Monday, November 19, 2007

The Thanksgiving Day Trot

On Thanksgiving morning we carried out our long tradition of starting the day with the Dallas Turkey Trot. This year we had two new members--Zoey and Millie. Dave ran the 8-mile race, Tony ran the 5k, while Jenni, Erika, Josh, Millie, and I walked the 5k, with Jenni pushing Zoey in the jogging stroller. It was about 40 degrees outside, and Zoey looked like a fluffy pink bunny in her warmups, cozy hat, and pink suede boots. Every year this gathering gets bigger. This year there were more than 30,000 people participating -- what a zoo!! Millie did pretty well, although the sea of legs, strollers, and other dogs did cause some agitation. She pulled me the entire 3.1 miles, only needing to stop and rest 3 or 4 times. After the race Erika and Josh headed for Norman, OK to spend the weekend with Josh's parents and sister, and the rest of us continued our T'day tradition of breakfast at IHOP. Back at our house, we just relaxed and spent the day watching football and nibbling on preprepared food so no one had to stress out with cooking. It was a great day. Friday Tony and I put up the outside lights, which was a good thing because the rest of the weekend was cold and rainy, perfect for decorating indoors and doing a little baking. Here are a couple of pictures from the Trot, as well as one of Zoey afterward at our house in her Trot t-shirt. The group shot from left to right: Tony, Josh, Erika, Jenni, Zoey, Dave, and me. Enjoy!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Millie, 4 months old

Here's the latest update on our ever growing and -- hopefully -- maturing Millie. She just had her 4-month checkup, which is about a week early because of the Thanksgiving holiday. She now weighs 33 pounds, which is 13 pounds more than she was last month. Wow! She's a good eater, and we're already buying the gigantic bags of puppy food. I think we'll be buying them more frequently in the next few months. She's doing quite well with her training......sometimes. She is--blissfully--completely potty trained and goes all night without a trip outside. I taught her to ring a string of bells attached to the laundry room door handle when she wants to go out to go potty. She just nudges it with her nose, and we come running. Now we need to teach her to bark loudly when she wants to come back in. When she's being sweet, I call her "Silly Millie Vanilli". When she's in devil dog mode, her name becomes "Millie No". She responds to neither! Sometimes it's hard to remember just how young she is because she's so big. She recently learned the "sit" and "shake hands" commands. With positive reinforcement, she is a very quick study. Now we need to work on her biting, jumping up on people and furniture, and walking on her leash in a more civilized manner. She'll have one more appointment for shots next month, then nothing more until we have her spayed early next year.

I took these pictures of Jenni, Zoey, and Millie (in a soft muzzle so she won't take a bite of Zoey's tender flesh by accident, and also so she won't bite me when I'm trimming her nails) on Nov. 13. Zoey and Millie are going to be good friends once they have a little more respect for each other. Christmas should be a lot of fun this year with a 5-month-old puppy and a 1-year-old baby keeping things lively. Have a very happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Millie, 3 months old

Miss Millie is getting really big and lanky, and she grows sweeter and more full of personality by the day. She is gaining 2-3 pounds a week, and at 3 months she is well over 20 pounds. We'll find out exactly how much she weighs at her next vet appointment on Nov. 19. Don't be fooled by the innocent face. She is well into her "terrible twos" and has to be watched and controlled constantly. She is teething aggressively, and if left unattended, will devour the house--furniture, clothing, baseboards, bath mats, etc. And she prefers human flesh as her personal teething implements; never mind that we've bought her more toys than our kids ever had. But she is completely potty trained--YAY!!--and has grown fond of her crate, which we use when we have to leave her alone in the house, or for "time out" when she gets too crazy. At night, she sleeps cuddled up next to me, and with the weather turning cooler, her warmth is welcome as long as she isn't jabbing her long legs into my back. Millie has definitely established her place in our family, and she is training us very well. The photo below was taken 11-3-07 at the dog park in Denton, where I take her to become more social with other dogs. She loves people, but she's still quite shy around other dogs.

Millie, 2 months old

Miss Millie is growing and thriving. She's really sweet, but she has her moments in which there is no doubt she is a true puppy. We are working on taking walks on the leash, not digging up the yard, chewing on her toys and not our extremities, and potty training. She's very smart but stubborn. She loves it when Tony comes home from work and plays with her. During my work days, I have her penned in my office with boring old me. We do take play breaks, but she mostly naps and plays with her toys. I love having a companion in the office again! By the way, her original puppy picture is in an older post, on the other side of the massive Europe travel diary. Keep hitting "older posts" at the bottom of the page until you get to the very last page. The picture is worth it. She was a tiny bundle of love!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Europe 2007 -- Prologue

The idea for this trip to the Alpine countries developed over several years, finally culminating in our choosing and booking this tour last October. My sister Lisa, brother-in-law Bob, Tony and I have enjoyed taking trips together for about the past 10-12 years. We have been talking about going to Europe for quite some time, and we finally agreed on the countries we wanted to visit, the length of the trip, and the tour company to use. We had all had good experiences with Globus in the past, and Globus offered the itinerary we wanted. Lisa and Bob had taken their kids to Europe with Globus 8 years ago, and their trip included a couple of places—Lugano and Lucerne—that this trip would also visit. They were excited to revisit the area. Tony had been to several Mediterranean countries while serving with a squadron aboard the USS Forrestal in the early 1970s, but he had never been to the Alpine countries. I had traveled to these countries with my friend Jan and her cousin Mary during the summer of 1971, and I had always dreamed of returning one day with the man I married. This two-week trip was the consummation of many years of wishing, dreaming, and planning.

Just a caveat regarding the attached Flickr photos….many of the hundreds of pictures on Flickr were taken from the motor coach as we traveled, mainly due to the fact that we spent so many hours on the bus traveling (but not always stopping) through photo-worthy countryside. I did my best to eliminate the glare from shooting through windows, but sometimes it was unavoidable. To view all the pictures, just click on this Flickr link . They are organized chronologically, and most are captioned.

Also, if I’ve made any mistakes in identifying a place or landmark, I would invite my friends from the tour to e-mail me the corrections. This blog can be edited. There was SO MUCH to document, and many opportunities for goofs. And by now I’ve also forgotten some of the more minor places and landmarks that I neglected to make note of. Hopefully, some of our other travel buddies will remember and alert me so I can make changes.

Enjoy the trip. We surely did!

Sunday, July 8, 2007--departure

We’re on our way to Europe!! But, of course, nothing is without a price. Tony and I are in our seats on flight #70, due to depart from D/FW to Frankfurt, while Lisa and Bob are still in the air. Their flight was diverted to Waco due to bad weather, and they’re supposed to land here at D/FW just minutes before this flight departs. I’m very nervous, and Tony’s getting a little annoyed with my fretting, but we’ve planned this so carefully for so long that it seems unfair to be on the plane without them. Anyway, we’re going to spend two weeks touring Germany, Austria, northern Italy, and Switzerland with Globus. I haven’t been back to Europe since 1971, and I’m very excited to be going with Tony, Lisa, and Bob. The flight over is 9½ hours long, and we didn’t get our business class upgrade, so we’re in coach, and it’s very tiny here. But at least we will be in business class on the way back, when the flight is 10½ hours. It’s now five minutes to departure, and there’s still no sign of Bob and Lisa. I pray they make it so we can have this trip together that we’ve been planning for a year. Well, the sweet flight attendant just came back and told us that Bob and Lisa are not on the flight. And today is their 29th anniversary, one they’ll surely never forget. We hope and pray they’ll be able to get on another flight soon. I’ll bet Lisa’s going crazy. What a way to begin such a grand trip. Bon voyage!!

Monday, July 9, 2007--arrival in Frankfurt--Day 1

Later the same day, or the next, more or less……..we’re here!! We arrived on time in Frankfurt after a fairly uneventful flight. Neither of us slept much because of a very loudly unhappy toddler nearby, who finally fell asleep about 7 hours into our 9½ –hour flight, plus the unrelenting smallness of our coach seats. But now we’re safely ensconced in our hotel room at the Arabella Sheraton, ready for a nap. Lisa and Bob were able to catch an AA flight to Paris, where they will board an Air France plane to Frankfurt, arriving around 2:30 this afternoon, just about 7 hours late. But they’ll still be here in time for the welcome dinner and orientation tonight at 6:00.

Our tour director is a dapper, middle-aged German named Erich, and our driver is a hunky young Italian named Massimo. We’ve met two of the other couples in our group of 35—Günther and Tina from Ontario, Canada (originally from Germany), and a lovely couple from Vancouver, Ed and Sara. All four are very pleasant and excited to start the vacation. We’ll meet the rest of the group tonight at dinner.

YAY!!! Lisa and Bob made it! They were even bumped up to first class on the transatlantic
flight, which helped take away some of the sting of not making their original flight. We got them checked in and showered, and we all met down in the lobby for a predinner cocktail. Bob’s luggage never made it, but it’s supposed to arrive by 10 p.m. tonight. We had a nice welcome and dinner in the hotel dining room—delicious squash soup, salad, roast beef with potato dumplings, dessert, and coffee—very nice. Everyone in the group took turns introducing him/herself. Our group of 35 consists of Americans, Canadians, Puerto Ricans, and Germans. There is one family of 5, some single women, some older married couples, a few folks our age, and two unique family groups: one 19-year-old college student with her grandmother, and a mother-son-granddaughter threesome. Everyone seems very nice, and I’m sure we’ll get better acquainted as we set off at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow for the romantic Rothenburg road and Munich. Guten nacht!

Note: A word of wisdom for the future -- taking a trip abroad is NOT the best time to try a new deodorant! I wanted to be sure I would not offend anyone in the close quarters of a motor coach, so I tried a new, extra strength brand. Today my underarms are bright red, inflamed, and unbearably itchy. Thank goodness I brought along a small, travel-sized container of Gold Bond Medicated Powder, which will have to suffice as deodorant for the remainder of the trip, as the newly purchased deodorant is now in the trash. I just hope the weather doesn’t get too hot.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007--Frankfurt to Rothenburg to Munich--Day 2

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel, then we boarded the bus for a five-hour ride to Munich. Our first stop along the way was the beautifully preserved medieval city of Rothenburg. We spent a couple of hours wandering through cobbled streets, checking out overpriced shops, and walking on top of part of the ancient stone wall surrounding the city. We marveled at the steepness of the tiled roofs, wondering who on earth does the repairs, and what their ladders must look like. The homes, hotels, and shops are very old but well kept, and nearly every window has a box full of vivid flowers beneath it, plus there are lush, small gardens instead of grassy yards. It’s very charming. We were supposed to have lunch in Rothenburg, but we were still full from breakfast, so we sat in an outside café and had coffee. Everything here is very expensive. The coffee was 3 Euro each, almost $5, with no refills. We then stopped at a bakery and got a big, soft pretzel to take on the bus for later.

We were supposed to go on to Munich, but Erich (who we now know is Austrian, not German—he talks like Ahnold) wanted us to visit another old, walled city on the way, Dinkelsbuhl. It was pretty much a waste of time, as it was nearly identical to Rothenburg, and a big storm was coming. It’s been raining on and off since we arrived, with patches of sun between the clouds and rain. The only fun thing about this stop was four cute, frisky dogs frolicking in a field on the way back to the bus. One, a more mature dog, tolerated our petting and cooing.

Two hours later, we finally arrived in Munich. We had a nice dinner at the hotel, then we set out in the pouring rain for the “happening” part of town, the Hofbrauhaus, a huge old beer garden (translation: tourist trap) that every tourist is mandated to visit. On the way, we stopped at a luggage shop and bought a big wheeled duffel for the four of us to share to carry our souvenirs. Lisa and Bob have an entire office to buy for, as well as their two kids. Originally, we had been told that we could only bring one suitcase each, but because the bus wasn’t full, Erich allowed us to share an extra bag for an additional $3 a day porterage fee—a bargain in our opinion. So Lisa stoically dragged the new cammo duffel through more cobbled streets – still in a major downpour -- to the Hard Rock Café, where she stopped to get Kyle a t-shirt. Across the street was the Hofbrauhaus, so of course we had to stop and have a beer (which is served only in liters--dang!) and hear the oompah band while we absorbed the local color and other tourists. As touristy as the place is, probably at least half of the hundreds of people sitting at huge picnic tables were local residents and college students. It was a lot of fun in a rowdy, clichéd way.

We’re now back at the hotel, ready to crash and rest up for another day of go, go, go tomorrow. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!

Observation: Germans, especially the folks in Munich, travel everywhere in the city by bicycle. Munich is extremely bike friendly, with an awesome network of bike lanes. We were told that when a student graduates from high school and enters either university or the work world, he/she is given not a car, as many are in the United States, but a good, sturdy bicycle. These aren’t multi-gear, super spiffy bikes, either. They are substantial means of transportation that require effort, which is why one does not see many hefty youths and young adults here. Each bike is equipped with a bell, a necessary item to attract the attention of the many uninformed tourists (like us) who stroll unaware in the bike lanes throughout the city. Hey, they looked like sidewalks to us. Who knew?

Note: With all the rich food and drink we consumed, I was very worried that more pounds would be packed on my already substantial bod, but I guess all the walking helped to counterbalance the food/drink consumption. The scale did not become my enemy when we returned home. Whew!! Not that I don’t have much hard work ahead, but at least it’s not any more daunting than before the trip.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007--Munich--Day 3

Observation…….before we left, several people warned us to bring along some toilet paper. As space was at a premium, we scoffed at that suggestion. Bad choice. The toilet paper here is HARSH—a hybrid of auto mechanic paper towels and fine sand paper, either tan in color or depressing gray. All I can say is that European TP gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase “ripped me a new one”.

Well, we’re now on the bus again, ready for another day of touring after a hearty, if unusual breakfast. All I had remembered about breakfast in Europe were the delicious rolls—crispy on the outside, tender and fluffy inside—and butter. These breakfast buffets offer a very large selection of assorted, seemingly random items: dill pickles, yogurt, cereals, pickled herring, scrambled eggs of a very odd orange color, very undercooked bacon and sausages, cold cuts, cheeses, strips of mystery meat in a cream sauce, potatoes, soft pretzels, jams and spreads, cakes and tortes, coffee and tea, and thin, nearly flavorless juices. Most of the time I had either rolls and butter, or a roll with salami and cheese. Some places also offered individual, sealed, 3” tubes of liverwurst – more about these later. Breakfast is not my favorite meal, and I was not ambitious enough to try a lot of new delicacies that early in the morning. But the rolls and butter were just as memorable and delicious as I had remembered. I’ll miss them when back in the States.

Later………what a full day! Our bus tour of Munich was led by a local guide, Adele, to include about 20 minutes on the grounds of Nymphenburg Palace, in the pouring rain. We were then dropped off in the bustling center of the city, Marienplatz, in time to see the famous glockenspiel performance. By then it was lunch time, so we stopped at an open-air farmers’ market for a delicious bratwurst and beer, after which we wandered around and took pictures until our 1:30 excursion out of town. We first rode to the lovely village of Oberammergau, where the famous Passion Play is performed every 10 years. The state of Bavaria is approximately 90% Catholic, and hundreds of years ago during the plague (or Black Death), Oberammergau lost so many of its citizens that the remainder prayed and promised God that if He would stop the dying, the village would perform the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection every 10 years forever after. The deaths stopped, and Christ’s story is told every 10 years to many thousands who come from all over the world.

We then headed for Linderhof Castle, the smallest of King Ludwig II’s three famous palaces. The other two are Neuschwanstein (the Cinderella’s castle always featured on travel posters), and Herrrenchiemsee, a nearly exact replica of Versailles built on an island in the middle of a large, beautiful lake. Reportedly, the king was very enamored with the French king, Louis XIV. Jan, Mary, and I had visited Herrenchiemsee on a gloriously sunny day in 1971, and I very much wanted to take some of the group to see it, but the day was cool and rainy, not the best conditions for a boat ride to the island. So we opted for Linderhof, and it was a very nice tour of a tiny but opulent palace.

We left Linderhof and drove through the breathtaking Bavarian Alps to the winter sports town of Garmische to have an authentic Bavarian country dinner with entertainment. During the meal, a German “good ol’ boy” brought over a 3-liter stein of beer—picture a 2-liter bottle of Coke with another ½ bottle attached to it. He took the first hearty drink, then he indicated that we were supposed to pass the stein around the table until it was emptied. Our table held 12; one was a teenager and two of the women didn’t partake, so that left 9 of us to shoulder the responsibility. Fortunately, this was a local brew with only 3% alcohol content, so it wasn’t the death stein. All in all, it was a wonderful, noisy, fun-filled evening. For the first time, we are starting to bond with members of our group.

Observation…….driving through Germany has been so lovely. One would almost expect to see Heidi among the wildflowers. Each little picturesque village is more charming than the last, picture postcard gorgeous, with the church being the centerpiece of each town. The churches are usually one of two designs—they either have an onion dome much like the Orthodox churches, or they have a decidedly Gothic flavor. I’m so glad we’re seeing everything by motor coach at a moderate pace.

There are several photos of Maypoles in different towns and cities we visited. Each community erects its Maypole with special flags and ornaments, and during Mayfest, a large basket is set at the top of the pole. The basket contains cheeses, sausages, and other yummy delicacies. The strongest and most agile males in the community try to climb the pole to claim the basket. Oh, the pole is first soaped to make the contest a little tougher. Those zany Germans!!

Tomorrow, it’s off to Salzburg and Vienna. Nighty-night!

Thursday, July 12, 2007--Munich to Salzburg to Vienna--Day 4

Observation 1……many of the German people we’ve encountered are very brusque, impatient, and downright rude. You’d think they would at least attempt to be polite and pleasant, given all the money we’re pouring into their economy, but they seem to disdain Americans and do not try to hide it. I remember the same thing from our trip in 1971. The Austrians, on the other hand, seem to be much more tolerant so far. In Germany, even in Bavaria, the people refused to engage in even the slightest of encounters. We would smile or try to pet their dogs or attempt to converse, and they would act as though we were either invisible or a nuisance. We’re quite happy to be “outta there”.

Observation 2…..Austrian homes seem to be much plainer and boxier than the homes dotting the German countryside, and there aren’t nearly as many window flower boxes or proud, lush gardens.

Observation 3…..In both Germany and Austria, there are quite a few modern windmills to generate electricity. They are very charming, graceful, and unobtrusive. Maybe someone should tell Ted Kennedy. Better yet, he should come here and see for himself. They certainly would enhance, not obscure, the panorama at Hyannis Port.

Anyway, we had another wonderful, jam-packed day. Breakfast started the day at the hotel in Munich, then we had a two-hour drive to Salzburg. We took a walking tour with a local guide, Monika, who took us through mainly the old part of the city. We walked through the lovely Mirabell Gardens and St. Peter’s Churchyard. This churchyard was featured in “The Sound of Music”, where the von Trapps hid while being pursued by the Nazis. The real thing is slightly different than the Hollywood version, but it was still recognizable. Afterward, we had some free time to wander and explore. We stopped for cake and coffee—instead of lunch—at a café (indoors because it was rainy and in the 50s), then we boarded the bus for the 3+-hour ride to Vienna. We dozed on and off during the ride on the autobahn through the Bavarian, then the Austrian, countryside. Halfway there we stopped for a potty/snack break at a truckstop-like refreshment area. I bought two magnets for my fridge—a beer stein and a cuckoo clock. Then it was on to Vienna.

Now, for reasons I won’t go into due to space constraints and my personal embarrassment, I did not fall in love with Vienna in 1971. This trip, though, I like it better already. How can a music major not love a city consumed with music? One could conceivably attend a different concert every weekend. There is almost a conservatory on every corner.

We arrived at our European-style hotel, freshened up, and went on a dinner excursion. We wove our way through Vienna to a mountain road at the edge of the city. Halfway up was our dinner destination, but we kept going. Erich and Massimo surprised us with a stop at a scenic overlook of the entire city perched at the edge of a vineyard. We then went back down to the country inn where we had a delicious dinner accompanied by plenty of the inn’s first fruits of its vineyard, while a very talented violinist and a keyboardist played familiar German and American tunes, including Elvis. We sang until we were hoarse, and some brave souls even danced. Physically and emotionally satisfied, we drove back to our hotel and gratefully crashed in our rooms. Tomorrow is another very full day. Vacation? More like a marathon, but tons of fun.

Note: In Austria, it’s common to hear the song “Edelweiss” everywhere, as if it’s a beloved folk tune or even the national anthem of Austria. NOT!! It’s a Rogers and Hammerstein bit of genius that has cunningly made its way from Hollywood to Salzburg and regions beyond. Every music box one picks up in a gift/souvenir shop unapologetically plays “Edelweiss”. The Austrians seem to have lovingly adopted the song and made it their own. It just seems to fit here. And the edelweiss flower is nowhere to be seen growing in Austria. We did see some cultivated edelweiss in Switzerland, and on the train from Zermatt to Gornergrat I caught a quick glimpse of two sprigs growing wild on the hillside, but I wasn’t quick enough to snap a picture.

Friday, July 13, 2007--Vienna--Day 5

Just when we thought our day couldn’t get any fuller…..after an early morning breakfast, off we went to Schönbrunn Palace for a tour led by a local guide, Mariette. I remembered the palace, especially the gardens, from the 1971 trip. It’s an awesome experience to be in the same rooms as the royal family of Austria and to learn how they lived centuries before.

After the tour, our guide took us on a bus/walking tour of Vienna for another two hours. She left us at the center of the city to have lunch and explore on our own. We stopped for pizza, as the four of us were in desperate need of a break from sausage, schnitzel, potatoes, and bread. We did a little wandering and shopping before returning to the hotel around 3:30 for a rest before dinner. At 5:30 we were off to a traditional Viennese dinner at a lovely restaurant (yes, schnitzel again, but with other accompaniments).

After dinner, we attended a Mozart (or Beethoven, according to Tony) concert at one of Vienna’s fine concert halls. The orchestra performed in period costume, complete with powdered wigs, brocade coats, and velvet britches. The soprano and baritone soloists were very enjoyable, as was the featured solo clarinetist. What a nice way to end our stay in a very musical city. Tomorrow—St. Veit, Austria.

Note: The hotel we stayed at here was a charming, boutique-style place with a variety of room sizes and styles. When we checked in, we found that we had been placed in a smoking room, and the smoke was very discernible, so we asked to be moved. We were told there was only one other nonsmoking room available, and it was pretty much in a different solar system than those of the rest of our group. We had trouble finding it at first, as it was at the other end of the hotel on a floor we didn’t even know existed, reached only by a staircase tucked away where it nearly couldn’t be found. Once we reached our room, we discovered a very adorable, spacious, garret-type attic room. The only problem was that the ceilings were sharply sloped, such that we had to stay on one side of the room or else duck to avoid hitting our heads. Same with the bathroom – Tony especially had a little trouble in the shower, which apparently was designed for Lilliputians due to the sloped ceiling. But we managed, and this ended up being one of my favorite rooms of all.

Saturday, July 14, 2007--Vienna to St. Veit--Day 6

Today, after another hearty breakfast, we headed for St. Veit, Austria. On the way, we made two stops—first a rest/snack stop at the tiny village of Kindberg in the province of Styria. I bought some green grapes as big as apricots at a farmer’s market, as I was craving some healthy fruit. Our next stop was a very blah little town called Kraubath. It was so inconsequential that I only took one picture of a stream. We did have a delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, though, washed down with a cold, dark beer.

A little personal aside……if it sounds as though we drank a lot of alcohol on this trip, it’s true. We did. We had wine or beer with nearly every lunch and dinner. The alcohol content of European wine and beer seemed less than in the States, especially the beer. And usually wine and beer was cheaper than bottled water or soft drinks. This was my last hoorah as far as drinking is concerned, as I had already vowed to give up all alcohol when we returned to the States. It was a personal decision that I’m very comfortable with, and I have no regrets. Consequently, I probably drank 75% more alcohol on this trip than I normally would, and now it’s out of my system. I must say, though, that we had some very delicious wines and dark (dunkel) beers in every country.

We reached St. Veit around 2:00 p.m., and it must have been at least 90 degrees. This was our first hot day, and our hotel, The Fuchspalast Hotel, mainly caters to winter sports tourists, so we have heaters in our rooms, but no air conditioning. I’m melting!! Fortunately, the rooms each have a large window that opens wide, so I’m hoping the night air will be cool. And there’s a moat-like stream below our window (we’re on the 3rd floor), with little fountains every few yards, so it will be like sleeping with our own personal sound machine. The hotel itself (see picture) was designed by Ernst Fuchs, who must have been smoking something illegal and hallucinogenic when he came up with this design. To say the least, it’s colorful. But the rooms are pretty nice—just very warm.

We went out for a stroll to do some shopping and found that about 80% of the stores close right after noon on Saturdays, so there really isn’t anything to do here. Tony went for a run while Lisa, Bob, and I looked for a place to buy bottled water. Then Lisa and I came back for a much needed shower while Tony and Bob had a scotch at the bar. We have dinner at 6:30, then I guess we’ll have a very welcome early evening. Maybe we’ll go for a little walk up in the pretty hills before we turn in. I need to write some postcards and turn in early to try to catch up on some missed sleep. More tomorrow.

Note: There’s not much to do here. It’s pretty, but St. Veit could easily be skipped on this tour. Ditto Innsbruck. Lisa, Bob, Tony, and I agreed that the tour could be vastly improved by adding an extra day in St. Moritz and Lugano, and totally bypassing these two rather uninteresting Austrian towns.

Sunday, July 15, 2007--St. Veit to Innsbruck--Day 7

Today we had a beautiful, long drive from St. Veit to Innsbruck, the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics. The scenery along the way was so lovely as we traveled through the Italian Dolomites. We stopped for photo ops in Cortina and Lake Misurina, Italy as we dipped down from Austria into Italy and then back up to Austria. We got to Innsbruck around 5:00 p.m. and wandered through the downtown area for an hour before checking into our hotel. Innsbruck is so pretty, nestled in a valley completely surrounded by mountains, like a bowl. The only problem is the heat. It was in the low 90s again today, and the hotels in these smaller villages have no AC. We were all pretty ripe by the time we had dinner (not very good) at our hotel. And Europeans leave a lot to be desired in the hygiene department. We desperately tried to stay as fresh as possible with multiple showers every day and clothes hand washed in our bathroom sinks, but body odor apparently doesn’t bother the Europeans. We learned to breathe through our mouths early on during this heat wave!
So far this has been our least favorite hotel, but you can't beat the scenery. We have a nice big door that opens onto our balcony to let in fresh air, and the hotel has supplied an oscillating fan. But the balcony is a communal one running the entire length of the hotel, so we probably won’t be able to leave the door open tonight, and the windows don’t open. I’m hoping it won't be too miserable. We’ll have an early night, then it’s on to St. Moritz, Switzerland tomorrow, with some great-sounding side trips along the way.
Observation: the only English t.v. we’ve seen has been the BBC or CNN (no comment), but we’ve watched “Lost” and “NCIS” in German. It’s a hoot, hearing Jethro Gibbs spout off at Tony DiNozzo in Deutsch!

Monday, July 16, 2007--Innsbruck to St. Moritz--Day 8

Observation 1: Many of the women, including me, are having trouble with our feet and ankles swelling. We do not know if it’s the long bus rides or the salty food or the heat, or a combination of everything. Mine were so bad I even took a picture. They look like cantaloupes. Not pretty. I’ll take a picture of my ankles for comparison once we get home to prove this is not normal. This is the first time I’ve ever had this problem.

Observation 2: Massimo is one outstanding driver! He can maneuver that huge motor coach into the smallest spaces, and he handles it like a fine instrument on the hairpin turns as we climb into the mountains, inches away from the drop-to-your-death cliffs. He makes it look so easy. Some of the other tour buses have actually had to back up and jockey into position to make the tight turns, but not our Massimo! We’ve applauded him several times so far this trip.

Okay, so today we drove from Innsbruck to St. Moritz, Switzerland. It is SO GORGEOUS!!! We’ve decided to skip the rest of the trip and just stay here. Kidding, of course, but it’s tempting. No wonder all the celebrities love it here. I don’t think any of my photos are going to be able to capture its essence. It’s beyond beautiful, with the lake surrounded by picturesque mountains and the lovely architecture dotting the hillsides. But it’s terribly expensive, catering to people with LOTS of money. Within a block of our hotel (very lovely, by the way) are Prada, Chanel, Hermes, just to name a few. No bargains here. It’s too bad we only have one night here, because the whole group is very happy in this town nicknamed “Top of the World”.

Before we arrived in St. Moritz, we stopped in the little village of Pontresina, where we took a horse-drawn carriage ride up to the Roseg glacier. We had lunch up near the glacier at a charming café at 6,562’ above sea level. The ride was fun and the scenery was beautiful, but the glacier just looked like any other snow-covered mountain. Compared to Alaska’s glaciers, this one was unimpressive.

After we checked into our hotel, Lisa, Bob, Tony and I took a long stroll through the streets of St. Moritz, ending at the lake. The water is very cold, much like Cayuga Lake in upstate NY in the summer. But it’s crystal clear. We had a long uphill climb back to the hotel, but we managed to find a public escalator that took us about halfway there. After sitting so much on the bus, I’m surprised our leg muscles haven’t atrophied. Tomorrow…….Lugano.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007--St. Moritz to Lugano--Day 9

Between St. Moritz and Lugano (and probably Lucerne as well), we may never want to leave. It’s beyond beautiful. I know I keep saying the scenery is breathtaking, but that’s truly the only way to describe it. Sometimes I find myself gasping at the wonder of God’s creation.

We reluctantly left St. Moritz at 8:00 a.m. and drove through Switzerland into Italy. We passed through the mountains at Maloya Pass, which includes a series of 12 astonishingly tight hairpin turns down the mountain. I’m surprised we had dry pants after that scary ride. Six Flags has nothing on the natural topography of this region. Massimo really earned his pay today, as well as a day off. He’s going to visit his home near Lake Como, and his brother, Mauritzio, will be our driver tomorrow (to Zermatt).

We continued on to Lake Como to the town of Menaggio, where we stopped for gelato. Yum! Not long afterward, Lake Como forked into two lakes, and we followed the Como portion. At the fork is a small mountain, and at its base is the pretty village of Bellaggio, which we saw and photographed from across the lake. We kept driving along Lake Como, passing the town of Laglio, where George Clooney has a villa (whoopee). We eventually turned away from Lake Como and drove a few more miles to Lugano. Our hotel is about a block-and-a-half from Lake Lugano. We checked in and drove to the main part of the city, where we were dropped off for the afternoon. The four of us had pizza for lunch, then we walked through a lovely park along the lake. We rented a pedal boat for a half hour and went out onto the cool, clear lake. I guess I should mention that it’s terribly hot again today, in the 90s. We were fading fast, so we bought bottles of water and walked back to the hotel for showers and rest. At least this hotel has AC, thank goodness. We’ll hate leaving this pretty place in the morning, but at least we’re headed for Zermatt, which is at the base of the Matterhorn, so it should be cooler.

Observation 1: Lugano is actually in Switzerland, the Italian portion of the country, which is right across the border from Italy. It’s so Italian, you’d never know you were in Switzerland.

Observation 2: After seeing St. Moritz and Lugano I’d suggest that Globus cut out the stops at St. Veit and Innsbruck and add another day each to St. Moritz and Lugano. Everyone seems to agree. It would probably increase the price of the trip, but it would be worth it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007--Lugano to Zermatt--Day 10

What a tremendous day!! Just when I thought we had seen the most breathtaking views in St. Moritz and Lugano, we came upon the Swiss Alps. Amazing! But first………..

We left Lugano and re-entered Italy, passing by Bellizona, Switzerland, an ancient trade center. We stopped in beautiful Stresa, Italy, where we wished we could have wandered through its lovely streets. But our excursion today was a boat ride out to Isola Bella, an island off the shore of Lake Maggiore. We toured the gorgeous old Borromeo Palace on the island and wandered through some of the loveliest gardens I’ve ever seen. Then we left the palace grounds and found a place to have lunch in the tiny town on the island, stopping for a few souvenirs along the way. We bought handcrafted olive oil bottles for the kids and a pretty Murano glass charm for my bracelet. The proprietor of the shop had a photo of his dog, a 4-year-old Rottweiler named Luna. Of course, Tony and I had an extended conversation with him about the virtues of Rotties, and we told him all about our precious Lucy. We hated to leave this very nice young man who took an inordinate amount of time with us and made us feel so welcome.

After lunch we took the boat back to Stresa and boarded the bus to continue on to Zermatt, Switzerland. We crossed the Alps at Simplon Pass, where we stopped for snacks and photos. The innkeepers had two big dogs in a pen on the property, a St. Bernard named Tito and a brown mixed breed. More about dogs later on. We continued on, re-entering Switzerland and leaving Italy for the last time. We crossed over the amazing Ganter Bridge, photographing the ancient one it replaced as we crossed, and we passed through the city of Brig on the Rhone River, with its lovely Baroque Palace. A little further on, we really got into the Swiss Alps, stopping at the town of Tasch to board a mountain train to Zermatt, where no cars or gasoline-powered vehicles are allowed. It’s a small town where walking is a pleasure, and a few of the hotels have horse-drawn taxis or electric cabs, but most everyone just walks from place to place.

We checked into our most charming hotel in Zermatt and set out to explore. We wandered around a bit and bought a few souvenirs, then returned to the hotel for dinner. Back in our room, we just couldn’t stay inside. It’s unbelievable to step out onto the balcony of our room and be face-to-face with the Alps. They are beyond wondrous. Before the trip, Lisa and I mused quite often about Globus’ decision to have us spend two nights here in this smallest of towns. Now I understand. Two nights won't be enough.

Tomorrow we’ll see the Matterhorn for the first time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007--Zermatt--Day 11

There are no words or pictures that can do justice to the Swiss Alps, although I tried with the camera. We boarded a rack-railway train for the nearly hour-long ride up to Gornergrat, which is at 10,272 feet. On the way, we were able to see the famous peaks and glaciers, as well as lovely forests and waterfalls. I managed to get a few good pictures of the Matterhorn from the train, which is a good thing because by the time we got off at Gornergrat station, the Matterhorn was half socked in by clouds. We spent about an hour-and-a-half enjoying the vistas and photographing the mountains, glaciers, and valleys. We then took the train back down to Zermatt and found a place for lunch. We strolled and shopped a little, then we returned to the hotel to email the kids and relax for a while. Tonight we’re on our own for dinner, and we’re going to try to find some good cheese fondue. Tomorrow we reluctantly leave for Lucerne.

Observation 1: On our bus rides, we’ve been through at least 50 mountain tunnels. Some are several miles long, while others are a mere few hundred yards. I’m not claustrophobic, but it’s always a relief to see the light at the end of a tunnel when you have a bazillion tons of mountain above you.

Observation 2: We’ve seen a lot of vineyards between Lugano and Zermatt, in both Italy and Switzerland. Apparently the climate is excellent for growing grapes, even pretty high up in the mountains. Go figure. I always thought Tuscany was the place for grapes, but I guess different varieties like the cooler temps and higher altitudes.

Observation 3: Zermatt is extremely dog friendly! In fact, most, if not all, hotels here welcome dogs with open arms. There are water bowls at the entrances of all hotels, and so many people stroll the streets with dogs of every size and breed. We’ve petted more dogs than I can count.

Note: We’ve really enjoyed our tour group so much, including Erich and Massimo. We’ve bonded with just about all the members of our group, and we hope to stay in touch with them after the trip. Maybe we’ll even get together again in the future. One particular favorite family is from the Cleveland area, consisting of a father (Michael), a mother (Robin), and three daughters (Lindsey, Meredith, and Julia, whom I’ll dub “the trio”). We’ve had so much fun getting to know each other, and we’ve recently started playing practical jokes on one another. These young ladies are not only fun, they are also very polite, well-behaved, and just a pleasure to be around. Anyway, at breakfast there are often individual sealed tubes of liverwurst about 3 inches long. We’ve taken to hiding them in each others’ tote bags and backpacks. I started the game by hiding one in Lisa’s bag shortly after we started the tour, and when the trio caught us in our pranks, they joined in the fun. Now Michael and Robin are just as complicit, and I have a feeling we have not seen the end of the liverwurst shenanigans. More later, I’ll bet!

Friday, July 20, 2007--Zermatt to Lucerne--Day 12

Last night “the group” had an impromptu party in the hotel garden after dinner. We first went in a large group to an outdoor café for dinner. Most of us had cheese fondue, which was delicious. There’s just something almost reverent about eating authentic cheese fondue in the shadow of the Alps. We had invited Erich to join us, and he had us in stitches with his tales of previous tours. As he is a scholar working on a book, some of us have wondered if we might be part of a grand sociology experiment, innocently providing Erich with fodder for a future book. We’ve been pretty dull compared to some of his other tour groups, though, according to his stories.

Anyway, after dinner we met in the garden and had about an hour-and-a-half of conversation, wine, beer, and snacks. Erich joined us for a while, and others from the group dropped in and out. It was a lovely, relaxed evening in this valley of the Alps.

This morning we loaded up again and took the train from Zermatt to Tasch, where we were reunited with our bus, and, happily, Massimo. Mauritzio was good, but we’ve bonded with Massimo, and he really is a superior driver. We drove from Tasch through the French Swiss countryside covered in many vineyards. Erich tells us that some of the grape varieties can grow up to altitudes of 5,000-6,000 feet. I had no idea this was possible, but I have the pictures to prove it. Usually when one thinks of vineyards, Tuscany comes to mind, but I guess different varieties of grapes grow happily at different altitudes. We passed by the edge of Lake Geneva, viewing the village of Montreaux with its Castle of Chillon, and we drove through the Gruyere region, famous for its cheese. Lake Gruyere was small and pretty.

We stopped in Berne for lunch, back in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and we discovered that people in Berne are very laid back and slow. We were only given an hour for lunch, so we found an outdoor café and waited……and waited…….and waited. We finally ordered and waited some more. Ten minutes before we were to leave to board our bus, our lunch finally arrived. We choked it down, tracked down the waiter to pay, then ran to meet the bus, barely making it. Whew! Massimo drove us to the Bear Pit for a photo stop. The bear is the symbol of Berne, and there are two city mascots beloved by the Berne citizens. We then drove to Interlaken, a beautiful town nestled between Lake Thum and Lake Brienz, in the shadow of Jungfrau Mountain. It was very pretty, but many of the cars were dinged and dimpled from a huge hailstorm the day before. Since I drive a very dimpled Suburban for the same reason, I sympathized with the victimized owners of these vehicles.

At last we arrived in Lucerne. We were supposed to have an afternoon excursion up Mount Pilatus, but it started raining, so Erich cancelled that excursion, as well as tomorrow’s, a noon boat ride on Lake Lucerne. The rain isn’t so bad because it has brought much cooler weather, and again, we have no A/C. This heat has wreaked havoc with my crazy body temperature fluctuations. Some women call them hot flashes, but my son-in-law Josh calls mine “power surges”, a much more fun way to describe a very annoying condition.

So, Lisa, Bob, Tony, and I took the city bus (electric) to downtown and strolled a bit in the rain. We took a leisurely walk back to the hotel on the promenade that runs along the edge of the lake. We had a nice dinner at the hotel, then we spent about an hour outside on the hotel’s covered terrace. We met a very nice Russian couple from Toronto, who joined our conversation, although the husband was not very fluent in English (but he thought he was). He really tried, and he cracked himself up. His wife, a dentist and mother of two sons, was a hoot.

Tomorrow………souvenir shopping!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007--Lucerne--Day 13

I’m going to subtitle this day’s entry A Man, His Dog, A Tennis Ball, My Sister, and Lake Lucerne. Keep reading and you’ll see why.

This morning after breakfast we decided not to participate in the city tour, so we started our shopping early. We walked along Lake Lucerne to downtown, about a 15-minute walk. We had our shopping done by lunch time, so we found a cute English pub and had fish and chips, washed down by a pint of Guiness. We then walked a few blocks to see Thornwaldsen’s Lion Monument before we headed back to the hotel for a little rest. We had the window wide open when it started to storm. The rain actually woke us because it was coming into the room pretty heavily. t was still raining when we left for our traditional Swiss folk dinner and entertainment, which turned out to be three hours of lusty food and fun. Tonight we’ll repack for our last day’s trip back to Frankfurt and our return flight on Monday.

Okay, about the topic of the subtitle…..On one of our many walks along beautiful Lake Lucerne during the day-and-a-half we spent there, we saw a man with a cute black Lab. The dog was fixated on the lake and looked poised to jump into the water. When we got closer, we could see the object of his attention—a tennis ball floating on the water. The man was trying to figure out how to get the ball without wading into the lake or allowing the dog to jump in, as the bottom was pretty rocky. Enter tenderhearted Lisa, who somehow communicated to the nonEnglish-speaking man to grab hold of one of her feet while Bob held the other so she could hang head first over the concrete wall to get the ball. It took some maneuvering, but she eventually got the ball, only sustaining a few scrapes, dirty smudges, and blows to her dignity. The dog was ecstatic, and the gentleman grateful, if not incredulous at the utter zaniness of his new American comrades. As you can see, the pictures don’t even begin to do the scene justice. Not too shabby for a 53-year-old, though! (In case you’re wondering, Lisa was wearing a skort – a short skirt with attached shorts.)