Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Travel: Copenhagen

We enjoyed our time in Copenhagen, but Denmark is an expensive country. For our visit, one USD bought 5 Kroner. That meant three sandwiches at Subway cost $40.

Penny-pinching aside, the reason to visit this city is Tivoli. While it is one of the oldest amusement parks, it's quite possibly my favorite. It has character, and not the animated variety. Also unlike Disney, there's no need for a weeklong stay to see and do all it has to offer. Certainly, you could spend more time at Tivoli, but you'll manage to see and do most everything at the park in one full day. It is busy but not overcrowded, and this means short lines for all rides and attractions. Plus, Tivoli is particularly lovely when illuminated at night.

As for the other major attractions: Nyhavn is where locals and tourists drink and socialize, The Little Mermaid is an out-of-the-way tourist trap, and Stroget is just one more shopping street. But they're nice to see anyway.

We also visited Rosenborg Slot, its treasury, and museum. They provided an interesting account of Danish history. For more, be sure to see the Nationalmuseet and Kastellet, and even the Copenhagen Amber Museum.

Speaking of amber, do check out the House of Amber. They sell beautifully handcrafted pieces of jewelry and make very special souvenirs.

And did you know LEGO is pronounced lee-go, not leg-go?

Travel: Prague

The City of 100 Spires was our favorite! The architecture and character of the city center are fantastic. Souvenir shops and restaurants abound, but there's a cultural artifact or historic building nearly everywhere you look.

Prague is also a very walkable city, even for youngsters. All of the major sights are within a 1.5-mile radius. Prague Castle does require a bit of an uphill hike, but most anyone in fair health can make it to the top.

Each major attraction has vending machines that dispense medals and coins embossed with the attraction's image. They're $3-5, depending on the exchange rate, but they're fun to collect and make neat souvenirs. They might motivate reluctant sightseers, too.

As for other souvenirs, I bought a gorgeous hand-tipped etching (art print) from a vendor on Charles Bridge and found lovely traditional Slavonic handicrafts (think Christmas ornaments) at Violart, a shop just outside the Jewish Cemetery. There's no shortage of shops selling garnets, Czech glass and Matryoshka dolls, but only garnet jewelry is reasonably priced.

Our hotel, King's Court Hotel, was perfectly situated. Powder Tower could be viewed from our hotel room, the Palladium Shopping Center was across the street, and the Old Town Square was only a 5-minute walk away. The facilities, service, and breakfast were top-notch. We highly recommend it.

We utilized AAA taxi service to get to/from the airport/hotel. They're punctual and fair-priced ($25 to the city center), and they advertise a 46% discount on return fares. Just be sure to get a receipt for the return trip, because you may have to collect a refund at the airport.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Travel: Munich

Our hotel was located near Karlsplatz, a short walk to Marienplatz and its famous Glockenspiel. We spent much of our time in the city around this area.

We visited Hofbrauhaus and Augustiner, two of Munich's more famous beer halls, ate Bavarian pretzels and roast chicken, shopped for cuckoo clocks and beer steins, and witnessed the Glockenspiel's fantastical clockwork. The square and beer hall/garden atmosphere were our favorite parts.

Munich was our hub for visiting LEGOLAND Deutschland and Neuschwanstein Castle. I think it works well for the former, but Garmisch should be the base for visiting Ludwig's castles. The drive between Munich and Hohenschwangau is too long for a half-day excursion, especially with a six-year-old in tow.

We hope to return to Germany soon.

Travel: LEGOLAND Deutschland

We've been to LEGOLAND Florida twice, and the only real difference between parks is the miniature LEGO world. Florida showcases American landmarks and Deutschland features those European. As a tourist, I prefer the Deutschland park, and now Lucerne and Frankfurt are must-see cities.

We purchased two-day tickets to the park and spent one night at LEGOLAND Feriendorf. Our two-room "holiday cottage" had an Egyptian theme and several LEGO creations, to include Tutankhamen's death mask. The wallpaper had multiple LEGO-style hieroglyphs and pictograms, and the furniture had similar stencil work - all of it kitschy-cute. Cole loved the bunk bed, Egyptian-themed playgrounds, and pharaoh in the courtyard.

Travel time: 1 hour to/from Munich Airport

Total cost: 500 Euro

We plan to make a similar trip to LEGOLAND Billund.

Travel: Neuschwanstein Castle

It took longer than anticipated to reach this castle, roughly two hours by car from Munich. The route, while offering beautiful views of the countryside, was rather convoluted: twists, turns, and construction detours.

Once we reached Hohenschwangau the line for tickets/tours was half-way through town. We joined the queue for about 15 minutes, until we learned we couldn't view the interior of the castle for at least 5 hours. Not wanting to wait that long we chose to view the exterior only. We hiked up to the castle (15 minutes by foot), took in the views, snapped a few photos, and made our way back to town.

It was a disappointing trip for us, me especially. I was the one who wanted to see the castle, and we drove all that way for a few measly pictures. Postcards would have sufficed.

My advice to those wanting to see Ludwig's castles in the summer is get to Hohenschwangau well before 0800, when the ticket office opens (castle tours begin at 0900), or reserve tickets online and arrive at least one hour before the scheduled tour.

We do plan to visit nearby Garmisch, as the area is lovely, but we won't venture here again.

Travel time: 4.5 hours

Total cost: 50 Euro (parking, lunch, and fuel)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Crafts: Modern Crosses Quilt

I spent all of June working on Susan Beal's Modern Crosses Quilt, from her Modern Log Cabin Quilting: 25 Simple Quilts and Patchwork Projects.

I made it for a friend who collects crosses, loves the color purple, and wanted a quilt showcasing her husband's military uniforms. The quilt design and color palette are a perfect pairing.

The crosses take a lot of time to piece (45 minutes each), but they aren't difficult to make. They also use very little print fabric (you could make multiple crosses from a single fat quarter); however, I used nearly six yards of solid off-white fabric to make the lap-sized quilt.

Initially, we were going to machine-tie the quilt and add uniform buttons to the center of each cross, but I thought the quilt needed more structure and wasn't sure how comfortable a quilt with 40 buttons sewed onto it would be. In the end I quilted around each cross and omitted the buttons, and I like it like that.

My friend is pleased, too! I know this is a quilt she and her family will treasure, and will remind them of their time in the military.