Winter Can Be Sneaky (Europe Part 7)

We were enjoying our car ride back to our resort in Pongau, near Salzburg, after a lovely day touring the castles of King Ludwig II in Bavaria.  By the time we got in our car, we noticed the weather had cooled and the wind had picked up.  Off in the distance we could see cloud cover begin to cloak the tops of the Alps.  I figured it might be snowing up there.

The scenery was unbelievable.  My mouth pretty much hung open the entire trip.  We were happy.  Bob, my husband, was enjoying driving along the mountain roads.  (Side note – If you ever go on a trip to Europe and plan on renting a car, consider asking Bob to come along and chauffeur.  He is amazing.)

I was getting cold.  I touched the glass on the window and knew the temperature had dropped.  The indicator on the dashboard read an external temperature of 11 degrees.  (Double the Celsius temperate and add 30 to give you the fahrenheit.  That meant it was 52 outside.)  Not bad, but cooler than earlier.  I watched as the temperature dropped to 9.  Then 8.  Quickly it was 2 degrees.

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Soon we encountered a few snow flurries.  How exciting!  My first Austrian snow.  It looked a lot like the snow we have in the U.S. except the flakes were enormous.  They looked like they could have been cut out of paper.  Now the temperature was zero (double that and add 30 – you get 30).

We were winding through the Alps.  It was getting dark.  The flurries had turned into a snow storm.  This Florida girl was not liking it.

We were about 45 minutes from our resort when the snow started accumulating on the windshield and the road.  The temperature held at zero.  The speed limit was around 80 kph, not that we were going that fast.  At one point a car in front of us stopped and Bob had to swerve around him to avoid a collision.  I think the other driver must have skidded and panicked.  We pressed on.

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We were heading down the mountain so we figured we would be driving out of the snow, but no.  It was picking up and now it was totally dark.  We were so thankful to pull into the parking garage at our resort and sleep safe and sound in a warm bed.

The view from our balcony April 22 in St. Johann at Pongau, Austria.

The view from our balcony April 22 in St. Johann at Pongau, Austria.

The next morning was beautiful and the weather had warmed up.  We could see the beautiful new dusting of snow on the roofs and trees.  The server at the cafe told us winter had decided to come back but it was gone again.  What a difference a day makes.

 

Oh My Gosh, Oh My Gosh (Europe Part 6)

Here is a perfect example of you cannot judge a book by its cover.  Or, in this case, you cannot judge a hill town by how it looks from the outside.

As we approached our resort, we rounded a bend and saw this view.

All four of us exclaimed in unison, “oh my gosh, oh my gosh.”  It was magnificent, towering in front of us beckoning us to come in.

When the day arrived for us to visit the Oh My Gosh (as we like to call it), we were shocked. It’s actually in the town San Casciano de Bagni.  Today it is a medieval ghost town.  Amazing on the outside and deserted on the inside.  We still enjoyed the view immensely but it was surprising.  I guess that’s why Rick Steves does not mention it in his guidebooks.   Oh, Rick, we are sorry we deviated from your guidance. It won’t happen again.

Florence – Why Don’t we Call You Firenze?  (Europe Part 5)

I cannot figure out why we call some cities by their native name and others by the English/American version.  For instance, Rome vs Roma, Florence vs Firenze, Munich vs Munchen.  I have decided not to contemplate this too much because I am on vacation, but I will say it is much more fun to say Roma, Munchen and Firenze.

Speaking of Firenze, that was our destination today.  Florence had the hustle and bustle going from the minute we turned onto its streets.  Cars stacked up at intersections and motorcycles darted in between them in spaces thinner than a pepperoni.  It was unnerving but totally worth every nail that was bitten off during the drive.

Seeing the Statue of David by Michelangelo would be reason enough to go to this city. He was magnificent.  At 17 feet tall, he literally was head and shoulders above all the other statues in the corridor.

 He was not the only attraction in his area, though surely he was the main attraction.  Michelangelo also had a hall lined with his Statuas Incompiuta (Unfinished Statues).  According to Michelangelo, the figures were already in the stone just waiting to emerge as he sculpted.  They were fascinating.

  

 And, of course, there is a duomo in Florence.  As we left the city an orchestra had assembled on the front steps of the cathedral and gave a small concert.  They appeared one by one as musicians playing solo and then they came together with a sound so magnificent that it brought tears to my eyes.

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As we headed down the autostrada toward our resort, an hour and a half away, we decided we would take a different route home.  We exited at Chiusi to look for dinner in this small town or any of the others that dot the meandering roads on our way back.  It was not looking too promising to find anything.  The landscape was becoming more and more rural.  Our plan was to follow the signs for the first eatery of any kind that we came across.

Since there was nobody else on the road, when we noticed a small sign Bob screeched to a stop and we turned up the unpaved road.  This was what they refer to here as a white road – gravel and narrow.  At the end of this road we found a charming little restaurant, Trattoria del Contadino, and had the best meal of our trip.  We were the only guests and were treated like VIPs – from the antipasto tray all the way to the limoncello at the end of our meal.  It was perfecto.

Unfortunately we lingered long enough that Bob had to drive the white road out of there. We were thankful to be back in our beds that night.

The views at night are a bit more terrifying.

The views at night are a bit more terrifying.

Orvieto (Europe Part 4)

Our first stop out of Rome was Orvieto.  The thrill of visiting our first hill town made it even more impacting.  The beauty of these towns will take your breath away.  So will all the walking.  The town center is typically dominated by a cathedral, which may or may not have a dome.  I thought duomo always would translate to a church with a dome, but it does not.

Orvieto’s cathedral has one of the most spectacular facades that I have ever seen.  Here is our first peek at it.

 This is an example of Italian Gothic architecture.  Of interest is how the look of the facade changed as the afternoon light on the colorful mosaics made them shine like the sun itself.

 

 Strolling through this medieval city was like walking through a fairy tale.  I kept having to pinch Bob to make sure I wasn’t sleeping.

  

I hope you enjoy these few shots.  Ciao for now.

The Sistine Chapel (Europe Part 2)

During our last trip to Rome the Sistine Chapel was closed for the day – that was quite the disappointment.  But, since I had thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain on that visit I knew I would return.  This time I was not disappointed. Michelangelo’s magnificent ceiling was more beautiful than I had imagined.  But it was his The Last Judgment painting that got to me.  As you walk into the Chapel, you pass under The Last Judgment.  The symbolism was striking.  I entered into the chapel under judgment.  I walked out in freedom because of what Christ did for me.  He took my penalty.  The One who was sinless has cloaked me in his righteousness.  Such a picture!

Photographs are not allowed to be taken in the Sistine Chapel.  The tour guides take you to the museum gardens near the chapel and explain what you will see.  There are panels with pictures of all of the art work displayed for their tutorial.  This is a picture of The Last Judgment from one of those panels.

Of course it does not do the original work justice, but in case you have not seen it before, I wanted to show you.  Especially vivid is the bottom right corner where those who were not covered by the blood of Jesus entered eternal damnation.  Of interest, the man depicted prominently is said to have criticized Michelangelo’s work.  I guess that is one way to be immortalized in art.

The other work that affects me so much that I find it difficult to stop looking at it is La Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Michelangelo was 23 when he was commissioned to do this work.

 Our guide told us that it is said that Michelangelo worked alone.  Other artists had students who often worked on projects with them, but Michelangelo did these two works of art alone.  My take on what she said is that his genius did not lend itself to working and playing well with others.  That made me think of how God has gifted people so individually for the work that he has for them.  Perhaps If Michelangelo was more of a teacher or less of a perfectionist he would not have created these masters.  I am not an art scholar by any means, but that was food for thought for me.

No Roads Lead Out of Rome (Europe Part 3)

After a riveting 48 hours in Rome we were ready to head to Tuscany.  If you ever travel to Rome and make the mistake of renting a car, be sure to get a GPS that speaks your language.  I can only imagine how helpful that would be, because Bob did not spring for a GPS.  To his credit, he does have an excellent sense of direction.  But that is not quite enough in this part of Italy.

The first challenge was getting the car out of the parking garage.  It was like trying to put toothpaste back in a toothpaste tube.  It can’t be done without getting messy.  I will spare you the details of his efforts, but it is sufficient to say that in a mere 47 minutes we were out of there with no noticeable scratches or dents.   Then the fun began.  We circled and circled trying to get away from the terminal, which is also where you pick up the rentals. Thankfully it was morning so we knew what direction we were heading because of the sun.  We eventually broke away and headed north.

The signs are all in Italian, of course, and there are so many signs placed close together that I would suggest to you that if you are driving in Italy, make sure you have three other people in the car with you.  Between all of them, you might luck out and have someone read the sign you need and point you in the right direction.

We decided to look for a petrol station and fuel up.  It is not a good idea to get low on gas whenever you are a stranger in a strange land.  As Bob fueled up, I ventured inside to buy a map.

The lady clerk did not speak any English.  None.  She understood “mapa” even though I am not sure that is the proper Italian word.  She said, “Roma?”  I said something that confused her and we went back and forth for a while.  Finally I said, “Arrivederci, Roma,” and she pulled out a map of Italy that would be great to don any classroom.  It was huge.  Then this kind woman called someone in that spoke English and I was able to tell him we were going to Orvieto and Tuscany.  During our conversation an older gentleman who was riding a motorcycle came in to pay for his fuel and he got into the conversation, too.  I have never encountered such helpful people.

The man on the motorcycle, who did not speak a word of English, offered to lead us to our exit.  We followed him for two to three miles (or an unknown number of kilometers) and he pointed us to the proper exit.  We are fairly convinced that if it had not been for these three people we would still be in Rome.

Driving along the highway was such a treat after meandering around the vicinity of Rome.  We watched the scenery change to rolling hills dotted by Italian Cypress trees with the occasional hill town standing majestically in the distance.  Ah, Tuscany.  We are so happy to see you.

Languarge Barriers (Europe Part 1)

In preparation for our trip, Bob and I each decided to make efforts to learn to speak German and Italian.  He embraced this by using Duo Lingo to learn German.  Italian was left up to me.

Instant immersion CDs were my weapon of choice. I used the Spanish version before we went to Spain in 2013.  With Spanish I was building on the shaky foundation of my high school Spanish course and found myself communicating with the locals.  It was a rudimentary communication, but it was helpful.

Meanwhile, Bob has been embracing his inner German (even though he is of Swedish decent).  So dedicated was he to this endeavor that he would not go to bed at night unless he had completed at least one lesson.  He progressed very well and before long he reported that he was even dreaming in German.

Things were not going quite as well for me.  My plan was to use my car time to learn Italian.  This proved to be a two-fold problem.  First off, I am usually in my car sporadically.  Therefore, I never could quite remember where I left off.  And, without having ever studied Italian, I found myself lost (unless you count my lapses into Spanish).

Secondly, the first CD got stuck in my car player.  I wasnt sure how far I would get in Italy from that CD as it only covered the alphabet and different countries of the world.  At least that is what I think it covered.  I really don’t  remember.

To sum up, Bob is practically fluent in German.  I might get by if I meet an Italian who speaks Spanish.  And only if they speak slowly.

But since I have been in Rome, I have found no real problem with my lack of language skills.  In Rome a smile goes a long way.  The people are kind and patient.

Bob and I are traveling with my sister and her husband.  They live in Washington state and we met up with each other in Rome.  The four of us have met people from all over the world.  On our coliseum tour we witnessed a family run into a group of their friends.  It really does seem like a small world sometimes.

We were discussing this while riding the metro to our Vatican tour when a nun spoke up and said, “And who would have thought you’d run into a nun from Chicago.”

We chatted all the way to the Vatican.  In fact, she guided us to the exact place where we were to meet our tour.  We had an instant, though momentary friendship.

The Sister, My Sister and Me

The Sister, My Sister and Me

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s

 

 

One side of the courtyard hug

One side of the courtyard hug

Our tour guide of the Vatican pointed out to us that the courtyard in front of St. Peter’s Basilica is shaped in the form of a hug.  It begins at St. Peter’s with an arm extended from each side. It doesn’t get much friendlier than that.

 

Heading for La Dolce Vita

Life on the Lighter Side is going to Europe.

Bob and I are getting a jump on our 40th wedding anniversary celebration, which is in August.  We chose to travel in April for a couple of reasons.  It’s not prime season.  That means smaller crowds and cheaper flights (allegedly).  Also, I will do just about anything to keep from sweating.  (The irony of that statement combined with the fact that I live in Florida is not lost on me.)

We have been planning this trip for months.  Of course, that means Rick Steves has become our best friend.  We love his travel books.  I follow him on face book, which is how I discovered that he is in Italy right now, paving the way for us.  That also means I have the opportunity to stalk, I mean look for, Rick.  It will be my version of “Where’s Waldo.”

Besides devouring Rick’s books and making a steady diet of watching his PBS shows, I have been working on getting myself in shape so that I can best enjoy our trip.  Our destinations include Rome, Tuscany, Austria, and Bavaria.

My workout regime focuses on four main areas.

  1. Walking.  We will be doing walking tours.  The last time we were in Europe we walked everywhere.  When I got home I missed being able to walk to a destination instead of doing the much less inspiring laps around the block in my neighborhood.
  2. Bike riding. We will do a bike tour of Munich.
  3. Spinning.  Not to be confused with any form of biking.  We will be doing the Sound of Music tour in Austria.  You know that part of the movie where Maria walks up the hill, makes a dramatic spin and belts out “The hills are alive?”  I plan on doing that.  The problem is I get queasy with the slightest twirl.  That’s why I’ve been working out.
  4. Drinking wine. I love wine.  Especially red wine.  One of the big draws of Tuscany is the myriad of vineyards and local wines.  I have been pretty much a one-glass-of-wine person.  Two makes me sleepy.  My sons like to tease me about this and have suggested that I try to increase my endurance in this area.  So, I’ve been working on it, but only for the good of my trip, mind you.

We will touch down in Rome tomorrow morning.  I plan on blogging (wifi permitting), so if you’d like to follow my adventure, stay tuned.  I’ll share the highlights with you (assuming that second glass of wine doesn’t put me to sleep).

A Thousand Little Celebrations

imageThrough this winter season we have almost constantly had a jigsaw puzzle in progress.  We have traditional puzzles for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I like these old favorites because they are family puzzles, meaning they consist of three different sized pieces in the same box.  We would line up the children on one side with the big pieces and the parents on the other side with the small pieces.  The middle ground was a compromise between the two.

Now that I wear bifocals, my favorite side is the one with the big pieces.  In this age of instant gratification I enjoy finding pieces quickly, especially after you work the puzzle for a while.  I want my puzzles to be like my life – more fun than work.

During the after-Christmas sales, I found a puzzle with an enticing picture.  Macaroons.  Yum.  Makes me think of Paris…..  I guess I was so busy thinking about Paris that I failed to give a second thought to the fact that the puzzle had a thousand pieces.  A thousand little pieces.  A thousand little pieces that did not have my preferred distinct variations in pattern or color.  It also would take more than a day or two to complete, all the while sending subliminal messages activating my sweet tooth and releasing my inner cookie monster.

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The frame had been complete for several days and we were at the point where it typically starts to come together a little easier.  Only it wasn’t.  I begged Bob to let me put it away.  He was relentless.  I wasn’t having fun.  My back hurt.  My eyes were drying out.  My laundry was piling up.  I hadn’t brushed my teeth in days.  I was consuming massive amounts of cookies and coffee.

I thought about the frame.  We had picked through all thousand pieces to put it together first.  Unfortunately we had missed two pieces as the cruel puzzle maker had somehow managed to craft those pieces to look nothing like an edge.  So wrong.  But we had enough to work with.  We could begin to fill it in.

Bob continued to remain steadfast and refused to let me throw the puzzle back in the box and burn it.  I watched him work diligently, happily placing one or two pieces and giving each a triumphant tap as the picture began to come together.  He not only didn’t mind the challenge, he liked it.  That has always amazed me about him, I thought as I rifled through the box wondering if maybe I was color blind.

I needed an adjustment (not chiropractic, though that wouldn’t have been a bad idea after several days bent over a table).  So with the next piece that I found I celebrated.  Not just a little tap on the piece, but a hip, hip hooray.  Completing this puzzle was going to take commitment and a thousand little celebrations.

I’m happy to tell you that we did complete it.  Then I quickly gave it away.

There is something else that I have completed recently.  It started out as a bunch of characters, mental pictures and words in that brain box of mine.  Slowly the edges began to come together and then the picture started to gain focus.  There were a couple of key missing elements to the frame but with the help of my friends and family I was able to discover them.  Soon I had a completed work.  My book.  I completed the middle-grade novel that I have been working on for the last nine years.  After a few minor edits, I’ll attempt to enter the world of published authors.  I plan on starting that process in May.  This is one big celebration for me.  It’s even better than placing a puzzle piece.

Great Joy

I would love to share a picture with you.  The picture would be what joy looks like.  But that is challenging to capture in a photograph.  It is even more challenging for me since my camera went missing.

Of course, there are numerous devices which I own that I could use to take photographs.  I’m typing on one right now.  But for me the best options for achieving the perfect picture are found on my Nikon camera.  I love this camera.  We bought it before we went to Europe two years ago.  It has a wi-fi setting on it so I can move the pictures miraculously through the air from the camera to my iPad.

Since at any given time this camera may have priceless photographs on it, it falls into the category of things which I hide from burglars.  Recently there have been several break-ins in our area.  These usually occur during the daytime by means of a door being kicked in.  The thieves target empty houses.  At our house there is almost always somebody home, so I don’t worry too much about it.

Inevitably though, the house had to be emptied of people.  It was just a matter of time before we all had some place to go at the same time, leaving our driveway empty, which in my eyes was like posting a “Welcome” sign to hooligans.

So, I hide things.  Laptops, tablets, jewelry, cameras.  Usually I remember where I hide them.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I don’t even remember that I hide them, which brings me to my camera.

We had a family gathering and I went to get the camera.  Hum, I must have left it in the other room, I thought to myself.  Immediately that feeling of dread came over me.  I must have hidden my camera. I wonder where.

I spent the next several days ransacking my house, much like a burglar would have done only neater.  After three days I’d say my house was more organized than ever.  Drawers are clean, cupboards are orderly.  I would take a picture to show you only…..

I prayed that God would show me where my camera was hiding.  I prayed this several times.  I guess God wanted me to get my house organized.  Plus, God wanted to show me something about trust.  I needed to learn to trust Him more.  I could argue that the items I hide are items that are of sentimental value or, in the case of electronics, have things that are difficult to replace stored in them.  Financial records, pictures, the book I’m writing.  Good argument, but I still realized I had to trust all of that with God.

On Tuesday night I prayed before I went to bed.  I asked God to show me where the camera was the next day.  I didn’t want to pressure him, but I was spending a lot of time looking for it.  Hours.  Days.  I felt unproductive and frustrated.

The next day I continued my search, organizing along the way.  No camera.  That night Bob and I were packing things for our trip to Arlington National Cemetery.  It was time to place his father’s ashes there.  I had resigned to the fact that I would be using my phone to take pictures.

Earlier that day I took a flashlight and shined it in dark places in my house to see if that elusive camera in its black case was hiding in a corner or something.  This was to no avail.  For some reason I picked up that flashlight again, aimed it into a corner of my bedroom and voila – there was my camera!

I was giddy with excitement.  I grabbed Bob by the arms and did the dance of joy (a la Balki and Larry from the 1980s TV show Perfect Strangers).  I rejoiced.  I thanked God.  Bob looked at me like I was weird.  (That happens a lot.)  But he rejoiced with me, too.

God gently showed me that I need not fear or be crazy protective over anything that I think I need.  He will supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).  Therefore, if I need something, anything, He will make sure that I have that.  I can trust him.

Then it hit me.  What great joy our Heavenly Father has when one of us who was lost is found.  The light of Jesus shined into the darkness that was my life and I was restored to my Heavenly Father through his shed blood.  Now that’s joy.  Even something to dance and shout about.

 

 

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