Oh the walking. It was horrible. Not really.

After we’d had our fill of Legos (and I’m talking about us parents – the kids could have stayed all day) we headed up the hill to the Musical Instruments Museum.

More impressive than a Wal-Mart.

I’d recently stumbled upon info about this museum online. It was included in a list of notable architecture or something, and this building was chosen because of the art deco style. It was formerly a department store and now has a new life as a museum.

It is playing drum music right now.

The unique feature of this museum is the audio guide, included with admission. This device automatically connects at each exhibit and begins playing a musical selection featuring that instrument.

Those look like musical coat hangers.

I’m no musician (though I do own a flute and can pound on the piano a bit) but the diversity of musical instruments was really astounding. Many cultures were featured – a reminder of how music is so important all around the world.

I have enough fabric scraps to make this.

I really wanted to hear this instrument but it didn’t come up on the audio guide. It looks more like a costume.

Like the Far Side cartoon: Welcome to Hell; here's your accordion.

There was a fine selection of accordions. The accordion doesn’t get much respect in American culture, but there was a special place for it here.

I did not count but I do not think there were 76 trombones.

Even when things looked vaguely familiar I realized just how musically illiterate I am. These may resemble trombones, but they are not.

All these impressive details. Beautiful.

The beautiful features from the original building were still intact. I thought the building was just as interesting as the instruments. If it was still a department store I think I’d shop here.

Adolph Sax. What a guy.

For a limited time, the museum featured a special exhibit about Adolph Sax, on the occasion of his 200th birthday. He was born in Dinant, Belgium so he’s a local guy.

Of course, the saxhorn. I thought it was a baritone.

I had no idea of the impact that Sax had on the musical world. He was the inventor of the saxophone of course, but his creativity went far beyond that. He was well known for his saxhorn design, which really took off because brass bands were quite popular at the time.

here is what I was expecting.

I actually had to search for this instrument, which is what I was expecting to see all along.

Maybe it was To Think that I saw it On Mulberry Street? Or Oh The Places You'll Go?

I have no idea what the name of this thing is (I really should start taking notes when we go to museums) but it is definitely my favorite. I think it was  featured in a Dr. Seuss book.

Bill's is the one in the back

At the end of the exhibit current saxophone players were mentioned, including Lisa Simpson and Bill Clinton. I was quite pleased that I heard no mention of Kenny G during our visit but apparently I was just not paying attention – Jeremy said he was included in the contemporary music section.

Sadly, Adolph Sax was less successful as a businessman than a musician or instrument designer. He was driven into bankruptcy twice due to litigation. He did suffer from lip cancer (could it be all of that work with instruments?) but recovered completely. He died in Paris in 1894. Incidentally just a week after learning about Adolph Sax I made a trip to Paris myself, but I did not pay homage there to this talented man. Maybe next time.


They don't exchange stock here anymore.

My boys love Legos®. I want to see the masterpieces of art and culture. These two things came together perfectly in the exhibit The Art of the Brick, on display for a limited time in at the Brussels Stock Exchange in Belgium. The exhibit showcases the work of Nathan Sawaya, an artist and sculpture whose medium happens to be those tiny little plastic bricks that my boys love so much.


This is the building. It is made of marble, not Legos.

Full disclosure: The exhibit is not cheap (I think it was around 40€ for our family) and it isn’t huge. I wouldn’t drive all the way to Brussels (that is about 1 1/2 hours for us) just to see this. But there is plenty more to see (like the Musical Instruments Museum, which I’ll write about soon) and eat (waffles! and chocolate!) which makes for a good day trip.

And it is not even finished!

We were greeted by this Lego sculpture which is the Royal Palace of Brussels. I’m not sure if this was created by Mr. Sawaya, but it was impressive, even if it was still under construction.

I think it is an 8th note

Many of the sculptures by Sawaya were monochrome with an emphasis on the human form.


The blue fella has been made life-sized and is known as the Tree Hugger. He has been hugging trees all around the world – not just in museums.

Ouch. That is some indigestion.

This was the spokesmodel for the whole exhibit. Maybe spokes is not the right term since it definitely does not talk. How about cover model? Iconic image? At any rate, my boys recognized this sculpture right away because it was on posters all over town (and on the front of the museum, as shown above.)

Name these celebrities! I see Mickey, and the rest I'm drawing a blank.

Beyond his original creations, Sawaya also recreates other art out of bricks. Two dimensional images were on display. It was sort of like impressionism – a completely different image when view up close compared to from a distance.

I think this was my favorite 2-d picture.

Some of the great art masterpieces were also part of the exhibit, such as The Great Wave of Kanagawa. The original is at the British Museum. We’ve been there but I don’t remember seeing this print.

See you soon!

This is a portion of the Bayeux Tapestry, which we hope to see later this month.


This rose window is made from the tiny transparent circle Legos (I’m sure there is a more technical name for those.) I’m not sure which rose window this is a copy of, since many cathedrals have them.


Some of the paintings, including The Scream shown here, were three dimensional. The background was flat and the figures were built in front of it.

I think he should have put a head on her

Nike of Samothrace is one of my favorite sculptures. We saw the original at the Louvre and now we’ve seen the Lego version. This one was much smaller than the original.

And why not give Venus some arms?

We first met Venus de Milo in the Louvre also. I’m not sure if the boys recognized her though.

Thanks to 1989 Academic Decathlon I have an appreciate for Degas

We have not seen The Little Ballerina by Degas, but Sawaya captured her pretty well here.

I didn’t include photos of everything on display at the Art of the Brick, but suffice to say there is plenty to see. I wondered how these sculptures could travel the world intact, since the Legos around here are constantly breaking even moving them around the house. A little research (online research – I did not touch the art) revealed that yes, Sawaya does glue them together. Lord Business would be pleased.

legos are such fun - until you step on them!

Thanks to the fine people at Lego, there were plenty of Legos to play with at the end of the exhibit. We sat and played for a while – not that we couldn’t do the same thing at home – and then went on to wander around Brussels some more and to find some lunch. I vote for waffles!


Today I will attempt to answer a question which is burning in the minds of many: Is it really cheaper to buy pottery in Poland?

(If there are any wives out there trying to justify a trip to Poland to their husbands, the answer is: Absolutely! The amazing cultural experience is beyond any simple price tag.)

No, seriously, lots of people have asked me about prices. I’ve been to Boleslawiec twice – once with some friends, and then we went again in an effort to support the local economy – all in the name of giving, of course – on our service trip back in March. The photo above is what I purchased on the most recent trip, in addition to a couple of gifts that I received (thanks, everyone!)  Here are the prices in Polish Zloty (PLN) and dollars. (And if you receive a piece of pottery from me in the near future, please forget that you ever read this. It is tacky for you to know what I paid for it. Thank you.)

The five squarish bowls (across the front row and one right behind it) were 62.30 PLN each. (about $20.77)

The four small bowls in the middle row, left side were 47.30 PLN each. ($15.67)

The two little mugs (barely visible on the left side) were 21.70 PLN each ($10.85)

The three oval platters (only two are really visible – the third is behind the mugs) ranged in price from 34.44 PLN to 56.59 PLN ($11.48 to $18.86)

The large bowl on the right side with the colorful flowers was 90.96 PLN ($30.32)

The medium bowl with the light blue butterflies was 65.30 PLN ($21.77)

The large square bowl and matching circular plate were the gifts so of course they are priceless.

Back to the original question: is Polish pottery cheaper in Poland? Since I am a financial counselor by training and an analyst by nature, here is thoughtful and deep conclusion: It Depends. The prices are definitely cheaper than what could be found at a department store and less likely to break than if ordered through the mail.

But I only gave the price of the pottery. I did not include the cost of the bus to get to Poland (or in the case of my previous shopping trip, the price of gas) or the price of lodging or food. All things considered, the pottery is probably no bargain. Whenever we’ve seen pottery for sale at a bazaar I’ve heard comments like, “Wow, these prices…it is cheaper in Poland!” Of course the pottery is cheaper in Boleslawiec - but first you have to get to Poland. That is not easy or cheap.

Second, although there are many shops in Boleslawiec that sell pottery, it is actually difficult to comparison shop. (Especially if you traveled by bus which means running back and forth between the stores is basically impossible.) Different stores have different patterns. Simple patterns are easier to produce than fancier patterns, which means they are also cheaper, even if they are the same size. Comparing pottery between 20 or more shops is challenging.

I’m sure once upon a time, before a pottery pilgrimage became a must-do while stationed in Europe, the pottery was truly cheap. Now it is probably cheaper, but I wouldn’t say cheap.

The better question is: is it worth it to go to Poland to buy pottery? Yes, absolutely! The selection is phenomenal. The pottery is beautiful. The pierogis are delicious. And (at risk of sounding like a credit card commercial) the experience of a visit to Poland with friends is (dare I say it?) priceless.




Wait and Hope

It was a little dreary out. Cold too.

Of all the things we saw in Dresden, my favorite was the Frauenkirche. This impressive church is less than a decade old.

That is some serious rubble.

The original church was completely destroyed on February 13, 1945 during the WWII firebombing of the city of Dresden. This large piece of rubble stands just feet from the church entrance as a reminder of that night.

Two theologians.

Despite the Catholic-sounding name, this is a Lutheran church, but that is not why it is so meaningful to me.

we just need some little pudi with harps

The interior is gorgeous – bright and cheerful. It makes me think of heaven – or at least what I imagine heaven might be like.


But as beautiful as the church is, it is not the aesthetics which make it significant to me. It is the story of waiting and hope.

The church was not rebuilt immediately after the war. Dresden was under communist reign and rebuilding a church was not a top priority. The rubble just sat, and thankfully it was not razed to make room for a swimming pool or hotel or an office building or a Starbucks. The people of Dresden waited for the day when they could rebuild. They waited…and hoped.

I would think that would be an eyesore – a terrible reminder of what the city had endured and all that had been lost. I would expect that people would want to get it cleaned up as soon as possible and move on with their lives. Throughout the years that rubble served as a memorial and was the site of many peace rallies. But the rubble was not removed because the people had a vision for something better. The people hoped that one day they could rebuild their church.


Finally, in 1992, after the Iron Curtain fell and Germany was reunited, the rebuilding began. Donations came in from all over the world (in fact, over 90% of the 100 million Euros came from outside of Germany), including from some of the Allied soldiers who were the bombers on that horrible night. The church was rebuilt, bigger and better than before. They used as many original pieces as possible, but set out to create a place where lively worship would happen once again.

The church was reopened in 2005, the culmination of sixty years of waiting and hoping.

That makes my present season seem pretty insignificant.



Rather than stop at a Rasthof for lunch on our way back from Poland, I planned a stop in the city of Dresden, Germany. What we lost in travel time we more than made up in culture, history, and food choices. It was a very short visit – just a couple of hours. Coincidentally, I had been in Dresden many years when I was on an Art and History European tour as a college students, and even then our visit was quite rushed.


Fortunately, I was able to arrange for local resident and tour guide Liane Lowe to meet us. It was so helpful to have her show us the highlights of the city rather than wandering aimlessly and wondering what we were seeing (and what we were missing!) I found Liane listed in Rick Steves’ guidebook. She was wonderful!

Dresden has a very long and interesting history. Liane did a great job of giving us a condensed but thorough summary, complete with photos that she would pull out of her satchel.


One of the notable things about Dresden is that it was practically demolished by firebombs in World War II. One survivor: The giant mural painted on 24,000 porcelain (seen here in the middle background.) This isn’t a great picture but it does give a perspective on the size: enormous.


The mural was created in 1907 to commemorate the history of Saxony after the region became a part of Germany.


The Saxon leaders and notable figures march on across the mural. There is plenty of symbolism here –  beloved leaders are shown with roses, less popular figures with thistles. The historical evolution of clothing and weapons is also shown across the ages.


Bringing up the rear are these “modern” figures.


These two guys look they belong in the Lord of the Rings films, but they actually are guarding the entrance to the Royal Palace. No royalty here today – just lots of art and treasures, some of which is kept in the Green Vault. That is something I’d like to see if I’m ever back in Dresden.


From the Palace we headed into the Zwinger, which was a wide-open space used by the Saxon royalty for big events, such as royal weddings and bar-b-ques.


It was pretty barren when we visited in the early spring, but I’d bet this place is bursting with color in the summer. The kids enjoyed running around a bit while we got the scoop on the history of the Zwinger.


We had entered through this gate (the second picture above is when we were walking through) which is the Rampart Pavilion. On both sides of the clock are porcelain bells which ring on the hour. Unfortunately our timing was a little bit off so we didn’t hear them.

These building look really dirty but that black isn’t from pollution. Much of the city is built from sandstone, which naturally turns black due to oxidation.


Our hour with our tour guide Liane was soon over. She finished the tour at the opera house, called the Semperoper. We didn’t go inside – we didn’t have the time for a tour here, since they are only given at 2pm each day – but Liane’s usual line of work is giving tours of the opera house. Perhaps the next time I’m in Dresden I’ll give her a call again.


I don’t know who the guy on the horse is, nor do I know what he did to deserve such a spot in the middle of the Theaterplatz. I do know that the kids had a great time climbing the steps of the pedestal of the statue!


We had some time to wander by ourselves before we had to meet the bus. We saw this mural, which is a reminder of Dresden’s communist past. When Germany was divided after WWII Dresden went to the Soviets. This giant piece of propaganda is on the side of the Palace of Culture, the venue for concerts even now.


We wandered upon a small winter festival, complete with ice skating rink. The boys were excited to find this snow – the only snow they have seen this year – and didn’t care that it was actually from the ice rink. It still made good snowballs. (My sympathy to those readers who have been absolutely pummeled by snow this winter.)


I noticed that the pedestrian signals in Dresden were just like the ones in Berlin. Perhaps an East German relic? Those amplemann are pretty cute.


After a McD lunch (for them) and a latte (for me) we continued wandering through the city. We enjoyed the view of the Elbe River from the Bruhlsche Terrasse – the “Balcony of Europe.” Thomas is sporting his Dresden souvenir (a new hat.) It is the souvenir that people buy when they are not properly dressed for the weather. It was chilly!


One final mysterious photo – this young child riding a turkey. I have no idea what the significance is but it was near where we met the bus for the final leg of our journey home.

P.S. I’m saving the most impressive thing in Dresden – at least in my opinion – the Frauenkirche – for another post. Stay tuned!




It wasn’t all work on our recent trip to Poland. What is there to do in nearly every region of Europe? Visit a castle, of course!


Czocha Castle was over the river and through the woods from Elim Center. It was an overcast and dreary day, but the scenery was still remarkable.


Here is a nice shot of the castle entrance…with a blurry family in front. Czocha is presently a hotel and restaurant, but is also available for tours. When it was built it was Czech; at the beginning of the 20th century it was German; after World War II it became Polish.


The first point of mystery and intrigue was the tour itself. Although there was a guide, he only spoke Polish. We anglophones received a handout but it was brief in comparison to the verbal narration, so I’m not sure of everything that was said. Apparently the guide had a good sense of humor but the jokes were lost on us.

The Knight’s Hall was the first stop. The balcony was made of ornate wood carving. The center beam in the ceiling (which I did not photograph) was made from a single tree.

Coats of arms sounds weird. I mean those shield things.

The fireplace featured figures in medieval clothing. The coats of arms (between their arms) represent the various owners of the castle.

Also mysterious is why this photo isn't in better focus.

Here is a point of intrigue: the eyeball belonging to the deer. Very mysterious. I think he was staring at us.

We could almost fill these shelves.

The next stop was the library. I don’t know whose books these were, but there was a whole collection on Stalin and a huge volume on the KGB.

Just like the Rundell Library in Rochester NY

The mystery in this room was the hidden passageways. The tour guide moved a bookshelf and then disappeared…then another bookshelf moved and he was back. Maybe this passage had something to do with the book about the KGB.


The Marble Hall was not used for playing marbles (at least our handout didn’t mention that – maybe the tour guide did) but was named for the Italian marble floors. Here’s another mystery: Apparently once the owner of the castle left for two years and when he returned his wife had an infant child. Obviously, she was unfaithful to him, so supposedly he put the wife in the well and the child in the fireplace wall. At times a child’s cries can be heard and then the mother’s ghost emerges from the well to comfort him. Thankfully we did not witness this while we were visiting.


Every castle worth its admission price has some armor! The scales on this piece are quite impressive. Much nicer than chainmail.


Part of the mystery here was how to get a good photograph of the bed. The weird  lighting made it very difficult for an amateur like me. The other mystery in the Prince’s bedroom is that apparently there is a secret trap in the bed. Mistresses could exit through this trap directly into the basement. Ouch. Also, there were hidden panels in these walls too, used for guests. (Not people like us – for guests who were specifically visiting the bedroom.)


We climbed to the top of the tower. The stairs would never meet any kind of safety code in the US, but we survived.


This was not on the tour, but I thought this door latch (which happened to be in the restroom) was very intriguing.


The mysterious person here is Jeremy. He was taking a picture of our group.


And here is the group! Not that anyone is recognizable…


I have no idea what this building is or what the carving represents, but it is interesting.


We headed back to the bus with one more castle visited and one more sword for the arsenal.



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