Tuesday, November 18, 2008

England part 2 June 2007

White Stage Inn-where we stayed in Widcombe just south of Bath
Artichoke in hostel garden

Pultenay Bridge Bath

Day 10: BIG NEWS!!!!! AND BATH. Sitting in Charlie’s kitchen, we learn of the impending marriage. We take another long walk and meet up at the station later with Charlie and our bags and 3 trains later, are in Bath. Bath is a university town and today is graduation which made my search for a room nearly impossible. Also the requirement that we stay 2 nights when we had only one night to spare also complicated the search. We stay in a hostel-The White Hart-right outside of Bath in Widcombe but very close to the station- that is on top of a fairly expensive and popular restaurant. It is not cheap for a hostel. We have to walk through the restaurant to get to the staircase that goes to our room. The communal rooms look very dingy and beat-up reminding me of Stevens co-op where I lived as a student. Our breakfast was to be in one of these rooms full of back-packers but we fled to a near-by café. Our room-one of the few non-communal rooms-is fairly nice, clean, good bedding with a funky shower. The water (no temp controls) comes out in 20 sec bursts that one needs to keep pressing a button to repeat. They have a nice garden that we can sit in that has ripe artichokes. These are related to the thistle plant but aren’t as prickerly. I though one needed a California climate to grow them-up in Monterry-but I guess they survive as long as the ground never freezes. They are 5 feet tall. I have pictures. Bath was discovered by the Romans who built the baths around the springs 1800 years ago. About 300 years ago, they decided to build the city up and hired father and son architects that designed the city to look like Rome complete with the Seven Hills so lots of Roman architecture that looks pretty much the same. Beautiful gardens all around. We have lunch in a good Thai restaurant in the city center taking a break from the English fare of the last few days. Some graduates in their gowns are eating there too. We by-pass the spas as it is $30/person to get in but do look in the Pump Room where high tea is $40 versus $12 is the cute towns we were in before. The cathedral is off-limits as graduation takes place in it. Lots to explore and we walk for miles and miles. We return to the hostel totally exhausted and rest. Later we can’t get enough strength to walk to Bath for dinner so Steve brings up take-out Tandoori from a Widcombe place. I get some energy back and want to climb the Widcombe Hill-very steep-that would give us a good viewpoint of Bath but I could only drag Steve up a quarter of the way. We just sat in the garden instead trying to plan the next day. Two options-stay in Bath and take a 100 mile round trip bus tour that includes Stonehenge, Avebury (a larger but less known version of stone circles) and a tour of Lacock-a village that was Merilliton of Pride and Prejudice fame-BBC version that Steve keeps watching over and over as he has a crush on Jennifer Ehle who plays Elizabeth. Second option-take a train to Salisbury-catch a bus from there as it is only ten miles away-but what do we do with our luggage as the left-luggage option is no longer in the train stations. But the Salisbury- to- London train gets us closer to our hotel than the Bath- to- London train plus we get to see Salisbury and its cathedral-one of the better in England. Music is still playing in the restaurant below and the back-packers chat outside our door as we fall asleep.
Day 11:STONEHENGE. I get up early and run in the drizzle along the towpath that follows the Avon canal. With a little more energy, I could take this canal up to Stratford 100 miles north but it is a nice run. People seem to live in the canal boats I pass and I am surrounded by those 7 hills. No hills for me except to get around the locks. On my return, I check out the grim breakfast situation with instant coffee and toast from bread that numerous backpackers have pawed through so despite the pretty garden setting, we go to the café for good coffee and bacon on a bap. On to Salisbury. It turns out a nearby bar-The Cat Bar-for a price, will watch our luggage. Despite its name, the smoky bar is full of dogs that want to sniff our luggage. Dogs are welcome in restaurants and bars in general in Europe. We hop on a double decker and on to Stonehenge. Our bus has Americans on it. Haven’t seen them in a while except for the Pfizer exiles. So American tourists seem to have 2 main stops on their limited itineraries: London and Stonehenge. A few make their way to the Cotswolds. The roads have no shoulders and the bus carves out a path through the dense vegetation branches thumping against our windows in parts. We are told that if a road is straight and surrounded by beech trees, it is an old Roman road. Romans liked straight lines but the various groups that make up the English seemed incapable of getting anything straight-even their houses lean. This is the Plain of Salisbury. Mainly flat surrounded by chalk hills that over the years various groups have made carvings into that are 100 to 200 feet high. We did see the 200 year old horse carving from our train but missed the nude giant who appears happy to see you-I’ve seen pictures. We pass by the old Roman ruin of Sarum. At Stonehenge, we are dropped off for an hour or two hours if we really want to stay. Another choice to make-pay $24 to get into the fenced area or view the stones 4 feet further away outside the fence for free. We wouldn’t get to see the backside of the stones. We remembered that we are to be soon unemployed, might need to pay for two weddings, had recently purchased two new cars during a recent, unbelievable day of 2 abrupt car failures (one of which we better get repaid for) and possibly pay for a new air-conditioner, which Shanna had informed us via e-mail (buried in the big news email) that ours had failed during the 90 deg days making life tough for our heat intolerant elderly pug Spud and made our choice. After 20 minutes, I still didn’t feel the magic I was supposed to-maybe the fence blocked it. I’ve had enough and do Sudoku until the bus returns us to Salisbury. Salisbury is very nice-impressive cathedral-preserved medieval gates-lots of beautiful gardens, varied architecture (versus all the same in Bath). We eat in a pub recommended in our bible-Rick Steve’s Backdoor England-outside in nice gardens along a picturesque stream. Much more reasonable prices too vs Bath. I have a mushroom cheese pie with salad and a pint (and their pints are bigger than ours) of cider. American cider is unfiltered apple juice in their lexicon-but the stuff in pubs has quite the punch. More walking-a stop at a Brazilian coffee house and on to London. We try to time our arrival past rush hour but apparently the stations are always packed. Our station (there are about nine London railroad stations) conveniently is linked to the tube’s Jubilee line that our hotel is on. A subway in English is an underpass in American. The tube’s pricing structure is unbelievably complicated dependent on time of day, zones traveled-we could never figure it out other than it was four times pricier than NYC and has many more lines than even NYC. The tube is protected by a glass shell that has doors that open only when a train is there so one wouldn’t get pushed by the teeming masses onto the rails. We push ourselves and luggage into the tube that is only half the diameter of the NY trains after letting one pass that was way too full. Fortunately they show up every 3 minutes. We squeeze in with bags. Gradually conditions ease in the following 30 minutes when we get off in Canning Town-theoretically part of the revitalized Docklands area but apart from building the shiny, new Holiday Inn Express we stay in, has a long way to go. The rack rate here is an astounding $320/night to stay amongst abandoned dock buildings and grim public housing projects. I did get an internet deal that was less than half of that but our London stay of 3 nights still made up a good portion of our total budget. In the US, Expresses always have free WiFi but here, $60 for our stay. Since Steve always needed to keep tabs on his project dealing with the crisis du jour, I guess we could have had the company pay for this but I was just annoyed and bitched to the clerk. He blandly pointed out this was London-not the US-and that I paid less for my room than anyone else and he still doesn’t understand how my rate was so low so….I guess shut-up. Our room was clean, cute, and efficient in an IKEA way. The showers have the best water pressure in England. We were off the London map that Steve bought. From my perch, I could see a pub in the distance but many more signs of urban blight. We could buy the overpriced food downstairs but instead feast on wine and Mark and Spencer treats that I was going to bring home-almond raspberry tartlets.
Day 12: TERROR STRIKES LONDON!!!! This was the headlines we awoke to. I skipped my morning run as I was not ready to interact with the bleak, busy surroundings that I still didn’t have a map for. The hotel restaurant was full of Americans concerned with what the BBC was broadcasting while we ate our continental breakfasts. We were going to see Picadilly Circus that day where the undetonated car bomb chock full of nails and propane tanks was found smoking in front of a packed nightclub. As I write this a week later, another one is found later. A car full of explosives rams the Glasgow airport (John Lennon Airport) two days later. Eight men are eventually arrested of various nationalities but 7 are doctors, which I find shocking. But I am hopeful this is an isolated incident and we go to London. Despite how expensive it is, the good museums are free, walking both sides of the Thames are free and so are the numerous gardens. We emerge from the tube in front of Big Ben and the Parliament building. We walk by Westminister Abbey, Downing Street (lots of extra police presence given the State of High Alert we were under and through the spectacular St. James gardens where there are topiaries shaped like bicyclists to commemorate the Tour de France that starts there this Sunday ending up later that day in Canterbury. The pond is full of diverse water birds. Unusual ducks of every sort, grebes, pelicans, Hawaiian geese-elaborate flower beds. We watch part of the pageantry of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I take a picture of a Queen’s horse that was interested in tasting Steve. We go to Trafalgar Square where there is an internet café to check up on things-no more news but apparently the news about London had reached the US so I reassure people that we are still alive. We go to another Rick Steve’s Pub nearby and I try an English hamburger. Weird texture-no fat but it tastes all right. The ale tastes even better. Steve is fond of ’jacketted’ potatoes-a split open baked potato filled with whatever you want. We go to the National Musuem of Britain which is enormous and very ornate. So much to see and so little time. We concentrate on the Impressionists, my favorites-and they have the biggest collection I’ve seen outside the Musee D’Orsay. We walk along the Thames to the Tate Modern built in a converted power house. Very stark filled with weird art that I am afraid I am not appreciative of. Past the Surrealists-I don’t get it. My favorite was a film by a Brazilian woman of leaf cutter ants. She has sprinkled colored pieces of plastic in their paths that they mistake for leaves. Lots of ant close-ups struggling with the pieces that they take to their underground chambers. We take a boat downriver to the Tate Britain-all British artists of several centuries but aside from Turner and Gainsborough, I haven’t heard of any of them. We eat dinner in a nice French restaurant named Grumbles in the Pimlico district. Pricey but it turns out to be the only dinner we eat in London.
Day 13; THE TERROR CONTINUES The dining room is abuzz with the discovery of the 2nd bomb car. There could be MORE!!!. I overhear one bossy lady telling her friends: ‘you don’t understand the gravity the situation-we can get killed-we have to stick together-no more going off by yourself (and thus escaping her). We are seeing the London Tower today and that will be it.’ To me, it is like escaping lightning. Never know when it’s going to strike but useless to worry about it too much. Again I found walking in our immediate neighborhood at night scarier. It is a Sat. morning, forecast of rain, and the streets of London are relatively empty. We start with the tower bridge and the futuristic city hall and the interesting plaza surrounding it when it begins to rain. We start to explore London by bus going to Coventry gardens and market before ending up at our real target –The British Musuem, which we explore for hours. The history of civilization is more or less stored there. We see the Rosetta stone, numerous Egyptian, Greek, Roman and from many other civilizations that I really didn’t know much about- artifacts, sculptures. All were quite interesting and we could make a whole day of it but…
We ate lunch nearby at an expensive chain that promises real Roman pizza –okay but not fantastic. None of the Indian restaurants are open on a weekend during the day, which I was in the mood for. We try to get to Harrod’s by bus but this new terror business has shut down some of the routes so back to the tube and transfers. Harrod’s was a trip with its extremely ornate Egyptian Escalators. They even had an opera singer singing arias from Aida in the wings. Hard to get good pictures inside. Down to the food halls. Unbelievable. They had various food stations set-up featuring different cuisines, elaborate pastries, gelatos, sundaes, cakes, meats, cheeses. Anything you could possibly imagine. The pizza area had a tenor singing opera while he threw the dough around. When we were in Paris, on the Champs d’Elsyees, we had these intensely flavored fruit gelees that were heaven. I had searched for them vainly in England and forgot to look for them in France (damn) but here they were called ‘fruit slabs’ for $30/lb. I got a few-almost as tasty as I remember the French ones being. I did buy a few items for souvenirs. Actually their baked goods weren’t much more than elsewhere so we bought a few items for a picnic. The rain had abated so on to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens where we had our deluxe picnic. Just as we were getting to the elaborate garden part, it started to really pour. We emerged from the tube in what I thought was Soho but instead it was the intensely crowded shopping area of Oxford street. So crowded. Worse than anytime I’ve been in Manhattan. It was making me claustrophobic. We ducked into a side street for coffee in the café while we considered our next move. It was still pouring. We find a Mark and Spenser and buy provisions for the night-some interesting salads and cheeses and of course, wine.
Day 14: BACK TO THE USA. I need a run. I hope the criminal element is asleep on an early Sunday. Not raining for a change. I find a park quickly whose perimeter is about a half-mile but quickly get bored and run (or whatever one might call my spastic movements) towards where the water should be but I can’t get past all the buildings. Later I find if I were a bit more persistant, I could run to a foot tunnel under the Thames making my way to Greenwich which was due south of us (and thus our hotel was very close to the prime meridian)where it is supposed to be pretty. I see maybe one person the whole time that I’m out even though I am in a residential area. I manage not to get lost or mugged. After breakfast, time to leave. Our subway to the London Bridge Station to the Brighton line that stops in Gatwick. Not the Gatwick Express but to get to that would involve subway transfers that are hell with luggage. More security measures at Gatwick due to the high alert so lines are long. I try futilely to get on the same plane Steve is on. We would have had an easier time getting him on my plane as they give no consideration to the redeeming miles people versus the full fare (paid by Pfizer) people. So he flies to Detroit and I go back to Minneapolis not in business class. I get to DTW 5 hours after him. Oh well. I’m well equipped with novels, Sudoku, Kakaru and my much smaller movie screen. The food is barely edible.
AFTERMATH AND RADOMN THOUGHTS: The wedding will probably be in October at St. Mary’s in Livonia-a huge church that all the Christian Arabs in the area attend. I’ve seen the inside already as a Lebanese colleague was married there and I saw her pictures. Very pretty. They have to confer with the priest first for the exact date. Shanna also has to promise to bring up her child(ren) in the faith. Hmmm. Ramy’s family consists of 156 people that can’t possibly be excluded plus he has many friends. Our air conditioning unit just needed a new fuse. I don’t have to go to court. My brother had misinterpetted a communication from the court about a paper that they thought I needed to file (which I had) and had e-mailed me causing me to fret. It turns out the court had the paper needed but sent out erroneously a notice that I was to be ‘terminated’ as a personal representative and the estate ‘would be closed’

Streets in England: Twisty things with a high speed limit. They don’t need to stop at intersections which are all roundabouts so good luck trying to cross without a crosswalk. Theoretically they are to stop at ‘zebra crossings’ if someone is in it but not all obey that. In London, they have signs to remind you which direction the traffic is coming from but still Steve ignored that. These whizzing cars were a bigger hazard than the terrorists. They occasionally had pedestrian activated lights to stop cars. In the country, no shoulders and sometimes the roads were too narrow for two cars to pass at every point. So one would have to back-up until a wider portion was found. Hedgerows were to the edge of the road. Our minibus ride through the Cotswolds was especially harrowing.
Plumbing: Righty-tighty. Lefty Loosey does not apply here. Everything is ‘anticlockwise’. Water pressure is very low except in our London place. Toilets have an inch of water in them but are under pressure. Experienced all kinds of different showers-my favorite was in the Cotswolds. First one pulls a chain then presses a button indicating how hot and how high of pressure (not high enough), then you press a button and you’re good to go. Each one was an adventure to figure out. Toilets thankfully more plentiful and usually free than on the Continent with soft toilet paper. Interesting and diverse flushing mechanisms. I preferred the ones in which you just wave your hand across an eye.
English TV: Not much choice. Usually there was a soap opera to watch with the same plot lines of American soaps but they don’t just use pretty people for actors. Some of the characters were quite homely and rarely did anyone have straight teeth. Again, they don’t do anything straight here. I did like the cooking show The F word chef although he explains the F word is fast. He does use the real F word liberally while he cooks as in today we are going to cook a f***ing chicken. This is on regular TV.
Another favorite: Various house hunting shows with the premise that the English can’t afford anything in England so on to Spain or Portugal where they weigh the pros and cons of various houses Rarely do they have a tidy ending like ours and end like ’well Crispin and Elsbeth certainly are picky. Maybe next week we’ll find something for them. Stay Tuned.” Then BBC news where we could check the daily progress of the Sheffield floods and this is where the train people wanted us to stay. Lots of ‘sports’ like cricket and rugby, the former being the harder to understand.
Public access The right to walk anywhere you want is in force. Public walkways cross farmer’s fields and go through private property with signs about locking gates to keep the livestock in. Lots of people hike from village to village especially on the Cotswold Way.
Lots of bike trails also but don’t go out on anything designated for peds or 500 lb fine.
Misc The exchange sucked. Basically if you don’t keep reminding yourself that each pound is 2 dollars, it would seem somewhat reasonable. We spent a day panic stricken because we thought both of our ATM cards broke-even though mine worked fine in France the day before because we tried to take out 100 lbs at a time and it wouldn’t let us. It turns out that our bank limits transactions to $200/day. Problem solved. Language. Words mean different things here. A check is a bill. Like they use ‘scheme’ for plan. Here if you have a scheme, you are up to no good. Everything is a scheme there. Toasties are toasted sandwichs. I can go on and on. Suduko-the English are Suduko fiends. The Times has 3 daily puzzles with different twists. One was a karuko-suduko combo that took me an hour to figure out (they said average bright people should take 35 minutes-oh well).

I’ll stop. I learned a lot and had a lot of fun.


England travel blog June 2007

Stream across the street from our hotel in Canterbury
Bath begonia garden

Rye street

Cotswold gardens

Cotswold cottage

Sue and Steve’s Big Trip to England

Some background for those of you I haven’t contacted in awhile:

So this has been an eventful year for us. Last summer Josh and Julia married and still live in their house in Dexter (the same house featured on HGTV’s House Hunters-the show where a couple outgrows their house and investigates 3 replacements on air-this was the house the couple outgrew) Julia finished her paralegal program and works for an attorney in AA. Josh still is an engineer for **** and has survived numerous downsizing initiatives. Julia has turned into quite the runner and finished 4th in her age group at the infamous Dexter-Ann Arbor Race this spring. We have a granddog-the extremely energetic German Shepherd, Sunny. Sunny has helped Julia’s running program as it begun, in part, as a program to siphon off some of her energy.

Steve’s brother  has seemed to successfully battle brain lymphoma-a scary, tiring, unpleasant treatment 7 month regimen. He no longer could care for their mother Terry in NYC so after much discussion, Terry made the big move to Seattle to stay in assisted living where their sister Maddy lives. As Terry is extremely phobic about flying and has panic attacks, this was no easy move. Also there was the problem of establishing identity for her to fly as she unofficially had changed her name and has never driven. Steve made the big trip with her worried that any moment Terry would scream that she was having a heart attack or worry outloud (very outloud) that the plane was crashing aborting their flight. But she is settling in attending Vespers (despite being Jewish) and reports that though she still hears voices, she can’t make out what they are saying as her hearing isn’t what it used to be. The devil and Nazis have spoken to her in the past. She still has some rough moments that Maddy has to deal with but is with her grandsons and is a much nicer place than the NY place with views of the Olympics from her window.

Shanna moved back to Michigan last fall. LA was wearing her down and she was hoping for a fresh start here but the economy here is really awful (see below) and it is impossible to find a job as a scientist now in Michigan. Sometime soon she will become Shanna Shammas and move to Boston where the job situation is much better with her fiancé Ramy, a biochemist/electrical engineer who will work for a research arm of MIT. We have just learned of this while on our trip and plans are way up in the air. She met Ramy years ago when she worked for Pfizer. Their friendship has outlasted 2 former fiancés of hers. He has been patiently waiting in the wings for her. They are very happy but have many decisions to make.

Naomi still is quite the athlete making varsity as a sophomore for the school’s basketball team-an honor. She eventually made the varsity volleyball team too. Her travel AAU volleyball team did well too winning their division’s state championship going to Nationals right before our big trip. She also played school soccer at a lower level to keep in shape for her other sports. She spent the past year juggling boyfriends-we don’t let her date yet as she is too easily sweet talked. In many ways, she is a young girl trapped in this powerful woman’s body that attracts many guys.

So in January our company announced they were going to close the Ann Arbor Site-the largest private employer in AA and biggest taxpayer. This was a big blow to the area. Already the declining auto industry had taken a huge toll in SE Michigan. Lots of foreclosures and empty houses. About a third of the researchers are moving to other sites of the company’s. Lots of anxiety, anger, sad stories, complete life changings all around. The situation makes it impossible for Shanna and Ramy to stay here. She has been going to school in another field in order to stay here but will probably abandon that too. As for us who have worked 31 and 34 years for the companies that our employer  bought up (and then spit out), we’ll be OK. We will get 2 years salary apiece, health insurance until we can get Medicare, and could collect retirement if we need too. But I am thinking something will pop up and we could work part-time, if needed. Also, we get a retraining allowance-I will be retrained on the company’s dime to become a French pastry chef or maybe an Italian chef-not sure which-but I will take my training in another country. In the meantime, most of my immediate co-workers have left. I will help close the labs up and leave in Sept Steve will leave sometime in 2008 so we won’t get 2 lump sum severances in the same year and by IRS rules, can access his 401K as he will then be 55. (I will just have to wait to get mine). In the meantime, Pfizer has work that needs to be done. Steve was asked to supervise an important project (co-incidentally a project that I work on) in Sandwich, England for 3 weeks. So to England he went, and as soon as I could, I joined him. First I had to deal with finals that Naomi needs me to help with and to take her to Chicago for 3 extremely hot days for the National Volleyball Championships where they finally were taken out of the competition by very talented Hawaiians who although they had noone who was even close to Naomi’s size, were unbelieveable defensive specialists. They gave as macademia nuts to soften our loss. Also finding a ticket at the last minute to England was a challenge but using lots of ff miles and flying out of Minneapolis, I was good to go.

Sandwich, a tiny village, is on the coast 60 miles SE of London. The huge research  complex lies just outside of it. For the 2 weeks before I joined him, Steve stayed at a musty old hotel perched by itself on top of an enormous chalk cliff in Ramsgate. Soon he grew tired of long walks on deserted beaches picking up stray pieces of chalk for my rock garden. He did go on many side trips on the weekends as he had a train pass. He took the bus to work. The company has private buses that picks up their employees in nearby towns.

Day one: BUSINESS CLASS AT LAST The days leading up to my departure were hectic beyond belief between work, finals, sports parties, going away parties, the out-of state-tournament that was a logistical nightmare in itself. The night before I leave, the girls get into a huge fight about who is less attractive. Naomi meanly points out that all the men on the subways always focused on her and ignored Shanna who then pointed out that’s because she dresses like a slut in training (she had her volleyball uniform on). It went downhill from there with lots of tears and declarations that they won’t be able to stand each other while I was gone so I better have a back-up plan. I did call in Josh to help resolve the impasse but was able to settle things down right before I left with lots of bribes. Although I fly out of Minneapolis instead of Detroit, I get to fly business class-- a dream of mine. While I wait in Minn, I get to go to a Northwest’s Perks Club. Here I can eat and drink all I want. I also get to read which I haven’t had time to in a while. Thousand Hundred Suns. A good read but very depressing. On the plane, I get my own little pod that fully reclines, a toiletry kit that includes earplugs, slippers, a sleep mask. My bed/chair has a massager built in along with numerous controls to inflate parts of it for my comfort. I get a large (compared to steerage which I was in on the way back) videoscreen to watch my progress or to watch a whole menu of movies. I settle in with The Namesake after my deluxe dinner complete with champagne, several wines, etc. A memorable experience. I was too excited to sleep even though I got up very early to get a run in and pack which I couldn’t do earlier. The sun seems to be setting as we leave Minneapolis. Over the next few hours, it still seems to be almost setting. I am confused as I know it should be dark going east but the light keeps getting brighter. But on the mapscreen, we are flying over Hudson’s Bay and later Greenland where the sun never sets in June. In England, the days were long with the sun rising at 4 and setting after 10 especially when we were up north in York. Despite my comfortable surroundings, I only sleep for a few hours.

Day 2:CANTERBURY After breakfast, we land at London Gatwick, go through customs quickly as I am first off the plane, and I easily find my train and I am on my way to Canterbury 40 miles away. Much, much easier than other cities I have flown too. Paris is really a pain involving lots of transfers, lugging things up steps numerous times. My biggest struggle is to not fall asleep on the train thus missing my stop.
Steve knew I wouldn’t appreciate the Ramsgate experience with the signs warning not to open the windows too much or you will be sleeping with the gulls (England hasn’t heard of screens but have few bugs) so he arranged for us to stay in the Abode in a room that runs $300/night (company paid) in Canterbury-a town 10 miles due east of Sandwich that is a major tourist destination due to its history and beauty. It is indeed very beautiful and very unlike anything in the US but I am tired beyond belief. Fortunately I was allowed to check in early and sleep. I get up for lunch. We are right in the center of the city and numerous restaurants surround us. The streets are full of French children on tours. I settle on a tapas place run by a sweet lady from the Canary Islands that gives me free treats (must be a Spanish custom-we got lots of extras in Spain). A British retired couple dine next to me and are very talkative (I kept finding similar couples the whole trip-very friendly people). We discuss the differences between our respective countries-lots of them including the language. I can’t explain Bush to them-not my fault he’s around. I then tour the beautiful city until I am tired and then sleep again. Steve comes back-we haven’t seen each other in 2 weeks. We eat outside at a traditional English restaurant, The Old Weaver’s next to a beautiful stream. The restaurant is in a 500 yr old half-timbered building. I have a pint of the local ale and chicken and leek pie. Tasty. Steve has to duck to get through every doorway.
Day 3: CRAB AND WINKLE WAY Steve leaves to work while I sleep. Our hotel has a very nice restaurant in it. Every place we stay (except one) offers an ‘English Breakfast” full of things I can’t stand. Bangers(gross sausages)bacon (which in general I like but not English Bacon which is like soggy, fatty ham)eggs(semi-raw but I don’t even like them cooked, beans (puke)black pudding(no way) a cooked tomato and mushrooms (okay but not too filling on their own)toast served in its own little rack(I survived on that but wouldn’t eat the vegemite and marmelite-both yeast extracts that were provided to put on it)Fortunately they have a buffet full of French yogurts (the best), almond croissants, various cheeses, muffins, fruit, antipasti such as parma ham so I felt like a queen. Bad coffee though. You are given semi-skim milk for that. Cream is for tea.
I rent a bike and head north to the coastal town of Whitstable. The Crab and Winkle was the first passenger railroad in the world but I see a troubling statement in the brochure that a winch was needed to get the train up a particular hill which I go down on the way there. Also it is not paved and I am bushwhacking through weeds and through the Blean (bleak forest). I see the ocean. Whitstable is the oyster capital of England but is not particularly charming. Plus I can’t find my trail which ended right before the city and noone seems to have heard of it before. It is a major crime to ride a bike on a sidewalk so I have to ride on busy streets on the leftside. Right turns are particularly dicey. A car would have made our life easier but between the twisty, shoulderless roads, left side driving, having to shift gears with your left hand, driving seemed dangerous. As it was, I had to rescue Steve numerous times for walking in the path of cars because he didn’t look right. I am obstructing traffic at times but noone yells at me like they certainly would here. Bikers are tolerated. It is uphill all the way back but very pretty. I couldn’t find the village that I was supposed to stop at for tea. At one point a huge bug flies under my glasses and completely straddles my eyeball with its legs that seem to have suction cups. I pull it off. Thankfully whatever it was didn’t sting me. I eat late lunch back in Canterbury at their Farmer’s market-Italian goodies. Canterbury is very multinational. Everything is so expensive in England-roughly twice to three times things in the US. The median price for a house is 8 times the median income and rising. Gas is $9/gallon yet they don’t drive the minicars that the French drive. As of July 1, smoking is banned in public (we got there too early) but only in the pubs did the smoking bother me-not as common as it is in France and Spain (no non-smokers there). Light Italian that night at a chain called Ask that always have their restaurants in historical buildings. Waiters never give you the ‘bill’ (not check) without you asking for it. For salads, you either have dressing or not and there is no choice on what kind. Rocket and Cos are two kinds of common lettuces-the latter being romaine. If you want bread with your meal, you pay for it. They routinely serve a bucket of vegetables with the dinners. Some English complained to me that Americans are stingy with their vegetables. At night, we walk on top of the city’s wall. Lots of walking but it is fun.
Day 4: RYE AND SANDWICH Steve takes the late bus so he can eat breakfast with me. I try to run in Canterbury but hard to find a good path. I take the train to East Sussex to the beautiful, medieval town of Rye. It is market day there which is fun to explore. The city is beautiful-cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. It once was a port but the river silted up. I take an English high tea in a beautiful garden. Cool and sunny. I then take a series of trains to get to Sandwich. Various groups of young men are really obnoxious swearing very loudly-pounding on things on the train. A retired barrister is on the train with me tut-tutting the behaviour of the kids saying they were badly influenced by American TV but I said that these kids are worse than the American kids. Barristers still wear wigs in court despite the younger ones wanting to change that. I think we got rid of the wigs 200 years ago. In Sandwich we met up with Jared and Lorna, New Zealand natives that recently transferred from Ann Arbor. I had mentioned to Lorna in passing at her goodbye party that I would be there in a few weeks and she said to look her up. Also joining us was a young couple from Ann Arbor that I hadn’t met before that made the big transfer too. In all 10 AA chemists will work in Sandwich. They were all taking English (vs American) cultural immersion classes mandated by the company to adjust taught amusingly by a German. Jared had already adopted a British accent-his Kiwi accent had been very light but I guess he was copying us early on to adjust to the US. Lorna, however, has charmingly maintained her accent, which the English mistake for American (not even close). They have to make lots of adjustments. Even drying clothes is a challenge. No big American dryers there. You are to use the line (Iffy with the rain). I have had a whole series of English bosses and co-workers so I am used to the speech patterns and some of the vocabulary. Still some of it is pretty funny. Like the hotel clerk who asked me if I would like him to knock me up tomorrow morning. No thanks. Apparently villages used to have a chief knocker-upper (not a stud) who would go by 2nd floor (what they call 1st floor) windows with a stick to get the workers up on time. We ate at the Fleur-de Lis which may sound French but was a traditional English Pub. Very good food. We shared an enornmous cheese plate for dessert. Different but good cheeses. But it was fun hearing their adjustment stories and their perspectives on things.
Day 5: FRANCE I decided on this at the last minute when I saw I could get there and back for only 8 lbs. Unfortunately I didn’t research this out beyond that or I would have opted for Boulogne, a cool city, instead of Calais, which is closer but seems to be the Flint of France. I thought the dock would have maps and info but no-only for the English side. The ferry was full of those obnoxious British kids in huge unsupervised groups. They are much worse than American kids. So in a steady drizzle, I walked blindly towards their city center (centre ville). I hadn’t packed any euros so I had to get them as soon as I could find a bank. England is part of the EU now but still keeps their pricy pounds. Also I had to go through customs which I didn’t need to do going from France to Germany in the past. Some countries must be more EU than others. The British had leveled Calais during the war to oust Nazis. The rebuilding occurred in the 50s with bleak, utilitarian buildings. Still their Hotel de Ville was ornate (I used to think that was a chain of hotels until I found out it was the city hall-better name than the Rathaus which means the same thing in German) and the town has nice gardens. The rain stopped, I found a source of Euros and an internet so I could tell Steve not to panic because I had to take the late ferry back. I did have a good meal at a seafood restaurant. Got to practice my poor French. Was rescued again by the English who invited me to eat with them. The special was monkfish, whose French name I had not heard of. I did recognize the word for scallops (coquilles a la provencale) Excellent choice with wine finished off with a crepe and very, very good coffee. The English couples were very nice and entertaining. Later I got French ice cream-the best-apricot which tastes like pure fruit. I also brought back some reasonably priced (vs English) wine. Lots of English go there to buy much cheaper goods. Ladies were bringing back bedding plants which are unbelievably expensive in England despite being the garden capital. I almost missed my ferry as I failed to consider that France was in a different time zone. The train ride back was scary. Initially only a young girl and I were in our car but 4 very drunken guys soon got on and immediately went for the girl (she was 14 and looked it). They took her half-eaten candy bar saying she had to share Then they were asking her sexually suggestive questions-only one of them thought they should leave her alone as she was so young. Just as I was going to find the conductor, he appeared and tried to defuse the situation. As he suggested they get off at the next stop, one of them was very combative and hit him though his mates pulled him off and they left the train. The girl was very shaken up and sat with me to Canterbury.
Steve and I went to Carmen’s the good Spanish place for Paella for our farewell to expense account meal.
Day 6: YORK York is in the north of England but first we had to change trains and stations in London. We had to take the tube only 4 stops but it was $16 for the two of us. The tube is crowded and chaotic especially when you have all your luggage. There is no single rail company in England. There are regional rails and then several long line rail companies. We took the Scottish train north. For roughly the same distance from AA to Chicago, we got there in 2 hours vs the 6 hours Amtrak takes if one is lucky. York is beautiful. It is a walled city. We stay 10 minutes by foot away in a B&B in a dormer room on the 4th floor (a fun climb with suitcases) We eat in an English pub that is very cute and explore the city. We later have coffee and Belgian treats in a Belgian café next to the River Ouse. We make the long walk back to our b&b to rest but can’t muster up enough strength to return so we picnic in front of the house. I still have the French wine with me.
Day 7: YORK More exploration. I get up early to run along the river. Very nice. Yucky English breakfast. I gnaw on toast and Weetabix. We walk the walls of the city, eat in cute cafes-a nice time but then it begins to rain and it’s Sunday and the stores are all closed. We buy wine and Cornish pastries to take back. Steve is mad that I didn’t let him buy the umbrella at Poundland (his favorite store-think dollar store only double). I left ours in the room because it didn’t look like it would rain. We have a skylight right over our bed for ventilation but the steady rain starts to get in.
Day 8: BO LLOCKS! FLOODS!!!! Bollocks is the word the British continually use when things don’t go their way which is how this day went. We sloshed our way to the trains early before breakfast in a bad mood. We should have taken a taxi but Steve is antitaxi. We did catch a train right away (Virgin train) to Oxford and were merrily tooling along sipping decent coffee for a change when the announcer said something about floods in the Concaster tunnel might impact our ride. I had no idea where Concaster was but was hoping it was very far south but no. We get to Sheffield-yucky steel city and are told to get off the train as there would be no travel south today due to flooding. Try again tomorrow. But I have reservations in the south!! They suggested we stay in Sheffield or go back to York. Staying in Sheffield would have turned out very badly as a few hours later, a levee was breached and a 6 foot wall of water rushed through the streets drowning 5 people in the process. I could just see Steve and me pushing our pathetic wheeled suitcases through this. And it kept getting worse over the next week with even more rains. We got out the big map and weighed our options. Maybe Liverpool would be cool-northwest of us. Just as we got on a train for that, we were told that line was terminated. Bollocks again. Manchester was due west and had to have trains going out of it so we hopped the Transpennine Express and away we went cross country. The Pennines are the closest things to mountains the English have but it was a pretty ride. From there, we were told we could get to Birmingham which was closer to our target Cotswolds but that ride took twice as long as scheduled and again we were terminated, this time even in a yuckier city. Steve was especially crabby blaming me for overlooking a closer pathway. At Anyrate we ended up taking 8 trains in all, lots of terminations, rushing up and down staircases to find a train that would get us closer trying to squish ourselves in crowded trains full of frustrated people who had similar ordeals though not as long. Twelve hours later we were in Moreton-in Marsh in the Cotswolds. It hadn’t rained there. We stayed at the Warwick house on the edge of the town (pop 1000) with very friendly hosts.
Day 9: COTSWOLDS I got up early for a run in the country. Despite the area being very hilly, my path was quite flat and very nice. Another English breakfast but I need to cut back as it is. After exploring our little town-we take a minibus to a cooler town Chipping Campden-which is full of thatched cottages with beautiful gardens. We walk for miles in the countryside. Paths all over the place. Although our town is only 8 miles away, the minibus takes 40 minutes going through numerous towns-it was quite the trip. We eat dinner at the Black Bear Inn. Very English but tasty.
Day 10: BATH I go for another run as Steve sleeps. After breakfast, Charlie our host lets us use his internet which we had trouble finding wifi spots past Canterbury. Steve had left his project without finishing it so he is nervous about how it is progressing without him. Over his shoulder, I see an e-mail from Shanna. BIG NEWS, it says. But does he open it-no. He deals with some work crisis while I talk with Charlie and his much younger wife about life in the Cotswolds but he finally does open it and SHANNA IS GETTING MARRIED. So this is a surprise.
I will go on with part 2 in a few days

Other travel blogs of mine-France and Spain 2004

This trip I took in February 2004 with 2 friends. It was the last trip I took for a while as shortly there after, my father died leaving me with an extremely messy estate full of lawsuits and my mother, who had severe Alzheimers. I was afraid to leave the country due to having to be on call constantly for her.

Night 1: Fly all night trying to sleep with the aid of Jan's inflatable pillows. Sue hacks all night due to her cold. Try to take advantage of free wine. Jan and Sue think the cabernet tastes like tannins and vinegar. Karen likes it though. Jan pulls out a knife in mid-flight. Oops..I guess those scanners don't catch everything. Knife hastily discarded in CDG trash.

Day 2: Paris!!!! Leave luggage in large train lockers once we find them and set out to explore Paris in the snow. Latin quarter, Notre Dame. Eat lunch at a creperie (Creperie de Cluny) where they seem especially nice to us. Cidre is great! Buy provisions-baguettes, fromage and vin for our night train to Madrid. No place to sit in train station except an adjacent smoking café. Drink even more café. Fortunately it is tasty. The night train. We share a 4 person sleeper room with the sweetest Spanish woman, Ursula. Looks vaguely like Penelope Cruz. She has lived in many countries, is a historic preservationist (Karen in 7th heaven), gives us numerous hints for Madrid, work son Sue's Spanish pronunciation. We want to adopt her. She takes the subway with us until we have to change. The night train was hotter than hell. I get up to pee to find the toilet overflowing. I try to carefully crouch hanging on for dear life while the train makes a series of hairpin turns through the Pyrenees. While my seatmates sleep, once it is light, I head for the cafe with its big windows and coffee and watch us go through mountains, snow and walled villages. I manage to order completely in Spanish. I read a Sevilla guidebook but a Spanish woman tells me to skip Sevilla and stay in Cordoba instead.

Day 3: Madrid: Still cold but no rain or snow. We stay in the gay district Chueca in a hostal-La Dolcevita in a historic building up 4 flights of ricketedy, dark stairs. Pack light!!!! We were attracted by their use of IKEA lights-3 blue stars-in each room. Its charms stopped there but it was clean and cheap. They have free internet but it is monopolized by the manager’s child. We see the major sights-Puerta del Sol and Plaza Major. Beautiful Beaux Artes buildings everywhere. The restaurant Ursula recommended doubled its prices since her last visit. Find a hole in the wall instead. In Spain, very few people could speak English versus France. We were very dependent on my 3 month self-study program. Yep we were in trouble. I get the national dish-churros and hot chocolate. The chocolate is as thick as pudding and you are to dip the churros in it (greasy, fried dough). Jan and Karen got salads-a wiser choice. I later find a fruit smoothie place to get some badly needed vitamins and fiber. We go to El Prado-the state art museum-their version of the Louvre. A plain building and much smaller but we were fascinated by their Bosch and Goya exhibits. As the temperature drops, we walk through Parque El Retiro-sort of a Madrid Central Park. Lots of blooming primroses and ornamental cabbages. Lots of fountains and statues everywhere. We return to rest at the hostal. Spaniards don't eat until 10, which we never could adjust to. We go to a local tapas bar, La Taberna de Pelayo, thinking that they may serve them earlier. Yes they do but not before 9. The tapas owner was very nice and English speaking due to living briefly in Berrien Springs Michigan. She was very poised and pretty reminding me of Jo. Anyway, she went out of her way to accommodate us-preparing us special drinks, giving as Rioja tastings, keeping Karen happy with olives before the kitchen officially openned. It was a gourmet tapas place-the tapas were not typically Spanish but very tasty. I wish I could duplicate some of them. Eat Crema de Catalonia for dessert.

Day 4: We walk 2 miles dragging our luggage to the train station down the Gran Via and the museum route. It was a very scenic walk though and didn't involve the dreaded stairs of subways. We take lots of pictures of incredible buildings and statues. We spend the morning at the Reina Sofia Museo. Cost 3.01 euro. Spanish early 1900s art-specializing in Picasso and Miro. Guernica must be 20 feet long.
At one we take the AVE train to Sevilla. The train station Atocha is full of palm trees -a stark contrast to the Paris station Austerlitz, which we referred to as Auscherwitz with its crumbling cement and no place to sit. We happily eat lunch as the train goes 180 mph through olive groves. Sevilla is beautiful with the streets lined with orange trees. Muy bonita!! Not very tasty oranges though as Jan found out. Our hotel (Hotel Londres) is very nice-the owner calls me -sooTHAna. All Cs and Zs are pronounced as THs in Spain as opposed to Esses as they are in Mexico and my Spanish CDs. It sounded like everyone had a bad lisp. Spanish shoes are hilarious. Very long and very pointy toes extending everyone's foot a good 4 inches. Shoe stores are "Zapaterias" and are unbelievable plentiful. Our rounded toes made us stick out even without us opening our mouths. We are adjacent to the old historical district-a huge maze of twisty streets 6 feet wide that we were lost in numerous times. Buildings are beautiful-usually white covered with colored tiles and wrought iron. Very ornate. The architecture is much different than that of Madrid with a heavy Moorish influence .We stay 3 nights and walk for miles. It was always sunny and we were able to eat outside comfortably though with coats on. In the mornings we get cafe con leche in glasses. All drinks cost a euro apiece-coffee,wine,sangria-water- less than half of Paris prices. Fresh squeezed orange juice cost a little more-zumo de naranja-but was very tasty. We do have paella. One night we were the only customers due to us insisting on eating before ten and the Spanish owners have us try lots of new things. We spend a lot of time one morning looking for a flea market only to find junk. We go to open air pet market where they sell everything-ornamental pigeons with iridescent pink and blue feathers- and all breeds of puppies. We spend alot of time pursuing ceramics in the Triana district and my previous light load becomes much heavier. There are cardboard gypsy (gitanos) encampments along the riverbanks.

Day 7: Eight hour train ride from the southwest corner Sevilla to the Northeast Barcelona. We are in a smoking compartment and it’s crowded. I threw up the night before on maybe bad paella and am train sick. I can’t eat all the stuff we got at the El Cortes Ingles the night before. My seat companion though is very interesting. He openly smokes weed on the train despite the presence of a policeman. He reads marijuana horticulture magazines next to me but is very nice and helpful with our very heavy luggage. He claims that Barcelona is not Spain. Very handsome but his strong body odor on top of my nausea stop any lustful thoughts. The outside view is boring-central Spain is a barren wasteland. We do go on the Mediterranean coast for a while which is beautiful. In Barcelona-our snotty cabdriver drops us off blocks short of our hostal saying that this was the address I told him-not true. The hostal looked prettier in pictures than in person but is clean and has starched sheets. A bad waiter cheats us in several ways. Never eat right on the Ramblas. I was too sick to eat much and don't have a good impression of Barcelona. While Jan uses an ATM, a youth comes up and says "Give me money" Fortunately took no for an answer.

Day 8: Sunny and we have a full day of exploring. Nice grandmotherly waitress in our local breakfast place “La Granje”, We then walk through their version of central park with beautiful fountains and their Arco del Triumfo. We explore the gothic district with its dark twisty lanes. Good souvenir shops. The city is full of thousands of Danish soccer fans drinking liters of beer wearing their team's jersey. Their team loses. My labmate later fills me in with the details of the Barcelona-Brondby rivalry. A huge farmer's market (La Boqueteria) where Jan buys all sorts of exotic fruit. Fascinating to see what other people eat-especially the strange sea creatures. A walk along the Mediterranean, lunch in a bocadillo place and then to the Gaudi park-Parc Gueul. We see a pair of bright green parrots flying through it. Natural residents or pet escapees? We explore the park alot more than I had with Jo previously and then take a tour through one of the Gaudi (La Pedera) house. The man was a genius. We walk past more Gaudi buildings then while exhausted, have a Brazillian cafe on the Passeig Gracia while the sun sets.

Day 9: A Talgo train to France. Unbeknownst to us, the French train system has a terror alert with some radical group threatening to detonate a bomb along the tracks unless they get 5 million euros. So they looked at our passports at the border-usually you can cross borders in EU countries without a stop. The train goes along the Mediterranean past numerous flocks of flamingos in La Camorgue. We stop in Montpellier in southern France for lunch (Yam’s) outside on the town's square. Very nice salads, hit the local bakery and then board a TGV for Paris on a double decker thankfully smoke free. We got from the bottom of France to Northern France in 3 hours. It is drizzling in Paris and a pain negotiating stairs with our ceramic laden suitcases. We had opted for cabs in Sevilla (no choice there) and Barcelona but too expensive in Paris. We go to our soulless but practical (and free as part of our package) Ibis and are too tired for too much exploring. I buy bad street food that I couldn't eat. On the TV, they have a show in almost every language. On a Portuguese variety show they feature Dustin Hoffman-they must have paid him plenty-who stupidly repeats in English how in love he is with the hostess and how he wants to marry her while the camera repeatedly flashes to his real wife and the Portuguese laugh hysterically when it is translated into their language. I also watch the Paris fashion show-very strange-while Karen reads and writes in her diary. Jan has her own room that at the last minute, she was able to obtain.

Day 10: Rain was forecasted but it missed us fortunately. A full day of exploring Montmantre, the Marais with its special shops and the shopping district to visit their best department store with its beautiful luxury items that we had not seen before. We eat hot roasted chestnuts-have a full lunch in a nice brasserie. We do the full Champs d'Ellyses walk stopping at some luxury shops to window shop. I eat very rich apricot sorbet and Jan buys incredible glace fruit and candies. At night, we eat at a local Algerian restaurant. Our waiter is very nice and keeps giving us free hot mint tea to keep us there.

Day 11: We have time for a walk in the morning and the sun finally breaks out. We accidentally go by "Les Deux Moulins" which is the cafe that Amelie worked in. Some Japanese tourists are eating the "Amelie Breakfast". We go in ourselves but are repelled by the thick cloud of cigarette smoke. We visit the nearby cimetiere Montmantre and see Truffaut and Berlioz graves. We walk in the sleaze district past sexshops and it's time to go to the airport. This involves 4 changes of transport, numerous staircases and turnstiles and one very crowded train. We are there 2 hours before the flight leaves but the ticket person says we are late and need to board now. I am singled out for full luggage search. We rush through their weird plexiglass tubes going every which way with moving sidewalks. Think Jetsons. Karen misses her dutyfree shops and then we just sit. Apparently their idea of boarding now is different from mine. We watch School of Rock and 8 hours later, we are home-home to the bottomless cup of coffee and water and free toilets that have more than a trickle of water.

I come home to find my mother is still locked in a psych ward of a hospital. At the nursing home, she became very aggressive, hitting other residents and tearing things apart. They are trying to find the right medication to sedate her but without any luck. She recently dumped a vase of flowers over another patient's head. They have no idea where they can place her even assuming they can turn her into a zombie. She can't go back to the nursing home. My father thinks he will bring her home but he won't be able to take care of her. I get up at 6 am Sunday morning to take Naomi to E. Lansing for more basketball. No rest. I was finally able to run for the first time in 2 weeks yesterday.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Final thoughts

View from the platform we ate at in Castelvecchio

Castelvecchio pictures

Alleyway in Castelvecchio

I've been home now for more than a week trying to catch up on my life and deal with a few disappointments here but I've been thinking about my Italian experience.
One of my biggest fears was that I would get lonely being in a strange place knowing noone in advance. One year I went to an ACS meeting with no close colleagues and I was staying in a hotel away from everything. (From then on, I have stayed in B&Bs so at least I could talk to someone in the morning.) I was unbelievably lonely. This was before I had a cellphone and my internet connections were sporadic. I hated eating by myself and going for several days without seeing a familiar face. I just wanted to cry-I was so alone. But in Italy, I never even had time to be myself much except very early in the morning and I usually had Dave the dog. I had my 'peers' to keep me entertained the rest of the time. Actually I wished I had interacted more with the townspeople as it would have helped my fluency but I was too exhausted alot of the time to spend the late nights out necessary.
I will try to continue Italian somehow maybe at WCC. Elena said that either Wayne or the DIA might have a series of Italian cinema so I definitely will go in for that. Meanwhile I have been going through my book.
Funny things I observed about Italian culture: no ice for their drinks. Jack ended up taking plastic cups full of water to freeze at the bakery for his nightly Manhattans. No corkscrews anywhere excepting maybe at the bar. Even the people who came in for the wine tasting didn't have a corkscrew on them. Those going to Italy should definitely bring their own. No black pepper. Maybe Italians don't like black specks in their food. We had white pepper on the table, which is much milder. Jack ended up bringing his own. Actually he had a whole bag of condiments to make himself at home, like mustard and butter for his bread. He couldn't abide eating ham without mustard but the Italians happily eschew mustard. I never added anything to Antonietta's sauces or soups-her tastes were always in sync with mine. I wish I could have followed her around in the kitchen but I had no time. She did most of the cooking while I was in class. I had read that Italians never put milk in their coffee after breakfast but noone gave me a second look after I ordered cappuccini even at night. In Switzerland, I had made the apparent mistake of ordering beer with fondue and the waitress told me I couldn't have any beer as it just wasn't done. A shock to me as in America, the customer always gets what they want as along as they pay for it.
Every door to every business has strings of plastic beads in front of it. I assume this is to keep the flies out but I never seen these door hangings before Italy.
Make sure you have plenty of toilet paper too. Although toilets were free (unlike France), toilet paper was usually missing as was soap. Bring hand sanitizer too. The toilets were all high pressure, low volume tanks that only occasionally had seats. They were effective though.
Italians seem to exaggerate everything: everything is the oldest, the most, the best, etc. They do seem to like to hear themselves talk. Being punctual is not a goal for them but overall, they seem very friendly and forgiving people.
Bring paper if you ever want to print anything and keep it hidden. No one uses clothes dryers in Italy. Mostly people had drying racks in their yards. There is plenty of sun and no humidity or rain so clothes would dry quickly.
So I am very glad I went and people, things and even my eldery pug survived without me although my flowers weren't as lush. I learned alot about Italy and fim and even myself. It was fun being a student again and getting As.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


One of the movies we saw set in Lampedusa-a very small island closer to Africa than Silicy. The main character Grazia feels pinned down with the social conventions there and tries to break free. Respiro means " I breathe". As near as I can tell "Riturnella" must mean return but it is a haunting song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9KuGyaHJsU&feature=related

Music of Italy

This song, Bella Ciao, (to listen:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55yCQOioTyY&feature=related) I heard on several occasions while in Italy. Everyone knew the words and would pump their fists into the sky at the words Bella Ciao. It is an old Yiddish tune that the words were changed to be the anthem of the partisans who fought in the mountains against fascism. Basically, the singer knows he will die fighting for liberty and wants to be buried under the beautiful mountain flowers so it's a beautiful goodbye.

Next song by this Irish-Italian folk group Modena City Ramblers for the anti mafia movie we saw "i cento passi" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUpcxdg2Iqs The hundred steps refers to how far the mafia was from this family's door.

And finally, a popular song L'Italiano with the common refrain, Sono l'italiano vero-I'm the true Italian that I heard in several places including the movie about Albanians wanting to immigrate to Italy were singing it.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvA1utmKVxM

I wish I could figure out the band I listened to the second to the last night. They were really good. I will ask the kids and see if they are on youtube too. The band the last night played tired renditions of 'Knights in white satin".

Last views of Gagliano

The main parking area
Looking down the main street. You can see the green cross for the Farmacia open for 2 h a day and the yellow sign for the post office, which isn't open much more.

Lots of political posters on the bar walls

The bar with Guiseppe getting the drinks

Inside the bar on the last night. Notice plastic bead door.

These were the last pictures I took of my little village in the middle of the night. The one is the stop sign next to our bus pointing the way to Secinaro and "Rock in the Middle" which is a ski resort. The other is the infamous Bar. It is not Caffe Lunik-that is just the brand of coffee they use.

Sunflowers in Abruzzo

Poster from the third business in Gagliano, the Buffone Art Gallery run by the Danes. It didn't open until August to take advantage of the vacationing Romans who came to town for that month.
Girasole everywhere. In the valley between Gagliano and Castelvecchio I would run by fields of girasole. However I don't run with my camera. I was going to find sometime to take the 3 mile hike it would take to get a good picture but I was too late, the flowers were turning to seed. The unplanted fields would be full of red poppies. Very colorful. Drew has taken some good shots. As soon as he figures how to send me them, I will add to this.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gagliano castle

Castello from above. I didn't take this picture

St. Fiorensa. Skeleton with a wax face and clothes. They got her body from the catacombs of Rome. If one looks behind the display, one could see her skull. All churches seem to try to have a 'relic'. Chains from a matyr, hairlocks, blood but an actual skeleton of a saint is really desirable to have.

chapel inside castle

Drawbridge right outside castle

Chandelier inside the great room

Another view looking out

Inside the castle courtyard

From afar. At ground level, our water source.


Boarhead mounted inside of Gagliano Castle

Baby boar

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Arrivederci Gagliano

Above: Scenes from the toga party in the cloister yard
So I've been home 24 hours and still am tired from our ordeal and dealing with issues at home.
Instead of eating inside, they brought out all the tables to the courtyard for our last dinner and the staff served us instead of us fetching it. For antipasti we had eggplant, cheese and salami. For primi: ravioli for secondi: chicken and green beans. Guiseppe, owner of the Bar and husband of the main cook Antonietta, sent over Asti spumante. The kids made togas from the sheets but we more mature people passed on that. One of the film students showed us the movie he made of our experience. Very cool and funny. It will hopefully be on line soon. There was yet another concert outside the monastery but I didn't like them as much as the night before. Our town now is filled with Romans. Once school lets out, August 1, people go on holidays and rent houses here. Lots of kids in the streets. The third business in town finally opened up, a Danish art gallery, hoping for Roman customers. Some of the Romans stop me on the street to ask if I am one of the Danes. I guess I'll never pass for an Italian. It took me a while to pack. I stupidly brought only one suitcase thinking that was all that was allowed. No, we can have two but I was dangerously close to the weight limit especially after packing my liquor bottles. Fortunately they didn't break.

I slept for 2 hours getting up at 1:30 am to leave. Some of the Italian girls helped me get my obese suitcase down the 42 slippery marble stairs. I went for one last trip to the bar to get a cappuccino at 2 am. Guiseppe gave it to me for free along with a hug. Lots of tears between the American and Italian students. Nancy and Joann had a big fight coming down the stairs. One bumped into the other starting a volley of Fuck yous. Nancy told Joanne that she may be smarter than the rest of us but she has never learned what is important in life and that was how to get along with people. I got all this later from Nancy as we were stretching our legs on the plane-her trying not to die from phlebitis-the sitting was making her dangerously swell. I usually got along with Joann though I was taken back that she didn't want to do a group project with me as she thought her efforts would be superior. As we packed, she gave me "Eat, Pray, Love" about this woman's travels in a year to Italy, India and Indonesia. I just finished the Italian part and found it fascinating. By 2:15, we were on our way singing silly songs through the mountains. By the time we got to the Autostrada, we were asleep. I didn't wake until we were at the terminal at Fiucimino at 5 am. We had to wait in a line from hell to get checked in having just a little time to grab breakfast before flying to Paris. I slept on that flight until I was rudely awaken by severe turbulence near Paris making all of us very nervous. We landed after we were supposed to be boarding the plane to Detroit which inconveniently was in a different terminal about a mile away. They at least provided us an escort so we wouldn't get lost but he triple timed it forcing some of us to run to keep up with him. Nancy kept begging to stop to go the bathroom but they were holding the plane as it was for us. Again I sat with Kelly. After an hour or so they served us dinner which would be about 5:30 am Detroit time. The food was much better this time probably because it came from a French concession rather than an American one as it did on the way there. I was able to sleep some of the time and watch a few movies. The Devil wears Prada and Jumper. The latter was stupid but parts of it was filmed in Ann Arbor at Gallup Park and Huron High. It also had alot of Roman scenes including standing in line at the airport in the exact spot we did so that was fun. We got in early and smoothly. A few more lines to stand in and we were cleared. Steve was waiting on the other side.
I will post a few more pictures and try to sort out my thoughts on my experience. but ciao for now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Allora Ragazzi!!

Biker coming into Gagliano. Notice the sign saying you are leaving the town-the town's name with a slash through it
Front runner of the bicycle race going through downtown Gagliano. Each biker had several support vehicles

Allora ragazzi. Won't hear those words again. Rafaele starts every announcement with it which roughly means..so kids...Not sure at what age I stop being a ragazza. Instead of going to classes which noone was going to do, we took the bus to Sulmona. There is no public transportation on the weekend but lots of busses during the week. I got some shopping done there. I went in a store for teens to get something for Naomi. The store was broadcasting a thumping song using the F word over and over again probably oblivious to its meaning. It is a very pretty town. I ate at a real restaurant with Bob and Jeannette as I lost Dana and Nancy. I didn't even run this morning as I was up real late and needed to catch the bus.

There was a bike race yesterday going through town- basically 7 laps to make 102 K. Up to Gagliano, up further to Secarino and down, down to Castelvecchio. Each biker had 3 support vehicles. Very tough course.I spent more time trying to talk to the locals. I have a long way to go to be fluent although I'm doing better at understanding. It was fairly cool yesterday even in the sun making it pleasant to walk or even sit around. After dinner I went to the Bar with Nancy and Dana. There was this really scary guy there, even worse than Marco, who kept pawing Dana trying to drag her away to have sex. She had drunk too much to see what danger she was in so I felt I had to keep a close eye on her. She is too friendly and very attractive and these guys here constantly misinterpet her outgoingness. They are persistant beyond belief.

We managed to sneak out eluding the asshole and went to the local Sangra, which from what I can tell is a food based Festa featuring the town speciality which sadly, here is liver dumplings and arrosticini, barbequed mutton kebabs. The band was pretty good so either I was going to listen to it sitting on the plaza or lying in my bed as it was just outside the convent. Another band is coming tonight and will probably play until we leave at 2 am. But the funny part is they let Dominic, the lame engineer who had previously tricked me into coming into his house, sing. He sang some Italian love song, he was really good but I'm still staying away from him. As for him being an engineer, he must be an unemployed one as he spends his days wandering around town. In the parade for St. Martino yesterday, he got to carry Jesus so they must think something of him though the Saint was the main thing to carry.

The kids were obnoxious again and not one showed up for breakfast but no more nights here.
See you all soon.
a dopo.
tanti baci

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Revenge of the old

We finally got revenge against those wild, drunk kids who were up to 5 am screaming and slamming doors all night. Only one kid managed to come to breakfast though all us old folks were up. We or rather Dana, invited the Gagliano brass band to play in the courtyard at 9 this morning. Noise reverberates against the monastery walls and of course you need to keep your windows open or you'll bake. To announce mass the church bells ring continously for 10 minutes and there are several churches plus the time bell which goes off every 15 minutes. Plus the town set off its cannons again at 8 am so no rest for the wicked. This weekend is some saint's festival. There will be yet another parade at noon carrying the saint around. To see this parade: http://www.truveo.com/Festa-di-paese-SantAntonio-e-San-Martino-a/id/3359674610

I did get up early to do my big run to Secinaro which is about 700 ft higher than Gagliano and goes through parkland but I saw no animals. I did walk around their town some. Their town square is on a bluff overlooking the whole valley below. When I resumed running after breaking my arm, even that little hill on Bluett was hard for me to get up so you can imagine what a problem an actual mountain is for me with thin air to boot. I am walking less and running more. According to their signs, the distance between our two cities is 4 km so around trip is 8 km or 5 miles exactly. Of that, I walked about a mile so I am getting stronger. It is quite cool in the morning and dry so I am comfortable.

Yesterday was a slow day. In the evening we were bussed to Castelvecchio to look at their church dedicated to St. Francesco (of Assisi but he spent plenty of time here and there is quite the cult surrounding him) Very pretty church,way bigger than any in Gagliano. It was a gothic church but later was decorated in the baroque style. All the baroque touches seem to distinguish the churches here with those in France or Spain which keep everything Gothic. The highlight was a vial of St. Franceso's blood from his stigmata. Of course he lived in the 13th century.....
They also had this very elaborate creche display complete with a moving, crying baby Jesus. Too dark to photograph.

But the dinner they provided for us was nice. They put us on this high terrace overlooking the valley (the same valley one would see from Secinaro but from the southeast,you could see Secinaro way up there) If the sunflowers were still in bloom, it would be perfect. I wish I brought a camera with a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens. I can get great shots of the narrow alley ways but I can't get things out in the distance. They gave us pasta made from farro-barley flour with truffles on it and a bunch of different roasted meats that I was too afraid to inquire closely about. Then it started to pour. It rarely rains here but eating in the rain wasn't too appealing so we went back to Gagliano where they are having their Sangra.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gagliano scenes

The hill I run down leaving town

Gagliano from a mile down the road. The castle is the highest point.

The fields I cross to get back to town

Castelvecchio,which I run down to, as viewed from Gagliano .

Sulmona confetti pix

I counted 5 different factories that made confetti on the out-skirts of town. There were more than 40 shops selling this stuff, some providing free samples. Yum. Most of the candy is flavored jordan almonds but some of the candy contains hazelnuts instead.

Goriano picture and fountain

From the highest point
On the way up to the church

The town fountain

Goriano from afar

Yesterday were the two finals. After the Italian one, I went for a walk in parts of town that I hadn't explored. One house at the edge had very elaborate gardens terraced into the hillside. The owner saw me looking through the gate and invited me in. His wife did all the flowers and he did the fruit trees, vegetable and herbs. He had a banana, apricot, fig, apple, plum, pear and filbert tree along with every vegetable you could think of. He invited me to come back later and his wife would then make me coffee. In our film class, we had discussed the concept of a panopticon -a building such a prison in which the warden could sit in the middle and see into all the cells at once. The monastery is built like that-everyone can see whatever anyone else is doing. I feel the whole town is like that. Some of the residents keep track of my running. Later I was talking to the wife of the program director about my experience with the gardener and she told me that she had heard all about it and the gardener was wondering if I was a teacher at Wayne. So I am never alone. Even Dave the dog keeps track of me though he has stopped herding me as I feed him.

We had a film class before the final. In these films there are so many cultural references that the average American easily misses. In the last one, apparently one scene was a spoof on Dante's Divine Comedy, which apparently every Italian knows. Well all of us missed it. I have heard of Dante, even walked by his house in Firenze, but I haven't read his writings. Apparently he is responsible for modern Italian. He wrote in it instead of Latin. When we went to the Roman ruins in Alba Fucans a few weeks ago, a group of people were there acting a scene from The Inferno. Also though I have heard of that silly song Volare, I had no idea it was some anthem of the Mafia. Then the film final which took me more than an hour to finish. I understood all the concepts listed but we had to apply them to the films we watched and I was unsure what Elena really wanted from us. But it is over though we are to go to both classes Monday.

Immediately after the final, we were bussed to Goriano which is on the other side of Castel di Ieri. No rest for the wicked. First we climbed the roads to St. Gemma's house. These towns really revere their saints. Every May, the town re-enacts when Gemma comes to town. It involves making lots of unleavened bread and feeding them to the poor and then partying afterwards.Then we climbed further to the highest point the church, built with separate entrances as men couldn't go through the same door as their sinful wives. From the churchyard, one could see for miles. Then finally down to the main piazza to eat. More pasta and brushetta and lots of wine. A few of the kids got very drunk there. One was so bad Elena had to help carry her upstairs and stay with her. As for myself, if I drink more than one glass of wine now, my stomach burns so I am stone sober here. After watching everyone dance for a while, I am really bad at salsa or any kind of dancing and I can't drink enough alcohol now to make me forget that fact, I went for a miniwalk by myself and found Nancy crying her eyes out. She really misses her husband, who died 2 years ago and I guess seeing all the kids dancing reminded her of missing her man. Also she had been drinking which made her weepy.

They have a medieval fair today in Castelvecchio and we will be bussed there for dinner on their town's dime. Lots of kids went to Pescara today where the Adriatic sea is but they made arrangements with the Italian students to drive them. Public transportation is severely lacking on the weekends so my dream of seeing the Adriatic will have to wait. I slept in a little later. I was going to run UP to Secinaro today as my legs should be fresh but just couldn't get myself going. I did run DOWN to Castelvecchio but the only animals I saw were packs of stray dogs though they do make me nervous as they don't vaccinate here. It is true that I must go up again to get back in Gagliano but there is a shortcut crossing the fields. I run on a part of it but in some parts, it is extremely steep or really bad footing so I walk.
Yesterday while driving to Goriano, in the town of Castel Ieri, a cow was in the middle of the road (in the middle of town!!) A man tried to shoo it for us but the cow turned on him and began to charge him. Our bus passed before we could see if he was able to duck into a building for safety. There are no cows on my route so I'm safe from them. Just wolves, foxes, deer, stray dogs and of course my friendly boars. And now I hear there is a bear here. There is a flat stretch between Castel di Ieri and Goriano that I saw several runners on but it would take a while for me to get down to it. I will have to wait for Michigan for flatness which will be very soon, Tuesday. Time has gone by so fast. As soon as I got back, a cannon was fired several times. The sleeping kids thought we were being bombed it was so loud. Ha. Serves them right. Anyways, I assume the cannons were to announce the openning of Gagliano's very own Sangra featuring 'tanta, tanta birra' and 'musica a tarde ore' along with various truffle dishes, barbequed mutton-all the local favorites. I will try to download their poster later. Lots of people in town are already for it.