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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.
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?
London, Rome and Broadway On the High Seas 7- cruising southern Italy. This time around, we booked our own pre cruise adventure– with the exception of the hotel in Rome, booked through Playbill Travel. The first five days we were on our own to create our own experience.
It’s funny how months of preparation and research fly out the door in the few days prior to leaving on an extended vacation. This was our third trip overseas and you’d think I’d be used to that last-minute feeling of anxiety but it still takes me by surprise. I suddenly found myself forgetting and rechecking everything I’d prepped for; probably asking Michael the same questions repeatedly, hopefully not driving him too insane. All the research on London and Rome was a jumbled mess in my head so I found myself going back over notes I’d made just to be sure I was ready.
This was the first time traveling since we got the Global Entry clearance which includes TSA Pre-check. Of course, wouldn’t you know I was one of the people randomly selected to be scanned at security. Luck of the draw.
We flew to London Heathrow, direct flight, business class– on an evening flight out of Chicago O’Hare. The seating on this American Airlines flight was cozy yet smaller than past times we’ve flown business class. I watched two movies: All the Way and Trumbo, both starring Bryan Cranston, and enjoyed them both. Though I did manage to get a little sleep, I’ve found it’s really difficult for me to sleep more than a couple hours in the air. Michael, on the other hand, can sleep like a baby.
Overall, the flight was comfortable and it was on time. We arrived at Heathrow shortly after 9 am and breezed through to pick up our luggage.
Luggage and the Tube
We don’t travel as light as we probably should, so we found ourselves both lugging our two checked bags and two carry ons– that’s right… on the Tube. Aside from being a little awkward manipulating, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Except– that moment when we reached the first very steep escalator in one of the stations. I had a moment of acrophobia and kept it under control by staring at the back of Michael’s head.
The ride took us about 45 minutes to reach central London. Did I mention that I still didn’t know where we were going?
You Call THIS a Hostel?
Michael spent many hours researching London accommodations, months prior to the trip. To keep me guessing, he decided that our destination would be a surprise. It became a running joke that we were staying in a seedy hostel, complete with rats, paper-thin mattresses and a shared bath.
As we got closer to the trip, Michael would get “daily email updates” that he’d share with me each morning before he left for work. He’d inform me of pending updates such as ‘new pots to catch the water from the leaky roof’, warnings to ‘sleep with one eye open’, our daily ‘work assignment’– crazy stuff like that.
I can’t tell you how many times we’d finish watching TV or a movie and he’d say, “Did you see our hostel?” It was even one of the locations used in an episode of Downton Abbey that we re-watched before the trip. I was clueless.
The whole time, I knew I was in for something pretty incredible but Michael still managed to outdo himself. Our ‘hostel’ turned out to be the historic and opulent, St. Pancras Hotel.
St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel
We got off the Tube at King’s Cross, exited the station to the street and Michael just stopped in his tracks. “There’s your home for the next few days,” he said. I looked around and was a little confused. All I saw was this stunning, monster of a building– complete with clock tower, across the street. Overwhelmed would be an understatement. Welcome to St. Pancras!
Arriving early in the day, we didn’t expect our room to be ready. I soon found out Michael had scheduled a tour of the impressive building shortly after we checked our bags. (I’ll write a separate blog post just on the hotel– too much to include here and visually too impressive not to share.)
After touring this magnificent facility, we were able to check in to our room. And as if my head wasn’t already full enough, Michael had snagged of of the three designer suites in the hotel– the Sir George Gilbert Scott Suite. The suite was named after the building’s architect. You’ll see in my next post, images of this carefully restored slice of history.
Staying in the historic section of the St. Pancras, we also had exclusive use of the Chambers Club where we could have breakfast, afternoon tea or just relax.
After settling in, we had just enough time to head out, catch the Tube and do a little exploring before our first show.
My First Visit to the West End
The West End is often referred to as London’s equivalent of the Times Square Theatre District in New York City– only it isn’t. Yes, it is the hub of many entertainment venues in London but that is where the comparison stops. I found the West End to be quite charming and warm. Though it was bustling with activity, it was still easy to take a relaxing stroll through the area. The streets are loaded with unique shops and quaint restaurants enticing theatregoers around every corner. There is completely different vibe here than the tourist-driven frenzy that exists in New York.
Our first show– my first ever in London, was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Perhaps a little ironic that it was written by the American musical theatre team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman who also wrote the hit musical, Hairspray.
I loved it! As opposed to trying to compare it to other productions, I’ll say this: It was probably my most thoroughly-satisfying theatregoing experience in the past ten years. The physical production, the cast and the adaptation were all nothing short of magical. As one of my most favorite and most-memorable books growing up, this production of Charlie… made me feel like a kid again– rediscovering Roald Dahl’s delicious tale as if it were the first time. I can’t say enough good things about it.
By the way, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is slated to make it’s Broadway debut next spring.
After the show, we took a leisure stroll through the West End with one destination in mind: Shake Shack.
The Shake Shack on 8th Ave has become one of our go-to places when we’re in NYC. With their popularity growing, others have started to sprout up in major cities around the world. (London already has three.) Michael and I both love their thick creamy concretes and their burgers and Chicago style hot dogs are good too. London’s Covent Garden location didn’t disappoint. It became our nightly stop before returning to the hotel every night after our shows.
Bellies full and exhausted, we returned to our hotel and actually slept through the whole night, peaceably.
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.
I spent most of my childhood, growing up in a small town in Florida.
When I was a kid…
- We played outside.
- We played outside without our parents having to watch us.
- We played Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers or War. (and never really thought about actually owning a gun!)
- We dug in the dirt.
- We made forts and hideouts on empty lots with brush and debris.
- We rode bicycles for hours. (Without helmets.)
- We sometimes built a fire and slept in a tent in the backyard.
- We were often barefoot.
- For special entertainment, we played outside at our cousins’ houses.
When I was a kid…
- We had daily chores like dusting and washing dishes.
- We read books. My sister and I checking out 20 books at a time from the library.
- We learned how to grow vegetables in a garden.
- We saved our allowance all year so we could buy Christmas presents for our family.
- If we wanted candy or ice cream, we picked up pop bottles and cashed them in for their deposit at the nearby convenience store.
- We did our homework without being told. (And it actually affected our grades.)
When I was a kid…
- If we had fast food it was a special occasion. A sit down restaurant was an event.
- We watched television less than 3 hours a day.
- When we wanted to look something up, we used the encyclopedia.
- Telephones had cords and were only used for important (short) conversations.
- We wrote letters and mailed cards for birthdays and holidays.
- Dessert was a rare treat not a daily source of nutrition.
- We drank water from the tap (or even from the hose). We had pop/soda no more than once a week.
- Other than going to the grocery, shopping was only something you did for school clothes and at Christmas.
- If there was something you really wanted, it didn’t magically show up at the end of the day. If you were lucky in might show up under the Christmas tree.
- We didn’t hang out at the mall or see all the current movies. (I can count the movies I saw growing up on my fingers.)
- We learned to draw, write, and made and built things with our hands.
- We knew how to use our imaginations.
When I was a kid…
- We didn’t have computers, or Internet, or Smart Phones or cable TV.
- If we wanted to communicate, we opened our mouths.
- Safety was something you did, not a government mandate.
- Teachers weren’t babysitters, they were actually allowed to teach class.
- We didn’t always lock our doors.
- Black Friday didn’t start in July.
When I was a kid…
- We loved our country and believed in the American Dream.
- Politicians were intelligent and respected– they were our heroes.
- Congress did something.
- We weren’t afraid of Police. They were there to help us.
- Guns were only used by soldiers, police and hunters.
- Most families we knew only had one working parent, with one job and they were able to live comfortably.
- We were taught honesty and hard work were the keys to success.
- We thought people were just people regardless of color, class or religion.
- You could believe what you heard on the news.
- Everyone wasn’t out to get you.
Then we grew up…
And everything changed.
Sunday when I took Cash up for his nap -okay, our nap- I gave him his treat but didn’t throw a few of his toys on the bed like usual. Not that he actual played with them– more than anything I think he just liked having them around him. Seeing this, Cash took matters into his own hands (paws) and somehow managed to open the door to Belle’s crate and took her bone. With it hanging out of his mouth like an oversized, cartoon cigar he climbed up on the bed, turned around in circles and laid down– pressed against me– to go to sleep. Michael had Belle and Dudley in the other room, so this time was just about us.
I have a lot of memories like this- simple, not profound but beautiful.
Cashman. Boogey. Boogers. Boog. Goofy. Goof. Son. Brother. Big Brother. Baby Boy. Old Man. My Cash.
Yesterday, I had to say goodbye. Time simply ran out.
Twelve years and nine months. He outlived his sister by just over two years and has been my constant companion since then.
But it was time.
I thought I was losing him twice earlier in the day but Cash always was a fighter. He hung in there. He hung in through the ride to vet, where they were able to give him medication to make sure he was comfortable and he hung in until Michael could get there.
Nose to nose and staring into his eyes I told him I loved him. I told him it was okay to let go. I whispered it was time for him to run and find his sister. Nose to nose I felt him take his last breath.
Through it all I tried to stay calm, to not cry, to reassure him. When he was finally gone– through the sadness and grief– more than anything I felt lucky.
Cash was a gift. The last two years when I really got to know him and bond with him on a different level were the greatest gift.
I’ll miss his smell. I’ll miss the upturned corners of his mouth–that I call a smile when I’d kiss him or stroke his fur.
I’ll miss him pretending to sleep, one ear flipped up so he can hear what’s going on and not miss anything.
I’ll miss Michael getting out of bed every night when it was time to go to sleep and kneeling at the end, scratching his ears and covering him in kisses.
I’ll miss Cash waiting for me at the door, begging for treats, snuggling with me on the couch and in bed… his guilty looks… his playfulness.
And most of all– those eyes. I’d swear looking into his eyes connected our souls.
So very Lucky.
Before posting on Facebook, I posted the following:
I want everyone reading this to stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, take a deep breath– and be grateful for all the good things you have to be thankful for. Life comes with no guarantees. The only thing certain– is this moment.
I wanted to share– but not make this all about me. Grief and loss is something we all experience throughout our lives. So many times we get caught up and forget the important things.
Earlier this month, it seemed a lot of friends were experiencing grief and loss. I found and posted this:
When we got home from the vet, we let the babies out and I had to plug my drained phone into the charger… next to Cash’s empty food bowl. A while later, I opened the refrigerator to find his half can of dog food, covered in foil, staring me in the face. Little moments of grief and remembrance. There will be a lot of those moments over the coming weeks. The empty space on the couch, toys only he played with, tags in drawers forgotten long ago. It’s all part of the process.
Within hours of posting on Facebook, over a hundred people has expressed their condolences. Reminding me once again that I am so Lucky.
At bedtime, there wasn’t even any discussion. Belle and Dudley got their peanut butter, their crates were left open and they both climbed up on the bed. They played a little before settling down and going to sleep. I didn’t sleep well– but mostly because it’s hard to sleep with a sixty-pound boxer pushing me to the edge and snuggling with her head on my chest– snoring softly. I was blissfully uncomfortable.
So very, very lucky.
Another 525,600 minutes have come and gone. (Okay, so there’s a few hours left.) Time to reflect on the past year. Aside from the day to day, ordinary activities–much of which provide many unexpected special moments; there are those stand-out things that make the year unique.
Here’s my list for 2015:
Movies. I started the year watching a lot of independent films on Netflix and with Amazon Prime. There’s quite a bit out there to explore. Some are quite creative and unique. Others are just good old fashioned story-telling. And of course, there are many that are downright terrible. I didn’t keep track of how many I watched but I’m sure it was over fifty.
Michael and I saw quite a few main stream movies this year as well. For years I’ve avoided going to movie theaters because people can be so rude and annoying. We found though, if you go to the first showing of the day; you can avoid most of that. Plus, our local theater just replaced all their seating with recliners and reserved seating. Very comfortable and convenient.
We’ve seen probably a couple dozen movies in the theater this year. I don’t remember much of what we saw– so many were either bad or just okay. I have to admit that the best film I saw this year was one I had dreaded going to see. Quentin Tarantino’s The H8ful Eight is glorious story-telling. We saw it Christmas Day at one of the 98 theaters presenting the movie in the 70mm road show edition. I can’t say I miss film over digital but the work itself is pretty fantastic. It was the last and best film we saw this year.
I also should mention I really enjoyed (for different reasons) The Age of Adaline, Trainwreck and Get Hard; all released this year and all of which I saw while flying overseas.
Politics. The abnormally early start to the Presidential campaign has been impossible to escape. Much of it has left me dumbfounded. I don’t want to offend anyone (at the moment) by spouting my political views. I just want to say that this election cycle can best be described as the worst, bottom of the barrel, reality TV possible. No one could write this stuff.
The bottom line is that you can’t trust politicians. Even the supposed good ones. They all publicly support or oppose one thing– and the turn around and quietly vote the opposite way. Too much talk –too little action. Action that doesn’t back up the talk. Why is it so hard to find an honest politician? (Insert joke here.)
Reading. I used to love to read. This year I challenged myself to read 20 books. I’m ending the year having read 96 books! I know, I know– why didn’t I push to finish 100? That wasn’t the point. Returning to one of my great loves was the thing.
I started reviewing books as well. Goodreads, Amazon and NetGalley are my prime target audiences. Goodreads continuously has book giveaways called First Read giveaways. I was fortunate to win 9 books in 2015.
I don’t know how I let myself get away from reading. Whether for entertainment or education– I have really missed the world of books.
You don’t even have to spend a lot of money on books if this is your passion. There are many places online where you can find free books waiting to be read. I know I’ll be reading many more in the coming year.
Published. One of my bucket list items has always been to be a published author. That dream came true in October with the publication of my play, The House of Evil.
Though I’ve had the satisfaction of completing a number works– this finally allows me to claim the title of published author. Which is pretty exciting.
I have written a number of things over the years that I also hope to eventually have published. I’m currently in the preliminary stage, planning a book on Christmas decorating; and I have a new novel in the works.
My play, September’s Heroes will be published early in 2016.
Eighteen Days in Southeast Asia. Traveling to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore was the biggest thing of the year for many reasons.
It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The people, the history, the cultural differences– were all enlightening and overwhelming. It was a whirlwind stimulation of the senses.
We spent many hours over the months leading up to our adventure- planning and researching, to make the most of our trip. Hours very well spent. All the pre-planning and anticipation were half the fun but certainly didn’t come close to the amazing experience itself.
If you haven’t already, you can read my day-to-day blog posts starting here. I’m really glad I have the blog as record of our trip. Along with the thousands of pictures I took, it helps trigger many memories I might otherwise forget.
Next stop? Italy in 2016.
Happy New Year, Everyone!