I left my heart in Strasbourg

We spent a fantastic long weekend in Strasbourg. What a charming little town! The cathedral is glorious, all the historical buildings are perfectly preserved, the food is delicious, and the city is so easy to navigate. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Being there in September, the weather was a bit chilly, and we had some rain. And then there was the time LittleB got run over by a bike. We were crossing the road and a cyclist went against the light and totally plowed him over. He was fine, just a bit beat up. She was roughed up as well, but I had a harder time feeling bad about it since she was the one in the wrong, even though she insisted he “appeared out of nowhere”. Anyway, no hard feelings, Strasbourg. We still love you.

Florence: Art pilgrimage for all

Florence. I spent years studying the art, architecture, religion and philosophy coming out of the Renaissance and beyond. And going to see it all in Florence was a literal pilgrimage. A boon for the soul.

Of course, it would have been soooo much better if I actually remembered anything about that art, architecture, religion and philosophy – but it was an amazing place nonetheless.

We saw all the top sites you can imagine:

  • Santa Maria Novella church, one of the first major basilicas in the city, filled with art from many famous painters
  • The Florence Cathedral and Brunellschi’s dome, an engineering feat that is even more breathtaking in person
  • Uffizi gallery, housing the most important Rennaissance art collection in the world
  • Ponte Vecchio over the Arno, particularly close to my heart from my opera singing days.

I’ll let the art below speak for itself. But what about some of the other highlights from our Florentine adventure?

  • When we stopped to eat some gelato on the shores of the Arno, we saw a guy cycling down the road, and his paper liquor bag broke, shattering what seemed to be a nice bottle of champagne in the street. I said ‘Aw, that really sucks’ a little too loud, but he heard and agreed ‘Yes, it does really suck,’ and proceeded to pick up all the broken glass. I thought that was nice.
  • BigB wanted some authentic biscotti, so we stopped at a market stall where he asked for ‘one of each flavor’, which the girl interpreted as ‘one of each flavor for everyone in the family’, meaning we got about 2 kg of biscotti. Which seemed like too much at first, but we managed to eat it all within a couple of days anyway, so I guess she knew what she was doing.
  • J was really into the art at Uffizi. She stood and stared at nearly every painting for the first hour, it was amazing. Until it turned out she was actually just trying to process all the Jesus paintings from the early periods, and finally said ‘Why are they just painting the same thing over and over?? I’m tired of Baby Jesus and dead Jesus.’ I think that sentiment is actually what started the Renaissance in the first place, so… hooray for that lesson?
  • BigB was also really into the art at Uffizi, but his interest took the form of photographing close-ups of every single marble bust in the whole place. I mean, I like marble busts too, but this was unhealthy. How many statues of Sophocles does one museum really need, and why do we need photos of each of them? The answer is ‘Probably 3, just in case’.

Too soon, it was time to go. I feel like we could have spent weeks wandering the city, but we had to get home and start eating biscotti. Don’t worry, Florence, we’ll be back.

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Toronto

In some ways, our trip to Toronto this summer was the start of our real vacation. Ottawa was a holiday, but it didn’t feel out of the ordinary. So when we got the chance to spend a few days in Toronto, followed by a few days in Washington, D.C., we figured we should try to do as many touristy things we could.

We set off on an early train ride and arrived in time for a nice Mexican lunch with my sister. We had tickets for a Blue Jays game later that night, so after lunch we stopped in at my friend’s house to drop off our stuff and headed out to meet her at the ballpark. The game was a lot of fun, and it was the start of the Jays’ winning streak (which just culminated in getting to playoffs this week). The kids were pretty tired and whiny by the end, which put a damper on the last half of the game. But we did manage to enjoy some incredibly overpriced stadium beer, pizza and popcorn.

A dude in our row got picked to do one of those commercial break contests, where he had to tie a tie faster than another contestant. So this guy spent a good 20 minutes practicing, getting other people in the stands to show him how, since he quite honestly looked like he had never tied one before. It was painful. But somehow that was enough practice, and he won – and all of us in his row got gift certificates to Tip Top. Cool.

We spent the next day at the Royal Ontario Museum, where there was an overpriced Pompeii exhibit going on. It was very dramatic, with real casts of the bodies on display. Also cool. We wandered around a bit, and the kids had fun pretending to be archaeologists, and I took giggled at all of the Roman penis decorations, because I have the sense of humor of a 10-year-old at heart.

The next day B took the kids to the Hockey Hall of Fame, since I was busy with some work things. Once again, I have trimmed down his hundreds of close-ups of jerseys to just these few artsy shots (you’re welcome):

And just to hammer home the idea that we like museums, we spent our last day visiting the Ontario Science Centre. Really we just went for the Mythbusters exhibit, because we seriously, seriously love Mythbusters. It was cool – we recognized all the machines and props on display, and they had a few try-it-yourself myths, like driving blind, flicking a playing card into a cork board, dodging a bullet and pulling a tablecloth off the table. We also sat through a presentation involving audience members getting hit by paintballs and a very much over-the-top pair of presenters, like, trying way too hard to be enthusiastic. It was cringey.

Of course we ended that outing with a huge temper tantrum on the lawn outside, because we’re classy like that. Then LittleB stepped out in front of the moving bus we were about to get on (because he doesn’t understand how North American traffic works, like, the fact that there is a separate place for people and one for cars, you know, the road) and we were all scolded for a while by the bus driver in front of the bus packed full of passengers. It’s going to take a few years for that shame to ebb from our memories… Ah, family vacations.

At least we had a great couple of evenings with good friends, and some playtime with the cousins, which is really the whole point of vacations. And we celebrated our friend’s 53rd birthday together (J put the candles on…). And the next day, we flew off to (very) sunny D.C. for a few days.

 

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Ottawa museums galore

One of the best things about Ottawa is all the museums. There are so many that, growing up there, it’s commonplace, almost boring, to go to a museum. But lucky for us, fresh off 3 years of no museum visiting in Indonesia, the kids still think it’s pretty cool! It’s not so cool for the pocketbook, but hey, we’re on vacation, right?

The first museum we decided to visit was the Air and Space Museum. The kids were keen, but I’ll admit that I also pushed for it because it was the one I have visited the least often myself, so it was still a fresh experience. And, of course, who doesn’t want to look at awesome old planes and rockets? And maybe there was a chance that Chris Hadfield would be there, right? (He wasn’t.)

We saw everything from old-timey flying (and hilariously non-flying) contraptions to slick air force jets, a huge bomber, rescue helicopters, courier planes, cushy 50s passenger planes. And the space section was lots of fun, with some hands-on activities and neat artifacts from Canadian space missions.

But, really, I think we had the most fun taking photos of the kids in the photo board cutouts. These things are classic:

We also visited the Canadian Museum of Civilization History. We are well aware that our museum timing is limited to only a couple of hours, so we have to triage. B and I can never get enough of the First Nations hall and the Inuit art in the basement (which is always shamefully undervisited), and we made a point of visiting the special exhibits rather than the permanent ones, keeping in mind our triage decisions. The exhibit on Greece was very cool, and I was able to crack into the depths of my undergraduate brain and read a lot of the ancient Greek writing. B was uber keen on the “Confederation” exhibit, which was a bit tedious for the rest of us non-politicos until we found a table where you could wear a top hat and pretend to be one of the fathers of confederation! And we also saw a Terry Fox exhibit, which was timed for the 35th anniversary of his run. It was great to share this important Canadiana with the kids, even if B did spend most of the time just photographing close-ups of all the hockey jerseys in the room.

And of course there’s a great Children’s museum that we needed to visit. We also decided to watch an IMAX movie about Lemurs. Lemurs are cool, but for some reason this film was a bit too over the top, and felt like it had been made 10 years ago, despite being recent and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It was missing some kind of legitimate messaging, like “lemurs are good, deforestation is bad” is pretty trite, even when you’re targeting a young audience… But we had a good time over all. We even ran into the kids’ cousins who were at the museum with a summer camp trip, so that was a nice surprise.

The final museum on the list was the Billings Estate Museum, which is a manor right in the heart of the city, the home of the original settlers of the area. In fact, I didn’t visit for the museum itself, but for afternoon tea. My mom and I escaped for the day and spent a lovely few hours enjoying tea and snacks overlooking a beautiful outdoor garden. Probably my favourite kind of museum trip!