Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Sounds of Europe

This is my required digital video for my final class project! Enjoy.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The trip home - July 23, 2009

Farewell, Venice. Farewell Europe. We are traveling home.

Our day began at 4 a.m. (Venice time) with a wake up call. At 5:10 our water taxi pulled up to our hotel's dock, and Ronald (the clerk) helped the taxi driver load our luggage into the boat. We waved good-bye "Ciao" and were off.

Venice disappeared in our rear view, and in about 25 minutes we were docking at the Marco Polo airport in Venice. No signs directed us to the terminal, but an older man saw us arrive and he indicated with gestures which way to go. Once we got past the dock, we saw a very nice, covered walkway that indicated it would take about 7 minutes to walk to the terminal. Great -- no stairs!

At the ticket counter, we asked to have our bags checked through to Tampa. The clerk let me know that I had already checked bags in Venice AND London and now, "It won't be right," but she did it anyway. Good grief! Let me know the rules ahead of time! I had emailed for advice and got no response. I couldn't call because I still hadn't figured out how to make a call on this stupid British phone I had.

We hadn't had breakfast and were hoping to grab something at the airport, but when we passed passport control ("No re-entry") we found ourselves trapped at a gate that had nothing but chairs and a restroom. I began reading a book I had purchased in London.

The flight from Venice was pretty uneventful. It took about 2 hours. We landed at Gatwick and followed the signs for those who were transferring to international flights. It looked easy as pie ... heh heh heh.

Well, we had to go through security again. I went first, no problem. But I saw Sheila was held up. Soon she was gesturing to me, in a bit of a panic.

Security had caught her with ... SNOWGLOBES! No liquid over 3 oz. was allowed to be carried on. She had two choices: let them throw them away (she had purchased them as a gift for her future daughter-in-law) or transfer most of her stuff to MY carry on and check her carry-on with the snowglobes in them.

Of course, I agreed to share my carry-on! Luckily, I could pull my laptop out, which was in a special envelope. Her computer fit in it, so we could carry that separately. Still, my carry-on got pretty heavy. We ended up being escorted by the "big boss" to another employee who walked us through passport and showed us where to check in her bag. So we did that, with little problem, and soon were going back through security again. When we got to the line, we heard someone yell, "The snowglobe ladies!" How embarrassing! I guess we were the story of the day there.

We had almost 3 hours to kill, so we ate a late, late breakfast at the Cafe Rouge, then shopped at a W.H. Smith for snacks. Then we sat down and read until the gate was announced. We walked down to the gate, and shortly we were boarding the plane.

I had chosen an aisle seat for Sheila and I was going to be in the middle with her. But when I got to my seat, a young girl was sitting next to me talking to her mother 3 rows back. I offered to switch seats with her mom, who was on the aisle. I ended up sitting in the very back row next to a teen from England and his grandfather.

Now, having the aisle means never having to say, "Excuse me," but there is a disadvantage. Everyone who comes by bumps you. At least, they did me. I could never sleep very long because I'd get brushed as people went back to use the toilet. Then of course the flight attendants kept coming by serving drinks and sometimes food. The bad part was that, being in the last row, I didn't get a choice of lunch. I got served fish and peas, two of my "never eat" foods! So I picked at the potatoes, and ate the desserts. I wasn't that hungry, anyway. Later, we were served sandwiches. I got egg salad, which was okay.

The nice part was getting a good choice of movies or TV. I watched "Notes on a Scandal" as a movie then several TV shows. We also could watch our flight path and get info like altitude, airspeed, temperature, and time to destination. I tried reading, but my eyes would get heavy so I didn't get through very many chapters.

After almost 9 hours, we landed in Tampa. As U.S. citizens, we were put through the fast lane to get our luggage. But it doesn't help if your baggage doesn't come out until almost last. We got through that, made our declarations to customs, and then put our luggage on another belt to go to the main terminal. We hopped on the tram and headed to it.

I stepped off the tram and saw my husband and two grandchildren. Big hugs and greetings of "Nee Nee!"

I was home!

Murano - Island of Glass - July 22, 2009

Our last full day in Europe. We started the day with a free water taxi ride to the island of Murano, where the world-famous Venetian glass is made. We were given a tour of the Marco Polo furnace, which has been around for centuries, but declined their "generous" offer to purchase a piece of art.

Instead, we headed for the canal and browsed the shops that had small pieces of jewelry and other souvenir items. We took the public transport back (2 euros) for a wonderful trip back across the water to Venice.

We pulled into the quay near St. Mark's and walked back to the room, ready for a mid-day rest.

Later we went out and did a little more exploring and found a waterside restaurant where Sheila ordered sea bass and I had chicken with eggplant.

We knew our next day would be a long one -- up at 4 a.m. to catch a water taxi at 5 to go to Marco Polo airport and catch a plane at 7. So we packed up and jumped in bed, ready for the long trip home.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Venice-Water, Water Everywhere July 20-23

I could have snapped 5000 photos of Venice, and each would be as lovely as the next. Being in Venice is like being in a dream. You can't quite believe you're there. And it's definitely a place for romance. Next time, I'm bringing my honey.

There are no cars, buses or any other motorized vehicles in Venice. There are no roads -- only walks. I forget how many bridges they said there were, but it must be in the hundreds. Even people with baby strollers were having a hard time navigating through. Some of the streets are very narrow, but they will lead into wide plazas that are ringed with cafes, shops, and churches. Every canal is filled with boats, depending on the size of the canal. Small motorboats are the most popular -- and they serve as their trucks -- groceries brought in, garbage taken out, you name it -- they use a boat to do it.

Gondolas are where the tourists are. You would never have a problem finding any. Near St. Mark's Plaza, you will find a whole fleet of them. A gondola ride is 120 euros (check the exchange rate!) or you can go on a "serenade" at 6:30 or 7:30 with other people and it will only cost you 40 euros each. We did not do a gondola ride, but we were taken through the canals twice in water taxis, so I kind of know what it's like.

Our introduction to Venice was via waterbus through the Grand Canal, almost from the start to the end. We got off one stop before the end. We made acquaintance with a couple and their daughter from Portland, Oregon, who gave us some tips about Venice. We got off at the Academmie stop (one of the three bridges that span the Grand Canal).

This is our hotel, the Hotel American Dinesen, on the San Vio Canal. [Our room is in the white building on the left, 2nd floor, in the middle with the 3 windows]. What wonderful service they offer! We had upgraded to a superior canal view and it was well worth it. One of the clerks, Ronald, was particularly helpful. He was Philippino, but spoke fluent Italian and very good English. He kept calling us "Madame" which tickled me. He carried our bags to our rooms ("I'm the elevator," he said when we asked.) He got Sheila a bucket of ice (she was in seventh heaven). Answered all our questions with the utmost politeness and patience.

Anyway, we wandered around (map in hand) and saw a great deal of the city. St. Mark's and the Rialto Bridge were the two "musts" for me. Other than that, it was all gravy. I was surprised that the prices were more reasonable than many other places we went in Europe, particularly that of Switzerland (the most expensive, I think). Lots of little trinkets and plenty of kiosks to hit along the quays.

We left Venice at 5 a.m. on Thursday to catch a plane to London. We had to take a water taxi (105 euros) but the ride was fun and lasted 25 minutes. Alas, we had to say "Ciao" to Venice as it disappeared in the mist of early morning.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yudl - Ay - EEE - Ooooo: Interlaken, Switzerland: July 18-19, 2009

Our trip took us from Paris to Bern, Switzerland. When we reached the Swiss border, they merely welcomed us to Switzerland. No border check or anything! Shortly afterwards, we passed Lake Geneva which was breathtaking! I told Sheila I was going to sing that line from "Smoke on the Water" (we all went down to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline...) and she said, "Please don't." The people next to us must have understood English because they laughed. I did it anyway.

We snapped photos of every train station sign we could and after awhile arrived in Bern. You know what I like about Bern? They have ramps for people with luggage! But there is no information booth ... European trains are pretty self-sufficient! Apparently people who use them are aware of the intricacies. However, both of us being smart, well-educated women figured out where we were supposed to be (we had about 30 min.) and at last were on a train to Interlaken.

I had managed to figure out how to call the B and B we were staying at to tell them we'd be arriving late. The hostess said she'd leave the key and directions to the room taped to the door. After arriving at Interlaken, we walked about 3-4 blocks and found the envelope with my name on it. It was about 11:30 p.m. now. Guess what? We were on the third floor and NO ELEVATOR! And in Europe, what we call the first floor is the ground floor. Their first floor is our second floor. So UP FOUR FLIGHTS OF STAIRS ... trying to be as quiet as possible. Bonk, bonk, bonk. We were exhausted and fell asleep instantly.

I woke up to "Jeannie! You've got to see this view!" Sheila had already gotten up, showered, and dressed and was ready to go. I did likewise. We went downstairs to eat and met our hostess, who was just a fount of information and as wonderful as could be. Most European breakfasts include thinly sliced ham, swiss cheese, croissants, some sort of cereal (granola, cornflakes, etc) and sometimes a few other things like boiled eggs or crepes. We both had hot chocolate.

We were told to go to the Schilthorn rather than the Jungfrau for views. Jungfrau is the highest, but you can only see through the mountain's saddle. Schilthorn has a 360 degree view. The tickets (which included all transportation costs) was about 85 dollars. She had to print off the directions, because it isn't that easy! Fortunately, she carried our bags down for us (what a strong woman!) and we went to the trainstation, Interlaken West, to await the train for Interlaken Ost (where we could store our bags). I had put Sheila in charge of directions since it was her dream to come to Switzerland and see the Alps (I was happy to come , too). Well, we ended up on the wrong platform and the train to Interlaken Ost passed us by. So we ended up taking the next train which was only about a half-hour later. It ended up being fortunate, as I'll explain later.

At the Ost station, we checked our bags (after finding out the lockers only took Swiss francs in exact change. Sheila stood in line to get the coins). We got on the train to Lauterbrunnen and had a very scenic ride-- finally catching glimpses of the snow-capped peaks. We were in line for the first air-tram when these two young ladies asked us, "Are you Seminole fans?" because they saw my back pack. Turns out they were students at the Florence study center (FSU)! We ended up spending most of the day with them. What fun! This is why missing that first train was fortunate, otherwise we might not have met them. Kate and Adrienne from Bradenton and Jacksonville. I won't belabor the trip, but it was several air trams, a short walk through Murren, and another short train ride (which we almost missed due to picture taking. Check Sheila's blog for a video about that! It's hysterical.

When we got to the top, we learned that James Bond's movie "In Her Majesty's Secret Service" had been filmed there. The visitor's center was awesome ... snow on the ground and wonderful views! The restaurant above rotates in a 360 circle in 55 minutes. Sheila and the girls had a snowball fight and the girls created about a 12 inch snowman decorated with stuff from their backpacks/purses. It was cold, but not unbearable. There was wind on one side. We did some shopping, then headed down to Murren for lunch. After that, we said good-bye to the girls and we went a different way down to stop at Trummelbach waterfalls. They drilled a tunnel upwards through the mountain and it will take you about 1/2 up. There are ten falls and numerous chutes. Amazing! Very well worth the 11 francs we paid to get in. After that visit, we went back to Interlaken Ost and caught a train to Lucerne (spelled Luzern in Switzerland). We got in there before dark and were happy to discover that our hotel was within easy walking distance. And so, Lucerne in the next post.

Excerpt: Trying to get to Switzerland

Ah, a comedy of errors! Our day started out well enough. We walked to the post office twice to mail boxes of goodies home. You can mail about 14 pounds of stuff in an XL box for 41 euros (expensive, I know but if it doesn't fit in your suitcase, it doesn't fit!) We walked around a bit and got a late breakfast at a little cafe off the beaten path. Oddly enough, a customer walked in with his little dog, who proceeded to sniff out any crumbs on the floor. I remember our tour guide saying that there were 3 million dogs in this city of 6 million people. They are allowed just about anywhere -- cafes, stores, railroad stations, etc. That's a strange feeling for someone used to the "No dogs" policy of the U.S.A.

After eating and wandering around for some last minute photos, we headed to the hotel, figuring to pack and get to the train station early to eat a little lunch before we boarded. It was just one stop up on the metro from one of our nearby stops, so we decided we would brave the metro with our luggage. Well, Paris (and most of Europe) is not friendly to disabled people, so there are few escalators or elevators to help you up and down with luggage. So, bonk, bonk, bonk ... we went down a flight of stairs and bonk, bonk, bonk up the stairs to the platform. We didn't have to wait long. The Metro stopped at our stop (Bastille) and headed towards Gare de Lyon, where our train was. Now, as we got on, I heard an announcement in French about the Gare, but it was noisy, and I figured it was "next stop, Gare de Lyon." Oh, no! It was "The stop for Gare de Lyon is closed for improvements today." We sailed right past it! So we hopped off on the next stop, crossed the tracks (bonk, bonk, bonk up, then bonk bonk bonk down). You know what? It was still closed! (LOL) so we ended back at the Bastille. I stopped at the info booth and asked the lady where we could catch a taxi. After much gesturing, she indicated a corner near the metro stop. So bonk, bonk, bonk, up stairs again.

The taxi stop was just a few yards away, so we sat and complained about the calluses on our hands. After a few minutes, a taxi came and took us to the Gare, which was really within walking distance, but it was nice to have a ride. (4 euros). We went in and found a place to sit and have a soda. I also ordered something to eat. After awhile, I looked for a bathroom, which was about as far away as it could be. It cost 1/2 Euro to use. I also did a little last minute shopping and bought something to eat on the train.

The train station is open air and there were a few pigeons flying or walking around. Some little boy dropped a roll on the floor, and that almost started a fight.

Anyway, we were able to get on the right train (and we had to lift our own luggage). We used my cable lock to lock our suitcases together in the compartment between cars, but later we saw that the train wasn’t that full, so we brought them into the car with us and sat them on some empty seats.

An older lady sat across from us who was headed to Bern to visit family. She worked in an international business and spoke English, French and German. She was a fount of knowledge, too. She told us that Switzerland was her favorite place to go … relaxing and with great scenery. Most of our trip was spent looking out the windows and trying to get decent shots of the scenery. After such a harrowing start to the trip, it ended up pretty relaxing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cheverny - The "Modern" Chateau 7-17-09

I don't know if it was luck or good timing, but it rained during our hour long leg of the trip to Cheverny, but it quit just as we got there. Cheverny was our third, and final, stop on our tour. It was the "newest" of the chateaux we visited, and it is privately owned, as is Chenonceau. The difference is that the owners still use part of the estate occasionally. In fact, one week the entire chateau was closed to the public as the father closed it down to prepare to have his daughter's wedding there. Must be nice!

Cheverny had a great deal of different architectural styles. Some were quite ornate (Renaissance) and others were more simple. What fascinated me the most (and this is really weird) were the beautiful flower arrangements throughout the house. Here we are with all this history and beauty ... and I'm looking at flowers.

Of all the castles, this one seemed to be the most livable. You could tell what most of the rooms were used for. There was even a room set aside for the king, in case he ever came to visit. No one was allowed to stay in that room (it was beautiful). Unfortunately for the Count of Cheverny, the king never did come to his chateau! So the room was never inhabited.

Before we left, we had to go see the famous Cheverny hounds. They are a mixture of two dogs. They keep a kennel of 60 on the grounds, and the only people allowed to own the dogs are very rich families who are known to be hunters. These dogs are out until about 5 p.m. for people to see. They watch the people as much as the people watch them. Oh, the baying that went on while I stood there! A group of scouts (French) were there, climbing up on the fence to get a better look, and the hounds just went nuts.

After Cheverny, we settled in for our 3 hour trip back to Paris. Almost everyone fell asleep, as the guide had predicted. When we got to Paris, though, we woke up as our way back took us along the river and we got to see a lot of the great sites again ... like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, etc. Au revoir, France!

The hunting hounds of Cheverny.

Chenonceau - Castle over the Water - 7-17-09

Ever since I saw a picture of Chenonceau in 8th grade, I've always wanted to see this chateau that was built across the water. So when I saw that it was included in a tour of the castles of the Loire, I snapped right up on it.

It was the second castle of our tour. Luckily, the rain just stopped as we arrived. After the bus parked, we walked through a long walk of tall trees (just as you would imagine) to reach the chateau. I was surprised that we actually saw the side of it before we saw the bridge part. Just before we went in, I lost my travel-mate, Sheila, who had stopped to take pictures (surprise, surprise). So she missed the guided tour, but went in on her own. We met up afterwards just outside the entry.

Previous to arriving, our guide had given us some of the history behind Chenonceau. It is actually owned by a private family who allows tours of most of it. But it was once the property of a well-known mistress of King Henry 2. Her name was Diane du Portier, and she was supposedly the most beautiful woman in the country. Henry fell in love with her at age 9, when he and his brother were sent to Spain as hostages so that their father would be released. Diane, who was probably around 20, was one of the court to see them off, and she cried and threw her arms around the boys. That's when Henry fell in love. After he was released, he reacquainted himself with her and apparently their affair began around when he was 17. Chenonceau was a gift to her, as well as some of the crown jewels and many other expensive items. Originally, Chenonceau was basically a hunting lodge, and the part that goes over the river was a bridge from the castle (built on a stone pier) to the hunting grounds.

Of course, he was bound to marry someone else, either for money or political position. So he ended up marrying Catherine di Medici of Italy and the famous (and very rich) di Medici family. Doing so paid off the debts he owed and helped pave the way for peace with Italy. As far as Catherine was concerned, it was a great deal because their family was not of royalty, and this was definitely a step up in the world. However, Catherine was not happy with the mistress situation, but she couldn't do too much about it. But she was able to have LOTS of children and guarantee that one of them would inherit Henry's throne. I think the guide said she had 8.

Henry died an odd death -- he challenged one of the royalty to a joust and the court member could not refuse. Unfortunately, during the "fight", his lance went right into Henry's eye and Henry died shortly thereafter. Everyone wondered what Catherine would do about Diane. She could have her killed outright, imprisoned, all sorts of stuff. Instead, Catherine stripped her of all her property, the jewels, etc. and banned her from the court. But she let her live (which, I guess, was considered very generous). Catherine took over Chenonceau and enclosed the bridge, adding one story, to have more room for balls and receptions. And that is basically the history of Chenonceau.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of construction/renovation going on and I couldn't really get any good angles of the front of the building. But it was beautiful, and the history made it even more fascinating.

Chateaux Country -Chambord - 7-17-09

The first chateau we visited was Chambord, the largest of the chateaux in the Loire Valley. The valley is southwest of Paris and the Loire River basically divides France into north and south. The south is where most of the crops are grown. Only around the Loire valley in the north can crops like apples, pears, etc. be grown.

Chambord is owned by the government and is open to the public. It is thought that Leonardo da Vinci may have helped planned it because it has a very different architecture than many built in those days and because Leonardo actually visited the castle at its owner's invitation. In fact, he died in France and his body is buried not far from here in Ambroise. The castle walls are only one story high, not much protection from invaders, but it looks medieval and may have appealed to its owner for its nostalgic qualities. The castle was actually built from a corner, rather than in the center. It has some very unique qualities, one of which is the spiral staircase in the middle of the castle, which is actually TWO staircases that interwind around a central column. Every so often, the "peekaboo" windows in each staircase are exactly across from each other, so men and women who were interested in each other would climb the staircase at the same time and stop to "visit" before reaching the top. That gave you time to back down if you wanted to. Also, at each level, there is a mutual landing, so you could stop and visit with each other, maybe read some poetry. It made the game of "love" (or lust) last much longer. It was the pursuit, more than the conquest, that made the fun, according to the guide.

Just was we were leaving Chambord, the skies opened up and we made a mad dash for the bus. Next up, my dream chateau, Chenonceau.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On Our Own again -- Mont Saint Michel, 7/16/09

I celebrated my sister's birthday with a trip that made a dream come true -- we went to see Mont-Saint-Michel today. It is to the west of Paris on the coast. It is right on the border of Normandy and Brittany -- you can see both provinces from there. It has an interesting history, starting with a small church in 966 and then having additions made through the 17th century (I believe is what she said). Our guide was very knowledgeable and spoke very good English. She took us through a shortcut that was no wider than a doorway (I'm so glad I didn't get stuck) that consisted of a set of very steep and narrow stairs. We saw most of the abbey on the tour (they didn't let us in certain parts -- like the prison).

The mont has three parts -- the lower part is a walled fortress, the middle part is the city, and the top part is the abbey. It is one of two French fortresses that were never conquered. That is mostly because it is surrounded by mud flats that are covered with water when the tide comes in and also lots of quicksand!! She said there are on the average 4 deaths a year from people trying to walk across them on their own. Right now there is a causeway that takes you over, but they are planning to knock that down and build a bridge (environmentally more friendly).

It was very, very crowded so we didn't spend a lot of time in the city part except to buy a magnet and grab a soda. We ran into 2 of our FSU colleagues there who had taken 2 trains and a local bus to get there. Talk about a small world!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Class Dismissed! Notre Dame, Seine cruise and dinner

Today was officially my last day of classes in my Master's program! Although I'm glad to be done with the work and the worry, I'll miss all the friends I've made over the past 2 1/2 years -- even the ones I only met 3 weeks ago. There are some I will stay in touch with easily (those in Pinellas County) but having moved around a lot in my life, I know that friendships eventually fade because life steps in. But to all those who have crossed paths with me over the past years, I appreciate what you've added to my life.

Now, onto the stories of the day. Our first stop in class today was Notre Dame cathedral. It is a magnificent structure situated on an island in the Seine River and easily walked to via many ponts that cross from the mainland to the Ile de Cite. It was on this island that Paris was first founded centuries ago. It is difficult to get a good photo of Notre Dame from close up because it is so large, so the better pictures are taken from the banks or even from the river. I did not go inside the cathedral (long lines), but instead opted to spend the time at a very unusual bookstore called Shakespeare and Company -- an all English-language bookstore just on the other side in the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter is called that because it is in that neighborhood that you will find the Sorbonne -- and the students used to be required to know Latin (no longer). I also took a quick walk over to Ste. Chapelle but did not go in due to the length of the line and the little time I had left before having to meet up with the group again. Around 5:00 we all hopped on a river cruise (Bateaux Parisian) and headed down river past Notre Dame and the Ile de St. Louis (just past Notre Dame). We then turned around and went on the other side of the islands, going under many beautiful "ponts" (bridges). My favorite is the Pont Neuf, which I believe the guide said was the oldest of the remaining bridges. We glided past all the big sites -- Louvre, Jardin des Tuillieries, Musee d'Orsay, Hotel de Ville, Place dle la Concorde, and again, the Eiffel Tower, which is where we turned and headed back. It was a highlight of our trip -- we all recommended that Dr. E take her students on this tour again.

We then walked uphill a "short" distance (for us, anyway) to go to dinner at a wonderful French restaurant where the wine was all you could drink, and the entertainment was given via accordian, guitar, and sing alongs. We had 18 very happy LIS students (and a professor and her trailing spouse) at the end of the dinner.

And so we say good-bye to our friends, but I will continue this blog for another week as we have several other place we will visit before returning to the States.

A bientot!