Sunday, July 31, 2011

State Fair drop-off was Friday, and the day before was spent in frantically trying to finish two projects, a small shawl knit out of handspun, and the lining for the architecture mittens. Both turned out well, I think.

Last year, they had an open night to all entrants before the Fair opened. This year, that night was cancelled... for budgetary concerns? In any case, I must wait and see how my entrees "fair."
The sum of it all

Paris, the City of Lights

Wonderful to wake up in the City of Lights, having already found a patisserie down the road! Pain de chocolat. Nothing wrong with that.

When all were roused and dressed, we took the Metro to the L'ouvre. Being Bastille Day, it was a free entry day, and we joined the throngs in the line -- all the way back to the Palais du Cour. The line moved quickly, though, and before long we were racing through the hallways, on our way to Mona Lisa. The Winged Triumph stood in our path, beautiful and triumphant, despite her lack of head. I should do so well!

The crowds thickened as we approached the area with da Vinci's paintings. Around the Lisa herself, about a hundred people jostled and crowded. We jostled with them to get to the front and try to see the paint strokes and beauty. That is one thing I have particularly noticed this year -- how different, improved and beautiful paintings are in person. Particularly oil paintings, I think. What do you think?

When we walked out of the galleries and stood in the main courtyard, the Court of Napoleon, a helicopter appeared on the West horizon and quickly grew and zoomed over our heads. It was followed by over 20 more! They came from the region of the Arc de Triomphe and came down the Champs de Elysee, which ends at the Arc at the L'ouvre. We ended up going the other way, walking down the Seine toward Notre Dame. We stopped and ate at a nice little Middle Eastern cafe, and then continued the walk.

What gorgeous stained glass! We opted to skip the roof tour, as the kids were once again flagging. Instead we gently continued our stroll up the Seine, stopping at a paper shop and an ice cream store to revive the younguns.

Crossing the Seine off the island, we were at once at the foundations of the Bastille, dragged to that site after the prison was completely destroyed. On up the street to the Place de Bastille, where the prison originally stood. Then, the Metro, aiming one way, and ending up at the Opera House. In front of it were swarms of French soldiers from varying branches of the military. Four of us climbed up a tank and looked around, others got to wear the naval beret.

The Opera House was to close in a half hour, so we just headed back to the hotel again to repack, bathe and get ready for going home tomorrow.

The next morning, Chris went off early alone for his solo flight through Amsterdam. The kids and I left several hours later for our long metro and train ride to Charles de Gaulle. The flight was smooth, but the flight attendants were, perhaps, the rudest I have ever encountered. And, the coffee was a rude awakening, indeed.

Friday, July 29, 2011

We only had one full day with Annie and Claude. Annie stayed up all night with her music and internet friends. We freshened up and went with Claude to Grimaud to view the town and castle, Cogolin and St. Tropez. That night we had an excellent curry, chatted, bathed and collapsed again. The next morning, early, we went back to San Sebastian, caught the TGV and arrived in gare de Lyon, Paris.

It was actually cool and misty. What a treat!

We caught the Metro and walked and walked to our hotel, unpacked and headed to the Eiffel Tower. Tickets were sold out on line, but we figured we had a better chance of going up on the 13th of France, than the 14th. So, off we walked...
The next morning we walked to the train station bright and early, and caught a train to Southern France. Well, four trains throughout the day.

We made each one of them, thankfully, and got to travel through Bologna, Milan, Monaco, Nice, and finally -- San Sebastian, France! The picture is Monte Carlo, Monaco.

In San Sebastian, we experienced technical difficulties until several transcontinental phone calls resulted in Aunt Mayo and Uncle Claude picking us up in their camper.

We wended our way to Port Grimaud slowly as the other thousands of sun seekers went our way. License plates from every EU nation crowded past us, and we wooshed around roundabouts. We finally got back to their house about 8pm, I think. And even getting to their home was constricted: there are so many tourists walking the streets of Port Grimaud, that there are gates and security guards restricting car entrance of non-residents. The camper wouldn't even fit in the town, so it was parked at a large interior parking lot, and we jumed on a glorified golf cart. The guard drove Annie, and our family of five through the streets. The sun had set and the tourists crawled like cockroaches over the stalls of the sellers. Up we mounted a series of bridges connecting the arms of land between the channels. "Yodel-oo-del-ai-de-ooo!" yodeled Annie. What a hoot!

Baths and made beds and heads bumped, we finally settled down in a real home.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rome is where the heart is

The train went through beautiful Italian countriside, and pulled into Rome about 4:30. We walked to the hotel, and let our hair down a bit. Then, Chris said he wanted to try seeing the Vatican.

Neither of us had any hope of even entering the city. It was Saturday and 6:30pm. Sunday, the Vatican is closed to tourists (the museums and Sistine Chapel and such). Saturday night?

Well, thankfully, the gates we entered may never be shut -- I don't know. But we went in, refreshed ourselves at the Roman fountain just inside and to the left, then strolled out onto the Piazzai San Pietro! The square was fairly empty. Then we noticed the barricades forming lines... Wait! The Basilica is open until 7pm?!

Through the barricades we went. Past the guards of modesty and up the stairs. We took pictures on the portico. The entryway was fantastic, and THEN, we entered! Breathtaking. If that weren't enough, Michelangelo's La Pieta was just inside on the right.

We wandered home past the Opera House and rested for the next day which held:
the Catacombs, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. First, however, was the Ape.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Florence, the City of Beauty

We arrived in Florence late at night and walked to our hotel. This was the first time we encountered air-conditioning, and the first time hubby had slept in a couple days. The only negative encounter was a slug on daughter's bed, but it was quickly freed.

Early in the morning, we lined up outside the Bel Accademia to view the David. This view is actually the copy in a piazza. They don't allow pictures of the real one.

After the David, we got turned around and ended up in the piazza with the cathedral and baptisterie where Dante was baptized. They are separate buildings, because no one was allowed in the Cathedral until after they were baptized.

Again, we only had a few hours in Florence, so we were not able to explore these sites. We had our priorities, and for today, it was art work.

We boogied back to our hotel and checked out, stowed the bags, and high-tailed it back to the river Arno, where we spent several hours in the Uffizi. This and the David were some of my favorite things of this whole trip. I spent some time up close and sitting and pondering Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera, or the Three Graces.

Afterwards, we had lunch at a nice cafe, went and got our tickets and headed to the train station to go to Rome.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When last you tuned in, the fabulous four were hurtling through time and space from Udine to Venice second class on a train. Will they get there? Will their luggage get there? Will they meet hubby in time?

Well, yes, yes, and no kind of. Despite the new Italian cell phone, the meeting with the hubby was fraught with dilemma and delay. He flew into the Venice airport and met us in the train station line for storing luggage. We did, eventually, meet up (and I am very thankful to the Italian man who helped me load more minutes on the vodaphone). We got on the water taxi, steered away from the train station around the west side of the island toward... St. Mark's Square!

St. Mark's Square is amazingly beautiful in architecture and history. St. Mark's Cathedral is where -- wait for it -- St. Mark is buried. The building spans several centuries, and so did the line. We had only a few hours in this historic city, and the choice was to tour the Doge's Palace.

At the end of the medieval times and the birth of the Renaissance, Venice was the richest city of the Mediterranean. It had gained its power and wealth from ship building and trade: spices, salt, silk. Marco Polo was one of the more famous of thhe ese traders, drawn into his exploring by the promise of Eastern goods to trade, as his father was before him. The Doge was the elected ruler of the council of Venice. In the court room in the Palace, where the Council of Ten sat, we saw the largest oil painting in the world. At one time, that room had been the largest room without pillars in Europe. Condemned prisoners, like Casanova, were escorted to the dungeons. These were in a separate building -- island, really -- reached by the Bridge of Sighs. Casanova was the only prisoner every to escape from this prison. The picture on the left is the square as seen from the bay. The Doge's Palace is the large square building in the foreground. You can see the Bridge of Sighs on the right. The picture on the right is the view from the Bridge of Sighs -- the last view a prisoner would see of this queen of cities.

We went from there and forged ahead into the confusing maze of streets -- all pedestrian streets, save for the canals, gondolas and water taxis. Venice is a town of tourists. Our friends in Udine said it would hold more Americans than Italians at this time of year, and were heard to allow a parallel with Disney World. We wielded our way amongst them, and a surprising number of Russians, and our daughter kept us to the task of shopping. She was fully determined to purchase a mask. Venice is known for its Carnival masks, blown glass and gondolas. About the fourth shop, she bought a small mask.

We relieved the city of a bit of gelato, walked over the Rialto bridge, and dipped our toes in the water, which, I am happy to say, really didn't smell like I had heard that it could on hot days. We weren't really strolling, though. More like power walking through a sedate city for the purpose of catching a train.

When we got to the train station, what should there be but the Oriental Express. It looked just like the Agatha Christie movies! It reminded me, as well, of the fancy exterior of the train I took from Moscow to Cologne.

After lunch we boarded a different train for Florence. We traveled through Padua and Bologna. Didn't see anyone coming to wive it wealthily in Padua. However, I didn't get off the train, either.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


We got to Udine after 2am, and woke up after noon. That afternoon, Ruthann took the four of us, plus her daughter Abby in their small rented car to the beach! Jared and Olivia took the bus there. The beach was on the Adriatic Sea and called Lignano. What a beautiful situation! It was warm and sunny with wind off the Sea. There were no sharks or jellyfish. The kids played quite a while in the Sea or rested. At the end of it, we had our first gelato!

On the drive there and back we passed crops of corn or sunflowers, grapes, kiwi, nectarines, and even trees for paper.

That night, we piled in the car and went to Udine's piazza, and had our second, and far superior gelato. We also were able to see their church that we have been a part of for seven years.

The next day, we helped the Wells prepare for their imminent departure to the States for a year. We scrubbed the kitchen, helped carry things to the storage area, shredded papers... At the end of the day, we had delightful pizza with all of the helpers. It was this second, full day in which I got my first cellphone. This is a picture of me and Olivia holding it and declaring, "it's a girl!" For those of you who know me, and know my refusal to get a cellphone, accept this caveat: this cellphone only works in Italy for the next 6 months.

The next morning, we rode the train out of Udine and back to Venice to meet up with hubby!

Monday, July 18, 2011

News from the trip

This is a great way for me to share pictures from my trip for relatives who care. I don't claim this will be interesting for anyone, but it is good for me to journal again about our trip. If you want to see the pictures larger, merely click on them.

We left the fourth of July, hubby driving the four of us to the airport shuttle. I had packed and repacked our suitcase, and packed very thorough carry-ons for all four of us. Each child was to be responsible for his or her own backpack at all times. Each contained small games, a water bottle, a journal, a pen, and an art set. Someone's contained a bunch of pokemon stuff as well. I shan't say whose, but I will let it leak that it wasn't me.

At the airport, our flight was late in getting in, then delayed a bit longer. Finally, after we were all seated, the flight attendants couldn't get the door to close properly. I guess this is a "thing," 'cause we wheeled back to the gate and had a airplane service personnel called and bam! they fixed it right away. Meanwhile, our 1 1/2 hour lay-over in Madrid looked dwindled away.

Sure enough, we landed about the time of take-off. Or, when take-off was supposed to be. Turns out, after many, many, many lines and enquiries, that the Venice baggage handlers were experiencing a bit of a sciopero, or strike. We had tickets reissused for the evening, after 7. What to do? What to do with three jet-lagged kiddos in a foreign country with heavy backpacks?

Hit downtown, of course! First, we visited information about three or four times. Then, we sought out the Iberian flight desk and obtained a food voucher. Next we wandered up and down floors trying to find the salida from flight departures. More tricky than it sounds in Madrid airport. Next was finding the money exchange. Then, the luggage storage area, complete with a very helpful 7 foot tall Manuel who was the only one there with English skills. Finally, we found the metro level and took one metro 7 stops, and a commuter train, several more, and out we popped to SOL, city center. Hooray!

Sol is where all East and West street numbers originate, and where many of the protests set up shop. We looked around the plaza a few minutes, then headed to a restaurant where I staggered under the prices and proceeded to order one of the grosser meals in my life, especially for that price.

8 oz. Cokes cost about 5 bucks. Those, my children deeply appreciated. The cream of cantaloupe soup, not so deeply, and the cold shots of split pea soup, not at all. After the meal, we wandered out again and went West. First, we saw the statue of the bear eating at the tree. We saw this symbol many times, but this is the famous statue. Next, I tried for the City Hall, but, unfortunately, I was turned around. We did see some fantastic architecture, the financial district, a fine art museum, and a couple parks. The two littler ones ran and played in the park inside the boulevard of the Paseo del Prado. After that, I spotted a double decker tourist bus in the Plaza de Neptuno. Having ascertained that the tour would be an hour, we hopped on and enjoyed the hot sun on the upper deck as we drove up the Paseo de la Castellana all the way to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, or the soccer stadium. Then, we went East a short bit and then turned back South on the Calle de Serrano to where we began.

Worried we were cutting it short, we hopped off a stop early, and high tailed it through the metros again. Children were flagging, and what is worse, mommy was flagging, too. Back at the airport, we continued our multi-faceted conversations with Iberian Air, finally coming to the conclusion that flights would be allowed into Venice after midnight only. Accordingly, our flight would take off at 9:50pm, getting us in at 12:10am. Many fellow travellers were ticked off, because they were supposed to board a cruise ship that morning at the port of Venice. It was difficult enough getting ahold of our friends, the Wells, who were picking us up.

They were very understanding, having lived in the culture of 7 years. After getting our baggage and struggling through those glass doors (and questioning myself why I was doing this)...

We had arrived!