Lessons Learned from London

A Glimpse of the Big City

A Glimpse of the Big City

London is undoubtedly the busiest and complex city I have ever visited. I am glad I got to spend some time there but a second future visit is in order. These are some things I learned.

  • I am usually so good about investigating new places; I did not do my usual work and it showed. Knowing what you want to see and where these things are located helps in deciding lodgings. I chose somewhat poorly, which leads to…
  • Lodge some place central to what you want to see and public transportation stations.
  • Learn in advance or take some time before you begin site seeing to orient yourself to the public transportation. In London realize that bus stops will be located on the opposite side of the road than you may be used to.
  • If you want to take a tour or two, book those first. Then choose possible items like a City Pass that gives you substantial discounts and options to skip long lines. I did the opposite and lost one day on a three-day pass.
  • Keep ALL ticket stubs. Without going into a long drawn out tale of woe, a return train ticket was lost costing us around $25 extra dollars.
  • Remember if you try to see it all, there will be no reason to return. (I keep saying this mantra in my head.)
  • Finally, if you want to see what England is all about, leave the big city. As with many large metropolises, London is filled with sky scrapers, construction, and lots of people. It was only on a day trip to Bath that I began to see what I had imagined through books and television.

Despite all of my mistakes, we did enjoy the sites, especially our day trip to the west country. Bath was settled by the ancient Romans but all of their remains are buried underground. We would have had to tour the museum to see any. It is predominately decorated in the style of the 18th century, multi-storied, large identical houses, connected together, many in circular fashion. In modern times a great deal of these houses have been divided into apartments. Our tour guide informed that if we looked closely we would see several windows that had been bricked. At one time taxes were based on the number of windows one had. When that rule expired another one took its place and that restricted renovations that were not historically accurate so for the most part once a window was bricked, it must remain that way. The downtown area is filled with shops and since the native language is English, the book store is the place I enjoyed the most. It was tiny and filled with nooks and crannies but just as I was about to leave hands empty, I noticed a set of Kate Atkinson choices, an English author I enjoy and sure enough they had a copy of a book that Amazon does not carry. What a find!

Former Bath Housing

Former Bath Housing

Another short stop on our tour was Lacock, a small village owned by the British Heritage Trust. It looks like it stopped growing the 19th century. People are allowed to live there within certain conditions but because of its unique nature, Lacock is popular with the film and television industry. Harry Potter’s birthplace resides there as well as a street used for a marketing scene in last year’s “Downton Abbey.” The town is small and I do so wish they would mandate that all cars be parked outside of town because they really took away from the quaintness of it all.

Harry's Birth Place

Harry’s Birth Place

As evening came we found ourselves at Stonehenge. A day that had been cloudy and rainy suddenly changed and the stones were bathed with sunlight. Despite the onslaught of tourists, the scene is spiritual. Thousands of years ago, sophisticated beings found a way to haul tons of stones from 150 miles away in Wales to central England and place them in a very intentional pattern. Their purpose holds much debate but the fact that the place exists is what makes it special.

Having a bit of fun at Stonehenge

Having a bit of fun at Stonehenge

Finally, and for most you won’t understand but I really enjoyed watching television in the hotel room at night. Having access to all of the BBC and ITV channels I could enjoy shows that I have to wait on for Netflix or PBS to carry or read about them and not see them at all. I am a big fan of these channels.

London Bridge is not falling down

London Bridge is not falling down

 

 

 

 

 

Tower, Thames, and Time Piece, Oh, My!

A Yeoman Warder with a Yankee Tourist

A Yeoman Warder with a Yankee Tourist

Our first trip to London, what an eye opener! This is undoubtedly the busiest city I have ever visited and that includes New York and Rome. Cars, buses, and bicycles speed through the narrow streets of this city that easily blends the old with the new.

We began our day with a walk across the London Tower Bridge and then down to the London Tower. This complex with its beginnings in 1070 is notorious for imprisoning and executing such famous figures as Anne Boleyn and was home several times to Sir Walter Raleigh. He seemed to have problems getting along with Queen Elizabeth I but spent his time productively writing the first volume of his “History of the World.” I often find the small stuff to be quite entertaining and one of my favorite parts of the tour was getting up close and personal with real ravens. As a fan of Poe, this was quite exciting. Apparently these noisy birds are an essential part of the place.

Quoth the raven, "Nevermore!"

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore!”

Next up was a cruise down the River Thames. Our guide pointed out many places of interest including one of the oldest taverns in London, as well as modern structure called the Shard, a tall building that looks like a shard of glass.

The London Eye - a place Debbie will never be seen

The London Eye – a place acrophobic Debbie will never be seen

We departed at the Westminster Station where Big Ben stood tall adjacent the large complex of parliament buildings. FYI – Big Ben is actually the bell that rings to tell the time. The clock tower was renamed to honor Queen Elizabeth II for her diamond jubilee.

The Famous Big Ben

The Famous Big Ben

Across the street is Westminster Abbey, renown for many things in modern times,  including Princess Diana’s funeral and her son, Prince William’s wedding. It was indeed an inspiring tour through a beautiful building that is first and foremost a place of worship and then a burial place to people like Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Sir Isaac Newton.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

London is cloudy much of the time with rain a constant threat but it didn’t slow anyone down – you just prepare for it and if necessary take refuge with a cup of tea or a refreshing cider off the tap! Day One a success!

A Road Trip: Destination Bavaria

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A Room With a View

One of the nice things about where we live in Italy is its closeness to many different areas. Mike has been to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, a beautiful town in the Bavaria, several times but never has had time to be a tourist. So we decided a road trip was in order.

The area is surrounded by mountains, the Zugspitz being the highest point in all of Germany. The hotel rooms were built with small balconies that afforded views of the local scenery. While we could see the Zugspitz, the Alpsptiz, was the most notable peak that appeared from our room.

Plentiful German Breakfast

Plentiful German Breakfast

Mike had been carrying some items to place in geocaches. He believed that this would be just the area to leave them. With app in hand, we proceeded to a field between Garmisch and Oberammergau. I stayed with the car as Mike traveled a path to a point to where a small chapel and bridge intersected. He spent some time looking but realized that where he thought the cache was would mean him getting wet. He took several photos and finally decided he wasn’t prepared for this particular one. Later after successfully depositing his items at another spot, he looked at his camera. Clearly shown there was the first cache, with the glare of the sun, Mike had been unable to see it but could now claim credit for “finding” it. 😀

Can you find Mike?

Where’s Waldo? I mean Mike.

The town of Oberammergau is typical of the area. Many of the houses and public buildings have frescoes that depict various religious themes. The one in this photo is a school. Look carefully and I think you can figure out what is going on. The rest of the story was on the side of the building. The town is famously known for a passion play presented every ten years with hundreds of performers as well as real animals. We are hoping to be able to see the next one in 2020.

What tale does the building tell?

What tale does the building tell?

Both days of our visit were rainy so Mike’s desire to go to the top of the Zugspitz had to be put on hold. The rain prevents the panoramic views, so we decided to visit Mittenwald, another quaint town. A difference here were small canals that ran along the side walks.

Mini Venice

Mini Venice

For the two days we drove and walked through the area, we ate our fill of Germany meats, breads, and sweets, Mike got to practice his German, and both of us enjoyed the beauty of Bavaria. We departed for home quite satiated, realizing we were back in Italy when during a lunch stop, a television in the room was showing “The Simpsons” dubbed in Italian. I mean where else is something so anachronistic going to appear?? Such is life in Italia!

The Fourth Time’s A Charm!

The Front Door

The Front Door

This is the fourth summer we have spent at our modest home in Umbertide. By this time little rituals have sprung forth. At the Wednesday market we chose from the various multi-colored petunias and geraniums deciding on the perfect ones to sit outside in the window boxes located on each floor of the building. This year we were offered pink and white speckled geraniums. They go in the planter outside the kitchen window. The frequent thunderstorms have yielded water but the blossoms have suffered a bit from the winds.

Less fun is paying yearly taxes. First we have to find out where to pay them. Each year seems to hold a different location. 2016 – the post office. This is a short drive away. Once there we have to decide which button will give the correct ticket for service. Luckily a young woman was able to help. We then had to stand for about thirty minutes until our number was called. Surprisingly many numbers were called and no-one showed up. I am not sure whether the machine had problems or people got tired of waiting. We again lucked out as the person helping knew what he was doing and our transaction took little time, not so for several others.

After that we hurriedly left to return some extension cords (wrong plug size) to a department store about 30 minutes away. Traffic road work held us back and I wasn’t sure we would make the 12:30 closing. Many stores in Italy close from 12:30 to 4:00. We made it to Casagrande in time but another thing typical of Italy is that many businesses are closed on Monday morning, Casagrande being one of them. We decided to take a photo so information will always be close.

One man’s disappointment can be another’s opportunity. Turning around to go back, I noticed a sign to a store I had never heard of before. We followed the signs and ended up at a new shopping centre. It was shopper’s haven, many different kinds of stores, most being in the modest price range, including an assortment of eateries. Yum.

Due to the large lunch, we returned to another ritual and that is gelato for dinner. There are two shops in walking distance. One offers a nice patio, friendly owners, and generous portions. The other is a shorter walk and a bit richer offering.

While the rituals keep one grounded, it is the unusual that keeps one attuned. As a joke to keep me from enjoying half a pastry for breakfast one morning, Mike said, “Look at the band coming down the street.” Of course I looked, as Mike stole the treat. I looked because it is not unusual to see a band coming down the street and sure enough the next evening, I heard music and there was the band. What got me laughing though, was they played “When the Saints Go Marching In,” – not an expected selection on an evening in Umbria!

Impressions of France

I have wanted to visit France since my two years of French instruction in high school. Being Italian though, Italy came first. This summer I finally was able to travel through this beautiful country. Whereas Italy takes you back to the Romans, France seems to have settled on the middle ages. Rolling hills and farmland are dotted with blocked shaped farms facing an inward courtyard and on occasion a castle pops up at the top of a hill.

I feared that we might not be welcomed, as we are obviously not French and there seems to be if some are to be believed an aloofness to the members of host country but nowhere for the week we spent in this country was that the case. I remembered more French that I thought I would and was able to communicate our needs.

We did learn that gestures are not necessarily universal. We split and enjoyed one plate of crepes and Mike gave the server a “thumbs up,” to share how good he thought they were. Several minutes later another plate arrived, so Mike was forced to eat some more. I told him no more friendly gestures for the rest of the trip.

Chocolate Crepes - Yum!

Chocolate Crepes – Yum!

We spent most of our time in the area of Normandy. This part of France is framed by its large and lush hedgerows. On some of the back roads they actually touch a car on both sides. While beautiful they proved to be deadly for the Allies as they made their way inland. The hedgerows are perfect hiding places for weaponry.

Our first visit once we arrived was to Omaha Beach and put us on what our tour guide later referred to as the second part of this area. It is surrounded by cafes and summer homes, making it difficult to imagine the chaos of seventy-one years ago. The next day we found part one. It is there, especially when the tide is out that you can begin to understand what the soldiers faced on that cold June morning. At this time of the year the waves and wind are rough, and it was no different on D-Day. Soldiers came in from hours of preparation that included being huddled down in full pack – wet. They had to come in at low tide to try to avoid barriers placed on the beach by the Germans. That meant much more land to cover before hitting the cliffs above. Though not sure of the exact date the Allies would arrive the Germans were there and prepared. It is difficult to believe that anyone made it through this barrage of obstacles and enemies.

Omaha Beach - the view is from the water.

Omaha Beach – the view is from the water.

Our second stop was the American Cemetery, a short distance away that faces the beach as well. It is here that over nine thousand men and women are buried. Symbolic memorials, simple crosses, and patriotic music made this a very emotional experience.

American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France

American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France

The rest of the trip included sites used in “Band of Brothers.” This helped us to understand how the Allies had to fight for small pieces of land using strategy, skill, and just pure luck. The area of Normandy is still filled with German bunkers and war memorials. It is a living museum.

We saw so little in such a short time that return trips are a must.

June 2nd

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Today is a holiday in Italy. It is the day that commemorates Italy becoming a republic. Somewhat like our Fourth of July. In Umbertide they celebrate with a dog show. No it is not Westminster.

The dogs and there were many of them are family pets, most of indistinguishable breeds. Italians are just as foolish over their dogs as Americans. You can find many families out and about walking their dogs in the early evening, even during winter.

Lining up for notice

Lining up for notice

The piazza was filled with dogs of every size and shape acting like well, dogs. In fact during their waiting time in the corral, one competitor decided that he needed to show who was boss and got a bit ugly. Others tried to hold their own with him until eventually the show off was moved to a corner. The owners got a work out just keeping the pets entertained. I watched for about an hour and the show was still going on when I left.

I am not sure what it takes to win but everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Awaiting the judges opinions

Awaiting the judges opinions

 

Welcome to Summer Italian Style

After a challenging and mostly stressful year, we arrived much too tired to our home away from home in Italy.

A room with a view

A room with a view

The house has not changed and we welcomed the serenity it offers. After a couple hours of restorative sleep, our first thought was of food. Laura, a neighbor, has a wonderful restaurant a block away, Locanda Appenino, so off we headed.

While the low 60s drive most Italians indoors, Mike and I asked if the patio was open and were guided outdoors for a view of the Tiber River, flower blossoms, and the smell of jasmine. Anticipating our first meal of pasta, the menu for the night included roasted chicken and potatoes. I have learned it is best to go with the specials AND chicken (pollo) is rarely on the menu. It was simply divine.

Fog on the distant mountains

Fog on the distant mountains

The next morning, we awoke early and walked along the river until it wound back into town ending up at a local bar for breakfast. Not a huge meal in Italy, we were pacified with freshly squeezed orange juice, a breakfast sandwich of prosciutto and omelet, ending with a chocolate filled croissant.

A walk along the Tiber

A walk along the Tiber

We are settling into to our summer routine – reading, writing, and sleeping, with a few errands for good measure. Our next-door neighbors welcomed us back and we stopped and chatted with an English artist we befriended who went native many years ago. He caught us up on all we missed throughout the last year.

Umbertide doesn’t have the children, grandkids, or pets. There is no television or movies. Internet has to be rationed. Despite this it offers a much simpler way of life, one that starts off feeling strange but rejuvenates and helps to live productively thought the rest of the year.

 

 

 

 

Another Saturday Night in Umbria

Man and shadow are part of the painting.

Man and shadow are part of the painting.

We received an invitation to an art show about 45 minutes north of Umbertide. The exhibition was located in a palazzo (palace) in the center of the historic district. It is only open to the pubic once a year, so in addition to seeing paintings, we were able to glimpse a little bit of an upper class Tuscan home.

The artist, Vincenzo Calli, has a unique style, blending old techniques with new. I especially enjoyed how he created a “3-D” element by adding sculpture to the painting.

Upon leaving the exhibition, we noticed that the narrow street in front of the building had been barricaded for what looked like a race. The runners were two and three-year-old boys and girls. The organizers walked the children about a block away and in corrals separated by gender, they raced their way back to the finished line, seeming to enjoy the cheers from the sideline crowds.

The last place but cutest racer.

The last place but cutest racer.

Our next stop was the number one restaurant (according to TripAdvisor) in the walled city of Citta di Castello, an Umbrian town about 20 minutes north of us. The friendly owner server us over sized plates of pasta so I was only able to enjoy one course.

When we arrived back in Umbertide, the town was lit up for a festival. At the base of the Rocco (a former guard tower now an art gallery), a stage was set up with inflatables and fair like vendors. We stayed for a bit watching what seemed to be a warm up acts for something else. We had been told that Cuban dancers were expected. Unfortunately the hour was late and so we left (not before Mike stopped at the local bar to check out the ongoing World Cup game between Germany and Ghana).

The Rocca

The Rocca

Several minutes after we readied for bed, I heard the unmistakable sound of fireworks. Our bedroom window points toward the Rocca and we were treated to a show.

Fireworks outside our window

All of this is to point out that when the evening began, we were going to an art show. As it turned out there was much more to see and do. This was not a special holiday; it is how these people live.

Piazza April 25th

Plaque

Across the street from our house in Umbertide is a piazza. It is nice place to walk to see people, enjoy a coffee, or a glass of wine. Recently I discovered the area is actually made up of two piazzas. The second one looks like a parking lot but upon inspection, this seemingly common area is actually much more.

On April 25, 1944 allied bombers aiming for a bridge over the Tiber River, a short distance away, missed and dropped two bombs into the small neighborhood of Borgo San Giovanni, killing seventy people and displacing hundreds of others. The homes were never rebuilt.

The buildings in light brown in the center represent those that were destroyed.

The buildings in light brown in the center represent those that were destroyed.

Today, the area has been renamed Pizza April 25th. Those who died are honored with a permanent plaque of their names. Among the stones of the parking lot are red bricks, which signify the places where buildings once set. A number inside the brick identifies the particular house.

A Brick of Remembrance

A Brick of Remembrance

I wonder at the idea of never rebuilding and replacing a neighborhood with a parking lot. I am sure what was done was best. Perhaps it is the way to remember.

 

Learning to Relax

View from our dinner table

View from our dinner table

I am a list maker. I can’t get through my day-to-day life without them, experiencing an exquisite thrill as I check off each to do. I am making progress.

Therefore despite the fact that there is now time to do nothing, beauty abounds, and the culture encourages the art of enjoying the moment, I am somewhat lost. It is not easy to shed the habits of the other eleven months. In other words I don’t know how to do nothing easily.

Yesterday, I decided that we needed to travel to a town thirty minutes away for Saturday market. Several years ago, I found local cookies that I have neither a name nor a flavor to describe them, only a place. I wanted the cookies. There was Saturday market but it has evolved to street after street and bin after bin of clothing. No cookies. I was disappointed and could not check cookies off of my list.

We have been hunting for a fire extinguisher since we arrived over a week ago. Despite trips to many different places, we have none. The market town had a hardware store. Surely success would come but alas no fire extinguisher and no guess as to where to buy one. Can’t check fire extinguisher off of my list.

The heat has risen and with no air conditioning, ninety degrees is something new to experience. I curled up under a fan, slept and read, still discouraged.

Later that evening, I received a text to join Mike in the piazza for a glass of Prosecco, my favorite wine. I was tempted to decline as I had already drunk a glass but something told to me to accept. With no plan nor list and a sweaty body, I walked across the street.

Mike was delighted as he is able to take pleasure in any small thing that life offers. I envy his optimism and child like enthusiasm. He had met several locals, gave and received a language lesson, as well as was treated to a glass of wine. He also had learned where you could refill water bottles for 5 cents a bottle. What a find!

I received my glass of sparkling wine from Mary, an extremely friendly bar owner and settled in to people watch. Everyone was coming out to enjoy the Saturday night. I willed myself to just relax and after a fashion, I realized I had. I tried out my Italian with a few people and admired the many dogs that accompany their owners into the piazza. Later we took a walk and learned some interesting history of our lovely town (will share in a later posting).

Dinner was eaten in a local Ristorante owned by a young woman and her mother. Almost everything we ate was home grown and homemade, and quite delicious. Another walk through the neighbor hood brought us back to the piazza where at eleven o’clock in the evening, it seemed like they were having a sidewalk sale. We met an Artisan, whose medium is glass, purchasing a set of earrings and a sunflower plate of sculpture.

It was on our walk home, that I realized how the real magic of the night was in my allowing it to unfold, without a list. No plans had been made. All I needed to enjoy the evening was a partner to share it with, time, and the willingness to relax. Grazia Umbertide.