Oops (Zion National Park part 2)

So last night I published a post before I finished writing it. I thought I was saving and hit the wrong button. The worst part wasn’t that it wasn’t finished or that I hadn’t added pictures. It was that I didn’t put a period at the end of my sentence. Oh, the shame and humiliation! Please, don’t think poorly of me! I wanted to fix it but alas it was too late. Also, I had no strength after hiking about 14 miles in 2 days. So here are a few pics from Zion. Thanks for being an understanding group.

Bye for now.

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

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.

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).

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!

Off We Go

After much planning, shopping, studying and more shopping, today Bob and I head to Europe. We will meet our son, Joe, and his wife, Aubyron in Malaga, Spain, tomorrow at 4 pm Spain time. To get there we will fly from Orlando to Atlanta (I think this is mandatory for any travel anywhere. My dad always said it’s because they have the best baggage crusher.) Then from Atlanta we fly to Madrid. We will have a five-hour layover there and then on to Malaga.

This past week has been active to say the least. My sweet husband has had a cold/cough and has had to go to work every day in spite of that. He also had things to do for his dad so it’s been non-stop (unlike our airplane travel). I knew he was worn out, but I had no idea how tired he was until he called me into his home office and told me he couldnt figure out how to forward an old email to our son. Sure enough, there was no obvious way. And then something amazing happened – I figured it out. Yes, you read that right. I figured it out (it was worth saying twice).

Now, I should mention that he had spent quite a bit of time working out a computer problem for me earlier that night; but that might take away from my moment of techie genius. I will soar on this triumph for weeks. Even now as I think about it I’m smiling and giving myself a mental high-five.

Part of what Bob was doing for me was making sure I have a keyboard for my iPad so I can blog while we are gone. I am typing on said keyboard right now as a trial. Looks like it’s working so I hope to blog along the way on my trip. I’m sure between Spain, Gibraltar and Paris there will be a lot to tell. With any luck I’ll be posting a few times so you can follow me through Europe. As always, I appreciate all of you who take a few moments to read my blog. You are a blessing to me.