It later changed hands to the Byzantines, then the Seljuk Turks, and finally passed to the Ottoman Turks.

What view? Our oblivious 9-year-old:)

What view? Our oblivious 9-year-old:)

King Attalos III bequeathed his kingdom to Rome upon his death in 133 BC, and Antalya became part of the Roman Republic.

The port

The Roman Harbor

Antalya was visited by the Apostle Paul, as recorded in the book of Acts: “From Perga, Paul and Barnabas went down to Attalia and sailed from there to Antioch after preaching in Pisidia and Pamphylia” (Acts 14:25-26).

This harbor is where he sailed from!

Rows of pirate boats

Rows of  boats, capitalizing on the theme of Pirates of the Caribbean:)

Antalya was a major city in the Byzantine Empire. It was conquered by the Seljuk Turks in the 13th century. It was conquered by the Ottomans in the 14th century.

Lots of souvenir shops, of course!

Lots of shops

Carpet, anyone?

Carpet, anyone?

Kaleiçi is a lovely place to just wander through the winding streets.



The Broken Mınaret Mosque Kesik Minare has changed hands on multiple occasions through the centuries.  It was originally built as a Roman temple in the 2nd century AD.  The Roman Temple was later converted into a Christian church during the Byzantine era in the 7th century. It was converted into a mosque in the 13th century, and the minaret was added. Not long after, it was converted back into a church when Antalya was taken by the crusader king of Cyprus. It was reconverted yet again to a mosque, and has remained a mosque since!


Outside the mosque.


The Broken Minaret


Interesting courtyard…


Hookah, anyone?


What’s in there?


The equivalent of Prague’s John Lennon Wall?


Taken for his sister Sam and Star Wars fans around the globe:)


Taking it easy….

The modern city of Antalya started growing after World War II. It is located in a lovely location, surrounded by mountains, facing the beautiful Mediterranean Sea with its beautiful beaches.

Now, that's a view!

Now, that’s a view!

I was surprised to find out that Antalya, as the gateway to the Turkish Riviera, is in the top ten of most visited cities of the world!!! It has surpassed Istanbul as a tourist destination. It draws both history buffs and sun-seekers. Most tourists stay in the beach resorts in Konyaalti or Lara.

However, modern Antalya,with its tall buildings and large tourist developments along the coast, didn’t draw me like Kaleiçi did. There are lots of great day trips if you are based in Kaleiçi.  Check out these recommendations from Tripadvisor:


Just before sunset...

Just before sunset…

Avoid all those crowds…visit Antalya between September and May.  April, May, September and October are the best months to find nice weather without so many tourists.  We were there in February and enjoyed weather in the upper 60’s and it even hit 70 for a day.  Sunshine is amazing, especially after a cold winter in Europe!

Beaches, ancient ruins, the Mediterranean, snow capped mountains, sunshine…what’s not to like? Best of all are the friendly Turks and their wonderful cuisine. We’ll definitely be back!












Stylova Restaurant

Stylowa Restaurant

Nowa Huta was founded in 1949 as a separate town next to Kraków.  It was built on land taken by the Communist government, and was intended to be the ideal “proletarian city”. It was built for Communist propaganda and settled mostly by steel workers. We decided to visit this town when we went to Kraków in February 2012.

What are they looking at??

What are they pointing at??

Plac Centralny, or Central Square was intended to be the center  of the visionary socialist city of Nowa Huta.  We arrived here on public transport, and started looking for street names, so that we could find our way to Stylowa Restaurant.  We squinted to read the street sign from the far end by the tram stop…im Ronalda…Regana….WHAT??!!  We laughed when we realized that Plac Centralny was renamed after President Ronald Reagan!!

How ironic!

How ironic is that??!!

I later learned that there used to be a giant bronze statue of Lenin here, until 1989…when it was removed and later sold to Sweden!

The city plan

Nowa Huta means “New Steelworks”.

Hmmm, I wonder if the Proletaryat Koncert advertised below is organized for the tourists? Perhaps a little capitalistic use of the Communist past?


What exactly is a Proletaryat Concert??!!

We found Stylowa Restaurant not far from Plac Centralny.  Apparently it has been here since 1956.  In the communist heydey it was a high class (can I say that of a communist restaurant?) where the elite of Nowa Huta met: the party bigwigs, lawyers, engineers, and professors.

Stylowa  Restaurant has been renovated over the years, but they have tried to keep it like it was in the 1970’s.  Their website boasts: Socialist Realist interior is takeing our guests back to time of “Polish glory of socialism”…typo is theirs, not mine!



Nowa Huta and Stylowa Restaurant are definitely worth the visit…be sure to visit when you are in Kraków!


Château de Chenonceau

It looks like Andy is standing in front of a painted set!

We went to this lovely castle when we were staying in the Loire Valley when our daughter, Samantha, joined us in France in the summer of 2012. The Loire Valley is dotted with beautiful castles, but this was my favorite!


Andy is standing in front of the Pegasus fountain, where the “Do Re Mi” song was filmed.  Just to the right you can see the arched hedge where Maria and the children ran and sang.

Lazy travelers that we are, we arrived in Salzburg for a day trip from Munich around noon.  Our mantra when traveling is to have as few early mornings as possible! We found a great free iphone app called City Walk Salzburg Lite that helped us decide what we wanted to see in the short time we were there.  We also purchased a Salzburg Card for 23 Euros (11.50 for Nate), which allowed us to use all public transport and covered admissions to all the sights in this lovely city.


The Mirabelle Palace was constructed and the gardens were laid in 1606 for the mistress of the Archbishop!!

Next, we walked to Mozart’s Residence, where Mozart lived from the age of 17. It now houses a museum with important family memorabilia; including their library, portraits, and letters written by Mozart’s father. Mozart composed many of his works here!  There’s even some silly stuff…

Young Mozart

Young Mozart…hmmm, looks like a little boy I know:)

Next, we headed to Residenzplatz, where you can find the Residence Palace and Salzburg Cathedral.


The Residenzplatz

Later in the movie,  this square and its buildings are covered with Nazi insignia, after Nazi Germany annexed Austria. The story told in the Sound of Music was based on Captain Von Trapp’s strong opposition to the Nazis, and his decision to leave all that he owned and flee with his family to Switzerland.


Inside the Residence Palace, one of the most important historical buildings in Sazburg.

The Residence Palace started as a small bishop’s palace in 1120, and was enlarged over the centuries. The royal family of Austria and the Hapsburg rulers of Tuscany used it as their residence.


There is an art gallery where you can see paintings by Rembrandt, Ruben and Brueghel.

In The Sound of Music, Maria and the Von Trapp children ride one of the horse carriages for part of their journey across town, while singing “Do Re Mi.”


Looking out of the window from the Residence Palace.

Next, we went next door to Salzburg Cathedral.

my boys

My boys in front of Salzburg Cathedral.

This stunning baroque cathedral was built in the 17th century on the site of a Celtic settlement and part of the ruins of a Roman city! Excavations under the cathedral have unearthed mosaics and ancient artifacts.


The cathedral was consecrated in 1612.


Mozart was baptized in this cathedral, in a 14th century baptismal font which dated back to the earlier cathedral built on this site .

Next, we took the cable car up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress.


Hohensalzburg Fortress

This fortress is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe!  Construction began in 1077!!  It was built to protect the city during a conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.  It was under siege in 1525 when a group of Protestant peasants unsuccessfully tried to depose Archbishop-Prince Matthaus Lang.


The fortress is one of Europe’s best preserved castles.

When Napoleon occupied Salzburg, he used the fortress as barracks for his army, a dungeon, and storage depot.

It has an interesting museum of World War i artifacts.

It has an interesting museum of World War I artifacts.

Below is the view from the castle ramparts!


Beautiful Salzburg!

Next, we walked a little further to see Nonnburg Abbey, where the real Maria Von Trapp was a novice.   It was also where she married Captain Von Trapp (in real life, not in the movie).

Nonnburg Abbey

Nonnburg Nunnery is the oldest functioning convent in the world! It was founded in 713.

The Sound of Music scenes shot here include the opening part where the nuns are going to mass and singing “How do we solve a problem like Maria?” The performance for the song “Maria” was staged in the courtyard of the abbey. Later, the Von Trapp children came to the abbey’s gate to ask Maria to return to their home, but are turned away. The escape scene, with the cars parked outside the Abbey gate, was also shot in the original spot.

The courtyard of the abbey.

The graveyard of the abbey.

Andy and Nate are horsing around in the photo below, while I took photos of the stunning views.  Two days later we watched the Sound of Music together and geeked out when we saw the scenes filmed where we had just been!

My boys

This is right in front of the abbey, where escape scene took place!

We had the place to ourselves as it was getting towards sunset.


This is the view just behind where the boys are sitting in the photo above.

Next, we walk to St. Peter’s Church, the oldest functioning monastery in Austria. It was founded in 760 by  a Franconian monk! The present church dates back to 1125.

St. Peter Church

Mozart’s sister was buried in the St. Peter Cemetery!

Dusk was close approaching and we had to hurry back to the train station to catch a train back to Munich, which takes two hours.  We hurried down Getreidegasse, the most important shopping street in Salzburg.  Andy was happy that we didn’t have time to shop:)

Tall, medieval baroque houses line the street.  Mozart was born in one of the houses on this street!

It's fun to think that Mozart walked down this street!

It’s fun to think that Mozart walked down this street!

A day trip certainly was NOT enough for this beautiful city.  There are several must-sees that we missed. So, we hope to go back to this lovely city some day! For those of you who have been to Salzburg, what do you recommend?

The source of my wanderlust

Andy and Nicole in Salzburg, October 2013

Andy and Nicole in Salzburg, October 2013

This blog is about our adventures as expats living in the Czech Republic in the beautiful city of Prague.  In 2011, my husband Andy and I sold our home in the US, along with most of our belongings, and left for a new life and job in Prague with our son, who is now nine years old. Our twenty year-old daughter is in her third year of university in the US.

Andy and our daughter, Samantha, at Versailles, Summer 2012

Andy and our daughter, Samantha, at Versailles, Summer 2012

We travel frequently during our school breaks around Europe.  We’ve also recently been to Israel and Turkey, and we are planning a trip to India in the spring.  I am addicted to travel!  I feel more alive when I’m living or traveling in another culture. There are two possible reasons for this: my unconventional childhood and my unconventional grandparents, who passed their wanderlust and love of adventure to me.

Andy and Nate on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, summer 2013

Andy and Nate on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, August 2013

1.  My unconventional childhood.

I was born in the US, but lived in India for four wonderful years of my childhood (ages seven to eleven).  My mother was born and raised in India; she was born with Indian citizenship although her mother was Russian and her father was German.  My dad was an American businessman who met her in India; they fell in love, got married in India, and came back to live in the US.

However, my parents separated when I was seven years old.  So, my mom took me to live in Bangalore, India….”home” to my grandparents and aunt, uncle and cousin.  It was a wonderful place to grow up! We returned to the US when my parents reconciled after four years.  I experienced major culture shock going “home” to the US, whereas I had no culture shock when moving to India four years earlier.

Seville, April 2013

Seville, Spain, April 2013

I’m what’s known as a TCK: third culture kid.

David Pollack developed the following description for third culture kids:

 “A third culture kid is an individual who, having spent a significant part of their developmental years in a culture other than their parents’ home culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.”

In other words, it means that I feel more at home with others who have grown up in situations like mine….growing up as a foreigner in a foreign country. I love being an expat, developing relationships with other expats and Czech friends.

Parc Guell, Barcelona, October 2011, just after we first moved to Prague.

Parc Guell, Barcelona, October 2011, just after we first moved to Prague. A TCK raising a new TCK:)

2.  My unconventional grandparents, who passed on their wanderlust to me.

Growing up in another culture greatly influenced my development, values and personality. My Russian grandmother and German grandfather were eccentric, quirky, wonderful people who had a huge influence on my life.

Speaking of quirky, my grandfather was known as the “Popcorn King” of India, because he was the first person to introduce popcorn to the subcontinent of India.  Our house had a popcorn factory in it!!

You ask….how did a Russian and a German meet and decide to marry and raise a family in India, of all places?!!

Istanbul, where my grandmother had hoped to be sent after her escape from Soviet Russia.  Ironically, it is one of my favorite countries...I've been there six times!

Istanbul, where my grandmother had hoped to be sent after her escape from Soviet Russia. Ironically, it is one of my favorite countries…I’ve been there six times!

Tania (Tatiana), my grandmother, escaped from the Soviet Union in 1940.  She escaped with two Polish sailors that she had met while working as a nanny on a boat on the Caspian Sea. She had already been married three times; twice a widow and once divorced.  She had spent two years in a Siberian prison camp. She was determined to escape Soviet Russia.  She and her companions had a harrowing journey until they made it to Persia (modern day Iran).  She was asked if she’d like to go to Turkey or to the British; she said “Turkey” because it sounded more exotic to her.  Instead, they sent her to the British in India.

My grandfather was a German who went to work in Italy in the late 1930’s.  In 1938 he boarded a ship bound for Australia, to marry his sweet heart.  I still have the ticket!  The ship stopped in Bombay. My grandfather fell in love with India, and stayed. He never made it to Australia to marry his sweetheart! He got a job as a hotel manager (his profession).  He was later accused of being a spy because of a joke he had made, and the British put him in prison for two years.  Finally he was released to an internment camp in Satara, India, where he met my grandmother.

My grandfather loved to tell the story of the beautiful Russian woman who arrived at the camp without knowing a word of English…and he gallantly volunteered to teach her!  They fell in love, and after they both were released they decided to marry and raise their family in India.

Dresden: my grandfather's home city.  He left in the late 1930's.

Dresden, 2010: my grandfather’s home city. He left in the late 1930’s. Ironically, I lived just a two hour drive away!

So how does their story affect me today?  My grandmother’s favorite saying was “Carpe Diem”  which means “seize the day“. My grandfather spoke seven languages fluently. Their personalities were polar opposites, but they both loved to travel, and they had friends from around the globe.

I think that I inherited my love of travel, interest in other cultures and people from my grandparents. They passed it on to my mother, who also loved to travel. Growing up, we frequently had people visiting us from all over the world…we lived in California, and it is a popular destination!

My parents’ and grandparents’ legacy lives on in me. Andy and I have been practicing our “Carpe Diem” by living as expats in Prague, hosting people from all over the world in our home. In July 2014 we sold our belongings and we are now traveling, without a permanent home.  We are taking a mini sabbatical before moving to a new home, to be found, in early 2015.  Stay tuned to find out where that will be!



The best part of traveling for me isn’t the cool historical sights or beautiful nature….it’s the people we meet along the journey.   This past July, we had just finished a busy nine days of seeing many beautiful towns in Germany and Italy: Dinkelsbuhl, Fussen, Lake Garda, Vicenza, Verona, and Venice.  Then we packed up, and drove four hours to stay with our friends Brigitte and Louis, who live in a lovely home at the foot of the Alps, just outside Grenoble, France. We arrived just before sunset, and were treated to delicious home cooked French food with champagne.

The garden

Nate was delighted to have a garden to play in!

The next day we just wanted to chill out and hang around the beautiful garden and take in the views all around us.

The front gate

The front gate

Who needs to go sightseeing when this is out your front gate?  Just going for a walk down the street is “sightseeing”.  So that’s just what we did: Brigitte, Nate and I went for a walk.

Going for a walk

Our street

Just a few doors down, Brigitte’s neighbor has goats, chickens, donkeys, dogs, and rabbits.



Brigitte’s neighbor wasn’t home so we continued on our walk.





What a beautiful place!  Brigitte and Louis are very blessed to call this place home!  We headed back to their house, and stopped by the neighbor’s house who was now home.  Nate got to play on the tractor…..


and pet a donkey…which was quite exciting for a city boy!


We ran into Andy just as we arrived; he was heading out for a bike ride.

This is just outside the front gate.

This is just outside the front gate.

Brigitte and Louis invited us to eat lunch with them in their garden.  They thought we were a little crazy because as the week went on we wanted to spend a large part of it just hanging around their lovely home and garden.  Can you blame us?!!

Life is good here!

Good food, good cheese, good wine, good company…life is good!

We slept in every day, and rarely left the house before noon.  We went for a picnic next to a monastery that was just a short drive away.

We found a shady spot with a view.

We found a shady spot with a view.

The view!

The view! We were the only ones having a picnic, so we had it all to ourselves.

We shared the view with these friends:)

We shared the view with these friends:)

The monastery

The monastery

Just below the monastery.

Just below the monastery.

More stunning views as we headed "home".

More stunning views as we headed “home”.

We also enjoyed a couple evenings together with Brigitte and Louis’ next-door neighbors, with more great French cuisine and wine.  We had a great time talking, playing pool, and enjoying French beverages of all sorts, late into the night:)  Andy and Louis relaxed the next day, watching the Tour de France on TV.

The summer "dining room".

The summer “dining room”.

All meals included French wine, and were followed by French cheese.  My favorite quote (from Brigitte’s father, I think) I heard was ” a meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with one eye!”

While staying with Brigitte and Louis we also did day trips to Grenoble, Annecy and Mont Blanc.  I’ll post photos in future blog posts.

It was difficult to say good-bye to our wonderful hosts and leave this beautiful home.

It was difficult to say good-bye to our wonderful hosts and leave this beautiful home.

If you get the chance to visit this part of France, take it!  You definitely won’t regret it!! Thank you, Brigitte and Louis for such wonderful hospitality!

Enchanting Venice



This past summer we spent a week in Italy as part of a three week road trip in Europe.  We used Verona as a base to see Lake Garda, Vicenza, and Venice. We had been to Venice in April 2012; but once in Venice is not enough! So we went back for a day trip.


Did you know that Venice was founded by people fleeing the invasion by Attila the Hun?  Apparently the Huns hated going near the water.  Lucky for us:)

Venice looks like a magical floating city. Venice is an archipelago of over 100 islands in the middle of a shallow lagoon, at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea.  It was built by setting wood pilings on the 118 submerged islands.  We constantly felt like we were walking around a movie set!


Typical Venetian architecture

The best way to explore Venice is to get lost in the winding streets, crossing over picturesque bridges, and watching the gondolas go by.



The alleys are narrow because the real streets of Venice are the canals The main entrances of palaces and normal houses are on the canal-side.  Like other cities, Venice also has a parking problem of its own… there are too many boats and too few docking spaces.

Nik and me

We are on one of the 400 bridges to be found in Venice! Behind us is one of the 170 canals.

The Rialto Bridge was completed in 1591. Before it was built, people scoffed at the idea of building a bridge out of stone. Apparently, the following were common sayings prior to the bridges completion: “It will be constructed when I have 3 legs” or “I’ll set myself on fire if the construction is ever completed.”  The architect had a sense of humor because today you can see two people carved in the arches of the building beside the bridge: a man with 3 legs and a woman sitting on a flaming brazier!

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

Apparently Rialto Bridge was the finish line of a race that criminals were forced to run. The race was a form of punishment and started at San Marco Square.  The local people were allowed to hit the runners with sticks, whips, rotten fruit, or anything else they decided to throw.  There is a statue of a hunchback on the bridge, and the convicts kissed the statue because they were so glad to be done with the race, having earned their freedom after enduring the punishment along the way.

When in Italy one MUST eat pizza!

When in Italy one MUST eat pizza! We had a great lunch at this restaurant by a canal.

Gondolas have been used as transport around the narrow Venetian canals for more than 10 centuries. Gondolas are iconic symbols of  Venice, and a gondola ride is a must-do on every tourist’s list…although they are very expensive!

We didn't want to pay 80+ Euros so we rode the gondola across to the other side for about 2 euros.

We didn’t want to pay 80+ euros so we rode the gondola across to the other side for about 2 euros!  April 2012

Did you know that only 3 or 4 Gondolier licenses are issued each year? Gondoliers have to undergo intensive training and pass a rigorous exam. There are only 400 licensed Gondolas operating in Venice today.


You are safe with me!

The photo below was our view from a public water bus (vaporetto); one of two main forms of public transport.  The other main form is walking!  No bicycles are allowed in any part of Venice; in fact, anyone caught on a bicycle is given a hefty fine.

The Doges Palace and San Marco Square

The Doge’s Palace and San Marco Square

Speaking of breaking the rules…not long ago, actor George Clooney got in some hot water for driving a small water taxi without the required license.  A local lawyer made a complaint and asked that the city police take action against the star. Later, when Clooney was asked about his new space thriller “Gravity”, he quipped that navigating the canals of Venice was tougher than being lost in space!

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal

More than 150 buildings line the Grand Canal.  Most of them date from the 13th to the 18th century. The Venetian nobility spared no expense to show off their riches by building their “palazzos.”


When two buildings are joined by an arch, it indicates that both buildings were owned by the same owner.

Venice was the greatest seaport of medieval Europe. It was Europe’s main trade and cultural tie to Asia.  Marco Polo was born here!

Other famous people who were born in Venice include the famous lover Giacomo Casanova, the composer Antonio Vivaldi, and painters Titian and Tintoretto.

I wonder about the lives of the people who have lived in this flat....

I wonder about the lives of the people who have lived in this flat….

Did you know that Venice has no sewer system? Waste flows into the canals and is washed out to sea with the tides. No wonder we never noticed anyone swimming!


Next to the Doge’s palace

St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice, whose symbol is a winged lion. The lion rests its paw on an open book; the Latin inscription can be translated as: “Peace be with you Mark, my Evangelist”.

The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Do you know how St. Mark became the patron saint of Venice? According to legend,  a few Venice merchants in Ninth century stole the remains of St.Mark from his tomb in Alexandria, Egypt and brought it to Venice, where it is said to remain to this day.

The story (as told by William Lithgow in 1619) goes that the merchants placed the corpse in a large basket covered with herbs and pork, which Muslims wouldn’t go near. The merchants cried “pork!” if anyone came to search their cargo, and thus safely brought the remains to their ship. Shortly after they got out to sea, the ship was buffeted by a great storm.  St. Mark appeared and warned the captain to strike his sails, preventing the ship from being wrecked on hidden rocks.

The merchants delivered the remains of St. Mark to the Doge, and the local religious and civic authorities elected St. Mark as Venice’s patron saint after hearing their story.  So that is how St. Mark’s symbol of the winged lion became the logo of Venice!

April 2012: Nikolas' favorite pastime...chasing pigeons:)

San Marco Square, April 2012: Nikolas’ favorite pastime…chasing pigeons:)

San Marco Basilica is. STUNNING. It’s in my top two favorite cathedrals…the other being the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

July 2013:  Nate still loves chasing pigeons...look behind me!

San Marco Square, July 2013: Nate still loves chasing pigeons…look behind me!

The Doge’s palace was built in the late 1100’s. It was the residence of the Doge of Venice, who was the supreme leader of the Venetian Republic. The architecture is incredible. The photo below is just a teaser.  I really need to do a post just on San Marco Basilica and the Doge’s palace!

Inside the courtyard of the Doge's Palace.

Inside the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace.

Apparently Carnival started as a celebration after a military victory in 1162.  It continued until it was outlawed in 1797 by the King of Austria.  The festival of Carnival was reinstated in 1979, and now approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year to join in the festivities.

Tourist shops are full of masks, from cheap masks made for tourists on a budget to really expensive, exquisitely handcrafted masks.


Trinkets and souveniers

Historically, masks were not worn only for Carnival. Venetians loved to wear masks for any possible occasion.  Apparently there were many laws which specified when, where and who was allowed to walk around masked, especially for security reasons.


If someone didn’t keep up their house in one’s neighborhood it would detract from the value.  In Venice, the fading paint and peeling plaster seem to add character and charm!

City planners with a sense of humor decided that Calle del Diavolo (Devil’s Street) should intersect with  with Calle dei Preti (Priests’ Street). Apparently Calle del Diavolo, was named this way because there is a bridge at the beginning of the street which was known for its very steep and slippery steps where people would slip and fall, letting loose with some colorful expletives!


My two men:)

We spent a wonderful afternoon exploring Venice, until dusk came and we decided to head back to Verona.  It was lovely to see Venice light up as we made our way back to the train station by vaporetto.


Good night, Venice!

You can see some photos  from our 2012 trip to Venice with an interesting twist from Nate’s point of view here:


Venice is one of our top three favorite cities.  There’s just no place like it!  Be sure to put it on your bucket list!