August 29-Sept. 1: Paris by Adam Stern

August 29-Sept. 1: Paris

We most definitely needed more time in Paris. So much to see. We were also a little toured-out. Such a gorgeous city with so much to offer… We’re definitely coming back at some point!

Flight was very smooth and no customs. :) We took the subway to our hotel – not so pleasant. Overcrowded, hot, smelly. Felt disgusting by the time we arrived at our lovely hotel, Hotel le Regent in the 6th arrondisement. The location was perfect (thanks to Raisie and Simon for suggestion), beautiful small streets with bustling café’s, galleries and boutiques. And of course a beautiful artisan gelato store with ice cream macarons! We dropped our things and found a great little place to eat – Restaurant La Jacobine,  around the corner in a quaint alley.

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Had a delicious lunch with fruit and vegetables (we had eaten primarily Italian food in Prague and were missing the vitamins) and then headed out for a walk. It was BROILING hot - 33 degrees but felt hotter. We walked along the Seine through Tuileries Gardens but faded quite quickly. We decided to go back to the hotel for showers and air conditioning and to head back out at night.

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We had another Italian pizza meal in the evening, then boarded a Bateaux Mouches riverboat for a 9pm cruise along the Seine. We watched the sun dip below the horizon and the city light up.

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The views were beautiful. Amazing to see so many people picnicking and even dancing along the Seine. Refreshing wind in our faces (and a little bit of diesel;), Maddy fell asleep along the way and an hour later we docked, soaked with the beauty and energy of Paris at night, ready for some sleep.

Wednesday, we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. The beginning of French carbohydrate loading had begun! Out to Fat Bike Tours for a ride around Paris.

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Our guide Trevor provided us with an animated history of France as we rode big comfy bikes by Les Invalides, Napolean’s tomb, the Louvre, lunch in Tuileries gardens and Place de la Concorde.  

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Fortunately, the heat from yesterday had dissipated and we had a few light showers along the way. We had a great ride - a fantastic way to see the city! Back to the hotel and given that the forecast was calling for thunderstorms, we decided to go shopping. Wandered around the stunning Galeries Lafayette (made Maddy happy to honour one of her favourite Hamilton characters) and bought a few things, had a functional dinner then to sleep with plan to finally have a sleep in!

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Originally, we had planned to go to Montmartre on Thursday, but we were exhausted and frankly done with touring. So, after breakfast we caught a taxi to the Arc de Triomphe and wandered down the Champs Elysees.

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We all enjoyed Adam trying on gorgeous watches at the TAG store, and the kids each picked up something along the way. We stopped for lunch, and then wandered all the way back to our hotel along the Seine (13 km). Beautiful temperature, and just enjoying being with each other taking in the sites and chatting.

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Our last night in Paris we had tickets for sunset on top of the Eiffel Tower. What can we say? Paris under our feet from high in the sky. We watched as the city turned white and lit up as the sky turned shades of purple. Lots of pictures which do it justice more than any words.

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We have done and seen a lot this trip. As with all travel our eyes have been opened to new places and people and cultures. We are thankful to have been able to make this trip, and to celebrate Maddy’s Bat Mitzvah in such an intimate, adventurous and meaningful way. We hope that the memories will endure.

 

 

 

Aug. 24-28: Prague and Bat Mitzvah by Adam Stern

Aug. 24-28: Prague and Bat Mitzvah

Air France flight to Prague went very smoothly, and the jetlag is starting to wear off. While walking to our waiting car Gabe realized that forgot his ipad on the plane. We had a very nice driver who led us back through airport security and LUCKILY for Gabe, they had found the ipad. Back into the car and arrived at our apartment in the Old Town. WOW. We all gasped when we waked in. Huge, lots of light, lots of rooms with a beautiful kitchen and relaxing living room space.

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Pictures don’t really do it justice, but it was fantastic. We settled in and unpacked for our 4 day stay and headed out into this beautiful city for some dinner. Afterwards we wondered around the main square and beautiful streets, picked up some groceries for our flat and headed back home for the night.

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Woke up, breakfast at home then off to Praha Bikes for our tour of Prague, led by Andrew our guide.

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One of Deb’s colleagues had recommended e-bikes, which was a fabulous suggestion as Prague is quite hilly.  As we climbed to the Prague castle no one was huffing and puffing, other than Debbie – turns out the electric motor on her bike was malfunctioning. This was quickly resolved while we took in a view of the city from a location that once was the sight of a large statue of Lenin. After the Velvet Revolution this was torn down, and now a large metronome stands there  - symbolizing slow movement, and that all things will pass.

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We rode through beautiful parks above the city to Prague Castle, saw St. Vitus Cathedral, the ‘fake Eiffel tower’, and Kafka Square with a very interesting statue.

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After freeing the country from the Communists, many people were upset that the Czech Republic then joined the EU. An interpretation given to us, is that the men are like the two different sides urinating on the Czech people.

We finished the ride back through the cobblestone streets (ouch) and arrived back at the bike shop. The tour was a great overview of the city.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing, wandering the streets and grabbing some dinner.

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Friday night we met Rabbi Hoffberg at the Jewish Community Centre for Shabbat services. It was just us, a gentleman traveling from NY and a local student. Very beautiful  and intimate service which we really enjoyed. Then we met up with Bubbie and Papa and headed to the Lubavitch Centre for Shabbat dinner. Not the original plan – we were not able to get a table at the other venue due to a large group booking. It was…. interesting. Absolutely packed, huge amounts of food punctuated by people making speeches in Hebrew and lots of singing. Debbie accidentally had sesame and we had to leave before the 3rd round of food. It was certainly an experience but unfortunately not really what we had in mind.

Up early on Saturday for a tour of Terezin guided by Martina, who is herself an independent filmmaker (small world). We first stopped at the train station where the deportations occurred. There is a very moving memorial made by the train tracks there now named “The Gate of Infinity” or “Brana Nenavratna” created by Ales Vesely.  There was also a very moving painting of shadows of people waiting for the train.

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Terezin was once a military fort built by Joseph II but it was used by the Nazis as a ghetto in WWII. At its peak it held 58,000 people, and only 7000 survived. They either died from malnutrition and typhus, or they were shipped to the death camps. Terezin is also notable in that it was filled with renowned intellects, artists and musicians. It was used as a propaganda tool to show the world the “fantastic” life they were providing for the Jews at the time.

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One of the inhabitants hid thousands of paintings and sketches created by the camp’s children, which were found after the war.  These are now displayed in a museum on the grounds. They show both the innocence of the children (fairytales, memories) as well as the horrors of starvation and fear of deportation.

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Although the whole experience was very moving, there were two things that most struck us. The first was that on one side of a fortress wall was a small mound of dirt that was used as a background for executions of political prisoners and Jews – while on the opposite side of the same wall was the swimming pool for the families and children of the Nazi soldiers.

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The other was a room that had the names of all the children who died there. Every corner of the room was covered in names providing a visual sense of the sheer volume of people murdered, as well as providing a way to honour the memory of each individual child .

It was a very moving but exhausting day. When we arrived home we flaked out and watched some Crazy Ex girlfriend. Then off to a nice dinner at “U Prince” on a terrace overlooking the rooftops of Prague, while we watched the setting sun.

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Sunday morning we met Bubbie and Papa at the hotel for a tour of the Jewish quarter with Daniela. For such a small city there are still many synagogues.

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We learned a lot about the history of the Jews in Prague – unfortunately the typical cycle of being accepted and welcome, followed by persecution depending on who was in power. We were most struck by the rooms that had been painted with the names of each of the 65,000 local Jewish people who died in WWII with many, many names that are familiar to us now.

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We also toured the cemetery which was very interesting. Saw how “Stern” was represented on the gravestones. 

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Daniela was an amazing guide – soft-spoken, with a degree in Jewish History and a wealth of information.

After a preliminary meeting with the Rabbi about the upcoming ceremony, we had a restful afternoon watching more Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and working on some finishing touches for Maddy’s speech and Bat mitzvah preparation.

We met Bubbie and Papa again at 7pm for a concert at the Spanish Synagogue. A beautiful Moorish building in the Jewish Quarter. The acoustics were really lovely and there were some amazing numbers, especially Summertime, Ain’t Necessarily So and Bolero. It finished off with some classic Jewish songs as well.

We then went out for a mediocre dinner and home to rest up before the big day!

Monday. The Main Event:

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Not certain that it is possible to convey our feelings around the Bat Mitzvah. We had it in the Jubilee Synagogue in a beautiful chapel. It was a small group including us, the Rabbi, the shomer of the shul, Jitka (who organized the event), Marta from the same company, and Adam the energetic and artistic photographer.

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We of course missed having the rest of our family with us for this important day. Maddy looked like a beauty (as always) and did such an outstanding, gorgeous job. We were all quite emotional. Rabbi Hoffberg said some insightful and moving words for Maddy and acknowledged her hard work and perseverance. He finished his speech by conveying to her that if she could do this, there wasn’t anything in her future she couldn’t handle.

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It was very moving to be somewhere where so many lives were lost to racial and religious persecution, and to now be celebrating here publically in a growing community. Maddy shined like the star that she is. Adam (photographer) captured some very moving moments. We all went for a beautiful lunch at Marina, said our goodbyes to Bubbie and Papa, and then collapsed at home for the rest of the day.

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Aug. 20-23: YVR to LHR by Adam Stern

Aug. 20-23: YVR to LHR

We had a relatively leisurely day in Vancouver before getting to the airport for the big trip. At YVR we were offered the chance to upgrade to business class for a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket… so we took it! We imagine the kids thought they had landed in airplane heaven with reclining beds and their own unlimited sources of media. Plus a nice flight attendant waiting on them hand and foot. 

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Nice flight with some sleep. Arrived around noon London time and made it through customs without much trouble. Took the Heathrow Express and then the tube to our flat in Southbank. A very sweet 2 story flat, well-located a few steps from the bank of the Thames at Gabriel’s Wharf between the London Eye and the Globe Theatre. 

Our London Flat.

Our London Flat.

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I think he misunderstood how this works.

I think he misunderstood how this works.

Even had a small electric piano which Gabe took advantage of. Quickly found some good pizza and wandered around trying to stay awake. We were mostly delirious but pushed through then off to bed.

Woke up early and grumpily the next morning. Very, very muggy outside contributing to us all looking like fuzzballs. Quick breakfast at Café Nero and then hopped on a river boat taking us along the Thames to Greenwich. Tried to stay awake to the best of our abilities!

Wide awake!

Wide awake!

Still wide awake!

Still wide awake!

When we arrived, we spotted a fun carnival slide which Gabe and Debbie went on.

Debbie likes slides.

Debbie likes slides.

Greenwich and a view of the Cutty Sark.

Greenwich and a view of the Cutty Sark.

We then walked through the very charming town to the Astronomical Museum and stood on the Prime Meridian line. Some very cool telescopes and history of astronomy but we were DELIRIOUSLY TIRED! We met Adam’s friend Darren for lunch at Bill’s and hoped that we were reasonable/sane company, given the jetlag. Super nice and smart guy whom we hope to meet again when we are more alert!

A view of the Queen's House and London from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

A view of the Queen's House and London from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

Took the boat back to our flat and had a short nap before grabbing a great dinner at Pizza Express on Gabe’s recommendation (better than it sounds!). Then across the street to the Globe Theatre to see Much Ado About Nothing. IT WAS OUTSTANDING!!! We had great seats in upper section, front row right in the middle.

Much Ado about Nothing at the Globe.

Much Ado about Nothing at the Globe.

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This version of Much Ado was set during the Mexican Revolution, which added  additional flavour. The performances were beyond amazing. Superseded all expectations. Such a treat to see Shakespeare in the Globe!

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Still fairly messed up with jet leg, but onward. The following day we grabbed breakfast again and Nero and headed to Piccadilly Circus for the afternoon without any significant plans other than seeing Matilda that evening. But when we passed a theatre ticket kiosk we thought we would see if there was anything available for an afternoon matinee. Lucky for us we scored some great last minute tickets to see Kinky Boots. We had fantastic seats and ABSOLUTELY loved it!

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Amazing music and performances and a profound overall message about being yourself. Maddy obtained the requisite sweatshirt souvenir and then we had a very British dinner of various pot pies and potatoes at Covent Gardens.

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A little shopping and then to Matilda. Our second time, but still such a treat to see the performance again and relive all the fantastic songs. Still laugh and cry in the same places!

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Back on the tube, a rainy walk to Snog for some frozen yogurt and then back to the flat to repack and sleep before heading out to the airport for Prague.

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