Archive for November, 2012

Nablowrimo is back. Now with even more low quality filler words! Can you tell I’ve gotten a bit behind in my dissertation writing?  Including this blog post, I’m at 49.4% of my goal and I should be at 60%.

Today I chronicle two previously unchronicled trips. The first was with two of Rachel’s brothers to the capital of Serbia, and the second, just Rachel and I, to the capital of Germany.


Belgrade can be added to the list of towns in which I have gotten lost. And this time I even had a map. At least I could pretend that not having a map was my problem in Bratislava. Maybe it’s something about the letter B. This disorienting city brought to you by the letter B. Yep, it could be. The shame of getting lost may be part of why it has taken me so long to write about visiting the fair city whose namesake borders Bozeman International Airport. Or maybe not.

Probably the thing that I remember most about Belgrade is the popcorn. There were popcorn stands all over the city. It’s not something I’ve seen in any other European (or American) city. I’ve seen them at fairs and such, but I don’t recall seeing them on the streets. Or maybe just not in the numbers they are found in Belgrade. They also had other vendors of course, like ice cream and hotdogs, but I do love me some popcorn. Especially when you can put fancy spices on it. My only regret is that I didn’t get to try all the different spices—even if it would have meant trying the pizza spice.

One of the strangest things about Belgrade was the alphabet they used. Or should I say two alphabets. With both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets being actively used (adjacent movie posters were in different scripts), Serbian is the only actively synchronicly digraphic European language (Hindi-Urdu being another–coincidentally part of the Proto-Indo-European language group). Geographically the closest to most of my readers will probably be Inuktitut. Malay and Japanese (actually digraphia+trigraphia) are the other examples given on Wikipedia. See I saved you the time needed to click on the link. That’s how thoughtful I am. It also shows just how far I’m willing to go to meet my word count for NaBloWriMo.

We saw the (sadly yet unfinished on the inside) largest Orthodox church in the world. We also saw several other orthodox churches. Mostly we’ve seen Roman Catholic churches, and so it was an interesting change. They were much more colorful than we were used to. I really like the blue that seemed popular.  Also, they aren’t in the shape of a cross, but rather sort of square-ish. The fortress, which is now a large park, was also very pretty.The Cathedral of Saint Sava

Probably the highlight for Rachel’s brothers, and myself, was visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum. It was smaller than I thought it would be and I would have liked more biographical data. Nevertheless, they had some very good demonstrations of his most important inventions. They demonstrated the lighting of fluorescent tubes with out wires, and had a replica of his Columbus egg, built for the 1893 World’s Fair. One of my favorite demonstrations was the miniature replica of the electric grid with a water powered generator, transformer, transmission lines, another transformer, and a light bulb. The other was a replica of the first remote controlled vehicle (a boat) in the world.  Apparently people thought he was controlling it with the power of his mind rather than the radio waves he claimed.  I’m not sure why that’s more plausible…

On the way to the train station to leave we bought a bunch of pastries. Then I went back in and bought some more. I think the lady may have asked at one point if I wanted one of everything. I probably should have told her yes since it would have saved us time. We still didn’t spend of all our Serbian money though, so we have several bills left.


Rachel and I left the kids with some friends and went to Berlin. The kids loved their few days playing with friends and new toys. For us, Berlin was fun, but seemed to be one just-too-late adventure after another.

We took the night train but didn’t get much sleep due to the car being quite cold. On the way back we got the couchette which was much nicer and we slept quite well. We arrived in the morning and walked from the train station, past the parliament, down the Unter den Linden to Museum Island. We didn’t eat breakfast and I was very hungry. I kept thinking I would stop and buy some curry wurst (a famous Berlin food) but the current stand was always too expensive, or closed, or this, or that, or the other, and so we made it all the way to Museum island before we ate anything. We eventually ate at a cafe which was more expensive than I would have liked, but I was desperate at that point. Anyhow, they didn’t take a credit card and so I went to look for an ATM. They told me where one was, but it was out of order. So they told me where another was and I trekked over to that one.  I saw a man wearing a Frankfurter grill, so I had to eat one of those too.

After lunch we went to the Pergamon museum. It was amazing. Unfortunately, we were tired from not getting much sleep. They reconstructed the faces of several buildings inside the museum. The first, and most famous, was the Pergamon altar. This was a “temple” taken from the ruins at Pergamon in the west coast of Turkey. There was a frieze around the entire room consisting of larger than life statues of the Gigantomachy (the fight between the Giants and the Olympian gods and not to be confused (like I did) with the Titanomachy).The next was the market gate of Miletus, a Greek city also on the west coast of Turkey. Something about seeing building faces reconstructed inside makes them seem bigger. The Mshatta facade was another, but my favorite was the Ishtar gate from Babylon. It was largely reconstructed from new material, and you could tell which pieces were original because they weren’t as bright. It was huge and imposing and bright indigo. It was built at roughly the same time as the Israelites were taken into captivity. The museum was also home to an impressive Islamic art collection. One thing that I sometimes think about is that rich people used to have incredibly ornate and detailed furniture and such. I don’t know any super rich people, but it seems that now they just have expensive stuff. On the other hand computers are some of the most intricate objects ever made and we take them for granted.

After visiting the Pergamon we went to Check Point Charlie and spent several hours in the museum learning about the Berlin wall. After a few hours we were completely worn out and hungry. We decided to hurry through the rest of the museum and we realized we had only made it about half way through. The last part was about the aftermath of the fall though, so perhaps it was less interesting. At least that’s what we would like to believe.

After we got out of the museum we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant near the museum. We hadn’t eaten Thai food for several months at least and it was great! Then we went back to the train station to pick up our luggage which we had left there in the morning. Sadly, we were about 10 minutes too late and they had already closed. We went to check in to our hotel where the clerk said he had been a little worried that we were so late and he couldn’t call our cell phones (they only work in Hungary).

The next morning I went get our luggage and noticed there was an Oktoberfest market open in Alexanderplatz. We stopped through after taking showers and I was seduced by a cheese seller. I couldn’t resist buying a few different cheeses. I bought beer cheese (red wine cheese being one of my favorites) and I can tell you that you needn’t do so. Of course, if you’re the sort of person who was considering it, you probably won’t take my advice anyway. It’s extremely strong and should never be eaten alone or it will upset your stomach. It does make a reasonable grilled cheese sandwich, but there are other types of cheese that work just as well and with less stench.

We came back to Oktoberfest later and bought some street food: Currywurst, hashbrown things, glazed nuts, etc. Rachel also bought some earrings. There were several Latin Americans there selling Native North American jewelry (e.g. dream catcher earrings). It was kind of weird seeing them selling things that weren’t even typical of their country of origin. In fact there were so many of them that whenever I think of Berlin now, I think of Spanish.  Rachel thinks of cranes, I think of Spanish.Cranes in the Berlin skyline

We took the S-bahn to Potsdam to see Sans Souci (French for Without Cares), and the other palaces of Friedrich the Great (whose name is much cooler in German: Friedrich der Große). Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Topkapi and Schönbrunn, but it didn’t seem as grand as either of them. I think we didn’t see the most impressive palace, so that may have tainted my thinking as well. It was still far too grand for me to actually want to live there.  We got to see much more of the grounds than we did at Schönbrunn though, and Topkapi doesn’t have large grounds since it’s in the middle of the city. The grounds were huge and we got to watch them mow the grass with tractors. I wonder how they did it hundreds of years ago–maybe they just had long grass. We briefly stopped by an old wind mill that I would have liked to take a tour of, but we didn’t have time.

Back in Berlin, our next stop was to try and find the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. In the end we couldn’t find it so we decided to walk to the Ritter store and make our own Ritter Sport chocolate bars. On our way there we ran into the Memorial and so we walked through part of it. It was late enough that the visitor center was closed. It consists of a 2711 of concrete pillars (don’t worry, I didn’t count them) in a rectangular grid. Individually they were boring, but together they were impressive. You could walk between them and easily get lost. It would be a great place to play some sort of game if that wasn’t so disrespectful.  When we got to the Ritter store it was closing. Too late again. Instead we went back to the Oktoberfest market and then home.


The next morning we took a commuter train to Dresden. It was one of the doubledecker trains I’ve been wanting to ride on since I first saw them. We had to change trains two thirds of the way through and so we changed from riding on the top deck to the bottom.  The bottom is lower than a normal train and it gives a different perspective.  Sometimes I really worry that I like trains to much.  What kind of a person likes trains?

The reason I wanted to visit Dresden was the Dresden Codex. It’s one of the 3 remaining Maya codices, and is housed in the treasure room of the Saxon State Library Museum. I was a little worried that I might have built it up too much in the decade since my mission in Guatemala, but it didn’t disappoint. It’s amazing to think of something made of (fig bark) paper lasting that long including through the firebombings of WWII. It did sustain water damage then. It was also really neat to see it in color, albeit faded. Of course, you can find high resolution pictures of it online, but it’s not the same as being there. Since it was painted on both sides, they use mirrors to allow you to see the back side as well as the front. My ability to read ancient Maya is limited to numerals but I did at least recognize those.

The museum’s treasure room also contained a number of other gorgeous manuscripts, mostly from Germany. Outside the treasure room, they were exhibiting hymn books starting from the early reformation era. The musical notation was quite varied and often wasn’t used at all. In the end I think it was one of the most interesting and beautiful collections I’ve seen, even though it was only two fairly small rooms.  Of course, if you don’t like books, it’s probably not the place for you.

Orthodox church in Dresden
After visiting Saxon State, we walked to downtown Dresden. On the way we saw a cute little church which I can only assume was Russian Orthodox based on the stereotypical domes. We went inside the Cross Church which had an art show going on in one wing. We were about 15 minutes late to go in the Frauenkirche. Are you sensing the pattern? We were really sad about this because Rachel’s high school German teacher watched its rebuilding via webcam. It had been destroyed in the war and wasn’t rebuilt until 2005 (well, that’s when it was finished).  We then walked down to the river and took some pictures. Dresden’s skyline is quite interesting. We mostly walked around outside, but we did go inside a mall to buy some hot chocolate (Rachel’s drug of choice) and look at some wooden Christmas decorations.


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Note: I wrote this October 3rd and then shelved it for “a few days” until I could find a picture. Sorry, here it is a month late and still without a picture.


Avery likes animals, crafts, and playing outside. She also really likes her friends. Her latest favorite thing is “Wild Chronicles” a podcast by National Geographic that we downloaded a few years ago. It’s movie podcast and they’re short – usually 5-7 minutes or so and they tell about a different animal each time. She’s learned about dung beetles, lynxes and meercats.

Last week Avery wanted to be a sea turtle, so she found a box with both ends open and climbed inside for a shell. Ivan suggested she paint it, so now we have a very colorful sea turtle costume. She and Ivan have a whole game they play where Ivan tells Avery to swim and splash and then he catches her, measures her, and puts a little camera on her, just like in the “Wild Chronicles” show and release her back into the ocean so they can see what she does. Then he “hopes” she does interesting things like meet other turtles.

Avery also still really likes to read. This week she read three whole sentences. She read “SAM SAT ON A RAT,” “I HIT A CAT,” and “A MAN IS FAT.” I came up with the sentences myself and looking at them, I’m realizing I really came up with some, um, interesting things. I’m afraid my child may grow up a little warped. But! The point is she’s doing quite well I think with the reading and she really seems to enjoy it. She’s started trying to read signs while we’re out and around, which is hard since they’re all in Hungarian. She can also write her name almost all by herself now.

Avery and Evelyn have been really good friends lately. They like to pretend all sorts of things together and play dress up together. Today they had races on their little cars around the coffee table and giggled for 20 minutes or so. Avery is really nice to Evelyn (most of the time) and lets her pick which Sesame Street clips to watch next at bedtime. They’re getting pretty good at sharing, which is nice.

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Evelyn – 29 months

Note: I wrote this October 3rd and then shelved it for “a couple days” so I could find a picture. Sorry, here it is a month late and still without a picture.


Evelyn has been a remarkably easy toddler. She is just now beginning to just ignore things I tell her to do and this last month or so she’s started screeching any time she doesn’t get what she wants or if Avery does something she doesn’t like. Other than that she’s really been a calm kid. She goes along with Avery’s pretend games and likes to be the baby or the mom – whichever Avery doesn’t feel like being at the time. She’s pretty good at sharing. She occasionally throws tantrums, but not all that often.

Evelyn has had an interesting development on the potty training front this month. She is potty trained during the day and refuses to go pee in a diaper. The other day Ivan had her and Avery at the playground and she needed to go to the bathroom, so Ivan put a diaper on her and told her to go in the diaper and they would just take it off and throw it away. She danced around, but would not pee in the diaper. She had no trouble peeing behind a bush, however. Strange kid.

The interesting development though, is that she also won’t pee in a diaper at night. She wakes up around 1:00 in the morning and wakes us all up because she has to go potty. It was kind of hilarious the first few times she did it, especially because she always goes into the bathroom and then comes back out to ask for permission to take her diaper off. Then she goes back in, takes the diaper off and goes to the bathroom. After a few nights, though it wasn’t so funny anymore. Luckily if we keep her from drinking anything after dinner or so she usually doesn’t have a problem and can wait until morning to go to the bathroom.

This has actually put us in a bit of a quandary because Evelyn has been dry at night now for almost a month and I would like to put her to bed in underpants. Avery, however has been a little slower in this area and still wets her diaper every night. Avery really wants to be able to go to bed in her underpants, but every time we try it she wets the bed. So, we’ve held off on putting Evelyn to bed without a diaper, because we don’t want to put too much pressure on Avery. I’m really not all that sure how to handle this, because I really don’t think Avery can control it – she’s a really deep sleeper. But I would like Avery to learn, so maybe seeing Evelyn get to go to bed in underpants would be motivation. Who knows?

Anyway, Evelyn really likes to pretend. She loves to pretend to be a baby. She’s also really good at cleaning up after herself. She’s had a bit of separation anxiety lately. She’s cried the last two weeks in nursery and I’ve had to stay with her for half an hour or so to get her distracted enough to leave.

Evelyn is almost big enough to walk places without the stroller. We went to playgroup today and she walked to the tram stop, from the tram stop to church, and then from the church to the bus stop after playgroup all by herself. I was pretty proud of her. If she’s tired at all or cranky though, we end up carrying her a lot, so we still haul the stroller around a lot. It’s also convenient for on-the-go naps and carrying groceries, so we won’t be giving up the stroller for a while.

Evelyn still copies Avery a lot. Her latest mimic is to copy Avery singing primary songs from church in Hungarian. She can sing half of “Stand for the Right” in Hungarian. It’s really cute to hear. She has no idea what it means (nor does Avery for that matter) but it’s almost understandable in Hungarian. She also likes to say thank you and “2” in Hungarian. She hold up her two fingers to all the Hungarian grandmas on the trams and says “kettő!”

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Since Movember is also NaNoWriMo, I thought I would try to write a lot of my dissertation this month. I did some conversions (to account for differences in subject) and set a goal. But I thought maybe on Sundays I should write a blog post instead of my dissertation. That way I can try and catch up on the months of silence, and have a little break from the “grind”. We’ve done a few interesting things in the last little bit, so hopefully I’ll cover what I need to. I’ll start with the oldest first.

The only bad thing is that not editing is essential to NaNoWriMo.  I edit compulsively and it brings my writing up to it’s usual mediocre level. I’m afraid you’re in for some rough patches ahead. That said, I couldn’t stop myself from editing this a bit. :-/

Krakow salt mines

Since I talked Rachel into going to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, I get to write about it. Sadly that means the writeup comes about 3 months after the actual trip, and so I don’t remember as much. It’s probably for the best, otherwise I would bore you.

The tour was at times a bit rushed, I suppose because they have 1.2 million visitors to whisk through every year. Nevertheless, it was quite interesting. They encouraged us to taste the walls, but up high where fewer people might have dirtied them. And definitely not on the floor. Apparently that’s not obvious to everyone.

Salt deposited from the airOf particular interest to me were statues of men clearing out the methane in the old days. They would crawl along the ground and lift torches on the end of long sticks to the ceiling where the methane would gather. It was a dangerous job of course since the methane would often explode rather than burn off. Perhaps my favorite part was the ubiquitous salt growths. They were made of snow white salt, somewhat resembling cauliflower (there were some tiny salt stalactites too) that was deposited from the air. It looked like cauliflower or white fungus. It was crumbly and delightfully salty (what did I expect, right?) and I would have loved to sprinkle it on popcorn. The whole time we were underground I wanted to eat popcorn or pretzels.

One of the original UNESCO world heritage sites, Wieliczka is traditionally a gift from the Hungarian princess Kinga. Boleslaw, the king of Poland, asked to marry Kinga, the princess of Hungary. He sent an engagement ring to the Hungarian court and Kinga accepted. Her father was going to send gold as a dowry, but she thought that wouldn’t be good since the Boleslaw was already wealthy. When asked what he should give instead, she answered salt because Hungary was known for it’s great salt mines. Unsure of how to transfer a large amount of salt, she prayed, removed her engagement ring and threw it into a salt mine.When Kinga arrived in Poland in 1239 she asked the king to tour the country. Soon she told the servents to stop and dig. One of them brought her a white stone–a lump of salt. She ordered it split open, and out fell her engagement ring. In that moment everyone understood her actions and what a wonderful dowry her father had given. Since then Wieliczka has been known for it’s rich salt deposits and has brought prosperity to the area.

One thing they didn’t tell us on the tour is that St. Kinga (beatified in 1690 and canonized in 1999) and her husband were so devout that they took a vow of chastity. Apparently their marriage was never consumated, and Boleslaw was known as Boleslaw the Chaste.

Speaking of devout people, if I remember correctly, there were something like 40 different chapels in the salt mines. We only got to see 3 of them. The most famous is the Chapel of St. Kinga. It was constructed by 3 miners (working one at a time) over the course of about 60 some years. It’s the site of concerts, weddings, and mass. In fact, after we left we watched a wedding party being lowered a few people at a time into the depths. The chapel is decorated with sculptures cut into the salt walls and (sometimes) back lit. The natural translucence of the salt allows a very striking effect. A real glowing sacred heart for instance. The chandeliers have “crystals” made of salt which was dissolved and then redried. The floor has a tile pattern cut into the salt floor. It was an impressive chapel and quite pretty albeit somewhat monochromatic.The last supper in St. Kinga's chapel

There were statues throughout the tour, mostly modern, but some older. There were at least two underground salt-saturated lakes. I couldn’t help but wonder if diving in would hurt more than diving into fresh water due to the extra bouyancy. During the Nazi occupation some drunken soldiers took a boat ride. The boat capsized and some were trapped under the boat. In their enebriated condition they were unable to right the boat or to dive down and out from under the boat (because of the high buoyancy). They died when the air trapped with them ran out. The Nazi’s used some of the large rooms as impromptu factories during the war since they were obviously safe from reconnaissance planes.

At one point in the tour, the floor was tiled with something familiar looking. I was just about to tell Rachel that it looked like we were walking on salt licks, when the guide announced that in fact we were. It was weird seeing so many of them, and not a single one had been carved by bovine tongues!


Rachel’s brother and sister came and stayed with us for a few days. We went with them to a little town near the Austrian border called Sopron. It’s known as the most loyal city because in 1921 it chose to be part of Hungary instead of Austria. We had never been there, and it’s quite pretty. Most of the buildings were in very good condition and very colorful.

Sopron is a destination for medical tourism. There were dentists offices everywhere to service the Austrians who come across the border. Almost everyone speaks German, and if it’s clear you don’t speak Hungarian that’s the language they go to next. Pretty much everywhere else we’ve visited it would be English.

Another source of income for Sopron is the brewery. We didn’t visit it, but we did buy some Soproni Zero (grapefruit and orange flavors) in the supermarket. Rachel’s brother liked it, but her sister thought it was gross. I think it did grow on her a bit, but I don’t think she’ll be a connoisseur of non-alcoholic beer anytime soon.

The organ of the Reform church in Sopron

The fire tower and town hall were closed for renovations, so we only went inside three attractions: the goat church, a reform church, and the Storno house. The goat church was somewhat small. There was a tomb from 1644 underneath some of the pews which I thought was interesting. The reform church was much larger and completely different from Catholic churches. It had three floors and reminded me a bit of the Synagogue in Budapest. Apparently the organ is the largest in Hungary. The organ was indeed gorgeous and we wanted to go up stairs to see it, but it was closed off. The Storno house was very interesting. The last owners of the house (the Storno family) loved to collect antiques and it contains a large selection of old things. I loved the smattering of arms and armor (of course), as well as the intricate locks and keys from various periods.

We decided to eat at a restaurant which was recommended in Rick Steve’s and also on the way back to the train station. Sadly, when we got there is was closed for renovation (or maybe permanently). We had to backtrack quite a bit and hurry so as to not miss our train, but we made it.

Word count: 1323 (1667/day needed, i.e. I failed)

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