Back to School Blues

Since we have been home, the realization that I have retired from teaching  and am living with a guy that is home most of the time has set in. We are still doing the dance, figuring out like newlyweds who will perform what household chore.  When I retired in May I did not get much of a chance to rest, relax or contemplate my next chapter.  We left the week after school was finished for our European trip.  I’m home now and I’ve had some chance to reflect on my decision to retire.  I miss teaching, when I was hiking yesterday my heart ached as I watched the kids ride past me on their bikes, racing to the first day of school.

I was missing the frantic pace of the beginning of the school year.  I loved teaching but who am I kidding? The start of each school year is filled with stress, insomnia, massive workload and anticipation.  I loved decorating my classroom, setting up centers and activities.  But I didn’t love how sore I would be and how many long days I put in before school even started.  Did I miss the ridiculous staff meetings that prevented me from setting up my classroom?  No.  Did I miss the mountain of paperwork that accompanied every new school year?  No, well maybe a little bit.  Some of that paperwork includes a little snapshot of how a particular child performed on a variety of tests as well as a plan to help that child get to where they needed to be developmentally.  Sometimes they were very informative, but they never give you the real picture of what a child was capable of.   That’s the teacher’s job to discover.  Discovering potential is really the job of every good teacher.  The future is so bright, but the emotions are so raw in the preschool.  There are lots of tears and tantrums, and the kids sometimes have difficulty too.  But I can not deny my absolute love for the kids who, by the year’s end I always refer to as “my kids”.

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Last day of school  for “my kids”

I was thinking long and hard about my decision to retire when I received a message asking me to sub for preschool.  I needed to update my Fingerprint Clearance Card, get a Substitue Teacher Certificate, fill out a job application, get references and then I would be allowed to substitute in the school district that I left three months ago.  It’s no wonder school districts have such a hard time getting and keeping subs.

After paying $130 and spending some time learning how to log into the substitute website I was now cleared to sub in my district and receive pay of $85 a day. I was immediately assigned to a small classroom about thirty minutes from my home. I loved the kids and the work was challenging and exhausting, I napped as soon as I got home and was literally tapped out. I’ve decided to put some parameters on where and when I will sub. I will only do special ed preschool and I’m only going to work one day per week, unless I have a trip planned or something else going on in my life. I’m not subbing for the pay, (I haven’t even broken even yet!) but I’m subbing for the hugs.

 

Lessons Learned Part 2

I have been back from our European vacation for a little over a week and have had time to think about part two of the lessons I have learned.

1. FLY FIRST CLASS.  This became crystal clear to me when we were flying home from London.  Greg had scored some first class tickets from our frequent flyer miles.  Apparently, it is about $8,000 if you paid the cash price.  But as far as I’m concerned it  is absolutely, without a doubt in my mind worth the expense.  To begin with, you get to spend your time at the airport in the Sky Lounge.  When you enter the doors the  hostess offers you champagne,  cooks you breakfast and they offer the most prized commodity in an airport.  Peace and quiet.

Next, you board the plane and enter Nirvana. Your own private pod, with a massaging chair that turns into a bed, television, blanket, pillow, Bose headphones, pjs, slippers and a  Cole Haan convience kit, complete with eye shades, socks, toothbrush, lotions etc. They offer you a drink (in crystal) warm nuts, appetizers, entrees, snacks, and an ice cream sundae for desert.  They had me at the warm nuts.

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My palatial pod in first class

 

 

2.  MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS HAVE CHANGE with you because it may cost you to use the toilet

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In many places it’s going to cost you to pee

3.  “GOD LOVES A TRIER” you should always ask, the worst anyone can say is no.  The ticket agent in London told me this when I asked, hopefully if we could get theatre tickets for that night.  I love that expression, we ended up with great seats to Kinky Boots.

 

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At the theatre for Kinky boots

 

4.  IN MOST EUROPEAN HOTELS YOU MUST PLACE YOUR HOTEL KEY IN A SLOT  for the ac and lights to work.

5.  EXPLORE NEW PLACES on your own don’t always need a tour

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The road less traveled may be the best one of all

6.  IT IS MUCH HARDER TO EVESDROP when you don’t know the language.

7.  EAT LIKE A LOCAL, it’s always fresh and delicious.

 

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Local homemade pasta, seafood and squid ink

8.  Please “MIND THE GAP WHEN DEPARTING FROM THE TRAIN” in Great Britain this is your reminder to not fall between the train and the platform.

9.  MEET NEW PEOPLE, they have different life experiences than you.

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A sweet couple from Seattle that we met in Cinque Terre

10.  IN EUROPE MOST PUBLIC BUILDINGS DO NOT HAVE AIR CONDITIONING, so dress accordingly.

11.  BYOB bring your own bag to the grocery store.  If you don’t you will be charged for one.

12.  EXPERIENCES, NOT THINGS, or at just small things that you have room for in your bag.

 

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A sign on our hike in Cinque Terre, where we were rewarded with phenomenal views

13.  IN MOST RESTAURANTS AND BARS  the toilet will likely be located down  a dark set of stairs.  don’t worry if the light goes off, just jump out of the stall and wave your arms like a crazy person, the lights will likely go back on.  This actually happened to me in Corsica when I was trying to change out of my bathing suit.

 

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Walk down this way to the bathroom……

 

14.  BEWARE OF WONKY WIFI,  just because they say they have wifi does not mean you can connect.

 

15.  LOOK TO THE LEFT AND THE RIGHT   (they may drive on a different side of the road than us)

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16.  GO WITH THE FLOW, not everything will go as you planned, enjoy the journey.

 

17.  FOLLOW THE LINE LEADER, he will always get you home.

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My Line Leader

 

18.  LIFE GOES ON WHEN YOU ARE AWAY, so get over it.  But have someone check on your house while you are away.  Things may break, like our air conditioner in 115  degree temperature.

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My candles were evidence that the ac was not working

 

19.  IN EUROPE THEY SERVE FRENCH FRIES with every meal, they may call them chips but they’re French fries.

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They even have French fries on some pizza!

 

20.  IF YOU ORDER A CAPPUCCINO  it will cost you less if you stand and drink it at the counter

21.   ENJOY ALL THE DELICIOUS FOOD AND WINE, but don’t fool yourself, you will have to work that stuff off.

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No amount of stairs and steps will cover all of this stuff

22.  IN THIS LIFE WE MAY NEVER BE HERE AGAIN, SO ENJOY EVERY MOMENT.

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23.  TRAVEL WITH SOMEONE YOU LOVE, if they get on your nerves the love thing may keep you from killing them.

24.  DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRAVEL, IF YOU ARE THE TERRORISTS WIN.

 

Cruise Comments

We have enjoyed a number of cruises and decided to end our trip with a twelve day British Isles cruise on Princess.  I think that a cruise vacation is perfect for fun family trips, and it is a great opportunity for diverse friends to enjoy different aspects of their cruise at the same time. We have met some great people on cruises as well. Sharing a meal with others is just a nice way to get to know others.
All large cruise lines seem to offer similar things on their boats. Entertainment in the form of live music, shows, food, art auctions, the sale of jewelry, gambling and some form of passenger competition, whether it be singing, egg drop contests or dance contests and more food and drink.

 

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Tasty desserts on the ship

The great thing about a cruise is that there are very different levels of fitness onboard. I see the passengers hitting the gym each morning or running up on deck as well as those who are unable to walk but can participate in a lot of activities. For me it is a reminder that as long as my body will allow me, it is my obligation to stay fit.  But I did not go to the gym, just the stairs and lots of walking in the ports.

When we’re on a cruise we generally eat too much but do try to walk and climb stairs all the time. The fact of the matter is we probably eat more than we exercise, but we try to comfort ourselves in the knowledge that the cruise will not last too long.

Last year Greg promised me that we would take dance lessons. I was just in awe of passengers with the rhythm and grace to dance every dance. Well the fact of the matter is that we are both without rhythm or grace. I am quite sure if I did get Greg to a dance studio we would have been asked to leave. As a child my mom signed me up for dance lessons with my sister. I had the bag, the outfit, the ballet, tap and jazz shoes. After one lesson, the girl next to me recognized what a klutz I was and told me I was doing everything wrong. I quit dance, refusing to ever go back.  Even now I fail to hear a beat, have no rhythm and am as clumsy as a bear. Greg is not far behind me. We continue to watch the dancers on the boat and know that that will never be us.

We enjoyed all of the ports we visited.  Overall the weather was pretty good, cloudy and only a little rain.  We loved all of the musicians in the ports, except for maybe the bagpipers.  Not a big fan.

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I’m not a fan of the bagpipe

I’m sure he’s a nice guy I’m just not a fan of his music
At night it is difficult not to notice the old lady hecklers who delight in giving the singers a difficult time. They keep yelling a request for the same song over and over again. It is with great aplomb that the performers handle such pains.

At breakfast on one of our last days we sat with two other couples. One gentleman was originally from the UK, he and his wife had traveled to over one hundred countries, mostly on their own and not with tours. It would have been easy to admire him except for the fact that when he ordered a five course breakfast and  the pepper was not delivered at the same time as the Tabasco for his tomato juice he yelled at the waitress for not bringing everything in a specific order.

Cruise Dos and Don’t

1.  Don’t take the elevator, if you can walk, take the stairs

Take the stairs

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Lots of stairs at Giant’s Causeway

2.  Do research and plan your own excursions to give your trip a personal touch.

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Clock at Glasgow train station

3.  Do check out the entertainment, it is often really good.

4.  Do go off the beaten track, see things that all of the tours don’t go to.

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Coastline in Northern Ireland

5.  Don’t miss the iconic places too, there is a reason they are so popular.

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A cloudy day, but not raining yet

 

6.  Shop for cruise prices.  I often get an inside stateroom, and if that means I go on more cruises then that’s fine with me.

7.  Make the cruise your own.  Do what you want on the cruise.

9.  Do enjoy the food, but remember you can’t eat like that forever.

10.  Don’t be a bully to the waitstaff, it’s amazing how much people appreciate the “magic words” I taught my students of     “please” and “thank you.”

11.  If you decide to sing karoke after a few drinks, pick a song that everyone knows and can join in with, so no one notices your bad voice.

12.  There is limited wifi onboard so unplug and enjoy the time without having the distraction of email, Facebook etc.

13.  Kismet- Destiny, fate, luck, chance.  Leave room in your life for it.  We asked the driver who picked us up as the airport if      we could possibly visit Stonehenge.  The answer was “yes” (for a fee) we were delighted to get to see this iconic sight.

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Stonehenge, before the crowds

14.  Listen to the people you meet, ask questions, we learned so much from the people we met onboard.

15.     Go with friends, make friends, and remember to have a good time.

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Lunch on the beach in Northern Ireland

 

 

Constant Companion

 

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An interesting alley in Belfast

 

CAPTAIN’S LOG Day 51 with my husband.   I love the guy but we are both getting sick of one another.  I’m tired of his spreadsheets, maps, planning and following behind him.  We refer to him as the “Line Leader” because he has an amazing sense of direction and even if he doesn’t know where he is going he fakes it really well.    I long to spend time with friends or strangers. Having a conversation with anyone else is very appealing to both of us.  We boarded a the  Carribean  Princess for a twelve day British Isles cruise.  The cruise starts and returns to Southhampton.  We took the train and were happy to occupy ourselves with wifi.  It amazes me how much luggage people take with them.  People were taking up seats on the train with their luggage, while others were sitting on the floor.  Take less stuff people!

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My very own “Map Man”

The Princess ship is relatively large, about 2500 people and the crew and passengers are definitely a great distraction. I was delighted to unpack one time, finally!   This will be the last time we need to unpack until we get home!

We have been lucky enough to meet so many new and interesting people on the ship and at all of the ports.  Our first stop was Guernsey, part of the Channel Isltands.  It was so pretty with pedestrian streets filled with flowers and lovely gardens all around.  In Guernsey they have their own currency.  They accept British pounds, but will give you the Guernsey currency, for us it is now a souvenir.

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There are more sheep in Ireland than peeps

Our next stop was Cork,  in the Republic of Ireland.  This was a vibrant city with a center town designed after Las Ramblas in Barcelona.  We happened upon a walking tour with an amazing guide.  I learned so much about all of the struggles of the Irish people and how they persevered through foreign conquest, persecution, famine, and near genocide.  We were entertained in the streets and pubs and were lucky enough again to have good weather.  In Ireland that basically means you avoid the heavy rain, but put up with overcast skies and some “soft rain”.

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A pub in Dublin

Dublin was the next port.  I had thrown my back out during the night and could barely move from the pain.  Even though I might be a little tired of my husband’s company, I have always known that I could count on him to help me.  He mugged one of the bartenders to get me some ice at 2am and did everything in his power to help with my pain.  We decided to take it easy in Dublin, but because it is one of my favorite cities, I wasn’t going to miss it.  We boarded a Hop on Hop off Bus armed with ibuprofen and a morning Bailey’s and cappuccino.  One of the first stops was the Temple Bar district.  We got off the bus in this vibrant area and never boarded it again.  We visited several pubs all with great music, beer and interesting company. One of our last stops was the oldest pub in Ireland, Brazen Head established 1198.  We ended up walking about 18,000 steps and my back felt a little bit better with each pint of hard cider I enjoyed.

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A former drug store from the 1600’s in Cork

 

An old friend of mine is living in Belfast and offered to meet us at the port and show us around the area.  We visited areas of Belfast with cathedrals, gorgeous murals, a beach town where we had a lovely outdoor lunch of mussels and fish and chips,  Bushmills whiskey distillery, Portrush Golf Course, and Giant’s Causeway.  It was so great to reconnect with an old friend and to see so much of Northern Ireland.  While hiking in Giant’s Causeway you are reminded how small we are in comparison to Mother Earth.

 

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Fooling around at Giant’s Causeway

 

Our next stop was Glasgow, Scottland.  The weather did not hold out for the entire day, there were intermittent rain showers followed by some sunny skies.   In one of the pubs we spoke to a local guy who apologized for the weather.  The people have been so friendly and the shopping has been good as well with nice pedestrian shopping areas in town.  All of the museums in Glasgow are free and we decided to visit the Museum of Modern Art.  I am a fan of modern art, but this large and beautiful building was nearly empty of some floors.  Since it is such a beautiful space, it was a waste to not have more art occupy the floors. The favorite was the horse and rider at the entrance to the museum.

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Statue in front of Museum of Modern Art Glasgow

We are in Inverness, near Loch Ness.  We did not succumb to the publicity of Loch Ness Monster.  Instead we enjoyed the towns of Invergorden and Inverness.  We visited the castle, walked along River Ness and enjoyed a couple of pints in town.  Although I may complain about my husband, after thirty four years I know there is no one in this world I would rather spend time with.

Lovely London

We arrived here in London after a long wait for luggage at Gatwick.  The luggage took twice as long to arrive than the flight from Amsterdam took.  I’m not sure who was to blame British Airways or Gatwick.   We thought London would be so easy to maneuver since we share a common language.  But one needs to remember that in America we speak English and in Great Britain they speak the Kings’s English.  Often it took a few seconds to process what the speaker was saying but soon we had the hang of it.

From the airport we took an Uber to Hammersmith.  The driver arrived on time and took us to the flat on the outskirts of downtown London.  The home is in an ethnic neighborhood with restaurants offering cuisine such as  Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, Thai, English, American (Chicago), Somalian and Maltese.  On the first night we met our youngest son, Tim who had stopped in Great Britain  earlier in the week for a holiday.  We were so happy that our plans were so flexible that we could spend time with him and have him stay in our flat.

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My son Tim and I near our flat in Hammersmith

 

 

The weather in London was phenomenal, as it has been for most of our days in Europe.  After a great dinner of traditional  fish and chips we returned to the flat and enjoyed talking and catching up with him.  The flat had a pull out sofa, so together Tim and I pulled it out for him to sleep in.  It seemed to fit only 2/3 of a person and certainly not someone who is 6’1″.  We had Greg assist us as well and all that this retired teacher and two engineers could manage was to throw a couple of cushions on top of the board and give him enough pillows and blankets so that he wouldn’t notice that his bed was only four feet long!  The next morning the hi jinx continued as we were no longer able to get the sofa “bed” resembling a sofa again.  An email to the owner, Google search, and all the brainpower in our flat could not put the sofa together again!

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The Humpty Dumpty sofa bed that we could not put back together again.

 

Tim left that first morning to return to his job, but we still had lots of exploring to do.  We took the London Underground “The Tube” into center London.  Once off the clean fast subway we were met with a stunning view of Big Ben, the Thames, The London Eye, Parliment and Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  How lovely to have so many London icons so close to one another.  We took a Hop on Hop Off bus for a tour of some of London’s highlights.  We also took a boat tour along the Thames to get a better view of The London Eye, Tower of London, the remnants of London Bridge (the upper portion was sold to Lake Havisu, Arizona) and Tower Bridge.

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The London Eye

We enjoy pub food and Greg is doing his best to try many of the local brews.  Because today was our thirty fourth anniversary we also went out to a sweet local restaurant to enjoy Sunday Roast, a staple in Great Britain.  The dish was served with carrots, roast beef, onions, peas and Yorkshire pudding.  The waitress was kind enough to buy us two glasses of prosecco to toast our anniversary.

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A lovely pub in London, Drawn Hung and Quartered near the Tower of London

On our last day in London we were planning on joining a walking tour which included the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.  Our guide was a quick fellow who shared some of the rich and sordid history of British royals which go back thousands of years.  We were able to catch the beginning of the Royal Band as they marched towards the palace.  We were thrilled to hear them play “Fat Bottom Girls” by Queen. We watched the procession and were able to get some great pictures as well.  It really is kind of cool to have a royal family.

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The serious band member playing “Fat bottom Girls”

We also did some shopping and although I enjoyed visiting Harrod’s. I couldn’t afford to buy anything there, and my mantra is if it’s not on sale I’m not getting it.  I did buy a tea towel with the Queen’s face on it.
On our way into London I was somewhat sad that we hadn’t  planned to see a play while there.  But since the glass is always half full we decided to check into same day tickets.  When I told the ticket agent what play we wanted to see, he said he would check.  A few minutes later he replied, “God loves a trier ma’am.”  We saw “Kinky Boots” with phenomenal seats.

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So many places to see

The next morning we packed up and had scones and cappuccino before printing our boarding passes.  We wanted to change all of our reamaining euros int British Pounds.  It is so different than American money it seemed as if I was using Monopoly money.  Next we boarded a train for Southhampton where we will embark on a cruise of the British Isles.

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Buckingham Pallace

Amazing Amsterdam

We spent four days in Amsterdam and I wish we had more time.  Visiting Amsterdam is like tasting a bite of a wonderful desert, you leave wanting more.

We stayed in the Museumplein section of the city, not far from most of the museums that Amsterdam has to offer.  I think the first thing that you notice when you arrive in Amsterdam is how friendly everyone is.  When we left the airport several different people offered to help us find the transfer bus to our destination.  Once off the bus we walked with our incresingly heavy baggage for a “ten minute” trek to the house which, in reality was about twenty minutes. The neighborhood was beautiful but when we saw the eighty-two narrow stairs winding up and around, we were less enthused.  We were huffing and puffing when we finally reached the top floor.

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Jut a few of the eighty two steps in our flat

The flat is well designed with a new kitchen, dining and living room, and a  large balcony.  I had forgotten when I looked at the Airbnb listing to notice where the bedroom was.  It was up a twelve step ladder in a loft with a low, peaked ceiling.  How exciting to climb up and down a ladder every night and several times during the night!  It was like sleeping in a tent, but with a hard mattress. Low ceilings and the fear every night that one of us would slip down the ladder and kill ourselves made for very little sleep.  This is definitely a flat for someone under fifty.

 

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Our apartment in Amsterdam, yes that is a very steep ladder to the bed

In Amsterdam there are 800,000 bikes, more than one for every man, woman and child in the city and most of them are basic three speed bikes.  Mothers, fathers, kiddies, old and young all riding in the city.  Amsterdam is flat and has designated bike lanes that we mistook for sidewalks and narrowly avoided being plowed down by a bicyclist drinking coffee and attending to the child behind him.

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A spoke side view of the canal

While in the city we enjoyed all that Amsterdam had to offer.  The tram stop was just up the street from our flat and was so easy to hop on and off to get around all parts of the city.  We also took a cruise  on the canals to get a different view of the city.  The captain, like everyone we met in Amsterdam spoke English.  He said that the Dutch watch American television and movies with only Dutch subtitles and therefor easily learn to speak English as they grow up.

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A view of the bridges from the canal

Amsterdam is so much more than just the Red Light District and the Coffee shops offering pot everywhere.  It is such a beautiful city with delicious food, friendly people  and we experienced beautiful weather when we were there. We visited the Ann Frank House and had an informative session prior to going into the house.  The session was very moving and I learned a lot about young Ann’s life.  However, the visit to the house was extremely crowded and even claustrophobic.  I was concerned about how to escape a fire in the crowded space and worried about terrorists,  I needed to leave the house as soon as possible.

The Red Light District is really a tourist area with lots of cafes and pubs to watch all that is going on in the red lit Windows.  The Coffee Shops serve pot brownies, Space Cake and various other forms of pot, but they do not serve alcohol.

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A Coffee Shop serves Space Cake not cappuccino

 

Following our canal cruise we were fortunate enough to meet up with Greg’s cousin and husband who were leaving Amsterdam to begin their river cruise.  We went inside Grand Central and met them on their cruise boat for a drink.  So often it is nice to leave time in your schedule for kismet events such as this one.

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The really beautiful Grand Central Station in Amsterdam
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Our impromptu visit with cousins in Amsterdam

We Decided to take a short train ride to Zaanse Schans to see the windmills and rent bikes.  It is a lovely little town and we thought it was so picturesque.  For only about seven euros we got on the train to the town with windmills.

 

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Biking in the town of Zaanse Schans

On our final day in Amsterdam I visited the Van Gogh museum, while Greg drank up the local culture watching The British Open in a pub.  The museum was the best I have experienced.  I bought a “skip the line pass” for 9am when it opened.  The museum was uncrowned inside and I had ample opportunity to see the artworks of Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec up close and at my leisure.  The best part was that the museum was absolutely quiet and no one was taking photos.

We had some amazing meals in Amsterdam including mussels and salmon.  The sweetest place we went to had no menu, nor prices.  The waitress simple came to your table, stooped down and recited what the offerings were for the evening.  We jumped right in and ordered.  The food was so delicious and realitively inexpensive for wine, beer, appetizers, main dishes and desert the tab was about 60 euros.

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Mussels in broth

On our two last evenings we found our way to the Maxim Piano Bar.  An American from Detroit was at the keys singing all familiar tunes.  Both Dutch and Americans were singing and dancing along.  The bartender was funny, friendly and remembered our names when we walked in again on the second night.  We stayed well past midnight and although the trams were no longer running we didn’t mind walking the couple of miles back to the apartment, enjoying the evening all the while.

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Fabulous Four

We have been traveling together for over a month.  Typically my husband and I get along well with one another.  We don’t argue very often and because he is very agreeable and easygoing we are a good match.  We can finish each other’s sentences and we often do. But even two people who love each other lots need other people in their lives.  We were very anxious to visit our friends from Arizona who are expats in Switzerland. They are a fun and active couple, but never did we imagine all of the experiences we would pack into a four day visit to their home in Gland Switzerland.

In only four days we did wine tasting, rode several gondola lifts to the top of Mont Blanc, stood on “The Void” at 12,500 feet, traveled by train up to a glacier cave, rode a luge ride, took a chocolate making class, visited a chocolate factory and sampled everything, toured a Gruyere cheese factory, ate cheese fondue, visited the Gruyere Chateau, heard the traditional Swiss horns, drank in a “Alien Bar”, took a boat ride to France, enjoyed a number of delicious wines and local dishes at restaurants in both Switzerland and France, crossed the border multiple times,  went shopping, hiked in the woods and saw firsthand a Swiss WWII bunker and toblerones, drove through some local farms and picked a turnip, used up all of my memory card on the camera, and lastly enjoyed a fantastic home cooked barbecue with our friends.

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Standing in “The Void” on Mont Blanc
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Half way up Mont Blanc
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The very interesting “ALIEN BAR”
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Inside the glacier cave and yes it is melting
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The chocolate cooking class was a blast!
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A view of the garden at Chateau de Gruyere

 

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Not the boat we took to France
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A local cow-bike parade
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Fields of sunflowers
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Views of the Swiss countryside
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WWII Swiss bunker
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Dinner in the lovely garden with friends