Saturday, June 11, 2016

about europe

At some time, every day since we returned from Europe, I open Safari on my phone where my blog is my homepage, to check the blogs I frequent, and I am disappointed to see I haven't yet posted about the details of our visit to Europe.  I've thought frequently about the trip and about what I want to write, what I will remember for having written it down, what I want others to know about the Europe we experienced.  I've thought often that it would have been good to have written something before going to sleep, but honestly, I was exhausted each evening, which is no excuse, because it would have helped me remember each day's activities. 

But here I am, two weeks later, having thought about it all a lot, and finally deciding I just have to write something and then maybe write something more later or perhaps I'll just move on from here.

We'll see.

So.  Europe. 

Most of it was like this:

I'm pretty sure we saw all the things tourists are supposed to see in the countries we visited.  Much of what we saw was only the exterior of the site.  For example, we didn't go inside the Louvre, which was, honestly, at the time, disappointing.  In Paris, we went on a boat ride on the Seine, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, we toured the Palace of Versailles.  So we saw the things tourists see.  We even went to the Moulin Rouge, which was entertaining enough, although parts were a bit, uh, distracting. 

After two nights in Paris, we headed south through the Alps, seeing castles and fortresses and vineyards.  We spent a night in Lucerne where we were touched emotionally by the Lion monument, walked across the covered bridge, and rode trams up one side of Mount Pilatus and a cog train down the other side of the mountain.  It was beautiful and the goat/sheep/cow bells we heard in the distance made me feel like we were living in the book Heidi.

After Lucerne, we crossed the Alps into Lugano and cruised across Lake Lugano to one of the most entertaining dinners I've ever had, at a delightful family-owned restaurant right on the edge of the lake. 

The next morning, we drove into Italy, passing the marble mountains where Carrara marble is mined. 

We spotted the Mediterranean Sea on the horizon, but drove on to Pisa.  Truly another tourist site, but how do you go to Italy and not see the leaning tower? 

That day ended in Florence, where we spent time in the Academy, seeing the David.  It was breathtaking.

We began our second week in Europe in Rome.  In one day, we visited the Forum, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Vatican, including St. Peter's Square and Basilica.  The Pieta in the Basilica moved me deeply and was probably my favorite of all the things we saw.  It brought tears to my eyes.

I did not take this picture (it's from the internet), but taking pictures of it felt irreverent.  And pictures simply don't do it justice.

We also had a delicious, entertaining dinner that night in Rome.  We were really exhausted that day but it was a good day.

The next day we drove to Ferrara, visiting yet another castle, and then headed to Venice where we cruised up the Grand Canal, saw St Mark's Square, Doges' Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and a glassblower demonstration before enjoying dinner in yet another incredible restaurant that we would have never found on our own. 

We went back to the canals the next day for a serenaded gondola ride with the singer on our gondola because our tour guide wanted us to have a romantic time.  She was funny that way, always looking for a way to treat us a bit special.

The next morning, we headed north over Brenner Pass in the Alps to Innsbruck, Austria, and after a few hours in Austria, rode on to Munich, Germany.

In Munich, we had dinner at the Hofbrauhaus.  It was loud and chaotic and the food was tasty. 

We drove further north the next day to Rothenburg and then on to Rhineland.  The next morning, we cruised on the Rhine passing many more castles, churches, vineyards, and fortresses.  And we had cake on the cruise.  Because apparently cake is a thing in Germany.  A thing I like.

So many castles and churches.

We left the ship to again board our bus headed to Amsterdam where we did a walking tour that included a visit through the red light district, which was, frankly, seedy and discouraging.  I didn't know if Amsterdam could ever redeem itself in my mind.  But dinner that night was delicious, and another canal cruise was interesting, as was a trip to a clog maker, a cheese maker, a windmill, and the village of Volendam.  I think I had the best fish I've ever eaten in Volendam. 

Early the next morning, we boarded our bus and drove to Brussels, where we spent a few hours sightseeing and then boarded the Eurostar through France, the chunnel, and into London.  Our awesome tour guide left us to go back to her home in The Haigue and we spent our time in London with a local guide from the area. 

Dinner the first night was of course, fish and chips, at a traditional English pub.  After dinner, we did another river cruise, this time on the Thames, so we saw many of the sites of London from the river.  It may be that by the time we got to London, we were really exhausted, but we both thought London was terribly chaotic and overwhelming.  On the cruise and also the next morning on the bus, it was, "on your right is ..., and on your left is ..., and on your right is..." and on and on and on.  It was distracting and wearing on the nerves trying to sort out the new from the old amidst all of the construction and traffic, but we did enjoy walking through the quiet of St. Paul's Cathedral.

We also watched the changing of the colors, which was a parade of sorts of all of the Queen's men, I suppose. 

Later that day, we headed to Windsor Castle, where my dislike of the Brits was confirmed by an encounter with one of the helpers at the castle.  Jack is still telling people at work the story of the helper woman who responded to my polite query about something at the castle by correcting my manners.  "Hello mum" will forever be associated in my mind with England.  Obviously she was still annoyed that we, America, broke away from them in the 1700s.  Whatev.

And then we came home.  Writing about all of the things we saw and the places we went has nearly exhausted me all over again.  And I'm sure I haven't noted everything.  It was a crazy pace to keep up with for 16 days.  The good things were the great hotels and yummy food everywhere we went and the brand new comfy bus with wifi.  An incredible bus driver and even more amazing tour guide who knew everything about the art, architecture, history, current events, food, and everything else.  We loved those two. 

Our bus driver, Franco, and Mareeka, our awesome tour guide
And of course, seeing everything we saw was a good thing.  While I was disappointed to not go inside of the Louvre, after going through all of many rooms of art in Rome, I realized that if we go back to France, I'm going to research the Louvre and decide ahead of time which pieces of art I truly want to see and then I'll focus on those instead of wandering past hundreds of items that will overwhelm me. 

It was good to be in a tour group so we avoided long lines getting into various places, but that meant getting up at 6:00 am everyday to have the suitcases in the hotel hallway by 6:30, eat breakfast and be on the bus by 7:30 or so.  It was really great not having to haul around our suitcases.  It was good having someone plan and take care of so many things.

Another good thing was Diet Coke.  It's called Light Coke in Europe and it was pretty much available everywhere and tasted pretty much like Diet Coke at home.  Simple things matter.

I was stunned by how many bikes there are in Amsterdam.  

 This is a bike parking ramp for 2,500 bikes.  Walking in Amsterdam required us to always be on the lookout for bike riders, especially in the bike lanes.  You could get clobbered and seriously hurt and never even know what hit you.  And nobody who lives in Amsterdam wears a bike helmet.  Only tourists have helmets.

I was saddened and angered by the mentality that allows a red light district where women are displayed like animals in a zoo but are described as business owners who pay for business licenses to sell their bodies.  Where pot and hash are legally sold in caffee shops that can't legally sell other drugs but those other drugs are obviously sold right outside the caffee shops.  And next door to the caffee shops and women are churches and kindergartens.

People always say that Europe is so old.  I didn't understand what "old" meant until I saw it.  

I loved listening to and trying to read words in Italian. I think I got pretty good at it even if we didn't know what I was saying.  I'd see a sign on a shop and read it in my best Italian and we'd try to figure out what it meant by the stuff being sold in the shop.  Five days in Italy was probably not enough for a whole lifetime. 

I had no appreciation for the power of the Catholic church throughout history and no understanding at all of how much stuff it owns and controls.  True, the Church has had thousands of years to collect stuff, but still.  I had no idea.

Everywhere we went we saw vineyards.  Acres and acres of vineyards over miles and miles of flat ground and hills and mountains.

 This is nothing compared to some of the areas we drove through.  Everywhere, rows and rows of grapes.

And fields of wild poppies.  Not anything people were growing to harvest, but acres and acres as well as little bits everywhere of poppies.

I have a long list of movies to see and books to read that were suggested by our guide because they relate somehow to the places we visited and saw.  I'm looking forward to them.

What I realized on this vacation is that there is so very much I don't know about the world.  About history.  About other people.  I was surprised by how different we are and how very much alike we are.  Everywhere we went and everyone we talked to seemed to be disappointed in their government and unhappy with their healthcare plan.  Except maybe the Aussie couple who were originally from Figi and loved their retirement plan in Australia but insisted Figi is the perfect tropical vacation place.

When we left for our trip, everyone said we should take lots of pictures.  Now I wish we'd taken more, but at the time, I just wanted to soak it all in and I thought I'd remember it all and there would be better quality pictures on the internet of everything we saw.  I quietly mocked the others on the tour who were snapping pics nonstop.  Now I wish I'd taken a picture of every meal we ate, pictures of the people we toured with, pictures of every dog we saw, every flower and bird.  It was all so incredible, so memorable, and I wish I could share it with everyone. 

Maybe next time.