Berlin juxtaposed

A scheduled dad week with a trip-on-a-whim plan landed us in Berlin a week and a half ago. A new place for all of us with the exception that PB went in college one year after the wall came down ('91- he said it's changed since then).  Berlin was on our side trip request list since planning our trip to France. I was so excited that we could make it happen. It was an easy under 2 hour direct flight  from Nice. We found a perfect hotel, Pension Peters, that had a room for 5 available. A room for 5 is rare in Europe. I called it my camp cabin because the kids were in twin beds lined up against the wall in front of the big bed. On our first morning, the hotelier recommend that we start out with a boat tour of the city. It was a perfect start in a big city. I was beside myself taking photos- the lines, shapes, colors, organic, inorganic, old, new was pumping my photo blood. I realized early on in our exploring that Berlin had so much to compare and contrast. The old versus new- history, walls, wars, economy, culture, etc. 

In Berlin, the ugly and bad things are quietly laid to rest. Most are not acknowledged. The city that once had a "death strip" for 29 years dividing it into East Berlin and West Berlin has very little physical presence today. Berlin doesn't capitalize on the ugly facts. We had to search hard for the landmark sights of modern day history's past. Like the sight of Hitler's bunker- the place that he killed himself when his control was crumbling and the Nazi book burning. One is a parking lot and the other is an unmarked window on a library plaza. 

We visited the German History Museum, ate currywurst under the tracks, walked in the street market, toured the Pergamon and ate wienerschnitzel in a beer garten.  Trying to balance the  past and present, we had several meaningful conversations  with the kids. There's a dark and disturbing past to ponder and digest and a seemingly healthy and thriving economy to understand.  Berlin has made 2 contrasting sides seamlessly  blend together. The Berliners have a pleasant outlook on life. They deserve a change for the better and we enjoyed seeing a slice of it as it's still changing in front of the world.  

grandparent week

Just as we returned late by train to Nice from our Florence trip, PB's parents had arrived the same day via plane from Jerusalem. They rented a modest studio apartment right around the corner from ours for the week.  PB had one day with all of us before he returned to Fairhope. Our week was fast, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed. We crammed in school sessions, sunsets, shopping, eating and regional sightseeing. As much as J&M have traveled the globe, they hadn't been to Nice before. It was a treat for the kids to show them around. 

Our longest excursion was taking a 45 minute bus trip from Nice up above Monaco to La Turbie. A smallish town not heavily touristed. It holds the ancient Roman ruins known as Trophee des Alpes.  It was built as a trophy high on a hilltop for all to see by land and sea by emperor Augustus. The Romans declaration that they had conquered and ruled the lands- opening roads from Rome to Spain. The ruins have a long history of decay and stone removal/repurposing, but in the 1920's it underwent significant restoration thanks to a US investor- Dr. Tuck. There is also a simple but beautiful one room museum on site. 

Now- the truth. That day we needed new tram tickets and the machines would take our credit cards. No problem. Walk to the bus office, get tickets. Take tram to bus stop. Ok. Get off at tram stop, but where are the buses? Down the hill out of plain site. Ride bus. Kids argue as we get to the ruins (no good reason). Finish and we're having meltdowns (4 out of 6). Mom to the rescue. Buy some snacks and perk them up. Just sometimes (many times) photos don't reveal the truth. 

As our moods began to lighten, we trekked back towards Nice via bus down to Monaco to get on the regional train. I voted to get off a stop before Nice in Villefranche-sur-mer for dinner. It was sunset and a perfect way to end the day in a picturesque riviera village.  Wilson looked hard for a nice dinner spot. It was tricky. But he found a small and charming local restaurant that we all enjoyed. Afterwards, we joked and laughed our way back to the train station walking under the full moon's light.

It felt like a slice of home was with us for a week.  

train stop in Pisa

This week has been our Spring Break Week in Florence, Italy. We journeyed early, in the dark before daybreak to the train station in Nice on Monday. Early in our trip planning, I made a request to PB that we make a visit to the Leaning Tower. PB had been as a little boy. Other than that, it was a first and he was seeing it with fresh eyes.

Pisa once was a major sea port player in the medieval times. It was close to the Mediterranean and had the protection of being upstream by the Arno River. The city used its wealth to build it's few landmarks including the tower. Eventually, the port silted up and it left Pisa in the dry. 

The tower was built over two centuries (starting in 1173) by several different architects. It started leaning at the start and somehow with each architect's turn to fix the problems it has successfully stood un-toppled. It leans at a 15 foot vertical axis angle. In 1990, it was closed for a massive restoration and head-scratching ground strengthening attempts. Because of their success, it is open now for climbing and the city is happy because it relies on its tourists $'s. The tower's neighboring cathedral is stunning. Galilleo was born in Pisa and it's chandelier is said to have inspired him on astronomical theories while watching it swing in the church. 

Our stop off was easy and quick. We left our luggage in the luggage check at the train station, took a cab to the tower area, walked around, visited the cathedral and all but mom walked up the tower. In the next to last photo you can see the family waving down to me as I sat with the backpacks- someone had to watch the stuff! We sat down for a lunch then chugged back to the train for a 30 minute ride into Florence. 

Park and Chagall

Story and photos by Anne Lois

Yesterday, after morning school time, we all met up to grab lunch and have a picnic at the huge park next to our apartments. Next, we headed over to the bus stop to catch a ride to the Marc Chagall Museum.  Each of us enjoyed learning more about his paintings and history.  Then to top it all off, we went to a nearby bakery for some delicious desserts to share later after dinner. 

Day trip to Antibes | Fairhope family travel

There is no denying that Nice, France is loaded with things to do and see. But this past Sunday, the 14th (and Valentines Day), I asked to go find the train station, figure out how to buy tickets and take a small excursion. I wanted to tackle a task that I'm not used to doing without PB taking the lead. With WD's help, I think we'll be able to handle it from now on.

We took a 30 minute train ride to the west of Nice along the Mediterranean to Antibes. A small, picturesque town with large yachts. Luck have it that we walked straight into a quaint chocolate and specialty foods fair. Maybe we bought some chocolate truffles and artisanal cheese! Beyond the fair, we ate lunch on a square and then went for a stroll to find the Pablo Picasso museum located in the Chateau de Grimaldi. The collection is small but special because Picasso lived there for a few months to paint.  After leaving post war Paris, he was seeking a new joy in life. Many of his works are on scrapped materials and depict happy, playful characters by the sea. A light and happy art study that was a quick stop for us. It was a great place to gain appreciation for his outlook on life at that point in time and how it fits into his body of works.