Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lyon for a Day - Secret Passages and Grumpy Alex

The holiday weekend arrived!  However, instead of celebrating a long weekend for Memorial Day with Monday off, we get to celebrate Ascension on Thursday with a "Bridge Day" holiday to bridge the gap between Ascension and the weekend.

Kroboth Car Trip!

Rather than fight traffic on Wednesday evening, we opted to leave at 6:30am on Thursday morning.  We were off to Lyon!  Traffic was not a problem and we enjoyed the lovely scenery of the French countryside.

Upon arrival in Lyon, we found a parking place near our Air BnB, then, since we were a bit early for check-in, looked for lunch.  Dan had found a place that we were headed towards, but as we looked across the street, we saw a page from our French Text book from our course that Dan and I took together.

It was a building that had been an old train station and was converted into a place with restaurants.  This is clearly the east side of the building.  For class, we had to talk about the different characteristics of the restaurant and the types of food offered.  We ended up getting delicious chicken, shrimp, pasta.  Inside the restaurant was a small train that traveled around a track above.  Much like the French lesson had described, it was good, but pricey.

Next, we headed toward the Rosa Mir Garden.  We took a bus, the metro, and we walked.  However, we had failed to check the opening hours on the garden.  It's only open one day a week.  And it was not Thursday.  So, we stopped by a tiny park and let the kids play for a short time.

Unfortunately, park playtime combined with the heat of the day did nothing to help their mood.  Alex spent the next few hours being super grumpy.

No Pictures Allowed!

Will was fine, he decided it would be interesting to take some pictures of strange graffiti he found throughout Lyon.  At least, when Alex wasn't actively trying to block him.

Lyon has a fascinating feature.  It seems that during the silk trade, merchants wanted to keep their fragile merchandise safe and developed a series of passages throughout the city.  We explored a couple of them.  One was marked by a blue lion and had some giant stairs built into the wall.  Many of them go through to people's houses, so Alex had to stop complaining for a little bit (yea).  They were really neat and I wish we could have explored more.

Next, we went to the basilica.  To get up the hill to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, we took the funicular, which was much better than walking up.  

Nearby, not too far from the basilica, were some amazing Roman ruins.  Because Rome was huge and reached into France.

Still used today for concerts and shows

Alex with a slightly improved mood, Will feeling silly

Don't worry, he didn't get hurt while climbing around the ruins

For dinner, we took the kids to Hard Rock Cafe Lyon.  Ever since we introduced them to Hard Rock in Copenhagen, they have been super excited every time we have found one.  They have even asked if Hard Rock Cafes exist in the US and were surprised that we had never taken them to the closest one to our house, Hard Rock Hollywood.  :)

Dan and I had delicious French food at a different restaurant.  Because Lyon is known for its food and we just couldn't eat American food at Hard Rock.

Duck with carrots and potatoes

Dan eating duck with carrots and potatoes

Ice Cream, caramel, apple dessert

Completion to Lyon Visit

We spent the night in Lyon and left the next morning after eating some pain au chocolat pastries in the park.  The park was huge and we didn't get to explore it all, but we found some deer and emus.

Pic with deer 

The emu actually was quite far away, but then he heard Alex whistling and decided that was his cue to fun across the field and check out the child in orange.

Emu and Deer

After a peaceful park visit, we said good bye to Lyon and continued on our holiday weekend adventure.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Cereal Lover's Cafe - Awesome Things in Toulouse

There are a couple of daily, free newspapers that are handed out around Toulouse.  They highlight different events going on locally.  This week, I was wandering around Toulouse with our friends, the Westleys, and managed to pick one of these up.  One of the front page "headlines" indicated that a new cafe had opened up in town.  It's a cafe that serves 55 different types of breakfast cereal, at all times of the day!

Cereal Lovers Cafe

The boys enjoy cereal and were kind of excited about trying this out.  So, Saturday morning we headed out for breakfast!

The formula is one bowl, two cereals, one candy topping, one liquid topping, one milk choice.  You can also add whipped cream for an extra charge.

Alex picked chocolate lucky charms, cocoa crispies, mini marshmallows, chocolate sauce, and regular milk.

So much chocolate!

Will picked chex, fruit loops, mini marshmallows, chocolate sauce, and regular milk.

Must eat sugar for energy!

Dan picked something healthy, something else healthy, with something healthy on top, honey, and almond milk.

Dan questioning his healthy choices, Alex approving of them

I had cereal and milk only.  The traditional childhood breakfast of Lucky Charms.  Except I didn't just eat the marshmallows.  As a responsible adult, I ate those other things in the cereal.  I think they are called cereal.  They are made out of grain.  And sugar too, of course, but not as much as in the colorful marshmallows.

Only Lucky Charms

There was also another option.  This "Cereal Bar" also has some beverages. Dan and I got coffee, but after the kids were done ordering their elaborate cereal, we made them skip the hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows.  

It took some encouraging to get the kids to order.  Fortunately the ordering scheme is based on the number assigned to each cereal.  And, the kids know French numbers.  It almost worked.  Will was too timid.  Alex ordered by number in French, but was too quiet.  Finally they ended up with what they wanted.  I mildly protested as they added marshmallow and chocolate sauce, but let them add them on as this was our first visit and sugar cereal consumption seemed to be the concept.  But when the guy asked if we wanted to add on the Chantilly (whipped cream), I turned it down. Alex heard the question, understood it, and of course said yes.  I overruled.  

After cereal consumption, the boys investigated the video game machine, ultimately finding "Street Fighter."  Alex claimed they had pro skills and that they were really good at it.  The whole place was decorated in 1990s stuff.  The music was also from the 1990s.  We listened to "The Thong Song," "Mambo Number 5," and "Semi-Charmed Life."  There were various Nintendo paraphernalia around and also pictures of the characters in Beverly Hills 90210.

Overall, it was nice to grab a couple of share bikes, let the kids scooter over to the cafe, and eat some interesting breakfast cereal.  I'm just hoping that some of the sugar was burned off during the commute.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Flash flashdrive - Awesome things in Berlin

Dan and I went to a local Gravis electronics store in Berlin.  The kids were busy with their own plans, so we went to get Dan a couple of new iPhone cases.  One of his iPhones didn't have a case and the other had a case that was simply deteriorating.  Not only did the store have nifty iPhone cases, I also picked up a charging block for my phone.

I did not, however, buy this, but I did contemplate its awesomeness.

The Flash

Friday, February 10, 2017

Futuroscope Trip - Day 2

Day 2 of Futuroscope started with French Breakfast.  It was included in the hotel stay.  We headed over to the restaurant to find trays of bread and chocolate croissants, an option of coffee or hot cocoa, and a couple of stations with fruit and cereal.  Oh, how I do miss American breakfast with its eggs and bagels!

Immediately after breakfast, we entered the park and headed directly to the Lapin Cretin ride: The Time Machine.  We weren't allowed to take pictures, so this is the best I've got.  Alex and I in the dark, before the ride starts, wearing our 3d glasses.  The next picture is in a cafe in the park where they have the time traveling washing machine, built by the rabbits, on display.

Calmly sitting on toilets before Alex freaks out

The time traveling washing machine

When the ride first started, something whacked our legs from under the seats.  The seats being shaped like toilet seats.  Because Lapins Cretins.  This freaked Alex out.  He thought he had been shocked.  I think there were just brushes or something under the seats to help out with the "4d" experience.  The rest of the ride he was on edge, not really enjoying it.  It was really well done though with different scenes and different "4d" effects.  Overall, I'm kind of getting tired of the rides where you get wet when one of the on-screen characters sneezes at you or exhales through their nose.  I wanted to go again, but the boys weren't sure, so we continued on.   

After finally completing the activity of going on a ride (the rabbit one), we found the boys' favorite place in Futuroscope, The Arena.  It had all types of entertainment including some PS3s.  The boys played Lego Batman or Lego Avengers or something.  

Knowing what children like on vacation, video games are provided

Fortunately there were other non-video games including "Mind Ball."  This is the one where you put headbands on and they read your different brain waves, translating them into signals that move a foam ball.  

Who will be more focused and move the ball with THEIR MIND?

Will tried the super steep slides.  It is interesting because Alex tends to be the kid who takes more risks.  Except when it comes to heights.  Will tried these two slides, but there was another that didn't have any curves that he opted out of.  Alex spent his time doing a race where you push a button, then run really fast while it measures your speed with radar.

Really tall slides

Alex also tried the Reaction Time game, but was slightly short for the higher buttons.

I dragged the boys away from all of the excitement of The Arena so that we could see more of the park.  We went into The Robot Dance Party viewing area.  You may recall that when we were in Denmark at Lego Land, the kids, especially Will, loved riding on the giant robot arms.  However, these giant robot arms were not programmable, so they weren't as interested in riding on them.  We watched the exciting DJing of Martin Solveig as the robots moved around during the music.

It's Martin Solveig!

Robot Arm Dancing

After watching robots dance, we headed back into the cold outside.  The boys got to do some of the rides in the play area.  Oddly, most of them were not monitored by park staff.  You stand in line, then go find a seat on this tower, making sure to responsibly buckle your seatbelt, then you pull yourself off the ground, using the rope, as the silver post slowly rotates around.  Fortunately, if you let go, you don't crash back to earth, but only slowly descend back to the ground.  The kids enjoyed this.  Alex even tried it by himself.

 The next ride was the best.  Like the pulling yourself up a post ride described above, it also did not have any attendants.  It was a sitting zip line.  But it was kind of tricky for the person sitting in the swing to actually push the start button.  This is the video of Alex activating the ride for Will.

One of the rides had a touch of DaVinci, looking like something out of one of his sketchbooks.  In order to get your part of the ride off the ground, you had to pedal as it spun around.  

Some of the rides realated to water were closed.  But, the one where you ride a giant tricycle on a pond was open.  As you can see, there are clear regulations related to your security when you are riding on the water bikes.  Like most things, we sort of got the gist of what it was saying in French, but really didn't completely understand.  Fortunately, this was enough for us to ride the ride without incident.  :)  We figured out how tall we needed to be.  Alex was not tall enough to ride on his own, so I ended up pedaling him around.  We also divined that he needed to wear a life jacket while on the bikes.  Good to Go!  What?  There are 10 other guidelines? Meh.

I think this one means you should try to not fall into the pond...

Alex was way wiggly on the bike.  He was sitting behind me.  So I wasn't able to take a picture of him, but I was able to carefully pull out my phone and take this crooked picture of Will.  Alex managed to stay still enough during the picture taking and I did not drop my phone into the water.  Yea!

Biking Will

The boys had suspected that there was something I was not telling them about the park.  They thought that there might be an arcade somewhere, but they couldn't figure it out from the map in French.  We wandered back past the large horn...

Alex, once again expressing himself

...and found the arcade.  The boys were super excited as we can't find the local Toulousian Dave & Busters and they spent some time playing the games.

Look, actual air hockey

Where else can we play Mario Cart?

They took time to create custom racing faces for Mario Cart.

Their last bit of arcade fun was playing all of the pinball machines.  I think their favorite was the Star Wars one.  At one point, Alex's ball got stuck and there weren't other balls coming out.  So, I did what anyone would do... I bumped it with my hip.  But it may have been a little too hard as the machine showed !Tilt!  That's not all.  Being a Star Wars pinball machine, it also gave me a lecture with Yoda saying, "Anger leads to hate, hate... to suffering."


Throughout the day, we did go to many of the IMAX and "4d" showings.  Of course, we weren't able to take pictures inside.  Here are the ones that we saw:

Ice Age: No Time for Nuts - This was about the squirrel animal in Ice Age who has found some sort of time traveling nut.  He travels in time while water and balls are thrown at us.  

Dynamic - This one was rougher than some roller coasters that I've been on.  It was some sort of virus destroying mission, I think.  Our seats were very bouncy and wacked us back and forth.  Alex and Will enjoyed it.

Dynamic Vienne - This was very strange.  It was about a guy who was getting married, but he ended up on this adventure in the woods with a weird talking tree who kept sneezing on us.  There was a part where we were in a race car on a track that then went off-track and through tiny streets in a French village.  I had to close my eyes.  It was TOO real.

Preview Waiting Show before Dynamic Vienne - This was a screen that had water poured in front of it, a tank with 60,000 litres, they said.  It had lights and lasers displayed with it.  It was super cool.  They did some neat patterns and some stories about people.  

The Extraordinary Voyage - Kind of like the "Soarin'" ride at California Adventure. 

Cosmic Shocks - In French, it described how the moon may have been formed with an asteroid hitting the earth.  It also described many other craters and impacts on the earth and in space.

The Exploratorium - This one played a movie that featured Jacques Cousteau's son.  Which was weird.  When I was growing up, all movies that were about ocean life were made by Jacques Cousteau.  And now I was in the middle of France, watching a movie about the ocean, with his son in it.  

The Invisible World - I think this was Will's favorite.  It showed things that were too fast, too slow, or too small to experience without the magic of video recording.  Things like bees flying, plants growing, or carbon particles being moved around.

Tiny Giants - This was about small animals, in the forest, in the desert.  They were just going about their daily task of finding food and taking care of their babies.  And they would be attached by owls or scorpions, or their own kind who were trying to eat them or steal their food.  Fortunately for the kids, no tiny cute fuzzy animals were actually eaten.  But it was kind of fascinating to watch a mouse kill a scorpion and bring it back to his family as food.

When our time was up, our day was not over.  We still needed to catch our train home.  We walked back over to the Futuroscope Station bridge, witnessing the super moon over Futuroscope.  

We got snacks, found our super short first train which went from Futuroscope to Poitiers, and successfully made the connection.  

Waiting at the empty Poitiers Station

The platforms were cold, but we managed to make the next connection also at Bordeaux.  Our final arrival was at 1am into Toulouse.  Both kids had fallen asleep by then, Will for longer than Alex, so they were super groggy as we caught an Uber home.  

Interesting trip.  The boys say they had fun.  And maybe they even learned something.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Futuroscope Trip - Day 1

While we spent some time around Toulouse during a few days of February break, we then headed out via train toward Futuroscope.  It's an amusement park with a futuristic, multimedia sort of theme.  There are rides, but there are also all kinds of IMAX presentations on different things.  There is an energy farm displaying 5 different types of energy production (unfortunately closed during our visit).  There are a couple of buildings like the Disney Land Innoventions showing different cool stuff.  As it was winter, some of the different things outside were closed, but there was still plenty to do during our two day visit.

To get there, we took two trains. The first went to Bordeaux.  The kids played with their electronics during that part of the trip.

We are busy, stop photographing us...

Then, we switched trains and took another one from Bordeaux to Futuroscope Train Station.  I think it's near Poitiers, but the station is actually called Futuroscope Station.  The boys spent another two hours playing with their games during this leg of the trip.  We also ate sandwiches that we brought along.

We are so busy playing with out games, that we are not noticing you photograph us...

I have to say, out of all plane or train or car trips to a destination, this was one of the easiest.  When you fly to Paris, you have to find the bus into town.  When you fly to Washington, DC Dulles, you have to figure out how to get close to DC.  Even when you park at Disneyland, you have to leave your car, go to the tram stop, wait with a bunch of people, take the tram, go through tickets and the gate.  At Futuroscope, you get off the train, walk upstairs to the Futuroscope bridge, show your ticket, and walk over.

Cool bridge connecting the train station to the park

The park looks amazing.  You can see the cool cube building in the bridge picture above, and one of the spherical IMAX buildings.  Below, you can see the cool geodescent building next to the seating for the nighttime spectacular.

It's geodescent!

After arriving, I wanted to go check-in at the Futuroscope hotel, also attached with an entrance to the park, so we could drop off our backpacks.  However, the boys were distracted by the playground in the middle of the theme park.  I was left holding all three backpacks.

Kids on a bridge

It included a giant horn that you could speak into.  Or yell things in English, like Alex here.

Alex - Being Heard

 Also in our wanderings to find the hotel gate, we noticed this guy from a distance.  Yes, that's one of the Lapins Cretins.  IRL!  The boys wouldn't approach.  Clearly they have watched too many of the rabbit shows and were reasonably cautious around the typically destructive rabbit.

Bonjour Lapin!

Finally we made it over to the hotel and dropped off our stuff.  The room was not fancy, but was clean and had three single beds in it.  This was quite the relief to Will and Alex who really don't care for sharing a double bed when we are traveling.

Backpack free, we retourned to the park to actually do some stuff!  The boys found another playground to spend time on.  Clearly the park designers, while emphasizing futuristic, multi-media attractions, know how to satisfy my kids.  They really just want to play on play structures.


Bouncing back and forth

The park also had a bunch of interesting sculpture art.  In this unfortunate event, Alex is attacked by a giant, red, wire octopus.

And I thought that I should be worried about the rabbits!

The park is also smart about rest spots.  Not only are there benches around, but there are also relaxing hammocks.

I see this "ride" lets us swing back and forth.

Conveniently, there are also restrooms, clearly marked.  There was only one down side of the restrooms.  The restroom doors were open on the exterior of buildings and not terribly insulated.  It was winter and they were kind of cold.

Will selecting a cold restroom

Finally we headed inside to some of the interesting indoor exhibits.  We went to L'Expo.  A cool building that contained some demonstrations of multi-media and motion capture technology.

Alex tried every face on the screen that let you capture your face, then applies masks that follow your face as you move.  Here are a few of the options, or you can go view the 4 minute video over on you tube.  It includes a "cute fluffy unicorn" song sung by Alex.  

Orange Tiger Face?

Astronaut Alex

Also in L'Expo was a touch table with "air" hockey.  The boys played a bunch of games on it.

I will defeat you!

We didn't acquire any 3d Alex and Will figures, but there was a device that allowed you to photograph your head, then stick it on a figure.  Next to the screen was a 3d printer that allowed you to print it out

Alex the footballer

At various places around L'Expo, there were giant bean bag cushions.  Great after a day of wandering around the park.  Great waiting place for parents who have kids busily occupied in the different technologies.  Will attempted to disappear under the giant orange one, but he was too tall.


You can't see me

There were some giant tangrams that the kids could use to make shapes.  Will used them to build a wall.

Most inerestingly shaped wall in France

The evening brought the Spectacular, La Forge aux Etoiles.  As far as we can tell, it was the story of a girl who went on a drive out into the night to meet with her friend who was made out of light.  He told her that she could go on a journey in a machine that he made.  It was shaped like a moon and would take her to the stars.  So they go on their journey.  There was also a space DJ.  And they ran into her friend's mother, I think, who he had not seen since he was a small child.  There were explosions and fireworks and fire.  The girl found herself back on earth near her car, thinking her friend was dead.  But no, it was revealed that he had been transformed into a nebula and that they could still talk.  And so the DJ came back and they danced.

Spectacle Fireworks

Lasers and Water

The boys appreciated the heat that was generated from the fire feature as February in France at night is not very warm.  After the Spectacle, we returned to our hotel and slept to recover energy for the next day.