Friday, August 26, 2011

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Our first two weeks here were quite a whirlwind. After our arrival, we set up shop in Arlington and hit all of the essentials: the local farmer's market, Costco, IKEA, and Whole Foods. The movers arrived a day late and we camped out until they delivered our furniture and other possessions late Saturday afternoon.
Erik started at the NSF on Monday after our arrival and has been busy orienting himself. Lea and Carter have enjoyed several excursions to the American History Museum, Natural History Museum, and monuments. In addition to unpacking, we spent time enjoying old school entertainment as the Verizon strike prevented us from getting any Internet or television at home. It was nice to play games, read books, and see the sights. We are finally connected - an essential component of Lea's telecommute - and can begin posting here again.
On our first weekend following relocation, we visited the National Archives. Not only did we want to see the country's most important founding documents, but also the special exhibit: "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" We had heard quite a bit about this temporary display covering food policy and practices over the years and were eager to peruse the collection. Carter tolerated Lea and Erik's interest in the display, and even he enjoyed the brochure and letters extolling the nutritional and patriotic value of doughnuts. Unfortunately, the Archives forbids photography, so we can't show you the fabulous posters and objects on display. Following our foray to the archives, we took a spin around the Sculpture Garden until our reservation at the companion restaurant - America Eats! - was scheduled. We had a fantastic meal based on traditional American foods. Carter was especially excited to eat the precursor to mac and cheese - a pudding of cheese and vermicelli from 1802.
Our second week began with a bang - or a shake - with a temblor on Tuesday. Erik was on the 9th floor at the NSF when the ground started to undulate. He had never experienced anything quite like it. While west coast dwellers might scoff at a 5.8 magnitude quake, it shut down the NSF and pretty much everything else for the day.
Lea and Carter didn't feel the quake, but knew something was up when Erik called, and helicopters started to circle the Washington Monument. They were taking the day to visit several memorials around the National Mall, including the new Martin Luther King, Jr. site located by the FDR and Jefferson memorials. Their trek back to the apartment was slow and uncomfortable as all public transportation was crowded and metro trains were traveling at a measured pace while inspectors checked the tracks for any damage.
We thought the excitement was over. But, now we are battening the hatches for Hurricane Irene. Next come the locusts...

Friday, August 12, 2011

On the Move

A few months ago, Erik was offered the opportunity to serve as a Program Director in the Political Science Program at the National Science Foundation. The position involved a two-year leave from the University of Kansas and a commitment to move to Arlington, Virginia where the NSF is located. We were all excited about the chance for a new adventure. With support from her program at KU, Lea was able to arrange a telecommute. Although he would miss his friends and school in Lawrence, Carter was on board, excited about living near Washington, DC. We took a two-day cross-country trek, taking a couple of pictures along the route (above you see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and below you see Seneca Rocks in West Virginia).

We will be updating you over the next couple of years on our adventures from our nation's capital!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sad News

Our beloved family cat, Trygve, passed away today. She had been in various stages of renal failure for over a year. After our return from Europe she seemed especially ill, so we took her to the vet who gave us a grim prognosis. We will miss our little girl.

European Adventure, Part 9: A Final Day in Portugal

En route home, we scheduled a final day in Portugal. We took a short tram ride to Belem, a small town adjacent to Lisbon that is home to several landmarks. Our first stop was the 16th Century Belem Tower. The tower served as an important fortification to defend Lisbon and is near the place where many explorers launched their voyages to claim territory on behalf of the Portuguese crown. It is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belem.

We had lunch overlooking the Monument to the Discoveries, honoring Portugal's role in European exploration of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

The St. Jeronimos Monastery was our last stop of the trip. Dating from the late 1400s-early 1500s, the ornate facility was quiet and serene despite the presence of many tourists. Several photos follow.

The monastery also serves as the final resting place of the most famous Portuguese explorer - Vasco de Gama.
We were all tired and ready to come home by the end of this final journey. That sentiment is captured in Lea and Carter's expression below - they were happy to be done posing for Erik!
We feel fortunate to have enjoyed a great family trip to two grand cities.

European Adventure, Part 8: Au Revoir, Paris

We took a stroll along the Champs-Elysses on our final day in Paris, stopping for a view of the Arc de Triomphe. We adored Paris and plan to return someday!

European Adventure, Part 7: The Tour

By a happy coincidence, we were in Paris for the conclusion of the Tour de France. Although the event has been tarnished by doping scandals in recent years, the atmosphere near the finish line was electric. Our original plan was to wade into the crowd on the Champs Elysses. That proved impossible, so we "settled" for a view from the Tullieries adjacent to the Louvre.
We weren't entirely sure when the riders would approach the finish line, but all of our intel suggested mid-afternoon. We left in the late morning to stroll and find a spot. Many fans had already taken their places, including this group from Norway.
Lea identified a place that seemed to be reasonable - several people had already set up shop. We grabbed a chair from the garden (like everyone else) and moved it to our area. We quickly realized that we were behind a large group of obnoxious Americans. The plus - they were tour guides in Paris, so we realized that we were in the right place. The minus - they reminded everyone around why Americans have a bad reputation abroad. To be fair, most of them were not over-the-top and annoying. But, the ones that were jerks were quite expert at their craft.
After hours of waiting in which we questioned whether or not the day-long commitment was worth it, we heard that the riders were approaching. Finally, we saw them come around to the Champs-Elysses (below you can see the line of riders) and they took several victory laps. The most incredible view is in the lead picture for this entry. The camera lens does not capture the image as well as the human eye - we were able to watch the riders speed past, with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop.

After a couple of laps, we moved to another spot in the gardens to see a different view.
Our early afternoon skepticism was proved wrong. It was an incredible thrill to watch the riders pass by the landmarks of one of the world's most beautiful cities.

European Adventure, Part 6: Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle

After the Eiffel Tower and Louvre, our feet were a bit worn out, so we decided to see the sights near our Latin Quarter hotel. First on the list was Notre Dame. The line for entry was relatively short and we were quickly inside. Erik snapped several pictures of the exterior while we waited.

Once inside, we walked along the perimeter, marveling at the art and architecture.

Statues were placed in lovely locales...

but were on occasion odd...

...or creepy.

We are flying buttress fans, and Lea gave Carter a little lesson in architecture after the visit. The buttresses are visible below from different angles.

After touring the interior of Notre Dame, we joined another line to climb to the top of the towers. As we stood in line, Notre Dame's gargoyles cast glared down at us.

We ascended the narrow spiral staircases and introduced Carter to the story of Quasimodo. Once we reached the top, the view was awesome and a bit foreboding. Storm clouds were gathering and we were rather exposed at the top. As we moved along the tower, a Midwestern "frog choker" drenched all of us. Lea and Carter were especially soaked as they positioned themselves underneath an awning that poured down on them. When the rain slowed, and the spiral staircase emptied, we took a quick trip up to the very top. Unfortunately, a peal of thunder closed the rooftop. Carter was unimpressed - thunder in Kansas is much louder and more threatening. Several images from our rooftop view follow.

After drying off and having lunch in a small cafe nearby, we moved to Notre Dame's island neighbor - Sainte-Chapelle. A couple of friends who are Paris aficionados told us that Sainte-Chapelle could not be missed and we are so glad that we took their advice! The church is 100 years younger than Notre Dame and shares some of its external features (like the gargoyles).
The chapel on the entry floor is quite lovely, and Erik took several photos of it not realizing what lay ahead.
The centerpiece is the worship space on the upper floor. The stained glass windows are a wonder. Bathed in their soft glow, we gazed at all of them, straining to identify the stories that each medallion told. Every bank of windows is related to a book in the Bible or another theme. The small windows represent an individual tale or a part of a larger narrative.

After seeing two of the most beautiful churches we have ever visited, we stopped off for the most delicious ice cream (actually gelato) that we have ever tasted at a cafe selling Berthillon. The main store was closed for renovation, but it continues to supply vendors. During our stay, we tasted several kinds, but settled on some favorites (Caramel/Butter/Salt for Erik, Bitter Chocolate for Lea, and Strawberry for Carter).