Monday, December 28, 2009

Luxembourg (that's the city, in the tiny country)

Ahhhh, the Weihnachtsmarkt. You really need to experience one to truly know it. It is part festival, part market, all Christmas cheer. They are held almost exclusively outdoors (the only indoor one we have seen was in Andorra, and even then it was an unheated tent) in the month leading up to Christmas. The weather is cold, but the Gluhwein is hot!

This past weekend we loaded up the kids and braved the snow for the drive to Luxembourg. As it was after Christmas, the Weihnachtsmarkt was smaller than usual, but still going strong. We arrived just in time for lunch, and a glass of Gluhwein for me. This was the first place I've had it from a boot, but that didn't detract from the flavor at all.


Ian and Leah got to ride the merry-go-round for being so good on the trip over, and for the walking around. Ian chose the motorcycle for his time around.


And Leah chose the princess carriage. She refused to ride inside the thing, prefering the ride from the driver's seat.


On the way to the car, we passed through this open area, and the kids enjoyed playing in the snow.


I hope all is well out there with everybody. Cheers!

Marc

Leah's Dance Recital Dec. 2009

This is the recital that we just made it to after our trip to Spain/France. I know Marc has already posted some pics from it, but I wanted to post what I had as well.





Here is her class with their teacher, Miss Simone after the recital was done:


Here is a bit of video I was able to get before I had battery issues (yes, again):




video




I hope everyone enjoys seeing it & we have already purchased extra batteries for my camera that I'm going to make sure to charge before the next performances.

Catherine

Leah with Santa

I took Leah over to play group one morning to see Santa because I wasn't sure if we would get another chance (turns out we didn't). So thought I would share pics of Leah with Santa:

She wanted to go first, but then once she got on Santa's lap she was a bit shy. She couldn't think of anything to ask for, so Santa said he would check his list for her.


I think she finally asked for a new camera for her brother, but really didn't think of anything for herself until about a day or two before Christmas when she asked for a new baby doll.

Catherine

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ian's School Christmas Show

Ian's school did a Christmas Show before their break and each grade sang a couple of songs. Leah & I got there early to grab a front row seat. Here is how they had the stage decorated (above).

Here is a quick shot I grabbed of Ian before the show started:


The kindergarten classes sang "We wish you a merry Christmas" & "Rudolph the red nosed Reindeer":


Ian is on the second row from the top towards the middle. His shirt was a little bit darker red than the other kids, so it made it easy to pick him out.



One more shot, I think from when they were getting ready to start:

Wish I had a couple of better shots, but my camera batteries died shortly after the show started. Here are a couple of small video clips I managed to get:

video


video

I hope everyone enjoys it. Wish I could have gotten more. I did get the video from the teacher who was standing front row center filming, but the quality really wasn't great & she was moving around a lot.

Catherine

A Couple of Pictures from our Trip

While we were headed from Andorra through the Pyranees to France, Marc took the time to stop & take a couple of pictures by the side of the road, as well as try to get us with a snowball. Thought I would share a couple of pictures I took basically through the window of the car.


Here he is working on getting the snow together while keeping his camera protected at the same time.




Here is a quick picture of the boarder between Andorra & France.


A quick picture of the mountains...


And finally, here is Marc with his snowball. He really did throw it at us, but the windshield kept us safe. :)

Catherine

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day!

Happy Boxing Day everybody!

After a late breakfast and watching some movies, I decided to take Ian and Leah out for a walk to burn off some energy. We went down to the Nahe River, by the local castle ruins. There is a nice path that runs by the river, and we weren't the only ones that had the same idea. It was a wonderful winter day to go for a walk, with most of the snow unfortunately gone.

So, just a quick photo of the kids from our walk.


We hope you have a wonderful Boxing Day! Cheers,

Marc

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!!

Merry Christmas everybody!

We've already opened gifts, had a wonderful lunch, and played with toys. I thought I'd share a couple of photos of the kids.

This first one is of both Ian and Leah, taken when we first began to unwrap gifts. The kids had a great time tearing through the gifts, practically faster than they could conceivably enjoy them!


And Ian got this great "Captain Rex" helmet and blaster rifle set. He loves the stormtroopers (from The Clone Wars - they aren't the bad guys yet in those movies). He LOVES this set, maybe more than his lightsaber.

We hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas, filled with good cheer, happiness, health, and good memories. If I don't chime in before the New Years, have a blessed New Years too!

Marc


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fun at home

We originally were going to go out to either Rothenberg ob der Tauber or to Valkenberg for some Christmas Markets, but we decided to not do that last night. Good thing, because it was 9 degrees this morning with several inches of new snow. AND it didn't really warm up all that much.

So we stayed home and planned our Italian vacation this upcoming spring/summer! Now I can't wait for May to get here!! Anyways, I played with the kids for a while and thought I'd get some photos of Ian and Leah. But I wanted something a bit different from the usual smiling photos.



So Voila! Here are the kids mugging it up for the camera. Didn't take any arm-twisting or other forms of coercion to get them to do this either. Weird. First Ian.


Then Leah.


Have a wonderful day.

Marc

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Crafts

The kids had some craft time at the library, or with a play group - or some such thing while I was at work. I just got to come home and enjoy what they had made!

I grabbed Ian's photo in the evening after work.

And I took Leah's while I was home for lunch. Both kids had a nice time making and playing with their Christmas crafts.


I meant to post some photos from our trip to Heidelberg this past weekend. Oops. Right now we are planning on driving to either Rothenberg ob der Tauber (Germany) or up to Valkenberg (in Holland) for a special Christmas Market in some caves! So many choices . . .

I hope everyone out there is in good Holiday health and cheer,

Marc


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Trip, Part IV - Andorra

On Sunday, we made the 6 hour drive from Benitachell, Spain to our hotel in Sant Julia De Lucia in Andorra. I don't remember ever hearing about the country of Andorra before, but I stumbled upon it in researching our trip to Spain. As it is in the Pyrenees (between France and Spain) we decided it would be fun to go there.

I'm guessing the entire country of Andorra is smaller than the state of Rhode Island. From our hotel near the southern border with Spain, it took us about 45 minutes (with stops) to travel north and east to the border with France. It is a rugged country with most cities in the river valley, and some cities/towns higher up in the mountains along with some ski resorts. I wish I'd have had the time to get in some skiing . . .

This first photo is of Catherine, Ian, and Leah at a tiny park in Sant Julia De Lucia. It was about a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel. The mountain just to the camera left was covered in snow, but I couldn't angle myself to capture it.


A simple black and white version of the Andorran Pyrenees. This was just outside of a tunnel leading to the city of Pas de las Casa, and not too far from there the French Border. There is a ski resort very nearby, and loads of folks were taking the opportunity to give it a go.


Later that day, after crossing into France, we were making our way out of the Pyrenee "foothills". We seriously drove nearly continuously downhill for well over an hour and a half with some grades noted at 10% and 20% (check those brakes!). The only non-downhills were in small portions of some villages we passed through. This photo below is of the road we traveled, you can clearly see the twists and turns. It was also the 20% grade; good fun!


We got home literally just in time for Leah's dance recital. We pulled up to the house for Catherine to take Leah upstairs and get changed and then get to the recital place JUST in time to start. Thankfully they were running a little bit late. I snagged this photo at the end of one of Leah's routines. She did so well, and of course was the prettiest little girl there. Not that I'm biased . . .


Part of the after-dance routine is getting "dusted" with "fairy-powder". All the girls love the glitter. And there is also the candy treats. Leah chose Lifesavers, and obviously enjoyed them as seen below.


That concludes our French/Spanish/Andorran adventure! Time to get back to life as normal here in Germany. We are going to miss the sun and gorgeous weather we were having in Spain - but now I'm hoping for some snow!

The posts will slow down a bit as we settle into our normal routine - though we are planning some more weekend trips coming up. So look for some photos from those. Cheers!

Marc

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Big Trip, Part IIIe - Spain

Today we took our trip down into Alicante - which is probably the biggest city in this region. Before we left though, I got up early and took a drive over to the Cap d'Or hillside for some sunrise photos. Ian and I had tried to find them yesterday, but we had no luck - there was one sign in the city of Moraira and after too many false turns and dead ends we called it quits. Another big thanks to GoogleEarth to sort that out and the next day I was out there. I was kind of glad that Ian and I didn't make it the day before, as the trail was rough in places and at a couple of points was very close to a very long drop onto some rocks and the sea.

Anyways, Cap d'Or is the hillside with an old watchtower on it. Apparently from the 1500's or so, used to protect the local populace from the Berber pirates. This first shot is a view of some cliffs from the walk up to the place, it is looking back towards the villa.

I don't often get in front of the camera, but thought I'd give it another go.


We had a nice time in Alicante. We took a walk on the beach - the sun felt so good, the sand so soft, it would have been nice to take a swim. We had tapas at a little cafe and walked around the old city. From there we headed uphill to the first of two castles that overlook Alicante. This first shot is from Castillo de Santa Barbara, which is the (much) nicer of the two in my opinion. Ian and Leah enjoyed crawling up stairs and along walls with me. Here they are on a little stairway.

There were canons all over the place, which Ian just loved. This one is from the very tippy top of the castle, which had great views of the entire city of Alicante.


That's it for our trip to Spain. We start our way home tomorrow morning. We will head north to the country of Andorra and spend the night there. Be honest, have you ever heard of Andorra? I know I hadn't. Do a quick google search and learn something new :) After that it is back to Beaune, France. Then home.

Cheers!

Marc

Big Trip, Part IIId - Spain (Benitachell)

We ended up staying around the villa again today, since Catherine was feeling a bit under the weather. We just adjusted our original plan to go to Alicante on Friday and pushed it back to Saturday. So it was a relaxing day around the villa.

I took Ian and Leah out for a walk around the neighborhood for a little bit of exercise. And we followed that up with some swimming in the pool.

That evening, Catherine let me go back to a place I wanted to photograph when we passed it back on our first trip from the villa (to Denia). Thank goodness for the GPS to mark the church (the road passed right in front of it) and for GoogleEarth to look up a good place to photograph from! I got there with only a couple of minutes of good light to shoot in. I was counting on more, but the surrounding mountains had other plans for me. I still had fun, even with only a couple of minutes worth of shooting.


Next posting will be shots from Alicante. Cheers!

Marc

Friday, December 4, 2009

Big Trip, Part IIIc - Spain

We decided to stick around the villa today and explore the local beaches. It is about a 5 minute drive, with a stop for a look out over the beach right before the final hill down. We stopped and I took this photo of Catherine. I'll do some more processing to it later to help bring out the area of sunlight on the water just over her head to camera right. It started out slightly overcast in the morning, but became a warm, clear day.

Like I said, the sun came out and lit up the water. Too bad the air temperature was in the 60's as I might have braved the water otherwise and taken a dip in the Mediterranean. I didn't mess with saturation in the photo below, that is the true color of the water at our beach.

In the afternoon, Catherine and the kids went for a swim while I went out hiking and climbing. There were some tricky spots that neither Catherine nor the kids could have climbed (up or down). At three points, the "trail" went over a cliff and required a rope to get down - so all those rope climbs in Iraq really paid off! None of the cliffs were terribly high - maybe 15 feet at the tallest, but still a fun climb for a novice.

The trail over the beach where the above shot was taken twists around the mountain and exposes several trees over the Mediterranean, suspended over a very long drop. I processed this first shot in black and white for a different feel. I'm not sure I like it, but it is nice enough.

And this is a different tree on a different hillside. Actually directly above the parking lot for the beach. I left it in color because the blue/aqua color really pops in this one.


We are going to stick around the villa again today and plan on touring Alicante on Saturday. Catherine's great-grandfather came from Alicante, so it will be interesting to see where part of her family comes from.

Cheers!

Marc

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Big Trip, Part IIIb - Spain

Ian and I went out to the local beach early this morning (he woke me up!) and we had some fun running around, climbing rocks, watching the surf, and of course taking photos. The photo below is of Playa Moraig. As you can see, this is not a sandy beach but a pebble/rock beach.

I brought my tripod and grabbed a photo of me and Ian together. This was Ian's favorite rock to climb on and over, as well as his favorite perch to watch the waves.

For our family entertainment, we decided on Guadalest and Algar del Fuentes. Guadalest is a tiny village (population less than 200 according to what I saw somewhere) in the mountains near Benitachell where we are staying. It was about an hour drive through the mountains - and what a drive! I enjoyed the drive, but Catherine's tummy certainly did not. It was a long drive for her, poor thing. The castle that is left there, as well as the terracing is from the Moors (or should I say "Moops"? 5 points to whoever can tell me what that is from!) - which Catherine tells me were built in the 1100's.

Ian and Leah had a nice time touring the castle and the area surrounding it. We took a "tour" of a very nice house built into the castle walls. The photo below is of the kids on our tour.

And finally, just outside the castle was a fun rock for the kids to climb.

It was a big day today, but fun. We are planning to stay home tomorrow and swim in the heated pool - just relax.

I hope all is well out there.

Marc


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Big Trip, Part III - Spain (Benitachell)

The drive from Avignon to Benitachell was eight and half hours long. Yikes.

The drive itself was pretty, especially just south of Barcelona as vineyards and olive tree orchards alternated over the hillsides. Then as we drove further south, we started seeing orange trees thrown in the mix, until it was just orange groves. We got into the villa just in time for dinner, which gave us a couple of hours to wind down, unpack, and get ready for bed.

The villa sits on a hillside overlooking a protected natural area (another hillside) and out to the Mediterranean Sea. The photo below is from the upper terrace looking out to the Mediterranean.


This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation, so Catherine found us a beautiful villa (great work Catherine!!!!) that had an option for a heated pool. Phenomenal. The photo below is of Catherine, Ian, and Leah enjoying 90+ water in 60-ish and windy weather. The pool is below the upper terrace, and also sports a wonderful view of the Mediterranean Sea.


Tuesday morning, Ian and I woke up early to go climb that hillside across the draw/valley. We got there just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. It involved a bit of a climb over some rough vegetation, nothing difficult just tedious. This photo below is a stitch of four or five photos with some extra work done in Photoshop (again) and Lightroom.


I had brought my tripod along (essential for those panoramic stitches) and grabbed a photo of Ian and me using the camera timer. We had a great time together and he and I will go out most mornings in the area in search of more photo fun. It was windy and chilly in the morning (40's), so that is why we are wearing jackets.


We spent Tuesday around the area - drove to an area called Jalon (Xalo) and took in the local market there as well as sample some wines and sherries at a local bodegas (winery). This was followed by swimming in the pool in the afternoon. All in all a very relaxing and low key day. Just what the doctor ordered.

I hope all is well out there. Cheers!

Marc

Big Trip, Part IIb - Cotes du Rhone

We planned on two nights in Avignon, which gave us a nice break from long days of driving. Ironically, we spent the extra day there . . . driving! Though this time it was for short periods of time as we ended up driving from village to village in the beautiful southern French countryside.

We followed the driving "path" outlined in Rick Steves' guide to France and Provence. The roads between many of the smaller villages were tiny, and at one point was a dirt road (rough) and went right through many vineyards. It was a great drive and well worth the effort.

At the end of the day, we made it to the village of Gigondas where we finally found an open winery with the bonus of olive oil to try tastings. The photo below is of Leah and Catherine on the wall outside the winery.

This photo is one I took from the dirt road running through the vineyards just outside of Gigondas. Once again I did some quick and rough editing in Photoshop with this one, hopefully not too obtrusive.

Finally, I stitched together several photos that I took. The location is not quite all the way above Gigondas, but it was close.

Remember to double-click any photo for a larger shot. And I'll be posting some of these shots to my Flickr account at some point in time in the future.

Next up we make it to Spain, and I'll be posting photos from our fun we are having there. I hope all is well. Cheers!

Marc