Saturday, May 12, 2012

Steve, Marisa and Isaac in Prague

Prague was really cute and walkable.  There were narrow, cobblestone streets everywhere and a great, well-preserved palace complex from it's former life as a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
From Europe Trip 2012. Prague.
From Europe Trip 2012. We don't take too many pictures of the unhappy moments, but this gives a little bit of a sense of the many moods of a baby on a 5 hour train ride.
From Europe Trip 2012. Izzy was being adorable on my shoulders and about 10 people walked by and oggled him.
From Europe Trip 2012. Baby giggles at a park in Prague.
From Europe Trip 2012. Loved the art in Prague!

There were also some really old churches and synagogues, e.g. ~1100-1400. It was a contrast to Vienna and most other cities we've been to in Europe where the churches are a bit newer and more structurally complicated and advanced.
From Europe Trip 2012. Spanish synagogue.

Izzy got really good at gnawing on whole fruit via the in-season strawberries we saw everywhere in Prague and elsewhere in Europe. 
From Europe Trip 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Steve, Marisa and Isaac in Vienna

On the airplane, there were lots of people and bright lights to look at, and mommy and daddy were right there for Isaac to crawl all over.  WHO NEEDS TO SLEEP??

From Europe Trip 2012

For the first 5 hours of the flight I (Marisa) thought we had made a huge mistake to take on airplanes and jet lag.  I had to take a deep breath.

From Isaac in Europe. Coffee in Heathrow that is about to end up all over my shirt.

The first night Isaac woke up at 2am screaming - he had a fever of 104 F.  We visited an emergency room for kinder. (perhaps the same one frequented by the Duponts?)  Isaac's fever dropped very quickly and by the time we got to the emergency room, he was actually happy.
From Isaac in Europe. Isaac in the emergency room.

After about 3 days we were all adjusted to the new time zone.  There was just one night were Isaac woke Steve up at 2am by climbing on top of him and pounding on his chest.  He wanted to play our new game "earthquake!!"
From Europe Trip 2012. Isaac playing earthquake (during the daytime)

Isaac, Steve and I have had a pretty good time at the Viennese cafes.  They have a luxurious ambience with waiters in suits, but you can also relax with a newspaper and stay all day, with a little bit of coffee here, and a little bit of prosecco there.  When sitting outdoors, we could also let Isaac practice walking or climbing (not sure what the other patrons thought of that).
From Europe Trip 2012

The palaces and Imperial Treasury are really rich and beautiful.  Schonbrunn Palace had a huge garden where Isaac got to "walk" around, and practice his pincer grip by picking up pebbles (and trying to put them in his mouth).
From Europe Trip 2012

The snap n go stroller we bought has worked out okay.  It's light enough to carry up stairs.  It does okay on cobblestones, and there aren't too many cobblestones in Vienna, although you're guaranteed to encounter a few on each walk.  We've seen a few Viennese people with jogging strollers, but they have a smaller profile than the Bob.
From Europe Trip 2012

Isaac loves the bread rolls here. He's been noshing on a lot of it since it's easy to throw at him when he's in the stroller.  However he's not too fond of European baby food.  The 8 month old jarred food has too many chunks for his liking, so we've been feeding our 10 mo old the 4-6 month old jarred food.

We all had a good time visiting a few small towns outside of Vienna, Melk and Krems.  The towns on the drive there by the Danube are idyllic, and the old cobblestone streets gave Isaac ample opportunity to walk.

The biggest problem for the poor little bub is that he takes all of his naps in the stroller and doesn't sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time.  He's not been too fussy though.  Regarding spending all day in the stroller, we've been a bit more careful to let him out to move around whenever he complains after the 2am "earthquake" wake-up - we'd prefer if he practices his mobility skills during the daytime.
From Europe Trip 2012

The chair in the following picture, the Brica fold n go travel booster, has been amazing.  It's only 1/2 in thick or so, and we've been able to attach it to all the chairs at restaurants and in our apartments.
From Europe Trip 2012

Here are more pictures of our little gnome and the sites we have seen.
Keeping warm in front of the Rathaus. From Europe Trip 2012
The Hofburg Palace Entry, with Izzy asleep. From Europe Trip 2012
The Imperial Treasury and our little treasure. From Europe Trip 2012
Melk Abbey. Big Poppa. From Europe Trip 2012
Schonbrunn Palace. From Europe Trip 2012
We had to forfeit our audio guide to Isaac in one of the Vienna museums, to keep him from protesting too much. From Europe Trip 2012
One of the various techniques we employed to keep Izzy entertained. From Europe Trip 2012
Jet lagged baby. From Europe Trip 2012
All of our luggage, including a baby bed, stroller and car seat. From Europe Trip 2012

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Joshua Tree

We went to LA a few weekends ago. I told Steve we were going on a vacation for his birthday but I didn't tell him where we were going. He guessed Hawaii or Alaska, so he was a little disappointed when I handed him his ticket at the airport and he saw he was going to LA. Nonetheless, I think we both had fun.

I would say the 2 highlights were going to Joshua Tree and renting a convertible. The joshua trees were unusual, and the jumping cactuses were bizarre and beautiful. Pictures say it best.

Another major highlight was that we did a 4 mile round trip hike up to an abandoned mine, and neither my foot nor knee hurt afterwards. It's been a few years since I've gone hiking on hills/mountains, so it seems a few doors are open to me that were closed before.
We also encountered a rattlesnake. We did not become aware of it's presence until it rattled at me from about 4 feet away. It stared at us for a few seconds then slithered away. I screamed and jumped, helpfully right into Steve. I then recovered and stepped a little closer to take pictures. I learned from my dad how to put yourself near dangerous animals so that you can get a picture to brag about. 2 out of 2 times, nothing bad has happened.
Anyhow, about Joshua Tree, I must say that spending a day learning about nature and hiking away from the crowds can't be beat.

I'll write a bit more about the rest of our trip in a separate blog post.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My stupid web site

After years of complaining about how there are too many steve baker's in the world, so nothing about me ranks on google (this is particularly embarrassing given who I work for), I decided to finally make my own web site. This is partially because there are many other steve bakers who could be confused with me and do have web sites, including the one at, who is also a software engineer in the bay area! I'm just writing this post so I can link to my new web site and increase its ranking for the phrase: steve baker.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Last year we visited Trondheim (very far north, in Norway) in the middle of winter.  We had a 7 hour stopover in the Amsterdam airport.  The airport is quite close to city, so we were able to leave our luggage and visit the city, which we had never been to before.

Our flight back home also flies through Amsterdam, and we thought we had a 5 hour stopover, which is just enough time to walk around a little and get lunch before returning to the airport.

In Florence a few weeks ago we took a Tuscan cooking class (which I think we didn't write about, but it was a lot of fun).  There was a 40ish couple in the class that randomly brought up that they had been to Amsterdam for a week.  I give it a 50% chance the guy was in finance because he was dressed nicely and they lived in Connecticut.  (ha!)  He also had a slight brooklyn accent that he hid pretty well, until I asked him, "Are you originally from new york?", after which he got all excited and launched into "fuggedaboutits" and demands for "kawfee",  Anyway, we kept trying to pump them for tips about other things we could do in Amsterdam.  Our conversation went something like this:

Couple:  "Of course you have to walk around and see all the canals"
Us:  "Right, we did that."
Couple:  "You have to see the marijuana parlors"
Us:  (Nodding, we already saw that.)
Couple:  "You have to walk through the red light district."
Us:  "Yeah we saw that too."

At this point they were stumped and we shifted conversation.  Later I steered it back:  "Did you do anything else you'd absolutely recommend in Amsterdam?"

Couple:  "Oh, the Anne Frank house was really interesting."
Us:  sighing, "We did that too!"

Apparently we are power travelers because in our five hours in the city we did everything they could remember from their one week trip to Amsterdam.  (Maybe they were doing a lot of drugs and didn't want to tell us and were too drug addled to remember anything else.)

The odd thing about Amsterdam is that despite its reputation to Americans (because of the marijuana parlors and the red light district), we thought it was quite beautiful and a charming city.  I was actually unimpressed with the "seedy" areas since there are much largier and seedier areas in American cities.

It seemed like such a nice cityl We're sure there were other things we could have done.

Unfortunately when we checked into our flight this morning we found out we only had a 2 hour layover, so now we're stuck in the airport.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

trip to olympia

A few days ago we made a day trip to Olympia, the sacred grounds where the original Olympic games were held.  It is on the complete opposite side of the Pelopenese from Tolo, where we were staying, so we knew we had to get an early start for 3 hours of driving there, and then 3 hours of driving back at the end of the day.  

We thought it'd save time and be nice to have a picnic at the Olympic grounds, so the night before we bought a whole bunch of supplies.  You can get fancy European meats and cheeses in the US, so we were most excited about buying these treats cheaply in the small supermarket.  We bought 3 kinds of lunchmeat, bread, mayonaise (surprisingly, they had Kraft, but we bought another kind), a big sack of fresh olives, and a bottle of wine.  We also saw what looked like spreadable cheese with a picture of garlic on it.  How could we not buy creamy cheese with garlic? (especially since there is no one else to comment on our breath?)  

Driving to Olympia was a no holds barred, full body effort.  We got a stick shift car, so we got to practice white knuckled turns while down and up shifting constantly to go up hills, around bends, and to re-accelerate.  (More properly, I got to practice while Marisa tried to not vomit in her seat.)  I've never seen this done in the US, but in India we admired how the drivers honk ALL the time, ostensibly to warn other drivers, scooters, pedestrians, and passing elephants about the soon-to-occur dangerous maneuever.  We noticed a few people in Europe honking around bends, so I took this practice to its logical extreme, as seen in this video:

It made me (us?) feel much safer to honk constantly, because Greek drivers don't seem to care what lane they are in, so we were a bit worried about getting hit head on while rounding blind turns, even if we stayed in our line.  

On the way we saw some beautiful mountain towns and views up the valley.  We actually appreciated the views more on the way back when we were less stressed out about having enough time in Olympia.

Three hours later, we arrived safely in Olympia.  I was feeling exhausted from the effort of the drive, though.  I don't think I've ever felt so tired after 3 hours of driving.  It was only 11:30, so we planned to head straight to the museum to first learn about the ancient site.  After that we'd picnic and then walk around.

There wasn't clear signage for parking.  After a minor argument about whether we could drive on the road pointing to the museum (it looked like more of a pedestrian access path), we drove up it and parked the car directly in front.  After we'd spent a few minutes parking the car and got out, a woman ran out of the building, "You can't park here!  And the museum is closed until 1pm!"  There is no predicting museum hours in countries that take afternoon breaks.

We decided since I was already famished we might as well find a spot to picnic, so we kept driving up the road and were amazed to see the old Olympic Stadium to our right, past a wrought iron fence.  There was a perfect spot to park the car right across from the stadium, so we got out and picniced right above it.  The stadium below provided some entertainment because tourists kept coming in and doing goofy things.  One large group of teenagers came in and staged a footrace.  As Marisa notes in her photo caption below, I kept yelling "Vittorio" at the racing teenagers below.  I'm not sure, but  I thought that might be italian/latinish for Victory.

Our food tasted great, at least to me, because I was so hungry from driving and from a small breakfast.  I slathered large amounts of mayonaisse and an even larger amount of spreadable cheese onto bread, accompanied by the meat and olives we'd bought.  The garlic from the cheese was the dominant flavor, though.   Marisa finished before me but half an hour later I was still eating.

I'd started to slow down and was no longer ravenously hungry when I prepared another piece of bread, covered with cheese.  I took a bite and realized it didn't taste good anymore.  In fact, it tasted kinda bad.  "This doesn't taste so good anymore.", I said to Marisa.  She laughed, because she likes to laugh at how I get sick from overeating.  (mixed with concern over my health)

"This tastes like something familiar...  hmm..  it tastes like butter!"

"Maybe it's a buttery cheese", Marisa responded.

"Let me look at that package and see how many calories are in it."

I took a look at the label on the front.  Underneath the picture of what looked like cheese and the garlic cloves I saw anew some Greek lettering we had previously ignored.  It read, "βούτυρο".

I had a hooked on phonix moment where I sounded the label out..  "Boooo tuurrr oooo.  Oh my god, Marisa, this label sounds like butter!  This is butter!"

We (mostly I) had eaten an entire tube of butter.  Probably 10 tablespoons, at least.  I felt pretty sick, scraped all the remaining butter off my bread, and finished the rest of the meat and olives.  We proceeded to the museum, stomachs heavy with 2000 calories of butter.

On a side note, I have been surprised and impressed with my ability to read (if not understand) Greek words.  This probably sounds stupid to anyone who has been to Greece or knows Greek, but it's easy to sound out Greek words if you already know the Greek letters, which many people do.  I learned almost all of them in math and science classes.  For example, with "βούτυρο", the important letters are beta (b sound), omega (o sound), tau (t sound), rho (r sound, it looks like a p).  Marisa points out that even frat boys know Greek letters, since the fraternity names are all in Greek.  This may be the only advantage of being in a fraternity, other than becoming really awesome at drinking games.

The Olympia museum was I think worth it for learning the context for the site, but I don't remember many interesting artifacts from it.  They provided lots of history that we wouldn't have otherwise known.  (for example, how important religion was to the original games, which was why they were eventually banned as pagan by a christian bishop)

The site itself was amazing to walk around.  The complex is quite large and surprisingly complete.  Many of the buildings had fallen over, but I don't think we'd ever seen so clearly fallen columns before.  For example, in this picture you can see exactly how the column support fell over:

Many of the foundations were still standing, and you could imagine how the athletes would have used various spaces.  Marisa took this picture of me pretending to wrestle in the wrestlers courtyard:

There were many other interesting parts of the complex, including baths where the athletes would get massages, stretch, and bathe.  It was filled with temples to various gods.  

Personally, I thought the neatest part was the runners stadium, where they'd hold several hundred meter races.  The arch through which the runners entered the stadium is still remarkably preserved.  You could imagine it sorta being like when they run into the Olympic stadium now, or when basketball teams bust through the paper arch covering when coming onto the court.  There were treasury houses for each Greek city state lining the road to the entrance, so the athletes could walk past symbols of their respective cities.  They also had statues of athletes who cheated, as a reminder of the eternal consequences of a tarnished reputation.

In the stadium I staged my own race and did 15 laps while Marisa walked the course.  She had the good humor to take some pictures.

Greece - a History Buff's Delight

Athens was almost as amazing as Rome. In terms of history, Athens is at least on par with Rome - the ancient Greeks left just as many ancient ruins behind in Athens and the surrounding area as the Romans did in Rome. Other than the ruins the city is mostly ugly though - lots of squat, concrete buildings and graffiti.

Most history nerds have a favorite - the ancient Greeks or the Romans. My pick is the ancient Greeks. As a democracy-loving American it's hard to not be impressed by the people who invented democracy more than 2,000 years ago. The military made Athens rich, it was powered by free men, and therefore free men deserved a hand in government decisions. It's a testament to their greatness that they treated men this equally given that democracy went out of fashion for the next 2,000 years after the decline of ancient Greece. (Steve's note: i don't really love democracy. We have too much democracy, which is why we're constantly bothered with stupid propositions from the state on matters about which voters are unqualified to make decisions. America's founders consciously did not want to emulate the idiotic athenians, ha ha! We stood on the spot where socrates died because the people democratically voted he should die! Marisa's counter-point: I realize democracy is not perfect but I don't think all of our readers, or at least the precious few that have made it this far into the post, are interested in a debate about the relative merits of democracy. So I'm oversimplifying. Forgive me.)

The Acropolis and the Parthenon, the greatest ancient Greek ruins we have, sit on top of a steep hill and can be seen from anywhere in Athens. The Parthenon (the main temple) is quite large and its columns are well preserved. Between the building itself, its location and its age, it is awe inspiring. I couldn't get over the fact that people knew how to build such a massive and beautiful structure in such a difficult location over 2,500 years ago, using basic tools of no more than stone or bronze.

Athens also has a really nice archaeological museum with exhibits on the Greeks and the Mycenaens (more on them later). The following is one of the most famous statues. It's nearly 3000 years old. We've seen the progression of the art of sculpture during our trip, and it's amazing how well shaped this statue is:

Olympia is the site of the original olympic games. It's a massive complex of temples and athletic facilities. It's several hours away from Athens (in the Pelopennese) so most tourist don't make it there, but it's a lot of fun. The Greeks were really into athletics, as we quickly learned at the museum exhibits where at least 1/3 of statues/monuments depicted athletes or athletic competitiions. Athletes make good warriors, after all. Olympia started as a temple complex where the main gods and the god of victory (Nike) were worshipped. The Greeks seemed really into the concept of victory based on the number of Nike statues we have seen. Anyway, the olympic games were originally a spiritual event, a way of worshipping the Gods and their relationship to athleticism/victory. They started with a single short distance sprint event and gradually evolved to include things like wrestling, running in combat gear and longer distance runs. They also served wider purposes such as a way for people from around the Greek world to meet and do business, a time to temporarily halt fighint, and a constructive channel for the competitive spirit. Olympic victors became famous (i.e. the subject of many sculptures, carvings, etc.) and sometimes made rich by their leaders back at home. Steve will write more on Olympia later.

Coming back to Athens, one crazy thing that happened was that we saw 2 separate sets of people doing hard drugs in broad daylight. One was snorting something and one was shooting something. The one shooting something was within 200 ft of a bunch of nearby police officers. Our hotel clerk told us drugs are illegal and if the police see these folks they would arrest them. But these folks are just really punk rock, I guess they don't care. We're told Greeks are passionate about freedom - was this a surprising manifestation of that passion? I'm not sure. Note that we never felt unsafe in Athens. My guide book says violent crime isn't a big problem. People seemed defiant, but not violent.