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Random Thoughts from Paris Day 1

Random Thoughts from Paris Day 1

I’ve been in Paris for right on 12 hours now and I’m pooped, so instead of words of wisdom from the other side of the Atlantic, I’m gonna do a brain dump of the 1st day. My commentary will be limited to what my pooped brain can muster on four hours sleep and a day walking in the rain through a city I have no experience, yet am always aiming to look more like a local than American tourist.

– Decked out in my black tights, skirt, grey sweater and turtleneck, I successfully manage through the Paris train system and get to my hotel. Their train system is like DC, but on steroids, so I’m comfortable with this and with maps in every station I’m confident I can get to all key sites on my 5 day agenda.
– it’s all Saints Day and while I want to experience mass in Notre Dame, I’m jonesing for some good French wine and not sure I’ll make it to 6:30 mass. Instead, I tour the church, light a candle, say a prayer that grace will forgive me for ditching the Holy Day. I really like this day, so it makes me sad to miss it.
-in my All Saints’s Day tour, I visit Saint Chapelle Church where history goes as far back as the 4th century.
-Hunt down the scarf store that I learned about in my online research. Yes, I did a minor bit of damage there. The French sales folks know how to work a sale, yet in a non pushy way.
– it’s cold and rainy and I’m sure a visit to the local Macy’s is in order tomorrow AM. I forgot my coat, hat and gloves. Brrr.. Was the word for today!
– Was stopped 2x for directions or at least I thought it was directions. I guess my attempt at channeling the French attitude or rather the continued use of my DC attitude has effectively translated across international boundaries. I’m good,until I open my mouth and my southern, American accent takes over. A step further a dude walks over to my table at dinner to ask how I like the duck. And no he wasn’t hitting on me, although he has that European handsomness, he was with a chick.

On dear, I think there was more to this 1st day, but my eyes are tired and I must go to bed.

Learning in Germany and Austria

Learning in Germany and Austria

Traveling is learning. For me, I aim to soak in not only the main sights, but also the sounds, the architecture, the local cuisine, the language, the history and well to learn something about the country I visited that I didn’t know or had forgotten before I left home.

On my recent trip to Germany and Austria, I came home with not only new factoids, but an experience that reinforced and expanded upon the history lessons of my elementary years. What did I learn?

  • Germany has both a Prime Minister and President. We actually saw the President in Munich(didn’t know exactly who he was at the time, but when everyone lined up on the streets, including myself and began waving to a man in a car with a flag on it, we assumed it must be some VIP.) I Googled “Germany President” the next day and and learned that the “old grey-haired guy” we saw was indeed the President. He is elected by the people, but is more a head of state figure rather than a political one.
  • The term “von” is one of nobility. Once upon a time the Von Trapps were nobility, but when nobility died in Austria, so did their “von” title. The folks in Austria just refer to them as “The Trapps.”
  • “Mad” Ludwig’s castle, Neuschwanstein, was a tribute to Richard Wagner and an inspiration to Walt Disney. Ludwig ordered it to be torn down upon his death, but instead a week after his death it was opened to the public.
  • Bavaria is the only region in Germany where you can walk in the streets with a beer. Yeah to Bavaria.
  • Dachau is actually a little town, not just the site of the original concentration camp. After the camp’s liberation, Dachau residents were ordered to visit the camp to see the horrific atrocities which were occurring just a few miles from town center.
  • There was a complex caste system in the concentration camps based on your occupation, race, and sexuality just to name a few.
  • Christopher Plummer’s voice was dubbed by Bill Lee in The Sound of Music. (Can’t believe I didn’t know this one!)
  • German words I picked up: Danke (Thanks), Kasse (Cash) , Kaffe (Coffee). It seems their K is our C.
  • Edleweiss is a flower in the Austrian mountains.
  • A Chevy in Germany has the status symbol of a Mercedes in the States.

 

Mini Road Trip to Mount Vernon

Mini Road Trip to Mount Vernon

Finally, after almost six years of living in DC, I visited Mount Vernon. The timing was ripe, as I am on disc 2 of the HBO mini-series, John Adams and my $7 entry-fee provided by Living Social was expiring the end of March.  So with the windows down in the car, I took in the warmth of the 70 degree spring day and ventured outside my standard 5-mile radius for a “mini” road-trip to General Washington’s country estate: Mount Vernon, VA.

Spanish Adventures: Day 6

Spanish Adventures: Day 6

Estepona boardwalk during siesta.
Estepona boardwalk during siesta.

Word of the day: Sun. Finally, the “sol” part of Costa del Sol decided to make an appearance. This is, of course, after Michelle and I threw out our old shoes and purchased  rain boots in Ronda the day before.  It’s still windy making the 55 degree day colder than either of us packed for. I’ve already recycled the three, yet thin sweaters I packed and 3 of the 5 pairs of shoes have gone untouched. Thankfully, we have a washing machine.

Yesterday’s adventures through the Spanish mountains and downpours left us both wiped out. Today, we opted to sleep in and have a slow day. This meant a 15 minute drive to Estepona where we could walk the full city without any concern we’d get lost. A bustling little coastal town where cafes lined the streets and locals relax while sipping their cappuccinos.

Four days without a WiFi connection, I’m beginning to experience withdrawal as I roamed  Estepona with my iPhone in hand for any signal to guide me back to my digital life. I take a moment to look up  so not to bump into locals on the street, I looked up to see a cafe with a sign in the window “WiFi.” Finally, I thought. At closer inspection, the cafe was closed. My hopes immediately dashed.  Sorry, folks you’ll have wait a little longer for another Facebook status update, I conceded.

We kept wandering in and out of the commercial and residential district until we discovered the beach boardwalk, where we the warmth of the Mediterranean sunlight sparkled over the sea. After a walk on the beach, we stopped at a local bar that overlooked the sea where we parked for our obligatory siesta. This time we mixed it up and instead of the $2.00 Tinto, we opted for cerveza with a side of olives. The wind whipping through the flag and the tents that covered the bar was overlooked as there was finally sun warming our feet and hearts. This is what we had come to Spain for.

Spanish Adventures: Day 5

Spanish Adventures: Day 5

spain-081Word of the day: Mountain.

The map provided to us by the rental car company showed 376 as the direct route to Ronda, a town with the oldest bull fighting arena in Spain and a massive gorge. After learning that everything shut down at 1:30 for Siesta, we pulled ourselves together quicker than in days before and made it out of the condo by 9:30AM.

By now, we were familiar with route 7 from which we hit 376 north to Ronda. The road sign said 47 kilometers and without using my iphone app, I guesstimated 30 miles. We’ll be there in about 30-45 minutes, I calcuated. Michelle at the wheel, and me in my regular spot as navigator and commentator, we headed north on 376.

Well, in Spain, or at least this part of Spain, north translates to “road to God.” We were in the mountains, which from the coast line we had admired without much thought to their height, ruggedness or inability to accommodate the expectations of two American tourists. The path to Ronda involved a 30 mile two lane road that had more twists and turns than a rollercoaster at Six Flags.

The Fiat less equiped than a Vespa to handle the steep elevation putted through the curves with the definance of a two year-old at bedtime. Having the vantage point of passenger, I offered to Michelle, “don’t look down and don’t look back.” From every angle, the mountain dropped as if telling you that if you took one eye off the ultimate goal of forward, you’d be doomed to the hell of rocks below.

Our ears were popping signaling we may need oxygen masks the higher we climbed. I was getting nauseus and wondered if the rental car had come equipped with a barf bag. The Fiat kept pushing up the hills as locals in their 8-cylinder Mercedes caught up with us and with  arrogant irritation rode our bumper until we could find a side of the road pull off.

This was not the Smokey’s or even the Colorado mountains where you could safely travel 65 miles an hour and pass other cars. Nope, this was comparable to the annual race up Pike’s Peak where despite the narrow, curvy roads, steep inclines, and in the case, rain and fog, there was no fear of speed, height or death.

“Pull off here and do it fast” I offered to Michelle.  Momentum was a key in these mountains.  The strategy seemed to be to pull off without braking too much and using your momentum to get back on the road. These mountains were not made for uphill braking, you just had to downshift and move forward.

Fifteen or twenty miles into the trip, we’re still climbing. I looked up, “we can’t go up much higher unless Ronda is disguised as Heaven.” Onward we went, accellerating upwards without any patches of straight and flat roads until we were met with a sign, “Bienvenidos Ronda.” “Yeah,” we exclaimed. Yet as we looked around us, it was more as if we were in a natural preserve rather than an ancient town where once upon a time, bullfighters from around the country came to wow the crowds with their bravery against the bull. Still traveling uphill, we had been welcomed by Ronda, but yet to see any signs of western civilization. At this point, we’re committed, there’s no option of turning around and giving up. “It has to be here,” I commented.

Cars were passing us in the opposite direction, so we assumed that they were coming from somewhere. Again, we proceeded forward, until finally we were greeted by the standard European roundabout and a sign, “urbano Ronda.” Following the signs and within minutes we were navigating the old streets of Ronda where at each turn views were obstructed by the centuries-old street designs that didn’t account for 21-st century cars and driving habits. We had found Ronda, but we stil had to get back. For that there’s video.