Wednesday, June 26, 2013


OK, time to catch up. I will do the trip in reverse -- mostly because I have a lot better chance of remembering what we did today and yesterday than the last day I blogged. Also, since there's so much we've done since the last post, I will be mercifully brief on the parts I can recall. Kind of a plus-sized tweet for each. 

(And if this catches on, I may go down in social networking history as the father of the Chubby Tweet.)

We are in Lugano Switzerland right now. Beautiful Alpine lake and up-market resort area. The best part was getting here. The train ride through the Swiss Alps was spectacular. We took some photos out the train window, and if they are any good I will put them up on our Shutterfly travel site.

The reason I am not so sure they are any good is that they were taken with my mobile phone. The brand new, top-rated camera we bought for this trip won't take a charge, so it is relegated to dead weight in the luggage until we can find a camera store. My hunch is we won't recover it until we're home in a little more than week.

Before Lugano, we were in Strasbourg, in the Alsatian region of eastern France. It's a charming, old town that proves that ordinary buildings can acquire a fair deal of charm if we let them get old enough and that cobblestones aren't very helpful when you have those new 4-wheeled suitcases.

The food in Strasbourg was a standout. I won't go into detail since I know at least one vegan who reads this occasionally, but let's just say it was politically incorrect food both days. And yummy. Tres yummy, in fact.

Before our trip, our friend Davo had said something about Strasbourg having an unpleasant history. Fortunately, he told us this in February and by June we had only the vaguest of recollections that there might be a dark side to this lovely town. Since I can verify that ignorance really is bliss, I urged Google Girl not to find out what that was. As a result, we had one of the most fun days of this entire trip in the section known as Petite-France, along with a couple of bottles of lovely rose.

Before Strasbourg, we had been in Cologne for a couple of days. More than 80% of Cologne was destroyed by the Allies in World War II. Apparently not for any significant strategic reason but as an early version of Shock and Awe. History, politics and ethics aside, from a tourism point of view there isn't a whole lot to see when a city has been razed less than 70 years ago.

The cathedral is still standing somehow, and like so many old churches, it is big and impressive and gothic. And, unfortunately, like so many old churches. I do think that once you've seen your first 150 or so European churches, these buildings aren't going to knock your socks off.

The people of Cologne have done a pretty good job of rebuilding the shopping district of their city, and it was a lovely stroll from the main train station (next to the cathedral) to our hotel about a mile away. Well, it was a pedestrian mall for the most part, so it was lovely in that we didn't have to worry about getting run over. And I suppose the stores were interesting to someone in our travelling party -- although LK insists shopping is no longer the turnon it used to be for her. And based on her meagre pickings this trip, I'd have to say she's on the level.

Before Cologne, we spent two nights in Amsterdam. Actually it seemed like 3 or 4 nights because when we arrived on the red-eye from Washington we were so tired that we paid extra to get a room right away. We then crashed and slept about 8 hours, woke up, had a quick shower, staggered out for dinner nearby, drank a little more wine than usual and then went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for another 8 or 9 hours.

This was first major clue I've had that perhaps I'm not as young and energetic as I thought I was.

We'd been in Amsterdam before, but in the winter. This time, the city was out in force in the long summer days. Thousands upon thousands of people riding bicycles filled the streets. And since I never quite got used to treating the bike lane as a lethal zone, that means hundreds upon hundreds of people riding bicycles almost hit me. I think I got the hang of it all just as we were leaving.

We took a long walk our second day, passing dozens of stores selling marijuana seeds and more than a few buildings with windows filled with women. I guess if you're going to legalize just about everything people do, you have to expect these things. Or maybe I should say if you're not going to make it criminal for people to do what they do. In either case, it also says a lot about my age that I was more impressed with all the bicycle riders than anything else.

Getting to Amsterdam had been easy. Well, easy in the way that only LK and I can make it.

We had a 10:15 am flight from Newark New Jersey airport to Washington to connect to the Amsterdam flight. We had been staying with Walt and Terry, and the airport is only about an hour from their house. 

So we left at 6am. That's mostly because our friend Ed, who commutes daily to New York, said that the trip could take a couple of extra hours if there was any traffic problem on the Turnpike. LK and I operate under a policy that we'd rather sit at the airport waiting for a plane than sit in a traffic jam hoping we make it to the airport.

So, of course, we were checked in and waiting for the plane with something like 2 1/2 hours to go. 

When they issued our boarding pass, they told us which gate to go to and off we went. It was when there was about  10 minutes left before the flight was due to leave that I noticed there was no one else in the area. Checking the screen, they had changed the gate.

So having 150 minutes to catch the flight, we now were likely to miss it unless we hot-footed it several gates away and got lucky enough that it hadn't left yet.

When we're talking about me, by the way, hot-footing is a phrase usually mentioned in a sentence that also incldes the phrase "the near occasion of death". Anyhow, the plane was boarded, but hadn't left, they let us on and - oh, that's right. Since I"m telling the story in reverse you already know that we made it to Amsterdam.

Before Walt and Terry's, we had done the  Family Tour -- in reverse order, my mother's and Linda's mother and sister. There had been some health issues with both but it was good to see my Mom back in her own place and out of the hospital. Peg, Linda's mother, was still in the nursing home recovering from yet another operation on her leg. She hasn't bounced back all the way yet, but I made her promise that she and I would go for a long walk the next time I visited. 

In the meantime, I owe some serious emails to about 8 or 9 people. Now that I've got this out of my system, maybe tomorrow I can start on them. 

Or maybe the day after. After all, tomorrow we drive to Lake Como.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

You Say Tomato

We're in Pittsford NY right now, visiting LK's family. We are staying at Peg's place, but Chez Mom seems quite empty since Peg is in a skilled nursing facility undergoing rehab. She had come home in January after breaking her leg, but had to go back in a few weeks ago when they discovered a staph infection was surviving on the metal plate they had put in her leg. Now it's back to eight weeks where she cannot put any weight on her leg while they hope the bone mends once the infection clears up.

She's doing well, all things considered, but it must be frustrating to be otherwise OK and have this happen. Nonetheless, she is chatting, joking, playing games and watching Judge Judy - which, come to think of it, is not all that different from what she was like when we visited in the past.

We actually hit the trifecta with mothers. My Mom ended up in the hospital for several days as they fought an infection and swelling in her lower legs. The good news is she went back home several days ago and is sounding sronger and better when we talk. We will be there Tuesday, and the visit couldn't come at a better time.

I mentioned the trifecta, and that's because we stopped off at Walt and Terry's in New Jersey for a couple of nights on our drive north. Walt's Mom was in a rehab center, as well, having had a mild stroke. Fortunately, it seems to have done no serious damage and, Anna being Anna, we have heard she is driving the staff there crazy because they aren't taking her to rehab often enough. You have to love that hardy Teutonic stock.

On the non-Mother front, we are finding ourselves more and more Aussie-fied on our trips back here. LK, in particular, uses Australian vocabulary with her American accent. This has the effect of totally confusing people - or at least those who are actually listening, which is not a given here.

Some times it's just the use of a word that means one thing here and another in Oz.  Jumper, for example. In Oz, it's a sweater. In the US it's a woman's dress-like garment without sleeves and usually worn with a shirt or such. A lot of Catholic schools prefer them for uniforms - or at least did in the Dark Ages when I was attending.

So my bride will say, "Donald, it's a little chilly. Do you want to wear a jumper?"  And our American friends will arch their eyebrows, picturing me doing my best drag queen impression.

Most of them understand going to the loo, but they do start to get lost if LK talks about a wee in the loo. Which isn't the same as pissed, which means drunk in Oz and annoyed in America.

Probably the best example happened the other day. We went to a local sub shop for Italian subs. (Fortunately, thanks to Subway being all over Australia most of the dinky-di's know what that means.)

Here, it wasn't so much that LK faced a vocabulary issue as a pronunciation challenge. When asked what she wanted on her sub, she chose to-mah-toes. Since most Americans know the song that goes, "You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to," that one was understood even if it did make her seem a bit like Fraser and his definitely-not-gay brother Niles.

It was when she asked the sub guy what herbs were included, that she encountered that "What planet are you from?" look. For, of course, LK pronounced the H. Americans don't. Which is a little odd when you consider that the Yanks have, in this one instance alone, opted to do their best Liza Doolittle impression.

I quietly said "erbs" to the sub guy, and he nodded, obviously grateful that she had brought along a translator. He proceeded to tell her which (h)erbs were in the sandwich. 

LK then asked him, "What about oregano?"  Only, she now calls it or-e-GONE-oh. I could see the sub guy was wondering why she was asking about a state in the western US, so I said to him oh-REG-a-no. 

"Ah!" I could see him thinking.

LK appeared to be thinking "Oi!"

With my lazy posting habits, I've managed to miss my mother's birthday and Jason and Lora's anniversary. So belated good wishes to them. More fun with Sandy, Dave and Jordan tonight then some deadly serious packing on Monday before we head out