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What an adventure!
It’s hard to believe it’s over. A year of planning, researching, and of course, the hardest part– counting down the days. Before you know it– it’s come and gone.
Four days after returning home and I’m a bit jet lagged, my senses are still a little overwhelmed; but most of all, I’m happily content with having completed another whirlwind adventure.
In nineteen days, Michael and I managed to visit 16 cities in 3 countries, halfway around the world. We walked over 124 miles, sailed some of Europe’s most famous rivers, experienced the speed of the EuroRail and saw first hand, many historical landmarks that many Americans have only read about in books.
I thought I’d lead off my day-to-day blogging of our adventure with a brief overview.
What can you expect to glean from our adventures? Aside from our personal impressions of the experience itself– I might be able to dispel some of the myths, mysteries and misconceptions about travel and the places we visited.
What do Europeans think of America? Are Parisians really rude? How easy is it to get around a foreign city? How different is the European culture from that in America? What’s different about a river cruise compared with an ocean excursion? Are travel and sightseeing difficult abroad?
I invite you to join us as we explore London, Paris, Amsterdam and many places in between.
Tours and exploring on our own… food and wine… museums and parks… transportation… the locals… so much to see and do.
You might pick up some travel tips or benefit from our experiences. You might enjoy just going along for the ride. Curious?
Travel with us.
We considered it, dismissed it, then couldn’t ignore it. I was dreaming about it.
Beautifully sculpted gardens, manicured lawns and bubbling fountains– surrounding an expansive, palatial wonderland full of historic, architectural detail and dusted with gold gilding.
This is the Château de Versailles.
Dreaming about a place is one thing– actually visiting and experiencing it is something else entirely. There’s nothing as magical as feeling an undeniable connection to a place.
We’ll only be in Paris a few short days and it’s the first visit for both Michael and I. There are so many incredible things to see and do in Paris. Where do we begin? In the initial planning stage for our visit, we did our research, made lists and talked to friends. With so many options, we finally made what we decided was the best decision for us: Experience the city itself and find our own connection– feel it’s vibe. Our visit will be less about the individual attractions and more about the overall ambience the city has to offer.
Dreaming of Versailles
A few months ago, Michael and I watched the first season of the Netflix series, Versailles.
Louis XIV’s love and nurturing of art, elegance, beauty and architecture inspired the world. Versailles was his dream. A stunning palace that stands as a tribute and glowing example of 18th century French art. At 28 years old, Louis set out to build the greatest palace in the world.
Suddenly, it became all too clear that we had to visit Versailles. I was dreaming about it. This was the type of connection I was looking for– and it made the rest of our Paris planning more clear.
Instead of seeing a lot of historic places because, well, we had to; make the experience personal to us. Enjoying it rather than rushing to see everything we possible can. Granted, we will still see more than most people probably would in three days time– it’s just our own approach completely changed.
A Sunday in the Park
Going all the way back to my childhood, Georges Seurat’s painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) has influenced my life. The musical Sunday in the Park with George, later became one of my all time favorites. But long before the musical, I spent hours in a classroom, staring up at that painting– wondering who those people were.
Flash forward– years later– In my college art classes, I spent a lot of time focused on Seurat and his work. Then in my senior year, I drove overnight to Chicago to see Goodman Theatre’s production of Sunday in the Park with George. I had a profound connection to the piece. After college, I had the opportunity to play George in an ill-fated theatre company’s production, that ended up being cancelled, with the demise of the company. Sadly, a near miss.
And one last connection– my biggest audition as an actor– for the second national touring company of Into the Woods— I sang George’s song Finishing the Hat from Sunday. I didn’t get cast but the director had me sing way beyond my chosen 16 bars– so I must have done something right.
When it hit me, I was surprised I hadn’t already considered it. Just recently, it dawned on me that of all the places I really would connect with in Paris– I had to at least try and visit Île de la Grande Jatte. It’s very different from Seurat’s time. There’s very little park there now. It’s mostly a developed suburb, part of an upscale commune at the gates of Paris. And, (I had decided) if I was going to do it– it had to be on Sunday. It might be possible but that Sunday morning is the day we leave for our Rhone river cruise. I think it’s doable, though we haven’t been given the departure schedule yet. The island could take up to 45 minutes to reach. So if we’re up early and on our way, we should be able to make it, even if it’s a very short visit. Our friends George and Mary said they’d be up for the adventure. That makes it perfect because then it can truly be ‘A Sunday in THE Park… with George’.
Hopefully the stars will align. Dreams happen. Weather and time permitting… I’ll be there.
The attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare (ACA) failed. I don’t think there is one person that can confidently say they even know what was in the last revision of the proposed American Health Care Act. Politicians were so desperate to pass the bill, changes were being made faster than it could be revised on paper. What was certain was that the bill did not meet all the Trump administration mandates: that it provided “Affordable coverage for everyone; lower deductibles and healthcare costs; better care; and zero cuts to Medicaid.” Even though the various revisions of the bill failed to meet any of these mandates, the administration supported it.
This was purely political. It failed because it was wrong. It failed because after seven years of complaining about Obamacare, the Republican congressmen STILL had no plan to replace it and threw something together last minute. It failed because enough Republican congressmen refused to be bullied (to vote for it) and pledged to vote their conscious, in favor of what was best for their constituents.
Nothing about this congressional effort focused on the good of the American people. It was never about quality healthcare. It was ALL about repealing Obamacare- destroying Barrack Obama’s legacy. That was the single goal.
Bad, Better, Worse?
In order to discuss the cost and accessibility of healthcare, here are some thing you might want to consider:
- The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the failed bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) are/were both flawed. The combination of coverage, cost control and availability do not work in favor of the American people under either plan. Still, had the ACA been replaced with the AHCA, 24 million Americans would have lost coverage. A big problem with the ACA is that the model (ratio of insured) hasn’t been reached, driving premium costs up.
- Without regulation, healthcare providers are at liberty to charge uninsured patients whatever they want. Insurance companies have a stringent table of fees it will pay for services, yet it can vary from provider to provider, affecting individual premium costs.
- Healthcare insurance policies vary so greatly that it’s nearly impossible for the average American to decipher. This leads to confusion, inadequate coverage and unnecessary higher out-of-pocket costs.
- Healthcare coverage is more a subsidy than it is an insurance policy. Most Americans would not be able to afford quality care, especially in the situation of an emergency or long-term illness without some sort of assistance. Paying out-of-pocket is simply not an option.
- Half (or more) of individual American bankruptcies are attributed to debt from medical expenses.
- Public and private hospitals alike are prohibited by law from denying a patient care in an emergency. The Emergency Medical and Treatment Labor Act (EMTLA) passed by Congress in 1986 explicitly forbids the denial of care to indigent or uninsured patients based on a lack of ability to pay. (from Google)
Taking the above issues into consideration, if we are guaranteed treatment, with or without coverage– who pays? We all do. Whether through higher taxes, bankruptcies, rising premiums or out-of-pocket. We will all pay for healthcare for everyone.
As long as healthcare is for-profit in America, any efforts to make it affordable are likely to fail.
Here’s one example of a for-profit problem: Mark Bertolini, Chairman and CEO of AETNA received $27.9 million in compensation in 2015, up from 15 million in 2014. The combined compensation of four other top AETNA executives was $18.7 million, not including $17.4 million in restricted stock and stock options. In spite of a huge profit margin and exorbitant compensations for top level executives, AETNA withdrew from the ACA marketplace in eleven states this past year, to assure their financial gains. From 2015 to 2016 their net profits rose 8% to $603.9 million dollars.
We are told they can’t sustain services because Obamacare doesn’t work. In reality, it’s about greed.
Life, Death… Corporate Greed?
When the actual healthcare professionals that you and I are likely to come in contact with– such as EMTs, nurses, doctors and medical office staff– have problems affording adequate health coverage– there is a serious problem with the system.
There are really only three possible options, I can think of, to bring costs under control and make healthcare in America affordable:
- Heavy government regulation of all healthcare in America.
- Make all healthcare nonprofit.
- Establish a single payer national healthcare system.
None of these are easily fixes. What other solutions can you think of?
Washington may be willing to push this issue to the side (for now) but the problem isn’t going to go away.
Eyes wide open.
Staring at the world
Taking it all in
Enjoying the good things
Surviving the bad
Questioning it all.
I started this blog several years ago to share my thoughts. I think I often have an interesting perspective on life and wanted to share that with others. I have a voice and I wanted to be heard.
Everyone has a story. A tale to tell.
For whatever reason, I’ve often felt like I’m on the outside looking in. Even when I’m in the middle of it, part of me is watching from a distance.
I’ve started dozens of posts over the past year and a half– with a hundred more ideas locked in my brain. Aside from my travel posts and those about my furry children– most have gone unpublished. Unread. Silenced or self-censored.
I became completely obsessed with Presidential election, cable news and the expansive concerns that have divided America. At times, it could be so overwhelming that it was paralyzing. It seemed to invade every waking moment of my day.
The lines between broadcast news, journalism, social media, advertising and ‘fake news’ have become so blurred many people don’t know what to believe. Unfortunately, to the detriment of society, too many people will believe anything they hear. Anything they want to believe, that is.
Well, I’m over it. My silence is about to be broken. If I can help or at least entertain with my words, so be it. I may hurt or anger a few people. If I can educate or open a few people’s minds along the way, then I’ll be achieving my goal.
I may not be an expert on some topics but I also won’t post blindly. I believe that even posting an opinion requires some research and justification. We can’t help who we are or what we believe; though helping others understand the backstory can make the picture more clear. Truth? Fantasy or fiction? In today’s burgeoning mecca of information it’s often difficult to tell.
I don’t want to write about just one topic because that’s not who I am. Theatre, Film, Animal-Lover, Writer…. Nature, Politics, Travel, Equality… History, Restoration, Photography, Reading, Cooking and Gardening… the Human Experience… these are the things that contribute to my psyche and make me a whole person. In daily life, my mind can jump from topic to topic in an instant. I want to share just some of what I see and what I feel. We may not agree– but by communicating there is a place where we can connect. We all have a common ground though many are afraid to approach it.
I’m going to write about it. I’ve been guilty of posting things on Facebook that require more than a one sentence proclamation or allegation. People have become too sensitive and judgemental and often aren’t willing to accept other people’s right to self expression. They aren’t afraid to tell you, you are wrong– yet refuse to defend or debate in a respectful manner.
Some of my posts may be short and hopefully, to the point. I think this blog may be a better platform to express myself. Besides, more than likely, those people that want their Facebook feed to be nothing but ‘cute’ memes and puppy dogs won’t bother to read it anyway.
I just don’t get it. It is easier than ever to communicate with the world. So why are so few people willing to listen?
Sorrento, Italy. is our port of call today. It was a hazy morning as the sun rose, revealing more and more detail on shore. We couldn’t dock so we had to be tendered on and off the ship to the port.
Booking Excursions. We’ve had good experiences with most of the tours we’ve taken in the past. The success most often depends on the guide. Some are terrific, humorous and informative, some have great English while others struggle a little more; and some just talk way too much.
Some of the Broadway performers go out on the excursions with the guests and sometimes they do their own private tours. Today, Kate Baldwin and her friend (BFF) Amber were on ours.
We had a number of interesting choices for shore excursions from Sorrento. Way back when we booked the trip, I only had one in mind….. Visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii.
The Dog of Pompeii. My fascination with Pompeii goes back to childhood and the short story, The Dog of Pompeii by Louis Untermeyer. It’s the tale of a young blind boy named Tito and his beloved dog, Bimbo. Bimbo stole raisin bread from the street vendors of Pompeii and that’s how he and Tito ate to stay alive. When the Volcano errupted, Tito was saved only because of Bimbo. Tito was frightened but not able to tell what was going on. It was up to Bimbo to save him. Bimbo nipped at Tito’s feet, keeping him moving away from the city to the ships in the harbor and to safety. With not enough room, Bimbo, sadly– was left behind. Eighteen hundred years later, when excavating the city, the skeletal remains of a dog were found. In his mouth was a petrified piece of raisin bread.
The story is more heartbreaking to me now than I remembered it. Still, pieces of that story have stayed with me my whole life.
So, yes. Pompeii was a must.
A little hitch at the start of the day– our coach bus had mechanical issues. We were able to squeeze on the second bus without too much overcrowding and proceeded on the hour drive to our destination. Since we joined that bus, the other tour guide had control of the intercom. She never- stopped- talking. More than one person commented, wondering how and if she ever to took a breath.
When we arrived at Pompeii, we stopped briefly at a small hotel and street market at the entrance. We split up into our two original groups and we were on our way. Our guide was also pretty talky but made up for it by being very witty and keeping our group moving.
Discovering Ancient Pompeii. It is believed that Pompeii was settled around 7 BC. It is also believed that there were approximately 11,000 inhabitants at the time that Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying it under as much as 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice. Approximately 2,000 people died as Pompeii was buried. The city was lost for 1,500 years until portions started to be uncovered in the 1599. Actual excavation began in 1748.
The ancient ruins of Pompeii are one of the highly valued, UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As excavation advanced, it was discovered that much of the city was preserved having been sealed from air and moisture all those years. Scientists found that they were able to make castings of victims by carefully pouring Plaster of Paris into the voids as they were discovered. This resulted in capturing the exact poses of victims when they died.
The excavation of Pompeii is much larger than I’d thought it would be. Because of its massive size, it’s probably best to tour it with a guide; or at least, a map designating the highlights. There are some incredibly well-preserved rooms, complete with frescos and tile flooring. There are many, many streets; most with just the suggestion of the original shape of the foundations surviving.
At the time of our visit, there was an incredible display of bronze sculptures by artist Igor Mitoraj that are a beautiful addition to the archaeological site. They are set to be displayed only through January 2017. In my opinion, they should stay as a permanent exhibition.
We each had ear piece devices for the tour. It was especially handy for me when I’d get sidetracked, or veer away from the group to take pictures.
We reached a point in the tour where, having visited the main highlights, our guide gave us the option to head back to the market or continue on with her. At the end of the tour there was to be some time for shopping or a bite to eat before heading back to the ship.
Michael and I opted to head back and had our first (delicious) slice of pizza (in Italy) from one of the vendors. Shortly after, we saw one of our new friends, Paul, who said the group was making its way back our direction. We also saw Kate and Amber strolling through the marketplace. Since we were told we’d have time for shopping, Michael and I got gelato and proceeded to walk through the rows of market vendors.
Left behind? We never saw the rest of our group and also lost track of Paul. We just figured they still weren’t back yet. I put my ear piece back in and after a moment, could hear the guide saying something about getting on the new bus and then she turned off the audio system!
Michael and I shifted into high gear but had no idea where the bus was parked. We left the market square went out to the street. We looked left and right and couldn’t figure out which way to go. I happened to see the other bus from our cruise leaving and we flagged it down. The guide said ours– was looking for us– so we headed to where that bus had pulled out. We found our bus– only our guide had gone back to the market to look for us. Oops!
We apologized to everyone as we got on, found empty seats near Kate and Amber, who seemed to be enjoying the humor of the situation. Eventually our guide came back, told us she was going to kill us, everyone laughed– and we drove off.
We got back to the port and had just missed the tender to our ship, meaning a 40-minute wait until the next one. (I guess this was our fault!) So some members of our group stood in line waiting, some shopped and others grabbed a snack.
While we waited for the tender, Michael kept wandering off, out of sight, going in and out of the shops. He was making me nervous because I saw the tender coming and didn’t want to miss the next one. He reappeared and we made it on with no problem. I joked that ‘we made it‘ to Amber and Kate– and Amber said they were keeping an eye on us so we didn’t get left behind. (This became our running joke.)
One of the reasons I didn’t want to miss that tender was because it was getting close to time for the late afternoon BOTHS activity, a talkback with playwrights Charles Busch and Douglas Carter Beane.
Charles Busch is an actor, playwright, screenwriter and female impersonator known for his high-camp style. He is an iconic figure in the New York Off Broadway scene and beyond. Charles is responsible for the cult classics Die Mommie Die! and Psycho Beach Party, both of which were also made into films. His best know work is The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, that played Broadway in 2000.
Douglas Carter Beane is a prolific writer for the stage, having worked on many familiar productions you may not realize he had a hand in. He was Tony-nominated for his wonderful play, The Little Dog Laughed and more recently, his play The Nance appeared on Broadway. Douglas wrote the book for the musicals Xanadu, Lysistrata Jones and the new adaptation of Cinderella. Many probably don’t realize he also wrote the screenplay for the cult hit, Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar.
I found their stories and experiences fascinating and enlightening.
We had a large group for dinner (as we did most every night) at The Restaurant (that’s actually the name) followed by one of the best sunsets of the trip.
Laura Osnes in Concert. The main event onboard was a concert featuring Laura Osnes, accompanied by Seth Rudetsky on piano.
I started following Laura’s career when she appeared on Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde (with Jeremy Jordan) receiving high praise from the critics.
She is probably best known as the winner of Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, giving her a starring role as Sandy in the 2007 Broadway revival of Grease. I had failed to make this connection until the cruise.
Among her many credits, Laura recently starred on Broadway in Cinderella, in the title role.
It was a great concert. One of the fun highlights of the evening was bringing her high school sweetheart– now husband, Nathan Johnson on stage for a sweet duet.
There are so many beautiful houses of worship in Rome. Churches, Cathedrals, Basilicas — no matter what they are called, they are full of a rich history and artistry that is a wonder to behold.
On our full day of touring Rome, Michael and I found ourselves wandering in many of these beautiful sanctuaries. They stand open, throughout the day, welcoming anyone to enter.
Here is a sampling of the churches we visited. Many had origins back to the 1st Century but all the current structures date back to as early as the 16th century.
All Saints’ Anglican Church – Est. 1887
Chiesa de Gesu E Maria – Est. 1602
Basilica S. Giacomo – Est. 1600
Basilica dei SS Ambrogio E Carlo – Est. 1610
Chiesa di San Marcello al Corso – Est. 309 AD , rebuilt 1597
Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso – Est. 1568
Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi – Est. 1650
Basilica dei SS. XII Apostoli – Est. 499, rebuilt 1714
Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi – Est. 1589
Chiesa di Santi’ Agnese in Agone – Est. 1652
You’re probably familiar with the St. Pancras Hotel and didn’t even know it. Have you seen Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? In an early scene of the movie they fly right by it. The Spice Girls video “Wannabe” was filmed at the entrance and on the grand staircase, prior to the hotel’s massive renovation.
The London neighborhood of King’s Cross was a major train hub, both freight and passenger trains, in the late 1800’s, with four major train stations located there. St. Pancras was opened in 1868 owned by the Midland Railway Company. The Midland Grand Hotel, a stunning work of Victorian Gothic architecture, designed by architect George Gilbert Scott, opened in the attached space in 1873.
Unfortunately, the hotel closed in 1935 when it became too costly to run with its outdated utilities, and was used mainly as office space after that. In addition, train terminal was hit by bombs during WWII causing extensive damage.
This incredible landmark was almost demolished in the late 1960’s after falling into major disrepair. Luckily, with great effort and much expense, it was saved.
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London is actually part of the larger complex known as St. Pancras International. Eurostar began providing high speed train service to Paris in 2007 and the hotel reopened in 2011 with a five star rating.
Out of the abyss there is a cry in the dark.
It starts softly, faintly
Piercing the silence.
It grows louder
It seems to come closer
Until it becomes a deafening scream.
Then it passes
Fading to a whimper
Another visit of that nightmare gone
Then just silence.
This is my memory. This is my grief. This is my mourning.
Friday morning, I stood alone in a field of flags. Crying. Remembering. I was surrounded by 2,976 American flags blowing gently in the breeze.
3051 children lost a parent that day. Their average age was 9 years old.
I walked through rows and rows of flags in a field of rain soaked grass, I began reading the markers: citizens, police officers, firefighters…. and their ages…. 34, 41, 32… 21.
21. Lukasz Milewski.
Lukasz immigrated to America from Poland in July– just two months before. His parents came one year earlier, leaving their two children behind to finish school while they prepared a new home for them in the land of opportunity. When he arrived, Lukasz immediately found a summer job working in food service for Cantor Fitzgerald at the World Trade Center. A start of a new life. America.
Only two short months. His American Dream was cut short. Stolen from him.
This is just one story. One heartbreaking story– of many– that would not reach their natural conclusion. His opportunity, his voice, his life– silenced.
The passing of fifteen years has done little to take away the great empathy and sadness I feel for the many lives lost on September 11th, 2001. My heart goes out to the families whose futures were forever changed– whose hopes and dreams were so unexpectedly taken from them.
Life goes on.
I pray that they have found peace.
I pray that they have achieved some level of happiness.
Life goes on.
We will always remember.
But life goes on.
These are the stories we must tell. We can’t be silent. We must be the storytellers. Stories of hopes and dreams. We must honor them by passing down their stories of courage. We will never forget.