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).

Give Me Some Space

Personal space is a very American mental structure. Please allow me some space to explain. When I get in line to go to the movies, I’m careful not to stand too close to the person ahead of me. That space is theirs, psychologically speaking. I don’t want them to feel crowded and I appreciate the same consideration. When I go into the theater, I don’t sit directly next to anyone unless the theater is packed (no matter how much fun I think it would be to mess with a person). That buffer area is part of personal space.

The first time I went to Europe I found myself getting annoyed at how people cut in front of me while I waited in line. It was like I wasn’t even there. This happened several times before I realized that by European standards, I wasn’t in line. Being in line in Germany or France meant you could feel the breath of the person behind you on your neck. I think this is why the early explorers crossed the Atlantic. They needed some elbow room. It also could explain why four out of five Europeans where neck scarves. So now I’ve learned – a line in Europe does not have any open space. You find the end and wait up close to the person ahead of you, all the while hoping the guy behind you doesn’t let loose with a sneeze. If you want open spaces, go to Montana.

Parking spaces are another thing we Americans have over Europeans (except maybe in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Costco on the weekend). When Bob and I first visited Europe we made the rookie mistake of renting a car (a mistake we have repeated each trip). Our final day of that particular trip we were in Zürich, Switzerland. We had a few hours to see the city before catching a plane home. Bob was prepared. He printed out maps and directions so we would have them in English. The maps were easy to follow, but unfortunately they often led us to the wrong place. I can tell you from experience that there are a lot of dead-end streets in Zürich. Finally we decided to pull over and get directions, which sounds simple enough except evidently Zürich city planners don’t believe in parking spaces. We looked for one all over the city and finally found one at the airport rental car return. We parked and took the shuttle to our hotel. We’ll see Zürich another time (by bus).

Storage space seems to be another American construct. We’ve traveled through eight different countries in Europe, and I have never seen a sign advertising storage units for rent. In all fairness, though, I do not read signs well unless they are written in English – with the one exception of “degustation,” which means “wine tasting.” We stopped just about every time we saw this sign. We visited lots of vineyards, drank lots of wine, and saw no storage units.

In Orlando you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a storage unit facility (or a Starbucks). In case you are reading this and you are from Europe, a storage unit facility is a place where one rents a covered, sometimes air-conditioned space to store the things that have been purchased which don’t fit inside of your house or apartment. These things are so special that they cannot easily be parted with, yet they also cannot be tolerated in the home in which you actually live. Some brilliant person came up with this concept so that we can keep and purchase more stuff than ever thought possible, which is the American way. It also was a good use of the excessive amount of parking lots all over the city, which is why Europe will never have storage unit facilities. Of course, if you go backwards through the history of storage units you will probably end your search with the creators of the hit A&E series, Storage Wars. These guys are brilliant – talk about foresight.

Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica)

Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica)

On my recent trip to Paris I had the opportunity to challenge a woman’s personal space. We were at Montmartre, the artsy area on the highest hill that overlooks Paris. Aubyron and I stood in front of Sacre-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) taking in the view of the city and enjoying the music of a harpist who performed on the steps there. It was the kind of moment that you couldn’t adequately capture with your camera but we were compelled to try anyway. I walked around the top of the stairs shooting pictures from every angle and then came back to Aubyron who was trying to photograph the harpist. She had been attempting to get that picture for five minutes but was hampered by a woman who had put down roots on the step about four feet from the musician and directly in line between him and Aubyron. She seemed to be in her own world and content to stay in that place for the rest of the day. Aubyron was about ready to move on, sadly giving up her picture when I jumped in and said I’d take care of the situation. I left Aubyron with a puzzled look on her face, walked down the steps and stood next to the woman. Now when I say next to the woman, I mean very, very close to her. She looked at me with confusion and I smiled as I planted myself in her personal space all the while feeling a strange mix of being very American and very European.

The brunette is the woman who stood there so long.  Aubyron snapped this picture just as she started to leave.

The brunette is the woman who stood there so long. Aubyron snapped this picture of me just as she started to leave.

After a few awkward moments, Aubyron took this picture.

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A picture worth waiting for

I suppose we should have given up on the picture or just asked the woman to please move over a little, but I saw no fun in that; and I was fairly certain she wouldn’t have spoken English anyway. Quite honestly, it was an impulse. An impulse that gave us one of our favorite memories from our trip and no doubt gave that woman a funny story about the strange American that crowded her on the steps.

Europe Part 7 – Fun in France, or, I’d Rather Be Called a Pig in Paris than Anywhere Else in the World

20140122-132043.jpgIf you have planned a trip to Europe, you probably have been warned of pickpockets and scammers. These warnings are appropriate. One morning as we were walking to the Musee d’Orsay, some space opened up between Aubyron and me and Bob and Joe. As Aubyron and I looked ahead we saw a woman try the ring scam on the guys. I was so jealous. I wanted to have a scam attempted on me. I felt like my Parisian experience would be incomplete without one.

I was explaining this to Aubyron when it happened. The same woman walked toward us, bent down and scooped up a gold ring which she found right in front of us. I was so excited! I did what you’re supposed to do and walked past saying a simple, “No,” without making eye contact, which is the Parisian way. My heart was racing as I checked another experience off my list.

In case you don’t know, the premise of the ring scam is that the scammer finds the ring near the scammie. She asks you if it is yours and you say it is not. The kind-hearted scammer tells you that it’s not hers either. She shows you a mark that indicates it’s gold and since it must be worth something, offers for you to take the ring and sell it. Of course, she suggests that you give her a wad of your hard-earned cash as a way of splitting this amazing find.

I found it hard to believe that anyone would actually fall for this. Doesn’t everybody read Rick Steves’ Tourist Scams and Rip-Offs in Europe? Aren’t we all suspicious of everyone nowadays?

20140122-131625.jpgHours later as we crossed a bridge and headed back home we came across this same woman. (Evidently scammers have long shifts.) I saw her pull a middle-age couple into her scheme. The wife was obviously being duped while the husband stood back trying to assess the situation. We went a little past them, and I looked over my shoulder and saw she still had them in her clutches. I made a wide U-ie and circled back gaining the husband’s attention. “Be careful. It’s a scam,” I mouthed to him and turned back to catch up with my family.

He moved in, took his wife by the arm and walked away. I experienced the same exhilaration I had that morning, which came in handy because now this woman was following us. I wasn’t afraid. She was a tiny woman and I felt like I could take her, but it still kind of gave me the willies. I wanted no part of a brouhaha while crossing the Seine.

I didn’t understand everything she said, or should I say every name she called me, but there were definite slurs mixed with words that are universally insulting. She made it clear that she was mad that I had kept her from earning money. How’s that for irony? She called me a pig and sushi, which must be more insulting in French than in English. And that unspoken French rule of no eye contact – that was out the window.

But, c’est la vie. I love Paris! The city makes you feel so alive.

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Europe Part 6 – Paris

Time to go to Paris! As I mentioned, Spain was delightful – not only the amazing scenery but the people. They seemed to have a real zest for life, which was on full display during our plane ride out of Barcelona. The back of the plane was filled with a group traveling together. They broke out in song as they took their seats. When we touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport, the pilot announced our safe, on-time arrival. The back of the plane erupted into cheers – quite a rowdy, fun group.

We made our way through the usual airport routine, boarded the RER (France’s rapid transit system), and headed into the City of Light with our son and daughter-in-law as tour guides. In strict contrast to our plane ride, you could have heard a pin drop on the RER. This was also the case every time we rode the subway, unless a musician popped in for an impromptu concert. People don’t look at each other on the subway. The typical smile or nod of the head that is customary in Orlando is not readily observed in Paris.

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When at last I set foot on the streets of Paris, I paused to take it all in. Emotion welled up inside me. It was a little overwhelming. This city of romance, art and history has quite a reputation. I wanted to absorb the city, to remember the sights and sounds, to feel the rhythm of it all. I was in Paris. Yeah, baby!

I didn't want Paris to fly by too quickly.

I didn’t want Paris to fly by too quickly.

The first order of business was to get to Joe and Aubyron’s seventh-floor apartment. We walked for about 20 minutes along the streets of Paris, dragging our suitcases behind us. I knew what was ahead of me and I was not afraid. After all, this trip had been a walking trip. We literally walked for hours every day. I walked down the Rock of Gibraltar for goodness sake. I could handle the 124 stairs winding their way up to Joe’s apartment. I would do this. It was the moment I had trained for.

We opened the huge, green doors to a small, dark lobby. As if the staircase sensed our presence, the lights came on (either that or they were on a motion sensor). There it was looming large before my eyes. My Everest, my white whale – the oldest, windiest stairs I have ever dared climb. Up we went. I knew to pace myself. Nobody had to be a hero here. No records to break. Simply complete the climb. By the fourth flight I was feeling it. I handed my suitcase off as I feigned interest in the view from the window.

The stairs were angry that day - like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli

The stairs were angry that day – like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli

With each floor the stairs grew narrower and less level. I refused to let them defeat me. I would plant my suitcase firmly in that apartment and call it home for the next week.  The way it really happened was, I planted my four-wheeled suitcase on the floor of the bedroom in the apartment and it rolled across the room.  Such is life in a Paris apartment.

The sense of achievement I felt as I entered their apartment was only equaled by the exhaustion of the climb. I did it. Now, let’s go back downstairs and see the city.

We actually went up and down those stairs three times that first day.  The motivation of seeing more of Paris was enough to get us going.  Joe took us on a walking tour of the city that gave a great overview.  We passed Notre Dame and saw the Eiffel Tower from the Seine River.  I was captivated.

Not the Arc de Triomphe, but it was beautiful

Not the Arc de Triomphe

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Locks on the Bridges are common and considered a nuisance by the city

Locks on the Bridges are common and considered a nuisance by the city

This picture captures the way people think of the locks. Bob is interested. Aubyron sees the romance of it all. Joe is disappointed that people defile the bridges.

After a long day, we head back home. Here’s the image that was in my head that night.

Good Night Eiffel Tower.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Good Night Eiffel Tower. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Au revoir!

Europe Part 5 – More Adventures in Spain

We left Spain on Monday of last week, but there are several things from that leg of our trip which I want to share before I move my blog on to Paris.

You may remember that I was trying to brush up on my Spanish. By that I mean – attempting to remember what I learned in my two years of high school Spanish and trying to learn enough to order at a restaurant, get directions, purchase items from a store and the like. I found my Spanish-speaking skills muy util (very useful), especially when speaking with people who spoke English. I was excited when a local man told me that I was speaking well, even though I think he was being kind. Mostly I fumbled for the correct noun and pointed a lot. I felt like a toddler. Quiero esto (I want this). The most popular question I asked was “Habla ingles?” (Do you speak English?) I had a great time trying to communicate and found the Spanish people so gracious and helpful. My son, Joe, has been immersed in French since they moved to Paris two months ago. He speaks it well. Often he would say the French word for something and then I would say the Spanish.

When we moved on to Paris the problem was Bob and I kept thinking in Spanish. I really enjoyed hearing Bob tell the French “gracias.” You get the phrases of one language down, and then you move on to another language! It’s not exactly a seamless transition.

The Clothes Dryer

The Clothes Dryer

Resort amenities in Europe differ from those in the states. For instance, our resort had a washing machine and a dryer. The washer was small and confusing. The dryer was easy to operate.

Driving in Southern Spain was an experience of its own. Bob did an admirable job. The trip from the airport to our resort was most exciting. We got off at the wrong exit and were quickly lost. As you may know, roundabouts are all over the place in Europe, so you can literally find yourself going in circles. We finally stopped at a tienda (store) and right away I was up to bat as the clerk did not speak any English. Tiene un mapa, por favor? (Do you have a map? – I think I learned that question from Dora the Explorer.) We bought a map, but unfortunately it was not one that was helpful to us; so we backtracked and found our way.

Our directions said that the resort was right off of the highway. Look for camping, then a castle, then a petrol station and turn right. They were serious, too. Right after the petrol station we had to quickly slow from our 50 mph to make a sharp right turn with no off ramp. We held on tight as Bob made the turn without having anyone rear-end us.

We soon discovered that you can’t make a left turn in this region. There were signs that looked like someone had fun drawing intersecting lines that indicated we could turn left by turning right. Then we were led to a roundabout (if we were lucky), and then back on to the original road so we could turn right. Also, the signage was confusing. So many signs along the highway pointing to the same exit that we often thought we had missed our turn or we sometimes turned where the sign was and ended up on a service road. When we flew to Barcelona and left our rental car behind, Bob was happy to take a taxi or the subway for the rest of our trip.

We were excited to have tapas in Spain. We found the perfect spot in Barcelona to have an authentic lunch. I am not very adventurous when it comes to eating, but I did try every one of the tapas we ordered, even the octopus, which was disgusting. They came with their heads on them and their little legs curled up. Everyone else popped the whole repulsive thing in their mouth; I cut off a little piece – just couldn’t bring myself to eat the head. Everything else was amazing, well maybe not the squid and mushrooms, they were only good.

Tapas - Notice the Octopus on the left and the enormous glasses of sangria complete with the longest straw in the world

Tapas – Notice the 0ctopus on the left and the enormous glasses of sangria complete with the longest straws in the world

Also, while we were in Barcelona we witnessed a protest against some taxation issue. The streets were being closed by the police and parades of people with signs in hand and music playing marched down the streets. I am told that protests are not unusual in European cities. We chose to bypass the action and walk a couple of blocks over from them, just in case.

One night while walking down La Rambla, a tree-lined pedestrian mall that is famous for its shopping, we witnessed a woman rush out of a corner store with a stack of clothes clutched between her hands. She was followed by a security guard who wiped out flat on his face as he rounded a corner to catch her. He recovered from his fall and quickly gained on her. She dropped the clothing and fled. Honestly, we did not feel unsafe on our trip, but I did find it interesting how bold a snatcher can be.

I’ll leave you with a picture of the view we had the pleasure of enjoying during our stay in Southern Spain and a picture of the castle that was near us.  Of course, we walked along the Mediterranean Sea and up to the castle.  That was the first of many walks.  Many, many walks.  Next blog will be about our adventure in Paris.

We walked along the Mediterranean to this castle.

We walked along the Mediterranean to this castle.

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Europe Part 4 – Color and Light

Spain was a delightful surprise to us. We chose to go there because we were going to Paris to visit our son and daughter-in-law, and we wanted to tag on a visit to another area – you know, as long as we were in the neighborhood. We narrowed our choice down to Southern Spain and Tuscany, because both areas were available via our time-share. We chose Spain because chances were the weather would be warmer. Also, I was afraid if we went to Tuscany in late November I would never get Bob to go back there when we could roam the countryside without lugging heavy coats around. He would want to try some place different and new. I couldn’t risk it.

Barcelona was the icing on our Spanish cake. It reminds me of New York City except when I’ve visited New York City I was always ready to get out of the city, but in Barcelona I wanted to stay longer. It is a very artsy city with a strong influence by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi was the architect/artist who designed The Sagrada Familia, the unfinished basilica that looms large over the city. He wanted a cathedral that would draw people to worship. The story of Jesus is depicted all over the outside of it.

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The front doors have the gospel carved into them.

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Once inside his influence from nature takes over. He was fascinated by light and his use of stained glass combined with columns that look like trees transforms the interior to a symphony of color.

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I will admit that the inside of the cathedral emphasized Gaudi so much that I think it may have distressed the man, who died when he was run over by a tram in 1926 just before his 74th birthday. (To this day, the cathedral is unfinished; construction is on-going.) The outside, though, dramatically moved me to worship. Jesus was glorified.

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Park Guell is another of Gaudi’s creations. The serpentine benches alone were worth seeing, but the entire park is a wonderland.

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Now I have to stop myself from posting more pictures. I haven’t even included Gaudi’s houses around Barcelona, but I guess there’s always facebook for more.

Europe Part 3 – On to Africa

Yesterday we went to Africa. What a strange sentence to write! Bob deserved a break from chauffeuring us all over Southern Spain so we joined a tour group that picked us up at our resort and drove about an hour and a half to catch the fast ferry to Morocco. On arriving we were shepherded into a bus and driven around the coast. We saw the Cave of Hercules with all its lovely views. Unfortunately, the beauty of it was marred by merchants within its walls.

The coast offered a view of the spot where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Tradition says that during certain seasons you can see the demarkation of Sea to Ocean. It all looked the same to me.

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From there we headed to the pony rides of Africa – dromedaries. We figured we had monkeys jump on us in Gibraltar, so riding a camel was not a big leap.

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After we dismounted the camels the tour went downhill. They took us to a lunch in Tangier. We had been alerted to the danger of pick-pockets in the crowded streets. There are a lot of ways they try to get you. I was listening to our guide when all of a sudden I felt someone bump into me and slip their hand into my pocket. Always on the ready, I squeezed the intruding hand with all of my might and almost crushed the hand of the poor older woman, who was part of our tour, who had slipped and was using me to steady her – or at least that’s what she claimed. It was a little awkward!

Our lunch was good but the “surprise” of belly dancing was cheesy. And then it got worse. We were herded to a carpet store where we had the opportunity to purchase expensive carpets, none of which could you fly around on. After making it out of the carpet arena we were deposited in a “pharmacy” where we could purchase herbs and local concoctions for everything from backaches to laziness.

We made it through those two things without being tempted to make a purchase and then we headed down the streets of Morocco where we were approached by very persistent local merchants who had local jewelry, belt, mirrors, magnets and the like. It was fun and interesting to negotiate with these folks and it gave us a view of a different way of life.

We felt like we were on the movie set of an Indian Jones movie. Even our guide looked like he stepped off the silver screen.

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I started looking for the movie director who may have been yelling, “Release the street merchants. Now release the small child clutching a single coin in his hand. Bring in the rain clouds to give reason for our guide holding an umbrella.”

We can now say we’ve been to Africa.

On a related note. I collect magnets of all the states we have traveled to. They are displayed on our refrigerator at home. Once we had a layover in Illinois and I insisted on buying a magnet. Bob said I hadn’t really been on Illinois soil. I said it counts. Our trip to Africa was like that. It counts. Yes, I enjoyed it; but there was so much more to see that our tour did not allow. I’m glad we did it and glad Bob had a relief from driving, but I might just have to return one day.

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Europe Part 2 – Monkey Business

I woke up this morning with one question on my mind – How does one dress for monkeys? I don’t mean how should I dress to impress a monkey, but how should I dress in case a monkey jumps on me? This can only mean it was our day to travel to Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is part of the British Empire, complete with bobbies and double-decker buses. The currency is the pound, but for a fee most merchants are happy to take euros. Before planning this trip I didn’t know Gibraltar was its own nation. I confess I had only heard of the Rock of Gibraltar. In my mind it looked like Alcatraz, i.e., The Rock. This was quite a diffferent experience.

To get there, we headed west down Spain’s version of A1A for about 1.5 hours. Mountains were to our right and the Med Sea to our left. It’s quite breathtaking. At long last, there it was looming large in the distance. The Rock of Gibraltar is quite a presence.

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Thanks to Rick Steves’ guidebook, we were prepared to park in Spain and walk across the border. This saved a lot of headaches. To walk across the border you cross a live air strip of the Gibraltar Airport. No planes were coming or going at the time, so that made it a little less exciting. Still it was a strange experience.

We traveled through the main square taking in all the Britishness of the place and stopped for a typical British lunch, cottage pie.

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As we entered the city, taxi drivers and tour guides taunted us to buy their tour. Ha! We laughed at their taunts that we would regret going it on our own. The gondola took all of six minutes to get us to the top viewing area. How I wish we had bought a ticket for the ride down!

We were excited to see Africa off in the distance. It was beautiful and seemed to beckon us to come. Sometimes the world seems small and close. The views of Spain were also amazing. But, we wanted to see monkeys, the famous Gibraltar apes. So, ennough of the landscapes and seascapes, on to the monkeys.

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Our son, Joe, was on a mission. He really wanted a monkey to jump on him. Honestly, we all did, even Aubyron (our daughter-in-law), but she preferred a small one. You shouldl know that a large fine will be imposed for anyone taunting, feeding or approaching the apes. They are serious about this. So you just have to make yourself available, you know, hang around the various monkey haunts until one gets curious. We practiced looking nonchalant.

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Bob was the first to have an encounter, but unfortunately I didn’t see it; but it counts. It was starting to get late and we were in need of more monkey business. I prayed that God would have a monkey jump on us (yes, I really did). We approached a few and sent out that “hey, we’re just chillin'” vibe. Joe took the high route and Aubyron and I took the low route. I leaned against the wall and looked over the sea with my most I-don’t-care-if you-jump-on-me-or-not attitude. Honestly, for a minute I wasn’t thinking monkey, and then it happened.

Yes I was groomed by a Barbary macaque (Gibraltar monkey). It was awesome! Not that I want to do this on a regular basis, but how often do you have this opportunity. He was surprisingly light and surprisingly happy to comb through my hair. I had read that if one jumps on you, you should squat down as they like to launch off of people. My monkey was quite content to groom me for about a minute and a half. Cool.

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Bob and I were ready to go down. Joe was not. He had not had the full monkey experience and was dedicating himself to retaining it. At this point, we separated. Joe and Aubyron went off to see monkeys and find a way down the rock and Bob and I started walking down. I should mention that it was nearly dusk at this time and it appeared as if we would be the ones to lock up the rock. We had not calculated our return trip and I suppose the annoying taxi drivers were indeed getting the last laugh. We started walking down, down, down. There were no other tourists in sight. We saw parts of Gibraltar that are not on the tour – a child riding his bike, guard dogs barking, a gang of street youths that looked scarier than the apes did.

We were tired and it appeared that we had a long walk down ahead of us. I saw a woman watching her child play and offered to pay her to give us a ride. Bob told her it wasn’t necessary and she declined. I guess she would have anyway. I started hitchhiking every time I would see a car, which was infrequent. Bob had to instruct me on proper thumb placement, but I got the hang of it. The woman had suggessted that someone might pick us up and we might consider limping to look more sympathetic. Limping was no problem. Our entire bodies hurt. We figured we must have walked more than 10 miles up and down hills. We did find ourselves doing well considering, but the more we walked the further it seemed we had to go.

Finally a tour guide with two ladies in his van stopped for my hitchhiking thumb. They graciously gave us a ride down. He is my new best friend.

When we separated from Joe and Aubyron we decided to meet up at the All’s Well Tavern in town. Seemed appropriate. When we arrived, the sun had completely set and all the places of business were closing up. Time to pray again. This time for Joe and Aubyron to get down the rock. Twenty minutes later they arrived.

We decided to head across the border and have dinner in Spain. That would give us an opportunity to rest before the drive back. The border had its own idea. The line to cross the border looked like a bad day at Disney World. We waited 1.5 hours to walk across. The lines for cars were even worse. Periodically they would show their disapproval with a chorus of car horns. Yep, another new experience. Finally we crossed and saw those wonderful Golden Arches. Dinner at McDonalds sounded good to us. Food and a little rest made for a happier drive back to our resort.

As I prepared for bed that night I looked like a monkey had been going through my hair and I was tired. It was a great day.

Today we did nothing as we required rest. Tomorrow we will venture out again.

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Europe Part 1 – Help Me Ronda

Our adventure in Spain has begun! We began on Sunday with a day of rest that included a walk along the Mediterranean Sea, picking up stones and skipping them across the water. It was surreal. I think the walk helped me adjust to the six-hour time difference. The air was clear and crisp and the view amazing.

I had no idea that Spain was so mountainous. We meandered the windy roads to a little town called Ronda. There is a cave near there, Cueva de la Pileta, that was discovered in 1905. The cave was a bit treacherous for me, but I braved it. We single filed down slippery stairs following a guide with a flashlight. The four of us we were allotted two lanterns, which turned out to be fine as walking down the narrow, dark stairs was sufficient challenge for me. I was happy to have Bob carry our lantern. We were not allowed to touch the sides of the cave. I think I unintentionally broke that rule three times while traversing very narrow areas. We found lakes, cave drawings and the remains of what looked like a pottery factory (as you would imagine one thousands of years ago). It was very physical. At one point I felt a bit claustrophobic, even though we were not in a tight space. It is weird knowing that you are underground in a totally dark place. A few deep breathes and I was fine. I did feel a little like an old woman, though, as I took the steps slowly, two feet on each step before taking the next one. None of us fell – success!

The town of Ronda is famous for its new bridge, which was constructed in 1793 after the old bridge collapsed. It spans a gorgeous gorge and is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been.

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