A Vacation in Winter ~ Our Trip to Florida Part II

Perhaps nothing will bring out the differences in people than traveling together.  I happen to strongly believe that you truly never know a person until you take a trip together.  Before my husband and I married, we took a road trip during December to Utah together.  I wasn't sure we would get married after that trip. Our differences always show up when we travel.  After over twenty years of marriage, we now travel together quite well because we have learned to include those parts of travel that we both enjoy into the trips we take.

Jim is the planner when it comes to travel.  He wants a plan.  He likes to follow the plan.
I'd just soon show up in a place that looks interesting and explore.

I like to camp.
Jim loves to stay in fancy hotels.
Ok, he was right all along on this.  Fancy hotels are nice.

Jim is a destination traveler.  He wants to take the fastest route with his GPS leading the way.
I like to explore by reading maps to lead me off the beaten track.

Jim loves staying in big cities.
I want to visit the country.

You get the idea.  We are different.  That is a good thing.  We try to do together what both of us enjoy individually.  When we went to Florida, Jim only scheduled the first two days.  He left the rest up to me.  I didn't get my homework completely done.  I did go to AAA and picked tour books and maps (gotta have maps) and sat down with Jim to make a list of things we might like to do while in the Orlando area.  We forgot to bring the tour books, the list, the maps.  How did I go on vacation and forget to take a map?

So, here is what we did on the three days that I was in charge of a plan:

Jim doesn't especially care for beaches.
I love beaches.

Clearwater Beach

I specified that we visit at least one beach.  I had hoped to visit both sides of the peninsula that is Florida.  I didn't care which side we visited first, but I was thrilled when it was suggested by my husband that we visit the Gulf of Mexico side of state.  Jim's daughter has spent a lot of time in Clearwater, Florida because of her triathlon experiences.  She highly recommended we visit the beach at Clearwater.  

Using the GPS, because we had no map, we headed towards our destination in our rental car on our third day in Florida.  I must say that I was a bit of nervous wreak on the highways of Florida.  Jim did an excellent job of getting us where we were going, and I tried not to backseat drive because honestly, I was just grateful not to be driving.  He drove us right to the place that was recommended for lunch.  The local favorite, grouper, is wasted on me.  I'm just not a fan of it, but at least we had the experience.  After lunch, we headed to the beach.  On our way, I stopped into the local chamber of commerce for a map.  They had no maps of Florida.  What?

The beach was awesome!  I'll be honest with you, dear readers, when I think of Florida, I just think of beach life.  That is why I wanted to go to Florida.  I wanted some beach time.

When I had my head injury in 2011, the physiatrist I went to told me I just needed to go find a beach somewhere and dig my toes in the sand for about six weeks.  He said, "Nothing would be better for you than digging your toes in the sand and keeping them there until your injury heals."  Of course few of us have the luxury of extended toe in the sand time, so when I get a bit of it, I make the most of it.

Walking barefootin the sand is the perfect exfoliator for winter weary, dry heels, and and it also soothed my aching instep.  I love walking on the seashore.  The water was cold, but oh so refreshing.

Even if the weather is a bit cool, you just can beat lounging on the beach.

Mount Dora

On our fourth day in Florida, it was really quite cool, and we didn't really know what to do.  (We'd forgotten that list and the tourist guide.)  We remembered that we might like to go to Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando.  Jim kept calling it Ebola Park.  We made our way downtown on those terrible highways that I hated, parked the car by the park, and wondered what to do next.  Jim suggested we go to botanical garden that he thought was close by.  I love botanical gardens, so we thought we'd check out the exact location on our iPhones while we warmed up at a coffee shop.  A Starbucks was just a block away, so off we went.  Jim found us a table where a couple was sitting.  They asked us to join them.  Soon Jim was telling them stories of being a principal and about working at the Apple Store.  We had a great conversation with the young man.  He is a realtor in Orlando, and talked to us about the real estate market in Florida.  Just as the couple was leaving, the woman told us we should really visit Mount Dora.  She said it was not that far away, and she said we would love it.

We took her up on her suggestion and off we went to see Mount Dora.  All we knew was that it was a "quaint little town with lots of antique shops."  The drive to our destination was great.  We saw orange groves, and wonderful country homes along our route. When we drove into town, I was somewhat reminded of Baker City, Oregon, because it seemed like we were going back in time.  The homes, the streets, the shops, were all reminiscent of the 1950's or 1960's.  We explored many of the shops and walked down to Lake Dora which is just a few blocks form the shopping area.  We got to Lake Dora too late to schedule a boat ride around the lake during the day.  We could have taken a sunset tour, but we wanted to eat and get back to Orlando before it got too late in the evening.

After shopping and walking around town,  it was suddenly late afternoon.   We decided we'd better find a place to eat.  As we wondered around checking out restaurants, I saw an intriguing spot at the end of the street.  A beautiful historic inn painted with bright yellow paint didn't need the double "Welcome" signs in front to convince me that this was a spot I wanted to know more about.

We passed a smaller yellow building that was a gift shop as we headed towards the larger building featuring a large veranda.  I saw the sign in front, The Lakeside Inn, and knew I had found a treasure. Listed on National Register of Historic Places, this inn opened in 1883.  Jim and I walked up the front steps and into the main lobby of the inn.

By the time we got here, we were running out of options for an early dinner.  It was Friday night of Valentine's Day Weekend.  Places that weren't booked did not appeal to us.  "Do you think we can possibly get a reservation for dinner here tonight," I ask Jim.  "I doubt it," he says.  "It's my treat.  I'm buying you an early Valentine's dinner here tonight," I said as I walked towards the tavern that I could see off to my left.  I basically begged that we could have a reservation for 5:00.  It was 4:30.  The young man knew that they would be busy that night because there was a large group staying in the inn.  So far most of the group was still having drinks on the veranda.  They hadn't thought about dinner yet.  I got us a table for two for 5:00.  

Jim settled himself into a rocker on the veranda to wait for dinner while I went off to take some photos.

As I said, there was a large group staying at the inn.  They belonged to an old cars club.  Their arrival only added to ambiance.

Don't you just love this place?

When 5:00 arrived, we went into Tremain's Tavern, located inside the inn, for our dinner.  We both had their blackened red snapper.  The dinner was absolutely fabulous.  We enjoyed the food and the experience so much.  I wished we were not tied to our room in Orlando so we could have stayed here at least one night.  Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so we left our idyllic Florida inn and headed back to the resort where we were staying.  

Jim asked if I would like to watch the sunset from shores of lake before we left the area.  It was Valentine's Day Weekend after all.  We found the perfect spot.  Armed with my camera, I was excited to practice taking sunset shots.

I love the light just before the sun sets.  This scene is so peaceful.

 We found our perfect romantic spot to end the day.

Flocks of birds set out for the horizon at setting of the sun.  This one seems alone on his journey.

Walking back to the car, the light fading, I observed these birds still on their perches.  They also seem to wish to linger in this spot just a bit longer.    

This day we had begun our journey with no real destination in mind.  This day could not have been more perfectly planned if we had tried to do so.  It was a serendipitous kind of day.  We met strangers who told us where Starbucks was.  There we met strangers who led us to Mount Dora.  There, we happened on this wonderful inn where we ate a fabulous meal on a night when reservations were hard to come by.  

As a couple, we have too few days that end with us watching the sun set in western sky.  But this day, we took the time to end the day with a romantic stroll along the shore of a lovely lake.  Who could have planned a better Valentine's Day Weekend experience?  

Cast in a golden glow, this day ended perfectly.  

On The Road with My Husband and His Other Sweetheart

Fall Trip 2011
Upstate New York - From Ithaca to Cooperstown

As the title to this post indicates, my husband brought his other sweetheart along on the trip we took this fall.  He insisted that he was not making the trip without her.  Since the trip was my idea, and since I love to take a road trip, and since I insisted that we could handle traveling unknown territories by taking roads we had never taken before, I had to give in when he insisted that the only way he was going along with my idea was if he could take along his other sweetheart.  

Yes, he has another sweetheart.  "She" is a GPS.  "She" tells my husband what to do, what way to go, when to turn, and even when to make a u-turn, and he listens.  He even talks to her.  He says, "Thanks sweetie."  "Ok, sweetheart, that is what I will do."  "She" is the bane of my existence.  I consider her constant direction giving a nuisance.  Needless to say, he and I do not agree on how one should take a trip.  I think maps work just fine, but since my husband really loves his little sweetheart, and likes to take her on our road trips,  I try to co-exist with her when we are all in the car together.

Somewhere between Ithaca and Cooperstown, my husband and I had to have a little talk.  I called it our "Come to Jesus Talk" about his other sweetheart.  You see, there had been some damage to roads between point A and point B due to flooding.  My husband's other sweetheart didn't seem to understand this situation, but he listened to her anyway.  I, on the other hand, kept consulting the map.  You see, I can read a map.  I am rational.  I can problem solve. I am not programed!  I finally said to my husband, "You must make a choice.  Either you listen to this sweetheart who is beside you with a map in hand, or you listen to the one you program, but you can't listen to both of us.  Make a choice."  

He chose me.  We made it to Cooperstown.  Unfortunately, we had to have this same conversation about his other sweetheart a few other times during the trip.  But, it all worked out.  He and I are still together, and his other sweetheart is somewhere upstairs in a drawer.

The landscapes we saw on this particular day were simply beautiful.  I kept thinking I was viewing scenes I had  admired as a child when I looked through a book we had of lithographs by Currier and Ives.  

We stopped in Bainbridge, New York to take some photos.   For some reason, when I saw this structure in the park in Bainbridge, I thought of my grandfather and how my grandmother described him as looking as if he "just stepped out of a bandbox."  I imagined attending a band concert in the park back in the 1890's.  I loved this cute little park that was surrounded by several churches and a cemetery that dated back to the Revolutionary War.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stop in every little town along our way.  We wanted to reach Cooperstown in time to visit a few attractions in that town before nightfall.

Cooperstown, New York

Cooperstown is really a beautiful little town.  As visitors to this town, we sometimes felt as if we were stepping back in time.  Many of the tree lined, clean swept streets are lined with beautiful Victorian houses.  The shops all seem to close when the National Baseball Hall of Fame closes.  The gas stations are not modernized because the city fathers want to keep things as "they were."  The town seemed to scream, "Americana" to me.  Patriotism and nostalgia are very much on display at every turn in the museums, the shops, the restaurants, and of course, especially at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Our first stop was the Fenimore Art Museum.  I had really looked forward to visiting this museum after reading so much about James Fenimore Cooper in David McCullough's The Greater Journey.  Perhaps because I never taught any American Literature classes when I was teaching, I hadn't thought much about the works of Cooper for many years until I read McCullough's book.  Then, a desire to see the area that inspired all of Cooper's great works was awakened in me.

The Fenimore Art Museum itself was a great disappointment to me.  Most of the walls were blank.  I even took photos, which I decided not to share here, of all the blank walls and the packing crates that were on display in place of piece of art.  It seems we visited between exhibits.  In fact, I had missed by a few weeks an exhibit called, Frida Kahlo:  Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray.  A fan of Frida Kahlo, I would have loved this exhibit and was disappointed to have missed it.  The museum has exhibits of interesting early American art works, and of course an exhibit that featured the portraits and memorabilia of the Cooper family which was quite interesting.

The Fenimore Art Museum as a building is really beautiful.  It is located on the shores of Otsego Lake which was a prime piece of real estate when James Fenimore Cooper's father established Cooperstown. 
I kept wishing I had at least read The Pioneers as background reading before we took our trip.

I hope you enjoy a few of the photos we took as we toured the grounds of the museum.

The back view of the Fenimore Art Museum

Looking toward Otsego Lake from the ground of the Fenimore Art Museum

The Museum viewed from the shore of the lake.

A path that runs along the side of the lake.  Can't you just imagine how it must have been in the days when the Iroquois roamed this area?

Isn't this just an amazing place?

Lake Otsego
Fenimore Art Museum

A lakeside exhibit called, "Otsego: A Meeting Place."

The day we visited the Fenimore Art Museum and drank in the beauty of Lake Otsego was a perfect fall day.  There seemed to be no better way to capture the memories of a bright, colorful, golden day that my hubby and I spent together than to photograph this simple sunflower growing with great splendor along the shores of the beautiful Lake Otsego.

*  A Reading List Suggestion:  William Cooper's Town - Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.  ~ Alan Taylor  

I am working my way through this Pulitzer Prize winner.  While it is not an entertaining book to read, it is certainly informative about the settlement of this area in the early days of the American frontier.  It is called a work of "biography, social history, and literary analysis."   

Fall Tour to New England - Days One and Two

Some of my favorite memories from when I was a kid, include the times the family gathered around the slide projector for a travelogue presentation after my grandparents or an aunt or uncle returned from a vacation.  My father was especially great when it came to putting together a great slide presentation.  He would carefully organize the slides before the family would gather, popcorn would be popped before the lights were turned out, then we would all be in for a treat as he recounted the latest vacation adventures to those who had gathered.  He was witty, funny, and added a lot of historical information about the places that had been visited.  
Now, families no longer live nearby other family members.  We share our trip photos on facebook, or we recount our adventures on a blog.  So, in the spirit of an old fashioned slide show presentation to family, I will be sharing the vacation that my husband and I took throughout New England via my blog.  

* See source

Planning the Trip

Spontaneity is my preferred mode of attack when it comes to living life.  I think this is because planning for future events is just not an easy thing for me to do.  Once I get my mind set on making a plan, I can usually create a good one that I can follow, but when it comes to planning a trip, I really have a difficult time deciding exactly where I want to go, what I want to see, and where I want to spend the most time.  I guess if I had it my way, my husband and I would get in a car and start driving and see where we end up.

Thankfully, my husband wants a detailed itinerary in place before we take off on a trip that will span two weeks.  Also, thankfully, he does most of the legwork, research, and advanced reservations before we take off into the unknown.  He's good at that.  I'm not.  All he requires from me is a general area of where I want to visit with a few specific spots I don't want to miss.

When it came to time to get serious about the planning, we started at Triple A, my least favorite thing to do.  I generally find their trip picks hard to follow and have found them to be misleading at times, but it is a good place to start.  Then, we found a few big maps of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.  I love this part.  I love looking at maps and trying to find a route that looks interesting, but I also find it a bit overwhelming when I look at maps of areas where I have never been before.

We also skyped with my friend, Dove, who lives in Vermont about just about everything we needed to know about flying into and seeing her part of the world.  Thankfully, she and her husband gave us great advice.

As we planned for our trip, we decided there were certain goals we wanted to make sure we accomplished:

  • Visit Ithaca, New York.  My husband had been there a few years back and he loved the area and wanted to make sure I saw not only Ithaca, but also Cornell University.
  • Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
  • Spend time in Vermont with our dear friend from high school days, Dove, and her husband, David.  Dove introduced me to my husband when I was only sixteen years old.  You can read a little about Dove here.  Our friendship spans 50 years.  She is a dear, dear friend. 
  • We wanted to see autumn color.  We knew we were visiting before the peak season, but we decided the timing of our visit worked best for us.
  • We wanted to stay in some bed and breakfasts along the way.
  • We wanted to have some good quality family time with my son, his wife, and my grandson who live in the Boston area. 

All of these goals were all accomplished with the trip.

Ithaca, New York

After an exhausting initial day of travel, one where we left Denver at midnight on Sunday, September 18, we arrived in Syracuse, New York in mid-afternoon.  We had a very long layover in JFK.  I think we learned our lesson.  DO NOT, if possible, include a layover in any travel itinerary.  The redeye would not have been so bad if we had flown directly to Syracuse.

We then rented a car in Syracuse and drove to Ithaca.  We reached our bed and breakfast about 5:00 in the evening.  Our vacation had officially begun, and we were very excited.  I gushed over our first bed and breakfast when we drove up.  I loved it on first sight!  My husband had done an awesome job when he found this place on the internet.

Don't you just love this place?  The name of the inn is The Hound & Hare.  If you are ever in the Ithaca area, I recommend you plan on staying in this delightful place.  Situated in Cayuga Heights, a beautiful, wooded and secluded area of Ithaca, very near Cornell University, this B&B had great charm, class, and provided us with the perfect quiet, warm, inviting, and charming place to rest after our long day of travel.  We basically had the run of the place.  We came on the day after homecoming weekend at Cornell, so all the guests for that weekend had gone home by Sunday night.  This meant we could relax without having to visit and interact with other guests.  (We are social people, but we were very tired!)

After we stopped oohing and ahhing over the outside of the house, Jim looked at the email from the innkeeper and read that the key, room assignment, and instructions would be left in a basket on the front door.

We walked in and found this beautiful living area.  Later that evening, I found my husband dozing in one of these chairs.  He didn't take long making himself at home.

Our room, on the second floor, was called The Victoria.  I've included a photo from the website for the bed and breakfast since we forgot to take a photo.  I must say that this room was just perfect for us.  I slept like a baby in its comfy bed.  The bed, the pillows, and the comforter were just perfect.  I literally sank into bed and fell asleep.

Later, I learned that our charming innkeeper was born in this very bedroom!

In the morning, we went downstairs to have a wonderfully prepared breakfast served in great style.

I loved the Franciscan Desert Rose pattern dishes!

Since we were just a little early for breakfast, we were able to take some time to tour the backyard of The Hound & Hare.  A beautiful side patio is shown below.  I took the photo of this patio from the deck just off the dining room.  I couldn't help but think how fun it would be to have a party on that patio.

Below, is the view of the backyard as viewed from the back of deck off of the dining room.  A path next to a nice herb garden can be seen.

This photo shows the back of the house, the deck, the patio, and a part of the herb garden.  The entire property was enclosed by very tall trees.  This added to peaceful, secluded aspect of this wonderful bed and breakfast.

Meet Zeta Sprole, the charming innkeeper of The Hound & Hare.  I truly enjoyed visiting with her.  She was trained as an engineer at Cornell.  She then married a military man and raised a large family.  Eventually, she returned to her childhood home and opened it up as a bed and breakfast after her husband passed away.

Her life is never dull these days.  She has had many visiting professors, alumni of Cornell and even a U. S. Supreme Court justice stay at her inn.

We toured the rest of The Hound & Hare and found every room to be unique and special.  You can take your own tour by clicking on this link.  Each of the four bedrooms is named for one of her daughters.  Evidently, she ran out of bedrooms before she ran out of daughter's names.  She has five daughters.  This gave me another reason to respect her greatly.  I have three daughters, so I can only imagine what it must be like to have five!

Unfortunately, we only planned to spend a late afternoon, evening, one night, and a morning in Ithaca.  We hated to leave this wonderful bed and breakfast in a town I wished I could spend more time exploring.  We only had time for a quick drive through Cornell.  We also ate dinner on the night we arrived in Ithaca at a fabulous Mexican food restaurant called Viva Taqueria.  My sister said we "cracked her up" because we went to New York and picked a Mexican food restaurant for dinner.  Hey, we love Mexican food.  I would go back to this place any time I could.  It was great.

On the day we left Ithaca, we took some time to visit Buttermilk Falls.  Buttermilk Creek flows toward Cayuga Lake and becomes a waterfall as it cascades towards its destination.  The Falls are a part of a much larger park that includes hiking trails, a smaller lake, and even playing fields.

No vacation plan is perfect.  We certainly found that our plan would have been tweaked if we had it all to do over again.  We would have spent more time exploring Ithaca, Cornell, Buttermilk Falls, and we would have spent more time visiting with Zeta at The Hound & Hare.  Maybe we can go back again someday.  We had to leave this beautiful place and more on to our next stop:  Cooperstown.

*Photo from:  mmartinweb.com

The Break is Over

No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one.  ~Elbert Hubbard

I find I am really relating to this quote today.  After being away from home for over two weeks, I've spent the day adjusting to life back at the ranch (home).   Anyone who has been away from home for any length of time knows that it takes a while to adjust to the new time zone, unpack the suitcases, wash the dirty clothes, go through stacks of mail, and go through over 500 e-mails.  I am also way behind on reading the blogs I follow.  So, I spent the day easing back into real life.  I don't want to rush into anything too fast because then I will truly need another vacation!

Jim at our first bed and breakfast
Ithaca, New York

My husband and I spent the past few weeks touring much of New England.  We were a bit ahead of peak time for "leaf peeping" in Upstate New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  I am happy with our decision to go on our trip when we did.  It fit our schedule, and we saw autumn in her beginning stages without being caught up in the crowds.  We beat the tour buses!  While we were gone, we also spent some wonderful days in the Boston area with my youngest son and his family.

This trip was the first extended vacation we have taken since our nearly month long trip to Europe during the early spring of 2010.  As many of you may know, we had only been home two weeks from that trip when my youngest daughter took her life.  Since that time, I have been dealing with the shock and grief that came from this tragic loss.  I wondered if I could ever leave home for any extended length of time again.  

The good news is that I think this trip was extremely beneficial to me.  It was not an easy trip.  I was ill through much of it, but in the end, I felt healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically.  In fact, in many ways, I believe I turned a corner in my journey through grief while we were in new locales.  Being away from home, away from the place where I have attempted to come to grips the greatest shock and devastation of my life, seemed to help me put some of the shock of Julie's death behind me.  By this, I mean that for the first time since her death, I found that I was no longer floundering in disbelief.  

I needed to leave the past few seasons behind.  This past spring and summer have been very hard on me emotionally and physically.  I was dreading the change of another season even while I was very much in need to see this past summer put behind me.  The summer had been so hot, so dry, so hard on me.  I was ready for a change of climate.  My soul needed some replenishment.

Buttermilk Falls
Ithaca, New York
We began our journey in Ithaca, New York.  The damp, cool weather felt wonderful to me.  As we made our way from Ithaca to Cooperstown, somewhere in the Adirondack Mountains, I saw the first splash of fall colors in the landscape.  I asked my husband to stop so I could photograph the first display of fall flowers and pumpkins that I saw along the road.  

The colors of fall seemed to give my heart new life.  Grouped in a simple display next to this a large autumn gold barn, the yellow, red, pink, and rust colored mums were just garden variety potted plants that can be found in front of any grocery store this time of year, but somehow the colors blended together to form a memory of other autumns in my life. 

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I needed to love it again.  I needed to be introduced slowly to its beauty again so I could appreciate its glory.  Small dabs of eye popping splashes of color seemed to be just the right amount of contrast against the green shades of summer to awaken my love for a season I thought I would never fully enjoy again. I needed to be reminded that "for everything there is a season."  I needed to know that grief also has its seasons.  "There is a time for grief," but there is also   "...  a time for rejoicing."  I needed to learn that one's heart is not forever dead to the beauty of life and nature.  

I will remember these past few weeks as a time of healing for my heart.  I have a new appreciation for health, for friends, for the changing of the seasons, for family, and for my husband.  He has been so generous in the way he has provided wonderful opportunities and experiences for me.  He has spared no expense.  His patience has been beyond measure as I battled through illness throughout the trip.  We survived navigating new roads and routes through country we did not know.  

We had a break from everyday life and along the way found that we still had to deal with life and all that it throws at you.  One never knows what one will encounter on any journey, whether it is across country or through life.  This trip served as a reminder that I am blessed with a dear traveling companion.   For that,  I am extremely grateful. 
Near Stowe, Vermont
Jim & Sally 
in the autumn of their lives

The Grand Tour: Great Rivers of Europe Part II

About in 2007, just before my husband's retirement party, I went to the mall to look for a spring jacket. Retirement was on my mind. How would we fill up the time? Would we ever travel? If we could take just one big trip, where would we go?

The sales clerk who helped my pick out my new jacket sang its praises. She said she had worn the same style jacket every day on her recent trip to Europe. That is when I first heard of Grand Circle Travel and their tour called: Great Rivers of Europe.

Jim, who doesn't really like to travel and hates to fly, began to research taking a European trip. We asked ourselves many questions. Where shall we go? What will our mode of travel be? Will we join a touring group? How much do we want to spend? When can we go?

Finally, it was decided that Germany had to be a destination. After all, Germany is the homeland of Jim's family. German was Jim's primary home language as a child, his major in college, and the subject matter that he once taught. After deciding on the destination, we then selected the river trip tour offered through Grand Circle Travel.

Getting There and Back Again

Once on a trip to Las Vegas, my husband turned to me mid-flight and said, "Sally, I have to get off this plane." The look in his eyes told me he meant it. Somehow, I was able to convince him that he could survive the stress of that particular flight. When it came to flying to Europe, I was more than a little anxious about how we both would handle the flight. Whenever, we talked about going overseas, my husband would say he was driving over. Since this was not really an option, and since he really wanted to get to Europe, we were fortunate to be able to fly with Lufthansa on our first trip overseas together. The flight accommodations, flight crew, and meals could not have been better. Yes, while it is unheard of in today's flying experience, we had two wonderful meals provided for us while on board the flight.

We did feel cramped when it came to leg room. On our flight home, being the more seasoned travelers that we had become, we purchased economy plus status for 100 Euro each. This upgrade gave us very generous leg room on our United flight from Paris to Dulles to Denver. Both of us still consider the upgrade one of the best purchases we made on the trip. The additional room was worth every penny. At our ages, and after Jim's two knee replacements and hip replacement, he just can't sit in a cramped position for very long, and neither can I!

We decided that we would try to get the most bang for our travel dollars that we could by taking both the optional five-day pre-trip extension to Vienna, Austria, and the six-day post-trip to Brussels, Belgium and Paris, France. This meant that we would be gone for 25 days. More than once prior to the trip, during the trip, and after the trip, I questioned our sanity at making such a choice. That is a very long time to be gone from home, especially for my homebody husband. Surprisingly, he handled the flight, and the length of the time we gone better than I. In the end, we are happy we did the "whole enchilada."

A quick overview of the trip:

Vienna, Austria - April 21, 2010 - April 26, 2010

A bit dazzled and dazed by the long flight, the short layover in Frankfurt, and the cab drive to the hotel, we were amazed to actually find ourselves in Vienna, Austria. Our program director, Miriam, met us at the hotel and took us on a brief walk around the area near the hotel in order to familiarize us our surroundings. Within the hour, we were expected at a Welcome Drink Event where met the others who would be in our group of fellow travelers for the next 18 days.

Vienna is a wonderful city that lives up to its reputation of being a place of charm and beauty. We loved our time there. Beginning with a city tour, we visited such places as: the 'real' Belvedere, The Museum of Fine Arts, and Schonbrunn Palace.

Two of the highlights of our time in Vienna included evenings when we paid a visit to the wine district of Grinzing, and to the beautiful Kursalon where we listened to an orchestra playing the classical music that one associates with Vienna. Probably, the most unexpected delight and surprise of the entire trip was our visit to Bratislavia, Slovakia.

Cruising the Danube, the Main, and the Rhine

On April 26, we boarded the M/S River Adagio in Vienna, Austria to begin our tour of Germany via the Danube, the Main, and the Rhine. This was our first time aboard a ship of this size. We really didn't know what to expect from our accommodations, but found the size of the room, the quality of beds, the size of bathroom, and storage space was perfect for us. We liked being with a smaller group than you find on a large cruise ship. We found the social gathering areas to be comfortable and welcoming. The meals were fantastic. Just think, I was able to enjoy three wonderful meals a day for two weeks without shopping, cooking or cleaning up the kitchen.

Once onboard, we did encounter problems that could not have been foreseen. On April 29th, while in Regensburg, Germany, we learned that one of the major locks of the more than 60 locks that we would encounter on the trip was malfunctioning. We were told that it would be at least until May 1st before we could leave Regensburg and proceed on our way.

Much speculation, worry and doubt began to be expressed by our fellow travelers. Would we be able to actually make all of our scheduled stops? What if the lock was not repaired for days? Would we leave our ship and be driven through Germany on a bus? Would we be given our money back and sent home? What would become of our long dreamed of tour?
Fortunately, the trip was saved because the lock was repaired and we began on our way again.
Unbelievably, the same thing happened again a few days later. These problems and delays caused some adjustments to our travel, but we were able to complete the trip on-time and as planned. We were very impressed by the way the staff and the company handled a very difficult situation. According to all sources, this problem with the locks has never happened to any of tours before.

Our cruise began on April 27, 2010, in Vienna and ended on May 9, 2010, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In the 14 days that we were on board the River Adagio, we visited the following cities and towns:
  • Melk, Austria
  • Passau, Germany
  • Regensburg, Germany
  • Nuremberg, Germany
  • Bamberg, Germany
  • Wurzburg, Germany
  • Rothenburg, Germany
  • Wertheim, Germany
  • Heidelberg, Germany
  • Frankfurt, Germany
  • Mainz, Germany
  • Koblenz, Germany
  • Cologne, Germany
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We made many new friends, took many photos, ate a lot of wonderful food, and stored up memories that we will forever treasure.

As our new friends departed from our ship and our lives on May 10, 2010, Jim and I felt many conflicted emotions. We were so sad to see our new friends leave. We were tired and a bit envious of those who were returning home. The only couple who did both the pre and post trip, we had to adjust to and get to know a new program director and a new group of fellow travelers. We couldn't decide if we were sorry or excited about traveling on to Brussels and Paris.

It was with these ambivalent feelings that we disembarked from our familiar surroundings and boarded a bus on its way to Brussels, Belgium where we would stay for two days before boarding another bus to take us to Paris, France for two more days.

By the time we got to Delft for a late cup of coffee and pastry after touring a porcelain factory, and then on to Antwerp for lunch, we were back in our groove and happy to be touring again. As news of delayed flights because of volcanic ash began to be sent to us via our BlackBerry emails capabilities, we were even more convinced that we not only had it in us to keep out the touring, but we were also happy that we had decided to do so.

In future posts, I hope to share a few stories, insights, photos and memories that we picked up in our travels.

Up in the air - or not!

To pack or not to pack: that is the question.
Will volcanic ash in Iceland keep us from flying to Europe on this coming Wednesday?

The planning for the trip began in January. We bit the bullet, took money out of savings, and put it down on the trip of a lifetime to celebrate our retirement. We both felt healthy and well enough to travel and decided that this spring was the right time to take the trip of a lifetime.

Now, we, and so many others worldwide, are keeping our eyes on Eyjafjallajokull. A week ago, I couldn't have even told you were this place was, or how to say it. Ok, I still can't say this multisyllabic word, nor can I spell it, but I do know that this mountain of volcanic ash is creating chaos and disrupting travel all over the world.

Specifically, Jim and I are scheduled to leave Wednesday, April 21, for Frankfurt. From there, we are fly to Vienna where we plan on staying for four days. The centerpiece of the trip is a two-week riverboat excursion across Germany. After departing the riverboat in Amsterdam, I am still hoping to spend the day touring tulip filled gardens before taking a train to Brussels. Our stop in Brussels is planned to last for three days. We then travel on to Paris for the last three days of our trip.

Mother Nature may have other plans. We are hopeful that the air clears soon and that there are no more eruptions. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are already caught in the chaos this natural disaster has created. We are grateful that no lives have been lost. We also pray for wisdom on the part of the airlines. It is reassuring to be reminded that all in all, no matter what, God is still driving the bus when it comes to travel!