Easter Weekend – Good Friday

Easter Weekend begins with the most somber of days, Good Friday. This is the day that Jesus gave his life for us on a cruel cross.

Luke 23:44-46 – It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica

But this was just Friday. Sunday was coming.

 

This is Post #19 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

What Brings You to your Knees?

There are moments when there’s nothing to do but be silent, watch, and pray. As Notre Dame was burning and firefighters were valiantly fighting the flames, the world watched in sadness.

 

Prayers and tears from Parisians and visitors alike from the banks of the Seine as flames pour from Notre Dame (Photo Credit: Yoan Valat/EPA)

 

I visited Paris in 2013 and we toured Notre Dame. She was more magnificent than I could have imagined. Yes, she – Notre Dame is referred to as Our Lady of Paris. She reminded me of an anchor for the city. She sat in silent beauty beckoning us to come. Her outer beauty was astonishing – her inner beauty even more so. The history of the church was everywhere inside of her. She begged us to worship God.

I’ve been in cathedrals all over Europe. Some felt more like a museum. Some felt empty. Some brought me to my knees.

During this Holy Week, I will be reflecting on what brings me to my knees. On what makes me stop and worship God or stop to pray. On what makes me thankful for all He has done. On the church and how it is not simply a building. And I’ll remember the people in Paris who call Notre Dame their church. I’ll remember that to them she is more than an amazing cathedral – she is their home church.

The word today is that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Many artifacts and relics have been saved. Nobody was hurt. There is much to be thankful for. Jesus has been in the process of building his church since he went to the cross. I’ll reflect on that, too. Won’t you join me?

 

Notre Dame – photo taken in 2013

 

This is Post #16 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

A Few More Things about Salzburg

My husband Bob was very disappointed that I neglected to share a few facts and pictures from our Salzburg trip, so this post is for Bob, but I hope you read it, too.

I’ll start with his favorite discovery. The church where the wedding from The Sound of Music was portrayed was Basilica St. Michael in the Mondsee Lake District. Only the inside of the church was used. I’ll give you three shots of the church altar area, each getting closer. Notice the area behind the candles. What do you see?

This is a little closer up. What do you see behind the candles?

If you said human skeletons, you’d be right. There are two on each side of the altar and they seem to be dressed for church. While getting the site ready for the foundation, four skeletons were uncovered. To my knowledge, nobody knows who these people were, but it was decided that they should be included inside of the church. They are preserved behind glass. We don’t know who came up with that plan, but it sure is different. We have seen thumbs of saints and heads of saints preserved and on display in duomos (cathedrals) in Italy, so this is not as strange as you might think. Oh, it’s strange, just not as much as you might think.

I also neglected to give you a shot of what the inside of our hotel looked like in Salzburg. This is very different from its American counterparts, but I like it. I like the idea of each of us having our own blanket as I am usually cold and Bob is always on the warm side. Actually, maybe that’s the problem – I need to be on the warm side.

And I forgot to show you the view as we traveled to our hotel. Our mouths were open in awe during our entire trip.

You really need to go to Mirabell Gardens if you’re in Salzburg. It’s breath-taking.

Bob in the gardens.

When we were at dinner with our new friend, my sister mentioned that she was coming down with a head cold. Robert said he had just the thing for that. He served up a round of schnapps for us, on the house. He said it would help clear her head. She downed it before he could warn her it was a little strong. This picture is our reaction to my sister who came out of her seat when the smack from the schnapps hit her. And, by the way, it did its job of clearing her head!

Hope you enjoyed a little more of Salzburg and hope even more you can visit there yourself sometime.

 

This is Post #12 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post each day in April.

Salzburg – We Needed to Spend Some Time with You

Full disclosure, I had this post without pictures in my drafts to complete since Bob and I went to Europe with my sister and her husband four years ago. When today’s blogging challenge writing prompt suggested a travel post, I thought maybe it was time. I enjoyed reminiscing. I hope you’ll forgive me for waiting four years to post this, but better later than never.

Salzburg

 

When I came to realize that the Sound of Music was set in Austria, I knew I had to go there.  Maybe it was the lure of the mountains, maybe it was the leiderhosen, maybe it was the fact that the highest point in Florida is just above sea level, I don’t know.  But if those hills really are alive with the sound of music, by golly I was going to hear it.

The Sound of Music tour was fun.  Picture a bunch of strangers and strange people on a bus being led around by a cute, young English lady in traditional Austrian leiderhosen.  In between stops we would sing along with the movie score. It was there that I discovered that my sister, Chris, who was traveling with us, could yodel. She’s very talented!

Sound of Music Tour

We visited the lake in the back of the house where Maria and the children, while dressed in curtains, fell out of the boat. The lake was not at the actual back of the house used in the movie.  They filmed in two different locations.  This would have been where you would have expected to see the gazebo where 16 going on 17 was sung, but that has been moved to a different area.  It used to be in a private backyard, but the people who owned the house grew weary of strangers leaping around in their backyard at all hours of the day and night so they donated it to the city, who moved it to a park.

Bob and I were actually dating when I was 16 going on 17. We never had a gazebo to dance around in though.

Of course, the church where movie Maria married the Captain was spectacular, as was sitting in a cafe eating apple strudel during a break in the tour.

This church was chosen for Maria’s wedding to allow for great views from above of the long train on her wedding dress.

We also visited the lake district even though it is barely featured in the movie.  It offered some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.

Bob and I in the Lake District. For some reason we keep singing and raising our arms.

A highlight was Mirabell Gardens, which we visited while waiting for our tour bus.  I came to realize that these beautiful gardens were the ones featured in the movie.  Our April visit was perfect for the commencement of spring flowers, which added to our enjoyment of the park.

After the tour, we wandered around the old town and found ourselves in an area that looked more like Rodeo Drive than Salzburg.  There was even a Starbucks there.  It seemed wrong.  So we pulled out our trusty Rick Steves Guide and sought out a place to eat.  Rick always encourages his readers to go to Europe through the back door. The door we went through seemed to open into a different city altogether, so we were happy to put our hands in the hands of the man who travels Europe for a living.  We found our way back into the charming Salzburg that we had so quickly fallen in love with.

Mozart’s birthplace. No pictures allowed inside.

First time we stopped at Mozart’s house, it was closed. I tried knocking but nobody was home.

Just down the way from Starbucks was the house where Mozart was born, and thanks to Rick, nearby we found a restaurant called Gasthaus zum Wilden Mann.  We felt like we had entered someone’s private home.  It was rustic and charming.  The owner, Robert, greeted us as we entered.  I offered my “Gruss Got” greeting, and then inquired if I had used it correctly.  He smiled and said, “Yes, we always like to praise the Lord when we greet people.”  Gruss Got literally means God is good.

We sat at the corner table under a crucifix.  So we had a bar in one corner and Jesus in the other.  Antlers were on every wall. Robert sat with us and helped us choose our dinner. He said, “You need to spend some time with me.” We heartily agreed and by the end of our meal, we felt like we had been with an old friend. He sat with us for our entire dinner. It was as if he had nothing better to do.

This was a great example of hospitality and slowing down to smell the roses, or in this case sausages and beer. Thanks to Rick Steves for showing us the back door.

“You need to spend some time with me.”

 

This is Post #11 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

Garfield Invades the Coast of France

I’m always on the lookout for things washed up on the beach. I’ve lived in Florida for decades and the most interesting things that I’ve found are sharks’ teeth and seashells. I’ve found baby diapers and sunglasses, too, but I’ve never found a vintage 1980s Garfield telephone.

I’m fairly certain if Jim Davis’ Garfield could be coaxed to comment on the thirty-year-old problem of plastic Garfield phones washing up on the coast of France, he would blame it on Odie. You probably would have to bribe him with lasagna to get an answer out of him, too.

(image found on multiple sources)

Perhaps if there is a French equivalent to American-born Garfield, he would be better bribed with a croissant or possibly a quiche rather than bow to the Italian palate we Americans relish. Or maybe he’d prefer one of those yummy crepes you can purchase along the streets of Paris.

Regardless, I’m pretty sure Garfield wouldn’t care a crumb about this kind of litter, which has been showing up for three decades in France. He’d likely roll over and continue his nap with complete indifference to the people pouring over the sandy, rocky French coast cleaning up the Garfield mess.

If I were strolling along Daytona Beach, I should think I’d be rather shocked to dig at a little piece of orange plastic protruding from the sand and come face to face with Garfield. But to my knowledge no shipping crate full of the phones was ever lost on our shores like crashed onto the rocky coast of France. Yes, the mystery is solved. It only took thirty years.

I was amused at the serious comment made by Fabien Boileau, the Director of Ironise Marine Nature Park – “We will go there to recover the remains of the phones.”

Perhaps this is a matter of being lost in translation, but it sounds like a funeral will ensue after all remains are accounted for. I think it’s more likely that eBay will blow up with the famous feline-face phone. Again, if Garfield were to comment, I think it would be with nothing more than a yawn. As for me, I’m heading to the kitchen for a piece of lasagna.

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You’ll be hearing from me a lot in April as I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge – a challenge to post every day for the 30 days of April. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by.

We’re On the Right Track (Europe Part 8)

 Most of the notable challenges during travel have involved trains.  Inside of the train terminals there are kiosks, which I assume you need some kind of higher education to operate.  Either that or you need to be a teenager.  Fortunately for us while we were trying to figure out our train from Salzburg to Munich, we encountered a group traveling together being led by a German teacher from Boston.  She had traveled to Germany many times and showed us the cheap tickets that allowed us to get to Munich and then have the rest of the day with free use of their transit system.  Unfortunately, she led us to believe that we could take any train.  This was not true.

This became crystal clear after we boarded our train.  Unlike every movie I have ever seen, there are not porters standing by the doors waiting to check your ticket.  You, and I mean we, are supposed to know which train we are  getting on and where our seats are on that train.  After all, it is clearly written (no it isn’t) on the signage.

We made our way from car to car and found the car with the bar.  There we discovered that we were in fact on the wrong train.  The bartender and a gentleman traveler interpreted our ticket for us.  We had boarded the fast train.  Oops.  A man who looked a lot like Dumbledore was watching us and speaking to the others in German.  It seemed he knew what he was doing and what we should do, but it did not seem like he spoke English.

After much discussion by the three men, they agreed that we should ride the train to the next stop, just five minutes away.  The bartender said, “The conductor won’t be coming by anytime soon.  Just stay on.”

Then Dumbledore spoke up in perfect English, “That is best.  Just get off at the next stop.  You will be fine.”

I knew this was the closest I would ever get to hopping a freight (even if that freight did have air conditioning, a bar and cushioned seats).  Plus we had the blessing of the bartender and Dumbledore.  We stayed on.  After all, it was only a five-minute ride.

Three minutes into the trip, guess who came through our car.  That’s right, Harry Potter.  No, the conductor.  My sister, who was facing that direction, had the color drain from her face as she whispered, “Here comes the conductor.”

I assured my co-conspirators that I would not implicate them.  As the conductor passed us, the bartender and I exchanged a look.  I mimed biting my fingernails.  Dumbledore gave me the thumbs up.

We pulled up almost to the station and sat for ten minutes.  There was discussion as to whether or not we should make a run for it, but we were cool.

As we disembarked, the train we were supposed to be on pulled up.  I looked back at our first train and there was Dumbledore, pointing us in the right direction and giving us a thumbs up.  And then he disappeared.  Okay, his train pulled away.  It was magic.

The Right Train

The Right Train

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.