Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Thursday, August 11, 2016

HOME!

When you get the offer to babysit your one-and-only, most precious granddaughter for 10 days while Mom & Dad take advantage of a business/pleasure trip to Australia, there is no better reason than to wave goodbye to Europe and return to sunny and warm southern California!

I flew home on February 1, 2016, for the first time but certainly not the last, on Norwegian Air.

Flying from London Gatwick to Los Angeles in one of their brand-new Dreamliner aircraft is so relaxing.  Economy seats are all big and their famous air recycling system is amazing!  You feel that you are almost breathing fresh air for the entire 11 1/2 hour flight!  You get off the plane feeling refreshed and not that groggy, I hate flying feeling.

And then there is the cost! Norwegian Air is a low-cost airline.  My one-way ticket price.....$249!!!!  Of course, the cost varies depending on the time of year.  Right now, in the middle of high season in Europe, a one-way ticket is $520.  But compared to all the regular airlines, that is still dirt cheap!  The service was outstanding.  Add a good selection of movies and music, decent food, they departed on time and arrived a bit early -  what more do you want from an airline?

For the first 3 weeks in February it was time to get reacquainted with Ms. Stella and spoil her as much as possible.  We watched Finding Nemo and Frozen too many times to count!  We went to the beach and built sandcastles and went swimming at the pool.  She is also playing on her first organized sports team - soccer.

She learned from her coach (an amazingly patient woman!) that she has to be a good sport and a team player. She now tells everyone that she is a good 'team-er' but hasn't quite learned how to run and kick the ball.

She has several friends from her pre-school that also participate.  So from being very shy the first few 'games', she is now a happy soccer team member.

We did some visiting with her GaGa & Poppie and even had an overnight at Cousin LuLu's so Grandma ReRe could have a night off!

Raising children is for much younger women.  I was completely exhausted at the end of each day. But being able to have her sit on my lap as we read Dora, the Explorer or Hamish the Highland Cow before falling asleep, or singing Let It Be as loud as we could together, were memories I will treasure.  It is going to be so fun to watch what will happen as this adorable princess welcomes a baby brother into the family in November!

One of the nicest things about visiting my family in Solana Beach is 'doing lunch' with 2 of my dear friends from Danville High School.  Susan lives in San Diego and Julie is in Del Mar.  It's always so much fun to reminisce and share memories of our long-ago youth over a delicious lunch and a good glass of wine!



From SoCal to Chi-Town!  It was time to head back 'home' and reconnect with my girlfriends.  It's amazing but everyone wants to 'wine & dine' you when you've been away.  I probably put on 10lbs just being 'welcomed home!'  But I certainly didn't begrudge the additional weight when I had the joy of spending time with my friends and catching up on all the gossip from the past 11 months.

I spent the first two weeks in the beautiful home of dear friends Kevin & Dan on North Sheridan Road overlooking Lake Michigan with their fabulous view of downtown Chicago.
Two of my favorite guys!
View from their condo!






Both were out-of-town the first week, and the 2nd week Kevin was gone and Dr. Dan was working such long hours that I had the run of the place almost to myself.

I made appointments with my doctor, my dentist, my eye doctor and my dermatologist.  'The Girls' got their annual squeeze and I was thrilled to learn after all that that I was good to keep going for at least another year.













I hadn't planned to stay another two weeks in Chicago but when I was offered,  I just couldn't turn down a house/pet sit on the Gold Coast at the corner of Walton & Lake Shore Drive.


My Charges
My View!

I  enjoyed a wonderful  gift of two additional weeks 'at home' within walking distance of many IWA events, great restaurants, and the best of North Michigan Avenue SHOPPING!  



With the permission of the homeowners, one evening I hosted a dinner for a few of my closest girlfriends.

I love to travel - all the countries I get to visit, the history I learn and the people I get to meet - but there is nothing that can replace your friends!






Another treat while in the Chicago area was a short, overnight trip to Madison to visit with #2 Son and his beautiful wife, Melissa.  They have a new family member, Otis, who is an English Golden Retriever (they have the much lighter blonde coats).  In this photo he is a lovable 6-months old.  He is already huge and will only get hugh-er!



















Following my plan, it was now time to fly to North Carolina to visit my friends there.  I flew into Raleigh and was met by Wilmington neighbor and dear friend, Janet.  We celebrated her birthday with lunch at the Cheesecake Factory before I got to drive (yes, I miss driving!) us back to the beach.   I spent a week with her and her fabulous husband, Bob, in their beautiful new home.

They had finally made the much-discussed move off Carolina Beach to be closer to downtown Wilmington.  They are now around the corner from where Bob plays tennis every sunny morning, a few minutes drive to shopping and theater and all the wonderful jazz concerts at UNCW.

Janet and I spent our days catching up while enjoying some of the best spots in town for lunch, shopping till we dropped, and just renewing our friendship.

I also got to enjoy a delicious dinner on the Riverwalk with friend and fellow traveler, Beth.  She encouraged me that if I ever got the chance go to New Zealand, stay as long as I possible could, as I would fall in love.  Over dinner and several glasses of wine, we poured over guide books and maps with her giving me great suggestions and ideas of where to go and do and stay.

My good friend Nancy drove down from Raleigh to spend a night and enjoy a delicious diner at Indochine before I returned to spend a few days in her big city. She and I had traveled to Portugal, taught English in Spain and cruised to Alaska together.  Nancy is retired from a long career with National Public Broadcasting but was and is also a professional pianist and this trip I finally got to hear her play!

From Raleigh I caught the AMTRAK to Charlotte to see my oldest and dearest friends, Sandra and Rich.  They were at my wedding, Rich was my John's best friend and they have been through all the ups and downs of my life from the late 60's onward  I always find time to enjoy their wonderful hospitality when I am anywhere nearby.  I just invite myself for a visit!
#2 and I with Sandy & Rich at a Charlotte Panther's Game
Now is where 'the plan' gets a little off-schedule.  From Charlotte, good friends and neighbors Karen and Don from the NC mountain town of Burnsville, drove to Charlotte to pick me up and carry me back up the mountain for a visit that was to have lasted for 6 days.  Instead I was their guest-house guest for 8 weeks!!!

Let me explain.  I had lined up what promised to be a fabulous housesit on the Pacific coast of Mexico, north of Mazatlan and south of Puerto Vallarta, for 2 months.

It sounded wonderful.  Large compound, beautiful home, 2 dogs, breathtaking view, short bus ride to the nearest village.  But as time got closer and I was able to connect with the couple from whom I would be taking over housesitting duties, I learned all was not-as-it-seemed.  First, the bugs where enormous and overly-plentiful - and I HATE BUGS!  I learned the owners required you never leave the compound unless someone was there to watch over the house. (Numerous robberies in the area have occurred.) That means only when the gardner or cleaning lady or someone from the work crew was available to stay around a few hours while you get away can you get away.  And that bus to the nearby village where you get away to purchase some groceries only runs sporadically - it is Mexico.

So here I was, a not-so-young single woman all alone with big bugs, no transportation, in an area known for being burgled frequently and no one nearby to call on for help if needed with my very limited Spanish.  Oh - and no wifi! After a brief reconsideration and Karen's generous offer to 'just stay put and enjoy springtime in the mountains', I let the homeowners know (in plenty of time for them to find a replacement) that I would not be coming.

Instead, below are photos of where I called 'home' for  8 glorious weeks! I just had to include  a few photos of the dinners that Karen, with Donnie's help, prepared each evening.  She is an outstanding, far above average cook and I took great advantage of her skills. She even made me a Ginger/Lime Cheese Cake for my birthday - and I literally licked the plate!

 

This is the Guest House. I even got to drive Donnie big red truck for a week while they went to visit family in Florida.  Had to rig up a step-stool to get in and out of it which caused much laughter when I drove it into town!

 
Seriously, a typical dinner!

Besides eating, we did a few trips into Asheville for shopping and dining, took in a gallery opening at the Toe River Arts Center, a student auction at the Penland School of Craft and toured their new gallery space on campus and attended Fire on the Mountain Blacksmith's Festival in downtown Spruce Pine (where Donnie slow-roasted a ton of bar-b-qued pork for the after party!)

I made a stop to see the beautiful Doug Sigler custom-built house I called home for 4 years and to once again take in one of the most magnificent views anyone could have from their front window. I also visited with friend and artist Susan Hayden and thrilled at seeing the mountain come into bloom!

Susan's work
Art? With Donnie's head peeking thru


Susan's Sock Monkey Collection
Blacksmith Opening at Toe River Arts Council

Blacksmithing at it's best
Penland's new craft gallery



Glass @ Penland Gallery

My 'used to be' mountain home



Interesting to see how the cedar siding has streaked and grayed since it was first installed.  The new owner did some work on the lower-level balcony but no one can improve on the view of Roan Mountain that I saw each morning from my living room window.
Spring blooming in all it's glory!

 

When not eating or reading or visiting or shopping or gallery-hopping, I searched the housesitting websites each day and finally managed to find a way to give Karen and Don a break from my delightful company. First I got a 3-week housesit in Melbourne, Australia followed by a 3-month housesit on the North Island of New Zealand!  Thanks Beth for the suggestion and great itinerary planing.

So even though it was a much longer-than-planned stay back home in the States, I had a marvelous time visiting family and friends.  But all good things must come to an end, especially when new places to see are calling.  So on May 28th I flew to San Diego to say goodbye to Ms. Stella and her Mommy and Daddy before catching the long flight to my next 11 months down under.   

On June 1st I landed in Sydney, Australia!!!

Until next time......



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

WINGING MY WAY HOME - WITH A STOPOVER IN THE UK

It's now February 1st, 2016,  eleven months since I left home to go travelin' and it's been amazing!  My allotted time in the Schengen countries has run out and anyway, I've been asked to babysit my darling Stella while her mom and dad take a well-deserved break and head to Australia on business/vacation.  But I have two good friends I want to say hello/goodbye to before I fly home from the UK.

I catch a $39 Easy Jet flight from Faro (goodbye Portugal) to Gatwick where I hop the train to Brighton-by-the-Sea.   My good friend, Carole Kabel, who I met while working for the Chicago Cubs, keeps a home in Brighton.  Her husband was born there and she and her sons spent many years visiting his family.  Her flat was the late in-laws place.  It's huge, in a great location and filled with memories.  She and her sons and their families now spend vacations in this lovely seaside resort town.

I was lucky enough to visit Carole when I first arrived in Europe,  so this is a return trip and this time, we are celebrating her birthday!  Her special day this year falls on a Sunday - which is Sunday Roast Day at all the local pubs.

          

We head to a great local,  The Lion & The Lobster, for the 2nd seating where we tucked into a small dining area on the top floor up a very narrow and steep set of stairs.  As you can see, the portions of the typical Sunday Roast Menu consists of roasted meat (normally beef), roast potato, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, vegetable, and gravy.  We added a nice glass of red wine to top off this huge, calorie packed lunch!!  They brought Carole a lovely and delicious candle-lite desert that we shared to commemorate Her Day.


A walk was in order after this meal but soon it was time to head to Carole's favorite neighbor bar, The Beford.  This gay pub holds Piano Bingo every Sunday night and if you don't get there early, you won't get a seat!  We lucked out and got the last two stools at the bar and were entertained by the great bartender, who kept our glasses topped up!

 

Playing Piano Bingo is a hoot!  You are given a regular bingo card but instead of numbers in the squares under the letters, there are song titles.  The piano player plays a song and EVERYONE joins in and sings along!  You cross it off if you can find it on your Bingo card and you win just like a normal game when you fill in a row of song titles vertically, horizontally or diagonally.   A game takes a really  l-o-n-g time with all the singing and topping-up.  A boisterous, loud and fun time is had by all!


The lady in the black & white jumper with the bright red hair won the night big game - and gifted everyone with a delicious piece of English toffee.  It tasted so good and went well with my pale ale - but  when I bit down the toffee came away with a crown!  The 'winner' was so distressed at the results of her generosity that she gave me the name of her dentist and called and left him a message right then and there to tell him he had to fit me in the morning!
I got a call at 7:00 a.m. the next morning saying they would see me at 8 a.m. to re-glue my crown.  How nice was that? - especially since I was catching a 9:30 train into London to spend my last the day with Jan Dengis!

With my crown securely reinserted, I arrived on time and was able to find my way to Jan's flat behind St. Paul's Cathedral. From an earlier post, you know that Jan and I know each other through our membership in IWA Chicago  and that I spent several days with her when I was in London before heading to Portugal.

She had planned a very special lunch at the Cafe Below.  The Cafe is located "in the atmospheric, 1000-year old crypt of St. Mary-le-Bow Church.  The church houses the famous Bow Bells; legend has it that those born in the sound of are a true cockney.  The crypt dates back to William the Conqueror with finishing touches by Christopher Wren.  Said by one source, to the oldest of it's kind in London."

As you can see from the menu, the choice of selections was varied and mine (the quiche) was absolutely delicious.  We had the Apple-Rhubarb Crumble Custard for desert - with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!
Ca

After lunch, Jan once again was my very own tour guide of some of the sites of London town, which she has been calling home now for almost 3 years!  She's getting really good at this!

 

         


We strolled along cobblestoned streets and lanes,  in and out of churches and government edifices, stopping to laugh at some of the posted British restrictions! At the end of our day, we joined-up with the charming young lady I had met on my walking tour in Seville. After a great chat, it was time hug the ladies goodbye, thank Jan for another fabulous day and catch my train back to Brighton and my last night with Carole.  

It was a fast and furious 2 1/2 day visit to the UK, but now it was time to board my Norwegian Airlines flight from Gatwick to LAX.  Check them out anytime you are thinking of a trip to Europe.  They have really low fares ($249 OW) offer great service and fly the fabulous new Dreamliner aircraft!  Long flight (11 hours) but the new Dreamliner air recycling system really makes a difference. With my Global Entry card, customs was quick and easy.  Only had an hour layover until I caught my 40-minute flight to San Diego.  Soon I was sitting down to a delicious steak dinner my oldest grilled, with a glass of wine in hand and Stella on my lap.  

It's good to be home again.....at least for awhile!

Until next time......


Asfé Below is situated in the oldest of its kind in London

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

TWO DAYS IN SEVILLA - OLA!



DAY ONE
Welcome to Sevilla and the 'sport' of  bullfighting!  Sevilla is home of one of Spain's last premiere bullrings and why should I mention this first? Because just this past week the wife of 29-year old matador, Victor Barrio, watched as her husband was gored to death in front of her in the ring.  No, this didn't happen at the huge ring in Sevilla, but at a bullfighting festival in eastern Spain.  But still, it causes one to pause and try and understand why this is considered a 'sport.'

Yes, I did tour The Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla, saw the museum, heard the stories and saw where so many 'world famous matadors' had made history (or met their end.)  It does seem that Spain is slowly trying to phase this sport out as they did close down the rings in Madrid.
Seeing the very heavy and beautiful Suit of Lights that a matador wears was interesting but the dozen of stuffed heads of the bulls they had killed was not my cup of tea.

The Ring
The bull's Entrance



So lets move on to more fun stuff that I saw and did during my 2 days in Sevilla! We had a very nice, very modern AirBnB just up the street to the bullring and then around the corner from the Cathedral and the main shopping area of town. The first night we were in town we found a fabulous indoor market (Spain's answer to our delis!) very similar to the one I loved in Madrid.  You go from counter-counter and make your choices - everything from fresh seafood (yummy sushi) to hot stuffed meat pies dripping juice and cheese to over-the-top pastries.  You eat one or two and then go trolling for more!

Chocolate waterfall 

 
The market/deli at night.  It's big!
Walking back I noticed the first of the many wall alters of saints.  I found them everywhere, though mostly in alleyways or down smaller side streets. I never found someone to ask their history - but being a very religious Catholic country I saw them as an everyday opportunity to pray to your favorite saint, ask for a blessing and know that your 'religion is everywhere.'  They are quite lovely and I am sure, quite old.

         

         

Beside the meal we shared the night we arrived, we five travelers spent our time apart while in Seville.  Anita had gotten a chill and Dick's asthma was acting up. The other couple had been to Seville before so they did their own thing - which wasn't much.  The weather was lovely, sunny and bright, if a bit chilly (it was the middle of January!) I was out the door the very first thing each morning and usually the last one back in the evening.  

The first day, map in hand, I headed to the Sevilla Cathedral and La Giralda Tower.  Said to be the 3rd largest cathedral in the world (no way I could fit the entire Cathedral into one photo) and the largest one of Gothic design, it's construction began in 1401.  But it's origins go back to the 12th century, as it was originally a mosque. As was usual, when the Christians arrived they just tore it down and built over the site - but the left the La Giralda Tower.  Inside you find hundreds of pieces of art and the burial site of Christopher Columbus.  It is really one of the most imposing and beautiful buildings I've seen to date.  The line to get inside went on for miles, but I snuck my head in a side door and WOW!  

Only a little portion of the whole

The 12th century Giralda Tower




Inside the Cathedral
Outside the Cathedral
It's now 2 p.m. and I was starving.  I wandered through a large, inclosed courtyard and entered the tunnel heading out to the street behind the Cathedral. There I found a small indoor/outdoor cafe offering wine and tapas - what more could I ask for?  I had the oh so delicious #7 on the menu.

Enclosed courtyard 
   





I sat for over an hour just sipping my beer, nibbling on the delicious food and watching the people stroll past - one of my favorite pastimes.  But now it was time to get up and wear-off that lunch.  Next on the agenda - The Real Alcazar de Sevilla.

Entrance to the Real Alcazar
The Real Alcazar is one of the royal places of the Spanish monarchy.  It was built in 913 when Seville was under Muslim rule and you certainly can see this in the mudejar architecture which reminds me very much of the Alhambra.  Alcazar means fortress and it served this purpose many times during it's sometime turbulent years of existence.  The rooms are stunning and you could spend days just wandering through the vast gardens. There are even Roman ruins here.  The King stays here whenever he visits Seville on state business and there are members of the royal family that live in the palace full time.  I spent several hours and took 100's of photos and here are just a few to give you an idea of this magnificent structure.

 


 
I stopped on my way back to the AirBnB for dinner at a Chinese restaurant when saw it was full of Chinese people and presumed it must have good food!  I was proven wrong.  It was okay, but certainly not the best Chinese food I have had, but maybe it was the best Chinese that Seville has? Should have returned to the Market.

DAY TWO

Free Walking Tour!  A great way to start the morning.  Today it was Pancho Tours with their bright orange t-shirts and umbrellas that I met up with behind the Cathedral on a damp and not-too-sunny morning.  The tour was 3 hours long and took in the following sites:
  • Cathedral & Giralda (only outside)
  • Puerta de Jerez
  • Palacio de San Telmo
  • Tobacco Factory & university
  • Statue of El Cid
  • Prado de S. Sebastián
  • Maria Luisa Park
  • Plaza de España: the highlight of this tour.
  • Lunch all together: optional, the most fun and interactive part of our tour. 
The Palacio de San Telmo, which is between the Cathedral and the Alcazar, holds so much history!  It contains every single document from every voyage that every single Spanish sea captain ever made - including Sr. Columbus.  Lists of what the ship carried as cargo, the names of every crew member and every passenger, the list of supplies, animals transported, everything down to the very last detail.  They are also Spain's answer to Ancestry.com. It's where you would come if you want to find your long-lost Spanish uncle.  And it's been 'going digital' for the past 10 years.  They estimate it will take at least another 15 years to digitalize all of the documents they have.  

The Tobacco Factory/now University still has a faint order of tobacco that lingers in the classroom air.  The El Cid statue is huge and I can't find the picture!  I do remember Charleston Heston played him in the movie. Why was it that Heston seemed to play every 'bigger than life character' in the 50's and 60's - Moses, Ben Hur, El Cid.

The Maria Louisa Park was so beautiful with it's statues of lovely young women and poets who died of unrequited love.  There is a gazebo, formal gardens and flowering pathways to wander.  It's right in the heart of a noisy city yet is so peaceful and serene.  

And then there is Plaza de Espana.  Built in 1929 to host the Ibero-American Exposition World Fair to showcase Spain's industry and technology exhibits. The Plaza is HUGE with a moat running through it.  You can rent small paddle boats and slowly glide along the waterway.  Numerous bridges cross over the moat, leading to colorful tiled alcoves representing every region of Spain.  Today the buildings are used as government offices and museums.  On a lighter note, just two of the major movies that have filmed here are Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars - Episode II - The Attack of the Clones.

The majority of members of our tour took up our guide's offer to take us to a neighborhood cafe for a typical Spanish lunch (at almost 3 p.m.)  Tour members were from Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, England and the US which lead to a great and quite lively conversation.   

I had the opportunity to get to know a lovely, young lady from Georgia who is a student at Cornell but doing a year abroad at the London School of Economics. We walked slowly back to the central area and agreed to meet for a drink when I was in London in a  few weeks - and we did!  Meeting and getting to know, even briefly, so many people from so many different places, is one of the true joys of traveling.

Tobacco Factory/University


Plaza de Espana - with a moat running thru it!

The ladies of Maria Louisa Park
 

Just one of the many alcoves at the Plaza de Espana depicting a region of Spain
 
I had purchased a Hop On-Hop Off bus pass and now was the time to use it.  I spent the rest of the afternoon on the open-air top deck of the big green bus with my earphones tuned to the English channel while riding through lovely neighborhoods, past huge monuments and ever huge-er buildings, snapping photos along the way.  Wish I could remember everything I saw, but I don't.  I will just have to  to return and spend a lot more time than just 2 days in this beautiful city.

Cute!
Love the door handle



Inside a small church
Colorful tiles


On a wall along a side street - so pretty

Gate house to large mansion
Love the tiles!


Toro del Oro



The Rio Guadalquivir which runs through the city. 
Morning of DAY THREE finds our little group arguing about who should be responsible for taking out the garbage - those depart first or those that are not leaving for 4 more hours?  And you wander why I chose to usually travel solo?  

But it's time to pack-up and begin the very easy 3 1/2 hour return drive to my little cottage in Ferragudo.  I have just two weeks left before flying to the UK for a few days and then back home to the US. 

Ferragudo 
My three months in the Algarve have flown by.  I met some wonderful people - especially Jorge and Maria and their extended family who took me in and made me feel truly 'at home.'  I will miss the local ladies at my gym who would much rather gossip with each other and flirt with the young instructor than do any type of exercise.  I will certainly miss having coffee and shopping with my dear British friend, Maureen.  And dear Raquel, who played 'tour guide' on her days off to show me around her beautiful country.  I miss you all and promise one day to return. 

Até mais tarde..........