A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: tomstrick1

Roundabouts

semi-overcast 16 °C

Many evenings these past ten days I had the best intent in removing myself for a couple of hours and write about our happenings in Holland, however as you may have noticed it did not happen. It is difficult to find time when every minute has been so enjoyably spent reacquainting with family and a country we both hold dear. That and the long days, it stays light until nearly 11.00pm and if there is a sun and a barely double digit temp. the Dutch remain outside until the very last light fades.

Renting a car in Triers was a great decision and gives us the opportunity of seeing the sights and taking routes not on maps. The price of gasoline is high, close to $8.00 a gallon but the distances are not and less than half a tank was consumed while traveling through 5 countries. Crossing the borders in Northern Europe is somewhat anti -climatic. Small blue signs, bordered by yellow stars announce you’re entering a new country in the language of the country you are departing. Seeing Luxemb(o)urgh posted as such is one of our favorites. The French add the o the Germans leave out. Entering the Netherlands from its most Southern spot announced the country with the French
” Pays Bas“,- the low countries -which makes a lot of sense. The Netherlands is not only totally flat but at times so below sea level that one wonders if the next raindrop would make the country overflow which of course does not happen since the Dutch mastered their sea and waters a long time ago.
Finding our way back home to Uden, the small town in the province of North-Brabant appeared difficult at first, especially finding my brother Ton’s home there. The town I was raised in no longer exists except in my memories, or with my eyes closed. The trick is learning the roundabouts. The country is swamped with these and as long as one knows which roundabout turn to take, the cities and whole country can be taken with ease. In case one does not know, keep on circling the roundabout until a decision is made even if it causes great annoyance to the other drivers who have to give you the right of way and will start tapping an index finger on their own forehead.
For Tom the changes in Uden were even greater since his last visit there was in 1980. The beautiful home Ton and his wife Fieke built, is on the same spot where years ago I picked strawberries to raise extra cash. Ton and Fieke have two young sons, Jip(13) and Abe (10) who excitedly awaited our arrival and found a new fishing buddy in American uncle Tom. While so much has changed in Holland and Uden it was good to see that which has not. On our first evening there, while sitting outside, thousands of young children walked by with their teachers and parents, the Udens Avond 4 daagse ( the evening 4 days walk). As a child I participated in the walk of 10 Kilometers nightly ( 6 or so miles) through the town and it was great witnessing tradition and hearing the same marching songs. Ton and Fieke gave us sound advice, get on a bike and find the old city back. So true. Each small town in the South of Holland has at its center a church and windmill and they remained. It was good to learn the new through recognizing back the old and our first couple of days were spent revisiting the places I lived, learned and played. The old market still meets on Monday mornings and we partook and tasted all our favorites, some of which can only be bought there. Fish still tastes the best when bought from an old wooden stand surrounded by screaming market men selling other wares like cheese, fruit and underwear, all side by side. We are at the utmost time here, niewe haring, asparagus and cherries all ripe , ready or caught in June and while losing our tans, fastly regaining the weight lost earlier on in our travels. We visited the small bar/restaurant Tom briefly lived above years ago and Marc’s BBQ still serves the best satay in town .Tom enjoyed it so fully he grinned and showed teeth ! The main form of Dutch transportation is still the old bicycle and my sister in law Fieke , daily peddles to the grocery store and fills the saddlebags. Jip and Abe, like the rest of their classmates, ride their bikes to school and consider themselves quite lucky to only have to ride a couple of miles each way. They have friends who daily ride two hours to attend school. Extra consumed cheese sandwiches are their form of energy. Children still learn four foreign languages simultaneously and 13 year old Jip already is quite fluent in Latin, French, German and especially English. During our Uden days we made side trips through the provinces of Brabant, Limburg and Gelderland. My mother Annie was raised in the town of Vielingsbeek, near the Maas (Meuse) river and as a young child my siblings and I had great freedom and adventures near this river and I enjoyed showing Tom around there where my fondest memories rest. The town still does not own a bridge over the river and it is the same ferry which connects the two shores. As a small 5 year old I imagined the land across to be foreign country and longed for the stuiver ( 5 cent coin) it then took to cross the river. I remember the excitement when the ferry man on rare occasions would let us ( my sister, cousin and I) cross for free. My early wanderlust was surely set then when waters were crossed and “foreign shores” touched? I remain thankful to the kindhearted ferry attendant who saw and recognized this in a child so young and the freedom we safely lived in those days. This time we crossed the ferry with our German rental car and kilometers down the other shore’s road found another ferry and had another short, but thrilling crossing back .
The weather was cold, wet and dreary and totally added to the reality of it all.
We drove up to Gelderland where the “Hoge Veluwe” National park is. I tried to explain heide to Tom, the landscape found in the park and the closest translation I arrived at was “ Heathlands”. At any of the three park entrances one has the option to park the car and travel the rest of the area with a free, white bike or pay the extra fee of continued car driving over very limited car roads. We opted for the bikes as most people do. Throughout the park there are 1700 “Witte fietsen” (white bikes) totally free to use over the many excellent nature paths. The bikes are quite simple, no gears/speeds which are not needed on an absolute flat surface and instead of handbrakes a step back brake system. Very basic and with fewer technology in place, less chance of break down. We were so impressed with the whole idea that we commented to the park attendant who replied “ Ja mevrouw” ( yes, madam) “ The museum is still 12 kilometers away and if everybody walks that far they would get tired”. We loved that reasoning, we are in Holland where walking 12 kilometers makes one tired but traveling the same by bike does not. We ended up biking over 40 Kilometers that day past great heath lands , stopping by the Kroller Muller museum and while maybe not totally exhausted definitely experienced saddle pain, better known as monkey butt. The Kroller Muller museum was one of the reasons for our Veluwe trip and owes its existence to Helene Kroller-Muller, the daughter of a German industrialist who married a Dutch man in the late 1800‘s. After attending an art appreciation course she became inspired to start her own collection and single handedly acquired over 11.000 art works. Her favorite artist was Vincent van Gogh and Helene was convinced he stood above the other major art movements through his method of expression, technique and humanity. Helene Kroller-Muller collected 91 paintings and approximately 180 other works on paper by Van Gogh, thereby amassing the world’s largest collection of his works. ( Exception Van Gogh family collection). When the Kroller-Muller family were threatened with losing their estate on the Hoge veluwe by the economic recession of the 1920‘s-1930’s they had the foresight to donate the entire collection to the Dutch State under the condition that it build a museum to house the collection on the estate which is now National Park “ The Hoge Veluwe”. What we consider the most impressive is the absolute accessibility of the museum. We wandered through after parking our white bikes and were free to lose ourselves in the museum rooms, returning often to our favorite Van Goghs while neither hushed nor shushed. Pictures without flash can be taken and outside in the gardens are great sculptures including Rodin’s “ femme accroupie”.

Together with Ton, Fieke , Jip and Abe we spent a day at the shores of the North sea and while no longer tempted to swim in water that cold, we had a blast walking and playing while windblown. It is a different shore with its very own beauty and nowhere can the sea so fully withdraw by low tide than on a flat Dutch beach.
Language has changed here somewhat over the years and the word Daag ( Bye) is now seldom heard and the most common greeting upon departure used is Doei. We can get used to that. What is strange to hear is the ease with which many Dutch people use American cuss words. Never have we heard shit with such frequency out of the mouths of babes and grown ups alike.

Our time in Uden has come to an end and during our final traveling days we hope to see much more of Holland while also spending time with my sister Thea , her husband Ruud and their 5 children.

Doei,

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 03:09 Archived in Netherlands Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Normal

semi-overcast 18 °C

There is the possibility of attached danger in understanding a language partially and far from fully as we learned these past weeks in Germany. While standing at a park’s admission gate, the woman collecting the money looked at us and asked
“ Bist du normal “? -”Are you normal”?-. Now that was a loaded question and we were seriously contemplating the answer and decided it probably depended to whom this was asked about us. While pondering, my dad Theo answered for us with a sound “yes” which started us wondering about his answer before we finally learned what it was all about. It had been a simple request if we were eligible for any of the discounts, in this case the senior discount.
The danger of assumption and partial understanding. There is a Dutch proverb for this, freely translated here. “ One knows where the clocks hangs but has no clue where the clapper is”. This proved more upon entering the park called “ Garten der Sinne” . Garden of sin? Hmmm, since it looked like a botanical garden we were wondering if it was another form of calling it the garden of Eden? We were once again totally off in the translation and leaned its true name,” Garden of the senses” which it indeed was with its many fields of colorful flowers emitting wonderful fragrances while bees buzzed nearby and wind chimes sang throughout the gardens.
While it rained, at times heavily, every day during our last week in Germany it did not stop us from seeing the sights and it never slowed Theo and Inge down from showing us these. Like the Black Forest, Saarland, the Mosel and Eifel regions are equally a hikers paradise and we discovered great paths and long trekking trips for the future. Our most frequent passing travelers were cows heading back to the barns while their bells were clanging. On one of our late afternoon walks around the village and slowly heading up the hills for a view we encountered a hiker who pointed at my feet and announced that my footwear was not meant for walking. Indeed, for Germany it must have been an abnormal sight, a hiker with trekking poles wearing flip-flops. It was not until later we thought back on the Sherpas we encountered in Nepal. The porters hired there to carry the load and how for them the thin , flimsy flip-flops are a luxury since it is the one layer above the bare cold Himalayan grounds. I wonder how the Hawaiians would react being told that their every day wear is not suitable for walking.
Together with Inge we spent an afternoon in the local, public pool. While Merzig ‘s population count is around 10.000 , they have a pool many large American cities would drool over. Like the pools in most Northern European cities it is open year around and gives one an option of different swimming areas both inside and outside and separates serious lap swimmers from those who are there to play or for therapy with each pool giving the optimal temperature for the activity intended. We stayed mainly in the large , outdoor therapeutic pool where the temperature blended in with our skins and only the fresh, crisp breathing air was noticed. We were oblivious to the falling rain .
Surrounding us were the same hills we hiked the previous days with the small chapels visited a mere white dot. Normal for the people here but it was a treat for us and watching the children in their large pool with slides twisting in and outside the complex we thought back of the children we saw playing naked in India in puddles whose origin was questionable. Humor traveled with us at the pool when we realized what Tom was looking for, a separate men’s area to change clothes before he remembered he was in Europe where men, women and children alike are comfortable and without issues, together change and shower.
Inge and Theo, upon hearing how much I like pea soup, made us a pot even if pea soup is not the customary summer fare. As a thank you, we decided to cook once for them and made a shopping trip to Kaufland, a store where a Wal-Mart super center could get lost in, with the hope to find all that we needed to make a Mexican dinner. While Kaufland offers a lot, Mexican fare is not high on the German shopping list and so many substitutions were made that we wonder if maybe we should have called the dinner something else. Tom and I had great fun walking through the store, looking for items which could take the place of Ro-tel tomatoes, Dorito’s, salsa and margarita mix.
Tom has learned a new language here in Germany listening to Theo’s Dutch and Inge’s German and calls it Grutch! Tom is communicating well in his new spoken word.
During the rainy days and evenings we undertook a project we have procrastinated in and that was to sew the patches on our packs which we collected from the countries we have traveled through and it is now almost done. That sure feels good. During the frustrated sewing time, where we learned the purpose and use of thimbles we watched television and saw the Dutch National soccer team beat Iceland and Norway. The Orange fans can put the Razorback fans to shame with their display of team support. Tom enjoyed TV in Merzig since Theo prefers watching the Dutch channels which offer American shows in English with Dutch subtitles, while the German channels dub the English with their own language. Studies now reveal that the European countries where subtitles are used and the English heard aids the youth in their development of the English language.
While in the Black Forest we were introduced to a new jam made out of pine needles which of course are found in abundance there and processed as such has a great taste. Who would have thought ? In Italy we discovered how delicious fried zucchini blossoms are as appetizers.
After a week of rainy days the sun once again peeked around the clouds and we became aware on how much the Northern Europeans appreciate and enjoy these at times rare sunny spring/summer days and seek the outdoors even if it is only to sit on a terrace with a cold drink.

We are all at times guilty in the ease with which we declare only that which we are familiar with as normal.
Like beauty, normal is in the eye of the beholder.

Tomorrow morning we plan on picking up a rental car in Triers and slowly head further North and spend a couple of weeks in the Netherlands visiting family and familiarizing ourselves wiith memories created many years ago while making new ones.

Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland,
Danke Theo und Inge, es war sehr schon gewesen .

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 10:41 Archived in Germany Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Reboot

rain 9 °C

Our plane for Dusseldorf left Rome about an hour behind schedule so we were sweating it somewhat whether we would be able to make the train connection in Dusseldorf and arrive at my family’s home in Merzig, Saarland that evening. No worries! Within 15 minutes of the plane’s landing we were at the train station, with all our luggage and if there is passport and customs control in Germany we sure missed it. The Dusseldorf airport has a great Sky-train in place which whisks all quickly away to distant parking lots and the “Bahnhof”, the train station where one can become connected with most of Germany and beyond. Upon purchasing the Merzig train tickets we received at the station, without asking, a slip of paper instructing us of the transfer in Koblenz and from which platforms our trains would arrive and leave. Tourism in Germany is called “Fremdenverkehr”, -strangers traffic- and as a stranger it feels good to receive perks which makes one feel less like one.

The train from Dusseldorf to Merzig follows the rivers closely and took us first by the Rhine, then the Mosel before traveling next to the Saar and the 3 plus hours went by quickly while watching the landscape. We are far enough North in the Northern hemisphere to be aware of the long light now in almost summer and while the sun sets around 9.30, the long “ schemeren” (dusk) lets us see until past 10.00pm . The rivers are surrounded by green, grape carrying hills and later in the week we hope to ride bikes next to the Saar. Koln’s large Cathedral dome was visible from the train as well as some great other sights in the smaller villages.
My dad Theo met us at the train station and after 4 years of us not having seen each other was a welcome sight. Inge, who holds a very special place in our heart, was waiting for us at their home which was a good decision since our luggage would not have fit otherwise in their small, economic European car. While I have visited Theo and Inge before, it is Tom’s first visit to Saarland. Theo and Inge have spoiled us from the minute we arrived last Saturday, May 30, and continue to do so still. Waiting on their table was one of the greatest gifts ever, socks for both of us, hand knitted by Inge. I was down to my last pair which made the gift extra special. The socks are of many colors, the same colors we have seen on our travels. With each stitch love is added and for that we are grateful.
Resting was not an option and since our first day here the sights have been shared and seen. Saarburg, a small town close by, was one of our first stops. It offers a great view from it’s burg (old fort for protection). We have found and seen many more burgs and schloss and wonder if every German town has one. My dad and I share almost the same birthday which coincided with their favorite winery’s Keller tags (Cellar days) and we sampled great wines high up in the vineyard while overlooking the Saar and Luxemburg’s luscious wine fields across the river. The winery served great snacks along with the wine including my all-time highest ranked delicacy “ Nieuwe haring”. Raw herring, treated only with salt and imported from the Netherlands. Certainly a great way to celebrate being together.
The next day we drove down to the Schwarzwald, where Theo and Inge head for at least 4 times a year for Black Forest rambling. Germany’s Schwarzwald is tucked in its most Southern corner and borders Switzerland and France. The first hour was done on the Autobahn and it being a Holiday, (Second Pentecost day) like a Saturday and Sunday no trucks were allowed on. Trucks are never allowed in the fast lane where very efficient Audis, Peugeots, BMW , Porches,Mercedes and even Ferrari’s whiz by. Theo takes a French shortcut for the last part to get to their destination and it was fun to be in France for a couple of hours and even if it involved only one coffee stop it gave us a brief chance to see and hear the French language. Rivers and mountains still make natural borders between the European countries and for Theo and Inge a visit to either Luxemburg or France involves a mere crossing of the river, a few kilometers away.
The town where Theo and Inge treated us to a true Black Forest experience is called Tennenbronn and they consider it their home away from home. It is a small village, nestled deep in a Hohe Schwarzwald valley and one wonders if time indeed stopped there.
After unpacking we joined Theo and Inge on their traditional first walk to the tiny St. Mary chapel up in the hills where they light a candle each time upon arriving back to a place they love and the gratitude they have for their ability to still hike these hills.
We enjoyed tremendous weather during our 5 days there and each day we set off for a hike over hills, valleys and through deep, dark and silent woods. The trails offer spectacular views while wandering by historical landmarks. Stops were made to fill up our water bottles from spouts found throughout these woods which carry the cold, clear water from the melted snow higher up. No other food or drinks were carried since throughout the Black Forest Gasthauses offer local prepared food and drinks to the wanderers. It reminded us of our stops at the Teahouses in Nepal except instead of tea and Dahl-bhat the offerings now were large steins of cold Ketterer beer(the best) and platters of meat and bratkartoffeln. Theo and Inge are well known in the region and we were warmly welcomed at the Gasthaus for Vesperstube. The old farms found throughout the hills often serve double as a Gasthaus. These farms were built to suit the land, climate and life style and two roads lead to these. One road stays up to enter the barn which fills the top of the farm while the lower road reaches to the living area and stables below, all under one roof. Many of these uniquely pitched, red tiled roofs are now mounted on the sunny side with solar and photo voltaic panels to aid with the farms’ energy demand. Use of the constant flowing mountain water is done with small wooden mills. With last winters generous snowfall the landscape was a sparkle of many different shades of fresh and new greens mixed with flowers different from the spring flowers seen in other regions. Our favorite was the yellow waldwachtelwiesel, a shrub carrying tiny flowers with petals similar to a freesia. Other towns we visited in the region were Triberg which boasts not only Germany’s highest waterfalls but also the World’s first largest cuckoo clock, Schramberg, Hornberg, and Schonach. The air is amazingly clean and crisp which must have aided in our sleep as well as the constant hiking. In Tennenbronn there are two churches. One Catholic with the other called Protestant. Each church has their time to chime and the Catholic Church, starting at 6.00am announces each 15 minute passing throughout the day with the sound of the bells. The full hour deserves additional gonging. The last bells are rung at 10.00 pm and remain silent until the next morning. The Protestant church bells only sound twice a day but for a lengthy concert at 6.00 am and 8.00pm. The singing bells sound wonderful through the valley and aided Tom and I on a evening hike when we were no longer sure of the paths but knew with each 15 minute bell chime that we could not be far away. We wonder though about Europe’s use of the 24 hour clock while the church bells do not ding past 12 and repeat the pm cycle? That may be a blessing. Imagine the count. We walked to the small stores daily to buy only that what was needed for that given day. Stores are open from 8.00am until noon, closed for a 2 hour lunch and back open until 6.00 pm. Each store closes one other day during the week and all are closed every Sunday. Refreshing to see the Sabbath honored and as Gaby, the Gasthaus owner told us, the importance the Schwarzwalders take in spending time with family. Getting used to the hours is simple and one learns to do without if not purchased in time. We were a little mystified with the white chalking above the town’s houses wooden front doors and it was explained that the markings 20*C+M+B*09 were made by the visiting three kings on Three Kings Day. Local children dress in Kings clothing each year on January 6 and visit all in the village and leave these markings as gift blessing for the upcoming year.

Beyond eating and drinking the Schwarzwald fare we consumed much Italian Eis. Every little town has at least two Italian ice-cream stands and with Theo’s fondness for these we ate more Italian ice cream in Germany in one week than during our stay in Italy.
We have enjoyed our time with my dad Theo and Inge and it has been good to see firsthand the places they have talked about for so many years. In the early 1940’s , as a young man, my father was captured in Amsterdam by the German army and spent the remainder of World War 2 as prisoner and forced laborer in the town of Hornberg. The same town we visited last week. I once asked my dad why he would want to return to a place where he had been held captive and he answered that during those years, while still in his late teens, he vowed to return and walk these hills and forests as a free man and he does, often, now with his German wife Inge. It is a lesson in grace and forgiveness and for us it was quite meaningful to spend D-Day on top of a hill overlooking the picturesque and quiet town of Hornberg. Theo speaks Dutch and Inge German and at times when they simultaneously and excitedly speak their stories my brain becomes a bit confused, especially when Tom joins in the conversation. I know there must have been a switch crossover and am answering all in the wrong language when they give me blank looks. It never seizes to amaze us that Inge and Theo can perfectly communicate while speaking two different languages, at the same time.

We returned back to Merzig over the weekend and this morning, sitting purposely down to write about our week in Germany and listening to both the fallen rain and my father’s radio a familiar song came on. An old Simon and Garfunkel singing “ I‘d rather feel the earth beneath my feet“ and we truly second those words. Seeing Vienna, Rome and Florence sights all within a week, walking crowded streets and absorbing so many historical sights and ancient art can send one in a sensory overload. We have learned that for us, reenergizing occurs when we reboot. Get back in nature and watch the wonders unfold. We hope to have some clear days coming in the next week so Saarland can be explored more by bike and on foot. Germany can be cold and wet in June as we learned today when the temperature dropped to single Celsius digits and the fire was lit inside.

Tschuess

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 01:55 Archived in Germany Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Tuscan hills

sunny 33 °C

Travel these hills on foot, by bike, scooter, bus or train and park the car.
Italian public transportation is very doable and entertaining with one warning! Learn the procedure and it changes within the regions and cities.

For Italian train travel, remember to ALWAYS validate your ticket on the yellow machine somewhere found in the station before you get aboard. We bought our train ticket to Florence at the Rome Termini Tourist Booth and they never shared this useful information. The Italian ticket police who came around on that trip leg were not amused by our lack of travel knowledge and showed little patience with ignorant tourists.
Thanks to newly made friend Aida on the train we now get it. The train tickets bought in Italy are totally open as are the Florence bus tickets , but they are not fully validated until clicked at the yellow box. Since checking is sporadic one could take a chance and re-use the same ticket over and over again and be vulnerable to potential, consequential fining, which was never our intent. We gladly pay the very reasonable bus and train fare but please make it more explainable at the onset so that angry ticket police stops waving the 50 Euro fine in tourist faces while muttering “ Stupid Americano” upon parting.
It is their temperament which makes the Italians stand out, not their patience.

For us , public transportation remains a great way of seeing a country while learning its culture and language. My take on the Italian language is that it is made up of English words with a vowel attached at the end. These vowels are anything but silent and I love repeating the words seen in passing, letting the consonants roll with a good vowel rip. Reading it sure is easier than trying to understand the fast speaking Italians but we are improving. They do appreciate our attempt and the “grazi “ sounds sincere. While the train tickets can be bought through vending machines, the Florence city bus tickets are bought at the Tobacco store. Not a good place to head for daily if one is trying to break the nicotine habit but sniffing the air around us, very few in Italy and Europe are concerned about the health hazard of smoking and continue to puff widely.

Florence is obviously not very influenced by the world’s economy since the lines(now called queues) to enter the sights, are very long, even this early in the season.
Mystifying somewhat. What is it that this city offers? The food is indeed good but the food is good anywhere in Italy. Florence claims to have been the backdrop to the birth of many men of genius whose designs and sculptures now mark the city’s small historic center as owning the largest concentration of artistic masterpieces in the world. We gathered this information of course from a Firenzi guide but are quite agreeable to the statement after spending days touring the Uffizi Gallery, Pallazo Vecchio, Santa Maria Novella etc.etc. I am slowly recognizing the sculptures by the lack of fig leaves. Florence center can easily be done on foot if one does not mind crowds, heat and noise. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio ( famous bridge) over the Arno river which separates some of the Florence sights and gratefully walked away from the crowds to climb Piazzale Michelangelo which offers a great and quiet view of the city. On the way back down I braved the crowds and once more stood in line for an inside view of an Italian Church, this time Florence Duomo, one of Italy’s most famous monuments and the world’s fourth largest cathedral. Earlier in the day we had seen a close-up of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore’s, the Battistero and bell tower. In Italy, even while sharing a name, piazza and same unique nougat façade , the entrance of one does not guarantee the entrance to the other and all ask for a separate ticket and waiting in line.
Tom had seen the inside of the Dome before and happily bailed out while I walked to the end of the line only to see a very disturbing sight. Books and fellow travelers had warned us of the number of beggars gathered around Italy’s major sights which of course are the churches, and I observed the woman in front of me very uncomfortably protecting her purse while another, obviously upset and loudly gesticulating begging woman was demanding not only her attention but something else. Emphasis was made through lifting a shirt and baring a maybe lactating breast and while not understanding the cardboard sign the beggar held or the angry, non Italian, words spoken I assumed it to be an emphasis on having to feed a child, overall a disturbing sight. It all happened within seconds and the tourist in front of me was very bewildered, especially when upon non compliance, the parting act was a generous being spat on. While assisting her in wiping down the saliva I asked her why she had been singled out and heard from a co-waiter that she had made the mistake of making eye-contact. Up and down the line, in different languages, heads were nodded. “ Never make eye-contact!” Chatting more I learned that the woman spat on was Dutch and had no clue what had been asked of her and beyond becoming very frightened mentioned that the woman had made her feel guilty. I spent 15 more minutes in the Duomo’s line while it never moved forward listening to fellow tourists, my closest ones were from New York and Amsterdam who shared how in their own cities they never visit the sights marked out for tourists. I listened to the Dutch woman who again shared how the beggar, the begging episode, had made her feel.
I wondered, can some one else make us feel guilty or do we allow others to make us feel guilty?
Who makes us feel guilty?
The yoke of guilt can be handed to us but ultimately we make the decision to hang it around our neck.
It was during those 15 minutes I made the decision to no longer remain in line to pay and see a church , or any house meant for prayer while certain limiting conditions are in place.
We have seen many churches, mosques and temples during our travels. Whether it was the Torah, Bible or Koran the recipe for spiritual contentment, for hope, love and controlling human passion remains pretty equal. Their message is always straight from God but via a different messenger.
The twistenedness comes that it was in the countries where we visited neither temples, mosques , nor churches, there where very few claim to live within the Holy books, it was there where we found God’s basic message fully lived.
Love thy neighbor!

Granted, many churches here in Italy are filled with historic art we have not yet seen but from now on the only art we want to see is either created by nature or in a kitchen.
We are duomo’d, battisired and pallazo’d out.
The apartment we rented in Florence is owned by Italian chef “ Massimo” who a couple of years ago moved to Dallas, Texas, together with his American wife Kristy. They kept their Florence apartment as their home, while in Italy, and rent it out when in America. We found their listing on internet and it was the opening line, mentioning Massimo as an Italian chef which made us look closer. We had just finished reading “ Kitchen Confessions” by Anthony Bourdain, another chef, and while absolutely not making propaganda for a very outlandish and potentially “offensive for some “ book with his use of very imaginative words , we checked Massimo and Kristy’s listing closer through the sheer coincidence. Thank goodness we did. We enjoyed our time in their apartment. It is very close to the center of Florence and with its two (sixth floor) balconies let us live Italian. In the morning it is the balcony facing East which gives a peek of the city while slowly drinking a whole pot of coffee with a sun, not yet too hot . This same balcony is great later in the day drinking good Chianti wine while the West balcony (off the kitchen) can bake the laundry dry. Sunrises have been missed since the sun rises way too early now for our travel clock and the late setting sun is blocked by the other high rise apartments. Kristy wins the award for preparing the tourist to her home and city with all the information left behind. Trips were taken to see the Tuscan Hills and surrounding towns with easy daily jumps on buses or trains. Fiesole was a great sight. Next to Piazzale Michelangelo, it is considered the other famous hill that surrounds the heart of Florence. We liked it because it is definitely more quiet, the Franciscan monks were very inviting and opened up their monastery without asking for money or making us change clothes . In the heart of Fiesole we learned that it was here that Leonardo da Vinci in 1501 attempted his dream of human flight. On a clear day one can probably see forever or at least have a better view of Florence but alas, a clear day we did not have.
Pisa was another stop and we are debating between two words describing our first view of the famous leaning tower of Pisa on the Campo del Miracoli ( Field of miracles).
Endearing or comical? Either way, we burst out laughing. The leaning tower of Pisa is indeed still very much doing that and we are sure that Pisa is very grateful for the architectural error since there is not much else to draw these crowds. We believe this leaning is not limited to the tower but that the cup- cake shaped baptistery and matching, dazzling white cathedral are all slightly off kilter, or maybe we are.
Pisa is a quiet city to wander through after getting away from its leaning, crowded sight and like the rest of Italy has lots of terraces so legs can be rested and sips of wine taken . That was our course of action after the decision to no longer pay for church entrance. To view the inside of the Pisa church, tower and baptistery costs 25 Euros, somewhat around US$35.00 and a tad too ridiculous.

The Tuscan country side is beautiful , green hills, blue skies and the poppies have followed us here. Now that we know the travel rules and faithfully click our tickets to validation of course no ticket police has been seen since.
At our apartment Kristy and Massimo left cards for restaurants they recommend in Florence and we totally trusted a bone fide chef to send us to the right place in Florence. For an early birthday celebration we ventured out to Accademia Ristorante on Piazza S. Marco and Tom and I both agreed that it was the best meal ever consumed. Leaving the choice of our wining and dining to chef Gianni was another good decision and this birthday dinner will be hard to top. Each wine was carefully chosen to compliment the food on our plate and palate and everything we previously heard and read about Florence cuisine came through.

For our last couple of days in Italy we decided to head up to Cinque Terre , a coastal region not far from the port of La Spezia. On Christmas 2007, we received a bitter sweet present from Cinque Terre in the form of a calendar made up of pictures taken that year by my nephew Ben who died only months after he hiked the five tiny Cinque Terre coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manorola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
Ben, we do not have your eye, or talent in capturing the beauty you did with your camera, but we gave it a try and are thankful for you letting us know of Italy’s most beautiful spot. The views of the coast are spectacular as is the rich flora. Our days in Italy have been quite hot and the swim taken in the Mediterranean Sea after the hike felt great.,

Friday we head by train back to Rome for one more night in our favorite B&B Cecare Balbo before catching a May 30 plane for Dusseldorf, Germany where we plan to hook up with my dad so our birthdays can be celebrated together this year.

Ciao Italy, it has been bella!

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 13:40 Archived in Italy Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Rome ramblings

sunny 32 °C

This past week there have been times that in the middle of the night we wake up wondering where we are. Our pace has been quite fast these last few weeks with countries visited and Italy’s pace of life is contributing

What can be said about Rome besides …Ahhhh.
Our plane landed late Monday night, it was delayed leaving Vienna. BTW, the Vienna airport is one great shopping mall and while waiting , there is lots to see with enticement to buy. We made reservations in Rome a while back at B&B Cecaro Balbo which included a driver pick up from the airport at an extra price but well worth it when arriving late in a city one does not yet know. The Rome airport is quite a ways out and gave our driver lots of straight stretches to reach speeds of 160Km while steering with his knees, after all when an Italian driver has his cell phone in the left hand he needs the other hand to gesticulate with. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, buckle up and take a very deep breath. We had no idea of Cecaro Balbo’s great location and were pleasantly surprised when driver Antonio suddenly started pointing out famous landmarks including the collosseum where he slammed on the brake, to avoid running a red light. At this so historical ruin the road has three lanes to accommodate the extra traffic but Tom counted 7 cars, side by side, all revving their engines to be the first out of the block and not surprisingly, our Antonio sped off first with a big grin. Had we hired the next Mario Andrettti ?
Our very small Cecaro Balbo hotel is in an historical building steps away from Santa Maria Maggiore church and an absolute treasure to stay in while in Rome. It appeared a little creepy at first, no sign what so ever and the only light came from a distant streetlight reflecting back from the cobble stones. Huge oak doors and a bell and after a ringing, the doors creakingly, slowly opened only to reveal a large marbled hall separated by a black iron gate. It felt like entering Frankenstein’s castle. With a pop the gate opened and from a side door a face showed still fitting the scene with words we did not quite understand except “ Stricklands?”. That’s how we met Glenn, and after three days at his place (we may have been be the only guests) are convinced it is the place to be in while in Rome and have already booked for our only night back in Rome next week. Glenn is originally from the Philippines and besides bringing us cappuccinos at 8.00 am every morning showed us what routes to walk and what buses to take so all the Rome sights could be seen. The weather was great, warm and sunny, almost too hot and after spending 8 hours touring the Colloseum, Arch of Constantine, the Palatino , Trevi fountain, Piazza del Popolo, Pantheon and most all the sites right of the River Tiber, we took a cool refuge at Cesaro Balbo. Within its quiet thick walls and slanted brick ceilings, double windows with louvered shutters, we took a three hour nap and now understand siestas. Later that night another approach was taken to see Rome’s sights and that is to comfortably sit back on a small terrace eating the best ice cream ever and watching it happen. The Italian men remain charming and I wonder how the Italian women put up with them. Parking and the fight for a spot becomes entertaining and our hats off to those who can park in footage designed for cycles, admitting that some of the cars are the exact same size as a motor cycle.
Our second Rome day was devoted to the Vatican City and while Tom was in Rome before and saw this sight upon his arrival in Europe in the early seventies, for me it was a first. If we had checked better we would have known that every Wednesday the Pope gives his address to the audience assembled in the square in front of St. Pietro Basilica . Leave it to us to be totally unaware, only happily surprised to hear the pope speak while entering the square and equally oblivious about needing a ticket do sit down and receive the papal blessing in Italian, German and English before listening to that day’s choir which was the Dutch women’s choir from Volendam all dressed in the authentic Volendam clothing. One can only smile and be thankful to all who hold us up in prayer and let us fly by the seat of our pants to know that our moment in time at the Vatican was right. It being a Wednesday may have added to the crowd with whom we were herded and hushed through the museum and Sistine Chapel. Hours can be lost there, or gained, but seeing the art collected by the Vatican , then or recent, and the crick in our neck awing over Michelangelo’s soaring dome is worth the pain.
St. Pietro Basilica is a church I have wanted to enter for many years. With my given name of Petronella and having been baptized, received first communion and confirmation in St. Petrus Kerk , Uden , the Netherlands, and consciously confirmed at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway, Arkansas, spending time at the grounding tomb was good.

Within our original Italy plans was a hooking up in Tuscany with friends Cathy and Charley. Even well made plans sometimes go awry without our control and while we will not share this time now, we look forward to sharing good time with them in the Holler and any place we find together.
Little more tid bit on why we are taking trains in Italy. While still in Santorini, Greece, hiking from Fira to Oia, Tom’s right eye contact lens started bothering him and he attempted a removal. Never, ever do this while still walking and never ever think the lens is out unless you can see it in your hand. During our crossing of the Aegean Sea, by ferry back to Athens, Tom’s eye slowly started swelling , shut down and only oozed.
Our first Athens trip, the second time around, was to the hospital minutes away from the London Glyfada Hotel. While we knew our hotel had pre- warned the clinic it was still astounding that the eye- doctor walked in the hall way, looked for us, saw Tom and his obvious need and took him in without asking for a name , passport or credit card number, and treated him strictly with the skills he had. After Tom‘s eye was seen to and patched the only English spoken was “ You! Back! Tomorrow”., which we did and again we were picked out of a crowded hall way by this doctor and seen to without any information, papers or any money exchanged.
Tom had a need which the doctor by oath fulfilled.
Truly unbelievable but experienced firsthand, in Greece when a tourist needs emergency medical care it is taken care off, even with us having insurance it was never asked for, no money was exchanged, a true phenomena.

Tom asked me to display all my medical discomforts on our travels, which I will even if they did not need medical interventions but were equally painful.

In Thailand I acquired travelers diarrhea, and now know why it is called such, it travels with you from country to country and can only be absolved through taking the prescribed drugs/antibiotics that were all along in my pack.
I broke two toes. The littlest ones on my right foot, on two different occasions, both involving marble steps while wearing flip-flops. Marble is unforgiving.
Broken toes heal on their own while the black and blue color is unnoticeable on a tanned foot.

Our next stop and stay now is the in the Tuscan hills where we have an apartment waiting in Florence.

Arriverderci,

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 06:00 Archived in Italy Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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