Seaside Sights and Siestas

A respite at the ruggedly beautiful Cinque Terre, Italy

 

We enjoyed our visit to Florence.  Although brief, our three days were packed with sightseeing and culture, lots of culture.  At times it seemed as if there were too many treasures to take in.  Our next destination is Cinque Terre (five lands), encompassing five picturesque villages along the Mediterranean. Once we left the Florence apartment, we walked along Via Panzani with our luggage and backpacks and were soon joined by many other travelers making the half mile trek to the Florence train station.  Upon arrival to the train station every few minutes there were announcements to beware of pickpockets, however there appeared to be no policia to dissuade the thieves.

Once we exited the train in Manarola (the village within Cinque Terre), we followed the tourists through a tunnel and up many flights of stairs and ramps.  One tourist asked if she could hire a Sherpa to carry her luggage up the hill. As we entered the center of the village, a lovely young woman approached us and said “Nancie?”  We were elated to have found our destination.  By the grace of God, Francesca carried my heavy suitcase up  the fifty-four stairs to our new flat.  That was quite the workout, it is no wonder that all of the women in this village have killer legs, no need for stair masters here.  We have gorgeous views of the town, and except for the construction next door, we would have a sea view as well.  We decided upon Cinque Terre, because it is simply beautiful.  Around the village we see spectacular views of the colorful homes clinging to the mountainside, at the edge of the sea.  Time for rest and relaxation.image
By about five o’clock many of the day-trippers and excursionists have left the village.  Although some shops shutter their doors awaiting the next rush of tourists, many stay open and offer simple fresh seafood and pasta.  We explored the village, found a great place for an aperitivo and took tons of pictures. We shopped at Terre 5 Coop for beer, wine and groceries a few times, so  I was upset when the door was closed in my face and I was told “we are closed now”.   I completely understand the importance of a siesta, I embrace the siesta.  However when the door was  reopened for the local man behind me, I felt a bit put off.  Following siesta time we again visited the market to buy some more supplies and get some bananas for breakfast.  When Greg picked up a couple of bananas, the woman behind the register began complaining loudly about “Americanos”.  We know we are tourists, guest really  in another country, so we approach everyone with pleasantries, buongiorno, grazie, Etc. Next we were then told “no credit cards”,  even though we used credit for the previous two days.  I am now boycotting that store for the next few days, but I don’t think they will notice.

We sleep like we have never known sleep here.  The sound of the waves crashing on the shore and our complete exhaustion is  enough to ensure a sound sleep. Both of us were anxious to do some hiking here in Manarola.  We ventured to another village for an early morning cappuccino and then onto another small town for a much needed lunch and vino.  This seven mile hike was spectacular.  My Fitbit tracked one hundred forty flights of stairs and 18,000 steps. These hikes are unlike any we do in Arizona.  The climb is straight up, and we hike through wine vineyards, olive groves, forests, all along narrow mountain trails.  I do not like edges!  While hiking, I avert my eyes at the edge of trail, with the perilous drop off into the sea below.  Greg enjoys all of the journey.  He is unafraid of edges and is not clinging on to grapevines like me.  He walks  behind me with the GoPro.  He claims that he’s there to catch me since I am about as surefooted as a three legged jackass.  However, I’m pretty sure he just wants to document my untimely passing for the insurance company.

Greg and "the edge"
Greg and “the edge”

Rome in the Rearview 

Reminiscing about our time in Rome and Florence.

imageWe had a wonderful time in Rome. This ancient city makes you take a look at everything around.  The architecture, the windows and even the streets have a story and history to tell.  You realize what a small part you have in the greater universe.  I insisted on visiting The Vatican again with a Skip The Line Pass.  Although this helped avoid the outside lines, the masses of humanity inside was hard to contend with.  People were everywhere, there really was no space  nor time to contemplate  in the Sistine Chapel.  We were basically herded in and eventually moved along like cattle.  Looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is incomprehensible to me that one man could paint that masterpiece in just four years.  I wonder what mark, if any I might leave on this world when I am gone.  Later in the week we met a couple who visited the Vatican the day after we did, to their surprise, the pope said mass in Saint Peter’s Square and they even had video of him in the Pope Mobile.  Timing is everything.

There is no bad food in Rome.   Prices were very reasonable and food quality ranged from very good to spectacular. I really loved the pace of meals in Italy.  There is no rush.  We are typically eating a long, late lunch and then a nap ( a completely underated activity) followed by lots and lots of walking and a late dinner around nine.  Lingering at meals is encouraged.  In the restaurants there are no televisions, often you join a table with others and conversation is the entertainment.  It seems as if there are modest little eateries in every direction.  Italians were friendly and welcoming to Americans.  One of our favorites was a family run restaurant restaurant named Trattoria da Alfredo e Ada.  The menu was recited by the waitress of what was freshly prepared for  that evening.  The food was so fresh and delicious we both were pleasantly surprised when the bill, including drinks and cookies to dunk in red wine came to twenty four euros.

We left Rome for Florence, a smaller city with some of the greatest works of art in the world, great shopping and more wonderful food to try.  At the train station an older gentleman saw we were a bit confused and offered to show us where to meet the train.  He beckoned us to follow him to the numbered platform, although he spoke no English he gestured for us to wait for the train there.  Then he promptly demanded we pay him for the “service”. Greg have him three euros but he wanted more.  I just told firmly told him “no” and he left us alone to search for some more lost travelers he could scam some money from.

The high speed train to Florence was comfortable, quick and a pleasant experience compared to the hassle of getting to Italy from the US. We are now in a larger apartment right in the center of Florence.  It has rained on and off  but has not really stopped us from exploring the city.  I admire the Italians, they love eating out in their sidewalk cafes, and are not dissuaded by weather.  The outdoor cafes are crowed at ten o’clock even in inclement weather.  We were without raincoats and getting drenched in the downpour.  Some guys were selling cheap umbrellas on the street.  Greg told the first guy, we didn’t want any but, as the rain continued and his natural GPS was fading I insisted on buying one from the next street merchant.  Originally the guy wanted ten euros for the umbrella but we bargained him down to four.  We left with a semi functioning umbrella, walking the streets of Florence.

For the past few days we have meandered the crowded streets of Florence exploring the neighborhoods and piazzas. It is International Fashion Week here in Florence.  Everywhere we look. there are beautiful models, wearing high fashion clothing and impossible high heels wandering around everywhere except the restaurants.

We visited The Duomo, The Uffizi, and The Accademia Gallery.  Greg is not really a big museum guy, years ago when he was in Paris for business he visited The Arc d’ Triumph, The Louve and the Eifel Tower in half a day.  I’m pretty sure he was wearing roller blades.  Since he is just the greatest husband ever we did the Grand Tour of Florence. Tomorrow we leave Florence for the coast of Cinque Terre.

 

Rambling in Rome

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We have arrived here in Rome.  We are both excited and exhausted.  This is our baptism into Airbnb and the place we have chosen does not disappoint. It has been twenty-eight hours since we left our home and now we have discovered our new home in Rome. The cabbie finds the place easily.  We exit the car with luggage and backpacks in hand and head over to the giant door.  We buzz number five and Barry, our host buzzes us in.  To get to our room, we pass through a locked door, a locked gate, a tiny, tiny elevator, another door and another gate until we see our room.  It is compact, with a very comfortable bed, a “kitchen” which includes a hot plate, mini fridge and sink.  The bathroom is normal sized and well appointed.  But the magic of this place are the four terraces.  We walk to the first two terraces and then we enter a secret garden maze to discover the other two terraces which include spectacular views of Rome and the Vatican.  I abandon all sensibility while climbing the  stairs/ladder to the upper terraces.  It is apparent to me that building inspectors have not been around since the Romans built the Colliseum.

Absolutely we were exhausted, but our host was kind enough to give us an overview of the city and his recommendations for places to eat, sightsee and to see Rome from an insiders perspective .  He has thoughtfully left us some prosecco and Brie to enjoy on the terraces.

Next, we walk the cobblestone streets to a fabulous bistro for an early dinner.  The clouds are forming but the temperature is perfect.  We chose a small place, off the tourist path to enjoy dinner.  Apparently, wine is cheaper than water so we happily sip the house wine at each meal. Our first waiter, who looked remarkably like Captain Kangaroo was surley  and overworked. However, he brought us some of the finest pizza we have ever tasted.

imageThe first night we slept well and enjoyed the prosecco and beer we bought at a nearby store.  The next morning, it was raining and we enjoyed the luxury of sleeping to the sound of the raindrops falling on the terrace. Our host thoughtfully left an umbrella for us to investigate the neighborhood.  Greg purchased a map, but I’m pretty sure it is if Ancient Rome because we get lost, nonetheless.  At lunch we eventually found a great place where the owner kissed me and gave us some delicious cherries for dessert. For dinner we found a very small place that cooks fresh pasta daily to serve to the eight tables in the dining room.  We were seated with an American couple and enjoyed hearing about their travels through Europe.  At dinner we devoured two pasta entries, a carafe of house wine and cookies for dessert.  All of this for twenty-four euros. After dinner we visited an Irish pub and watched the American students order margaritas.  It is already more than we could hope for. Life is very good.

Flying Freakin’Forever

imageWe have been in airports, airplanes and sandwiched into seats forever.  At the airport I see older couples, going on trips, knowing this may be the last time they will independently travel.  The wheelchair bound travelers, relying  on the muscle and humanity of others. Also, there are children whining, crying and trying to hide their excitement. At different airports you notice different things, in Berlin the characters seem to be the backdrop of a zombie appocolypse movie. In Chicago, I noticed the professional travelers, the ones that look the part,  they roll a tiny suitcase, dress impeccably and wear stilettos like they mean business. They are neither harried nor excited. I belong to the group of pleasure travelers, we travel because we seek excitement, relaxation and especially a change in scenery.

I am sitting in the middle of an exit row. The big guy next to me does not care, he is taking over the armrest and I have no  recourse. I try to get a partial elbow on there, but he bullies his way to complete domination. I am sitting crooked, with my right arm inexplicably twisted behind me.  I intend to win this battle by waiting him out when he uses the restroom. The guy never gets up, he figured he was not going to lose his territory.

It’s interesting to me how intimately the passengers in steerage sit atop one another, but rarely speak. On the flight to Berlin I was pretty sure the lady in front of me was resting IN MY LAP yet we never spoke. Luckily, there was no offensive BO issues on this flight. That can be really tricky. Once, I was alone on a flight with really horrendous turbulence. Drinks went flying and people screamed. I am happy to report that I merely grabbed the hand of the stranger next to me and said “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”   I figured that I would cover the entire holy family in that one desperate prayer.  I apologized profusely afterwards but never did get her name.

We wait in the Berlin airport. A mere three hour layover in a airport bereft of charm, personality or comfortable seating. When  we arrived at the airport, it was 8am Berlin time. Since it was 11pm Phoenix time it seemed appropriate to have a beer and a soft pretzel for breakfast.

You know that point in a trip when you are ready to come home, to come back to something that is familiar and warm? Well, I reached that point about four hours ago.   We boarded the plane to Rome from Berlin. We were on the runway and getting ready to take off. I was busy reading my book.  But Greg was paying attention. He is one who always pays attention. He told me the brakes were bad on the plane and we would need to get off.  I was sure he was mistaken, but a few minutes later we were all told in German that the brakes were “kaput”.   Next, we were deplaning and getting on a bus for a thirty second trip to the terminal (now I know why they call it terminal).   Once everyone was off the plane, mayhem ensued.  We were told to collect our luggage. Yes, even our carefully packed “American” carry-on luggage miraculously became “too heavy” for the EU and was banished to the belly of the plane. I only hope we do not face the same fate when we return to America. We waited for luggage, complained and then waited in yet another line.  But luckily our named was called, either because we were flying international or because my bubbly personality had charmed the ticket agent.  I’m pretty sure that I explained my last name translated to “horror” in German. Now we were scheduled for another plane to Rome.  We of course ordered anther beer and wine and waited for the next flight.  After two delicious German wines I was less concerned with making it to our destination.  The one thing that became painfully obvious to me was that there were no gate agents and the only moving of passengers we observed was in buses. Where the hell was the plane?

Have I mentioned that I have had a headache since Tuesday and its freaking Wednesday. Greg has gone to investigate.  Hopefully he will rangel up a plane and pilot willing to deliver us to Rone.  I am now praying that we get there today…..

The Power of a Positive Perspective

How a positive perspective can change everything.

I have always looked at the world with rose-colored glasses. I can’t help but see the bright side of everything. I believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and in the future. I know in my heart tomorrow, it will be better. When I hear bad news I try to reframe it in my mind to better news.   Rain today means the lovely smell of creosote bushes and flowers tomorrow. I consider myself lucky, I have won numerous raffles, and even online contests. The reason I win is because I always buy the ticket! As Steve Forbert said, “You can not win if you do not play.”

When my youngest child was in the hospital, scheduled for open heart surgery I was sure that he was going to be alright. Thirty minutes before the surgery they discovered that he did not have the heart abnormality they had originally diagnosed, he went home that day.  I am grateful. I know I live a wonderful life with a man I love and three healthy, happy adult children. I think a positive outlook  can can alleviate so many worries. The glass is always half full to me.image

In contrast, my parents were children of The Great Depression. They both grew up without their mothers. My dad was definitely a glass half empty kind of guy. He not only believed that the glass was half empty, it was also teetering on the edge of the table ready to shatter in a million pieces and slice open a vein.  My mom had a rosier view of the world.  They loved traveling however, after a couple of plane crashes a friend asked my mom if she was afraid. “Why would I be afraid? If the plane crashed we would both die together, doing something we love.”  When she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the tears and there were lots of tears she said, “Well, you have to die of something.”

Today the State Department announced an advisory on travel to Europe due to concern  about terrorism.  I am not worried. I will not think twice about our two month long trip to Europe.  This is our dream trip. I look forward to the sights, the people, the food and the adventures we will have. I will not be dissuaded by warnings and fear. We intend to immerse ourselves in the cultures, to learn about our fellow human beings and to make some new friends.

We leave in four days. My thoughts are not of dying, they are of plane connections, new sights, shopping and the anticipation of something new.  Right now all I’m thinking about is comfortable shoes and how many things I can fit into a plastic bag for my allowed liquids. It is amazing the number of things you need to include: toothpaste, sunscreen, moisturizer, eye drops, hair products etc. I really don’t think it will all fit.

Greg has the travel spreadsheet which includes all the necessary information for the accommodations, passports, flights, tours and EVERYTHING we might need for the trip. I no longer need to worry about tickets or anything related to the “travel documents.” That is because about fifteen years ago when we were driving to LA for a  family cruise, I picked up a large manilla envelope labeled “TRAVEL DOCUMENTS” and threw it in the garage. My only thought was that it was on my seat and in the way. Four hours after we left the house Greg asked for the envelope.  I told him I didn’t think it was important so I left it in the garage. At that point, I was pretty sure Greg considered leaving me at the border of Arizona and California. Yes there was screaming. But the point of the story is, it has become a favorite family anecdote and we made the cruise. I do not dwell on the fact that he drove an extra eight hours, because I no longer have the burden of travel documents. My only concerns are about connecting to WIFI , snagging a blanket on the plane and keeping up with the Line Leader.

My biggest worry is whether or not my headphones will keep out the noise of the adorable crying baby that will likely be sitting next to me.

 

International Insomniac 

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In college I slept through rowdy roomates, randy roommate and even downright rude roomates. I could close my eyes and I was asleep. When I went to bed with my husband he turned on the radio, “Please turn that off” I requested. “It’s the only way I can ever sleep” he explained. Greg grew up listening to Yankee games and Gene Shepard on the radio, it was his sure fire way to get to sleep. I eventually learned to get some sleep with the radio on, as long as it was boring talk radio or sports. My preferences were some guy talking on and on about trains or people talking about tonight’s game. The killer for me would be some news story, or worst of all some right-wing conservative. I would feel obligated to argue whatever point they were making, usually at 2am.

Once I had my three children sleep, as I had known it ceased. I would get up with the babies and feed them, change them and ensure they were breathing, comfortable, not too warm, not too cold, sleeping in the correct position etc. As my children grew I would worry about their well being, mostly very late at night.  Once my children were older I worried about them driving. We’ve had our share of car accidents and I am frankly shocked that we haven’t been blackballed by the entire car insurance industry. As my children grew and moved out on their own, my thought are of them in the middle of the night.  Sleep is elusive.   At home on a typical morning I rise at 4:20 am, because I love my 5am gym class.  At this point in my life, I figure  as the late, great Warren Zevon said, “I will sleep when I am dead”.

When we arrived in Rome we had not slept for twenty seven hours.  I was sure that the expensive European bed that our AirBnB had provided would lull me to sleep like a baby.  We tried to emulate the guidebooks gurus’ s advice and stay awake and get on Rome time as soon as possible.  We stayed up as late as we could, but soon I was wide awake at 2am.  In the afternoon we figured a short nap would help us.  Five hours later we awoke to the sound of seagulls cooing.

Since our arrival in Rome, I have been plagued with a headache every night.  At first I was concerned that I was allergic to Italian wine, luckily that was not the case.  I finally figured out that maybe I was suffering from caffeine withdrawal. After dinner I had a cappuccino and my headache vanished!  This was about 10 o’clock, but I was just happy to find relief.  Eventually exhaustion kicked in and we were both sound asleep.

I am so grateful for technology, it helps me keep in contact with family and friends.  Being so far away I love hearing about things that are going on back in Arizona.  I am a bit less appreciative of technology when my family and friends call on FaceTime or Skype at 2 or 4am. When my dentist’s office called at 3am two days ago I merely told them “I am in another country!” and promptly hung up.

I think now that I have kindly reminded my friends and family about time zone differences we may sleep all night tonight.  But for now I am AWAKE.  This morning  I enjoyed a espresso AND a cappuccino.  I think I still need to learn about moderation.

Reluctantly Retired

Planning a trip to Europe right after I retire.

When I was a kid and I met someone who was retired, I thought they were old. I thought they didn’t work anymore and I was pretty sure they got cranky. I was absolutely convinced they had nothing to contribute to society. Not such an alluring picture. However that picture  was altered forever when I saw my parents and in-laws enjoying life in different ways when they retired. They traveled more, met new friends and had time in their lives for new hobbies. To me, that does not sound half bad. They  knew about current events and  both my dad and father-in-law became really good cooks. When my husband retired a year and a half ago I was concerned. Was he going to sit around eat junk food and watch TV all day? He needed a plan, a schedule and a structure to his day, or at least I thought he did. He totally surprised me by resurrecting his decades old hobby of woodworking. After he dusted off his Shopsmith he very quickly got busy making beautiful tables and accessories. I would ask him to complete some projects at home while I was at work and they usually were done. Greg started cooking,  not just grilling but following recipies and grocery shopping.  I had no ideas that he knew where anything was in the grocery store except beer. I was mistaken. He told his friends that he planned “to get in the best shape of his life.” We laughed, but he pulled out our old treadmill and went hiking. He cooked healthy meals and lost twenty pounds. This retired gig was working for the guy.He was relaxed, happy and formed an inexplicable bond with our dog. But the most shocking part of his retirement was that he made the bed! In nearly thirty three years of marriage he  had not done this.

I have decided to start this blog because I have always loved to write  and tell funny stories about our adventures.  I wrote a blog last summer about our  maiden RV adventure through the west and had a blast chronicling the trip. My husband and I will be traveling through Europe for fifty six days so I believe I will have something interesting to share.

We typically identify ourselves by our occupation. In another week, I will no longer be able to call myself a special education teacher. I love teaching, but there comes a time when every classroom teacher recognizes that the job is getting more difficult every day. I decided that I want to leave teaching when I still love it, so in seven days my classroom will belong to someone else.

Soon after I say goodbye to my school we go on a trip. My husband and I have planned an extended trip to Europe.  We are going to stay at Airbnb homes.  You know, it’s kind of like visiting with friends that you haven’t met yet. But you pay them. We just hope they do not turn out to be crazy, homocidal friends. The one thing we know for sure is they may be murders, but they have beautiful taste in furniture and own a washing machine. This is a new way to travel for us but we figure we are better to live life to the fullest with no regrets. I am the more spontaneous one, Greg, is the planner. He likes to know how much everything will cost, create a spreadsheet and lead us to wherever we are going. He even leads us in places he has never been to, he always walks around like he knows just where he is going. We refer to him as”The Line Leader”.

I have been thinking about this trip and have some great concerns. Our plan, or should I say Greg’s plan is for us to pack for fiftysix days with one carry on each and a back pack. I was not entirely sure I would make it. Our trip includes planes, trains, cars and two cruise ships.  With some wardrobe editing, I am now packed.

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