Monday, September 19, 2016

Day 13- Thoughts

In a little while, we will start to pack, figure out how to get home with all the souvenirs, take showers and prepare to leave the hotel at 4 am. Since we have $21 dollars left in our travel account, it must be time to leave.
A week ago I thought I would be sad tonight. But I'm not. As I just told Jon, I feel "whole." I feel like we did everything and more that we set out to do. This trip has exceeded every expectation I ever had for it. I'm ready to get back to family and our "real" life. If I could turn the clock back to September 6 and do it again, I would in a heartbeat. But I'm full right now. I realized tonight that if we are blessed enough to get to travel again, it will never be at this magnitude and it will never be our first time again. And that's okay. We have made SUCH memories. And we learned so much, about each other, how we travel and the world. With all the famous stuff we saw, I still mostly hang on to the conversations with people from all over the world.
Things we did right:
1) Stayed patient with each other at all times. Even when we were on the wrong bus. Stuck together at all times.
2) Talked to people! I learned this from Jon. I'm a silent traveler usually. But how oh much I learned letting people from all over the world into my life!
3)Spent time enjoying the culture, not just the sightseeing.
4) When things were different, we reminded ourselves that different doesn't equal wrong. Thanks for that +Misty Jobe
5) Reminded ourselves DAILY how lucky we were to be doing this. Discussed other places on our own bucket lists.
Things we did wrong:
1) We over scheduled tours. Truly, once you've been to one vineyard, you don't need to visit others. It's all the same. You see grape vines, vats and then taste a bit of wine. Same stuff, different country.
2) Realize that what we really like to do is hang out with locals. We did a lot, but didn't know how much that meant to both of us.
3) A biggie. We started a travel account awhile back for a trip such as this. We brought check cards tied to only it, so that we wouldn't overspend. What we forgot AND WE KNOW BETTER! Is that unless you use certain credit cards abroad, you pay a service fee every time you use a debit card. DUMB. We paid way too much in stupid fees.
4) Realize you are always going to spend more than you think.
5) Scheduled a 7 am flight from Florence to Paris to Mpls. But it was the only free flight for our miles.
Other things I learned:
1) Everything, especially water , tastes better in glass.
2) I was reminded once again, that no one is really envious because we live in the States. Their world works just fine for them.
3)In my small little world survey from Europe, the people are scared for our election and flabbergasted at Donald Trump
4) People are truly the same everywhere. Especially groups of women. And children. And "mansplaining" is a global issue.
5) Most people in this world are good and helpful. Are they all helpful and cheerful? No. But then neither are we.
6) Our national pride holds us back. Healthcare and transportation being the biggest. And the metric system. Why are we not recognizing that we are part of a bigger world?  Education? With all the issues we have, and they are many, I think we still hold the winning card on that.
So now it's time to get ready to start to re-enter our own world.
We are ready.
Arrivederci! (Until we meet again...)

Day 13-The Duomo and Me

The last day on the last stop. We slept in awhile today-I'm trying to stockpile sleep a little before we make our long journey back, and I jump right back into the real world.
While I was thinking about writing today, I asked myself what I would want to remember when I read this again, when the trip is just a memory. Would I want dates and artists names of the Duomo and Baptistery or would I rather read about how it all made me feel. I chose the latter. Of course I loved the history, and the years dedicated to such a place, but I can always Google those.
We had tickets today to visit the Duomo, the fourth largest Cathedral in Europe. It was warm and sticky and I wore a sundress. It was fortunate that I put a tank top on under it because there was a guard of sorts, making sure that everyone was respectfully dressed to enter. Young women with short shorts had scarves wrapped around their waists like skirts. I actually thought of it this morning, but one thing I had noticed is that Europe is much more casually dressed than the last time I was here. It is a very holy place and they have the right to ask for respect. We had decided after seeing the sign of what was allowed that if I got a no, Jon would give me his shirt, because he had another shirt on underneath it. The guard guy made me turn around to see the back of the dress. Probably because I'm old, overweight and had a shirt on underneath it he let me in. But it still made me feel like I should have been more cognizant.
I'm not Roman Catholic but it doesn't matter when you enter. In fact, I'm not sure it would matter if you aren't even a believer or a Christian. The FEELING is overwhelming. The feeling of being in a truly sacred place. I told Jon that what moves me, when I look around and up at such beauty, is the realization of the sacrifice that people over centuries...centuries...put into creating a place that would honor their faith. My faith and spirituality aren't quite so simple these days, due to experience and loss; in fact it runs much deeper than what I believe we can understand in our humanity. When I
come into a place like this, I realize that for hundreds and hundreds of years, people, artists mostly, have sacrificed so much as a testament to their belief. They took simple Bible stories and created masterpieces. Certainly there is a Higher Being. When I visit a place like that, I think of my own doubts, as we all have. It reminds me of Glenn saying, "Look. People have been trying to kill the
Church  for centuries. And as imperfect as it is, it remains." Although it represents a very particular branch of Christianity, there is larger MEANING for all of us. There is more than this world.  I wish my words did a better job of describing my feelings. I'll leave it as the fact that for once in my life,
the art was second.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Day 12, Art and memories

After a nice breakfast in the hotel, we set out for the day. For me this was a big day.
You see, when I was a freshman in college at St. Olaf in 1974, I took a Philosophy of Art course my first semester, merely to satisfy a liberal arts credit. I was nervous, because of the word "philosophy." I ended up loving the course, which turned into a visual tour of art though the ages and the philosophies that helped create them. I actually ended up with a second major in art history.
By November of that year, I had convinced my parents to let me go on a J-term tour (January-it was called "interim" when I was there- a chance for a concentrated study of something) for more than four weeks. It was to be a study of Renaissance art in Italy. As I remember, the whole trip cost about $1000 with everything included, except incidentals. Even though I had taken one course, I still didn't really know much about Renaissance art. I traveled with kids from St. Olaf, Macalester and Augsburg and an art professor from St. Olaf called Mac Gimse. He was probably in his late 30's or early '40s and incredibly knowledgable about art. We saw it all, and I remember thinking that if I never went in an old Catholic cathedral again, it would be fine. Haha.
What I found out was, although I had a wonderful time on the trip, traveling with only a backpack, Renaissance art was not really my thing. Intellectually I knew that it brought art out of the dark ages, and that the talent and the medium used was amazing.
 But then we got to Florence.
 And  I saw him.
David. (Pronounced Da-Veed)
It is Michelangelo's statue of the young David, preparing to fight off the giant Goliath.
 It took my breath away. It stands in its own duomo in the Academia museum, very well lit.  It is at least 15 feet tall, not counting its pedestal, and the anatomical detail is beyond any adjective that I can use. The sinews of his arms etc...extraordinary. Especially when you realize that he carved it out of a piece of marble that all the greats-Botticelli etc- had rejected because it was too narrow.
My young 18 year-old-self remembers thinking that I had to see it again someday. You know about "somedays"- they turn into graduation, jobs, careers, marriage, children, etc.
I realized as we planned this trip, that my "someday" could happen.
I was apprehensive that with the way the world has changed since then, (then we were able to walk right up to every famous sculpture in Italy) that David would be isolated now. There is plexiglass around the base, but it doesn't ruin it.
I rounded the corner, and I had the same experience as I had 42 years ago. I actually put my hand to my chest and took a deep breath. It was an emotional I never thought I would have again. I paused before I could move closer.
(On the same trip, I was privileged to experience the Sistine Chapel in Rome while the St. Olaf College Choir sang. The first Protestant choir to ever sing there. We won't get to Rome this time, but
I mention it because of the genius that was Michelangelo. What a gift to the world.)
I spent a lot of the day thinking about the fact that our children can no longer go to college just for the sake of learning...about  history and the larger world around them. I understand that the emphasis now has to be on earning a living, but what a shame. The liberal arts make people more whole and create in them a bigger global perspective. To think that much of what we have experienced happened hundreds of years before the US was even a blip on anyone's radar.
The rest of the day was spent in the markets of course, and the Pontevecchio.
Tomorrow, our last day, is the Duomo and the Uffizi.
Now for some dinner.

Day 11- Portovenere to Florence, and Florence

This may be a two post day because I have two separate experiences in my head from our time here in Florence.
Yesterday we made our way to the train station in La Spezia, the next largest town near Portovenere. We decided to take the city bus at 2.50 a piece instead of a $30 cab ride. Everything was going swimmingly until we noticed that we had been on the bus a long time, and a group of teenagers boarded looking as if they were headed for the beach. We asked someone who spoke a little English if we were near the station. Apparently, we missed the stop somehow. The bus must have approached from a different direction and we didn't recognize the building. The kind person told us we must get off and head the other direction. Fortunately, we had left early and still had plenty of time. We crossed a busy road and a bus waited for us. There was a guy kind of riding shot gun on the bus, gabbing up the driver. I still don't know if they were friends, co-workers or what. But he understood our problem, and told us when to get off. Then, in a surprise move, he decided to lead us all the way to the station entrance. He hopped off with us, and led us to the elevator so we didn't have to lug our suitcases up a steep staircase. We both admitted that when he reached in his jacket, which he did only to move his wallet as he warned us about pickpockets, that we had a brief flash of being robbed blind. It was not the case. He was just a Good Samaritan helping some lost travelers. He didn't have much English, and we had even less Italian, but he was a Godsend to us. There are a lot of nasty people in the world, but there are some very nice ones too.
We found our track and had time for a McDonalds cheeseburger. Haha. Sometimes familiar food is comforting! We had a very comfortable 90 minute ride into Florence and arrived about 4:30. Our hotel was in walking distance and we arrived to a place that must have huge history, which I intend to find out. Our room, "Studio Barbera" has a fortress of a wooden door on the street level. It is huge,
the bedroom having a ceiling like a small Italian chapel-a duomo- and a kitchen and bathroom. The
lighting is poor and it has a smell from a plug-in room freshener that is not especially pleasant. But it has charm galore. Part of the hotel is a residence for artists it seems with a lovely terrace overlooking a courtyard.
We wandered around last night, got caught in a sudden downpour again but this time were were prepared. We found the marketplace and eyed up the leather goods we might want to buy. After a great dinner of homemade pasta, which left me way too full, we went to bed early, and slept rather fitfully. Too much food and another new bed.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Random Things.....

Things that are too long for my blogs but that I don't want to forget:

1) I love the French language. I've decided to put learning a second language on my bucket list. Of course running a 5K by age 60 was on there too and it's not going to happen. But there are words in French I love...such as voila! In English we use it for a surprise or something big. But in French it is a part of normal means..."Well there it is. Or,"It is what it is." It feels good on my tongue. I should learn Spanish in the world we live in, but I'm in love with French. Not sure I'd ever get the throat thing know the one we do if we are trying to get crap out of our throat but the one they do that sounds beautifully awesome?
2) Jon and I have been together for more than two years, although it feels like much longer, in a good way of course. He has this little idiosyncrasy of always saving food. For instance if there are 2 bites left on his plate, he will put it in the fridge for "later" which usually turns into me dumping it after a few days when it is cold and hard. He still does it and now it makes me chuckle, knowing the outcome. So, in every restaurant in which we have eaten on this trip, he puts the left over bread in his pocket. I have rolled my eyes more than once, but actually we have snacked on that bread at off-times. So who is laughing now??
3) We talked to a couple from Brussels yesterday. He is a radiologist and has been to Chicago many times for conventions. A very serious man without much humor. But they did tell us that Brussels has never totally recovered from the attacks awhile back. It's sad. We all agreed however, that it cannot restrict us from traveling and living our lives, otherwise the terrorists have truly won. We agreed that a fatalistic approach is necessary right now in order to truly enjoy life.  Apparently elections happen all the time in Belgium and they had much sympathy for the state of ours.
3) On the way back to the hotel yesterday, we noticed a couple taking a picture of the yacht anchored in the harbor.  I jokingly said, " Oh you like my boat!", realizing that if they didn't speak English they would just ignore me. Instead, they said, "Oh wow! Where are you from?"  When we replied that we were from Minnesota, they told us they were from Seattle. Pleasantries about both cities were
exchanged. We then found out that they had just retired from running a home-based daycare for 30 years. They bought one-way tickets to Europe ....will travel until they feel the need to go home. Can you imagine?? At first I thought that it would be cool, but as I thought of my own personality, I'm not sure I could handle it. I need a time frame I think. Plus, I couldn't imagine not being around my kids and grandkids for an indefinite time. They would be fine, but we would be lonely. Helping out with
their care is part of our identity these days.
4) People are so much the same everywhere. Gatherings of women, although I can't understand the conversation, seem to be  just talking and laughing about the same things we do in the US.
5) This is truly a global world. We need to act as such. That the US is not on the metric system as we were promised when I was growing up, is just stupid. Our "American Pride" is ultimately holding us back. Our infrastructure of mass transit is way behind the rest of the world, and we don't seem to care. We have traveled way more than 2000 miles and have paid less than $200 a piece for 1st class travel, without a care. Yesterday, our long trip from Aix to Portovenere cost us each $45. The  young couple we talked to from London while we were in Barcelona, remarked that they can't believe we
don't have a national health plan. I'm  It truly amazes them. They also were amazed that our country
is still so racially divided. Yes it is, but we have seen some ugly graffiti about immigrants while here in Italy.
6) What world are we leaving to my grandchildren? Both environmentally, socially and politically? Why are we going backwards in all directions??? Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Day 8-Aix En Provence to Portovenere, Italy

Long travel day. We left about 9:30 by Quibus...the French version of Greyhound when Greyhound was nice and clean. With several stops along the way, including a uni-potty experience, we made it to Genova, Italy about 3:30. It was a pleasant and scenic journey. We then got on a train at 5:00 to La Spezia, Italy and took a cab to our hotel in Portovenere. Oh my, what a scenic place. We have a beautiful room with a spacious terrace overlooking the harbor on the Mediterranean Sea. We can see private yachts...million dollar ones anchored in the harbor. Wow.
After a long day we were hot, tired and starving. We found a restaurant in a nearby hotel and enjoyed some wonderful risotto and ravioli. Both filled with fresh seafood.
Our location is gorgeous but quite a hike it seems to the center of town. We are going to explore it tomorrow and see. We need to find some inexpensive places to eat, and shop of course. It is supposed to rain tomorrow...but we are prepared with rain jackets and an umbrella.
I've never been able to travel in September since Emily was 4...she's now almost 35 and I must say it is a fantastic time of year to travel abroad. Nothing is crowded and most hotels etc are discounted, but the weather is still good.
Just as my ear was getting tuned into hearing French all around me, and learning a few words, here we are switching again. We were a little nervous about the trip today, because neither of us know any Italian and we were using public transit. Having tickets ahead of time and maps helped. Also, once we got to Italy, everything was listed at the train station in both Italian and English, so there was no worry. And there is always Google translate. On the way home from dinner tonight, we were so punchy we started making up our own Italian words, which seemed extraordinarily funny at the time.
Tired tonight, but happy. I will say Ciao!, which I found out tonight is only used among friends. And if you are reading this probably boring travelogue you are certainly one.
PS the "wee-fee" here is very strong and fast!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Day 7- a regrouping day

Today marks the halfway point of our trip. Wow. I can't believe we've been gone for a week. It's been so incredible and I know I'm going to be sad when it is over.
After our long day yesterday, and perhaps because it is day 7, we were weary today. Spent the day reading on the terrace, doing laundry and a bit of strolling. One thing I like about doing trips like this on our own, is that there is no set agenda. Part of what I enjoy is soaking in the local culture and watching and observing.
We've discovered more about this town, Aix en Provence. It is an ancient city dating back to 123 BCE. There are hot springs here that the Romans discovered and put the place on the map as a military colony. Aix means in Provence. Looking at the city with that knowledge now brings it into an even more fascinating place. Also, while it is a popular destination for French tourists because of the spas, it is a city of its own. There are a couple universities here, and a law school or two. It used to be the capital of Provence I believe, so there are still many government seats here. As we have wandered the last few days I see many college-aged students, looking like they do everywhere. And that is who keeps the pubs busy at night!
One thing I enjoyed yesterday was watching the children go to school as we were walking to meet our tour guide. Some with parents, most elementary and older walking or riding a scooter (not motorized) along the cobblestone streets. They all veered off to different little side streets, leading me to believe there are many different schools. I asked the guide yesterday and yes, most attend different private schools but there is what we know as public school available as well.
After our tour yesterday I started noticing things I hadn't before. Such as the true age of some structures. Wow. And walls made before mortar. And remembering and relearning yesterday about the mineral deposit called ochre that comes in many different hues. Most old buildings here still have ochre  (oak-er) in the plaster.
We haven't really experienced any rudeness,other than a guy yesterday. We were in a small town and after climbing up several steep hills we wanted to stop for something to drink and go to the bathroom. Unfortunately we asked for the toilette first to which he said, "Theeeesssss is a hotel and res-taur-
ant!!! Not a rest (rolled r) stop for trave-lors" Haha.
Being a great and proud eavesdropper, I'm disappointed I can't make out some conversations. I try to pick up words, but no juicy tid-bits for me. Jon's French has come back strong after being here a few days. He still can't follow casual conversations because of the speed, but he was able to carry on a conversation with the desk clerk today without using any English. I would love to live somewhere long enough to be so immersed in the language that I understood it without translating it in my head. But there are 2 little boys and another one on its way someday that will keep me from ever doing that. And that's okay. We feel so fortunate and truly blessed to be sharing this together.
Tomorrow we are off to Italy. Bon Soir (Good evening) for now.