This is Thomas’s current challenge.

Hooray for Thomas Sees the World! We have passed the 2,000 unique visitors mark. In honor of this milestone Thomas now has a world map of all his challenges. You can check it out here, or click on the map tab on the menu bar. This is long overdue.

Brr. Bundle up for this photo from Guest Challenger Julia Smillie. Thomas identified it as Amsterdam. Kit reports:

Thomas has been very interested in learning cursive so we were working on that before he sat down to do the challenge. He immediately noticed the cursive script on the boat. He Googled ‘Noflik.’ The search returned a bunch of pages we couldn’t understand, but the word “Netherlands” stood out to Thomas. He Googled ‘ice skating city river Netherlands.’

The first hit returned is this one. There is a really lovely video embedded in the link. Thomas could see in this video how people in Amsterdam enjoyed the frozen canals.

I wonder, Thomas, have you ever been ice skating? What would it be like to play soccer on ice skates? While you think about that, I’m going to get some hot chocolate. Let’s pick a warm place next, shall we?

This photo comes from Guest Challenger Katrin Hieke, who lives in Germany. If you zoom in on the yellow building you’ll notice that all the windows have people painted in them. But why?

Katrin thought this might be a tough challenge, so she provided a second photo as a clue in case Thomas needed it:

He did. I also gave a hint, that the photo had something to do with a university. Then on the second pass Thomas correctly identified it as Von Bock House, University of Tartu, Estonia. And those people in the windows? They are popular professors from the university, looking out at their students. Kit reports:


We had to use the construction company’s website (visible on the fence of the clue photo) to get traction for solving this challenge.

We viewed the company’s website and looked at their projects until we found the University of Tartu.

Thomas thought the main building on campus looked like the White House, and we spent some time comparing those two buildings.

It took us some time to find the name of the building that is the focus of the challenge photo. Google Street Views has nice, crisp views of this area of town, and we toured around the area trying to find a name on the building. No luck.

We then used a campus map to identify the Von Bock House and learn about those people in the window.

Google maps has such good resolution that we thought we could really see the images of these professors up close, but Google blurs faces on its maps even for this mural.

What was Guest Challenger Katrin doing in Estonia? What is it like to see those windows in real life?

Congratulations on solving a tough one, Thomas. I particularly like your observation about the White House; it’s true that the two buildings look a lot alike. Katrin, can you please tell us more in the comments section?

Update: Which Katrin has now done. And here is a detail photo she provided of some of the professors in the windows:

This is Thomas’s current challenge, by way of Guest Challenger Reese Tisdale. In case you are wondering, the little guy with the red cap is named Spap. He’s a fellow explorer who happened to be traveling with Reese on this particular trip. Here’s Thomas’s version of solving it:

It’s in New Zealand. I knew it was New Zealand because they’ve been there. Christchurch Botanic Gardens. I learned the longitude and latitude. I am excited to get number 23.

And here’s Kit’s version, with a little more detail:

When Thomas decided to work on this challenge, we used his globe. When working on challenges, he typically just works on the computer. The need to better understand longitude, latitude, and the expression “as the crow flies” (etched in the stone) made me grab his globe.

I bought the children inflatable globes (like this one) a few years ago. They have been great toys: beach balls when we need beach balls, globes when we need globes. When Thomas was 4 years old, he took his ball in the car with him often. He would ask me about all sorts of things (the penguins in South Georgia, for example), and I had to brush up on my knowledge of geography to keep up with his questions.

Also different this time: he worked on an iPad. He didn’t need a lot of browser screens so it was easy for him to use the iPad. His inflatable globe has enough detail that he could tell that the longitude and latitude measurements were in New Zealand. He then plugged those measurements into the Google Earth iPad app, which took him to Christchurch. He searched on Google for “sundial in New Zealand.” He was able to find the Botanic Gardens by looking at the images returned by that search. He returned to Google Earth app to see the gardens. We went back to the inflatable globe to see how the crow would fly to all the cities listed. That last part was extra fun, and by the time we were crows flying to Tokyo, the globe became mostly a beach ball again.

Now how can we possibly top that?

In honor of Euro Cup 2012, which Thomas is following very closely, this is challenge #21 (via Guest Challenger Linda Norris). I asked Thomas not only to find out what stadium this is and what city it is in, but also to figure out the meaning behind the name of the team that plays there. And Thomas had great timing because he solved the challenge today, just as Spain and Portugal were gearing up to face off in the Euro Cup semi-final match IN THIS VERY STADIUM. Here’s the report:

Thomas searched “soccer ball fountain” and found a similar photo that was tagged with Donbass Arena. He went to Google Maps and found the arena, and his Google man showed him the fountain. He was confused because some of the pictures show writing on the ball. We talked about how it whirls.

He did a Wikipedia search on Donbass Arena and was thrilled to know that today’s match between Spain and Portugal would be played there. To have a connection between TSTW and a match he has been eagerly awaiting was special to him.

Besides some of the EURO 2012 games, Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine hosts FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Wikipedia tells us that the team was named for coal miners.

Correct on all points, Thomas: Donbass, Donetsk, Miners. Guest Challenger Linda has an interesting post on her blog about visiting Donetsk and the Shakhtar soccer museum inside Donbass Arena (you get to kick around a soccer ball inside the museum). Apparently coal mining is a big part of the economy in this area of Ukraine, so it makes sense that the local soccer team would be named the Miners. Can you think of any other sports teams that are named after a big local industry? I’ve got at least one in mind, but there may be others.

As I finish up this post my intrepid personal sports reporter informs me that Spain won on penalty kicks, 4-2, which prompted Thomas to kiss the TV screen. How’s that for breaking news on ThomasSeesTheWorld?

Hooray for Challenge #20! Thomas correctly identified this city as Brussels, Belgium. Specifically, it’s the north side of the Grand Place, the main city square. Thomas reports:

It is pretty. They have a nice restaurant. I want to live above it. It was built in 1697.

These buildings used to be guild halls. Thomas is referring to the second one from the right, which is now a restaurant called La Brouette. Kit says the name of the restaurant was crucial to identifying the photo:

Thomas searched on the flag to find the country. Then he Googled the restaurant name + Belgium. We looked at the menu and pictures from La Brouette’s website. We spent some time looking at the features of the buildings. We talked about what it would be like to live here. What did you do on your visit?

I was there to see a city museum, of course. Just out of view to the right, on the east side of the square, is the Museum of the City of Brussels.

A few blocks from this square, at the intersection of Rue de l’Étuve and Rue du Chêne, is a fountain sculpted in the form of a little naked boy peeing. Thomas, you might want to point your Google Maps man to see it. The fountain is called Manneken Pis (Little Man Pee) and it’s famous all over the world because the City of Brussels dresses him up in costumes that are always changing, everything from a Santa Claus suit to a soccer kit. The city museum saves all the costumes, more than 800 in all, and a lot of them are on display in a special Manneken Pis exhibition. This is not the only thing I learned about at the city museum, but it was certainly the most strange. Go to this page on the city museum’s website to see some of the outfits, as well as a funny video of one of them being unveiled.

I love all the fancy decorations on the buildings in this picture. The guilds sure were showing off when they built them, weren’t they?

Today is Thomas’s last day of kindergarten. (I don’t know about you but I have to keep reminding myself he’s only five, even though he pantsed my husband at Words with Friends this week and knows more about geography than most college seniors.) We’re marking this milestone with a 10 April 2012 excerpt from his school journal about his holiday travel interests:

I would go to Barcelona for vacation. Barcelona is the 2nd best team ever. A player in Barcelona is good. His name is Messi. He scored 135 goals. He is 24. I’ll have fun. I’ll fly in a airplane. And I will go to Maird [Madrid] too. Rea Maird [Real Madrid] is the 1st best team ever. A player in Real Maird is good his name is Roldo [Ronaldo]. I’ll go to Paris too. I’ll see the Eiffel tower. My mom loved Paris. I’ll swiming Josehine Baker [Piscine Josephine Baker]. I will go to London too. London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom.

Readers may note that this list differs from Thomas’s 19 February 2012 travel plans. Madrid and London have replaced South Georgia, Namibia, and Buenos Aires. Readers may also note that Thomas needs a second blog, Thomas Plays the World: One Soccer Game at a Time. I’ll leave that to some other cousin.

In the meantime, summer means plenty of extra room in the schedule for Thomas Sees the World challenges. Let’s see how many we can get through before first grade.

This challenge, by way of Guest Challenger Linda Norris, actually has two photos: one day and one night. Because I thought it would be pretty easy to identify, I asked Thomas to also find out what the penguins are made of (of course plastic, but plastic from what?)

Thomas wrote to me:

It is from Kampa Museum, Prague, Czech Republic. It is made out of plastic bottles taken from landfill. Is there a stadium in Prague?

Then Kit followed up with a little more detail:

I let Thomas work on his own to find this one.  It was easy enough with his search of ‘yellow penguins walking on a bridge.’ He called me in to help find it in Google Maps. The little platform for the penguins is visible on the map, and he was so excited when he found that platform. He loved the Cracking Art Group’s website and spent a lot of time looking at their different installations.

I did a little research and found that there are indeed soccer stadiums in Prague, Thomas. This website will help you research them. And Linda, maybe you can tell us a little more about what it was like to see the penguins in person. Do passersby like them or do think they are weird? And lastly, readers, you should definitely check out the Cracking Art Group website—lots of interesting stuff to look at.


Linda posted a comment with some more information; I’m going to copy it here also so it’s more visible:

Great job Thomas! The penguins are just part of all sorts of cool art in Prague and people really seem to like them. Do a search for giant babies in Prague and see what you find….I saw one up close at the Kampa Museum; and I also saw a car made entirely of twine there at at another museum, a statue of two men peeing which did cause everyone to giggle. But I did not visit the soccer stadium there….(but I have in other places so perhaps will have another challenge for you with a stadium in it!)

And here are two photos from Linda, one of the giant babies and one of the two men peeing:

Guest Challenger Margaret Hagood provided this architectural gem for Thomas’s 18th challenge, and Thomas and Kit’s report on it is going to blow your mind. It turns out all it took to solve this one was the Macarena. That’s right, I said Macarena. Kit writes:

Thomas learned the Macarena in school today and asked to watch it on Youtube. After doing the dance a few times, he remembered learning the Cha Cha Slide from his sister and asked if I would find that video. We sat and watched it together, and he noticed the setting of his challenge photo.

He Googled, ‘Where was the Cha Cha Slide made?’ That question didn’t give him an answer. We watched the video again and he noticed that the reporter at the beginning references Wacker and Michigan. He searched on Google Maps and found Chicago.

He thinks it is so funny that he solved a challenge through dance. [We can all agree on that.]

Afterwards, I showed him the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [the groundbreaking album by Wilco]. We have been listening to it a lot recently because it just hit its tenth anniversary, so he thought it was cool to see this connection to the buildings.

Now he is busy looking at the cover art in my music library. And he wants to know, ‘Do the cars go all the way to the top?’

The two towers look a lot like corncobs, don’t they? They are part of a building complex called Marina City. To answer your question, Thomas, the first 19 floors of both buildings are parking for cars; you drive up in a spiral. The floors above that are apartments. I am wondering what they are like on the inside, because apparently the rooms are wedge-shaped, not rectangular.

Okay, everybody, you know what you have to do now. The Macarena. And the Cha Cha Slide.