Europe Trip 2: Switzerland

We wrapped up our trip with a stay with family in Geneva. We got to all visit a nearby town together:















We also stopped by an “animal beauty contest”. We pretty clearly missed our chickens but enjoyed getting to see the ducks, pigeons and (not pictured) rabbits, too.











We definitely appreciated the stunning views from the apartment where we stayed, too, and picked up little souvenir chocolates to share at home.

Europe Trip 2: Art Interlude

This first set of images comes from our visit to the DOX Contemporary Art Centre in Prague. The whole place was sort of personified in a really sassy way and their stuff was (good) weird. We liked it. We’ll start off right with your instructions. Do keep them in mind, they’re important.

But we’ll ease in with something pretty tame – zeppelin event space, inside and out:


More snarky signs:



Commentary on world leaders, and shoe Jesus:

Modern issues:






And some wacky mannequins:






Now let’s jump over to Geneva for some public messaging and politics:







Interesting selections for public art (yes that’s a nude on the playground):







And some modernized pseudo-Greek sculpture:







Good times!

Europe Trip 2: Prague

After Vienna, we hopped on another train to Prague:

If you’ve seen the second Tom Holland Spiderman movie, you’ve seen this public square!  The astronomical clock is fascinating too. We thought the window display below was amusing, and we enjoyed the lit up architecture just off the main drag nearby.








We actually stumbled into an unplanned cultural event in this area: our hotel had brochures for what was basically their equivalent of (a smaller scale) Medieval Times. They had a several course meal, belly dancers, jugglers, sword fighters, and traditional music. It was a lot of fun.

I also went to the effort of booking a guided day trip to Terezin, a fortress built in the 1700s by Emperor Josef II for (and named for) his mother Maria Theresa. Ypsilantis and later Gavrilo Princip were held there. But the Nazis used it as a Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust. The little fort was for political prisoners. The shaving room shown here doesn’t actually have functional plumbing. It was fitted out as a ruse for the Red Cross inspectors.

This photo is still the little fort (the commandant really wanted to be in charge of a concentration camp and had “arbeit macht frei” painted above the arch in the background). The Jews were held in the large fort. Although there were some executions, there were no deliberate mass killings. Still, tens of thousands died of illness and starvation – and more were shipped to the death camps. The museum includes re-creations of living conditions.

The documentary they show in the museum juxtaposes images from the propaganda film made for the Nazis with drawings of life there created by the prisoners themselves, and the Kaddish overlaid with the counts of those sent, trainload by trainload, to Auschwitz, Mauthausen…

It helped to be able to spend some peaceful time looking out at the Vltava afterwards.


The next day we went up to Prazsky Hrad, the Prague castle complex dating to the 9th century. The layers and layers of architecture were fascinating. We particularly appreciated this ceiling. Mere rooms away, there was a display on the actual site of the defenestration of Prague. An antique weapons display and small sample living quarters – plus of course a cathedral – rounded out the variety of things we were able to see in the attraction.

We were especially pleased to see the (relatively recent) Mucha stained glass window. We also giggled at these candles:


The view from the hill wasn’t the end of our adventure in Prague. But the rest is art, which I’ll share in an interlude, which crosses over into some of the things we saw in Geneva as well. So, props to the airport hotel that held our bigger bags ’til we came back.

Europe Trip 2: Vienna

We didn’t actually like Vienna as well. Despite being closer to literate here (I have a modest amount of tourist German), we had repeated user interface issues, from the metro ticket machine to the washer/dryer at the laundromat. Still, we managed to find a lot of delicious food (including a Sri Lankan sampler, and the Naschmarkt) and generally find things to entertain us:

First off, this was the one stop in the package that included a guided tour. We joined a Spanish and English speaking guide to visit the Schonbrunn Palace and gardens and circle the city’s ring roads to gawk at the fascinating fusion of architectural styles.

One piece we were just as glad to have out of the way was the view of the Klimt Museum. He’s not really either of our cups of tea, but the dome was really neat!



We made yet another unsuccessful attempt to visit a military history museum to pick up souvenirs for an enthusiast friend. This view was actually acquired from outside the doors! More entertainingly, there was a small jet plane in the courtyard with a cloth covering on top. We meant to hop back on the tram and go exploring but we managed to get on the line headed back to our hotel.


The next day we focused on the city center. We bought tickets to watch the Lippizaner stallions practice, of course. They work in the Spanish riding school which may seem a bit odd but recall that Vienna was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, of which Spain was at times a part.

Our next stop was a building with multiple mini museum wings. The main attraction? The Globe Museum. They had both terrestrial and celestial globes of a variety of ages (and therefore accuracy) and sizes. We also visited the Esperanto Museum.

We also found a glass art shop, Gallery Sikabonyi. The gentleman who runs it is a true aficionado who can tell you all about the processes used by each of the artists to create these unique contemporary pieces. Jeff, of course, enjoyed how light interacted with these works.

Here’s an example of the mix of architecture I mentioned above.

The sleeper hit of the trip was the Austrian Museum of Folk Life (not pictured). They interspersed the historical objects, which were organized by use like cooking, sleeping and so on, with parallel items used by refugees from the Middle East. It was the most relevant/current curatorial effort I’ve ever seen, and very powerful.

Finally we visited the MAK or Museum of Applied Arts. They had a lot of interactive/nontraditional exhibits as well as some furniture galleries and (finally) some objectified portraits of men rather than women that Jeff characterized as “sexy stone carving” and “sexy metal working” which I guess I’ll just leave you to imagine.We found this non-functioning water fountain particularly whimsical due to the question on the plaque below:

I lied. It turns out I feel the need to share some feedback on our cultural excursion for this city. We booked a concert in one of the small palaces downtown. The chamber orchestra played in (very bad) historical costumes for the first act – so it was honestly a relief when they changed back to concert blacks for the second. There were a couple of dancers and an opera singer for variety. Definitely the appropriate thing to seek out in a city so entwined with the history of music!

Europe Trip 2: Budapest

Next stop, Budapest. We absolutely fell in love with this city. The food, the antique shops, the random super fancy (but quite affordable) restaurant with art gallery by one of the bath houses and most especially the bath houses. Here’s some of what we saw:

We let ourselves get talked into a trolley ride up to the top of Castle Hill – the ticket seller did a really nice job of not being pushy which we really appreciated. Buda Castle is the home of the National Gallery. It was pretty chilly, so we did poke our heads inside but perusing the gift shop we decided it wasn’t the art we wanted to see.

Before continuing on to Matthias Church, we got some souvenirs (the vendor there coached me on how to pronounce köszönöm, the Hungarian word for thank you) and stopped at a cafe for lunch, where we fell in love with Hungarian mustard.

Here’s the view out over the Danube to the Parliament building from Fisherman’s Bastion. We tried to visit the military history museum here as well (and did check out their outdoor exhibits), but like the Ethnography Museum we tried later on the other side of the river, it was closed too.

In the Jewish Quarter, we made an unexpected stop at the synagogue. The accounts of life in the Budapest ghetto during the Holocaust were harrowing, in contrast with the inspiring stories of lives saved by diplomats like the Swiss Carl Lutz and Spanish Angel Sanz Briz.

The courtyards were filled with memorials, including this Tree of Life, a repository for stones, mass graves in the garden of remembrance, and stained glass. Less seriously, there was also a Judaica museum with a Torah on display along with a note from a Rabbi permitting it to be there!

Elsewhere in the city, we found an interesting conjunction of official and protest art. The statue is ostensibly about Hungary being invaded by the Nazis and is titled a “Memorial for Victims”. But the Hungarian government was quietly replaced for a “cooperative” occupation in 1944. So the protest pieces speak to the responsibility the Hungarian people carry for failing to prevent the removal of over 500,000 Jews from the region.

To end on a happy note, here’s a view of the Danube from onboard a boat! We made sure to book something cultural in each city, and here we took a river cruise with music and traditional dancing. It was a whole lot of fun, and a nice way to end a day.

Europe Trip 2: Return to Paris

Alright, let’s see how this goes. Back in 2019 when we a) didn’t have a kid and b) could still travel because COVID wasn’t ravaging the States, we snapped up a package to visit three new Eastern European cities: Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. It started, as many such tours do, with a stop in Paris, and we delayed our flight home at the end to pick up a round trip from Prague to Geneva, Switzerland to spend some time with extended family living there. Let’s start like the trip did, in Paris:

Having learned from the “death march of art” during our first visit to Paris, we decided to try a more sedate strategy. I’d set a handful of “breadcrumbs” (map markers) within an arrondissement on Jeff’s downloaded map of the city each day and we’d wander our way from one to the next. Of course Jeff got a nice photo of Notre Dame all lit up, too (this was not too long before the big fire there).


There was a fun exhibit at the complex housing the Natural History Museum, Zoo, etc. with several very large colorful animals (I think they were inflatables) that lit up at night as well. There were more in the zoo, apparently, and the ticketing/line after dark was huge!

We took the opportunity to visit the Grande Mosque. The prayer hall was closed off to visitors, but we could hear some of the chanting. The mosaics within the courtyard were particularly lovely.


We also stopped by a “new to Jeff” museum – the Musee du Moyen Age, which is most notably the home of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. We enjoyed seeing a temporary exhibit on the gothic sculpture that adorns cathedrals as well.


We wandered into some churches to see the interior architecture and decorations as well. This one was particularly striking.

Of course we made sure to visit our favorite Eritrean restaurant again and I got to try some matcha flavored madeleines from the fusion patisserie Sadaharu Aoki.

Sadly we missed the Atelier de Lumieres as they were transitioning between exhibits.

We were also lucky enough to find a Mucha exhibit at the Jardin du Luxembourg near our hotel. We got to see many of his most famous works as well as some lesser known costume designs(!) and learned about his series of Czech nationalist paintings, one of which you can see here.

Costume Catch Up

I’m rearranging the steampunk sewing area, and adding a costume closet down there to free up space in the bedrooms they’ve previously been migrating between. There’s still a little extraneous stuff to find homes for (and I’m about to dump my fabric stash back in it for a while) but I think it’s coming along nicely. I won’t show you the double stacked clock and mirror though. Or especially all the chicken stuff. *sigh*

Since I’m writing anyway, I wanted to do a quick round up of the newer costumes (or just ones I haven’t shared photos of previously). As you can see, I already stuffed the dress form in a corner, so any shots I took specifically for the post are…a little limp.

Please note these are in no particular order. Well, I supposed by how they came out of the previous closet.

Princess Business – Pink pinstripe suit constructed in fall 2018. The pants ended up just slightly too small by the time I wore them to the symphony’s live Nightmare Before Christmas at Halloween. Lo and behold I was pregnant… My body is definitely a different shape now (no one mentions building out your shoulders and arms!) so I gave it away, but the highlights of the design were definitely the flowing peplum and lovely pearl buttons. The lining had a really nice feel to it, too.

Pelisse – Regency coat I made for myself in early 2019. Luckily I cut the pieces out a bit bigger the previous fall. I was so pleased that I was filling out the yellow dress I wore under it better but it turned out to be a very good thing I made the pelisse. I had to keep it on over the dress for the whole event when I popped a hook and eye! Even the very sedate dancing style (primarily walking) was fairly tiring at that stage too.

Regency waistcoats and tailcoat – Did you know that gentlemen often layered two waistcoats in the 1810s? Neither did I! But I found out when I finally broke down and ordered fancy patterns from a small seller online to make updated pieces for Jeff. For some reason they’re just not popular enough that big pattern companies sell them? Anyway, it meant I got to use two of my fanciest fabrics (augmented with broadcloth for the back). Very fun. We were running out of time for the same early 2019 event and intended to rent – but the local costume shop was out of stock due to a high school production of Les Mis. At least they had pants, so those are still on my to-do list. But I did bite the bullet and buy wool to make the tailcoat. Of course, the folks at the costume shop mentioned they let it drape for a couple months at some point early in the construction process, and that clearly wasn’t going to happen since I had about a week. Including my promised birthday gift to my sister of going to the symphony’s live Pirates of the Caribbean (you may be sensing a theme). After unsuccessful ticket trading shenanigans, I decided sleep was for the dead and did both. There’s still some fine tuning to do at the waist as well as adding the lining (I think?) but the wool was beautiful to work with and the coat looks much better than my previous attempts.

1950s (surprise maternity) coat – So before I got so excited about wool, I actually decided to try making myself a 1950s coat from some of our extra fleece blankets. This was another fall 2018 cut, spring 2019 construct. The wind tends to blow right through it, unfortunately, but there are enough panels that with my paranoid extra seam allowance there was actually plenty of girth for pregnant belly. Which is good, because by the tail end of spring it was the only thing that fit. I cheated on the buttons – they’re just for show and it actually closes with snaps. So it’ll be easy to give it a little adjustment for the fall.

Cinderella – I didn’t make this. I got it from a theatre group that got it from a dress shop that I can only assume was meant to be for a Quinceañera or something. I just barely squeezed into it for a Halloween party in 2018 (again, turns out I was pregnant). I’m so glad I had a chance to wear it before it moves to its next home.

Jaeger – Have you read Girl Genius? No? Check it out. Anyway, the jaegers are great. Their dialogue is written in dialect, they’re obsessed with hats, and they make for a great costume. I never figured out the makeup so never wore it fully assembled. I…when did I make this? I don’t know! Anyway, because the military jacket fastens with elastic straps that part still fits. I tried it on for a (literally) hot second in honor of watching Hamilton on Disney+.

Walkaway Dress – I don’t remember when I made this either, but it’s a project I’d been wanting to do for a while. I bought the pattern after finding a tutorial for it online. It’s just a gorgeous look, and I was looking forward to playing with contrasting colors of fabric and bias tape from my stash. Fairly quick and easy, though I prefer to wear it over another light colored dress. I really liked the button I picked…not that it shows.

Sideless Surcote – Fall 2018 again. I wanted something medieval, to use up the red from my stash, and finally put this awesome trim on something. So in my mass cut out of patterns, I cut this one too. I may even have finished it that fall, too, because it was about the easiest of the things I was prepping. Now I need a new kirtle to go underneath. Probably going to have to buy fabric for that though.

Cersei, complete (and Jaime too) – So I never actually wrapped up the story of Cersei and Jaime. Er…too soon? I ended up fairly pleased with the bodice and sleeve embroidery. The lions were, shall we say, an approximation. Jaime was interesting. I really just made the coat. Out of…vinyl? Pleather? It fed through the machine quite nicely, actually. The real trick here was buying lots of accessories, honestly. So once they were ready…

We took them out to the local Comic Con. Wandered the vendor area and the halls. Saw three versions of Daenerys. Attended a music panel. Followed a Daenerys into a restaurant across the street and made a silly post about it. Showed it to her before we left. She was amused.

And I think that’s that.

A Journey to China, Part 4: Conclusion

To be clear, we’re actually still covering the remaining Hangzhou, Suzhou and Wuzhen content in this post, and then wrapping up with our day in Shanghai.

There was actually a stop between cities at a Buddha statue tourist attraction. The lotus in the fountain holds a musical baby Buddha while the gold adult version in the distance was something like 80 feet (meters?) tall.
We decided to focus on the temple in the complex instead.
They had smaller statues and paintings inside.
Watching the show. After this stop the whole group rebelled and instructed our guide and driver to skip the next park on the itinerary in favor of getting a rest.
We ventured out to what was by local standards a very upscale restaurant but would be a nice treat but not completely out of range for us at home. We wandered a bit after that. A young man came out of a storefront to ask if we were interested in buying real estate, and while we admitted we weren’t, we had a blast making small talk with him and his office mates. They really appreciated the English practice.
A large scale park was first on the docket the next morning.
Another bit of the park.
Statue there with beautifully draped clothing.
And an ornamental planting.
Then a stop at a tea plantation for another sales pitch.
In Shanghai we ditched our tour once again with our new friend. We visited a museum store instead of the whole museum, got two(!) massages, and wandered a wholesale district. This was a shop that clearly sold mannequins to other businesses.
We also visited an enormously tall upscale mall. Our friend bought a tea set there, but it seemed to take the salespeople by surprise, so getting it packaged up to take back was quite a process.

A Journey to China, Part 3: Hangzhou, Suzhou & Wuzhen

For the next stage of our tour, we all packed up and flew to Shanghai, then got bussed around the triangle of Hangzhou, Suzhou and Wuzhen. At this remove, I’m not sure I can keep straight which city was which, but each had a specific attraction.

First a quick shoutout for the hotel art. We really enjoyed checking the various floors at some of the hotels to see what little sculptures they had out on display.
The highlight of our first city was gardens. This is an interior shot of course!
Outside with framing trees and a reflecting pool.
Gorgeous red foliage on the other side.
Just when we thought maybe we were coming to the end, there was more garden!
A picturesque rock wall.
Same, but in miniature!
A stunning red gate surrounded by flowers.
A few other amusing highlights, with Batman joke, goose friend and a snack.
Next up a boat ride on the canal. These structures have been around for a very long time!
Yet another pavilion.
One of our best finds of the trip. We always enjoy popping into little stores and seeing what convenience foods are like. You would think these would be the equivalent of American gas station sandwiches. The labels were amusing. The taste was excellent. The price was even better. And best of all? The brown one, I kid you not, was cake. …how 2020.
Kentucky Friend Chicken was interestingly very aspirationally middle class, hence the gold suit etc. And by local standards, quite expensive.

A Journey to China, Part 2: The Great Wall

I think this new format is working nicely. Easier to edit procedurally, and more emphasis on the photos. So let’s stick with it.

Day 2 of our package took us mainly to the Great Wall, though there’s a little miscellany on either end.

First we stopped by some of the Olympic structures. We were fairly intrigued by this streetlight design, though, and you can still see “The Bird’s Nest” at the base.
We also tried some kind of candied fruit from one of the street vendors. We still don’t know what it is, really. But it was tasty! This one was a little bit frozen from being stored outside, which when we got another in the underground mall the following day, we decided we actually liked better than room temperature.
On the way up to the wall, we were all ushered through a jade factory. Aside from the piece we brought home, this collection of silk embroidery portraits was our favorite thing there.
The part of the wall we saw was a fortress surrounding a valley. So there was a loop there that people could walk if they had the time.
Various members of our group managed different amounts of the ascent.
The views were stunning. I was really pleased with how well the photo captures the color fade over distance. The lone electrical pole feels telling, too.
Little outpost.
Another distance shot.
We drove past a frankly terrifying amusement park on the way back.
And took the tour up on the add-on to see a performance that night. We critiqued it heavily on lighting, costumes, plot, choreography and such (with help from one of our fellow tour members regarding acrobatics). It was certainly heavy on spectacle and the incorporation of water onstage (pools and a waterfall) was nothing short of astounding. They had spared no expense.

The following morning, we ditched the optional tour with that same fellow member of the peanut gallery to do some (not vary savvy) haggling for souvenirs at a big outdoor market. At least we were able to navigate the subway very easily!