Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Come climb with me!

Another year, marked by Tori’s mid-January birthday, has come and gone. While there is a little sadness that Tori is starting to leave behind little girl traits and activities, we can’t help but think it was a good year despite the start of middle school!  While the year was good and stationary (no international moves!)Tori’s birthday party was good but not stationary! Tori invited some friends for a rock climbing party and it was a lot of fun for all, even the friend who came with a broken arm in a purple cast and cheered the others on.

Here in Munich, there a plenty of things to do. The trick is to find them. Mostly, this has taken us awhile due to the language. Everything is in German, with very little translation. (In Hong Kong, most things were in Chinese and English). Also here, local schools get out for the day around noon or one, so kids activities start before our kids are out of school at four. All this is said to excuse the fact that it took us almost a year to find a top notch climbing center ten minutes from our house.
When we drove there to scoop it out for the party, we drove through forest and horse pastures on a single lane road out of our little village. Once in the clear, a large building drew our eyes. Painted with the letters DAV, we guessed correctly that it was where we wanted to be; DAV Kletterzentrum Gilching (the climbing center in the village of Gilching, one village over from ours). Village climbing center doesn’t quite capture it. The place has outdoor and indoor climbing walls, a couple of bouldering rooms and twenty to forty foot walls for rope climbing. Inside we found a café, an area to sit and watch (rare here) and a bunch of people wearing climbing tee shirts from California. We knew we had found a new hang out.
Climbing is huge here, with the Alps just one hour away. The rope system here is a little different than the one the kids used in Hong Kong, so I’ve hesitated in starting up here. For Tori’s party, we had two instructors working with eight kids, playing games and helping them get up the walls. While both instructors spoke good English, one was particularly fluent. We thought she must’ve lived in the states. When I asked her, she told me she still lived there but was home for a month visiting her parents! Our girls have taken a few extra lessons with her. Just this past weekend, I watched Tori climb a very huge wall with Royce holding the rope system. It’s all a little crazy, this convoluted circle of trust. The girls trust each other but me? I’m trusting our instructor and the California vibe I’m getting. I can't explain it but I feel at home in Gilching, even though my girls are dangling far above the ground (with huge smiles on their faces.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Venice: glass and gondolas

Over the Christmas break, we loaded up the car for another drive to Italy. While the kids affectionately call the car “Blueberry,” I am not on speaking terms with it. Too many breakdowns last year, often in freezing cold weather. But even I was a little impressed. Our loaded down Volkswagen Touran made it up and over the Brenner Pass, the steep Alpine divide between Germany and Austria, not once, but twice. We went slow and enjoyed the views. The kids even put down whatever electronic toys and books they had and stared out the windows at the snowy Alps, close enough to touch.  With his ipod touch, Adam even took pictures of the mountains, throwing concerns about low batteries to the wind . It was just that beautiful.
We drove to Padova, a town famous as the setting for Taming of the Shrew and for Galileo. While we tried to enjoy Padova for its own merits (note our long trek to find Galileo’s Observatory Tower), we really just stopped there due to its proximity to Venice. We stayed in Padova at a hotel with thermal baths, the same hot springs the Romans enjoyed thousands of years ago. As we walked to catch our train into Venice, we passed an archeological dig of a Roman bath site. Coming ourselves from a multiple hour swim outside in heated waters, we all had no problem imagining life there thousands of years in the past.
Venice itself was lovely. With so much to see outside, we didn’t feel compelled to hit all the museums. The kids enjoyed taking the vaporetti, water buses, around. They stayed in the open air part of the boat, rather than go down to the partially covered seats. They waved energetically to other vaporetti passing in the opposite direction and all came down to tell us that they saw another family from school while waving. We toured the Grand Canal, getting off at St. Mark’s Basilica for one of our only indoor event of the day. Another time we took a boat out to one of the islands, known for blown glass. While we did not see anyone blow glass, we saw most of the components of glass and walked through a museum that at least showed us videos of the process. There on Murano, we found a café table in the sun. Unwilling to give it up, we let the kids go back multiple times for gelato until finally even Adam could eat no more.
The last thing we did there was take a gondola ride. When we were in Venice a long time ago with just baby Tori, we decided a gondola ride was not safe for a baby. While it may not be any safer, we went for it this time and enjoyed it. Our gondolier told us a little history as we went down the big canals before turning on to the little canals. On the small canals, we saw normal life; schools and apartments with little doors opening to the canal to bring in food and take out trash. It made me wonder what everyday life was for our kids. And then Royce tried to explain to our gondolier about the fake Venice she visited in a casino in Macau.  We are all a little lost in translation but enjoying the ride.