Saturday, November 23, 2013

Break Time

Hello everyone, I'm posting to let you know I'm taking a blogging break.  I am extremely busy right now and I can't give my blog the attention it deserves.  I am physically and mentally drained and my mind is on a million things (I'm a worrier!) - that is not a state I want to blog in!  

I will be back and I will probably pop in and out for some significant events, but I will be on vacation from the daily posts for a bit.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy First Birthday Baby Boy!

Yesterday Baby Boy turned 1!  I can't believe how fast this year has gone by...and how much he has grown.

To celebrate his birthday we had a party after Big Boy's Karate class.  My husband has been gone for a week and he came home in the morning.  I decorated the house, made cakes and cookies and bought pizza and side dishes for our supper.

After Karate, our friends came over to celebrate with us.  The family that came over is a good match - they have 2 sons roughly the same age as Big Boy and Little Boy so everyone has someone to play with.  

We had a pizza supper and then we tried to get Baby Boy to do a cake smash.  This is when you give a 1-year old an entire cake to destroy.  Baby Boy seemed to have trouble understanding what he was supposed to do.  He got icing on his hand and all he wanted was to have it cleaned off.  We finally gave him a wooden spoon and he enjoyed bashing the cake with a utensil.  We got some cute pictures!

After a quick bath, we sang "Happy Birthday" and served dessert while the bigger kids helped Baby Boy open his gift.  This is when the party went off in a bad direction.  I'm not quite ready to blog about it yet, but it all ended well and someday I will discuss it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Little Boy and Safety

Today this happened:

Me:  [Little Boy], get off of there - you are going to fall down and either hurt yourself or land on your brother.

Little Boy:  I don't want to.  I want to stay up here.

Me:  How are you going to get down safely?  You can't just jump.  You will hurt him or you.

Little Boy:  I will be safe.

Me:  How?  There is no safe way down.

Little Boy:  It will be safe as long as you don't watch.  You just go into the other room and I will get down safely.

Me:  But you're just going to jump down.

Little Boy:  Yes but it's safe because you can't see.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sleepover

Last night Big Boy hosted his first successful sleepover (we hosted an unsuccessful sleepover last year....).  It was not at all what I expected.

The boys played for a while before I fed them supper.  After dinner they played (along with Little Boy) while I put Baby Boy to bed and then they watched a movie and had snacks.  I asked them what time they wanted to go to bed, and they told me 9:00 p.m. so I decided to let Little Boy stay up too.

At 9:02, our guest informed me that they were supposed to have gone to bed already - all right then, that sounded great to me!  I put them to bed and there was a bit of a kerfuffle early on.  By 9:30 I had moved them around a bit and they were happy.

I went up to my room to read my book and at about 10:15 I started wondering why it was so quiet.  I actually thought the kids may have snuck out of the house, but then I remembered that the door makes a noise when it is opened.  So I went to check on them....Big Boy's friend was fast asleep and Big Boy was close.  By 10:30 Big Boy was asleep too!

They slept right through the night, I didn't hear anything from them until 7:30 a.m.!!!  I fed them, got them dressed, and dropped them off at a Karate session.  They were gone by 9:30 a.m.

I actually got more quiet time than on a regular night!

I'm not foolish enough to believe that this will happen at our other sleepovers.....

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Athens Lotus Hotel




We booked it through one of those travel booking websites (I honestly can't remember which one) and it had excellent reviews.  

The hotel itself is lovely.  It is modern, clean, and bright with nice-sized room (particularly by European standards).  We booked a "family room" and we ended up with 2 rooms that were adjoined by a small hallway which was blocked off by a locking door.  It was kind of like having a suite.  We had 2 rooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 cupboards, and 2 fridges.  Ideal!  The kids could go to bed a bit earlier than us and we did not disturb them.  Also I could get up and shower without waking the kids.

Our room came with breakfast and we really enjoyed the offering.  It was a continental breakfast buffet with lots of selection including:  boiled and cooked eggs; bacon; cereals; muesli; Greek yoghurt; Greek honey; a special Greek cake each day; Greek salad; feta cheese; fruits; and all of the regular breads and spreads that you would expect - along with a toaster.  We all ate well each morning.

The hotel staff were very helpful and polite.  The cleaners also made a nice job.

The location of the hotel is in the neighbourhood called Metaxourgeio.  There are many hotels in this neighbourhood, but it is not a particularly nice neighbourhood.  It has dark and noisy streets and we felt a bit uncomfortable walking back to our hotel at night.  There were always lots of people milling about on the surrounding streets (although none right near the hotel).  Late into the night we could hear noise from the streets and surrounding buildings and the building across from us was a bit shabby.

The neighbourhood was walking distance from all of the tourist sights that we wanted to see.  We did not ever use the public transportation systems.

Overall, this was a good place to stay.  The price was good and the accommodation was great, it's just too bad that the neighbourhood isn't a bit nicer.





Friday, November 15, 2013

Milestones

Tonight Baby Boy decided to try to stand up on his legs.  He turns 1 next week and has not been interested before now!

After he managed a semi-stand, he spent the rest of the evening crawling up to me, Big Boy, and Little Boy trying to get us to hold his hands and help him balance to stand!

Athens - General Comments

Athens as a city is full of contrasts. There are breathtaking monuments that have been preserved and protected through generations surrounded by grubby, graffiti-filled street that are very poorly maintained.  Here are some of my thoughts:

Walking Around can be Difficult

The city is dirty and filled with rubbish.  There are bins located on nearly every street, but people seem to find it convenient to simply toss their rubbish on the ground or into the gutter.  I guess it is....but why?  It's a beautiful city blessed with wonderful historic sites - why not care for it?

The sidewalks and roads are also in poor repair.  I'm guessing this has a lot to do with the financial crisis and austerity measures.  There are crumbling kerbs and holes where panels are missing.  My husband pushed our buggy (a sit and stand (so a stroller and a half)) most of the time because I had issues navigating these obstacles with the heavy load.  The kerbs are also uneven - with many being quite high - and this adds stroller issues.

Athens is also dark at night.  Some streets don't have street lights - on the streets near our hotel, sometimes there were no lights and sometimes the lights were dim lights in dense foliage, so it was dark!  This can be disconcerting when you are unfamiliar with the neighbourhood.  A lot of people spend time outdoors on the streets at night for various reasons - to visit cafes, to walk somewhere, because they are some of the many homeless people, to see friends, etc.   So in the evening you are encountering a lot of people on dimly lit streets that are in poor repair.  It is not a comfortable walk.

There are many cars parked on the streets in Athens.  They park tightly together and right to the edges of the street corners, so we often had to search for a gap that we could fit us and our stroller through as the corner kerb cuts were blocked with cars.

Many of these issues would go away if we didn't have a stroller to push.  That will come in time, but for now my assessment is that Athens wasn't the easiest city to walk through with a stroller.  That being said, I would say that it is an easy city to tour on foot.  Most of the points of interest are close together and it is easy to walk between them, barring the above issues.

Navigation

The road signs in Athens have 2 or 3 languages on them.  This is confusing until you figure out which language matches with your map, after that, navigation is not difficult.  One of our maps used phonetic spellings that did not match with anything on the road signs.  This map was completely useless.

Police

We were in Athens during part of the General Strike.  The police were out in droves, and they seemed ready for action.  I have never seen such a police presence anywhere - regular police and riot police.  Some of the light standards had loudspeakers attached to them....I'm assuming this is for emergencies and crowd control.


Stray Animals

Athens is full of stray cats and dogs.  I'm not a big fan of this - I don't like encountering stray dogs, and I particularly am not a fan when they are in packs, which we saw a few times.  I also don't like walking down streets covered in dog mess.  Some of the animals were in a sorry state and some seemed healthy and well fed.

Uniforms

At some of the monuments we visited, the staff did not have uniforms.  When those staff had to talk to tourists about doing/not doing things, they did not have much authority.  By way of example, a couple was taking a picture that "made fun of" a monument.  This is not allowed so the staff member nearest them asked them to stop.  But she was dressed casually and had no name pin so they argued with her and ignored her.  I saw situations like this a few times.


Big Boy the Photographer

You may recall that before our Rome trip last month we gave Big Boy a camera (if you want to read about it here is the link:  http://janiceljlj.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/big-boy-and-his-camera.html)

The pictures Big Boy took in Rome weren't great.  Many of them were blurry.  He seemed to shake or move the camera as he was depressing the button to take the photo and even the anti-shake mechanism on the camera could not reverse the ill effects on the photos.

I was expecting the same from Athens, but I was shocked when I uploaded his photos.  They are, for the most part, clear and precise.  Here is a selection of photos he took:

View from the Acropolis
View from the Acropolis
Temple of Hephaestus a.k.a. the Hephaisteion a.k.a. the Theseion
View from the Acropolis 
View from the Acropolis - he captured more than one rainbow! 
View from the Acropolis 
This is the Acropolis Museum where we ate lunch. 
Parthenon 
Hadrian's Arch 
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Temple of Olympian Zeus 
Temple of Hephaestus a.k.a. the Hephaisteion a.k.a. the Theseion
Agora
View from the Acropolis

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Athens - Fourth (and last) Day and Journey Home

Fourth Day

We got up early on our last day in Athens and we walked over to Ancient Agora to explore the monuments.  We used our Acropolis tickets for entry, so we didn't need to pay again.

Ancient Agora was a marketplace and it is now mainly ruins.  There are helpful explanatory signs in English and Greek explaining what each set of ruins was.  Often there were different buildings on the same site over time and the signs illustrated that as well.  We spent much of the morning wandering through the picturesque ruins in the warm sun and we took loads of photos.

A statute of Hadrian
Temple of Hephaestus a.k.a. the Hephaisteion a.k.a. the Theseion 
Details of the Temple of Hephaestus
And Baby Boy is nursing again at a monument!
Temple of Hephaestus from a distance.

After our Ancient Agora visit, we walked by Hadrian's Library.  When I looked at the map, I was convinced that we had not yet seen Hadrian's Library.  Of course we had - many, many times - but I didn't believe my husband.  We walked by it so that he could prove his point!

We wandered on to Monastiraki Square where we had gyros for lunch.  The kids hadn't tried a gyro before, but they shared one and they loved it!  Big Boy discovered that he too likes tzaziki sauce.  We finished off our gyro lunch with ice cream cones.  While we were buying the cones I was standing in the entryway of the ice cream store to pay and a bird pooped on my shoulder!  I was wearing a shirt with a cut-away pattern and the poop went right onto my skin.  Yuck!  Yuck!  Yuck!

I cleaned up with baby wipes and we walked and ate our ice creams.  Our walk took us past the Central Market which was bursting with people (as it was Saturday).


When we went back to the hotel for naps I took a very long, very hot shower to wash away the thought of the bird poop.

After short naps, we walked over to the National Archeological Museum.  We didn't go in, but the kids had a good time playing on the steps and ground.  Then we headed over to the park behind the museum (Pediou Tou Areos) and the kids had a play at the playground.

National Archeological Museum
We wandered back to Monastiraki Square for dinner and one last look at the Acropolis.  We, of course, topped off the day with pastries from Bakery.

Journey Home

Our journey home was uneventful.  We had to get up very early to catch our flight so we had pre-arranged a taxi and checkout with the hotel.  We didn't bother going to the lounge in Athens (even though the airline had upgraded our tickets to business class and we could have gone in) and the kids did a craft while we waited for our flight.  

The baby had a rough flight to London - he was awake much of the time and a bit fussy.  Once in London, after we cleared immigration and security we had lunch in the lounge and took a breather before heading back to the gate A7 soft play area.

The kids played until we caught our flight home.  The baby slept peacefully all through this (very short) flight....of course!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Only in Aberdeen?

This morning I had to go to the post office to pick up a parcel that could not be delivered while I was out yesterday.  I hate going to the post office - it is really inconvenient.  It takes me about 40-45 minutes round trip on a good day and I usually have at least one unhappy child with me. 

I drove Little Boy to playgroup and then started the 20 minute drive to the post office.  When I came around the last turn before the (tiny) carpark, traffic was backed up and I could see that there was a queue to get into the post office carpark.  It is a busy post office, but a queue on the street of more than one car is something I had never seen and I've been to the post office at least a couple of dozen times.

A few cars in front of me decided to leave the queue and park in the available street parking.  This left me third in the queue and there was no more available street parking.  I could see that the car park had some available spaces and I could not figure out why none of the cars before me were advancing to take them.

A lady exited the post office and I could see her carrying her parcel and talking into the drivers window of the first and second cars in the queue.  She came to chat with me.  Apparently someone had abandoned a car and it was blocking entrance to the post office carpark.

The two vehicles in front of me were committed to the entrance, so they helped each other inch around the abandoned car.  I drove out of the queue and found another place to park.  

When I walked by, I could see the abandoned car.  It had writing on it that indicated it was a Demonstrator car for the car dealer about 1/2 a block away.  Why on earth was it still there?  Why hadn't they picked it up?

I went into the post office to get my parcel and there was a crowd of grumbling customers getting their parcels.  As I left there was an even longer queue of cars waiting to get into the carpark so I did my bit and told the first car about the abandoned car.  She took my space and the other cars each in turn tried to enter the carpark and had the same issue.

What a mess!  But everyone remained polite (if a bit grumbly) and respected the queue!

Athens - Third Day

Our third day in Athens was a warm one - a nice break from the threat of rain.  First thing after breakfast we headed out toward Syntagma Square.  We walked around the square a little bit and then located the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Unfortunately we arrived just at the end of the changing of the guard exercise, so we decided to come back later.

We walked around the Parliament building and then we explored the National Guardians.  While we were wandering through the zoo area - a strange open area with caged animals - we heard marching band music playing.  We decided to walk toward the music and check it out, thinking it might be a parade or something like that.  Unfortunately it was a funeral, and we awkwardly walked onto the street right next to it.  Because of where we were standing, we had to stand quietly on the sidewalk while the funeral procession passed by on foot.  Little Boy didn't understand what was going on and he was really excited by the band so it was tough to keep him quiet.

The National Garden.

The "zoo" area.

After the funeral episode, we walked on back through the park to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The kids loved it!  They thought the uniform was neat and spent the rest of the day imitating the high step kicks of the guards.



We returned to the National Gardens to visit the playground that was en route to our next stop.  The playground had some unusual equipment which was, quite frankly, a bit dodgy and dangerous.

We continued our walk past the Zappeion, a large building in the National Gardens.  We took a few photos and saw someone having their wedding pictures taken.

Zappeion
Once we had a good look at the Zappeion, we were across the street from the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  We made an effort to find the entrance (it turns out that it had been blocked by taxis the last time we walked past!) and we went in.  We paid the admission (a couple of euros) but if we had our tickets from the Acropolis with us we could have used them for admission.  The Acropolis tickets can also be used for admission to a few other monuments within 4 days (I think) of their purchase.  I wasn't quite clear on the rules for this because they are written in Greek!

The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a grand set of columns, mostly standing and one fallen.  We walked around the footprint of the building and took many pictures in the glorious sunlight.  It is a great monument for restless kids - there is plenty of space to roam - it was fairly empty when we were there and they could run about.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Fallen column

We walked back toward the Flea Market and had a late lunch across from Agora.  Unfortunately, it was not our best meal - the meat was overcooked and tough and the view was not great.  It always seems to happen that on vacation the meals that cost more are not necessarily better.

We went back to our hotel for a nap and then journeyed out for the evening to have a light supper (at Thanissis again!) and ice cream.  We walked up to the Acropolis so that I could take some pictures of the Parthenon at night.  We ended the day sharing another selection of pastries from Bakery.





Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Athens - Second Day

On our second full day in Athens, the whole family woke up with a more positive mindset than the day before.  My husband and I took hot (very hot, in my case) showers and then we headed down for a lovely breakfast.   

The weather was nicer than on our first day in Athens and rain was only forecast around lunch time, so we decided to head up to the Acropolis.  We walked back down to Monastiraki Square and past Hadrian's Library and started to walk up the winding back roads to the Acropolis.  We  followed the tourism signs, but we clearly took a back route.  I was astonished by the amount of graffiti along our walk.  Even the tourist site direction signs did not escape the stickers and spray paint.  The roadways were also filthy and full of rubbish.


A roadway past several houses and businesses.



So many of the signs were in this type of a sorry state!
We could barely read them to navigate.

When we arrived at the Acropolis, it was relatively un-crowded.  I've seen photos where people were basically queueing to walk around the site and it was nothing like that during our visit.  It think this is because of the threat of rain (it never happened) and cooler temperatures.  To put it into perspective, when we were on the Acropolis it was 20 degrees Celsius.  It was windy so it felt slightly cooler, but that is still pretty warm.  We were wearing t-shirts.  Other visitors had snow parkas on.  I guess that's because we are tough - Canadians living in Scotland have to be!

I included this picture to show that the crowd was not overwhelming at the entry to the Acropolis.

There were about 20 men picketing the Acropolis as a part of the general strike.  Their signs were mostly in Greek and at the time we were a bit confused about what they were doing.

Once we bought our tickets for the Acropolis, we checked in our stroller and headed up the stairs.  It was amazing to stand next to the Parthenon.  We spent a lot of time exploring the Old Temple of Athena and the Parthenon and we looked at the other ruins on the site.  The kids and my husband had a wander so that I could nurse the baby....he seems to like being fed at significant monuments!  


Can you spot the rainbow?


Instead of rainfall, we were treated to a rainbow!

Big Boy was quite taken with the two theatres located on the slopes of the Areopagos Hill beneath the Acropolis - the Odeum of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus and he spent a lot of time looking at them and taking pictures.  Overall we spent nearly 2 hours at the Acropolis.  It was quite windy during part of our visit - but nothing that we couldn't handle!



After the Acropolis, we headed down  to the Acropolis Museum, where we had lunch.  Lunch was delicious, but it took forever!  There were some serious issues with the service and it took nearly an hour and a half.  Many of the other customers were frustrated with the service as well.  The view during lunch was of the Parthenon and it was breathtaking.

Olive trees at the Acropolis Museum
An open-air excavation beneath the Acropolis Museum.  We saw men working on the site.
After lunch we walked on  to see Hadrian's Arch (see?....Hadrian again!).  We looked through the fence at the Temple of Olympian Zeus  that we had seen from the Acropolis that morning.  We decided not to go in to see the Temple at that point....largely because we had some trouble finding the entrance....

Hadrian's Arch
We walked on to the Panathenaic Stadium - the stadium that hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.  This  is a historical stadium that was significantly modified during the time of Hadrian.  It then fell into dereliction and was reconstructed to host the Olympic Games.  Our admission to this historical site included an audio tour and Big Boy enthusiastically listened to the entire tour and located the various items in the stadium.  It was a very good audio tour (interesting, informative, and entertaining) but I was still a bit surprised at his enthusiasm.

Panathenaic Stadium
We walked back past Hadrian's Arch and through the flea market late in the afternoon on our way back to our hotel.  It was getting late so we decided to pick up supper to eat when we got back.  We bought savoury pastries filled with cheese, meat and sauce at one shop and then we went back to Bakery to select some desserts.

We headed back to the hotel, ate our meal and it was bedtime - another full day!